Consciousness as an experience junkie
interview with Chuck Hillig
Some time ago I saw a book on Chuck Hillig's
website: 'Looking for God: Seeing the Whole in One'.
My attention was drawn to the fact that there's a hole in
the book. I was curious enough to get hold of the book and read
it. I've read a lot of Advaita books but never one with a
hole in it. Besides it's also very easy to read as far as
I am concerned. In the book there are a lot of things happening
in and around the hole. It sometimes looks as if the book comes
out of the hole!
In any case reason enough to interview Chuck Hillig (practicing
Marriage and Family Therapist in Ojai, California)
Who you think you are
A: Before going on further about the contents
of the book. I am very interested in knowing more about the person,
Chuck Hillig. (Although there are many advaita supporters who would
say that there is no-body there). In 'Advaita-land',
we learn that 'we' are perfect just the way we are... right
here and now. There are warnings from many advaita teachers who
say: 'Stop! Don't change! Don't search for happiness!
Stay where You are!' What do you think?
Well, just because everything is perfect, that doesn't
mean that things don't appear to change. Who you really are,
of course, doesn't (and can't) ever change. Who you
think you are, however (as well as who you think you are not) appears
to change a lot. But life always unfolds from one perfect instant
into yet another perfect instant ...and, amazingly, every micro-instant
in between is also absolutely perfect, too. You can realize this
for yourself the very moment that you give up your belief about
what perfection is 'supposed' to look like. You see,
without your idea about what's perfect, then perfection always
looks exactly like 'what is.' However, whenever you
superimpose what you believe 'should be' over what
actually 'is,' the misalignment creates both the tension
and the friction that feed into your persistent illusion of separation.
Since happiness and bliss are your own true nature, however, there's
no reason to go out searching for something that you already have
(and are.) Please remember, though, that just because every moment
is always perfect, that doesn't imply that every moment is
always going to be comfortable. The body's ongoing search
to seek pleasure and avoid pain will automatically play out as
it does. But that still doesn't mean that whatever shows
up for you is going to be any more perfect than what's present
right here and right now. Life is as it is because, at this single
moment of now, it simply can't be any other way.
Therapy is about finding the courage to 'be-who-you-already-are.'
A: So why bother about marriage or family problems?
Is there some separation between the person and 'being' (or
void)? Or are there some differences in the stages where some people
do need therapy and some don't?
Ch: Our closest relationships can be either a golden
chalice or an iron cauldron. We're all cooked in the melodramas
of our own making until we become softer and more malleable. Marriage
is an opportunity to deepen our compassion, love and forgiveness.
Since our spouse is a reflection of who we are, the guru is really
appearing to us as the Beloved. In our neurotic need to dominate
and control each other, though, (all fear-based), we often don't
appreciate the gifts that our significant relationships bring to
us. We should learn to deeply honor and respect their contribution
to our own unfoldment. Your spouse is the way that they are because
of the way that you are. And, just like it was in school, you're
not always going to like what you're being taught. Remember,
though, that none of it (no matter how crazy it might be) is happening
to you. It's all actually happening for you.
By the way, therapy is not about feeling 'better.' Therapy
is about telling the truth. It's about 'feeling-whatever-you're-feeling' and
finding the courage to 'be-who-you-already-are.' Bottom
line: A good therapist helps you to grow up and to create better
dreams. A satguru, however, helps you to wake up and to stop dreaming
A: Although this interview is going to be
about your book please allow me to go a little bit further into
what you said here before. You say that therapy is about telling
the truth. But I think truth is the domain of what we really are
and not what we think we are. The truth that we find in Satsang
is that the same truth you could find in Therapy?
Ch: Well, the only Truth (capital 'T')
that's really real is Absolute truth, and it'll never
change into anything else simply because it can't change.
