Silence: Our True Home
An Interview with Sharon Landrith for the Crestone Eagle, January 2011.
By Gussie Fauntleroy
When I hear something that feels profoundly true, it resonates within me as if I’m an instrument tuned to the same key as that specific expression of truth. Someone else is tuned to a different key and rings with a different form of the same essential truth.
Yet beneath the diverse outward sounds and forms of spiritual teachings, whether as part of an organized religion or the lessons of everyday life, the deepest fundamental resonance is one of stillness and inner quiet.
Crestone resident Sharon Landrith is among a growing number of people today who are consciously opening to that dimension of silence and direct awareness of non-dual reality by spending time in the presence of others on the same path. Some, like Sharon, are “teachers,” although in reality those who give and those who receive spiritual teachings are often interchangeable.
After a lifetime of moving toward what as a child she called union with God, some years ago Sharon was asked by well-known spiritual teacher Adyashanti to help spread the opportunity for awakening into our deeper nature. Sharon leads retreats and satsangs in Crestone, Boulder and elsewhere around the country. Literally meaning “association in truth,” satsang is a gathering in which our deeper nature is explored through meditation, inquiry and the power of the collective intention to open oneself to it.
I invited Sharon to talk about the realm of deep silence over a cup of jasmine green tea one afternoon in January 2011.
Gussie: How might you describe the sense of quiet that is at the core of what you call wholeness?
Sharon: Well from this view—silence is the word that I would use—it is the basis and the background of everything. And silence and stillness in meaning is quite precise. When that is opened to, the natural state, which is the first significant experience of our own nature, it is absolutely, totally, unfathomably still. That movement to want, or to grasp, or to push, or to conceptualize, in any way, is completely let go there, is completely free.
G: We usually think of silence in terms of a lack of sound or noise or internal chatter, but when you’re speaking of silence it’s also stillness in terms of staying right here in this moment rather than reaching for things, pushing things away.
S: That’s the hallmark, I would say, because that subtle movement to become, or to push away, doesn’t exist in silence. There is a complete sense of resting, or abiding—all those words begin to make sense: indwelling, a deep nourishment of the silent nature. So the fundamental ground—the essence of our own spirit, our own nature—is always recognized.
G: And for you, is it something that came on gradually, a little bit at a time?
S: The deep silence, yes. What was recognized, really since I was a child and it would just periodically reveal itself, was more of what I would call the unified consciousness—everything was connected. It’s what would be in the traditional teachings called the “luminous body.”
G: You wouldn’t have described it that way as a child…
S: No, except there was total trust, and “trust” is even too much—I just belonged to everything. When I was really small I called it God, because I didn’t know what else to call it. Of course, that was accurate. So it was just this love, the Sunday School words: “God is love,” you know, but unconditional love—whole, wellbeing. So that went on for a long, long time. I still thought that it was outside myself, something was out, coming in. And then just through meditation—I opened to meditation in Buddhism out of a sense of familiarity, but also that gave me the format, if you will, to sit down, and then there was the presence.
G: Meditation gave the space for that.
S: Yes, but again, there was a subtle idea that it was something that I needed to do and something that was outside, that if I got it right, something would come in.
G: And maybe stay.
S: And maybe stay. But it never did, of course. (laughs) And then, the idea of silence was the doorway, because it was silent meditation that opened it all up. That deep, stillness—various traditions call it different names: emptiness, the void; the Sufis call it the “dazzling dark”— just began to appear and it became deeper and deeper. And then there was a certain point, right around when I met Adya (Adyashanti), that there was an immersion. Before it was a sense of someone seeing something—there was still the separate “me.” But then there was this gradual but fully recognized shift and I realized that I was in it, and I was that. And then that deepened. But it was always the silence, and that was the hallmark: Everything. Stopped. So there was a sense of wholeness, completeness, a fullness. It’s the birth ground.
In my own terms I often call it “the deep Mother,” because everything was contained within that. Many traditions and teachers do not talk about that deep, dark, silent nature. It’s “emptiness” in the Buddhist tradition, the void. But many traditions emphasize the light, the love, the arising, transcendence, and then sinking into it, sinking here (gestures downward and toward her body.) And I noticed in working with so many people that there’s very little intimate understanding or recognition of it. But it’s the whole. (gestures expansively)
G: You talk about “embodiment” of this awareness. What does embodiment mean on a day-to-day basis?
S: I can only give my own experience: It’s the recognition of this fundamental silent, unfathomably whole yet very nourishing ground. I’m not speaking of groundedness as we normally talk about that. It’s sense of wholeness, a sense of wellbeing, a sense of this body-mind rooted, or connected as this deep ground. Then a sense of stability, of the eternal, of something that’s constant—because everything changes, right? But this is the eternal, this is the deep rest, the deep nourishment, that which informs, that which guides.
