Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people. We’ve done over 660 of them now. If this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, go to batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu. That’s the best way to do it because they’re well-organized there. Or you can just cruise around on the YouTube channel. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there are PayPal buttons on the site. And there’s a page which explains some alternatives to PayPal. And if you feel like it, subscribe to the channel. We’re approaching 100,000 subscribers now. It’d be fun to hit that mark for what it’s worth. My guest today is Jessica Nathanson. I first became aware of Jessica a few months ago when our mutual friend Tim Freak brought her to my attention and sent me a link to a couple of conversations he had had with her about Neo Advaita and the effect that that indulgence in that had had on her life. That’s what we’re going to talk about today mostly. Jessica is originally from Connecticut, where I’m from. We actually used to ski at the same ski area, but I did that before she was born. Broke my collarbone there one time. And she now lives in Tel Aviv. I don’t know if you want to explain why or whatever, but it’s not so relevant to our conversation. But you can if you want.
Jessica: No, I just fell in love with it a long time ago. But I guess I could also mention that the word Israel does mean one who struggles with God. So there may be some additional meaning there.
Rick: Interesting. Yeah, that’s a whole conversation. Why would one struggle with God? Or can one be one with God and end the struggle? Anyway, so I listened to all the videos on your YouTube channel in addition to your conversations with Tim. And one place that I thought may be good to start, I heard you mention in one of your interviews with somebody that as a young girl, you used to slip into a state of unboundedness or some kind of expansive awareness or something. And you didn’t know what it was. And it scared you. And you called it what? The great terrible or something like that?
Jessica: Oh, it was the bad thought.
Rick: The bad thought, right. But I find that interesting because a lot of the people I interview who have later blossomed spiritually had something going on when they were kids. And then usually they’d lost it and then did whatever they did for a decade or so, going through the teenage years. And then it started to open up again. And I guess the reason I consider that significant is that– and this is perhaps a point we’ll cover in our conversation– that I think there’s a great range or vast expanse of spiritual development. You could think of a spectrum or something. And I don’t know if anyone’s ever reached the end of it. And I think when we come into this life, we pick up on whatever level of evolution we had achieved in the previous one– it’s my particular orientation– and we carry on from there. So it would stand to reason that sometimes people who have profound experience as a kid might have come in with some spiritual background under their belts. And then they start experiencing things related to that and then gain an interest in spirituality a little bit later. Anyway, for what it’s worth, it’s one thought that came to mind. So do you want to talk any more about that bad thought or whatever you just called it?
Jessica: Yeah, you jumped right into the deep end. I’m actually surprised that that’s what you’re starting with, because I always wonder if I should go there or not.
Rick: Oh, I always like to jump into the deep end, as long as there’s water.
Jessica: I don’t know if there is. No, it’s probably bottomless. But yeah, so that was pretty bizarre. I would say around the age of seven, I started having these just sudden panic attacks, because it was really based on just this opening of infinity. But a lot of it was conceptual. It was like, oh my god, the endlessness of after death. This non-existence is infinite. But it also came with a derealization, because somehow– and it’s funny, because that relates to my process now– was that in that grand context of infinity, what’s here now became almost so unreal. How can this be real? It’s such a tiny blip, and everything became somehow not real or less real. And it also came with this sense of just the utter absurdity of existence, just how can anything be? But that would lead to panic attacks and depersonalization, derealization. But it certainly wasn’t experienced as spiritual. It wasn’t something I enjoyed, and it became something that I actually developed a somewhat of a OCD, a mental OCD, around trying to stave off the thought of that that felt like it was always trying to creep in. So it is really fascinating to consider how that relates to what ended up unfolding later.
Rick: Yeah, I used to have something like that when I was a kid, too. But it was usually when I had a high fever, if I got the measles or something. And I would sit in bed, and I would have this experience of great vastness and great tininess. And it was almost like both at once. And it’s funny because there’s a line in the Upanishad that goes that Brahman is greater than the greatest and smaller than the smallest. But that was kind of the experience. And also sometimes great heaviness and great lightness. And I just sit there and contemplate the experience in my feverish state. But I found it kind of interesting. But I think we all have access to vastness or unboundedness. And that’s, in a way, what people are looking for when they pursue a spiritual path. I have a friend who’s undergoing a very beautiful awakening these days. And it’s been really scary for her for a while. Not so much anymore. She’s getting through it. But if she were driving and she looked at the sky, she would just zoom out into vastness. And she was afraid she wasn’t going to be able to drive. And she was afraid she wasn’t going to be able to take care of her son and things like that. And I just kept reassuring her and talking her through it. And she’s doing OK now. But a lot of people report a fear of this experience because there’s a dissolution of the sense of individuation, sense of self. And there is a dark side to that and a light side to that. And I think we’re going to get into that during our conversation.
Jessica: Yeah, we definitely are. And just one thing about that was– I may have lost my train of thought. No, one of the things about it was that that sense of dissolution didn’t really come until the awakening journey. I would say it was more derealization than anything of everyone else.
Rick: What do you mean derealization of everyone else?
Jessica: Rather than me not existing, it was more like, I’m here, but everyone else doesn’t have a reality, which is interesting because that will definitely come up later.
Rick: And that was something that the seven-year-old Jessica was contemplating?
Jessica: Yeah, I was. I was running down the hallway panicking. And my parents were like, what the fuck is going on?
Rick: They said that to you? No, they didn’t say that to you.
Jessica: No, they were thinking it. Then they called it the bad thought. And they probably should have sent me to psychotherapy. I didn’t want to go. But the other thing that I think is funny is that I was reading– when I went into the spiritual emergency, I was reading about depersonalization because I was experiencing that again. And one person had said, on the one hand, depersonalization is awful. But on the other side, way to go. You already made it. You know?
Rick: Yeah. As with a lot of things, there’s a paradox. And we’ll get into that a lot in our discussion. There are things which are perfectly lovely, but which become misinterpreted or overemphasized or emphasized to the exclusion of everything else. And then it becomes a nightmare. So I think one of our overall themes today will be to talk about the comprehensiveness of genuine spiritual awakening, the inclusiveness of all levels of reality, all paradoxical considerations.
Jessica: That is very well said.
Rick: Yeah. Thank you. OK, so then that was when you were seven. And obviously, you went through your teenage years. You skied at Powder Ridge and did this and did that. And then so when did you actually get interested in spirituality?
Jessica: In my 20s was when it began. And I think it began like it does for a lot of people with that kind of disillusionment with there being something that we can kind of acquire, some perfect set of circumstances that will promise us that lasting fulfillment and satisfaction. And really just kind of waking up to the hungry ghost syndrome that was very strong in me. And then you kind of started to see it everywhere. But I was–
Rick: Hungry ghost syndrome meaning like– go ahead, you explain it.
Jessica: Yeah, the grasping for things and getting them but never being full. You can get as much as you can, but it’s never enough. And so that became very apparent to me and that it was strong in me. But also have– this goes pretty well along with what we were talking about in my childhood is that I’ve been lucky enough to inherit something called pure OOCD and not just that, but it’s called existential pure OOCD. Of course, clinical things are annoying, but it is a pretty bizarre niche thing where the mental ruminations that you have are intrusive thoughts about the nature of reality and kind of death and existence and sort of developing other habits of thought to counteract those habits of thought. So you can kind of imagine kind of the madness in my brain that it could occur. And I wanted to share– I mean, it’s not funny, but an interesting story of how things began. It began in the Barnes and Noble in Union Square, and I’m kind of looking at the sea of self-help books. And this strange hooded figure comes over, a guy in a hoodie, and just hands me the book The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer and says, this will change your life. And it absolutely did, for better and for worse. So that was kind of the starting, initiatory moment.
Rick: Ah, interesting. And so how did it change your life, if you feel like that’s relevant right now?
Jessica: I do, yeah. I mean, it leads to the ordeal that I’ve been through that leads me to where I’m at now, but essentially led me into an ego death path and the path of, let’s say, divine suicide. That, of course, as you said before, it’s this paradox double-edged sword that kind of freed me. And what freed me ended up also trapping me in another way. But that was really the beginning of discovering that revelation that many of us have when we realize that so much of our suffering comes from the stories in our head and the voices in our head, and that it’s a self-made prison. But it also began sort of the planting of the seeds of, you know, you’re not really real, that who you think you are is a fiction, and that realizing that is sort of the key to liberation. And this idea between a real self and a false self had begun to take form.
Rick: Yeah, which again, everything you say is like, OK, that’s good. And yet, I can see how that could be bad if it’s spun the wrong way. [LAUGHTER] Did you start some kind of actual practice of meditation or something, or were you mainly just reading books about these things?
Jessica: Well, I don’t think I started meditation until after the next book, which was The Power of Now, which is what really kind of started creating this huge shift, because it was really more of that kind of, you know, the ego, you know, that what I am is sort of this false ego, and that the ego is responsible for all my suffering, that transcendence and liberation comes from, you know, let’s say, what he considered to be transcending the ego, which is more kind of like getting rid of it to some extent. But what that book did was it really opened me up to space, the space between things, and starting to become more acutely aware of space and spaciousness. And then I started, I think around that time, I probably started meditating, but it was never really intense meditation. It was just kind of dipping my toes into it, I would say.
