Enlightenment; self-realization; awakened; fully realized; and other labels — call it what you will — all of these are concepts of the mind. One can only recognize one’s true nature as presence-awareness, but only right here, right now. There is no ‘future time’ that enlightenment will happen. I used to believe this and desired nothing else but to be ‘fully realized’, as I became familiar with such terms through spiritual readings. And just like many others with similar beliefs, I thought that this is how it would happen, as I waited for such a time to occur. It was always, “when I become fully awake, then there will be no more suffering, no more problems, because ‘I’ will be free from all of that for good!” Sound familiar?
Realizations, however, did happen often throughout my life that permanently transformed how I saw everything, yet, I was still waiting for some really powerful, dramatic experience, one that would define my ‘initiation’ as being ‘fully awakened’. After all, this seemed to be how it happened for well known gurus and spiritual teachers who were acknowledged to have “realized the Self“. Among some of the greatest influences in my life, nonduality seemed to be the highest teachings. It resonated with my own direct experiences revealing my true nature. However, before I go further, I should start from the beginning, from where the ‘most essential question’ occurred, as Nisargadatta Maharaj had once put it, which became the underlying driving force to know the Self.
Unaware of any journey or path, self-inquiry began at a very young age. Memories go as far back as infancy, where there was a presence, as I observed everything and everyone around me. Born the 13th of 15 children, there was a lot to observe and absorb. One day, while sitting in a wooden high-chair at approximately 1-1½ years old, without the development of language, questions arose within. In order to express the essence of the questions, language is necessary. Suddenly, I wondered, “how did I get here? where is ‘here’? what was my existence before ‘this’? … and, who are all these ‘people‘?” I didn’t know where “I” began, and I wondered, how was it that I could suddenly just “be here”? When the questions arose, they happened all at once, in an instant, unlike linear thinking. The essence of the questions never left, but as I settled into the process of mental conditioning throughout childhood, adolescence, continuing into adulthood, they remained as a subtle part of my consciousness in the background.
In my late twenties began a more conscious effort to understand what later had a label, ‘glimpses of the infinite’. Since childhood, spontaneously and out of nowhere, I would suddenly be in a state of Oneness that is difficult to describe. It didn’t matter what was going on or whether anything special was happening that might affect my mood one way or another. In fact, these ‘happenings’ seemed to occur during the most ordinary moments. One instance, as a young child, I was swinging on a swing at the school playground by myself with no one around, when all of a sudden I was in the most blissful and joyous state, completely immersed in love! Such ecstasy! It was so immense, so much bigger than myself, and “I” melted into Oneness. These occurrences happened often throughout my life, and the essence was always the same, with the exception that somewhere in my thirties, it transformed into more of a profound deep peace that never left. These ‘happenings’ were difficult to describe as a child, not having any words to call it, yet, I tried to share it with siblings, then close friends, but no one knew what I was talking about. I thought it was normal and that everyone experienced the same. It was the most natural and familiar essence, and it felt like ‘Home’, and somehow I knew that, “I can come here whenever I want . . . life is so short, so I can get through it!” That was the ‘thought’ that accompanied the moment it happened that day on the playground. I knew this place, this space without words.
It seems funny that I would think about my life as “getting through it” — that doesn’t sound very normal for a child to think like that. However, I already knew suffering and pain, even as a child, and was very contemplative spending much of my time by myself, despite the surroundings of my siblings, most of whom were older than me. Yet, I felt older somehow, observing being talked down to, as one would to a young child. I understood that this is how adults saw children, and so I went along, knowing that they meant well, and thought, “they have no idea what I know, and when I grow up, I will never treat a child like they don’t know anything.” I felt a natural compassion for my family.
