Unbinding - Selections

The Grace Beyond Self

An invitation to everyday mystics: unbind yourself from the causes of suffering and step into grace.

 

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Wise View

1.

Unbinding

Unbinding is a book for mystics. I am not using the word mystic in its usual connotation, with images of celestial visions or walks in haloed glory. I’m using the word here in a specific and practical way. A dictionary definition—precise and lovely—describes a mystic as “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the . . . Absolute.” We could extend that definition to include a person who seeks, by contemplation and self-surrender, to recognize the Absolute as always and already ever-present, the very ground and essence of our being.

In that sense, every sincere practitioner from every wisdom tradition is a mystic. We all practice contemplation and self-surrender out of a deep, grace-engendered longing for the sacred. My intention here is to speak in broad language to all mystics—crossing traditions with words, insights, teachings I’ve been blessed to receive from many teachers, and views that are useful for practitioners from any lineage. We all want the freedom of sanity and peace, the undefended inclusiveness of love. We all want refuge in grace.

Steadfast and sincere practitioners from any authentic tradition recognize that we share a commonality of blessings: depth, insight, and mutually known experiential referents. We have all tasted awareness beyond self. We also hold in common ripening qualities of wisdom and compassion, love and peacefulness, as grace fills the spaces previously occupied by shallowness and confusion. I no longer think it matters so much what we label ourselves when we meet together—whether Buddhist, Christian, or Hindu, for example—except in terms of honoring and accrediting the insights we can share from our own paths. Together in grace, it doesn’t seem to matter how we got here.

Contemplatives have long recognized that the word God connotes so much more than “a superior being.” Such a notion diminishes what we point to with the word. God refers to infinite Being. It is called the dharmakaya in Buddhism. When we meet together, in person or through a book, I use the word grace as an ecumenical word denoting the sacred, denoting Being, denoting God. Grace seems to be a word sincere practitioners from all traditions can live with, as it turns all our hearts to the light. We all understand the Great Mystery can only be hinted at. Words only point us toward it.

The word grace is used throughout this book to speak of that from which we have never for a moment been separate, except in our confusion. Grace points to an inconceivable, pervasive, sacred immensity, containing, in the present, the love of every being who ever lived—the love of Jesus, Buddha, the saints and sages, all our ancestors and every departed loved one as well as the love of all those yet unborn.

Unbinding looks closely, almost under a magnifying glass, at the confusions and obstructions that arise in each of us as we incline toward the sacred—or, we could say, as the sacred inclines us toward it. We will look closely at the causes and conditions that create, to whatever degree, our bewildered unease and hesitation—like a startled fawn—before the always open door into the Absolute, the ground of our being. We’ll look at what keeps pulling us back into the tight and binding grip of self-reference in spite of grace’s welcome out of it, in spite of our heartfelt longing to respond to the invitation.

Whether we’re new to practice or our meditation cushions are already well worn, we’ve all seen the aphorisms and easy answers that float around, advising us to let go of our anxieties, step free of our masks, walk away from our dramas and our penchant for drama creation. There’s a market for bumper-sticker platitudes and the feel-good memes of social media. And yet surely, if we could do any of those things as easily as most of the glib words suggest, we would have done so already.

For a long while on our spiritual journey, we’re stuck—like flies on flypaper—in ego. In spite of our growing longing for the sacred as grace arises in us, calling us, we keep ourselves stuck through ignorance. Ignorance is our willingness to ignore, to not examine or inquire into what’s actually going on, what this egoic sense of self actually is. Ignorance supports the suffering—both great and small—that the separate self-sense experiences. It is suffering’s supporting condition, the foundation upon which suffering rests.

Ignorance blocks the wisdom that can free us. I can’t let go of my anxieties without seeing the causes that create them. I can’t step free of my masks without uncovering the seductive pull to keep them in place. I can’t simply cease my drama churning until I have some understanding of the dynamics that compel me over and over to continue to create them.

