February 24, 2022
What is "awakening"? What is a "stateless" state? What is nonduality? Why and how do some spiritual practitioners experience a dissolution of their sense of self? Do these altered or enlightened states require thousands of hours of practice to achieve, or are they always inside us, waiting to be noticed and accessed at any time? Can these states be accessed through a variety of paths and methods? Is there a certain kind of person that does better or worse at achieving these states?
Loch Kelly, M.Div., LCSW is an award-winning author, licensed psychotherapist, and recognized leader in the field of meditation and awakening. He is the founder of the nonprofit Effortless Mindfulness Institute and has worked in community mental health, established homeless shelters, and counseled family members of 9/11 victims. Loch graduated from Columbia University and received a fellowship to study in Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal. Loch has collaborated with neuroscientists at Yale, UPenn, and NYU in the study of how awareness training can enhance compassion and wellbeing. Loch is dedicated to reducing suffering and supporting people to live from open-hearted awareness. He is known for his warm sense of humor and his trust that awakening is the next natural stage of development. He teaches the advanced-yet-simple nondual pointers and direct methods of Effortless Mindfulness, informed by psychology and social justice. Loch lives in upstate New York with his wife Paige and their cat Duffy. Please go to lochkelly.org/em to find more information and free practices.
JOSH: Hello and welcome to Clearer Thinking with Spencer Greenberg, the podcast about ideas that matter. I'm Josh Castle, the producer of the podcast, and I'm so glad you joined us today. In this episode, Spencer speaks with Loch Kelly about awakening, consciousness, and concentration.
SPENCER: Loch, welcome.
LOCH: Thanks, Spencer. Great to be here with you.
SPENCER: Today we're going to talk about what I think is one of the most important topics, which is how do we free ourselves from suffering? How do we achieve well-being? It's hard to think of a more important topic than that.
LOCH: Yeah, beautiful. That's something I've been trying to figure out. I've been interested in it — as we all are as a side part of our life — but I've made it my main project, and it's been fun.
SPENCER: Yeah, so let's jump right into it. So, what is awakening?
LOCH: It was great that you began with the kind of negation, which is awakening’s goal is to go to the root of suffering, to heal suffering. And so, what is suffering? The definition of suffering used in wisdom traditions, particularly in Buddhism and Asian traditions, is called Dukkha. This word is often translated as "perpetual dissatisfaction." So, it's really almost like existential anxiety. I think everyone can relate to that.
SPENCER: Can you give some examples of that? Because maybe people think, “Oh, that's a part of suffering.” But they may not understand or see how that could be a sort of suffering itself or all suffering.
LOCH: Yeah. It really then goes back to identity. Who's the sufferer? Who's suffering? Or, if we use the language of mind, we could say, what level of mind are we aware from? Just to riff with a little language of self, if the problem from this awakening point of view is that what we're awakening from is this limited small sense of self, which we might call ego identity, or managing self, or rational doer, and this sense of organizing constellation of consciousness can be summarized pretty well as “I think, therefore I am,” which is just a thought-based self-referencing feeling that then feels like it's us. And it's trying to survive almost within our body as almost a separate entity, rather than being this other option, which is awakening from that to this other dimension of consciousness — awake consciousness or true nature, or there's a lot of words that are used in different traditions — but that there's another level of mind and another type of self, from self to Self, or from what's called conceptual mind to non-conceptual mind, or awake consciousness that's prior to thought that then can use thought as a tool but isn't limited to thought and isn't limited to ego identity even though it includes ego function. So, it's a bigger, higher, wider, deeper, more spacious, and pervasive, subtler dimension of consciousness that everyone's tasted. But we don't know how to intentionally do it often, and how to remain there. And so that's a little beginning summary.
SPENCER: There's so much there. I suspect we're going to spend the rest of our time unpacking what you've just said. I find that it's really helpful for my audience to work with concrete examples when we're having these big abstract ideas. So, someone does something like stubbed their toe and they're feeling pain, or they go on a date and then they get rejected at the end, and they're suffering. Can you relate that to what you're talking about?
LOCH: There are external stressors and external anxieties and things in the world that impinge or create anxiety or fear. However, their relative level stressors, their relative level pain, and their relative level suffering come and go. But what this low level, perpetual dissatisfaction is from the sufferer? So, the sense of that who this is all appearing to, it continually is dissatisfied and never relaxed in essential well-being when it's identified from this small self. So just to say that all those examples of stressors or discomfort are normal that happen. The question is, who or what are they occurring to? When you shift to this awakened consciousness, you can still have difficulty, or things don't work out. And you have the initial, “Oh, no, that didn't go well. That date or that situation at work, or I didn't get approval, or this thing I worked on didn't get accepted.” And then it's an experience in the world that if you become the one who's so identified with the achievement, or the being, the doer, or it goes into a self-referencing feeling, it becomes existentially, "Oh, I'm worthless. This will never work out." And it goes into this loop of anxiety and suffering. Whereas if you're in the awake consciousness, you feel the feelings, and you have the disappointment as initial feeling, but then who you are isn't essentially hurt in the way that you would hang on to it. You would feel it and you would grieve it if it was a big loss. But essentially, you've discovered this essential self that doesn't have this perpetual dissatisfaction. It has underlying okayness or well-being, or non-worry, non-fear-based clarity.
SPENCER: So to make sure I understand this, suppose something bad happens to you, you go on a date, you get rejected, if you have this ability to adopt this state that you're referring to, am I correct that you might still feel that initial spark of badness, and you still suffer in that moment, but then you could slip into this other state where you're no longer identifying with a small self, and then suddenly you would be free from suffering. Is that right?
LOCH: Yeah, the only thing is in some ways, it's not a state. It's sometimes called the stateless state, or a different level of mind, or a different level of identity. It's not one of the small multiple minds, or it's the ground of being. It's the sense of the subtlest dimension of who you are that everything's arising to. So, disappointment or joy arises to this you and when you can return home to this essential self, which you discover small glimpse by small glimpse, you can see the bigger view. You can feel the feelings of that, and you're not making the situation a threat of death, a threat of feeling like you're worthless, or this was the end of the world or something like that. You're feeling like, “Okay, they didn't even show up. I'm sitting here waiting for a date in a mall.” And they either didn't go, they left early, or they didn't call you back, or they didn't even show up and you feel the human feelings. And then you're like, “Okay, well.” And then it's not just another part of you that says, “Well, that's okay, there'll be others.” It's like a flow of life and there's a wisdom in this view from this level of mind that isn't just positive thinking. It's just the way that you see things when you're looking from this awake consciousness.
SPENCER: So how do you relate to this? Are you going about in the stateless state all day long, or are you using it as needed, like you're choosing to go into it? Or is it more like a habit at this point for you, like when you start to suffer, you go into it without even thinking? I'm just wondering, how does it affect you?
LOCH: It's an initial introduction. And then there tends to be a kind of unfolding. I've seen this in myself. And I've seen this in others who are peers, colleagues, and students over time that it initially starts as a rare occurrence that you can find it and usually requires a good environment, like being still and quiet, and then you find it more easily. They call this direct practice or glimpsing, which means you can shift your awareness intentionally from the small self to awake consciousness. You're intentionally awake and then you can remain for shorter periods of time, then you can find it more readily, then it kind of shows up on its own, then it becomes more the default mode of your life. And then difficult situations happen, it’ll get covered over, but you can return. I see it as almost a developmental stage of life, like emotional development or moving from dependence as a child to independence. When you're dependent or pre-verbal, you're just emotional. You're immediately crying and laughing. You don't have a stage of emotional development, and then you develop it. You go to school, and you can sit quietly, have your feelings, and then you learn this next developmental stage. So awakening is like a developmental stage that becomes the new normal, that it becomes the sense of being able to return easier, and then to remain, and then to resource with it.
