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Jeff Foster - Life Without a Centre

Interview by Iain McNay

Iain:       Jeff, what is non-duality?

Jeff:       Well, that is the question, isn’t it! To me, the word ‘non-duality’ means ‘not two’ and it points to the fact that somehow everything is One. Although it seems like there are separate things in the world, separate people, separate individuals; although it seems like there is a past and a future, and separate objects, actually it’s all One. And Oneness is not separate from what’s happening. The spiritual search is really the search for Oneness, the search for completion, the search for unity.

Iain:       We realise that we want something more to feel complete. It’s a very human thing in one way.

Jeff:       It is. And the seeking begins with a felt sense of separation. It’s because I feel separate that I begin to seek. And in the material world, it’s the search for money, fame, better relationships, a stronger sense of self. In the spiritual world, it’s the search for awakening, enlightenment, liberation. But really it’s all the same search.

It’s the search for completion. The search for home. What I try to communicate is that you never left home in the first place. That Oneness is all there is. And it’s here, and it’s now, and we’re not separate from it. And in the seeing of that, the whole search for something more falls away.

Iain:       And when that happens, what does it feel like?

Jeff:       [laughs] You know, it’s very difficult to talk about! When that happens - the falling away of the separate self - you are not there to experience it!

Iain:       When you say, “You are not there”, what does that actually mean?

Jeff:       To put it simply, the past and the future aren’t there. This heavy sense of myself as a separate person in the world isn’t there. There’s just what’s happening. And there’s nobody there to know that. It just cannot be known. It’s a plunge into the unknown, which is where we always are anyway.

Iain:       But you still think? Thinking still happens?

Jeff:       Well, thoughts still arise. Thoughts are allowed to arise. But they aren’t a problem anymore, because there’s no longer anyone there using thoughts to build up an identity.

We grow up in the world, and we grasp at things. We try to make ourselves into something. That’s really the human condition, you could say: the attempt to be someone, to be something, to possess, to grasp. When all of that falls away, everything is released, so that it can finally be itself, without the grasping. And in that, anything can arise, of course. Thoughts, sounds, smells, feelings in the body. But there’s no sense that any of it is mine, no sense that I’m a separate entity in control of any of this.

So, sounds happen, but there’s nobody there hearing. There’s nobody there who thinks “I’m doing this! I’m hearing!” The ‘me’ at the centre of my life is seen to be an illusion. Life is seen to have no centre. But it doesn’t mean that life ceases! People have this idea that when liberation happens, everything stops. No, absolutely not. This is an opening up. An opening up to what is. An allowing of what is. But it’s not something that you are doing. And that’s the hardest thing to hear!

Iain:       What happens to your personality?

Jeff:       It’s the personality that’s seen through! What’s seen is that there is nothing fixed there called ‘me’.

Iain:       But you still have your likes and dislikes, it’s just that they are not dominating you?

Jeff:       Yes. It all becomes very playful. You play at being Jeff, when it’s needed. This Jeff character, where is he? He’s just a thought, happening now. This isn’t a special state that I’m in. It’s true for all of us: you are just a thought. Your whole past and future is just a thought arising now.

Iain:       Are you aware of the personality changing over time? Does it become more refined? Does it lose certain charges?

Jeff:       It’s very difficult to talk about without making the Jeff character sound special. This is very ordinary. It’s a collapse back into what there already was. It’s always been here, we just couldn’t see it. We were so lost in the seeking game that we couldn’t see what was there in front of us.

Iain:       I’ve spent some time with people who feel that they are in an enlightened space, awakened space, whatever you call it. And there’s no doubt that there’s something special going on. And yet at times I would see that their personality would take over. I’m interested in the possibility of maybe the personality developing so it doesn’t have any influence at all.

Jeff:       In the seeing of this, in the seeing that there is no ‘me’ at the centre of my life - and this is the foundation on which our whole lives are built - in this falling away, yes, the mind, or thought, or personality, whatever you want to call it, can still seem to have a momentum to it. All the mind has known is seeking. So that can come back in. It’s like, the moment you think you’re awakened, you’re not. Because the mind is going to come back in.

Iain:       Because you think you’re awakened. You think you’re special, you think you’re separate.

