Jeff Foster - The Waves are the Ocean
Interview by Renate McNay
Renate: Hello, and welcome to conscious TV. My name is Renate McNay and my guest today is Jeff Foster. Hello Jeff.
Jeff: Hi Renate, hello.
Renate: Jeff was here before with us a few years ago and we are so happy to have him back. He wrote a few books. I have three here with me. One is "An extraordinary Absence“ and “The Wonder of Being“, but this [holding up book] is Jeff´s latest book and he told me that in a way it is the first book he wrote; it´s called “The Deepest Acceptance – Radical Awakening in Ordinary Life“ and there is also a CDs box with it. So Jeff, I am curious what happened between those books. (laughter) Something shifted in you. Some deep insights happened.
Jeff: Well, I mean what has happened since I published the first book was that I´ve been going around the world, talking to people, teaching, holding meetings and retreats. And that´s really helped me see a lot of things about the way I was communicating with people, about the way I was writing. I think that´s been a really interesting journey for me. It is actually writing a book and going out there in the world and engaging with people about this material and hearing their questions and sometimes very challenging questions... and hearing what people are really struggeling with and because in my first books, I think I was seen and somehow labelled as a Non-Duality teacher and I never quite worked out what that meant.
Renate: That´s why we invited you the first time [as a Non-Duality teacher]
Jeff: I mean, I never saw what I did as a Non-Duality [teacher]. I was never trying to adhere to a certain kind of belief system or a structure. I was just singing my song and expressing what I`d discovered, how I saw life. And I think four or five years ago when my first book came out, I don´t think I had yet found my own... voice, if that makes sense. The language I was using was... I was saying things like, “there is no me, there is no you, there is no self. There is no time, there is no space...“, the kind of really absolute stuff.
Renate: But wasn´t that also your experience?
Jeff: Well yeah, it was, this is the thing. So, I am not saying that I was wrong.
I´m not saying those insights weren´t valid. Those were beautiful insights. After twenty, however many years, of deep depression and horrible shyness and self-consciousness, it had been such a revelation just to realize that actually I wasn´t this Jeff-character. That who I really was was this no-thing; in a sense nothing. This vast open space of awareness, consciousness, being, whatever you want to call it. And without going into the past or the future when I looked, what I found... I just found... this. I found what was happening. That´s all I could ever find: the present moment. And back then I hadn´t really... When I published my first book, I had never really spoken to any other human being about what I´d realized and this was all very raw. The writing that was coming out of me was very unfiltered and raw and it was... In a way I realize now, it was quite kind of absolutist in a way; the language wasn´t particularly human, it didn´t really honor the relative expression of life. It was quite absolute.
Renate: So it was the emptiness.
Jeff: It was the emptiness, it was no one here, no one there, nothing to do, nowhere to go, no past, no future. And the thing is, I mean, as you know and you´ve done a lot of interviews with Non-Duality teachers now... a lot of them say things like this and there is a beautiful absolute truth to that.
Renate: And an important knowingness of that.
Jeff: Absolutely! And for me years ago, it cut through so much suffering just to realize that life wasn´t about Jeff, actually. Life wasn´t about becoming the perfect Jeff, that actually life was the moment. And I realized that my whole life I´d been running away from the moment. When I first realized this a few years ago, this was a huge revelation, I mean that was shocking. And I think in my first book you can almost hear that. It was like, wow, wow, wow! So what´s happened over the past few years is... I guess the word ‘integration‘ is quite a nice word. And these are the questions I always get, it´s like, “Yes, Jeff, on one level I know that I am consciousness, I know that I am pure being, I know there´s no one here, but how do I live that? How do I live that in everyday life?“ Because everyday life doesn´t stop. Going to work, coming home, paying bills, the boiler leaking and...
Renate: ...having children...
Jeff: ...having children or experiencing pain.
Renate: You know we get e-mails from viewers. They say: “Well, Non-Duality is great and you do great stuff, but please can you also interview somebody who [can] tell us how to raise children and prepare them for the future?“
Jeff: Yeah. This is where people really struggle with Non-Duality, I think. Because on one level it makes so much sense and it´s such a simple teaching and there´s such a deep absolute truth to it. There´s only this moment and you know, when you come out of your story of your life, your story of past and future, what do you find? You find this, what´s happening right now. So, on that level yes, you are consciousness, there´s a beautiful profound truth to that. But at the same time there´s this. And this is what I wasn´t emphasising enough when I wrote my first book. I think there was a kind of naivety in a way which, I guess some people appreciated. But that´s what I´ve really been learning over the past few years, just going over the world and meeting people and talking to people about this and exploring people´s experience and talking about raising kids, talking about physical pain and addictions and relationship struggles and how to bring that insight, that I am no one, I am consciousness, I am pure being. How to bring that into the mess. That´s what I call it these days, the mess of life. Because on one hand we might be consciousness itself, but on the other hand, we are also human beings.
