Awaken Interviews Guruprem Khalsa Pt 1 – Existence Is A Miracle
DONNA: Well, Guruprem…Welcome and thank you for joining us. We are Awaken.com and I know that our listeners will just be thrilled to hear whatever wisdom you have to offer us today. So, I appreciate your time and I thank you for spending this hour with us.
GURUPREM: Thank you.
DONNA: For those of you who do not know, you are the author of Everyday Devotion, which I personally enjoyed and marked up terribly. But you also have other books out. The Heart Rulesand Divine Alignment.The first thing we like to start with is the topic of awakening because after all, this is Awaken.com, so we are very interested in exploring this notion of what it means to awaken. So, I would love it if you could share your thoughts on that. What is awakening?
GURUPREM: Awakening…well, it could be as simple as the voice that got you out of bed.
DONNA: I like that.
GURUPREM: Let me give you an example. This morning. There I was…it was four something in the morning. About 4:20, actually, and there was the call to get out of bed now…or, stay a bit longer. So, the awakening dialog was that the cold shower was calling me. Or, the cozy covers. How do I describe it? The cozy mistress of the covers versus the reality of the cold shower. Most mornings the cold shower wins. But there is always that bit of a duality between the sense of comfort and stepping into a greater reality. And so, the idea of the cold shower is what awakens me. Then the process of deeper awakening will evolve over the early hours, which includes some kind of meditation…some kind of devotional practice. And I’ve done this thousands of times over the last 42 years. You’d think that I’d want to coast and feel that I am awake enough, but it’s not true.
DONNA: Now, 4:20 in the morning is awfully early for most folks. Why 4:20 in the morning? Why do you do that?
GURUPREM: Okay…It’s not something that I would have ever guessed on my own. Interestingly enough, when I was in college and thought I was on my way to a successful career, at 21 years old, I wanted to be successful enough financially, so I could get up at the crack of noon. That was my aim in life. To be able to get up whenever I wanted…do what ever I wanted…be what ever I wanted. That was my aspiration. It didn’t go much beyond that. And all I needed was enough income to pay for that form of existence. So, it was following the path of comfort, as I understood it—which was essentially emotional comfort…physical comfort. That’s it. But, at the time, I was in a state that could literally be described as cold depression, even though I was athletic. But, I was on a path of, I would say, creative darkness…and required actually becoming dark enough that I could awaken to the flickering light of the soul. And thus began, what was the first awakening. And I’ll get back to where I am in just a second. But, that first awakening happened when I was 21.
DONNA: What prompted it?
GURUPREM: Well, I ended up by luck and by chance in a yoga class. Not by design. I just wanted to meet this girl.
DONNA: I think you describe that in your book! She was a vegetarian and you were four hours vegetarian when you met her…
GURUPREM: That’s correct. Well, I was not even that. I was pretending! Ha! But I got her attention and she invited me to her pantomime class. And the pantomime teacher used Kundalini Yoga as a device to bring us to an awakened awareness…so that our sensitivity and subtlety could be harnessed into not pretending there was a wall, but to actually see it. You could project a field of light that you would develop the subtlety and sensitivity enough to play with. And the other side of that…it looks like he’s on a wall, when in fact, it was as much a wall as the very sensitive nature…as you put your hands on a wall. And the very good mimes…their hands would actually turn pressure white, as if they were actually on a wall. Thus, the beginning was actually just following an attraction. Everyone’s beginning is different. Some beginnings start at a really hard bottom. They awaken, literally, on the streets, homeless…addicted to some substance. And some people awaken from a different darkness, chasing some young lady to a yoga class. I look at the bottom as sacred. And I would call that our base awakening.
DONNA: And we honor whatever that is.
DONNA: Now, when you use the word in this context, though…that awakening can come from all beginnings. Are you talking about that most basic beginning or a deeper awakening? I’d like to probe that a little further.
GURUPREM: There are layers in that. Your basic beginning is the most important. Because we are talking about the call of the soul, which comes in many styles and verses. It’s that first call. You know, people don’t even recognize it at the time, but that call is the first love. But, the awakening of the soul has a fist love, too. But, anyone who has been blessed to be in a long relationship—and I’ve been blessed to have a 30-year marriage—the relationship grows into subtlety, although that first call at the beginning is a very different kind of feeling and you honor that. It’s just like the first call of your spiritual soul. That call is not only something you must honor, but you’ve got to put roots into that.
