ID Music: Adyashanti I + II
North America's Gnarliest Mix for becoming very wide and vast
Inter-Dimensional Music 20220722
Inter-Dimensional Music 20220805
I’ve spent more time with “spiritual thinker” Adyashanti’s Falling Into Grace (2011) than most of the books in my relatively small meditation/mindfulness/Buddhist literature library. This is because Adyashanti kinda drives me nuts. Many of his teachings have been incredibly helpful to me. But he expresses himself using an especially grating variation of the saccharine New Age dialect common across the corporate yoga and prosperity mindfulness industries. This is partly a frivolous personal gripe. But it’s also a sincere bummer when great teachers obfuscate the radical implications of their concepts, turning a useful pamphlet into a sellable book or newsletter by draping a few classic ideas in layers of gauzy self-help aphorisms.
Regardless of intent, such a tone can come across as a signal that the speaker is not talking to a lot of us. As with many products emerging from the mindfulness/yoga industries, Adya’s book reads like it’s written for the bougie white people who buy these things, and who are already over-served. We all suffer, and these ideas can be universally applicable, but some of us have far fewer points of entry to “insights on the end of suffering.” One of the motivations behind Void Contemplation Tactics is to dispel this haze for those of us who are weary of assurances that “the universe cares about you,” and wealth visualization exercises from TikTok life coaches. As another writer puts it, it’s the difference between “the promise that meditation will make you more effective at work” and “the promise that meditation will just make work feel a little less important overall1.”
Which is a complicated way of explaining why I’m reading excerpts from Falling Into Grace alongside death metal, psychedelic jazz, and long-form ambient covers of Black Sabbath songs on the next few episodes of the show.
My introduction to Adyashanti came as part of yin yoga teacher training in 2017. Falling Into Grace was on the non-required reading syllabus, and I ordered a copy despite wariness over the dandelion seed suspended over aquamarine bokeh on the cover.
The opening lines of his author bio didn’t help: “Adyashanti began teaching in 1996 at the request of his Zen teacher of fourteen years.”
This is fine! But “at the request of his Zen teacher” immediately read as insecure2 to me. There are ways to say this without flexing that your career as an award-winning mindfulness guy started because a mystic charged you with the sacred duty to go on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast. It’s a small gripe, but it is the first line of his bio.
There’s lots of good stuff to come, but I stumbled – again – over literally the first line of the book:
“When I was a young child, about seven or eight years old, one of the things I started to notice and ponder as I watched the adults around me was that the adult world is prone to suffering, pain, and conflict.”
And again, this is verbose3, but fine. “As a young child” is a phrase that Adya uses throughout the text that – intentionally or not – sets him up as a guru. He obviously refined his practice as an adult, but he makes it sound like it’s rooted in the innate wisdom of a special little guy with a destiny to fulfill. It’s the opposite of the language that Zen teachers often use to open their tracts: Don’t trust the person who says they have special insights or secret wisdom. As I’ve said many times before, if you’re reading a Zen text and the author doesn’t tell you that they’re nothing special, or that they don’t have anything new to say, it might not actually be a Zen text. "Truth is not far away,” Zen Master Dōgen wrote 700 years ago in The Practice of Meditation. “There is no need to attain it, since not one of your steps leads away from it.”
It feels like Adya is selling a story, which is kind of ironic. If you make it through the first few pages about how he was experiencing revelations like “Adults believe what they think! That’s why they suffer!” at an age when most of us were contemplating timeless koans such as “what’s grosser than gross” or chanting the “milk, milk, lemonade” sutra, you’ll find that some of Falling Into Grace’s basic ideas are about dismantling stories, or images of ourselves. The language I use in the upcoming 20220812 episode of ID Music comes from “The Discovery of No-Image” section:
… as long as we’re taking ourselves to be an image in our minds, we can’t ever feel completely sufficient. We can’t feel completely worthy. Even if the image is positive, we don’t feel completely enlivened…
Most people, deep in their unconscious, want to find an idea of themselves, an image of themselves, that’s really good, quite wonderful, quite worthy of admiration and approval. Yet when we start to peer underneath our image, we find something quite surprising – maybe even a bit disturbing at first. We begin to find no image.
The more I turned this over in my head, the heavier the concept became. It’s one of the best refutations of “prosperity gospel” mindset, or the “law of attraction” set of beliefs popularized in books like The Secret4 or Jen Sincero’s hyper-capitalist You Are a Bad Ass5 franchise. The idea behind these grifts is that by projecting positive thoughts a person can improve their health or acquire more money, power, or friends. It’s an expressly anti-Zen concept in my opinion, aimed at increasing desire for things that you don’t have, rather than Zen’s suggestion that making peace with things as they are is the path to equanimity. But it has plenty of adherents within Buddhism6, along with most other spiritual traditions.
