Florian Schlosser - Meeting Truth
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: It’s interesting how Conscious TV evolves, because Florian is one of those people where someone actually sent me an email saying they went to one of Florian’s workshops. And we really had to check this guy out, because the guy who wrote it had amazing things happen to him. So I looked at Florian’s website and I liked what I saw there and we had an email exchange. And I went to a meeting he had in London the other night and it was a very enjoyable evening. So, finally, we have Florian in the studio. And we’re going to talk about your life and what’s happened to you with your spiritual openings, and how you work with people these days.
Iain: And one thing that also intrigued me was, you said in the biography information you sent me that from an early age you had an intense quest for the truth underlying all existence.
Iain: That’s quite deep stuff to have from an early age.
Florian: [laughing] First of all, I would like to express that I’m happy to be with you.
Iain: Thank you.
Florian: I very much enjoyed the conversation we had already the other night, and I’m happy to continue.
I was born into a family that, as far as I remember, was a family of abundance. On the outside everything that you could dream of was there. But I could also see that the way the people - my parents - were together with each other, and the inner reality of that external abundance, were not matching. It was empty; there was nothing there. I can remember - at the time I was about four years old - I had an injury on my hip, and I needed to stay in bed for six weeks. It was my first unconscious and involuntary kind of meditation, because I had to lie down on my back for six weeks.
Iain: And that’s tough at four years old.
Florian: Four years, I had a stone on my leg [gesturing with hand], hanging on the other side of the bed, so that the leg was stretched. I was lying down and couldn’t move. I just was resting. And in those six weeks of not being able to move, just receiving the information of my environment - which was abundance on one side, but also a lot of struggle and unhappiness underneath on the other side - I felt a tremendous longing to find out what this is all about.
It started to never leave me alone. It never, ever left me again, the desire to go into things and find out what is the essence; the truth underlying the reality of manifestation, which was so shining, yet so empty in itself. And the way the people around me - the way I experienced my parents - which I very much later started to understand - was not reflecting at all the abundant beauty of the outside. That was troubling me very much. Many years later, I became aware that these early experiences were very similar to the journey of Siddhartha, who eventually became the Buddha, when he left the kingdom of his father.
Iain: Yes, yes.
Florian: In a way it was the same when Siddhartha saw all the cripples outside of the palace. That was my feeling, too. I said to myself, “Wow, what is this? There must be something going on here that nobody told me”. And so this feeling continued throughout my childhood, throughout my teenage years. On the surface I found myself doing the same stuff. I tried to follow the conditioning and the ideas of my parents. But underneath a parallel universe began to evolve. I did other things. I was dreaming of another life.
So the first outer manifestation of this inner longing was that I became interested in music. (I mention this because we earlier spoke about you being in the music business, too [gesturing to Iain].) That was the first step. It was around the age of seven when I discovered this love for music, which was something that filled me. It was not coming from the outside. It was something that I enjoyed on the inside. It was all I knew, because there was not much on offer on the outside. So I said, “OK, if this is something that fills me up on the inside, this is what I’m going to go for”. It eventually became the dream of my early life.
Iain: So when you say, “It filled you up on the inside”, when you were seven years old, what did it feel like?
Florian: I simply felt something. It was as if the soullessness which was so beautiful on the outside, but so empty in itself, by making music started to become an inner experience. You know this, because you know about music [gesturing to Iain]; you know that music is a very internal experience. It was not so much about the playing of an instrument but about the inner experience of it. I noticed this through that medium. Music was only a means, but what was important for me was the inner experience of being alive.
Iain: But that’s something that is very aware to have when you are a child of seven.
Florian: I didn’t know or ask where it came from. It just was there. The first time, at the age of seven, I recognised that there is a possibility to be alive; to feel something that is coming from the inside and not from the outer impressions. On the very surface it was still unconscious, yet inside it already was subtly aware; and it continued.
Of course, then all the fighting started; the trying to find my way through; through my family and social conditioning. When I got into my teenage years and I started to head for the end of my school career, I had all these traditional conversations with my dad, who was a very successful, powerful and strong man. He was looking for the right profession for his eldest son [smiling], and with best intentions he made me some offers. He could be very convincing; indeed, he was an excellent speaker. Probably I inherited this gift from him [smiling]. Of course, I trusted him, and so I said, “OK Dad, if this is what you are going to choose for me, then I’m going to go for it”. He has chosen for me to study law, to become a lawyer; so I went to law school.
Yet it didn’t help me. It was the same - again, absolutely empty. I went to university for three, four semesters, and underneath it was the same experience. I felt like I was literally thrown into soulless emptiness, and I said, “No, this is not what I can and will do in life”. So I kept on making music. On the surface I was claiming to study but, internally, I kept on following my love for music, until - after living in a deep, painful split for a few years - I took all my courage, went to my dad and we finally had a beautiful core-breaking, honest conversation, in which I said to him, “Even though you may send me into exile [smiling], this I cannot do any longer. I cannot betray myself. I know it is not what you want, and I know it may be the biggest disappointment in your life that your eldest son will not step into your footsteps…”
Iain: Shoes, yes.
Florian: “…into your shoes, but I will quit my studies. I need to leave”. So, eventually, I went fully into making music and kept going with it.