SPENCER: In your own journey, how often are you in this state? Is it now your default, where you're just in the stateless state almost all the time — except when you get pulled out of it by something temporarily — or is it more like something you're activating as needed?
LOCH: Yeah, it's pretty much the default mode. I wake up in it and my wife says, "You're smiling while you're sleeping." It's not because I'm having a good dream. It's just I'm resting in this natural condition that isn't comfortably numb. It's actually very like a day sky, clear, okayness, kind of there's no other thing that potentially is going to threaten who I am, to kill it or hurt it, because the essential me can't be hurt or die. Meaning, I could still have my body die or my emotions to be hurt, but that all is going to happen anyhow. And there's no need to fear it. So, they're resting or operating from this new operating system. It is more the norm now. And then sometimes I'll get triggered out of it. When I realize that, it's like, “Oh, my God.” I’m like caught back in the stream, when it becomes more the normal. And then all of a sudden, I'm triggered, or some fast activity is happening which is involved with situations and people and/or things or something. And then something happens, and I have to navigate or respond to something, and all of a sudden, I'm back in. Often, it's like a highly functioning rational mode that is the thing I get triggered into. And then sometimes it's more of an early childhood trauma that gets triggered. I'll feel all of a sudden like they just ignored me like I don't exist, and then I'll just feel like I'm abandoned, and then all of a sudden “whoosh.” And then I'm the one who's abandoned now. I'm like two years old. And then there's kind of awakening that happens, because like “Oh, my God, that's a part of me that feels that way.” And then there's an opening of this awareness to this vast, subtler dimension that has this compassionate, loving presence toward this part of me in my body that is feeling either sad or super rational, which is the two main ones that often come up. And then there's the kind of integration or including from my essential. It's similar to a system of psychotherapy. I met this guy, Dick Schwartz, who created Internal Family Systems. It's similar to a lot of other parts-based psychologies, but we've been teaching together a bit. And it's the similar system that he discovered without having studied more contemplative experiences. But basically, we had this very similar experience with people who are very traumatized. For me, it was a situation at work with somebody who was actually suicidal, and they would go in and out. I was working in a clinic in Brooklyn, and then they were doing better. And then all of a sudden, they came and said, “Well, there's a feeling like I might hurt myself.” And I said, “Okay, well, so just get in touch with that. Can you feel where that part is?” “Yeah, it's in my throat, like I'm being strangled.” And then I asked, “Is there another part of you that doesn't want to hurt yourself?” They said, “Yeah, it's in my kind of more in my heart.” And then I said, “Who's aware of those two parts?” And they said, “Oh, well, I am.” “Where are you?” “Well, I'm everywhere. I'm all around. I'm within those two parts.” “How do you feel toward these two parts?” And they said, “Well, I feel kind of sad and compassionate and kind of wanting to really just listen to them and see why they're so upset.” And so, it was kind of with somebody who wasn't an advanced developmental person or advanced practitioner, but somebody who had complex trauma who could access, in a short moment, this other mind, this other self that was aware of parts of them that they had been identified with, and then have an immediate relational response in a situation that was most clinicians would have said, “I'm feeling so sad. Okay, should I call the hospital? Should we go call 911? Should we take you to the hospital?” Meanwhile, they ended up laughing that day and through that kind of experience became more just wanting to access like, “I want to be myself.” So that's why the big self says, “I want to be myself and be with this part that wanted to hurt themselves who’s very sad. They were really hurt as a kid. I'm their advocate now.” That's a little version of how it works.
SPENCER: Should you think of the stateless state as being the same as this capital S self from Internal Family Systems, to sort of like resting point?
LOCH: I’d add a piece. I have my variations. So like Dick Schwartz has self-energy and self-leadership, I add self-essence, which is more than a stateless state. They'll often step back from a part and then say, “How do you feel toward the part right away?” So they'll go into this self that feels compassionate, whereas I want to make sure that they are aware of who the self is, that is stateless, that is timeless, and boundless and aware, without contents, and then find how that comes into self-energy. And then the energy comes into compassion. And then the compassionate energy comes into a body with these psychological parts or these different multiple minds. And then the self-leadership is including all of that, relating to other people, and living life from a more self-essence, self-energy, and self-leadership place. So, they are very similar.
SPENCER: And what is self-energy?
LOCH: He uses the words self and self-energy as if they're interchangeable. And self-energy has these qualities. So self-energy is the movement from being identified with a part. Let's say you were the ego itself, and you were to find the thinker and the doer. And you were to ask that part if it could give you some space. And then you became aware of that part, from a subtler, more open mind. Now you're not the ego, you're the observer of the ego. And then when you say, “How do you feel toward that part?” Then the relationship initially is an energetic. It is like a self that's not just an observer, but there's energy toward and connecting the two. So that could almost be emotional energy, or some people feel it very energetically like Qi, or prana, or subtle body energy, but it just means that there's some connection rather than a detached observer, like a mindful witness.
SPENCER: So here, is energy being used as sort of a sensation that you're experiencing, whether it's an emotion or some other sensation?
LOCH: It can be, but it also is emotional energy. The words that are used for self-energy are connection, compassion, and curiosity. Connection could be energy, but curiosity and compassion are more emotional energy. When you feel compassionate toward someone, like a friend or a dog or a child or something, some people feel more energetically connected. Others feel connected emotionally. So it can mean both, and people experience it differently.
SPENCER: You mentioned that we all feel this stateless state sometimes. Could you give examples where people might feel in normal life?
LOCH: Interestingly, I think the place where people feel this awake consciousness that is embodied is more with their eyes open in activity. So certainly, something like being in love. But more what I often ask people is, “What is it you do in your free time that you love to do?” And my premise is you do that to access awake consciousness. It's a doorway. It's not the thing itself. Because each of you is going to do a different thing that you love in your free time, and yet what you feel is the same even though one person plays music and another person does sports and another person walks in nature with their dogs. If they did another one of those wouldn't find this in those avenues and experiences. Let's say walking in nature, you are driving in your car, you're trying to go get to a place you're going to go take a nice walk, you park your car, you get out, you start walking, and then you walk into the woods. And what happens? As you start walking, you're in your body, your eyes are open, and you're actually doing a functional moving activity. So what would you say? What is it? Either in that example, you can give me your example of what you do in your free time that you love and that brings you joy.
SPENCER: It's tricky for me because I feel like there are so many different states that I can be in that I feel are really pleasant. One example is flow. I like to do mixed martial arts for fun. And so if I'm doing that, I'm doing some light sparring, I'm in a flow. I'm just totally focused on what I'm doing. But that seems very external, right? Like, I'm trying to process all the information around me and react. Is that an example of the state? I can imagine a bunch of different sort of mental states that feel somewhat different to me, and I'm not sure which one to identify with this.