Rick: OK. And as you began these explorations, initially, did you feel like they were improving your life, making you happier, making you more productive?
Jessica: Absolutely not more productive, but definitely free. Like, it’s that first kind of taste of what we think is liberation from what had felt like the prison of mind. And we all have some overthinking patterns, but I think that the more that somebody feels like their mind is a prison, the more cathartic that sudden kind of awakening beyond thought and self is. And so for me, it was just cataclysmic. When I actually had that first kind of– I mean, what people say and I would have said is like my awakening, which was kind of that big ego drop of I’ve disappeared and everything else is still here. And I’ve kind of disappeared and become everything. And that just kind of collapsing of perceiver and perceived. And I mean, that was kind of that big moment of where you kind of throw your head back with laughter of, oh my god, I thought that I was real. You know, it’s always been this– I’ve never really– Jessica never really ever existed, you know, and she doesn’t. And just the kind of catharsis of that being at this moment being a positive thing, a total transformative, liberating feeling.
Rick: So did you shift into that and it was abiding, like just walked around all day with that realization, whether or not you thought about it, that was the way you perceived life?
Jessica: No, absolutely not. It was more of intermittent. And I would say that beginning to meditate and having meditation be leading to ego dissolution and kind of dissolving into the silence and the spaciousness, kind of more kind of reconfirmed the cognitive understanding of that, but definitely was leading to episodes of this kind of the absence of me. So it would be– I think and some people refer to that. I know people like Locke Kelly talk about many small glimpses many times. There were a lot of glimpses, but there were also longer experiences of that that were kind of accumulating.
Rick: Did the glimpses tend to be triggered just by the intellectual contemplation of these ideas? Or was it more like meditation triggered them?
Jessica: It’s hard to say because it definitely was when walking around. It wasn’t just– the inner dissolution was different than that experience of walking around and then suddenly being like this 360 kind of walking hole. Hole, not W-H, but H-O-L-E. Yeah, that feels important to clarify. I don’t remember exactly how it would happen. I think it probably was a combination of mental prompts and more of an intuitive feeling my way to that. But it’s hard for me to remember now.
Rick: Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, I’m sure that everyone listening to this has sat around and had philosophical conversations with friends, possibly aided by a little marijuana or something.
Jessica: Or something more strong.
Rick: Or something, yeah. But it’s interesting how just putting your attention on this stuff and dwelling on it can shift your awareness to a great extent. I mean, it’s a good way of enhancing any high, even if you’re not taking anything. And I experienced it when I do one of these interviews. I just feel high as a kite by the end of it. And when I used to teach meditation, I’d give a lecture and I’d just feel tremendous by the end of it, just because of just focusing deeply on this topic. And I think that is a hint as to why jnana yoga is said to be a path. That ultimately, it’s the intellectual discernment between the finest impulses of creation and the absolute that slides one into final realization.
Jessica: Can I ask–
Rick: Yeah, go ahead.
Jessica: I was just wondering, because you said– and I’m not going to pronounce it right– jnana yoga. Yoga. I had understood that that is self-inquiry.
Rick: Yeah, self-inquiry is definitely an aspect of it. And it’s really the main feature of Advaita Vedanta. But might as well say this now. Traditional Vedanta doesn’t just say, oh, you’re already that or you don’t exist. I mean, it says that kind of stuff. But part of the emphasis, if you consider it as a serious path and devote your life to it, is you have to go through all kinds of preparation before you’re considered qualified to actually use intellectual inquiry alone as your path. There could be karma yoga and bhakti yoga and meditation and all kinds of things. And I sent you a quote from Nisargadatta. Give me a good chance to read it here. He said, “You seem to want instant insight, forgetting that insight is always preceded by a long preparation. The fruit falls suddenly, but the ripening takes time.” So that was from Nisargadatta Maharaj.
Jessica: That’s a beautiful one. And it’s funny, because it’s so long ago and so many things have happened since then internally that it’s hard to remember the details. But self-inquiry in Ramana Maharshi’s self-inquiry was definitely a part of this, was that direct realization and sort of that– I think of that as like the big guns, which makes sense, because that was a higher teaching that wasn’t– you didn’t just give that out to anyone. And there was some discrimination around– it wasn’t indiscriminate, let’s say. And that’s one of my biggest concerns about the appropriations of that in the West, because it eliminates all of that, and there’s no consideration for who you’re giving this to and what their state is and level of preparedness, if you would say, because I don’t think that they really consider that a necessity. I mean, let’s say in neo-advaita.
Rick: Right. I mean, Jesus said, “Don’t pour new wine into old wineskins.” In other words, the vehicle through which this realization has to happen needs to be made anew, needs to be purified, strengthened, pure– I guess those are two good words– before this kind of knowledge can really be lived in any clear and sustaining way. Well, one of the interesting things about what you’re saying– and for one, I won’t go into it now, but I do have some– what’s the word? The concept of purity and purification is something that I’ve come to have some inner conflict with. But what I was going to say was, on one hand, those safeguards were in place to help make sure that it would be more of an abiding thing. But I feel that it was also– probably part of it was their understanding that you needed a health-developed ego before trying to collapse that ego. And the thing that’s happening now, which is so obvious at this point, is that people that are really drawn to this are– a lot of these people don’t have that. They don’t have a fully-developed ego. I think it doesn’t even develop until your late 20s. They don’t have that and actually suffer from a lot of what comes with that, not having a healthy sense of individuation. I’ll pause there for now.
Rick: That’s good. Who was it that said you have to be somebody before you can be nobody? You remember that?
Jessica: Jeff Foster. I’m just kidding.
Rick: Was it Jeff, or was it Ken Wilber? I don’t know, somebody. But you make a good point, which is that it takes a lot of strength to sustain the experience of unbounded awareness. And if the mind-body system is full of samskaras, full of deep impressions, it is really not a fit vehicle for sustaining that experience. And if the experience dawns prematurely, it can cause serious problems.
Jessica: Right. That’s kind of what I would emphasize for myself, is that what you said at the end, is that aside from it not leading to being able to abide in it, for example, that it’s a question of whether this is actually going to serve you or not, if it’s going to exacerbate your current suffering and create new forms of it for people where what they need is– I mean, you could argue about that. But in my perspective, what many people need, for example, is not more boundlessness or dissolution of boundaries. They need to actually learn to have stronger boundaries that are healthy. And I know that I didn’t really have that in so many of us these days with everything we’re understanding about relational trauma and how a lot of people don’t develop that sense of individuation and have a lot of trouble with boundaries and enmeshment. I think now we’re really seeing how important that is.
Rick: Yeah. So what happened to you then? You got into all this stuff. Earlier on, I said, did it improve your life or something? You said, no, it definitely didn’t improve my life. How did it– even initially, it sounds like in the early stages, it had a deleterious influence on your life in some respect.
Jessica: I don’t think I said I didn’t improve it. I think you would ask if it made me more productive.
Rick: That’s what I said, yeah.
Jessica: So I don’t think it made more productive, but we could– yeah.
Rick: And was that because the world seemed meaningless and you didn’t feel like it was worth trying to do anything or something?
Jessica: Well, I mean, kind of a crux of it was that we need to let go of that productivity. We need to let go of aspirations and goals and even desire. So naturally, there’s first kind of that. And I will be comfortable calling it an indoctrination in the beginning that conceptually feeling ashamed of those drives or being taught that those drives will only lead to suffering. That in the beginning, it wasn’t so demotivating, but it’s something that led me later down, probably a couple of years later, that led to this just like– that I really did lose a great portion of desire and motivation because I got into those places where it’s like there is no doer and there is nothing to say, there’s nothing left to do. And people think of that as like, oh, how wonderful. But again, it has its dark side when you feel like this radical contentment with the moment, but that does dry up the motivation to go out and listen to music or spend time with people. It was kind of this thing where it’s like, we always hear about the bench. All of these–
Rick: Hector Culley’s bench.
Jessica: Yeah, there’s always a bench that someone sat on for a long time. And I did end up having sort of this– it was kind of funny to me where I was sitting on a bench in a park and it was like, I could just sit on this bench forever and just be a witness of the passing show and this kind of non-particip– like an awe that’s not– someone said a non-participatory awe, which I really liked. So yeah, I guess that’s my long answer to the question.
Rick: That’s good. I was fortunate in a way because I had a teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which people know, who always emphasized having motivations, having goals, having aspirations. Go and get a college degree. Get a good job and do this, do that. And don’t just sit and meditate all the time. And his attitude was that one could live 200% of life and that there was no conflict between the two. But I think what a lot of these more contemporary Advaita teachers have been doing is taking teachings or perspectives that might be appropriate for a recluse and advocating them universally to audiences who are 99 point something percent not recluses by nature. And it just definitely takes the wind out of your sails, and like you say, you lose motivation, I guess.
