Q&A from students

In each monthly newsletter, I share a few questions from students or readers along with my responses that I feel may benefit a larger number of beings. Personal details are excluded, and the content may be edited or simplified for brevity.
– Av Neryah

Q: Since a little over a decade ago, I experience inner silence, and “isness,” simple “being.” However, it is still “me” who “abides” and knows “isness” (‘doership’) and I do not experience the “isness” in my dreams, which are not lucid. Is my subconscious reached yet? 

A: Recognizing the “isness” in the dream state is quite an advanced endeavor. Most seekers want to and should first recognize “isness” in the waking state (and stabilize such recognition).

That said, not recognizing the “isness” in dreams can be attributed to various factors, such as:

– not fully remembering the dreams in detail (if you don’t have a detailed dream journal or a strong connection to subconscious memory, how do you know you didn’t recognize it in the dream state?);

– lacking an intense yearning for liberation (powerful desires gradually permeate the subconscious mind); and

– most of the waking state recognition is happening on the surface layer of the mind (it should be a “full-being” recognition, which also involves the heart and energy, and you must also have moments in sitting practice where you go below the waking state while effortlessly maintaining self-awareness).

Additionally, the one who initiates the recognition of “isness” in the waking state is not present in dreams (unless lucid). Therefore, the dream ego may lack the insight to be self-aware. In other words, as you point out, the “doership” and you being the one who “who abides and knows isness” means that in the absence of that “you,” the recognizer (a limited yet purer self because it has recognized its own background of awareness), there is no recognition of “isness.” What must be experientially understood is that the recognizer is always awareness and never the seeker/person/doer. Only awareness recognizes itself, and if awareness is present in a dream (which obviously is), then it is recognizing itself. Due to your tendency to identify with a body (physical, dream, etc.), this is missed, and there is only recognition of the dream content, just like you can go through a whole day without recognizing your breathing, though it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Q: Despite these (huge) blessings I still often feel “troubled” on waking. Since my “shift,” I lead a kind of paradoxical “double” life. A blessed life of Being (awareness-isness) & (still) my old life of ego and its sufferings… My ego thinking, my usual way of speaking & my interactions with others often interrupt my abiding… “I” still tend to identify with this lifetime’s “story.” I still suffer from vanity, fear, sadness, anger, ignorance, dukkha (suffering)!

A: The “double life” you speak of means that there are still fluctuations between being identified with being or awareness and the ego or personhood. In other words, although you have realized the nondual space of awareness, your ego still seems to superimpose itself onto that space and pull you into itself, leading you to an apparent “paradox” of suffering on the top of suffering-less space. It’s as if you need to bring being from the background into the foreground of your life (through presence/self-aware energy rather than only being a mental recognition), pervading every moment until the identification with the personhood dissolves and the background/foreground dichotomy collapses.

However, remember not to mistake the archetypal sattvic personality (i.e., Ramana Maharshi’s expression as described mainly by his devotees) with the natural state (permanent and effortless abidance in the I am) because it may not necessarily be the case (e.g., the great Nisargadatta Maharaj’s expression being an example of what we could almost call “sattvic rajas”). Being in the natural state doesn’t mean that you will stop experiencing the natural spectrum of human emotions. Just because you know the moon’s reflection in a lake is not the real thing, it doesn’t mean it disappears; it just means it is seen for what it is. As it is continually experienced in that way, this experiential recognition will eventually overflow into your manifested expression of body-mind and make it more sattvic and transparent to allow the light of awareness to shine through with less filtering. But don’t allow the belief that you must be a saint to be able to be established in the natural state to corrupt your discernment.

Q: How long will it take to reach sahaja samadhi with regular practice? I think not even having any vague estimation is the main source of the anxiety that’s holding me back. My mind keeps telling me that it may take god knows how long for the natural state to become effortless, and this produces a lot of anxiety.

