JLW: That is a powerful answer. . . How did this experience come about for you?
SUZANNE: Fourteen years ago, when I was four months pregnant with my daughter, I was standing at a bus stop in Paris, France. In one moment, everything that I had ever taken to be my personal self completely disappeared. It was just gone. As I waited for the bus to approach, something in consciousness was loosening somehow. And when it got there–I am sure it had nothing to do with the bus driving up–this reference point of an “I,” a someone that everything was about and that everything that occurred in life was structured around, was gone. It was like a switch had been turned off. And it was never to turn on again. The first response that the mind had to this completely ungraspable experience was absolute terror; but that terror never changed the experience for a moment. In other words that terror never got the reference point back again. There was no personal self, but nothing stopped; the functions continued to function just as before. In fact, better than before. Speaking was still speaking and walking was still walking. I even went to graduate school and got a Ph.D. I experienced this fear for ten years. During this time, I consulted a lot of psychotherapists because it seemed like something I needed to be cured of. Every single one of these therapists considered this to be a problem. And they all had a diagnosis for it. They couldn’t quite understand how it could be that there was such great functioning occurring, but they took the fact that there was a lot of fear to be a sign that this was a problem. Towards the end of the ten years, there was a clear awareness that this was not something that was going to go away. It was time to start investigating other possible descriptions of what this was. It was time to investigate it with people who maybe knew more about it than Western psychotherapists. I started reading spiritual books and I came across a description of something that was exactly what I had been experiencing. It was an interview with Jean Klein, an Advaita teacher, and he was saying that there is no personal I, that it doesn’t exist. He was saying that there is nothing wrong with this; it is the naturally occurring human state. I also found a Zen teacher up in Northern California who told me that I was seeing with the eyes of the ancients; his assurances that the fear reaction was just a season and that spring would come were very helpful. In talking to him, it became very clear that everything is there, too. I saw that the presence of fear meant only one thing–it meant that fear was present. And that was it. Shortly after realizing this, I had the experience while driving that I was driving through myself to get to someplace that I already was, because in fact I was everywhere. I wasn’t going any place because I was already everywhere. There was a shift from no personal self, no “me,” to seeing that this experience of no personal self was actually the substance of everything. That is when the springtime began with the quality of joyfulness to it. What I can describe about what is being experienced currently, is residing in the Infinite within which the Infinite resides. There is no end point in all this. We are talking about the Vastness. It is very large. It continues to show Itself and show Itself.
JLW: Initially, you thought something was wrong and now you have discovered that what you are experiencing could be called enlightenment or awakening. Is this how you see it now?
SUZANNE: I have tended not to call this enlightenment and to call it only the “naturally occurring human state,” because this is who everyone is. The most obvious thing to this view of the Vastness is that it is who everyone is. And so to call IT something like “enlightenment” or “awakening” Swell, maybe. The Infinite does become something that is forefront in the awareness, so I guess you could call it a “waking up” to That. But it is not like you become something else once you see That. It is who you are. It is always who you have been. So, it is the seeing of what you have always been.
JLW: Could you say then that awakening is a shift from not seeing who we have always been to recognizing That?
SUZANNE: Okay, but that recognition doesn’t change who you really are, ever. You have always been That. And yes, there is a way that the Vastness Itself can perceive Itself so directly, without any fogging or shading or taking anything else to be who you are. I guess you could call it a waking up, but what seems most important to convey is that this is who everyone is all the time, whether the direct awareness of it is there or not.
JLW: Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for others who are experiencing the desire for this recognition? What can one do in order to have this experience?
SUZANNE: These “doing” questions are the ones that I have wanted to address the most, particularly in this Western culture which is so strongly based on doing in order to accomplish something. From the point of view of the Vastness, doing something is slightly absurd. First of all, who would be doing the doing? And secondly, That which is doing has always been doing, and will spontaneously continue to do. The only answer the Vastness has been able to come up with in terms of anything resembling an answer to this question would be to see things for what they are.
JLW: Could you please elaborate what that means?
SUZANNE: Seeing things for what they are means purely that. The Vastness that we all are is like an ocean that exists in relation to everything–as the Infinite noticing of everything being just what it is–Itself included. It sees thoughts for thoughts and feelings for feelings and sensations for sensations. There is never a desire or request that anything be anything but what it is. The Vastness knows that everything is there just as it is, so the desire for something to go away, or be something different doesn’t occur. Let me get real specific in terms of what we were talking about. A few minutes before we started taping, we spoke about the “I” construct that passes itself off as who you are, as your reference point. From the view of the Infinite, of the Vastness, that construct is seen for what it is–a construct, an idea. And an idea can only be what it is; it can only be an idea. When an idea is seen for what it is, there is a way that it empties itself of what it appeared to be full of–some defining determinant of who you are. And when the perception is emptied and seen as what it is–just a concept, a construct, an idea–it ceases to act as any sort of compelling screening of this Infinite Presence which you actually are. This seeing things for what they are is occurring all the time. That’s another thing that doesn’t just start at some point.
JLW: There is a shift in identity though, or a dropping of this “I” construct. . . Something happened for you.
