Have you had a profound glimpse of awakening/enlightenment but you’re afraid to dive deeper (or you don’t know how)? Here’s a direct guide to further exploring your true nature.
Get Dr. Angelo DiLullo’s book on awakening, Awake: It’s Your Turn, here. Check out Angelo’s YouTube channel with excellent pointer videos here. Sign up for Angelo’s email list for future meditation retreats and updates here. And watch ALL of our videos on awakening with my fellow Dr. D here. Full transcript in the “transcript” tab below.
– [Zubin] All right, welcome back, Dr. Angelo DiLullo, author of the book “Awake: It’s Your Turn,” about awakening and realization. We’re talking more today about that stuff, ’cause it’s really all I care about. Don’t ask me about COVID. Don’t ask me about anything else. Ask me about this. And so, question, a lot of people, it seems to come up a lot, people have had experiences in their lives, and I think people who are watching may even really feel into this, where something happened in their life where they touched into something they cannot put into words, whether it was a deep, like a mystical experience, if you wanna put a label on it, or something happened where the before and after of that is not easy to describe, but it changed their sense of what reality is or who they are or their place in everything and they have no idea what it was. They’ve never talked about it. They had a shift that they don’t understand. They didn’t have a context for it and they let it go, but there’s something about it that keeps coming back in their lives. What is your experience with people in this? Are these awakenings? Like, what is happening and how would you talk to someone who might be feeling into something like that?
– [Angelo] Hmm, that’s a really good question. So one of the first, I would say THE first barrier of, let’s say, to awakening is to know that it’s actually possible. And I’ve said this before and I always kind of repeat this because you can hear it 10 times, and the 11 time it hits. But the instinctual knowing that what we’re talking about is a very real possibility for you, getting to that place where that just clicks in, drops in, something hits you and you go, “Oh, that? Yeah, that’s always been here. I just haven’t addressed it. No one told me to look there.” That’s sort of, you could say, in talking about this, my goal for getting someone through that first barrier. And the first barrier is just really not knowing really what we’re talking about. And what we’re talking about is presence. What we’re talking about is unfiltered reality or unbound experience moment to moment. Which is actually always here, it’s always the case. But, and this is a big but, when we find ourself in the adult body-mind, and the adult mind specifically, we find ourselves in a world of thought, a world of problems, solutions, past, present, future, and thinking, thinking, thinking. And many people that find that inherently uncomfortable to various degrees and at different times. But almost everyone can relate to thought being uncomfortable at some time or another, for sure, right? So because that’s so prevalent, because our attention is drawn into thought so frequently throughout the day, we learn to value the world of thought. We learn to value the world as thought sees it, which is the world of past and future. It’s actually really hard to think about what’s happening right in this moment. Because what’s happening right at this moment, the moment you take a snapshot and start thinking about it, it’s already in the past.
– [Zubin] It’s gone.
– [Angelo] Right, so if you just take inventory and look at what thoughts value, the value the past and the future, whether it’s five minutes ago or two days ago, or 10 years ago, or whether it’s five minutes from now, or, you know, next year or next week, that’s what thoughts tend to occupy themselves with is the past and the future and movement through time progression, right? That’s the world of thought.
– [Zubin] So they’re always a reflection, they’re always a reflection of something that either is gonna happen or didn’t happen. At least they’re not a reflection of what’s actually happening.
– [Angelo] Correct, and they are an inaccurate reflection because they add a lot that isn’t there, okay? And we can get into that at some point, but, you know, specifically what I’m talking about now is they add time and progression.
– [Zubin] Space and, yeah.
– [Angelo] Yeah, and so forth. But the point I’m making with this is we get habituated to paying a lot of attention to thought. We get convinced that the world of me is that world of thought. The world of living my life is the world of thinking about living my life. And once we’re indoctrinated into that, what happens is that we don’t value or we overlook very easily that which the thought world can’t actually experience. You can experience it, but the thoughts can’t. And when you experience it, which is what we’re talking about, presence, something that’s ineffable, more obvious than the thoughts themselves, because it’s always the case, always here, always on, presence, awareness, it’s always here, consciousness, when we get a taste of that, when we get a glimpse of that, often, there’s nothing to say about it. We don’t know, because we’re so ingrained in that thought world, we’re using that thought world to record experiences. Inaccurately, but that’s what we’re doing. We’re constructing the narrative of us in the thought world. The thought world does not value that. It doesn’t value presence because it doesn’t see presence. So what happens is you overlook those experiences. But everyone has them, I think. I’m sure everyone has these moments of knowing, of something very, very real, very deep and very intimate and very alive. And, often, what I do to kind of get people through this first barrier if they’re interested in this topic, interested in waking up, interested in digging into their identity, is I give them that sense of what we’re talking about now. Or I might even tell a story about a time in my life when something touched into that deeper place. And, often, just through that conversation someone will say, “Oh my God, that’s happened to me. I remember it happened one time.” And they’ll tell me a story. And this has happened more times than I can count. So it’ll be, “Oh, I was at church one time and something happened.” “I was with my kids.” Like, it can be literally any time or place, any situation, but what is important is that, when they tell it to me, I can tell that what they’re talking about isn’t in that world of the narrative and the storyline of thought. They didn’t have a way of putting it into that narrative because it was too real for that. But they darn well know it happened. And they know it was very, very real. And, often, they even sense, “Yeah, it’s kind of always here, but I don’t look at it. I don’t put my attention there, you know, because no one told me to, or I never knew it was important or whatever.” And so this first conversation often is just redirecting somebody to that and just going, “Oh yeah, you remember that taste you had?” And, often, it’ll really open them, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I totally forgot about that. I never think about that, because you can’t actually think about it, right? But I know it. I know that’s real. I know that was real and it actually changed something.” Often they’ll say, “It change something in my life.” It actually, for some people, it change the course of their life. It was that profound. And, again, often they can’t talk about it. They can’t say what it was, but it was, again, more real than what we consider to be real from the way we think about life on a timeline with a progression, which, again, is made out of thoughts. It’s only made out of thoughts. So redirecting someone’s attention back to that. Or they’ll spontaneously tell me that story. The next step is I say, “That right there. That matters more than you realize, probably. It matters a lot. It matters more than the storyline.” You have every right, and if you’re interested and if you’re curious, you have the ability to attune your attention to it. And you can do it right now or you can do it whenever it comes to you. But just the opening of your heart, in a sense, to that, to that possibility, will actually bring it about sometimes. You can’t force it, but just be a little bit open to that. And you might notice over the next day, two days, two weeks, you might get those tastes. They might just literally come out of nowhere and then you have the ability to attune to it and just go, “Oh, okay, yeah. I’m just gonna give that a little bit of my attention. Not do anything with it, not collect it, not think about it, just feel into it.” And it might come in small tastes, and then, it might come in large tastes.
