How Do You Smile With Your Feet?

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I'm going to post a video here from Adi Da (yes that Adi Da). Posting this is not meant to indicate a support of all of Da's methods or actions during his years as a spiritual teacher. I personally find many of the criticisms of Da valid. Nevertheless, I find this short video is a beautiful heartfelt reflection that has a great deal to teach us. It all begins with a superficially silly question from a boy that turns out to be a deeply profound inquiry. 

I'm now going to share some quotations from this video and then comment on them. Quotations in italics. 

krishna and radha

"When the mind is transcended, the body becomes the sacrifice. The body is the essential sacrifice." 

In contemporary spirituality there is a lot of talk of embodiment, of "bringing things down into the body" and so on. But here I think Da is pointing to something far deeper. What we bring down into the body itself has to be sacrificed in God. Embodiment is good, but by itself it is incomplete. Embodiment is not an attainment. It's not about becoming spiritual superstars or having to have some great yoga body to prove that you are super embodied. It's a good thing to be in shape bodily but that has to be sacrificed. That has to be given over to God. Otherwise it becomes another place of separting ourselves, of breaking our connection, or seeing ourselves as better than others. 

Moreover, Da is making clear that mind transcendence is not sufficient. It's not enough to rest all day in a relatively safe spiritual place where everything is at peace, everything is one, there is no time and space, and all is well. And then largely live an unchanged life. All Big Mind, no Big Heart, and no Big Body. Such a mind-only awakening is still a form of awakening yes, but it's a fairly cold one. It's fairly dead (as opposed to Da's alive feet.)

-

nerve cell

"The body is mind and therefore when the body is surrendered to God, all the nerves in the body begin to open up."

We are not minds with bodies. We are bodies with minds. We are bodyminds. Mind is the interiority of the body. Body is the physical manifestation of mind. We are conscious bodily beings. If a person is going to truly open to God they must do so all the way: thoughts, emotions, instincts, will, even our very nervous system, all the way to the very sensations of our physicality. "The nerves begin to open up." 

-

smiling woman

"All of the body becomes like your face....The whole body becomes like your face. So how would you smile with your feet?"

However problematic phrases like getting into the body, bringing it down into the body, and others are, this kind of awakening is what they are aiming at, however improperly understood.

So the question is: how do we smile with our feet? 

How do we smile with our chest? Our left knee? Our back? Our forearm? 

The genuine smile is the physical expression of radiance--the energy of joyous love, (i.e. God). How we smile with our feet, back, or arms is by feeling the radiance of the body surrendered into God and feeling that radiant energy streaming out from our bodies. 

-

rain tulips

"God is present bodily. God is already here. God is already present; God pervades the body. You're thinking all the time but it's your thinking. When you stop thinking your attention feels God."

How does this radiance streaming off the body come about? How do we surrender bodily into God? The first piece to remember (as Da says) that God is already present. The body is already entirely within God. We are arising, we are happening (right now!) inside God.  

When Da says to stop thinking he is not denigrating the place of the rational mind. He is simply saying to put our attention elsewhere, i.e. on God in whom we live, move, and have our being presently. The mind will do what the mind needs to do just like the body regulates breathing without having to think about it consciously, but we don't need to place our attention, our sense of self, into those thoughts. As the thoughts are needed, they'll be there.  

Feeling God. This is a powerful statement. In my experience, so much spirituality is about techniques and methods. Whether the techniques seek to make us more mindful or to access intuition or visualize a more beautiful future, whatever they are, they assume we are whover we think we are (a self), and work with that self to improve it in some way. These practices are valid within their own sphere. But I just sense a deep lack of understanding this deep, profound sanity--when we release who we think we are, we naturally feel God. 

The heart doesn't even have to open up. We realize a part of the heart is already open, is already one with God. We just place our attention there. We be that one and let it expand. 

And that heart (or rather Heart) feels like the tulip feels the rain. And the energy of that feeling is love. And the bodily sensation of that love is the nerves opening up, the radiance shinning off the body. 

-

service

"The body becomes a smile. It becomes full of life. Then you become a different person. Then you can be love with other people; then you can serve other people and be very happy doing that. It's no big deal." 

