Authentic Living

Conversations on the High Wire

“Life is walking the high wire with no net;

everything else is just waiting around.”

— Karl Wallenda

Karl Wallenda

Someone recently asked me what my “Conversations on the High Wire” are all about. How are they different from other talks I give, from “The 5 Principles of Authentic Living,” for example, or from “Speaking Truthfully”? Simply this: “Conversations on the High Wire” has absolutely no predetermined content, as do my other talks, which deal with specific content. Though, truth be told, everything I do has an element of improvisation to it. But “Conversations on the High Wire” are off the rails! And “Conversations” are just that: intimate, honest conversations rather than presentations with questions. We create conversations together. My role is facilitate questioning and exploration, to encourage all who are present to dive deeper into the depths of our being, to let go of impediments and certainties and unexamined assumptions, beliefs, and prior decisions. We are not looking to find freedom in dogma, but in freedom itself. If there is an aim in these Conversations, it is just that: freedom.

Here’s the backstory:

This moment when I am supposed to begin talking is always very exciting for me, exciting in an unpredictable way because I never know exactly what I’m going to say. In the same way that you are waiting to see what I might say, so am I. I do not have a rehearsed talk. I have not come with an outline of talking points. I come with an openness to discover the truth of this moment. I do not want to blind myself to the beauty and depth of this instant, of meeting you for the first time, of being used by this time and place, I do not want to blind myself to all of this by hiding behind something prepared, something remembered, something from yesterday. Yesterday is dead. It is gone. Where is the vitality in yesterday? Where is the life in yesterday? Nowhere. It is only here, in this moment, and meeting it with openness and wonder and readiness, with curiosity and awareness, with the spirit of exploration and discovery.

Philippe Petit

It feels to me that I’m on the roof of a building and I have to go across a thin wire to another building, 50 feet away. The ground is 50 stories below. I have to go across this tightrope, fully exposed. I can feel my attention become so focused on the moment and the movement of this moment as I am about to step from the roof onto the wire. I can’t possibly think of anything, remember anything … my attention is too riveted on this moment, sensing any sway in the wire, sensing any breeze, feeling my body, entering fully this moment, with full alertness and responsiveness. I can’t even remember myself in this moment. If I stop to think of myself, to remember myself, I will certainly fall. That’s how it feels when I begin a talk; it is a gathering of alertness and attention, gathering it from where it may have wandered, into some thought stream or reverie, into some ancient past where the myths of myself are stored, or into an imaginary future, where projections of fantasies are already writing new myths.

Through this alertness, what is always present, a background of awareness, comes alive, because there is no thought, there is no projection of memory, no anticipation, there is no habitual self to get in the way, to obscure that clear awareness. None of those things can sustain themselves in that alertness. You become a part of each moment. There is no separation or difference between oneself and the breeze and the wire and the height and the distance. You simply participate in that total moment. Everything happens together, in unison; one thing does not stand away from other things, thinking independently, acting independently.

Actually it’s not like this just when I give talks, it’s how I experience my life. The complete attention to this precise moment allows only this moment to be real. Thoughts about this moment cannot interfere in the moment, because the attention is too alert to be distracted by thoughts. When one is completely present, then the focusing dissolves, the effort to pay attention is dissolved and there is just this moment in which we are fully participating; we are used by the totality of this moment, which includes what is beyond our sight and touch.

In a way, we are bound by the requirements of each moment. We actually are never free of that bondage, we are bound to the precision and intelligence and demands of the moment, regardless of what we might think, regardless of what we might feel, regardless of what we might anticipate, expect, hope, regret—it doesn’t matter. Through that bondage to the present we experience freedom.

That is a good kind of bondage, the one that does not allow us to leave the purity of this instant. If we do, we will fall from the wire. In the moment, all you hear is your acrobat’s slipper shuffling over the wire, moving, moving, carefully, exquisitely.

 Focusing allows the awareness, which is always present, to reveal itself. We are not creating some kind of magical state that doesn’t already exist by focusing our attention on the wire. Of course, I am speaking metaphorically when I talk about the wire. But this focusing is the essence of meditation. In my dictionary, I define meditation as dis-identification with conceptual thinking. Anytime we bring our full attention to something — whether it is externally focused, like cutting vegetables, or internally focused, like reciting a mantra — we take our attention off of our thoughts. As we do this, awareness emerges, and that awareness links us to the present.

