Introduction to Candice O’Denver’s Balanced View Teaching
And some gleamings from my own life
A talk by Ramón Sender Barayón -- June 2013
Over the past few years, I’ve found the suggestions of Candice O’Denver and the Balanced View folks very helpful. Their core teaching is:
“Short moments of awareness/clarity, repeated many times, become continuous.”
Actually this is nothing new, in a sense, because it is the seed from which many nondual spiritual teachings arise. But it was helpful for me to hear it in 'American' without any odd foreign-sounding words.
In “Basic Awareness Part 1 commentary 9_16_09,” Candice writes:
“What is a short moment of awareness? To know the answer to that question, stop thinking just for a moment. Anyone can do that just for a moment: to stop thinking, without even the thought ‘I’m not thinking.’ This is where you can point out to someone their own clarity. If you then ask them what it was like, some people might say, ‘nothing’ or ‘the void’ or who knows what they’d say – ‘scary.’ But at that moment, what remains when you stop thinking? A sense of alertness and clarity, that’s what remains – alertness and clarity, the power to know. That’s what awareness is, clarity and alertness, open like a cloudless sky. If we just look at the sky, it’s pure and it’s vast, and our own clarity is just like that, shining from within everything. The sky metaphor, combined with pointing out what is present – alertness and clarity – are very, very powerful together.”
End Candice quote.
Now I love the blue-sky metaphor, which you find also in Tibetan teachings, not only as a metaphor but also as a marvelous sky-gazing practice (lie down in a meadow and try it sometime!). But as a dedicated animist who believes everything, from photons to fandangos, is conscious energy, I also ask: “What about that gorgeous golden globe in the center of our blue sky that creates life and light and love and laughter? Wouldn’t that be a better example of a transmission of awakened clarity and alertness that shines forth for the benefit of all solar system beings? And at our core, aren’t we all embodied suns transforming light into love in our heart centers?” I think so, and I could go on at some length about this, because I think our creator star is woefully ignored. Maybe if there’s time, I will do so in another essay! But first, let me continue with Candice.
I’m probably not telling y’all anything you don’t already know, but for me, that single “short moment of awareness” sentence was the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of my spiritual practice. So instead of sitting myself down and saying grimly “I’m going to meditate for thirty minutes” and then ten minutes later find myself thinking about what’s for supper, I just take a short moment. I identify the short moment as ‘the length of the NOW’ as defined by neuroscientist Ernst Pöppel. He identifies ‘the Present’ as three seconds long – “the three second consciousness.” (Pöppel 1993)
Once you’ve tasted a short moment of pure awareness, you can learn to go there whenever you need to and just let the thought, the feeling, the sensations float on by, like clouds in the blue sky of pure awareness, and dissolve on their own. None of these have an independent identity, and all of them, the good ones, the bad ones, the neutral ones, actually are just vibrations of the awakened solar presence that penetrates everything –momentary puffs that will disappear like a line drawn in water – another of Candice’s metaphors.
Candice also draws a distinction between resting ‘as it is’ in pure awareness and the non-conceptual state sometimes referred to as ‘the stone Buddha,’ which she points out is also just a point of view along with thoughts, feelings and sensations points of view. This was an important distinction for me, because over the years I had become fond of non-conceptual meditative states, and even wrote a meditation in which sitters identify themselves with a mountain’s impassivity. But now I discovered that these ‘immovable mountain’ states also are just clouds arising and dissolving on their own, not just under the blue sky of awareness, but under the shining sun of an awakened clarity.
If I stay in pure awareness longer than a moment, I find that my soft palate drops, and I begin a resonant breath similar to when I fall asleep – and also similar to the so-called ‘oceanic’ breathing exercise. Of course paying attention to the breath is the Buddha’s basic teaching. My Canadian friend, Will Johnson, teaches a path of awakening that he calls “Embodiment Training” as a doorway to personal growth and spiritual transformation. In a recent newsletter, he discusses the Buddha’s basic instruction as written down in one of the sutras:
“The opening instructions on the awareness of breath clearly describe a progression of sensitivity that begins with a first stage of locating and observing breath ‘at the front of the body,’ which has mostly been translated into practice as focusing entirely on the touch of the breath as it enters and exits the nostrils, or on the subtle rising and falling motion that can be felt on the front belly wall. Because breath is so unconscious, we need first to locate and observe it, and so this opening instruction makes an enormous amount of sense. The problem I observe, however, is that the majority of Buddhist schools not only begin with this instruction; they end there as well and go nowhere near the ensuing instructions that direct us to deepen our awareness of breath and become ever more sensitive to its subtle nuances and shadings. To do this, we have to take a literal step backward into the mystery space of the body, as that’s where the action of breath primarily occurs. And finally, the Buddha suggests, in a culminating – and altogether remarkable – statement on the awareness of breath, that this ever-increasing sensitivity to how breath interacts with the body naturally leads to the proposition that ‘as you breathe in, breathe in through the whole body; as you breathe out, breathe out through the whole body.’