LOCH: If you focus on the emotional positive states, there are different emotional positive states of joy or clarity. But it is really flow or being in the zone, and I've actually distinguished two types of flow. One is called absorbed flow and the other is called panoramic flow. Absorbed flow is when you're doing a task, like, minute tasks like taking apart a watch or something. And you're so focused that you enter the world, and then you look up and time has flown. All of a sudden, how did an hour go by? Martial arts has a little of both, but in some ways, to do it, you actually have to go into panoramic flow. You have to let go of your mind. You have to trust that the training, the implicit memories available of the actions, and the physical actions, and then you have to trust that there's this way of organizing information that's faster than thought. And by doing that, you enter into a flow. And that's being done from this awake consciousness. That's the functional feeling of that. And there in itself, just like Csikszentmihalyi, who wrote this book on flow, and gives these qualities of flow as that activity is in itself a pleasure, that there's a loss of a sense of ego or self, sense of timelessness, sense of connection to everything. And so that state, you're doing that activity to find something that I'm saying you can find anytime you want. And it's not the feeling, it's not the joy or the clarity that can vary like, “Oh, this is fun. Oh, I'm really focused, I'm really, really relaxed. I'm really blissed. I'm really excited.” It's not the level I'm talking about. Who, what level of mind is it that can do martial arts at that level? That you that does that, or someone else who does something themselves, that's the awake consciousness. It tends to be focused outward, which is what you're kind of saying. It tends to be you're looking from it, and you're living from it. So, you're enjoying the feeling, but you don't know that that's who you are. You just think that's related to martial arts.
SPENCER: So is the idea that in positive psychology, for example, they might say that flow is this really wonderful state, so you should go find activities that put you in flow, and here are some tips on how to do that. And what you're saying is that what flow does is it puts you into this wonderful state, but you can learn to access the state at any moment of your life, even if you're in the middle of a crisis, potentially.
LOCH: That's right, absolutely. And you can do it sitting in a subway in New York City, or sitting, standing, walking, talking, because those activities are just a doorway. The flow consciousness people end up doing extreme sports, that's what we all should do. Well, that would do it because it is life or death, and you just can't do it. You can't do martial arts, let alone you can't make those decisions of super skiing at the level of mind. You have to either be going to fall, or you have to go to the next level. But that just shows it's possible. But we don't have to push the river to get there. That in this more meditative flow, you go out to find it by doing something you drop, you push to a limit, where you have to, or want to, or can let go. And then by meditation, you go in to find that stateless state, that awake consciousness, which is embodied and has self-energy and self-leadership, and then you do an activity from there.
SPENCER: So instead of working really hard to get to the top of the mountain, you realize that the door to the mountains is right there, it's always been there.
LOCH: That's it. And now those things are starting to make sense, right? The gateless gate is the paradoxical little saying that until you translate them don't make a lot of sense. But that is a good example that people do these things to get into flow. So even like walking, if you really think about what people do, they walk in, they say, “I'm going to go on the weekend.” What are you going to do besides chores, you're going to go do something. And when you do that, you think you're doing it to get this feeling, “Oh, that was fun. Oh, that was pleasurable. Oh, that was relaxing.” But really, when you do that, you're doing it to get out of your small mind and out of your small self, and yet be connected to the world, or people, or besides taking a nap. The other activities are all relational. And they're that word non-dual, which is sometimes used for these advanced practices. It means that the ultimate reality of this awake consciousness, which is stateless, comes together and is no other than relative reality of everyday life that has pleasant and unpleasant experiences. And when the two are not two, but the awake consciousness is primary. So that's all it is. This background, foreground, glimpse, or shift. Then you've awakened from the dream, or the small, contracted self. I'm involved with psychology neuroscience. So one of the neuroscience things of the small self is called the negativity bias. This is described by neuroscientists and psychologists as the way that our brain works, which is in order to feel safe as a body-mind animal in the world, we're always scanning our memory for worst-case scenarios, trying to match it up with the world to see if there's anything dangerous, or potentially harmful, emotionally or physically. And then we're projecting worst-case scenarios and trying to avoid them. So that creates a perpetual dissatisfaction, that sense of being so identified with just the survival mind and body, and have the part of us that is trying to be safe, be the manager. So then we're living as if anything could be potentially dangerous. Whereas if you shift into this awake consciousness, you're actually like in martial arts. Even in a dangerous situation, which is fighting somebody, you actually feel like a Tai Chi master, totally limber and relaxed, not in the future or the past, not worrying, but being able to be responsive rather than reactive. Right? What would you say about the mind when you're in that flow in martial arts?
SPENCER: Yeah, it seems like you're taking in sort of all the information really quickly, but there's not a lot of thought going on. It's sort of like everything's being processed, but there's not this auditory loop of like, “Oh, I need to do this, and that, and so on.” And so yeah, it is extremely present, like the most you can think about is three seconds in the future or something like that.
LOCH: And even that, that's when you really drop in even to the next level. You don't even know when you're going to initiate. Like the active move of martial arts, you just kind of trust, and then you go, like, “Wow, that was pretty good. I didn't even know I did that right. Was that the right time? I don't know, it worked pretty well.” But that's the question. What if that was so that this is a hypothesis? The way I approach this, I'm not a preacher who wants anyone to believe. I've been a contemporary kind of investigator of all this. And yet, I actively apply the experiments that I find work. What if that was the case? What if the flow consciousness, the one who's there when you're in flow doesn't require extreme measures? What if extreme measures were one way to almost force your ego to relax because it can't function that well, only the awake consciousness can. So, it gives you a doorway or a springboard into the most next level of development. And yet what if there was a way to intentionally and immediately learn to shift into it in any situation because it's already here?
SPENCER: My colleague and I have been trying to come up with a list of properties that people associate with this kind of non-dual state. And so, I wanted to run some of them by you and see if you agree that they are properties it has. The first one is that you don't feel identified with this small sense of self, rather you feel identified with something like awareness or consciousness or something like that. Is that accurate?
LOCH: I think that's part of it because that's certainly the distinct part of waking up. You're not identified with that. You're more identified with the awake consciousness. Then the next stage you're not identified, meaning you're not detached. So there are some non-dual people, who are called non-dualist. There are two definitions of non-duality. The non-dual one is the one I said which is more the Buddhist, wherein non-dual means ultimate reality awake consciousness and relative reality are not two, so they're same taste. And then the other definition, which is more widely used, is non-dual awareness, which is moving from dualistic thinking. So now I am the pure awareness, and I'm not my body. I'm only my pure awareness and everything that's happening is a movie. And that's an illusion that comes and goes, and I'm the pure awareness. So that to me is a spiritual bypass. It's halfway, but it is not the halfway step. The first step is from thing identified with the small self to realize, “oh, wait a minute, no, there's something greater that is the primary dimension.”
SPENCER: So what does dual refer to when you say dual or non-dual.
LOCH: There are a couple different meanings of that. Dualistic means being caught in kind of a bind of feeling like there's a separation between me and the world. It's a lot. One of the other ways is saying it’s separate or alone only. So non-dual, in some ways, is trying to say that there's a level where if you look at the level of electron microscope, or physics, it's all connected, everything's connected. And then from quantum physics to electron microscope via electron microscope, have a table, and there's no boundary between the air next to the table, or your body in and the air behind it. And so there's some unity or some sense of connection with life that is so subtle. And that dualism on that level means that we feel alone and separate. And that the cause is not feeling that interconnection, on the subtle level, while we're also separate on the physical level. And then the other group of people just talk about dualism as using the mind to always say good and bad and right and wrong. And being in that kind of judgmental dualistic mind where everything is compare and contrast, and you end up not seeing the synthesis.
