Many spiritual seekers are looking for a magic bullet that will liberate them from their compulsive fascination with the fears and concerns of the small self.
They have tasted the inherent freedom of awakened awareness, once, twice or even many times, but each time it eventually dissipates leaving them hungry and searching for freedom once again.
They become convinced that what they need is to have an experience big enough to catapult them into a continuous state of inner freedom, so they start looking for that magic bullet experience that will end the cycles of seeking.
In their quest for a magic bullet, they begin a daily meditation practice and sit diligently day after day. They have more experiences but none of them is big enough to stick.
So they conclude that they need more concentrated time to meditate and decide to go on a meditation retreat for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months.
Now they are sure to have the big experience they’ve been looking for. They sit down and practice hard, staying diligently focused until they begin to feel the expansive quality of inner freedom swell in their being.
But each time they are about to be swept away into permanent awakening, they find themselves getting caught in some thought or feeling, and the freedom that had begun to overtake them is gone.
They dive back into the practice, meditating even harder now, more focused, more concentrated, more relaxed, and more determined than ever to generate an experience that never goes away.
This is the Magic Bullet theory of practice and it almost never works.
Sure, there have been some spiritual adepts who appear to have had a profound awakening ignited by a single magic bullet experience, but that feels like a one in a million shot.
Our experience tells us that the vast majority of people are not going to awaken through a single explosive event.
The reason why seeking for a magic bullet doesn’t work is quite simply because experiences don’t stick. All experiences are fleeting. They come and go.
No matter how hard we try, they never become permanent because that is not how awakening works.
So how does it work?
First of all, we have to consider what the goal is. If we think the goal of our spiritual quest is to abide in a permanent state of freedom and awakened awareness, we will never escape from the endless quest for a spiritual experience that sticks.
The goal of spiritual practice is not to live in an experience of continuous freedom. The goal is to be free.
What we’re talking about is a shift in our motivation for practice. Initially on the path we are motivated by wanting to experience freedom, in other words, to feel free all the time.
As our practice matures, our motivation shifts until we start to want to actually be free. And there is a big difference between these two.
Feeling free is not being free. Feeling free is a wonderful way to feel and it happens to be easy to be free when we feel free.
But, and this is very important, if we are only free when we feel free, we are not free at all.
Being free does not mean feeling free. Being free means being content no matter how we feel.
The secret to being free is knowing that, at the core of our being, we already are free.
When we enter into the majestic experience of awakened awareness, we are not seeing a possibility of who we could be. We are seeing the reality of who we are.
Unfortunately, until we are completely convinced about who we really are, we will most likely continue to seek for more confirmation. And as long as we are caught in unending cycles of seeking, we can’t realize our true nature and allow it to become the source of our life.
Its like looking all over the house for the keys that are in your hand. As long as you keep frantically looking, you don’t notice that you already have them. And even more importantly, you can’t leave the house, drive the car, and get on with your life.
Experiencing the reality of our True Nature a few times is generally not enough to give us the confidence we need to let go and stop seeking.
Working hard on long retreats in search of a magic bullet experience is more likely to discourage us than build our confidence.
What we need is a new understanding of practice and we call it Direct Awakening.
When we practice meditation in the context of Direct Awakening, we discover that we can simply shift our attention to the part of us that is already awake and free every time our mind wanders.
Each time we do this, we gain confidence in the ever-present nature of our true self, but, and once again this is important, only if we do it effortlessly.
If you learn how to shift your attention to the inherent freedom of your true nature instantaneously and without effort, the repeated experience of immediate access to the part of you that is already awake and free will eventually convince you that you no longer need more confirmation.
You don’t need more spiritual experiences because you already know who you are.
Spending time on retreat gives us the opportunity to practice instantaneously shifting our attention back onto the freedom of our true nature over and over again until we know without doubt who we really are.
Every time our mind wanders and we get caught up in the concerns of our limited sense of self, we simply shift our attention back to the expansive freedom at the core of our being. Every time we instantaneously shift back to freedom, we trust that freedom more.
Eventually we come to a point where we simply don’t doubt the inherent fullness of our true nature any more. We know it is always there. We stop being concerned when our attention wanders during practice.
We can even go so far that we don’t bother to shift our attention back when it wanders, because we know freedom is there anyway even though our attention inevitably shifts in and out of it.
This is when we discover the most profound depths of meditation. Some might assume that once you are doubtless about who you are, there is no need to engage in spiritual practice.
Not true. That is the best time to engage in practice, because now you are no longer trying to manipulate or control your experience in any way at all.
Now when you sit in meditation, you are just sitting free and open without any agenda. You know who you are, you have no need for an experience to confirm it, and so you are available for whatever journey unfolds.
This is the true posture of meditation. Perfect availability. This is when the true mysteries of the spirit begin to open up to you. This is not a time to stop doing practice, this is when practice begins to yield the most precious of its fruits.