Katie Davis - Awake Joy: The Essence of Enlightenment
Interview by Renate McNay
Renate: Katie wrote a book, Awake Joy, and we are going to talk with her about her life, her journey and her work. So, Katie, the first question is about the subtitle of the book. What is the Essence of enlightenment?
Katie: The Essence is always and forever here. It is who you are. In fact, that is the only essential question, “Who are you really, right now?” As we are sitting here, enjoying one another, what is deeper here? The Essence, rather than the form-identity.
Renate: Right. When I read your book over the last few days, I read your story and, before you awakened, you never asked this question, “Who I am?” Your awakening just spontaneously happened?
Katie: Yes, I had never heard of awakening or enlightenment and I had never meditated. Yet, in retrospect, I can see that, as far as the life situation is concerned, there was this natural opening from the time of being very young; becoming present in the body through life experiences and the type of business in which I was eventually involved.
Renate: Would you tell us which business that was?
Katie: Growing up, I had been a gymnast and involved in dance for fourteen years. While consciously being in the body, both required a high degree of concentration and present-moment awareness. Especially in gymnastics, there is not a lot of time for thinking!
After university, I was a French teacher and gymnastics coach. Then I left education to open an aerobics studio. My focus during teaching was not only outward on how the students were physically and emotionally feeling, but also inside and most notably on breathing. Being aware of how my body felt seemed important, so that the exercise was not too intense for everyone. Although rare, during the athletic high, the environment would fall totally silent and life experience would slip into slow motion.
In 1986, during that athletic zone, a tremendous sacredness suddenly emerged. Unbelievable to the mind, it seemed like I was sensing a new dimension. As you can imagine, I became intensely alert. Spontaneously and radically, I disappeared deeply within the body and I was falling through a numinous and vast spaciousness. Then, all experience vanished. When consciousness reappeared, I was no longer sourced in the body. Indeed, the body was somehow far above me, seemingly unaffected, and still teaching aerobics. It became oddly clear that I am infinitely more than the body and the sense of self had evaporated. Integration and intellectual understanding took twelve years.
In 1998, I began sharing when someone asked for help with their suffering. Make no mistake: Self-realisation is the end of all separation and therefore the end of psychological suffering. Today, I share with people that, virtually every moment, ordinary life is showing us the way to the Heart that we genuinely are right now. The teacher is within, of course, yet also everywhere as life itself. We have only to pay attention to what is and be present as that organic sense of being. Be curious of what is within you and open – really open to the unknown.
Renate: It is just so easy to forget to be present.
Katie: Yes, this is what the ego wants.
Renate: The mind comes in and takes us away.
Katie: Yes, it is such an ingrained habit and we have been living that way our entire life. We have also lived with this primary assumption that we are the separate sense of self, ever since our parents taught us to point to the body and say ‘I’.
Renate: We were programmed.
Katie: We never investigated the truth. We are far more than a mental image that is appearing in time as the body. When we identify with this concept of ‘I’, it is impossible to be timelessly present. The ego is hardly ever present, unless there is some beautiful circumstance, such as the awe we might feel when gazing at a sunset.
Katie: At that moment of wonderment, the veil falls away, no matter how briefly, and we slip out of time into presence. Attachment to the ego-I is only an unconscious habit.
Renate: It is – yes. A big habit! So everything started in an aerobics class you gave? You had a runner’s high. And could you explain what happened?
Katie: That was actually not an unusual experience. And I am sure many of our listeners have experienced the same. Although I need to point out also that there is nothing causal in what I am saying. A runner’s high does not cause this or that - however, whenever we are present in this manner and the mind drops away, there is an opportunity to realise what is deeper than this external, superficial reality. What is rare is when experience slips into slow motion. You become intensely alert. You might have experienced this effect when time warps right before a serious automobile accident, or maybe even during the latest trend of trance dancing. All I can say is just beyond that thin, timeless and trance-like veil, the pure ‘I’ of the divine is courting you. If you are caught, it is a miracle!
This divinity is not something that the ego captures, becomes or attains. It is essentially who you are. It is within you now and readily accessible to every human being. Self-realisation is a radical shift in identity only. It is quite helpful to step out of time, or rather realise what timelessly is.