SPENCER: Okay, so going back to this list — and I should say this, this list was put together by my colleague Jeremy Stevenson, so I want to give him a shout-out — the second trait is that there's no sense of a separate unstable self. So, you don't feel like you're separate from the world, like this sense of being separate from the world kind of disappears or falls away. Do you agree with that?
LOCH: Yeah. There's the non-dual versus dual. So dual would be "Oh I'm separate." There's a separate self and it's separate from the world.
SPENCER: Then the third property is this idea that I guess added an advanced level, that this state can be achieved at will. So, it doesn't require getting spent two hours getting into deep concentration. It sort of is always available.
LOCH: Yeah. And to me, that actually is not advanced. It's actually the first premise. Is it always available or not? The first premise is it's always available. And then can I access it intentionally and immediately becomes a little more advanced. But the second part is the first point, which is that it is different than meditation systems where you're developing loving kindness, and you're cultivating positive states, and you're clearing away negative states or transforming them from negative into positive, or you're trying to achieve a Samadhi State that you could learn how to do things like learning the piano. So, no, the awake consciousness is installed within everyone. And if you know how to do it, you can just go click, and there you go. Just "click" and that's it. You just shift and so that becomes a little more advanced is how to do that.
SPENCER: So number four, that this state or the stateless state is associated with complete freedom from suffering and profound well-being. Would you agree with that?
LOCH: Yeah. So again, I'm going to say that there's the ultimate and the relative. The ultimate pure consciousness is free of all suffering. The non-dual, which is that pure consciousness, which is primarily who we are, that then is appearing in this human body is experiencing pain and relative suffering without suffering about suffering. Some people have this model of, if I awaken or those who are awakened are living as human beings without suffering. Once you achieve enlightenment, you will achieve no suffering, meaning you're not registering it or something. And I don't see that, as a human, you would have to be dissociated. Or in this meditative state that's dissociated from human life, or in a Samadhi, which is still like you're in a cave and you're absorbed. Does that make sense in terms of that distinction?
SPENCER: And so the last trait I want to ask you about is the idea that when you're doing non-dual mindfulness, you're not actually cultivating some kind of new state, you're just recognizing the way the mind already is.
LOCH: I agree with some of what I'm hearing and there's this bringing together of the two. So, you're not cultivating, that's agreed. And then you're just allowing this natural to become foreground. But then the next can happen unintentionally, or from the intentionality of awake consciousness. It is the recognition of the same taste, that the relative human experience that you're inherently within it, and it's arising like an ocean in wave that you're not. So the first model that is almost as if you're this small, concrete, either solid self, or like a matrix of mind, or like a mental cloud, and then you shift into the sky. And then you're like, “Oh, I'm the sky, I'm not suffering. Oh, if I just remain the sky, there's no suffering.” But then, when the sky and the form come together, it's more like an ocean and wave. So you're the ocean of awareness is arising as your body, made of awareness and is having a human experience, appearing to the awake consciousness. So that's the unique thing that I emphasize, certainly to a lot of people who come from more the Neo-Advaita or the non-dual world, and then some other people who come more from a strict Vipassana are almost trying to escape or shut down emotions. But the non-dual, which is more Maha Mudra style, is called same taste, which is the unity of emptiness and aliveness so that there's a living in the world that sometimes is called tantric because it's very much able to embrace whatever arises.
SPENCER: Why in your view is there this big divide? Why is it that some people say you need to spend a huge number of hours training your concentration and get it incredibly focused, and then you go through this long series of steps versus your approach?
LOCH: I think it's been traditional. There are different models. There’s different Buddhism. We don't know what it actually started out with, but then it became a monastic model early on. So there's just history and tradition. Certainly, some of that includes institutions that kept the traditions going and good enough, to keep the texts and everything stayed the way they do it, and have people come and do it the way they do it. So, I think it's more of a contemporary version. There were always direct practice traditions around, but they weren't often passed down because they weren't institutional. They are written down. There's some writing on a lot of direct practice, and people, but they didn't form clubs, and they didn't form too much lineage. So you have to find them on your own or find a teacher who's currently around doing it, or study some way with a group of people that are doing it. And I think it's just a different model. If you're in your mind trying to clear it, then you can do that and make some progress. If you have that premise that awake consciousness is already here, you're going to proceed in a different way. And so that's a little bit of a difference.
SPENCER: So, people who spend years training concentration, and then get to a state where they feel like they become enlightened, do you think that they are getting to what you're talking about? And they're just going through a different route, maybe a route that's much more circuitous? Or do you think that they're getting something else in the end, or a different state that they get into?
LOCH: Yeah, I think in the end, there are people who are awakened through all these different methods.
SPENCER: But is it the same awakening, just a different way?
LOCH: I think, ultimately, if you really keep going, it can be. But I think that people by their model can, what I call, stop halfway up the mountain. And it's often by the model. Often, if they've been doing it a long time, and then they meet some other person who does it a little differently, they can immediately go. I've had people in my Zen Monk in Portland who just stood up and said, “You can't say it's this easy?” I said, “Was it easy?” “Yes. Well, but what have I been doing all these last 10 years?” You know, I said, “Well, is it? Are you able to access directly?” “Yes.” “So then that's good. Maybe you needed to do it for 10 years. And now, you can do anything you want.” So, some models will take you, like the pure awareness model, if you're being taught just unhook or just do nothing, and just rest until you recognize this pure consciousness. Now, that's it, you are the pure consciousness. You're the awareness. You're the movie screen, everything else is the movie, then you can hang out like that. I can hang out like that. Unfortunately, when I hang out like that, my wife goes like, “Hello, hello. Anybody home?” And I'm like, “Yes, I'm very happy. And everything's good.” “No, you're not. You're like spaced out.” “I don't feel spaced out, I feel very good. I'm seeing everything and talking to you, as well.” “Come on, come on back here.” And then I come back. I go, “Okay, that's not all the way home.” Because there's something about that, that's not living this life, this human life, as an awake human being. There's a saying in Buddhism that the human condition is perfect for awakening because it has a body and it has pleasant and unpleasant feelings. And so it creates the need to awaken, but then it needs to be included.
SPENCER: I want to clarify with you this other state that you get into where you feel really happy, but you're maybe a little spaced out. Are you saying that that is sort of some impure version of this ideal state or how would you characterize that state?
LOCH: I have different models of this. And so, one is to look at these five levels of mind. The first level of mind is the everyday mind, so that's just ego, consciousness, rational, operating system basically what going to school and getting trained and living a life and getting a job and living like doing the best you can as a body-mind-ego. Then the next level is subtle mind and subtle body. So subtle mind is developing the mindful witness. So, realizing, “Okay, I'm going to watch. I'm the meditator, I'm going to sit down. Now I'm going to step up and look at what was the subject is now the object. Oh my god, it's just thoughts coming and going. Oh, there's no solid self there. I'm on this mindful witness. I'm in the subtle mind.” So that is the next level, or people who go into their subtle body with yoga, chanting, Qigong, your ohm, and you drop out of your mind into this kind of vibration level, subtle body. So those are states. A lot of people are cultivating mindful concentration, which is the subtle body, and then mindful witnessing that subtle mind. And then the third level is pure consciousness or awake awareness. So that in its pure, pure form, if you go to that intentionally, you literally go into timeless, boundless, content-less, but alert, awareness. So, you've dropped from the gross to the energetic to the invisible quantum field level. And now if you turn from there, from that pure awareness that you find, and you hang out there, and then look back, but you don't come back, then that's the state I'm talking about. That's kind of what a lot of people call non-dual awareness. And they feel like that's the goal.
