By Susan Thesenga of Seven Oaks Pathwork Center
Tell me something about your background and your understanding of spiritual marriage.
Adya and Mukti
That which is awake was calling since I was very, very young. I was raised Irish Catholic and felt that a love of God and Christ was foundational to my life. There was a tremendous yearning to know God. When I was seven, my parents found the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, and, with that, new perspectives opened up for me. As a young adult, I heard a talk by one of Yogananda’s disciples, Brother Anandamoy, on spiritual marriage. I must have listened to this talk on tape dozens and dozens of times. And the one line that deeply penetrated me was, “The purpose of spiritual marriage is to find that the One in me and the One in my husband or wife is the same One in all of life.” I knew this was my deepest yearning.
Later, soon after I was married to Stephen Gray, now Adyashanti, we attended a satsang (teaching) with a teacher named Gangaji. Right away Adya got up and spoke with her from his perspective. I could see that the dialogue that ensued was from a shared, awakened perspective of knowing Oneness, and that it was a dialogue in which I was not able to participate. As I witnessed their exchange, something came fiercely alive inside me, saying, “In order to have a true spiritual marriage, a true meeting of Adya, I must know this perspective.” And my seeing this didn’t come from a place of jealousy. It just came from a knowing that this must be—it was as though within myself, without literal words, my Being was saying, “This must come to pass. So that I too can meet my husband from this perspective.”
This knowing kicked off a real fire within me. In the past, I’d come from traditions of faith and trusting in the guidance of a savior or guru. But this was different. I think it was the first moment when something in me knew that it was time for me to be truly serious, to truly engage the issue of realization for myself.
To become what you were witnessing in them…
Become that and to no longer waste time. It was as though something just clicked inside me that took me out of a sense of “Whatever God wills” to an intense inquiry: “What is God? What is this?” Before that, when I had a savior or a guru, I would place my trust in their wisdom, their divinity.
Their enlightenment. I believed that if I emulated them as best I could or followed the teachings that they’d set out, then maybe I would come to know what they know. But in this moment, what happened was it went from following the teacher to “this must be.” There was just something inside me that made not knowing no longer an option, and in that sense it was as though time had run out. Sharing Adya’s perspective had to be in order for this marriage to be what it must be for me, the only thing that will be satisfying for me.
It shifted from wanting to know God to seeing God in these two people interacting, to seeing that they looked out of those eyes of God. And my saying to myself, “I will not be satisfied unless this is my perspective,” changed something. It no longer was about wanting to know God (as an object). I wanted to be that. So this inquiry began…“What is that? What is that perspective?” And the word that Gangaji and Adya were using for the One was “Truth.” So, it ignited something new. As opposed to wanting to know love or bliss or the joy of union with God, the movement came to wanting to know the truth of that perspective, of Oneness.
And so, this became my inquiry, a very, very alive inquiry for months. And I had to do it for myself. The outward, more routine spiritual activities I did, such as attending services or meditations, became arenas where I would dive into these questions. I think it’s important to emphasize that something shifted inside me where I had to know. It’s not something that I can take credit for. Something in me just turned.
And yet, one of the distinguishing features of that moment was that the marriage itself became part of the motivation to say, “I can’t stop here. I’ve got to go where I can meet this being where he is.”
If I’m going to be a married person in this world, I have got to know what true marriage is. That conviction was fierce within me. It just had to be. So, that was the drive. Then, after maybe five months passed, I attended my very first silent retreat, which was also Adya’s first retreat teaching as a teacher, in July 1997. I was the retreat leader in charge of the logistics of the event. A few days into the retreat he gave a talk on “stillness.” I knew that he was speaking from a perspective of stillness that I didn’t know. My mind had an idea of stillness, but I could tell it wasn’t matching up with how he was speaking of it. And the way he was speaking of it was mysterious to me. It was unfamiliar but intriguing.
When the day ended and people had gone on to bed, I stayed in the hall to meditate and really dove into that question “What is stillness?” “What is it?” And that was the inquiry that brought me into direct experience of stillness, which flowered into a knowledge that that is Self. That is the nature of Self. Although stillness moves as form, it is the one constant. It is the One. Stillness is the perspective of permanence, of that which does not come and go, even as it comes and goes as form. I think, part of the inquiry that may be of interest to people was that I truly didn’t know what Stillness was. I had completely set aside any ideas that I had about it. And with all of my senses I followed the sense of stillness in my body, and really traced all movements within my body as I was sitting, until my body became more still than I’d ever known. And then my attention went to the outer world, and I sensed what Stillness was in the outer world.
