his book is about the greatest, most important discovery ever made. It is about the discovery of the key to happiness and fulfillment. I myself have made this discovery and was overjoyed to do so, but the key to happiness is not a new discovery and I am most certainly not the first to have made it, nor will I be the last. Down through the ages many people from every culture, religion and historical setting have made this same, wondrous discovery and, unlike most discoveries in science, mathematics or other fields of knowledge, each one of us has to discover this for ourselves. No one else can do it for you. Hearing about someone else’s journey may assist you in making your own, but the only way for you is the path you walk yourself. There is something ironic about discovering this key to happiness: even though we may spend a lifetime looking for it everywhere we can think of, it has always been within us all along. That’s precisely why we each must discover this for ourselves.
So let’s dispense with all this suspense. About now, you may find yourself asking: So what is this key to happiness and fulfillment? Well, the key to happiness and fulfillment is contained in the realization of the following, simple truth: 2 Francis Bennett i am that i am 3 Who you really are, on the most basic level, in your own, direct experience, is simple, present-moment awareness. And the essential, true nature of this awareness is itself happiness, peace and pure bliss.
So, when I discover who I really am, I immediately discover that I am blissfully happy because, who I am is happiness and bliss. These may seem like pretty big opening claims. But don’t take my word for any of this. You can experiment with this on your own and discover for yourself whether or not these claims are true. This little book may be able to assist you in conducting just such an experiment in your own life. That is certainly my hope in writing it.
I would like to begin by sharing with you a little of the journey that led me to my own discovery. Hopefully, my story will help you along the path to yours. Since I made the discovery that, who I really am is presentmoment awareness, I don’t really think too much about my so-called ‘personal’ history anymore. Recently, I had to put together a résumé so I had to think about where I had been, what I had done, where I went to school, what professional training I had completed. After I finished the résumé and was reading it over to check for possible formatting and spelling errors, it felt like reading a description of somebody else’s life or like looking at a kind of simplified, thumbnail sketch of a character in the Cliffs Notes of a novel. So I am about to tell ‘the story of Francis’. Of course, none of us are our stories in any absolute sense. Our story is an account of the role we have played on the human stage we call, life. However, an interesting character in a story can sometimes point to something beyond the story. All stories we hear in plays, on the screen, or in children’s books, have something to tell us indirectly. They act as simple pointers. Every story has a moral. We need to look at that to which the story points and not focus too terribly much on the story itself.
I share with you this ‘story of Francis’ because it may help you, the reader, if I set the scene for the book as a whole. But I share it with the caveat that you do not focus too much on the story itself but simply let it point as it was meant to.
When awakening happens, what we awaken from is an absolute belief in the story. Contrary to popular belief, the story does continue after awakening. The difference is that we then see it for what it is: a simple story. We no longer take it to be reality.
When I was an idealistic young man a persona quest to experience a greater sense of what I thought of as the presence of God led me to the somewhat radical decision to become a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani, just a week after my twenty-third birthday.
How did an ordinary, rather sociable, young man come to make this life-changing decision? The seeds were sown when I was a senior in high school. I had been writing religious poetry and songs. My favorite high school English teacher had read some of my poetry and said it reminded him of the work of Thomas Merton, who had been a Trappist monk at a monastery in Kentucky called Gethsemani. The teacher gave me a book by Merton called The Seven Story Mountain. It was an autobiography which told of his spiritual conversion after a life of wild living and partying during his college years in New York City and his subsequent entrance into this Trappist monastery. Merton’s life had 4 Francis Bennett i am that i am 5 been pretty different from the somewhat sheltered one I had led up to that point, but he was an intellectual, literary type and I was thinking of myself as a budding intellectual at the time and admired his writing and academic background. I was also fascinated by his descriptions of the monastic life and how the monks lived in silence, dedicating their whole lives to seeking a mystical experience of God’s presence. Hearing about all this both fascinated and terrified me at the same time. I was a very social and talkative young man who had many friends and was very involved in a lot of activities, hobbies, music and fun. Even though I was spiritually intense and earnest in my quest to experience the presence of God more deeply in my life, the idea of becoming a silent, Trappist monk with a shaved head—I had long blonde hair that I was very proud of—seemed a little extreme, even for me.