SPENCER: Look back meaning looking back on your consciousness or what?
LOCH: Look back on your body, your experience of the world as if you're the sky. So, it's almost like, “Oh, I'm this body-mind. Okay, no, now I'm the sky.” So, they call it Big Sky mind, choiceless awareness, non-dual awareness. You are, “I am the awareness. Everything else is changing contents, so they're not me.” Some like Ramana Maharshi style. If you listened to him a little more, he became more embodied as a human, like he was in the cave. Then he went to this little house, and he came down the hill and sat on this couch, then he ended up in the kitchen helping out, and then he was taking walks and meeting with people. Even though he started with this, “I am pure awareness, there’s nothing to do,” he started in the basement of a temple having rats chewing on his toes because he just wasn't moving, he was so out in pure consciousness. So that development is, I think, important that people don't stop halfway. The fourth level of this five levels of mind is called same taste or awareness energy or simultaneous mind.
SPENCER: We've gone through three levels. So far, we've got everyday or ego consciousness, level one. Level two is subtle mind or subtle body. Then we have level three, which is pure consciousness, also known as non-dual awareness, or choiceless awareness. And then now we're on level four.
LOCH: Yeah, so level four is where I think a lot of my work is, and I think one of the key unique places I can contribute and kind of where IFS Therapy starts to help embody, because it's moving from pure consciousness, or what I would call self-essence. And now we're moving to self-energy, or what's called same taste, or the unity of emptiness and appearance or simultaneous mind. So, the feeling is some unity consciousness. The feeling is that you remain with awake consciousness as the primary–the pure consciousness or as awake awareness as I often call it–and then awareness energy. Then from the pure awareness, if you look at the world, or your body is what's coming and going, and you remain like the sky, and the test is it coming and going within the sky, then it's a second thing. It’s like a new dualism. So, if you're the awareness, then if you're the non-dual awareness, well, what's this other stuff? Well, that's just an illusion. But isn't that a second thing? Let's come back here like, you just left the other dualistic thinker, but now you got a new dualism. So, the resolution is that as the pure awareness, instead of being the sky, you just curiously remain — there’s a practice in Tibetan Buddhism called the same taste or the nailing practice, which means like a gymnast nailing it — as pure awareness, and you're just curious, “Is this next sensation vibration or energy going through it, or is it made of it?” And then all of a sudden it shows itself as made of it. And then there's this unity of awareness, like the quantum field appearing as particles and waves made of the quantum field. So, you start to feel like, “It's not two. It literally feels connected.” And then when you feel this embodiment, there's this relief. Everyone says, “Oh, it's like everything's okay. It's like there's no threat, there's no other, there's no ultimate thing that's different. I feel connected to everything in the room, I feel.” And not necessarily like tripping, like my vibrational experience of psychedelics, but it's like you just are relieved. When you come together as awareness and aliveness that knows itself as not two, then it's just like the existential anxiety, the aloneness, the separateness is gone. And you're still, and you're even more, in your body. Now, you're actually feeling your body from within, rather than focusing on it from your head. And you're feeling not separate, and you're feeling kind of the flow consciousness too. Like, “Oh, this is fun. Let's go do something.” It’s like what you feel when you're doing martial arts or walking in the woods, but you're just sitting there and feeling like you're in this other mind, which is not a meditation state. It's just kind of good zen they call ordinary mind. It's like, “Oh, this is actually the natural condition.” And then the fifth one, I'll just say, is called heart-mind, or bodhicitta. That means that, like in self-energy and self-leadership, you start to feel that there's some compassion to it. There's not only okayness and well-being and unity, but there's some kind of subtle bliss or subtle unconditional love or friendliness that feels like you've dropped from head to heart-mind. Many people feel like they literally are in this heart space, or they're in this great heart. But that's why they use the word heart-mind-body, bodhicitta, awake consciousness that has a little bit of safety and love. And it's just very subtle. It's not like romantic love or great bliss. It's just subtle, like friendliness.
SPENCER: So, when you're spaced out, which one of these are you sitting in when your wife gets annoyed at you?
LOCH: That's the third one.
SPENCER: Are there any drawbacks to getting to the states? Like, is there any reason to not just try to stay in state five at all times, if you can do it?
LOCH: No, it's just not easy. Because the habits and the conditioning are so strong, you get rubber banded back to the old system. You get triggered back pretty quickly. The only danger on the way there is you can get kind of detached or dissociated, because if you don't know how to recognize. Actually, I'll say a little about the direct path, this direct method of instead of focusing on the problem of the small self, upgrading right away to the solution of the true nature and not stopping halfway at no self and not knowing or pure awareness, but literally going 1-2-3, unhook, drop, open include. This is one of my little summaries: unhook awake awareness, then drop into your heart space, open to that awareness that's all around, and then as awareness include everything.
SPENCER: So do you usually jump to level five really quickly?
LOCH: Yeah. Trying to go to level five, and if you need to train, like during retreats I'll take people through step-by-step, level one, level two, let's make sure you got this, you got a sense of this. And somebody will say, “I'm already five.” “Alright, stay there, don't worry about, just check, just test whether you're actually there or you're in some kind of bliss.” You could get some people who go to level five heart-mind or are actually in subtle body, their little in like hippy happy kind of love blissy emotional, so we just have to clean that up a little bit. One of my colleagues Willoughby Britton at Brown did a study called Dark Night. She studied people who are on their first five-day retreat. They do a five-day vipassana insight meditation retreat.
SPENCER: This is the dualistic path, if you will, right?
