(c) 2010 Matt Sieradski
Matt Sieradski, a member of the Center’s practitioners group, had an awakening just prior to the Center’s Fall retreat in October 2009. This is an edited transcript of Matt’s account of his spiritual path and experience of awakening. It took place at the practitioners meeting on the evening of April 28, 2010, in Eugene, Oregon.
Joel: Good evening everybody. We’re here to introduce Matt tonight. He is going to tell us about his awakening and then you are going to have a chance to ask him some questions, but I want to say a few words to start us off.
First of all, Matt came to me on retreat last fall, October 2009, and told me about an awakening he had just a couple days before. I thought that was very interesting and from his description I was convinced that he had at least a genuine Gnostic flash. And it was very good that he’d come on this retreat because it was a retreat about transforming afflicted emotions. In the traditional Tibetan view of things this teaching is given only after someone has had what they call an introduction to the nature of Mind or a Gnostic flash. So it was a perfect retreat for him to come on. Then we talked a little bit later and, as my custom has developed, I advised him to wait about six months before he spoke to anybody or said anything, just to see what would happen. Sometimes a Gnostic flash doesn’t last very long. Sometimes it can turn into a Gnostic episode, lasting quite a while. As I’ve learned over the years it can actually last more than six months. So that’s not a guarantee but six months seems to be a generally good time to wait. So we set the date to check in officially again at Easter of this year, 2010. And we checked in a couple times before then. Matt told me what was going on and everything seemed to be going very nicely, and at Easter we had our final meeting about this and I was convinced that this was more than just a Gnostic flash and I thought it would be time to make a public announcement and to confirm his awakening.
Now, I want to say a few words about this. The only reason I confirm anybody’s awakening is if they are willing to be a teacher at the Center, teaching basically the Center practices. I would hope that all the teachers at the Center will bring their own wisdom, their own particular twist to the teachings, and make them their own and not just teach them by rote, but fundamentally we teach inquiry, meditation, following the precepts, and devotion. There are other teachers who don’t teach those things and there are other traditions that don’t teach those things. Particularly today, there are people who don’t see the value in meditation or following precepts and all that. And I suppose if you are a very advanced practitioner they’re not necessary. I always considered myself a middling practitioner. In the Tibetan tradition they talk about beginning, middling, and advanced. In the beginning I was a beginner but I felt I had advanced to become a middling seeker. (laughter). So, our Center here is really for people in that range; people who need these practices, as I needed them very much. So if you are willing to teach that and to teach within the Center format then it’s important that someone at the Center who has awakened confirm your awakening. And it’s for your (the students’) benefit. For those of you who come to the Center as seekers it’s at least one check on saying “well is this guy a charlatan, has he just made this up,” and so forth. It’s a little bit of the value of a tradition. One of the great values of a tradition is that it’s hard to be a real wacko within it because the tradition tends to correct you or throw you out. So we don’t really have much of a tradition here but, from what tradition we have developed, this is I think a very important part of it.
This does not mean that somebody who’s come to the Center and had an awakening didn’t have a genuine awakening just because I didn’t confirm it. I make it a policy not to publicly comment on anybody’s awakening unless they are going to be a teacher at the Center. So whether people have had awakenings or not, that’s their business. Somebody who’s had a genuine awakening does not need my confirmation. They don’t need anybody’s confirmation. So just because I’m silent on someone does not mean it’s an automatic disconfirmation. As far as we’re concerned here I only speak about someone who is willing to be a teacher here. Now, I say willing to be a teacher because our tradition also says the way you become a teacher here is that you have to be asked for teachings. You have to ask. I can ask him if he’s willing to be a teacher but it’s up to you to ask him if you want teachings from him.
So tonight is your first opportunity. He’s going to talk for maybe a half hour, don’t go over 45 minutes.
Matt: I don’t know, once I get started… (laughter)
Joel: Then you’ll have a chance to ask him questions. If you don’t want him to be a teacher here do not ask him any questions, and that’ll be the end of it. (laughter)
Matt: And then we can all go.
Joel: That’s right. So without further ado I turn this over to Matt.