“To breathe through the whole body, two vitally important conditions are necessary. First, you need to be able to feel the entire body as a vibratory, literally sensational, presence (for how could you possibly breathe through the whole body if you can’t even feel it?). Second, and building on the foundation of the first, you need to relax so deeply that the force of every breath, like a wave passing through a body of water, can cause a wave of subtle, transmitted motion to pass through each and every joint of the body. Neither of these necessities are mental in origin; they are both as somatic, as body-oriented – as you get, and neither are taught in concert in any of the traditional forms of practice I have ever come across.”
By the way, in a footnote Will does recommend various Buddhist teachers whom he feels include some body awareness in their approach, especially an American teacher Reggie Ray, but more about Reggie another time.
More about my own approach of dropping into the relaxed sleep breath. If I also resonate my trachea (more like a snore, or a kitty-cat purr,), the vibration seems to be carried into the bloodstream by the trachea’s proximity to the upper aorta because, after about ten of these, my toes and fingers begin to tingle pleasantly – perhaps similar to what Will describes as ‘feeling the whole body as vibratory.’ Blood being as good a transmitter of vibration as water, these results don’t surprise me. However not everyone whom I’ve encouraged to try this get the same results – I think perhaps because they’re holding a lot of lateral tension (armoring) in their chest. So I suggest that they just stick with it, and do it longer in order to dissolve those tensions. Shaking, dancing and movement exercises also help.
After purrs turn into tracheal snores, and I begin to motorboat my lips, I’m totally in my body because I’m tingling head-to-foot, breathing in and out from every pore. All the cats I know approve – and
I’ve offered a three-minute sample on YouTube titled ‘Purring To Nirvana’
Returning to Candice’s Balanced View, I must point out that she does not consider it ‘hers,’ and as a happy grandmother with a gaggle of grandchildren, goes to great lengths not to have the attention focused on her but on the group of trainers as a whole. It has evolved into a world-wide organization with large centers in Sweden, California and India, hundreds of smaller groups elsewhere, and many trainers to help you climb a ladder of ever-increasing moments of deep rest until you discover yourself at rest as it is all the time. A true ‘Restafarian!’ The trainings offer methods applicable to every human endeavor and, as a social movement and taught in schools, I believe ultimately could offer the key to a truly new approach to peace and prosperity for everyone, from national governments to family relations.
However I am guilty of one hesitation: as an avowed ‘Marxist,’ I doubt I’ll ever formally join Candice’s organization and probably never have the distinct pleasure of meeting her face-to-face believing, along with Groucho, that I should never join a group that would have me as a member. I can hear her saying, “Oho! So you think you are uniquely disqualified to serve for the greater good, do you?” Well, no, but I do enjoy my retirement from the ongoing fray – although I don’t like the word ‘retirement’ because it has ‘tired’ in it, and prefer the Spanish translation for it, ‘jubilado,” – ‘jubilated.’ Or should I say ‘Judy-lated’?
But I do listen daily to one of Candice’s hundreds of talks that I’ve downloaded. Here’s a sample in her own words:
“Everything whatsoever, no matter what its name, rests in a basic state of natural perfection that is of consummate benefit to all. There is no other way it can be – this is the way things actually are. Thus our natural disposition is of benefit of all, without any effort, without anything needing to be done. A ceaseless flow of beneficial activity, effortless, complete, with everyone we meet in every moment without needing to try. Without contrivance, without cultivation. We rest just like that, without effort, no achievement of anything necessary.
“The teachings have their full impact in instinctively recognizing that this is our native disposition, our natural state, our only condition, just as it is. It is completely confirmed in every single instant with no pointing out necessary. Everything just as it is, is the way it is, unavoidably.
“Completely confirm you own condition, just as it is. Who else is going to confirm your condition for you? Good question, isn’t it? There isn’t anything other that your condition just as it is, whatever it is. So if you really want to have an ultimate understanding of the way things actually are for you, then it requires that you completely confirm your condition as it actually is in every here-and-now.
“All that is needed for it to be realized that it’s unceasing and unending is instinctive recognition of it in one here-and-now. That instantaneous recognition is complete confirmation of the unending nature of the basic state of natural perfection. Then you can simply continue on just like that, nothing else. No matter what appears, whatever appears is just as it is, no matter its name. So there’s no big fuss about it, no to-do…
“When there is instinctive recognition of your fundamental nature of natural perfection, there’s nothing to do. All intelligence, all understanding is super-complete in that instinctive recognition. Without the need to think about anything, you know exactly what to do in every situation you’re in, with whomever you meet. So that makes things easy. No more need to plunge into the depth of what to do about this or what to do about that. Easygoing, carefree naturalness, vividly awake in every moment of the here-and-now, completely secure and confident, impossible for it to be any other way. This is the complete confirmation of your condition just as it is.
“And finally, now that you have had your identity completely confirmed, you are the commander; this is just the way it is. There isn’t anyone else who can help you. How many people have been looking for someone who could help them in some way? Well good, now look in the mirror. Who knew it was so easy? You’ve been looking here and there for authority figures, institutions, books or whatever it is, but look in the mirror. That’s who’s helping you now.”
Thank you, Candice.
And I would only add, if, as you rest deeply, you find your palate dropping, take a few snoring purrs too! Like this!