Exacting work

Peter: As we draw close to the end of the course many of you are moving in and out of an experience in which you can’t say whether what you are doing is meaningful or not. You are arriving at a point of great simplicity where it no longer seems possible, or even important, to assess whether you are engaged in a process that is immensely worthwhile or essentially valueless. You see, we’re not interested in you mechanically gearing up so that you finish on a big high- with an experience that you then remember from time to time as an historical event. Instead, we are jointly cultivating a space which allows us to observe how we construct progress or lack of progress, meaning and lack of meaning and so on. We are introducing you to a level of awareness which lets you see how you construct experiences like pain and pleasure, or confusion and clarity, right when you are in the middle of these experiences. Such direct observations give you personal resources that you can recognize and apply after the course.

Participant: I am finding operating at this level of awareness demanding. Are you able to maintain this level of rigor all the time? I don’t know if I could do that. It seems like it would be exhausting. I’d need to take a vacation from myself (laughter).

Peter: Right. You see whilst this is exacting work, it doesn’t mean it is hard work. Ironically, if you are not exacting then it becomes hard work because then you create stuff that you have to deal with that you wouldn’t otherwise have to deal with. When you’re not exacting, you can more easily be inappropriate. You may do or say things that you then have to fix up. We call this “remedial communication” because you have to go back and repair what you had said or done. When you’re in the space where you’re not in reaction, not trying to defend yourself, not trying to cultivate a particu- lar image of yourself, you don’t become involved in retroactive repair work. You say what needs to be said and don’t say what doesn’t need to be communicated. This way you achieve an appropriate balance between speech and silence.

Penny: Being exacting is actually less work that being loose or sloppy. When you’re exacting, you then speak and act appropriately because you’re not paralysed by either extreme. For example, you don’t cut yourself off and then beat yourself up for having done that. It is only because we make such hard weather of things that we need to take a total break from our involvement in the world. That’s when we need to go on a holiday.

Participant: It seems to me that we also make hard work of our lives by taking things too seriously.

Peter: Right. That is why we’re giving you opportunities to see how you can take things too seriously (like when you get sucked into your experience) or take things too lightly (by trivializing or running from your experience). We’re enabling you to develop the capacity to find a balance between the extremes. This shift between one extreme and the other can be so transparent that you rarely notice yourself shifting. You simply find yourself already locked into a different perspective. Penny: When you’re not simply moving back and forth between extremes-when you’re not polarized in them-you can find yourself in a very different space. This space may be so unfamiliar that sometimes you can’t say, and don’t even know, where you are. This space can be very expansive as you feel a sense of freedom to be who you are, not really knowing who this is or what this might mean.

On the other hand, it is possible for us to relate to the unknowness of the space with uncertainty, even anxiety or fear. If we try to avoid this experience, or even indulge it, we automatically make things difficult and create future work for ourselves. In fact, as soon as you try to reject or change the experience, you find yourself thrown back into an extreme. It’s as if any middle ground just evapo- rates as we are propelled back into an extreme.

Participant: I can see how I do that. When I’m fearful, I generally do react-to lessen my fear. And, I’m also sensing another way of being with this whole thing-but I’m not sure what I should do. Should I try and stay with the fear? Or should I at least hold back until I feel more present and spacious?

Penny: This is where it becomes exacting because if you wait to be in a particular way-let’s say to be free of the fear, you can easily become frozen and immobilized, unable to speak or act. Later on, you may well feel that you missed an important opportunity. On the other hand, if you jump straight in because you can’t tolerate the intensity of your fear, you may assess later on that you were inappropriate. What we are doing here with you is creating a disclosive space that is in balance -a balance between extreme ways of responding. This can be exacting because there is no recipe which tells you when to speak and when to be silent.

Peter: There is no reference system telling you how to behave. You are left entirely to yourself, to an appreciation of who you are and how you are as this shows up in the moment. It’s as if you don’t have the luxury of a ready reckoner when you are operating from this space. You don’t have any devices or resources to draw on other than your own naturalness and capacity to be with things as they are. There is no system telling you or indicating how to be other than a sense of the simplic- ity and reality of how you are being in the moment. There is no cover-up. You are not trying to exaggerate or amplify anything either. It is something that is terribly authentic.