Positive self-images may be preferable to negative self-images, but all images are just ideas. The word “tree” doesn’t have any physical connection to perennial woody plants, “Daniel Chamberlin” is an idea that can never encompass whatever it is that I am. It’s an extension of the Buddhist concept of non-self, and a poetic articulation of the disconnect between signifier (the word “Chambo”) and signified (me) from Semiotics 101. A positive self-image is just a nicer mask. “Whatever this image is,” Adya writes, “when we look deep down in the core of all images, there is this feeling that we’re faking it.” Imposter syndrome is part of being human. It’s a core component of our language. It starts when you learn your name.
I knew Adya was on to something when Linc, the guiding teacher at the Indianapolis Zen Center, balked at my suggestion that we greet newcomers by telling them that their ideas about who they are are wrong. Which is probably why Adya presents this concept with such sweet mindfulness glaze7.
The idea works great for yoga though, and it’s something that I incorporate into my yin classes, meditation workshops, and “mindfulness installation” art projects. It’s not helpful to start a yoga session thinking “I’m terrible at yoga.” But if you go in thinking “I’m wonderful at yoga” you’re setting up expectations that may leave you disappointed, and introducing the potential for ego-driven overreach and injury. As Linc often told newcomers, the goal of meditation is to be in the room. Likewise, the goal of my yoga practice is to do yoga with my body. Rankings and evaluations don’t have to be part of the experience. You can just sit, or just do yoga, and rest in life as it is.
The language in the first two episodes of the ID Music Adyashanti series archived below appears later in this short book. It’s not far off from some of the Joko Beck and Ezra Bayda language that is a mainstay on our show:
Every experience - whether inner or outer – changes. The nature of experience itself is change and movement, and this is why so many of us find that we're to one degree or another being knocked off balance and losing our sense of equanimity. The entire world seems to be shifting, and it seems to be happening very, very quickly. So if we're looking for a relative stillness, if we're looking for all of this change and movement to stop, we're always going to be frustrated, because this kind of stillness is elusive, very hard to maintain, and it can slip away at any given moment.
Instead of trying to control our minds or environments by contracting or hiding in order to find this inner stillness, we must throw our senses wide open – listening, feeling, seeing – and become very wide and vast. We welcome all our experience, both that which is happening on the inside as well as that on the outside. When you welcome all of experience into your awareness, a certain type of stillness starts to emerge organically. I'm pointing to a stillness that is directly related to this capacity to open to all experiences, not just those that are pleasant and comfortable. Even if you have a very busy mind, if you let go of judging your mind for being busy, even in the midst of the busyness, this stillness is there. Similarly if you let go of judging the exterior situation – your world – for being noisy or chaotic, even for a moment, this true stillness is there. And when we arrive at this inner stillness and inner stability, our emotional being opens. It is only then that we begin to realize that so much of our instability is caused by our constant arguing with what's happening.
This is some of the life-changing stuff I was talking about: accepting that what happened to you – however painful – or what is happening at the moment – however painful – is not right or wrong, but simply “life as it is.” This is not to say that we shouldn’t work to reduce our suffering, or the suffering of others, but that’s not the same thing as “arguing with what’s happening.” As silly as it may sound, that’s one of the organizing principles of ID Music as a meditation experiment: Can you remain in stillness when the music turns noisy and chaotic? This isn’t zazen8, but it can be a kind of training in finding stillness when our exterior situation produces pain, or when the soothing ambient music meditation hour fades into gastric metal.
It helps me when I’m experiencing personal distress, and when I’m feeling distress at the profound suffering that arises from events that are far beyond my control. Such as when I watch the handful of wealthy and powerful people whose individual decisions could actually have a positive impact on the impending collapse of the only known livable ecosystem in the universe actively working to make things worse in the most mundane ways. Arguing with this reality – whether it’s America’s endless wars, bricked inkjet printers, fascistic assaults on bodily autonomy, or legislators blocking insulin price caps – is an exhausting exercise.
You don’t get much done by wishing that the bad things weren’t happening. Hoping and wishing can be a distraction from the work we can actually do right now. Like being a little more kind and patient with ourselves and the people around us.
As I was writing this, a dear friend and fellow practitioner called me out of the blue. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned to her that I was writing about Adyashanti, and we talked about my conflicted feelings about his work. It turns out she knows people in his circle, and that he has the surprisingly rare reputation in the world of mindfulness teachers and gurus as an “actually nice person.” Not to get overly meta, but I realized that I was engaging in the same futility that Adya is warning against by documenting my stylistic pet peeves in the first half of this newsletter. Hopefully I’ve made up for that, at least for those of you who’ve made it this far down. Adyashanti is great.
The concept of “trust the teaching, not the teacher” has taken on increased importance as stories of abuse by trusted teachers have wreaked havoc with Buddhist communities from Shambhala International to Kwan Um School of Zen, the organization that I was part of during my two year residency at the Indianapolis Zen Center. It’s not meant to excuse the harm they inflict, but to preserve the wisdom despite the corruption of the human medium by which it is conveyed. Such thinking is also helpful for the lesser offense of not appealing to my very specific set of aesthetic preferences. Corny people say helpful and wise things that are easier to hear if you can stop arguing with the cringe.
Or as Adya writes, “Argue with the past, decide what has been shouldn't have been, and you'll suffer.”
