A Path to Realization
Mora first met Joel in the early 1990s and has been a student of Joel's ever since. This is an edited transcript of her account of her spiritual path leading up to its ending in Complete Satisfaction. This talk took place at an online CSS community night meeting on the evening of September 16, 2020. Thanks to Sheila Craven for performing the transcription of the recording.
Joel: Welcome to the Center for Sacred Sciences. We’ve called this special Community Night meeting because I’ve invited Mora to tell us about her spiritual journey. Mora has been around almost from the beginning of the Center. We first met about 1992. She was living in Palo Alto, and she came to Eugene for a Sunday talk, and then attended some retreats. She and Sita and George, who lived in Palo Alto, hosted me for 3-day retreats down there every year for a few years. Finally she moved up to Eugene. She’s going to tell you all about that. Then, last Fall, just before our Fall Retreat, she had what she describes as a realization of complete satisfaction. That’s a nice way of putting it. Afterwards we talked a little bit and I’ve talked to her a number of times since. It seems this satisfaction has not wavered. I like to have about a year before somebody reports on something like this--something that is not necessarily full, complete enlightenment, but has changed their life in some unalterable way, made a basic change and given them a real sense of where this path goes, where it ends up, and they’re not confused by some sort of flashy experiences, that maybe last for a day, a week, a month, and then fade away and you’re back where you were.
So when I’m satisfied that that’s happened to somebody, I invite them to come and tell their story to the Community. At the end there’ll be time to ask questions, and then we can see if we want her as a teacher, an official CSS Teacher.
Our custom here at the Center is that you don’t get appointed as a teacher, you don’t fill out an application. You have to be asked to teach. We, the Community, have to ask her to teach. I recommend her, so she comes with some sort of recommendation. You still have to make up your own mind and ask her to teach. If you don’t, she can do what she wants. She can go off and teach someplace else, or whatever.
So without further ado, let me turn it over to Mora.
Mora: Hi everybody. So nice to see everyone, even though you’re in these little Zoom windows, it’s still really nice to see you.
The first thing I want to say is how much I appreciate this Sangha. This community has been so dear to me. It was really the first place I came to -- I’ve never been a joiner of groups -- where I felt at home. I think Amos said that at one of our Sunday talks, that he came to the Center from Australia and for the first time felt that he was at home. I share that. I felt at home. I was thinking about that and I think the reason is that we all share the same aspiration here. We’re all seeking the truth, or the Divine, or the Tao, resting as pristine Awareness. However we put it, we all share that and it just gives me such a sense of support and community. So I appreciate the Center and this community. My friend Amy, who is not part of the Center, was given special permission to be here tonight and I’m very appreciative of her also. She’s been my spiritual friend along the path for thirty years. We’ve explored so many things together and discussed so many things. It’s been wonderful. So I hope you’re there Amy.
So the program tonight is that I’m going to tell you my story of seeking, of being on this path. I hope it’ll be useful in some way. But everybody’s path is so different, because we’re so uniquely deluded that we have to be uniquely undeluded, and follow our own particular trail back home. So I’ll tell you my story and you can take it with a grain of salt if you want.
I think my journey has been an example of a slow, long, step-by-step, deliberate path with a lot of struggle in it and a lot of suffering. It’s not like that for everybody. I know a lot of people that seem to not have so much suffering, and I think that’s wonderful. Although suffering has been my teacher, so that’s wonderful too. Joel sometimes mentions Hui Neng, the 7th Century Chinese regular guy who overheard the words of the Heart Sutra, “form is emptiness and emptiness is form”, and bingo, his mind just opened up. He had a very short path; it didn’t sound like he had much suffering. And I think Joel had a pretty short and direct path. Ayya Khema, who was a Theravadan Buddhist teacher (recently deceased), says there are four kinds of paths: There’s the short and sweet path that doesn’t have much suffering in it; then there’s the short path that has a big hammerhead of suffering in it; and the long, gradually unfolding, gentle path; and the long path that’s got a lot of struggle and suffering. I think I fit into that fourth category.
My early childhood was spent in rural Vermont, very rural. I lived on a dirt road that didn’t even have a name. My parents had gone there to go “back to the land,” but they were actually city people, and they didn’t know how to go “back to the land”. So it was a big challenge for them. For me it was a great blessing because I grew up as kind of a nature child. I got to run around in the woods from a very young age, even though there were wildcats and bears and hunters. I just felt so at home in nature. It’s really been a sustenance in my life. I’ve felt secure and embraced by Mother Earth.
On the other hand, I had a very dysfunctional family. My father was an alcoholic. He was a mean drunk. He was violent towards my mother, very opinionated and self-centered. My mother was well educated, well spoken, but very timid and had a bit of a victim mentality, and was not a warm, demonstrative parent. So, needless to say, my sister and I-- I have a sister two years younger -- had a lot of stuff to drag along with us in our lives, a lot of stuff to work out. We had trauma, we had emotional issues.