Renate: Yes, but you also mentioned in the book that you worked many, many years with your body and that this was important in your opening… or you felt then that this was important.
Katie: Yes, in retrospect I do feel that the body was of primary importance. The body is a wonderful tool for stepping out of time, since it is always appearing here and now; never in the past or future. When we are consciously feeling the body, its sensing or breathing, it draws attention away from compulsive thinking. Attention effortlessly shifts from the head into the body and timeless presence.
Renate: In other words, you fully inhabit your body - which a lot of us do not do, because we are sort of caught up here in the mind. During aerobics then, were you reabsorbed by the Absolute, I guess? And your body, you said...?
Katie: Yes, all conscious experience vanished. I realised who I am beyond consciousness. And when consciousness reappeared, I was no longer sourced in the body and the idea of Katie had shattered. Imagine! There I was with an aerobics business named ‘Body by Katie’. And in an instant, I had neither body, nor Katie. It was quite bewildering. I had no idea what had occurred.
Renate: And there was no reference. All of a sudden you did not have any reference points?
Renate: So how was that?
Katie: Well, there was this indescribable, profound sacredness that I am. I am radiant being that is deep stillness and ecstatic bliss. The intensity eventually dissipated and one could say that I am calm joy that is ever present; Awake Joy. This is who I am and who you are. It is the Essence of who we are, regardless of what is taking place in the life situation. Conscious joy is in spite of what is happening to the body named Katie and in the life situation. It is always here, so we do not have to attain it. It is present now and it is caused by nothing. How could it be? It is already here. If eternal joy truly exists, it certainly must be here now.
Renate: Yet we believe we only can realise that by Grace.
Katie: Well, this is an interesting question to which you are pointing. As soon as there is a practitioner who is trying to become something more in the future, we are dealing with the ego’s time and experience. It cannot take more time to be free of time. It cannot take more experience to realise that which stands free of experience. You cannot become who you already are.
We do not approach Self-realisation in the same manner that we learn new life skills. For instance, if we want to learn German, we may attend classes to learn to conjugate verbs and to acquire new vocabulary, so that we can speak the language in the future. For Self-realisation, we shift attention to what genuinely already is within us. Practices can be helpful for mind concentration, which is important - yet a focused mind is still mind. At some point, attention naturally shifts to that personal reference point ‘I’. Well, who is that? Who is ‘I’? Is it true that the thought ‘I’ is pointing to the body only? Who are you really at the core of being?
Renate: So the question is, “Who am I?” Like Ramana Maharshi said.
Katie: Yes. Self-inquiry is frequently used in these teachings, because it is so successful. It is not a method and it is not a question that you ask intellectually or philosophically - “Who am I?” and then think about it. Self-inquiry is not a practice. That one question alone removes the reference point of the practitioner that is the body, and spontaneously lifts the illusory veil that is the ego-I. The question breaks the attachment and turns attention inward. Identification with that thought ties a knot between body consciousness and pure consciousness. The secret is that, even though that is just a word like any other word, that ego-I is an altered state of consciousness and therefore has within it pure consciousness. ‘I’ is both the knot and the key. Of course, identification with that thought requires time. No time – no ego.
Renate: Yes, yes.
Katie: And so, for Self-realisation, we leave ‘me and my story’ alone. In the past, we were trying to improve a false self; a happier fictitious ‘me’. Now we are realising what is prior to me and my story. Who are you before the idea “I am the body”? To whom is this ‘I’ thought appearing? From whence does it arise? At first with Self-inquiry, there may be only a glimpse – and this is actually quite normal. Some have a glimpse or a satori perhaps. But if they will continue with this one simple question, free for everyone to ask, that altered state of consciousness dissolves. Only pure ‘I’ stands alone. However, Self-realisation is realising who you are as the totality. There is not one thing that the ultimate reality is not - yet only right now.
Resting as aware being during all that is being done is quite enough. However, if you are tormented with attachment to conditioned thought and its time, self-inquiry is a good tool to realise that you are always at home as the Heart. The old life was concerned only with nature and all that can be contacted by the physical senses. While the body is beautiful and key for initial awakening, that which you really are is prior to the body experience. Hold on to the ‘I’ thought and, instead of seeking enlightenment, realise who ‘I’ really is.
