Hello everyone, Lisa Kahale here with a lovely interview with Moonlight, a longtime Liberation Unleashed member and contributor. Moonlight is a guide on the LU website Forum for those seeking to pass through the gateless gate and has consistently given her time and effort to our organization. She edited and compiled our book “Look! An Illustrated Guide to Seeing What Is” and was co-publisher, as well as assisting with several other projects along the way.
Lisa: Hi, Moonlight! Thanks for being here. Please tell us a bit about yourself, your background.
Moonlight: Hi Lisa, I’m grateful that you are doing this with me. Thank you.
Let’s see now… I come from Pakistan, which is a rather conservative and conformist country. Not to say there aren’t liberal, free thinking people here, but one thing you just cannot openly do is question certain core beliefs and traditions. That is a complete no-no. So I sometimes see myself in Liberation Unleashed and I think ‘Wow, how did I even get here?!!!’. But here I am and so grateful to everyone who I have met on the way and who have helped me on this journey.
I didn’t spend my childhood in Pakistan. My father was in the diplomatic service, which brought me in contact with a lot of different cultures and traditions. But through it all, my Pakistani culture and Islam were deeply entrenched in my life because of my parents. I was not a seeker because I already thought I knew it all! There were no questions in that aspect of my life; my aim was simply to try to be a good person and a good Muslim There was no search for anything ‘higher’ – like enlightenment. I spent about 40 years of my life like that. I shudder to think how judgmental and self-righteous I must have been. I don’t mean this particularly about Islam, but just how deep-rooted my beliefs and concepts were. But then that is how life flowed at the time.
My sister-in-law and best friend is not from Pakistan and through her I learnt that it is possible to live your life and think differently from the norm and it’s still okay. So some loosening of the tightly-clenched ‘rules’ in my head happened. Thank you! Then one day my nephew, who was a spiritual seeker and still is, made some comment about enlightenment. That comment, for some reason I still haven’t understood and don’t even remember, ignited a fire and set me on the journey from someone who thought she knew it all to someone who doesn’t ‘know’ anything at all.
L: What did you do at that point? You were on fire; did you become a seeker? What did that look like, that fire?
M: It was not a raging fire at all in the beginning, more like a little flicker – but one that kept growing. I just started feeling that there must be ‘more’. Up to this point, I was deeply religious still; hijab (head scarf), five times prayers, the whole works. That was my security net and go-to for escaping the troubles of life. But now, it wasn’t enough.
I started reading voraciously on the net about this ‘enlightenment’ deal, and realized that all traditions described it in the same way. That seemed a little strange to me. I thought, ‘Okay, the only way to know what they’re talking about is to try it myself. Maybe then, I’ll be happy AND knowledgeable – special!!’ Little did I know what was coming …
Sufism is the mystic side of Islam, so I tried to find a Sufic master at first. However, I didn’t want to get myself stuck with a ‘false master’, so I ended up searching for a ‘how-to’ on the net. But no, no Sufi do-it-yourself manual there! I did find Buddhist breathing meditation instructions and started that, thinking what the heck, meditation is meditation. Lo and behold, as I regularly meditated, all that I held to be true and unquestionable started loosening and, in some cases, disappearing altogether.
I became panicky, didn’t know what to do, and then REALLY started searching in earnest. Eckhart Tolle, Ganga Ji, Adyashanti, Sufi books, Buddhist philosophies, anything and everything. I remember calling Adyashanti on one of his radio shows from here and asking him what to do as I was so disoriented suddenly after a lifetime of being secure in the knowledge of what it was all about. He said, ‘You’re only disoriented when you start looking for the security net. As long as you don’t look for it and just let yourself be, you’ll be fine,’ and gave an example from his childhood. That made me think that maybe I’m okay, maybe I can do this. Now, remember, this is all against a background of living in a conservative joint-family system, so I’m also pretending still to be pious, good old me while thinking, ‘Is this all a lie?’