Seeing—actually looking at what’s going on—operates at a focused energetic level, with a laser-like intensity of attention. Clear seeing has far more power than the diffuse “spiritual thoughts” we often allow to remain mere platitude. We tend to treat truths glibly; we treat them as if we already know and fully understand their meaning. In doing so we obstruct their potential to actually impact us. We skip the personal implications of truth. In so doing we deny ourselves the great spiritual opportunity of embodying truth.

How many times have you heard people say things such as “God’s will be done” or “Mind creates our reality”? Imagine how different our lives would be if we actually lived the meaning instead of mouthing the words. We would live in an utterly different world, already free of suffering. I think often of the impact on us if we were to take Jesus’s words to heart and simply “love one another”—a phrase we think we understand.

Conceptualization is easy. Conceptualization, though, is not seeing, and it has no transformative value. Seeing is direct experience, direct realization, and it can radically shift both our experience of being and our view. We unbind from limitation through seeing, through direct realization at the level of our own hearts.

Most of us have been blessed with insights, no matter how fleeting, into all that lies beyond the trapped attention and subsequently limited world of ego. We’ve been blessed with a longing, ever growing, for a deeper experience of being. Yet most of us spend many of our waking hours solidifying, without questioning, the very sense of egoic self that keeps us feeling separate from the sacred.

We spend most of our days, even as sincere practitioners, in ignorance of the true nature of things, in ignorance of a radiant and always accessible reality, hidden in plain view and available to us in this and every second. Just pause for a moment, if you like. Quiet. Just recognize ever-present awareness. This pausing to quiet is something we don’t ordinarily do.

We spend most of our days ignoring the very ground of our being. We remain unaware of the causes and conditions that give rise to the mistaken belief that we are separate from grace and our consequent self-referential and stressful experience of life. Our experience of existence is most often lived trapped and bound, believing in a limited and mistaken sense of the totality of who we are. Endless energy is spent comparing, judging, strategizing, manipulating, preening, and defending our own ego. It’s exhausting and stressful. Ultimately, ego is illusory. It’s not the truth of our being. We believe ourselves to be so much less than we are.

Although we have the heartfelt desire to free ourselves from that limited sense of existence, ego remains our default position. It remains our default position until we clearly see the suffering, gross and subtle, so endemic in our small self-referential fixation and grow in our willingness to simply surrender the identification. Unbinding offers insight into the ways of liberation from that suffering—practical insight, insight that can be practiced, realized, and embodied. And, as is the practice of mystics, it offers ample opportunity for contemplation and self-surrender.

All reverence and honor is due the contributions of every authentic path leading us back to our own essential nature—our Buddha seed, our divine spark, our communion in unconditioned holiness. Honor and reverence for every tradition’s contribution arise naturally in all of us. As our commitment to awakening grows and matures, we resonate with every phrasing of wisdom. For the sincere practitioner, each articulation of the truth, from any lineage, can amplify our understanding of every other articulation of the truth.

Krishnamurti, the great twentieth-century Vedic mystic, counseled us to find truth, not through dogma or creed or ritual, but through the understanding of our own mind—through observation. Christian mystics have long recognized, as thirteenth-century St. Bonaventure phrased it, that “unless we are able to view things in terms of how they originate, how they are to return to their end, and how God shines forth in them, we will not be able to understand.”

Buddha offered methods or “skillful means”—practices pointing us toward a clarity through which to view the “origination,” “return,” and the essential nature St. Bonaventure speaks about.

I remember being a fast and wiry kid, loving track and field events— short dashes, long races, running broad jumps, etc. For the life of me though, I couldn’t figure out how to do a standing broad jump. I would stand at the line frozen, completely confused as to how to move what to propel my body forward in a leap. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to do it. This frozen paralysis is how many of us feel, imagining a “line” across which we must leap to live in the grace we long for. So many of us feel we don’t know “how” to take refuge in grace, to enter it and live from it.