Having said that, we can see that the waning of that attention and the feeling of distance from the awareness of the moment is thought itself. Not so much thought, but identification with thought. When we notice this, we simply focus our attention elsewhere, away from thought, on a single thing, like the metaphorical wire we are walking across.

The focusing, which we can call meditation, is something I practiced for a long time. It leads one into the present in which no focus is required, because there is only the present, there isn’t anything to focus on. Then, the “focus” is self-sustaining in that space of clear awareness. During the practice part of it, the focus is very difficult to maintain. It certainly does wax and wane. But one comes to realize what interferes with the focus, what causes one to fall from the wire time and time again: It is following thoughts. They are what will take the focus from the present, they are what will cause you to slip and fall. After enough practice, one just isn’t pushed by the thoughts off the wire, one’s focus is not interrupted because the attention is on the space in which thoughts arise and subside, the place of awareness, the place of Silence.

On the wire, the consequence of leaning to the left because a thought leans to the left, or of leaning to the right because an emotion leans to the right is disastrous. So, we don’t follow thoughts, and we soon discover that awareness cannot be disturbed by thoughts and emotions. And then you realize that clear awareness is the present. In that present, thoughts come up, emotions come up, but they don’t have the power to push you off the wire of present attention and focus. Being present isn’t being present in a conceptual way. Being present doesn’t even mean to be alert with our senses. Being present means to live in the interval between thoughts, in that timelessness. That is where the present is. It is not a conceptual present; it is not an idea. It is the nature of how things are.

And because it is how things are, it is really no big deal.

“Conversations on the High Wire” are spontaneous, free-wheeling adventures in authentic living, loving, and speaking.

Eating Eternity

(This has been published on Rebelle Society, which can be read here.)


On a warm summer day in Santa Barbara, I had lunch with eternity.

I was a participant with about 20 others in a meeting whose purpose was to inquire into truth. The meeting was led by Jean Klein, an elderly Belgian teacher of non-dualism. We were sitting in folding chairs or cross-legged on the carpeted floor or on the couch that had been moved to the back of the large living room. Jean was perhaps 80 at the time, white haired and translucent, the embodiment of silence. He was like a waterfall of pure acceptance. Standing beneath his spray I breathed with lungs I didn’t know I had.

Jean Klein & Robert Rabbin

He would say a few words and then fall silent. Someone might venture a question. He would respond. Then more silence. We passed the morning like that. His speaking was itself a form of silence, each word coming slowly, with precision, from a deep well. You could almost hear his mind falling like an empty pail into an invisible depth, filling, and then being drawn up by his careful voice.

We stopped at about noon, and went outside for lunch. I sat with Jean and a few others at a picnic table. We ate slowly, silently, still appreciating the atmosphere of the morning. It seemed to me that we were all attentive, mindful of what we were saying and doing, respectful of others, listening with our entire bodies to the total environment. It was natural, without technique or effort. It was simply a condition that had been established of its own accord.

We ate ice cream for dessert. Then, as we sat together on the benches with elbows and forearms collapsed on the tabletop, the world dissolved. I took a breath, and it was my last.

There is perception, but no perceiver! There is perception, but no perceived! All worry is worry about me and my body; I’m just an idea and not really worth worrying about. Love is this … no other … nothing other … only this wholeness …

Everything I’ve ever thought is just ridiculous. My God, we should all just sit down and shut up and not move—that would really be the best thing.

What are these electrical flashes and currents? This is all energy! Pure energy, vibrating and singing!

I simply disappeared, but remained present, as an awareness. I looked up and saw the sky and the clouds, but the seeing was with eyes that were not mine. I looked at the others, and saw myself. Everything was bright and radiant. It was so simple and so awesome. There were cognitions, but they were too fine for words, and they passed quickly, as a silent commentary on the pure feeling of just being, everywhere at once.

