Some thoughts on spontaneity


Everything is mind (or consciousness, if you prefer) This is not to say that the world, or things, are not real. Just that they are aspects of consciousness. For example, you donʼt know me. You know your version of me which exists as an aspect of your mind. We can only know mind, our organ of perception. So I teach just remind yourself “I am here. This is now” this is all we ever really have as humans, regardless of what we remember (past) or project (future). In this conversation mind, consciousness, awareness all refer to the same thing. The one constant. This is a sloppy use of language but we donʼt have a good and accurate language to talk about such things. Words cannot capture it.

This means all of your regret, anger, guilt, envy and a host of other feelings are never present. They exist only in your mind. Just so, all of your desire for, fear of, etc are never present. They exist only in your mind. An example: once, driving on a curving mountain road, I came around a blind curve to see another vehicle moving toward me head-on at high speed. I reacted immediately to get out of the line of fire in the only way open to me. I noticed afterward that I wasnʼt afraid at the moment it occurred, but only a bit later when I was trembling, experiencing all the effects of a rush of adrenaline. I named it fear but really it was only a set of physical symptoms and my interpretation of what had just happened or my thoughts of what might have happened.

if you are looking for something--an answer, an experience, a certainty, etc.--you will find all kinds of somethings. We may have any number of apparently miraculous, mystical experiences. Donʼt hold on to them and donʼt go looking for them again. Looking only works on the assumption that what is looked for is not here/now. Since mind/awareness is always here now, you stop yourself from recognizing or noticing it by looking. Give up the search. We can simply appreciate world, life, experience without any particular type of responding, without even naming. Just I am here, this is now. The “not responding in particular ways” experience occurs naturally when we are detached, not invested in particular outcomes or happenings, not invested in particular ideas or beliefs about ourselves, others, the world. It is in this condition of detachment that spontaneity occurs.

Meditation, i.e., allowing the mind to still, reveals, ultimately, if we are patient, that thoughts are the mind, and the mind is the thoughts. Thoughts follow one another and provide the illusion of time passing, a past and future. It is very convincing when the thoughts are speeding by. But every thought is just ITSELF NOW. It will be further revealed that thoughts and things are interchangeable. They live in a constant dance all within the same environment or field of activity. And that field is mind. Edgar Cayce said “Thoughts are things”. And it is true. So is the obverse “things are thoughts”. They are simply different expressions of the same energy or activity. This is not to say that the “things”, that make up the apparently objective universe, are not real. It is simply to say that they are mind activity, or mind stuff if you prefer.

Imagine if you can your “self” with no history and no idea of a future. Who are you?

Perhaps more easily, imagine the present moment with no history and no future. Just this. Here now. The past and future exist only in your mind. Neither is ever here now. Just this present moment. Your personal past and future exist only in your mind. They are never here now. We act as if they are here/now by remembering and projecting and letting the memories and projections rule our experience and our ideas of who we are. The memories and projections are so habitual and familiar, and we have given them so much power, identified with them so intensely, that we take them for reality.

Take a couple of steps back from these exercises and sneak up on them this way:
We take our memories to be accurate representations of actual occurrences but there is a ample evidence that our memories are typically inaccurate or partial and frequently simply false. We choose what we remember; we create what we remember. It is perhaps easier to see that we do this with our projections into the future, our predictions about how we will be, how others will be, what will happen and what will not. But we hold on to many such expectations with great confidence believing we have powerful evidence that they are so. And thus, the fulfillment of those expectations is what we perceive and experience regardless of what my actually be occurring. In such a condition of expectation, we actually have no way of knowing what has actually occurred. Our tendency is to then take that experience as we perceive it and use it as further evidence that our ideas and beliefs are true. To emphasize, our expectations powerfully influence our perceptions. Our experience is based on our perceptions, made up of our perceptions. OUR EXPERIENCE IS MADE UP OF OUR PERCEPTIONS, and, of course, the meanings we assign to them. Our experience is NOT based on independently occurring, real happenings outside of ourselves. All of our experience is mind experience. For example, our interpretation of someone elseʼs behavior and intent is based on our expectations and beliefs, NOT on the other personʼs actual behavior and intent. The fact that our expectations and the other personʼs behavior and intent may sometimes coincide does not change what actually occurs.