But after high school, while I was attending a college seminary, I began visiting the Abbey of Gethsemani, where Merton had lived and written so many of the books I was now so avidly reading. During many weekends, I would drive down to the monastery in Kentucky from Columbus Ohio. It took me about 4 hours. I became a regular at the Abbey guesthouse and during the course of several years, I got to know a few of the monks and the vocational director, Brother Giles. They had all known Merton personally and had interesting, humorous stories about him that fascinated me. Merton had become my spiritual hero. By the time I was twenty-two, I had read all of his books and felt an overwhelming attraction to the idea of becoming a Trappist monk myself. After having gotten to know a few of the monks pretty well over several years of visiting the monastery, the prospect of entering the Abbey of Gethsemani was a lot less scary and intimidating. So, in the fall of 1981, I entered the Abbey with the lofty goal of becoming a joyful saint like Saint Francis of Assisi or at least a modern mystic like my hero, Thomas Merton. It was a very idealistic, romantic notion, but I think I was experiencing a genuine earnestness and authentic longing for God that I hoped would be answered by entering the monastery.
As I had become more familiar with the whole body of writings that Thomas Merton had produced during his 25 or so years as a Trappist monk, I was exposed to his long-standing interest in Eastern spirituality and mysticism. Merton had deeply investigated Zen Buddhism, Hindu Advaita Vedanta and Sufism, the mystical branch of the Islamic tradition. The last portion of writings that Merton produced in the decade before his death were often focused on these various spiritual paths and his interest in them had left a marked effect on Gethsemani that was still evident in my time there, thirteen years after Thomas Merton’s death.
When I was a young professed monk at Gethsemani in first, temporary vows, we had a Korean Zen master coming to the monastery occasionally and giving Zen sesshins to any of the monks who were interested in coming. I attended all these little retreats of Soen Sa Nim, the founder of the Providence Zen Center. He had a group of students at the time in nearby Lexington, Kentucky and so, whenever he came to Kentucky to visit his students there, he would come over to us Trappists and offer us a little retreat and teach us about Zen meditation. I also began corresponding with this Zen master and tried to see if maybe I could get 6 Francis Bennett i am that i am 7 enlightened like the Zen Buddhist monks I had read about in Merton’s book, Mystics and Zen Masters.
Several times, when I was practicing Zen and working with this teacher, I had little, inspirational glimpse or, what the teacher called, satori, when I suddenly found myself wholly in the present moment. I specifically remember the first one, as I was walking down the stark cloister hallway at Gethsemani just after a Zen retreat with Soen Sa Nim. I wrote the following little poem about this satori.
Simply, the Sun is beaming in, slanting through the
long, clear, narrow windows, as the dust particles
dance in the bright, white sunbeams and all there
is, in this beautiful, clear light is, THAT.
It was a first, fleeting, but wonderful, moment of simply being fully, consciously present. These little realizations of presence happened many times during my Zen period and I began to make a connection between the experience of present-moment awareness and the experience of what I called the presence of God—the fleeting glimpses I had as a young boy and teenager. They seemed to be essentially the same experience, just called by different names. I experienced in both, the same sense of transcendent love and joy and ecstatic awareness, the same sense of presence. There was in both experiences a literal ex-stacy: a standing out of, or freedom from, the habitual sense of a little ‘me’. I had wonderful glimpses that, while experiencing the presence of God, or the present-moment awareness, there really was no possibility of a petty, little person called ‘me’, with a personal history, a name or role or definable identity. All there was, was this. And what this was, was the presence of the holy mystery we named God.
After I left the Trappists in 1987 I went back to school, worked, took care of my dad for a time, (he had been diagnosed with cancer twice and eventually died of it in 1999.) But between 1993 and 1998 I was back with the Trappists several times, this time at a smaller daughter house of Gethsemani in South Carolina.