– [Zubin] I think this is so important, honestly, that it’s so overlooked in our culture that people have these experiences. And like you said, thought can’t package it. So it gets packaged like, “Oh, this thing happened. I don’t know what it was.” Or, “I had some experience.” And maybe it was on a drug. Maybe it was during a sport. They got into a flow state and something happened. It’s in church. It’s in nature. It happens during trauma or horrible, horrible, some terrible thing where people just, “Oh,” they’re suddenly out of their mind, literally out of their mind. And they have no container for it. They have no context for it and thought can’t understand it. And either they abandon it, they repress it, or there’s even sometimes with it a sense of shame, like, “Hmm, am I losing my mind?” Or, “Was this a real thing or am I just imagining stuff?” And they don’t feel… So what you just said where you can talk people through and it actually provides a validation of the experience. It’s like, “No, no, no, no, no. This is not just real. It’s realer than what you typically think is real.” It can then light a fire under people. Like, this actually happened to me, I think, where I had this experience in Las Vegas when I first moved to Vegas where I can’t really put words on it. And I’ve tried to talk about it and it doesn’t quite work, but it changed my life. Like, my whole direction of my life changed and I didn’t understand it. And then I started seeking and trying to figure out what it was. And even then, it felt like, mm. and I never really validated the experience properly. But you know, in Zen, I think in the book, “Three Pillars of Zen,” which you talk about in your book as a reference at some point that had kind of lit a fire under you, they talk about this in the sense that there are these three aspects, and I’d be curious what you think about this, but there are three aspects of kind of Zen practice that happen. The first is faith. And they’re talking about faith as different from belief. Faith meaning you’ve touched into something that you know, you just know there’s something there and that generates a kind of faith. It’s a kind of a knowing, an intuition, that, no, there is something, there is a relief of suffering, there’s a reality that is more present than what I think is in my head. And that faith then drives a kind of doubt, which is the second thing, which is like, but this doesn’t feel like that. Like, this is different than that. This is this kind of suffering, which then drives the third piece, which is determination. I need to investigate what this is. But it may start with that validating that component of faith. I’m curious what you think.
– [Angelo] Yeah, those three components are often already present, or I’ll try to sort of cultivate one of them in somebody, again, if they’re interested in this topic and they’re asking specific questions about it or working on it. But the faith is important. And interestingly, it’s not something that’s talked about a lot in Zen but it is mentioned in “The Three Pillars of Zen.” But it’s a trust that goes down beyond the confines of your mind, of anything you believe. It’s more fundamental than belief. It’s kind of, you can thread it all the way down through your identity, through the most fundamental, undeniable sense of who you are and just follow it all the way down. And it’s this faith or trust. In one way of speaking, it’s a trust in life itself. Or you could say a trust in God, if you’re Christian, perhaps, but it’s really a trust that there’s something truly beyond me, beyond the confines of what I can do or what I know. And, again, it really has to go beyond belief. You know, if you give it a label or a name or a set of rules, that’s not what I mean by this kind of faith. This is a very, very fundamental and deep trust in the universe, in life, in reality, that the way I’ve been living it, the way I’ve been struggling with it, it’s not really the answer. That’s not gonna deliver true, deep, and thoroughgoing satisfaction in life. But something in me tells me there’s something that can, and it’s here, and it’s here. It’s something I have access to. And it’s come forth in my life before, as we started this conversation. So that is important. And if that’s literally not there at all, I’m not sure this process really gets started for people.
– [Zubin] Right, and that’s okay.
– [Angelo] And it’s okay.
– [Zubin] That’s okay, yeah.
– [Angelo] It’s totally okay. But it really starts out as a glimmer. It may not be this like deep conviction. It’s more like there’s something shimmering, as we talked about the well in the last one, in the poem. It’s like, you may just see it shimmering at the very bottom, but you’re way up here at the top. And you don’t know what it is down there, but you trust it. So it’s a trust. It’s a trust in life, a trust in this process. And then the doubt, the doubt mass, it’s an interesting thing. It also starts to drive this process because it’s, what you could say is, it’s suffering. It’s the feeling that this world of thought, this world of holding myself back from life so I can constantly contemplate it and my place in it and then try to manipulate the circumstances around me to try to make myself just feel a little bit better, whether that’s through anything, addictions, habits, behaviors, relationships, whatever you’re doing, something about that feels thoroughly uncomfortable at some level. It’s not working. You know it’s not working. You know, I’ve accomplished the things I’m supposed to accomplish, and it didn’t really do it. And so that’s where the doubt comes. And the doubt is, in a sense, it’s not necessarily the doubt in yourself, but it’s a doubt in the ways you’ve learned to perceive yourself, the ways you’ve learned to perceive the world, the beliefs you’ve like hobbled together to try to make your life work. And yet, somehow, it’s not really working. It’s working, but it’s not working at the deepest level and you know it. So that’s the doubt aspect. And it’s sort of a reflection, the first two are sort of reflections of one another, right? The thought world being a reflection, trying to reflect what’s real, and it can’t actually do it. It can’t do it accurately, but it keeps trying. That’s how doubt feels. That’s the dukkha, or suffering.