Renate: So that was your own journey in a way, to realize the absolute and then come back into the world and try to be a human being.
Jeff: Trying to be...(laugher) I mean, that was one way of saying it and in the end though it wasn´t so much... we have to use metaphors when I´m talking about this. It´s very difficult to talk about, because it´s not that you go out and you get the absolute and then you bring it back into the relative, it´s really discovering - I guess as we´ll talk about, as we go on – that the absolute is the relative. It´s not that there is this one thing called the ‘Absolute‘,‘Pure Being‘ and then this other thing called being a ‘human being‘. Actually they are one and the same thing. In the new book I use the metaphor of the ocean and the waves quite a lot. I think it´s a beautiful metaphor. So, who you are - as we´ve heard already in a lot of these Non-Duality interviews - who you are is this vast ocean of consciousness, unlimited, ever present. Call it awareness, call it consciousness, call it being, call it Spirit, call it God. I mean, we don´t have to argue about the words. You know everyone has their own word for it. Because ultimately who you are can´t be captured. You know it´s life, let´s just call it life. So who you are is life, but at the same time, within that ocean arises all of these waves. So you may be pure consciousness, but what appears in consciousness is thoughts, sensations, feelings always coming and going. That seems to be the nature of thought, sensation, feeling. It appears and it disappears. And even the most intense feelings, human feelings, sadness, anger, boredom, frustration, confusion... these waves can also appear in the ocean that you are. And what I really say in the book is, this isn´t really a contradiction. I think often when we think of enlightenment, or awakening we think of getting into some kind of state or having some kind of special experience. And this is what I used to think as well. I used to think that enlightenment or awakening was some special state or experience where...
Renate: You´re blissed out all the time.
Jeff: ...blissed out all the time, the whole pain magically disappears, all sadness disappears, all fear disappears and you are in this permanent state. So I used to see enlightenment, or awakening as some kind of escape from the waves. Escape from thoughts, escape from sensations, escape from feelings. So, what I talk about in my new book turns the whole thing on its head, because really when you recognise yourself as the ocean, you recognise [that] the thoughts, sensations, feelings are actually waves in the ocean. They´re movements of you. They´re not against you. They´re not your enemies. They´re not there to be destroyed or obliterated. They´re not imperfections to be purified. They are movements of yourself. They belong in you.
Renate: Yeah, you said that very beautifully. They are like your children.
Jeff: They are like (laughs), they are [your children]...
Renate: Yeah, they want to be loved and...
Jeff: So, if who you are is consciousness, as Non-Duality suggests, then thoughts, sensations, feelings are also consciousness. They´re movements of consciousness. It´s not consciousness one thing, then thoughts, sensations, feelings, sounds, smells, other things. That would be... two. That would be separation again. And so if you are consciousness, then thoughts, sensations, feelings are also consciousness. They are made of you. In a sense they are the same substance as you. They´re your flesh and blood. They´re made of you. Thoughts, sensations, feelings are... you can say they are your children. Consciousness doesn´t exist alone. It has children, it has many children. It has infinite children.
Renate: I think the difference is Jeff, you need to first have the realization that you are the ground of being, you are the ocean. Otherwise how do you get out of these identifications with waves? If you don´t have this realization? Do you understand what I mean? We are all the time identified with waves, because we think we are these waves.
Jeff: It´s true.
Renate: So we need to first have this experience of the ocean.
Jeff: That´s true.
Renate: To just be able to look at them [identifications] and say yeah, it´s okay you are here.