A: There’s no precise timeframe because it varies from seeker to seeker. No two individuals have the same predispositions, karma, conditioning, etc., so the time it takes to embody and stabilize in the natural state is different for everyone. I’ve seen students “achieve” it in two months, and we’ve all heard about seekers who have been at this for decades, often without significant results due to misguided approaches, inadequate guidance, or ineffective practices. Despite the natural state being within reach with the proper mentorship, dedication, and practice, anyone claiming to provide an exact timeframe is simply talking nonsense.

However, what you’re telling me is actually great self-contemplation. Your unacceptance of the present moment indicates a lack of surrender and letting go; it implies a resistance to the now and the unknown. You seem to want to be somewhere in the future where the natural state never falls away rather than here and now. This is a hindrance that prevents you from realizing the ever-presence of the natural state. It’s already here, as it’s not something one could acquire and lose, but these clouds prevent you from seeing the all-shinning sun. Perhaps it’s good to allow complete helplessness to take hold of you and then relinquish your fears, anxieties, etc. Let it all go, don’t avoid or suppress the pain, and definitely don’t give the mind the power to dictate whether your abidance in the I am is effortlessly present or not—self-awareness goes beyond the mind. At the end of the day, those seeds of uncertainty can only find fertile ground when you are outside of the I am. 

Q: I have struggled to understand the distinction between knowing that my Light is very bright and that I am a talented/advanced spiritual seeker—versus the ego-based idea that I am special. The ego wants to hook onto the spiritual. How do I embrace the magnitude of my Being, when the goal is that my oneness will eventually disappear into Oneness? Everyone has the same potential—isn’t it counterproductive to celebrate my uniqueness? I believe this work with you is important—not having to ‘worry about your ego’ is liberating, something I’m just starting to appreciate.  

A: In a nondual context, which is what matters here, an advanced or talented spiritual seeker is one who is able to let go and sink into the untainted presence of God, letting all the masks fall—one who is able to recognize their own self-awareness in their heart. Nothing else.

While the moon shines beautifully with its seemingly independent and captivating light, it’s important to recognize that its radiance is, in truth, borrowed from the sun. The moon’s reflected light is special in its own way, but it is the sun that makes it all possible. Once we truly acknowledge the sun’s unending light, we are then free to fully acknowledge the moon’s enchanting light. However, prematurely dismissing the moon’s reflected light in its entirety, just because it doesn’t belong to the moon, can inadvertently prevent us from truly realizing the sun—as it is in that very reflected light that we follow our way back home to the sun.

Celebrating one’s uniqueness is done by realizing God’s presence through our individual lens. When our attention sinks into “I am,” and we become so transparent that we realize that God moves through us, breathes through us, sees through us, thinks through us, and so on, then our manifested expression blossoms into that very celebration. Celebrating one’s uniqueness based on personality traits (regardless of how ‘sattvic’ they are) can become an “ego trap.” Celebrating one’s uniqueness may be a valid goal when it comes to self-improvement; however, in authentic spirituality, what should be celebrated first is the common factor between us all—the essence. Once the celebration of essence is truly accomplished, we can then celebrate form, as it cannot ever be separate from its own essence. The celebration of one is the celebration of the other, with no separation at all. This is what I call the dance of nondual-duality.

When it comes to resolving “personality issues” to optimize the spiritual process, we definitely need to take care of the issues that hinder realization. The problem is that all these issues are ego issues, and undergoing continuous ego refinement can be a never-ending journey. That’s why there must be a balance between purification work (resolving “personality issues” instead of spiritually bypassing them because they will manifest later on and prevent even deeper realization) and nondual work (abiding in the space where no such issues exist).

Interestingly enough, both of these “works” are actually the same. Object-based practices can provide some degree of purification and refinement, but they alone cannot entirely eradicate deeply ingrained patterns and conditioning that act as barriers to enlightenment. Hence, the importance of proper guidance cannot be overstated—just like grace—as it serves as the ultimate aid in nondual work and contemplation, together with directed nondual practice, which is exactly what you’ve been doing.

Q: I believe this work with you is importantnot having to ‘worry about your ego’ is liberating, something I’m just starting to appreciate.  

A: Yes. In fact, worrying about the ego actually comes from the ego (“spiritual ego”), and keeps oneself chained to the ego. Being in the space where no such worry exists—that’s how the “not having to worry about the ego” is truly accomplished—and how one starts to truly see the ego’s behaviors and subtle mechanisms in play.