I thought for many years this was going to bring fulfilment. I gave it everything I had: my time, my money, my joy. I often said that I was willing to even starve for it, if necessary. At this time it was my deepest passion, and I absolutely believed that in this, “I will find myself”. When I turned twenty-seven, there was another shock in my life, because I became aware that it was still empty inside. Even in this intransigent dedication and love for music, there was something that was never touched.
Iain: It worked for a time. Was it like you went down another level, and found the…?
Florian: It worked as long as I was busy because, if you go for your passion, it keeps you busy.
Florian: When you go for what you think, what you believe will fulfil you, you give everything. When you give everything, your focus is entirely on this. It continuously keeps you going for it, so much so that you hardly stop. Maybe you know this. When you love something you don’t stop; you are just going for it.
And, of course, I found myself in the same difficulties that I suddenly had with relating with other people, which I could well remember from the experiences within my family. It was the first very painful recognition for me that, even though I on the surface went down another road, I was like my parents - particularly my father; I was the same, I was just like them. I found myself with the very same difficulties. On the inside I was as radical as my dad was. On the surface it appeared to be different.
Becoming aware of this was pretty shocking, because of the way I was with others. Looking there and receiving this reflection was shocking. It woke me up to questioning if what I was doing was not just another trip. Why I questioned this I don’t know. I looked around and began to notice that everything was again nice and comfortable. I earned lots of money, I had fulfilled my dream. But it didn’t work.
Iain: Yes, it happens to so many people. They do fulfil their dream, and its excitement of getting there, and when they get there - “Oh dear!”
Florian: Yes, oh dear. It was so disappointing. It was shocking to the core, to see all that. This was at the age of twenty-six.
And again the same thing happened. I still don’t know why, but it has never left me throughout all these years - that once I’ve became aware of something, when something got totally clear straight in front of me - impossible to get away from it - I needed to respond to it with my genuine interest in truth. There never has been any other option but acknowledging that this isn’t it. So the conclusion arose that then it must be something else, without having a clue what it was.
And as life plays out, during these days I met a very dear friend who lived in America for quite a while. He returned to Germany after five years’ taking acting classes there. Without me knowing anything about his spiritual background, he introduced me to the work of Werner Erhardt, which was pretty famous in those years. Maybe you’ve heard about it?
Iain: Yes, of course. Yes, The Foru’, I think.
Florian: Yes, The Forum, exactly.
Iain: Landmark Education.
Florian: Yes. I didn’t know anything about it, nothing. I was an absolute ‘greenhorn’ in all of this. So this friend came back and introduced me to it. He did it very gently, as he invited me to a weekend programme. He asked me if I would like to join that workshop. I was really questioning the way I was living so I said, “Why not?” He didn’t tell me anything about it. I went there, and on that weekend a whole new universe was literally exploding inside of me. I remember on Sunday evening I came out with my girlfriend - it was around seven o’clock as we began to walk down the streets of Munich in November for full six hours. I just couldn’t believe what I had just experienced. It was the biggest opening that I had ever had so far. And once again I was totally convinced, “This is it”.
You know, this work wasn’t really spiritual. It just showed you an access to some resources in your system that were completely dormant. For me, they actually did not even exist until that moment.
Iain: Yes, and it encouraged you to see life differently, didn’t it?
Florian: Absolutely. And it was as if I would disappear in one life and reappear at the same moment in another life. And I once again said, “OK, here we go”. I just changed directions, and soon the same thing happened. I became engaged, dedicated and deeply involved in it. It was exciting, and it became another passion. I got again busy, and the same thing on a parallel in my life, the same difficulties with meeting people showed up.
Iain: Yes, interesting, isn’t it?
Florian: Again, I couldn’t be with my girlfriend; I couldn’t meet other people in a way that felt in any way true to myself. It was as if I would have been absolutely incapable of meeting anyone in my life with the love that is in me [pointing to heart]. Even though it was burning, I couldn’t meet other people in this. It was like an invisible wall. I was bouncing back from this wall over and over again. And, of course, guess what happened? My girlfriend left me, which was another painful split in my life, which eventually became the turning point.
It was at the age of twenty-seven I said to myself, “OK, I will not continue now. I will not go for another thing”. Based on this, I took another pretty radical step. I renounced everything that I had - all my money, my apartment, my profession. Like yogis traditionally did in earlier times, I gave everything away; everything that I had. Not keeping a loophole, I bought myself a ticket and became a monk in a monastery.
Iain: That’s pretty extreme! Twenty-seven years old - that’s pretty extreme.
Florian: Yes, absolutely. And for me it was a one-way ticket. I went to my parents and said goodbye. After giving everything away, I just had one bag with a few things and three thousand deutschmarks. With that money I had left after all these years, I bought the ticket for fifteen hundred, went there and entered the monastery.
Iain: Where was the monastery?
Florian: It was in India.
Iain: India, right.
Florian: I was recommended to Swami Muktananda, a guru whom I’d never heard about before. You know, I wasn’t into this at all. Just once again, I said to myself, “OK, this is it. I want to know what all this is about. I’m finished with this here”. So I went there, settled myself and, eventually, the monastery - in India it’s called an ashram - was my new home. Indeed, I never planned to return. One more time in my life “this was it”.