LOCH: Yeah, this is more of the gradual path, the traditional path, which I think is really great. I mean, believe me, mindfulness is excellent. It's great. It does work on stress. It helps people move from neurotic, worried-based thinker to gain some initial because it's a preliminary practice. But as soon as you go to the next level, from calming practices to insight practices, the insight practice of four foundations of mindfulness is that deconstructing of the solid self into kind of a first level, which is seeing it as “Oh, this is just thoughts, feelings, and sensations coming and going. There's no thinker. “I'm the meditator as this neutral witness, and I'm just seeing, I feel like, I'm wondering what's for lunch.” But you just are observing that and going, like, “Oh, that's starting with the word I, but that's a thought coming and going.” So you deconstruct that. And then what happened in this study with Willoughby Britton is 30 to 40% of people would get flooded by their unconscious and just have a really negative experience, either leaving the retreat or just saying at the end that that was kind of negative or torturous, because you're doing the gradual path of deconstructing the self, but you're not being introduced to the solution of the awake consciousness. So what you're left with is not only no ego but no ego defenses. So, you get flooded by all your repressed contents. And you're sitting there for seven hours a day, without much more instructions, except just watch everything come and go. Meanwhile, your memories and traumas are coming up. So, the gradual path is not necessarily safer, or slower is better, or for those who are more beginner level or something, because they're going to have more trauma to deal with. I did a bunch of different meditation systems. I did Transcendental Meditation when I was 15 and then Zen in college. And then I went on a fellowship from graduate school to Sri Lanka and did nine months of Vipassana insight meditation, studying in university and sitting five-day, 10-day, 21-day retreats, and then went up north through India to eventually meet this Tibetan teacher Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. During the first day, I was there and just did a short little pointing out instruction. And immediately I was like, “Oh, my God, that's it.” I was already like at the end of a 10-21 day retreat, except my eyes are open and I'm laughing. And I'm feeling joy like I did when I was playing sports. And so that's what just floored me and I just said, “If this is true, if this is this simple, so accessible, then I've got to figure out how to translate it, how to bring it back and share it with others and do my own experiments.” Usually, I do an hour and a half to two hours in New York City. I would say four out of five new people would get a glimpse in an hour and a half by doing five or six glimpses. People can then learn to access it within a few months of regular practice. One of the main things early on isn't even like stabilizing it, which fully stabilizing. Making the new normal can usually take three to nine years to really make the developmental stage, which is like a developmental stage of life of early school years. That's when you're operating from it in a way that you can always return to it and you feel when you're out of it. But I think that's worth doing it in the midst of busy life in three years. But the main thing is getting the glimpses, which are just introducing and they're just like, “Oh my god, that was so easy. That was so quick. That was so different. This is like how I feel when I do martial arts. This is like, I feel this is it, but is it? Who am I?” Then you're looking back and feeling like, “Is this me.” The next time level that people can get the first glimpse or within early on is when you get at least to the unity, the same taste, if not the open-hearted awareness, but you get to one of those two. There's this feeling of, “Oh my god, everything's okay. I'm okay.” It's like this essential innocence or relief of the project of becoming me, or suffering at its root is relieved. Like, there's nothing. Because suffering, described as perpetual dissatisfaction, is like craving and aversion. To realize that there's nothing to get, and there's nothing to get rid of is that release, relief of suffering at that level. It's not the relief of pain or daily stuff or repressed contents. They will still come up. But who it comes up to now is this movement from what's called recognition. You recognize the awake consciousness. And then the next stage is called realization, which is when you reckon that there's awake consciousness. “Oh, this is amazing.” And then realizing, “Oh, wait a minute, is this a state? Or is this who I am? Oh, this is essentially greater than me and me that's the thing that just goes.” That's a gift. It's a jewel. It's still new. I've just started this new learning circle platform because I realized I wrote these two books, but it's really that people get it through audio. And so, I've done these small glimpses and series and organized them in a way that people can do them in just 10 minutes a day, and then they have access to new ones, or they can do these more in-depth courses. I think my hope is that that's just like a beginning. And then I'm going to do more of a training for those who are interested in advanced and try to get a good group of people be studied while they do it, have somebody really do an intake evaluation, and check where they are now. How do you experience this, and then midway and then at the end, and so we have an answer to the questions that you're asking. The thing is, I'm a non-guru, non-cult, non-religion, non-belief system. This is human consciousness. If this is real, let's check it out. Let's see if we can live from here. And if it relieves suffering, and it's authentic, then let's do that.
SPENCER: Where can people find your audio teachings?
LOCH: It's at lochkelly.org/em for Effortless Mindfulness.
SPENCER: So one time, as I was watching a YouTube video you did, someone called them with a question and you walked them through a little exercise to help them sort of get a glimpse of the state you're talking about. I was wondering if you could do that with me now. I know that it won't necessarily work, but I'd be really interested to see if listeners can get a glimpse of what you're talking about.
LOCH: Sure. Okay, as we say, it's usually within an hour and a half where we can do six to eight glimpses. You know people say “No, no, no. Oh, whoa. The fourth one, that's the one that matches.”
SPENCER: Are they like different exercises and some will resonate with one person but not another?
LOCH: Yeah. Because everyone's got different doorways and different obstacles and different learning styles. So, it's all about trying. I've been very conscious and fortunate having trained in psychology and stuff to really understand different styles. This person is very body-based, very calisthenic. And this person is very auditory, they're listening to music all the time, so let me go through the ears. And then this one is visual, so let's use the eyes. And yeah, so we'll just do a simple one, which I'll give a little more explanation than usual. But it's just to kind of summarize everything we've been saying, that we're honoring the rational part of ourselves, or the ego, or the doer, or this efforter, or the one who's listening to this podcast to try to learn, but that doer has become a problem-solver, and it's trying to problem solve this perpetual dissatisfaction. And it's trying to avoid this negativity bias of going to the past and projecting worst cases into the future. And if it could just relax, the premises that there's this alert, awake, consciousness that's already here that is in the background that can show up, and you can be aware of and aware from it. So, this one is just a very simple inquiry, that you'll just understand the words with your mind. And then let awareness look to see what's here. Here's the inquiry. What's here now, just now, when there's no problem to solve?
SPENCER: My temptation is to verbalize some answers to that. Is that what I'm supposed to do?
LOCH: No, but that's the norm. To take the first level is to understand the question, and then the usual way is to go to your mind and answer it, or to have one little experience and then go back to your mind to process it. But what I'm asking actually is, what's here now when there's no problem to solve? So, what happens when the problem solver relaxes, and you don't orient to thought, and you let your awareness open? To find the feeling you have when you're doing martial arts that's present and alert. What's this that's here that you're aware of that's alert, but wordless? So, it's more of a felt sense, like riding a bicycle. Like if you're saying what does it feel like the balance. So, when the problem solver, thought-based thinker relaxed and this background, spacious, pervasive awareness is what you're aware of, and where you're aware from? What's that like to rest in this and then become aware from this, of sensation, thought, and feeling in the world? Everything's included, but you don't need to go back to create a small problem solver. Now speaking from here, what do you notice? What's this? Almost loving the words that come from this, need not be too articulate.
SPENCER: What that feels like to me is the state that I go into when I'm trying to just do a mindfulness meditation where I try to take in as much sensory input as I can, just take in everything around me. But I think I still feel like there's a center of myself that's taking it all in.
LOCH: Okay, yeah. So even when the problem solver relaxes, and then you let yourself kind of open to a more open field, that's like the background sky that's now revealed, when the cloud of the problem solver kind of dissipates?
SPENCER: When the problem solver dissipates, what I'm left with is I almost think of it as a spotlight, it's like a thing in which awareness is occurring.
LOCH: Right? And how big is it?
SPENCER: I feel like it's a funnel. It's like everything's been moved into a point or something.
LOCH: Yeah. And is the funnel beside your head or the point above your head or behind your head?
SPENCER: I think it's sort of below my eyes, I feel it?
LOCH: It goes back that way?
SPENCER: It goes like underneath my eyes. I mean, this is what I'm experiencing.
LOCH: Usually, there's an energetic center of the head. And then other people have a point of light or almost like a spotlight above their head or behind their head looking after thoughts. So that's kind of a mindful meditator. It's like you go from a solid self to a more dissipated energetic or more light or energy and then it's more dissipated location, right? And then the question is, have you felt that right now? So, the question is, were you aware of that from where you're aware of the funnel from?
SPENCER: Right, like the part that's able to look at the funnel is clearly not the funnel itself, right? Yeah, it’s sitting outside of it.
LOCH: Yeah. So that feeling, that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to open to a more spacious experience of you that isn't contracted. I think some people who listen to that will immediately get at least awake consciousness, if not simultaneous mind or open-hearted awareness. For certain groups that this one's good for, it's quite remarkable that it's just like they go running off to their work friends to check this out. “Let me ask you this question, what's here now when there's no problem solver?” And people are like, “What are you talking about?”
SPENCER: It's interesting, when I do that exercise, it starts to focus me in this sort of funnel where I feel like experiences going into. And then when you asked me to pay attention to that funnel, then it feels like I’m starting to get a glimpse of myself being much broader. Because you can't be the funnel and be looking at the funnel from everywhere almost. Is that what I'm going for here?
