Suzanne Segal interview from The Awakening West
Suzanne referred to the body-mind as “circuitry” that has been created so that the Vastness can experience the ecstasy of Itself in a way it could not without it. Suzanne exuded this ecstasy with a child-like delight and wonder, full of exclamations such as, “It’s so Awesome!” The circuitry called Suzanne Segal shined radiant with the love and beauty of the Vastness we all are. As she could only see others as That, and nothing else, this Vastness was often brought foreground in the awareness of those who were fortunate enough to be in her presence. We are two of those fortunate few who were able to be with Suzanne during the six months of her life that she was such a powerful expression of this Vastness. She was like a blazing comet that shone so brightly for this short period of time, then was gone. This interview was done in 1996 and Suzanne left her body on April 1, 1997, April Fools Day. It was important to her that the messages her powerful life experience was meant to convey become known. She told her story in her book, Collision With The Infinite, and we are happy to share her message further here. Suzanne referred to herself as a “describer,” rather than a teacher, and related to others as her buddies. Calling us her “buddies in the Vastness,” she emphasized that we are all in this together as “co-describers” of the incredible miracle of life and its unfolding awakening. Suzanne offered no teaching, no practice, only descriptions of her remarkable seeing of the Truth of what is.
Suzanne’s life is an example of how an awakening can occur spontaneously, and without even understanding what had happened for as long as ten years. She often told us that she wanted her experience to give the Western world an important message that the mind can have an extremely strong reaction to that which it cannot understand. And that those reactions, such as fear, do not mean for an instant that we are not the Vastness. She wanted her life to convey that everything is here in this Vastness, nothing is excluded, and that everything is as it is. We will always fondly remember the blissful walks on the beach we had with Suzanne, and weekly group meetings where she shared her experience. Lynn Marie shared several paragraphs of this introduction at her memorial, which took place at Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco, where her ashes were returned to the ocean she loved so much.
CONVERSATION WITH SUZANNE SEGAL
JLW: Suzanne, we’d like to begin by asking how you see yourself; who are you?
SUZANNE: I’ll give you the straight answer here. There is only one answer that I can give you. I am the Infinite–no personal reference point–the substance of everything; I am the Vastness that is everyone and everything. And, I must add here, never for a moment does the awareness of that Infinite substance that is everything ever move out of the foreground of awareness whether there is waking, dreaming or sleeping states of consciousness occurring in the circuitry. There is no where for it to go. Where could it go? It is constant, every moment experience.
JLW: That is a powerful answer. . . How did this experience come about for you?
SUZANNE: Fourteen years ago, when I was four months pregnant with my daughter, I was standing at a bus stop in Paris, France. In one moment, everything that I had ever taken to be my personal self completely disappeared. It was just gone. As I waited for the bus to approach, something in consciousness was loosening somehow. And when it got there–I am sure it had nothing to do with the bus driving up–this reference point of an “I,” a someone that everything was about and that everything that occurred in life was structured around, was gone. It was like a switch had been turned off. And it was never to turn on again. The first response that the mind had to this completely ungraspable experience was absolute terror; but that terror never changed the experience for a moment. In other words that terror never got the reference point back again. There was no personal self, but nothing stopped; the functions continued to function just as before. In fact, better than before. Speaking was still speaking and walking was still walking. I even went to graduate school and got a Ph.D. I experienced this fear for ten years. During this time, I consulted a lot of psychotherapists because it seemed like something I needed to be cured of. Every single one of these therapists considered this to be a problem. And they all had a diagnosis for it. They couldn’t quite understand how it could be that there was such great functioning occurring, but they took the fact that there was a lot of fear to be a sign that this was a problem. Towards the end of the ten years, there was a clear awareness that this was not something that was going to go away. It was time to start investigating other possible descriptions of what this was. It was time to investigate it with people who maybe knew more about it than Western psychotherapists. I started reading spiritual books and I came across a description of something that was exactly what I had been experiencing. It was an interview with Jean Klein, an Advaita teacher, and he was saying that there is no personal I, that it doesn’t exist. He was saying that there is nothing wrong with this; it is the naturally occurring human state. I also found a Zen teacher up in Northern California who told me that I was seeing with the eyes of the ancients; his assurances that the fear reaction was just a season and that spring would come were very helpful. In talking to him, it became very clear that everything is there, too. I saw that the presence of fear meant only one thing–it meant that fear was present. And that was it. Shortly after realizing this, I had the experience while driving that I was driving through myself to get to someplace that I already was, because in fact I was everywhere. I wasn’t going any place because I was already everywhere. There was a shift from no personal self, no “me,” to seeing that this experience of no personal self was actually the substance of everything. That is when the springtime began with the quality of joyfulness to it. What I can describe about what is being experienced currently, is residing in the Infinite within which the Infinite resides. There is no end point in all this. We are talking about the Vastness. It is very large. It continues to show Itself and show Itself.