Iain: So you got there, and you went into the monastery, and how was it to start with?
Florian: I mean, if I look back today, I can notice that the preparation to go there was in fact the biggest part of this step. I literally completed my whole life, that which I so far considered as my life. This completion was that I consciously cleared and cleaned up everything that could possibly make me return - like all the broken relationships; all the unfinished financial, tax and legal stuff; all the crazy things which I always wanted to do at least once in my lifetime; and all the practicalities of a normal life. I made it so complete that there was nothing left - not even a hidden dream - which could possibly make me return; at least not on the outside. So I believe that this radical preparation was a bigger step than actually going there.
Iain: That was the process?
Florian: Yes, the process to prepare myself to go there. So as I was landing in Bombay, it felt like I was dropping straight into paradise. For the first time in my life I was no one. I didn’t have anything anymore, and I didn’t know what it was about. It was about the time when the idea of enlightenment appeared in me more consciously, though this thing called ‘enlightenment’ was scaring me. Actually, I wasn’t really interested in it. There was only an interest to find out, “Who am I? Who is it that’s being here? What is in me that has never showed up on the outside, that has never become real?”
Iain: Somehow you knew it was there, but you previously couldn’t access it.
Florian: Yes, and any relationship that I built up in my life - with friends, with women, with men, with things and projects - showed me that limitation.
Florian: It was impossible to go through. I was absolutely desperate about it. And I said, “OK, I want to really find out what that invisible wall is, that makes me bounce back again and again”.
Florian: The passage in India was a very traditional yogic path that the ashram offered. It included meditation, chanting of devotional songs and seva, service to the guru. In India they call it the path of bhakti, which means the path of devotion to God.
Iain: And had you tried any meditation beforehand?
Florian: Yes, but I couldn’t sit longer than five minutes because I was so restless. I just went there and said, “OK, this is what life wants from me”. I promised to myself that whatever life will give me for the next years I will take it. And, no surprise, it started with the worst that could happen to me: I ended up in the kitchen working as a breakfast cook, beginning the shift at 4 am every morning, seven days a week, month by month - which initially was the number one nightmare in my life. Yet I just didn’t resist this. As I said, I promised myself that whatever will come up I will go for it, without any trick to get around it.
So it took about three months, and everything that I could possibly dream of that I’ve read or heard from other people suddenly became a living reality for me. In that dropping away from outside necessities, an inner realisation of love… I would say that, for the first time in my life, I experienced being love, ecstatic love. It wasn’t freedom - it was love. Something that I absorbed like a sponge and which took possession of me in a way that I couldn’t believe was possible.
Iain: When you say ‘love’, what do you mean? Describe the feeling.
Florian: It is the feeling of being everything and everybody. The way I described it in those years was, to feel that everything I see is myself.
Iain: Everything I see is myself.
Florian: Everything I see is myself. I can remember there was one day when that first glance started. I was preparing the chai, a special spiced tea in India. I was the one who brought the big urns to the counter and was serving the chai. There were about three hundred people queuing in front of the counter receiving their chai from me. And I looked at everyone and, totally surprisingly, I realised that everyone I see is me. It was blowing me away, because this realisation was so tremendously big. It was as if suddenly the inside and the outside for the first time ceased to be different. It was that the inside and the outside were experienced as one.
Iain: It’s a very deep realisation.
Florian: But I couldn’t name it, because it was so sudden and there was no reference point of knowledge about it in me. It was a deep feeling. You know, there wasn’t any intellectual concept or philosophy that made me conceptualise it or put it into a framework of mental understanding. It was a direct experience of “This is me - every face, every suffering and every joy is me. It’s not out there. It’s not separate from me”. It was love. And it felt like compassion. And I said, “This is why I went for what I went for. If this is what life is about, then this is it: the real stuff”.
Florian: Yet also, this realisation revealed an unexpected, surprising downside. Eventually, I reached a point when this feeling started to be so incredibly intense that, in the way I related to the people in the ashram, they didn’t know what I was speaking about. Again, I wasn’t able to meet anyone. Though I had this feeling of oneness, I didn’t meet people. Once again it was pretty shocking for me, yet I saw no way out of this dilemma.
One day I needed to leave the ashram to go to Bombay in order to get something done for my visa. This experience of the so-called outer world was so brutally shocking, because my entire system was completely incapable of dealing with it. On that evening, coming back to the ashram, I was literally creeping on my knees through the main gate. I looked at myself and said, “If the outcome of your stay in the ashram as a monk is that you have no genuine contact to anything or anyone else anymore, if the outer world seems to be a monster for you, and if you can’t be with normal life in a joyful way, then this cannot be the real stuff”.
Iain: You’re saying that in the monastery also you didn’t feel you were truly, deeply relating?
Florian: Exactly. It was bliss, it was tremendously powerful from the emotional responses, but I didn’t feel it as a genuine meeting. Again, it was very disappointing.
That was, in fact, the first spiritual disappointment I had. All the other disappointments were all these mundane disappointments, but now my journey in all the spiritual disappointments began, which was so much more profound because of all my hopes. I once again gave my life to something and, all of a sudden, I began to realise that maybe this is just another trap. In fact, it opens up an inside world, but even this inside world is as unreal as the so-called outside world. It is self-made. It is emotional, it is creating images on experiences and experiences on images - yet it is made up. I recognised that it was all made up.
