C H A P T E R 1
We Are All Baby Ducks
Baby Ducks:You may think it matters what happens. But what if the only thing that matters is where you are experiencing from, where you are looking from? What if you could experience all of life from a spacious, open perspective where anything can happen and there is room for all of it, where there is no need to pick and choose, to put up barriers or resist any of it, where nothing is a problem and everything just adds to the richness of life? What if this open, spacious perspective was the most natural and easy thing to do? It may sound too good to be true, but we all have a natural capacity to experience life this way. The only requirement is to look from the Heart, not just figuratively, but to look from the subtle energetic center located in the center of the chest instead of looking out from the eyes and the head—and not just to look, but to listen, feel, and sense from the Heart. In some spiritual traditions we are encouraged to look in the Heart, and yet what does that mean exactly? Often we are so used to looking and sensing through the head and the mind that when we are asked to look in the Heart, we look through the head into the Heart to see what is there. Usually we end up just thinking about the Heart. But what if you could drop into the Heart and look from there? How would your life look right now? Is it possible that there is another world right in front of you that you can only see with the Heart and not with the mind? In what follows, you are invited to explore this radically different perspective and to find out what is true and real when the world and your life are viewed from the Heart of Being. It may both delight and shock you to find that so much richness, wonder, and beauty lie so close and are so immediately available to you. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself if your experience fits with this simple, yet profound, way to shift in awareness to a more complete view of your life, your world, and ultimately your true nature as that openness, wonder, and beauty.
As an aside, some people are more visual, some are more auditory, and some are more in touch with feelings or physical sensations. One or two of these modes are referred to in the exercises that follow. Feel free to translate and use whatever mode is most natural to you. For instance, you might find it easier to listen with your head or Heart rather than look from your head or Heart. You may want to experiment with the other senses also. Your Nature as Awareness Right now as you read these words, who or what are you really? Are you the body, mind, and personality? Or are you the spacious awareness or aware space that these appear in? What you are is this space. It is a remarkable space that is alive and aware. You could say this is what you are made of: You are aware space. Exercise: Take a moment to sense behind your eyes. Turn your attention to the space behind your eyes. What do you sense there? If you only refer to your experience in this moment, what do you find in the space behind your eyes? Does this space have a capacity to experience sensation? Is there awareness in the space behind your eyes? Don’t worry for now what this awareness is like or what you are aware of. Simply check if you are aware of anything right now, anything at all. If you let go of any ideas about what awareness is supposed to be like or what is supposed to
happen in awareness, then you can begin to explore this simple miracle of awareness going on behind your eyes. That aware space is the real you. It is what you are made of, what you exist as here and now. It also turns out that everything that really matters in life is found in this aware space. This is where love, peace, joy, compassion, wisdom, strength, and a sense of worth are found. These are qualities of your true nature as aware space. These are qualities of the real you. Everything you might ever need, including everything you need to know, is to be found in that spacious presence behind your eyes. I invite you to play in this spacious awareness. If you wanted to find out about the nature of water, it would be helpful to play in it whenever you had a chance. So if you want to find out about this aware presence that you are, you might want to explore along as we splash around in the space of awareness. One bit of good news: It doesn’t matter at all for the purposes of our exploration what you are aware of. It doesn’t matter what you are experiencing. It doesn’t matter if you are happy or sad, healthy or sick, rich or poor, enlightened or suffering, expanded or contracted. However, the only place you can play in awareness is where awareness is right now. So as you explore the awareness, you need to refer to whatever is happening right now… and now… and now because that is where awareness is found. Realizing your true nature as awareness would be incredibly simple except for one thing: This awareness that you are can be shaped. Just like water takes on the shape of the container you pour it into, the awareness that you are is shaped by your thoughts, feelings, desires, hopes, dreams, worries, sensations, and experiences. It is shaped by everything that happens. Sometimes this shaping is so strong that it seems the awareness has gotten