With embodiment, in my experience, the conditioned self, the one we call the “me” or the personal begins to be totally infused by this deep nature, and therefore the conditioning is illuminated from within and it naturally dissolves. The silence is as much in this cup (picks up a tea cup), as anything—it’s not separate. You know, we were taught for so long that once you opened up to this silent nature, then you went to your cave, or whatever, but my experience is that classic heart sutra: emptiness into form, form into emptiness, one thing. It’s the life or the illumination of all form, of everything. And by this deep resting as that silence, then one can move into chaos, great stress, great sorrow, or great beauty with equanimity, with a sense of ease and wellbeing.
G: But you say it appeared to come and go…
S: It did, it spontaneously revealed itself, mostly in silent retreats, and it seemed over a period of time that it did come and go. But then there was a certain moment when it no longer came and went. It was now prominent. The times when I thought that I was losing it was when there was conditioning that naturally is flushed out—because now it has all this space to arise—so this flushing or freeing or untying of the conditioned stream happens. And again, my teacher Adya, when I was first with him, explained exactly what was happening, and I no longer believed the illusion of coming and going. As the embodiment process intensified, the deep unconscious started to come to the surface. So it was not all light, beauty and wonder, but—there was never a moment that the silent nature wasn’t prominent, even though the stuff coming up was quite intense.
Then, I would say—I think I’m a slow learner—but I would say maybe seven years after the essential shift and the silence became prominent, everything started to settle and to slow down and there was a really consistent sense of just ease and wellbeing. It’s an interesting paradox, really, because when that emptying out takes place, then it all becomes full. It’s full of awe and wonder and love. You can read about it and be told by the teachers, but it has to be seen for itself.
G: There’s another paradox, for those of us who don’t yet feel like we’re immersed in the silence, and it’s the paradox of finding by not seeking. What’s your “101” advice about trying, but not trying too hard? (Both laugh.)
S: It’s a question that is always confusing. Because in one way the seeking does bring you to the teachings and to what you need.
G: To get onto the path.
S: Exactly. Again, what my teacher really helped me to see, and I began to recognize, is that there’s a translucency in the body-mind structure, and the natural state actually is what is drawing you back to itself. You think it’s you as a person, that all of a sudden you’re really drawn—or maybe it’s always been there for you—but the actuality is awareness itself, silence itself is coming back for itself.
G: So if I want to get more into that on a day-to-day continual basis, do you invite that?
S: There are things to do. The body is the resonant field, the sensory instrument. So for me, as a teacher and in my own unfolding, I began to sense that this body resonated the natural state; the senses were quite open, global, instead of narrow and one-pointed. The way I began to perceive was totally changing. The mind would co-opt those experiences, and then it became two; it was separated out. But the body is direct, it can perceive its own nature; it’s a felt sense. I just started to drop my attention into the felt sense, that sensory, kinetic, body sense. People who have that sensory, kinetic, body sense—if those are pointed out, they go, “oh yeah,” and then that is the constant.
G: That’s what we are.
S: Right. That is what we are. So, there had been many, many glimpses, really all my life. And then there was a certain point where, again, it’s what all the teachers point to and it appears that it’s coming from the person, this separate person—but one of the metaphors is: “It wants to recognize its own nature more than a man who’s drowning wants air.” So there’s a tremendous focus at a certain point, that more than anything else you want to come back to your nature. Many teachers try to help that through “mindful” practice. And that’s helpful, but mostly it’s taken by the mind and can be very artificial (she mimes very slowly and deliberately picking up a teacup and bringing it toward her lips)—instead of just this natural being present with this cup of tea, the fullness of this moment. There’s natural spontaneous attention, because attention is awareness, just to this silence and its creation, which is the cup.
G: For those of us who don’t have the time or money to go on longer retreats, to be in the presence for extended times with these wonderful teachers, what would you recommend for these people wanting to continue along the path in a steady way, deepening?
S: Not to sound elitist, but the fact that we’re living in Crestone is a great grace, because the silence is so profound here, I mean without noise, and also that deep, deep silence. Both are here. So you can tune into that quality. For a while it’s important to shut off all outer need-to-do lists, sound, activity. It can be 10 or 15 minutes, three or four times a day. You just sit and drop, and there’s a quality, it’s almost like a gravitational pull—again, it’s that felt sense—our silent nature. It’s everywhere all at once, but that quality of it is a deepening, or a dropping, or a relaxing, a gravitational pull. So you sit and you just let go. If you have more time, wonderful. What’s important is this tuning in, on a constant basis. And it’s also helpful to ask: What if your attention was resting in your heart or in your belly, rather than here? (points to her head).
G: It’s a physical shift.
S: It’s a physical shift, and it works. Spend the entire day with the attention (for example) behind the neck. And it’ll come up here (points to her head) thousands of times, but just keep coming back. Because the actual brain, in the forehead—when the attention is there, it activates the thinking mind. So just the simple shift. You’re just breaking the habit: that I’m this person in the middle of this head. And when you open up, then spontaneously you start to sense the actuality of the silent nature. It’s quite underappreciated. It’s too simple, you know, most people want to sit down and read the heavy text.
G: I think a lot of people want to take their brain to that part of the body, take the brain to the feet, instead of being in the feet. (both laugh)
G: Long, long conditioning to get over.