So, eventually, I came to the same point, “This cannot be it, because if this is the outcome, then I already lost contact. And if I am just spacing out here, then I cannot stay here. Then this is not true”. Many monks, if they are truly honest, they come to the same point. They see that even this monastic, devotional life is a trap. This was the period when I began to remember a teacher with whom I was in contact before. In fact, I’d almost forgotten about him. His name was Krishnamurti. You may know him - Jiddu Krishnamurti.
Florian: He often spoke about it. But in this - what I later called – ‘bliss bubble’, I forgot about him. Yet suddenly I remembered him, and had the realisation that what I was following in the name of a spiritual tradition might not be absolutely true. This first painful taster of spiritual disappointment ended up with the decision to leave the monastery and my monkhood. And I again said to myself, “If this is not any longer what I’m going for, I now will look for a woman to marry” [smiling].
Iain: [smiling] Great.
Florian: At the end of my period in the ashram, I fell in love with a beautiful woman from Mexico. In fact, she was the last impulse to make me leave the ashram. And I said, “OK, I’m going to become a husband”. So I followed her to Mexico - like a dog behind the bone - and again believed that, “This is it now. I’ve found my true destination. I’ve found it again”.
Iain: Of course.
Florian: Again. And one more time in life I put it all on one card. It’s like you said: I was not holding back anything. I said, “If this is not it, then I give it all into another direction, no holding back”. And, of course, it didn’t work out. Eventually it ended up as another big disappointment.
So I started to question all of these approaches. I mean, if nothing works in the outside or inside - wherever you move your body to, in whatever extreme circumstances you put yourself into, it just doesn’t work - you just arrive at the same point again. After all those years, I summarized and concluded that the only thing that I hadn’t tried until now - something I hadn’t even take into consideration - was that maybe I was just an incurable psychological case.
Iain: So you tried therapy?
Florian: Yes, I returned from Mexico to Germany, and it did not take long before I began going to therapy. So now I gradually renounced the whole spiritual circus and spiritual approach for truth, and I said, “OK, I’m going to have a psychological look at myself, what’s up there”. And it was quite interesting for me, because I could sense in that approach that I started to meet and honour the roots of where I was coming from. In the moment of renouncing the world years ago what I actually did was that I cut the roots and lost most of my grounding. And that caused this tremendous spacing out; the feeling of drifting away into a world that is beautiful, it is devotional, it is the love of God. But it wasn’t rooted; I didn’t feel it was healthy. In a way, I could say that it was the crown of the tree, but the tree had lost its roots.
Iain: It’s like being in the cave in the mountain.
Florian: Exactly. That was my inner place - I called it ‘caving it’. It was my bliss bubble. So I started a pretty interesting questioning in the realm of psychology that eventually made me turn around and have a look at where I was coming from. It was a very deep, very deep exploration of the system of my family.
Eventually, I recognised that everything in life I had done so far was just like my dad. It was as extreme as he did it. Only the outward expression, on the surface, was a little different. So the first big realisation was, “I and my father are one”, as it is expressed in the Christian tradition. And I felt this in a very grounded way, because I could see the difficulties I had with him, and that I was running away from him, trying everything to never become like him. And, eventually, it was clear that the more I was running, the more I literally became like him [smiling].
Iain: [laughing] Yes.
Florian: And that was the first time I stood still. A full stop.
Florian: It was the first time in my life I had the genuine sense I can rest, that I don’t need to run anymore; like I was running away from this, from never wanting to be like him. I loved him, but it was like “No!” - because I could see all these images of my childhood come back and that automatic “No, this is not the way I would like to live!”
Iain: But there was a turning point? I have to move you on a little bit.
Florian: Yes, please. So the turning point was…
Iain: You met Isaac Shapiro?
Florian: Yes. So I ended up with going into this psychological thing, and guess what happened? I became a good therapist, earned a lot of money and all the rest of it. Again, the same thing. It took me another five years, and I said, “I am still so unhappy. What is this again - nothing?” It was once again so disappointing that the whole world of psychology revealed itself as being completely empty.
I remember it was in December 1999. It was the end of a group workshop I was giving and I was sitting amidst my assistants, finishing the group. I was crying and I said, “You know, guys, I don’t know what to do anymore. I know I’m good at what I’m doing, but I’m not happy”. And another relationship broke down in my life simultaneously. In that meeting - as I didn’t see any exit to all of it - I was praying, “Please, Lord, send me someone, something in my life that shows me the exit to this nightmare”.
Three months later, I met Julia, who eventually became my wife. We met on 2nd April and a week later she came to me and we had dinner together and she said, “You know, a friend told me that there’s a chap called Isaac Shapiro in Munich. He gives satsang. Do you think it’s good?” And I said, “Yes, I guess it is good for you - go”. I was so desperate, so incredibly destroyed and disappointed from all this, yet there was a sense of self-concerned arrogance in it. It was clear that I would never ever again go to anything like this in my life anymore.
Iain: So you’d tried lots of things and they hadn’t worked?
