Imagine that you are facing a gate. On your side of the gate is the infinitely large and complex world of phenomena — the grasses in the prairies, the teeming cities, the clouds over the ocean, babies crying, wars being fought, suffering, love making, your thoughts, everyone's thoughts, the stars sprinkled in the heavens, every single appearance everywhere, every thing, every self. On the other side of the gate is nondual reality, selflessness, enlightenment, the absolute, God. The gate is the gate of awakening.
You try to walk up to the gate, to push it open, to step through it, but like in a dream your effort to do so brings you no closer. You try harder. Movement seems to be happening but the gate remains out of reach. You become more desperate, straining to reach out to the gate but it stays just out of your grasp.
Then you notice the flash of a bird flying by and you turn to watch it. You see your husband in the distance calling you for supper, and your bike leaning against a tree. You get on your bike and go home, and after supper you watch TV.
Years go by. Sometimes you think about the gate and what might be on the other side, but like all thoughts those thoughts don't last too long. Then one day in a shop you see a little book squeezed between many volumes — its title catches your eye: "The Gate." You buy the book and, back home, settle into your easy chair to see what it has to say. The more you read you think, "This is my gate! The one I tried so hard to open! Maybe this book will tell me how." You read on. Sometimes you think, "That's it! That's how!" but then you keep reading and are not so sure.
After some time you fall asleep. In your dream you see the gate again. On your side of the gate is you and the whole universe of diverse things. On the other side is "Unity Consciousness," "Buddha Mind," "God's Love," "Awakening," "Enlightenment" — you have heard these words and you know this is what the gate promises. So once again you try to walk up to the gate and push it open. But just like before all your effort brings you no closer. Your steps seem to be treading on air. You try harder, more desperately, yearning to reach the gate, but it is as if a terrible paralysis has taken over you.
Then you wake up... there is no gate.
* * *
Each of these Seven Contemplations presents a different facet of the jewel that sparkles as the light of awakening in our hearts. While there are many words and thoughts here, they all seek to serve this "light" that cannot be thought about or named. Again and again, the sentences build little steps that we follow until suddenly they stop, and there is a pause – perhaps you will sense it – a space where the steps cannot go and where our minds cannot go.
This "space" is what I call openness. It is not anything in itself yet it allows everything to appear. It is the openness of awakening – simple, straightforward, ever-present – yet to "enter" it requires that we leave something behind. Since the sentences and the steps stop short of their destination, we must be willing to follow the open path beyond them. There are a few signposts suggested in these contemplations, a few hints about finding the way, but the open path is essentially just that: open. There is no defined path here, and that is its beauty.
One might wonder if such an open path, being featureless in itself, would preclude the richness, heritage, and sense of belonging that traditional religions provide. It is true there is no religious narrative or belief here, and no religious obligations or prescribed modes of conduct. But this is not to say we cannot "play in the fields of the Lord" in whatever ways we are drawn to! Rather than limiting us, the open path opens us to all forms of reverence, prayer, poetry, music, and scripture. People of all cultures become our family. The openness of the open path is naturally inclusive – there is nothing we have to protect or defend. It is the path that opens for each of us, naturally, in this moment.
When you enter it you disappear. The edges of the path disappear. While this can be a little scary in the beginning, it has a freshness and profound familiarity about it that will assure you of its authenticity. Be fearless! The clear light you sense without seeing anything is infinitely generous and kind. You are made of it, every spinning atom of you, every flashing neuron appears by the grace of this invisible light.
Shall we call it love? If we do, we have to be careful not to imagine things. This love doesn't care about you or me – it isn't like that. "You" and "me" are just thoughts, already vanished. What we are is so much more beautiful and radiant than "you" and "me." But that is just the price of admission: we have to be willing to release our selfness, to let it vanish, and then when it re-appears let it vanish again, and again. If we see it for what it is, just thoughts and beliefs and feelings that continually appear and disappear, we gradually get used to the fact of being nothing. This is the essence of openness, and by its grace we recognize we are safe and always have been, because we are not other than the clear light itself.
Nada Hermitage, Colorado 2010