S: Who knows how many thousands and thousands and thousands of years.
G: Personally, I always wonder how the beginning of spoken language changed things—naming things and having concepts.
S: We became one step removed, right. I think it’s just a grand experiment, the whole thing. (laughs) And now we’re coming back home again, collectively. I truly, truly see that. I don’t think it makes any difference where you’re from, what your background is, people are popping open. I don’t mean full embodiment, but I mean the shift from thinking I’m this separate person, driven and informed by my thoughts, to “I am that; that is interconnected.” I see it happening everywhere. I know it’s still a small percentage of people, but I see it over such a broad range of people and ages, and the young people are really remarkable. They’re just coming into it and saying, oh! I always knew this was true. And they may need just a little bit of guidance and then, that’s it.
G: So in that sense it is the collective consciousness that they’re benefiting from, which is different from when we were growing up.
S: It is. You know something I’ve also noticed about the young people, is that—with my generation, when this recognition began to come in, especially the real empty nature, before it became very full, we still had a tendency to kind of pull back and we didn’t know whether relationships were really where it was at. You know, you don’t go anywhere, you don’t get involved with anything, you don’t have entertainment, no relationships…
G: A bunch of hermits!
S: Yes, but I notice with the young people, they want to be in life, they want to be in relationship, they want to have children, they want to be involved with the world.
G: Good! We need them! (laughing)
S: Yes, we need them, and so I found that was just a very beautiful thing, and again, I’m seeing that everywhere. It’s more prominent in places like say, Boulder and Crestone, just because of the tendency of the parents. I met a young woman in Bend, Oregon and we were talking about his and she said, “Can you tell me, people of your generation, why you’re so attached to your pain?” (laughs heartily) I said well I guess we just had more to go through! And we did it for you! But it was a really good question, because there can be a kind of attachment [to pain] because of familiarity and identity, and a lot of young people just don’t have that.
For a while I thought: well, the Earth is fine. She’ll shake us off if that’s what she needs to do. I actually saw that on a vision quest. I got to go into the spirit, the truth of the Earth. She’s fine. She’s making this transition. Whether we, as her creation, will make it with her, who knows? If we can’t be of benefit, if we can’t come into wholeness, why should we have this great privilege? But when I began to meet these young people, I thought: Ahh! maybe this will continue, this experiment. There is hope for the continuance of the human being. It was like entering into the silence of the Earth, of the Mother, and being able to sense the fullness and the wholeness and the potential.
G: That’s what gave you the sense that it’s okay.
S: Yeah. And it’s in our bones and it’s in our cells, that same silent nature, called the “bliss body.” That’s available. It’s very temporary, the body, but it is our constant companion, it’s the beloved expression, the silent expression.
G: Over the years I’ve notice that all the teachers who’ve really inspired me—Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, these bigger names that I found out about first, before more regular people—every one that I’m drawn to really has a sense of humor.
S: Absolutely. Adya has an incredible sense of humor. He says that awakening is the restoration of humor. But my sense is that it’s that lightness of being. You really see the brilliance and the mysterious and the unfathomable intelligence that’s at work. Life is taken much more lightly. And in a way—which is not laughing at, but laughing with—you see how we’re attempting to live our lives, instead of what actually is true. So I think humor must just naturally arise out of that. I would say that’s why the Buddha smiles. It’s like, wow! I thought there was someone there who had to accomplish something!
G: And carry all this weight!
S: And carry all this horror show, really! Instead of what I really am. (laughs). Everything does naturally just arise and reveal itself, and fall away. And there’s this ease and inclusion and sense of wellbeing. Some people call it a deconstruction, rather than an accomplishment. But there’s also great compassion. I know I was obsessed. I lived life fully, I played life fully, but all I really ever wanted was what I called the union with God. And then that started to drop away and it was the immersion of my own nature.
G: And then you found you could do both, at the same time.
S: Exactly. (laughs) That was the great surprise. It was so full, everything was there, according to your own individuality. For some it’s a little more ascetic, for some it’s more sensual, or more intellectual. You know, it isn’t like there’s an imitating. It’s that full unique flowering and expression. Unique personalities that are to be celebrated.
I remember the Dalai Lama saying there is this idea that all of this is effortless. And he said, This is very true. But until that effortlessness reveals itself, there’s actually a great deal of effort. And that’s what he’s pointing to, you know: There has to be the willingness, from awareness—which is your attention—to look at what is not, and to be with actually what is. And then it all starts, on its own, to fall away, to reveal its true nature. There’s a tendency among spiritual seekers is to get very tight. There’s this efforting, which actually takes you away. Yet at the same time there’s a certain kind of attention and a certain kind of devotion.
S: Intention, which brings you to that which finally can just all let go. But most of us have to be given glimpses, many glimpses for that to resonate and then you just go, oh! That’s who I am. It recognizes itself. No one needs to tell you that. Because it’s your home. It ceases to be a seeking and it ceases to be a discipline. It’s resting deeply in home.