Growing up in a very strict, religious environment, life centered around religion and going to church, where sermons were preached of a “God” who was vengeful, who punished his servants, throwing them into the depths of hell. Whether at home or at church, these beliefs tormented me, and I grew up with this fear, terrified of meeting “God” and going to hell, living with chronic anxiety the first 27 years of my life. However, despite all the anxiety, fear, and false beliefs, the ‘happenings’ would continue to occur, leaving me with much hope that what I was taught to believe couldn’t possibly be true. Still, out of survival instincts, I conformed to the teachings of the church, rather focusing on sainthood, and at a very young age started reading books about the saints and anything that had to do with spirituality as opposed to religion. That was the closest I got to learning about ‘realizing the Self’, which came later in my early thirties when, “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, was first published. Money was scarce, and as a mother of two, I was busy balancing my schedule between being a wife and mother, going to graduate school full-time, and doing an internship at a hospital neonatal unit as a medical social worker. So I had my share of daily problems, life situations, pain and suffering, while watching the endless suffering of others, which came with the job. I had no one to guide me or to explain the ‘happenings’ which were direct experiences of my true nature. But, as they were the most natural and familiar essence when they occurred, I did not see them as anything out of the ordinary, because they had been happening since I could remember, all the way back to infancy! And not that I needed affirmations to confirm what I knew through direct experience, I simply lacked any ‘labels’ to explain what to call them. The Mind wants to label everything and to understand everything, yet, I learned that no matter what explanations or labels you give it, the Mind will only be ‘satisfied’ for a short time, and then, it wants more, discarding the initial explanations, and on and on it goes! There is no satisfying the Mind.
Eckhart Tolle’s teachings were exactly what I had been looking for! His words were simple, yet profound, and strongly resonated with my direct experiences and realizations. For the first time, all of the ‘happenings’ of oneness and bliss had a label: ‘glimpses of the infinite’. Not that it mattered, because those familiar feelings of ‘Home’, of total love and uninterrupted peace were nothing other than my natural state — not this ‘life’ filled with problems and situations that felt like a prison… but I wasn’t free… the ‘glimpses’ didn’t last long enough, and suddenly, the mind would take over again. I went through dark periods which one could equate with ‘the dark night of the soul’. These would last on and off, as I went from moments of deep peace and clarity, interrupted yet again by the mind.
The mind chatter got louder and louder, and I couldn’t stop or control it. Eckhart’s teachings point to our true nature as presence, awareness. One of the things he taught as a means to presence was to watch one’s thoughts as they arose, and know that our thoughts are not who we are, but by catching the thoughts as they arise and watching them, in that Moment, one is aware, present! So, I started to apply this to my day-to-day life, and every so often, I’d look back to check any progress, only to find that the mind had become quieter and the constant mind chatter that once dominated and controlled me had finally subsided. Then a time came when I no longer had to catch the thoughts; rather, “I” became the Witness, the Observer of the thoughts and emotions. It was like watching an “empty show” filled with fictitious characters, which “I” had nothing to do with. And there were times when I watched the ‘personality’ of this form react to certain situations, yet there was no driving force behind the reaction or emotion. How funny! And quickly, emotions would just dissipate almost as fast as they arose!
As mentioned early on, nonduality teachings seemed to be of the highest nature. My first introduction to nonduality teachings was Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. How perfect! His words were so powerful, and as I read them, they resonated deep within my being at the core level with one potent pointer after another, each one like refreshing water pouring down upon me, hitting hard, cracking open more and more realizations, happening faster and more intensely. I could see that what Eckhart taught was the same essence of Nisargadatta’s teachings — they just used different pointers. Other nonduality teachers whose pointers rang loud and clear and resonated deeply with my own direct experiences, were ‘Sailor’ Bob Adamson and Stephen Wolinsky (both direct students of Nisargadatta Maharaj), Ramana Maharshi, Ramesh Balsekar, Papaji, Robert Adams, Tony Parsons, and John Wheeler, among others.
One particular moment that stands out as a ‘turning point’ happened in my late thirties when my body became sick with a serious kidney infection. It had gotten out of control that I ended up in the hospital emergency room, then sent home with antibiotics. Meanwhile, the pain was so out of control by the time I was able to get the antibiotics that when I took the first dose, my body became incredibly nauseous, as I fought with every ounce of strength from throwing them up. The pain was so intense and there was no comfortable position I could get into. Not able to escape the pain, I laid there very still. And there in silence with what seemed to be the most unbearable pain, somehow the pain catapulted me into a state of Presence. It was so incredible! So much bigger than me! It was the most profound deep peace that had happened yet, and there were no needs! Nothing! “I” was perfect in that Moment. The pain of the body remained, but had fallen into the background, no longer an issue. This perfect state of peace and presence with no words or labels remained. Suddenly, the phone rang, and about an hour had passed in what was ‘no time’ in perfect presence. When I looked at the caller ID, seeing it was a close ‘spiritual’ friend, I answered it. Still remaining in this perfect state of presence and peace, I tried to explain what had happened. But in doing so, the mind slowly returned, along with the pain. However, it marked a profound reference point, in which I understood clearly that ‘I’ was not the pain, an important experience that would prepare me for what was to come a few short years later.
