Roger Linden - The Elusive Obvious
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: I don’t know very much about Roger, but two or three different people have said we should talk to him here at Conscious TV. He’s a very interesting chap, shall we say. All I’ve had to look through is a few pages from his website, so I’ve just met him for the first time a few minutes ago – we’ll see where it goes. So, one thing, Roger: I picked up this quote from a page on your website, which says it was forty years before the penny finally dropped.
Roger: That’s right.
Iain: What was the penny, and how did it drop?
Roger: I spent forty years seeking: reading books, meditating, attending meetings and thinking about and exploring the nature of reality; and particularly there was a very strong desire for what I understood to be ‘liberation’. And that understanding had been based on experiences I’d had as a consequence of meditation, and particularly through meeting a couple of people who spoke about non-duality. First was a man called Jean Klein, and then Tony Parsons. And there had been very powerful awakening experiences which I’d assumed to be what liberation was. But both of those experiences had faded after several days. About ten years ago, a few days after I’d had an awakening experience while attending a residential course with Tony Parsons, I got up in the morning - and all the effects of that experience had passed, they’d gone.
Iain: But what was the experience, what actually happened?
Roger: For the previous few days everything had looked wonderful, very different from the way it had been before. Everything was glowing, there was a lot of bliss. And I had assumed this must be liberation, and yet it faded.
So I got up this particular morning and everything seemed ordinary again. I went for a walk in a nearby park, Hampstead Heath, in London. While passing one of the ponds, and looking at the pond - it was a beautiful early morning - one second it was Roger – me – walking along the path, and the next moment it was as if something dissolved. And it took a fraction of a second and it was realised, “Oh, there is no separate me”. Everything that had been thought to mean that there was a Roger was simply something appearing in consciousness and was consciousness. In that moment it was realised what being is, and also that everything that had been believed up to that moment about the nature of being, the nature of consciousness, had been mistaken. Had been based on the experiences of an apparent ‘someone’ who in some fundamental way still assumed himself to be separate.
And then it was realised that everything that was associated with a separate individual was simply part of what was appearing in life; part of life. And that the whole of the experience of life - everything that’s thought of as life - is appearing in unchanging being, and is being, or consciousness, I use the words synonymously. And so one second there appeared to be a Roger and, the next moment, emptiness, in which life was appearing.
And after forty years of really dedicated seeking, it seemed preposterous because, ironically, forty years before, I’d started reading books by Krishnamurti, while sitting on Hampstead Heath. Actually sitting up a tree on Hampstead Heath.
Iain: It happened in the same place?
Roger: It happened less than a mile away – about half a mile away. And it had taken forty years to realise that what had been assumed to be a ‘me’, having the experience of sitting in a tree as a thirteen-year-old teenager, trying to make sense of what Krishnamurti had written, that apparent ‘me’ hadn’t changed at all. That which had been assumed to be the personal self was completely unchanged forty years later. What had been realised in that moment was that self isn’t personal, it’s non-personal. And not only that, the realisation wasn’t personal. The realisation was simply something else appearing in what had been assumed to be my consciousness, and was realised to be the Self: absolute, timeless, radiant being.
Iain: And how does that affect practical life?
Roger: In one sense, you could say that it doesn’t affect life very much.
This was early in the morning, and I carried on walking, or walking carried on, but there was no longer ‘me’ walking - there was just walking, with familiar sensations and thoughts. And, of course, the thoughts were about what had just happened. Or, more accurately, I suppose, there were thoughts about what had just stopped apparently happening. Because an assumption - a very powerful assumption - that there was an ‘I’ experiencing everything… had just evaporated. But there was walking home, having breakfast and starting work an hour later, half-an-hour later.
Iain: So is it like a kind of detachment?
Roger: Funnily enough, although it could sound like that, it’s the opposite of a detachment. Because when there’s an assumption of a separate self, that assumption - and the little contraction that goes along with it - that assumption creates a subtle, but very powerful sense of separation. And when it evaporates, then there’s simply oneness in which life is appearing. So although life still appears as if there are distinct people and objects, what they are appearing in is oneness. And so there’s no sense of separation or being an observer, no witnessing or being detached in any way at all, quite the opposite.