During those years I became very involved in Vipassana meditation practice and came to meet my friend and teacher, Eric Kolvig. Eric trained at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre. Massachusetts, under the American Vipassana teachers, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzburg. In my day-to-day life in the monastery, I was doing a lot of very simple mindfulness practices, based on the Vipassana techniques. When I had questions or concerns about my practice, I would contact Eric and he would always offer wise advice and assistance. Though I never sat an actual retreat with Eric, he was a mentor and guide for me during those years and I am grateful for the warm spiritual friendship we formed then, and have sustained to this day.
In 1998, I left the Trappist monastery in South Carolina and returned to Columbus, Ohio to take care of my dad, who was dying of cancer. During that time I met Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, who became my teacher and spiritual friend. ‘Bhante G’ is a Theravadin Buddhist monk, the oldest living Theravadin elder, or Mahathera in North America. He is a very kind, humble, wise and compassionate teacher and was another guide whom I was very fortunate to have met. When my father died in 1999, I went to live for a year with 8 Francis Bennett i am that i am 9 Bhante G at his little forest monastery and retreat center in nearby West Virginia. During that year I received a temporary ordination in his Theravadin, monastic lineage and helped him with some of the administrative duties at his center.
During this period of intense Vipassana practice there was a more frequent and sustained awareness of being in the present moment and a calmness, clarity and ability to focus developed more fully. And yet, there was still often a sense of suffering and unsatisfactoriness that would arise. Also, the present moment, or ‘holy presence’, was still playing hide and seek with me most of the time. It seemed that, no matter what I did in the way of practice and no matter how intensely I did it, I was present, then not present, present again and not present again. I frequently had an experience of presence, but it was doing a constant appearance and disappearance act. What could I do, what inner work could I undertake, to sustain this experience of presence?
Another insight that seemed to arise at this period was the realization that all the stories I continually told myself about everything—stories about myself, God, others, what happened, what didn’t happen—were just that: a bunch of stories in my head. I began to see that when I could let the stories go what remained was simply this present moment, right here and now.
All the insights and calmness that had developed over the years were helpful in terms of navigating the inevitable ups and downs of life more smoothly. I had definitely found a certain relative happiness and peace. But I still felt that something indefinable, that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, was missing somehow.
In 2000, after the year studying with Bhante G and the temporary Theravadin ordination, my elderly mother began experiencing a lot of pretty serious health concerns and so I returned to Columbus to take care of her for the next seven years, until her death at age 91. During those years of taking care of my mom, I completed a two year residency in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and worked as a hospital and hospice chaplain. I loved this work and learned so much from the people with whom I was privileged to walk through their experience of terminal illness. I would consider several of them to be real spiritual teachers for me as much as any Zen master or meditation teacher with whom I had ever worked.
Through my years of seeking I worked with several very fine and articulate teachers from whom I learned a great deal of ‘spiritual’ truth. One of my principle teachers however was not a formal spiritual teacher at all. And yet, I would have to say that I learned as much from her as I ever did from any of the classical spiritual masters I was privileged to meet over the years.
I met Mary when I was working as a hospice chaplain. She was originally the patient of another chaplain with whom she had not exactly hit it off. Mary had not felt particularly comfortable with this chaplain, nor was the chaplain particularly comfortable with Mary either! And so the other chaplain had asked me if I would be willing to visit her, just to see if the two of us might be able to establish a better rapport. However, she made this request coupled with a warning. She told me that Mary was a forty-three year old wife and mother, with an invasive and fast-growing form of cancer of the tongue that was now invading her face. The chaplain said, “This patient is a very bitter woman who is angry at God for permitting this disease in her life and she is looking for answers that no one can really give her and she seems to be projecting her anger at God onto whoever she sees as God’s representative (aka, the chaplain). Sooo, good luck!”
