The Point of No ReturnMar 01, 2022
Thinking back on all the years of doing presence practices, what stands out the most for me are the events that make up the points of no return.
In the beginning, there were fleeting occurrences of presence. I started to understand the difference between what it was to be awake and what it was to wake up from being in sleep mode, attached and identified.
These were subtle points of letting go of “me” through the observation of the attachment.
My teacher John was an amazing mentor for thirteen years. He showed me the Way of the Jedi, so to speak, complete with sophisticated attention practices, and daily meditation. It felt good to be under his wing for so long. As I have said in many writings, he was my Yoda. He was also relentless because he knew how much I wanted freedom. He knew I could taste it.
When you want something so badly, your ego gets all wrapped up in it.
“To become an altruist, you must be an out and out egoist”, he would say. It took me a long time to understand this phrase.
I am no stranger to discipline; never have been. If I decide to do something I pursue it doggedly. This is how I approached my spiritual life and I learned as the years went by that at some point one has to surrender.
Some of us are bulldogs.
John used to say to me “you cannot beat down the doors of heaven”. He recognized something of himself in me…the desire, the aim, and the willingness to trust someone else. I was very teachable.
You can be a perfect student and still not get it.
To surrender is to become willfully passive in order to receive that which is well beyond understanding. When the deep attachment to who you think you are is loosened, the light can get through the cracks.
For some it is a slow erosion, for others it is a dramatic shift in the faultline.
We had been at a retreat somewhere in the Cascade Mountains one summer, clearing brush off of ski slopes. It was days and days of tedious business, and tailor-made for practicing presence. The object was to bring ourselves back to self-remembrance as often as possible. The inner work was truly self-directed. John would remind us to remember ourselves throughout the work period, but there were always some who focused on getting the job done without an iota of inner effort.
I would forget and remember, forget and remember. I would remember to sense my body as I clipped the low growth which would bring me back to a realization of my awareness of self watching myself. I could get close to something expansive and very connected at these points, but after years of this, I was also tired of trying. The big breakthrough I sought just wasn’t happening. I began to get more and more irritated with no results. Little did I realize that imperceptible progress was being made.
With the ability to make small efforts over and over, an alchemy occurs.
However, I was focused on getting a result and thus the overwhelming frustration became unbearable.
That evening in group meditation, my experience was as if I had never meditated in my entire life. (at this point I had been doing it daily for 8 years, 5 with my precious zen teacher in France and 3 with John). The pain in my leg was unbearable to the point where the whole meditation became an internal dialogue on whether I should get up or not combined with the willful override to stay there in stone, in pain, in mental anguish… and in stubborn defiance.
The next morning I decided to quit everything.
I delivered the news to a fellow student and friend who had been with me the last few years. He simply said…”been there”. I was really done, full of hopelessness and sorrow. I would go my own way of personal debauchery and indulgence. To hell with it all.
When I went to tell John, he accepted it with no issue. He asked that I stay for the final closing meeting that late morning. Reluctantly I agreed.
Many meaningful self-observations were shared. People honestly described their efforts and their inability to make efforts. We closed with a final meditation.
In that place, I resigned. I released myself from what seemed like a lifetime of spiritual work. I was sorry, I was defeated, and I was vulnerable. As tears began to silently stream down my face, I cracked open. I suddenly felt delivered from my own self. I became infused with an overwhelming peace which passeth all understanding.
It was a point of no return.
Molly Knight Forde is the founder of the Awareness School and author of Be Present: Reflections Along The Way.
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