Jeff:       Right. As long as you think you’re awakened, or enlightened, or liberated, there’s a you there who thinks that. That idea of personal achievement is the hardest thing to let go of. For a long time, I thought that I was enlightened. And you know, that was just a belief. That was separation. “I’m enlightened, you’re not!” Separation. And there was a sense of superiority there. I thought I had something special. But all of that fell away too. It wasn’t real. It was the final illusion to fall away. But it was an illusion. The ego loves to feel that it’s enlightened. Then it can go round the world telling everyone it’s enlightened!

Iain:       Of course, it’s a great party trick!

Jeff:       It is. And what was seen over here is that there is no ‘I’ who can be enlightened, or not.

Iain:       Does this stage - and I know that’s not the right word - develop? Does it evolve? Do you feel changes? Is there a movement?

Jeff:       There is only what’s happening, and everything else fades into the background. In this, it’s already complete. It’s seen that life is already complete. And in that seeing, the stuff that isn’t real just falls away, it burns up. And that can appear to take time. But what’s seen in clarity is that there is only now, there is only this. And so to talk about the Jeff who changes, that just doesn’t feel real to me anymore.

Iain:       I remember speaking to someone who’d had something very significant happen to them. For them, it was like the background became the foreground and the foreground became the background. Reference points shifted, things burnt away, and life was seen from a different point of view.

Jeff:       But this has always been here. It’s not a new reference point. I always say this: babies see this. Newborn babies see this.

Iain:Because when they’re born, they don’t feel separate? They just feel interconnectedness?

Jeff:       They don’t even feel that. There’s just what’s happening. There’s nobody there who says, “I feel connected, I feel at one with everything”. No, there’s just the spontaneity, just what’s happening. And as adults we seem to move so far away from that spontaneity, that sense of aliveness, that simplicity. In our search to be someone, we become very heavy, very serious. We miss this - what’s happening - because we’re so busy looking for something more, something for me.

Iain:       Isn’t that the game?

Jeff:       That’s the game.

Iain:       Is there any way out? Can babies stay in that space?

Jeff:       I expect it might be possible. But look, there are no mistakes in Oneness. The game has to play itself out. The separation, the suffering has to play itself out, in order to be seen. It’s like the suffering and separation are there to wake us up. I look back at my life and the intense suffering and the intense seeking, and at the time it was horrible but, looking back, it just had to happen that way. There were no mistakes. It was there to wake me up. Full stop.

Iain:       Earlier we were talking about your life story. You went through difficult periods when you were very unhappy. And, understandably, you turned to meditation and self-enquiry in order to find a way out.

Jeff:       Absolutely. The search was the attempt to escape the misery I was experiencing. My whole life I’d been pretty miserable, but I reached a point of breakdown in my mid-twenties. There was such intense suffering and misery. The futility of everything was seen.

Iain:       The futility of life, was that at the core of your misery?

Jeff:       It was the heaviness of being a separate person. I really felt that intensely. I was very lonely. I felt that the world didn’t care about me. I could never find any relationships. I was very alone.

Iain:       The game didn’t work for you?

Jeff:       It didn’t work. I was blessed with a sharp intellect; I was quite clever I suppose. But apart from that, I hated myself, plain and simple. I hated the way I looked. Life felt like a burden. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. It was all too much. And I think I experienced that for most of my life. Of course, I never fully realised at the time how miserable I was. At the time I just thought, “This is who I am, this is my lot”.

Iain:       Did you do any work on your personality? People might argue that your personality wasn’t properly formed, perhaps due to bad experiences in your childhood.

Jeff:       On the surface I had quite a happy childhood. My parents were lovely to me. I always had everything I needed. But on the inside it was all just too much for me. I hated who I was.

Iain:       When you say you hated who you were, how did you see who you were?

Jeff:       Well that’s the problem. I knew who I was!

Iain:So you felt separate from everybody else, and you felt there was something else out there you couldn’t get in touch with?

Jeff:       I always felt like a very small person in a big world. I felt totally insignificant. And I think that’s the separation taken to an extreme. That’s where I ended up. We all feel that to an extent. We all feel like small people in a big world, a world of birth and suffering and old age and death.

Iain:       We know we will die, but we think “Not me!” For most of us death seems a long way off.

Jeff:       We try and push it aside. We try not to think about it. But it comes out in other ways, you see. It comes out as suffering and anxiety. The attempt to escape death is essentially the attempt to escape from being nothing. That’s why we fear death: it’s literally a plunge into nothingness. And nothingness cannot be known. And the mind operates in the realm of the known. We fear what we don’t know.