If we could all just start here--with feeling God--then we could learn relative practices to hone various aptitudes as are necessary. But they wouldn't become places of competition or ego or exclusion. They'd be just what we need to do in order to make things harmonious, serviceable, decent, and good. 

-

"The enligtened man [sic] is enlightened down to his toes." 

smiling toes

What else is there to say? 

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10 comments

  • Comment Link Kathryn Ehnebuske Monday, 24 September 2012 01:31 posted by Kathryn Ehnebuske

    Chris,

    This had me in tears, so perfect, so exactly right. Even though so far pain has been my most profound physical experience of surrendering into God, it still bears that loving, joyous, moving energy and the limbs that were atrophied from nerve damage are coming back to life, muscle tone is returning. I can't help wondering if this constant moving is working through all the "shadow" in my body as it once did in my mind. Who knows, like Da said, maybe it will one day all feel good, or even if it doesn't, the love will still shine through.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 24 September 2012 22:17 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi Kathryn,

    Your story is so incredible and the connection with what Da is saying there is really profound. Thanks for sharing.

  • Comment Link Geoff Fitch Wednesday, 26 September 2012 17:41 posted by Geoff Fitch

    Beautiful, Chris. What a joy to read this.

    I would say when Da is saying stop thinking and feel God, he's saying something akin to stop contracting into identification with thinking. Let your attention move towards the whole body of God, which also includes thinking but met from a different place. In the moment, it seems like a kind of kinesthetic encounter, like letting go into feeling your lover in the dark, with no bearings or boundaries to hold onto.

    The video also showed such an occasion of delight. Much of what he said was just play met by laughter in joy. Let's not all take this so seriously. :)

    Love,
    Geoff

  • Comment Link Mark Forman Thursday, 27 September 2012 05:33 posted by Mark Forman

    And yet Da himself became a deeply narcissistic, bitter, profoundly unradiant person who was well documented to be cruel and often belittling to others. I spent years chatting online with ex-devotees interested in Da and Wilber and such and "love" would be the last word one would use to describe any account of him in his last 25 years. Further, heard directly from Wilber's mouth - told to a whole group of people gathered - he was a serious alcoholic who nearly drank himself to death multiple times. As it pertains to this video, if you see later pictures of him, there was nothing left of any of this open, light energy he shows or speaks of so confidently here. So what was he missing? I distrust his teachings based on that.

  • Comment Link Mark Forman Thursday, 27 September 2012 06:20 posted by Mark Forman

    I don't mean to be simply polemical. At what point do you not take the teachings seriously when you see the results? For one, there is a real self-satisfactory tone in Da's teaching in this video (as there is in every video I've seen of him). Is he really joyfully post-embodied or is he eating up the crowd and the attention? Does he become bright here because is "not thinking" or because he has a chance to shine in an arena he is good at - articulately claiming his own realization in front of an adoring crowd? I am not being flip, that was what he did and he spilled thousands of pages on that topic of his own realization.

    I think at best his point could be read as a relatively well-delivered version of standard kundalini yoga - that the nervous system and body open in spiritual realization - though I know Da would claim he transcended that. But I think the thing to question about this specific teaching is the kind of absolutism he claims in it. That he has transcended his mind and body in such a way to suggest that they are energies permanently dissolved (or opened or seen through) and not impactfully operative in any typical, human way. And, by extension, that you can do too.

    I think if anyone actually approaches practice with that expectation - that you can transcend mind-and-body and make your feet smile in a once-and-for-all fashion - they are going to be deeply misled. This is evidenced in my mind by Da's significant inability to produce enlightened disciples. There are subtle things in his version of enlightenment that just don't work because they are ego-inflated in their description of what occurs in spiritual realization.

    So I sort of shudder to think his version of embodiment would become anyone's ideal.

    - Mark

  • Comment Link David T. Sunday, 30 September 2012 06:51 posted by David T.

    It's rare to see the kind of discernment that Mark voices in the comments here, given that this group is both devoted to promoting several toxic gurus and, at the same time, in thoroughgoing denial about this.