In a very real sense, we think ourselves and our world of experience into being. We have much more influence over our experience than we typically acknowledge. Consider: If we habitually respond in a particular way to a person or situation, say we get irritated. But if we slow down our thinking process (that is, we still the mind) and pay attention, it becomes quite noticeable that our interpretation and response, our irritation, is of our own making. We project an idea/expectation/belief onto the person or situation and that is what we then perceive and respond to. We perceive our own idea/expectation/belief, not something independently real happening outside ourselves.

This realization is central to the process of awakening. Spontaneity is instantaneous. It is the instant, outside of time. There is no before and after, no past or future. This is the definition of complete detachment. No ideas, beliefs, expectations, projections. And clearly no wants or aversions. Just this. It is memories and projections and all of their attendants that create the sensation of continuous instants, the passage of time. Spontaneity is discontinuous, not connected to anything else. Just this. Always new. Genuine knowing only occurs spontaneously. It feels as if it is given or received or simply present. It is not thought up or remembered, not figured out or learned. Thus, frequently enough, it is attributed to spirit as divine inspiration, or God in me, or God or spirit acting through me. It simply is.

So realization occurs to the degree that attachments disappear. Genuine knowing and spontaneity occur only when attachments disappear.

It is also memories and projections and all their attendants that create the sensation of a relatively stable identity. It is valuable to try the exercises I have described, perhaps many times. It is a type of mind activity that may stun the mind into stillness. Without your attachments, who are you?