It just 'is-what-is.' Absolute truth manifests as relative
truth within the Great Illusion, however, whenever we start telling
a story about 'what is.' Relative truth depends on
remembering a past or imagining a future. It only shows up within
the dualistic world of opposites, stratifications, values (e.g.
ethics) and, of course the five senses. Specifically, relative
truth arises when there's a point of view (i.e. an 'Observer' observing
an 'Observed'). Absolute truth, on the other hand,
doesn't have a polar opposite simply because it's incapable
of adopting a single point of view about anything. Or, more accurately,
you might say that Absolute truth holds all possible points of
view because, at the bottom line, Absolute truth is just 'what's
When we speak truthfully from the Heart in this present micro-moment
of Now, then we're speaking directly from (and about) 'what
is.' On the other hand, whenever we move away from this present
moment of Now and into the past or future, we begin speaking relatively
because the truth is now being described from an egoic point of
Clients are able to heal in therapy when they find the courage
to fully embrace the Absolute truth about 'what's so' about
themselves... warts and all...at this single moment of
Now. In their willingness to totally align themselves 100% with
their whole truth, they deepen their own authenticity by becoming
more fully who they always were all along. With the therapist taking
the part as the non-judgmental Witness, this 'truth-telling' then
becomes the litmus test for all therapeutic healing. What often
stops us from speaking our truth, however, is our belief that
we 'should' be feeling, thinking, saying or doing something
other than what we are feeling, thinking, saying or doing. However,
true power only comes in being who we really are...deep down...and
not in pretending to be something else. By always aligning ourselves
completely with the Truth of 'what is,' we're
making the unqualified (and enthusiastic) 'YES' to
be the default position of the Heart.
A: Could it be possible in therapy to tell
a little lie for the sake of welfare?
Ch: Does the end justify the means? Lies only manifest
within the dualistic world of relative truth. There are no lies
within the Absolute truth of 'what is.' If you tell
a relative lie, however, then that part of you that knows the real
truth splits off from your psyche, goes unconscious, and often
revisits you again by creating mischief in your life somewhere
down the road.
Seeing the Whole in One
A: It is very tempting to go on and on about
the above subject. But let us go on with your book. To me, it is
one of the books on enlightenment that I read in one sitting. It
is very easy to read. When I look at the title 'Looking for
God: Seeing the Whole in One,' you could get the idea that
is it a kind of religious book. Many - but not all - enlightenment
teachers speak of God. Do you have a specific reason to use the
word God here?
Ch: Yes. The title was designed to attract those
seekers who still support the belief that God (or Allah, Brahma,
Yahweh, etc.) is somewhere outside of them, and that they have
to follow well-established spiritual guidelines...for example,
rituals and traditions...if they ever hope to reach heaven or nirvana.
However, the single concept that creates the most mischief is this
persistent belief that they are, essentially, separate from the
Truth that they're seeking.
A: Why is that such a problem?
Ch: Well, when you're not fully awakened to
the reality that you-already-are-who-you-are-looking-for, that
misidentification then sets into (e)motion all of the various dramas
of your life. The cosmic momentum of 'The Search' that's
propelling you forward into seeking out the Truth, however, also
serves to fill another more subtle purpose. By inference, it reinforces
the notion that, even though they're arising simultaneously,
the 'seeker' and the 'goal-being-sought' must
be fundamentally different from each other. The subtitle of the
book, (Seeing the Whole in One) hopefully reminds the reader about
the ultimate futility of words, images and concepts in this area
by showing Michelangelo's God the Father and Adam both pointing
their fingers, not at each other, but at the empty (w)hole on the
'Who is this one who wants to know life's
A: This issue (of Amigo) is about 'The
Meaning of Life.' A short time ago, I read a book by U.G.
Krishnamurti, (Mind is a Myth) in which he says: 'don't
look for a meaning to life. There may not be any meaning at all.
It may have its one meaning that you can never know.' In
your book you talk about The Void, being the source of all 'nothing-ness' and,
at the very same time the source of all 'everything-ness'
Could you say that the void is an expression of the meaning of
Ch: I consider the Void to be like a cosmic matrix
from which the infinite manifestations of consciousness appear
to emerge out of and, eventually, disappear back into. Everything
begins and ends in silence...in the nothingness beneath the
nothingness. However, when most people discuss the 'meaning
of life,' they're usually talking about its 'significance' or
its 'importance.' But maybe life really doesn't
have any so-called 'meaning' at all other than the
one that you, yourself, superimpose upon it. Life seems to mysteriously
show up for you in ways that fully support your own heart's
definition of how-life-actually-is...no matter how self-limiting
or distorted that definition might be. For example, believing that
'Life is an incredible drag' will manifest a very different reality
for you than if you believe that 'Life is an incredible dance.'
does life have any meaning? Well, what's the 'meaning' of
a rose or of a mountain? They simply are what they are. A much
deeper question to ponder is: 'who is this one who wants
to know life's meaning?