Matt: So, I’m supposed to tell my story.
Joel: You’re supposed to tell your story.
Jack: We want a story. (laughter)
Joel: That’s right, and it better be a good one.
Matt: I should probably start with my upbringing. I was not raised religious. My parents, or my dad, wanted to raise his sons “dogma-free.” So I was raised with just the dogma of our materialist culture and none of the overt Catholic guilt — just the subversive stuff that gets through. I was pretty much a confirmed atheist by the time I was 15 or 16. I hadn’t really had any major exposure to any of the world’s religious traditions but that “spirit stuff” sounded like hogwash to me. It didn’t make any sense. Then I think probably the first religious oriented book I read was a sophomore high school text, one of the Hermann Hesse books, probably Siddhartha or something like that. And, wow, this guy seemed so at ease by the end of the novel, something in there just clicked with me because I was not really at ease in any way at that time in my life. In fact I would think that to a large extent I had really become overly intellectual as sort of a coping mechanism or something. My dad was a professor at the University and my mom could have been a professor; she did everything but the dissertation in an English PhD program. So I think I was a prisoner of my own mind and one of the ways I found an outlet for that was through the study of martial arts. At the age of 14 I started studying Asian martial arts. This confluence of being interested in Asian disciplines through the martial arts and getting interested in spirituality beginning with the Hermann Hesse stuff was the beginning of my investigation of spiritual teachings.
I was kind of going over in my head how much to talk about ages 19 through 21.
Joel: Tell us the good stuff. (laughter)
Matt: Let’s just say it was a pretty experimental phase so I had a lot of powerful spiritual experiences during that time. I was no longer an atheist whatsoever. I was a confirmed seeker. I fully knew there was something greater. I had many very powerful visionary types of experiences, some of which were like a major dream, you know, like one of the big dreams in your life where you see an analogy or the archetype of your life, some sort of major flavor of it. But the thing about these types of experiences is that they’re transitory, so I would have these peak experiences and then I would be back just a few days later in the pits of horrendous suffering.
Joel: Did you have a little help to have these experiences?
Matt: Well, that’s why I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be completely honest or just allude…
Joel: You can be honest! (laughter)
Matt: Yeah, there was chemical assistance. One thing about me is “whatever works.” Like I said, I was not raised with a theology so, pick what works for you. Ultimately I found that that type of practice, although I think it’s valid in shamanic cultures – the entheogen experience – I think it’s a valid, at least, initiatory experience. It’s a way of parting the veil to see beyond the story that you’ve been growing up with that seems to define your reality. It kind of shocks you out of that, and that can be very valuable. But it’s not a very sophisticated way to train the mind, to train attention.
I got back into the study of martial arts and studied with some teachers from a Chinese tradition but it was a rather aggressive tradition - very masculine, I guess you could say. In Chinese theory you say “very yang.” At the same time I was studying Buddhism, counseling, and psychology. I had gone through a period of studying Western mysticism a little bit – mainly the stuff through the occult circles, Crowley and those guys. I read some of that stuff but it didn’t really capture me. I really was attracted more to the Buddhist types of things that I was able to get my hands on. I got back into the study of martial arts and was really driven to get good. I wanted to be a teacher in this system. So I applied myself. That type of training works on the body and through the discipline involved it trains the mind. But I still hadn’t really developed a consistent meditation practice until I was introduced to some Taoist practices. Along with my brother, who was living with my wife and me at the time, we discovered a teacher in Seattle who was a Zen master from the Korean Rinzai tradition and also a Taoist practitioner. He taught a type of Taoist yoga that was really attractive to me at the time. It was similar to Indian hatha yoga in that you were to hold specific positions but it was very specific on the breath work. There was a lot of breath control in this practice and through the practice I was able to start to let go of deeper levels of physical tension and, following that, mental or emotional tension. I did that consistently for one year before I met my current Taiji/Qigong teacher and started studying Chinese medicine at the same time. Harrison Moretz, who is still a teacher of mine, has dedicated his life to studying and teaching Taoist style practices and martial arts. I took up the study of that system, which is this system here (points to the Hunyuan Taiji calligraphy on his shirt), and it was very useful to me. I’ve been doing that for about nine years and the methods are working with the body and the breath as the lever or the way to influence the mental state. Intention is primary; it’s just that we use the body, or movement to guide the intention.