LOCH: That's right. Those are the little pointers that make this shift of awareness or shift of perspective. So then, now, where am I aware of the funnel from? So now you're looking at the funnel. But now I'm going to ask, I'm not interested as much of you looking at the funnel, but just feel the you that’s spacious that could look at the funnel but isn't the funnel, but it's just hanging out.
SPENCER: I can get a glimpse of that. And I'm not sure what other properties are supposed to be associated with that. Is this supposed to be more than just this broad sense of awareness?
LOCH: That's the first you know. It's like your little list of markers. That's exactly it. This is one of the first markers you want to get: non-local, non-head-based, more open mind, more spacious, not thought-based, not object-based. These are little inquiries or pointers that just get you out of the small, separate sense of self. If we go back to your list, each of those things, how many of those you experienced?
SPENCER: We've been running a survey of Waking Up app users to see how many of them have those different states on that checklist after going through the Waking Up course. We’re trying to catalog that and see how much progress people are making. But okay, so then what would serve you the next thing is like looking for, okay, do I have these different properties in that state? And then I guess there'll be other exercises to try to go from there, build on that.
LOCH: Yeah. I'm going to have a second series coming up on the Waking Up app. What I emphasize there is going to that next step of many of the teachers on the Waking Up app go through to the absence of look back to see that there's no self here. That's one of the main headless way approach. But then, as I've been saying, the next three steps are really the more important steps. So that can be the first one, but not stop at just the absence of a separate self.
SPENCER: Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that once you look back at yourself, and you can't see your face, you're done. It seems like from your point of view, it's just partly the way up the ladder.
LOCH: Yeah, it's a pointer. And sometimes it can lead, as with certain people, it'll just by taking that away, they'll just drop into their body and be open-hearted. But there are pointers, so I'll say, “Okay, look back to see if there's anything above your shoulders. And how far back can you go? And is there a center?” The next question that isn't asked is like, “Okay, so now that that's gone, where are you aware from? And what's the feeling of that? Which is not? Do you have to go back in order to talk or walk? Or do you have to go back and create that headspace, that head center? Or can you remain in this more spacious mind? And then what's the relationship between this absence and this presence? And then what's the relationship between the awake presence and your body? So now, what's the relationship with your head?”
SPENCER: When you've taught this to students, I imagine you probably got this to a very large number over the years, is that correct?
LOCH: Yes, thousands and thousands.
SPENCER: Oh, wow. So how would you break it down? If you've got a student who really puts in a lot of effort, but they're not just coming for an hour and leaving, they're putting a lot of effort. Do you find that most of them are able to eventually achieve this as long as they stick with it? I don't want to hold you to too strict numbers, but what percentage of people are able to learn to do this?
LOCH: I think four out of five can have even that first glimpse. And if they make that their daily experience, their new 10-minute meditation, which is what they'll have, their life will be changed glimpse by glimpse, day by day. It's like giving somebody mindfulness meditation. If they do it every day, they'll have changes. So my group has what I think is the next level of change. And then there's a deeper study that can take people to even a further level of finetuning their awakening. But I would say, four out of five continue and have access to it. I think I had 500 people on a call last night. I have a free seminar as part of this new learning circle. And the comments that were coming in the chat were, “This has transformed my life. Oh, my god, this is just that first glimpse, I've been doing this for three years, and I wouldn't be without it.” It becomes like any practice. It's the practice, that's a direct practice, and its goal is immediately available, which is at least glimpsing and resourcing and being able to, what I call marinate, instead of meditate, in the awareness in your body and then begin to respond from there and develop. Like a developmental stage, it takes time. There are hundreds of people who are pretty stable in their awakening, but thousands who just are happier than some people who are stable because they just have had that essential glimpse of there's nothing wrong with me, there's not a fear, that root of suffering is relieved of shame-based fear that something's wrong, something's bad, something's going to happen, something did happen, I'm unlovable, I'm worthless, I'm unworthy. Boom, it's not even like insight matches, like “Oh, that's a thought or that's a feeling.” It's something deeper that is okay, just goes in now. It's not right. That's not true. Here's what's true. And they're so big, and so loving and so vast, that it's just like, that's real. And then that's called the ultimate medicine. That's why this direct practice is called the ultimate medicine.
SPENCER: Just a few more questions before we wrap up. Have you noticed patterns about who tends to be successful learning it and who struggles?
LOCH: That's a very good question. I am very interested in that. It's not the people who have had previous meditation experience, necessarily. Some do. I think it's what I call naturals. Naturals means they're kind of good people. Their age doesn’t matter, but they're kind of mature. They're not good like goody two shoes. They could even be rough, like rough characters, but they're good-hearted people. I think that's about as clear as I've gotten that there. They tend to have been drawn to the fields of helping professions or writers or creative professions. But now with what happened with the Sam Harris app, when I was on the app that first year, or a couple years ago, the newsletter came that my dialogue with him was the most popular dialogue of the year on non-duality, and people were doing these 10-minute meditations and people who had been thinking they are not spiritual because they're more success-driven, people who are really smart but not necessarily interested in any of the subject, all of a sudden they were just popping. They were writing me like, “I can't believe it. I'm just doing it. I just did your 10 meditations, 10 minutes and my wife says I'm a completely different person.” And COOs and CEOs and all these people started showing up and saying, “What have you got? What's the secret sauce here?” I think the culture is starting to become ready, but I think it's still very new what I do from 20 years ago to now. I feel it's like first yoga was the big thing and then it like boomed and then mindfulness came in and now it's boom. And I'm like chugging along going like, “Okay, you guys wait to check this out.” And it's still odd because even with your experience, you think there's something a little threatening to the ego. Because it's so direct, it's like, “Well, wait a minute, I'm aware. But now I'm like spacious. What's this? What's this all about?” I often say that the developmental stage, whether you do it in meditation, or work, or relationships of developing a healthy ego, can become the biggest obstacle to letting go of the ego, because it develops these defenses like, “I got you this far, and you ain’t dead yet. So, I don't know what you do in playing with this other stuff? Because it's not me.”
SPENCER: You mentioned Sam Harris. Are there any major points of disagreement you have with Sam on topics related to non-duality or how to achieve these states?
LOCH: Were a little different. It's subtle, but he is more Dzogchen and I'm more Mahamudra. Dzogchen trusts, a little bit like we were talking about before. If like the headless way trust that if you turn awareness back and look through the ego, that you'll have found rigpa, which is awake awareness, or pure consciousness, and then you should just trust that that will spontaneously unfold.
SPENCER: And you're saying, maybe there's more training on top of that to get?
LOCH: I'm saying that I'm more Mahamudra. They both have the same goal. I’m a little more, let’s keep asking the question. We did those first three moves. Now, let's do three more, since we decided to do any move at all, let's just see whether there is a way that we can continue the realization, the embodiment, the open-heartedness, and the unfolding and the operating from flow, so that you can take the cushion off, and into everyday life situations, and into psychological healing of your parts. I think we agree on the first parts. And for Sam, it may be more Dzogchen style is more natural. Just turn back, look through, see there's nothing there, and that will lead to spontaneous unfolding. Whereas I'm like, now keep going until you see these next levels of what's called recognition, realization, stabilization, expression. Getting to expression means living it. So, I would say that that's the difference. I think I have a little more of the same beginning, but then continue the training.
SPENCER: Once you're able to reliably get into this state, how do you go from there to really having it consistently? Is it more just every time you notice that you're not in it, you put yourself into it, or something different?
