Infinity in a Grain of Sand:
Part I – The Experience in Meditation
by Igor Kufayev
Question: While in meditative states, I’ve reached what I assume is that pure-awareness [consciousness] state. I’ve always maintained some sort of sense of the finite self, even though I feel like I’m in the presence of the infinite. Does that mean that I’m not there yet? Do you know what I’m saying?
Yes, I understand exactly what your experience is. Do you want to speak more to it?
You know, you grow up thinking that there’s like – you and God. And then you meditate through to where – I’ve reached that point of total absolute darkness, or total light. And you’re in that infinite awareness – you’re totally gone. But even in that – like, I could say that that’s God, and then there is no me. But because my perception of self doesn’t change, I’m confused. Like, the “I” that I am remains through all of those states, including when I feel like the “I”. So you could say…. I mean I guess it’s that…. You know, I would say, “I am God,” but that seems…
Yes. I’ve always believed that I am a piece of God, but in a lesser amount. Like I’m made of the same stuff, but I have less of it. So when my perception of self doesn’t change, even within that state, I’m confused. Other than to say that I am God.
Let’s go back to the direct experience – that sense of finite self – because you just said it. What you said just now is very important. It simply happened that you’ve been exposed to incomplete philosophy, my dear. Sometimes when we are not exposed to complete, integral philosophies, we fall short of understanding what we are experiencing. So therefore, welcome to the darshan. This is what darshan is. It is precisely for that purpose – that even a wealthy amount of experience needs to be brought into the full picture so that our understanding and our experience merge, so there is no gap left whatsoever. And we should do that as much as possible and as often as possible. If we can do that, then we do our work well, and our work indeed will be done.
Taking you back to what you said a moment earlier: it’s unnerving that there is this nagging sense of retaining that finite self despite the direct experience of having gone beyond – where, as you said, you still maintain that sense of “I.” Still, with reference to that, the experience belonged to you.
On the one hand, of course it’s tempting to say, “yes of course the work continues.” And that would be the right thing to say as well. But we don’t want to just stop there. We don’t want to waste this precious opportunity to give you this direct, even intellectual insight, like a flash of lightning that strikes there and then. That that sense of I, it’s all there is. There’s nothing other than that. And that’s what that “I am that I am” represents. That’s the vedic AHAM, or the anglicized version of the Hebrew “I am.”
The centrality of that “I”; it’s all there is. And it does not go anywhere, and cannot go anywhere. Anyone who says that does simply treat some temporary experiences as the real deal. There are a lot of pockets – areas. Deep sleep is one such experience when that sense of “I” seemingly disappears. But it’s simply on account of it being opaque; it never really disappears, because we know and have full reassurance that in deep sleep we had no experience. Who would say with such certainty that there were no dreams, that there was nothing? Who is the witness of that nothing, other than the “I”? And that is the centrality of all experiencing. Therefore, a meditator may feel lost in that; why does this finite self refuse to go? Why is that finite self so hard to dissolve? But the work is not even at that level. The realization here is that that “I” – that self – and the Self, is one Self. The one and only Self.
So this is the answer to the dilemma that you presented, speaking from a philosophical perspective. Certain traditions have maintained that understanding because that understanding is being checked, verified, and inferred through the direct experience of those upon whose accounts traditions are being held alive. You see?
This is also where the following dilemma presents itself: how can one work between that finite self and that infinite Self? That’s where the real dynamics begin. Of course, religious perspective creates that separation where very little work can be done. Still some work can be done. But the scope of this work is limited to that division that one already accepts as given. The division is, as you said, born into the culture where God is the all-mighty, the omnipresent, and I am just a portion of it, or some portion of that is in me. One way or the other, we can apply or imply various configurations until it becomes ridiculous because we will end up speaking about proportion; how much I am God? And how much I am not? And then we enter these very complex theological repercussions that nobody wants to deal with really. This is the stuff of legends, when theologians try to reconcile orthodoxy. When they try to reconcile the perspectives of the councils that set this in stone. But direct experience then comes and overrides that and creates a dilemma.
It creates a dilemma because: how do I relate to that divine? And I’m not talking about fundamentalist perspectives now. I’m speaking about even those who are very, very educated and open in their perspectives. These perspectives came mainly, as far as the more recent history is concerned, from oriental teachers. That kind of “I am God” perspective, if you will. Or “I am that” – like the cover of Nisargadatta’s book. It posed a lot of dilemmas and questions, because to some people these perspectives threatened the relationship, which has a devotional quality, with the divine. So this is where I invite you to look next. Because there is this tendency in these kinds of exchanges to override that very quickly and accept this: “well, yeah, I am God.” It just happened to be that, by definition. Maybe the composure of your psyche has a more modest predisposition, and you therefore feel that, well, it’s kind of audacious to even suggest something like that, right? You’re taking it easy, even the way you were speaking about it. But imagine instead of you, there is this girl from London, New York, Berlin, in her 25th, 28th year, and the only exposure she had was to some non-dual discourses. “I’m God? Yeah, what’s the big deal? Next! Yeah, of course I am God! Hey, let’s go!” You know? “I am that!” “Nisargadatta said that, mate, so why not?” See?