Jessica: That’s really well said, and something that I am so aware of now in understanding how dangerous this stuff can be is that it’s really not compatible with the lives that most people are living when they get involved with things like Neo-Advaita. And most of us are going through immense suffering, so we reach for this and the promise that we’re being given here. But of course, one of the things that I thought that I would want to touch on is the way that somebody who’s not a recluse, somebody who’s a householder, the effect that this has on other people in the house, if you will, the effect that it has on people around you. And of course, when you’re in a monastery or you become a wandering ascetic, you don’t need to worry about that. But one of the things that I’ve become really aware of more recently is how these renunciate paths for householders in the West really deeply harms families. And I don’t think that’s something that– it’s sort of like an unpopular kind of truth that people don’t talk about very much. I’ve met two parents who share that their sort of ego death and detachment path made them no longer really able to feel empathy for their children and the suffering they were going through. And to not be emotionally available for them– well, not be there, of course– and just how tragic that was and the impact that had on their children. And one of them actually coming to a point where he was saying that, I can’t continue to be a dad and not be Richard, if you know what I mean. That he could either pursue this dissolution path or be a dad, that he couldn’t do one or the other. And it actually brought him to the point of wanting to kill himself.
Rick: Yeah, so that’s sad. And I don’t think it’s– like you said to me in an email earlier, I think you said, I think some of these traditional teachers like Ramana would roll in their graves if they heard what’s being–
Jessica: They would.
Rick: Yeah, some of these examples. And it really– I guess the reason we have to use the term neo-Advaita is that we don’t want to give Advaita a bad name or the whole tradition associated with it. I mean, there are verses in the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, which talk about the uninvolved nature of the self and how in a certain state one has the sense that I do not act at all. But then there are also verses advocating dynamic action and taking responsibility and things like that. In fact, there’s a great verse which says yoga is skill in action. This is going to make you more effective, not less so.
Jessica: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I was reading a book, and this is not Advaita, but was reading a book the other day that was saying– he was like, Jesus didn’t just sit there.
Rick: No, he schlepped around the Middle East for a few years.
Jessica: Exactly. He did. So yeah, that is a huge thing. And I just wanted to add that with Advaita in the traditional Eastern liberation paths in their context, whether I no longer align with that notion of what leads to the end of suffering, but or what is ultimately true, but I don’t have anything– it doesn’t feel dangerous to me that it exists there and that people could study this or look it up or go to India to find it. But the fact that it’s now permeating self-help books, I mean, you have Neo-Advaita on Oprah’s bedside table, which is– that becomes concerning.
Rick: Yeah. All right, well, we’re going to keep hashing this out. So we haven’t quite gotten to this yet, but you’ve intimated to me that your life really took a dark turn, and you became a lot more dysfunctional than you have yet told us. So you might as well just tell the whole sordid tale.
Rick: We can talk about how you got out of it.
Jessica: Right. I will definitely try to abbreviate it. And if I start rambling, please cut in or interject.
Rick:Oh, you’re doing fine. You’re speaking very efficiently.
Jessica: So far I have, but once it gets into the rest of it, one of the things that I realized, that people realize, like once you– and I know that you do a lot of– have a lot of awareness about spiritual emergency– is just that you kind of lose or struggle to have a coherent, cohesive narrative of even what the hell has happened. So for me, it’s taken many years to actually sort of piece together and make sense of– to be able to even tell people. Because it gets to this point where you’re going in and out of self-dissolution, that there’s almost like these two different experiences happening kind of side by side. But right. So it starts out with what I think of as a honeymoon phase that people go through, at least in new Advaita. And it’s the stage that I call blissful nihilism. Because what’s happening is there’s this great relief in realizing or having the sense that everything’s a story and nothing really matters and nothing is really real. That suddenly, like, oh my God, I don’t have to care about the things that I care about. Because they’re not actually real. They’re not actually significant. And that’s a huge burden lifted. And it feels like with such clarity, that the things that cause me the most suffering aren’t real. So it’s that dramatic almost– it became for me, like, it felt like my secret superpower was that I could– and I think a lot of people describe it that way. I could be in painful situations. I could be there but not there. And I could, again, expand out my awareness into this sort of infinite open awareness. And everything within that is just miniaturized. The way that you’re in an airplane and you look down and everything’s like little tiny LEGO pieces. That’s really what would happen to things that were once so– such grave– things of such grave importance. You’re just laughing at how, oh my God, how did I think that that mattered? It’s really not even real.
Jessica: Right, so that’s that kind of stage. And I want to be very balanced in saying that I was helped in a lot of ways. In some ways that are still here today. For example, I became much, much more able to be alone for longer periods of time and not feel like I need a relationship or I need to be around others. So I became this kind of almost like radical– I guess for a while that felt like this radical contentment and the undoing of a lot of unhealthy relationship habits and clinging and codependent type of stuff. But I will say I was also in psychotherapy at the time. It was a non-dual influence therapist. So yeah, so this is kind of where it’s the liberation phase that feels like positive liberation and unburdening. And I really identified with– so Jeff Foster, for example, was one of the first people that I really kind of– that really transformed things and someone who to this day I still very much love. But really related to him because he was openly struggled with depression. And his realization that he shared with people was that depression is caused by needing to uphold somebody, needing to be a person. Not that you’re acting as an inauthentic person, but that you are being– thinking that you’re a person. So there was this really big kind of awakening with that– I think he calls it like dropping the burden of being somebody and become nobody, which now thinking about that is just like, oh my God. But at that time, it was just– that was such poetic wisdom. And I also identified a lot with the narrative of divine suicide, which was something that I think I first picked up on through Eckhart Tolle because he– I don’t think he’s the one who said it, but I think he repurposed some version of the quote of, “Die before you die to realize there’s no such thing as death.” And there’s a complexity to this that I think is important to bring awareness to because a lot of people are now kind of realizing that a lot of people who come to these self-ego dissolution paths are people who kind of grew up with perhaps a sense that they were the ones to blame for things or sort of a harshness towards self and also a martyr syndrome. And it’s fascinating to me in my own psychology to realize how having grown up being influenced by a parent who had a martyr complex where the extent to which you’ll sacrifice yourself for others is what you derive sort of your worth from. There’s a nobility to it. And I’m not demonizing that because it has its benefits also, but it really spoke to me as very poetic in terms of one of the things that I wrestled with my whole life was this intense fear of death and acute mortality terror that just kind of followed me and always made me feel very concerned with how I would exit life, wanting to secure a way to know that I won’t age in terror and dread and face death in that state. And so the die before you die thing, it made sense. And then I experienced it. I experienced through that ego dissolution experience the dissolution of the fear of death because if there is no one that fears death, there is no longer a fear of death. And also with that experience and also cognitive belief that who you really are is what was never born and never dies. So if you dissolve into that and basically re-identify with that, then there is a piece that kind of comes with that. I did want to bring in another piece to that, just because I know that some of these things are patterns that I’ve discovered in talking to a lot of people who were involved in neo-Advaita, that there’s some things that are common. So some things that I want to bring awareness to say, like this isn’t just me. It’s a common theme for a lot of people is kind of being a person that, let’s say, family trauma dies with. So for example, a way to kind of make yourself like the ultimate sacrifice is like, I’m willing to be the one who falls on their own sword to be the end to the traumatic lineage and the ancestral traumas that were never a process and that very much were passed into me. That it felt like this is what’s going to do that. It’s not for me to do it through some psychological processing of stuff, but through making this ultimate sacrifice to die in this poetic, symbolic suicide way. And so that became a big motivation for me there as well.
Rick: The name of your website is The Glorious Both/And, and I think that’s a great name. And I was thinking of that as you were talking, because a lot of the things that neo-Advaita people say are true, but they’re not the only truth. So for instance, one could say, of course you’re a person. You’re just not only a person. Like, of course you’re a wave. You’re just not only a wave. But you’re not just the ocean without waves either. So there’s the both/and. And the true Vedanta, true Advaita, handles this nicely. It talks about the ultimate level, which is impersonal and abstract and absolute and all that. And then it talks about the transactional level, the vyavaharika, where there are things you need to do and be concerned about, like pay your taxes and do your job and raise your family and all that stuff. And there’s not any conflict between these. And I’ll just say it again. I think that true spiritual evolution is a matter of expanding one’s range of influence, one’s range of experience, to incorporate the full range of reality from unmanifest to manifest, then everything in between, all the subtler levels and so on. It’s not a matter of somehow getting on to the unmanifest level and then just saying to heck with all the manifest stuff. Yeah, maybe it is if you’re going to live in a cave in the Himalayas or something. But none of us, hardly anybody, nobody listening to this is doing that. You own a computer. You must be a person in the world.
Jessica: There’s Wi-Fi there. But I had also– and a lot of people get to that point, like my friend with the family, where it’s like, I don’t think I can live in modern society anymore. Like, I’m going to need to go live in the woods or on a secluded island. But what you were saying about the both/and was exactly right, that I feel as well that true spiritual awareness or consciousness expansion is opening to paradox as well as the transcendent include. So that was one of the things that I discovered was a mistake was this idea that transcendence has something to do with getting rid of what you’re transcending, whereas transcendence means transcending and then including that so that the ego, for example, is not non-existent, but it’s not all of what you are. It’s a part of a greater whole that you now know that you are. And that makes all the difference, to be honest.