I studied with him for four years (before meeting Joel) — but let me backtrack a bit. When I was 19, in the height of my more experimental stage, I’d come across a book that had a really profound influence on me: Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s first book, Pathways Through to Space. I don’t know, for some reason it really clicked with me, maybe because my dad was a mathematician and Wolff was a mathematician and he kind of had that real precise analytical mind. He was very clear but at the same time he had this insight and these experiences that were, as he says, trans-rational. They were very direct, very powerful. In any case, it was the first time I’d come across a Westerner who seemed to have the highest wisdom and yet was still very much a Westerner. Something about that was important to me. I never was interested in wearing Eastern robes or donning the cultural attire of Tibetan Buddhism, for instance — something which some people find helpful, but it just seemed to be extra to me.
So after about five years of practicing these Taoist practices and through them acquiring skill in meditation I had the feeling that there’s got to be something more. This isn’t quite “it.” It’s a very gradual path. There’s cultivation, lots of things that happen along the way that tell you you’re on the right track, but at the same time it’s still in time: There’s somebody there doing something in time. I’d had insight experiences. I’d had flashes, glimpses. I could understand the Madhyamika philosophy. So, something got me interested in Dzogchen and around the same time I remembered Franklin Merrell-Wolff and went back and read his first book. I read his second book. I thought to myself, “there’s got to be somebody — this guy lived forever — there’s got to be somebody on the West Coast who was a student of this guy. There’s got to be somebody!” It took me a little while but through Tom McFarlane’s website I tracked down Joel. Lo and behold, here he was living in my home town! (laughter) and it was sort of a no-brainer. I think I found him and that night I came upstairs and said “Hiromi, we really need to move back to Eugene.” So, I had to come up with a lot of practical reasons to support that and there were a lot of good practical reasons. It was easy. But the real reason was because of Joel.
Jack: Where were you living?
Matt:Seattle. What happened was I had found the website, read through it a little bit, saw Joel’s picture and said “He knows. He knows what I want to know.” (laughter). Then I came down and visited with Joel and told him about my plans to move down and study here with him. That was the beginning of my affiliation with the Center and that was when things got interesting.
Joel: What year was that?
Matt: 2005 was when we moved down here. I’ll talk about my experiences at the Center, but I know a lot of people who in their 20’s got interested in spirituality but then practical life takes over. I never really lost the bug. I don’t know why, I could never let it go. Even the career that I chose, Chinese medicine, is sort of applied holistic philosophy. It’s still interesting to me. It can hold my attention long enough, and as well, I wanted to have a family — we wanted to have kids — and I needed something practical that was helpful so that I could continue my seeking.
Jack: How old are you?
Pat: When Hiromi came on the scene how did that alter your thinking; because that’s a big influence.
Matt: That’s a good question.
Pat: Because that’s a big influence.
Matt: Absolutely. As I think everybody knows, my wife, Hiromi is from Japan. We met in college, 1998, and we got together in 1999. We’re coming up on our ten year wedding anniversary in June. She helped stabilize me. Without her I would have gone nuts or something. She helped give me a foundation in the world and something to work for practically. She’s always helped me to see when I was full of it. (laughter) She’s a bloodhound. That’s actually a nickname her uncle gave her. Not only is her sense of smell really good (she was born in the year of the metal dog and metal is associated with the lungs, which is associated with the sense of smell, so in Chinese theorythat’s why she’s got a very keen sense of smell). The drawback to that is that she always has an opinion. (laughter) She helped me make really important decisions and one of the most important was to leave the martial arts group that I was studying with that was very aggressive. It became clear that it was no longer the right thing for me to be doing for a variety of reasons. Her influence was the deciding factor in that. It wasn’t quite a cult but it had some of that kind of control going on. So, lots of ways, obviously. Our whole life is like our spiritual practice. It’s not just when you’re sitting, it’s the whole thing. Joel said that his teachings are middling but I personally think that the curriculum at the Center is highly advanced. That may be just my current perspective. But Dzogchen teachings, which are working directly with awareness regardless of the situation, used to be extremely secret. We are lucky enough to have them spelled out for us very clearly.