JLW: Initially, you thought something was wrong and now you have discovered that what you are experiencing could be called enlightenment or awakening. Is this how you see it now?
SUZANNE: I have tended not to call this enlightenment and to call it only the “naturally occurring human state,” because this is who everyone is. The most obvious thing to this view of the Vastness is that it is who everyone is. And so to call IT something like “enlightenment” or “awakening” Swell, maybe. The Infinite does become something that is forefront in the awareness, so I guess you could call it a “waking up” to That. But it is not like you become something else once you see That. It is who you are. It is always who you have been. So, it is the seeing of what you have always been.
JLW: Could you say then that awakening is a shift from not seeing who we have always been to recognizing That?
SUZANNE: Okay, but that recognition doesn’t change who you really are, ever. You have always been That. And yes, there is a way that the Vastness Itself can perceive Itself so directly, without any fogging or shading or taking anything else to be who you are. I guess you could call it a waking up, but what seems most important to convey is that this is who everyone is all the time, whether the direct awareness of it is there or not.
JLW: Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for others who are experiencing the desire for this recognition? What can one do in order to have this experience?
SUZANNE: These “doing” questions are the ones that I have wanted to address the most, particularly in this Western culture which is so strongly based on doing in order to accomplish something. From the point of view of the Vastness, doing something is slightly absurd. First of all, who would be doing the doing? And secondly, That which is doing has always been doing, and will spontaneously continue to do. The only answer the Vastness has been able to come up with in terms of anything resembling an answer to this question would be to see things for what they are.
JLW: Could you please elaborate what that means?
SUZANNE: Seeing things for what they are means purely that. The Vastness that we all are is like an ocean that exists in relation to everything–as the Infinite noticing of everything being just what it is–Itself included. It sees thoughts for thoughts and feelings for feelings and sensations for sensations. There is never a desire or request that anything be anything but what it is. The Vastness knows that everything is there just as it is, so the desire for something to go away, or be something different doesn’t occur. Let me get real specific in terms of what we were talking about. A few minutes before we started taping, we spoke about the “I” construct that passes itself off as who you are, as your reference point. From the view of the Infinite, of the Vastness, that construct is seen for what it is–a construct, an idea. And an idea can only be what it is; it can only be an idea. When an idea is seen for what it is, there is a way that it empties itself of what it appeared to be full of–some defining determinant of who you are. And when the perception is emptied and seen as what it is–just a concept, a construct, an idea–it ceases to act as any sort of compelling screening of this Infinite Presence which you actually are. This seeing things for what they are is occurring all the time. That’s another thing that doesn’t just start at some point.
JLW: There is a shift in identity though, or a dropping of this “I” construct. . . Something happened for you.
SUZANNE: Something happens. It seems like most of this occurs within the mind. In the Western culture, which I am most familiar with, the mind is trained to adopt a personal construct as the reference point. It just believes that there is a personal doer. It’s made to believe that you have to “make something of yourself.” The Western mind believes that you have to be a certain way and you have to figure out how your life is going to go in order for it to be successful, in order for it to happen the way you want it to. Everything that you hear in the culture, in Western psychology in particular, is all based on the assumption that there is a personal doer that has to be the best one it could possibly be. So there is all this work that is brought to bear on it. It is like the work on the mind that is asked to happen within the mind. The mind has to go in and look at itself and try to see how it needs to be changed around, how the furniture needs to be moved around in the house of itself.
JLW: And instead of trying to change the mind, your recommendation is to just notice, “Oh, it’s the mind.” Something like this?
SUZANNE: That is what the mind says, “Oh, it’s the mind.” The view of the eyes of the Vastness is hard to describe as it is brought to bear on anything because it isn’t perceived through the mind. And it isn’t perceived through the perceptual apparatus of the circuitry. The view of the Vastness, the eyes of the Vastness, exist within the Vastness Itself. It has its own sense organ that permeates it and exists at every point in it that is always seeing things for being what they are and seeing Itself for what it is. And yet, it does seem that what happened when I was standing at that bus stop included the mind, and its circuitry became a participating portion of that sense organ of the Vastness. It’s like the mind and circuitry joined into the sphere of the Vastness. Another way to describe this is that the way the mind and circuitry are always permeated with the sense organ of the Vastness must have come foreground and then that took over as the main perceptual stance or position, a position of placeless origin.