Iain: And how is it when you are with other people like that? Let’s say you meet somebody and they’re in a distressed state, do you feel somehow empathy with the fact they’re in a distressed state, because you feel a connectedness? Or do you feel it’s just part of what’s happening? I’m not even sure what question to ask you about it. I’m interested, though.
Roger: It is part of what’s happening, but a natural concern for what appears as someone in distress would be there. And the day-job, if you like, is to help people to feel better. I trained originally as a meditation teacher - Transcendental Meditation - and then as a counsellor and psychotherapist, and then as a Feldenkrais teacher, which is a way of working with people physically. And I continue to use those tools to help people have a more comfortable, more enjoyable experience of life. So the particulars of earning a living and engaging continue much as they did before, even though it’s realised that everything is simply an appearance within consciousness or within being. That includes the sense and appearance of physicality, you, the studio, everything. This is not your experience. It is an experience of ‘you’ appearing in consciousness.
Iain: So things that used to make you angry or frustrated, do they still make you angry or frustrated?
Roger: They can do. Over the years some of the consequences of those many years of assuming there was a ‘someone’ had caused a certain amount of stress and strain. Unfortunately, despite what I believed and hoped, liberation isn’t salvation. It doesn’t mean that all the difficulties and issues and strains of life immediately dissolve. Some of those concerns have fallen away over time. And so some aspects of life have certainly got easier, much easier. In a general sense I’d say there’s much more happiness, much more well-being, than there had been. It’s not that there was a lot of misery before, but life is much more enjoyable.
Iain: So there’s still a personality there – in one way – and that personality is maybe clearing itself over time, do you think? Would you put it that way?
Roger: I don’t know that it’s clearing itself - there’s just greater ease, so there seems to be less strain, more well-being. But it’s not about becoming perfect, or saintly, or being without any fear. It’s not like that at all. In a sense, it’s much more ordinary.
What became obvious that morning on Hampstead Heath was the real nature of the previous experiences of ‘awakening’: they came and went. They were extraordinary and very different from ordinary life. But they faded. What happened that morning on the Heath was, in a sense, very ordinary. Yet, what was realised is that the ordinary, the profoundly familiar, the previously assumed to be the personal self, is consciousness, radiant being and unconditional love. Not that it became so after that moment of dissolution, but rather that it always has been, and assumed not to be something other than mundane. So the mundane turned out to be much more wondrous and extraordinary than the experiences that had previously been had. And that continues, while ordinary life goes on.
Iain: And do you feel that the work you did - maybe go into that a little bit later - the work you did over those forty years contributed to what happened?
Roger: No, funnily enough…
Iain: So it was an independent thing.
Roger: It was. Now, that’s not to say the practice of meditation hadn’t had many benefits; it had very many benefits. And what had happened at meetings where this was discussed and described was that some of the ideas and concepts about the nature of reality had fallen away. But there was still a very firm assumption that I was the experiencer of life. Somehow I was inside my head looking out at a separate world and having a private and personal experience of thoughts, physical sensations, memories and behaviours. That hadn’t changed throughout the forty years. What had been assumed to be the personal self at the beginning of all that seeking hadn’t changed in any way at all, despite all the practices and the meetings and the books.
That morning all the assumptions just evaporated. It was realised how clear, how obvious it had always been. And how mistaken what had been assumed to be ‘me’ had been the whole time. It had not been my experience of life. I was part of the experience. I had never been conscious of anything. I was an assumption appearing in consciousness, the Self.
Iain: So what you expected to happen didn’t actually happen?
Roger: Not at all.
Iain: It’s quite fascinating, isn’t it?
Roger: I don’t think it can be really anticipated because the ideas and beliefs about what’s going to happen are based, inevitably, on the understanding that there is a ‘someone’ trying to imagine that they’re not a ‘someone’. It just doesn’t work.
Iain: When you were a ‘someone’ did you enjoy being a ‘someone’?
Roger: Yes, there was enjoyment. I enjoyed seeking and the practice of meditation and going to meetings. I found it fascinating and engaging; frustrating sometimes, but it was a very absorbing lifestyle. It wasn’t the whole of my life, but it was a major part of my life. But it wasn’t nearly as fascinating as how life has been since that moment on Hampstead Heath.