Rick: Yeah, I often reference the Gita because there’s so many great teachings in it. And I’ve read it a million times. But there’s a part in the beginning where Arjuna says, I don’t want to fight this battle. I’m just going to sit down. I’d rather live on alms than do this. And Krishna says, whence has come this paltry faint-heartedness at this untimely hour? Stand up. Fight. Do your thing. And then there’s another verse later on where Arjuna’s trying to help resolve– I mean, Krishna’s trying to resolve Arjuna’s dilemma, which is, how can he fight these respected elders and people? And Krishna says, well, OK, first, be without the three gunas. That means transcend, go to the absolute. And then three verses later, he says, OK, now established in being, perform action. And so the whole emphasis was that the transcendent experience augments effectiveness in activity. It doesn’t enable you to hide from it. It’s like going to the bank to get some money and then going to the market and being more effective in the market because you now have money.
Jessica: That’s a good metaphor. Yeah. But it enhances life. It should, anyway, if it’s done properly.
Jessica: It should. And that has been very much my experience of eventually the coming down the mountain, which was the real hell for me, was taking the transcendent with you, that taking that view and incorporating it into life in the valley, or further, for me, was realizing that the transcendent is this material world right here. But I feel like I should jump ahead a bit in my story to get to the scary stuff.
Rick: Oh, boy.
Jessica: Can you handle it? I don’t know. I couldn’t handle it. Yeah, so slowly over time, what starts to happen is that having these– and I will say that coming with people like Rupert Spira, the transparency, I think his book was like the transparency of things that I had read and really started experiencing that and just seeing through everything. It got to this point where all content was transparent, and then it would lose its significance and meaning. And really, I feel like as significant is that it started to happen even with music. I’m a music lover, and suddenly I’m listening to music, and I’m like, but music is just– it’s this transparent thing that’s not really having inherent reality. And that happened as well with language. We got to this point where it’s like language is this transparent construct. And it got to a point at some point where I really struggled to even have conversations with people, that having conversations became tedious and exhausting. And part of that, I think, came because of this sense that language is transparent in a way because it’s a construct that it’s not really real.
Rick: All of which is true on some level, but it’s not true on another level. Yeah.
Jessica: These things are– well, not music, but language is a construct, but it’s a real construct. But we don’t have to go into the philosophical part of it. So it starts to– I’m having this newfound ability to be alone and loving my solitude, but it starts to erode my ability to be with people. And so it starts to become really apparent in relationship and in interactions where I’m starting to really have this sense of this character of Jessica is like this former illusion that’s no longer real. And so it’s like there’s just this– the character of me that I no longer really am. And so you start to– and a lot of people talk about this– is you start to lose– let’s say in the conversations, it’s like you’ve seen through the habits and the quirks and the things that you laugh about and talk about as just sort of conditioning. And it got to this point where it’s like I’m trying to remember how I would have acted or how would Jessica respond to that or how would she carry herself because that wasn’t really who I was anymore. And that becomes something that’s obviously very disconnecting and disturbing, but it’s nonetheless that’s what happened. And fast forward in terms of relationships, and the biggest thing that I had lost through Neo Advaita, and I think the biggest tragedy of it was that it made it– kind of robbed me of being able to really be in relationships, especially intimate relationships, because I got to this point where it’s like, how am I going to hold up a consistent sense of personhood enough to actually have this– in order to have that I-thou relationship that was really shocking to realize that I had possibly like irreparably damaged my ability to be in relationships. And that was very, very frightening.
Rick: One thing I just want to interject here about–
Jessica: Yeah, please.
Rick: all this is– give you a moment to think also– is somehow as you were telling that whole story, I was thinking of like watching little girls having a tea party and feeding tea to their dolls or little boys driving trucks around the sandbox or something. And adults look at that, and they think, well, isn’t that cute? It’s children having fun. They don’t say to the kids, you know, you’re not really serving tea to the dolls, and those aren’t really trucks and stuff like that. They recognize the validity or significance of what the kids are doing in the context of their level of maturity and their level of understanding. So yeah, I mean, I think as you evolve spiritually, a lot of the things that we see going on in the world seem like child’s play or like silly dramas that people are taking far too seriously. But you have to sort of acknowledge the level of experience that people are at and understand that for them, it’s natural for them to see things that way and behave that way.
Jessica: Yeah, well said. Well said.
Jessica: And that’s where the spiritual ego comes in. That’s the big pitfall that most people go through, where it’s whether or not you admit to yourself that you’re having a spiritual ego, it’s like the sense that I know the truth and others don’t. And there’s this sort of almost like a condescension and even a disdain towards humanity that’s asleep in the matrix.
Rick: Well, that’s the dark side of it, you see, because there is some validity to recognizing the absurdity of the way people sometimes behave and talk. But at the same time, it doesn’t help you or them to consider yourself to be better than them just because you see it that way. There but for the grace of God go I, and maybe you were that way not long ago. And obviously, if you are puffing up your ego because you think you’re better than them, then pride goeth before a fall. You’ll have to get unpuffed at some point.
Jessica: Yeah. And so everything seems petty now, right? Like you said, everything’s drama. And it’s like, well, yeah, I mean, life involves dramatic things and it involves challenges. But what I wanted to say was I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show Westworld or if you’ve seen the movie.
Rick: I’ve heard of it, but I haven’t seen it. What’s the movie?
Jessica: So Free Guy.
Rick: Didn’t see that one either.
Jessica: Yeah, it’s not worth it. But Westworld is amazing. And I feel like it’s really almost this allegory for awakening. But so it’s based on this idea that there are these AI constructed robots who look completely human, but they’re all on a script. Like every day they wake up and it’s Groundhog Day. It’s a script. So they don’t have consciousness. And then some of them start to pop and have consciousness and recognize that it was all a script and that everyone else is scripted. So there’s also a real kind of loneliness that would come with believing that about reality and seeing other people as literally as these pre-programmed, almost like robotic characters. And that’s something that I can say started to turn where it’s like that line between mystic and psychotic, where this kind of extreme derealization of people and even seeing people as some sort of robot that’s scripted can become– that’s where you get into some dark waters, which is kind of what happened for me. But I do want to fast forward to something that I think is a good part of the story. So yeah, so I started to eventually experience like an intense depersonalization of the negative kind. And I’m really fascinated by when does the spiritual depersonalization shift into the other kind of depersonalization. And I was also shocked that it took that long on this path for it to shift into this kind of depersonalization, but was just totally in like a dissociative fume even at a certain point. Not completely, but what I did was I decided to go to a Jeff Foster retreat. So it was Jeff Foster and Matt Laicotta, two people who I love. And I don’t know what I was thinking would happen there, but what happened is not what I was thinking. It was called The Great Befriending. And when I got there, Jeff’s entire outlook had radically changed. And he wasn’t teaching the self-effacement. He was now teaching that that was wrong and that what we really needed was self-compassion and befriending these inner children and these parts of us that what he had even taught himself, what he realized was neo-Advaita. And I was just– I was so angry. I was so angry with him because he was the one– he was one of the ones that really ushered me into that absence of self that became a really reality for me. And now here he’s saying, that was wrong. And we actually should have been befriending ourselves and learning self-compassion. And then neo-Advaita just completely splintered and obliterated and realized that it was– saw it for what it was and what a grave mistake I had made. And if I had learned self-compassion instead, would I still have wanted that path was one question.
Rick: Jeff was saying that.
Jessica: No, this is me saying that.
Rick: You were saying that. OK.
Jessica: My internal experience then was that. But what happens from there is that I’m realizing the extent to which a death in me had occurred, which felt more like a soul loss. And the theme of this retreat was grief. And so people are grieving the death of their son or their loss of health. And I’m having this inner experience of grieving the loss of myself. And it was just shocking. And it was that moment where it’s almost like losing your religion, where you don’t want to– on one hand, you don’t want to admit that you were wrong and feeling embarrassed about it. But you also don’t want to fully face the reality that– you don’t want to face that reality. But you also are afraid to lose it, because that’s your resource.
Rick: So had you gone to the retreat thinking you were going to get more neo-Advaita? And that’s why–
Jessica: That’s what I try to piece together is, what did I expect was going to happen? But that’s not what I expected. And this overwhelming unleashing of grief and all these flooding of emotions that clearly I had repressed to some extent, and this collective experience of relationship and grieving together with people, there was a woman in the corner who was neo-Advaita. And I just felt so sad for her, because everybody was communing and making friends. And she’s sitting in the corner just so detached and just watching and couldn’t be a part of it. And what happens next?
Rick: One thing I was thinking as you were talking was, I hope you’re not beating yourself up over having gone through this phase and telling yourself you wasted so many years or whatever. Because we all go through different phases, and we actually learn from them. And if you hadn’t gone through this, you wouldn’t be able to do what you’re doing now, which I think is probably going to help a lot of people or is already helping a lot of people.
