I’ve had the pleasure of working with Sacha from my first discovery of the online awakening communities. His work and dedication at Liberation Unleashed has always made him a steadfast and strong but quiet presence within the circles he visits. I’ve always gotten the sense that if it were at all possible to actually ’embody’ the teachings I’ve read so much about, Sacha would be an excellent example of how that embodiment might appear. It was my pleasure to interview him and I hope you enjoy reading this exchange as much as I enjoyed being part of it. – Delma
Delma: In the wide world of awakening and paths, what is it that stands out about the journey and how did Sacha land where he is today?
Sacha: It’s funny- looking back, it is becoming harder and harder to remember what it was like before. Very much like trying to remember a dream when you just wake up. What stands out? Well, besides being a curious and inquisitive child, I was also very sensitive, prone to depressions and negative thinking. The most vivid memory of my childhood and adolescence is feeling isolated most of the time, always believing everyone else somehow “got it” and I wasn’t being let in on the big secret about the way to live a normal, happy life. Most of the time, I felt separate from others, even separate from life itself- like living behind walls, unable to take part in the reality others were so clearly and happily participating in. Typical adolescent angst, in retrospect, and like a lot of teenagers I self-medicated to soften some of the edges of this experience of separation, and of course it only made things worse.
By the time I turned eighteen I had started my college studies: western philosophy, hoping to find answers and alternatives there. That turned out to be a disappointment- although I eventually got my degree, I quickly learnt that Western academic philosophy, is no longer concerned with actual life at all. In terms of finding a solution to my unhappiness, this was a dry field. So, still feeling miserable and cut-off from life I started exploring spirituality and mysticism: I took up an intensive daily yoga sadhana, regular, long meditation retreats, energy healing, auras, chakra’s, lightwork, mysticism, ceremonial magick, psychedelics: the whole New Age repertoire, I went through all of it for more than a decade. In many ways a typical seeker, like a lot of us. All these techniques and tricks delivered very interesting experiences, visions, weird synchronicities, yet that basic, nagging, dark and powerful feeling of separation, of being excluded from the true life, that fundamental sense of lack remained. It was exhausting.
There came a point of no longer being able to go forward, of giving up. I don’t remember exactly how, but seemingly out of the blue, I met Ilona online, on the (now defunct) Ruthless Truth forum and she suggested, for the first time really, that I actually directly face that fearful feeling of being separate. I did so and over the course of three or four days I intensively, obsessively examined every nuance of that sensation, finally being able to accept that fear, communicate with it, fully feeling and eventually surrendering to it. The moment that this surrender happened was the moment everything changed: there was a falling away of all concepts, a moment of direct seeing in which the feeling of being separate was clearly and deeply experienced to be based on a fundamental mistake, a bad habit, and the interdependence of all phenomena was directly perceived.
D: Can you say more about the surrender? Was there a specific thought that seemed to trigger an immediate relinquishing or was it gradual? If you could label or explain it, what do you feel it was that was surrendered?
S: What triggered it was a combination of a two major factors: first of all a burning intensity of longing for the truth, I don’t know how else to describe it. Over the course of those couple of days, while exploring this with Ilona, it become the most important thing- to find out, once and for all, what was actually real. Once it became clear that any idea of “me” fell away as soon as it was examined in reality, there was no turning back and the inquiry into the nature of “me” started to become deeper and more intense. Secondly, there was finally the courage to face that deep-rooted fear, to actually meet it, instead of covering it up, looking away or running away from it.
That was quite a discovery, that up until that point, most of life had consisted of patterns of behavior to not have to face that fear and the vast emptiness behind it. The exact moment that fear- of being separate, isolated, fragile and vulnerable- was allowed to be present, it immediately started to dissolve. For as long as I could remember it had been there, experienced as a cold, hard stone in the stomach area. Giving it space and allowing it, it became warm and the emptiness behind it became apparent. What was surrendered in that moment? The mistaken idea that there is someone separate from life, someone “in here” looking at an “out there”, never being able to touch that. That disappeared and all that was left was the immediacy of experience. That completely blew me away. It was like an explosion took place, like a champagne bottle being uncorked, or a volcano erupting. More than a decade of built-up pressure was released in an instant. That took some time to get used to…
D: Can you describe the immediacy of experience and how did you learn to get used to it?
