Awakening Andrea Pucci
The awakening of Andrea Pucci
The teaching was very specific (during the retreat)--the practice, the meditation, the instructions were all very clear. I just did them. No embellishing, no questions, no resistance. How did that come about? From years of resistance, I'm sure.
I'll also share with you the instructions, which were to hold your object of meditation--whatever you've been working with--and just continue doing that. But if bliss and energy began to arise, you were to drop your meditation object and follow the bliss. That was the theme of the retreat, "Cultivating Bliss," and it was a very different instruction than I had received before. I'm sure many of us have had the experience that when we become quiet, and centered, and present, we get these little tastes of bliss. But usually the instruction is just to ignore that. Nobody had ever said, "Okay, so when bliss arises, feel that and make that the object of your meditation." So that was quite a lovely suggestion, to do that.
It was also very timely, I think, because in the morning I woke up and I felt, "Wow, I'm sinless!" I already told you about being brought up Catholic and how there was this great burden of feeling guilty and hiding your guilt, causing all kinds of secondary reactions and psychological stuff. And now I just had the feeling, I'm sinless, because we're all here, and just by virtue of being born and coming into form, you're absolved. I had the sense that absolutely every moment of awareness that had occurred previously all led up to this moment, and this moment was fully perfect. I just knew that! So there was a redemption, or a deliverance--like all of life was perfect. It's all perfect, right now. And I felt that, and it was a very beautiful feeling.
In terms of the meditation practice, itself, one of the first deepenings of concentration was based on what Joel was saying and also the kind of meditation that I was doing. Anything that arose in consciousness--be it a visual object, a sound, a tactile sensation, a thought, a feeling, whatever arose--you just don't grab onto it, and you don't push it away.
There was a commitment to being right there in this field of spacious awareness, to just be in that field. So there was neither grasping nor aversion with things. There was a deepening of concentration and a kind of equilibrium being established.
As the days went on, that's what was happening. There was a growing intensity that continued to radiate and with it a sense of calm and contentment. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Occasionally I would feel a wave-like movement through the body and I would place attention there for a moment and watch the movement wind down from--this is the only way I can describe it--a broad horizontal figure eight to an increasingly narrow one until it became a point of stillness, and then attention was back in that space where everything arises and falls of its own accord, even thoughts. So there wasn't all this motion going on in the mind--just a building equilibrium. This is what's so valuable about a retreat. There's a momentum that's getting built up, which is not what happens in our everyday existence. It's a unique, precious opportunity.
So this momentum was building. There were things that Joel was saying at various points, keeping it right in tow--it was like steady on, was the feeling. Then he gave us the image of ice with water flowing underneath it. At a certain point in meditation the mind becomes solid and transparent, like ice. And even though things continue to appear, they don't affect that--like water running under the ice doesn't affect the ice. So, there's the ice--the solid stillness of the ice--and there's just the water. That happens. It's very possible, and you begin to feel the freedom and the joy of that--that there's a stillness and a presence of mind that is so solid and transparent. All these other little things are going on underneath--sensations, thoughts, reactions, desires, aversion.
But there's this growing sense of presence of mind, presence of awareness. It started feeling like I was on a highway. I'm looking out the window and things are passing real quick, but it didn't matter. It was all collapsing in on itself. Things were just dissolving and what was real seemed to be emerging. Nothing exists or subsists or endures in that reality. Everything just dissolves. It arises and dissolves, but that equilibrium just gets stronger and stronger.
It might have been the 3rd or 4th day--the sense of equilibrium was really growing until it was just there all the time. Then it seemed like it kind of locked into an equilibrium that was already present in everything. It's almost like the equilibrium in the meditation merged into this Grand Equilibrium that was everywhere. That was somewhat shocking! We work so hard in meditation trying to find this equilibrium and, "Oh my God, the equilibrium is already there!" What a joke [laughs]. So many of us, we're trying so hard. Sometimes we have to just tiptoe--like the baby's asleep. Don't make any noise...gently, gently....
It was the next day, in the afternoon, that the breakthrough occurred. Todd and I were in the room, sitting together. I was very aware of him. There was a deepening of the stillness, the concentrated equipoise. That morning Joel had asked, "Is anybody having problems with excitation or laxity?" Until he asked that question--which was perfect--I wouldn't even have known I was having a problem. But when he said it, I realized, yes, I was aware of the experience of kind of being on the forward edge of everything and like trying to pounce on it. So, there was a little bit of grasping, there was a little bit of desire. The concentration here is so subtle and awareness so present, you become aware of these very subtle tendencies in the mind.
