how extraordinary! how beautiful!

Please tell me this: how does it profit one to be convinced that everything one takes to be true and real – beliefs, body, belongings – is so, when at the end it all “becomes transparent”? How can we heedlessly march into that Great Transparency without unshakeable awareness of the pure Clear Light? How can we deprive ourselves of the extraordinary beauty it unveils?

Pir Elias Amidon reflects on these questions in the light of his own experience. How beautiful!

The Clear Light and the beauty of the world - Pir Elias Amidon


At the moment of our death, when the messages of our senses cease and the contents of our mind become transparent, The Tibetan Book of the Dead offers this instruction:

Remember the Clear Light, the pure Clear Light from which everything in the universe comes, to which everything in the universe returns; the original nature of your own mind….
Let go into the Clear Light, trust it, merge with it.
It is your own true nature, it is home.

When I first read that passage as a young man I was deeply moved and reassured — it assured me that the confusion and loneliness I felt as a twenty-two year-old would vanish one day in that great, final homecoming. I didn’t understand what this “Clear Light” was, but it didn’t matter — the certainty of the voice in the Book of the Dead comforted me. The Clear Light would come.

And meanwhile, I would just have to make the best of it. So in the years that followed — my twenties and thirties — I kept attempting to find or build some kind of substitute, metaphorical home in which I could belong during my exile here on earth.

I realize now that I had succumbed to the old polarity of my species: the sacred hereafter and the profane here, heaven and earth, light and dark. As far as I can understand it, this polarity has its genesis in our need to identify ourselves as individual beings separate from the other beings and objects of the world: me in here and all the rest out there. The dominance of the “me in here” sets up the added polarity of my suffering and incompleteness now versus the promise of redemption and homecoming in the future.

Of course, these kinds of polarities are understandable — we are two-legged organisms walking about, seemingly disconnected from the earth and sky, and anxious about avoiding any dangers that might be lurking on our path. It appears we are separate beings.

It took me a few decades of spiritual practice and inquiry — not to mention the normal sufferings life provides — to realize that the nature of reality only appears to be split into these dualities. As one of my teachers, Murshida Sitara Brutnell, once cryptically said, “There is no other.” This whole show is one magnificent Happening, one awesome Brilliance reflected in the infinite prisms of possibility. Which means that we — you and I right now, every humming atom of us, every thought and feeling, every movement — are inextricably part of this blossoming of spontaneous light.

Sufis call this wahdat-al-wujud, the Oneness of Existence. Nothing stands outside of its Oneness and Suchness — there is no other. The multiplicity of the phenomenal world is sometimes imaged by Sufis as a veil over the Absolute, though the veil and the Absolute are not seen as two different things, rather “the veil is the external epiphany of the Absolute.” Or, as the 14th century Persian Sufi Mahmud Shabastari wrote, “The whole world of Being is the beams of the Absolute Light. The Absolute remains hidden because it is so clearly manifest.”

Which brings us back to the Tibetan notion of the Clear Light, surely the same as Shabastari’s “Absolute Light.” The Clear Light is not, as I had first thought, something waiting out there to welcome me when I die. It is present now, right here, both as perceptible as all the apparent things and thoughts and feelings of this world, and as imperceptible, invisible, and transparent as the awareness in which these words appear to us right now. The “light” of awareness, the Clear Light, “the original nature of your own mind,” all indicate this same “light” that can’t be seen or located, though it is unmistakably, spontaneously present. “God’s Light is in the heavens and the earth,” says the Bible and the Quran. And the Quran adds, “whichever way you turn, there is its presence.”

When I die I imagine that one of my last feelings will be, “How beautiful!” I won’t be referring to the beauty of where I’m going (I have no idea about that), but how beautiful is where I’ve been, this astonishing earth, sky, and cosmos, this astonishing body and its capacity to know and love. As the mystic-philosopher Francois Cheng remarked, “The universe is not obliged to be beautiful, and yet it is beautiful.” How extraordinary!

The mystery of the Clear Light and the mystery of the beauty of the universe have become the central contemplations of my life. “Beauty” (I’m fond of repeating these words of Ibn ‘Arabi) “is the welcoming openness of the truth toward us.” Somehow the “truth” of the unchanging Clear Light is revealed by ever-changing beauty. “God is beautiful and loves beauty,” a hadith tells us. Spontaneous, ephemeral beauty — the beauty of a song, a kiss, a passing cloud, a glint of sunlight — each one a momentary revelation of the unborn Clear Light, our home.