When I was seven my mother left my father and we moved to California. It’s kind of funny, even with this dysfunctional family, I think I had a pretty happy childhood. I have many happy childhood memories of just playing and enjoying myself, until I was about 12, 13—puberty time. Then I became very awkward and shy and self-conscious, and became aware, I think for the first time, that I felt flawed and didn’t fit in. I felt unworthy of affection, acceptance. I think that was the first time I really got in touch with suffering. And that stayed with me for the next fifty years or so, to greater or lesser degree. And of course, I probably hid it pretty well, like most of us do, but I was not a happy camper for most of my life.
The beginning of my spiritual path was in my early 30’s when I enrolled in massage training. Before that I had been in academia. I had been in a phD program in linguistics in Northern California. School was a very safe place for me. I knew how to do school. I was a good student, had always been a good student. I knew how to write papers, knew how to take tests, knew how to discuss very obscure prepositions in Swahili. School was a safe place for me. But around the second year of my program, I just started not being able to see the point of being there. Because all I could really envision doing was turning around and teaching the same stuff to other students just like me. I think I probably could have been successful at it, but—I didn’t want to do it. So I dropped out and the University handed me a master’s degree on the way out the door, which was quite generous of them.
I started massage school training. And in that program I met a woman, Sita deLeeuw, who was about 20 years older than me and kind of an aging hippie flower child. She and her husband (who had been tragically killed several years previously) -- the two of them had been devotees of Swami Muktananda. Apparently that sangha was pretty Bakhti-oriented, singing, chanting, dancing, devotional stuff, which was totally foreign to me. I didn’t know what she was talking about. She was no longer a part of that, but she was definitely interested in all these spiritual things, and she started taking me to different spiritual teachings and teachers, which I knew nothing about at the time. Her partner, George, lent me the very first spiritual book I ever read, which was I am That by Nisargadata Maharaj. That was a real eye-opener for me. It was his devotees or disciples asking him questions. He was Indian and people from all over the world would come to sit with him and ask him these questions, and he would answer them. These were questions that I’d always had, but I’d never been able to articulate. So this was pretty amazing to me that there were people out there who actually addressed this kind of thing. And the other part of it was that having always felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere, all of a sudden I saw there was this group of people that was interested in this, and that was comforting and inspiring.
George was also a student of Franklin Merrill-Wolff. He used to go down to these summer gatherings at The Great Space Center, and at one of those he met Joel and ended up with Joel’s book, Naked Through the Gate. He came back and also loaned me that book. So I read this book, which was another stunner for me because here was somebody who was talking about this stuff who was a Westerner, spoke my language, we shared a culture. He seemed like a regular guy who had gone through this whole earlier life of ambition, nice cars, and money, and had given it all up to pursue this spiritual search. And actually had come to some understanding of it. So this was pretty exciting for me.
Shortly after I read that book, I got in my car and drove to Eugene and went to a Sunday talk. Back then, it was in their house on Fillmore Street, very small place, maybe 15 people there, and because I was from out of town, I was able to have a conversation with Joel and immediately felt at home and drawn to this whole place and to Joel. Although I don’t think I really understood much of what he was talking about. But I was definitely drawn to that.
So I went back to California and stayed in touch with the Center. Like Joel mentioned, Sita and George and I, and Tom McFarlane also, because he was living down there at the time -- we used to bring Joel down to do these talks. So I kept in touch. I also went to CSS retreats, since back in that day there weren’t all these prerequisites for going on retreat. So I went to maybe six, seven retreats over the years. I didn’t really grok much of what was going on there, but I wanted to be there.
In the meantime Sita was taking me to satsangs right and left. Mostly advaita kind of satsongs. I heard Gangaji, Adyashanti, Ramesh Balsekar, Byron Katie, Wayne Liquorman. And lots of lesser-known people as well. The main two teachers I sat with were Gangaji and Adyashanti. Adyashanti had a very small group then, and he was giving, I think, three satsangs a week in different towns, and sometimes I would go to all of them. I did that for about 10-12 years, sitting with all these teachers. Though I loved being there and hearing their descriptions of -- enlightenment, I guess, I wasn’t getting any guidance about how to find this myself. So after ten or twelve years, I just stopped going. I’d been reading voraciously this whole time too.
I also lost touch with the Center after maybe 7 or 8 years. They were still on my radar, but I wasn’t really in contact with the Center. Then in 2005 my husband and I moved to Cottage Grove, which is about 20 miles south of Eugene, where we still live. Actually, The Center for Sacred Sciences was not one of the reasons we moved there. At least I didn’t think it was. But after I’d been there a little while, I thought I’d just go up to Eugene and see what they were up to.