Q: Can I be completely stabilized in the natural state and still realize the aspirations I perceive to be the blueprint for my life? Or could this urge be a diversion from my spiritual growth and practice?  

A: Being in the natural state is quite an accomplishment. Unfortunately, the vast majority of human beings have no idea that experiencing reality from such a profound dimension is even possible. Even among the spiritually inclined, only an extremely small number of aspirants will realize their real nature.

For those who realize it, some will naturally attune themselves to whatever “blueprint” their vehicle of expression seems to have in this world, and will go in that direction. It’s not that they don’t want to go further in their enlightening journey (if they’re aware that the natural state is not “final”); it’s just that they feel an ardent call compelling them to express their inner beauty and realization through different channels, be it creative endeavors, aiding others in spiritual or conventional ways, championing eco-friendly or earth-harmonious causes, etc.

Some of these calls could be said to “horizontally” expand one’s integration within the natural state, rather than “vertically” ascending within the Tree of Liberation. Could it be premature to put too much focus and energy into such a “branch” instead of keeping them in the main “trunk”? Yes, if one’s not yet fully stabilized in the natural state. That said, oftentimes, it may also be integral to one’s path—a pivotal phase enabling the emergence of subconscious and emotional remnants as well as a way to deepen one’s relative expression in the light of awareness. Allowing one’s relative expression to go in the direction of fulfilling such innate calls might well be a component of their spiritual expansion and growth rather than a detour or distraction. It varies case by case. Guidance is truly precious throughout such endeavors.

Not everyone feels the inclination to immediately delve deeper into the investigation beyond presence into absence, and definitely not everyone will experientially go beyond both into suchness in this lifetime. And that is perfectly fine. When a genuine nondual aspirant feels and is truly ready, the proper guidance and grace will naturally manifest.

Q: The tales detailing extraordinary spiritual occurrences in your book please the senses, but what purpose do they serve? I’m not going to be brave enough to say they did or didn’t actually happen (that’s not for me to ponder), but for someone on the spiritual path, it only inflates my ego to expect these things to happen. I will leave my mind open, and I would love to hear your feedback to my comments. I am willing to learn.  

A: As I was writing the autobiography, I was actually leaning toward refraining from writing about those “mystical experiences.” The rationale behind this was that I didn’t want these events to distract readers from the true purpose of the book or color their perception of it. After all, those types of experiences described in the earlier chapters bear no real relevance to enlightenment or liberation per se, even though they can be powerful catalysts for paradigm shifts and certain types of insights.

Upon careful consideration of whether to include them, I opted for the sensible choice, as any person with a wise spouse would do: I asked for her opinion, and engaged in a lengthy discussion with her on this matter. As you’ve noticed in the book, she was also present during all those moments, so she knew exactly what I was talking about. In the end, we concluded that these experiences and events, despite their otherworldly nature, needed to be included in the book because they genuinely occurred. Seeing that they were a part of my path, these experiences played an important role in showcasing my highs and lows, the pitfalls, desires, intentions, etc., throughout the journey. They aid in understanding the significant transition I underwent, especially when I got into nondual and actual profound spiritual teachings—the ones that truly matter.

As I said in the autobiography, at the beginning of one of the earlier chapters:

“Years later, when I read this, even if I don’t believe it happened, one thing is for sure: It really happened! The mind will store this memory as if it had occurred in a distant dream. But know this one truth: it happened!”

At the time, I had to write this prelude into one of the entries in my diary to ensure that any doubts that might arise years later wouldn’t cast uncertainty on whether that particular experience truly occurred, especially because, unlike all the other mystical events, this specific part I address in the autobiography had happened only to me that day on the beach. During that period, everything felt exceptionally new to me, and I was still years away from having a proper and mature understanding of what we refer to as spirituality.