– Pir Elias Amidon

Text and image sourced from The Open Path

The Tibetan Book of the Dead


embracing otherness, embracing myself

Let’s not be freaked out by our bountiful nothingness.
It’s more a reality than the ones our selves have created.
Imagine what kind of existence we can have if we honor inevitable death of self,
appreciate the privilege of life
and marvel at what comes next.
Simple awareness is where it begins.

– Thandie Newton




Embracing otherness. When I first heard this theme, I thought, well, embracing otherness is embracing myself. And the journey to that place of understanding and acceptance has been an interesting one for me, and it’s given me an insight into the whole notion of self, which I think is worth sharing with you today.

We each have a self, but I don’t think that we’re born with one. You know how newborn babies – they’re not separate? Well that fundamental sense of oneness is lost on us very quickly. It’s like that initial stage is over — oneness: infancy, unformed, primitive. It’s no longer valid or real. What is real is separateness, and at some point in early babyhood, the idea of self starts to form. Our little portion of oneness is given a name, is told all kinds of things about itself, and these details, opinions and ideas become facts, which go towards building ourselves, our identity. And that self becomes the vehicle for navigating our social world. But the self is a projection based on other people’s projections. Is it who we really are? Or who we really want to be, or should be?

So this whole interaction with self and identity was a very difficult one for me growing up. The self that I attempted to take out into the world was rejected over and over again. And my panic at not having a self that fit, and the confusion that came from my self being rejected, created anxiety, shame and hopelessness, which kind of defined me for a long time. But in retrospect, the destruction of my self was so repetitive that I started to see a pattern. The self changed, got affected, broken, destroyed, but another one would evolve — sometimes stronger, sometimes hateful, sometimes not wanting to be there at all. The self was not constant. And how many times would my self have to die before I realised that it was never alive in the first place?

I grew up on the coast of England in the ’70s. My dad is white from Cornwall, and my mom is black from Zimbabwe. Even the idea of us as a family was challenging to most people. But nature had its wicked way, and brown babies were born. But from about the age of five, I was aware that I didn’t fit. I was the black atheist kid in the all-white Catholic school run by nuns. I was an anomaly, and my self was rooting around for definition and trying to plug in. Because the self likes to fit, to see itself replicated, to belong. That confirms its existence and its importance. And it is important. It has an extremely important function. Without it, we literally can’t interface with others. We can’t hatch plans and climb that stairway of popularity, of success. But my skin color wasn’t right. My hair wasn’t right. My history wasn’t right. My self became defined by otherness, which meant that, in that social world, I didn’t really exist. And I was “other” before being anything else — even before being a girl. I was a noticeable nobody.
Another world was opening up around this time: performance and dancing. That nagging dread of self-hood didn’t exist when I was dancing. I’d literally lose myself. And I was a really good dancer. I would put all my emotional expression into my dancing. I could be in the movement in a way that I wasn’t able to be in my real life, in myself.

And at 16, I stumbled across another opportunity, and I earned my first acting role in a film. I can hardly find the words to describe the peace I felt when I was acting. My dysfunctional self could actually plug in to another self, not my own, and it felt so good. It was the first time that I existed inside a fully-functioning self — one that I controlled, that I steered, that I gave life to. But the shooting day would end, and I’d return to my gnarly, awkward self.

By 19, I was a fully-fledged movie actor, but still searching for definition. I applied to read anthropology at university. Dr. Phyllis Lee gave me my interview, and she asked me, “How would you define race?” Well, I thought I had the answer to that one, and I said, “Skin colour.” “So biology, genetics?” she said. “Because, Thandie, that’s not accurate. Because there’s actually more genetic difference between a black Kenyan and a black Ugandan than there is between a black Kenyan and, say, a white Norwegian. Because we all stem from Africa. So in Africa, there’s been more time to create genetic diversity.” In other words, race has no basis in biological or scientific fact. On the one hand, result. Right? On the other hand, my definition of self just lost a huge chunk of its credibility. But what was credible, what is biological and scientific fact, is that we all stem from Africa — in fact, from a woman called Mitochondrial Eve who lived 160,000 years ago. And race is an illegitimate concept which our selves have created based on fear and ignorance.

Strangely, these revelations didn’t cure my low self-esteem, that feeling of otherness. My desire to disappear was still very powerful. I had a degree from Cambridge; I had a thriving career, but my self was a car crash, and I wound up with bulimia and on a therapist’s couch. And of course I did. I still believed my self was all I was. I still valued self-worth above all other worth, and what was there to suggest otherwise? We’ve created entire value systems and a physical reality to support the worth of self. Look at the industry for self-image and the jobs it creates, the revenue it turns over. We’d be right in assuming that the self is an actual living thing. But it’s not. It’s a projection which our clever brains create in order to cheat ourselves from the reality of death.