Renate: Just ask.
Katie: Yes. Who is ‘I’? Follow it home where it never left.
Renate: So let’s go back for a moment, Katie. When this experience happened – or when the shift of perception happened - did you know what was going on?
Katie: I had no idea.
Renate: How did you find out? You said that you never read books about it before the awakening.
Katie: Well, I didn’t even know what to call it. You need at least a word reference such as ‘awakening’, ‘enlightenment’ or ‘Self-realisation’ to inquire. But you see this was actually the blessing. It was impossible to acquire concepts or beliefs. There could be no doubt that it was spiritual. I met with spiritual teachers, clergy, psychologists and even psychiatrists. However, all I could communicate was that, just as we wake up from a nightmare and feel relieved to discover that we have only been dreaming, we can wake up from this daytime dream of the mind, to realise that who we actually are - and forever have been – is completely beyond this divided mind, its emotions and body. No one knew what I was talking about.
Renate: It was interesting because, after it happened to you, you went through quite a rough time. You know, your identity was stolen and your daughter had a car accident.
Katie: Everything fell apart.
Renate: Completely fell apart.
Katie: Or rather, now I see that those were not times of destruction only, but rather more like the cocoon of the butterfly falling away.
Katie: The greater life that we are just made way for the new. Every aspect of my life situation transformed. We do not need to transform our life situation to be in alignment. It naturally transforms, because you are no longer looking through this veil of separation. So really, if we can realise who we ultimately are, then the life situation and what we used to think of as the person only transforms by itself. In fact, the second that you think that you can do something, the ego-I is back and that is the obstruction.
Renate: Yes. I just wanted to say that the only thing we have to let go is the doer, the one who is constantly doing.
Katie: Yes, all gets done without a separated someone who is the doer. The word ‘I’, this one-letter word: we use it all of the time and it is not problematic. It is the attachment to the mental concept and the body as identity that cause the delusion of separation. You do not have to go any further for the pain gap to be there. You are this magnificent Heart of all being and then identify with this tiny fraction named ‘me’. The ego-I will always be a fraction, no matter how many other fractions you try to add, whether things, circumstances or people; the ego cannot sense wholeness or completion. The sense of lack is not caused by some other. It is in the misconception of being a fraction.
The ego is always under some sense of threat. After all, other fractions can leave you. Likewise, nothing is ever enough. The ego will always desire more to camouflage its sense of lack. Ego’s mantra will always be ‘more’. Plainly, a fraction can never be whole. Meanwhile, within the pain gap, the person is suffering, whether they are conscious of the fact or not.
What I would really like everyone to hear is that Self-realisation is the end of psychological suffering. This is a true possibility for every human being right now. It does not require twenty-five years in a hidden cave in the Himalayan mountains. Further, just as a flower does not need to learn how to bloom, you do not need to learn how to be who you already are. Indeed, since you are beyond perception and cognition, enlightenment cannot be intellectually understood. You can only learn what you are not. Be still. Notice what is within you.
The time-based ego is dreaming in the past, projecting that memorized past into an imaginary future and then falling back to the pain of more past. No wonder the life situation seems frustrating and mostly repetitive; like one vicious circle. The mind-made self can only access the known, based on past experience, and is therefore limited - whereas you are the unknown field of infinite possibility.
Be still. Notice what is here and now. Step out of time by being in the body fully and being present. Self-realisation is not a trivial matter. As the consciousness transforms - rather, as the false states fall away - so does the world transform. This is the end of time, separation and lack, and therefore the end of suffering. Would it not at least be worth it to take a look?
Renate: It seems something is happening at the moment. We had Gangaji here a few weeks ago and she said that this is the time of the ordinary awakening, where it just happens. This awakening is happening to normal lay people, who have never heard anything about it.
Katie: Sundance and I have been sharing since 1999 and have been travelling to meet with anyone who is interested or who can listen.
Katie: And it is true that people in all walks of life are waking up to this essential truth. This realisation is truly necessary now. The greater awakening is alive and flourishing. I could even say that it is inevitable and unavoidable. It is now more of the question “Would you like to be prepared?” [laughing]
Renate: When I think, ‘prepared’, what I understand is the importance of just being quiet sometimes; to sit and listen, and just be you.
