Archive for the ‘Non-Dual Awareness’ Category


As I stood at the doorway to his room, it was as if he looked straight into my eyes.  His eyes were still open and blue as ever. I couldn’t quite tell if he had a smile on his face, but he looked peaceful. I felt heartened and found solace in this last expression of his. I also felt sadness that I would never encounter him in the hallways again nor would I be able to say, “Hi” to him. I will miss that.

Over the months, volunteering in hospice, there had been numerous struggles (tears, fear and anger) over what lie ahead for him. I tried in what seemed like an endless exercise in futility to provide some comfort to him during these months, to help him process his impending death. However, he fought me every inch, railed against his own understanding of his impending death and forced me to take him on his own terms, regardless of whatever agenda I had for him.  He was a skillful teacher for me. Over time, I abandoned this agenda of mine and let him take the lead. I often found myself serving his need to be distracted from his understandings of his impending death. It perplexed me at the time and forced me beyond my confined understanding of what I was doing as a hospice volunteer and my own understandings of death, that’s what made him such a good teacher for me.

In looking at my own remembrance of encountering death, I began to see the teaching. Trying to understand the experience of death, trying to wrap one’s head around it is an exercise in futility. We cannot know. If we make up something frightful about death we suffer more intensely. If we make up something pleasant about death we suffer less intensely. If we make up nothing about death, we suffer not.

Personally, I don’t remember dying almost 2 years ago and it’s almost as if it didn’t happen at all (see previous posts, “The Paradox of Death and Deathlessness”). In a way, it was much ado about nothing for me and yet for my rescuers and family, way too much happened. I can’t say it was much ado about nothing for them! My point is that death is a concept, an understanding, and concepts or understandings are not the thing itself. Whatever we think, whatever understanding we have, whatever label we give, tis not the thing itself. Then, there is the understanding of absence or oblivion which is really no different than any other kind of understanding, it just an understanding that parades itself as a nothing.

In the Zen tradition, there is a story of a monk that would carry a pail of water from a local stream to his humble abode nightly. This monk would admire deeply the reflection of the moon in this pail of water as he walked home. It seemed so beautiful to him. One night, as he walked home, the pail fell from his hand hit the ground and shattered. The water dispersed and the thirsty ground soaked it all up. No pail, no water, no reflection that he had gained such pleasure from. In his anguish he turned his head to cry into the sky, only to see the real moon, for the very first time shining bright in all its glory high in the night sky above! What a pale imitation the reflection of the moon in the pail of water was!


Our understandings are these reflections in a pail of water they encourage us to look beyond the understanding to the direct experience, but we are so enthralled with our understandings because we think that that understanding is all we have. We mistake that the absence of understanding is nothing in a while it is described as emptiness from the perspective of understanding, it’s absolutely not empty! The point of practice, be that meditation or inquiry, is to break the obsession with this “pail” understandings and to begin to perceive directly the non-conceptual wisdom.

All our understandings in this life, including our understanding of death, are “pail” understandings. They are pale versions of direct perceptions. What my teacher (in this hospice resident) here reminded me of, was that death need not be processed through our “pail” understanding. Whether our final months/moments here involve existential inquiry or living as if there is no death, matters not. I am reminded of the truly unimaginable ground of existence!

Whether I think I know what I’m doing, or not, in how I am serving hospice residents or living life in general, matters not. My job is to be present, open, and compassionate. It’s okay to make up frightful things about death. It’s okay to make up comforting things about death. It’s okay to make up neutral things about death. It’s okay not to think about death at all! It’s an awful lot of work to make all these things up and sometimes I can just feel lazy and let it all go! Besides, I don’t think that the universe really concerns itself much with our understandings. It seems to me that on an ultimate level, existence is perfect as it is and the universe is completely independent of any of our understandings or judgments, mine, his, or anyone else’s.


You, teacher, taught me this most pointedly as your lifeless body gazed into me and pierced my “pail” understandings of you, me, life, and death.  Thank you for the reminder that understanding is a virtual playground, feel free to play in the infinite number of pleasant and unpleasant creations and remember that they are unnecessarily confining! Go ahead and pretend that these “pail” understandings are in any way real, to your heart’s content if you must!  Ultimately, we must leave our confinement of pail understandings, this playground that we play in, and when we do we will never want to return to such limitation and confinement for it will seem like a prison to us.