Florian: I had tried everything possible. I was at the end. I was not looking for a guru, not looking for a teacher; I was just not interested at all. I sent Julia, saying, “It’s good for you - go”. She came back and, the next day, she said to me, “You know, I think it’s good for you, too”. But I didn’t want to. I was resisting. And eventually, because we were going out for just one week, I said, “Don’t fight with her - go”. It was a Friday evening. I was completely tired, at the bottom; destroyed, frustrated and empty. But somehow I went there, was sitting down and almost fell asleep. And after about half-an-hour - I was close to sleep - I heard Isaac speaking with a chap on stage in the front. He spoke about something, and at a certain moment he pointed to that man and said, “You are that”.
Iain: He pointed at you.
Florian: No, to the man on the stage.
Florian: In that conversation - I actually did not follow the conversation - he just said, “You are that”. And in that half falling asleep, my system heard this. It was like a lightning bolt straight into the core of my system. I didn’t know what he was speaking about, but it was an explosion inside of me. For a couple of seconds, I disappeared - which I cannot remember anything about - and when I opened my eyes again, everything was different. I was looking from a completely different inner place. I was looking around. There were tears running down my cheeks. I was looking at Julia, looking around, and everything that seemed to be a nightmare just before, all of a sudden was completely gone, from one second to the next. It was a feeling of being absolutely free of it, like something that wasn’t real had dropped from my system - the whole story, the identity. And I looked around and looked at her.
I couldn’t give it a name or label it. I was incapable of describing it. It was just gone. I hadn’t had any reference point, because - as I mentioned before - there was no interest in it anymore. I didn’t even know the label ‘awakening’. That wasn’t familiar to me.
So after the satsang we left. In the car on the way back home we were speaking about it. I just continued to share from what was happening here, but Julia said, “What?” She felt it, but she also didn’t know what to do with it. We came home, and all I can remember was a thought coming back that “This is just another experience for you. Tomorrow morning you will be the same”. And - God knows why - it wasn’t. It stayed. And it continued. Every day it deepened and it deepened and it deepened. It was almost impossible to believe it.
So on Monday I started to go back to my practice, and I saw all the clients in front of me, who wanted help from me, and I began to speak from that inner place. Surprisingly, I was completely confusing them, because I couldn’t help them anymore. I could clearly see that what I was doing to them, and what they wanted from me, was an illusion. It was completely nuts. So it did not take long until all my clients left me. I closed my practice and I said, “I will not continue with this. I’m finished with this”.
About four months later, I eventually wrote an email to Isaac in Australia. It just came to me, because I didn’t know what to do with this. I couldn’t give it a name nor had any reference point. So I sent him an email and shared the functioning of the system in these past four months as well as I could. And in the course of that email exchange, for the first time I got a clearer reflection of what had actually happened. All this started to slowly drop into the system, and I was gradually able again to operate fairly normally. A few months later, in August, I met Isaac again in Germany. From this meeting onwards, the journey of integration began, accompanied by an understanding of what was happening. It was absolutely unexpected.
Iain: So you had a spontaneous awakening in one way, but the interesting thing is there was this process of integration. So you had to get used to somehow living in the world with this. Is that what you’re saying?
Florian: Yes. What I can say is that this moment of awakening - though I never could name it as this, and I still don’t - was the disappearance of the whole story, of the whole quest for truth and enlightenment.
Iain: Yes, I understand that.
Florian: So in that moment - if I would express it with my today’s language - I would say my life began. Everything up to that moment was just the preparation. It felt like the first time I could see things as they are. That doesn’t mean that old stuff did not show up. In fact, it continuously is showing up on the screen of consciousness. Yet what has never been able to happen is believing that what is experienced is the actual reality. It is like an ongoing possibility to look through the manifestation, and to see that none of this is true, though it is still appearing in front of the eyes.
And that was and is the integration, because the first automatic impulse was to reject the manifestation, and to say, “This is not me; this is not real” - which is ultimately true. But it got gradually clear that this was just a jumping over. You just put it aside.
I began to notice that the effects of this profound realisation also turned into - guess what? - another painful disappointment. It was the disappointment that the void, this nothingness, which I experienced as pure consciousness itself, became another very subtle, refined way of not meeting.
Now I got feedback from my friends, from my wife: “It’s fantastic what you share, but I don’t feel you in this. Where are you? Where’s the juice in this? Where is life?” And from that perspective it appeared totally clear, and I was saying to them, “You know, you are just speaking from your ego”. I was using all this non-duality stuff like, “You’re not real, I’m not real, so why bother?” All these concepts, to get away from experiencing what wants to be experienced.
So, ultimately, I lost genuine contact with everything in life. And it ended up with Julia being ready to leave. She said, “You are not here. There’s no one there”. From an absolute perspective it is true, but the system turns it into the concept of “There’s no one there”. And she clearly said to me, “It is not alive”.
Iain: So you felt in yourself removed.
Florian: From everything. It was not only that. It was the removal of myself and the removal of the sense that the world as I saw it was real.
Iain: One of the things people say a lot in non-duality, who have had an awakening experience or the awakening experience - they say, “The self leaves; there is no one there”.
Iain: Is that what you felt?
Florian: Exactly. It is the absence of ‘me’, and not being able to see the world as being real. Now we’re coming to the tricky part of it, and that for me was so far the absolute biggest disappointment.
Iain: I want to understand this. So when you say the biggest disappointment...
