Publication: The Transparency of Things
(Non-Duality Press, 2008)
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The following interview was conducted by email.
Q. Could you give a short factual biography of your life up to the age of 16.
I come from a large, close family. Both my parents are kind and loving and gave everything they could, in their very different ways, to their children. My childhood was essentially happy and free.
My parents separated when I was six and we lived with my mother in Hampshire. However, I also saw a lot of my father. My mother is eccentric, artistic and has a deep interest in spiritual matters; my father more measured and conventional. I learned a lot from both of them.
Q. At 16, you say you started to meditate. Was there something specific � an event perhaps � that precipitated such a thing?
At the age of 15 I became disenchanted with the life towards which my scientific education was preparing me. At the same time I saw an exhibition of the work of Michael Cardew, which stirred my imagination beyond anything it had previously encountered. I also started to read Rumi and Shankaracharya which awakened the sense of a completely new possibility within me.
Q. You say you started to read Rumi, Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj and Shankaracharya, amongst others.
Somehow, I had the deep intuition that was I was reading was true. Their words resonated deeply within me and kindled an intense desire to know for myself what they were speaking of.
Q. You say you wanted to make a career in science but felt it wasn�t the right way to go. Why was that? What was it about science that you felt didn�t appeal to you?
It wasn�t so much a rejection of science as an attraction towards art. Art seemed to engage my whole being, not just my intellect. I felt that art provided the means to explore and then express the deepest realms of experience in a way that science could not.
Q. You went to art school. Was there any particular discipline that inspired you � pottery and ceramics presumably � and why?
I first saw Michael Cardew�s work and, later on, pieces from the early ceramic traditions of China, Korea, Japan and Persia. At the time my response was instinctive and inarticulate, just an unmistakable �Yes� from the depths of my being.
These objects were like condensations of intelligence, love and beauty. I would spend hours in museums looking at them. At times I would feel my body dissolving in front of them. It was exactly the same experience that I had many years later with my teacher in satsang.
Q. You spent a number of years at the Study Society, which was set up by Dr Francis Roles, under the guidance of HH Shantanand Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of the North. What philosophy/teaching did you learn there and how was that helpful?
When I arrived at The Study Society the last remnants of Ouspenky�s teaching was being ushered out in favour of the Shankaracharya�s Advaita Vedanta, which was considered to have been the source of Ouspensky�s teaching.
I immersed myself in the teaching and also learnt Gurdjieff �s Movements and the Mevlevi Turning - beautiful, contemplative movement practices. These teachings were my home � I lived in them and they lived in me.
Q. After leaving art school, you worked as an artist to make a living. You say you believed that beauty was linked to spirituality and it was a way in which you could bring that concept to life. It reminds me of Keats� lines:
Beauty is truth, truth beauty � that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Could you expand on that?
Our apparently objective experience consists of thoughts, sensations and perceptions � that is, the mind, body and world.
When Awareness �takes the shape� of thinking, it seems to become a thought. When it �takes the shape� of sensing, it seems to become a body and when it �takes the shape� of perceiving, it seems to become an object, other or world.
When thinking comes to an end, the apparently objective part of it (the thought part) disappears but its substance, Awareness, remains. In that timeless moment (timeless because the mind is not present) Awareness tastes itself as it is, unmediated through the apparent objectivity of thought. This experience is known as Understanding.
When sensing comes to an end, the apparently objective part of it (the sensation or body part) disappears but its substance, Awareness, remains, knowing itself as Love or Happiness.
And when perceiving comes to an end, the object, other or world disappears but their substance, Awareness, remains, knowing itself as it is, unveiled by the appearance of objects. That is the experience known as Beauty.
In other words, Understanding, Love, Happiness and Beauty are all different names for one and the same experience, the presence of Awareness, the knowing of our own Being.
The paths through Understanding and Love (the paths of Jnana and Bhakti) are well documented but the path through perceiving is less often mentioned. The path of perceiving or the Way of Beauty is the way of the artist.
It is a path through which it becomes clear, and the means through which it is expressed, that the substance of all perceptions is made out of Awareness.
Although all seeming objects are made out of Awareness, it is not, at a relative level, the function of all objects to reveal this. For instance, the purpose of a kettle is to boil water, not to reveal the true nature of experience.
However, there is one category of objects, which are made specifically with the intention of revealing the true nature of experience and such an object is what we call a work of art.
The function of a work of art is not simply to point towards, but actually to reveal the true nature of experience. As Cezanne said, to �give us a taste of Eternity.�
Like the words of the teaching, such objects come pregnant with their origin, the silence and love from which they originate and, as such, are tremendously powerful.