    It seems to me particularly diagnostic of this denial that Adi Da is cited here when the issue is, precisely, "embodiment," that is, carrying in one's person and real-world relations the abstractions that one writes about. Chris wants to talk about spiritual teachings not merely as cognitive abstractions, but about the *embodiment* of teaching, in the body, in one's affective and social relations with other people and with the world. So he chooses Adi Da. Why? Because Da *writes beautifully about embodiment*, not because he had a demonstrated knack for embodying what he wrote about. Indeed, if "embodiment" means not simply talking the talk but walking the walk, one would be hard pressed to choose a worse example.

    You see here a kind of neurosis that reappears often at this site. Writing becomes a substitute for embodied experience--even, weirdly, writing about embodiment. It would only make sense to choose Adi Da as an illustration of "embodiment" if you wanted to displace what you mean by "embodiment" into something merely abstract and cognitive-- mere "ideas about embodiment," rather than an embodied life as a teacher.

    We can separate a teacher's writing from his practice: that's the constant refrain when the toxics are defended.

    But can we make that separation when "embodiment" itself is at issue? Apparently, yes, without skipping a beat.

    Even putting aside the logical problem, here's the ethical problem: that position is inseparable from a notion of "acceptable losses."

    I'm not a booster or believer in meditative disciplines since they have done me considerable damage. But I was deeply surprised and impressed by something that Thich nat Hahn once said. I paraphrase it here.

    When asked if, pressed to the choice, he would eliminate from the world the teachings of Buddhism or sacrifice a single life to perpetuate them, he replied that he would eliminate Buddhism. His reasoning was that Buddhism was true, so it would eventually and necessarily recur, but that one life was unique and sacred and its loss could not be recovered.

    That's an impressive and surprising ethics. Consider the utilitarian calculation that you *expected* to hear: the maintenance of Buddhist belief would "do more good than harm." The sacrifice of one individual without his consent would buy salvation for so many others. Hahn refused to play into that.

    By contrast, this is exactly the covert argument behind the defense of Gafni or Cohen or Adi Da or any of the other dubious gurus that the Wilber cult has stood behind. The sacrifice of a few is worth it because the "writing" can help so many others. The ethos of the gated-community yuppie.

    Even worse, the defense is framed as a dubiously superior perspectivism drawn (as usual) from Spiral Dynamics: unlike the inferior classes, we integrals don't see things in black or white, we see BOTH the spiritual advantage (of the guru's beautiful writing) AND the shadow (of the people harmed by actual contact with him), and as second-tier priests we alone can judge that on balance he is a positive good for the world.

    But what of those who are sacrificed, without their consent, after signing on with these narcissists in good faith? What of the women who feel they were betrayed and raped by Gafni, or those who squandered years of their lives living in infantilized squalor worshipping Da or submitting themselves to Cohen's silly narcissisms only to be left with lifelong wounds? The haughty pseudointellectual claim that "we can separate the writing from the teaching" is exactly tantamount to saying that those wounded, traumatized and discarded in the process were expendable for the greater good.

    And it's a demonstrable fact that they are scapegoated and polemically dismissed by the integral community. As with any group mind, the apostates and sacrificial victims aren't exactly invited into the conversation.

    When Da is held up as a defense not just of a teaching but of "embodied teaching," I think it's safe to say that the neurotic denial has announced itself rather floridly. You have to be deeply disembodied to think that Da's *writing* proves that he's an expert on spiritual embodiment. And you have to have a pretty truncated ethical sense.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 01 October 2012 00:44 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the comment. I don't think you were being polemical at all. I find this one of the harder things about online writing. I knew bringing him up could cause a stir and yet I didn't want to have to write a whole separate post as a kind of full on sharing of my perspective around all this--particularly when I've done some of that in other pieces around the site.

    But regardless, it's fine for you to bring out a yellow card. I appreciate it actually.

    Da's teaching has been very influential in my own life and I agree that there are problematic elements to it. And you've put your finger on one of them: his denial of the egoic self post-awakening. I don't agree with that. Nor with his related teaching that would simply outshine the world. He carries too much baggage of a traditional anti-world kaliyuga perspective that I don't share.

    In his case this denial of the continued reality of the contracted self-sense was particularly detrimental given (as you mention) his small self was an addict. My sense is his addiction struggles (and his later closing off which you mention) had a great deal to do with the fact of how much suffering he felt. My sense of the addictions--drugs, alcohol, sexual, power--were covering over some of that deep sadness. [For what it's worth, Trungpa Rinpoche did in fact drink himself to death (in his 30s!).]