That first Sunday it was like “whammo!” This is where I need to be. So after that I started coming every Sunday. I took the Distance Studies course where Todd was my mentor. I took many Practitioners Groups after that, mostly with Todd. Todd’s really been my primary teacher during my time at the Center. I have to pay a little homage to Todd here, because he put up with me so patiently. Answered all my questions, answered my emails, talked to me, even listened to a few rants, and put up with my endless “yeah-buts” in these classes. He’s a wonderful teacher.
This marked the beginning of spiritual discipline for me. I learned to meditate. I’d been meditating at all these other satsangs I’d gone to, but I didn’t really have any kind of practice. My idea of meditation was sitting there, sometimes in spaciousness and sometimes in monkey mind. Then it would be over I didn’t really have any understanding of what meditation was, at least not the way the Center teaches it. So I learned to meditate the way the Center teaches. I went to every retreat I could go to. And got involved in the Center.
My path has kind of amazingly followed the course of what Joel outlines in his book. The Center offers guidance in looking at all these different areas of our delusion, and these things are focused on in different retreats, or in the practitioner groups, certainly presented in Joel’s book. Like the delusion of time. The delusion of the separate self. Looking into opening the heart of Compassion. Emptiness of objects. The “don’t-know” mind. All these things are focus areas that I was directed to investigate, and being a good Jnani, I did. With my analytical kind of mind and background, I questioned everything. I inquired about all these things. Objected to a lot of things. Argued about them. And I really thought I was going to figure it out.
So let me give a little plug for intellectual understanding. My experience has been that looking into these things, investigating with the mind, was very useful. It was actually quite helpful to find logical reasons and arguments for ways that these outlandish ideas might be true; reasons that time really might not exist. Reasons why a self might not exist. Once those reasons came into beings, then the mind would just settle and stop objecting constantly, because that’s what it did. When it finally came to a conclusion that, well, maybe this is true. It might be true. Then it would just … settle. When that happens, I think there’s an opportunity for insight to arise. If you have the kind of mind that questions everything and argues with everything and objects to everything, and I know some of you here that do, I think that’s great. Because all the teachers will tell you that you’re never going to figure it out with the mind. You’re never going to understand it. And that’s great too because it puts you between a rock and a hard place. You can see intellectually that these things might be possible, and yet you get up in the morning and there’s that same old self. It stills seems like it’s really there. And there’s all those objective phenomena out there that seem to be very real. So you’re really in a crucible. It chews you up and spits you out. You have to suffer. I had to suffer. I suffered a lot and struggled a lot.
The Center also offers a lot of tools. I think I’m starting to sound like an ad for the Center, but -- it’s been so helpful to me. There’re a lot of tools available here at the Center. I learned meditation, I learned about Tong Len, there’s the precepts, that have been really helpful to me, retreats, I learned about prayer, mantra, all kinds of things that were really useful to me.
I’ve heard Joel many times compare the structure of our delusion to a house of cards. Each little element of our deluded understanding is one of these cards that we’ve put together into this edifice of delusion. When we look into these different areas of delusion and investigate enough, there can be some insight there. And when that happens, it’s like pulling out one of the cards of this house. And there’s no particular order that you pull them out in, but when you pull out enough of them, the whole thing just collapses. I think that’s how it’s been for me. Coming to different insights. A very big insight for me was maybe two or three years ago on a fall retreat at St. Bennies. Joel gave us an exercise to do, a practice where we were to find a situation in our life that was unresolved -- hopefully a long-term thing that we hadn’t been able to solve or do anything with. To just contemplate that and see if there was any knowing there about what to do, how to resolve it. And I did that, I had a difficult relationship at the time that I was trying to sort out. And had been trying for a while. I just saw that there was no knowing there. There was no knowing. It was not there. And I sort of fell into the abyss of not-knowing. I think I’d always been very afraid of falling into this not-knowing abyss, I had avoided it in many ways. But once that happened I discovered that this abyss was actually a wonderful place, a peaceful place, a spacious place; it was a place of rest, a place of happiness.
Of course, insights happened, but for me they always had to happen about a thousand times before I could get anything. I struggled a lot then. Suffering is kind of my middle name. Actually, it’s Thistle. So you get the point.
Anyway, after that happened, I took up the practice of “learning to be at home in the darkness” from The Cloud of Unknowing. Because I had contacted that darkness. And once I had contacted it, it was much easier to contact again. So I would intentionally find the places where I had no knowing, and sit with those.
That was a big card that come out of the house of cards. And I think the structure was getting pretty unstable at that point.
But I was continuing to struggle with the perception of the objective world as solid and real. Especially visually. I’d had some prior insights about the objective world, seeing it as fluid, transparent, usually on retreats or in meditation. But my everyday perception of the objective world was of this solid thing, visually. Easier to see with sound or some other senses, smell, taste, that it’s part of mind, that it’s not really solid. But for me visually was very hard.