And then, during my internet seeking, I happened across Ilona [Ilona Ciunaite, one of LU’s co-founders]. This was before the birth of Liberation Unleashed. I would see Elena [Nezhinsky, LU’s other co-founder] and Ilona posting on some pages and people getting all aggressive and fight-y. I found it unfair and commented a few times, just jumping in, asking what’s wrong, why aren’t you people even listening to what the girls are saying. I forget exactly how it happened but then Ilona asked me if I wanted to be guided. I am forever grateful for her and her direct, patient and loving pointing to reality and the end of the imagined ‘me’.
L: I can’t even imagine that; the outer appearance of still being a devout Muslim and the inner realizations of so much that did not conform. Was there anyone in your life with whom you could discuss this? And once you saw that there was no individual self how did your everyday life change?
M: It was a weird time for sure. At times I’d feel that I’d been living a lie, then I’d go in the other direction and think “What the heck am I doing, I was totally fine before!”. This was before I started really LOOKING. I didn’t really discuss it too much at home, my husband knew that I was looking into “something different” but he just said not to involve him in it and to continue to raise the kids as Muslims. He really didn’t want to know more. I did discuss it with my friend; she understood most stuff but not about the burning need to get to the truth, which was by now the case. She is not a seeker.
And the truth? Let me remember what it felt like then… When I finally saw through the illusion of the self and how we create it, it was at once so mind-blowingly simple and at the same time, I have to say, a little underwhelming for me. I was expecting fireworks and an immediate and constant state of bliss, thanks to all the notions floating around about it. But what all I got was, ‘What? This is… so simple and so… obvious really. What a joke!’ But the effect of this realization… I don’t want to create expectations for others, but yes, life changed completely, even though everything around me was just the same.
So much dropped away immediately, or within a few days. My anxiety, the constant worrying, regrets, judgments, beliefs… itreally felt like I had been seeing the world through a dirty lens and suddenly it was wiped clean! It was a shock as so much of what I believed to be true just disappeared or started unraveling, coming apart. Not to say that I was suddenly not reacting to stuff or not having “I” thoughts at all – I still do – it was just that they were seen for what they were, usually after the fact. I realized that the conditioning of a lifetime doesn’t just go away. But all my notions, my concepts… gone. In fact, not only gone, but the very concept of having any was laughable! Who is there to ‘have’ anything?!! And a sense of wonder, love and gratitude was left and has remained since.
I think I went through a bit of a strange period really. It was this wonderful new way of seeing life and I wanted everyone to do the same. I went around (mostly grinning like an idiot), zealously promoting looking into this big unquestionable, universal lie – and of course, there were no takers. It was only later I realized that people are ready when they are ready. No one can or should be forced to look until they are.
So I turned my enthusiasm to our website forum, which was by now running, and started guiding there.
L: What was the appeal in that, assisting others into seeing that there is no personal self? And do you still guide, is it still appealing?
M: As I said above, there was this overwhelming feeling of gratitude, which automatically led towards helping others. This (guiding) seemed to be the best way to express it at that moment. For those that are ready it is, I think, the most effective and direct way of seeing through the illusion of the ‘I’. Cuts through all the nonsense and the woo-woo stuff. And it is a beautiful feeling to help someone to see that, to see that there is no ‘I’ and there is no other. A different feeling from the way that I used to feel after having ‘achieved’ something; hard to describe… it feels not like a personal success but an increase in love and gratitude. And at the time of actual seeing, the seeker usually thanks the guide and I always feel like saying, ‘No, thank YOU for letting me do this’.
I had to stop guiding after a while though, because things got really busy at home and I was just not able to put in regular time on the internet. Which really has to be the case as you cannot start guiding and not be committed. So I left it for a couple of years. I will add that the commitment and work done by guides and others who work on administrative things never ceases to amaze me.
Recently, I felt the pull to start guiding again, and am loving it.
L: That sounds very satisfying, the “… it feels not like a personal success but an increase in love and gratitude”. This must be because there is a lot in the seeing through the illusion of a personal self that is helpful and rewarding for each who realize it. So let’s move back to that for a bit. What is the effect of this realization now that it’s been around for a while for you? How has it deepened, if it has? What, if anything, has been challenging?
