My first impression of Gangaji, the person in real life, left me a little surprised.
On the YouTube clips, I remembered her being a wise and encompassing energy, a presence larger than life with a chameleon of hairstyles.
When I opened my eyes as we finished our coming-together mediation, I saw the energy of a child sitting up on stage. She was calm and so innocent. Her distinctive locks of hair were pulled back into a neat librarian’s bun.
This is Gangaji?
Slowly her presence filled the room and I recognised I was gazing upon the closest I have to calling someone my guru. Unquestionably a teacher I admire and resonate with.
Having left me feeling affirmed about my spiritual practice two nights before at her opening Satsang, Gangaji did what she does best. She removed all those concepts; she sunk my boat.
She went to the space I hadn’t been willing to address. See, I’d only consumed half the meal the night before. In her definition of what it is to be vigilant, I had neglected the last sentence:
Vigilance is not hard and rigid. It is not some kind of carefulness. Vigilance is not separate from awareness. See what arises in your life moment to moment. Then experience what is behind the arisings.
My practice of being present to what is, was taking place as a reaction to an unwanted feeling. Anxiety, mixed with the heat of frustration or hurt were still present as choppy waves in my ocean. And when those feelings arose, I shifted my attention to the beauty of the natural world around me.
In truth, I was practicing avoidance.
Gangaji started the second night with the following statement:
We meet here in service to the truth.
So, in truth, what was I avoiding? What was I afraid to look at? Or to feel?
I want to labour this point, because I wasn’t quite ready to give up my practice of being present, my tried and true realization that there is only this.
I needed it. Without it, I felt helpless. I had already broken down once in recent weeks, before this practice had become integrated into my life (my whole body screaming; get me out of here as I clawed at my skin).
I needed to practice this practice in order to turn up as a functional and kind human being.
This was my good ship on the rocky waves of life.
Perhaps I’m not alone in this line of thought. Many of us, through whatever means, through meditation, through falling in love, being in the ocean, through direct-enquiry, we found we could leave the mind – the anxious mind, the busy mind – behind, and in doing that, we discovered expansion.
Certainly at the satsang, as the man up on stage entered into enquiring about his spiritual practice, needing this spiritual practice, I could see the locked-in interest of many hearts, including my own, wondering where this would take him.
Where it would take all of us.
Gangaji stepped us through:
The point of enquiring into our spiritual practice is to recognise when we are using anything to keep us from a deeper experience of what is here.
What is here?
What I was feeling was uncomfortable. And that discomfort was what I was turning away from. I was using every practice I had at my disposal to not feel what was here.
What was here was Powerlessness.
Yup, I was feeling a hopelessness I’d not known in a very long time; an inability to express myself. An inability to be heard. An inability to be understood. An invalidation of my feelings.
And as a counter to that, I was feeling a ferocious ego stamping out a patch of existence for my self to feel empowered in. That was what I was feeling.
What if you opened to that hopelessness, Gangaji said. Just as an experiment.
In the words of Gangaji:
Discover what is here even in the midst of the most negative experiences.
When we are willing to discover what is here EVEN in the core of the deepest contraction, or the deepest negativity, or the deepest sense of lack, or the deepest emptiness, then we know what is always here.
Loose everything, all strategies, even the ones that have saved your life, even the ones that have revealed the truth, because even those become some way of getting some place.
The invitation is to let go.
The choice is to open to what is here.
And knowing that this is not to escape anything, not to overcome anything, not to transcend anything, but to discover what is the truth of this moment?
It means cutting loose of any mooring that has served you for the purposes of self discovery.
Even if it is just for an hour of investigation. If you don’t like it, go back to the mooring.
But how do you know unless you dive in.
That’s the invitation.
To be still and recognise who you are.
Diving into Powerlessness.
It had never struck me – as an adult who wished to live a fully functional life – that I might want to experience my sense of powerlessness.
It’s not that Gangaji was advocating powerlessness, but she was clearly, resolutely, advocating not resisting the feelings of powerlessness either.
Often my fears present the worst case scenario, and at a cellular level, that fires reactions out so fast that my conscious mind does not have time to intercept it. And when I’m triggered in a way that makes me feel powerless, I act from a space where my survival is being threatened.
It’s not pretty.
I wanted to enquire into the truth of my reaction. Would I really die if I experienced powerlessness?
That is the invitation of Ramana, of Papaji, and of Gangaji; it is the choice of meeting our own death. That maybe we open so completely that there is no option of survival.
Would I die? To actually be powerless, would I die?
I watched my story unfold further as the next person came on stage, and her heart expressed what lay deep in mine. Gangaji kept prompting us to enquire:
Normally we avoid powerlessness
or we dramatise powerlessness
or we wail about powerlessness
but to do none of that
to actually enquire IN to powerlessness
to send your attention into the core of it …
in this moment, what do you discover?
Rather than talking about it in our minds, we dropped our attention inside, into our body. She, ( and I) began to enquire into powerlessness; to send our attention into the core of the feeling. And there it lay, a burning heat in our solar plexus. An energy, a sensation.
It burned for her. It melted for me. The sensation was turning in on itself.
A shrug of the shoulders: I don’t know what this is.
If you allow your attention to fall into the unspeakable
not as something you should do
but as something you can do
something you have permission to do
something that is natural
And a lightness came.
Whether I was feeling light because of the relief of no longer resisting the sensation of powerlessness, or whether the core quality of any sensation, when dived into, is a movement into light, I don’t know. But there was a lightness in experiencing my powerlessness.
Direct experience was showing me a new truth in that moment, a concession that it’s ok to feel powerless.
Not enjoyable. But ok.
And then laughter came.
The experience of powerlessness delivered this to you.
Your willingness to enquire, rather than get powerful, or beat yourself up for being powerless, or rather than to think about it, you experienced it directly.
Finally, direct experience of life.
Some experiences of life approach us in a negative way, like powerlessness, but when you are willing to meet it as you are, conscious, awake, not fighting it, not dramatizing it, but enquiring into it, there’s a great discovery.
It is your own self.
Your own self is made of joy.
This lightness: it is you experiencing yourself unencumbered by the habit of thinking of yourself.
This is your birthright.
By enquiring, I left behind what I KNEW about what is there, and actually discovered what IS there.
It gave a whole new meaning to my mantra; there is only this. Before, I had used it as a tool to bring me into my present moment, as a means of escape. Now, this mantra can remind me to experience the truth of my present moment; to discover what this is. No escape.
Yes, there is only this.