And we are here immediately in danger of totally missing the point. Because the dynamics are still there, those incomprehensible dynamics we spoke about earlier. There’s a direct connection and correlation to that. “How can that be?” becomes even more apparent. Guess what? “Mystics” is really a confused term. It’s interesting, because people call themselves mystics, whereas it’s actually an epithet that can only be given to someone else – a third party. Because mystical experience is only for the one who is not experiencing it. Once that becomes the state of one’s consciousness, how can that be called mystical? You see? It’s almost like a kind of reductionistic way of speaking about oneself.
And yet, with that being said, there are two levels, if you will, or two sides of that which falls under the category of mystical experience. In one category there is this wonder of having these glimpses of one’s divine self, and these glimpses are mystical in the scope and gamut of experiences. But when that becomes the predominant experience, guess what becomes mystical after? Mystical becomes – how can that be this and that simultaneously? How can I be the infinite and the finite? This infinite and finite coexist in these dynamics. This will never go away, my dear. This cannot go because this is where the dynamics play themselves out. So the marvel of that still continues there. Therefore, a year ago at the immersion, some of you may remember, I said that in the state of ignorance we contemplate the incomprehensible nature of God. In the state of enlightenment we marvel at the incomprehensible nature of the world.
How do you begin to bridge that gap between the experienced small, limited self, and the conceived or imagined or philosophical infinite Self?
Let me first give you a suggestion: there is a possibility that you can have glimpses of the infinite amidst your daily life. Let’s just begin there. You can have these glimpses, if only you are attentive enough. There are many of these glimpses when we can behold that infinite, even through the retina. So that is already a given.
The infinite can be experienced in a feeling. You can hear your favorite piece of music – a particular movement that reduces you to that very refined state where the toughest aspect in you really gets soft, to the degree that it really becomes like jelly. In that moment, you touch base with that infinite. You feel the infinity through the cells of your body. Whatever that music is – it doesn’t have to be what I consider cathartic music, which is capable of bringing these cathartic experiences. Quite frankly, I myself was surprised that among pop songs certain melodies have that capacity to strike that chord. It doesn’t have to be the Requiem of Mozart. It doesn’t have to be that Aria of Bach, when angels plead to God on behalf of Christ on the cross. It can be a song by your favorite artist. Or someone unknown to you – it could be a folk song. A whistle. And it will give you that sense of infinity.
If we agree on that, then certainly we can have a direct taste of infinity in a myriad of ways. You know, I dare to say that you can experience infinity in your mouth. Again, if there is enough refinement of perception, you may eat a meal when time will stop there and then. It may be a beverage, a drink. It may be a kiss. It’s in the mouth. It may be anything that’s still within the scope of sensory perception. You see where I keep hitting at? It’s not even limited to that which is considered and often spoken of as the limitation.
“If the windows of perception are clear enough, one will behold the world as it is: Perfect.” That line belongs to a poet from Great Britain. So the refinement of perception here, interestingly enough, is spoken of with reference to the “windows” of perception. So, obviously, it’s a great and very simple and very direct analogy that perceptions can also get foggy. The windows can get musty, covered in dust and grime and so forth. It’s the same with our perceptual capacity. These windows of perception need to be cleaned – purified – so that there is a greater capacity to perceive. How can that be done? This is why spiritual methodologies are there. These spiritual methodologies are precisely aimed at that. In fact, the refinement of perception – often spoken of as celestial perception – is an indispensable part of the development of the higher states of consciousness. One could even argue that higher states of consciousness are but a distant concept unless there is a progressive refinement of perception. Because at some point, we might be granted these flashes and glimpses, and we might even be established and abide in the witnessing state of consciousness, which in a way is the bread and butter of spiritual development. The witnessing state of consciousness is a must; it’s a camp where we’re allowed to put our stuff down for the very first time and say, “ah, now I can stretch and walk around. I have ascended enough to witness.” The witness is there. That’s the time when the first camp can be built. Before that, no camping is allowed – keep going. Keep going.
And then, of course, the refinement of perception there is the continuation of that process. So from the witnessing state we can develop higher states of consciousness where that refinement in itself amounts to perceiving the subtlest aspect of creation. In other words, it’s not like angels come into our lives. These are, of course, metaphors. What happens is our neurophysiology becomes a reflection of all that is already there. It simply becomes palpable and perceivable as our own field, not some kind of outer visitation. Therefore, that poet’s metaphor of the windows is very telling. Windows, here, are in reference to our own house. We’re looking into the world through the windows of our house.