Iain:       What we don’t understand?

Jeff:       Yes, it’s the same. What we know, what we understand, we can control. And what death shows us is that there is no control. Death and illness have a funny way of showing us that there is something else going on here, something that’s beyond our control. So that’s why we spend our lives - and we don’t recognise that we’re doing it, of course - trying to escape from the realisation that we are nothing.

On some level we all know that we are nothing. We’ve all been newborn babies. We’ve all tasted that innocence, that lack of solidity, that openness, that sense of not being anything in particular. And essentially that innocence, that freshness, that openness hasn’t been lost. It’s just become obscured by the seeking game, apparently. By the game of being a separate person, a person separate from the world. And it’s out of that illusion, that assumption, that all suffering begins. For me, the suffering and separation had reached a critical point, and that’s when this other possibility started to shine through. In this particular case, it had to reach that point of absolute despair.

Iain:       So it went to the extreme, and something was able to flip?

Jeff:       Yes, it was either transform or commit suicide. There was no other option.

Iain:       That sounds pretty dramatic!

Jeff:       Yes. It was change or suicide.

Iain:       Was that a decision you had to make?

Jeff:       In the telling of it, it always sounds like we have a choice. But of course, we never do. It had to happen the way it happened. There’s no mistake in this. That’s the illusion, that’s where all the suffering begins: with the sense that I’m a separate person who can choose. With the sense that things in the past could have happened differently. Which implies that this - what’s happening now - shouldn’t be the way it is. When it’s seen that nothing could have happened differently, that’s the same thing as saying that this has to be exactly the way it is. That this couldn’t be otherwise.

Iain:       When you reached that critical point, what happened next?

Jeff:       Well, I became quite sick, with a pretty serious case of glandular fever. And one night I collapsed in my bathroom. I had been vomiting blood, and I passed out. I woke up in a pool of blood, tried to move and realised that I was paralysed. And I thought, That’s it, I’m going to die. And it was something about that - something about how precious this life is, and how quickly it can be wiped out - something about that stayed with me. A few days later, I was lying in hospital, feeling a lot better, and there was something about that experience that lingered. My whole life, I’d never realised how precious it was just to be alive. I’d taken it for granted. The simplicity of it, the fact that I’m alive at all, that had been ignored in my attempt to be someone in the world. Something about that experience in the bathroom had hit me, the taste of death and how close it was, and how easily all of this could fall away. Something about the impermanence of our lives. The illness had just come out of nowhere, out of nowhere. At the time, that terrified me: how easily all of this could be taken away.

For my whole life I’d been a committed atheist. The word ‘spirituality’ meant nothing to me. It meant witches and goblins and ghouls! Religion seemed ridiculous to me. And I remember there was a Bible by the side of my hospital bed, and I found myself just picking it up, and turning the pages, and reading the words of Jesus, and for the first time in my life they weren’t just empty words, it wasn’t just some man-made nonsense, there was something in it, something about Eternal Life, something about the preciousness of this, something about, well, something beyond. I didn’t know at the time what it was, but there was a resonance there. I didn’t have a choice. That’s where the spiritual seeking began. I had to find out what this was, this resonance. And I had to find it ‘out there’.

Iain:       And when you say the seeking began, what form did it take?

Jeff:       Well, I’d been a seeker my whole life. The individual is a seeker. But it was at that point that spiritual seeking began. I just found myself doing it. Once that fire had been lit, there was no way back. And I moved back to Manchester to stay with my parents whilst I recovered from my illness, and I shut myself off in my room for about a year.

Iain:       That’s quite extreme!

Jeff:       I was a very extreme person [laughs]! I was blessed - or cursed, I don’t know - with a very strong intellect. I'd been educated at Cambridge University. I was very clever, and so once I got my hands on something I had to tear it apart. I had to go right into it; that was my nature. Once that fire began, it was so intense, it just started to burn and I couldn’t put it out. I started with basic books on Buddhism, Christianity, basic books on meditation, self-enquiry, and then, oh, everything, I mean everything! I tried everything!

Iain:       You mean you’d try a certain meditation technique for a time, a certain religion for a time…?

