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The Motivation Hack of Adi Da Samraj
Q: What is Adi Da’s method of meditation?
The controversial 20th century American spiritual teacher known today as Avatar Adi Da Samraj (formerly Franklin Jones, Bubba Free John, Da Kali, etc.) had many recommendations for both external and internal practices. I expect that this question pertains to what is called ‘self-inquiry’ or ‘radical understanding’ or ‘the conscious process.’ And I would recommend checking out what my pal Frank Marrero has gathered on these topics at the beezone.com website.
Nevertheless, I will do my best to summarize my current take on the central nondual tactic advocated in books like The Knee of Listening & The Method of the Siddhas. We are not here to adjudicate the character of this man. I don’t care if you consider him to be a con man, dark sorcerer or messiah. Let’s just treat him as a guy who seems to have mutated his consciousness — and subsequently attempted to clarify the means by which he did so.
It is a meditation method?
Let’s call it a motivation hack.
I saw that the the [existential] problem, in any form, always had the same structure, and the same fundamental assumptions. Thus, I became concerned with motivation, the principle of these various kinds of action…
from: The Transformation of the Seeker’s Meditation into “Real” Meditation.
This core process is related to a particular “understanding” of our normal motivational behavior. In his autohagiography (sic), Da notes that people do this effectively all the time — they just don’t clearly realize what they are doing. Nor do they deploy it widely and deeply enough.
We have all encountered pseudo-spiritual admonitions to embrace the power of Now, to be grateful for what we have, to accept What Is, to stop scheming our way into the future and trapping ourselves in the past, etc. Da is proposing that there is a common insight structure underlying all these suggestions… which can be learned more profoundly and then weaponized as a meditation-like procedure of self-transformation.
What is that happens — structurally, behaviorally, dynamically, morally — when, for a brief moment, we really get that we haven’t been “showing up” or “being present” or “actually engaging" ?
Two Kinds of Motivation
Firstly we should probably make a distinction between functional and existential problems. To “be here now” does not mean to make no plans. To cease “avoiding relationship” does not mean you never evade useless people or try to avoid dangerous situations. And to hack our motivation system does not imply that we no longer seek our clean water when we are thirsty.
Planning, effort, work, love, growth, creative expression, etc. are normal human functions. We are not concerned with motives of that kind. Instead we are concerned with motives that arises constantly from the gnawing angst of simply being a being-in-the-world.
Should I leave my wife and find someone who loves me more? Maybe I should travel? Do I need to try psychedelics? Should I start doing yoga? Will a paleo diet set me on the right path? Will I have a more meaningful life if I join a church or a political party? Are my dreams, pleasures and relationships… correct? Why do I never feel fully present or ultimately comfortable in my own skin? Is anything even worth it? Maybe I will just eat that other piece of cake…
You get the idea.
There is a condition of “normal neurosis” that is overlaid upon our functional desires and characterizes most of us almost all the time. It is a reaction to the fact that hardly anything is 100% satisfying and nothing stays satisfying forever. This is what makes us gullible in the fact of TV commercials, religious and political propaganda, jealousy, fads, resentment, etc. We never finally get that carrot dangling in front of us and we never escape the stick about to whack us from behind. If you are at all introspective or sensitive you will have noticed that something about life… sucks. And, what’s more, we are always trying to “do something” about it.
So the first piece of Adi Da’s motivation hack is simply “getting serious” about the situation. Realizing that a lot of our motivational machinery is an overlay that reacts to our existential condition.
What Does Motivation Do?
Now that we have specified which kind of motivation we are discussing, let’s have a look at how it operates phenomenologically in any given moment.
Imagine you are sitting in some generally safe and comfortable situation. Suddenly you become aware of yourself. You were flowing along… and now it has stopped. Why? Things aren’t perfect. Something is not quite right. Your immediate or mentally suggested situation is imperfect, incomplete, not sufficiently resolved or meaningful. The thought — or simply the subconscious sensation — of the problem of life returns.
What happens when you detect this imperfection of the world?
One of two things.
(a) You start to yearn for a different situation. Another more-or-less articulated scenario presents itself as a target condition. Your feelings and attention start to move toward it. Perhaps it is a happy thing. Perhaps it is a specific problem which promises happiness if you take care of it properly. Your “energy” has a destination away from everything it’s currently engaged in.
(b) You withdraw. Shut down. Feel cut-off. Get critical. Your “energy” is protecting itself, conserving itself — like a bug hibernating to await the rain — for an unknown future time when it will be willing to release itself.
These two options, which Adi Da calls “seeking” and “avoiding relationship,” are actually quite similar. They both shift our feelings, uncomfortably, away from our current engagements. They both hope for another circumstance in which they can return to creative flowing activity in relationship.
The General Goal
It seems as though we have evaluated the current situation as “imperfect” and that we have begun to reserve ourselves for some other “perfect” situation. Yet we know that the world will always be imperfect and incomplete and unresolved. So the situations in which we agree to release ourselves are themselves imperfect. We are not evaluating whether the world deserves to have us interact with it. Instead, we are evaluating whether or not we will commit to improving our experience through interaction.
We are not holding out or longing for a world that is so magically ideal that it justifies our creative participation. Our actual goal is a situation in which we somehow decide to engage an imperfect world — and perhaps perfect it through our adequate presence. That’s what happens in flow states. They are not perfect situations but situations of perfecting.
So the general goal of our existential motivation system is a situation in which we authentically commit ourselves to engaging imperfect relationships that can be creatively skewed into more perfect relationships.
And that is technically possible in every moment.
The “other thing” I want is — to relate correctly to an incomplete situation.
Everything that has been describe is a sequence of insights. It begins with sensitivity to existential dissatisfaction, examines the phenomenological machinery of motivation and ends up concluding that the “aim” of the motive terminates in full, creative engagement with this imperfect moment.
As a result of genuinely concluding this insight, you experience a small or large release. If it actually convinces us, then we are momentarily released from the tension of seeking, the impulse of avoidance and we regain some of our capacity to creatively interact with situations of all kinds.
I doubt this is news.
You have probably have analogous kinds of insights many times. And you have probably been attracted to spiritual and maturational teachings on the basis of a intuition that something like this is true.
What would it be like to seriously under this particular reasoning process every day?
Or every hour?
Or sit down and do it for an hour?
Then it starts to look like a meditation. Then it starts to be applied to many areas of your life. And then it starts to change your basic feeling of what it means to be a being-in-the-world.
So the “motivation hack” is a shape, a sequence of considerations, a particular pattern of insight that can become more frequently and more profoundly assimilated into our lives.
Undergoing the genuine exploration and insight process is what Adi Da called “self-enquiry.” If you get better at — overall or during any particular meditation session — it starts to become more automatic, less verbal, less conceptual. You develop a knack for it.
Notice the stirrings of motivation, relational discomfort, escapist desires? Release it intelligently by short-circuiting it back into the orientation of improved engagement..
What happens if it goes even deeper than a tacit knack?
Well, then you sort of just abide in the functional perfection that you bring to the imperfect world by really embracing it. If you look where the problem is and find “no problem” then — hold on as easily as you can.
That’s my rough summary of the teaching of Radical Understanding. It is not exactly a meditation but it looks like one as it gets going. It’s usually contextually as part of a spiritual practice but it does not have to be. We could just think of it as as motivation hack…