Jeff: Yeah, this is why throughout the ages all the... I would say authentic spiritual teachers, have been asking us, or have been inviting us, to ask the question for ourselves: “Who are you?“ “Who am I?“ And this is THE question, yeah? I mean it´s the essential question. It´s the first question. Who am I? That´s the question on which everything else is [built] our whole lives are built on that, on that one question: “Who am I“? So sometimes I say to people, we don´t want to settle for assumptions. We don´t want to settle for second hand answers to that questions. We wanna discover for ourselves the answer to that question. And we don´t want yesterday´s answer to that question. This, “Who are you?“ it´s a living question. It´s an alive question. We don´t want to regurgitate an answer to that question. Which is what we often do. Often you ask someone... you go out into the street in Battersea, wherever we are, and... sorry, I wasn´t supposed to give the location of Conscious TV’s secret studios away. (Laughter)
Renate: No, I didn´t say that... (Laughter)
Jeff: They´ll find us! (Laughter) You go into the street in Battersea, or anywhere actually and you ask someone... you stop someone in the street and you ask them: “Who are you?“ They´ll probably walk away, but if they don´t walk away, they´ll probably answer with some kind of story about who they are; they will start telling you their story. They´ll tell you about their past, what they have done, where they work, where they´ve travelled to, their successes, their failures. They might talk to you about plans in the future. So, the question really is: “Who are you now?“ That´s a much deeper question. Who are you now? Not who were you yesterday? Although that can be interesting to talk about [too]. We don´t wanna say that´s wrong. But this is a very deep enquiry into who we truly are. So the question is, who are you now? Who are you now without going into memory? Without going into the story, without going into the story of what has happened to you, or what may happen to you, without going into your life story. Who are you? So that´s really an invitation not to regurgitate some second-hand answer, but to take a look right now. That´s the invitation. It is to look. Don´t just assume that you know the answer, because I don´t know the answer. And if someone gives you an answer to that question, that´s their answer. So we don´t want a second-hand answer, we want a first-hand living answer. So this is why I always invite people to just come back to the present moment and begin to notice: what´s the nature of your present experience? And some people call this a meditation. You can call this meditation. You don´t have to call it meditation, you can call it looking, noticing, acknowledging. I like the word acknowledging - acknowledging what is happening right now in present experience. So what you might start to notice in present experience [is], thoughts appearing, all kinds of thoughts appearing right now, images, memory of what you had for lunch, or a thought about what you´re gonna have for breakfast tomorrow. All these pictures, images, thoughts... you might notice all kinds of sensations. And it´s funny, we talk about body and mind as if the body and the mind were two kind of solid things. We talk about ‘my body‘,‘my mind‘. But actually, when we stop and take a look, do we find something solid called the ‘mind‘? Or do we in this moment - I´m only talking about this moment - find thoughts coming and going? We talk about ‘my body‘, but when we stop and take a look, do we find something solid called a ‘body‘, or do we find this amazing alive dance of sensations? That´s all that I can find. I´m not talking about some special state.
What I´m talking about is who you really are and who we all are, if we would stop and take a look. If we would admit the truth of who we are. You know, if we stop and take a look now, you find thoughts coming and going, sensations coming and going, feelings coming and going. Right now there might be a sense of confusion, or excitement, or joy, sadness. So, we just notice, we acknowledge the waves that are appearing right now in the ocean that we are. And what we start to notice is that - as the buddhist teachings have always said - experience is impermanent. Everything is impermanent. Thoughts come and go, that´s their nature. Sensations come and go, that´s their nature. Feelings, even the most intense feelings come and go. I mean, you just look back through your life, look at all of the waves that have appeared and disappeared in the ocean that you are. Look how vast you are, actually.
This is how vast you are! Look at what you´ve contained throughout your life. It’s astonishing really when you start to look at it. Look at all the waves. Look at the sadness and the pain and the joy and the bliss and the frustration and the feelings of helplessness and some of us - like in my experience - there were waves years ago that I thought I would never get through. I thought they would never pass. Sometimes you confront waves and you can´t even imagine them passing. This wave, this is gonna be here forever and then it passes. Or the other way round, you really want a wave to be there and it doesn´t come. That seems to be the nature of experience. These waves come and go. Sorry, this is a very long answer to your question, but I tend to give very, very tiny answers, or very, very long answers. I can´t do anything in the middle. (Laughter)
Renate: Yeah, that´s fine. So I try to find a gap where I just come in with a question. So, what I really like is... whatever comes into your life, whatever wave comes into your life you have already allowed [it]. Otherwise it wouldn´t be there. And I think that is somehow the essence of your teaching.
Jeff: This is the essence. This is it. This is where it´s heading. So you start to notice these waves, thoughts, sensations, feelings, even very intense waves of pain, intense waves of confusion, intense waves of fear. As the ocean, as consciousness there´s enough space in you for all of this. There´s always been enough space in you. If there wasn´t enough space – and this is just a way of talking about it – if there wasn´t enough space for the wave, if there wasn´t enough space for the pain, the pain wouldn´t be there. If there wasn´t enough space for the fear, the fear wouldn´t be there. So the very fact that a wave is present suggests that in a sense you´re already holding it. In a sense you´re already holding it as the ocean. This wave is a movement of the ocean as consciousness. This wave, this sadness, this fear, this pain, it´s really the ocean in disguise. It´s really consciousness dressed up as pain. It´s consciousness dressed up as fear. It´s consciousness dressed up as doubt. So this, really does go to the core of what I talk about. Because you could say that on the deepest level the ocean accepts all of its waves. Or the ocean allows all of its waves. And I´m not saying that the ocean decides to allow its waves, or chooses to allow its waves. It´s not that the ocean wakes up in the morning and says to itself: “Okay, I`m gonna allow all my waves.“ In a sense it doesn´t have the choice, the ocean is all of its waves. The ocean is all of its waves, there is no seperation. So that’s what I mean when I use the word ‘acceptance‘.
Renate: That´s the deepest acceptance.