Katie: Yes, perfect. And if you are sitting silently, perhaps in nature, the mind might still ramble on and on through association and memory. “I remember being here before, but I didn’t really like the person I was here with” – all the psychology. You see, that psychological voice is what drops. Whenever you are sitting silently, you can also use the body’s senses to be consciously present - the birds singing in the distance, a babbling brook, or watching a little leaf tremor in the wind… However, the primary focus is simply being. When the mind is in attention, it does not compulsively think.
Renate: It is true, yes.
Katie: You can follow those sounds and sights back into the stillness. You never leave stillness. It is always here within you. Stillness cannot ever truly be covered up. It is only a matter of inattention. But if you identify with the ego-I, you will notice that all of the other armour comes with it. It is not that we are giving up anything. There is no diminishment here. I think that is sometimes misunderstood.
Renate: So, when this happened to you, did the background become the foreground? The foreground moved away… And yet you mentioned in the book that integration took several years. I do not quite understand. When you realised who you are and the ‘I’ basically was gone, what was integrating? What was the path of integration?
Katie: This is an important question. You see, there was still some duality there. Otherwise, there would not be anything to integrate.
Renate: That is right.
Katie: I am this aware bliss that is radiantly being and, when the world reappeared, it was almost like a far-distant heat haze, if you will – a complete dream, and unreal for nearly twelve years. With integration, I am not a Source from which ‘all else’ flows - there is still duality in that. Whereas now, only pure ‘I’ that stands alone which is virtually everything, yet only right now. I am the infinite potentiality that is right now everything. Only I - am. I am the deep and still formlessness that is dancing everywhere within form and constantly changing.
I have only shifted in identity - I have not truly given up the body. At first, I realised that I am not the body. However, “I am the body” and “I am not the body” are both false. One might say that ‘my’ body is the appearance of the universe. Virtually everything was surrendered, and now I realise that nothing was eliminated other than suffering and separation. I see the body-mind and the world aright.
I still see altered states of consciousness at work in the world as the unwavering love that I am and that all is. For instance, last night in London these two men were walking down the street. I heard them coming from quite a distance, since one was yelling. It sounded like an argument yet, as they approached, I realised that one was shouting about his work situation, while his friend walked silently beside with his shoulders tightly shrugged. There were lovely flowers in the baskets under the windows and the autumn leaves in twilight; such a beautiful evening! All this love and beauty were surrounding them.
I am not sharing this in any judgmental way. It is just a perfect example of the pain body, its psychological time and perhaps even the avoidance of relationship. Instead, the ego was into its storyline and it was evident that it needed the conflict to maintain the illusion of its separate identity. Seeing the world aright, one is conscious of the insanity. And it is not problematic - just unnecessary; and yet it seems to be.
Renate: Yes, but there are wars and so many things that are not beautiful… How does reality look for you?
Katie: Beautiful. Countries are not at war: the ego’s ‘me and mine’ is in conflict with ‘you and yours’. Both are delusions. Just like the gentleman walking down the street still identified and hypnotised by the collective consciousness - we could call it unconsciousness, and that would be more accurate. You see the wars and the violence, but are you looking through a veil of separation? Where are you looking from becomes extremely important. If you are separate – an individualised sense of self only - you are going to see nothing but separation.
We can step out of all of that. Not in the future: it is available now. But it is not about fixing the world, you see: we leave the world alone, we leave the individual life story alone and we discover who we are, and that effortlessly unfolds. So it is really a time of miracles, a new dawn, as I refer to it in the book. It is not really new, because it has been forever here and we have only to become conscious of it. And it is within us.
Renate: And then you met Sundance.
Katie: Yes. And that was beautiful, to meet someone as beloved who had been through awakening. Finally, awakening and Self-realisation had a name.
Renate: So you could talk and you could share with him?
Katie: Right. And an opportunity to be wise love, living day to day, in every ordinary, yet extraordinary moment. And as it turned out, we ended up teaching partners. It is beautiful.
Renate: Yes, it is interesting when you called it wise love.
Katie: It is not at all like the relative love that turns to hate in an instant.
Renate: So how does wise love look in daily life?