Jessica: Yeah, I mean, I went through a very long period of just immense grief, because I felt that I was irreparably– it reminds me of what I was going to go to next was this profound dilemma of, do I want to go– in the ways that you would talk about it in Neo-Advaita, it’s like, do you go back to sleep? Do you re-alienate yourself to be a person again? And of course, that’s a failure. And I remember Googling all this stuff, and it’s like, is there a point of no return that you go through with ego dissolution, where you can’t ever feel like a person again? And you read out there that people are saying, yeah, you are past that point. And all you can do is go forward into a more permanent death or whatever they’re referring to it as. And that’s also– there’s that thing in Neo-Advaita that’s kind of like, only the biggest spiritual warriors will go through with the final death. But what the dilemma was for me was really, do I want to go back into the matrix, which is what it felt like, to have my humanity back? Or do I continue on on this other thing? And so– let’s see if I can–
Rick: I’m somehow reminded of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. And the hero goes through all this stuff, but then he ends up coming back. And he has something that he wouldn’t have had if he hadn’t done the journey. So in a way, maybe you do come back into the matrix, but you come back into the matrix with a very different orientation, able to serve in the matrix and be of value to people.
Jessica: Yeah. And I think that’s what’s happening. But the thing with the hero’s journey was that’s laughable. That was laughable in my Neo-Advaita days because the hero of the story is a freaking myth. And so anyways, what happens from there is– the part that became really the spiritual emergency was where it was kind of feeling like realizing that you– and this is only dark, but it’s the truth– is feeling like you’ve become a ghost. There’s this thing that’s dead but not gone, if you will. And that becomes a pretty harrowing kind of thing that’s going on and also just still the derealization. And what I wanted to say, because I want to get to the return path, was simultaneously, I had been trying to find out if there was a both/and in non duality, if there’s a non-dual path that can support the human flourishing. And that’s when I found Tim. And Tim was still in his phase of kind of moving away from that. And I don’t know if you’ve read any of his books, but he has a book called Lucid Living, where he’s saying something very different from Neo-Advaita, which Neo-Advaita is like, it’s all a dream. Get the hell out of there. Where Tim is like, well, it’s a dream and you’re a dream character, but enjoy this dream. It’s amazing. Like, throw yourself into it. And I was just so taken by that. And I tried to do that. And one of the pitfalls that I fell into a lot that I don’t think people acknowledge very much is solipsism and the fact that experiencing your life like a lucid dream can actually be empowering and open these opportunities. But the feeling is that the world is in you. So you’re the dreamer, the dream, and the dream character. And so that was liberating, but also led to this other form of another pitfall of this sense that, OK, but now everything is not really real still. It’s still a dream. But this is sort of leading me towards how do I– it felt like this reification. Like I said, it’s like, do I go back into a matrix? I already know that this is not real. But I’m kind of becoming desperate for a way to believe in reality again and to feel like there’s a solidity to being a person and to the world. So I was looking for a new paradigm that maybe perhaps could convince me of a reality where it’s not all just an illusion or a dream and things are really real. So that’s where people like Tim were starting to be so profoundly important for me because him and a few other people were kind of shifting away from that sort of nihilistic view to one that actually affirms reality in a new paradigm. And I don’t know if I should go into that at all, but I just kind of wanted to share that that’s been an important part of the process of, let’s say, coming down the mountain and re-entering life with there being a new sense of reality to it, whether or not it’s in a relative way. But for a lot of people, there’s the challenge in coming out of Neo-Advaita and now, what do I move to now? How can I continue on? So that was sort of what was happening next, was these new sort of paradigms of reality that I was trying to explore.
Rick: Did you ever look at the 10 ox herding pictures?
Jessica: I have. I’ve been shown that.
Rick: Yeah. Yeah. So in the end, the guy comes happily riding into town on the ox and coming in to bestow his wisdom on the people or something like that.
Jessica: Yeah. Very, very profound.
Rick: And I think just about every spiritual teacher, worth his or her salt, has shown great compassion and concern and has not just sat there dryly– I mean, I’m talking about the great ones throughout history– have not just sat there dryly telling everybody that they don’t exist, they’re concerned. They want to alleviate people’s suffering. They heal the sick and all kinds of stuff, if they can do. And some of the modern ones, I mean, Amma, just her organization just– I’m not sure exactly how they pulled this off, but they just built the– or are associated with the building of the largest private hospital in India. And she’s just over there in New Delhi.
Jessica: Is she the hugger? Is she the hugging?
Rick: Yeah. And there’s a list as long as your arm of all the humanitarian things she does. And yet, she understands the ultimate unmanifest quality or level of life perfectly well. But again, it’s not only that. It’s all the different strata of creation. And the whole idea of the vyavaharika in Vedanta, the transactional level of reality, it’s acknowledged that that is not the ultimate reality. Ultimately, it’s not true. But it’s given its proper recognition. And one has to take– even if there is something ultimately illusory about the world, one behaves in the world as if there isn’t. And render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, you know?
Jessica: Yeah. And I’ll say that I don’t personally see truth that way anymore. But I wanted to– gosh, I lost my thought again. Nope, totally lost it.
Rick: I’ll help you out.
Jessica: Oh, I remember now.
Rick: Oh, go ahead. Go for it.
Jessica: It was this other shocking realization was this whole path of selflessness was entirely self-serving. It’s like this was my private inner experience of my liberation that didn’t affect anyone else in a positive way. And then it was like, what is the point of this? And why is this being so– I don’t know the word. Why is it so seen as such the ultimate– what is awakening if it’s just for itself? And that’s like you said, realizing that a lot of these people and these self-appointed awakened people, A, are not awakened. But B, they’re not showing empathy. They’re not showing a whole lot of compassion. And in that sense, I keep going blank.
Rick: I’ll help you out here. I was at the Science and Non-duality Conference one time. I attended it every year for about a decade. And David Loy, Buddhist teacher, got up on the mic. And David’s very concerned about environmental stuff and climate change and everything. There was a teacher sitting up on stage. And David’s– and he was being rather neo-Advaitish in the way he was presenting himself. And David said, what about climate change? And he elaborated a bit more. But the teacher basically said, the world is like a speck of dust. It doesn’t really matter what happens to it. And if you think about that, we’re talking about the death and the miserable death and suffering of millions, if not billions, of people. That is real enough for me. And again, no great spiritual teacher has ever ignored suffering. They’ve done their darndest to help alleviate it in whatever way they can, even if it means– I mean, not only in some kind of spiritual philosophical sense by helping people get enlightened, but by feeding them and building hospitals and whatever can be done to alleviate suffering on any level. No teacher I would respect has ever just brushed it off as illusory and let people– so let them eat cake.
Jessica: Right. And that’s the other thing that really kind of hit me, was that this neo-Advaita path of this liberation, it had nothing to do with, of course, being a better human. Because–
Rick: You’re not a human.
Jessica: No, well, that too, but the notion of better, like the teaching is always, this is not about becoming better. This is not for a person who wants to be a better dad or a better partner or whatever. And if you want that, you can leave now from the satsang. But when it hit me that it shouldn’t awakening or people that we revere as awakened, shouldn’t, they show some increase in ethical behavior, in moral character. But that’s all laughable in neo-Advaita and laughable from the way that I saw it then. So it was really hard for me to re-embrace that. And like you said about the political things and the things that are challenging the world the most right now, just really seeming. So insignificant. And I just had thought to myself, what they really seem to be suggesting is just kind of like the extinction of humanity. So yeah, that was really disturbing.
Rick: Again, it’s such a dry, like neolistic is a good word, take or spin on spirituality. Spirituality should be, I’m expressing my own opinion here, but spirituality should be a blossoming of every facet of the human being. The heart, the intellect, the senses, all these things should flourish as a result of spiritual awakening. Just the way all aspects of a tree would flourish if the root were properly watered.
Jessica: Yes, very true. And that’s where you realize how it’s not holistic. And if the way it’s benefiting you is actually harming you psychologically, there’s a problem there if there’s that gap. And also the piece about integration with Neo-Advaita is that there is no integration because there is no ego to integrate anything into. And that becomes highly disturbing. So– [LAUGHTER]
Rick: Yeah. OK, a few questions came in. I could start asking some of them, or maybe you have something else at the tip of your tongue that you want to say.
Jessica: Yeah, I’m ready to go.
Rick: OK, let’s see what we got here. This is from Martine Stevens in Belgium. Amazing work you do, but I think I speak for a lot of people when I say, how do you get to these insights in the first place? It seems that so many are longing for these first glimpses and never get there. As an emergency coach like yourself, do you have any useful tips?
Jessica: That’s a great question. Actually, something I wanted to say was that I feel like why it came so easily for me is because I had this predisposition to depersonalization already. But I don’t know. I’m not sure that that’s really the question that I personally would be focused on helping people with. It would probably be more about the other things that we can cultivate in life rather than trying to bring about a radical shift, things like self-compassion and kindness and healing wounds. But it is a good question. I’m not sure if I have a great answer at the moment.