It had started with a lesion on the tongue that Mary’s dentist had noticed and had some concerns about. They got a biopsy done and just as the dentist had feared, it was cancer—a very rare and fast acting kind. By the time I came to see Mary, half her face was already gone and she was in the final weeks of her life. When I entered the living room of Mary’s home, where her husband had set up a hospital bed for her, I saw a petite woman in a beautiful chiffon negligee with a gauzy, flower print veil covering up the lower half of her face beneath her eyes. Peering at me from over the veil was a set of the most beautiful green/blue eyes I had ever seen with long dark eyelashes and carefully arched eyebrows. There was a picture on the wall of a lovely young woman from what seemed like a different lifetime, with the same, beautiful eyes, smiling and surrounded by her young family in front of the Enchanted Castle at Disney World. As I walked into the room, Mary held up a carefully crafted sign that said Hello! Since she no longer had a tongue or lower jaw, she could only communicate by writing on a tablet or holding up little signs she kept within reaching distance beside her bed. I told her I was the hospice chaplain, introduced myself and told her we could visit a little if she wanted to. Once she knew I was the chaplain, she wasted no time in any social niceties. She picked up her writing tablet and wrote a heart-wrenching question: Why is God allowing this to happen to me? I immediately felt a wave of sorrow and compassion wash through my whole being. “I don’t know,” I said after a few seconds of eye contact. I continued, “Mary, I really don’t know, but if you want to explore this question more deeply together, we can.” After a few more questions between us, we ended our first meeting.
Most of the time, I could visit patients during the day and be very present with them during these visits. Even though I would be fully engaged with the person in the moment, when I went home at night, I was generally quite able to let go of my thoughts about them and focus on being present with my elderly mother, for whom I was primary caregiver. With Mary, things were different somehow. Even after that first meeting, I seemed to think about her and her question many times a day. Even for me, that question was a bit like one of those formal Zen koans I had worked on with my Zen teachers. The koan is an enigmatic question that, on a logical/rational level, really has no answer at all. One sits with the koan until there is a breakthrough with it. One answers the question by transcending it as a question. The answer to a koan is that there is no answer in any sense that is satisfying to the rational mind. My Zen teacher used to say, “You must become the question.” Life had given Mary a very mysterious and challenging koan and she had certainly become this question. She lived and breathed her koan every moment of every day. She was wrestling with her koan as intensely and passionately as any serious Zen student could ever hope to.
Mary and I began to form a kind of liturgy, a ritual, in our visits. It went like this; I would enter the room. Mary would hold up her Hello! sign. I would smile. She would generally write on her tablet: How’s your mother? I would give her the latest report on mom’s health and ask her how her family was doing. She would give me the latest reports on them and after a brief pause, she would begin to write her koan. It was usually not the same direct question of Why? which she had penned on the first day. Normally it took the form of a bitter complaint against God. I was just fine with that. I could understand why she was bitter. It all seemed very unfair to her and to those around her. She was a lovely, good and decent person who had done her best to be a good wife and mother, a good neighbor and a good Christian. This thing called cancer seemed to her like a malicious thief that had snuck in through the back door of her life and was hell-bent on taking from her everything she dearly loved.
In the formation I had experienced in my CPE residency, we were reminded again and again that giving pat and standard answers to life’s more thorny questions was seldom really helpful. It was emphasized that most people who are suffering seem to find some therapeutic comfort in the simple reality of being listened to and truly heard. They have a very personal story of suffering and misery that often has no possibility of a material or physical resolution. People suffering from a terminal illness, as the very name suggests, are all too aware that they are inexorably headed toward a terminus, an inevitable end-game. So, they either give up in a kind of despair or they slowly learn to draw on all the spiritual, psychological, material resources they may have at their disposal. Mary had the resources of a fine intellect and the strong character traits of curiosity, a sense of justice and love for her family. All these characteristics came into play in her desperate attempt to make sense of what was happening to her and her family in terms of this disease that seemed to be invading her life.
One day I went to visit Mary as usual. That morning I had attended mass and found myself gazing up at the large, life-size, Spanish crucifix that adorned the wall of the Church I normally attended. The Christ on the cross was bloody and beat-up. It was not one of these sanctimonious, sanitized versions of Christ on the cross, with a serene look gazing placidly out on the world. The Christ on this cross was clearly in great pain. His face was not serene, but rather contorted in a grimace. His body was pitifully bruised and broken. Looking at this man on the cross, I thought of my friend Mary. I could almost hear the words of Jesus from the cross, spoken so many centuries before, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment I had the thought that Mary had indeed received the very same koan from the Father that Jesus himself had eceived. And I had been given this koan from Mary in a lineage of pain and suffering. In that moment, I knew she was an important teacher for me.
