Enlightenment and spirituality
Interview with Jeff Foster, Part 1.
Stephanie: I wanted to talk to you because I find you very relatable. A comment which I get a lot is, “Wow you’re so young, and it’s amazing that you’re here, it’s very rare for this to be happening to someone so young.” How old are you?
That’s very young! You were talking yesterday about the importance of participating in the flow of life, in the human experience. Do you feel like you participate as a normal 31 year old?
I don’t think I’ve ever been normal! I don’t know what normal means anymore. Yeah, I’ve been in relationships, I like movies, reading, walking, going to cafes, meeting people...on that level. I guess what I do is unique; I go around the world talking about whatever "this" is.
It can seem like a paradox to some people that you can live in the current, to embody what’s it like to be 31 living in 2011, and yet live in this space of "there’s no time, there’s no me!" For some people, they might feel like they have to assume a different identity or act a certain way.
Totally. You pick up so many ideas about what enlightenment will be like, and once you’re awakened, you --fill in the blank--you’ll stop watching television, or you’ll always feel blissed out, or you’ll always feel peaceful. All these ideas of what an awakened person would or wouldn’t do. But that was a conditioning. You’ve got all these ideas and you’re trying to force yourself into that mold. In the end, it isn’t about fitting into a mold. Every wave in the ocean, on one hand, is the ocean, and it also is a unique expression of the ocean. I was always in a way trying to mold the “Jeff wave” into my idea of what an “awakened wave” would look like, or trying copy another wave. In the end, I get it, it does sound like a total paradox. On what hand, what you are is the ocean. On the other hand, there’s an expression of this wave which is a unique expression. Jeff is still Jeff in that sense, which I never expected That’s what was so surprising. "Oh, this includes Jeff living his life, being ordinary!" It’s extraordinary and totally ordinary. Thought calls it a paradox. “I’m the ocean” and “I’m the wave” -- how do I bring those two together? They were never separate in the first place. These questions fall away. The molds fall way. I was just trying to copy other people, just trying to copy after I read some book by some awakened guy. That’s really what falls away. On one hand, you’re the ocean; on that level, you’re equal to everyone. At the same time, you’re a unique expression of that water; that unique expression’s not lost.
I think that years ago I was stuck in this thing trying to get rid of Jeff. I thought that’s what my problem was all about. That should have been the shocking thing, how inclusive it is. In that sense, nothing changes. Jeff is still Jeff. I dress the same kind of way, talk the same kind of way, like similar kinds of music, have my certain habits. On a deeper level, it’s known that that’s not who I really am. At the same time, the wave is embraced by the ocean. It seems like a paradox, but when you think about it and talk about it, that’s the fallout of that thinking. It’s just this. It’s just sitting here at the table, talking, waterfall in the background…it’s that. It’s not even a paradox. It’s simplicity. It’s the simplicity of living.
What would you say to people who are interested in expanding their spirituality but are turned off from seeking it but think they have to wear hemp necklaces and burn incense and go to meetings and have to assume that spiritual-person identity…how would you speak to them and say it’s accessible?
In my own experience, I never did any of that actually. I never went to a teacher, never went to meetings or satsang, I never burned incense. For me, my whole spiritual journey was about suffering. It was about I just sat at home with my suffering and watched for about a year, just watched something constantly wanting to escape. To me, spirituality is not about the incense and the ashrams and gurus, although that’s part of life as well. It's just art. Life is a giant art gallery. When you walk into an art gallery, you might be attracted to certain paintings. You might be attracted to incense and whatever, and the white robes and spiritual music. In the end, I’m talking about the freedom of the end of suffering. Burning a stick of incense doesn’t stop suffering. For me, it was always about suffering and the end of suffering , that’s why I never really got distracted by all the fluffy stuff because I knew ultimately I had to face fear. That’s it really.