So going back to the question: how can one bridge the gap between the infinite and the finite? First a proper understanding is needed. The understanding that finite and infinite are one and the same. But obviously we cannot rest on our laurels with that realization. Realization that finite and infinite are inseparable is just the beginning. There is also a direct and visceral experience of that realization, and that’s what meditation is all about. In meditation there is a possibility to experience that unity of finite and infinite at the subtlest level, not just where it presents itself in the most obvious ways: the magnificent sunset, the sun rising behind the ocean, a stupendous view of the mountains covered in early snow, or the sound of the rain on the leaves, and the rustling of the leaves behind soft steps. In all this, infinity can be perceived there directly, palpably, but this most likely will not be recognized unless our field of awareness is purified enough to perceive it for what it is. Because it is in every blade of grass and in every grain of sand. That’s what it means to behold infinity, as the poet again said, in a grain of sand – and the whole creation.
But the real visceral experiences of that are confirmed in states of transcendence, when we touch the ground, when the thought process subsides. And we need to be in the habit of touching that ground repeatedly. Especially in the earlier years of our practice, this needs to be a repeated experience. Sometimes with more success, sometimes with less success, we should not give up, we should not easily say to ourselves, “oh it’s not happening; there’s something I’m doing wrong.” Yes, it’s good to re-evaluate your practice periodically. It’s good to press on with questions. It’s good to be a good seeker – there’s no harm in that. The term “seeker” now enjoys negative connotations. Somehow a “seeker” is a failure – someone who fails. No! A seeker is the one who finds, otherwise he would not be a seeker. But one finds it nowhere other than within oneself. So what you are asking can only be verified and found within yourself. And that sense of infinity is so certain, I could even say to you – simply, humbly, based on my own experience – that the certitude of that is greater than, let’s say, if I just had a sumptuous meal at the table and someone asked me, “did you just eat?” That may be a questionable event, but the certitude of the infinity of myself is not open to any question. This is why spiritual experiences are so difficult to talk about, in any field. It’s so subjective.
We live in a time where a rational approach is taken to everything – a rational understanding. That rational understanding has to be verified by the data provided by the algorithmic composition of numbers provided by the scientists as the verification of our states. To me, this is nonsense. And to many others, this is nonsense. How can my state be verified by some kind of scientific inquiry? It’s backward thinking! Maybe scientific inquiry needs to be verified by the state of my happiness. The other way around! Every damned scientific breakthrough has to be verified by the state of bliss! Does it bring bliss into life or not? How does it sit with that which is already given? These are questions we should not hesitate to ask. But other than that, this is the most certain of all experiences. The experience of your infinite Self is the most certain. Everything else, my friend, is open to question – that’s what’s bizarre.
If it’s so certain, why are people not experiencing it?
We live in the day and age when that unfortunately is covered – veiled – by the thickness of very low vibrations. Now I kind of have to use a little bit of that New Age language. The state of collective consciousness informs us. In-forms us. It forms our perception as well. Collective consciousness is made out of the sum total of the heartbeats of every single individual. And it is true to every nation, every tribe, and so forth. So obviously we live in a time right now when, for a very long time, it was the privilege of a few to have that direct communion with the essence of who we are. And this was replaced by a very poor supper of crumbs at the table, And it has been like that for a long time. So long, in fact, that this has become something which only a few can really contest that that’s where they live from. When this level of calamity – because it’s nothing other than calamity – is reached, then obviously sooner or later the spiritual renaissance will begin. So hopefully, we’re living in such a time of yet another spiritual renaissance because we’ve been in this epoch of darkness for way too long. This era of darkness has been upon us for way too long.
And yes, there are perspectives also that run in parallel in Western and Eastern traditions about this age that we speak of – if we are to speak of the Occident, it’s the Iron Age, if we speak from the perspective of the Orient, it’s the Kali Yuga. So there’s no need to lament why many people don’t experience that, why many people don’t have direct access of that. But what’s important is where I want to have direct access to that. What’s important is whether you want to have direct access to that and claim what is your birthright here. That’s the only thing that really matters. Everything else, sooner or later, will become a hypothetical discussion, and we will slide into speculation only to dwell in the status quo. Are you willing? That’s what matters.
– Igor Kufayev, adapted from the discourses at the immersion in Ojai, CA, December 2018. Edited, Mexico, February 2019.
End of part I
IMAGES: Akumal Beach, Yucatan, Mexico, January 2019. Courtesy of Flowing Wakefulness Fellowship.