The first retreat I went on with the Center was while I was in the Foundations Studies group — that spring retreat that a lot of you have just been on. My experience was one of the physical quality of extreme fear. In other words, my heart was literally pounding for at least two days, maybe three. It was very intense and there was a heightened state of awareness. I went to Joel and he said two things. The first thing was a story from the founder of the Gelugpa tradition, Tsongkhapa, about the student in the back row who gasps with fear — has everybody heard this one?
Joel: Tell it.
Matt: Do you want me to tell it?
Joel: I shouldn’t ask you. Does anyone want to hear the story? (audience replies in the affirmative). Ah, too late now! You’re done for! You’re cooked! (laughter)
Matt: It’s a teaching story. Tsongkhapa was the founder of the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the four main traditions. He lived around the 14th century. I haven’t read this; I’ve just heard Joel say it about ten times.
Joel: I make up the details.
Matt: I’m sure you have. So, Tsongkhapa is lecturing to a thousand monks — and they have been raised in this tradition, so they’ve heard these teachings and are familiar with the concept of emptiness. He’s lecturing on emptiness and one of the monks near the back gasps with fear. Tsongkhapa says “Ah, now you’re getting it.” The idea is that fear is a good sign on the spiritual path. It’s a sign that you’re getting closer. He told me that story, and then he said that fear is, in the Tibetan tradition, the wisdom energy of clarity. That was actually really helpful because if you don’t react to fear, if you don’t grasp it or push it away it’s just a heightened energy in the body-mind. It makes the presence of awareness much sharper. So that was essentially the practice on that first retreat.
In the next few years I worked with attempting to integrate the Choiceless Awareness style of contemplation into my daily practice, my daily life. It should be noted that my job is as an acupuncturist so I’m not just trying to help people; I’m trying to understand how to help them, and trying to really be with people, really meet with people. So the combination of this style of contemplation practice and the daily work of having small children, Hiromi, and the patients, was really powerful. But it got to the point where it became clear that there wasn’t anything that I could do in order to wake up. There’s nothing you can do. But it has to be more important than anything else. There has to be nothing else, or you have to see that there’s nothing else. It has to be clear. It’s not, “oh I am going to make this more important than anything else.” It’s just that everything else becomes empty. I guess that this is that aridity that they talk about.
So Hiromi and the kids went away to Japan for three weeks and I got to go on this retreat and a couple days before I was in my office and I had gone up to Seattle, done some private lessons with my Taiji teacher and he had given me some instructions that were actually very helpful for cultivating attention. The type of practice we do often involves the body and so the nice thing about that and how I think it’s compatible with these Choiceless Awareness style contemplation practices is that you’re not trying to get to a state of nirvikalpa Samadhi, some sort of state where there are no objects, you work with the objects as they are in your ordinary state. He gave me some tips that were really helpful in working with attention. And because my life was simpler since the family was gone I was able to keep a rather high degree of mindfulness, for me at that time, after that trip. On the way down I stopped at Powell’s bookstore, went to the spirituality section and found a Dzogchen book that I hadn’t read before: Practices of the Day and the Night by Namkai Norbhu. It was about 11:45 AM. My last morning patient was reclined in the treatment room, resting with the needles, so I had a few minutes before I had to send her on her way. I looked at the book and opened it to some section and it essentially talked about nondual presence. I don’t remember how the exact passage went but it was just a direct pointing instruction. Then I looked up and something fell away; it was very simple. I can’t describe what happened other than that at that point the resistance just fell away. There were some physical, energetic kinds of things associated with it but nothing spectacular. Essentially, the mind just opened.
I had stuff to do. Actually I was quite busy trying to get ready for the retreat, but all of a sudden there was no problem.
Steve: Was this the retreat you just went on last fall?