While skepticism is absolutely valid, it is always important to avoid limiting our experience to preconceived notions of what’s possible. Instead of adopting a narrow perspective, we opt for unbounded openness—and allow life to show us what’s possible. These “extraordinary” occurrences had the right impact at the right moment, and not only am I grateful for them, but they were extremely important for shaping the way my life unfolded at the time. Had I omitted them from the book, I’d not have been open, truthful, and sincere in giving the account of my path.

Moreover, the so-called mystical experiences and the display of otherworldly phenomena in my earlier days were actually far more extensive and prominent than what I described in the book. I excluded many such events and experiences because I didn’t want a substantial portion of the book dedicated to these matters. I don’t hold anyone at fault for having doubts about them. It’s important to emphasize that the purpose of these initial chapters is not to inflate anyone’s ego; on the contrary, they highlight the significant pitfalls that may arise from pursuing such a direction, as well as the unexpected beauty and miraculous nature of manifestation.

When we live life from a deeper dimension of being, we open ourselves to the wondrous fragrance of existence. We don’t need to walk on water or part the sea to experience the extraordinary, because each breath, each heartbeat, each sight, each sound, each sensation, each taste, each smell, and each moment is full of itself, luminous, undivided, and overflowing with extraordinariness.

Q: Can practicing in specific “sacred” locations be beneficial?  

A: Undoubtedly, certain locations are endowed with an energy capable of amplifying your sadhana. Practicing amid the embrace of nature, for instance, is better than practicing within the confines of a shopping center. Some places exude an aura of profound energy, discernible to those who are sensitive. Furthermore, practicing with advanced practitioners or within the presence of a liberated being can also elevate your sadhana to new heights. Yet, unless you have very particular circumstances, the majority of your sitting practice time will unfold in your house. Therefore, choose a specific space for sadhana, even if it’s just a small corner, and if possible, use it solely for that purpose. Infuse your practice space with “spiritual” or “meditative” elements, which can be as simple as a candle. That candle will not be a mere candle but a representation of the light of consciousness guiding you to your true home.

These little details can turn any environment into an environment more conducive for sitting practice, and you will have a reminiscent of those “sacred locations” that you mention right within your own living space.

However, it is important to realize that although the energy of a place can positively affect your sadhana, the mind and its level of activity (and thereby aid the pacification of thoughts, the flow of energy, and the overall restlessness of your body-mind), when it comes to settling into “I am,” this self-aware joy of being is available everywhere, regardless of the place or time. In the heart of awareness, all the sacredness can be found.

Q: I’m alone on my spiritual journey. People around me are not understanding, offering little solace or support, and perhaps even casting doubt upon my sanity. How do I cope with this?  

A: The vast majority of the world looks at those who invest time in self-discovery and spiritual practice as the odd ones out. However, a closer examination reveals that it is not the genuine spiritual seekers who are sick; rather, there is a collective malaise afflicting the very fabric of society. Everyone is playing a game of pretending. In their quest for enlightenment, the truth-seekers stand as outliers, challenging the status quo that thrives on illusion.

To comprehend the genuine pursuit of truth requires a departure from the golden handcuffs of the collectivemind, which demands a degree of maturity that is rarely seen.

The pervasive condition of suffering, coupled with an incessant sense of inadequacy and an unrelenting feeling of lacking, is the normal state of probably everyone you know. People don’t understand those who seek the truth because people live in a state of ignorance. The divergence between those who seek the truth and those who unconsciously dwell in ignorance mirrors the difference between authenticity and conformity.

Do not let society be the arbiter of value.

There are books and teachings that extend a comforting hand, assuring you that you are not alone; they guide you toward your center. There are also communities, people all around the world, who are genuinely seeking the truth, those who have realized that everlasting happiness and completeness are not achieved by “looking outward.”

I know it’s not easy. I’ve been in solitude. Yet, opening the door to my heart allowed me to realize that I’ve never really been alone. And once you open yours, you’ll know you’ve never been alone either.

I am with you, and I stand with those legitimately seeking something more than what the commonly shared superficial outlooks and societal facades appear to present. You are never walking alone. Be like space and allow grace to fill you up.

More questions and answers coming on April 1st.

If you have any questions or would love to deepen your path, check out the mentorship program.