Dear Barbara, I read your teaching on Spontaneity and found it deeply affirming. It mirrors some recent revelations I’m having. I feel I’m going back and forth over a big threshold. Here’s what I’ve been noticing these past few weeks. There is a layer of “me” that is active: projecting into the future, and remembering my version of the past. I don’t see truth or the whole, I see my version of these. And I perseverate or keep working over my versions, my projections and memories and my feelings about them. I call this my mental layer. When I spend time/ me-ness in the mental layer, I am mostly repeating or rehashing and also fearing or regretting. I also judge myself (or others), and resolve to change by setting goals, making plans, learning more, etc. so I can be or feel better. Lately, I’m realizing it’s not a helpful place to spend my time. I see it as an old tempting habit. I feel a great pull and temptation to return to doing those activities. I get tempted in a variety of powerful ways especially when I listen to the news or talk with a family member. However, lately, I am noticing when I’m in this layer, and I see a choice. I can keep my attention here or I can let that go and return to this moment. I can draw my energy back to this moment, and notice: what is here now. I’ve been wrestling with a question though as I notice this choice: What if I don’t pay attention to “the world” and how on the brink it seems to me? And, another powerful temptation: Should I withdraw from certain family members or friends who worry/ anger/ irritate/ challenge me? What am I doing here on earth if I “withdraw” from what feel like such important human activities? Now, I am also recognizing these temptations as “identity challenges”…Who am I if I’m not “caring about the world”? or getting emmeshed in a family situation? I am seeing that I’ve gotten something out of my worrying and projecting and setting goals, etc. These have served me in some way. I get to “be” a certain type of worthy somebody…in my mind. As I continue my pondering….What if “things are thoughts”? that I’m somehow creating my experiences, all of it? Then who am I? And what’s really going on??? And what is true, real?? At this point, I realize that I need some time/ practice letting go of my mental activity, to detach, to come to rest. Spend some time just being and being present, with an open and wondering heart. I want to rest here. That’s my current practice. So your words are VERY comforting and affirming: “This realization is central to the process of awakening. Spontaneity is instantaneous. It is the instant, outside of time. There is no before and after, no past or future. This is the definition of complete detachment. No ideas, beliefs, expectations, projections. And clearly no wants or aversions. Just this. It is memories and projections and all of their attendants that create the sensation of continuous instants, the passage of time. Spontaneity is discontinuous, not connected to anything else. Just this. Always new. Genuine knowing only occurs spontaneously. It feels as if it is given or received or simply present. It is not thought up or remembered, not figured out or learned. Thus, frequently enough, it is attributed to spirit as divine inspiration, or God in me, or God or spirit acting through me. It simply is. So realization occurs to the degree that attachments disappear. Genuine knowing and spontaneity occur only when attachments disappear.” I trust you. I feel encouraged and affirmed taking in your teaching. I have felt like I’m riding huge waves of energy, sometimes with big emotions with no story I can discern. Sometimes I feel that my heart will break, to hold all that I perceive in “the world”, and stay in the now letting it ‘be”, become without my “meddling” in the old ways. So I’m grateful for your teaching and it encourages me. I feel tremendously blessed, fortunate to have you and this Opendoor community in my life. There’s so much “in here”. I don’t have a particular question though. I’ll leave it at that work now. Marion
Dear Barbara, just read your recent teaching and it is very timely, pertinent and uplifting. Especially in the past 6-9 months I have have felt massive shifts taking place within and feel very altered in subtle but profound ways. I am very uninterested in any external drama including world events. I have noticed the shift to simply "be" and "observe" rather than "do." The question you posed of "Who Am I" without any attachments, future or past, is where I now more frequently rest. It's more of a place of quiet comfort rather than something I was struggling with before. Resting in Consciousness feels blissful, deeply peaceful and trustworthy, authentic. Thank you for your continual reinforcement of these teachings and conversations. It feels very valuable for me to read this teaching as it propels me to continue to stay as present as possible without the endless projections running rampant essentially making up what the mind thinks is "true and reality." Much love, Kristin
I'm still working with Barbara's "Thoughts on Spontaneity." Whenever I try to form my responses, however, they spontaneously run off like kindergarteners heading out for recess. I'm hoping this attempt will be different. When I first read the post, it occurred to me that the teachings are all one. I wasn't even sure what I meant by that, but this teaching seemed to be an aspect of Presence, like a single color in a spectrum of light. Then, I re-read it and found so many more "colors" that I would have to say the teaching was iridescent. (All those wandering thoughts may explain why I haven't been able to follow a particular thread in reflection.) What struck me most, however, was the thought that spontaneity seems more active than the static sense of being I get from the "Be, Here, Now" teaching of Ram Dass or Eckhart Tolle's "Power of Now" and that being active, it requires balance. A couple days ago as I began to