So I would struggle with that. I continued to suffer over it, there was a lot of effort over that. I don’t really know how it changed, but this perception of solidity changed at some point. The default view had been of the objective world as solid, and at some point –probably a year and a half ago—I realized that that was not the default view anymore. The default view was now the world as transparent. Now I could see, I knew, I had this knowing now that this was all mind, it was all consciousness. I think what happened was I stopped efforting at that point because the struggle had been very ongoing, constant, but now I didn’t have to prove the transparency of things to myself anymore. It was just putting down the burden of effort. Some kind of a shift had happened. It took me awhile, months probably, to even see that something had shifted. But I think the clue was that I wasn’t struggling anymore. I gradually realized that the effort was finished, struggling had been set down.
Then we come to last fall, right before the Fall Retreat. Joel was giving a Sunday talk just before the retreat started. I don’t even remember what the talk was about, most of it, but at the end he was talking about the end of seeking. He was using words like contentment and peace and effortlessness and joy. And then he said “there’s nothing to attain. There’s just satisfaction with what is.” That just felt like an arrow into my heart, because I saw that I had come to this satisfaction. I wasn’t trying to get anything anymore, I wasn’t trying to know anything, to find anything. So right after the talk I went up and said to Joel, “You know, I am satisfied.” And he said, “Maybe we should talk.” So we talked at the retreat and we talked several times after that, and the satisfaction has not changed.
That’s the story. I don’t call this Enlightenment or Awakening. I call it a “shift”, which is Annie’s word that I’m borrowing. But that’s what it feels like, a shift in perception. And a stopping of effort. I’ve efforted my whole life. And I want to say that all along this path, too, I had been becoming more easeful and happier, I think. As those cards were getting pulled out of the house of cards, I was just relaxing and enjoying life more. And becoming more cheerful, which is a word I never would have used to describe myself ten years ago. I know my friend Amy wouldn’t have either. We used to joke about her being the glass half full and me being the glass half empty. So yes, I got more cheerful. I know that there’s a lot more here to be discovered and I look forward to that. I feel cheerful about it.
And that’s kind of the end of my story. If anybody has any questions or comments, I’ll try to answer them.
Amy: I’d just like to say that I think you’re so beautiful, and it’s such an honor to be here with you for this day, so thank you so much.
Mora: Thank you for being here. I scrolled through the people and didn’t see you, so I’m happy you’re here.
Niraja: Thank you so much. It was wonderful hearing your talk. My main question is why do you not use the word Enlightened or Awakened? How do you see that as different than where you are now?
Mora: Because I think both of those words have a lot of baggage with them. Really, who could be enlightened? Or who could not be enlightened? Joel says that all the time, but I get that now. There’s a shift. Annie’s word is perfect. Things are seen differently. Efforting has really subsided. It just seems like there’s no point in using those words.
Laura: Love you, love your talk, and you’ve always been cheerful to me, so what do I know? I want to say that in the foundations class last year with Todd, you offered so many great personal insights, and drew from the teachings, that I think spoke not only to me, to my heart, but everybody in the class. So whatever that shift was, I’m really glad that you came out and shared all that, ‘cause it was glorious. It was very lovely. Thank you.
Mora: I’m glad to hear that. I just hope I can say something that’s useful to people. I don’t know. I hope the talk was useful. Like I say, we all have different paths.
Laura: And what I’m hearing you say about the word Enlightenment is that it really—nothing has changed, like you said, but your perception, and there’s no need to carry a label around that could put some kind of barrier into things.
Mora: That’s a good way to put it. I appreciate that.
Laura: Well, thank you. I’m so happy for you. So happy.
Rich: When you felt like this shift had happened, did you have periods of wondering whether it would go away, and clinging to it? Or did that just not arise?
Mora: You know, it really didn’t arise. It’s kind of interesting. I never really thought of it before that way, but I’d had big insights in the past, and with those insights that did arise. I would think, “This is it, this is it!” A week later, it wasn’t it, and I was struggling on. I think because the struggles just never picked up again, I didn’t question it.
Sheila: How are you? Just loved to hear what you talked about and I remember how wonderful your talk for the last retreat was. And how much it gave to me. It was for me the highlight of that retreat. And I would love to participate and listen to any other teachings or even that one again. It bears repeating. I think it was, for me, wonderful. I’m so happy for your sense of ease. Thank you.
Mike: Actually Mora, I really appreciate what you said in terms of a shift, because in my own path, for many years, I’ve used the term enlightenment but with a little “e”. In other words when I look back, the path I’ve climbed up this mountain, I think I’m better for it. I see places in my life that have changed. By no means has it crossed “that line,” but I like the term “shift” because that’s in fact what these are. Just little shifts, I think, for all of us, and we don’t have to label them. But I really appreciate your phrasing of that and all that we expect from you in the future. (ha ha) How’s that for pressure?