Buddha’s insights offer a “how.” And so, while Unbinding will incorporate the insights and realizations of many wisdom traditions, it rests in great measure on Buddha’s sharing of his realized awareness.

In his thirty-three years of teaching and his eighty-four thousand teachings, Buddha’s primary message, repeated over and over, was: “I teach suffering and the end of suffering.” Out of deep compassion, he wanted to share his wisdom with all suffering beings. He shared so that we all may understand our situation and awaken into the realization of our true nature.

It makes sense for any of us on a spiritual path, no matter which lineage, to pay close and open attention to the wisdom he offered. Rodney Smith, a deeply respected Buddhist teacher, suggests that when we approach these teachings—any sacred teaching—we want our attentiveness to rise to the elevation of the wisdom. We want to mix our mind with the meaning, to allow the wisdom imparted to become our own wisdom realized.

It makes sense for any of us on a spiritual path, again no matter within which lineage, to investigate how Buddha’s insights apply to us personally, to investigate their implications in the living of our lives. Buddha’s teachings can help every one of us examine the workings of our own minds. They can help us all surrender our identification with the sense of self these dynamics produce and erase the imaginary barrier seemingly separating us from grace.

The profundity of Buddha’s gift lies in the access his teachings give us to insight. Insight into the illusory nature of ego can free trapped attention in a way few other paths teach. His offering is the offering of a path of seeing through illusions.

Buddha offered us a template through which to look. He suggested we look carefully at the causes and conditions that give rise to our pervasive egoic sense of separation. “Causes and conditions” is a phrase often used in Buddhist teachings. It refers to the complex confluences that give rise to appearances and experiences. Cause refers to a seed, a potentiality. Condition refers to circumstances and influences that allow the seed to germinate and flourish. In our discussion in Unbinding, the seed we will be exploring is the seed of the “I”-illusion, a cause arisen from previous habituating conditions. The conditions we’ll be exploring are the circumstances that provide the fertile ground for egoic self to appear, for the latency to manifest.

Wise view is the Buddhist term for a focused clarity of mind that inquires into the truth as well as the insights and realizations—the wisdom—that arise from the inquiry.

Without wise view our experience of life is an entangled, bewildering, and stressful confluence of conditions that control our body, speech, and mind. Particularly in his teachings on the four noble truths and his teachings on dependent arising—which we will explore in great detail—the template Buddha offers allows us a view leading from confusion to clarity, from unease to ease, from defendedness to love. It is a view that allows unbinding from all that binds us.

We will look at the processes that give rise to—that literally create— the egoic sense of self. By “egoic sense of self,” “the separate self-sense,” “the ‘I’-illusion,” I am referring to a foundational default experience of life each of us knows intimately. It’s the experience of walking an inner dialogue—an ongoing, self-referential commentary—through the world with a sense that this inner dialogue is “me.” It’s a sense of self, bound within a body, separate from everything else, isolated and alone. It is the sense of self we believe to be the summation and extent of who we are.

We hold that separate self-sense as the definitive statement of our nature, limiting our experience of being in the process. We will look at the craving for becoming “someone,” an endeavor undertaken within ignorance. Our craving for becoming, our compulsion to be “somebody,” is like the rush to fill the last empty chair in a game of musical chairs.

We want to land in a separate sense of self, an “I”-illusion. In our ignorance, we believe anchoring in an egoic sense of self will keep us safe, will keep us from falling into an imagined abyss, into imagined nothingness. We are like the proverbial horse returning to the burning barn.

The poet T. S. Eliot called us all “the hollow men.” We uneasily keep reaching for bromides to push down the gnawing intuition, often arising in the midst of a sleepless night, that we don’t have a clue what this life, this world, this inexorable march toward death, is about. There’s a vacancy, a hollowness, a foundational and unsettling question mark at the very center of our egoic sense of self. Hidden beneath all the assumptions we cling to, ego registers an unwelcome sense that we don’t really have a clue.