journal about this topic (for the umpteenth time), we had an extraordinarily low tide. Volunteer naturalists and beachcombers were wandering the tide pools and peering under rocks further out than I had ever gone. The pull of their enthusiasm, the infrequency of the opportunity, and the irony of the subject at hand drew me away from this reflection to explore the hidden wonders of the sea alongside some nine-year-old scientists, grown-up volunteers with pointers and guidebooks and families in boots carrying beach pails. There was no real danger in our little adventure among the starfish and anemone, but I'd recently heard two stories of people who forgot to keep an eye on the shore while they were fishing or lazing on rocks as the tide came in, leaving them stranded at sea--not far, but far enough to be in trouble. Luckily, one was a swimmer and the other was rescued by boat. I remember stories of people dying in such circumstances in Alaska. It occurred to me that spontaneity requires keeping an eye on the shore--not a nervous or compulsive eye, but an eye, none-the-less. Alertness in relaxation. Keeping a broad perspective while focusing. My relaxation tends toward sluggishness and my keeping-the-end-in-mind planning becomes a hair-splitting, internal knot-making ordeal, all of it confounded by fear, self-doubt and self-judgment. (I think Barbara once used the word "splat"to describe similar unbalanced behaviors.) Only recently have I been able to step back and witness my mental/emotional gyrations with humor and acceptance. It seems to help.
My morning walks in nature often find me preoccupied with the memories/projections cloaked in dreams and goals. The doing-ness of the world, thoughts, mind - an intricate lacework of fabricated reality which stealthily imprisons our doors to perception. Thank you for this teaching, much needed. It inspired a bit of Haiku. Morning, dewy leaf, Silver thread of life, hold still, My lips sing praise.
Here is my own version of all of the above: Lately, my contemplation has been full of this: I WANT TO BE KNOWN. I do - I see how, over and over, I have not felt seen or recognized except as the face I wear. This is particularly true (present company very much excepted!) around the people I see most often in my day to day life, and with family members. Those people who, as Barbara said, have their own idea of 'who I am' to uphold. Lately though, I have come to recognize that WHO WANTS TO BE KNOWN is not the me I've known myself to be. Not Marga. Not this flash-in-the-pan self that has come and will go. What really wants to be known is this much much larger thing that we have begun to birth - and not just us. It's what Barbara said, And what Marion said. It's what Kristen alludes to. It's there as an undercurrent beneath all the bad news and shocking occurances that seem to reflect what the world has become. It's a different dream for a different kind of world, and if I look, I see its buds everywhere. I think I don't know what to do to change the course of things - that I'm too small and insignificant for my efforts to matter. But then I really look at my world. I see the efforts of my friends, of my colleagues at work, of my yoga teacher, of others out there trying to teach. And now, finally, I can begin to see that all of that is, in fact, me. I AM creating a better world. The more invisible Marga is (in my own view) the more visible becomes The MARGA - the path - the ever spontaneously occurring and unfolding-ness of Being and Presence. I WANT TO BE KNOWN. Indeed!! I am you and you are me and we are we and we are all together.
What this teaching is hitting in my awareness is the notion lately of not knowing who I am. Someone said today at a meeting that we must love ourselves before we can love others. We have all heard that a million times. Those words are ubiquitous. But, all I could think of this morning was that I don't feel so solid lately. I used to have what I thought to be a firm identity on this planet. Lately, I just feel like a bag of thoughts. I am tired of defending myself though my art, my politics, my appearance. I cannot even remember what I look like from one minute to the next. Although this could be disconcerting to others, it does not seem to bother me. I had a dream several nights ago that a voice was questioning my idea of God. I reached for you all and proclaimed that we are not separate from any idea of god. The voice got agitated and questioned why I did not feel I was given so much from God. I countered this by stating that there is the presence, the awareness of presence and the interaction of the two which creates a trinity. The voice began to soften. I explained that my idea was that it is all consciousness and perhaps could be understood in the Buddhist teachings Then, there was silence. I could not see the speaker, myself, Barbara, or the group but we were and are all that is.
Barbara, Thank you for such a rich and layered teaching!! Many elements we have heard before, some still baffling, but having worked at them a bit, I feel closer to understanding them. Let me try to regurgitate with current life example to check how I am experiencing them. Two most outstanding concepts in the teaching for me are: 1) Thoughts are things; things are thoughts. (I hate this one because my mind doesn't "understand" it!) 2) Feelings and emotions are based on past experiences projected into now and/or the future. I'm saving #1 for last because it's so confounding. About #2 feelings and emotions, I'm wondering about trauma. For example, say I grew up with an abusive parent and, as an adult, have an experience that feels similar to an original parental abusive event and my body is triggered in some old, young way, feeling terror, despair being alone, trapped powerless, etc with all the sensations that accompany it happening right in my body--clenched stomach, tight chest, throat choking like a stifled cry, frozen as in shock and also