Jeff:       Yes, and I started to have all sorts of ‘spiritual experiences’. Glimpses of Oneness, the dissolving of the self, intense compassion; sometimes I’d just break down in tears for hours on end at the sheer beauty of it all. And there were times of great despair too. Seeing the impermanence of everything. Seeing that I wasn’t there. Seeing that the whole search might, in fact, be futile. It was a very dramatic time. Old beliefs started to fall away, beliefs that I’d had for a lifetime. I started to see that I wasn’t who I’d thought I was.

Iain:       Did you feel basically positive about what was happening?

Jeff:       I can’t say I felt positive about it. At the start it was all very exciting, but it got pretty nasty towards the end. The seeking became so intense. But I knew I couldn’t give it up. I knew that.

Iain:       When you say intense, do you mean you would do more extreme things? You would meditate for longer and longer periods?

Jeff:       It was intense in the sense that I’d shut myself off from ordinary life. From ordinary human relationships. From the simple things. To be honest, I don’t remember a lot about that time. So much happened, so much fell away. I became a militant vegan at one point I think! I was just exploring everything, looking for the answers. I knew the answers couldn’t be found in the way I’d been living my life. And they couldn’t be found in having a nice job, or finding a nice girl to marry. They couldn’t be found in the ways or places I’d thought they could be found. It was a clear seeing of that.

It reached a point of such intensity that my whole identity was consumed by the fact that I was a spiritual seeker. That was me. I’d swapped my old identity for a new identity! I thought I was becoming free from all identity, but what I couldn’t see then was that “I’m a spiritual seeker” was becoming more of an identity than ever. It was something else to cling to.

Iain:       But it had opened your world. Given you new horizons.

Jeff:       The spiritual seeking had opened so much up. But there was still a sense of being a separate individual. In a way I think that sense was stronger than ever at that point. I wasn’t as miserable anymore, but I suppose I was miserable in a different way. I was now miserable that I hadn’t reached enlightenment. I was ‘spiritually’ miserable.

Iain:       You were very driven!

Jeff:       Very. When people come to my meetings these days, and they ask me questions, well, I’ve already asked all those questions, you see! I’ve done this seeking thing! I asked every question known to man and I never found the answers. Well, I did. I found plenty of answers… and then the seeking would start up again. There seemed to be this incessant movement into a future. This constant looking for something I thought I’d lost.

And it’s seen so clearly now: as long as there was a separate person there looking for awakening, there was a separate person there! And that’s what I couldn’t seem to shake off: the separate person. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to get rid of this ‘me’, this separate ‘me’. At one point, I’d seen it so clearly: as long as the ‘I’ was there, I couldn’t awaken. So then the focus became getting rid of this ‘I’. Getting rid of the self at the root of it all. What I couldn’t see, then, was that it was a self trying to get rid of a self. Such vicious circles of thought!

And those circles became more and more subtle. The seeking went on in more and more subtle ways. As the seeking was seen through in one way, it changed form and carried on in a more subtle way. It’s like the mind didn’t want to give up. It didn’t want to give up the idea that one day ‘I’ would eventually awaken. And all I can say is that somehow, in the midst of all that, the whole thing fell away. But I certainly can’t say that it was because of something I did. In my effort to create that falling away, I’d just been reinforcing the sense of ‘me’.

Iain:       But if you hadn’t made that effort, would it all have fallen away?

Jeff:       Well, that is the central question, isn’t it? What was seen so clearly was that it was already here, already complete. The awakening, Oneness, whatever you want to call it, was already here. But it wasn’t something that I could have. It couldn’t be possessed, it couldn’t be grasped. And it was in the grasping, in the attempt to possess it, that I’d apparently lost it.

Iain:       It’s a terrible dilemma for a spiritual seeker. On the one hand, you can’t get it. On the other hand, you can’t stop trying. You still have to live your life, follow your heart, go where your life is taking you; you still have to do that, and that’s the amazing adventure. And it’s very inspiring to meet someone like you, who did all this, and then something opened, something changed. And your unhappiness, your depression, dropped away, for whatever reason.

Jeff:       But you see, the beauty of this, is that it was seen right in the midst of that despair.

Iain:       Yes, I get that.

Jeff:       I thought I had to overcome despair before I could awaken. What was seen is that this was already here, right at the heart of what I’d taken to be my life, right at the heart of the despair. It was seen that it wasn’t ‘my life’ at all. That no matter what was happening, there was a freedom there that could never leave, because it wasn’t something that I had. It was something that was just there, and it was nothing to do with ‘me’.