Rather than plummeting into that fearful unknowing, we engage in an “identity project” defining who we believe ourselves to be. Unconsciously, we believe this will protect us from a fundamental yet inarticulate and deeply repressed recognition of hollowness, of illusoriness. Each of us has an identity project operating almost around the clock. We use it to protect, through definition and narrative, the tenuous and uneasy egoic sense of self in which our attention is trapped. Our identity project is noisy—endlessly proclaiming what we want, what we believe, who we think we are.

Truth be told, the call of “I” and “me” and “mine” intrigues and seduces us all in every unmindful moment. We’re addicted to the sense of an egoic self. We’re addicted to continuing the cycle of ignorance, the cycle of conditioned arisings that produces the egoic sense of “I,” as blindly as a mouse in a lab cage will just keep pushing that lever for another crummy little pellet.

Our thirst, that craving for becoming, has us in its grasp. Like a puppet master or a programmer of robots, it conditions and determines our experience, our perceptions, our thoughts and emotions. It conditions our very sense of self, that tightly woven fabrication we attempt to throw over the abyss of Mystery. Scared of chaos, scared of not knowing, we use our identity project to try to weave solid ground, try to stitch a seamless narrative we believe to be “me.”

This is what we all do when we cling to the small separate self-sense as the extent and reality of our being. This is what we all do when we are not consciously at home in our essence, our true and unlimited nature. A friend once told me he had built walls around himself, “for protection,” as he said. With real tears of despair, he talked of how he felt, how paralyzed and stuck and penned in behind the walls, unable to get out and simply be.

We all have a strong tendency to get trapped in the web we’ve woven. Our attention is ensnared and bound within the craving for an egoic self-sense. Buddha taught what he did so that we might release our attention into vaster, unconditioned being. His intention, as is grace’s intention, is that we might become unbound, that we might “alight in unbinding,” as he said, assuring us that this was possible for each of us. It is our birthright, our privilege, and our purpose to recognize our true nature as grace.

In simple and contemporary terms we will discuss practices that are accessible and eminently usable in our everyday lives, just as we are living them. Dharma—the truth and the path to the truth—works in our culture with the circumstances of our times and with our newly emergent styles of using the gifts of human capacity. We will come to recognize that Buddha’s insight was so piercing that the exact same conditioning dynamics that produce the illusion of “I” he witnessed in his mind still arise in our minds today, almost twenty-six centuries later.

Unbinding will offer views and practices that provide a template for looking at what’s going on in these minds of ours and will encourage every opportunity to see. A refrain in Buddhism is, “Recognition is liberation.” Seeing is liberation. American mystic Martin Luther King, Jr. echoed John 8:32 when he proclaimed: “The truth shall set you free.”

My suggestion is to read the book slowly, contemplatively. Note especially where you resonate. Our hearts resonate with what we already know to be true, what we’ve already realized. Such resonance validates grace’s ever-presence within us as wisdom.

There are many suggestions to pause throughout the book. The pauses allow for structured reflection. I write primarily for readers who have already established or are beginning to establish a committed daily practice. The benefit of the suggested exercises of pausing relies upon a daily practice of enough duration to allow attention to be absorbed in awareness. The suggestions presuppose a practice that has begun to train our minds in the clear seeing such stable absorption allows. They presuppose a growing ability to discern that compassion and loving-kindness lead to greater peace both within and around us; that attachment and aversion lead inevitably to tension and confusion, also both within and around us.

If you do not yet have a daily practice, I invite you to consider establishing one. If we long for awareness beyond “self,” a daily meditative practice is essential. We can’t think our way to awakening.

We charge our phones each day. It is infinitely more important to “charge” our being, connecting deliberately with ever-present grace and inviting grace to work its way with us. A daily practice works to “free” trapped attention, allowing it to remain in what the Surat Shabd Yoga tradition calls “sweet remembrance” of the sacred. With a daily practice, we offer ourselves a growing familiarity with grace as well as with what ninth-century mystic Teresa of Avila called “the three stages of prayer”—recollection, silence, and union.