So, Beauty is the experience through which we come to know and feel that all seeming things are made out of that which knows them.
Keats was right. 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty.' The experience of Truth and Beauty are one and the same experience.
'That is all ye know on earth.' The mind (which is the expression of Truth) and the world (which is the expression of Beauty) are one. That is, the apparent �knower� and the apparently �known� are one. Whether we recognize it or not, this is always our experience. It is, as Keats says, �all ye know on earth' � the knowing of our own Being in and as all seeming things.
'�and all ye need to know.' Yes, this knowledge alone, if deeply considered and made one�s own and subsequently applied to all circumstances, is all that is required to lead a sane, happy and loving life.
Keats was rather more economical with his words than I am!
The great artists of the past, of whom Keats was one, were perhaps the vehicles through which this knowledge was communicated most powerfully in our culture but it is not their provenance alone.
This experiential knowledge of the true nature of experience is, in fact, known by all but sometimes seemingly forgotten. However, it is never far from the surface and even in popular culture - music, fashion etc. � we see this same longing for Love, Beauty and Happiness, all of which are simply variations of our longing to return to the true nature of our most intimate being.
When this Love, Beauty and Happiness is seemingly veiled by the appearance of the �I� entity, it cries out all the more loudly. All around us in our culture we hear these �love cries� all desperately searching in the wrong place for what lies at their heart.
Q. For myself, I attended the sister school of the Study Society, called the School of Economic Science, where beauty was also exulted. Inasmuch as I agree that beauty is a means by which the heart may be opened, I wonder if it is at the exclusion of other parts of life that are very �unbeautiful�. On a day-to-day level, the cult of physical perfection is effectively distorting people�s attitudes to their own and other people�s bodies and causing a great deal of suffering. As a woman, I feel forever judged by my physical appearance.
The cult of physical perfection is a pale reflection and a misinterpretation of our innate knowing of Beauty. When we forget about the presence of Awareness, Beauty is relegated to the status of an object, in just the same way that when Awareness is seemingly forgotten, the self, other, object and world seem to become real.
If Beauty is considered to be a property of objects then it will be considered to be just the opposite of ugliness. Even in some expressions of contemporary advaita this is sometimes misunderstood and in these expressions of the teaching, Beauty is relegated to an objective experience that is considered to be just one more �appearance within Awareness.�
But it is not. Beauty is another name for Awareness, the knowing of our own Being.
And likewise when we love another, it is truly the Self in the �other� that is loved. And it is the Self that loves. That is, the Self is the lover and the beloved. In other words it is Love itself, with no other. That is what Love is � the absence of the apparent other. We all know that experience of dissolving in Love. All that keeps us separate and apart is dissolved and that dissolution, even in common parlance, is known as Love. Of course when the mind returns, it appropriates the non-objective and timeless experience of Love and creates out of it a �lover� and a �beloved� and then wonders why the experience of Love itself has seemed to disappear!
So, Beauty and Love are one and the same experience. It is only in our culture where this has been overlooked that they have been reduced to objects. The cult of physical perfection you refer to springs from this misunderstanding although there is still a flame of recognition of the true nature of Beauty and Love that burns at its heart.
Shakespeare knew this well: 'All things seem but cannot Be. Beauty brags but �tis not She.'
All things seem to have an existence of their own, separate and independent of Awareness, but do not. The �Isness� of an apparent object belongs to Awareness alone.
'Beauty brags,' that is, the beauty (with a small �b�) that seems to belong to the object 'brags,' pretends to be the real thing, draws attention to the object, 'but �tis not She,' that is, �tis not She, the true love of our hearts, objectless Beauty itself.
Q. During this period of your life, you say that you had a model of the truth and then there was living a life (relationships, having a family, earning an income, etc.). Effectively, there was a split between them. Can you expand?
My models were the great sages of previous eras and foreign cultures such as Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta and Rumi and for a while I mistook the cultural expressions of their understanding for the truth itself.
I felt that I had to turn away from the world in order to access this truth. This attitude is enshrined in some traditional teachings. For many of us, the belief and feeling that it is �I,� the body/mind that knows the world, is initially replaced by the experiential understanding that �I� is the witnessing Awareness that is aware of the body/mind/world.
In order to see this clearly, it may be necessary to temporarily place the body/mind/world at a seeming distance, as it were, in order to establish experientially that we are the witness and not the witnessed. For many people, and I was one, this position of the witness is an important step and establishes the presence and the primacy of Awareness.