Mora: Oh dear, oh dear. Well, thank you. I stole that from Annie, full disclosure there.
Sally: Thank you so much for sharing so much about your journey. I just had an inkling at the Spring Retreat when you offered the teaching that you did, that something was different. I was really just so taken with what you shared, and how you shared it. It was a wonderful part of that wonderful retreat. One of the things that I’m curious about is how you describe recognizing, after the fact, that something had shifted. Do you have a sense of how, why it happened that way,—it’s just so interesting to me that that was your experience. That it was like, “Oh!”
Mora: Me too. The big insight before that was about the don’t-know mind. That time I could really see that something had happened and changed. This last one, I could see that it had changed but I don’t know how or when. It’s just that later on I started to realize that the default view had changed, and that was—I realized that I wasn’t struggling, but then at some point, I don’t even know when, I saw that the phenomenal world just was not an obstacle anymore. I wasn’t having to try to show myself that it was empty. So yes, it was sort of a slow realization that that had happened. And I don’t think that I ever really got that there’d been a shift until Joel gave that talk. I just went, “Oh my God, I amsatisfied. There’s nothing missing here. There’s nothing wrong. There’s nothing I have to do”.
Sally: And it sounds like it had been that way for a while.
Mora: I think it had, but I just didn’t get it. I’ve always been a little slow on the uptake.
Sally: There’s something about that that is really hopeful. I’m not sure why, but that’s what comes up for me, is a feeling of hopefulness.
Mora: Yes, because I think that on my path I’d been waiting for the big bang. The big Aha!
Sally: And all those stories of getting whacked in the head, and all of a sudden you wake up.
Mora: Yeah, I think there kind of was a moment, and that was at Joel’s talk when I sort of saw that things had changed. But up until that time it had all been very slow and progressive.
Wesley: Mora I think you look a little different (Mora: I look different?) yeah, to me.
Mora: Huh, Maybe it’s Zoom.
Wesley: Just two little things. One is, a couple of years ago, Joel tried to teach me something, and it’s taken a couple of years for it to come around, I was stuck on “now,” the only time we have is now, we have everything we need to wake up now, and now. And he said, “Fine, just keep saying that for about 5 minutes and then drop it or it’ll be a block.” I didn’t understand exactly what he meant. But just a week or two ago, I realized that this path requires that you leave everything. That I can’t use my latest insight or even my latest practice, I can’t take any of that with me. I just sort of have to jump into a free-fall where I don’t have anything.
Mora: Yeah. Well, Joel often says, he’s quoting somebody and I don’t know who, but he says “what you think about your practice is totally irrelevant”. I think that’s true, I’ve found that to be true. Every time you think you’re getting something, it just distracts you from now.
Wesley: The other little thing is, I was surprised by the notice for tonight, that we were supposed to approve you or disapprove you as a teacher. I have a personal preference that I would like to put before you. I’m in favor of brief answers -- and this isn’t the first time I’ve brought this up. But brief answers so I can get in a dialog with the teacher. Because often, in the third sentence I really get whacked, but four minutes later when the whole speech is over, I’ve kind of lost that whole feel of that, and all I can say is yes, that was helpful. So if you were to teach, would you be tending towards the longer extensive answer, or the short, dialogic answer?
Mora: I don’t really know, Wesley. (laughs) I think in the foundations class I probably went more towards short answers, because I am not an experienced teacher. And I don’t have all that stuff I can pull out of my hat. But, who knows?
Maura: What I love about you having this experiences and sharing with us is that I already knew you, and that makes a huge difference. And the fact that you are such an authentic person, and down to earth. Wesley mentioned what kind of style of teaching you’re going to have, and I thought, well, she’s not gonna have a lot of flourishes. Maybe you were melancholy, or glass half full, you didn’t use flourishes on that either. And that’s something that I just really trust. You know, this is who I am, you don’t have to like it. I am very excited about you being a teacher. And the question I want a little more depth on is, when you talk about when you let yourself go to that dark place, in your eyes it wasn’t so bad, it was actually peaceful. It wasn’t so scary. It was a peaceful place. A safe place, and you could spend more time there. I find myself, if I start doing a free-fall, grabbing onto the edge. What first gave you—can you tell us how to let go of thinking, about letting ourselves go there?
Mora: Teachers all say that, let yourself free-fall and fall into the abyss and all that. I heard that a lot too, and I think that with don’t-know mind, I fell in there but it wasn’t like I jumped in. It wasn’t like I decided. It was just looking, looking to see if there was knowing there, and there wasn’t. It was actually quite simple. So I don’t really know much more how to explain it. It was just that knowing wasn’t there. There wasn’t any point in trying to pretend it was. And there wasn’t any point in trying to distract myself. I brought this poem that I wrote. Maybe this is a good time to read it.