When I got to Mary’s house later that morning, we began our usual liturgy without delay. She was writing out her usual lament against God, like a passage from the book of Job. I was sitting there listening, or rather reading, May’s written comments, as I usually did. Suddenly words were coming out of my mouth that I had absolutely not planned on saying at all. Normally I would allow her lament against God to simply play itself out. It seemed to generally go on for about twenty to thirty minutes. Her husband would then come in and give her some medication or other, we would all visit together for a few more minutes and I would leave. But on this day there was a different energy in the air. From the time I entered her room that morning, it was as if the image of Jesus on the cross was superimposed upon the person of Mary herself. Whenever I looked at her I saw the same image of the suffering Christ I had seen that morning. The atmosphere in the room seemed charged with a sacred presence that day. About ten minutes into her lament I heard strange words suddenly coming out of my mouth.
I said to her, “Mary, I can hear how painful and difficult your experience is right now. Do you want to be free from all this pain?” She set down the writing tablet and stared at me, her eyes brimming with tears as she shook her head up and down indicating a yes in response to my question. Her eyes were filled also with something else besides tears, something new I had never seen before. There was a tenderness in her expression and perhaps a kind of expectancy of some kind. I had never asked her a question like this before. Normally I just listened. I think she was curious about what I was going to say next, but not any more curious than I was myself! My experience after that was that time seemed to proceed in slow motion. Words were coming out of my mouth, but there were no thoughts forming in my head beforehand. The words were simply appearing in the room and I was listening to them arrive as if someone else were speaking them. I realized that I also had tears in my eyes as I spoke these words and there was an overwhelming feeling of love that was saturating the room. I heard the following words being said and the words themselves were arising out of this presence of all-pervading love.
I said, “Mary, the only way I know of to get beyond the kind of pain you are experiencing right now, is the way of absolute surrender.”
Just as soon as I spoke these words, I began to wonder if I had made a grave mistake. By that time Mary and I had established a kind of trust and yet I wondered if she might be offended by these words and ask me to leave her house. Wasn’t I giving her one of those pat, standard answers that my CPE supervisors had warned me about? I didn’t really know for sure. But one thing I did know. The words had already been spoken. They were still lingering in the room like the tell-tale tone of the little, high-pitched gong my old Zen master would strike at the beginning and end of a meditation session. I couldn’t take these words back. All I could do was to wait for Mary’s response. Her beautiful eyes filled up more fully with tears and the tears began brimming over and rolled down her cheeks into the sheer silk flowers of her face veil. We just gazed at each other for probably three minutes or so and at the end of three minutes, she wrote something on her writing tablet and held it up for me to see. It said: Thank you Francis!
Mary had surrendered completely and utterly that day. She seemed to be a different person. All the bitterness disappeared and an unconditional joy appeared in its place. Her birthday was about two days after this event and it was the most joyous party I had ever attended. There was a presence of peace and joy that surrounded Mary from that day forward that was palpable. Everyone around her could feel it. When I visited her after that day, I felt absolutely uplifted in her presence. She was transfigured, radiating a living light and peace and serenity. The next week she wrote on her tablet: I used to ask God and myself every day, Why me? Now I find myself saying, Why not me? This statement, coming from a woman who, just a week before was so bitter and angry at God, seemed truly incredible to me, like a miracle. She had definitely ‘passed’ the koan that the cancer had given her.
Mary only lived about two more weeks after this breakthrough.
Are you going to wait until you are about to die to surrender, or will you do it now?
Soon after her death I was driving in my car and suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of the same presence that seemed to surround her in her final weeks. I was so overcome with emotion that I had to pull the car over and get ahold of myself in order to continue driving .The following strange question formed itself in my mind: Are you going to wait until you are about to die to surrender, or will you do it now? I didn’t answer the question with words, but there was a kind of emotional and spiritual release that happened there on the side of the road that seemed to be a kind of watershed moment for me. The fruit of this experience was that, from that day to this, I have had a deep sense that what I used to think of as ‘my life’ was really no longer mine and that all was unfolding somehow as it was meant to, simply as it had to. How did I know this? Because, whatever was unfolding was and is, simply the way it is right now. How could it possibly be otherwise? There hasn”t been very much worry since then, even when things are not going as I might prefer. There is an overwhelming sense that, what I used to think of as my life, really has very little to do with ‘me’. Life lives itself seemingly through this ‘me’, but none of it is any of my business! This is not to say that I no longer do what I can to try to improve some situation or other, or to act for the best in all circumstances. Paradoxically, this seeming intention toward change is still a normal response to certain situations. But there is a kind of ground of deep acceptance and profound surrender that permeates life and makes even the challenging times much more livable. I attribute all of this, with deep gratefulness and palms held high together, to my Zen Master, Mary, of the beautiful, green/blue eyes. I will never forget her.