– [Zubin] dukkha, yeah.
– [Angelo] Whereas the unsullied, pristine truth of unfiltered reality, again, everybody has access to that because it’s your true nature. It’s just here. And so you can see how that gets set up. It’s like this dichotomy and you kind of look at one and you go, “Okay, well, the doubt doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel deeply real. There’s gotta be something beyond that. The thought world doesn’t feel deeply real to me. And yet, something instinctually does feel very real.” And so it sets up a sort of contrast and maybe it just gives you and it points the arrow in one direction, right? And then the third thing is effort. Or a sort of-
– [Zubin] Determination.
– [Angelo] I might say it’s a little bit more of, like, because not everybody wakes up through effort. Many people wake up through surrender or a combination thereof. Or there’s a lot of effort, and then, at the end, there’s a surrender. You know, it happens all different ways. But I might say it’s more like a choice. It’s more like a-
– [Zubin] Yeah, intention.
– [Angelo] An intention to make a priority of living truth, whatever that is. Truth that is not something you can describe in words, not something you can describe by a set of rules, not something that only one group of people has. It’s nothing like that. A living truth that is thoroughly satisfying, that’s spontaneous, that’s real, that accommodates anything that is infinite, deeply intimate, this truth, orienting to that and telling yourself at some level, that’s what’s the most interesting thing to me. That’s a priority in my life, if it’s not the priority. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to stop doing anything else, necessarily, but you may have to rearrange some things around it or stop doing distracting things if you can, or whatever, to give yourself some time, perhaps, to meditate or to investigate this. But that’s not really what it’s about. What it’s really about is, where is your heart? Where are you putting your intention? And if your intention is here, if it’s on that shiny coin at the bottom of the well, then you’re going to start a process that will change your life. It will change things significantly and fundamentally for you over time. And how fast or slow that happens you don’t always have control over. But I do have a chapter in my book on cautions. And one of the cautions is, make sure you sit with this and know this is really what you’re interested in, because you’re engaging in very powerful forces. That’s all I’ll say. And things will start changing in your life. And it will change in some ways that you can’t always predict. It’ll change in some ways that are wonderful. It’ll change in some ways that are surprising. But your internal experience is gonna start to shift and change. And if that’s like the coolest thing you’ve ever heard, then go for it. If you’re like, “Hmm, I’m not sure if I’m ready for that yet,” then sit with it for awhile. It’s okay. You can always come back to it.
– [Zubin] The poem that you refer to, the David Whyte poem, “The Grief Well,” I think, this is a key illustration of what you’re talking about. There are these beautiful, shiny coins at the bottom, and to get to them, you dive into some murky water and try to clarify. And in that water, you can’t breathe, sometimes. Like, it’s that uncomfortable. And that’s what this process can be like. And it all is sparked by that intuition, that faith, that knowing. It’s interesting, ’cause I sort of identified as an atheist for most of my life. I’m a scientist. Like you, skeptical, rationalist. But there was always a knowing, I don’t know, as long as I can remember, that there’s some bigger truth there. There’s a living, authentic truth that is here that, at some point, it’s beyond conceptual knowing. And it would drive me to feel like everything was gonna be okay. In contrast to that was this, which had a deep unsatisfactory component. Like, it just felt unsatisfying no matter what I accomplished, no matter what I did. And listen, I’ve been blessed, brother. Like, whatever karma I’ve had in previous lives, if that is a thing, I’ve been given so many gifts. And so to feel in the context of that a dissatisfaction feels, it’s almost shameful, right? And yet, it’s undeniably true that that true peace or truth does not feel like this. This feels like a shroud on that. And so that faith that there’s something there, and I’ve experienced those experiences, whether it was on, you know, psychedelics early in my life or that experience I had in Vegas or recent experiences, it’s clear. Like, it’s doubtless that it’s there, but then there’s this doubt mass here that drives the suffering. And then that pushes the intention. Like, now, this is the most important thing in my life. And so I think the key thing here that you’re conveying in my mind, and tell me if I’m wrong, is people who’ve had this faith experience of like, “I’ve touched into that,” it’s okay. Like, you can validate that. That is a thing. And it’s okay to feel like this is not enough, this is not right. And it’s okay then to be determined to do something about it. It’s also okay not. If none of that happens, it’s okay. Does that feel right?
– [Angelo] Yeah, I also wanted to point out something about what you said where you described how you are blessed in the relative sense, of course. You have a wonderful family and a great career, all this, all this. A common question I get, interestingly, is that because this often, the ball gets rolling through suffering, I mean, I interact with people who’ve had some of the worst conditions growing up.
– [Zubin] Terrible.