Iain: So you weren’t actually thinking, “Oh, I wish I could be different from the way I was”; or if you thought that, it was a fairly gradual sort of difference.
Roger: That’s right, I just wanted more. I had all sorts of fantasies about life being somehow wondrously harmonious, that there would be no anger, no fear. My experience of life would be perfect. Somehow I’d sit around doing nothing very much except radiating bliss and the mortgage would be paid by some kind of mysterious cosmic direct debit. Everything would be taken care of. And, of course, it wasn’t like that at all. So the ordinary activities carry on, but without any reference anymore to what was assumed to be a separate self; there’s no longer any reference or witness. There is only consciousness, awakeness, in which life is appearing.
Iain: So your journey started quite young. I think you said you were reading J Krishnamurti at thirteen years old. That’s in one way quite impressive, that a fairly young child, rather than starting fights in the playground, is on Hampstead Heath…
Roger: I did a certain amount of that as well!
Iain: But obviously something was drawing you at an early age.
Roger: I had the idea that life could be different; it wasn’t a particularly happy home and always there’d been a sense that things could be different. And my mother had a couple of books, transcripts of Krishnamurti’s, and I’d quite often go and walk up to Hampstead Heath and take one or two books, either my own or books from my parents’ bookcase. It just so happened that one day I took one of those Krishnamurti books and I found it fascinating.
I couldn’t really understand what he was on about. The only thing I can remember, and it’s a very distinct memory, is staring at another tree, because I was sitting in a tree, trying to see the way he described it was possible to see things. There was a correct way to see things, a true way of seeing things. And somehow I wasn’t doing that. And I can remember getting a headache. But something resonated and not simply the pain. There was a sense that there must be something. And so that was the start of thinking about it, of looking for it.
Some years after that, I started travelling. I learned Zen meditation and did that for a while. I was seeking in a sort of hippy fashion for several years. I enjoyed a lot of it, but it didn’t satisfy. And then I learned Transcendental Meditation and that was transformative. I felt radically different. I learned in 1972, and in 1974 I trained to become a teacher of the technique.
Iain: Right. And you felt in yourself, when you were doing the TM, you felt calmer and more happy.
Roger: Very much so.
Iain: So within the confines of a ‘me’ and a ‘personality’ you felt the benefits from that.
Roger: Oh, many, many benefits. And I enjoyed teaching and working with meditators.
Iain: And did you have contact with the Maharishi at all?
Roger: A little, not a great deal.
Iain: Was it this time when they were doing the sort of flying?
Roger: Well, that came later on, but yes, we did that.
Iain: It was a kind of hopping, wasn’t it? But it looked quite impressive. I saw a TV programme about it once and they could stay up in the air for several seconds.
Roger: Maybe not several seconds. Although it wasn’t necessarily so impressive to look at, the experience of that particular technique was wondrously blissful, a delightful technique. The basic meditation, TM, I’d been doing for several years before we learned that advanced practice.
Iain: Because to do Zen meditation as a starting point, before TM… Zen’s quite a stark meditation, isn’t it? TM is a much more gentle introduction.
Roger: Although I enjoyed the experience of the Zen meditation, it was quite hard work and I didn’t do it for very long. TM was effortless and easy and immediately felt much more natural, and the benefits came straightaway.
Iain: And then, you mentioned you met this teacher called Jean Klein?
Roger: That was quite a few years later in the early nineties. I’d picked up one of his books, by chance, in a bookshop, and found it fascinating. I read a passage that seemed to speak to something that was unresolved in myself, that was misunderstood and confusing. A friend mentioned that he was on his way to the UK. The following week I spent five days with him on a residential course. That was the first time I had what you might call an awakening experience. It lasted for a couple of days. As I mentioned before, everything looked very different, radically different, it glowed; and there was a great sense of peace and joy. But, unfortunately, after a couple of days, it faded.
Iain: So I guess there’s disappointment there, because you’re still a ‘me’ and the ‘me’ is disappointed?