We will come to know “the prayer of recollection,” a deliberate ingathering of our wandering attention. Here, we begin to reclaim the attention that is so often lost in ignorance and inessentials. We begin to experience grace as a reliable refuge free from suffering. We plant our intention to awaken within it, deepening our capacity to surrender all counter intentions within the wisdom of that refuge. We will come to know “the prayer of quiet,” entry into the peaceful absorption of silence, where self-reference remains as only a latent wisp. Cooperating with grace’s transformative work upon us, as we invite and allow it, we will come to know “the prayer of union.” We begin to rest in our own essential nature. It is not other than grace.

It is helpful to end each meditation session with a physical gesture, imprinting stillness within the body. Touch your heart, do a gesture with your hand—perhaps putting thumb and forefinger together or place your palms together in the gesture of prayer. Do whatever works for you. Once you’ve established a habit of linking meditative stillness and clarity with a bodily reminder as you arise from your practice, whatever gesture you’ve chosen can be used throughout the day to evoke stillness and clarity. Such a practice enables even a brief pause of inquiry to be of benefit.

I hope you, the reader, will accept each invitation to pause. I hope you’ll pause to inquire and contemplate even when there is no suggestion to do so. I hope you’ll follow your own heart’s direction to pause, to savor and cultivate that with which you resonate. It is in the pausing and looking that Unbinding can become more than simply informational for you. It can become transformational— deepening realizations and expanding view. And this transformational shift with deepening realization and expanding view allows a more expansive sense of identity and more subtle ways of knowing, facilitating further transformation with deepening realization and expanding view. And so it goes, endlessly into mystery’s revelation.

In our ignorance-spawned craving for the cherished “I,” the egoic self-sense rushes to fill in all the “gaps” of our constant mental churning. The pauses allow insight into the spaciousness we typically miss when unmindful. The poet Naomi Shihab Nye reminds us that “there is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer.”

When we pause, deliberately and intentionally, we allow wisdom a chance to see. We replace our typical habit of allowing ignorance to simply gloss over the surface, filling in the gaps, and imagining—with a lick and a promise—that it understands what’s going on. Every sincere practitioner knows the precious transformational shift that arises when we function with wise view, when we clearly see the truth of a teaching for ourselves, when a realized awareness shared with us becomes our own realized awareness.

The ideas expressed here are not, ultimately, mine. They come from Buddha and the yogis and yoginis who awakened within the sophisticated and skillful practices of the tradition he taught. They come from Jesus and the hundreds of thousands of contemplatives who awakened by loving him and following the simplicity of his suggestion to love one another. The ideas come from Rumi, Hafiz, Rabia and the countless mystic poets of Sufism as well as the long lineage of the nondual sages of India—innumerable heroes and heroines who walked the path before us. The ideas come from grace.

Yet the words are mine. The style too is mine. I often return to an insight multiple times, exploring it from different angles and at different levels of depth. Perhaps that comes from the experience of being a mother and knowing full well that the birth of a new being is only possible after waves of gradually widening openings. Perhaps I’m simply a slow learner. Perhaps both.

I am one of the beneficiaries of all those who pointed us toward the sacred. My words are expressed through the prism of my experience and understanding. Use the words here, as you will, for inspiration. Although they are meant ecumenically, translate, if need be, into words that hold more authentic meaning for you. All the words are simply vehicles used so that grace can work upon us.

My prayer is that my particular sharing of this universal message be of benefit. For each of us, may what needs to be seen be seen, may what needs to be healed be healed, and may what can be surrendered be surrendered.

We ourselves can realize Buddha’s realizations through contemplation of them and through the application of their meaning in our own experience. Realization takes courage, honest self-reflection, and the working of grace—as both longing and wisdom—within our precious individual manifestation.