Rick: Yeah, longing for glimpses. I don’t know. I think if a person finds an effective spiritual practice and sticks to it, as well as living a well-rounded life, as well as cultivating compassion and friendliness and ethics and all these things. Glimpses will come along when they come along. And in terms of flashy experiences, some people are just wired to have flashy experiences. It doesn’t mean they’re more spiritually evolved than people who aren’t having them. I went through a phase where I was a little envious of people who are having these great, flashy experiences. But I don’t know. It’s– Ramana would tell you, if you read Ramana, that that which comes and goes is not ultimately real. So flashy experiences come and go. And enlightenment is not like a permanent LSD trip or something.
Jessica: Yeah, no, that’s very true. Actually, I just thought of something in response to this, which is that I’m not interested in helping people have these ego death experiences. But what I am interested in is how things like radical self– sorry, radical compassion opens your heart to a sense of interconnection so that it becomes this awakening to being parts of a greater whole, where there’s this kind of non-dual aspect in which we’re both separate, but also one. And it becomes very much about a shared humanity. But I’ll stop there.
Rick: There’s a Tibetan quote, which I’ll pop in here, which is that, “Don’t mistake understanding for realization. Don’t mistake realization for liberation.” So I think a lot of these people in the neo-Advaita world have gone to their satsangs and read their books and all that stuff and have just cultured this, hypnotized or brainwashed themselves with this understanding, which they are mistaking for realization. It’s not realization. And this whole no-self business and everything.
Jessica: That’s not what it’s about.
Rick: No. OK. Here’s another question. This is a question about Sri Aurobindo, whom you mentioned on your website in some article. He just wants to know when you became aware of his teachings and what impact did it have on you?
Jessica: Wow, that’s such an amazing question.
Rick: This is from David in Hamilton, Ontario.
Jessica: Amazing question. I became aware of him in the last few years. And what he’s actually helped me do is to flip around the– so he talks about the notion or the differences between spiritual reductionism, where you reduce all form to emptiness, as compared to material reductionism, where you deny the spirit in favor of material. So what he talks about is this revolt of spirit against matter. And so he really opened up for me. And I think he has a bit of an evolutionary perspective on non-duality. But the thing that I’m reading about him now, he’s pretty dense. I find I have to read him in little chunks. But he talks about the problem of spiritual perfectionism and how we’re sort of projecting our own ideals of perfection onto God. But I would say I recommend him very, very much. And so he’s really helped me to get a new sense of reality and significance to it, and also to see some of the follies of these either/or paths.
Rick: Good. This is a question from– this is an interesting question from Lucas Koineg. Why is there so much consistency between what neo-Advaita teachers experience? If there is nothing to their ontology, why is this no self-experience realized by so many?
Jessica: I also really like that question. That is one.
Jessica: I don’t know, was the question for you or me?
Rick: For you.
Rick: I might chime in, but you go ahead.
Jessica: I might need a little help with that. But I know a lot of people say, if emptiness is not the ultimate truth, or if the self doesn’t exist, then why did all the sages– because the sages said so, it has to be the ultimate truth. And I think that people throughout history have been having an experience. I think that what does happen, though, is that people interpret it in different ways. And so I think we’re having an experience that’s shared, but that as time progresses, and we evolve and have new understandings, I think that we’re starting to see that the assumption that there is no self, or the assumption that reality doesn’t exist, is an interpretation of that experience. So that’s been a pretty big thing for me. So I think people are having the same experience that is being interpreted in different ways.
Rick: Yeah. And of course, all the Neo-Advaita teachers, they’re all singing in the same choir. So they echo and reinforce each other. But traditionally, there’s been kind of two orientations to the ultimate truth. One is you could call shunyavada, which is emptiness teaching. And the other is purnavada, which is fullness. And they’re really arguing, I think, or referring to the same thing and just looking at it from different angles. It’s empty in the sense that it doesn’t contain concrete things. But it’s full in the sense that it contains the potentiality for all things, which manifest from it. So I kind of prefer to look at it that way, personally. And I also think that– and maybe the teaching that you align yourself with is going to influence the quality of your realization. And if you align with the emptiness thing, there will be a sort of a more dispassionate or nihilistic or orientation. Whereas if you align with the fullness thing, there might be more of an orientation where you utilize the fullness that you gain to throw yourself into life, as I think you said earlier. And I always reference that book in the 23rd Psalm, “My cup runneth over.” When the cup is full, it starts to run over and maybe provide nourishment for other people. Anyway, that was a bit of a rambling answer.
Jessica: That’s OK. One thing I did want to follow this up with is that I just remembered something else that feels true, is the idea of being told what to conclude from the experience that you’re being guided into. So what advaita is telling you, you don’t exist, and this is how you’re going to realize it. So once you have that experience, you’re already told what you’re supposed to believe from that. So it just confirms that story. So what I’ve wondered is, if I hadn’t already been told that that’s what it meant, would I have drawn the same conclusion? Or would I have just concluded that there’s a spaciousness that you can expand that makes your mind quiet and is opening you up to a greater reality? So there’s something of confirmation.
Rick: That’s a really good point. Yeah, I mean, it’s a really good point. And actually, without proper understanding, the experience of awakening can actually be a source of confusion and fear. I mean, look at Suzanne Siegel’s book, Collision with the Infinite. You’ve probably read that, right?
Jessica: I did.
Rick: And I can think of many other examples. Or even this friend of mine that I referenced earlier, who’s going through this beautiful awakening, she’s gone through a lot of fear. And at one point, she was sitting there gripping the coffee table because she felt like she was just going to zoom out into vastness and not come back. But then once she got through the fear phase, she realizes that she can be the vastness and also be Kim. Her name happens to be Kim, who happens– who is a mother and who has a job and likes to do this. And so– but if with the wrong understanding or without some degree of guidance, like in Suzanne’s case, Suzanne Siegel, she went on for a decade in a state of great fear because she was misinterpreting the shift she had undergone. And it wasn’t until she got together with Jean Klein that he kind of put things into place. And then she began to enjoy what had happened.
Jessica: Right, right. Something that I guess I’ll say, and I don’t know if this is like the ending note, but–
Rick: No, we’re not. We’ve got time. We have another half hour.
Jessica: Oh, OK. So what would I have come to feel and wondered if I had been taught within a framework that you’re going to have this ego dissolution experience, but that’s not the final stage. That’s a stage to see conditioning for what it is and to see the ways that you’ve been conditioned to believe in these limitations about you that are not actually there. They’re not– sorry, they’re not actually real. They came from beliefs people instilled in you. But that it’s a process of rebirth. It’s not a die and be dead before you’re dead. Like, why the hell would you even live? Well, there is the whole dying to live. But so if we were to reframe it for those who relate to this as important or safer, that perhaps that paradigm for people who do want to have this transcendent or consciousness expansion, that you don’t teach ego death as a final stage. You teach it with, of course, there should be some type of preparation. The same with psychedelics, I would say. It’s like there’s some– sorry, some preparation. And then I’m not sure exactly how one would induce the dissolution experience. But that telling people that after this is what’s most important is how you then– how that then transforms you being able to self-author a person, that sense of self that feels more authentic. But that also, as you were saying, you’re going to know that to be a part of what you are, rather than the whole of what you are. And with that, you’re going to be able to actualize potential for good in the world. And so I think if that had been framed that way, to me, I think things would have been dramatically different and probably would have avoided the devastation that I went through. R
Rick:Yeah. I mean, the word death has a negative connotation, obviously.
Jessica: I hate that word.
Rick: And I mean, the wave, when it sort of settles down into the ocean temporarily, does it die? Or does it sort of gain the possibility of even greater momentum to become a bigger wave? I would like to suggest that. And obviously, a shallow pond can only rise up in ripples. It can’t rise up in the big waves. But an ocean can rise up into huge waves without even stirring up any mud at the bottom. So I think that gaining or attaining one’s oceanhood is– it’s not a death. It’s just a sort of realization of the larger aspect of one’s nature, you could say. But then the individual aspect of one’s nature, the wave aspect, can actually be much more than it can without that sort of grounding in the ocean.
Jessica: Exactly. And that’s what I’ve come to experience, is that you tap into the greater that you also are an expression of. So it’s like that sense of being the ocean almost as a wave. Also, the aspect of that that I found is– in Neo-Advaita, it’s like you’re not the wave. You’re the depth of the ocean. And become that and don’t be a wave. But what I–
Rick: Have you seen an ocean without waves?
Jessica: I guess it’s a pond. So the experience now that’s been so profound, cathartic, and helpful is it’s like I imagine there’s these waves that go– the waves are living, thinking that they’re separate and isolated the way that we do. And then waking up to we’re two expressions of this whole ocean. And the way that that brings you together in this incredible relationship of we’re separate, but we’re also one. And that both and, that’s the glorious both and. By the way, that was Carl Young who said that. I did not make that up.
Rick: Nice, I didn’t know that. He can’t sue you because he’s dead.
Jessica: That’s true. So yeah, it becomes a lot more of that, like you’re saying, tap into the greater whole. And Ken Wilber has a great quote where he said, it’s plugging the ego in or plugging the self into something greater. It’s not a subtraction.
