The Banquet Table [ssba]
‘I am sustained by the Love of God.
This is the answer to whatever confronts you today
Tomorrow and throughout time”
– A Course in Miracles
True spiritual awakening asks us to open our entire being to inquire afresh who and what we truly are. Who are we beyond our conditioned beliefs and habits? Who are we deeper than our emotions, our relationships, our history, the roles we play in life, our cultivated sense of me? Rather than a journey of becoming towards some kind of mystical orgasm, awakening is a process of continued unfolding through the veils that have shrouded the luminous perfection of our inherent being. Furthermore, learning to reside in our depths as the luminosity, allowing grace to embody through our human lives. The work is in getting out of the way – learning to surrender.
Over the years I have been sitting with people, encouraging and guiding them in how to enquire directly into their own experience, whatever it happens to be, and land deeper in their essence. If we dive directly into our experience whether it feels blissful or terrifying, relax our resistance to whatever is happening, and enquire what’s truly here, liberation naturally occurs. When we are more present and less resistant to our experience, we can then enquire deeper into who’s truly here.
This work has evolved into an integrated and embodied approach to Self-Inquiry, where everything that arises in our everyday experience is viewed not problems to be solved but as gateways into our depth. We use emotions, concerns, body sensations, all human grapplings as the entry point in. It is a very direct way to taste the essence of who we are, and in the process unwinds a great deal of inner conflict. Facing ourselves this directly requires courage, commitment and trust, because it sometimes feels like being asked to die. In self-inquiry, assumptions, mis-identifications and attachments will get challenged, and want to be allowed to die. We can only allow this when we have had some experience that there is something substantial holding us in our unwinding.
Cultivating a deeper awareness of the Grace, the spiritual support that holds us vastly increases our capacity to be courageous in opening through everything with dedication to allow deeper truth to emerge. Many years ago in meditation I received a profound vision that exposed the various dynamics that commonly occur in relation to the grace and nourishment at the core of our being. See if you recognize yourself in any of these dynamics:
The Banquet table
I was shown an enormous banquet table that went on as far as the eye could see. Upon it was the most abundant display of delicious food imaginable – cuisines from every corner of the globe, tastes to delight every palate imaginable, and an infinite variety of exquisite tastes, aromas and textures. It was as though the world’s most talented chefs had joined forces in a divine cook-a-thon. Behind the scenes they were cooking up more. It was an incredibly abundant happening.
Around this table were millions of people of all creeds, ages and races, representing the many faces of humanity. Yet there seemed to be some interesting patterns in how the people were relating to the abundant nourishment and sustenance in the centre.
There were people who were starving hungry, lonely, feeling discontented and unfulfilled, yet their backs were completely turned from the table. They were ignorant of the fulfilment in their midst. Their attention was oriented towards seeking outwards into the wider environment trying to get their needs met, often in aggressive and un-mindful ways. A lot of energy was taken up by their grasping in an effort to distract themselves from having to feel their interior emptiness and the loneliness of their state. They were asleep to grace.
Next were people standing almost side on to the banquet table, so that they would catch a glimpse out of the corner of one eye. Their dynamic was one of dis-belief, threatened by that which did not fit their ego’s idea of reality. Even though these people were deeply hungry for the nourishment and fulfilment this table offered, they were scared that their known sense of self and life would collapse if they truly took it in. So they would pull back into their known reality even though the glimpses of abundant nourishment reflected their deepest want and need. They were afraid of grace.
Next were clumps of people able to face the table and its offerings. Although these people were facing the right direction, and in touch with their hunger for fulfilment and liberation, they assumed that this abundant grace was not meant for them. They were caught up in an interior sense of unworthiness. So attached were they to their historical story of unworthiness that they did not stop to question its reality. Instead, their energy went into fantasizing about what it might be to like to come to the table and eat, and feeling envious of others who seemed to be doing so. They felt so unworthy of grace.
Next were people who were not afraid to look at what was before them, but with active minds trying to figure out what might the rules be here? What makes one ‘worthy’ to come and eat? Who do I have to impress or prove myself to? How do I become good enough to be part of this? How do I hide my sense of unworthiness? What do I have to get rid of in order to ‘get there’? These people were caught in self-improvement strategies designed to earn their right to receive the fulfilment of their deepest longing. They were strategizing for grace.
The next group of people were creating the rules – making assessments about what the conditions and requirements are to go to the table. They were laying out a map of how all of this fulfilment should happen, to whom and when. They were caught in the identification with being the ‘do-er’ who has to direct the show and make it all happen. They were controlling for grace. They failed to realize that this abundant offering was not created by a conditioned mind and so had no conditions at all.