But there is something that can give the self ultimate and infinite connection — and that thing is oneness, our essence. The self’s struggle for authenticity and definition will never end unless it’s connected to its creator — to you and to me. And that can happen with awareness — awareness of the reality of oneness and the projection of self-hood. For a start, we can think about all the times when we do lose ourselves. It happens when I dance, when I’m acting. I’m earthed in my essence, and my self is suspended. In those moments, I’m connected to everything — the ground, the air, the sounds, the energy from the audience. All my senses are alert and alive in much the same way as an infant might feel — that feeling of oneness.

And when I’m acting a role, I inhabit another self, and I give it life for awhile, because when the self is suspended so is divisiveness and judgment. And I’ve played everything from a vengeful ghost in the time of slavery to Secretary of State in 2004. And no matter how other these selves might be, they’re all related in me. And I honestly believe the key to my success as an actor and my progress as a person has been the very lack of self that used to make me feel so anxious and insecure. I always wondered why I could feel others’ pain so deeply, why I could recognise the somebody in the nobody. It’s because I didn’t have a self to get in the way. I thought I lacked substance, and the fact that I could feel others’ meant that I had nothing of myself to feel. The thing that was a source of shame was actually a source of enlightenment.

And when I realised and really understood that my self is a projection and that it has a function, a funny thing happened. I stopped giving it so much authority. I give it its due. I take it to therapy. I’ve become very familiar with its dysfunctional behaviour. But I’m not ashamed of my self. In fact, I respect my self and its function. And over time and with practice, I’ve tried to live more and more from my essence. And if you can do that, incredible things happen.

I was in Congo in February, dancing and celebrating with women who’ve survived the destruction of their selves in literally unthinkable ways — destroyed because other brutalized, psychopathic selves all over that beautiful land are fueling our selves’ addiction to iPods, Pads, and bling, which further disconnect ourselves from ever feeling their pain, their suffering, their death. Because, hey, if we’re all living in ourselves and mistaking it for life, then we’re devaluing and desensitizing life. And in that disconnected state, yeah, we can build factory farms with no windows, destroy marine life and use rape as a weapon of war. So here’s a note to self: The cracks have started to show in our constructed world, and oceans will continue to surge through the cracks, and oil and blood, rivers of it.

Crucially, we haven’t been figuring out how to live in oneness with the Earth and every other living thing. We’ve just been insanely trying to figure out how to live with each other — billions of each other. Only we’re not living with each other; our crazy selves are living with each other and perpetuating an epidemic of disconnection.

Let’s live with each other and take it a breath at a time. If we can get under that heavy self, light a torch of awareness, and find our essence, our connection to the infinite and every other living thing. We knew it from the day we were born. Let’s not be freaked out by our bountiful nothingness. It’s more a reality than the ones our selves have created. Imagine what kind of existence we can have if we honor inevitable death of self, appreciate the privilege of life and marvel at what comes next. Simple awareness is where it begins.

Thank you for listening.

– Thandie Newton




cracking open

This is a guest post written by my friend Amrita Skye Blaine. It was first posted, in part, on her blog The Heart of the Matter. I’m sure most readers will find themselves nodding in recognition at her personal description of her path from belief in the myth of separation (from the holy Whole), to the understanding of how we perpetuate this myth via our unexamined thoughts, to the full-blown and embodied apperception of the impossibility of separation.

Which is where the story of our life really begins, in Truth.


Cracking Open - image credit


When we are born, we are wide open; innocent and vulnerable, we know nothing, and trust everything. From that moment forward, we develop a shell of protection. This may occur quickly if our infancy is traumatic, or incrementally if we are raised in a nurturing and safe environment. But the shell develops, either way—in response to being denied, physically hurt or neglected, snapped at, not understood, or any number of other ways we are shaken into learning that we are separate. Our parents teach us this too, in hundreds of tiny ways. I cannot speak for all countries, but in the western cultures, we do not escape the experience of separation.

We cling to our shell because it is familiar. It is how we have learned to move in the world, based on decisions we made at a very early age. I learned that I needed to protect myself from my older brother’s wrath, and then expanded that world view to include all men. I understood that if I didn’t abide by my mother’s rules, she psychically withdrew her love. My heart contracted; it no longer felt safe or comfortable to remain open.

Later in life, some of us are drawn to unlearning this sense of separation that we have accumulated. This can occur abruptly, but that is rare. For me, it has taken a long time. Perhaps this process begins on our own, but it is more likely that we find a teacher, someone who can point both by the example of their presence, and their teachings, to the deeper truth of who and what we are.