S: The first days were complete chaos, best described as a falling backwards, completely naked, in deep empty space. Because the whole conceptual framework fell away, there was nothing to hold on to, no frame of reference. That made functioning as a person, a father, a husband and a colleague, impossible. Experientially, there was a deep, pervading silence with no narrative running and sensory experience was extremely intense and direct. Like a polar shift, background and foreground were shifted: whereas before the thoughts, calculations and storyline were always primary and experienced as a barrier of sorts, when the belief (and thus the apparent experience ) of a separate self vanished, the sensory experience was intensified enormously. With the popping of the I-bubble, came an explosion of energy. So much energy was released that for a couple of days no sleep was needed ( nor would it have been possible) at all. Palpable raw life energy.
This experience stabilized after a couple of days and the old concepts and behavior patterns started to come back and I could function again, as a person. Life was happening as before, but the sense of observing it, of being at a distance from it was completely gone. That old feeling of being separate, unable to touch it, was no longer there. That was an enormous relief!
D: What are some of the aspects of everyday living which changed after seeing through the separate self? Which stayed the same?
S: In a way, nothing changed at all. Everyday living is still everyday living. Chopping wood, carrying water, as they say. In fact, if there is anything that stands out most it is this: the utter ordinariness of this. Everyday life here is perfectly, contently bourgeois. No superpowers, no x-ray vision, no angels. On the other hand, in terms of felt experience, there are a couple of definite changes: there is a near-constant experience of silence and spaciousness, with a distinct lack of commentary running in the background. That silent, luminous space of attentiveness offers a great opportunity to transform confusion, knots and beliefs. This makes day-to-day living and its ordinary problems much smoother.
There is this fundamental sense of being-at-home with my own experience, even though there is no fixed ideological framework or belief system, but a relaxation in the warmth of being alive. That is such a wonderful gift!
I realize that formulating it in this way it may make it seem like somehow a magical “everything-is-now-okay” button was switched on after the gate. That’s not the case. It’s not all bliss and fluff and love all the time. The first couple of months were often quite frightening and overwhelming. So much energy was suddenly released, that was quite a shock to the system. I lost a lot of weight, sleep patterns were disrupted and emotions ran free, especially anger. Years and years of unexpressed, repressed emotions just started coming out spontaneously. That was often disorienting, not just to me, but surely to my family and loved ones as well. Also, because the tendency to fabricate narratives has considerably weakened, there is hardly any ambition. No five-year plans or strategies. Because of that, and the access to a non-dual perspective (for lack of a better term) relating to others is not necessarily easier. Office and family politics, gossip, the usual dramas between people, that is something that is becoming increasingly difficult to relate to, and although that is perfectly okay, there is sometimes a sense of loss over this.
D: Given that some aspects are more challenging than before, is there ever a time you wish you could go back to “before”?
S: That’s an interesting question, really. It’s said that ignorance is bliss, after all. And there is some truth to that. The liberating insight we are concerned with at LU has sometimes been called “the final disillusionment” and for good reasons. The comforting, interesting and fantastical stories that we weave and wrap ourselves in have a certain beauty and warmth to them. Seeing through that means a loss of innocence in some ways as well. On the other hand, the spaciousness and richness of experience that becomes available after seeing separate self as illusory and the qualities that brings to experience are so wonderful that I wouldn’t trade that for anything. So, no, I wouldn’t want to go back. No way!
D: What do you wish you knew before starting out as a seeker?
S: Hahaha, well, it would have been nice to have been pointed out, right from the start, that there is really no separation at all between seeker, seeking and sought. That would certainly have helped. Of course, that’s nonsense. I probably heard similar pointers all the time and they went straight past me. “In one ear, out the other” is a Dutch saying. The seeking was necessary, apparently. It served to ripen me, to build up just the right amount of frustration, pressure and willingness to make that final leap.
D: Is there a single bit of ‘advice’ you’d give if someone asked for your opinion on how to go about this process?
S: Yes, it would be: “Go for it! Even though there is no such thing as enlightenment, you have to become enlightened in order to see that”.
D: Speaking of seeking and seekers, when did you first begin guiding and were there any challenges in beginning the process?
