Donna Quesada: Well, Leonard it’s really nice to meet you. David gave me your book a few weeks ago and I sure have enjoyed it and I was just delighted to know
I would be talking with you today. So on a personal level thank you and thank you for sharing your time with Awaken.
Leonard Jacobson: Well, thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here with you.
DONNA: Thank you very much. I spent some time in Sydney. Many years ago, though. One day I’ll make it back. Well, as you know the web site is called Awaken.com, so we have a little tradition…so, if you’ll indulge us, we like to start with the question of what it means to awaken. So, if you wouldn’t mind sharing your thoughts on that?
LEONARD: Ok. Well, for me, it’s very simple. We have to ask the question, “What are we awakening from?” And, “What are we awakening to?” We are awakening from the world of the human thinking mind, a mind that never stops thinking. Whenever we think, we take ourselves into the mind, which is a world of the remembered past and the imagined future. Sometimes I call it “the world of the mind.” Sometimes I call it “your story.” Everything outside of this moment is your story. Sometimes I call it “your dream.” It’s a world of illusion made up of memory, imagining, concepts, ideas and beliefs. It is not real. Whatever you are thinking about is not happening now, and so your thoughts hold you in the past or future, and if you believe in your thoughts, opinions, concepts and beliefs as somehow being true, then you will find yourself imprisoned within the mind. It’s also a world of separation because we’ve separated ourselves from the truth of life and the truth of who we are. We have separated ourselves from the truth of love, the truth of God and the truth of Oneness. Now we are caught in this world of illusion and separation. When we’re functioning within the world of the mind. we are functioning at a very limited level of consciousness. And we are governed by the ego. It’s almost like the ego is the custodian within the world of the mind.
The mind is like a computer and like any computer, it can only function according to its programming. So we have to ask how the mind is programmed. Most of the programming occurs in early childhood. It can even occur within the womb, or as a result to the birth process. But mostly, the programming of the mind occurs as a result of your childhood relationship with your parents. Here are some typical programs that many of us can relate to:
I am alone. There is no one here for me. I am abandoned. I am not wanted. I am not loved. I am not good enough. I can’t do it. I can’t have what I want. I have to accept what I do not want. I can’t ask for what I want. I don’t count. It is not OK to feel my feelings. I have to do the right thing, I have to please others, and there must be something wrong with me.
When you are living within the mind, you are living with all these limited beliefs that affect our experience of life, our experience of our selves, and our relationships. We also live with all of the repressed emotions that have accumulated within us since childhood and they are still with us. These repressed emotions play havoc with our lives. So, that’s what we are awakening from, a world of illusion and separation, filled with all the limiting beliefs, repressed feelings and false concepts and beliefs.
What do we awaken to?
We awaken into the world of Now. We awaken into the truth of life revealed through he doorway of the present moment. And as we awaken into the world of now, we begin to experience ourselves in an entirely new way. It is as if we are experiencing a new dimension of ourselves and a new dimension of life. As we awaken into the present moment, the past and future no longer impact upon us in a negative way. We are grounded in the truth and reality of the present moment and our experience of life is dramatically changed.
Those limiting beliefs are not with us when we are present. They are from the past. They are a part of your story, but when you are truly present, there is no story. You are just here now. At the deeper levels of awakened Presence, you will experience Oneness as the illusion of separation dissolves. At the deepest levels of Presence you will experience the living Presence of God in all things present. You will experience Heaven revealed on Earth.
That’s what I mean by awakening.
DONNA: You know, it’s an interesting thing. You were saying how we are either swinging like a pendulum into the past, or otherwise into the fantasies of the future, but this is something that I’ve thought about before…too much thinking is exactly the problem. But, even when we are in the present, it seems like the mind is still in its fantasies because we are busy judging and we are only judging what we see, which is part of the story. So, we are sabotaged even when we are here. Is that the work of the mind as well?
LEONARD: If you are judging, then you’re not really present. You might think you are, but you are not. When you are truly present, there is no judgment. There might be discernment, but judgment is impossible. The judgment is arising from within the mind and within the story. It has nothing to do with the present moment. An important first step in awakening is to be able to clearly distinguish when you are present and when you are in the mind. When you are truly present and awake in the present moment, your mind is silent. There is a very clear test that I share with my students. It’s simple, clear and non-negotiable. It is the test of silence. If you are truly present in this moment, your mind is silent, which means there are no thoughts. You’re not trying to stop thoughts, but you are so present that thoughts stop all by themselves simply because you are present.
Thoughts are always of the past or future. There is no possibility of thinking about the present moment. It’s impossible. You have to leave the present moment to think about it. So, all thoughts take us into the past or future. So, that’s the real test. You feel like you are truly here and nowhere else, and your mind is silent. Even if your mind is silent just for 10 seconds, that’s okay. Slowly, slowly, the space between the thoughts will get wider and wider, until you wake up one morning and you find that your mind is essentially silent. And you are essentially present. Of course, you can still think, but now you are thinking consciously. It’s not that continual stream of uninvited, unconscious thoughts.
DONNA: This is a great subtlety…because I’ve heard it said that you cannot stop thoughts—that the mind just generates thoughts. I remember one Zen Master called them “secretions.” And so, the idea is not to stop them, but rather, to not be attached or engaged or busy with them…attending to them.