Jeff: So, it´s not an acceptance that you do, this is the key, this is the absolute key because often when we use the word acceptance, what we hear is: “Okay, okay, I need to accept. I need to accept this moment. I need to accept this pain. I need to accept these thoughts. I need to accept this fear. I need to accept... this doubt“. So acceptance becomes our project and that for me, years ago, that´s what I was trying to do all the time. I was trying so hard to accept myself. I was trying so hard to accept pain. Trying so hard to accept confusion, accept doubt. Because secretly I thought that if I could accept this pain, it would go away. So you see I realize now it wasn´t really acceptance, it was “I`m gonna get rid of this by using acceptance.“ It was really rejection... dressed up as acceptance and I wanted to be this wonderful, accepting human being. I thought that that´s what enlightenment was all about; was becoming the perfectly accepting Jeff.
Renate: The enlightened...
Jeff: The enlightened, yes, the perfect, because that´s what I thought. I had all these fantasies about enlightened people. They sat on their mountaintop in states of perfect bliss and they were perfectly accepting of whatever happened to them. They totally accepted it and if someone came up at them with a knife and stuck it in their stomach... “Oh, I accept it, it´s fine“, you know that was my fantasy of acceptance. That was the mind´s version of acceptance.
Renate: So what is true acceptance?
Jeff: It´s what you are. It´s not what you do. It´s not something that you do. It´s what you are.
Renate: So let´s say I have a bout of anxiety... about something. What do I do with that? I don´t do anything...?
Jeff: (Laughter) Well, that´s interesting, that could easily become just a new tactic, you see... and this is what I wasn´t making clear in my first book years ago because I used to say things like that: “Oh there´s nothing you can do. There´s nothing you can do.“ But then I noticed that what was happening with people, was that they were taking that on as their new spiritual practice: “Okay I´m gonna try doing nothing“, but secretly they still wanted a result from that. “Okay, I´m gonna sit here, there´s lots of pain, but I´m going to do nothing“. But secretly, there was a kind of a bargaining going on, “Well, if I do nothing, then maybe I´ll get enlightenment. If I do nothing then maybe it will go away.“ It´s interesting you said that, even doing nothing can become a new thing, a new doing.
So what I´m talking about, goes beyond all of that. It goes beyond doing/not doing, accepting/not accepting. I´m talking about the acceptance that, in a sense comes before you. So... you could say on the deepest level, as I was saying, the ocean accepts all of its waves, allows all of its waves. Not because it chooses to allow, [but] because it is all of its waves. Any wave that appears, any thought, any sensation, any feeling, you could say that on the deepest level it´s already accepted by the ocean, because it is already the ocean. That´s the acceptance. It´s the ‘Isness‘ of things. This is the thing, by the time a wave appears, a thought, a sensation, a feeling, even a sense of anxiety or confusion or frustration... by the time the wave appears, it´s already accepted. It´s already an expression of consciousness... in its appearance, as it appears, it´s consciousness appearing, it´s the ocean appearing. So its appearance is its acceptance. That was the key for me and that´s something...
Renate: That´s good. The appearance...
Jeff: ...is acceptance. Appearance is acceptance.
Renate: Very good. Yeah.
Jeff: Every wave that appears, every thought, every sensation, every... anything that could possibly ever appear in your experience is an expression of consciousness, is an expression of the ocean. There is no wave that could possibly appear that is not the ocean. There is no wave that is outside of the ocean. There is no wave that is against the ocean. Any wave, any thought, sensation, feeling is again consciousness, awareness whatever word you wanna use. It is the ocean appearing as that sense that as it appears... it´s already accepted. It´s only because it´s allowed, it´s only because it´s accepted that it´s appearing.
Renate: But then also my reaction to it, is also allowed.
Jeff: AHA! You know this is exactly it! This is exactly it! This is what confuses so many people about the word ‘acceptance‘ which is why I kind of wanted to use the word in a different way. I call it the ‘deepest acceptance‘. Because often what happens is: we try to accept for example a thought, a sensation, a feeling. We try to accept a wave of pain. We try so hard to accept it and often what we find is that we can´t. We feel unable to accept this moment. Sometimes the moment just feels unacceptable especially when the pain is so intense, or when the grief is so intense... however much we try, however good our intentions are, we feel unable sometimes to accept the moment, to allow the moment. We feel unable to say “Yes“ to the moment. We feel unable to be present. We feel unable to stay in the now. Or, the whole list of things that we´re supposed to do these days: be in the now, be present, be conscious, I mean, we´ve got lists...(Laughter)
Renate: You tick them off.
Jeff: Tick, yeah, I´m in the now, I´m present, I´m conscious, I´m saying yes, I´m accepting... so it just becomes a new form of...
Jeff: ...Mantra, yeah, a new form of seeking, a new expectation, a new ‘something‘ to try and live up to. But the truth is, and let´s be honest about our experience, often we feel that we can´t live up to… whatever we´re supposed to live up to. I´m supposed to be in the now, I´m supposed to be present, I´m supposed to be conscious, I´m supposed to be... joyful about this moment, I´m supposed to be all these things, all the whole list of things that we´re supposed to be. Especially if we have been spiritual seekers for a long time we have huge lists of... what our experience is supposed to look like.