In the meantime, play in them until you’re no longer interested.


Inside this new love, die.

Your way begins on the other side.

Become the sky.

Take an ax to the prison wall.

Escape. Walk out

like someone suddenly born into color.

Do it now.

You’re covered with thick cloud.

Slide out the side. Die,

and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign

that you’ve died.

Your old life was a frantic running

from silence.

The speechless full moon comes out now.


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At one point, shortly after my sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), I very carefully reviewed the string of memories from just before my SCA until I woke up in the hospital. In doing this, I was very careful to not add anything to the string of memories or to subtract anything. Specifically, I did not add interpretation or elaboration.

I remember starting my run. I had just started the running app on my phone (Endomondo) and the song on my randomized playlist was Satori Waterfalls, by Ohmna. I particularly love listening to Trance music while running. Then, I have a memory of running down Grand Avenue towards Lake Merritt, but honestly it seems to blend in with the numerous other times that I’ve run down Grand Avenue so I’m not particularly confident in its veracity. The next thing I remember is this subtle reddish brown color and then, eventually, a recognition of other people nearby whom I couldn’t quite make out, but they felt very familiar and comforting to me. Later, I would recognize them as family members (mom, stepfather, sister) and the room was a hospital room and that I was lying in a hospital bed. I would have further memories of increasing mental acuity as the drugs that were used to put me into a coma so that I could undergo the hypothermia protocol wore off. My head was well clear of the drugs by the time I undertook this very specific and precise review of my memories.

Oddly enough, if I don’t add anything to this stream of memories, I didn’t die, I didn’t have a cardiac arrest, and I wasn’t rescued by Good Samaritans to beat the astronomical odds against my survival. If there were no memories, these things really happen? According to my memories, I simply started my run and woke up in the hospital with nothing special in between. I didn’t feel any sense of space or time that occurred between my memory of running down Grand Avenue and that brownish reddish color. None whatsoever! So, from a purely experiential perspective (direct unembellished memories of experiences), how can I say that any of it happened?

And yet, my rescuers (Andy, Mario, Jon, Alis, etc.) my doctors and my family all have very clear memories and they have told me everything they remember. I even have a picture of myself that my sister snuck when I was still in the hypothermia protocol. To them, I died, was resuscitated, taken to the hospital, phone calls to next of kin were made, and the start of almost $200,000 in hospital bills were acquired (luckily I had insurance). To them I absolutely did die! So, which is it?

Now, that I volunteer as a caregiver in hospice and have outlived the first patient that I have worked with, I too can attest to the fact that she is no longer with us. But, did she experience death? Does she experience death or nonexistence? Or is it only the survivors that experience it? Is death just a concept, a mental construct, a label for the phenomena that someone that we know and love is no longer with us? Just a label for this seemingly disturbing phenomenon? I suspect that this idea does not apply to those who are no longer with us, but only to the survivors. It’s so very easy to make something up. One thing that I know, is that if I had never woken up from my cardiac arrest, I would not have ever known. It would not have been a problem.

What I am not doing here, in writing this, is providing any number of concepts or ideas or beliefs to fill in the gap of unknowing about this most mysterious of phenomena. Some believe in heaven and hell. Some believe in perpetual reincarnation. Some believe in oblivion. They one of them or all of them may be true and maybe not. We seem to want a definitive answer!

(And an especially loving note for many of my dear SCA friends who have had Near-Death Experiences of various forms (light at the end of the tunnel, etc.), I say TRUST YOUR DIRECT UNADULTERATED EXPERIENCE! It’s unassailable! But don’t think too much about it; it’s enough to just trust the fearlessness that arises from your direct experience! Besides, it’s the stories that we make up about it and the need to defend them that can cause the fear.)

These concepts, ideas, or beliefs about our temporary presence here and what happens when we are no longer here are infinite, but I have personally never found any of them to be verifiable in any directly observable sort of way. Besides, I am no longer interested in making something up to soothe some sense of anxiety about death. I lost that anxiety when I died, even though I wasn’t given any beliefs to hold onto. 🙂

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1. Easily understood; completely intelligible or comprehensible.