S: I think I jumped straight into guiding, almost immediately. This was a very natural step to take and it fits something I’ve observed over the last couple of years; it seems to me that the best guiding often happens when the seeing is still fresh- when both the old perspective and the utter absence of self are incredibly clear and obvious- that is when the pointing is often very powerful. The first months, guiding was such a joy, so exhilarating. It allowed me to directly look, again and again, at the emptiness of the self-concept, and relax in that seeing, while at the same time, effortlessly pointing clients’ attention there. Walking with a client through the labyrinth of tangled conceptual knots, to finally arrive at the clarity of clear seeing and the release and gratitude that often emerge in that process is awe-inspiring. Nothing like it. Interestingly, the challenges only started coming at a later point.
Perhaps after a year-and-a-half or so, guiding started to become less natural and more difficult. It even got to the point where I had to stop completely for a while because the process started making me physically unwell- I just couldn’t handle the intellectualization, the slithering, creeping, crawling evasions of the mind. That also passed and I am now at a point where I’m once again enjoying the guiding process, although it’s nowhere near as easy as it was in the beginning. I think this might have something to do with the gradual fading away of memories about how it was to live with the belief in separation, so that connecting to clients is becoming more and more difficult.
D: How do you handle the client’s intellectualization now? What are some of the ways you’re able to help the client break through those evasions of the mind?
S: To be honest, I have not been very successful in my guiding sessions the last couple of months. It’s been a while since one of my clients has successfully seen through the illusion. Those couple of conversations I’ve had with clients in the last half year or so either take a long, long time, never really amounting to anything, or the client turns out to be a troll, not truly interested in engaging the inquiry. The trolling comes with the territory- an anonymous online forum is of course the perfect environment for those kinds of antics.
But to address your question directly, I do of course have quite a bit of experience with dealing with intellectualization in the guiding process. First of all, I think it is a misunderstanding that there is no role for the intellect in all of this. That’s simply not true- the illusion of separate self has a very strong conceptual dimension and part of the illusion has to be tackled conceptually as well- there are very concrete analytic steps that can be taken in order to understand how the very concept of self is completely absurd. Once it is clearly seen, on a conceptual level, that a separate, inherently existing self, is an impossibility, it creates a momentum that will often propel someone through the gate. But indeed, a mere conceptual understanding is not what we’re guiding towards. Understanding the self to be a construct is relatively easy. Seeing it, experientially,viscerally, is a step further.
I haven’t found a magical technique to trigger this seeing, I think no one has, but it appears to depend primarily on a client’s ripeness and courage. A guide’s only job is to point the attention to the subject matter of the inquiry- the assumed separate self, in all its various aspects. It is the strength of the client’s focus and willingness to really, finally see for themselves, that is the most important factor. So for me, as a guide, the most important thing is to not be seduced to treat the exchange with the client as a conversation, or a discussion, and simply return, again and again, to the utter simplicity of this. That sounds much easier than it is.
D: Excellent points. A willingness to focus seems paramount to the outcome. What other key factors should a client to bring to this process? And what should they be ready for?
S: Alongside this strong desire to finally get to the bottom of the matter of the self (something I refer to as ‘ripeness’), I think a certain degree of courage is very important as well. There’s a number of ways in which courage matters in this process. Firstly, it takes some guts to question your most basic assumptions about the nature of experience. Even in so-called spiritual circles, there is somewhat of a taboo on actually, directly examining phenomenal reality, let alone realizing fundamental truths about it. In order to take this first step of questioning unquestioned assumptions concerning experience, already means being willing to deviate from the herd mentality and be open to surprise and wonder. The second aspect of courage is needed when you start seeing your world come apart- when “things” that seems solid, stable and concrete begin to be seen as fluid, interdependent, and finally empty. It takes guts to face this emptiness directly and see what it means and accept it. One might call this “surrender”, or “taking the leap”. This is why we added a disclaimer to the LU website at some point. It starts with this:
The method of inquiry used on this site may actually work, unlike many spiritual practices.
Silly as it may sound at first, it’s really important to mention this. Many so-called spiritual practices are mostly concerned with decorating the prison walls, so to speak, only reinforcing the confused conceptual mess that is the status quo, bringing comfort and fluff to the illusion. There’s nothing wrong with that as such, but the method we use is anything but comforting. It shouldn’t be. It is absolutely ruthless. It will not make you a better, happier person necessarily, but it will open your eyes to the real. Then, anything can happen.