A: Of course any idea about the meaning of
life would be a concept. But still a lot of questions arise in
the imagined world that appears to us. There isn't any question
about who we really are. But somehow we still live our daily lives
with a lot of other questions like 'What is it all about?'
Isn't it a bit too easy to say: 'Well just don't
worry about it.' These kinds of answers would kill any further
Ch: Well, I never tell people to stop doing anything... even
worrying. (Anyway, worrying is never the problem. The real problem
begins when people 'worry-about-their-worrying.') The 'What's
it all about?' question is fundamentally problematic. Why?
Well, after first assuming that consciousness has some kind of 'meaning' behind
it, the question then encourages others to theorize about what
that meaning could be. But, in truth, consciousness doesn't
just have a single 'meaning' or a specific 'purpose.' To
the contrary, everything is always included in it. In other words,
consciousness openly embraces every possible 'meaning' and 'purpose' that
you might be assuming about it.
Maybe the shortest answer is 'Consciousness is about what
is.' Questions and answers arise simultaneously, and as such,
they're inextricably dependent upon each other. The problem,
though, is that they both indirectly validate an assumed separation
that provides a momentum to the moment. In short, questions invite
answers, which in turn, only trigger still more questions, and
on and on. But can you ever get to a place where your mind stops
all questioning? Beneath the ultimate primordial question (Who
am I?) lies the Silence. When you fully awaken to who you really
are, then questions like 'What is it all about?' will
cease to arise.
The metaphor of the empty void:
A: Perhaps we should leave this subject for
now and go to your book. The first thing that comes up for me is
that the book has a large number of stories...some short, some
longer... a large number of quotes from a lot of 'wise' men
and women and lots of nice drawings. It gave me the idea that 'you' wanted
to create a lot of entrances to go into the idea of the Void. Can
you tell me something about it?
Ch: Yes, actually that was the idea. I especially
wanted to see if I could apply the metaphor of the empty void to
some of the well-known images that we're all familiar with.
On one page, for example, I used the hole to represent Buddha's
third eye. Later on in the book, on back-to-back pages, I used
the hole to replace both of the small black and white circles in
the yin-yang symbol. I also put the empty hole in the center of
the famous Zen circle and, later on, even surrounded it by Uroborus
(the snake that swallows its own tail). The hole was also used
to represent an ovum being 'attacked' by sperm at the
moment of conception. However, after turning the page, that very
same hole is now seen as an empty eye socket in a human skull.
However, I also wanted to show the void in more playful ways. For
example, the empty hole was also used to represent the ice cream
on a cone, a child's balloon, and even the pupil in the center
of the human eye. Above all, I wanted to give the reader an opportunity
to see that the void is the source of absolutely everything...and
of nothing...at the very same time. On the one hand, it sources
all love and light but, on the other hand, it also sources all
evil and depravity. For example, on one page, some well-known saints
(e.g. Ramana Maharshi and Gandhi) are pictured arising from the
void. However, when you turn that same page, you see pictures of
Hitler and Osama that are also arising from the very same void.
It seems that, as an 'experience junkie' Consciousness
never says 'no' to anything.
Why is this?