Matt: Yeah. So, I went on the retreat. It was a deepening into that. It was perfect timing, like Joel said, and there was a deepening into Presence of Awareness. Accompanying that there was bliss, but unconditioned bliss, and there were some things that happened on the retreat too, as I went through some layers of conditioning, because after the initial insight there is still stuff — still conditioned responses to things. But as they’re seen they’re seen, and they either go away or they come back, but it doesn’t matter, and in that retreat setting you can really get into a very deep kind of state.
I also want to mention that one of the things that I came to feel about my experience of awakening (or greater insight into “whatever this is”) is that there is what they call in the literature a knot in the heart in the central channel, and I got to the point where I could feel that knot. I could feel that resistance and this experience was literally the untangling of that. It’s that knot, or resistance, that gives rise to our assumption of separation, our delusion of separation. This is talking about psychic channels — not something our culture understands. I had an actual experience of that: sort of like a feeling in the body or a feeling in the center of ones experience. I think probably my sensitivity to that was brought on by the fact that I had done a lot of energetic practices. So people might have the same experiences I had but just experience it differently because their attention wasn’t there or they hadn’t been trained that way or it could just be a part of the dream but it seems to be something that is in the literature.
Hiromi: Since then have you figured out the acupuncture point to get that knot out?
Matt: Right though the heart. (laughter)
Audience Member: What was that?
Matt: The acupuncture point to unravel the heart knot. (laughter)
Another Audience Member: We’re going to be lining up. (laughter)
Matt: Yes, but unfortunately it kills the patient. (laughter)
Third Audience Member: Literally?
Matt: That’s a risk you have to take. (laughter)
So now awareness is not really restricted that way anymore. It doesn’t mean that emotions don’t come up but they’re just not held onto. They just come and they go.
So there was an experience when I was on the retreat where it really kind of came down. I was walking through the woods at Cloud Mountain and there was a point where the separation, the experience of any difference, was completely gone, completely obliterated. The sense was that I could just — I didn’t used to understand the stories of some types of spiritual practitioners who would just go away. But I totally understood it now. It’s just such a natural thing to do, to completely merge back. But then there’s that whole Bodhisattva vow thing: that you should probably hang around. There’s work to do. That’s the main gist of it.
Joel: Okay, so. We do have questions here. You’re sunk. You’re finished.
Tom Rundle: Matt, since you mentioned the Bodhisattva vow, I wondered now that you’re sort of part of all of us and everything or the sort of organic wholeness –
Matt: What do you mean, “now that”? (laughter) Now that I’ve realized that there’s no separation?
Tom: What I wanted to ask was “What is your sense of will or volition or intention, actually with regard to the Bodhisattva vow?”
Matt: These are going to be tricky questions, aren’t they?. I think that it is extremely important to try as hard as you can to do the most good that you can. And I think that that aligns you with the will that isn’t yours.
Pat: When you said that there’s nothing you can do — on this last retreat we were talking about attention, commitment, detachment, and surrender — was knowing that kind of a surrender? You said that before everything fell away, there was nothing that you could do. Was that kind of a surrender?
Matt: I think that’s what Joel means when he talks about surrender. More specifically, he speaks of kenosis, which is the state of no self prior to realization. They also talk about the long dark night of the soul. It’s a type of surrender. You get surrendered. You used to be a nurse, right? Did you ever work a “double”, or a few of them, or like three weeks where you worked as hard as you could and then at the end of it you came home and you could barely remember what to do, you were so exhausted? Have you ever had a day like that? It’s sort of like that except that it’s deeper, it’s not just physical.
Pat: That’s a good example.
Matt: Does that make sense? You’re just spent. But you know that giving up is just another game. You’re stuck. It’s like being out on a limb.
Steve: You know, I noticed you seemed a little different on the last retreat. Maybe it was just because we sat there doing the dishes together every evening after dinner and you seemed a little more sparkly than I had thought. Anyway, nonduality, awareness and realization of that — is that present? Did you understand it or did you really experience that before your clarifying moment that you had right before the retreat?
Matt: What do you mean by nonduality?
Steve: That there was no separate “me”.
Matt: Oh, no, that doesn’t really make sense to the ego. So, as long as you are identifying with thoughts then that’s not going to, in fact it’s going to probably make resistance come up.