M: I think the analogy of an onion with its many layers to be peeled is very apt.
For a while, for me, it was like okay, this is it. But it’s not. Not at all. There’s much further to go, seeing the illusion of the self is really the start of it: de-conditioning, living an awakened life, whatever you want to call it. A friend called it “the process of enlightening” (thanks, Tim Foley) This was the way its been for me. Maybe for some it happens in one fell swoop though I would imagine that that would be rare, with all the baggage we accumulate. :)
Speaking of my own experience… well, back to the onion analogy. The deepening process has been a stripping off of layers of conditioning and habitual thinking. All that doesn’t just disappear immediately, a lifetime of stuff doesn’t go away overnight. Subtle identifications, conditioning, habits, ingrained emotional reactions – these take the ups and downs of life and further ‘looking’ to dissolve, at least in my experience. For example, my eagerness for everyone I know to go through this process after I did, and annoyance when they didn’t even want to hear about it, those were also just so many more “I” beliefs. And I realize now that that it’s all life flowing as it will. All of it. The good, the bad, the ugly, the pleasant and crappy stuff – none of it is holier or better than anything else. Life simply unfolds and the wonder and mystery of it, ALL of it, is impossible to explain or understand. The search to know, for ‘more’, was replaced by acceptance and awe of the wonder, the mystery. The need for answers just.. stopped.
Feelings… are of contentment. ‘Bad’ things happen, as to ‘good’ ones, but it is known intrinsically as life being experienced. The thoughts that qualify them as such come up and disappear. Emotions arise but without the thought-stories to further them they subside again pretty quickly. At times I find myself getting engaged in believing a story or getting emotional about it, but it is seen through quicker and quicker. There is an increase in empathy to the point where it is very difficult to see pain anywhere. Tears and joy both come and go easily.
The baseline remains sweet: contentment, love and gratitude.
That’s not to say that there were no ups and down on the way; there were calm and intense – sometimes painful – times internally. Sometimes we do not want to admit to or face our ‘sticky bits’, the parts of ourselves, or rather identifications, that are hard to let go.
The main challenge though…I guess at the time of realization a lot changed for me but it was hard to live that due to the lifestyle I was in. It wasn’t like I was on my own, able to do what I wanted. I was still living in the family house with my in-laws, husband and four kids, still within the very strong traditional/Islamic framework. My realization was not deep enough to let things be, let the characters dance the dance of life. I used to get very frustrated about ‘living a lie’, not being able to shout from the rooftops, so to speak. Needing to stay within the bounds of conventions, etc.
But then, frustrations and challenges are part of the teachings of life. Peel, peel, peel. When I really looked, I saw that this was actually more identification; about being ‘free’, about ‘others’ who are not, about life needing to be a certain way- hah! After this rather painful insight, I was finally able to let this go. This led to a deepening and a synchronizing, a harmonization with the flow of life.
It is getting easier to spot those thoughts and triggers that hook identifications and deeply buried conditioning. They are pieces of resistance which need to be recognized and faced before they are let go.
I have no idea where it will lead, but I do know there are more layers to get peeled.
L: How are your relationships with friends and family now that you are approaching life with a deeper view? Have things changed at all? And what would you say is the biggest difference in how you lived before this realization and how you live now?
M: Yes, things have changed. Quite a bit, to be honest.
One difference is that I really don’t want to socialize or do the regular stuff much. I never was an extrovert, but now I feel no need to ‘try and fit in’, to be like everyone else and do what everyone seems to be doing. Another is no arguments, or hardly any. People say some words, I might say some back, but then I realize that that is all it is. End of argument.
Relationships have changed as well. I’m not sure what this would be called, but it is very easy for me to see things from ‘another’s’ perspective. It’s almost as if I am feeling what they are, but not in an involved way. Again, hard to describe. It’s kind of like being able to see how the person is thinking and hence feeling, and yet knowing that it can be no other way, that is simply what is happening. The need for changing them or expecting them to behave a certain way usually just doesn’t happen. I know I’m going to sound obnoxious when I say this, but it’s a little like seeing children do the things they do.