So I told him there was this subtle grasping going on and his response was, "Well, there're two things you can do. You can look directly at that, or you can just let it dissolve into the present. But whatever you do, use the exact amount of effort that is needed to do that--no more, no less." Now, it's very tricky at this point, because there's a part of awareness that's like a spy--the introspective aspect of awareness that once in awhile checks in and says, "How's everything going? Are we really on target here? Are we doing what we're supposed to? We aren't thinking of recipes, are we?" So that spy comes in and looks at things. But when there's a momentum building up, the spy doesn't really need to be there. You don't need to check all the time. However, when the spy does come in occasionally, it needs to become a smaller, and smaller and smaller voice, because you really do feel like it's a little bit of an intruder at that level of quietude. So when you do look, you have to come from the space where you need this much energy, but not this much--just the right amount. So, that's what I did and it worked perfectly.
This was the most important part of the practice--not grasping nor pushing away. In a sense, that's analogous to remaining in the present, because in the present everything collapses, and you really can't hold onto anything. The moment you grasp onto something, or you push something away, in a sense you're not in the present, because you're attached or identified with something that's passing away. So not doing that--not grasping or pushing anything away--really brings you into the present, and that's what was happening in this meditation. It was very obvious--this receding landscape in which everything was dissolving into this ever-present eternal moment, unencumbered by any kind of willing, or grasping, or pushing away. It felt like I could start to taste the eternal.
Up until that point, there were slight little adjustments being made, but if you move too much it all breaks. It gets really, really subtle. In a sense, you disappear, because you don't need to be there anymore. So I got to that point, and then my body moved, just a little to the right--I think it was my neck. I had a cervical neck injury, and when I moved a particular way, the body just got comfortable. Then there was this moment of--it seemed as though, there was nobody left anymore, no one doing anything--a realization that when you see there is only the seeing, when you hear there is only the hearing, when you feel there is only the feeling.
And nobody is doing it! The do-er had disappeared! And when the doer disappeared, there was a moment where I remember going, "OH! OH!" [laughs] I had no idea what happened, because then there was this break. But I knew I had found the Beloved. There was a discontinuity, a blacking out of consciousness in which I was extinguished, and then it was like the gates of heaven opened and all I can say is [gasp] the Beloved--that's what it was. You think you are, and you're not. You think God is, and God isn't. And all of a sudden you're just God. There's only God.
Dr. Wolff called it, "Knowledge through Identity." What that says is, "How do you know you are? Because you are!" You can't know this through thinking about it. All the thinking mind can ever know is that it can't know, because the thinking mind is dualistic. There's a subject trying to grasp some object. So that has to come to a stop. And when it does, there's no subject and there's no object. There's just Being, and the Being is infinite space. The Being is in everything.
Everything is arising from this infinite space. The space is birthing everything and dissolving everything simultaneously. And everything is just this empty infinite space. This emptiness knows everything, because it's empty--just like the eye sees every color because it has no color of its own. So this "knowing" knows everything because it's nothing.
So there was nothing, and out of nothing, out of complete emptiness, there was a big bang. It's like my head exploded. There was no more head. There was the universe. And the universe was the head. The head was the universe. Everything is everything. What happened was, there was this sense of infinite space. The infinite space was not the space outside. It was the space that ran through things. Like this explosion of the big bang could have happened in a grain of sand. It could have all been in a grain of sand, in fact. Or it could have been every grain of sand in the universe of a bazillion kalpas. It was infinitely small and infinitely large. It was the space of all being. It was the space that makes everything appear. And that's what was so interesting--the grandness of the universe that goes out, is the same grandness of the universe that comes in. Space is space.
Then, from the spaciousness, there was this luminosity. Everything was light, and everything was made manifest. And there was energy. So much energy. That's actually when I remembered that I had a body. Then I said, "Oh my God!" It felt like my body was just going to burn into a puff of smoke. If I kept expanding--that's just an image--but it felt like if I kept expanding, I was just going to become the infinite universe and then there would be no more body. That was the sense of it. So, I remembered the body, and then I came back into the room. And Todd was there, and there was all this energy. So I started doing Tong-Lin, the Tibetan practice of taking and sending. It felt like there was so much energy, so the first thing--being an opportunist--I said, "WOW! Do it now! Do it now, Andrea!"