It seemed that everything was alive in a way I had never noticed. The grass of the lawn, the dirt clumps at the base of a lemon tree, its bark; at the end of the bench was a woman whose hair shone; the air itself—all this was alive, breathing, growing, moving in something, a kind of force, a comforting presence. When I looked at something, it looked back. There was no separation, no difference. I did not own this seeing; it was not mine, not my eyes.

A cognition that came several times was how beautiful, how beautiful. I thought of all I had read and studied and learned, all I had experienced. Then I laughed. I thought of the worries and fears and hopes with which I was often concerned. Then I laughed. I thought of myself. Then I laughed. It was pure laughter, joyous as never before, not because of anything, but in and of itself. Who was thinking? I don’t know. Who was laughing? I don’t know. There was no solid center, no place I could call “me.” Like salt in water, I lost my granular self.

It was the most marvelous calamity, the most terrific loss: a falling away of self, all in an instant. I knew, without knowing, this creation is alive and conscious. This creation is beautiful, this creation is beheld silently in wonder and awe. A conscious presence lives at the center of all things, underneath all things, within all things. There is an order to life that is out of time. It is eternal, but fully present and revealed in each moment, in each thing. The silence grew deeper and the loss more total.

There was just pure existence. If there was thought or movement, if there was discussion and laughter, it happened by itself, to no one in particular. Things seemed far off because they happened to no one, but everything glowed brightly, clearly, so full of itself, the presence.

So much was lost, and so much gained. It was so apparent, how did I miss it? Here, now, in this very minute, as we are, seated at a picnic table, eating ice cream, is depth upon depth of loveliness and silent beauty. My God, how much I love this creation that I am!

There is so much order, intelligence, and fullness in the creation that we are. There is so much beauty, so much love, so much tenderness. This is what reality is. We find ourselves in this loss of self, in the opening to mystery, in seeing the luminous presence that brightens all things.

I would say that we must realize this, but it is already realized. I would say that we must return to this seeing and knowing, but we have never left. I would say that we must find this within ourselves, but it exists equally without. I can only affirm that we are this silent beauty, that we do live as the living presence in all things, that we are love.



I sat with Jean several times, in various venues in Marin County, CA. The picture in the article was, serendipitously, taken during the events described during that lunch! Each time I sat with Jean, I felt bathed in indescribable peace and clarity, openness and stillness — though those words are pathetically inaccurate. Jean struck me as someone who was fully present, feet on the ground, even gentlemanly in his European manners, and yet fully alive in a reality we term “transcendent.” Second only to my guru, Swami Muktananda, Jean had the greatest influence on me. I remember once, after sitting with him for a while and being absorbed into an unfathomable stillness and silence, I heard in my brain, “I want to be like that.” And then, “Not yet. Later. Towards the end.” We’ll see. The man was gorgeous, and I loved him very much.

Jean Klein

Buried Treasure: Three Essays from Three Anthologies

Last week, I discovered three essays I had written for three anthologies, and I believe they are among the best writing I have ever produced. The themes are authenticity in public speaking, values in the workplace, and self-awareness as the foundation of leadership. I have made them available for free download on this page. Below are brief descriptions of each. Enjoy!

THE WORKPLACE AND SPIRITUALITY
NEW PERSPECTIVES ON RESEARCH AND PRACTICE

Edited by Dr. Joan Marques, Dr. Satinder Dhiman and Dr. Richard King

Robert’s essay makes a strong case for speaking in public with authenticity. We need to speak with authenticity, predicated on vulnerability, honesty, empathy, transparency, and love. Authentic speaking is beneficial to our soul, the vitality and future of our organizations, and even the fate of our world.

 

12 STEP WISDOM AT WORK: TRANSFORMING YOUR LIFE AND YOUR ORGANIZATION

Edited by William C. Hammond, III

The revolutionary concepts in this anthology have been developed by the internationally renowned Hazelden Foundation, one of the world’s leading recovery institutions. The co-authors show how the program that has helped millions of individuals can be used to dramatically change organizations, achieving greater efficiency and resulting a shared set of values that will propel the organization to new heights.

Robert’s essay is “The Answer to our Prayers,” in which he discusses the importance of integrating one’s most authentic personal values with those of the organization in which one works.