It’s like it just sits there, and allows the seeking to play itself out. Throughout all my seeking and suffering, there had only ever been Oneness, and yet I hadn’t been able to see it. And yet even though I hadn’t seen it, there had still only ever been Oneness! And yet this whole seeking and suffering game had played itself out perfectly. That was seen too: that it couldn’t have been otherwise. The seeking had exhausted itself when it was ready. When it was ready. And it had nothing to do with me.

I remember when I first saw it in a chair. I was in my bedroom at home, looking at a chair, and I realised that I’d never seen a chair before. I’d been too busy looking for something more! Something for me. Something so much more than the chair. I’d been looking for enlightenment, liberation, awakening. Always in the future. And so I’d missed the chair. And something funny happened. It was like the chair revealed its secrets. In the falling away of the seeking, the chair revealed its secrets. It was Oneness disguised as a chair! It wasn’t a chair at all! We call it a chair so we don’t have to see it. “Oh, I know it’s a chair, I know it’s a table...” But when all of that falls away, it’s like nothing can be known about it. It’s not a chair. It is what it is. Everything becomes very alive. And yet we can still call it a chair. We can still use ordinary language. We can still function as if we were leading a very ordinary life. And yet, underneath, it’s all the miracle. It’s nothing like you thought it would be. The moment you have an idea of what this is, it’s just an idea. This is too alive to ever be captured, to ever be known.

Iain:       And you had a few of these… experiences. You mentioned in your book Beyond Awakening that you were walking through the rain in Oxford one day, and realised that you were everything and that you were home. Did these situations arise more frequently and get stronger?

Jeff:       When this was first seen, it was all very dramatic. It was shocking, to see that the secret had been here from the beginning, right at the heart of a very ordinary life. That the extraordinary had always been hidden in the ordinary, in the most ordinary of things. And when that was first seen there was a great excitement, there was a drama about it.

These days, it’s all become very ordinary. It’s become very gentle. It’s always there in the background. It’s not so dramatic. It’s like the whole thing collapsed back down into a very ordinary life, on the surface anyway. At the time, there were all sorts of experiences. Walking in the rain that day in Oxford, there was just love. That was all there was. Everything was a manifestation of that, and nothing was separate from what I took to be myself. And at the time that was very new and very dramatic. But all that’s died away now, it’s very gentle now.

Iain:       Was there any fear when these things happened?

Jeff:       When the person falls away, there’s just what is, and it’s all so clear, so obvious. And it cannot be known, and it cannot be spoken of, but it’s undeniably the case. And then the mind can come back in. It’s only then that it begins to write and talk about it. It says, “I had an experience. That happened to me.” Actually you weren’t there at all! It didn’t happen to you! It’s out of fear that the mind comes back in and tries to grasp. It tries to create structure there, so it can feel secure.

Iain:       The reason I ask, is that I read this book a few years ago, Collision with the Infinite by Suzanne Segal, and she had, it would appear, a similar experience. But she also had tremendous anxiety. Presumably the anxiety is something to do with the mind?

Jeff:       Yes, it’s still the mind trying to hang on. It’s perhaps the last tactic the mind uses. It uses the fear tactic. “There’s something to fear! There’s something to fear!” Actually, there’s just the fear. Just fear arising. There’s nothing to fear.

Iain:       Where you are these days, do you have fear and anxiety sometimes?

Jeff:       Anything can arise here. Fear and anxiety, no, not really anymore. But the point is that everything is allowed in this. Anger, fear, joy, sadness… everything is allowed. It can all come. It’s as if anything is allowed to arise exactly when it arises, because there’s just nobody there trying to resist it, fight it, get an identity out of it. Say, if your mother died, there might be sadness there. People have this idea that liberation is a state in which you don’t really feel anything. That it’s a place of nothingness, where nothing can affect you. That’s a load of bull! That’s another idea, another concept. Oneness allows everything. How could it not? It is everything! So sadness can be there. And when sadness is there, there is sadness! But there is nobody there trying to do anything with sadness. And then a funny thing happens: the sadness lives its own little life, and burns itself up, in its own time.

Iain:       There’s no charge to it?

Jeff:       There’s no charge. And in that, sadness can be fully sad! In the midst of sadness, it can be seen that there is sadness there and yet there is no sadness there. This is a place the mind could never go. There’s sadness there, but because there is nobody there who is sad - there is no sad person - actually the sadness isn’t there at all. Even to call it sadness, there already has to be a person there calling it something, labelling it. It’s impossible to talk about, and impossible to understand. That there is sadness there, and no sadness there, at the same time.