Steve: Yeah, where were you in that progress before that…
Matt: Annoyed that I was resisting it.
Steve: That’s where you were? So you saw that. You saw your resistance…
Matt: Sure. Yes, I think you have to see your resistance. That’s part of the attention becoming more subtle. You start to see when you’re resisting and go “God, why am I still resisting!” Right, Todd?
Steve: And then, just magically…
Matt: Everything’s magical.
Abdullah: You mentioned that in the end there was this knot in your heart. I wonder if you’re familiar with the Ken Wilber book No Boundary?
Matt: Yeah, I read it and then I was supposed to read it again in Fred’s class recently. (laughter)
Abdullah: You said that after that there was no separation. At the end (of his book), Ken Wilber speaks of a tension and he terms it the “I”, the last tension. I wonder if it’s the same thing.
Matt: Well, I think that’s what he means. There are as many ways of talking about it as you want there to be, or as you can come up with. But yeah, my understanding is that the last boundary is the subject-object distinction, and that’s what’s causing all the problems — well, that’s what is causing the suffering — there are still problems; actually my life has been busier than ever in the past couple months, but I don’t mind it. It’s okay. It’s interesting. A lot of us find our problems interesting most of the time. It’s just that part of the time we let them “get to us”, and it’s because we take them to be real.
Mora: I may have missed this and you may have said something about it so you might have to remind me but it seems like there are a lot of accounts of awakening with the two stages and two separate realizations – no “I” and then no “other”. Did I miss that or…
Matt: They are two sides of the same coin. So, I think it’s possible to have a glimpse into one part of it but if you don’t see both then it’s not actually full realization. That would be my intellectual answer because it wasn’t really a part of my experience. But I’ll try to answer you on that level if that’s okay. I think that it comes out of the types of meditation practices that a lot of traditions used which were trying to cultivate a state of consciousness with no subject or object, which in the Sanskrit is nirvikalpa Samadhi and in that type of practice it’s possible to maybe have a very strong insight into the fact that you don’t exist because you could go into a state where you don’t exist but then you come back and there are all these people and the insight isn’t full because there is still this appearance of the world that you come back to. And the types of practices that we do are more like Zen or Dzogchen where we’re trying to look right through it in ordinary experience or an ordinary state. My feeling is that it would be less likely in this type of practice to have that one-sided realization. But I could be wrong. That’s an intellectual answer though.
Mora: So for you that was a simultaneous…
Matt: Yes, absolutely. Simultaneous.
Kristy: So that makes me wonder and this might seem silly, but how did you go back to work? You had somebody with needles in her…
Matt: Oh! Because it’s so ordinary, that’s why. What happened was, the suffering fell away. And then I went on retreat and the state deepened, but realization isn’t dependent on a state. It’s just non-grasping. It’s actually that you are no longer capable of grasping.
Sharry: So to finish that, you had no trouble going back to the patient and taking the needles out?
Matt: No! It was quite a lot of fun. I was all of a sudden in such a great mood.
Joel: Fortunately, for the patient! (laughter)
Matt: Yeah, so it’s not about state. I’ve been in states where you wouldn’t want me near a patient — like being way high or something. It wasn’t like that. That’s not what realization is.
Sophie: Matt, you recently had a close encounter with death when you were served nuts during your vacation and you had a severe allergic reaction. The way I understood it from the stories, you were close to dying.
Matt: We kind of had that fear. It could have been that I would have just passed out and they would have put me on IV fluids or something.
Sophie: That was before your awakening, right?
Matt: No this was after. It was very interesting. Hiromi was having a really hard time.
Sophie: I associate a lot of fear and tension with this but what was your experience?
Sharry: Could you back it up and tell the details?