– [Angelo] Things you can’t imagine, just really horrible stuff, and they wake up. And a lot of times, it’s easy for them at first. The first part is really easy because what do they have to lose? Like, if life has been pretty brutal, at least relatively speaking, why not let go? Let’s see what it feels like to let go into something that’s more real than real, right? It’s not that hard for a lot of people who’ve been through serious traumas to let go. Later on down the road in deeper stages of realization, I think that playing field levels a bit. But anyway, because of that, and that’s sort of reasonably well-known in this genre we’re talking about, that often suffering leads to this, I get the question from people, they’re like, “Well, I haven’t had that bad of a life. Do you think I can wake up?” I get that, and, “I know I have good relationships and I’m healthy and whatever.” And I usually tell them, you know, it’s very obvious to me that anyone can wake up because what you wake up to is what’s already here, that’s always awake, never been asleep, never gone anywhere. You know, it’s so obvious. So of course you can. The question is, how do you get leverage on yourself? And one of the ways to get leverage on yourself is to be really, really, really honest with yourself. You might have identified with the role of the person who’s doing good in life more than you realize. Do you suffer? Like, really feel into that. And you’re vulnerable and honest about it. You said it. I know I have a great family. I know I have a great wife and a great career, and a second great career. I know all that’s true and I can’t deny it and I wouldn’t deny it. And I’m also not deeply satisfied and happy. That’s honesty, and that’s vulnerability. So if someone says, “Hey, I have a great life. I have this and that.” That’s awesome. If you deeply believe that through and through, I’m not gonna argue with you. That’s fine. Maybe you do, and that’s awesome. But if you’re listening to this, you might have an inkling that something else is going on. And if you’re really honest with yourself, are you willing to let go of that identity of the person who gets it right, who’s the good person? You know, because you may be getting something out of that if it’s true. It may not be true. But if that’s an identity that feels a little bit inauthentic to you, just consider, is there something underneath that? Am I actually suffering and I’m just hiding it from myself a little bit because I’m playing the role in society of the person who’s got it together? If the shoe fits, wear it. If the shoe doesn’t fit, try it on again. And then after that, it’s up to you.
– [Zubin] Hmm, man, that really hits very close, to, I think, a lot of our audience, too. Like, there are plenty of people in my audience that have suffered, had traumas, like, horrible suffering. Maybe they’re even at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy where they’re trying to get their basic needs met. Like a certified nurse assistant makes, you know, just above minimum wage, works really hard, and has been just crushed during COVID. And they’re suffering. And maybe they’re the sole breadwinner for their family. And that’s like a good case, right? But then there are people, nurses and doctors and respiratory therapists and other people that aren’t in medicine that are watching who are like, they’ve clicked all the boxes. So they’ve gone the route of the Buddha. The Buddha was a prince. He had everything. And yet, there’s this deep dissatisfaction that is shameful to some extent, meaning there’s a component of shame. Like if I’m looking at myself, I’ll say, “How dare I question this?” People have told me, “You’re a spoiled brat for even talking about awakening and meditation. Like, you have what you need. Like, people are actually suffering. Like, what’s wrong with your life?” And, really, you have to give yourself permission to go, “No, I’m honest. I’m being truly honest. Like, love everything about this, but yet, there is this, right?” And then giving yourself permission to go, “Okay, is it okay if I explore this? What will happen if that identity is really actually threatened by what is real? What will happen? What will happen to me? Will I die? Will I lose everything that I think I have and need? Will my family leave me? Will I leave my family?” “Well, what will happen?” These are real questions that arise.
– [Angelo] You said it well. I mean, you said it very well. When I said playing that role, that’s what I mean. The way you find out if you’re playing a role is when you start asking yourself, “Well, what do I fear about? What if I am suffering more than, you know, what does that mean? What are the implications? Oh, the implications are, I would be accused of this and that.” And then you worry about losing validation. When you start seeing that, that’s what I mean by you’re playing a role, or at least part of you might be playing a role. Not all of you, but part of you is. And then, what is it like to let go of that? Is it scary? Does it feel scary to let go of that role? If that’s what you feel, then go, “Okay.” Sit with it and say, “What’s underneath the fear? Am I actually suffering?” You know, that’s the kind of question you can ask yourself if you’re interested. If you look at this and you go, “But I’m not suffering, I have everything I need,” is that the story that you tell yourself that everyone tells each other? You know, we all know what that’s like. We have a lot of inauthenticity in our culture. Look at Facebook. You know, you see the couple who’s happily in their pictures and then you know them behind the scenes and you’re like, “Oh, okay. Well, they actually hate each other.” You know, that kind of thing. And we have a sort of culture of inauthenticity. So that’s all I’m pointing to. If not, if you’re like, “No, I really am deeply happy. I have a family. I love my family. It’s wonderful. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m deeply satisfied,” that’s awesome.
– [Zubin] Yep, the shoe fits.
– [Angelo] Why would you mess with this stuff, right?
– [Zubin] Right.
– [Angelo] But if you’re willing to dig in a little bit and you see like, “Oh no, no. I mean, no, I really am suffering.” And I’ve had many, many physicians come to me and say, after our last series of shows, I don’t know about many, many, but a good handful of ones I know and several that came to our retreat that said, “Yeah, that actually is what struck me. Like, yeah, I do have a good job. I have a good career. I care about my job. I enjoy my job. I have a good family. And yet, I can’t deny the fact that something does not feel right and I want to address that.” And that’s really what this message is for. Like, hey, just because you have money, career, and good family and you’re generally healthy, it doesn’t mean you don’t suffer. It does not mean you don’t suffer. It doesn’t mean you do suffer, but only you know that. Only you can answer that question.
– [Zubin] Yeah, it’s so personal. You know, the interesting thing about retreat, which by the way, we’ll put links at the bottom to both, to the book, but also to your website where you can sign up for a mailing list for if you do announce retreats and stuff like that, people can sign up for your list, which I think is very helpful. I’ll tell you, that retreat was so transformative. And most of the people there were healthcare people. And to see, to talk to other doctors who were suffering like that. But, again, we have such, we were talking offline, we have these very refined ego structures as doctors. We’re very good at living in the illusion. Like, in fact, we’ve mastered the video game in many ways. And it’s kind of like, there comes a point where you’re like, “Okay, so I’m pretty good at this game, but what does it mean? Why am I still dissatisfied?” And to feel these people open up during retreat, and then it’s a kind of surrender. It’s a kind of saying, “If this identity died, what would be underneath it? Would it be okay?” And seeing what happens when you do that. And it’s so terrifying. And yet, and yet, and yet, when you do it, when you even glimpse that kind of surrender, you know right then. And you’re like, “That’s the answer to all these questions, like all of this doubt mass. It’s right there.” But then the standing wave of mind comes back and says, “But your identity. Like, how are you gonna continue to do a show talking about, say, COVID if really what you deeply care about is this and you don’t care if you ever do another show, you don’t care who follows you on Facebook. It doesn’t matter, and you just want to explore what’s actually happening in this moment?” It’s pretty destabilizing.