Thank you for reading these words, writing to me, listening to the shows, subscribing for free (amazing!), subscribing for money so that this project is slightly less unprofitable (extraordinary!!!), lurking silently (totally understandable), or passing this along to your nice friends.
Blessing up and blessing down,
ID Music 20220722
North America's Gnarliest Mix for becoming very wide and vast
Inter-Dimensional Music is back from offline and resuming our regular transmission schedule. For this week's session, we'll hear a gentle duet for hand drums and flute, a Hornsby-forward first-set Dark Star, 432 Hz "Vibe Engineering" from Ypsilanti Michigan, and a slow and heady sci-fi blues banger composed while lightly tripping on LSD. Our practice begins and comes to an end with Tuluum Shimmering's pastoral long-form re-interpretation of Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan."
This program is the first in a series using language about becoming wide and vast by welcoming all forms of experience into our lives, as excerpted from Adyashanti's Falling into Grace.
Tuluum Shimmering - Planet Caravan (excerpt)
William Parker & Hamid Drake - Pahos
Carlos Niño - Commend, NYC Peace 2
Thorr's Hammer - Norge
Blod - Arvet
Golden Feelings - Tripper John
Anteloper - Earthlings
Grateful Dead - Dark Star (19910816 Shoreline) (SYF edit)
Tuluum Shimmering - Planet Caravan (excerpt)
☸️ Adyashanti - Falling Into Grace
📹 Black Sabbath Live At The 1974 California Jam
ID Music 20220805
North America's gnarliest mix for realizing that much of our instability is caused by arguing with what's happening
For this week's practice, it's an hour of cavernous death and doom metal that may or may not also be about caverns, a fresh Nadja collaboration, a death metal reinterpretation of a Megadeth classic, and more death metal to accompany the endless cycle of dismemberment and rebirth. If things go according to plan, we'll wind up back in the caves with Robert Smith.
Our practice begins and comes to an end with a love letter to water from Los Angeles-based therapist and musician Inkarose, forthcoming on Constellation Tatsu.
This program is the second in a series using language from the writer Adyashanti about being knocked off balance by our constantly shifting world. Inter-Dimensional Music can be an opportunity to practice with the frustration that comes as our search for stillness and equanimity is disrupted by the noise and chaos of life as it is. Can you remain open to these experiences that may or may not be pleasant or comfortable, depending on your appetite for cavernous death metal?
Inkarose - A Love Letter (edit)
Nadja - Blurred (featuring Elizabeth Colour Wheel’s Lane Shi Otayonii)
Cavurn - I (Live)
Phobophilic - Take No Prisoners (Megadeth)
Sedimentum - Excrétions Basaltiques
Void Rot - Telluric Dismemberment
Tomb Mold - Prestige of Rebirth
The Cure - All Cats Are Grey (19810610 Tübingen, Germany)
Inkarose - A Love Letter (edit)
☸️ Adyashanti - Falling Into Grace
📹 Megadef crowd footage (Cosmic Chambo Distressed Saturation Edit)
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This is one of the clearest articulations of what is intentionally lost in translation in the modern appropriation of Zen concepts. It’s from Mike Powell’s excellent “Meditation in the Time of Disruption” article in The Ringer.
I found similar complaints from people who also appreciate Adya on the Guru Rating website. E.g. “he strings cliches and phrases together instead of talking in paragraphs,” or “resentment has always creeped in at times regarding how much he talks about himself and his enlightenment.” SPOILER: “We rate Adyashanti as great,” the Guru Raters conclude. “He’s a very good teacher when it comes to clearly expressing his awakening experience [but] we strongly advise that you not spend your money on his expensive talks and retreats.”
In his defense, many Buddhist books are actually transcribed dharma talks. A monologue from a charismatic speaker doesn’t always retain its charm divorced from cadence, inflection, etc.
Like Drs. Oz and Phil, The Secret is a mostly worthless if not expressly harmful Oprah Winfrey-endorsed mindfulness product. The middle ground between IMO harmful writers like Sincero and Adyashanti, who is actually good.
Whenever I hear that title I think of the handful of terrifying friends I’ve had who are actual bad-asses. I am not a bad ass, you are probably not a bad ass, and as Shel Silverstein and Bobby Bare remind us, that’s probably a good thing! It’s exhausting to be a bad ass.
My beloved teacher at the Indianapolis Zen Center even got taken in by Sincero’s baloney, leading to some “dharma combat” during Wednesday night practice many years ago, when I challenged him on Sincero’s suggestion that renown asshole Steve Jobs or the billionaire founder of FedEx are good models of a virtuous life.
For that matter, I’ve dog-eared basically every other page in my disintegrating copy of Falling Into Grace and I have no idea with falling into grace means, other than it’s a proprietary term that repackages 700 year-old Zen ideas for Christians. (Which is cool and good!) Just as Void Contemplation Tactics allows me to do that much less successfully for all of you lovely newsletter subscribers.
The concept is a little more obvious with yin yoga, where we practice remaining in stillness in awkward and uncomfortable poses for extended periods of time, possibly with Asunder’s “Twilight Amaranthine” booming out of the speakers.