Life continued on with its normal, every day problems and situations, but each moment of clarity made its mark, and as an Observer of the play of consciousness, no matter what thoughts or emotions arose, I was able to quickly become centered again with peace continually present. But my greatest challenges were still yet to come, as this body continued to deteriorate physically. By the time I was in my early forties, jobs had become more scarce and the body couldn’t keep up with the production demands at work. Finally, the body came to a full STOP. I could no longer do my job, and was diagnosed with a litany of severe and debilitating diseases, disorders, and syndromes which made it challenging to do simple things like personal care, preparing simple meals, light housework, even picking up a glass of water was painful. I lived with chronic pain 24/7, and was declared officially ‘disabled‘. The pain made it challenging to remain constantly present, and for a while, I got caught up in the ‘stories’ of how things got so out of control because of “this and this”… but as long as I identified with the mind from which the stories arose, I suffered. At first I felt anger that I was too young for this to ‘happen’, but that didn‘t last, and sadness took its place, as I grieved over the loss of my ‘identity’ with the body and all its physical capabilities, over which I had no control, along with fear of not being able to take care of myself without some kind of help. As my condition worsened, the fear of dying would occur each night just before bedtime. I remained silent, not wanting to give energy to the fear, and when morning would come, the fear went with it. This continued on for several weeks. My dreams were very vivid, and then one night, I had a dream of my own death. My parents and siblings were in it. In the dream, somehow it was known that I would die the next day, and there was also a baby, whose death was also to happen the same day as mine. My family was beginning to eat supper, and my mother said that the baby could not have any food since it would die the following day, along with me. That made me very sad. I picked up the baby, holding it up before me and started crying very hard! I was more saddened by its death than my own. Then, it came for me to die, and when I died, I woke up from the dream. I couldn’t shake it off right away. I was too afraid to move or get up. And, as the day went on, I could still feel the essence of the dream. However, the feeling wore off by the following day, and several days later, it dawned on me that the ‘baby’ in the dream was ‘me’! Only in the dream, the baby was not an infant, but about the age I was when the questions first arose about my existence and how I got ‘here’. It was evident that I was witnessing my own death, both as the ‘baby’ from when the questions of my identity first arose, and as the ‘adult’ — it represented the death of identification with this form. Since that dream, fears of death have no longer been an issue.
Another most profound realization occurred around the same time that I had the dream. While sitting at my computer, just gazing into nowhere, all at once it was clear that there was no ‘person’, no ‘individual’ in this form called, ‘Victoria’ . . . it was all consciousness — everything was consciousness, and ‘I’ wasn’t even the consciousness. None of it had anything to do with ‘me‘. In that Moment of Clarity, the ‘I’ fell away, as did all concepts. It was most freeing! To no longer be burdened with any ‘identity’… nor did I ‘attain’ anything, rather, all that was false just fell away. As ‘I’ was never separate from my true nature, how could there be anything to attain?
This realization did not just ‘happen’ and then fade away. What was realized in that Moment continues to be in the ever-present now. The next day while driving in my car, everything was different. I saw everything as consciousness without labels. There were no problems, no fears or anxiety about anything — just profound peace. I hadn’t seen it quite this way before, but it was obvious and ordinary and extraordinary all at once. This was the most powerful realization yet, as it changed how I saw everything from that Moment on.
Then, a few weeks later, the mind crept in once again. How could this be, I wondered? What doubts could there be after letting go of the identity with the body? Was there something that I still identified with causing some doubts? As I sat in stillness and silence, it became evident that somehow I was still ‘waiting’ for some “grand awakening” experience that would define my own ‘realization of the Self’. And since I had no teacher that I could call or ask questions in order to clear these doubts, no self-realized being that I could talk to (that I personally ‘knew’) that I could call and get a definite, “you’re good to go!” ‘PASS’ that would make it ‘official’ that I had finally ‘made it’, once more I found myself caught up in the Mind.
