Now Featured at the Patheos Book Club
The Freedom of Being
At Ease with What Is
By Jan Frazier
A Q&A with Author Jan Frazier
What changes when a person awakens?
Whereas before, there was strong identification with thought and the emotional life, with your history and issues, your physical well-being, after awakening none of this any longer feels like who you are. After a time of adjustment, you find that you're able to continue with your ordinary life, doing much of what you did before, but your activities and relationships no longer define you. Whatever comes along is taken in stride, whether it's in the nature of a challenge or it's a piece of great news. There is a tenderness, an unshakable stillness, at the heart of all of your perception and activity. Except when there is a need to think, your mind is utterly quiet. Life is no longer experienced as a burden, or as having the potential to deeply fulfill. The fulfillment is already here, simply in the experience of present-moment awareness.
What can a person do to reduce suffering, whether or not awakening is on the horizon?
Become aware of the moments when there is resistance to something that's occurred. Having become aware, see if you can take a breath and relax into the thing you've pushed against. Not as forced mental manipulation but in a bodied way. Making that one potent change—declining to resist—is hugely transformative in a life. So much of our suffering comes not of circumstances we dislike, which is what we generally blame it on, but of wishing life conditions were other than they are. Even if you are able to do something to make changes you'd like to see occur, you're always better off starting with a soft yielding to the present situation. It's the only sane thing to do. Otherwise you're arguing with reality, and that only compounds the pain of what you're dealing with. Acceptance brings about peacefulness—even when you dislike the circumstance you've accepted. Acceptance has nothing to do with liking a thing, or with being a doormat. It's simply acknowledging the fact of a thing.
How does belief in the spiritual journey interfere with present-moment awareness?
Being on a journey suggests that you don't already "have" what you seek. Many spiritual seekers believe they need to change in order to awaken, and that's where their focus tends to go on who they want to become. Meanwhile, the longed-for condition is already within (whether or not its presence has ever been sensed). The belief that something has to change is the ego talking, and no matter how much change the ego manages, it will never escape itself. Awakening constitutes a shift in perception, having to do with where you locate your sense of self. In awakened stillness, there is no sense of time. All that's ever real is the present moment. Belief in a journey keeps the idea of time alive, and it puts the focus on the perceived need to change, when all that's really necessary is to realize what's already your innate condition. The best thing a seeker can do is suspend the notion of someplace-to-get and instead bring all attention to the present moment, resisting nothing, being willing to see what you do to keep going the impression you are your ego. The willingness to look at what is presently occurring, mentally and emotionally, and to turn away from nothing, is what brings about the necessary perception shift. It all takes place in this moment.
What can a person do to quiet the mind?
A quiet mind doesn't come about by a frontal attempt to stop thinking. What can bring about mental stillness is simply to see that thought is occurring—to step outside its compelling story and images, and realize that it is all the production of the mind. Nearly always, the mind is working in service to the ego. Usually we so completely believe the truth of our thoughts that it doesn't occur to notice them as artificial (however "true" they might appear). That simple gesture of seeing thought for what it is, rather than confusing it with reality, will often bring about an unwinding. Another thing that can help is to shift attention from the mind's activity to the immediate scene, or to what you're presently doing, or the sensation in your body. Anyhow, there's nothing "wrong" with thinking. The issue isn't that the mind runs on its own; it's that you equate its contents with reality. When you come to see that thought is made up by you, the mind will tend to run less on its own. When you stop investing thought with a sense of reality, it stops being so enthralling.