Joel Morwood: I have to interject something here because this is very important. Notice, the first thing she thinks of is not anything about herself--"How wonderful, I'm Enlightened!" No, the first thing she thinks of is doing this practice of compassion for all beings.
A: That's because I've been programmed by you and everyone else. What was the first thing Dr. Wolff did when you met him, when I met him? He handed us a card with the Bodhisattva vow on it. So, of course! What do you think!
And now I completely understood it--how Tong-Lin works. Whatever you imagine to be the problems and the pains and the sufferings of everyone is what your mind imagines suffering to be. It's just the relative world of experience. So when you take it upon yourself, the Self that's taking it is this empty Infinity of Present Spaciousness. So you can take on everything! Take it all in! The suffering just burns up. It's consumed in emptiness. Then you do that, and you let out all the joy and all the things your mind can imagine about what might make everybody happy, including yourself. You just send it out, and it just goes to the far ends of the universe. It's a lot of fun [laughs].
Anyway, that's what happened. I didn't talk to anybody about it that day. We're on retreat. You're supposed to be in silence. That night, I didn't sleep. There was just this immense energy. It was really interesting. We were supposed to be doing the Ahhhhh at the heart practice. Being a good Catholic girl of course I was still following instructions, trying to focus on the Ahhhhh sound as I fell asleep. It must have been 8:30 or 9 o'clock, and it was like AHHHHH. The next time I remember, I looked and it's like 12:30, and I'm still going AHHHHH. So, I say to myself, "You need to stop doing stuff now. Just stop." Then everything is like a meditation from now on, because this Awareness has always been there. It's in every moment. And now it is who I am. I AM THIS AWARENESS. It can't go anywhere. It never went anywhere. It has always been there.
So, the thought arose, The body has to rest, and I stopped doing the Ahhhhh and closed my eyes, and this Awareness just relaxed and merged with this dark, infinite Awareness. And there was nothing. There was just Awareness of the Void. Nothing. Black...I guess it was dreamless sleep, and THAT'S WHAT I WAS.
Then the morning came, and Awareness started to come back out of the Void. It was like the dawn of creation. The first thing coming out of that Void was sound. Then comes a sense of energy, and you begin to see motions and lights. Then you're awake again, your body is moving. And this is where it started to get a little disorienting, because how could I know who I am? There is no 'I'. Andrea is gone. But I am. Pure Awareness is. Emptiness is. Yes, now I'm back in the world again, and I think I'm over here looking at you over there. How can this possibly be? Then awareness is saying, "But it isn't. That's not true. You are. Being is. Emptiness is!"
All morning I was having this sensation that maybe I was disappearing--"I" being the reality of Consciousness--because the everyday awareness was re-entering the field of activity. That's when I said to Joel, "I feel like I'm disappearing." We were all sitting in the meditation hall, and he just looked at me and saw something. So, he said "Let's go back to the teacher's cabin and talk," and that's when I told him what had happened...
Todd: You looked really distraught. I was worried. I've seen people in psychotic kind of states before and it just seemed you had that kind of right-on-the-edge-look in your eyes. I thought something's really wrong.
A: I told Joel what was going on and he said, "You're describing fear. Look at fear." So I looked at fear, and I go, "Oh! There's nothing there, it's empty." Basically he shoved me back into Emptiness. I was reoriented. If he hadn't been there maybe I could have gone into a psychotic state. I don't know what would have happened...But he just shoved me back into Reality.
Joel: Notice what she's saying here is very important. What was so distressing was not that she had Awakened, but that she might go crazy again--she might return to a so-called "normal" state, to delusion. So what I did is exactly the opposite of what a therapist might do. When she said, "I shoved her back into reality," she's talking about Ultimate Reality. I didn't try to "ground her," or bring her back to this 'reality'. I said stay there. Don't come back. Never come back!