LOCH: Yeah. It is the approach. Sometimes I say it's small glimpses many times of the day, or at least consistently done a few times. The training is to learn how to shift this consciousness into this more spacious, pervasive, embodied, open-hearted view, then take it right away into the world, and type and talk and walk and create and relate, and then lose it. And then no big surprise, just re-recognize. You just expect yourself to lose it, and you don't judge yourself. And you just say that's the phase I developed. No big surprise, just recognize, and then you learn, so you keep learning to return and training to remain in the training. To remain has some neuroscience backing to it, which is that one of the main markers is balancing the default mode network and the task mode network. I was a subject in an NYU study of this non-dual Tibetan. Again, when I use non-dual, it's more Buddhist, Tibetan. So it means embodied, open-hearted. So, a group of us were by Zoran Josipovic at NYU, and the study was to do it in an fMRI to see the effect of being aware of awareness inside and out and aware of aliveness inside and out on our brain imaging. So we started with one pointed meditation, then we did mindfulness. What it showed actually was that in the first part when you do one pointed meditation, the reason you get calm is because you repress the default mode network which is the kind of daydreaming but also the creative part of the brain. And you just put on the task mode. And when you do that, you don't go to daydream. You don't go to self-referencing. You just stay calm, but you can't function and live like that. Otherwise, you're kind of a comfortably numb person. But then the second part of the neurosciences showed that these two networks that alternate naturally in our brains are the reason that when you sit down and try to watch your breath, you put on task mode network, you're watching your breath. And then the fall mode naturally turns on, and they are alternating. So when default mode goes on, your mind wanders, and then you realize it wanders, and you bring your attention back to your breath. Now you're in task mode. In some ways, you're just following your brain. Now you're lost in thought, now you bring it back. And that's meditation, but all you're doing is watching these two modes. So what happens with this next stage is same taste, wherein the experience is seamlessness. So I'm aware now of what's behind me, within me, in front of me as awareness, and I'm aware of sound and movement, outside, inside, and in front of me. So the feeling is this kind of the task mode and the default mode are both synchronized. They're both on so I could focus on something while equally remaining, noticing what's within me in the field. I think this is really the panoramic awareness or panoramic flow state. It is what happens in the panoramic flow. It's not proving anything, necessarily, but it's pretty cool that what shows up on the fMRI is what I'm experiencing anyhow. And so, is it exactly true? Maybe not, but they're both agreeing.
SPENCER: What would you say to someone who's just skeptical about this whole thing and says I think this is BS?
LOCH: Give it a try. I mean, if you're open to it, you can definitely try it. I think they certainly can say that about anything. But we have the history of most cultures and traditions and wisdom traditions have valued it, and now we have verification from psychology that it seems to work with people with trauma. And we have some beginning of verification in neuroscience that there are real changes in the brain. It doesn't have any of the negative requirements of religious institutions or cultish things, or it's just consciousness development. And there are flow studies of things similar, like flow consciousness, flow states. And so, if you're interested, you can have an opinion about it. But if you try it, if you're open, you might give it a test drive and see if it has a beneficial effect. There was one guy who I think was on a third date with a woman who was really into this and whose life had been changed. But they were newly dating and he was sitting in the back with his arms crossed and going on this thing over. He was not having it. So then I did a couple of these glimpses and one with this open eye returning the eyes to their natural state, which is this open-eyed panoramic moving awareness behind your back. All of a sudden, his arms dropped, and his face stunned me. And I said, anyone wants to report and he put his hand up. He said, “Oh my god, I thought this was total BS. But this is exactly like when I go rock climbing. I can't believe this. This is what I spend my time thinking about. How am I going to get to rock climb? And now I just found that it's right here in the middle of New York City in minutes.” That’s the kind of skeptic that if you just try, it might work, but it might not.
SPENCER: To give it an hour and see if you get ahead. If you're going to, then it's worth an hour. We'll definitely link to your Effortless Mindfulness Institute website and your new learning circle. But what are some other resources if someone wants to learn this? Where should they go? What are some good places to start?
LOCH: I think I've taken a lot of things from my website, YouTube, and I'm even on Insight Timer. I'm on the Waking Up app. But those are all little different tastes. But I've taken the best of those glimpses and added audio, video, and even have like surround sound and a music video on to this platform, this learning circle, Effortless Mindfulness. It'll start with being very similar to the Waking Up app. There'll be daily glimpses. They'll take you to those next couple of steps. And then there will be dialogues with people, but they can also have small groups, so people can meet. Four to six people will be able to meet and talk about their experience. And then the main thing is there's going to be in-depth courses. One of them coming up is called the neuroscience of awakening, others called psychological supports to awakening. And another one is a question and answer session that's for people who have been practicing for a while. The idea is that I'm going to always have introductory material, always have free material available on the site, so that people don't have to sign up. But if you want to sign up for more in-depth, there'll be in-depth training, and then we'll try to support people who are really resonant and are having an experience of life-changing awakening.
SPENCER: Any books that you'd recommend as well on this topic?
LOCH: They're most of them. The interesting thing is the two books I wrote, I attempted to translate. The best books are all obviously in archaic language, from ancient Mahamudra and Dzogchen texts, and most of the practice manuals are not available in book form. I've learned some of them, I was taught them directly, but most of them I kind of translated. So certainly, you can find books in different genres. I think, reading a book on Internal Family Systems for psychology by Richard Schwartz. “You are the one you've been looking for” is one of his books, or “No bad parts.” And then my teacher’s books are fairly accessible. My first teacher Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche has a book, “Rainbow Paintings” and “As It Is” volumes one and two.
**SPENCER:**Thanks so much for coming on. This is a really fascinating conversation.
LOCH: Yeah, thank you, Spencer. I really enjoyed. Hope to see you in person sometime.
JOSH: A listener wrote in and asked if you have any practical tips for how to work to change your mind on a daily basis or to make it part of your identity.
SPENCER: Something I find really useful is trying to switch from the idea that I know the right answers to the idea that I'm the sort of person that is going to change their mind when they're wrong. And I think I probably got this concept from Julia Galef, most likely. She talks about this, basically. So imagine that one of your cherished views is being challenged. And you have this impulse to try to argue that you're right. If at that moment you can catch yourself, notice that what's happening from an external perspective is I'm in challenge, and I also feel this impulse to prove I'm right. If you can identify that moment, then you can switch like, “I'm not the sort of person that argues that I'm right. I'm the sort of person that tries to figure out if I'm right.” And so I think the most useful tool is catching it in the moment, and then trying to rely on the identity as a person that cares about being right, not proving yourself right.
JOSH: Is that what she calls her soldier and scout mindset.
SPENCER: It's definitely related to the soldier and scout mindset. Soldier mindset is when you're trying to argue aside and prove that you're right. Scout mindset is when you're in this viewpoint of just trying to see the world exactly as it is. And so, it's basically noticing your soldier mindset and if you catch yourself in soldier mindset, then you can have that external perspective and say, “Hmm, but don't I really want to be in scout mindset right now?” And try to build an identity as a person that feels proud of being in scout mindset.
Click here to return to the list of all episodes.
Sign up to receive one helpful idea and one brand-new podcast episode each week!
Subscribe via RSS or through one of the major podcast platforms:
Apple Podcasts Spotify Stitcher Google Podcasts TuneIn Amazon RSS
Host / Director
Broke for Free
Quiet Music for Tiny Robots
Please note that Clearer Thinking , Mind Ease , and UpLift are all affiliated with this podcast.