2. Characterized by clear perception or understanding; rational or sane.

3. Shining or bright.

4. Clear; pellucid; transparent.


1. Loving-kindness; friendliness; benevolence; amity.

2. Friendship; good will; kindness; an active interest in others.

3. Love without clinging.

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While I don’t remember what happened during my cardiac arrest (if I had an NDE like many of my SCA friends), I have had a variety of non-ordinary experiences in my lifetime prior to my sudden cardiac arrest.  This is a list of my non-ordinary or “spiritual” experiences that I have had in my life before my cardiac arrest. Each of these events have been profound openings and are precious to me.  They are gems that are close to my heart and I have never publically disclosed them. They have each required translation into verbal language as they didn’t occur originally in that modality. This could give you a little bit of a better picture of where I’m coming from and why I am the way I am.

Title: May the Force Be with You

Category: Void Experience

Age: 16 or 17

One night, when I was a teenager, after a long day of work I came back home.  I lie on my bed and closed my eyes to rest for just a moment.  Suddenly, I found myself walking slowly down this hallway which seemed to be made of a polished black steel.  The walls of the hallway, however, appeared to have depth.  It was as if I could see into a vast darkness.  While I couldn’t quite see anything in particular this vast darkness did not seem empty.  As I continued to walk down the hallway, it branched into two directions at right angles in a “T” shape.  Right in front of me were a set of double doors with simple gold handles.  Curious, I grabbed the handles and opened the double doors.  Inside was a massive vertical cylindrical cavern that seemed to have no bottom to it.  As I stood in front of the double doors looking into this cavern, I could see many thousands or hundreds of thousands of white dots in row after row for as far as the eye could see both up and down.  Although it was too small to actually see, I could tell that each white dot was actually a large window and on the other side of the window were people staring longingly into this cavern.  It was as if out of a Star Wars scene.  All these people were looking into the cavern window after window grow after row from countless windows.  Inside this cavern I could feel, I knew, was infinite wisdom, infinite knowledge.  I wanted to enter this cavern as well because I wanted to have this infinite wisdom/knowledge.  I knew, however that if I did step into this cavern that it would be the end of my life as I knew it.  Forever!  I would lose much, but that wasn’t important.  I wanted, with all my heart, to step into the cavern and to find, to have, that infinite knowledge/wisdom.  Unlike the rest of the people looking out of their windows, I had access to this beauty and wonder.  All I had to do was step in!  So, as I went to step in, I was suddenly back in my room lying on my bed only to be denied what I long for so greatly.  I was annoyed for days after this experience.

Title: Shattered

Category: Void/Unitive Experience

Age: 24

I had been experiencing an extremely unsatisfying and frustrating day.  In the afternoon, at one point, I had decided that the only thing there was left to do was to meditate, that there simply wasn’t anything else to be done of any value.  So, I sat on my meditation cushion facing the wall in the style of Zen meditation practice that I was going at the time.  The meditation was uneventful other than the fact that I was unusually disinterested in any of the sensations, thoughts or desires that typically occupy my consciousness.  At one point, late into the 30 minute meditation, I simply found myself in this vast dark expanse.  I was this hollow, smoky-dark, glass figurine sitting in a meditation position amidst this vast expanse.  In the distance, there were some subtle swatches of color and before me was a light source that looked like the sun or some star that glowed yellow.  After some time of this, an object that looked like a shooting star rapidly moved towards me, from behind, hitting me between the shoulders right where I was feeling a twinge of pain That I had been experiencing.  It shattered me, The glass figurine, into a million iridescent pieces of glass shards!  Suddenly, there is no difference; no separation between me and the rest of this vast expanse.  I was everything!  I felt a sigh of relief.  It’s all perfectly okay.  There’s nothing to protect.  Tears came to my eyes as a result of the depth of relief and intimacy that I felt; the joy that I felt.  Then, something seemed to open up and I felt a coursing of light, of energy moving up through me.  As if I were sitting on a volcano and it erupted through me!  The sensation was so intense that I was immediately jolted out of the experience that I was having and I was in this body, back sitting on the meditation cushion in front of the wall.  My eyes were wet with tears.