Rick: Yeah, yeah.
Jessica: That’s what it feels like.
Rick: Well, it’s good to keep coming back to this point again and again from different angles because–
Jessica: I agree, yeah.
Rick: In my own experience, I mean, it takes repeated exposure to an idea for it to really go deep. You don’t just hear something once and say, OK, got it done. You just keep contemplating it at deeper and deeper levels. And then it really becomes part of your makeup.
Jessica: Yeah, I can relate to that.
Rick: Here’s a question from David Spector in Maine. Jessica said she did some meditation. What kind of meditation? The usual breathing awareness or something else, like thought awareness, Buddhism, or transcendental meditation? How many minutes a day?
Jessica: It wasn’t daily. But I think it was the combination of the mindfulness type of maybe vipassana, insight meditation that you kind of step back as the awareness where you become aware of the contents of your mind, but the idea being that you’re not the thoughts. You’re the awareness that’s aware. So that was one. The other– one of the things that actually I remember being sort of like a light bulb moment was in a meditation. And I don’t remember who it was or what kind of meditation it was, but it was really that notion of the gaps between things and asking of this question, what is the space that thoughts arise from and go back into? And that clicked something that like, that’s what you really are. So it was that. And then, I don’t know, at a certain point, I don’t even know what I was doing, but it was just dropping into this dissolution. And at the most extreme, it was like the– I think there’s different words for how people experience that, but just this kind of even dissolution of your entire physicality. And I don’t know how to tell people exactly how that happened. It just was something that happened. So yeah, I don’t know if that helps. But now I’m very much a proponent of very like somatic embodied types of meditation.
Rick: Like what?
Jessica: Well, I’m trying to think of people who I would suggest. I don’t actually don’t really meditate much anymore because it’s actually kind of triggering of the depersonalization. But there is a woman named Kristen Neff who does self-compassion meditations. And then you could even say like body scans, I think, are great. But you can also look up just like embodied meditation, somatic meditations, I would suggest. But I don’t have particular people to recommend.
Rick: OK. And one of the questioners earlier alluded to a kind of a spiritual emergency consultation thing that you do. What’s that about?
Jessica: Well, that’s not exactly what I do. I am certified to facilitate peer support groups. So what I’m wanting to start offering–
Rick: Who certified you?
Jessica: Oh, Emma. Emma Bragdon.
Rick: Oh, good. Whom I’ve interviewed, yes.
Jessica: Yeah, I am, too. So what I want to start offering is just that, is a support, like a support community, and also offer peer support groups for people that have gone through this, especially Neo-Advaita. And the thing that I really want to get across is just how widespread and severe the harm from Neo-Advaita is. I know that it’s thousands of people. And we’ve all gone through the same pitfalls and feel totally alone and feel like so much has been damaged by it. The people realizing that other people have been through it is just such a big comfort. And the support group aspect, when I realized that spiritual emergency support groups existed, it was really a huge part of my moving on process. But so yeah, just to be that, so to join a support group where people just purely sharing and listening. But I don’t have that set up yet. But I would appreciate people who are interested messaging me through my website to let me know if that is something that interests you.
Rick: OK, good. Like, some guy got in touch with me recently and said he had done a real lot of intense meditation. And it really destabilized him. Now he felt like he was on some permanent LSD trip or something, although he was able to type coherent messages to me. But I often hear from people who are in need of help because of some unexpected Kundalini awakening that they don’t know how to deal with and stuff. So is that in your wheelhouse, that kind of thing?
Jessica: So funny that you asked with Kundalini. I’ve been collaborating with a woman, Kate West. And she runs a support community for Kundalini awakenings called When Lightning Strikes. So if you’re going through that type of emergency, please look that up. It’s an amazing platform. What was the first thing that you asked before the Kundalini?
Rick: Just that he’s a lot of intense– he did a lot of intense meditation. And it’s really destabilized him and made him feel like he’s on a permanent acid trip or something.
Jessica: Yeah. So what I actually had wanted to have a chance to mention is that in discovering all these people who are starting to speak up about the dangers of Neo-Advaita, there’s a lot of therapists that are actually starting to speak on YouTube because they’re having clients come that are so confused and gone through all of this harm from Neo-Advaita. And they’re starting to talk about why it’s so dangerous and the different components of that. And so one part of what I’ve been doing is reaching out to those people and seeing how perhaps in some type of online community that we could collaborate and then also have people have access to those specific types of therapists.
Rick: OK. Here’s a question we should have answered in the beginning. And I think I might take a quick crack at this one and let you embellish. But the woman, Laura Peters in Santa Fe, New Mexico, what is Neo-Advaita? I’m not familiar with it. And my quick answer would be that Advaita means not to. It’s a Sanskrit word. And there’s a tradition in India that is represented by that term called Advaita Vedanta. Vedanta means the end of the Veda. So the non-dual realization is considered to be the end of spiritual development or the pinnacle of it. And it’s an ancient tradition. And there’s a lot of knowledge and a lot of sophistication, a lot of safeguards, and all kinds of good stuff. But Neo means new. And so Neo-Advaita refers to contemporary people who are cherry-picking bits from this tradition and setting themselves up as teachers perhaps without the necessary maturity of experience and understanding to teach people in a balanced, holistic way and only do them good without causing them harm. That’d be my answer.
Jessica: That’s well said. And I would just add to that that I think the general messages that you hear from Neo-Advaita is things like there’s no doer. There is– there’s nothing to do. There’s nothing to say. There’s nobody who’s speaking these words. And I’m speaking them to no one, to the apparent Rick and the apparent Jessica. But it is really– it’s that, that the self doesn’t exist. Nothing’s really real. And therefore, there’s nothing to do.
Rick: Yeah. It’s a very partial teaching. If you study genuine Advaita, you hear it differently.
Jessica: Of course, yeah. I’m not sure if I should say this or not, but I think I’m going to, is that if you do want to understand and get a sense of what Neo-Advaita is, you can Google something called the Nothing Conference. And that should really give you a crash course in what it is. And I’m not going to say anything else.
Rick: I looked at that just before– I hadn’t heard of it, but you told me about it. And I looked at it just a little while before we started today. And I’ve interviewed half the people who participated in that conference. And they’re all over the map. If we were to create a spectrum of extreme to not so bad, they’re all over the map. And I know some of those people personally. And I wouldn’t even think of them as Neo-Advaita. But I guess they were invited to participate in the conference.
Jessica: Yeah. My sense is that– and this is my personal opinion– that somebody that would choose to speak on behalf of that conference, that what they’ve described is that the Nothing Conference is there to spread the non-duality message. The non-duality message is not nothing. That’s the utter nihilistic version of it. And I feel like to put that out there as suggesting that is very misleading and unhealthy.
Rick: Yeah. I wouldn’t have spoken at it. But if I had been invited and did speak, I would have given them a hard time and disrupted the conference.
Jessica: I would have as well.
Rick: Here’s a question from Ajay Maharaj in Canada. “Loved your non-duality talk with Tim Freke. And a lot of what you spoke about resonated deeply. From your perspective, how do we incorporate love in our lives from a non-dual perspective while embracing our humanness?”
Jessica: It’s beautiful and interesting that there would be a way to experience love and not embrace your humanness. And I think that that’s where Neo-Advaita was very much about impersonal love. But there wasn’t emphasis on love in action or compassionate love relationships. So what I’ve actually felt is that the love that arises from this both and non-duality, which is the sense that we’re both separate and we’re one. And we’re two expressions of the universe in the way I see it now, evolved expressions of the universe. It brings in this sense of just complete benevolence and the wishing well for others. And it’s like a heartbreak is like breaking your heart open. But it really requires that sense of relationship to be there where there’s a sense of intimacy and a shared common humanity. So my experience of non-duality now is very much based on relationship. And I don’t always remember if it’s codependent origination or interdependent origination in Buddhism. But it’s much more that all polarities are a relationship, that one doesn’t arise without the other. And this intimacy, like I said, from being both separate and one, that has that shared being and that shared humanity. And I found that the love that comes from me there is walking down the street and sensing that shared suffering that we go through on this human journey and feeling just immense compassion for that and for myself as well. And that shared experience starts to feel like an unconditional sort of– maybe not even say love, but compassion, which has some element of love in it.
Rick: Yeah. You were saying a little earlier about how we’re one and we’re also individuals. We’re on some level, you and I, we’re one. Everything is one. And yet you’re in Israel, and I’m here, and Irene’s over there. And there’s– so like the ocean. It’s one ocean, and there’s individual waves. And my friend Kim, whom I mentioned earlier, she’s been going through a phase where everything is seen as the self. It’s like the oneness with self, with a capital S, meaning the oneness level of life, walking down the street. Everything is seen as the self. And she spends much of her day weeping because the beauty is just so much, and it keeps melting her heart. And she’ll meet some person that is in a wheelchair and has certain handicaps and everything else, and it’ll just evoke this weeping with– it’s like more love than her heart can hold. And so her heart has to melt and expand even more in order to hold it. And it just keeps growing and growing and growing. So contrast that with the dryness of neoadvaita, that you are not a person and I’m not a person, all that business, where there seems to be very little heart involved.