Katie: Wise love has no form. It arises from this intelligence that you are. You are this wise love. I do not know about you, but Katie was searching for love everywhere. And we are this. It flows from within. It cannot be found in the world of form. We bring it into the world of form – which is not ultimately quite true either. Like you said, if we could only stop, be still and allow it to emerge. It consumes ‘you’.
Most people are not aware yet that they are compulsively thinking. When we first start observing, we see all kinds of thoughts and some can be quite mad. We do not realise that it is our own judgmental thoughts that cause our emotions to change. Emotion is the body’s reaction to judgmental thought. In the beginning, we are likely to miss those thoughts. But if you are in the body and it reacts, you know what the mind has been up to! It does not need to be profound. It could be something like unconscious stress or worry, or just a general sense of unease.
Renate: So is anger still coming up sometimes?
Katie: No. We can be free of this.
Renate: Because we have had so many non-duality people here (that is what they call themselves), and they say, “Yes, anger is still coming up” - or some other negativity is coming up - “but there is not anybody there who is doing something with it”. What do you say to all this?
Katie: Well, this awakening occurred twenty-three years ago. That is a very long time.
Renate: That is a long time.
Katie: Pure consciousness is a harmonising and unifying factor that effortlessly transforms the life situation as the false states fall away and as we welcome all that remains unconscious or unattended. I can only share what I realised to be true right now.
Renate: Sure. So your personality never comes up any more?
Katie: I am not sure…
Renate: I am just curious.
Katie: Let’s find out first, what do you mean by personality?
Renate: Well, I would say the personality is the programmed self, which also inhabits the ego structure.
Katie: And you use those conditioned patterns in order to what?
Renate: Well, it is not like I use them - they are a driving force in life.
Katie: So you are aware of these conditioned patterns?
Katie: OK, so actually you are already beyond them. You are watching them operate - is that true? So it is more like a tail of a comet that passes on its own accord. They are harmless unless you identify with them. But before you identify with them - meaning the conditioned patterns - what was prior to them was that you identified with the ego-I that is the body; the initial separation.
Katie: And with that ego-I… You can imagine all of the conditioned patterns throughout a lifetime that we have learned in order to get what we want or in order to escape what we do not like. The ego is very manipulative. It wants to be in control and it thinks it can get life to conform. And the funniest thing is that the ego is not. If you search for it, it is not there. So watching these conditioned patterns that we are calling in this moment personality, you can already see that you are beyond it. Otherwise, you would not be aware of it.
Renate: That is right, yes.
Katie: So if you are aware of the personality and how it operates - whether it is a happy self, or an unhappy self, or that which comes after it, such as what it wants… the second you are aware of it, you can clearly see that you are beyond it. And that is what I see with people who are awakening. It is only a matter of looking from ever deeper levels of who you are. And once no reference points remain, we call that Self-realisation. I mean, what kind of intelligence is this that is rotating the planets, regulating the tides, changing the seasons and presently processing all these functions within our bodies right now?
Renate: I am... you know... I am getting more and more pulled into the silence. When I did the research and I was watching you in some clips on YouTube, I already felt this incredible silence emanating from you.
Katie: That is because it is within you as the Truth.
Katie: I mean if I had a hand mirror…
Renate: I just want to sit here and be quiet... and I can see in this moment that who speaks is silent. Silence speaks and there is not anybody there.
Katie: And the reason that you can recognise this is that you are this.
Katie: And then we get together as friends, or sit on a couch like this and discuss whatever - and it is always here, deeply here.
Renate: It is another thing I feel in your presence. It is my Heart.
Renate: I know in your book, you mentioned the Heart a lot, consciousness being the Heart.
Katie: As soon as we use a label, we have made it into an object that is not real. We are this. We live in a virtual paradise, a secret garden of stillness that is ‘within’ and is also appearing to be ‘outside’. Without the body reference point any more, we are just this; but it is going so unnoticed.
There is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that says, “What would you do if the midnight stars only came out once every thousand years?” Would you ignore it? Would you watch TV instead? And this is what I am asking people today. Now you have heard the good news. Will you ignore it or will you stop and allow the arising, this timeless Heart that makes all things possible?