Matt: It was my birthday. My parents watched the kids and we got to go to Breitenbush for one night. They don’t label the ingredients in their food, or at least they weren’t that weekend. I’m allergic to nuts. I should have been more careful—had some tofu breakfast sausage that happened to be half tofu and half hazelnut paste. Anyway, I got really sick with whole body hives, then I went into shock. She was driving us home and I started to kind of pass out in the car. I’d already completely thrown up. I was in shock. We had wool blankets in my dad’s V8 Dodge Dakota pickup truck, with the heat cranked on high, and I was still shivering and I started to nod off, and I was trying to stay conscious. Because I didn’t think it was probably a good thing to — not a good way to go. Not a useful way. So then I threw up and I was better.
Sophie: So what was your experience, did you not experience suffering? Did you not experience resistance to that…
Matt: I just let it happen.
Sophie: Were you scared of dying?
Matt: No. I wasn’t scared of dying. What kept coming into my mind was “ah, my daughter, she needs a dad around so I’ve got to try to stay around here, whatever it is”. That was the main thing. But it was actually interesting to watch. I mean, you don’t know what’s going to happen, so it was actually interesting to see what would happen when the body really started shutting down.
Sophie: What would you see?
Matt: Well, you just start going into the light. The same place you go when you go to sleep, except that I was able to be more conscious. Sort of an unusual experience.
Hiromi: If I could add to that, I’ve been with him long enough to be able to tell when he’s in that reaction phase where all he wants is to be left alone, and he’s the world’s worst person to be with — grouchy, crabby, all those adjectives you can put in: you just don’t want to be near him although he needs help. But this was the worst reaction I’ve ever seen him have and he was actually cheerful. It was pretty hard to watch him scratching and going like an animal but he wasn’t obnoxious. (laughter).
Matt: She recommends it to all you husbands. Joel’s retreats are good for your marriage.
Mel: My question is to you (Hiromi). What has been your experience over the last six months living with this guy?
Hiromi: It’s weird. It’s like standing on a bottomless — I feel like I’m not on solid ground in a way because it’s different. The normal grasping or fighting back doesn’t really happen. So it’s kind of different. It’s been really helpful, especially with the kids, and less complaints. He actually does the dishes, happily, without any complaints. That was the best part of this whole thing!
Joel: Get your husbands enlightened! Fixes all that.
Hiromi: But the nut reaction experience was very unique because normally it’s very difficult to be with him because he’s suffering, clearly, and in pain and yet there’s nothing you can do, and here he was so uncomfortable but not miserable.
Matt: The body’s just freaking out.
Hiromi: His body was freaking out but his spirit was sort of in bliss, and I could sort of see that, but it was very difficult to understand. I was grateful because we were walking in the woods and he was sort of cheerful. I was the one kind of stuck in the past experiences, so that confirmed that there is some difference here.
Matt: Because I did follow Joel’s advice and I didn’t talk about my experience, but I did tell Hiromi, and I talked to Todd and Fred.
Bill H: You answered this for Pat, and you gave a pretty good answer, and it’s about surrender. I was just wondering if you would characterize the moment of awakening that you had as surrender without trying to surrender, or you were just surrendered.
Matt: Yeah, you start trying to label these things but I think that Joel’s teachings are remarkably sophisticated, and that, for our culture, he explains things more clearly than most. So, keep going back to the book and the practices. I think that they are really good ones. So in the context of his language it was surrender, more specifically it had to do with the last two stages of the path – kenosis and gnosis – which has to do with surrender.
Questioner: Did you have any premonition that you were getting closer?
Matt: No, but I should say that I did have some earlier in my life. I had some experiences — visions — that made me think that this was gonna happen.
Same Questioner: So you really didn’t know, you were as surprised as we are.
Matt: How surprised are you? (laughter)
Megan: Did you think it was possible for you? That seems to be a stumbling block for me, that I don’t believe in my heart that I have the capacity.
Matt: I think that’s personality.
Mark H: What was the question?
Matt: She asked if (I believed it) was possible for me. She thinks it’s a problem for her, that she doesn’t believe that it’s possible for her. I think confidence is important, but that overconfidence is a barrier and a lot of that has to do with personality, and how we were raised. I was raised to believe that I could do whatever I wanted to do. And being the first son, and also my personality, just being really driven and focused to do whatever I want and doing well at that, so that probably is one reason why I’ve done things earlier in my life than some people, is that personality thing. But I think that it’s more important to investigate what is it inside of that feeling in your heart that it’s not possible for you. Look at what is inside that feeling. If that’s something that keeps arising for you, look at it. Don’t just start telling stories about it but actually look at that feeling. Use it as the stepping stone for self-examination. It doesn’t really matter what your stories are. All that matters is that you’re looking at them.