Somehow, everything just fell into place. I came across a book by John Wheeler. I had never heard of him before, so I was hesitant. I read that he had searched for 25 years, and then one day he met ‘Sailor’ Bob, and that, “He just laid it all out on the table. I never heard it so clearly from anybody.” [John Wheeler, ‘You Were Never Born‘] Already familiar with the pointers of ‘Sailor’ Bob, I could see how John could easily become ‘CLEAR’, as he put it. John said that after that meeting with Bob, that was it! There were no more doubts, no more questions. Very impressed by this, I started reading John‘s book, and within the first several pages, the clarity became so obvious, that at once, everything was CLEAR! I mean, everything that pointed to my true nature as presence-awareness that I had directly experienced so many times! It was all there, and it had been there all the time! All of my questions and doubts disappeared upon reading the first few pages of John’s book. It wasn’t anything new. Somehow, it was just the way that John‘s words were so clear (to me), that this time the mind was finally silent! It had nothing more to say! I emailed John, thanking him for doing for me what ‘Sailor’ Bob had done for him. Not knowing whether he would get my email or not, as I didn’t know if he received hundreds of emails daily, and/or if he read them himself, or had others read them for him. I just didn’t know. But, the very next day, John responded to me:
“Thanks for sending along the detailed e-mail. I appreciated reading about your experiences and insights. This all sounds very direct and to the point. It is great that you see that the notion that “someday something will happen in a future time” is only a presently arising concept in the ever-fresh “presence-awareness” being pointed to. With this insight, you see that what you are seeking for is already what you are, already present and already attained. This, of course, undercuts all of our previously held assumptions — the main one being that we exist apart from the one reality or true essence. Anyway, I am happy to hear that these basic points are clear for you!” ~ John Wheeler
And so the doubts were put to rest once and for all. It’s funny how the mind can be so persistent, creating so much doubt and chaos! Even in the presence of my true nature (how many times?), it crept in again and again, just when I thought that was it!
Teachers appear in many forms and many forms appear as teachers. Yet, there is nothing that we need to learn. We are not separate from THAT which we already are, which is presence-awareness. If you seek it, you will not find it, because you ARE it! Words can only point to it. And whatever pointers assist one in recognizing one’s true nature can be considered useful, provided one does not mistake the ‘pointer’ for THAT being pointed to.
So, if any of this resonates with anyone, please be relieved to know that the only thing standing between you and who you are is really NO-THING! Because the mind is part of the appearances and disappearances that arise and fall within Awareness. The mind is finite and will never understand THAT which is infinite, which is what you ARE. So, whatever torments you, keeping you in suffering, know that it is only the mind — the finite mind, which cannot really come between you and your true nature. You are perfect as you are, right here, right now. There is nothing for you to do, nothing to seek, and nothing to be attained. Nor is there any ‘future time’ or ‘someday when…’ that all will be ‘realized’. You can only know your true nature as simple, ordinary presence-awareness, but only right here, right now.
Intense yearning to know one’s own Self (mumukshatva), as Sankara says in Vivekachudaamani, comes only through ‘Grace’ – perhaps a euphemism to indicate that it cannot be explained in terms of the cause-effect relationships, a domain in which mind functions. Mumukshatva begins with the questions: ‘Who am I’ and ‘What is this world around?’ as almost all the Indian sages tell us. Ancient lore speaks of Ashtaavakra who was said to have resolved these questions when he was still in his mother’s womb. Right here we have the story of Victoria Rose who grappled with these questions as a toddler! Language, she found out, was needed only later on as a secondary adjunct for expression of this burning desire to understand her own Self.
Victoria hails from a strictly orthodox Catholic home in the Midwest. A born Musician, she is trained in Psychology and has a Masters in Social work. She lives now with her family in Wyoming, Michigan. Her Non-dual “Journey” from nowhere to Now Here is quite enthralling with a graphic description of the undulating terrain one passes through during the intense seeking, only to find at the end that there is in fact no displacement at all in the whole travel! Her story of the ‘search’ to return ‘home’ forms a real-life case-study narrated in her inimitable and unpretentious manner and is quite instructive and illustrative of the ‘process’ involved on the ‘path.’ It answers a myriad doubts that usually arise in our minds as our own seeking goes on. Victoria is available on Facebook with a huge network of friends. I feel I am blessed for her ready consent to share her captivating story at this Blog – Dr. Ramesam Vemuri