Roger: A little, but in a sense it wasn’t too disappointing; it was more like, “Ah, something good happened! It lasted two days, over time maybe it will last longer”. He was an elderly man when I first met him with only a few years remaining of his life. I would attend his meetings whenever he came to the UK. Certain aspects of the contraction around the sense of duality and certain assumptions started to fall away. There was a sense, a belief, that things were progressing; and he was very encouraging.
Iain: But then again, earlier, when I asked you about had what you’d done for the forty years contributed to let’s say the ‘breakthrough’ or whatever you call it, you said “No”…
Roger: Well, it seemed to be making a difference and, then, a few years later, there was a great feeling of relief when I attended meetings on non-duality held by Tony Parsons. Tony seemed a more direct, ordinary person than Jean Klein. He didn’t present liberation as something mystical or esoteric; that really was a great relief. I attended his meetings whenever I could for a year, a year and a half, maybe a bit longer, before this all fell into place. About a year and a half, I think.
Iain: And now would you go and see someone like Tony Parsons?
Roger: Yes, but not because something will change, but just to enjoy listening to how someone else speaks about it and to see friends. I have great respect for Tony.
Iain: And do you feel… let’s call it the state you’re in, do you feel there’s movement, and is there expansion?
Roger: To be precise, it’s not a state. Previously, there was a state of apparent separation and that went. So what’s realised is ‘that’ in which different states appear. But there’s no longer any sense of a separate self. And within that, as I’ve mentioned before, there is a gradual falling away of strain and an increase in well-being, a tender sense of in-loveness.
Iain: I’m just trying to understand this as a layman, Roger. I would say that was probably to do with personality which you said was still running, in its own way, and I wondered if there was something else going on in terms of… I don’t know what words to ask you to phrase the question but… When I say expansion, I don’t mean necessarily a personality experiencing expansion, I mean… something else. I can’t quite phrase the question…
Roger: What was realised that morning was the nature of life, the nature of being, which is timeless and absolute; it’s ‘boundless’. You could call it ‘awakeness’ or ‘presence’. The word that’s often used is consciousness. It never changes. So everything in the experience of life, or what was previously assumed to be my experience of life - that carries on, and there is a sense of expansion within that, but there’s no expansion in that which is timeless. And funnily enough, it doesn’t take up any space so it doesn’t expand. The sense of expansion would appear in it.
Iain: What’s it like for members of your family who are very close to you on a day-to-day basis? Do they feel you’re different?
Roger: I don’t know. People who knew me prior to it said there was some change. I seemed easier, a bit softer. I don’t think members of my family noticed.
Roger: Yes, I behaved in much the same way.
Iain: It’s interesting because you’re really kind of… You feel with certain gurus, the traditional guru, they package something - and it’s as if you’ve taken away all the wrapping, and whatever’s there is there; there’s no spin behind it whatsoever.
Roger: There was a belief in a lot of wrapping and then [claps] it just goes. And there’s nothing special about liberation in terms of a so-called person. It doesn’t happen because people are special. It doesn’t mean that there’s something unique or pure, or any special quality about the apparent person. Quite the opposite. It’s the realisation that there never was a separate someone to be special.
Wrapping rather appealed. There used to be a desire for some of it. Since liberation, the ordinary is much more appealing. It’s not that I think that teachings or practices are a waste of time; within how life is normally experienced they can make a big difference. But that’s still within the sense of duality.
But there’s no packaging because there’s nothing to package; it’s simple and obvious, completely obvious. The realisation that everything that had been taken to be my experience of life, my experience of what was assumed to be ‘me’ being conscious, ‘me’ being aware, a ‘me’ who mediated and felt a sense of expansion… all of that was appearing in that which is timeless and unchanging.
I think one of the aspects of life, as it’s assumed to be, that makes it seem tricky is that, within ordinary experience, there is the realisation that experience is happening. There’s reflection, and you could say, “We’re experiencing this conversation, and we know we are”. And that capacity to know or to realise that there is experience reinforces the idea that there is a ‘knower’; that there is a subject who is having the experience. Liberation is the realisation that realisation itself is simply something else that’s appearing. It doesn’t mean that there’s a separate someone.
What would be the point of turning it into a package? Why make it complicated? It’s challenging enough already, without dressing it up and making it into something that seems very special. It isn’t.
Iain: And do you still meditate?