I took Merry Song’s very first writing class. She gave us the first couple lines of a poem from Mary Oliver, and then we were supposed to write the rest of it. The first lines were, “One day you finally knew what you had to do.” So mine is:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do;
you had to just be there
with all of it
and not turn away.
One day you didn’t go
to the refrigerator instead
or to the internet
or the phone,
and you stayed.
And who knows why
You knew what you had to do,
you knew it all along
but hid it from your own eyes.
What did it take
to pull you away
from all the alternatives
lined up so neatly on the shelf?
If you knew that
you could bottle it and sell it,
or give it away
to countless suffering beings.
A plug for Merry Song’s writing class: It pulls stuff out of you you didn’t know was there. It’s really a great experience.
And so Maura, to answer your question, I don’t know—there was just some moment where I stayed with it.
Maura: I also love it that you are connected in other places outside of our community. You have a foot in changing the world and you have a foot in this and you have a foot in that. And I love that. And I come across people who are spending 24/7 working on the spiritual path. And although you were struggling working on it, a lot of the time it didn’t show. Do you think that gave you some kind of a grounding?
Mora: I don’t know if you’re referring to my political activity? But it’s all the spiritual path! I got a lot of challenges from being political and having opinions about things and wanting to take actions. It really brings up to you what’s important here, and what does it mean to have an opinion. I’m still political, I still want to make the world a better place, and I still have my ideas about how that might happen. So, it’s all spiritual because it challenges your ideas of how to proceed, and you have to sit with it. But you also have to hold it really lightly. You can rage against the powers that be, but then you drop it and go have lunch.
Amos: Hi Mora, thank you for your talk. Great to hear from you again. I’m interested in your distinction between the shift and more dramatic enlightenment that some teachers describe. Do you have a sense that the relative destination is talking about the same thing, it’s just the way it unraveled, gives it a different flavor? The fact that it took a longer period of time, wasn’t such a dramatic shift, but has ultimately landed you in the same place? Or do you feel like there’s some, do you sense there’s some qualitative difference in the experience you’re talking about?
Mora: I don’t know, because I only have my own experience. I guess it’s just that enlightenment sounds very final to me, like you’ve gotten somewhere. I feel like there’s a lot more to learn and discover, and I feel like the way that I can do it now is not through effort. That things will be discovered, hopefully, and I don’t have to try to do that and I don’t have to suffer about it. I can’t even say what enlightenment is, I really can’t. I just know in my experience, there’s been this shift where there’s no longer this struggle that’s always been there. And there’s nothing that I need to get. You can call it whatever you want.
Amos: So without this struggle, is there more of a sense of being pulled rather than pushed, or is there some kind of sense of guidance rather than fighting?
Mora: Yeah, I guess it’s more like whatever’s gonna happen’s gonna happen. I guess I don’t feel like I’ve got any special guardian angel that’s showing me things. I feel like things are just unfolding, and they’ve always been unfolding. They’re still unfolding. And it’s just that I’m not suffering about it now and there’s no urgency. I guess I feel kind of cheerful about it. You know, there are the three terrible oaths, let’s see if I can remember them, from Dzogchen I think. “Whatever happens, may it happen. However it’s going, may it go that way. There is no goal.” That’s kind of how it seems.
Amos: Thank you. That’s beautiful.
Sophie: Thank you so much for sharing. I’m just filled with happiness for you. I’m curious about two things. One, how has this shift changed or affected your relationships with the people you’re closest to, like your husband or your daughter for example. Then another question : you stuck it out in Matt Sieradski’s practitioners group all season, even though we had to do it on Zoom. A few times you expressed having zoom fatigue because you were involved in other activities requiring screen time. Why, after the shift, did you continue going to practitioners group? I have this impression that once you get it you don’t need to go to class anymore. But I’m learning, over the years, listening to the newly awakened people, that there’s all this conditioning that needs to be unraveled.
Mora: The first question, about relationships, that’s hard to answer because I find myself still behaving in a lot of the same old ways. I still criticize my husband. Feel some discontent and irritation at my daughter, because she’s having a very rough go right now, and brought it on herself. These things come up, but they’re brief, they’re very brief. I see them. I see, oh there’s that conditioning happening. Just because you see it doesn’t mean it’s not going to arise. Joel says it winds down after a while. I’m looking forward to that. It’s funny, too, you get to stand back and see the Mora character doing what it does.
Sophie: What winds down after a while?
Mora: Conditioning, I’m hoping. Maybe the more you see it, the easier it is to let it go, laugh at it. A teacher that I like quite a bit, Shinzen Young, says “the self never ceases to arise.” I see that it’s not a Mora-self, it’s like 10,000 Mora selves, there’s a different one every moment -- just showing up and then dissipating, but they still show up. I guess it’s just coming to some comfortableness with things that arise, with conditioning. Todd talks about the creatures that arise and how really at some point all you can do is love them and have compassion for them. So that’s my experience. The critical Mora shows up and there she is, just give her a little hug.