– [Angelo] Yep, but it comes to a good place. All I can say is, if you start this process, don’t stop. Keep going. You’ll take wrong turns. You’ll go this way. You’ll go that way. You’ll get tired of it and talk yourself out of it for six months and come back and all that. It’s gonna happen, but keep going. Like, just get the job done, seriously. Like, don’t mess around with it ’cause you’ll end up, the more this plays out, the higher the cost is for fighting the process. Like I said, you come in contact with something far beyond you, as far as the power of it. And that the forces of this progression, it’s a force of nature, literally. That’s how it feels. And it’s quite sublime. So yeah, just keep at it.
– [Zubin] It’s like the universe waking itself up through you and knowing itself. So I gotta say one other thing. So I get a lot of emails, I know you do too, of people who have started down this path, like, whatever it was, like, they had that little awakening and they got validated, they had the determination and they had the doubt, something happens. Deep, emotional material comes up. A life event happens that really challenges them that forces them and shoots them back into mind identification in a way that they feel like all of that was worthless and, “What was I working on? It doesn’t work,” and they quit, or they tell you, “I wanna quit. This is not working. I’m suffering more than ever, it feels like,” and this and this, but underneath that, you feel the subtext, the unspoken thing, which is, “I can’t stop this. This needs to go on. Like, what do I do?” I’ve felt that way. When I first read your book and the chapter 10 on the stages of awakening and I got to the advanced stages and you point directly at what reality can be like in those stages, I literally wanted to throw this book in the toilet and never look at it again, because it was so triggering because I knew it was right. I was like, “Oh no, that’s right.” And the mind was trying to process, like, “Oh, so that’s what reality is like.” And through the mind, that looks crazy. But through actually reality, seeing it that way, no, that’s just how it is. And it’s actually sublime. So how do you talk to people who just want out after it starts?
– [Angelo] Well, it’s interesting you say that, as far as people contacting you or me and saying, “I wanna just quit,” I don’t get a lot of that as much as, “I just don’t know what to do or where to go,” or, “I’m just in this place of like, I don’t even know. I don’t even know if I’m interested in this. I don’t understand it. I don’t know if I had an awakening or I didn’t and I don’t even care about, you know, whatever.”
– [Zubin] Frustration almost.
– [Angelo] Frustration, yeah. And it really depends on the situation and the person, but I always work with what’s happening right then. I often tell people, you know, “I don’t really care what happened last week. I don’t care about your spiritual experience last week. I don’t even care if you’ve had an awakening. I don’t care. As far as this kind of conversation, I only care with what’s right in front of my face. But how are you feeling now? What’s going on? What is your fixation or what are you feeling fixated? What are you feeling resistance about? What are the thoughts? What is the storyline? What’s going on? What do you feel?” That’s all I talk about and it always evolves just fine from there. But, yeah, if somebody is feeling despondent or just extremely frustrated and sort of disoriented, a lot of times, I just say, “Oh, you’re completely disoriented right now? Finally, finally. Now we’re talking about authenticity. Because to the mind, to the thinking mind, this is very disorienting. And guess what? It’s fine. It’s fine to be disoriented.” So then I’ll just point them to, how can you feel disorientation right now as presence? Because presence can be anything. People want to believe presence is only bliss. Presence is only expansiveness. Presence is also a contraction. Whatever’s present is presence, right?
– [Zubin] It’s just what is.
– [Angelo] Presence doesn’t care what makes you feel good or bad. It’s not about feeling good or bad. I’ll show you what’s beyond the feeling of good and bad and you would never wanna go back, right? But you have to go through the attachment to what feels good and bad right now. You have to go through the attachment to it. You know, you can’t change that you’re gonna feel good and bad sometimes. That’s just how it goes. Like, you can’t change the fact that, when you hit your hand with a hammer, you’re gonna feel pain. Enlightenment doesn’t mean you hit your hand with a hammer and you don’t feel pain. That’s not what that means. So you’re gonna still feel pain and you’re still gonna have certain kinds of pleasures. Like, you taste a certain type of food and it tastes good, let’s say, in the very raw sense of enjoyment, okay? That’s still gonna be there. That’s not the problem. None of that is the problem. The problem is attachment, that you feel like you can actually control what already happened. And what I mean by what already happened, it’s as I said before, by the time the mind takes a snapshot of this moment to try to think about it, the moment’s changed.
– [Zubin] It’s gone.
– [Angelo] It’s changed. It’s a constantly fluctuating experience, right? As you mentioned, it can be kind of scary when you see what’s really there because you see, the first thing you notice is the mind can’t get ahold of it at all. And it never will. And it never has. So then you jumped back into the mind where it’s safe and predictable and all that, but it’s also uncomfortable and it’s also suffering. And so sometimes you jump back and forth a few times to really convince yourself, “Okay, that world of thought, it’s not really the answer. The world of attachment, the world of feeling like I’m in control of everything all the time, it has a lot of emotional repression. That’s not deeply satisfying.” Once you realize that’s not deeply satisfying, you can really start to unhook the tendencies, the addictions to thought, the belief structures. You can just start to undermine those a little bit until the tendency to get pulled into thought constantly subsides. And then, you start to experience, as you mentioned, what reality actually is. Which there’s no way to describe it, actually. But it is deeply satisfying when you don’t resist it. When you resist it at 1%, it’s deeply uncomfortable. Period.