Florian: I want to describe this.
Iain: ...who’s having the disappointment?
Florian: Exactly. So what is happening is that this realisation is the complete vanishing of the ‘sense of me’ together with the world; nothing remains as real. All that is, is consciousness. Yet as long as this body is alive, unavoidably there remains a last sense of indestructible identification, because if not it would be the end of the body. So I was still, of course, able to turn around and recognise when somebody called my name. That is indestructible. As long as this body is alive, we are bound to a certain, though limited, degree of identification. Indeed, we would not be able to function at all anymore. Though even this may vanish temporarily, it naturally returns.
For a short period of time my system was hardly functioning properly anymore. Yet, gradually, there was a seeing of that subtle ‘sense of me’ coming back. I began to see it about half a year later. The ‘sense of me’ - which is in reality only a vague kind of feeling - suddenly started to pick up the nothingness. The ‘sense of me’ sneaked in through the back door, and now identified itself with nothingness. So from that moment onwards, it was “I am nothing”. It was not nothingness. It became an extremely refined, subtle identification of the ‘sense of me’…
Iain: I understand.
Florian: ...with the nothingness. So nothingness became another object, which seemingly can be experienced by someone. And that is, in fact, not nothing, but something. We could call it a non-existing something. It is funny. The trick of it is that, when this residue of the ‘sense of me’ identifies itself with nothing, it experiences everything as nothing, and it also responds as if everything would be nothing. You don’t hear anymore, you don’t listen, you do not accept anything else anymore. Everything that people say is just nothing, because that appears as your nature. You, the ‘sense of me’, become nothing. And looking at life through the identification with nothingness means that there is no way to meet and relate. And, funnily enough, this is tremendously painful. I have noticed in my system that it was the ultimate way to protect my heart from meeting other people.
Iain: OK, you say this now, looking back on it. But at the time, what did you feel?
Florian: What I felt? It was just resting. It was like lying down in my inner hammock, losing contact with everything. I was not interested in anything. I didn’t mind.
Iain: So you lost aliveness?
Florian: Absolutely. It was bliss and peace inside, yet my system didn’t have any relation to anything, because everything was seen as unreal. So why should I relate with something, or meet anyone, or even my partner?
Guess what happened? Since for quite a while no one was there - I was gone - Julia fell in love with another man.
Florian: One day she came to me very honestly and said, “You know, Florian, I need to confess that I fell in love with a young man and I may leave”. In that moment, it was like somebody was taking a stick and hitting me, and I fell straight out of the bliss bubble. It was like dropping from paradise. Many years later, I got to learn that in the Zen Buddhist tradition they call this moment ‘the falling from grace’. I fell out of that bliss bubble – which, unconsciously, I had created, a self-made nothingness - right back into real life. Back to reality. And I could see, “Oh, again I’m losing - again the same thing!”
Florian: Now, as I have realised that I am consciousness, that nothing is real (which is absolutely true), there still was no way of genuine meeting. I wasn’t there. I received the same feedback I’d got for the last forty years. So I started to question even this and said, “Oh oh oh, maybe even this, the ultimate realisation of nothingness, is another way of protecting yourself from being visible as who you really are, and of being incapable of meeting other people?” I can tell you, that is an overwhelming disappointment.
Just then the real integration began. Just then the realisation of being consciousness started to - what I call these days - become embodied. It began to drop into the body. What happened, in that process of consciousness dropping into the body, is that I re-experienced everything every human being and I myself had experienced before. But this time not from the perspective of the identity of Florian, but from the perspective of being consciousness. Suddenly everything showed up again, but it was experienced from consciousness, instead of from the ‘sense of me’. Just then, I understood fully that realising yourself - recognising who I am - is just the very beginning of finally being able to let everything come home, which my system couldn’t let in as long as it was operating on that limited ‘sense of me’.
Iain: So it’s as if you, in your...
Florian: It is stepping out of the way.
Iain: ...awakening somehow had a new reference point that arose?
Florian: No, first of all, all reference points disappear. In the realisation that nothing is real, all reference points lose their power.
Florian: Yet the nothingness itself becomes a new reference point. And this is the subtle re-identification, which cannot accept any reflection anymore, because it sees everyone and everything as nothing.
Florian: I can see this subtle pattern playing out in many people going to such meetings like satsang; and even in so-called satsang teachers it can easily show up. For me, it most clearly reveals itself when I hear people speak with me in a funny, yet painful way like, “Well, what are you speaking about? It’s not real… you are not real …my experience is not real…”, and such general stuff. But in most cases this is a concept. It just becomes a new reference point. Suddenly you put everything down as ‘being unreal’. There is no living exploration happening. In a way it is claiming that it is finished. And that is not genuinely true. It is only a new position the thinking has created.
Iain: OK. Now one thing I found very interesting was that, when I came to your meeting the other night in London, when you started off you were very honest by saying that that afternoon you’d had a fight with your wife.
Florian: Yes [laughing].
Iain: And I thought to myself, ”Well, I’m wondering why he’s telling us this?” And you then were explaining it. Why don’t you explain what happened - not necessarily all the details of the fight - but your process and why you allowed that to happen?