The other part of your question, about Zoom and Matt’s class: I loved Matt’s class. I learned a lot in that class and—like I was talking about in the very beginning -- this Sangha. I love being in this supportive community. So that was a good reason to stick it out. And Todd has been my main teacher all these years. But Matt says things differently, so I was very interested to hear how Matt says things, and get the taste of a different way of expressing. I plan to take other classes and go on retreats and all that stuff. I think there’s a lot to discover.
Sharry: Mora thank you so much. I think I’d like to express my gratitude for all of us who’ve experienced the long, slow, slogging path. I’ve been around a long time. I think that’s a lot of it. It’s just so sweet to hear such a simple story of recognition of where you had come on the path. I don’t know how to say that better, but I think you know what I mean. Really sweet, and very hopeful. Encouraging.
Mora: The Center—I know it doesn’t work this way for everybody—a lot of people seem to find their truth without doing all this inquiry, without suffering a lot, but for me the Center’s presentation – Joel’s presentation in his book -- the guidance I got at the Center – it’s all been incredible and it was what I needed.
Sharry: I’m very grateful for the Center too. It’s made what could be real suffering kind of fun at times. (chuckles).
Mora: That’s the support we get here in the Sangha, because we all have experiences of bashing our heads against the wall, and we understand that.
Laura: Joel’s probably going to do this, but I’m so anxious right now, I want to recommend you as a teacher over at the Center (laughs). Please say yes.
Joel: I’ll jump in here. First I just want to make a little correction. We’re not here to approve or disapprove of Mora. She doesn’t need our approval or disapproval. We’re here to ask her, beg her perhaps, to please be our teacher. She can decide whether she wants to be a teacher or not. As far as she’s concerned, if you have a genuine realization like this, and you are satisfied, you don’t need anybody to tell you you’re satisfied. You are your own authority. Everybody is their own authority. If your beloved teacher for years and years says, “No, that’s not it. Go away,” you don’t listen. You are your own authority. This is not about any sort of absolute confirming of anything. In my relative judgment -- I could be wrong, she might turn out to be a scoundrel, this has happened in other communities -- in my relative judgment, I think she’s had a genuine realization. I think she’d make a wonderful teacher. I’m recommending her to you. Hopefully that’s helpful in a relative way, but it’s up to the Sangha to express it., Do you want her to be a teacher? Here we teach because we’re asked. We don’t teach because we step out with some imperial edict to bring down from the mountain, saying God told me to come down and do this. Let’s do a thumbs up. OK, a lot of thumbs up. Too bad, Mora. Now you’re stuck, now you’re trapped, see? Now you can’t go back. Now you’ve got these responsibilities—you can’t go up to the mountains and bliss out.
Mora: I hope I can do a decent job. It’s kind of new, I did enjoy Foundation Studies, but that was a little different. So we’ll see. But I would like to teach, yes, I would like to try it.
Joel: Well, there you go. Okay, so I think we’ve settled that one. Anybody that thinks she is an absolute scoundrel, now’s the time to speak up.
Andrea: She definitely is a scoundrel. No doubt about it. (all laugh).
Joel: That’s the Zen sense of a scoundrel, we can accept that.
Bruno: Wow, here I am in Japan. 3am Monday morning our time. Today was great. Thank you so much for your talk, it’s a pleasure to see you. I really appreciate the term “shift” that you used because for me, enlightenment, awakening, those are intellectual linguistic words. But we’re born without a linguistic label, and as far as I know, we die and we don’t carry a linguistic intellectual label with us. For me not to have to have that label and maybe have that shift, or not, seems really helpful. Just to keep it simple. So thank you so much for that.
Liba: Mora, thank you so much. The beauty of your talk, like so many people have said, makes me feel very hopeful, makes it seems so accessible, I really appreciate that. What I’m curious about is how has your decision-making changed from before and then after the shift?
Mora: It’s a good question. Joel gives us this exercise to do about going to a restaurant and watching how the decision gets made, what you’re going to order. It’s kind of like that. I don’t agonize over decisions and they just happen. And there’s this inevitable feel, like coming here tonight to do this talk here at the Center because my internet at home isn’t very good. It was put in motion that I was going to come here and do this talk, and I kept thinking, well I should get nervous or something, but it had its own momentum and I showed up here. I catch myself sometimes debating over what I should do, but often I’ll just tell myself, it will be the way it’s going to be. We think we’re choosing things from the menu, you could sit there and not say anything to the waiter until it pops into our mind, but instead we think we’re choosing something, we act as though we’re choosing.
Q: I think what I’m hearing you say is that however you decide, just don’t agonize over it. That would be nice. Thank you. Really happy for you, Mora. And happy for us. Thank you for accepting to be our teacher.