SUZANNE: Something happens. It seems like most of this occurs within the mind. In the Western culture, which I am most familiar with, the mind is trained to adopt a personal construct as the reference point. It just believes that there is a personal doer. It’s made to believe that you have to “make something of yourself.” The Western mind believes that you have to be a certain way and you have to figure out how your life is going to go in order for it to be successful, in order for it to happen the way you want it to. Everything that you hear in the culture, in Western psychology in particular, is all based on the assumption that there is a personal doer that has to be the best one it could possibly be. So there is all this work that is brought to bear on it. It is like the work on the mind that is asked to happen within the mind. The mind has to go in and look at itself and try to see how it needs to be changed around, how the furniture needs to be moved around in the house of itself.
JLW: And instead of trying to change the mind, your recommendation is to just notice, “Oh, it’s the mind.” Something like this?
SUZANNE: That is what the mind says, “Oh, it’s the mind.” The view of the eyes of the Vastness is hard to describe as it is brought to bear on anything because it isn’t perceived through the mind. And it isn’t perceived through the perceptual apparatus of the circuitry. The view of the Vastness, the eyes of the Vastness, exist within the Vastness Itself. It has its own sense organ that permeates it and exists at every point in it that is always seeing things for being what they are and seeing Itself for what it is. And yet, it does seem that what happened when I was standing at that bus stop included the mind, and its circuitry became a participating portion of that sense organ of the Vastness. It’s like the mind and circuitry joined into the sphere of the Vastness. Another way to describe this is that the way the mind and circuitry are always permeated with the sense organ of the Vastness must have come foreground and then that took over as the main perceptual stance or position, a position of placeless origin.
JLW: Suzanne, does it seem to you that more human beings are awakening to this Vastness at this time in the Western world?
SUZANNE: Yes. Isn’t it great! It seems that a large amount of folks now are opening to this. You have to remember though that we’re talking about the San Francisco Bay Area here, which seems to have a higher concentration of folks who have this interest. The Vastness does carry a very strong, non-personal desire to know Itself. It does appear to be the real purpose of human life, for the human circuitry to participate in the sense organ of the Vastness. And that does seem to be happening. There are people who have come to talk with me who have spoken about their lives joining into that sense organ of the Vastness in a conscious way.
LML: It does seem like there is more interest in this. I know that in the seventies when I first studied transpersonal psychology and meditation, enlightenment was something that wasn’t even being considered. Now, people are seeking and experiencing this.
SUZANNE: Yeah, it’s really wonderful. I can’t possibly convey how totally, ecstatically, joyful it is for the Vastness to move in Itself like this, when awareness of Itself is carried through the human circuitry. It is just amazing!
LML: Are you saying there is a joy in it moving unobstructed, consciously?
SUZANNE: Well, it is always moving unobstructed. The joy is when this is expressed and received in the foreground of the Vastness. It really is amazing. And, sometimes people say to me, “I don’t want to give up the personal because I really feel attached to the personal. It really seems that that is where I feel the most feeling, and depth and falling in love, etc. How could I give that up?” The folks that are very involved in studying with Hamid Almaass are very big on deepening and developing the personal. They are the ones that have said to me most directly, “I don’t want to give up the personal. I don’t know what you are talking about. Why would I want to give it up?” What I tell them is that it was never there to begin with. And anything that feels like a personal kind of joy pales in comparison to the joy that is experienced when the eyes of the Vastness are the only thing that is being seen through all the time. These eyes exist in the Infinite, at every point in it. There is a joy that is not personal–you almost have to find another word for it because it transcends the category of personal joy–it is so constant and so extreme. It is in everything, everything; it doesn’t have to be just certain things that reveal this joy, it’s everything.
JLW: It’s just the innate delight of being.
LML: And outside of that awareness there is suffering. Identification with the personal always involves suffering, even with what people call happiness.
SUZANNE: Identification and taking something to be other than what it is–seeing it as something that is not the Vastness, or as something that is not good, or not desirable. There is one way to end suffering and that is for everything to be seen for what it is, because then we don’t ask that something be different in order for suffering to stop.
JLW: So, seeing something for what it is implies seeing with the eyes of the Vastness.
SUZANNE: That is correct.
JLW: Thus, the way to end suffering is to. . .
SUZANNE: . . . see with the eyes of the Vastness.
JLW: People are going to read this and out of their deep yearning, they may try to apply it and wonder. . .
SUZANNE: “How am I going to do this?”
JLW: Yes, how does one shift from seeing through the personal eyes to seeing through the eyes of the Vastness?
SUZANNE: Your question is contrary to how the Vastness actually exists, which is that it is always perceiving things for what they are from within Itself. The implication that one should figure out what to do in order to see with the eyes of the Vastness implies that that isn’t already constantly occurring, and you have to do something to connect with that. I have always hesitated to say, “do this or do that.” I say only “see with the eyes of the Vastness,” which is already happening, because this leaves the mind confounded about what to do.
JLW: When the mind is confounded, it is stopped, and there is an openness.
SUZANNE: I am not necessarily aiming for the mind to be stopped. I guess the aim would be for the mind to recognize that it doesn’t know. The mind needs to see that there is nothing for it to do. It is not the doer and it doesn’t have to find the correct position. It’s like, That which has been happening all the time and which has always been the doer, finally shows Itself to Itself for what it is.
LML: So, that showing Itself to Itself just happens?