Title: The Place Where Joy and Sorrow are one

Category: Soul Retrieval

Age: 23

It was an ordinary Saturday evening in September of 1992 in Goleta, CA.  I had participated in the Sage Experience nine months before.  I was antsy because I did not have plans for the evening and I didn’t want to be at home by myself on a Saturday night.  Inspired by what I had been learning from The Sage Experience and the community that had grown around it, I decided that I would choose to stay home and experience what I felt completely.  I had been recently drawing pictures using my left hand.  These pictures represented drawings done by Stephen, the name that I gave my inner five-year-old because it was my name when I was adopted at five.  Of the many drawings that represented the many different feelings and experiences that I/Stephen had, one picture was a particularly angry and violent one.  As I lay on my bed, candles lit in my room, soft music playing and a pleasant smelling stick of incense burning; I looked at that picture and found myself feeling sorry for pain that I had felt and how I hated that part of me.  I knew he only needed love, somebody to care about him and somebody to value him enough to keep him.  I let myself feel compassion for him, for his pain, for my pain.  I allowed myself to fall into this pain with a heart full of love and compassion.  After a while, it was as if I was falling down this cavern with no bottom to it, no grasping, no second-guessing, no controlling.  Just loving.  Then, I seemed to fall into this space where joy and sorrow were incomplete without each other, where they were complementary to each other, where they completed each other, where they were one.  A more sweet sorrow, I have never felt before!  Neither then or after.  I slowly drifted off to sleep amidst this bliss.  When I awoke the next morning, there was definitely something missing!  There was actually a lot missing, but I couldn’t figure it out immediately!  It was my mind!  It was empty of all the thoughts and longings that had been there for so long as to not even recognize their presence.  Instead of all these thoughts and longings racing through my mind at light speed, I found that my senses were heightened.  Everything was very vivid and alive to me!  I felt so calm and my body my mind empty of thoughts and I felt joy, joy, joy.  This was the start of a profound month, where I felt more present, where I felt complete, where my heart overflowed with love and compassion and it was all I could do but to share it with everybody that I ran across.  In my conversations with people I did not feel the need to use unnecessary words and I often said very little.  When I did speak I used essential words and use them as seeds that would grow over time and allow this person to know that no matter what they too were perfect and beautiful and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them even though they were completely convinced to the contrary.  I was overflowing with unconditional love!  During this time I felt as if I could hear the heartbeat of life itself, of the universe itself.  I seemed to have the ability to manifest what I wanted with virtually no effort.  And I had so much more love than I could hope to contain and so gave away as much as I could.

Title: Zen and the Art of Washing Dishes

Category: ?

Age: 23

I was washing dishes while living in Goleta, CA.  I made a special effort to simply wash the dishes with all of my attention that day.  Towards the end of washing the dishes, one of my roommates came into the kitchen.  As I listened to her talk it was as if I could see the layer of self-misunderstanding that she was speaking from.  And it was as if I can see all the layers of the mistaken beliefs of her imperfection has she spoke.  Yet, it was her perfection that I can see shine through most clearly.  I recognized that even though she had many misunderstandings about herself and others that she was in fact perfect and there was nothing wrong with her at all.  I further recognized that even though she didn’t know this, that the truth of her and everybody’s perfection is the only, and inevitable, conclusion that one can come to despite however many years of misunderstandings one may have.  You can run, but you can’t hide, forever!

Title: The Return

Category: ?

Age: 42

I woke up in the hospital. My mom, sister, stepfather, and biological mother were in the room. Initially, everything was still pretty fuzzy and I would realize that it was because of the drugs used to put me into a drug-induced coma for the hypothermia treatment that I had received after my cardiac arrest. Over the days, my awareness sharpened, but it would be some time (weeks) before I would become re-entranced by the stories that I tell myself about life. Often, thought required an effort that I simply wasn’t interested in and the stories that I could tell about life seemed arbitrary and an important relative to perceiving what was right there. So, why bother? It thoughts and feelings would occur. They seemed to be like an isolated billowy cloud in an otherwise completely clear blue sky. I would watch them with a measure of curiosity, even recognizing them as somewhat odd. I realized at this time that hope was also suffering, attachment to life or preferring life over death was suffering, that death was not a problem, and if I had not returned, I would have never be the wiser for it. I was very aware of what people did not or could not say. If someone came in with openness, compassion, presence, I could feel it and it was more important than anything they said. If, however, someone came in who was unkind, annoyed by me, incongruent, or simply didn’t care, I could feel that to and that was louder than any of the words they said. I have always been this way to degree, but during this time my perception of the nonverbal was profoundly heightened. Slowly, I have become re-entranced by the stories that I make up about life with one important difference. They seem that much more absurd to me now and while they play themselves out, it’s hard to believe in them anymore.

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