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Does Practice Lead to Awakening?

In Opening to the Infinite by Craig Hamilton and Jeff Carreira44 Comments

What does it mean to practice something?

Practice is the act of doing something, usually repetitively, so that we get good at.

Whether we are practicing the piano, the violin, or baseball, we are engaged in that activity in order to gain mastery that we will exhibit later.

We spend hours sitting behind our piano at home practicing so that when the time comes for the recital, we will be able to perform flawlessly.

This is the model for practice that is embedded in our mind. We practice something in a controlled circumstance so that we can perform perfectly when it really counts.

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.

Many of us bring this same sensibility to spiritual practices such as meditation, but this raises two obvious questions: What are we practicing? And what is the performance we are practicing for?

Our meditation practice is supposed to lead to spiritual freedom, but in order to find that freedom we have to give up the common model of practice we just described.

We have to give up any sense of doing something now so that we will attain something later. In fact we have to give up any sense of later at all.

We also have to give up any meditation technique. If we meditate by following a technique – paying attention to the breath, reciting a mantra, or visualizing an image – we can get very good at doing that without ever finding any freedom at all.

There is an approach to spiritual practice that is designed to lead to an instantaneous encounter with the already spiritually liberated reality of our deepest being.

We would hesitate to even call this way of being meditation because it is not a practice involving any interceding technique. If we want to call it practice at all, we would have to call it the practice of freedom itself. Or the practice of direct awakening.

When we practice a meditation technique, we sit down and we do something over and over again in the hopes that it will lead to some realization of the profound freedom we seek.

Many of us experience frustration in our meditation because liberation seems to evade us regardless of how hard we try.

This frustration often makes us try harder.

We assume that the reason we are not experiencing the liberation we seek is because we are “not doing it right.”

So we sit longer hours, follow our breath more relentlessly, hold a visualized image in our mind’s eye more vividly, or recite our mantra without break.

In our quest to perfect our practice, we forget what we are practicing for in the first place.

We spend years embroiled in our earnest efforts. We get really good at practicing whatever technique we’ve been taught and periodically we wonder what we are doing it for.

We both spent a great deal of time doing this kind of practice ourselves until we discovered something truly miraculous – it is possible to practice spiritual freedom directly. It is possible to abandon all techniques and simply allow yourself to realize the truth of spiritual freedom right now.

Spiritual freedom always was, is now, and always will be the reality of your true being. Your spirit was never bound or limited or constrained.

You were always free.

The trouble with the way practices like meditation are usually approached is that they are seen as a means to an end, a path that leads to a goal.

We end up striving for something that we imagine is not already here. We remain lost in the illusion of the meantime before we become who we already are.

It takes courage to let go of this way of approaching spiritual practice and embrace the inherent freedom that we are.

We have to give up any sense of needing time to become more perfect.

We have to embrace ourselves as we are fearlessly and without reservation.

Our culture has trained us to strive for more and work hard for rewards that come later.

This is the operating system that we have been taught and it has been the vehicle through which we have attained everything that we currently have.

Spiritual freedom cannot be found with this operating system. Spiritual freedom cannot be found at all. Spiritual freedom is now.

The meditation practice we teach is the practice of spiritual freedom itself. This means sitting down knowing from the start that you are already free no matter what you experience.

This is possible and it is miraculous. So much of our conditioning convinces us that the instantaneous attainment of freedom is not possible. It tells us that everything takes time and that anything we could have without working for it isn’t worth having.

This is gloriously untrue. The greatest spiritual gift you can possibly ever receive is the embodied life that you are already living. Look around. This is the miracle. We are here. We live in this world, we communicate, we create, we love, we hurt, we awaken – how is any of this possible?

Once you acknowledge the true wonder you are already living, you realize that the most surprising thing is that we could ever have missed it.

How could we get lost in the illusion of searching for the miraculous when it is all around us?

Initially the search for freedom baffles, but once we discover it, it is baffling to understand how we could ever have thought we needed to search for it in the first place.

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Craig Hamilton and Jeff Carreira

Craig Hamilton and Jeff Carreira

Craig Hamilton is a pioneer in the emerging field of evolutionary spirituality and a leading voice in the movement for conscious evolution. Jeff Carreira is a contemporary mystic and philosopher who teaches meditation and transformative philosophy throughout the world.
Craig Hamilton and Jeff Carreira

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Joseph Rowe
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Joseph Rowe

This is so important! Many years ago I heard Wes Nisker (a wonderul spiritual comedian) say: “You Buddhists are always talking about how you practice, practice, practice — but what I want to know is: When is the concert?” The implications of this are serious, however, and they puzzled and challenged me for years. Among other things, I finally began to see that there’s a huge semantic confusion around the usage/meaning of the word “practice”… There’s a crucial difference between the usages : “I practice my scales every day at the piano…” and “I practice medicine (or law, or loving-kindness,… Read more »

Diane
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Diane

Thank you for the article, Jeff! I’m sitting outside on a lovely morning reading it and it is a wonderful reminder to do our practices, yes, but in the realization that we are full, there is nothing we need. Thank you!