Roger: Yes, I like to meditate, I enjoy meditation. It doesn’t change being or consciousness which are absolute; but what appears, yes, that changes.
Iain: And with your work, you do personal sessions, you do workshops… So what would be the kind of thing you would work on with somebody? How would you do it, what would be your medium of doing that?
Roger: That would vary a great deal depending on the person. Sometimes it would be doing very simple hands-on work with people. More often it would be talking things through; essentially helping people find out what the problem is that they’re suffering from, or apparently suffering from.
I think in all the years I’ve practised, which is over thirty years now, I’ve only rarely, if ever, met anyone who really understood what their problem was. Some aspect will be overlooked. Because if we - and I certainly include myself in this - really know what the problem is, it evaporates, or a simple solution becomes obvious. So I see the work as helping people to appreciate what’s really happening, or what’s really causing pain or suffering, frustration or whatever it may be.
Iain: And what is it that’s causing the pain and frustration in most people?
Roger: Fundamentally the sense that there’s a separate self. The contraction that goes along with that happens when we’re very young, and to a greater or lesser extent strain, stress and resistance build throughout life, in what appears as the personal life. And it’s all held in place by assumptions and beliefs, some of which can fall away without the need for liberation. And so life can be a lot easier, even though there’s still that assumption of separation. So the problem is mainly contraction, mainly a holding on, caused by the sense that there is a personal self.
Iain: Because it seems to get harder and harder to be a successful ‘me’, because there’s always this pressure… from the media especially. You know, you get your new clothes or your new car or your holiday and then you’ll be a better and a happier ‘me’. But, of course, it’s very temporary and you might feel better for a few days and then you’re a more unhappy ‘me’ because you spent the money trying to be the happier ‘me’, so I think it gets tougher and tougher…
Roger: It can do, yes. But one of the things that has been realised - not just after that walk on Hampstead Heath, but for many years - that came initially from the practice of meditation, is that life needn’t be such hard work, there needn’t be suffering. So I’m immensely grateful for what I learned as a meditator and a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. Because when I trained as a counsellor and then as a therapist, I was sometimes attending seminars where it was assumed that suffering was essential, was necessary and was part of the human condition and couldn’t be resolved. I didn’t and don’t believe that.
It can be resolved and, funnily enough, the resolution can be very simple. It’s challenging because there are old habits, but it’s not a very difficult thing to do to stop straining, to stop struggling, to stop beliefs that are false and give rise to pain and discomfort. I like the definition of suffering as resistance to pain. There will at times be pain, but it need not be resisted.
Iain: So why doesn’t that happen to more people then?
Roger: Because generally people, especially in our culture, have learned that the harder you work at something, the more you get. It’s certainly true for stress. The greater the effort to get rid of it, the greater the likely increase in strain. Learning how to stop straining is a challenge, but basically very, very simple.
Iain: How do you do it then?
Roger: Well, you don’t do it - you stop doing it.
Iain: But isn’t it like the juggernaut is on the road, and it is running and running… And to actually change - I know for myself - to change the thought pattern takes, in my experience, tremendous energy somehow, because that is the norm and to change it takes a lot of will.
Roger: It can seem to, or you could just relax your breathing. The juggernaut of thinking patterns is sustained by contraction in the body. One of the most obvious effects of that is restriction of the breathing. If the breathing is released, just in an ordinary way letting the breathing be free, the intensity of thought patterns will ease. It’s impossible to keep that juggernaut going, unless there’s some restriction in the breathing. So learning about something like that, learning to let the breath be easy, to let the mental focus soften…
The mental focus is simply contraction along with the belief that what we call attention can be projected towards thoughts or sensations in the body or towards external objects. After liberation it became clear that paying attention is not an activity. It isn’t done. What happens is that, for example, seeing the glass on the table and apparently putting attention on it and having the experience of the glass over there, is simply an illusion created by contracting a little bit. A little contraction around the eyes and restriction of the breathing make it seem as if something’s being projected over there. It’s not happening at all, there’s simply contraction. And it’s quite simple to learn to let that contraction ease.
And when it does, what you call the juggernaut of thought and struggle starts to fall away. It’s not that it completely dissolves straightaway and never returns, but with a little practice - and the practice is the effortless stopping of straining - life becomes easier, more comfortable. It’s hard work to suffer.
