The Awakening of Chris Hebard



NonDualityMagazine: Can you please tell me how you first became interested in non duality?

Chris Hebard: Oh, yes, of course, there is the story of Chris, perhaps an interesting one.


First, let's state the obvious: there are no rules. 

Truth is not found in the story, and no ones is more or less important than any other. 

Stories merely reflect truth in all it's glory, and this story is no exception.

Nothing that is shared here is meant to imply anything. It is simply the record of this journey.

Some come to this gracefully, gently, while others, like me, have to be hit over the head with a 2x4.

There was absolutely no interest here in non-duality, at all, before 2006. 

Just the opposite, my life was total resistance to what is.

In fact, I would have placed non-duality in the trash bin along with many other seemingly new age hi-jinx like power crystals, pet psychics and UFOs. 


But, as Robert Adams once said, "All is well and unfolding exactly as it should."

The Chris story is a brilliant example of ignorance in it's glory: one attempt after another to complete myself through objects of all sorts: career, politics, philosophy, beliefs, drugs, alcohol, woman, family, travel, luxury....the classic symptoms of greed, lust and vanity, the bell weather of lack.   

In a word, my prescription was simply,  "More!".

Once thing was certain, this profound and deep sense of lack could be satisfied through obtaining some object that was always just out of reach.

Extroverted, entrepreneurial, even slightly sociopathic, this certainty began a slow motion train wreck, culminating in 2006.

I was experiencing a crisis in all areas of my life. I was in litigation with everyone from ex-business associates to the U.S. government. I lost a very successful business that I had run for over 10 years. I lived in economic fear as one problem seemed to build on top of another. My entire economic estate was ruined by costly litigation and unfruitful business plans. 

My wife had divorced me, leaving with our one year old child. My mother, father, Uncle and Grandmother had all died--all within one year. Two of my pets died unexpectedly. 


A routine surgery for an impacted wisdom tooth went badly resulting in my jaw being broken, being wired shut for 5 months, requiring 5 surgeries and causing the permanent loss of feeling in part of my face. 

I was facing a huge tax liability and was in danger of losing my home. 


I could not sleep. I had been taking sleeping medications for many years and they no longer seemed to work. I would take the medication and it would force me to sleep for a short period of time-- only to wake up a few hours later, full of dread, fear and anger. I was at war with the world, which I felt was treating me unfairly. 


One sleepless night, I experienced what I can only call a complete breakdown. 

During an extreme "dark night of the soul" experience, I had a massive, catastrophic collapse which left me spent and speechless, praying fervently to a God I did not believe in, the only honest prayer there is: "Please help me!"  

This collapse was sudden, left me completely empty, with not even one ounce of resistance left in me, with no more answers of any sort, in a sort of cathartic and limp state. 


Pulling myself up from the floor, where I had been curled in fetal position, still sobbing, I poured what was left of me into a wing back chair, 

While I sat in this darkened, private library in the middle of the night, mentally and spiritually exhausted, in final despair,  with absolutely no clue on what to do with my next breath, much less the rest of my life, a most peculiar phenomena occurred: sitting in absolute silence, I noticed my thoughts arising to me. 

Mind you: these were no longer "my thoughts". 


For some peculiar reason, in this stillness, it was spectacularly clear to me, that these thoughts, which were arising in the stillness of 'me', were not me at all, or, more specifically, that what I was had to be something quite separate from these thoughts. For, it was clear that, if I observed these thoughts arising, then, who was observing them, if not me? And, if it was what I call 'me' that was observing these thoughts, then, what exactly was this 'me' which so clearly did not include these thoughts? 


This was a profoundly unsettling awareness; in fact, it completely shattered my world. Everything that I had taken for granted up to this point, came roaring back into question: my career, my marriage, every decision supporting the entire direction of 'my' life. The only thing I was certain about was that I was uncertain about everything. 


In this space of not knowing, of complete uncertainty about everything, I began to reach out for help. Desperately, I searched for any clue as to what I was experiencing. For better than a year, I locked myself in an apartment, meditating, journaling reading everything I could locate, leaving my residence only when I uncovered authentic teachers who might offer me direction. 

This initial experience, completed shattered and redirected my life. I cannot imagine how I could ever reconstruct it. 

From there, I have merely followed the perfume. It has been a spectacular journey that has honored me with meeting many gifted teachers who patiently and gently tolerated my fumbling , feeding my deep curiosity with insights and gem like experiments designed to challenge deeply held beliefs that colored what remained of my confusion. 

This sadhana left nothing but scorched earth as lightning struck many more times. 

I suspect revelation never ends. 


So, this is how my interest in advaita was born. 

I hope this answers your question.

Bring it on, John!