 

LEADERSHIP IN A NEW ERA: VISIONARY APPROACHES TO THE BIGGEST CRISIS OF OUR TIME

Edited by John Renesch

This anthology is a collection of vision and wisdom for tomorrow’s business leaders, presented by a group of outstanding men and women in a joint collaboration. This rare combination of business executives, professional consultants, successful authors, and leadership scholars has come together with a common theme: new times call for new leadership.

Robert’s essay is “The Koan of Leadership,” in which he advocates the development of self-awareness as a core leadership capacity.

Listen Deeply

[This is an excerpt from The 5 Principles of Authentic Living. Here I talk about the third principle, Listen Deeply.]

 

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I think that what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive.” — Joseph Campbell, American mythologist and writer, 1904-1987

Listen Deeply

Be Present. Pay Attention. And as we do, we begin, quite naturally and effortlessly, to Listen Deeply. To Listen Deeply is to discover that the source of perennial wisdom is within our own being. To Listen Deeply is to realize that you have as much access to self-knowledge and enlightenment as anyone ever has, and all you have to do is Listen Deeply.

Who am I? What do I want? What should I do? Where do I belong? What is my truth, what do I value, what is important to me? The answers to these questions bring us to the precipice of an authentic life. And then, in trusting that we can know the answers from within our own self, we jump from the precipice into the abyss of authenticity. But not the kind of trust that promises everything will be easy, or work out, or be safe. Trust as in self-belief, as in self-confidence, as in self-authority. It is, after all, your life. Why wouldn’t you know the answers to your own questions about your own self and life. In fact, no one else can know; they can only project their own self-knowing onto you.

If we learn to Listen Deeply, we will always know the answers. They will be our answers. They will be right and true for us. Listening Deeply feeds us with a constant stream of inspiration, intuition, and insight which we can use to light our way and act impeccably. I’ve used this principle to “listen” my way from one place to the next, from one project to the next, from one decision to the next. When I am asked questions by clients and students, I Listen Deeply. And then I share what I hear. I Listen Deeply and I hear things as practical as slow down to 65 and you won’t get a speeding ticket and as spiritually illuminating as it’s time to withdraw from all activities for one month, you will be shown something you need to know.

Listening Deeply means to Pay Attention with great skill and subtlety to what is heard from beneath the surface of the thoughtstream. Listening Deeply is not just listening with our ears. It’s being totally open and receptive to everything, everywhere — all at once. It’s listening inside yourself. It’s listening to intuition, to flashes of insight and bursts of clarity. It’s listening to what’s happening outside. It’s listening to people and hearing not just their words, but their meaning. It’s listening to what I call the “I want” — to the desires that arise from deep within us, the ones that we must hear and honor as our truth, our calling, our path, our purpose. Listening Deeply is something we all know how to do. We are born with this capacity. But we forget how to do it, and in so doing, we forget what we know, and tip towards the feeling of being lost, confused, and alienated from life itself.

Walking Out the Door

WALKING OUT THE DOOR.

Has someone ever come up to you, thinking they know you, and started chatting away about people and events you have no knowledge of?

You wonder who they’re speaking to. Suddenly, they wake up and realize that they don’t know you, that you only looked like someone they know or knew.

This is happening to me now. People are writing and speaking to me as if they know me. They don’t. I wonder who they think I am. I wonder who they’re speaking to. I wonder why they aren’t more present with themselves, and me.

It is quite common, isn’t it, to assume that we know people, because their name and face and voice are familiar? But we have to be careful, because something may have happened in their hypocenter, the underground focus point of an earthquake. They may have lived through an earthquake, a demolition of their previous self.

Without our noticing, their entire identity, history, and being may have shifted so suddenly and totally as to make them a new person. Not the old person with new ideas, experiences, and beliefs, but a new person, one we’ve never met. This can happen to anyone, to all of us. It’s often why we undertake personal and spiritual growth work: to become something utterly new.

Read the rest of this article on Rebelle Society.

 

The Drunkenness of Love

THE DRUNKENNESS OF LOVE.

I admit that I am drunk. No, not booze. Not drugs. Not sex. Not nature. Not music. Just drunk. The drunkenness of love, pure and simple.