A: As you say, Consciousness never says 'no' to
anything. And Consciousness is what we really are. And yet in the
eyes of most people, Maharshi and Gandhi are OK, but Hitler and
Osama should not have existed at all...even if we can understand
that they are all from the same void. Seen from the standpoint
of the Void, there cannot be any judgment. From the point of view
of the mind, however, there's always judgment. How do you
look at that? Is there an(y) answer to the question 'Why
Ch: Our problems always arise when we look at 'what
is' and then say 'no' to what we see. If we're
only willing to say 'yes' to the more comfortable manifestations
of Consciousness, then we're taking the position that we,
(in all of our ego-based 'wisdom') magically know better
than the universe about what 'should' be unfolding
in it. The mind, it seems, automatically wants to prioritize whatever's
being presented to it and to put it into some kind of self-created
hierarchy. These arbitrary stratifications, then, become both justified
and energized through the judgments that the mind makes about its
own selections. But, in the great cosmic drama of life, there are
plenty of parts for everyone... no matter how poorly they might
be behaving. I'm quite sure, for example, that Shakespeare
loved his villains just as much as he loved his heroes. Why? Because
he knew that these opposites arise simultaneously and that they
each secretly depended on the other like different sides of the
same coin. Seen in this light, then, villains like Hitler and Osama
give the rest of us a glorious opportunity to rise up and become
more heroic. Plays and stories without any conflict are very boring
and are quickly forgotten. This ongoing struggle between heroes
and their villains, however, forms the very core of great drama... both
on stage and off.
Whatever you resist persists.
A: In your book I read the following: 'When
you resist the Void, the Void seems to resist you. If you make
the Void 'wrong,' then the Void starts making you 'wrong.' Remember,
this (w)hole thing is about echoes and reflections' This
quote being an answer to a question in a 'cosmic conversation' as
you have called it. I do not understand this at all. How is it
possible that: if everything is as it is, that there is some 'you' making
something wrong. Wouldn't this 'you' be the Void
Ch: Yes, of course this 'you' is also
the Void too because there's really no separate 'you' there
at all. It's all only consciousness. However, the Void apparently
resists itself whenever it seems to take an egoic position that 'something
shouldn't be happening.' However, as Werner Erhard
pointed out, 'Whatever you resist, persists.' In other
words, any ego-based resistance to 'what is' is a lot
like trying to put out a fire by using gasoline. Obviously, it
only exacerbates the problem. Notice too, that the word 'wrong' is
in quotes because the Void favors neither 'right' nor 'wrong.' It
just 'is as it is.' You become aligned with the Void
when you completely give up your attachment to the fruits of your
so-called efforts. In other words, any apparent conflict with the
Void begins the moment that you start demanding a specific outcome,
though in truth, things-will-be-the-way-that-things-will-be. Period.
Remember that it's not the actions themselves that create
the bondage. It's your attachment to the results of the actions
(through your belief in the do-ership of them) that fuels any apparent
A: Chuck, you say: 'You become aligned
with the Void when you completely give up your attachment to the
fruits of your so-called efforts.' Would it ever be possible
for the mind not to go into conflict with the void?
Ch: Words like 'ego' and 'mind' are
only concepts, and, as such, are intrinsically limited in their
ability to describe the true reality of 'what is.' The
egoic mind will never be enlightened because it's not in
its nature to be at rest. Whenever you're talking about 'mind' the
question immediately arises: 'Well, whose mind are you referring
to?' It appears that the concept of an egoic 'mind' only
manifests whenever there's any opposition to 'what
is.' On the other hand, when the so-called mind is fully
aligned with 'what is,' then that's what the
Zen masters call 'no-mind,' and it unfolds through
what the Taoists call 'non-action.' Remember, however,
that the concepts of 'ego' and 'mind' both
appear within the largest context (i.e. 'what is')
and, since nothing is ever rejected by Consciousness, neither of
them is ever considered to be a 'problem.'
The greatest obstacle to enlightenment is
your belief that you're not already enlightened.
A: In your book I read the following about
enlightenment: 'It is only the realization that there never
was any Gateway to Enlightenment to begin with nor was there ever
any separate person (like an individual 'you') that
was really present at all who could be walking through it.' Could
you tell me something about how and when this became completely
clear to you?
Ch: I was referring to the 'gateless gate' as
spoken of by Mumon, the famous 13th century Zen master. The gate
supposedly marks the apparent boundary between the 'before' and
the 'after' of awakening. Prior to realization, it
appears that there really is some kind of gate that you have to
walk through to become enlightened. However, after awakening, the
great discovery is that this so-called 'gate' or boundary
was never really there at all. As Maharshi once said, 'The
greatest obstacle to enlightenment is your belief that you're
not already enlightened.' Because awakening transcends both
space and time, though, it's like a 'non-event.' But
then, how does this 'non-event' ever actually happen
at all? Well, nothing will become clear only when there's
no separate one really there to realize that there's really
nothing there to realize.