Mora: That’s what I was going to say earlier and I left it out of my talk, but you don’t have to be happy for me. So there’s this shift. If you take the “me” out of it, the “me” who’s supposedly had the shift or is telling the story of the shift, and you take the “you” out of it as the listener to the story, a person who’s seeing this, you take us both out of this, then all there is is this shift. And the shift is here in awareness right now. We’re all experiencing this in awareness. So let’s be happy for all of us because –early on when I would hear these talks, when people would get up and give their talk, I would have this gnawing at my heart because, why are they waking up and not me? So I tried to be happy for them, but I wasn’t totally happy for them. At a certain point when more and more people were getting up and doing this, I just realized that, hey, look, this is getting closer and closer. Here are all these people who I know that are calling off the search. This is good news for all of us because it’s right here, it’s right here in awareness. So, hallelujah for everybody. It’s like when you walk into a room and somebody’s really angry. There’s this experience of anger. Everyone in the room is experiencing anger from some different perspective. Anger is the experience. Well, here, shift is the experience. So welcome it, enjoy it.
Jack: A few years back you wrote an absolutely delightful book called “Peculiar Stories” that was purportedly a children’s book. It had this childlike quality of curiosity running through the whole book. I really found it delightful and I can see the seeds of your present experience coming out of that book, or that book was an expression of that. When I read that you were going to be giving this talk tonight, I wasn’t surprised at all, because I could see even back then with that book that you had a childlike curiosity that expressed itself so well in that book. I was wondering if you see any relationship between your practice and the writing of that book as well?
Mora: I’ve done a lot of writing in my life. I’ve done research writing, technical writing. But also often when I’ve been struggling with things, I would just sit down and write it out. I’d start with a question that I had or an issue, then I would just write it down, start with “what do I really know about this?” and go from there, explore it in writing. I found that very, very useful. I recommend that as a practice to anybody who might be so inclined. And I think that book was kind of like that. Earlier I talked about convincing the mind about things. So writing out things was helpful in that way. There’s a story in the book about the girl on the swing, and her uncle is trying to get her to question whether or not she’s actually moving, or whether everything else is moving around her. I think I was exploring that myself. That was a question for me, and so I wrote it out and that’s how it came out. So yes, it was part of my spiritual path because it was inquiry, really. That’s why I say intellectual understanding is not a bad thing. It just helps to quiet things, so that then you can see what’s there more clearly.
Jack: Thank you very much. You’ve confirmed what I thought myself. That that book was an inquiry for you, coming from a child, but the questions that were in that book really were actually pretty adult-like questions.
Laura: I’m just so happy. I’m so happy. We’re all so happy. I wanted to say that at the retreat with Todd, the Zoom retreat, you lead us through some really lovely meditations that really brought the intellectual way down into a physical feeling. A feeling, those different fears and letting them dissolve, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what you’re going to teach. I know what my real question was: are you planning to teach on Zoom for this next coming year? Are you going to be one of our teachers?
Mora: I have thought about offering some classes that are not practitioners groups, but just shorter classes. A couple of six-week classes. I don’t know if they’re on the web site. Probably not because we’ve only talked about them on the Board, about them being possibilities. So maybe now they can be probabilities. One would be a class called Disentangling the Emotions. And I wanted to say that working with emotions has been a huge part of my path. It’s really been huge, because I learned pretty quickly about watching thoughts self-liberate, but there was this whole other realm of thoughts that didn’t self-liberate, that were sticky. In one of Todd’s early practitioner groups, we read Spectrum of Ecstasy, which is a great book, but I would have never made it through without Todd, because it’s kind of a flowery book too, and trying to separate out the wheat from the chaff in that book would have been a huge job for me. But Todd took us through that book and that was my first understanding of the Tibetan view of allowing emotions and then watching them transform into these wisdom energies. That’s how the Tibetans put it. Then there are other non-Tibetans who put it differently. That was eye-opening for me and it just changed everything for me. I’d always considered myself a really emotional person. In touch with my emotions. But I think I realized in that class that I just had stories about my emotions. I wasn’t really allowing them to move through, and that’s what I’ve learned with Todd. It was game-changing for me just to see them self-liberate. Just like thought. But while you’re embroiled in them, and hanging on to them, they don’t. So yes, that was really helpful. That’s why I want to teach a class on that because it would be from my own experience, but also using Joel’s book and Scott Kiloby work, and different people who address emotions in different ways. I think a lot of us are either avoiding emotions or wallowing in emotions—I think that was my strategy, just wallowing in the story and thinking I was very much in touch with emotions. But “in touch with emotions” has a whole different meaning to me now.
If anyone’s interested in that, I think maybe I’d like to do a six-week thing on that. Maybe they’ll be put on the web site, the classes I want to teach, and people can sign up, I don’t quite know how that’s going to happen.
Joel: Okay, why don’t we leave it with that for now. Does anyone else need to say anything information-wise? Otherwise let’s bring the formal part of the evening to a close.