So, fast forward. I’ve been through many transformative processes, tests and challenges. And I’ve had to go back to that fundamental part of me. What was that awakening? What was that recognition that my existence is a miracle? In fact, I consider my existence the greatest miracle of all time. And it’s taken me a number of years to awaken. Wow, not only was it the greatest miracle of all time…all the other miracles around me, whether it be science or spiritual…they are irrelevant, without my existence, to recognize it. But, I am continually awakening to the miracle that continues.
Getting back to 4:20 AM…The call of my soul is a bit stronger, now. And it demands my presence. When you are up at that hour, you are on the cusp between night and daylight. And just about every tradition honors what we call the “ambrosial hour.”It’s the most potent time, whether you are a Catholic monk…whether you are a Tibetan monk…whether you are a Sufi.
DONNA: And why is that? It’s not just that it is quiet and you are uninterrupted…Is there something magnetic or particularly sacred?
GURUPREM: Yeah. Well, let’s just call that a “life force.”It is particularly life force-rich. So, for those who wish to gather the nectar, it’s more abundant. For those that are trained in the sensitivity required…the receptivity required to appreciate it…I show up early because it’s how I get 24 hours of insurance coverage. One day! And I’ve got to go an renew my coverage for another day because I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to miss things. Sometimes subtle…sometimes bigger…But I’m always amazed how I’m covered.
DONNA: That’s cute. I like that…Having that sacred time in the morning is a way to give you better assurance that your day will be balanced. I don’t mean to put words in your mouth.
GURUPREM: Yes, and the way it works is that I’m kept in what I call “deep listening mode.”There is a word for it. It’s both Sanskrit and Gurmukhi…and it’s called…well, there are a couple of ways to put it. Deep sunni-ai. Sunia is the word for deep listening. And so, in this state…you know the awakening continues…your sunni-ai goes deeper. And in this deep state…more and more is presented to you. This is by invitation. You can’t barge into a state of deep listening. What you can do is prepare yourself for the invitation. And if you are a good guest, then that invitation is extended and you can progressively go deeper and collect more gifts.
DONNA: You’ve referenced a few times, this notion of “getting subtle and sensitive.”Is this part of the early awakening process?
DONNA: Would you say that it develops in layers?
GURUPREM: Yeah and I can…I just substitute the word soulful for subtle. I could say the word soulful or subtle. To me, they mean the exact same thing. To be soulful is to be subtle. And the first thing I learned way back…and I’m still learning…the first step on the path of subtly is calm. And calm is not stillness. That’s something that is often misunderstood. We are not here to be still nor are we here to be perfect. We are here to be subtle. Perfect…I used to think I was to do things perfectly…just the littlest things….making a judgement and a condemnation at times.
DONNA: And everything has to be perfectly executed.
GURUPREM: Except you never can be perfect. Sometimes perfect really does you. And you don’t know how you did so well. It just happened. The most difficult thing is absolutely easy not because you did it…it’s because you didn’t do it. And if you try to do it again then you can’t do it because you can’t do it, it can do you. So, this is a good metaphor for life itself. The song writes itself. Routine does itself. The magic happens by itself. All you can do is be prepared for perfect to do you. Stillness can be achieved. You cannot achieve stillness. But you can do calmness and calmness is a condition of equalization. It begins by equalizing the speed of your inhale and exhale. This is relative calm. You are dancing around the two points between inhale and exhale. You can dance between the top of the inhale or the bottom. Your bottom of the exhale or the top.
DONNA: When you say we can’t be still, why is that? Just because of the nature of being human…that we are here to accomplish and do?
GURUPREM: Well, stillness implies perfection. What environment are you in that is actually still? Just point to me one thing. I want you to share with me because I have never found anything still.
DONNA: So, we are just going back to Buddha’s first teaching, everything is impermanent, including us. So, the trick is finding that calmness in the midst of the motion…
GURUPREM: Well, I like verifying things with physics, so again, what in your room is still? Well, you could say that couch behind you. Come back in 100,000 years and it is moving. You may not see it with your physical eyes but if you look with a microscope, deep enough…oh my god, there is movement. It is not still. Look at the deeper level. The quantum levels. It’s not still. They try to grab some empty space, only to find there was all kinds of stuff, behavior, dynamics happening.
