In our Summer 2021 issue, our much-loved regular columnist Judith McAdam offered us a heartfelt reflection on how we can transcend difficult times in our close relationships. Enjoy her wise guidance below!
The Wisdom of Adya: Opening up and Embracing What is
To celebrate Adyashanti’s upcoming visit to Dublin on August 19th, we are thrilled to share our interview with him from our Summer 2018 issue. Visit adyashanti.org to learn more about his work!
The Wisdom of Adya: Opening up and embracing what is
by Aisling Cronin
Interviewers: Daizan Kaarlenkaski and Paul Congdon
Adyashanti is an American-born spiritual teacher who is devoted to serving the awakening of all beings. He promotes non-dual teachings, based on recognising both the infinite spiritual possibilities and the everyday simplicity of our lives. He is the author of a number of successful spiritual titles, including The Way of Liberation, Resurrecting Jesus and Falling into Grace. We were thrilled to interview him recently and hear about his thoughts on the student-teacher relationship, his relationship with his wife Mukti, working with his father, and what Ireland means to him.
Could you tell us about the way you share your dharma teachings? For example, you never answer questions directly, but instead offer questions for people to ask themselves.
When I am dialoguing with somebody, my goal is to help them discover an answer or a resolution inside themselves, for themselves. All true realisations come from within the individual. In my style of teaching, I put a lot of responsibility on the students because I think that in the spiritual community, the students are far too often infantilised and treated like children. It is often encouraged for students to relate to the teacher as a child would, rather than interacting as two adults in a state of mutual trust. Grown-ups make their own decisions.
Do you think there can come a point when the student-teacher relationship needs to evolve for the student to gain true autonomy?
Yes, I think if a student has too much projection around the teacher – if they’re projecting all of their own holiness and light onto them – then the teacher does become a barrier. People put these projections onto the teacher because they hope that the teacher is going to be able to ‘save’ them. To the extent that we allow ourselves to become involved in that projection, the projection is what becomes a barrier. I was with my teacher for about fourteen years before she asked me to teach, and I noticed then that our relationship changed. I was still open to what she had to say, and open to her direction and guidance, but I related to her as an adult and not as a child. Teachers are best regarded as mentors, rather than as ‘gods.’
How do your teachings translate into your day-to-day life, in terms of your relationships?
Mukti and I have one of the most harmonious relationships that I know. I’m not saying it’s the most harmonious relationship in the world or anything, but it’s always been something that comes relatively naturally to both of us, which is really lucky. It has felt so natural for us to be together and part of that may be because we never imagined that it was the other person’s responsibility to ‘make me happy’. It has certainly matured over time. It had a lot of those effortless qualities from the very beginning, but nothing stays static – you are either maturing or regressing, one or the other. For twenty-two years, I have kept thinking to myself, ‘it can’t get any more profound than this’ and the next year, I find myself thinking, ‘wow, it did!’ Relationships can be one of the greatest areas of growth there is. To have a successful relationship, you’ve got to be a clear, adult, mature human being. That applies to relationships of all kinds: lovers, friends, family, even strangers.
It is amazing how different our relationships can be with different people: for example, you can be in a bad mood with your partner one moment, and the next, you can be chatting with your friends and you just light up – as though you are a totally different person.
That is an interesting observation, because I believe that we often reserve our worst behaviour for the people we love the most! There are a whole lot of subtle things going on in your most intimate relationships that can make them more charged, and I think one of the most predominant reasons for that is that we think when someone says ‘I love you’, they are somehow responsible for our well-being. When you go to your friends, you don’t have that pressure. You might love your friends, and be happy when you are with them – but you don’t think, ‘this person is responsible for making me happy or validating me in some way’. That expectation can creep into a lot of our most profound relationships, whether that be lovers, children or parents. With deep attachments can often come deep expectations.
How has that teaching come into play in your family relationships?
In the early years of my teaching, I actually worked with my father. He was a machinist and he had his own business. I would go to work, and I was his son and he would be my boss, and then he would come on retreats with me, and then he would be my student and I would be his teacher … It changed our roles. It was a great teaching for me, too. I saw that whatever role I play in life, it’s just a role. It’s something I can slip into and out of, like clothing. ‘Spiritual teacher’ is a role I play – it’s not who I am.
You have previously talked about awakening on different levels: the mind, the heart and the gut. Can you talk about that?
Awakening on the level of mind occurs when our identity is no longer enclosed in the level of thought. Awakening of the heart occurs when we have the intuitive capacity to perceive and experience unity and interconnectedness. The gut is much harder to describe – when I say ‘the gut’, I am talking metaphorically about the ground of all being and the ground of all experience. This is where we encounter the most existential point of our self. We can awaken at mind and heart, yet still not awaken at this very existential level.
In one of your books, you talk about how you experienced a sense of peace that lies beyond everything else, while you were grieving for your dog.
That moment I had over my dog when I was younger was really what precipitated a deeper experience of complete willingness to experience my own grief. As soon as that happened – as soon as I gave way to the experience I was having – a pinprick of peace and wellbeing started to grow inside me, until it was almost without edges. I had a sense of complete wellbeing, even while my grief simultaneously existed in the same space. There is a phrase I used to hear all the time during my Zen training that I didn’t understand – but I do now – which is: ‘always being, always becoming.’
Adya’s Thoughts on Ireland
I am really looking forward to coming to Ireland, which is unusual for me. I travel a lot and I don’t usually get really excited about going somewhere new, but I have very deep ties with Ireland. I have a lot of Irish in me – as well as a lot of Scottish and a lot of English, all mixed together – so it’s a deep part of my life. My wife Mukti’s father emigrated from Ireland and my mother’s father emigrated from Ireland, so there is a lot of Irish blood in the family. I had two of my most significant insights on St. Patricks’ Day – one year apart – so there is something about Ireland. I am looking forward to finally being in Ireland. I love Irish people’s great sense of humour. There is a lightness and a profoundness mixed into the psyche of the Irish, and as a teacher I really appreciate that because there is not as much of a facade in the Irish make-up as there is in America, for sure.
Adyashanti and Mukti will be visiting Dublin this August for a Special Intensive teaching event. This will take place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday August 19th, in the Gibson Hotel, Point Square, North Dock, Dublin 1. For details, go to: www.adyashanti.org