Finally, after many decades, and with the pointers of more than one teacher, a dear and thoughtful husband, and friends, I learned to see the ways that I cut myself off, made myself separate. Later, I saw how believing my thoughts framed my world, and the old patterns and conditioning fell away more quickly. This leaves a softer and more vulnerable heart; this is the process of cracking open. Just like the baby chicken who grows until its shell is so unbearably tight that in desperation it flails and pecks it until it breaks, we too must crack open the shell of our own creation. After the first crack, when a touch of light pours in and we taste a new way, the unlearning may be able to be slowed, but it will not be stopped. We crack open to the truth and to love until we see that they are not two. We were never separate—never were, never can be.

– Amrita Skye Blaine

 The Heart of the Matter

Amrita’s unedited text concluded with a quote from yours truly –
something I’d written in a comment on my last post
imperishable, unnameable, the unknowing

“It is exactly so: the shape of the heart is changed. And there is no way back.”
Thank you dear Amrita.

Image source

who is this moment?

One hundred years ago my generation’s grandparents woke to the news that the world was at war. Many of them, and their own children – our parents – perished in that conflict (the one that was meant to be “the war to end all wars” – remember?) Many more perished in the second, perhaps deadlier version, and there’s no end in sight to the many current conflicts that plague peace on our beautiful planet.

One hundred and one years ago today, my dad was born. It hadn’t happened yet, but Hiroshima Day would become a grisly marker for his birthday. When I asked him how it felt to share his birthday with the remembrance of that atrocity he was uncharacteristically quiet. He said, “It was the war, dear.” His tone implied that it was something I wouldn’t ever properly understand, not having lived through such times, and he was right. But the sense of his resignation fuelled my lifelong inquiry into the nature and causes of human conflict.

Today I want to take some quiet time to honour my dad, to thank him for all the ways he (usually unintentionally) helped to pave my path. I also want to honour the countless souls who perished in those global conflicts, and those who continue to be caught up in the outrageous and totally avoidable conflicts that are occurring right now, as I type…

I haven’t a magic wand that I can wave over the mayhem to restore sanity to a species gone mad, but I do have a question. To answer this age-old question for oneself takes courage; to live the truth of what is discovered is not an option but an imperative. It just might be the only chance we have – as a species – to survive the old story of separation that drives the war machine. And to change the course of history.

Who is this moment that is morphing, with every thought, into a ‘me’ with its skeleton of opinions, certitude and self-righteousness? This ‘me’ who is so programmed by received ideology that it would make of its siblings, parents or neighbours an enemy; that it would exterminate innocents intentionally or unintentionally? Who is this ‘me’-moment that believes itself to be separate from others, who can look into their eyes and fail to see its own Beingness looking back?

There is no one else, nothing else. There is nothing to be found outside yourself.

"Outside of this there is nothing." original sumi painting for your altar or mediation space. The quote is from the Zenrin Kushu, by Seiko Morningstar illustrator of Zen by the Brush. A circle is called an enso and is a common image in Zen Calligraphy. Naturally there is no inside, no outside, no beginning and no end.

When the ego is dead, a new kind of life begins. This is why it is said that when you see the true nature of yourself, there is no way that you can live your life in the old way. It may take a long time to actualize it, but once you see it, it is like an itch that needs to be attended to.

Once we see what is real, it’s very difficult to hide from reality. Before we see it, we can plead ignorance and kind of bungle along, deluding ourselves about our existence. We can blame it on our parents or the president or any number of people, places, and things in order to avoid our responsibility. We can always be a victim, like the unfortunate soul caught in the “winds of circumstances.”

When you realize yourself, all of that self-deception is ended because you find out who is really responsible. It is you. You are the responsible party. There is no one else, nothing else. There is nothing to be found outside yourself.

At first, it is an awesome realization to be responsible, to have no one to blame anymore. It sounds silly if you try and say, “He made me angry,” or “He made me do it,” or “It’s her fault.” It sounds ridiculous, once you have realized yourself, to make the statement “I’m just a victim of circumstances.”

You realize that you are the circumstances, that you create what you experience, that what you do and what happens to you are identical. You realize that cause and effect are immediate and instantaneous; cause doesn’t precede effect, nor does effect follow cause.

If you want to know the past, look at this moment. If you want to know the future, look at this moment. This moment is the future and the past. Where will you find this moment? Who is this moment? What is this moment?

–  John Diado Loori, in Mountain Record of Zen Talks


Calligraphy by Seiko Morningstar – the quote is from the Zenrin Kushu.