Karin
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Karin

Thank you both for this new insights, it makes it so much easier for me NOT to give up meditation. Anyway, I usually search for stillness inside me to let go my thoughts. Warmly, Karin

Zuzana
Guest
Zuzana

Wauw, I have never read anything so liberating as this email! I feel so well, so grateful and so free after having read it! Thank you from my heart!

Angèle
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Angèle

I would be temptated to say that practicing “spiritual fredom” means living every little moment of every day exactly as it présent itself without trying to judge it , to change it, to get rid of it or to go away from it , am I understanding that concept correctly? So what is left to practice?

BeverlyCooper
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BeverlyCooper

We are not searching for freedom, we are searching for wisdom and the ability to observe our own minds. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

Ellen
Guest
Ellen

For me, practicesand meditation help to train or still the mind to get out of the way, and allow Creativity an avenue of expression of beauty, harmony and Love on this plane.

Pierre-André
Guest
Pierre-André

Hey, most probably not the first to raise this point, but: how come do you need a 12 month program to discover freedom and awakening that are already here?

David
Guest
David

It appears , that the more we practice the less we practice , the art of trying is different from the actual experiencing, with the many paths that we take or the many different types of practice’s we do or approaches we take, we still arrive in the the same place of loving the force that flows through us and everyone , the energy that sustains everything.
Is this feeling experience of love and kindness in creation real ?

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

I believe that the feeling experience of love is revealing the love that is the heart of creation.

David
Guest
David

Hi , My experience is , When i hold all that i am in my inner space , with courage, allowing what ever arises to be , In this place, of being their is a feeling of love , a vibration of connection , a kindness towards everything, like the warmth of the sun gently touching, entering and warming me . Feeling into this, I become aware of the landscape I / we are and the loving consciousness we all are. In this place of opening, encounters with nature enhance this vibration of loving, as we are nature. Encounters with… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Hello David, how beautiful. I also feel the love at the core of everything that wants to be lived through us. Thank you for writing.

Meryl Kastin
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Meryl Kastin

Yes, yes, yes, yes!!!! We only need to allow ourselves to “be” without “doing” anything to experience the Truth of who we really are! For me, the challenge is staying aware, awake, attentive ,and in gratitude. Thank you for all you share!

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Thank you for your wisdom and your enthusiasm Meryl.

Sven
Guest
Sven

One or THE best description of meditation I have ever had the pleasure to hear!
Thank you!

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Thank you Sven.

obi
Guest
obi

It could not be truer,than this.It can’t be more truly said or better said.It can only be said with a different combination of words.Its really so satisfying and so inspiring to read this and I can say from the bottom of my heart I know it is true. Well,well.I know its gonna cost money and I know am not going to be able to afford it.So As It is so let it be and so shall It be.

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Thank you so much Obi.

Lourens
Guest
Lourens

I am 100% in accord with Obi. All that you are saying is so true and inspiring, it makes one eager to join the community of obviously higher developed individuals. But: like your President Donald Trump said, we that are living in “shitty” countries with “shitty” money (R13.32 to 1 US $ and R17 against 1 British Pound!) can not afford to enrol in your 1 year course, or Ken Wilber’s course (for us about R64,000!!!). Maybe one day you will be able to devise a way to accommodate us and help us transcend our “shitty” conditions. In the mean… Read more »

Bonnie
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Bonnie

What is the sound of one hand clapping? The answer in words is meaningless because words only point to the emotion but they do not allow the experience of the emotion and it is the experience of the emotion that is the true answer. I wonder if this is the case with your system?

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Hello Bonnie, naturally words are inadequate to express the inexpressible, at the same time some words can set us up for the direct realization that is required.

Denis
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Denis

As read the article it became clear why I gave up on meditation alone. Now I practice yoga and do a 5 minute quieting period after when the mind seems to be empty (few taught) without too much effort. I also enjoy the outdoors (kayaking,hiking,rock climbing..) and its much the same after or during a break in a location with fehui, the quieting of the mind seems effortless.

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

There are many forms of meditation – and only a few of them involving sitting still. 🙂

George Jacobs
Guest
George Jacobs

A profound truth beautifully expressed! Thank you, Craig and Jeff, for this and for all of the gifts of your work. This is my experience exactly- the joy and exuberance of living the miracle in every moment. I’m currently teaching a class entitled “Toward PsychoSpiritual Freedom” and will be sending this out to the group!