Renate: Yeah, things we have to achieve...
Jeff: ...things we have to achieve, yeah. And we have the image of how this moment should be. So what happens, we try to allow this moment, we try to say yes to it, we try to accept it. And the reality in the moment - what we´re faced with - is our own inablity to accept it, we´re faced with our resistance. And then we so quickly go into a story of, “I failed. I failed to accept. This resistance shouldn´t be here.“ This was the kind of loop I got stuck in, many years ago. Always trying to accept and then finding, in my present experience, resistance and I was like, “Now this resistance shouldn´t be there“. Then I tried to get rid of the resistance and it became this loop, it was like resisting resistance. Because I had this image that there should only be acceptance, there shouldn´t be resistance so acceptance became a new way to just punish myself because I was never accepting enough. Because I always thought I have to be the accepting one. Jeff has to be the accepting one. So this acceptance that I´m talking about - you could call it forgiveness in a way as well - I like the word forgiveness. I think this is the true meaning of the word forgiveness.
Renate: Also I´m thinking of the word ‘grace‘.
Jeff: Grace as well, yeah... it´s grace. But actually in the moment, who you are, as this vast unlimited ocean, is already saying yes to this moment. And again, these are just metaphors, this is just poetry in a way. This stuff is so difficult to talk about, I mean it´s impossible to put into words. Sometimes I say to people you have to become a poet really when you´re talking about this kind of stuff because it´s not logical. It doesn´t really make sense to the mind, but that is the heart, really, it´s the heart talking. And the heart speaks in poetry.
Renate: Well, I have to tell you that´s what I find reading this book and listening to the CDs. In my experience, it’s incredibly heartful. It´s almost like the whole teaching you used to do and the first two books... they really dropped into the heart, in your heart.
Jeff: Well, I think it´s too exhausting to maintain that. It becomes too exhausting. All the intellectual understanding in the world... I mean it´s beautiful, I think the mind, the intelllect it´s a beautiful thing, but it needs to know its place, it has limits, it´s inherently limited and the heart isn´t. The heart has no limits. And that´s what we´re really talking about, it´s love. What we´re talking about is love. Because for me love is just another word for this wide open space that you are, this capacity you are. As the ocean, you are this unlimited capacity for all of life, every thought, every sensation, every feeling. So you can hold it all, you are already holding it all in this moment. So, in the moment... you know a wave of pain could be arising and in a sense who you are is already allowing it... is already saying yes to it. But what also could be arising in present experience is a sense of resistance, a sense of frustration, a sense of not wanting this moment to be as it is and this is the great discovery. That who you are is so vast it can even hold that, even resistance, even a wave of resistance is deeply allowed in what you are, even a wave of resistance is one of your children. This is unconditional love. This is really what we´re talking about. It´s like what you are, says yes to all of it. It doesn´t have to look any particular way, it´s like a mother who embraces all of her children whatever they look like. If they´re born with deformities, or whatever they´re feeling, whether they´re feeling angry, they´re feeling happy, they´re feeling sad, the mother embraces all of her children. She says,“You are all my kid, you are all my flesh and blood. I might not always agree with you, I might not always condone what you do, but I´m always here for you.“ And that´s really who you really are. It´s always there... it´s always present holding every thought as it comes and goes, every feeling as it comes and goes, even a wave of resistance. There´s enough space in you for that, so this takes you out of the whole story of, “Oh, I have to be an accepting person. Or I shouldn´t be a resisting person.“ It really releases you from that whole story that you are this fixed person, that´s always... sorry, I´ll just finish what I´m saying, because I know you wanna come in, I just wanna finish...
Renate: I raised my finger (laughter)
Jeff: Keep your finger raised... I just wanna finish the circle because we started with the question who are you? Who am I? And the mind tries to answer that question and that´s where all the trouble begins, because that isn´t a question that can be answered by the mind. So, the mind tries to answer the question “Who am I?“ And it goes like: “Well, I´m this, I´m that, I´m good, I´m bad, I´m right, I´m wrong. I´m an accepting person, I´m a non-accepting person, I´m enlightened“. It tells the story of a person. It moves away from the intimacy of present experience and it tells the story of I´m a this-person, I´m a that-person and what I´m suggesting is totally coming out of that story that you are this person or that person. Because as the ocean, you are all of it. A wave of joy can arise and dissolve in you. A wave of sadness can arise and dissolve in you. And that´s what you are, you´re the capacity for all of that. The mind goes: “But it doesn´t make sense! Am I a joyful person, or am I a sad person?“ You see, it want´s to fix you somehow. A wave of happiness arises, a wave of sadness arises and the mind goes: “Oh, it doesn´t make sense, am I a happy person or am I a sad person?“ It´s like I must be one or the other. It wants to limit you. You see, it wants to limit you, but as the ocean you don´t limit your children. You don´t say to your children: “Okay, these children are allowed, but these children aren´t allowed. The positive children are allowed and the negative children, sorry, you´re not allowed to come home today.“ It says: “All of you, come!“
Renate: How did you come to this insight? It´s quite a profound insight. Did you have an experience? Or how did you come to this understanding?