A: You told me to think, "I am Enlightened," and then let that thought dissolve, and see if Awareness changes. So I did that and nothing changed. Then you said, now think, "I am not Enlightened," and let that thought go, and see if anything's changed. So, I thought that, too, and the Awareness didn't change. So you very skillfully showed me that the contents of consciousness were irrelevant--that the `I' was just a content arising and passing away--just an old tendency, nothing substantial. It can't really affect the Awareness that is the groundness of Being.
Q: Has that fear ever arisen again, of getting trapped back in this illusion?
A: No, because what was Realized was that I'm nothing. We always want some sense of identity. Even when we think of Enlightenment, we have an image of what Enlightenment might be--this unchangeable eternal state--because we want ourselves to be something. But it isn't like that. It's to find out you're nothing--that's the jewel. So, who is there to be deluded? No, the disorientation hasn't arisen.
Q: Has that state you were in then persisted since the retreat?
A: There's no state that persists, because there never was a state. What persists is, whatever arises in consciousness arises with the knowing of it. It's the knowing that persists.
Q: From your current view, how do you feel about the importance of spiritual practices, precepts, and teachings? Do you feel they were connected to your breakthrough?
A: Absolutely. Beyond question. Every single one's utterly and irrevocably important. Because when I look back it seems so clear to me that all the years of training, of reading books, and doing meditation, and falling asleep, and not understanding it, and sitting for 20 minutes thinking the whole time--all of that allowed or created, that moment, at that time, on that particular retreat that had all this acuity of perception going on. Because that moment was born of everything that had come before it. It was just its time. Like Gene was telling us about the apples in his orchard, how they grow. You put fertilizer on them, and water them, and do all these things, but they come to fruition when they're ready, in their own time. So I look back on it now and I see the cause and effect of years of being taught with great patience and love by my teachers who just repeated the instruction over again and again in 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 different ways so that we might get it. It was just by trying and not giving up and persevering with all these things that the meditation on retreat started to take on a life of its own and took me where it took me.
Q: You have no need to practice now, is that correct?
A: The Awareness is there. You just keep resting into the bliss, because to rest into bliss is to rest into pure Awareness. Awareness is looking and being looked at. It's this very beautiful presence. That's the practice. Just staying present with whatever's arising. Thoughts arise, preferences arise, and with them mindfulness. It seems to happen on its own, and you begin to see that mind has unbelievable capacities. Mind can be doing five things at one time, and you're aware of doing five things at one time! Awareness sees the magic of the body picking its arm up and doing things, things we take for granted. It's amazing what goes on in a split second! So the practice in a sense is that all these things are being revealed.
One of the things you see is that when you pick something up, how precious it is to bring all your attentiveness and the movements of your mind to just that act of picking something up. It's almost as though everything you do is so precious, that you want to fully be there. You don't want to be doing five different things at one time. So Awareness also recognizes what distraction is. In a sense, the practice is a growing aesthetic--that it's really quite wonderful to give each thing that happens its deserved attention.
Q: Has your day to day life changed at all?
A: Outwardly? Yes. Mostly I've spent hundreds of dollars on books. I want to find out how everybody got to God. It's such
a wonderful thing to know how everybody got to God. It's so beautiful. You pick up a book, and you start to read, and within a few seconds you either feel God knowing God, or you don't--I think it's an old attachment [laughs]. You just want to feel God, hear about God, know about God. It's like a little kid going to the comic book store and buying all the comic books, and reading all the different little vignettes...
Q: In what ways have other activities of your life changed in terms of what and how you do things?
A: I used to be a very emotional person, but now it's very rare that many emotions arise. It took weeks before I had an emotional feeling, and when it occurred, I was so amazed. I felt this thing in my body. The body is not local. The body is everywhere--it's here, it's there, it's the body of being. And then all of a sudden, I had an emotional feeling. It was at the hospital where I work. One of the other department heads and I were having a discussion. She was telling me how she thought something should happen, and I didn't think that's how it should happen. I was having my opinion, and she was having hers, and it was like grrrrrrr! It was amazing because it was so clear--how the 'I' thought comes in. It was really interesting. I said, "Look at that, look at that!"
Q: A lot of people might think, "Oh, she hasn't had emotions for months. This is horrible, pathological. She's lost something tremendously valuable. Poor woman."