Tracing outer form back to whatever was behind it, which was non-form, the non-movement behind movement. In that inquiry—this is just more of a personal question—did you feel guided by any kind of inner voice or not—how did that tracing phenomenon happen? Was something telling you how to do this or was there just a settling in and of itself?
I did not hear a voice. I guess it just seemed the most obvious place to start…to sense stillness as I was sitting in meditation. Perhaps because some of my main teachers had come from traditions of meditation and had had some of their innermost dialogues with the Divine in meditation, I was drawn to meditate. When I wanted to know something of this order, I would sit and meditate. That was my training. And so, when I went to sit, I sat in meditation posture, as was part of that training.
So, the outer body, of course. was still.
It was still, but I always had experiences of really not truly being still inside. But on this evening, it just seemed obvious that the first place to look was “Is stillness here? Even in the midst of activity of mind and body?”
Including breath, heartbeat, thought, feeling, sensation—all that moves, changes.
Yes. So it was not an inner voice but a natural curiosity to start with, a curiosity about “What is most immediate in my own direct experience of stillness of body-mind?” And the inquiry itself invited a dropping of that question into my Being, not posing it to my mind.
The question, “What is Stillness?”
Yes. “What is Stillness?” I dropped the question “What is stillness?” into my being, into my innermost being, down into my gut. Then I began to sink into a sense of stillness in my body, and all the movement within my own form began to settle and become quieter and quieter, and there remained a very quiet, still watching of all this settling.
And then, there is still another leap beyond the perspective of the watching?
Yes. As my energies were withdrawn from movement, that which is aware of movement became prominent and was experienced as stillness. It also became clear that there was no perceivable difference between that which was aware of movement and all that was in motion. One could say that subject and object were experienced as one.
At the time, this did not register as an insight of oneness, it simply was what I experienced that evening…at which point I decided that any more efforting to inquire would be the antithesis of stillness, and so I went to bed. I was fully aware of all of the sounds of the outer world, and I went into deep sleep which later, when I reflected back upon it, was unlike any other sleep I’d had in that I was completely unaware of the world of form at a certain point. I don’t recall even moving. Then I heard the morning wakeup bell, and I went about my functions of the day. I don’t remember much of them to speak of, other than that I fulfilled my duties—but without a sense of self-consciousness, without any sense of self-reflecting. I’m using both of those terms to say that I was not aware of a sense of “me.” Then, after breakfast a woman bowed in “namaste” to me. In fact, she did a complete prostration before me and that was when a sense of the awareness that was looking out of my eyes at the world of form recognized itself as emptiness. And the laughter! I felt utter delight at this magic trick of what is completely empty and without form appearing before my eyes as form and appearing specifically as the form of a woman who was bowing to me as if I was something.
I remember you said that her ” namaste” was no more significant than if she had bowed to a blank place in the room.
Right, or bowed to a toilet! It was amazing that she actually believed that there was someone in front of her. I mean, it would be as funny as one hair on your head jumping up and bowing to another hair on your head and dancing back and forth, bowing, worshiping each other. It was just delightful and humorous although ultimately those words fall short.
In the moment of the bow, in the moment of somebody in front of me interacting with me as though I were a something, all of a sudden the heightened awareness popped in that I’m not a something; I’m emptiness looking out of this form. And in that moment emptiness was born as an experience. What I am, what life is, what you are, what everything is, was seen as all that is, the one reality. All of this is being perceived from emptiness and clearly there was no “me” in this experience—this experience of myself as no-self or emptiness. And then, as the day went on, that experience opened, registering in my human consciousness as if to say, “This emptiness is this fullness that I’m looking at. This formlessness behind my eyes is what’s looking and is what’s looking back at me. This formlessness is this form, and it’s all arising as one thing. That which is perceiving, that which is sensing life, and the movement of life, the forms—all of them—are arising simultaneously.”
How about after this experience of awakening out of identification with form—how were you different?
Some of the conditioned mind, concepts that separate or cause a sense of a “me,” that create a center or position in relation to life—some of this returned. But a lot of it just mysteriously dissolved. It’s the seeing that has the power to dissolve conditioning.
In the work that I do with people, sometimes insight alone is enough for a pattern to dissolve. More often, however, insight is not enough. Without the experience of awakening, patterns have much more tenacity. I would imagine that, after the experience of awakening, when conditioned mind arises, there is a new perspective that lets you know “this isn’t real”?
So, the conditioned thoughts and beliefs have a much shorter lifespan.
It’s more efficient. I guess what I was really left with was a sense that “me” lives only in thoughts that are believed.