Renate: Yeah, that´s the key.
Jeff: It´s the key. And I don´t want people to think, oh you must suffer, or you must suffer more. Because that becomes a whole new thing: now we need to suffer more. I think everyone suffers enough. We´re all kind of given in a way... enough suffering to realize...
Renate: Because we are all addicted... in some way.
Jeff: It´s true. Suffering is interesting... in a way it hurts. Pushing life away hurts, pushing your children away hurts. And I realized that´s what I was always doing. When we forget who we really are... as this constant embrace of the moment. It´s not an embrace that we´re doing, I´m really talking about how we´re built. This is really science, it´s not spirituality. It´s looking at how you are actually built... how we´re all built. It´s not a special state or experience. It´s how we´re built, you´re built as this open, wide open capacity for whatever is arising right now. You are the ocean in which every wave is allowed to come and go... and I completely forgot what we were talking about. We were talking...
Renate: Your own suffering!
Jeff: Oh yeah! (Laughter) Wasn´t trying to avoid my suffering, I promise. Always, it just comes back to the ocean and the waves and then, I get lost. (more laughter) Get lost in the ocean.
Renate: You´re drowning!
Jeff: Drowning in the ocean. So suffering... what I would say is, suffering is the attempt to escape this moment, to push away this moment. So when you´re pushing away this moment, you´re pushing away your own children; every thought, sensation and feeling, a wave of sadness... it´s not an enemy. It may feel intense. It may feel... uncomfortable, but it contains a deeper secret.
Renate: So you realized with your own suffering that´s what you were doing...
Jeff: Yeah and it got me in more and more subtle ways. Sometimes I say this, the beauty of life... won´t let you get away with anything. And that´s in a way the beauty of suffering. I´m not saying suffering is good or bad. I´m saying it´s an invitation. I was lucky, I was always open to... looking at my own suffering. Years ago - this was actually before my first book came out - I think I had made Non-Duality into my religion. I had made it into my new religion. I thought I was free from all belief-systems, I thought I was free from all concepts and stories. But I wasn´t actually. I had kind of fixated on these huge stories that I was no one and there was no me, there was no you and there was no responsability and... all suffering is an illusion. All the kind of cliches which do have beautiful truth in them. But somehow they cease to be true when you believe them.
Renate: You say you went to bed in the evening and you really thought you were enlightened, but in the morning you had forgotten it. (Laughter)
Jeff: But that´s the beauty of the mind, it just wants to hold onto something or give me something to hold on to. Even the belief that I´m no one. At least I know who I am then. At least I know that I´m no one. It still gives me something to hold on to. The mind it´s always trying to come to a conclusion.
Renate: When you actually realized that there is somebody there [that] it´s not all gone... your experience of emptiness was just a delusion. How was that for you?
Jeff: Well, it wasn´t so much a delusion, it was an emphasis. I wasn´t quite honoring enough the appearance of the human. There was, there still is a beautiful deep truth to that, that actually, when I stop and take a look, I can´t find a person. I can´t find Jeff, I can´t find a fixed thing called a person. I find thoughts coming an going, sensations, feelings, memories, the story of Jeff. It´s a present moment insight, but you see very quickly it moves from that into a belief. It becomes a belief. I think this happens to a lot of people; you have some of this very profound insight that you´re no one, or there´s no one here there´s no one there and then very quickly, because the mind just wants a conclusion, “Great, now I know!“ And that becomes your new belief-system. That becomes your new religion. That becomes your new filter through which you see the world. I´m no one. It´s ironic, really.
Renate: So you discovered you are somebody. Or what did you....?
Jeff: It´s this total balance, really. It´s this total integration.
Renate: So it´s like... at one moment emptiness is manifesting, or the absolute, or whatever; at another moment an angry Jeff is manifesting.
Jeff: Same moment.
Renate: The same moment.