NDM: Ok, thanks Chris. When you first noticed that these thoughts were arising and that they were not "you".  Did you clearly understand what this meant at the time?  

Or did this take some extra outside help from a teacher?  


Chris Hebard: No,  I gained nothing. Quite the opposite. This "seeing" disintegrated the fabric of my belief in identity.  What became crystal clear was that I understood nothing about what I thought I was and, thus, knew nothing about anything else either. I had no clue about what had occurred and was bewildered. At times, I believed I might need psychiatric assistance. 

There was also a visceral recognition of boundlessness, "spaceless space" that, alternatively, was experienced as infinite peace and  discomfiture. It was like a vase, shattered but still standing in place. 

There is no way to explain how completely disorienting this experience was on absolutely every level. It changed everything.

Up until this point, there had been no interest in non-duality, advaita, self inquiry. There simply was no reference point in my experience for what had happened. 

In this sea of uncertainty, my interest became dramatically redirected. As little as I understood, I had no clue as to how to return to my former life nor where I was heading. 

So, seeking took a new direction, with a singular intensity towards discovery of what had occurred. This journey eventually led me to my teacher. This role, the role of the teacher, was absolutely vital here.


NDM:  When you say " It was like a vase, shattered but still standing in place.  How long did this last for exactly? And was there also any kind of physical, or an energetic shift that took place.  


Chris Hebard:Once again, I can only share what is true here. What is most true here is that I truly don't know. 

This questions implies an end. It is not clear to me it ever does. The apparent process is like revelation; I do not know if it ever stops. 

Time itself is seen as an invention of mind.

Let's start with the definition of two terms which may be helpful in answering this question: enlightenment and self realization.

Enlightenment could be defined as the timeless and instantaneous recognition of our true nature as boundless, causeless reality. Enlightenment is Presence recognizing itself. 

Pardon the cliche, but, there never has been an enlightened human being. Enlightenment could be said to be the sudden realization that there is no one who could ever have been enlightened.

This recognition is unmistakeable, total and irreversible. Once God has kisses you, there is simply no turning back.

What follows, relatively speaking, over time, could be characterized as Self Realization. It is the process of dissolution of residual conditioning born of the core belief in separation. It is a comprehensive realignment: it extends into very nook and cranny our thinking, our sensing and our perceiving.

LIke some sort of virus, it's influence is buried not only in the mind but in how we sense and perceive that which we call the body and world. In fact, it creates it.

The desire to change what is--is the bell weather of separation; in the most extreme, it manifests as suffering or lack. In it's least noticeable forms it is missed entirely: boredom and daydreaming are two safe places for this sense of separation to hide and maintain itself.  It's offspring is the bitter fruit of lack.

In the deepest sense, seeing resistance and desire operate  is like watching the leaves on a tree flutter about in the wind after the ground root has been severed with an axe. Since much of this change occurs outside of time and space altogether, we may only notice it's absence in retrospect.

It is like the classic Indian metaphor of the rope: after it has been burned up in a fire, all that remains of the rope is it's ashen skeleton, standing in it's previous form. It's substance has been consumed by the fire. It stands ghostlike as the silence eventually blows it away.

Residual conditioned behaviors, originally created by this fundamental sense of lack, may seem to continue to arise from time to time, but, have little traction, dying quickly, like a clutch that slowly spins long after it is disengaged. Both sage and seeker continue to experience Maya; the difference is that the sage no longer believes it. What never leaves is the "spaceless space" in which even this appears.

These apparitions are simply seen with loving indifference; things get very roomy upstairs. We cooperate with this process out of our interest. All of it and none of it truly touches you anymore. In it's path, equanimity arises and a continually deepening peace remains. All things are equally held gently, in the loving hands of indifference, which births it all, sustains it all and welcomes it home in dissolution. This under-standing never leaves; it is the ground of all experience.

The difference is that you have realized that you no longer live in the now; instead, you are the now.

Perhaps, this is the "energetic shift" you refer to, although this "shift" is actually nothing other than the clear unveiled recognition of your forgotten nature. Relatively, this grounding stabilizes over time.

Even saying this is too much. 

NDM; When you say that  Enlightenment is "Presence" recognizing itself.  By presence do you mean:

1. The fact or condition of being present?

2 : The part of space within one's immediate vicinity?

3. Divine presence?

Such as 

  • ·         God's presence in nature
  • ·         God's presence among all human beings
  • ·        

 Also when you say "What never leaves is the "spaceless space" in which even this appears"  Is this is something you see with your eyes? 

Or inside your minds eye?

Chris Hebard: Yes, good catch. I find that much of the confusion understanding non-dual teachings results from failure to define the words we use--before we start! Many common words have significantly different meanings in different teachings.