very small and that you have gotten very small. This is not really a problem as the awareness itself is not harmed, and it can always expand again. This awareness is not only temporarily shaped by experience, but can become imprinted onto an experience or an object in awareness. You may have heard of how baby ducks become imprinted in the first few hours of their lives: They will follow whatever or whomever they are first aware of, usually the mother duck. However, they can also be imprinted on anything, including a scientist who is studying them, in which case, they will follow the scientist around. There is nothing wrong with this; it helps baby ducks survive in the wild to follow their mother wherever she goes. It is an inherent capacity of all awareness to become imprinted, or conditioned, in this way. Every time an experience leaves a lasting impression in your awareness, you have been imprinted or conditioned by that experience.However for humans, this imprinting is more complicated than for ducks. You can be imprinted onto many different things. One of the things you are most imprinted on is your body. You are so strongly imprinted onto your body that most of the time, your awareness follows your body wherever it goes—just like a baby duck follows its mother. Check it out: Get up and walk into another room. Does your awareness stay in the room you just left or follow your body into the other room? We are all baby ducks when it comes to our bodies. Another thing you are profoundly imprinted on is your own mind or thoughts (from here on when thoughts are mentioned, it will refer to the entire range of internal experience: thoughts, beliefs, feelings, desires, hopes, fantasies, etc.). So when a thought, a fear, or a longing arises, your awareness flows to that. Check it out: When you stop thinking one thought and begin thinking another, does your awareness stay on the original thought? Or does it follow your thoughts wherever they go? Isn’t it kind of like a baby duck following its momma across the pond, out onto the meadow and into a creek? You have been imprinted onto your physical body and your mind. This isn’t bad. Just as with baby ducks, it has some benefits for your survival, although not always: Just as a baby duck will follow its mother onto a busy freeway, your awareness will follow your thoughts into all kinds of silly and sometimes dangerous places. Since you are almost always aware of your body and your mind (because awareness follows your body and mind around), you come to the mistaken conclusion that you are your body and your mind. You fail to recognize that what you are is the empty, spacious awareness that the body and mind appear in. Baby Ducks:You assume, since they are almost always here, I am the body and the mind. This is a simple and completely understandable mistake. Unfortunately, it is also a colossal mistake and the source of all your suffering. It’s as if you had a fly on your nose that stuck around so long that you decided you were the fly. Imagine how confused you would feel and act if you believed you were a fly. You would spend all day eating rotten food and trying to mate with other flies! Well you are making as big a mistake when you conclude that you are the body and the mind. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the body or the mind; it’s just that they are not really who you are. Baby Ducks:All the problems you experience are only problems for the body or the mind. The spacious awareness has no problems. How can space have a problem? It can’t be harmed or diminished in any way. You can set off a bomb in space, and when the dust settles, the space will be completely unharmed. This mistaken identity as the body and mind creates all of your suffering. If the body or mind were having an experience that you considered a problem, but you realized that you were not the body or the mind, would you suffer from those problems? Right now, are you suffering dramatically over the problems of someone you
have never met? Probably not, since they aren’t your problems. So what if none of your problems are really your problems? What if the spacious awareness that you really are can’t have problems? Exercise: Consider for a moment something you are experiencing that seems like a problem. Without changing your experience or even your knowledge and understanding of the problem in any way, check if the space in which the thoughts or circumstances of the problem are happening has any difficulty with those thoughts and circumstances. Does the space in which the difficulty is appearing have a problem? Can space itself ever have a problem? If for just a moment, you identify with the space that both you and the problem are in, do you have a problem? Can you as the space ever have a problem? Recognizing yourself as aware space is a radical shift in your usual identity or sense of yourself. It may be a while before you can really believe or, more importantly, consistently experience your identity as aware space. We are profoundly conditioned or imprinted onto our usual identification with the body and mind. You may discover you have a deep and abiding conviction that you really are the body and your inner life of thoughts and feelings. We don’t give up our deepest convictions easily.