Renate: It is beautiful, and yet it is important that we share our sense and, sometimes, we share our stories too. It is important that people can reflect and see that there is something more here. And maybe they had an experience and, like you, they do not know what to do with it. They do not know where it is coming from or what is or what’s happening. So I think it is important that we sometimes also talk about the story.
I remember when I used to be able to leave my body and astral travel. I was doing amazing things and used it to heal. I went into other people’s bodies and, when I shared that sometimes in my groups, people would come up and be so grateful, and say, “I had this experience and I thought I was going crazy. I went to my doctor and he tried to give me pills”.
Katie: Yes, this is so true. It is quite helpful and supportive to be together. Yet this realisation is not dependent on anything. I could give pointers all day long, yet unless people look directly themselves, it becomes more knowledge in a basket that needs to be emptied.
Renate: I understand that but, at the same time, Katie, people’s minds relax, and this relaxation gives an opening sometimes. It is good to talk about certain things. It is all concepts, but it can be used as a tool.
Katie: So that is the joy of being human, I guess we could say. We could get together and read poetry or enjoy a walk in nature or talk about spiritual experiences. The deeper question is, who is experiencing? Who is being?
Renate: Those are the fundamental questions.
Katie: Gathering in groups to sit silently is also very supportive. A loving group atmosphere is so helpful. Have you ever gone into the forest to sit with a tree for satsang?
Renate: Yes, I love that. They don’t talk back!
Katie: While solitude and aloneness are essential for realisation, human beings are not meant to be hibernating in caves. Ultimately, we are simply able to truly love one another.
Renate: When we spoke earlier, before the programme started, you said that the witness left. Does that mean... I experienced that once, it is not where I live, where it is beyond the mind and you are just experience. You just flow. There is no thinking. There is just a constant creation from one moment to the next.
Katie: You are just relating such a deep surrender and it is so beautiful, flowing with life instead of having an idea. I mean, we are truly present, being who we are and allowing life to dance.
Renate: And you think the only thing we have to do is just be quiet.
Katie: The ego often misunderstands this. I was speaking with someone who said they had a very busy life. They could not just be, sit still and do nothing. The stillness is who you are, whether you are waiting in a post office line, or preparing your dinner, or every morning when you are taking your shower. It is who you are. We are not looking from the level of the mind. It is all here, all deeply integrated.
Renate: It is connected. I mean, I can feel it now, the silence. And there is no form - there is just silence.
Katie: In relationship to consciousness, I am pure awareness. In relationship to the universe, I am pure beingness. But this is not really a relationship land. We are just this. There is only this. I do not mean that in some existential way. The existentialists may have been coming quite close in perceiving that there is nothing but, you see, that is the mind calling it nothing. You can investigate that nothingness, that apparent formlessness, and yet you are still looking from a reference point. When that point of reference surrenders, then form is essence and essence is form. Just a beautiful dance… [silence] Then, we go shopping [laughing]!
Renate: I just went blank in the moment [laughing]! It is all there is.
Katie: This is true.
Renate: It is all so easy.
Katie: So easy… This is not to say that you are not going to work hard. In fact, since you are so spontaneously in the flow, just as you described, there is not all that consternation in the mind; wondering what needs to happen next. We still may set goals and make a to-do list, but that list is moving towards the future and you do not know what is going to show up. You may miss your connecting flight, or your daughter may be in a car accident. Presence is being wherever you are, fully and completely. And it is so much easier to be in acceptance and surrender than fighting it. What are you going to do if you do not want to miss your flight and you have missed the airplane anyway? Well, it is silly to say that this should not have happened.
Renate: I know.
Katie: It is! So you flow with that and you find that life is constantly pointing. I mean, we could live by our conditioned intelligence that comes from the separated divided mind, or we could be this universal intelligence, as I said earlier, that is rotating the planets and regulating the tides. We do nothing. Could it be that this little tiny life situation is actually happening by itself in divine perfection, instead of the ego pretending to control everything? That is the simplicity of being.
Renate: It’s really having the courage to stay with the not knowing, with the mystery.
Katie: If we were honest and took a look, we would have to say that we do not know what is going to happen in the next thirty seconds.
Renate: Katie, we have to finish. I just want to show your book again, Awake Joy: The Essence of Enlightenment.
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