In this case, we are using Presence, Awareness and Consciousness interchangeably.

The definition I would like to use is one taught to me by my teacher:

Consciousness, Awareness or Presence is whatever it is that is actually reading these words right now.
It is also that which hears, sees, smells, tastes, feels and thinks...right here, right now.

Self inquiry quickly proves that what we are is not the body. The body does not see, hear, smell, taste or touch (perceive). It is actually perceived by that which we are.

Some might say it is the brain that perceives, but, upon close examination this does not hold up either. How could a mass of cells be the sensing agent?

I am not a scientist but  30 minutes of research will demonstrate that brain tissue is comprised of neurons, which are composed of molecules, which, in turn, are all made of atoms. Atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons, which are composed of quarks and gluons, waves and particles which behave strangely. A physicist will lead you from here into string theory and other fascinating research but, none of them will come close to identifying the intelligence where understanding actually occurs.

But, this is just so much conceptual knowledge meant to quiet a busy mind, determined to locate a phenomenal source of sentience which simply does not exist. A better source to determine the answer to the riddle, " What is it that actually reads these words on this page, right here, right now?" is our direct experience....right here, right now.

In actuality, we never experience anything but the present. Notice I did not say "the present moment", as this would imply that something existed before and after it. But, do we ever directly experience something existing before "now" or after it? That which is experienced as "before", also referred to as the "past" is nothing more than memories "arising" in the present. Memories are simply a kind of thought arising now. The only "place" thoughts can occur is "in" the now. What we refer to as the future is also a concept, as it is never present, it is a projection of some "thing" that never arrives.

It is not difficult to identify the objects we experience as the body presently. Broadly, we could categorize them as thoughts, sensations and perceptions. We experience the "mind" as thoughts, the "body" as sensations, and the "world" as sensory perceptions. So, what is this thing we call "the body"? Is it not a collection of bodily sensations...perceptions received as sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch? In reality, don't each of these sensations appear to that which we are?

We actually never experience a "body", we merely experience perceptions we refer to as a body. What we call the body, ultimately, consists only those perceptions identified as "ours", while "the world" is a projection of perceptions identified as "not ours".

For this mind, it was important to explore perception very deeply; what resulted was a series of DVDs that walked with the viewer step by step thru the process some refer to as Neti Neti but in a directly experiential way. I have received correspondence from all over the world from seekers for whom this work has been very beneficial, even pivotal to a much deeper understanding of the ever present reality of our nature.

This investigation never gets us any closer to that which perceives. It only dances around with the objects of perception, constantly ignoring the majestic reality that never changes...that which perceives. The deeper we explore, looking for this "perceiver", the more obvious it becomes that "what we are" is not phenomenal at all.

"What we are" in actuality is "beingness" itself. Our "beingness" only ever exists in what we call "the now", so, what better word to describe it than Presence? Is Presence divine? You bet!

The great discovery is that there is no "part" to this thing we are calling Presence; it has no borders at all. The examination of perceptions reveals the subjective reality of the witness. Further exploration proves that this "witness" has no borders and boundaries. The boundaries we perceive between us and the world are, in fact, simply more artificial, conceptual creations of the mind. Some refer to this process of naming and fracturing our seamless reality by the ancient Indian term, Nama Rupa. No place can ever be found where " what we are", this present awareness, ends and objects begin. This, then, is what I mean when I refer to "beingness" as "spaceless space", the "glue" of the objective "mirage".

Seeing this reality is a life shattering experience. No words can effectively describe it.

About my self, one thing is certain, and it is that I exist. This one fact may seem so obvious that we continually overlook it, but, when inspected closely, we discover that this is the single fact known to us without any objective reference. Think about this: It is the one certainty based upon a source of information not subject to any objective confirmation.

When we consider this, it makes sense. Clearly, for something to change, there must be a changeless element. All objects, be they thoughts, feelings, images, bodily sensations or perceptions begin and end. How could this be possible unless there was a changeless element to report it? We are this changeless element.

There is no evidence that consciousness is contained in anything, much less a body. This recognition is as far as the dualizing mind can go, for beyond this, duality dissolves entirely.
Nothing separates what we are from that which is witnessed.

But, this is fine. The process of investigation has set the stage for the only certain requirement for under-standing: the mind must be satisfied and surrender. It is exactly this voracious need to "figure it out" that is the ultimate veil to seeing. Remember, this discovery is simply the sudden re-discovery of that which always has been and will be. It was never "not present." It is all that ever is.

There is simply no witness at all. Like two sides of a coin, eternal emptiness and fullness co-exist simultaneously, one a reflection of the other. Perception is creation.

(the interview continues)

Original story here