Embodied Intimacy, Transformative Inquiry, Creative Emergence

A New Offering

Posted by on Jan 18, 2013 in Articles by Shayla | 0 comments

A New Offering


I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go…

(Theodore Roethke)


Last fall I took my family to Peru, to a healing centre in the jungle, and then journeyed with my partner through the Sacred Valley in the Andes. It was a time of radical transformation, especially for my daughter.

My intention on leaving for Peru was to allow my old life to fall away, and a new one to emerge. I knew that I could not make that happen, but I had a deep inner sense that I could somehow allow and co-operate with a spontaneous movement of deep transformation.

I have been waiting until I felt coherent enough on the mind level to express to you what I have been receiving and realizing. It’s not a static thing, it has a life of it’s own!

The Power of our Conditioning

The first thing I want to speak about is the power of our conditioning. It has been very surprising for me, over the last few years, to witness friends, colleagues and students of mine, who have done years and years of work in the nondual field, still struggling with ongoing patterns of reactivity and deep suffering.

When I was at the SAND (Science and Nonduality) conference last year, I spoke with many of the teachers there about this. Many of them expressed to me the same experience: that even after deep immersion in awake presence, and after years of inquiry, they were still suffering and reacting in certain areas of their lives. The area that seemed to be the most charged for everyone was, guess what? Relationships.

I’ve noticed this in myself as well. That in the midst of spiritual clarity, I was still acting out deeply ingrained conditioning in my closest relationships. And I felt helpless to change the way I was being.

What I have discovered is a much deeper respect for the power of our conditioning. I am speaking about the fundamental human conditioning here, that clings to what feels good, and will do anything it can to avoid what does not. This includes all of our tendencies to stay with what is known and familiar, even though it may be suffocating and ultimately deadly. When we are able to respect the power of our conditioning, we have so much more patience and compassion available to us.

The Tendency to Avoid

During the last few months, it has become much clearer to me that underneath all of our conditioned strategies and agendas, there is something we are constantly trying to avoid. We could call it by any number of names. I’ll describe it as a deeply felt, visceral sense of insecurity, vulnerability, and insufficiency. Sometimes this appears as pain and sorrow, sometimes as rage and resentment, sometimes as anxiety or fear. Sometimes as confusion, sometimes as shame. But if I can open to the somatic experience of what is here, drop all of the labels, and contact the energy directly, I will find something different than what it appears to be on the surface. I will find a whole field of energy and experience I have been trying to avoid, sometimes for a very long time.

In meeting that energy, in opening to it, in allowing it to be present in the body, just as it is, I open the door to radical transformation. Without working on this deep, somatic and energetic level, I can have all of the insights, all of the nondual moments, and my fundamental conditioning, on a core level, remains intact.

I have explored this sense of insufficiency over the last few years, in myself and in my work with people from all over the world. It can be related to our childhood, to trauma, to experiences of pain and loss. And if we look at this more deeply, we discover that it lies at the heart of our whole conditioned identity. When we believe that we are separate and alone, deep insecurity and vulnerability are inevitable.


And here is the paradox, right at the heart of all this. The ‘work’ that is required is not work at all–it is learning to rest, to rest in the feelings we have been trying to avoid, to rest so deeply that we let go of all the barriers between us and them. This is, of course, a fundamental nondual practice. I am not speaking of anything new here. But what I am pointing to is the difference between reading about it, talking about it, thinking about it, and actually allowing it.

Because resting can only be allowed. All of the capacities that support us in resting are receptive capacities, not active ones: openness, gentleness, effortlessness, letting be, welcoming. Our separate self has no clue how to rest. And our unconditioned being is already perfectly at rest.

The Reversal of Desire

Something seems to happen, as we awaken and evolve, that I am calling the reversal of desire. Instead of being dominated by the desires of our conditioned mind and the survival brain, another kind of impulse wakes up in us. This impulse draws us toward what we have been moving away from. We find we are willing to be with chaos, with turbulence, with intensity, with discomfort, with grief. This willingness may be just a tiny spark in the beginning, but it will grow. It’s a reflection of our true nature, which is open without condition to all experiences.

When this wakes up in us, we discover a different kind of resting, a much deeper rest, a rest that penetrates our body, and dissolves the knots and contractions in the body that have been protecting us from the free flowing energy of life. As long as there is anything we still want to avoid, we cannot really rest.

The Foundation

So the foundation for this ‘practiceless practice’ is the simple recognition of awareness or presence, again and again. Without this recognition, all I have is my separate self, my conditioned mind. In any moment that I am able to recognize presence, the contents of my experience are no longer the only thing that matters. It’s not that I am dismissing them, or trying to ‘transcend’ them-I am simply in a very different relationship to them.



I think one of the things I overlooked for a long time was the importance of kindness. The conditioned mind is so intrinsically judgmental, so harsh, and so critical. In order to embrace our experience in the way I have been describing, loving kindness is not only helpful, it is essential. Of course this is not a new discovery! But there is a vast difference between talking about it, and making direct contact with the force of love that lives in us.

It’s only love that can open to these difficult and scary places. It’s only kindness that can inquire into our deepest beliefs and unravel our core sense of identity. It can be quite shocking to discover that we have not only been avoiding these places in ourselves for a long time, we have actually been quite hostile towards them.

If anything other than love is motivating our practice, we will get stuck. We will get drawn into whatever makes us feel better, more powerful, more competent, more brilliant, more attractive. And there usually are a lot of other agendas operating in our practice, until we become fully conscious of them. There is nothing wrong with this-it’s how we are as human beings.

Our Life as Medicine

What begins to turn the flow of our conditioning around? Sometimes it’s simply a moment of grace, that descends on us, through a poem, a moment with a teacher, or some time in nature. More often, it seems to me, it’s the evolutionary force of our own life, letting us know in no uncertain terms that something else is required. This is what happened to me. We might hope that something else besides suffering will wake us up, but once it happens, we bless life for bringing us whatever was necessary. We know that the difficulties, the struggles and the heartbreak were precisely the medicine that was called for.

The good news is that I have witnessed, over the last few months, people going through this fire, and emerging on the other side, transformed. Not perfect, but fundamentally changed. Awakened, in the heart, and in the body, to a whole new way of being. I do feel that there is some kind of quickening happening right now. That everyone who transforms in this way sends out a message, to the visible and invisible worlds, that this is possible.

Adya Shanti has spoken about how the force of awakening in our lives will drag us through all sorts of places, inner and outer, where we would never have chosen to go. I certainly would never have chosen to go and live in a small tambo (hut without walls) in the middle of the jungle. But once I arrived, there was nowhere else I wanted to be.

To live in this kind of basic trust, is what I wish for all of us.


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