– [Zubin] Yeah, that’s it.
– [Angelo] It’s all or nothing.
– [Zubin] It’s a kind of presence as experienced by me. All I can speak to is my own experience. Okay, actually, to back up on one thing you said, all I can know about or care about is what’s happening right now. I cannot tell you how crucial, you know this, but for the audience, that is the most important thing. One time, I was meditating, and that, it just hit me on the head that there’s only this. So why are you worried about what your meditative experience was three weeks ago or that time you had that experience or when this happened or this story, story, story? That’s mind, mind, mind. What’s happening right now is all that matters. And anytime I talk to you, anytime I talk to anyone, it should just be like, “What’s going on right now?” It’s almost like a complete fresh approach. The most powerful practice that I have found for myself is, “Okay, let’s sit and drop everything.” Like there’s no past, there’s no future, there’s no you, there’s no nothing, just what’s happening right now. Boom, go, go. And maybe it lasts for whatever in clock time, like 10 seconds, but it is liberation and 10 seconds of, “Oh, there’s just this happening.” And then the mind goes, “Hey, remember that time?” And it comes back. That’s fine, too. That’s happening right now, too.
– [Angelo] Or it’ll say, “How am I gonna get back to this? This is wonderful.”
– [Zubin] Oh, that’s the best. That’s my favorite thing that happens to me. It’s actually my biggest fixation, probably.
– [Angelo] Oh, I’ve got a plan for, this presence right here is so wonderful. I’m gonna plan for the future of when I don’t have this so that I can get back to this, right? Sometimes I’ll say the mind’s world, the world of thoughts, it doesn’t have, actually, a lot that it can use as leverage, really. But one thing it does have is time. It’s hypnotic, right? It’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s right. Because, later, I am gonna feel like that and I’m gonna have to go back.” And it’s hypnotic, but when you see it, it’s only really hypnotic because it’s familiar. Our nervous systems are sort of wired for familiarity, to reproduce familiar patterns because if it happened before several times and you’re not dead, then it’s a survival instinct to some degree. And so we’re in the habit of familiarity, but it’s not good for us. And you see that everywhere. You see it in relationships. You see it all over the place, right? Just because something’s happened a bunch of times and we’ve done it a bunch of times it doesn’t mean the next time it’s gonna deliver us some kind of enjoyment that we keep hoping for. And it’s similar with the thought train, getting on the thought train again and again and again. Yeah, you’ve gotten on it 1,000 times a day for the last however many thousand days, and it’s never delivered you true peace. Why do you think getting on it this time is gonna do that? So at first, you can actually help it. The tendency is so strong. But, over time, you can start to actually disengage. Just not touch this with thought. Don’t touch this moment with thought. And this show could get really quiet if we just sit here and stare at each other, but it’s possible, you know? And when you and I are talking and not recording, we do sit here like that when there’s no reason to touch this moment with thought. And all of a sudden, presence is just vibrant, aliveliness. And it always is. That’s the beauty of it. What awakening really means is it’s a shift in identity. It’s an experiential shift in identity, not a momentary experience. And to me, it’s very obvious because the difference is the way somebody describes what’s happening or what happened. There’ll be like, “Oh, dude, three weeks ago, I was sitting down and I was meditating. And then this happened and my mind exploded and God was on my lap,” and this, I mean, I don’t know what they said, but all kind of, you know, “I was like on Jupiter and the mystical experiences.” And they’re telling me a story about what happened three weeks ago. And I’m like, “Oh, cool. Man, two days ago I was walking and I stepped on dog shit.” Like, it’s a story. Like, who cares? Like, it doesn’t matter. You know, I’m nice about it. I don’t say that. And sometimes there is insights that come out of certain experiences, especially emotional insights or something about your past, but often it’s just like, “Oh, dude, I had this mind expanding experience.” I’m like, “Great. Let’s talk about the fact that that’s not the case right now. What is it getting in the way of you knowing that right now? Let’s look at that. Let’s look at what’s making you think you’re a you right now, apart from everything, talking about not what’s even happening now, but what happened three weeks ago?” That’s what’s more interesting. So that’s the difference between experience and realization. Realization is when it’s like, boom, “Oh, I already know that’s happening now. It’s absolutely undeniable and it’s not even happening.” Like, the conversation changes very quickly. Words can’t really convey it, but I can pick it up immediately when I’m interacting with somebody because their identity has blown open. Like, they’re not this discreet person that they think they are moving through time describing things that happened before and after. They’re not perceiving reality that way anymore. And so that’s that first shift. That’s the identity shift we talk about and call it awakening, where, all of a sudden, you realize, “Oh my God, talking about experiences is nonsense.” In fact, the experience, the only real altered experience there is is the altered experience of being a separate person. That’s the altered experience that keeps trying to overlay itself on this, which is actually experienceless. There’s not enough separation to experience it. It’s full immersion, right? That’s a shift in identity. That’s awakening, and it’s not subtle, really. It’s quite revolutionary experientially. And yet, you could walk down the street and walk past somebody who has had that happen and you wouldn’t necessarily know.
– [Zubin] You wouldn’t know at all?
– [Angelo] No.