Jeff: It´s like the ocean and the waves again. We come back to the ocean and the waves At an Absolute level, it´s true that there is only the ocean. There is only the ocean moving. There is only consciousness. At the same time, how could you possibly deny the appearance of the waves: the thoughts, the sensations, the feelings, the human? You know, the messy imperfect human experience? How could you deny the appearance of the human, the person, the relative? Even that is a metaphor, because then you´re still splitting the Absolute from the relative. You´re saying the Absolute and the relative. Actually it´s the ocean moving as the waves. So you can´t even talk about... I don´t even know what that means, Absolute and relative anymore. There´s life. There´s this. There´s sitting here, talking to you, feeling whatever I feel, thoughts happening. I wanna come back to your question. What started to change the way I communicated this message, the way I shared with people was realizing that... let´s go back to this language, the relative, the human is not a mistake. You know it´s not some horrible aberration that needs to be destroyed. The appearance of the ‘someone‘ is not a mistake. It doesn´t mean you´re unenlightened. It doesn´t mean that you haven´t got it yet because there is still the appearance of a ‘someone‘. That´s the celebration, that´s how the Absolute celebrates itself. It is by appearing as this very unique manifestation. This Jeff-body-mind-thing that speaks like this and wears these clothes and has this hair. This is the real paradox, that ultimately we´re all the same thing, it´s all the same thing happening. There´s not really two people sitting here. If we´re talking on the Absolute level, from the perspective of the ocean there´s not two things. On the relative level you could say there´s two waves and of course these waves are very unique waves. So,... I was going to say: “When I was younger...“, (laughter) years ago I used to emphasise the ocean part of it more. I think that didn´t really speak to the full picture.
As we said before, you live in this world, you pay bills, you´re in relationships. I think I learned so much over the past five years from relationships, from intimate relationships and all the challenges that those bring. You have two people who love each other very much and who sometimes disagree and sometimes don´t see things in the same way... how to reconcile that with being no one? You see, that was an incredible adventure. How to reconcile that with being no one? And if I´m no one - I struggled with that for many years actually - then how can I have a relationship? If I´m no one, then who is in a relationship? I struggled with these questions for many years. And I don´t anymore because I realized there´s no contradiction, there´s no paradox. It´s all one thing.
Renate: If there is acceptance, Jeff, I´m interested in what happens in the body-mind? When this deep allowing and acceptance happens - I can imagine there is some kind of release and healing happening on the cellular, level. Did you ever look at that dimension, at what happens?
Jeff: Well, I think that we have to talk about what is healing? What do we mean by the word ‘healing‘, actually?
Renate: And what heals?
Jeff: And what heals? And and who is healed? These are very profound questions. I used to think that healing was all about getting fixed. That´s what I used to think healing was all about, fixing something that´s broken. I´m ill, I´m sick, there´s something wrong with me. I wanna be healed, I wanna be fixed. I´m imperfect, I wanna be perfect... I always used to see healing as some kind of future attainment and that it was about fixing something that is broken. We talk about healing our bodies, healing our emotions, healing ourselves. And this discovery really changed my whole relationship with healing because I realized that actually healing has nothing - I mean true healing - has nothing to do with fixing a broken thing, fixing something that´s broken. The real question is: “Are we broken in the first place?“ So many people that I meet around the world - on the most basic level - feel that there´s something wrong with them. I think that goes so deep, this sense that there´s something wrong with me. That I´m not good enough, that I´m not ‘something‘ enough. I think all of our seeking basically starts there with the sense that there´s something wrong with me. There´s something missing. I always had that sense, when I was younger. There´s something fundamentally wrong with me and I didn´t quite know what it was, but I knew I had to fix it. So that´s why I went out into the world and tried to become this, tried to become that and tried to become a success and tried to become enlightened. I wonder these days if most of it wasn´t just because I was running away from this basic sense of being screwed up.
Renate: You were unhappy with yourself.
Jeff: Yeah, it was all about trying to fix something. It was all about trying to fix a broken self. And that´s why this teaching really started to change everything, because I started to take a look into my present experience and as you asked [earlier], is there really anything broken in this moment? In this moment, what´s broken actually? What´s broken about me? What´s screwed up about me? What´s fundamentally wrong about me? There was always this core assumption that there was a broken me. Right at the core of my existance, the assumption was that there was a broken me. But when I started to really take a look, what did I find in present experience? I found all kinds of thoughts appearing, sensations, feelings, sometimes quite intense. Then the question was: “Well, is any of this broken, is my present experience ever, ever, ever broken? “ Is a thought ever broken? Is a feeling ever broken? Even if it´s a very intense feeling of pain, or sadness, or fear and come back to the actual raw alive sensation of it in the moment, is this broken? Can, present experience be broken in any way? And I started to realise that maybe that was just an assumption that I had had my whole life; that there was something fundamentally wrong with present experience. Maybe these waves that appear, they´re not coming to show you how screwed up you are, how broken you are. Maybe your children don´t visit to let you know how broken you are.
Renate: With this understanding and in your own daily experience are these thoughts not there anymore? That something needs to be fixed, or something is broken? Or how do you deal [with life] now, after you realized that?
Jeff: I could never answer that question, I could never say: “Here´s a list of thoughts that never appear anymore. Here´s a list of sensations that never appear anymore. Here´s a list of feelings that never appear anymore.“
Renate: No, but the way you are with it.