D: Speaking of spirituality, would you say that what you do at Liberation Unleashed falls under the realm of a spiritual inquiry?
S: Hmmm… Tricky question. I’m tempted to say: emphatically NOT, but it of course (as always) depends on ones definition of the term. Because I thoroughly dislike the term “spirituality” I tend to avoid using it. I think “existential” or “fundamental” would be a more apt description of what actually goes on in an LU inquiry. “Spiritual” suggests something otherworldly, ethereal and, god forbid, special. It already sets up a dichotomy- material/spiritual. That’s not helpful at all. Especially in the beginning stages of an inquiry session, it does not help to use such terms because it may reinforce a client’s beliefs about awakening, enlightenment and specialness and it’s these beliefs and expectations that tend to get in the way of clear seeing. On the other hand, I could also say YES, what we do at LU is deeply and thoroughly spiritual! It’s about directly engaging the most intimate and fundamental thing there is: this experience itself. What could be more spiritual than that?
D: Do you foresee a day where waking up will go mainstream?
S: I don’t know. Although I would love to be able to say that there is some sort of universal movement towards integration, clarity and compassion, I’m afraid my view of humanity is a bit darker. The tendency appears to be exactly opposite: towards chaos, disintegration, alienation, fear and violence. That’s the way of the world it seems, and unless some kind of benign otherworldly entity intervenes, I don’t foresee any huge mass awakening occurring anytime soon.
D: Without anticipation of a mass awakening, what is your hope for what will become of Liberation Unleashed?
S: The beautiful thing about Liberation Unleashed is that it is fundamentally this chaotic, unpredictable and disruptive force. The system, if you can call it that, we have in place, seems to work pretty well and consistently. There is a small niche of people interested in true existential inquiry, and of that group only a small portion is ripe enough to really take the leap and directly face reality. Then out of that group, a small percentage will ‘pay it forward’, so to speak, and become a guide themselves. We are currently in the process of reviewing our methods in a much more rational and systematic way than we ever did before, so perhaps this will yield some results in terms of the amount of guides we are able to retain. That will be a major factor in our success. So my hope for LU is that we keep doing what we have been doing these past years, keep focused on that one simple yet profound insight, keep polishing our skill in getting clients to that place.
D: Beautiful, thank you. And what about Sacha? What is your hope for what’s next for the story of his journey?
S: Well, to be honest my deepest wish at the moment is getting a proper night’s sleep again. We have two small, lovely kids walking around our lives and they apparently get great satisfaction out of waking mum and dad up at the precise moment when they’re in deep, restful sleep. It would be nice for us to sleep uninterrupted for a couple of hours, because we haven’t even able to function as responsible, healthy and rational adults for a couple of years now… Other than that, I don’t know. There’s no knowing where we’re going…
There’s a distinct lack of ambition and planning. I’m enjoying mundane, everyday small things. The way the afternoon sunlight falls on these office walls, filtered through three-hundred year old glass windows, subtly shifting moment-to-moment. Things like that, you know? “Considering the lilies of the field” some will disparagingly call it. It may sound like a cop-out, but that’s the way it is: that epic story of the hero’s journey, of a lost soul in need of redemption or salvation, that is completely gone. what remained is a deep capacity for enjoyment. So that is my hope and wish: that this capacity to enjoy may grow even deeper and more and more unnecessary ballast fall off. With lots of healthy doses of deep, restful and uninterrupted sleep. In a nice seaside villa somewhere deep in Andalucía…
D: That sounds so perfect! One last question for you, admittedly a ‘big’ one. Is this message of no separate self something that you will tell your children?
S: Great question, and one that’s been on my mind quite a bit. I don’t think I will. Not right now anyways. That would be like prematurely telling them that Santa is a lie, has always been a lie. I feel there’s a great beauty in this illusion of separation as well, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for them.
Also, I think that “telling” anyone about this, without there being a deep and honest curiosity about the question of separation, is completely useless. With kids, it would just be indoctrination, with adults it’d just be preaching or trying to convince someone of a view. I want to allow my kids the chance to discover all of this for themselves, and- strangely enough, all these years of (apparently) being lost, confused and seeking are part of the process.