    As an addict, he became self-centered and used others. I think it's totally fair to criticize those elements of his life, particularly as a guru.

    I personally think the guru system (i.e. actually eating other people's karma and having full authority over their lives) is a really bad system for the West. Da is the quintessential example of this. He did stupid stuff (at times even destructive stuff) and then claimed it was crazy wisdom.

    For a way to incorporate more of the self-sense and its relation to the Ultimate (Unbounded) Self, I prefer Saniel Bonder (a student of Da, a very critical yet appreciative one). Saniel talks about how it 'hurts to be here' and that the wounding is that we are infinite beings in a finite body and it doesn't ever totally align 100%.

    Yet still I find his capacity to transmit and to abide in ecstasy incredible. It's far far deeper than I will ever be able to. Even in his later years his writings on his Room (around 2004) are really profound. Even if he had become a jerk by then.

    I don't agree with you that it's a simple kundalini teaching. In his book The Liberator (Eleutherios) he talks about 'stark embodiment without inwardness'. He says, 'the body alone is full of Consciousness.'

    I don't know exactly where to draw the line. The history of Western philosophy is full of rather abysmal human personalities gifted with great philosophical insight (e.g Hegel, Rousseau, Heidegger, Althusser).

    My (perhaps too simplistic line) is that I'm always open to reading, and generally open to taking up practices. But I draw a sharp line when it comes to things like thinking about joining communities, taking vows, entering into formal relationships.

    It's the same view I hold in relation to say a Marc Gafni or a Genpo Roshi. I don't think folks should work with them as teachers but I would be lying to say I haven't learned from them and their teachings.

    I don't know if that's the best approach for everyone. It's certainly worked well in my life.

    Just a heads up that I'm going away for the next three days and will be sans internet. I really do appreciate you raising the issue and I'll be happy (if you like) to converse about it more when I return.

    Chris

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 01 October 2012 01:31 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the comment.

    There's a number of points in it. I'm not sure I can do all of them justice but here are some thoughts.

    One--I didn't use any Spiral Dynamics. I don't really like Spiral Dynamics and have on a number of occasions on this site been critical of the kinds of things you mention (people rating themselves higher versus lower, etc.).

    For example:

    http://www.beamsandstruts.com/bits-a-pieces/item/1036-a-response-to-tom-huston-re-integral-activism

    and

    http://www.beamsandstruts.com/bits-a-pieces/item/988-do-cultures-develop?-an-integral-question

    I think you'll find I'm not some doe eye member of any Wilber cult.

    Have I ever written things on this site that falls into the neurosis you mention: writing becoming an abstraction for embodied experience? I would hope not and I'm biased but yeah I couldn't claim for sure it's never happened.

    It's a hard thing not to do I find. If you would like to write a piece for the site that seeks to do precisely what you talk about (really embody and not use writing as a substitute), I'd be interested to see what you come up.

    All this piece highlighted was the way in which I think Da really deep taught and yes 'embodied' the understanding of the nerves opening up. I highlighted his teaching which I've sought to live, however imperfectly, that the body is the real sacrifice.

    The title of the piece is 'How Do You Smile With Your Feet?' That's all that's meant by embodiment in this context--the ability of the body to be radiant.

    You are correct that in and of itself that does not mean a person will be strong ethical. Just like a person could take up various breathing and movement-based yogic practices which would in some sense be about 'embodiment' (certain parts of embodiment anyway) and those would not necessarily make them better in relationships or ethically more sound. I still think they would accomplish what they set out to do and would be good. Just like learning music or cooking or all kinds of things.

    I've written a number of other pieces on embodiment and I wouldn't consider 'feeling to the toes' to be the totality of embodiment. In fact, I wrote a piece the other day (via David Spangler) on incarnation over embodiment. It was designed to be (in my ind) a companion piece to this one and hopefully balance out some of the potential problems of taking this teaching as the only one. (Please see my comment above to Mark...I agree with you about the critique of absolutism inherent in Da's teaching).

    http://beamsandstruts.com/bits-a-pieces/item/1083-incarnation-not-embodiment

    So I'm not claiming any perfection. But before going on about how I'm substituting writing for actual practice, you should probably know about what I actually do in my work. I don't talk about it much but I think in this case it's probably helpful.