Iain:       It’s a lack of identification, isn’t it? Is it like you’re just watching it?

Jeff:       Everything is being registered. It’s effortless. We think we are doing the hearing, doing the seeing, doing the breathing. Actually this is all just happening, effortlessly. There’s an intelligence here that’s totally beyond the mind. The mind hasn’t a hope of grasping this. It’s what’s beating the heart. It’s what’s breathing.

Iain:       The human body is an incredible intricate mechanism.

Jeff:       And the hardest thing to hear is that the body doesn’t need us. It doesn’t need our seeking, it doesn’t need our suffering, it doesn’t need our identity. It functions effortlessly without us. It’s the hardest thing to hear, for someone who’s so attached to their teachings, to their games of becoming, to hear that you are irrelevant, that you are absent. And yet, it’s not a cold, dead, detached absence. It’s a very alive, very full absence. It’s an absence that’s full of everything that’s happening. Actually, that absence is a perfect presence. So we talk about being present, being in the now. But when you’re fully present, ‘you’ are not there. So really ‘you’ cannot be present. It’s not something that ‘you’ can do. Presence is there in the absence of ‘you’.

Iain:       That’s one of the first things you learn when you go on the spiritual path: to be present.

Jeff:       Yes, but what was seen here is that there is only presence. It’s not something that you can have, or get closer to. And everything is already happening within that presence. Even the seeking and the not-being-present are happening in the most perfect presence! Presence is already embracing everything. It denies nothing, it resists nothing. It allows even the most intense suffering to play itself out.

In the image of Jesus on the cross, we see that at the heart of the most intense suffering known to man, right at the heart of that, is eternity. Eternity is not to be found through an escape from suffering - it’s right at the heart of suffering. So right at the heart of the most intense suffering it can be seen that there’s nobody there who suffers.

Iain:       But there appears to be a lot of suffering in the world. Recently on the television we’ve seen a lot of suffering in Burma and China with the cyclone and the earthquake. People have lost their homes and loved ones, people are injured and there’s no medical help. Does that affect you at all?

Jeff:       It’s myself in Burma, it’s myself in the earthquake. It’s myself starving in Africa. People sometimes hear the message of non-duality and they think that it’s about sitting back and doing nothing. They think it’s about arrogantly sitting back and saying, “Oh, it’s just a dream, it’s just a story, there’s nobody there suffering so what’s the point in doing anything at all?”

Actually, in the clear seeing that there’s nobody here who suffers, and that suffering is just a story, there can be effortless action to help where help is needed. But it comes from a place where you just don’t know. It comes out of the not-knowing. Oneness recognises itself in the face of that starving child and can move to help itself, not out of pity, not because it needs to be a good person, that’s nothing to do with it. It doesn’t come from a set morality. But in the seeing that it’s all One - and this is the mystery of the universe - somehow it moves to help itself. Because it only sees itself, as the starving child, as the earthquake victim. And so it moves to do something, if that’s possible. Or not. It might not move, you see. There’s just no way of knowing. It comes from a place of no thought. It doesn’t come from a place where I’m separate from you and I’m suffering because you’re suffering, and I feel pity for you, and I want to be a good person. No, the universe doesn’t need that. It doesn’t need our pity. It doesn’t need our suffering on top of their suffering.

So, to see it all in clarity is to end it. And then there may be a movement to help, or not.

Iain:       And what form might that movement take?

Jeff:       There’s no way of knowing in advance. The moment you have an idea of what you should do to help, the moment you have a set agenda, you stop seeing. For example, if you think that the most important thing in the world is to save the Amazon rainforests, and that’s all you ever think about, you might miss that little old lady who is crossing the road right now and needs your help in this moment. Because you’re coming from a set idea of what’s right and what’s wrong, you might miss that old lady who’s more important than all the rainforests put together, because she’s right here in front of you, and she is yourself too. So there’s no structure to it, and I don’t understand it, nobody understands it, it’s just the mystery of creation. Somehow it recognises itself. It’s God seeing himself everywhere.

Iain:       So what motivates you? You do talks, and you write books. What keeps you going?