JLW: Suzanne, does it seem to you that more human beings are awakening to this Vastness at this time in the Western world?
SUZANNE: Yes. Isn’t it great! It seems that a large amount of folks now are opening to this. You have to remember though that we’re talking about the San Francisco Bay Area here, which seems to have a higher concentration of folks who have this interest. The Vastness does carry a very strong, non-personal desire to know Itself. It does appear to be the real purpose of human life, for the human circuitry to participate in the sense organ of the Vastness. And that does seem to be happening. There are people who have come to talk with me who have spoken about their lives joining into that sense organ of the Vastness in a conscious way.
LML: It does seem like there is more interest in this. I know that in the seventies when I first studied transpersonal psychology and meditation, enlightenment was something that wasn’t even being considered. Now, people are seeking and experiencing this.
SUZANNE: Yeah, it’s really wonderful. I can’t possibly convey how totally, ecstatically, joyful it is for the Vastness to move in Itself like this, when awareness of Itself is carried through the human circuitry. It is just amazing!
LML: Are you saying there is a joy in it moving unobstructed, consciously?
SUZANNE: Well, it is always moving unobstructed. The joy is when this is expressed and received in the foreground of the Vastness. It really is amazing. And, sometimes people say to me, “I don’t want to give up the personal because I really feel attached to the personal. It really seems that that is where I feel the most feeling, and depth and falling in love, etc. How could I give that up?” The folks that are very involved in studying with Hamid Almaass are very big on deepening and developing the personal. They are the ones that have said to me most directly, “I don’t want to give up the personal. I don’t know what you are talking about. Why would I want to give it up?” What I tell them is that it was never there to begin with. And anything that feels like a personal kind of joy pales in comparison to the joy that is experienced when the eyes of the Vastness are the only thing that is being seen through all the time. These eyes exist in the Infinite, at every point in it. There is a joy that is not personal–you almost have to find another word for it because it transcends the category of personal joy–it is so constant and so extreme. It is in everything, everything; it doesn’t have to be just certain things that reveal this joy, it’s everything.
JLW: It’s just the innate delight of being.
LML: And outside of that awareness there is suffering. Identification with the personal always involves suffering, even with what people call happiness.
SUZANNE: Identification and taking something to be other than what it is–seeing it as something that is not the Vastness, or as something that is not good, or not desirable. There is one way to end suffering and that is for everything to be seen for what it is, because then we don’t ask that something be different in order for suffering to stop.
JLW: So, seeing something for what it is implies seeing with the eyes of the Vastness.
SUZANNE: That is correct.
JLW: Thus, the way to end suffering is to. . .
SUZANNE: . . . see with the eyes of the Vastness.
JLW: People are going to read this and out of their deep yearning, they may try to apply it and wonder. . .
SUZANNE: “How am I going to do this?”
JLW: Yes, how does one shift from seeing through the personal eyes to seeing through the eyes of the Vastness?
SUZANNE: Your question is contrary to how the Vastness actually exists, which is that it is always perceiving things for what they are from within Itself. The implication that one should figure out what to do in order to see with the eyes of the Vastness implies that that isn’t already constantly occurring, and you have to do something to connect with that. I have always hesitated to say, “do this or do that.” I say only “see with the eyes of the Vastness,” which is already happening, because this leaves the mind confounded about what to do.
JLW: When the mind is confounded, it is stopped, and there is an openness.
SUZANNE: I am not necessarily aiming for the mind to be stopped. I guess the aim would be for the mind to recognize that it doesn’t know. The mind needs to see that there is nothing for it to do. It is not the doer and it doesn’t have to find the correct position. It’s like, That which has been happening all the time and which has always been the doer, finally shows Itself to Itself for what it is.
LML: So, that showing Itself to Itself just happens?
SUZANNE: It just happens and it is always happening. There is this wave of constancy of the Vastness perceiving Itself that is always going on and the mind can say, “How am I going to do that? How am I going to perceive that? How am I going to perceive that wave of perception that is always perceiving itself? How am I going to connect with it? What can I do in order to see with those eyes that are seeing all the time?”
LML: All of those questions are just thoughts in the mind.