    I spend my time in a full time pastoral charge as one of three priests in a large downtown (very busy) urban congregation. I've spent the last week walking with a mid 50s year old widow and a teenager who just lost her dad. I spoke at his memorial. Before coming here I just got a call and went to the hospital room of a woman I've never met before who had just been taking off a ventilator. I talked with her husband of 55 years and said some final prayers for her. And that's on top of my visits to another parishioner, a young man in his twenties. I officiated at his wedding very recently who had a major health scare and nearly died (but appears thankfully to be doing much better now).

    As a downtown place, I have folks come into see me fairly regularly who are really struggling with mental illness and there's not a lot I can do for them and it hurts.

    I see the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor literally on the steps of my workplace. I struggle with how I should to them. I struggle with whether what I'm doing is making a lasting difference, like most people I interact with.

    And since we are on the subject of religious abuse, my work very often puts me in relation with those who were abused (emotionally, spiritually, even sexually) by religious individuals. I'm not naive about the destructive powers inherent in all this. I personally experienced a, maybe I'd call it medium (to medium/small) size dose of it myself. I was part of a spiritual community and in one meeting lost my job, my house, my legal status in a foreign country (meaning I had to self-deport), and it looked like at the time possibly the woman I loved (fortunately that didn't happen). I started having panic attacks and ended up having to live at a monastery for 2 months to regain mental stability. I wouldn't claim that experience was anything on the level of hurt of others that I've worked with--hearing their stories is heartbreaking.

    And yet I still learned how to feel the radiance of Consciousness bodily from Da. He's the one who really taught that to me, for which I'm grateful. Maybe I could have learned it elsewhere--maybe there's someone else out there who could express it, who wouldn't have the legion of ethical flaws that Da brings. If so, I don't know who that is and perhaps readers could suggest someone.

    As I said to Mark, I don't have any easy answers. I'm open to charges that my position is too simplistic. I don't agree though that looking at say a writing (or in this case a video) is a case of "acceptable losses" or "exactly tantamount to saying that those wounded, traumatized and discarded in the process were expendable for the greater good."

    I think there's a distinction between writings and actually entering a spiritual community. In this case, I think the teaching about feeling radiance into the toes is a beautiful teaching and people were traumatized by Da and that's categorically wrong. Both can be true. In this case, I think both are true.


    Chris

    ps I did write a piece critical of Gafni.

    http://beamsandstruts.com/bits-a-pieces/item/602-gafni

  • Comment Link Mark Forman Friday, 05 October 2012 08:11 posted by Mark Forman

    Hi Chris,

    I appreciate this comment.

    I would disagree about the kundalini yoga. Da is largely teaching an articulate version of Kashmir Shaivism or Tantric Yoga - that which his two main teachers (Rudi and Muktananda) taught. Particularly with Muktananda he distorted what was taught and then taught almost the exact same thing in his own voice. Except with a ton of ego and with some pretense that he was inventing something new.

    I've seen Da's transmission via video. It's potent, intense. I could feel it, and I don't like Da and have never found his teachings useful because of his ego involvement and how they subtly infect the ideas, though he is often terrifically articulate in places. I can certainly see how his transmission would be powerful for people, but could never get how folks could stomach anything beyond that.

    Your speculation about pain seems compassionate but tricky. Narcissism is often speculated to be a reaction to pain. It can drive addiction, but the pain (if it is there and not simply bad wiring) is buried in unconsciousness, so it isn't honest pain. It is hard to have sympathy for that, because the narcissistic addict inflicts much more pain on others than a typical addict. I say that having worked with both.

    Best,
    Mark

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Friday, 05 October 2012 20:51 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks. I think you're definitely right that Da shows incredible influence from Rudi and Muktananda. I can't speak necessarily to all the ins and outs of Kashmir traditions (you know more about that than me). But there's also a whole other Ramana Maharshi inspired theme in Da as well, which to me seems more Vedantic than Shavism-based (but again that tradition isn't my background so I might need to be corrected on that point).

    And then I really think he did come up with some interesting threads of his own.

    But your point around pain and narcissism is really subtle and I found it quite illuminating. I hadn't considered it like that before. I think you could definitely be onto something with that perspective. Thanks for it.

    Chris

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