LEONARD: If you have any intention to try and stop thoughts then the thoughts will continue. Trying to stop thoughts is a judgment of those thoughts and so they will prevail. Trying to stop thoughts will strengthen the thoughts. Whether the thoughts stop is really not your business! Just focus on being present and if you reach a certain level of Presence the thoughts will stop by themselves, without you trying to stop them. I’m not saying they will stop forever. I’m saying they will stop in this moment. And as long as you are truly present the way I’m describing, then your mind will remain silent until you again get swept back into the mind with thoughts and feelings arising from within the story.
You see the truth is that we are all hopelessly addicted to thinking. It’s the strongest addiction. It’s stronger than the addiction to heroin, gambling, sex. And we are habituated to living within the world of the mind. We have to come into right relationship with the mind and the thoughts and the ego, and right relationship is only possible when we are present.
DONNA: I love what you said, that “the thoughts are none of our business.” I love that.
LEONARD: We just notice the thoughts as they arise, but don’t get involved get involved in the thoughts. Don’t believe them. Don’t reject or resist them. Don’t try and stop them.
DONNA: You mentioned the ‘E’ word. “Enlightenment.” So is there such a thing as enlightenment? Or, is it a step-by-step moment to moment kind of affair?
LEONARD: When you read about other people’s enlightenment, it will describe what it is like to be enlightened. They are talking about enlightenment, but what they are really talking about is enlightenment experiences. I’ve had very profound enlightenment experiences. As much as anyone you’ll ever read about. But all experiences pass, including enlightenment experiences. So what doesn’t pass? Beyond all experience is the one experiencing. Who is experiencing? The answer is “I AM.” It is the “I AM” Presence that is the awakened you. It is that dimension of you which is of this moment and only of this moment.
Many people become identified with the enlightenment experience itself and then they get caught into thinking they are enlightened. If somebody says to me “I am enlightened.” The first thing I’ll ask them is “Who is enlightened?” The only answer is “I AM.” This takes them into a deeper level of Presence and beyond all ideas and concepts about what enlightenment is. I prefer the word “awakened” to “enlightened.” If I were to give you a definition of enlightenment, I would say you are enlightened when you are so fundamentally established in presence that you never get caught up or lost in your story. You might still have a story, you might still play in the world of time but you never get lost there anymore. You know where the truth is. It is you, fully present in this moment, present with what is here.
At the deepest levels of Presence, you open to the mystery. You open into Oneness. The illusion of separation that we experience within the mind is gone. And at the deepest levels of presence, we can experience the living presence of God in all things present. We will discover what is meant by those words, “God is omnipresent.” When we are deeply present, that will no longer be a spiritual concept to believe in. Instead it will be a living reality that you will experience each moment that you are truly and deeply present. It is possible that you will experience Heaven on Earth, which is actually revealed within your awakened consciousness. It won’t be revealed for everyone. It will be revealed to those that are so totally present that the past and future are no longer projecting onto the present moment. Then you are experiencing the present moment in its very pure state. We are experiencing what is really here, free of our projections, opinions, past experiences and judgments.
DONNA: Before I get to the process of how to get there, I want to get a little heavy for a moment. Many spiritual teachers talk about the “Dark Night of the Soul.” Tolle refers to it as “limit situations.” And one of my teachers, who is one of David’s teachers, shares his experience of having a near death experience, which sort of propelled him, or served as the impetus for his own spiritual path. Do you think a person needs to have a “crisis” in order to open to the desire to awaken?
LEONARD: Well, almost everyone on this planet is living almost exclusively within the mind, within the story, within the dream. Let’s call it “the story” for now. Now, who wants to wake up out of that happy story? The answer is, no one! Very few people will be motivated to wake up out of a happy story, or a happy dream. But if the story becomes more filled with suffering, maybe we’ll get to a point where we will spontaneously awaken out of that story.
I’ll give you two examples of individuals who awakened because their story became too full of suffering. The first is Eckhart Tolle. He describes very clearly how he felt so down, so depressed and so full of suffering that he spontaneously awakened out of his story. He was just sitting on a bench somewhere and suddenly he awakened out of his story. It can happen quite spontaneously like that. The story becomes so difficult, so full of pain and suffering that we have a spontaneous awakening out of it. Another example is Buddha. He tried everything, followed path, but he could not find what he was looking for. He finally realized he couldn’t get there. So he gave up and in that giving up, of course, he awakened.
LEONARD: Yes, It’s a kind of surrender. “I give up, I surrender. I can’t do this.” And in that moment of relaxation, the truth was revealed to him. I think Jesus had a similar experience in that moment when he was baptized in the water by John the Baptist. Symbolically anyway, it washed away his past, leaving him available to the present.
If you ask who is behind the suffering in our stories, my answer is very simple. It’s God. The only thing God wants from any of us is that we awaken out of the story and become fully present. It seems as though no one is willing to awaken out of a happy dream or story, so we leave God no alternative but to increase our suffering. Maybe some of us will be willing to awaken out of the story if the suffering becomes too great. The problem is that even if the suffering within the story keeps increasing, we still do not wake up. We remain in the story trying to fix it or make it better. And that just keeps us in the story. It is so much easier to wake up out of the story. The more you try to make the story better, the more you get lost in the dream.
DONNA: So would you say to the people, the happily deluded people…is there any need to wake up at all?
LEONARD: No, maybe it’s not their turn. Maybe it is not their destiny to awaken in this lifetime. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. There is a natural timing with each person. But sooner or later, whether in this lifetime or some future lifetime, each one of us will have to find their way to a path awakening. It is everyone’s destiny. The only question is when? And how?