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?

Ch: 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 altogether.

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 so.'
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 view.
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 cover.

'Who is this one who wants to know life's meaning?

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 life?

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.' So, 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 discussion.

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 is this?'

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 itself?

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 conflict.

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 be interested.
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 are.
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}