The Awakening of Catherine Ingram

Were you also still involved in Buddhism in that period?  

Yes, my Buddhist study went on for almost twenty years. And for a long time I felt very proficient in the practice. But one day I realized that it was joyless. I dontt know if it was my understanding of Buddhism or what, but it was really joyless to me. When I came to that point, all the beliefs I had held for so long also fell away. The beliefs about karma, about reincarnation, even the goal of enlightenment... I realized it was just a belief, an idea that the 'I' is going to get something. In this belief we are still waiting for a new car, a new job... a new life--waiting for happiness. At this point I went into a very bleak, dark night of the soul, which lasted for about two years.

How did you overcome this crisis?  

One day I went to satsang with a spiritual teacher named Andrew Cohen. It was the first time I heard about the Indian guru Poonjaji. A number of my friends were also going to see Poonjaji at that time. After they came back they told me about him and I could see the transformation in them. Several of them had been long time Buddhist practitioners like myself and had the same difficulties I had. So I went to see Poonjaji. And his teachings of freedom here and now and the realizing of natural awareness were just so... There was a huge readiness in me to plunge.

And since then there has been a great love of non-dual teachings wherever I find them. Not only in the classical Advaita Vedanta, but also in Sufism or in Dzogchen or in Christianity. It has been a kind of love-affair with this true seeing, catalyzed by meeting Poonjaji. Between '91 and '94 I went three times to see him, each time for about one or two months. It was less than six months all together. But with him it didn't matter how long you stayed. You could just go there for a week and in this week it was done.

What do you mean by 'it was done'? You became enlightened?

Enlightenment is not a word I use. I prefer to call this a natural way of being, the most natural actually. Or just radiant presence or dear awareness, clear seeing. I don't use the word enlightenment because the term itself is very loaded. To many people it implies a kind of Big Bang after which you are eternally in a steady state called enlightenment.

While in fact the actual experience is a kind of opening in spaciousness, here and now, which allows anything to come and go, with no resistence. It is not a state, it is just relaxing into a natural ease of being. It's already here. When people use the word enlightenment, it implies some point in time that you hop into or it happens to you and then you are there for ever more... I don't think this is a good way of thinking about it.

Then let me put the question this way: with Poonjaji you realized your true nature?

Yes, but what I saw was a recognition of something I already knew. I just hadn't been paying full attention to it. I hadn't given it it's due, it's importance, until I met Poonjaji. 1 didn't realize: this is IT. And then I saw it really was ~. And it became more and more IT, over time. Everybody has the potential of knowing and living in this vastness. Everyone has an awakened nature and is consciousness manifesting. It just has to do with what you are paying attention to. Some people are paying more attention to this ease of being. They are allowing their attention to rest essentially in this ease of being. Little bubbles on the screen may come by and sometimes they get a little attention, but that's about it. While normally people are lost in the bubbles on the screen; they focus on them. That's the difference. It is a switch of perception.

A switch in perception which usually takes place as a gradual process?

Well, it can happen totally instantaneously too. Some people recognize their true nature right away and that is where their attention rests from that moment on. But for many people it is a process of getting used to it. It is not a process of an occurring; it is a process of a consistency. It is a deepening and a slow relaxation into that recognition.

I'll tell you an experience I once had to illustrate this. A few years ago I had a dream in which my house had burnt down. In the dream I thought: 'I've got to call for help'. But of course the telephone had burned. And then I went through a whole list of things, all kinds of problems being added. I realized that the insurance papers were also burnt. There was a rising panic, until I suddenly woke up from the dream. I thought: 'Oh fine, the house is here. Now I can go and find the insurance papers...' Have you ever had anything like this? It takes a moment to realize that the central problem is gone before you realize that all the other problems that were hanging on to it are also gone. The moment you recognize your true nature, it takes a moment to realize that all your problems were hanging on the central erroneous belief that you are somebody. When this belief is gone, all the problems are gone at the same time. To realize this is waking up fully from the dream.

How did the process of realizing your true nature develop for you?

When I first recognized this pure awareness, that nobody ever touches, which nothing ever sticks to, it was very thrilling to me. I thought that I would never again notice anything else. But the little bubbles, neuroses and all kinds of things came up again. They caught my attention for a little while. And then they fell away again and there was this spaciousness, vastness again. So on one hand I could say it has been a gradual process. But on the other hand I would say it has really gone quite quickly and continuously. And it still goes on and on.

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