So, in a sense, having awakened to the reality that what you are does not depend on believing the thoughts you have about yourself, those beliefs can drop away more quickly. Prior to awakening, we might investigate a defensive behavior pattern (for example, avoiding intimacy) and find the beliefs on which it is based (for example, a belief that “If I let someone close to me, I’ll be rejected”), but there is still a tendency to justify the belief because of an underlying assumption that the “me” has substance and can be hurt by others. Whereas once you’ve had an experience that who you really are doesn’t depend on a “me,” and that who you really are cannot be hurt by anyone, then, when the feeling of “me” being threatened arises, we can question it from a whole different perspective, which allows it to dissolve more quickly.
Yes, it does. And, there’s no desire—at least I don’t experience a desire—to make it go any faster. When there’s a dawning that it’s all yourself—even the illusion—it’s not something that needs be rooted out. But there’s a natural curiosity to see what the illusion is. There’s this whole fundamental aspect of consciousness—meaning life, reality—that moves to know itself in form, even if that form is a belief or a feeling of threat or suffering. There also seems, from everything that I’ve seen, to be inherent in all of experience a movement towards freedom. So if there’s, let’s say, a painful emotion; that emotion responds. It moves to be seen, felt, heard, experienced. In a sense it’s born to be experienced, and once it’s seen and experienced directly, not suppressed and not embellished, but seen in its exquisite suchness, just as it is, it has served its own life’s function, and it dissolves. You could say it’s been freed.
There is a felt sense that life is living itself, and it’s showing up as feelings. It’s showing up as everything, which includes feelings and beliefs; those are directly experienced, and then life goes on. I’m free to experience these things as they arise. It’s showing up for the whole thing, as all of it. Sometimes people are kind of in a hurry to be free of things, and they miss the freedom of being a human being, of getting to experience the miracle that anything can even occur out of nothing. I want to add as a reminder that everybody’s totally unique. Some people may experience some of the things I’ve shared that happened to me after awakening, such as a greater capacity to see personal beliefs and patterns which cause suffering; yet many people see such patterns long before awakening. There are those common questions “How does awakening unfold? or What does it look like?” Well, it can look all sorts of ways—from a more gradual dawning of what’s real to a sudden dawning of what’s real.
Perhaps there’s seeing an object and knowing oneself as that object, or as another person, or as all of life, or as nothingness. Perhaps there is a dis-identification from the sense of “me,” or perhaps the “me” is seen to not exist at all. In the absence of “me” one may know what they are not. This knowledge can exist with or without the knowledge of what one is. In other words, there are all kinds of awakenings and seeings, my story is just one. There are no two alike.
Can you tell me anything more about what has changed in your relationship with Adya?
I think the biggest thing that this shift of perspective affected, certainly initially, was how I heard things and how I communicated. A lot of my life’s experience had been that of wanting to be understood and of defending how I acted in the world. For example, feeling like I needed to justify why I did what I did or to explain why I was having the experience that I was having, so that I could be understood or accepted. And a lot of that fell away, so I was able to also listen in a way that wasn’t listening through that defensiveness. That was a huge change. At the time of the awakening I was in a program studying Chinese medicine. As I student I thought I had every ailment that I studied! But because the fundamental fear of death fell away with the awakening, it changed my whole relationship to health. As a result, a lot of the conversations I would have with Adya about my health just stopped. This freed up a lot in terms of energy and time that Adya and I spent together.
Mukti and Adya
I’ve always had this sense of Adya, especially when he was a new teacher; he always felt like a real maverick to me. It wasn’t too long after that movie Top Gun came out, and in that movie there were these people who fly fighter planes and they just respond like this (snapping her fingers). They possess some internal navigational skills that are highly instinctual and intuitive. And Adya felt very much like that; he’d respond immediately to what life offered, and easily reverse direction. Now, within myself I feel that the more this awakening is deepening and unfolding, the more I have a sense of suppleness and ability to shift more quickly. Life is turning this way, “Okay,” and then you turn this way. And then comes its next curve or turn, and it feels a little bit more like somehow the whole ride is being ridden.
You said that the point of spiritual marriage, is for the One in you to recognize the One in the other and together to come to the knowledge of the Oneness that we are. Is this now more available to you?
Yes, to see that the One in me and the One in my husband, in this case, is the same One in all of life. So, it’s not that we need to see that together. But I think the recognition that that’s the same One in all of life came at the exact same time as seeing that it’s the same One in my husband.
Do you think you serve the same function for Adya?
Everything serves that, absolutely.