Then there were people who were moving with all of this like spiritual journalists. These people were fascinated with it all and were enthusiastically taking notes about the details of this scene: speculating over the chefs biographies, the ingredients used, the food’s origins, the recipe’s and the various ways people were responding to all of this. However, they too were still hungry and holding themselves back from the fulfilment of their deepest longing. They were caught inobserving the grace, speculating rather than partaking, but they were still hungry and empty.
Amidst all of this, were a handful of people who could look without fear at this phenomenal offering in the centre of everyone. They could see through the egoic veils of ignorance, fear of the unknown, unworthiness, becoming, controlling, strategizing, observing, to see that there really is nothing but their own mind standing in the way of the fulfilment of their deepest longing. They could see the grace for what it was and engage with it. These people were simply walking to the table, filling their plate, eating of these gifts and receiving the divine support and fulfilment of their deepest longing. They were partaking in grace.
Some people who had already satiated themselves and were now allowing the reality of the grace they had tasted to digest and metabolize. They could see so many millions caught up in painful dynamics that kept the suffering and lack of fulfilment cycle going, and how unnecessary this all was. Therefore, they were handing out plates, radiating welcome from their hearts, and gesturing words of encouragement to others to come join them. They could clearly see that this grace and fulfilment is for everyone unconditionally, and that it is here for the tasting right now. They were sharing grace.
Right now, I am offering you a plate to this table – and inviting you to come and eat. There is no good reason why you can’t.
As I am sure you have already figured, the banquet table represents the infinite abundant nourishment, sustenance and grace that abounds in the centre of our being. This grace is both a pristine infinite spaciousness, and also a luminous divine fullness, love and blessedness. This grace is here as support to allow your ego and its fearful reactions to relax all the way home. Additionally, it IS the substance that lives you, animating your body and mind. It has no end and no beginning because it is boundless in nature and whatever is going on in your life, whatever mistakes you think you have made, it abounds in you forever. You are invited to connect with it, rest in it, and receive the love, support and strength you need to keep opening through life, so you can dissolve in it, and ultimately emanate as it.
Relating TO Grace
Learning to access and receive spiritual nourishment is so important in the mix of Self-Inquiry. Unless we can feel loved, unconditionally held and supported by life, we cannot trust. If we can’t trust we can’t open and let our ego structures give way to anything deeper. The degree to which we can’t trust life, trust the intelligence of our own soul, trust the mystery of God, is the degree to which our reactive habits of closure will run the show.
If we have had a lot of trauma in our history, learning to recognize and access grace is especially important. Who hasn’t had trauma? Our ego life begins with a spiritual fall from grace – a descent into dis-connection from God and our true infinite nature. The fact that this happens to everyone signifies that this process is not wrong, but a natural part of the human journey. However, we commonly experience it as something ‘going wrong’ and then in the shock of experiencing ourself dis-connected, assume that somehow we must ‘be wrong’. We begin to believe that there is something about us that needs to be fixed. Our existential ego begins forming into a personality around the way we experienced this dis-connection from the grace of infinite being, largely in relation to what happened with our primary carers in the first few years of life. Many people lost a lot of instinctive trust as their personality structure was forming. This is where cultivating deeper access to the grace and nourishment of the ground of being is so helpful. It gives us a way to release that trauma, learn to trust and feel safe enough to unfold into new territories within.
How? We cannot make grace happen, but we recognize it, turn our attention towards it, accept it and allow it to penetrate our experience. In ‘A Course in Miracles’ there is an exquisite lesson asking us to engage deeply with the possibility that ‘I am sustained by the love of God’. It says that‘this is the answer to whatever confronts you today’. Finding evidence that this is so is as easy as looking out your window. Just notice everything that you see – the phenomenal aliveness and dynamism that lives in everything and causes it to grow and move the way it does. Notice that a press release from your ego each morning is not required to make any of this happen. Notice that this dynamic force of aliveness lives you, causes you to breathe, to want to read this article. Without this, nothing could exist. Notice that you are not the do-er of all of this – but the experiencer of it. Notice what arises in you as you shift your attention to acknowledge and accept this.
In my last article ‘the pillars of awakening’ I suggested sitting with the question ‘what’s holding me now?’ In case you did not get to read that, essentially I recommend that you just sit in a concentrated way, say for at least 10 minutes, and really contemplate that question on every level that you can conceive of. I hope you discover that there is a much greater field of support and holding than you imagined. This is a great focus to hold in your consciousness when you walk in nature, and is especially useful to contemplate when you feel contracted and scared.