This position is enshrined in some monastic traditions where the world and even the body are denied in order to focus on the presence of Awareness.
However, in this position there is still a subtle presumption of duality between the perceiving �I� of Awareness and the perceived object, other or world. This distinction is sometimes naturally dissolved over time or may dissolve as a result of further exploration of experience. Either way, the result is the utter saturation of the body/mind/world with Awareness (in fact, it was always thus but is now known and felt to be so) in which the body, mind and world are no longer believed and felt to be dangerous or threatening and can again be fully embraced.
Q. Why did you leave The Study Society? You mention you felt like something was missing.
Yes, there was still a distance. I couldn�t completely make the teaching my own, so to speak.
Q. And then you met Francis Lucille. How did he help you?
Something about our encounter made it clear that what I am is ever-present and without limits or location. As a side effect of this discovery, the �me� that was looking for help was found to be non-existent.
Q. Would you say that you are Self-realized/enlightened, for want of a better expression?
Both the answer, �Yes,� and the answer, �No,� would presume the presence of one that may or may not be enlightened. In the absence of such a one, only the Light that enlightens all seeming things remains. In fact, it does not �remain� in time. It is realised to be the ever-present reality of all experience. It is experience.
Q. What does it mean to be Self-realized/enlightened?
These words can be used with different meanings. The meanings with which I use them are as follows:
To be enlightened means to know oneself as Awareness and to know that this Awareness is ever-present and without limit or location.
To be Self-realized means to think, feel and act in line with that experiential understanding.
Enlightenment is instantaneous although it may not be immediate. Self-realization takes apparent time and involves the gradual dissolution of all the olds habits of thinking, feeling, acting and relating on behalf of a separate entity and, as a result, the realignment of the mind, body and world with the experiential understanding of our self, Awareness, as the sole witness and substance of all seeming things.
Q. Why aren�t I Self-realized/enlightened?
Because of that very question. With that question you presume yourself to be an entity that is other than and separate from the light of Awareness. This presumption is known as the �person� or the �separate entity� and seems to veil the Love and Happiness that are inherent in Awareness� knowing of its own Being.
This apparent veiling of Happiness is synonymous with the search for enlightenment or the feeling of being unenlightened. That search is what the separate entity is, not what it does.
Once we have imagined ourselves to be such an entity, the search for Happiness in the objects of the mind, the body and the world is inevitable. If we believe and feel ourselves to be such an entity and believe at the same time that we are not in search, we are simply deluding ourselves. We have simply buried the subtle rejection of the now, which is another name for the search, under a new belief in non-duality.
However, sooner or later this search comes to an end, in most cases, as a result of suffering and enquiry. At this point, we may, as it were, turn round and question the very one who is in search only to find it to be utterly non-existent. In its place, where we are expecting to find the �I� of the separate self, find only the �I� of Awareness.
It is inevitable that the search up until this point will seem to have been undertaken by the separate entity we believe and feel ourselves to be. However, even if we provisionally credit the apparently separate entity with this activity, it does no more than this. In fact, in realty it doesn�t even do this. What can a non-existent entity do? However, we should be wary of buying the �there is nothing to do� belief while the feeling of separation is still present.
Q. How is Self-realization/enlightenment attained?
In order to think that enlightenment can be attained we first have to believe that it has been lost. Once enlightenment is believed to have been lost we will, by definition, consider ourselves to be a separate entity on an inevitable search for Happiness. This search revolves around the separate entity we consider ourselves to be and who is felt to be unhappy. Therefore, in such a case, the very best thing we can do is to turn towards this unhappy self that is longing for Happiness. When we turn towards this �I� that we intimately know ourselves to be, we do not find a separate entity. We find Awareness, Presence. And what is it that finds Awareness? Awareness is the only one present �there,� capable of being aware of Awareness.
Simultaneous with this Self-recognition comes the recognition that Awareness is, in fact, always only knowing its own Self and at this point we can truly say that there is never any ignorance.
However, until this recognition has taken place it would be more honest to recognise that we feel ourselves to be a person on an inevitable search of Happiness. As this apparent person we turn round, as it were, towards the source of our being and, like a moth flying into the flame we, this imaginary entity, seems to dissolve in it.
Only then do we realize that there was never an entity to begin with. Then it is clear that there was no one who turned round towards the source of their being. There was always only Presence, seemingly veiling itself with the belief in separation and seemingly unveiling itself with the recognition of its true nature, but never, in fact, for a moment knowing or being anything other than its own Self.
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