The Awakening of Fred Chambers

I’ve always loved retreats. The highlight of my life, I guess, was going on retreats. I probably went on 25 or 30 retreats, and had some profound and not-so-profound insights and a little bit of bliss here and there. I never was a person who had a whole lot of bliss, just little bits and pieces.

So now we will cut to the chase and I’ll talk about last fall’s retreat. The retreat was called “Fire in the Heart: Path of Devotion.” The retreat was about trying to elicit our love for the Divine and eventually let go of that, see what might happen. The first Sunday night, three days into the retreat, was usually the time when I am just starting to relax and to let go of the world and deepen the practice. But all of a sudden I am feeling disillusioned by it all. I think part of it was Joel (Morwood) gave us kind of a foreshadowing that at the end of the retreat we were going to have to let go of the Divine, or let go of this love we were feeling.

I had been on so many retreats that I knew where this was all going to end up. I mean, it was going to be the same dead end that it always had been for me. All of a sudden I couldn’t do the practice; there was no reason to do this again. Why go through it again? I thought about leaving the retreat, but that seemed kind of pointless. I love being there, and thought, “Well, I can just hang out here with everyone for the week and that will be as much fun as anything else I can do.” And so for the next three days I went up and down. I would feel disillusioned and then I would hear some little teaching and I’d think, “Oh, that sounds kind of interesting,” and then I’d do it and I’d feel pretty good for awhile, and two hours later I’d think, “Gees, I don’t know what is going on at all—I am totally confused, I am lost, I have no idea,” and then I would hear something and would think, “Oh, okay, okay, that makes sense.” I was going up and down.

On Wednesday evening I was in the disillusioned state again, and I went to the Wednesday evening talk. I just listened to the recording of that talk a couple of days ago—I hadn’t remembered anything from that night. The only thing I remembered was when I sat down to meditate I was feeling just a little spark of interest. That’s all I remember actually. But when I listened to the tape, I realized the things Joel was saying that night were exactly what I did in that meditation. I just didn’t know it at the time. There were different phrases I picked out from the talk. Here is one passage from Joel’s talk:

We need to surrender our concepts about the world so we can see the unvarnished or naked truth. Because the world appears to us as we think it is. So notice when the mind starts to tell us what to think, and just let it go.

So I just sat down for the meditation. I really don’t know what happened. I had this image of myself in my mind, you know, kind of like this little figure sitting there in meditation, and all of a sudden it was like a sand figure and it just—whoooosh—just totally dissolved. I was just there. This vast spaciousness was all that was there. Visually it was kind like a night sky or something, little dots of light, or whatever, but what I clearly saw is that this was just a concept. I had had this concept in my mind and all of a sudden there was nothing. There was no emotion there, it was just a fact: there was no self there, there was no body there, there was no mind there, there was no heart there (and, you know, we’d been doing this retreat on the heart). There was nothing there, just nothing there.

I guess it was a place of no thought because I didn’t have any thoughts at all, like “this is enlightenment.” It was just spaciousness. The meditation ended, and I got up and walked out, and it didn’t seem like anything, just “Okay, what do I do now? Time to go to bed, I guess.” Then it was the next morning. I was eating breakfast and taking this bite of food and watching myself chew it and swallow it and all of a sudden I thought, “The food is going to fall on the floor; there is no body here.” I looked and it didn’t fall on the floor. Well, that was amazing. We were saying the precepts; I started to say the precept, and all of a sudden I wondered, “How can I talk, there is no body here, how can I say anything? How can I hear anything?” I was just blown away.

Thousands of thoughts going through, too. That was the other thing, thoughts are just churning away, selfish thoughts, kind thoughts, just thoughts and thoughts. I had seen that there was nothing there that could create a thought, so I’d get caught up in these thoughts for awhile but then, there’s nobody here, they are just arising, just arising. Let go of them. So I could always let go of them. It was just a fact that there was no body so these thoughts couldn’t be mine; I don’t know where the hell they came from. I still don’t know where they come from! That was on Wednesday night.

For the next three days I was kind of like that. Then I started thinking, “Well, maybe this is enlightenment. There is no self here, and that is what the mystics say, there is no self.” So I was pretty convinced that this was it—I was enlightened. I went to talk to Joel (Morwood). I was sure that he would see that I was enlightened. So I was saying things like “If there’s no head how come I get a headache if I think too much,” and some other little cute things; at least I thought they were kind of cute.

So Joel starts talking to me kind of seriously. And then he starts telling me this story about Cinder being in the closet and then you gotta go look for Cinder and I say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He says, “That’s okay, just keep looking. Keep looking, and let go of those thoughts.” That was Saturday morning. I went and had some lunch. I had this song I was going to sing for the closing ceremony, the wrap-up, so I wrote this song down and then I went to one of those outhouses there by Diamond Hall, and I sat down to take a pee and I just started pondering what Joel had said. I was thinking, “How could I lose this insight I had about no self, how could I lose that? He’s saying I need to look for something else. How could I lose this?” So I thought, “What about if I die, could I lose it then?” And that was it. It was like, there’s nobody to die; I am this consciousness. That was it.

  

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