incapable of moving, etc. This reenactment of the perceived trauma "happens" to be with another adult in a current relationship. In this situation, are you teaching that my practice as an awakening person is to: 1) feel the body sensations--live them all the way through, maybe not all in that moment but later in a safer environment; 2) recognize them as real and connect them to their original source--also maybe doing this later in safe place; 3) recognize the new situation of "trigger" with this more recent relationship as my own amplification (projection, mixed up memories frozen in the body) of the old trauma--which doesn't negate the fact that this current person could still be acting badly; 4) respond to this incident appropriately which, if not "attached" to all this emotional traumatic response, would be immediate, spontaneous, appropriate, not reactive. ? Then, there is the recognition of [having re-created] or [been attracted to] or [attracted] (which one of these is it?), this abusive element in the current relationship that is similar to the original abusive parental relationship either to have the opportunity to work through it or because it's familiar (I really don't care too much about why I've done it at this point more about how I've done it). This feels related to the #1 concept in your teaching: Thoughts are Things, but I can't explain why. ? On top of that, I then encountered the original parent with whom I still have active adult relationship, and do not "feel" the original trauma but there's an underlayment of a more subtle manipulative type of abuse or withholding that I feel. And the newer current adult relationship person didn't really ever own up to the abusive event (not in a way that felt authentically acknowledging--more like, "Gee, wonder why I did that.") This just made me feel more deeply traumatized. So, relating with these two people the last two weeks and old trauma and triggers, having read this teaching, sitting with all the messiness of it, I am understanding it is my own projections in both of these situations? These are just two people doing their things, lots of behaving badly, or at least unconsciously, and some good behaviors or at least OK, combined with my reactions, some of which could be seen as behaving badly (reacting) and some OK. Not my fault and not blaming myself for having these reactions, but seeing them as reactions based on my attachment to the original story and event that does still have life, though it is waaay dissipated, in my body. Also, if I work on this from a body perspective in a deliberate way, outside of the actual triggering events (ie., when I am NOT triggered but can recall the incidents and work with the auto-response), I can continue to chip away at and reduce, eventually eliminate the reactivity by experiencing the stuck emotions, so I am less and less attached and can respond more spontaneously when/if these situations arise. I don't mean going back into the "story" of my childhood necessarily, but the body's memory of them. Is this an accurate interpretation of what you are saying here or a way to understand that this moment is just this moment? There really is no past or future....just projections. Thanks again, Barbara, and would welcome a response.
These words and exercises I posted are unlikely to be very helpful to someone who has a powerful memory/story such as you describe. They might, in fact, simply create more difficulty if we have a tendency to think we should be able to grasp and practice successfully when we are not yet capable. The situation you describe seems to call more appropriately for therapeutic intervention than for what I suggest in this article. When the encounters that currently trigger you so powerfully no longer do so, the words and exercises suggested here may be much more useful. All of us in our pursuit of Self follow, in some measure, a development of our understanding and capacity. There is nothing to be gained by trying to leap ahead of your current condition. In the course of our practice, as we dive more deeply into Self, our emotions are refined and tempered and reactivity dims until the same situations that previously caused great distress become simply woven into the fabric of our experience, or perhaps they no longer occur at all. It is true that we create our own experience. But noticing the intimate interaction of our thoughts/beliefs/expectations and our experience requires a calmness of mind, a lack of investment in what we believe or think we know. The thoughts, beliefs, ideas, expectations that we harbor, and any emotions that attend them, are how we create. Why we personally create specific experiences is also due to our beliefs and expectations. A teacher named Pema Chodron once said “Don’t believe everything you think.” Wise words indeed.
Barbara, "Thoughts are things." Does this mean if I am with someone, for example, and I have a certain perception of them and how they typically behave, what their attitudes are, based on what they've done in the past, I then expect they will be this same way (or worse or another variation of this) in our encounter. Therefore, my "thoughts (perceptions) are creating this new "thing"? If I'm going somewhere and I "think" it's going to be terrible in some way, and then it is terrible in just the way I expected (perceived), I have created or reinforced this "thing"? If I'm going somewhere and I "think" it's going to be wonderful, but it's not, my perception of that event or situation then changes to be something else and this creates a new expectation or "thing". Is this what "thoughts are things" means? Can you give some solid examples please....for example, what if you are constantly worried (fearful--needing to think of solutions, reactions, what-if's) about someone/ does simply giving that kind of attention in your mind create or contribute to the situation? Thanks so much.

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