Shining a light is revealing. To the degree that we remain steadfast in our intention, our willingness to look—to shine a light—will reveal our already present essential nature. That revelation, the result of such committed contemplation, will also uncomfortably shatter many of our unexamined beliefs, including the ones we most identify with, the ones we most cling to. The experience can be unsettling, disconcerting, even jarring. Fellow mystic Hermann Hesse said this process of revelation and transformation “tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves.”

With that potential liberative shattering in mind—the consequence of personally opening to the folly, bewilderment, madness, and dream—let me begin with a gentle introduction, an invitation into wise view.

Let’s start with some imagery, an imagistic contemplation, with which I hope you resonate.

2.

Eddies in the Stream

A solitary walk in the woods can deliver any of us to the hushed, enlivened experience of wonder—bare wonder, free from elaboration. As our feet step atop the thick carpet of sheddings returning to the earth, our face registers warmth when narrow rays of sunlight filter their way down through the million-leaved canopy. Thoughts quiet in the stillness of the woods. Self-reference diminishes in the simplicity of our seclusion. We become more present. Attention increasingly attends—to the chatter of a squirrel, the snap of a twig crunched underfoot, the scent of moss and native flowers, the refreshment of the ionized air around a nearby stream.

I have been blessed many times to walk through woods on this beautiful planet of ours. These hours of wonder and gratitude and peace gave rise to a spontaneous meditation, one that led to some understanding. It’s one I’ve contemplated often since, letting the imagery wash over me, time and time again.

Let me share this contemplation.

Imagine, if you will, a small woodland stream, fresh and freely flowing. The atmosphere around it is moist and clean and aerated. The stream’s waves bubble and crisscross, rising and falling, and the rises and the falls make their lovely babbling sounds. The small stream flows along, past the boulders and exposed roots on its banks, over the rocks and stones on its uneven bed—the deposits of a passing glacier a million years ago.

An uneven rock ledge juts out a bit from the water, just enough to create a little waterfall as the stream drops over it.

As the water rushes over the ledge, some is pushed over to the side in the stream level below. It gives rise to a small eddy in an indentation of the bank. The eddy circles, around and around, remaining fixed in its position. It becomes “backwater,” while the water of the rest of the stream flows by.

Inside the circle of the eddy, the circular movement continues its swirl, its rounds—over and over and over. Inside the eddy, momentum concentrates and moves inward to the pattern of circling. Imagine, if you will, that attention turns away from the fresh and freely flowing stream and is drawn into the centripetal force of the circular patterning. The eddy is defined by the circular pattern. Imagine, too, that it identifies inside its circled boundary as something and as something separate from the freely flowing stream.

We can imagine that, with this identification, the eddy checks its circular motion well and often, monitoring it carefully so as to circle well, to remain in the comfort of the familiar. It compares itself to neighboring eddies, judging and evaluating. It imputes itself as separate, as independent, as needing to be protective of its own circularity. It comes to cherish its swirling—the dynamic that creates its tiny universe. It comes to cherish all the debris caught within the swirls with a sense of personal reference about each of the particles trapped inside its muddied orbit.

Its view becomes myopic. It forgets all about the rounded, ancient mountain down which the stream flows. It forgets the centuries of melting snows and summer rains that create the stream, the mass of tree roots and the rutted animal paths that determine the course of the stream as it flows down the sloped terrain and through the woods. It forgets all about the small ledge of stone that creates the waterfall above it. It forgets all the immeasurable causes and conditions that give rise to its appearance.

Not looking—ignoring—the eddy assumes itself according to its ignorance. It ignores that its patterning never for a moment holds the same water. It does not look and it does not see that, in each new moment, new water is recruited, unquestioned, into the familiar circling pattern by virtue of its momentum.

Holding itself as eddy only—as an isolated phenomenon—it remains ignorant of the fact that nothing exists independently of the conditions giving rise to it, that all of life leads to each arising. It loses sight of its inseparability from the fleeting co-arising of stream and squirrel and mountain and cloud and wind and planet and galaxy, a snapshot of a moment in cosmic time.