I cannot hold on to any resentments anymore. It is almost like an alien concept. Friends or others might say things like “How can you forgive her? Don’t you remember what she did/said to you?”, and I’m like, umm I really don’t. I can’t even bring up the feelings of resentment and anger from the past. I know I didn’t like a few people once, but the reasons don’t mean anything now. I think it’s a little weird for some people that I am now like that.
A fascinating challenge now is that my husband and family’s expectations of the kids is very different from mine. The moral code, a certain expected way of life, things we do to motivate them… most of those are meaningless to me, but I am still expected to teach them these things. It is… interesting.
What other differences?…In day to day life… there’s no interest in buying stuff which isn’t needed. My house remains a mess all the time and I don’t care. There sis hardly any ambition left. I still like to travel and see new places, new experiences. I have restarted my classical dance lessons, which I always loved, recently at the age of almost 50. Things once so important to me literally have no meaning anymore. For example, customs, patriotism, religion, possessions, structure, problems, expectations… the list is endless, and it has been completely liberating. Liberation indeed :)
Oh my god, I think I’m sounding completely obnoxious. Oops, Sorry if I am. I am trying to be honest.
I still get triggered by some people close to me, and I’m working on that. Criticism is a big one, especially by a few certain people, and I think the roots go back to my childhood low self-esteem. There’s more stuff to bring up, to see, to let go.
Biggest difference is the almost constant state of acceptance and love, for myself, everyone else, life. After all, isn’t that all there is and always was? Difference is that it is now felt and seen and experienced.
L: Lovely. What feedback would you give to others who wish to experience a liberation like this? Is it possible for just anyone? What would you suggest to those who are interested?
M: Hmm. Thank you for asking this, Lisa. It is one of the most common misconceptions that one has to be ‘special’ or pious, or carry on arduous spiritual practices for years, etc, to ‘achieve enlightenment’. Whereas in reality there is no achievement because there is no one there to achieve anything. It is seen that we already are liberated and always were; it is this core lie that we are told from early childhood… and that our minds add to… this belief that that we are separate entities (and hence need to ‘get’ liberated) that one has to see through – and the walls go tumbling down.
Yes, anyone who has a willingness to look honestly and with courage can do this. I say courage because during and after this process you will see through some of your most precious and closely held beliefs and might find that everything you thought to be true actually is not. It takes bravery and focus to do that and that is all. Perhaps the most simple and yet most difficult thing to do. We have always been told that nothing is simple and therefore this most sought-after goal of humanity ‘should’ be the most complicated and hardest of all. The simplicity and obviousness of it, once you’ve seen, is a cosmic joke.
So, anyone who is interested, try to put away all that you have been told and the knowledge you have amassed and with fresh eyes simply look. Guides are always willing to help. They will not only help you to ‘gatecrash’, there are also groups and people to help afterwards, to help with dealing with the stuff that comes up. And once you have seen through the lies, perhaps you will be moved to help others in the same way.
L: That’s sound feedback, very positive and clear. Is there anything else you’d like to say about awakening, your experience or Liberation Unleashed?
M: Well, I think I’ve gone on enough, Lisa. I’ll only say a very big “thank you” to everyone here. For the love. Even though we might meet only in cyberspace there is a deeper connection with so many, they are truly friends. And also to all those with whom my character dances within the story of life. Even though ‘others’ and ‘time’ may not be a reality in experience, whatever happens to us brings us to where we are. It sounds paradoxical and yet it is also true. So… thank you. *Bows in gratitude*.
I also want to say a very special thanks to you, Lisa. Not only are you a very dear friend but you have made this interview a pleasure to do, with your love and patience. Lots of love to you.
L: Thank you, Moonlight, I feel the same. I’m so glad we are friends across an entire continent and an ocean. Wonderful! And thank you for your time and attention to this. It was fun and just plain great to hear more about your journey. Lots of love in return, dear friend.