Megan: (To Joel) He’s already a good teacher (laughter).
Mark H: What I expected from the retreat was that the more active mind, over the course of the retreat, would slowly and gradually and progressively get deeper and deeper and more concentrated, etc., but that wasn’t my experience. My experience was that I would get deep and then I would pop out of it. It was more up and down. I was wondering about your experience. I was wondering if my experience will be over the course of this that that experience of the retreat is sort of a microcosm of the whole path, like you don’t just keep going down gradually until you arrive. It’s like this up and down ride. It might be sloping down but it’s always up and down and I was wondering if your experience was anything like that. Do you know what I’m saying?
Matt: Yeah, I’m trying to think how to be useful. I’ve had that experience. When I was talking about when I was younger and I would have blissful experiences, and I’m talking about crazy, out there, and then crashing depression, right? I think that it’s probably true that it’s common for people to have swings like that but it doesn’t matter. To answer your question, it doesn’t matter. But which retreat of mine are you interested in, this last one?
Mark H: I didn’t want to ask about your retreat. I was thinking that this experience that I had on the retreat was sort of like a microcosm of the larger path. Might I expect this kind of trajectory to last for years?
Matt: And when will you get enlightened!? I have no idea. (laughter).
Joel: Good answer.
Sophie: Your image of the resistance just untangling and dissolving is powerful and I appreciated that. Resistance for me can be a helpful tool in my life. If I’m having resistance to something it can be a red flag that that situation or circumstance that I’m in, whether it’s an intimate relationship or a job that’s just not healthy or even something as simple as your physical dwelling, the resistance can key you into (seeing) that maybe that circumstance isn’t good for you and it’s time to move on. It’s time to break up, it’s time to buy a bigger house, quit the job and find something else. I know our suffering is always self-generated, but without resistance what do you use as your guide, as your barometer, to know that it’s time to get out of this situation, as opposed to staying in it and just watching the suffering and watching the emotions and resistance.
Matt: As soon as there is a decision to make, make the right decision. Then you don’t have to go (grimaces) “I think I should make a decision. I’m suffering.” As soon as there is a decision to make, make the right decision. And if it was the wrong decision, make the right decision the next time.
Sophie: Because that’s what responsibility comes down to, according to Joel’s book — that you have a choice.
Matt: It doesn’t become resistance until you’re grasping there, so we want our attention to sink a little deeper so that we’re a little more sensitive to the resistance, and I’m not saying that the practice is going to eliminate your resistance but…
Joel: I’m going to interject. It’s a semantic question, and we don’t have language sensitive enough to pick up the difference, but resistance—when we normally talk about it in a spiritual context as the cause of suffering—is resisting what is, and you could put it as resisting what is almost inevitable. In a certain sense you don’t have a choice about it. So that resistance is always going to cause suffering and that resistance is always futile.
There’s another situation where it’s not so much resistance, it’s actually wisdom. It’s an alarm bell that goes off and says “get out of here” and so you do it. There’s no resistance. Unless you’re caught and your heart is saying “get out of here” and your parents are saying “Oh, no, you should stay” and your spouse is saying “it’s a good job, you might not get a better job” and so there’s a conflict. One part of you is saying get out of here and the other part’s saying no you should stay. Now you have a problem. Now you do have resistance. But the actual feeling that I should leave or I should stay, in either case, if it’s clean, if it’s pure, then you just do it. Just like Matt was just trying to say: It’s time to make the decision, make the decision. Sometimes you don’t know yet. That’s not necessarily suffering. You can feel something developing, and then you wait and listen and when your heart says go for it or go away from it you just do it. Is that helpful?
Joel: Okay, it’s actually pretty good timing, it’s 9:00 pm. Does anybody have a burning question that they need answered before we leave?
Several Practitioners: Thank you Matt! (applause)