As you read this, you might want to hold open the possibility that you are mistaken.Baby Ducks: Try out the possibility that you really are the space, and see for yourself if this fits more with the evidence of your experience. If you can temporarily set aside the conviction that who you are is your physical body and the flow of mental activity, you will be better able to sense for yourself the truth being pointed to here.Baby Ducks: What It Is Like to Look out from the Head As you were growing up and everyone was teaching and conditioning you to follow the experience of your body and mind, your identity moved into the body and head. Since your eyes, ears, nose, taste buds, and brain are all located in your head, the awareness and the identity also became localized there. Since the head is where your awareness became located, that is where you now look, feel, and sense from. As a result of awareness flowing through your head, it becomes shaped by your thoughts. This wouldn’t matter if you only had a thought occasionally, but most of us have very busy minds. As a result, awareness is profoundly shaped and limited by its tendency to flow through the head. Every little thought that arises takes your awareness for a ride through inner landscapes of doubt, worry, hope, and conjecture. Most of the time these inner landscapes have only a slight correspondence with what is really happening, and often they have absolutely nothing to do with reality. Have you ever thought someone was mad at you, only to find out he or she just had a stomach ache? So why do we pay so much attention to our thoughts? Because every now and then, they are right. Every now and then, a thought does correspond to something out there. As any psychology student knows, an intermittent reward, or success, is more powerfully reinforcing than a constant one. So you end up with your awareness flowing through your head and through your thoughts. What is awareness like when it flows through thoughts? What effect do your thoughts have on awareness itself? Thought itself is a very small phenomenon. All of your thoughts fit between your ears, so how big can they be? So when awareness flows through thoughts, it becomes very small. Consequently, your sense of self becomes small because fundamentally you are the awareness. So when awareness contracts onto a thought, it takes on the size and shape of that experience. However, when awareness gets focused onto something it also magnifies it. Try it out: Pick up an object and focus all your attention on it. Does it appear smaller or bigger when you focus on it? It tends to look bigger. When you habitually focus on your thoughts, the content or meaning of them is magnified, even as your awareness and the sense of self is contracted. Baby Ducks:When your awareness is flowing so constantly to your thoughts and through the head, your awareness becomes chronically narrowed and limited. This is not bad and even has some value at times for survival, but it is also limiting and narrow.Baby Ducks: When your awareness is narrow and limited, you miss a lot of what is happening. Much of reality is simply not noticed because when awareness is contracted, unawareness is expanded. Exercise: For a moment, put your hands around your eyes like a set of blinders. Does your awareness of the room you are in get bigger or smaller? The room doesn’t get smaller, but your awareness of it shrinks—you are seeing less of the room. Now notice: Does the part of the room that you aren’t seeing get bigger or smaller? Of course what you aren’t seeing gets bigger if you are seeing less. The net effect of being imprinted onto your body and especially onto your head and your thoughts is that you tend to look out from your head: You live in your head and look out from it. You see, smell, hear, feel, sense, and ponder life with your head. That means that what you are seeing, smelling, hearing, sensing, and pondering is limited by and filtered through your thoughts. Your thoughts mediate between you and reality and interfere with seeing it more fully and purely. They color it, change it, and include only part of it. In a sense, you are living in a dream, all because you are looking out of your head and your thoughts.
This is so common that you don’t even notice that this shaping of awareness is occurring. You get used to it. Just as you assume that the body and mind must be what you are because they are always present, you also assume the world you see through your mind is the real world. You assume that things really are the way your mind perceives them. While it may be difficult to distinguish the effects of this imprinting, you may be able to sense how typically narrow or tight or contracted your perspective is.Baby Ducks: Because of the magnifying effect of this narrow perspective, the content of your thoughts can seem quite huge and even overwhelming. This is how you make a mountain out of a molehill. For a moment, see if you can sense directly the shape of the awareness in this moment—not the content of your thoughts—but the flow of awareness itself. Exercise: Awareness is flowing in this moment. Just check, are you aware of anything at all? Really anything at all will do for this exercise, including a thought arising in your mind or simply the words appearing on this page. So if you are aware of something right now, where is this awareness flowing from? Can you sense where the awareness is coming from? Is it coming from your big toe, the ceiling, or does it seem to be coming from your head? What is the awareness itself like in this moment? Is it expanded, open, and flowing freely, or is it more focused and narrow?Baby Ducks: There is no right answer, and awareness is always subtly changing, becoming narrower or more open. What is awareness like right now, not the content of your experience, but the experiencing itself? It may be the usual awareness that is shaped by flowing through your head, but just notice what that is like.Baby Ducks: Awareness that is shaped by flowing through the head and by thoughts is typically tight and constricted. Just as a muscle requires effort to stay contracted, this tightness of awareness has an effortful quality. It is often not very satisfying, like trying to drink through a very narrow straw. You can never quite get enough of what is happening, so naturally you try harder: You think harder and try to understand what is happening, which only narrows the view even more. Awareness that flows through your mind creates an underlying sense of there not being enough. Even if you are having a wonderful experience, there is a sense of not being able to absorb it all, so you may want to hang on to it or try to capture it some way (e.g., in a snapshot or home video) so that later you can get more of the experience.Baby Ducks: This is all the result of looking through your head. It is so habitual that it seems normal to feel so dissatisfied and incomplete. But what if there is another way of looking that shapes the world in a completely different way—so differently that the world doesn’t even appear to be the same world? What would it be like to look from your Heart?