– [Zubin] So the realization versus experience. So you as a pointer, as a teacher, like one-on-one, say with me, and again, I can only speak to my own experience, you’re ruthless about this, which is brilliant. I’ll tell you, “Hey, man, I was working on this Zen koan mu, and this is what it was like. And I had this and it was this. And everything was mu and I was mu. And it was like in ‘The Matrix’ and it was all mu.” And you’re like, “That’s great. So like, this is a story you’re telling about mu like it happened in the past. So is that mu? Like, where’s mu? What is mu?” And I’m just, “Uh…” And what that does, it short-circuits the structure of identity that’s trying to make a story out of what, at actually at the, it was as real, like, so undoubted as to drive a stake in the heart of any doubt. Like, when you experience what mu, and mu is a Zen koan and we may talk on it on another show, when you experience what mu really is, it’s not even an experience. It is beyond description. And it’s so real that you want, that it’s just undeniable. Then what happens to me? What happens to me is the mind returns, the mind meaning the structure of thought and identity that now there’s a one who had this experience of mu and then lost the experience of mu or forgot how to get back to mu, which is never other than what is now, and then texts you and says, “Hey, man, I had this experience of mu, bro. Like, what the hell?” It’s so painful, dude, because it’s undeniable. And yet, then the obscuration comes back. And that generates just untold grief for me, because then I feel like, “Oh, what do I do now?”
– [Angelo] Yeah, I mean, and that refers back to the show we previously recorded where that is kind of how it has to go. It’s a bi-phasic situation, right? You blow open a lot of, I don’t know, presence or whatever and some identity drops out or whatever. The next thing that often happens is the repressed material that was keeping that identity in place comes to the surface and you get to metabolize it or integrate it or whatever. And often, especially at first, it’s just like really uncomfortable. But it’s temporary like everything is temporary. It’s transient. It’ll go. It’ll come and it’ll go. It’ll come and it’ll go.
– [Zubin] Do those identity structures loosen over time? Like how does it, ’cause my sense of identity as a separate person is very strong. But I know when it drops, meaning there’s no I to know it, but it just, there’s a… Can’t really describe it, but suddenly, it’s not there And you experience life raw now. No…separation. I mean, it’s happened during this interview. Everything drops and there’s just this. And then, the sense of identity of being a person behind the eyes and so on. And again, we started this whole episode with talking about people who’ve had these experiences, whether they’re peak experiences or little mystical experiences or a true awakening, whatever, they don’t know what it is, but you know, you know that’s real. But then the contrast with, “Oh, I see this part of my head, so I know I’m back here. And there’s a sense of fullness behind the eyes. That’s where I am, and I’m experiencing you at a distance as an object.”
– [Angelo] So everything you just described, that last part is complex, sort of. But where are you actually seeing that? Just so we’re clear. Like, you’re looking out through your eyes, so you’re not actually seeing your own head.
– [Zubin] Yeah, you can’t see a head. It’s a thought.
– [Angelo] Totally, right. That was the point I wanted to make.
– [Zubin] It’s a thought.
– [Angelo] Not for you, but for anyone listening. Yeah, thoughts can seem so complex, but it’s really just one thought. You know what I mean? It’s a mental image. And mental images, non-conceptual thoughts, are often a little, in a sense they’re a little stickier because conceptual thoughts or narrative thoughts tend to just kind of run like a tape in your head.
– [Zubin] Like a train.
– [Angelo] And they can kind of turn on and off and stuff. But an image tends to sort of stay around a little bit. It kind of comes and goes more slowly. Do you notice that?
– [Zubin] Yeah.
– [Angelo] And that probably is what keeps the sense of the three-dimensional world together. And the three-dimensional world that doesn’t exist, not in the way we think about it, is sort of this stage on which you feel like you are all the time when you’re a self. That’s why that thought structure keeps that sense of subjectivity there. And what’s interesting is, you’re seeing yourself as an object, but you’re subjectively experiencing it internally and as the thought. That’s all I was pointing out. So all of that stuff can be happening. And it seems like this big complex thing and a big problem to get under and stuff, but it’s not, it’s one thought.
– [Zubin] It’s a thought.
– [Angelo] it’s literally one thought. And then another thought reflects on that thought.
– [Zubin] Right. Right, right. “Oh, well, so that’s a thought? Is that a thought? Oh, that’s a thought too. Okay.” No, no, but so during retreat, you pointed to this very directly. There was a point where, this has been a real fixation of mine, that thought, the head that I’m behind really reifies the sense that I’m an independent actor on a stage in three dimensions and separate from everything. But you did a pointer where you said, “You know, actually, when you feel that, that thought, look for what’s looking at that thought or look for the awareness that is aware of that and notice that there’s, like you’ve constructed a thought of separation.” I forgot how you pointed it. “And watch what happens.” And when I did whatever exercise you were pointing at, it just dissolved into this. It was crazy. I don’t remember what you exactly said, but it was the right pointer.
– [Angelo] It was something like this probably, and this can be really powerful in deeper-stage realization, but you can also get it or you can do it experientially in one moment if you practice it, anytime, really, but it may not stick. That’s the only thing. It may take some practice. But what I was pointing to from what I remember is you were describing a thought, right? But as you were describing it, it appeared to me, I don’t know what your internal experience is, it appeared to me like you were sort of visually living it as it had happened before. You were describing something that happened before. And then I did what I just did. I said, “Well, where is that actually happening?” And you’re like, “Oh, it’s only one thought right now.” You were very clear on that. And I said, “Great. So there’s one thought right now that looks like something that happened before. But that’s just one thought, right?” “Yes,” and this is what I said, I said, “Can you find where you’re seeing that thought from? Are you seeing that thought from somewhere? Look and find out.” And you said, very rightly so, you said, “No, no. There’s just one thought. Just one thought.” That’s when you start to pick up the signature of how thoughts catch your attention, because they seem like there’s a you moving from thought to thought, but there’s not. And this can be, again, if you hear this the right way and you really see it, it can be even a little destabilizing because it really shows you there’s no actual identity in there.
– [Zubin] Yeah, it’s just thoughts.
– [Angelo] The sense that there’s a you in there, separate, choosing between thoughts, moving between thoughts, that itself is one thought.