A: A very clear answer. I also asked you if
you could tell me something about how and when it became completely
clear to you? Is there a 'reason' to a-void this question?
Ch: Well, just like there was no separate one really 'there' for
anything to have become clear to, there's also no separate
one over 'here' who's now trying to avoid this
question. Trying to identify the 'who-what-where-how-when' of
awakening only encourages the mind to want to continue to chase
its own 'tale' (deliberately misspelled). In short,
it's all just more stuff to add to the ongoing story-of-your-life.
Anything that's said about it only feeds the ego's
delusion that there really was an 'historical event' called 'awakening' that
had actually happened to someone, and that this event had occurred
somewhere within linear time (i.e. on such-and-such a calendar
date). In truth, though, nothing happened... and to no one!!!
A: A: Well Chuck, That's an answer that
leaves not much doubt (although the 'mind' is not completely
satisfied). I would like to close this interview with the following
quote I read in the book 'The Tenth Man' by Wei Wu
Wei: 'The void must be void, also, of voidness.' Chuck
I would like to invite you to have the last word on this interview.
Ch: First of all, I want to acknowledge my friend
Dick de Boom for creating the space and opportunity for us to share
these dialogues together. I'm both grateful and appreciative
for his efforts to make these teachings available for all who might
Well, since Dick has invited me to say a few final words, these
are some of the random thoughts that showed up: Essentially, my 'mission' is
to dis-illusion you. I want to encourage you to punch 'wholes' in
the story of who-you-think-you-are. Stop 'making-up-your-mind,' and,
instead, practice touching the entrancing world of forms more lightly.
You can only play the Song-of-God on the cosmic piano by living
each moment as if you're arriving...and departing...at the very
same instant. You won't have time to cling to your attachments
if you're always free-falling into the love that you already
Live courageously from the Heart. After all, do you want a safe
life or do you want an authentic life? Be willing to fully and
consciously 'live-the-risk-that-life-is' while remembering
that, at the same time, everything changes and everything ends.
Sadly, though, most people live as if they're only extras
in their own movie. You are not an extra, a minor character or
even one of the 'co-stars.' You are, in fact, the Star.
So... start starring because it's all Star. And all of 'IT' is
just for you. Remember, you are 'what is.'
Since opposites arise simultaneously, it's true that, without
you, I'm nothing. And, vice versa. In making 'Much
Ado About Nothing,' we learn to recreate new imaginary friends
like we once had in childhood. Now, however, we just call these
imaginary friends 'everyone else.' Since they're
here to play in your play, you should honor them for contributing
to your awakening. Since you're always walking among your
gurus, learn to patiently accept their grace gracefully... even
if it doesn't look like grace. Heaven, after all, is only
the graceful alignment with (and unconditional acceptance of) 'what
is.' Buddha once said, 'This very body is the Buddha.
This very place is the Lotus paradise.' So if it's not
right here and right now, then it's not anywhere. Each and
every moment is another opportunity for joyous celebration. And,
since 'It' will always be there, even the chaos that
shows up on your path needs to be celebrated, too. Instead, we
often create our own hell by living fearfully among the ego-based
concepts of 'me, mine and more.'
If duality is: 'Nothing pretending that it's something,' then
non-duality is: 'Nothing remembering that it's only pretending.' So,
look to (and in) your own Self. The Dhammapada said that: 'You
are your own refuge. There is no other refuge.' To know thy
Self, you have to learn to 'no' thy self.
Finally, please remember that it's really OK to sing and
dance along the way. As Maharshi once said, 'It is all only
a great game of pretending.'
Chuck's website: www.chuckhillig.com
An online video interview can be found at: www.wisdomteachers.com/drdennis27.html
Other books by Chuck Hillig::
• Enlightenment for beginners
• The way it is
• Seeds For The Soul
(These three books form The Enlightment Trilogy)
[interview: Dick de Boom}