After my mom died in 2007, I entered Roman Catholic monastic life again. This time at a little monastic community that was originally founded in France. They had made a small foundation in Montreal in 2004, which is where I entered. Here I discovered the teaching of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. He had lived and died in India some years before I was even born, but I would certainly consider him one of my most important teachers, perhaps even the most significant teacher I ever had. Even though he was a Hindu, Sri Ramana taught me the most about what, I have come to believe, was Jesus’ essential message and the good news about who we all really are in our deepest heart. I had heard of Sri Ramana before, when I was a Trappist at Gethsemani and had seen photos of his face, with its extraordinary luminous serenity, but I had never gone deeply into his teachings. Now I ran across a little book called The Spiritual Teaching of Ramana Maharshi and I found that his simple method of ‘self inquiry’ struck a chord for me. This is a very simple spiritual practice that I actually prefer to call self-investigation or self-abiding because I believe these words more accurately describe what happens in this practice. A more complete description of the practice can be found elsewhere in this book, but there are hints of it in virtually anything I have to say about spiritual practice.
I was happily living the monastic life again and trying to practice the self-abiding I had learned from Sri Ramana. It was a serene and happy time. Several years into all this, I experienced what I could only call a deep awakening that changed my whole world. This was a major shift in perception that was incomparable to anything I had ever previously experienced in all my years of seeking and practice. In fact, this so-called experience was not an experience at all, but was rather the simple discovery of the pure awareness in which every experience rises and sets.
At one point, right in the midst of a religious service, it was as if a bolt of lightning had struck the crown of my head and sent a strong energy current through my whole body, from head to feet. I suddenly, clearly saw, in that instant, that in reality, the presence of God that I had been seeking my whole life had actually always been already within me and all around me: God is in everything and everything is in God.
Why hadn’t I been able to see this before? It was so obvious. And this was not merely some kind of philosophical or theological concept. I clearly saw this and felt it with every fiber of my being.
There was a deep intuitive knowing in that instant that my own most basic sense of simple existence or beingness, the I am or the Self that Sri Ramana had taught so much about, is, in fact, always, effortlessly, eternally present here and now. There is simply no possibility of it ever not being present. And this simple sense of presence in the eternal now is nothing other than the presence of God. Simultaneously included in this split second seeing and knowing was the understanding that this eternally shining presence of I am, was and is and always will be, my own true identity.
The ‘story of me’ fell away utterly and completely. I could still remember facts of personal history, but there was no longer any personal identification with any of it. I saw clearly in that instant that any ‘story of me’ was simply a concept in the head, having absolutely no foundation in living reality. All of this happened in a fleeting, lightning flash in time, and beyond time, and yet it was indelibly marked on my deepest consciousness. It has never left me since. In that instant, I saw that who I am, is simply this eternally existing, simple presence of awareness. I am the I Am; nothing more, nothing less. It seems that, once clearly seen in this way, it is not really possible ever to un-see this Truth.
This realization is, by its very nature, the realization of true love, peace, joy, and vast spaciousness. For lack of a better term, I sometimes call it the realization of our true nature as God’s beloved child . But all of these words and metaphors can only poorly point to this reality, this silence, which is entirely beyond words.
I hope that this brief account of my so-called ‘life’, together with what I have shared in the pages that follow, will help point you toward the true Self that dwells deep inthe heart of each one of us. The writing of this little book is a feeble attempt to share with you what I have come to know of this true Self or presence that we all already are, as God’s beloved child. I have found that the true Self is, in fact, the wondrous discovery of all the love, peace and joy that you and I have been so earnestly seeking our whole life long. The truly ironic thing is that it has never left us for one moment of our existence. It never could and never will leave us because, in the most profound sense, it is us. It is life or existence itself, which is really what and who we all are.