Florian: Yes, yes. This is where for me the beauty of non-duality, the full beauty of that realisation, suddenly can become visible. So if I were to describe the functioning of my system today, I would make it very easy. Everything that is included in the human experience, my system experiences too. All of it: pain, grief, anger, joy, pleasure, happiness, success, destruction, all of it. So the full experience of life is still experienced, because this body [tapping on own knees] is still here. It is not ‘me’ who is experiencing - it is always this body experiencing. This we cannot get rid of. The realisation of being consciousness does not stop the body from experiencing life in its various expressions. Life does not stop.
But the huge difference is - and that is how life unfolds also with my wife and in these struggles - that the moment an experience is experienced, the habit of trying to get away from it is seen and not followed. There is no moving away from the actuality of now. The trying to get away from the experience is, in fact, creating the ‘sense of me’. It’s like trying to push it away. In this trying to get away from it, you become the observer of the experience.
Iain: So if you move back you feel self?
Florian: Yes, the moving back creates an artificial sense of two. You literally produce the sense of being the observer of an experience here [tapping on his chest], watching an experience happening to you there, with a gap in between. It feels like two.
Florian: This is the actual beginning of duality. It is the initial moment of separation, of living from the fragmented. It feels like a ‘sense of me’ being the observer of an external object - the observed. And they seem to be separate from each other. But, in truth, this is an artificial process, internally generated by not wanting to have the experience that we already have. Isn’t it?
Florian: So all that this moment is, is an experience to us. According to how we relate to the experience, we are either experiencing ourselves as internally separate, becoming the observer of the experience - or the process of trying to get away from the experience stops and the experience is experienced fully, consciously, without any attempt to split yourself off. That means the full capacity, the full impact of an experience, has free access to you. It can live itself through you, and you’re not separating yourself from it.
Iain: OK. So my question is, what about intelligent awareness in so far as… You are having a fight with your wife… You know, I’ve not got the details here and it’s not my business, but probably a fight you have had many times...
Florian: Oh, always the same [laughing].
Iain: …so why is that still running? You are an intelligent human being on one level, you have done all this psychological work, you understand the dynamics - why is it still happening?
Florian: Fantastic. This is where the real integration begins. So in all these years of bringing the quality of being consciousness - it’s a quality, it’s a realisation, it’s living a reality - it is dropping deeper and deeper into the human body. I call it consciousness embodied. What happens is that, in this journey, the descent of consciousness into the body, consciousness inevitably again meets the different levels of the human experience. So, first, you see how thinking functions. You start to re-explore the process of thinking. Then, as consciousness drops deeper into the body, you start to re-experience the range of human emotions fully. They’re not gone - they’re still there.
Now this is where the process mostly stops because, when the journey into the body goes even deeper, we begin to experience somatic layers in the nervous system, in the physical body, that activate – that, in fact, constantly create - a different reality. That means the cells have their own memory. It is deeply rooted within the physical structure. We can literally feel it.
So, for instance, every time you contract – habitually, like a little shock - the body remembers a painful experience. Though you may have tried to control it with your thinking, or with changing your feelings, and even noticing yourself as consciousness, it doesn’t affect or touch this deep level of somatic experience in the body. The body doesn’t care about this.
Just about three years ago, I realised that, obviously, there are two different realities playing out simultaneously. On the one hand there is the conscious reality of knowing who I am; being conscious of thinking and feeling, knowing that none of it is real, and knowing that the body is not real either. On the other hand, there is a clear noticing that the body is still often functioning ‘remotely controlled’ by its own cellular memory. In the instant a cellular memory is activated, you start to have experiences, including strong, physical, somatic experiences that actually feel quite real. Many people cannot meet this layer, because to be fully in the body is so unfamiliar for most of us, and meeting the sensations of the body feels so much like a prison.
Iain: So when it is all running, what is the process of… Is there something going on in your mind?
Florian: No, absolutely not. The mind is just a...
Iain: …it’s like an automatic programme that runs, and I presume over time it runs less, or runs less strongly?
Iain: It dissipates over time.
Florian: Yes. So what is totally clear is that the programmes that we’re running on are mainly cellular memories that are activated, and these cellular memories are pushing energy upwards. So every time the body contracts, a cellular memory is activated; by habitually contracting, the body tries to protect itself from re-experiencing pain. It moves from ease and being alive into a shock reaction, into its survival mode. When you explore this in the moment… The body contracts. You will notice that the contraction pumps energy upwards, generates feelings - and suddenly you find yourself in the head, thinking. It all starts in the body. Most people believe it all starts in the mind, but that is not true. The mind is the very last. It’s only the tip of the iceberg of a somatic chain reaction that originates in the body.
Florian: That was astonishing to me because, as the journey of consciousness dropping deeper into the body continued, all these unconscious somatic layers became conscious. I was never conscious of them, because the body was not included in the habitual focus of my attention. So the concept of “I am not my body” was unconsciously misinterpreted - twisted - in order not to meet this embodiment in all its humanness [tapping legs].
Iain: One thing you mentioned in your talk the other night was about mirror neurons - I hadn’t heard that before. And you were saying that these mirror neurons mirror an experience back into you.