Furthermore, devotional practice and particularly chanting opens up our heart and the energetic channels to feel and sense grace, love and support. Singing devotion awakens our love of the truth, our love for God to vibrate through our whole body. It enlivens the soul and uplifts the heart in a way that builds a visceral experience of faith. I have come to include more mantra and devotional practice in my teachings over the last year, and find that it powerfully supports the inquiry process substantially fleshing it out. In working with an ancient mantra, prayer or a name of God, you also join with the lineage of everyone throughout time who have prayed that prayer, sung that kirtan, uttered those words, thereby accessing a profoundly expanded field of support deeper than just your mind.
Every spiritual tradition on the planet has used this method to cultivate deeper spiritual access, and yet there often exists, particularly in non-dual circles, a weird attitude towards devotion. It is often thought of as a sentimental and lesser practice. I find it very interesting that two of the giants of Self-Inquiry included devotional practice as part of their daily life. Ramana Maharshi hardly spoke except later in his life when asked questions by disciples, but he wrote countless hymns to the mountain Arunachala, which he regarded as his guru. Nisagadatta Maharaj performed puja ritual daily around a shrine of deities. In Tibetan Buddhism, known for its profound understanding of the nature of emptiness, there is huge emphasis on prayer and practices to Tara who exists within the subtle realms to assist humanity in awakening out of ignorance.
Quite simply, you could be accessing so much more support for your spiritual awakening than you are. When beings who have attained a very deep spiritual realization leave their bodies, the consciousness they embodied does not leave. It remains active and ever-present as support for further awakening. This is why people can pray to Jesus, or Tara, or to whatever face of God-consciousness that resonates, and experience a sense of support wrapping around them. Why we can visit places of pilgrimage where great souls lived and feel a tangible depth of presence. It is not imagination.
Ultimately, in praying you are calling on the spiritual support that is always here in the collective to become active. Your recognition, and your sincere request, invites grace to become dynamic within your being. I really encourage you to explore what name or face of God feels most intimate for you. Be open to build a connection with that being, in the same way you would if you wanted to get closer to a new friend. Speak to it, acknowledge it, confide in it, sing to it, contemplate it, visualize it, listen for it, melt in it. Then, explore where the boundary between you and this face of God truly is.
Identifying your veils
You might have noticed when you read of my banquet table vision, some familiar dynamics around the way you operate spiritually. Each of the dynamics around the table are universal and reflect something of all of us. Sometimes we are completely asleep, busy seeking for fulfillment in the exterior world and have forgotten the glory of what lives naturally within. Other times we are afraid and threatened of the life we know melting down. Other times we get caught in unworthiness. Whatever dynamic we get lost in, commonly it does not occur to us to ask for help.
It is so important not to pretend we are farther along in our liberation process than we actually are. Such lack of humility and honesty just makes us very slippery and inaccessible to genuine support. Wherever you happen to get caught in ego defenses, it does not mean anything about who you are. There is no shame in admitting we still get caught in stories of unworthiness, or that we can tend to act like spiritual journalists as a way of defending what we have created. Just be real about where you are now, commit to viewing yourself compassionately, ask internally for help with wherever you can see you are stuck. See if you can sense into the grace that holds you and encourages you to open right through that veil. Accept and acknowledge even the smallest glimpse of evidence of grace and holding, for your recognition will allow it to grow stronger. If that feels just too hard, find a teacher or friend who can help hold the space for you to do so.
Resting in Grace, As Grace
Our ego fears and contractions are really just like little inner children; the parts still living within which did not receive sufficient support and holding to make the transition form formlessness into human incarnation with ease. As we learn to connect with the sense of deeper holding via cultivating relationship with grace, the historical imprints can relax into the love, support and freedom that is actually present in the now. I think of this as inviting our fearful habits and tendencies to come rest in Grace – the ground of being that welcomes everything, allowing it all to unwind and find release. When we stay present in our contractive habit without trying to get out of it or fix it, and allow contact with ever-present love, fear naturally dissolves.
This sense of love and fullness often unfolds into other dimensions that take on more the tone of deep spaciousness, stillness, and emptiness. This does not sounds like much fun to an ego, because essentially it is a dissolving, a cessation of the fixed sense of ‘me’. When we can allow this dissolving to happen, we discover that there is this profound restfulness in the ground of being, and yet we are inseparable from that ground. The sense of there even being ‘me ‘and a ‘God’ drops away.
When we learn to rest in grace, rest in God, it becomes clear that the very thing our ego was so frightened of and working so hard to keep at bay through its defensive habits, is actually its release. Seeking no longer makes sense, and we find ourselves naturally at home, not defined by our body, mind or circumstances, and yet fully here in embodiment. The more we experience what’s really here in the centre of our being, we discover that there is not really a conflict with being a full human being engaging in everyday life. We recognize what it truly is that lives us, and our life becomes a celebration ofThat: A dance of grace unfolding deeper unto itself.