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.
Gussie: 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.
Sharon: 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. 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. In my own terms I often call it “the deep Mother,” because everything was contained within that.
G: You talk about “embodiment” of this awareness. What does embodiment mean on a day-to-day basis?
S: 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. 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.
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.
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. The deep unconscious started to come to the surface. So it was not all light, beauty and wonder. 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. 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: 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. 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.
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. Because it’s your home. It ceases to be a seeking and it ceases to be a discipline. It’s resting deeply in home.
Another interview detailing Sharon’s spiritual journey to this point, and how it shapes her everyday life and relationships, can be found in an excellent book by Crestone resident Rita Marie Robinson. Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Wisdom: The Feminine Face of Awakening (2007, O Books, available at the Desert Sage) features personal and broad-ranging interviews with 12 contemporary women who are becoming known for sharing their wisdom on the path to our deepest nature.
Learn more about Sharon and her schedule of events at sharonlandrith.com, or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or (719) 256-4477.
To read the full-length version of this feature (this is only 1/2 of the interview) please visit the Crestone Eagle website www.crestoneeagle.com