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Hello George, Your cours sounds perfectly on target. Where do you teach?

George Jacobs
Guest
George Jacobs

I’m teaching an 8 week course for Lifetime Learning Institute (LLI) at SUNY New Paltz, NY. It’s on a voluntary basis which means I get to teach exactly what I want. It’s so much fun!

Jeff Carreira
Guest
Jeff Carreira

Congratulations!

Ibraheem Akosile
Guest
Ibraheem Akosile

Awesome! This same thought was going through my mind reading the various forms of meditation; you guys just bring it forth. Man penchant for form predisposes us to practice. However, I do agree with Jeff ”Once you realize the truth for yourself there is, of course, no need to practice …”. Molly’s explanation of the need for practice is succinct ”Practice is something that occurs before and/or after the realization.”. To answer Z z’s question, which is partially answered by Jeff’s comment above, ” ‘living it’ usually requires deeper practice, fellowship and camaraderie.” I guess that is what Craig and… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Thank you for your insights and wisdom Ibraheem.

Lidija
Guest
Lidija

True! This is Zen. Love your work!

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Thank you Lidija.

Shena
Guest
Shena

This email articulates for me an inner sense of our true freedom which I would never have been able to express without someone doing it first! Fabulous! Love it! And the simplicity of choosing now just became simpler. Becoming a spiritual super tanker has always been my goal! Thank you for this metaphor from a few days ago too.

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Thank you so much Shena.

Susan
Guest
Susan

Wonderfully written and such truth! Thank you for teaching from this perspective.

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Dear Susan, You are so welcome….thank you for reading and joining into the conversation.

Sally Weber(rhr)
Guest
Sally Weber(rhr)

I am grateful for your introduction with fabulous language. My ongoing experiences since completing our 12 week Direct Awakening Practice then the 9 week Integral Enlightenment Course have been very inspiring as in my past, I was told ‘I wasn’t meditating correctly’. Meditation has become more within a flow with ease … not doubting anymore… with simple awareness & acceptance that within my very being is already meditating. These practices have integrated well with my spiritual perspective aligning in ACIM too. Miraculous is an wondrous word weaved within Spiritual Freedom that Is! 🙂 Thank you Craig and Jeff on this… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Hello Sally, Yes, the kind of confidence that you are speaking about is what gives us access to our true self so that we can live from it consistently.

Z z
Guest
Z z

I love Craig’s work and I’m sure confused about what we’ll spend 12 months doing if it’s supposed to be immediate and present already. Can you help me with that part?

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

This is a great question and it deserves a longer response than I can give it here. I think Craig and I will write a whole article about it. But you can look at the back and forth between me and Arthur and Molly above for some sense of it. And all I will add here is that even though our true nature is immediate and present already – our access to it is usually not.

Arthur Rashap
Guest
Arthur Rashap

Fascinating introduction and it got me to a place I have visited of being truly in the here and now and “getting it” – . . . practice what for what result? No need for that. AND THEN . . .
many many many more words, symbols, ideas, year long ‘retreats’ all to do what???

PRACTICE! OF COURSE. None of us numskulls will ever “get it” without all the help and practice you are offering.

Does something here just not add up? What am I missing??

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Hello Arthur, Once you realize the truth for yourself there is, of course, no need to practice further in order to get it, but going from ‘getting it’ to ‘living it’ usually requires deeper practice, fellowship and camaraderie.

Molly
Guest
Molly

We do experience life in linear time. The Truth always is. Realization (enlightenment) of the Truth occurs somewhere along this line of experiential time. Practice is something that occurs before and/or after the realization. When practice occurs before realization it is experienced as a striving for something ineffable. When practice occurs after realization it is experienced as communion with the Truth.

Perhaps?

Jeff Carreira
Admin
Jeff Carreira

Hello Molly, Yes, I would say that perfectly fits my experience. I thought that once I no longer needed to go on retreat to “find”truth that I wouldn’t want to go on retreat any more, but in fact, I find the experience of retreat much more powerful now that I am free to just commune with what is without needing to get anything out of it. I love being on retreat, I will be on one this weekend actually. Thank you for this insight.

Shelley Souza
Guest
Shelley Souza

Jeff, I understand the reason for using an analogy of practicing for a concert as an end goal. But I would say that your answer here is the truer reason a gifted musician (or gifted anyone) practices their gift. It’s not simply to be flawless for a performance; though that’s a part of it–one can’t be thinking of how fingers are moving across a keyboard and simultaneously remain one with the transmission. Musicians “get it”–the experience of what “It” is–often from an early age. But then, to live what they have felt so deeply music has to say they are… Read more »