Jessica: Radically different. And like you said, it is– what I’ve experienced since then with this new way is just that it’s like your heart is bursting with that compassion and that just profound sense of just the– one of my friends and I talk about is like the ecstasy and agony of living, and that we’re all doing that. And there is this huge– it’s a huge heart awakening. That’s definitely what that is. But for me, it’s had to come from bringing back that I-thou relationship that was lost in neoadvaita, where we can be one, and I would say one as two. So it’s more of that kind of this sense of a oneness of multiplicity that I didn’t coin that term. Someone else did. I don’t remember who.
Rick: Probably Carl Jung.
Rick: Carl Jung.
Jessica: Actually, I think it was Jason Shulman. But–
Rick: OK. I’ve interviewed him.
Jessica: Good person to look up. He’s wonderful.
Rick: And Tim uses the phrase “unividual.” It’s just kind of like that.
Jessica: Yeah. I didn’t know if I wanted to bring in those terms. But yes, it is that sense of unividuality, which I think is a great word. And also, the term “uniduality” is really what I like to use, because it is one and two, and it can only be– they can only arise together. And then that unividuality, where you’re saying, like, you can walk around– what I had experienced for a time where it’s like I look out and see everyone as myself did turn into a bit of solipsism and the sense that they’re all me, but they’re not them. And so now, it’s that–
Rick: They’re all me, but they are them.
Jessica: Exactly. That you’re you, and I’m me, but I’m you, and you’re me. And actually, something I should mention that has been a big part of this for me, and I think the most profound sense of oneness and interconnection is eye gazing. And Tim Freke does that as a way to experience unividuality. And you also find eye gazing events around there. But this sense of when you look into someone’s eyes and you recognize that you’re both kind of expressions of the same thing looking back at itself. And so you see that oneness in the other person’s eyes, but it’s one thing that you both are kind of looking at itself. And I think that that’s actually a really good way. It actually does bring a lot of people to a uni-dual awakening rather than a non-dual awakening.
Rick: Nice. I’m reminded of the phrase, individual love is concentrated universal love.
Jessica: I love that.
Rick: It’s almost like when I was a kid, I used to sometimes get a magnifying glass and try to light something on fire with the sunlight.
Jessica: I hope it wasn’t an insect.
Rick: No, no, not an insect, like a leaf or something. Yeah, try to get something to burn. But it’s just sort of you’re concentrating the sunlight. So we’re like magnifying glasses in a way through which the universal love can focus even more precisely and manifestly. Yeah.
Jessica: That’s a really good way to put it. And I will say, just because I think it can be so important for helpful for people, is that Tim Freke does have an online community called the ICU, International Community of Individuals. But a lot of people are part of that who have been trying to move away from things like neo-advaita, where the relationship is lost and experience it in this new way, in this uniduality. So I think it can be very helpful. So great to look that up.
Rick: One thing I was meaning to ask you earlier, and it’s a little out of context now, but I’d still like to ask you, is now because of what you’re doing, you’re getting feedback from people all over the world who have been through neo-advaita, or maybe in some cases are still in it. And I don’t know, we don’t want to– I don’t want to call them horror stories, but what kind of– since in case people might think that you’re an isolated case, what kind of things are people experiencing? And what is causing them to wake up to the realization that maybe something is wrong with the picture?
Jessica: Yeah. That’s actually really important. And I’ve been actually compiling on my website an archive of testimonials that people have shared, because I did want to say that what I’m sharing is not just unique to me, or some anomaly, or something went wrong. That path is laden with pitfalls that I would almost say most people will fall into. And you can simply Google neo-advaita in forums all across the internet, Reddit, Quora, and just in comments, feeds on YouTube videos. So many people are talking about this. Like they can’t be in relationships anymore. They can’t make themselves die, so they want to commit suicide. That it’s just ruined their lives, and it’s just completely confused them about what’s real and what’s not real. And I had actually thought of maybe reading a quote from one of these. But I’m not sure if I can find one. I did share the one about the dad.
Rick: And people can go to your website and read more. But go ahead and look that up.
Jessica: Let me see. Oh, here we go. OK. Yeah, this one. And so yeah, what feels really important is to make it really clear that this is a really widespread thing, and that it’s really severe. A lot of people are talking about it leading to wanting to commit suicide. And part of what I want to do is really kind of a plea to the spiritual community to get this and to kind of come together to spread awareness and see if there’s anything we can do. But there’s people here saying, the toxic nature of the teachings has taken me a lifetime to undo, created more suffering that basically ruined my life, convinced I had to die. And when I couldn’t, at times I felt like a physical death would put an end to the merry-go-round of madness, became the source of most of my suffering in the end, apathy and disassociation. This person talking about how he realized that the people in the neo-Advaita community with him were just like wiped of personality, deadening of the mind, erasing my personality. This one’s really profound. And this was my experience. So suffering, trying not to suffer. And let’s see, life went from blooming to dull and meaningless, a lot of nihilism. But if you want to see more of that. And there’s so many of these coming out that I’m also encouraging anybody listening who might have an experience like that, if you would like to add it to that, because it really does help people. If you want to send me a message with– can be an anonymous testimonial that I can add there. So please feel free to do that.
Rick: Which they can do through your website.
Jessica: Yeah, there’s a contact form.
Rick: Yeah, and I’ll be linking to your website on your page on BatGap. Here’s a question that came in from Lakshmi in India. Sometimes I experience an explosion of awareness which becomes difficult to bear. I feel bored of being in this state of void stillness. And I constantly try to distract myself not knowing how to handle it. Like playing hide and seek. How do I get across this?
Jessica: Yeah, the hide and seek is– a lot of people talked about the hide and seek. But it sounds like you’re saying that you’re kind of lost in that oneness or void. And I experience that. I think that it is a difficult thing. I think that you do need to kind of seek out like integration paths and coming back into the body and things that will bring you more to that both. And there is that. But what I realized is that I become so spacious. And I was working with someone. And they said, yeah, you became so spacious. But it’s about being spacious and contained. That we need containment. And to be honest, that can often come with working with a therapist. And there are many therapists who specialize in these very things, like spiritual emergence and crisis coaches. And yeah, that’s what I–
Rick: Yeah, I mean, it’s good. I’d say Lakshmi’s experience is good. But obviously, you’re not finished, Lakshmi. And we need to live in boundaries. But we also can enjoy boundlessness. And the trick, the name of the game, is to have boundless and boundaries at the same time. And then the boundaries are no longer a prison cell. They’re no longer constricting. We have inner freedom and great contentment as a result of that freedom. But we’re able to focus sharply in whatever our life requires. And so don’t try to blot out the stillness. You say you try to distract yourself because it becomes boring or something. That’s just a phase. It’s the source of great fulfillment. I mean, Brahman is referred to as ananda, bliss. So we want to live it. But we want to live it in an integrated way so that it is actually an asset. It enhances our ability to function within the boundaries of life. And some kind of spiritual practice, or like Jessica said, some grounding, integrating stuff. I mean, if you have kids, they’ll keep you busy.
Jessica: Yeah. I did some specific work that I was doing with a somatic therapist I think can be very helpful to help to move between the boundless and the physical and the formless. And like we said, to be able to have both at the same time.
Rick: Yeah, the glorious both/and.
Rick: Yeah. All righty. Well, we’ve pretty much covered it, I think. Is there anything that 10 minutes after we hang up, you’re going to think, oh my god, I should have said this?
Jessica: I don’t know yet.
Rick: Yeah, we’ll have to wait.
Jessica: I’ll email you.
Rick: Call me back.
Jessica: Got to get back on. Is there anything else? I don’t think so. I feel like you were very helpful in bringing out some of the things that I was worried wouldn’t come out. So this feels complete to me. Thanks.
Rick: Well, let’s stay in touch. I’d like to actually have some conversations with you in the coming week or so. If you feel like it, I could call you up on WhatsApp while I’m walking in the park. And we could unpack what we’ve talked about here today. And there’s a few other things we want to explore, I think.
Jessica: I would love that.
Rick: So I’ll be in touch, and we’ll do that.
Rick: Yeah, so thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching. As always, we really appreciate your participation. And if you like being on the live calls and being able to ask questions, then on the upcoming interviews page on BatGap, you’ll see a little thing on the right-hand column that you can click on to set a reminder for yourself in Gmail or Outlook or whatever you use to remind you of when the live call is going to be, because there are different times every week. And also, check out the other menus on the site while you’re at it. Sign up for the email notification, if you like, or do that in YouTube. If you sign up to be notified in YouTube, you want to subscribe, but you also want to hit the little bell that pops up, because then they really notify you of everything when it comes up. All right, so thanks again. Thank you, Jessica.
Jessica: Thanks for everyone who’s listening.
Rick: Yeah, really glad that Tim brought you to my attention, that we’ve gotten to know each other.
Jessica: Me too.
Rick: Yeah. All right, bye, everybody.