SUZANNE: Exactly! So there, you just saw it for what it is–just thoughts. In seeing things for what they are, the Vastness is doing the very thing that the mind tries to figure out how to do.
LML: The mind didn’t see that? Something beyond the mind saw that?
SUZANNE: Yeah! The mind didn’t see that. So, how do you try to explain this in a practice, right? If I gave a practice, it would be colluding with that same construct that passes itself off as the doer.
LML: Are you saying that spiritual practices can perpetuate the construct of a doer?
SUZANNE: Spiritual practices imply that something has to be done in order to become the Vastness or in order to see that the Vastness has always been the doer. That is part of what I think this life of Suzanne has just been arranged to convey–that this is always who everyone is, nothing changes. This is always who the doer has been. It is seeing itself all the time, in every moment.
JLW: I am having a reaction to what you are saying. For myself, and for many others, life has been so difficult at times. There is a lot of suffering in this world. So, I’m thinking, “Yeah, so the Vastness is having a great time perceiving Itself as the Vastness, but what about the tumult of suffering that is occurring in the mind and is identified as me by the mind?” I look at the world and I see that so much of the suffering is a result of the ignorance, fear and greed that this confusion perpetuates.
SUZANNE: The truth of this life is interested in showing everyone that things are what they are and that is the relieving of suffering. You don’t have to make something look different in the world in order for suffering to be relieved. It is that which everyone is, seeing everything for what it is, that makes it impossible for anything to be seen as suffering. It is simply and completely what it is; it is going on all the time, John.
JLW: It’s as if I get it and I don’t get it. . . maybe it is just the mind reacting in the face of something it can’t understand.
SUZANNE: As you have heard me say many times, the mind has a very strong reaction to this which it can’t grasp, and which is basically structured in a mystery that is so completely confounding.
JLW: Yes, the mind exists within the Vastness, so how could the mind comprehend it? This, I understand. There is that understanding. All I can do is surrender and see that here I am actually knowing nothing.
SUZANNE: This culture is really not hot on knowing nothing. It wants everybody to know as much as possible. The highest accomplishment in this culture is knowing, “I know this, I know that.” You get tested on all of it too! I want to comment on what you said about both knowing and not knowing simultaneously. You know that you don’t know and you know that the Vastness is experiencing Itself. These two experiences are going on simultaneously, seeing the construct of the “I,” the personal reference point, and seeing that it is empty of what it was taken to be full of. Simultaneity is very much the experience of the Vastness perceiving Itself, by the way, because that is what is always occurring.
JLW: There is the arising of appearances, which actually do appear, and there is also the recognition that there is nothing really there. The emptiness I am is what they are made of.
SUZANNE: Exactly. That’s it! That is a description of it. You come to know that this apparent duality doesn’t exist, but there is also the simultaneity of diverse things appearing which are all made of the same substance. This does not imply duality; everything is there too.
JLW: Suzanne, we’d like to address one of the main fears people have about awakening to the Vastness they are, which is that they will not be able to function well in the world.
SUZANNE: Oh I know. That is the main fear. That was the main fear that I had for ten years. “How am I going to get anything done when there is no one here to do it?” “If there is no one here to do, how is anything going to get accomplished?” Then it became so clear that that which had always been doing had always been taking care of everything. So, nothing really changed. [laughter] There is the appearance of, “Oh, this is the next thing to do, and the next thing to do,” and it is not like somebody has to be brought to bear to accomplish any doing or any decision. There is never anything that looks like weighing pros and cons, or figuring out the best way to go because this all comes out of that which tries to imagine or construct how things should be. The real doer is so unimaginable, so completely mysterious. Everything that has been calculated as the next thing to happen is calculated in that mystery. If it waited for the mind to figure out what the next thing to do was, then, well, I don’t think we would have what is naturally occurring as the planet and its seasons. If everything waited for the mind, do you think that we would have all these trees and sky and planets and stars and human bodies? It would really be a bummer if it waited for the mind to imagine it, in order for it to be there. So, doing and accomplishing continues as before, and as a matter of fact, is even more fully accomplished, even more fully doing. There is not ever a screen or a question of how things are going to happen; they just happen.
JLW: From the perspective of no personal “I,” how do you experience relationship with others.