A: Emotions still arise, but I no longer identify with them. There seems to be knowing that's always there, and a very full feeling, but it's not emotional. Sometimes I'm listening to somebody, and I feel this immense compassion, like I have a feeling of love like I've never had before. It's not romantic, or emotive. It's just--there's a feeling here in the heart--a heart feeling--and it breaks open. I feel that. That's a little different from having emotions. It's a feeling, but it's not an emotion. It's almost like emotions only exist in relationship to a sense of `I'. But you can have a feeling when there is no I-thought present. It's a different quality.
I have started to see that things like jealousy, desire, anger are really just energies that pop up out of the primordial ooze. What's usually going on is that you identify with the jealousy. Then the jealousy will cause you to act or think in a particular way and that sets up a whole other chain of cause-and-effect reactions. There really is a mechanical structure to the relative world. Joel has talked about how this mechanism creates a false sense of `self'. Everything runs together and it seems like there's an `I' there, but there isn't. That's also the Buddhist approach. In fact, part of the whole technique of Vipassana is trying to look more closely at what's actually going on. What is really there? You start to see it's just a mechanistic thing going on--that every thought you think causes another thought. You start to see that's not something happening to `you' as much as it is a process dependent on previous actions, and the ripening of those actions, and all those things coming together. So when you just stop buying into the jealousy, then you see it's just a feeling coming up. It appears out of nowhere and it goes into nowhere.
So when you're Awake and that feeling comes up, you say, "Oh, an appearance!" Then you can act on it, or not act on it. You can just watch it and say, "Oh wow, I see!" You think a certain way, and jealousy happens because you thought that way. Maybe you remembered something from the past. But who is remembering? Who is acting? Sometimes I ask those question and it just dissolves. There's nothing there. So, emotions arise. They're just something to watch and you see it's just feeling, just energy. They come out of nowhere and they go into nowhere. So, you get to feel all these different things and it's so interesting, so wonderful! I'm constantly amazed.
Q: Speaking of feelings, do you now feel called to serve this truth in some way like teaching, or does it feel okay to live life just as it comes?
A: They're not separate. What I find is happening is somebody will call me and I'll say, "Let's go for a walk." And the most incredible moments of sharing with people are happening. And they just arise spontaneously. There's nobody doing anything, and there's no intention to do anything. It just happens. It feels so good to see that because it's thoroughly, totally reassuring that the compassionate life and the unattached life are the same thing. Just let it be. It's
fine. When you feel asked, you respond. I'm no longer pushing myself on others.
Q: So, do you now consider yourself to be Enlightened?
A: Enlightened?.... Why do I hesitate to use that word, Enlightened? Because to have the Realization is one thing, to live the Realization is another. To be a Buddhist is one thing, to be a Buddha is another. To know Reality is one thing, to be Reality is another. There is an embodiment process that goes on. There's a birthing, and a maturing, just like a child is born and grows. Literally, I feel I have plopped out of the womb of the Divine Mother. I am just an infant, not yet an adult--which is how I would define an Enlightened being, as someone who fully embodies the Realization.
Q: Then how would you label your experience, if anything...?
A: I like the word "Gnosis" because to me it has kind of the sense of I met God. I got to God, so to speak. I got into the depth of what's Real. But then what's that? What is God? Oh, the mystery of God! The mystery of Self! It's greater than ever! Now there's this infinite expression of God, or the Divine, or the Self. It's like Joel has said, "The journey to God has an end, but the journey in God has no end," because how could there be an end to God? Dr. Wolff talked about that, too. He talked about greater and greater depths of Space--that Consciousness is this infinitely revelatory expression of the Self, and that never ends.
So what happened to me was, I woke up. I woke from the dream. And now, when I'm dreaming--which still goes on--I'm lucidly dreaming. Now, I know that I'm dreaming. And I want to share all this because I feel it's very important. Everything that everybody has shared with me has been extremely useful. And this is happening to all of us. Our meditations are deepening, and this is going to be happening. That's why I want to share everything I can. Because it's happening to us together. But, if I say, "I'm Enlightened," there're all these connotations--"Are you saying you're Buddha? Are you saying you're omniscient?" No I'm not saying any of that. So, I'm afraid to say anything--but at the same time I can't lie. I crossed a line. I woke up. And because of that I can't be separated from the Beloved anymore. I can't.
Q: What is your advice for other seekers?
A: To just carry on and know that you're perfectly in accord with your destiny.