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By Sal Barba 

Our return home | Worship


Last updated 6/29/2022 at 11:42am

“Keep your eye on the donut, but don’t just keep your eye on the hole inside the donut, or the donut itself, keep your eye on the whole donut including the space that surrounds it!”

– Vin Rosenthal, Ph.D.

It is 4:15 a.m., and I am awakened by a dream where I am reading several EEGs and commenting on them to my students. Rich Passage on Bainbridge Island is calm just outside my window, and there is a crescent moon in a slightly clouded sky. The trees that cradle the surrounding edges of the passage are reflected in the stillness, and here in this moment there is just naked awareness.

Yes, I am writing about what arises in my awareness, and this is included in a larger context of awareness that is where I settle inside – oftentimes without the personal pronoun, “I,” or conceptual reference points of I and you, here and there, image or non-image, just listening, breathing, watching, and consciously resting in awareness, temporarily letting go of self-reflection.

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Labeling the non-dual state of mind is not being in it because to understand non-duality can only occur experientially not conceptually, and the journey to live in this experience for more than a few nano seconds can take a long time or a short time if the seeker learns how to find that balance of not being too serious and allowing a sense of humor to come along on the pathless path.

For 11 years or more, in the early 1970s, I gave myself the opportunity to work with a wise man who was my mentor. Vin Rosenthal was a master of awareness, insight, and wisdom. During some of those years, many hours of sitting with Vin on the couch of his office, we would rest in silence, just breathing and noticing, and working with internal process and content then returning to silent awareness.

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In those earlier days of sitting together, silence was uncomfortable, and the work difficult! I would break up the silence with dialogue, most often distracting myself from discomfort, but mainly an avoidant strategy to hide from my shame and fear of being seen and loved. In those sessions with Vin, many moments weaved into a mandala of reflections, sieving through the numerous conceptual distractions, and absorbing those glimpses of naked awareness, authenticity, and raw vulnerability.

Vin’s enormous skill to be present, accepting, articulate, challenging and compassionate eventually rubbed off on me. My work with him opened the doors to working with Tibetan meditation masters with the most profound capacity to cut right through the BS, to see right into my heart, and to great any practitioner before them with love, wisdom, compassion, and an outrageous sense of humor!

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Over time in our work together, I allowed myself to experience the invitation and welcoming of Vin’s holding presence in our mutual space. I began to let the holding and glimpses of naked awareness in! Over the years after Vin and I completed our work together, I learned how to hold myself in all of its many dimensions, and to not become too distracted by self-dialogue, settling into naked awareness, and continuing with that dance between compassionate emptiness, acceptance, thoughtfulness, resting in a silent presence without any agendas.

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Three weeks ago, I spoke with Vin. He stated that he was 95 years old, and still working with his people one day a week. We sat once again in silence. This time there was no discomfort in my experience of our mutual presence. His sense of humor and wit, still able to bring us to belly laughter!

And, once again we returned to naked awareness. There was a gentle stillness and movement in the rise and fall of our breathing. From his silence he gently utters, “I am glad that you rescued yourself!” And his presence returns to silence and naked awareness. Our breathing integrated and ended with clarity and love!

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I once read a phrase that said, “Enlightenment is an individual responsibility!” I take that comment seriously! Yet, I take it gently, along with a belly laugh that has befriended fearless …

When we sense that we are about to experience a transformation, we are close to discovering who we already are on our journey returning home. We may weave the elements of many dreams, and entries into our journals, and put ourselves through many journeys, mentors and studies, but no matter what the vehicles of self-examination are that we use to do our internal work, depending upon our intention and capacity to be courageous, to listen, to let go, to let it in, to let it be, returning home always seems to invite us to listen and to breathe into our silence!

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And, once we arrive home, we don’t have to close our eyes and tap our feet three times and chant, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home,” because when we wake up along our journey, the journey disappears, and we realize that we were always home! We just forgot or were not instructed on how to keep our eyes on the whole donut including the space that surrounds it.

I am grateful to have been blessed to learn from many teachers, and to walk inside the many mansions of my mind, and the minds of those that I have worked with.


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