Jeff:       I really don’t know where it comes from. If I’m honest, the way it feels is that it’s all just happening. It’s all beyond my control. Jeff could never have done this. The moment Jeff had tried to make this happen, he would have failed miserably. And it might sound like I’m trying to be clever by saying that, but that’s really what it feels like. It really feels effortless. It’s just unfolding, evolving, and I really don’t know how it’s happening or why it’s happening, but it’s happening. This expression of non-duality seems to come out of this mouth, and it’s always a surprise.

Iain:       You were saying earlier that you used to be very shy. You studied astrophysics at Cambridge and you did that partly because you didn’t want to have to communicate with people. And here you are talking away no problem!

Jeff:       [laughs] I know! It’s astonishing. I just don’t know. I sit in my meetings, and talking to you now, and the words just come out. If I could put it into words, it’s like I sit back and just watch these words come out. And sometimes they surprise me. Sometimes I’m shocked at what comes out. There’s the sense that I couldn’t have done this, I wouldn’t have said this.

Iain:       When you listen to the real geniuses of our time, the Einsteins of this world, they say that they don’t really create their own ideas, that their ideas just come out of nowhere.

Jeff:       It all emerges out of nothing.

Iain:       You’re like a vehicle.

Jeff:       But it’s nothing to do with me. It all seems to emerge effortlessly. It’s talking about itself! There’s no effort in talking about this because there’s nothing to talk about! What we’re talking about here is nothing. It’s no object. It can’t be pinned down. The moment we utter the first word about this, we’re already into the dream. And once that’s seen in clarity, once it’s seen that this cannot be spoken of, the words just emerge freely again, and don’t ask me how! They seem to come. And if I could put it into words, I sit back and watch the words come out, and I don’t know what’s going to come out next. A lot of artists talk about this: when they’re in the flow, when they’re really into what they’re doing, the art just comes out of nowhere, it does itself, it emerges from nothing.

It’s like we’re at the point of creation and destruction, and it’s all happening now. This is creation and destruction, and it cannot be known. And that’s the beauty of it: if it could be understood, it would be a thing. It would be a concept. This is just pure not-knowing. And in the absence of seeking, the mystery reveals itself, and not just in the talking, but in everything. In these flowers, and this floor, and this chair, and this table. It’s everything. Everything is the mystery. It’s something coming out of nothing. The very fact that this is happening at all, this is the miracle.

Iain:       From a mathematical point of view, if our planet was just a tiny bit different from the way it is, it couldn’t host human life. And that’s one of the things we forget: the delicate balance of everything. That’s the feeling I get from you: everything just happens, and we don’t know why it happens, but it is the way it is. And some kind of shift in you happened all those years ago, and not much happened, but it was so significant. It’s about realising how intricate and delicate and fine everything is.

Jeff:       And how precious it is.

Iain:       Yes.

Jeff:       And how far away we move away from that in our seeking, in our search to be someone. The preciousness right at the heart of life. The preciousness that’s always there. We miss it. We’re too busy looking for something. Really nothing happened to me. Nothing changed. There’s still an ordinary life being lived. There’s just nobody living that life. It’s being lived. It’s living itself. It’s Oneness playing itself out in the form of an apparent separate person. Essentially there’s no difference between you and me. It’s Oneness ‘looking out’ through these eyes and Oneness ‘looking out’ through those eyes. And Oneness has no preferences. It’s equally ‘happy’ looking through these eyes or hearing through these ears as it is looking through those eyes or hearing through those ears.

The only thing that separates us, apparently, is the story of ‘me’. A story which is so fragile it can fall away just like that, leaving only presence. It’s the miracle that’s right at the heart of things, right there in the midst of the messiness of human life. And when that’s seen it’s shocking because it destroys all seeking, leaving you here, totally present and totally absent.

Iain:       And people get so lost. That’s so sad in one way, and amazing in another way.

Jeff:       But it really couldn’t be any other way. Maybe the suffering and seeking are there to show us this. Maybe nothing is out of place, and right from the Big Bang and the preciousness and fragility of that, nothing has been out of place. And it leaves us here. Just here.

Iain:       That’s a great way to finish, Jeff. I really appreciate you coming.

I did promise Jeff’s publisher that I would plug his book. Here it is: Beyond Awakening by Non-Duality Press.

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To watch the original video interview click here. This transcript is included in the book: "Conversations on Non-Duality: 26 Awakenings" published by Cherry Red Books. The book is available from amazon.co.uk, amazon.com and as a kindle edition.

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