Jeff: It´s the relationship to them, you see... That was the dream I had about enlightenement, that I would be able to have these lists of feelings that never appear again. Pain would never appear again, or fear would never appear again, or this thought would never appear again. Actually, in my experience it´s kind of been the opposite. There´s enough room in what I am and what you are and what we all are. Again this is not a special state, I would never say that I´m in some kind of state. It doesn´t make any sense anymore. This is about telling the truth about how you´re built. There seems to be enough room in what I am as this, as the ocean, as consciousness. As I said before, I have infinite children: thoughts, sensations, feelings. Any thought that has ever been thought by anyone seems to be available to who I am; in that sense none of these waves are personal. I think that´s where the illusion begins, we say: these are ‘my thoughts‘. So out of the vast myriad of possible thoughts - human thoughts, maybe not even human thoughts, animal thoughts - who knows what we´re capable of? But out of the vastness of human experience we take, we select a tiny little number of those thoughts and say, “Those are my thoughts and that´s how I define myself.“ Out of the whole possible range of feelings, out of the infinite kinds and numbers of feelings that we´re capable of, we take a small number of them and say: “These are my feelings. I wouldn´t feel that... I wouldn´t think that...“ So you just start to see how much we limit ourselves. In trying to create a fixed identity we´re actually limiting ourselves. And this is the funny thing, I think the vastness of life can seem so overwhelming in a way. It´s too huge. Life is too vast, it´s too huge, it´s too... it´s everything. I think it´s almost too much for us somehow. We feel overwhelmed by life. So we have to start to limit life. I can´t possibly be everything... little old me, little nothing old me.
Renate: There is this one line in one of Annie Lennox´ songs, which says: “Dying is easy, it´s living that scares me.“
Jeff: Honestly, sometimes you find the most profound truths in songs, in popsongs and poetry... it´s so true. Sometimes I say it´s not death that we´re afraid of. I don´t think anyone is really afraid of death, because death is nothing. I mean, you can´t fear ‘nothing‘. What you fear is ‘something‘. What we fear is our ideas about death, we fear our images of death, our projections about death, but death itself it´s nothing. It´s nothing. So what we fear is not death, but life. The vastness of life, because life is so huge, it´s vast and it can be so intense; the waves of life... can be so intense sometimes, waves of fear, waves of confusion, waves of doubt. So we wanna protect, we feel that we need to protect ourselves from life. Kind of numb ourselves... and this is the funny thing, we think we´re protecting ourselves from life, but really we are just numbing ourselves... from the whole, from the vastness of experience, the vastness of the ocean. So awakening, in the way I talk about it, it´s really the end of numbing yourself. Well that´s death, really. It´s the end of numbing yourself to life. Because in recognising who you really are, in recognising yourself as this ocean, what you also recognise is that you are unprotected from your waves. Which is - from the perspective of the ‘me‘ - terrifying to be unprotected in the face of life. That´s the ultimate fear. To be naked and open and uprotected. That´s the biggest fear. Of course, it´s also what we long for more than anything... to be naked and open and receptive. The good news is, that is how you are actually built. What we long for, is how we are built. The secret it´s actually contained, it´s right there, I mean, in front of our noses.
Renate: I´m just looking at the clock.
Jeff: Oh, there´s no time Renate, come on! (Laughter)
Renate: We´re running out of [time] (Laughter)
Jeff: There´s no time. (Laughter) There´s not time and no space.
Renate: I´m sorry time went faster than it´s supposed to. Is there a final sentence of wisdom for us?
Jeff: You want a little nugget of wisdom?
Renate: Yeah (Laughter)
Jeff: I don´t think I really do nuggets of wisdom.
Jeff: No, I don´t have a nugget. (Laughter) Sorry, sorry viewers!
Renate: Well, it was a real pleasure to be with you, Jeff.
Jeff: You too, thank you.
Renate: And Eleonora is doing an interview with you now, on relationships. That should be really interesting.
Jeff: Yes, oh yeah! Relationships are juicy.
Renate: And we can do another time an interview about children. That would be wonderful. So I´ll show you the most important book Jeff wrote,“The Deepest Acceptance – Radical Awakening in Ordinary Life“ and it´s just wonderful. And if you drive in the car you can listen to the CDs and these... I don´t know if you want to advertise [his other books]?
Jeff: Laughs. No.
Renate: They´re not there anymore [hides books]
Jeff: No, no, I love my old books, as well!
Renate: Here is “An extraordinary Absence“ and “The Wonder of Being“. Great books as well.
Jeff: The the old books are about the ocean. The new book is about meeting the waves. So really they´re the same book, but just different angles.
Renate: You see... I have two pages of notes we hardly touched.
Jeff: Perfect! Just like life.
Renate: Yes! Unpredictable...
Jeff: We have all the notes, but we end up having to let them go
Renate: Well, thank you for coming, Jeff for being with us again and thank you for watching Conscious TV. We´ll see you again soon. Bye bye
To watch the original video
interview click here. This programme has been transcribed on a voluntary basis. If you would like to offer to transcribe a video on the same basis, then please
All text copyright © Conscious TV Ltd.