Unaware, not looking, it ignores its fragile impermanence. A small rabbit, a fox, could cross upstream at any moment, dislodging a water-logged twig at the crest line of the fall, ever so slightly changing the course of the stream. The eddy would be gone in an instant, leaving no trace in the water, as if it were never there.

Unaware, not looking, the eddy clings to the circled fabrication. It ignores its essential nature, never realizing that its separation from the living water is only imagined. Beyond assumed identities and limitations, everything is already interconnected in all aspects.

It’s certainly not difficult to recognize ourselves in this metaphor, to recognize ourselves as eddies in the stream. It’s not difficult to recognize two similar cases of mistaken identity.

Just as our own fleeting appearance, an eddy is a temporarily stable pattern of continually changing elements. It sustains itself through constant definition—in the eddy’s case through its circularity, in our case through our equally circular inner dialogues. Just as in our own fleeting appearance, the eddy is released from self-limitation as formed pattern when it recognizes it is of the same nature as the stream.

Each of us, like every eddy, is an emergent, fleeting phenomenon arisen from immeasurable causes and conditions within which each phenomenon—including our sense of self—is utterly interdependent and empty of inherent existence from its own side. Most of us don’t yet realize, much less thoroughly embody, that truth. Contemplating Buddha’s insights offers us a chance to deepen our understanding and experience of our true nature.

Attention trapped in a self-only, form-only paradigm becomes constricted. In that constriction it becomes dense. The density of ten thousand colliding thoughts blocks the revelation of the sacred. This is our uncomfortable, congested, and confusing experience when attention is trapped in and confined to egoic consciousness. Grace, on the other hand, is unconfined and boundless. It does not exclude self and form; it does not hold them as other. It embraces them while allowing the expansion of awareness into limitlessness. It recognizes everything as of the same nature.

The problem with our egoic self-sense is that, believing it to be the final statement of who we are, we cling to it. We fixate on it and perpetuate it, allowing the precious gift of our attention to remain trapped and bound within it. This is not to suggest that “I” don’t exist at all. Clearly I, and all of us, exist but—until awakening—we exist ignorant of our true nature. After releasing our attachment to who we have believed ourselves to be, we still have a grateful, humble, and noble awareness of existing as an individual manifestation of grace. We still brush our teeth and hopefully hold doors open for each other. A sense of our individual manifestation remains necessary not just to survive but to be an offering to others, an agency of kindness and compassion. This is our humanity. The capacity to respect, appreciate, and live our full humanity arises spontaneously when attention is released from confinement within the “I”-illusion.

We are sleepwalking when the attention of awareness is trapped within a “self,” a single point of egoic reference. We are lost in a dream. Awareness of existing as an individual manifestation of grace, on the other hand, is an awakened view. Awakening is a growing illumination. Grace increasingly shines in and through us as the fog of who we had believed ourselves to be dissipates, as the congested density thins into clear spaciousness.

Awareness is an endless continuum. It extends from trapped to free, from confusion to clarity, from bound to unbound. Our clinging to an egoic self-sense keeps us in a limited point of reference on that endless continuum.

I think often about the limitations I accept and allow to be placed upon my own experience of being. Years ago my family lived in the Virgin Islands. When I traveled there to visit I knew the clear-watered, frangipani-scented paradise that awaited. I flew from a big city airport, set in a treeless, littered, wasteland of rubble with air that choked your throat. As I sat in the airport waiting for the plane, looking at the city through the windows, I would think about the people who lived and died there—who had never once left its bleakness, who never knew the beauty that lay beyond the crumbling concrete. It seems to me that such are the limitations we live in when all we know of life is the egoic self.

We misunderstand who we are. As we free our fixated self-reference, as we unbind ourselves from ignorance, ego’s functional capacities remain, but attention is liberated into a far greater continuum of being—our essential nature.