Iain: Yes, and it’s sad that so many people do suffer. There are many beautiful things about life and so many people struggle and you wonder where it all leads on a planetary basis, because it seems to get more and more.
Iain: The more people have, they unfortunately seem to get further and further away from any kind of resolution.
Roger: I agree with you.
Iain: So you feel that the breath is the key in most situations?
Roger: Well, it’s one of them; it’s not the only thing, it’s perhaps the most obvious and the easiest to communicate immediately, especially in this context. Essentially it’s about the breath, and the strain round the eyes and the tightening in the body and in the solar plexus, the back of the head, the neck, the throat - all of that comes from the assumption that there’s somebody inside doing something. So when there’s a sense of a ‘me’ in here, there’s a little contraction that reinforces it. “I’m doing something, I’m focusing attention there”. When people learn that contraction can soften or ease, then it’s harder to suffer. There’s a pull to get back into contraction because it’s such a habit, but there’s also a desire for well-being. So it takes a little practice and then people feel better.
Iain: Great, yes…
Roger: It’s natural to feel good, so you could say it’s unnatural to feel discomfort, prolonged discomfort; there’s something wrong. And what turns out to be wrong is strain and resistance. So releasing the breath is a great help because it’s so simple.
Iain: Yes, and everybody breathes…
Roger: Hopefully, yes.
Iain: And everybody’s able to, if they want to, at least be aware of their breathing.
Well, we’ve run out of questions. I don’t know if you want to introduce something I haven’t talked about or just say anything that you feel is helpful to people, or interesting?
Roger: We’ve spent a little time talking about simple ways of feeling better. In the ordinary sense you could say that being more present and less absorbed in the abstractions of thought and having fewer daydreams about the past or future can be helpful. As can less resistance to physical or emotional pain.
But being present and at ease has nothing whatsoever to do with liberation. They appear in consciousness but, crucially, don’t change consciousness. They don’t facilitate liberation. For many years I took for granted that the state I was in must have some role to play. The realisation that there was never a personal self to be ‘in a state’ can sound very odd; it can sound like a real loss. And a loss of something that seems absolutely fundamental to the ordinary experience of life. “Who will I be without me?” But it’s not the loss of something that was real; it’s the loss of an assumption that was always mistaken.
So the only change is really that, instead of there being a sense of a separate self looking out at what I take to be my experience of the external world, it’s simply experience appearing; and this [gestures at his own body] becomes part of the experience.
But the point I wanted to emphasise is that liberation is the realisation of that which is profoundly familiar; it’s not as different as it sounds, quite the opposite. It’s the realisation of what was always obvious, and had simply been mislabelled. And that which had been assumed to be the personal self doesn’t disappear and leave an awful bleak emptiness. It’s realised that the previously assumed personal self is that in which everything is appearing. It’s the Self, wide-awake consciousness, absolute, timeless, radiant being, unconditional love. So far from being the loss of anything essential or even valuable, liberation is the end of seeking and the experience is tender, spacious joy. It’s love. And the personal particulars of life carry on - it’s just that there’s no longer a sense of reference; it’s just life happening.
Iain: They take care of themselves somehow… the particulars.
Roger: They do, yes. Bills still have to be paid. Life appears as if there are separate people or whatever, but the whole context changes, from I’m a ‘me’ and you’re a separate ‘me’ to there simply being ‘consciousness’, ‘awakeness’, ‘being’, in which all this is appearing. It’s the context that changes. It’s not the loss of anything of value. And it’s the realisation - again not a personal realisation - it’s just the realisation appearing of what this has always been.
Iain: OK, thank you.
Roger: Thank you.
Iain: Julian at Non-Duality Press said to ask you when is he getting his book? He said he’s been waiting for many years [laughs].
Roger: He has been waiting for many years, it’s true, and I have great admiration for his patience, and his gentle persistence. And at some point I’m sure it will happen. I can’t really explain why a book hasn’t happened yet. There’s been writing; none of it seems, on reading it, to be satisfactory. But I believe that it will happen, so Julian will get a manuscript one day. I feel I owe it to him.
Iain: Roger, thank you very much for coming in.
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