Florian: Exactly. Before we go there, let’s take a moment. It’s quite interesting to notice what is happening inside as we are speaking now. As we are speaking, our attention slowly is moving from the mental level to touching some emotional levels, and further on. I don’t know if you can sense this, but as we are proceeding we are giving a little more attention to this embodiment. We become more conscious of the body. Do you feel this? Just for one instant - just as we are speaking - we are becoming more aware of what is happening simultaneously in our nervous system. It is not observing it - it is just noticing it. So, as we continue our conversation, it is lovely to explore and to see what happens in us, to notice the reorganisation of our system when we give attention to it. Including and exploring the levels of the embodiment, which is rarely included in most spiritual traditions.
In including this, we need to inevitably include some human experiences most of us do absolutely not feel safe with: sexuality, aggression, anger, which are very physical experiences. Basically, everything we don’t like to experience. Those things we still habitually try to control or get rid of. We control them not by doing things - we just don’t go there with our attention. We say, “OK, if I’m not my body, why should I care? Why should I deal with that?”
So, as we are here now, is it possible to include the body in our exploration? What I am noticing is that I can meet the experience of now, showing up as a multi-sensual feeling in my own system. And to the very same degree I can be with and meet my own experience in the body, I can meet other people, too. For the first time in my life, I felt that now I am able to meet other people. It is not meeting them with my mind. And I am not meeting them emotionally or psychologically. It is literally a meeting with the whole body.
My whole body can feel you - in fact, your whole body. Indeed, it is experiencing you as my own experience. For me, we are absolutely not separate from each other. We are already one. That is the direct experience of my system.
And that brings me to your question about mirror neurons. I got to learn about it about one and a half years ago. Neuroscientists discovered a particular cellular structure in the human nervous system that they call mirror neurons. These particular neurons are only responsible for the following: they have the capacity to track what is showing up in you (for instance, sitting opposite me) or anything in the outside world, and then to mirror that experience back into the nervous system, so that our system can feel the outside as our own self.
Florian: It is actually very profound what we are speaking about.
Iain: Unbelievably profound, yes.
Florian: We are actually having… We have a physical preoccupation that enables us to have compassion. What compassion means is: feeling everything and everyone as my own self; ‘to feel with’ is compassion. So as I am feeling you now... it is my whole body that tunes in. Our bodies start to share information. Our nervous systems begin to share what is going on internally. Of course, there is partly a mental exchange and partly an emotional exchange happening, too. But a much more complete exchange is happening on a physical or somatic level - in fact, at a cellular level. It is quite interesting: as we are exploring this way, we actually participate in each other. You learn from me, and I learn from you, but not consciously. In truth, it is our full embodiments that are exchanging what we have to offer to each other.
Iain: It’s kind of energetic to a degree?
Florian: Yes. It is energetic, but it includes everything. It is mental, emotional, sensory and cellular. It is...
Iain: …it is a meeting at all levels.
Florian: We can call it a fully embodied meeting.
Iain: It is a breaking down of the two ‘I’s’, isn’t it?
Florian: Yes. I mean, where are you now? If we include all levels, can you tell me where the boundary between ‘you’ and ‘me’ is? Where do ‘you’ end, where do ‘I’ begin? Can we tell? Where do we find the boundary? Where does Iain stop, and where does Florian begin? In fact, it is very difficult to find, isn’t it?
Florian: So we cannot even speak of an experience of Iain and an experience of Florian. If we really tune into this level, we notice that all we are having is experiencing. There is the experience of now, that is experienced by two nervous systems. Now, to whom does it belong? Is it your experience? Or is it my experience? Can you say?
Iain: It’s an experience.
Florian: It is experiencing.
Florian: It is experiencing. It is experienced by us. And if I would speak to people who sit with us, or who may watch, if they just would tune in, they will have the same experience, too. So we cannot even say it belongs to me and I can give it to you. It is already here. But as we are normally not utilising the full capacity of this embodiment, we experience a split. But the split is not from the outside - the split is merely the effect of us splitting ourselves off from the levels of our own experience. We do not know much about experiencing being fully embodied. We’re not used to being in our bodies. That means on a practical, day-to-day level, most of us don’t have much grounded contact.
Florian: We are mostly not fully here. We are not present in the bodies [tapping legs].
Iain: And I think the way the world is going - everything is speeding up the whole time, getting more extreme - it gets more and more of a challenge.
Florian: I agree. Yet if we again give some attention to the actual experience of speed, all we find is a deep-rooted somatic experience in the nervous system, which we habitually project to the outside…
Iain: Florian, we’re going to have to finish...
Florian: Oh, already!
Iain: …we’ve just got to the end of time, I’m afraid, but I want to say, first of all, that Florian has several books out, one called Space, one called Given, one called Being. I think there’s a new one being written at the moment, isn’t there?
Florian: Yes. It will be published next year, and my publisher and I are just working on it. And it will be in prose form, not in conversation form like the other books.
Iain: OK, great.
Florian: In a nice prose form so that everybody can read a text, yes.
Iain: Good. I thank you very much for coming along and sharing your story and your wisdom. The end was a little premature in one way, where we were just starting something new, but we have the reality of time in this dimension and...
Iain: ...and that’s the way it is.
Florian: And I would be happy, if there’s interest, to continue where we just stopped, because I think it is a very interesting subject… If it’s possible to bring this quality of consciousness into our body so that we can live it in our life, so that it becomes a living reality - which is what I love the most.
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