My mind has gone where minds go when we are drunk. I don’t know who or what is writing; certainly there is no thinking. I can barely see. Thankfully, my fingers have been trained to find the right keys, on their own. Maybe my fingers are behind this. I don’t know. Someone wants to say something.

Love is never absent from our lives. We do not have to find it; we are it. The problem is not that we don’t know how to love, or whom to love and in what way. The problem is that we are afraid of love, because love consumes us. We dissolve into love like salt dissolves in water. We disappear into love. We are overcome by love.

Love does not disappoint us. We disappoint ourselves because we resist love; we are afraid of disappearing into love. And so we are confused about love. It eludes us. We can’t quite grab hold of it. We try to love. We want to. But we don’t.

We don’t mind having an experience we call love, but we don’t want to lose ourselves. We want love to be like our sterling silverware or our best shoes. We use them when we want to, on special occasions. But we don’t want the forks and knives or the shoes to take us over. We want to be the judicious owners of these things. We want them to enhance our lives on our terms.

 

Read the rest of this article at Rebelle Society.

Five Things I’ve Learned About Writing

(This has been published on Rebelle Society, which can be read here.)


Writing ain’t easy.

Over time and with experience, it does get easier, but even then it ain’t easy. But that don’t really matter, ’cause if you’re called to write, you can’t avoid it. You gotta do it. Even if your spelling and grammar aren’t too good. It don’t matter.

You just write, because you got to write.

I started writing in my late teens, mostly long unintelligible poems to record my equally unintelligible wanderings throughout the world, took a 10-year hiatus while living in an ashram, then came back to it. My first article was published in 1991, a featured article in a “new age” magazine with my name on the cover. I went sky-high with pride and self-importance; that didn’t last.

Song of Sudden Freedom

If we are seeking what is real, the real is seeking us.

If we long to know the truth, the truth longs to know us.

If we want to drown in love, love wants to live in us.

These entities are everywhere, even pounding on drums in the ceremonial centers of our cells — trillions of them. They flood into and from us.

Be a child in this on-rushing love: don’t move. Stand still. Don’t try to find the real, or know the truth, or experience love. All effort pushes it away. Be like a lost child and wait to be found. Stand still, be open, look and see that everything you want is already taking you, filling you, possessing you.

We don’t need to seek: we have already found.

We don’t need to learn: we already know.

We don’t have to become: we already are.

SEE THIS AND BE FREE.

The world is alive and breathing inside your very body. All that you treasure is within you. Your inadequacy is but a habit, your bondage an illusion, your fears but shadows and gossip. Let go of all you hold on to. Only you can free yourself from your own deception. Forgive yourself, step into the light of love rushing towards you from a million inner suns.

No one has harmed you, no one has wronged you. Only your pride thinks this is so. Let it go. Bitterness is your own dark night. Let it go. There is nothing worth protecting. Let the breath of new life fill you and fill your mind and fill your body. Your cells are now vibrating with new life. Your heart is opening, your being is growing larger and larger, colliding with the onrushing love. In this collision you can dissolve without fear.

You Cannot Do That!

[Written sometime around mid- to late 2016, but as relevant today as then, I reckon.]

“You cannot do that!” is what a well-meaning nurse told me yesterday at the chemo-ward, or whatever they call the place you sit in for several hours whilst intravenously imbibing what I like to call Shiva-Shakti juice.

Actually, this is what the second nurse said. The first one was unable to insert the needle into any of my veins even after three rather painful attempts. Apparently, my veins were small and would disappear on her. Bummer for her, and for me.

She said she’d get another nurse. As that one began to survey the situation, I politely (I’m always polite and friendly) said, “Let’s make this one count. If it doesn’t, I am out of here. Four is my daily limit for needle insertions.”

Chemo-cocktail, 10/18/'16

Chemo-cocktail, 10/18/’16

That’s not even counting the one I already had in the blood lab ward, where my Philippine lab technicians love me to death — in part because I always bring them home-baked cookies (courtesy of my sister Sandra) and in part because we laugh so much that others nurses come running in to be sure everything is OK. They flirt with me and I flirt right back. Or, maybe it’s the other way around. Whatever.