People feel stuck, we’re isolated or we feel lonely or disconnected and we want to be free from that. I was obsessed with becoming enlightened years ago and reaching some higher state or something, and that’s I was desperately pursuing this thing called "enlightenment," but it was really about my suffering. It’s never really about reaching something. It’s about not wanting to feel what we feel. We don’t want to face our own incompleteness right now. We don’t want to face our pain or fear. When we're maybe a few years old we already have so many lists and list and lists of what’s ok to think and what’s not ok to think. What’s ok to feel and what’s not ok to feel. What’s right, what’s wrong. What’s healthy, what’s unhealthy. And we want to escape everything that we see as "not ok" within ourselves. No matter what our language is, we have some word or words for what’s ok and what’s not ok basically. That’s what the mind does –it splits reality. And then it starts to apply those words to judge and label what we actually feel. If a thought appears, we call it a good thought/a bad thought/positive /negative or maybe even evil. Or a pure spiritual thought/unspiritual thought. Same thing with feelings. We want to escape the bad stuff.
The realization is that freedom isn’t about running away from the darkness and reaching the light. The real freedom is discovering that what you call “dark” or “evil” was never that; you were only calling it that because you were trying to escape it. We only call something dark in ourselves because we’re already trying to escape it without realizing it.
I say real spirituality has nothing to do with escape. In the end, escaping takes time. " I experience this now, but tomorrow I’m going to experience this." "I feel this now but tomorrow…" Then we always live in hope; then we need time. In reality, it’s timeless. Everything is appearing in this timeless space that you are. All this stuff you’ve been so conditioned to think --you shouldn’t experience fear, pain, sadness, anything in isolation or abandonment or guilt or helplessness-- these are still just waves in the ocean. Everything within your personal experience is just a wave in the ocean. It might appear as fear, but it’s really just the ocean. It’s the ocean appearing as fear and we call it fear and we try to escape it. Because we don’t see that that wave is part of the ocean too! That’s where it all begins. We don’t see that that’s included as well. Every wave is part of the ocean. Every wave. We might call that wave anything we want to , we can judge it as a bad wave, a not ok wave, an unhealthy wave. We do that because we don’t see what it really is, which is the ocean, consciousness, awareness...pick your favorite word.
I think that’s important as well – there’s a lot of strange words. And they’re all other people’s words. Find your own words. I like the word "ocean." You might like the word consciousness, or you might not. I don’t. Call it light or being or spirit, or call it nothing. It doesn’t matter. You can’t name it, anyway. The way I talk about it these days, I love this "ocean and wave" thing. In the end, you can’t say what this is. I don’t know what it is. The words can’t capture it; the words are pointing to it. It’s not about the word "consciousness," it’s pointing you back to whatever this is. In the end, you have to admit you really don’t know what this is. I can call it consciousness or I can call it being, but underneath that I really have no way of knowing what this is. I have no way of separating myself from it. We call this “sitting around the table talking,” but we really don’t know. How could you really know?
You’re also free to go to an ashram, or do any spiritual practice, but now it comes from a different place in a way. Now it’s not about faking this anymore, it’s a celebration. You could burn incense or sing spiritual music, and it’s no longer about you thinking it’s going to get you anywhere. I met a young guy who was telling me he was a member for many years now of all these spiritual societies and was active in a yoga center and spiritual practices and dancing, and then one day he saw what we're talking about here. He still does it, and he loves doing it, but now he sees it as art. Before he was doing it to get somewhere in the future, believing that it would lead him somewhere. And now he’s doing it simply because he loves doing it. And there’s less of a seriousness to it. The seriousness comes with “this is gonna give me something, this is gonna add something, this is gonna help me escape.” It becomes urgently serious! Without that, then you’re free to do it or not. When you’re seeking, you’re not free not to do it, that’s an attachment. If you think meditation is going to help you reach advaita, you feel bound to doing it. You feel that you can’t stop doing it. When you actually think about it, it’s not about taking you anywhere. It’s about what’s already here. You realize that you’re free to sit and do meditation, and that’s true meditation. It’s not about reaching somewhere in the future, it’s about what’s here now. Then everything becomes meditation. Meditation is no longer just about sitting on a carpet and closing your eyes –which could be fun—but meditation could also be walking in nature or going for a swim or listening to rock music or having a Starbucks.