Awakening is a waking up to the reality of the absolute and yet there are certain results of awakening on the relative level of life. It’s quite natural for us to want to be happy, free from care and anxiety. We search and search to find these blessings and we continually think we will find them in some person, place or thing. But when we awaken to the absolute level of reality and see it with great clarity, we are not only seeing clearly the absolute, we are also seeing clearly the relative. There is really no problem with the relative. The only ‘problem’ we have with the relative is when we wish for the relative to be absolute. Once we see with clarity the relative nature of all the forms appearing and disappearing in this physical world we live in, we no longer feel the need to insist that they be in any way different than what they are. We now learn to accept the temporary, ephemeral nature of the relative world and we see no problem with it.
It’s just like when we receive a rose from someone on a special occasion. We love receiving the rose and we enjoy its beauty. But we never expect that rose to be around twenty years from now, do we? No, we know full well that the rose is temporary and fleeting. Its evanescent nature is actually part of its beauty.
So an awakening to the absolute level of reality is also an awakening to the relative level. All anxiety is basically caused by our wanting reality to be other than it is. What we come to see is that the relative is not separate from the absolute at all. The relative is simply a temporary manifestation happening within the space of absolute consciousness/awareness. All the relative forms that exist in our experience must arise and cease in the absolute spaciousness of awareness. So all forms, all physical manifestations are actually, and paradoxically, part of the formless.
Awakening brings with it the realization that while, relatively speaking, many things matter in life and have a certain heavy portentousness or emotional urgency, they do not matter in the same way, absolutely speaking. This helps us hold all the forms that arise in our experience in a much lighter manner. Things, people and events that used to bother us don’t seem to have nearly the impact on us that they once did. There is so much less anxiety and life is consequently navigated more easily.
Most of us are looking for stability and peace. Once we realize the absolute level of reality, we are plugged in to the source and summit of stability and peace. Spacious awareness is the one stable, unchanging reality. When our focus is rooted in simple awareness rather in than all the appearances arising and ceasing in that awareness, we realize that stability is always present. We realize that we ourselves are stability itself.
When we learn to live in the spacious stillness and silence of the absolute, we begin to learn how to listen, because we come to realize that the silence that we are on the absolute level is always listening. This is a great help in the cultivation of healthy, human relationships. Many people go through life feeling unheard. Many people don’t really listen to others too well. They are so busy composing some kind of response to what they think the other person is saying, that they don’t have much energy left to actually listen to another.
The other way in which awakening assists us in the area of relationships is that we realize that no person on the planet is ever capable of really satisfying us or making us happy in any ultimate sense. This takes an awful lot of pressure off of a relationship. If we are not looking to the other person to fulfill us, we can begin to relax and enjoy them just as they are.
When you know with deep certitude that your essential being of spacious awareness is actually not separate from the reality of God, the source of ultimate happiness and peace, you come to realize, in your direct experience, the absolute happiness and peace for which you have been searching the world over.
Right now, with absolutely no effort on your part, a peaceful joy and happiness is already present at the very core of your being. This peaceful joy and happiness is the essence of who you are on the very deepest, most absolute level of your being. This joy and happiness is entirely unconditional. That is to say, it has absolutely no dependency on conditions at all. The ultimate fruit of awakening is this abiding, unconditional joy and happiness. This joy and happiness is actually your undeniable heritage as God’s beloved child. You are in fact, yourself, infinite love, joy and happiness. Realizing this truth is perhaps the most wonderful, practical result of awakening. After all, isn’t every human being on the face of the planet seeking happiness and peace? Some would even say that this pursuit of happiness is the whole reason any of us are here in the first place.
My deepest intention is to dedicate what remains of this life to sharing with you the liberating truth of who you really are. All you are seeking is already, fully within you. My deepest wish for you is that, as you read this little book, you may wake up and realize who and what you are already, who you always have been.
Francis Bennett on “Bridge to Everywhere” radio show Dec. 17, 2012