DONNA: So, I kind want to nail this down further. We are talking about these levels of awakening…and it’s so intriguing because you’ve referenced this first point, where we hear the whisper…when we hear this call from wherever we are and then we come into this kind of calmness amidst the movement of life…
GURUPREM: You have to be trained. I mean, I can’t claim I didn’t have to show up and learn a few things. I was taught how to calm my breath. I had no breath awareness. Breathing? I guess I’m breathing. I didn’t even know I spoke on an exhale. I was college educated and I didn’t even know I spoke on an exhale until I was told. Oh, yeah, of course! Otherwise, words just came out of me. I can’t put them back in. We see that every day. Words come out of people without a thought. And then they go into deep apology. I didn’t know what I was saying! I guarantee you, a person that speaks unconsciously is very breath unaware.
DONNA: So where do we go next as we continue the awakening process? Is there no limit? And is this what we mean by enlightenment? Does such a thing exist?
GURUPREM: Well, no. No human can get that much, within the constrains of a maxed-out human body and mind.
DONNA: I love that straight forward answer, by the way. Because people have the misconception that enlightenment makes you a saint and that you reach this pinnacle where you are perfect. And it’s funny, we were talking about the impossibility of being perfect. So, you are saying, “cut that out! No, it doesn’t exist.”
GURUPREM: You, perfect as you…you can’t be perfect. Perfect does you. You can bow to it. The greatest saints always remind us they’re nothing. They will even say, “I’m the lowest of the low.”They will say, “okay, there are words that have come through me…make them your song, too.”And, they can deliver you, as well.
You know, when I was really little, my idea of death was that I would be stuck in a dark room with the clock ticking forever. That was like a torture. This endless claustrophobic ticking away and I couldn’t get out. And I’ve come to realize, through experience…well, wait a minute…it isn’t time based. The infinite is also formless. We are allowing formlessness to take form in us. And we are doing our best to listen and behave in a certain way, so we can get a little bit. And a little bit goes a long way. We are delivering you to a healthier, happier, whole-hearted, holy existence.
DONNA: So, this listening seems to be a big part of what you consider the awakening process and it’s the ability for us to get to…did you say shunya?
GURUPREM: No. Shunya means zero. It means, another place we can move toward. But, you can’t get that either…but, you can get close enough where you can realize…You are getting close enough to be a cleaner channel. Sunni-ai means deep listening and it’s not we’re listening. It’s when all of your senses have been disciplined into a oneness. It’s kind of primal. The bible said, “let there be light.”So, there is the vibration. Creating light.
DONNA: This is beautiful. I want to fine tune this a little bit. Sunni-ai…it’s not just listening well. It is that, but from what you are saying, it is so much more than that. It’s your soul listening. Would you say that it is developing that sense of intuitive awareness?
GURUPREM: Well, you will get the intuitive awareness. Your intuition is guiding you towards that. And before you are guided toward that…the gift of that journey is, you will have more of three basic intuitions. You’ll have your gut sense. And you will have a greater sense of what they call clairvoyant; you’ll just see things. See the divine. Nature, so much of what we call sacred geometry. You will see the divine print in a form. And in divine song. The voice, if you will. That quiet voice, that deep wisdom that comes from your personal guide. Your personal guide that sits on the altar of your true heart. Whatever you consider the ideal form of the formless, you can install it in the altar of your heart. And you can have that relationship.
DONNA: It seems like every tradition has an expression for this. What you just said reminds me of what the Quakers call the “still, small voice within.”Are we all talking about the same thing?
GURUPREM: Absolutely. Exact same thing. But how do you get your noisy head to shut up enough where the quieter voice will be heard? It’s not that it’s not talking. It’s just that we haven’t listened enough. Seek and you shall find. There is the idea, meditate in God’s name. Okay, I did that but I’m not fully awake. Why? It’s not that if I keep chanting my favorite mantra Om, or whatever it is…If I just keep doing it, God is going to wake up. No, I keep doing it until I wake up. That’s the idea of this repetitiveness. Continual remembering because it’s really easy to forget. It’s so easy to be pulled into many distractions. Dis-attract. You are being pulled into a different attraction. We are so easily seduced by other attractions. Other tastes.
View part II here