– [Zubin] And that is your chapter on inquiry into thought, actually, basically in one line. What you’re doing is you’re looking at those thoughts and then you’re trying to look back and go, “Well, okay, what’s the thinker? What was actually thinking that thought?” You look for that and you, realize, oh.
– [Angelo] Yes, and I wanna point out to anyone listening to this, this is all very meta, but listen to this, the language you’re using to say that is the way you have to talk about it to even convey what we’re talking about. And yet, what you just said is you look back and you see it. There’s this you doing, right?
– [Zubin] Right.
– [Angelo] I’m not picking on you, I’m pointing out-
– [Zubin] No, no, exactly.
– [Angelo] To anyone listening-
– [Zubin] Pick on me, yeah.
– [Angelo] Well, it’s really just for the language. Like, the language has to be that way. But what you’re actually seeing is there’s no one doing any of that. There’s no you that sits back and looks for the thought that’s behind the thought. That’s what’s the weird thing. You just realize, “Oh my God, it’s just one thought.” And it’s almost as if this whole world of belief around a situation, your life, a person, your history, all that, it can all be encapsulated in one thought. It’s like a whole world. And it’s just like, pop. And then the next thing and the next thing and then a sound and then a sensation. That’s more what liberation is like. Liberation is not like anything because it’s too flexible to be like anything. But it’s very, in a sense, bubble-like. It’s like, oh yeah, that one thought seems to point to the next thought or to a world or to a you that’s aware of the thought and all that. None of that’s actually happening.
– [Zubin] It’s not happening.
– [Angelo] It’s just like a solitary experience, and then it’s gone. And then there’s a sound experience, which that is non-dual, no distance, no separation, no specific location and no center, that sound. And then a visual experience, you know, the same thing. A visual experience takes a little while longer to get that non-dual experience of it to where you look at something right in front of your face and you actually feel it inside as well and behind. But that’s actually what it’s like to experience non-dual. It’s super intimate because it’s known in a very instinctual level that there’s not, reality is not spread out into this huge, vast space like it feels like it is. It’s not, it’s very intimate. It’s like right here, but it doesn’t exclude the possibility of also being over there. It’s very hard to talk about.
– [Zubin] Paradoxical.
– [Angelo] It’s very paradoxical, but you go damn well-
– [Zubin] You know it. You know it.
– [Angelo] You know it’s like that. When you experience it, you know there’s no way I could ever really talk about this, but all I know for sure is I’m feeling it the way it actually is. I really don’t know about anyone else in the world. That’s how you’ll experience it with non-dual. It’s just so obvious. And you go, you’ll hear some people talk about it and you’re like, “Yeah. They probably definitely experienced it this way ’cause they’re good at saying it,” but you can’t really know.
– [Zubin] You can’t know.
– [Angelo] It’s just so intimate and obvious for you.
– [Zubin] But even when you point at it right now, it’s about as, it’s, yeah, yeah. I mean, yeah. You can’t say a word about it. You can, you can say all the words you want.
– [Angelo] Or not. It doesn’t matter.
– [Zubin] Or not.
– [Angelo] The funny thing is, some people don’t. Like, many people you would think, you know, I guess the identified mind world would say, “Yeah, if you knew this, you would tell everybody and you’d be a teacher and all this.” Not necessarily true, actually. Like, I know many people who have deep realization and they don’t teach at all. They’re just not inclined to.
– [Zubin] And that is a good way to bring this whole episode full circle to the beginning, of like, people have these experiences or these realizations at different levels. And you personally may not know what the context is or you may know somebody who’s had these and you would never know because they don’t look any different in the world, really, you know? It’s really quite remarkable. But again, the punchline is, if suffering is something that is there for you, like as it is for most humans, there’s a reality there that is free of that. And, again, we’ve talked about all that, yeah.
– [Angelo] Yeah, and here’s another paradox about suffering is suffering is like, in a sense, my best friend, because without suffering, suffering is the entry point, really. Without suffering, why would you investigate all this? Why would you start digging into identity structures and the nature of thought and your relationship with it? You wouldn’t do any of that.
– [Zubin] No, you’d be just-
– [Angelo] Unless the suffering kind of got your attention. So while I do this so that people can get through their suffering, the suffering itself, that is a marker. It’s a pointer. It’s going, “Look here, look here.” So it’s okay, suffering is okay, but just be honest about it with yourself. And if you are honest about it with yourself, my message is, you have a right to investigate it and you have a right to investigate the nature of your identity and the world and how you experience it, all of that. And give yourself permission to do that and you won’t be disappointed.
– [Zubin] Outstanding. Last thing I will say in this episode, and we’ll do another episode on retreat and those kinds of, you know, milieus, the retreat that we did gave a permission at a fundamental level, that this is okay to do. Like, not only is it okay, there are 30 other people here that are doing exactly this with you. There’s a shared intention, a shared okayness. You could sit at breakfast with your eyes closed in silence. And in fact, that’s what you do. And it was, validation is the wrong word. It opens the doors of surrender in a way that our normal social conditioning doesn’t allow. So giving permission, and again, to wrap the thing full circle, people who’ve had these experiences often feel stigmatized to even talk about them. And yet, it was like one of the most powerful experiences of their lives and they just keep it under wraps because it’s like, “People are gonna think I’m weird.” What happens if that stigma goes away and you just are allowed to express and explore? And if you don’t wanna express it, that’s fine too. It’s like, wouldn’t that change a lot? So, Angelo, thank you. Thank you for giving us that permission.
– [Angelo] Thank you. Yeah, give yourself the permission. And that’s the key.
– [Zubin] And guys, “Awake: It’s Your Turn,” the link will be in the show notes. A link to your website and email list will be there for future retreats and different things like that. And I love you guys. We are out, peace.