Penny: There’s no preoccupation either about what happens. If you find that down the track you start to mull over what had happened and replay the event, thinking about what you should have said or done, you know that something is off balance. Reflecting excessively about what happened is an indication that something is now out of sync.

Peter: That type of post-event analysis can manifest in you laying awake at night processing the consequences of your actions. The other alternative is to try and escape the consequences of our actions by switching off-by burying our head in the sand, pretending nothing happened, or thinking that our problems will go away. Either way, whether we indulge our concerns or ignore them, we are escaping from the simplicity of being with what is in a gentle, accepting and uncomplicated way. When you sense the exacting nature of this work, you can try to escape from it by making it burdensome and difficult, or alternatively tell yourself that that there is absolutely nothing to it. Either way, you make it hard work or a holiday-which isn’t what we are referring to.

Participant: I think that what you mean by hard work isn’t what we ordinarily think. Do you mean how we give ourselves a hard time, beat ourselves up?

Peter: In a sense-but there are more subtle manifestations of making it hard-like, taking it very seriously, trying to figure it out, trying to get it right, being worried about getting it wrong.

Penny: Or strategizing, trying to find the right path, manipulating, trying to overly manage it, becoming preoccupied. We can get involved in stories about how, if I get this together, it is going to be really wonderful for me. The extreme of either making it meaningful or meaningless is one of the things we look to correct. Sliding from one extreme to the other can happen quite transparently; at one point it may be intrinsically meaningful-this is where it’s all happening, this is the right place to be; or it may be quite meaningless-we’re just here doing what we’re doing, it’s no different here than anywhere else, there’s nothing in this. What we do is make a correction to either extreme, as you slide from one interpretation to the other.

Peter: That is why we continue to try to point into the window somewhere in the middle. The window on this space is in those transition points. Normally when that transition is happening, you don’t even know it’s happened. There you are, right in there, holding it as very meaningful, taking it very seriously, and in the next minute you think it is a joke. You haven’t seen in that transition that there has been an expression of this space-it is lost just like that.

Participant: I find this one difficult. I believe that it is important and valuable to be here …. otherwise I won’t get it-and I know this is the place to be if I am to get it!

Peter: Absolutely. You see, that again is going to the extreme of making it meaningful. That there is something to get, some tangible experience with “this is it” written all over it. See, right now you are offering your listening of what I have said, and you’re doing it in a way that is useful. But can you see how it indicates that you have moved to an extreme interpretation of what I said?

Participant: I don’t understand what you are getting at.

Peter: You see it is happening right now as you try and understand me. I am making a correc- tion and it is important to appreciate it as a correction. It’s actually in the transition from one fixa- tion, prior to the consolidation of the opposite fixation, that this window shows up. So, in a sense, the course is a window giving you direct access to a domain that is free of intellectual and emotional fixation. What we are doing is continually creating and recreating that window, by showing how you close it down, like when you reactivate an historical fixation or develop a new idea about what is happening, or about where you are and what this means for you. Each time you close it down we show you how this occurs. And as it opens up we share this with you-so then you begin to taste the flavour and texture of the opening, of the window itself.

Peter Fenner

About Peter Fenner

Peter Fenner, Ph.D. is a spiritual leader in the adaption and transmission of Asian nondual wisdom and Founder of Timeless Wisdom, a California nonprofit. He is a pioneer in the development of nondual therapy. He created the Radiant Mind Course® and the Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training. Peter runs courses, trainings, retreats and satsang telecalls and offers individual coaching sessions. His students and clients include Buddhist psychotherapists, psychologists, coaches, Zen masters, Sufi masters, Vipassana and Mindfulness teachers, Yoga teachers, psychiatrists, medical doctors, hospice workers, students of Tibetan Buddhism, followers of Advaita, artists and spiritual seekers worldwide.Peter also offers retreats on 4 continents. He has presented his work at leading universities and institutions including Columbia, Stanford, CIIS and Naropa. Stay in touch: • Join Peter Fenner's network on LinkedIn • Like his page on Facebook
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