SUZANNE: Relationship with others, of course, we have to talk about that, right? Everything that arises, arises for a completely non-personal purpose. So, relationship is no longer something that we can call “personal.” I don’t ever experience myself relating to another, and what I am always relating to is the Vastness that everybody is. It is just obvious for me that everyone is that Vastness. It is relating to Itself. Now, there happen to be different flavors of relationship with different people. I just have to say that it is calculated in the mystery to be whatever is necessary to serve that non-personal desire of the Vastness to know Itself.
JLW: Is it true that relationships are always serving that non-personal desire of the Vastness to know Itself?
SUZANNE: Yes. Just as it is true that there has never been a personal doer, that has always been true.
JLW: Well, this issue of a personal doer leads into the next question. . . Do spiritual practices assist in recognizing this natural state of every human being?
SUZANNE: I haven’t found one yet! There are people who have been pretty upset about my saying that I don’t see any techniques or practices to do. They believe that I am saying it is equal if somebody goes out and murders fifty people or they sit and meditate. I am not saying that at all. I know That which every one is, and the Vastness is completely trustworthy in what it does. I don’t know how this happened to me; I was standing at a bus stop. Yes, I did eight years of transcendental meditation, from the time I was seventeen. But I also did this practice when I was a child of sitting and saying my name until I saw that that name didn’t refer to anyone and the personal self disappeared. I would do that when I was five, six, seven years old. I don’t know if these practices did something or not. I don’t know if there is a technique to bring this about. The implication is that a technique is needed to bring about something that wouldn’t be brought about unless you did that technique. That is just not how I see things. I see this as always occurring, that no one changes when what is, is seen to be what it is. I also think that meditation is fine, but who is it that would stop the mind? And, stopping the mind is something that is not required, because the Vastness doesn’t use the mind to perceive itself. Also, the “I” that would be brought to bear to try to make the mind stop doesn’t really exist. If it is obvious to meditate, then that is what you are going to be doing. If it is obvious to not do that, then it is obvious to not do that. Again, I see how trustworthy the Vastness is, and it shows Itself in this obviousness all the time. You don’t need any reasons for living by what is obvious. This is just what you do. You meditate, you don’t meditate. If you are doing your personal growth work, you are doing that. Of course, seeing it for what it is would be kind of nice.
LML: It seems that the non-personal desire for the Vastness to know Itself would just make it obvious to each person to do certain things that somehow are part of the unfolding–and it could be anything.
SUZANNE: That’s right. It can be anything, and it can be different for different people.
LML: In the West, many people do psychotherapy when they are suffering. I am interested in your work as a therapist from this awakened perspective.
SUZANNE: I’ve actually started a couple of groups for psychotherapists to try to convey the view of the Vastness, and that freedom is what every person who comes in to see me is after. Psychotherapy has traditionally formed very rigid views about how people are supposed to be if they are healthy. People have been pathologized because certain things happen to arise, and the smallness of the acceptable range is so unhelpful that many people end up feeling worse about themselves after engaging in therapy than they did before they started. Therapy in the traditional sense is structured around an idea of an “I” that has to be presented in the best possible way. So, I do a lot of investigating with people about who they take themselves to be; how they got those ideas about themselves; which ideas end up passing themselves off the most compellingly for the Truth; recognizing fear for what it is; and really pulling the plug on this whole campaign to have people live by ideas and ending up with the belief that those ideas are who they are. What’s naturally occurring is helping people to see these ideas that have made up their identity for what they are–ideas.
JLW: Are there any other questions you are frequently asked that should be included here?
SUZANNE: Well, there is one thing that I think people hesitate to ask. They want to ask, but they don’t. It was contained, perhaps in your question about relationships. There are many ideas about what relationships look like or are supposed to look like once the Vastness is constantly being seen for what it is in everything. Nothing goes according to any ideas about how anything is supposed to look. There are many spiritual systems and traditions that say you should only live like this, you should only eat these things, you should dress like this, you should be celibate, you should this and this and this. They’re saying that if you are seeing with the eyes of the Vastness this is what your life will look like. One of the most important things that I think my life has been put here to convey to the West is that it doesn’t look a certain way, that everything is there, too. Most of the spiritual traditions say, “If there is fear there, then she doesn’t have it or this is not the Vastness because fear is there.” The presence of the fear never for a minute brought back a personal reference point. It never for a minute obstructed the view of the Vastness for Itself.
LML: What a statement that is making!
SUZANNE: That seems to be what this life is meant to convey. That everything is there too, and it is what it is. This means that looking for life to be a certain way comes completely out of the mind and its ideas of how things are supposed to be. That ten years of fear that I went through actually was the most important time for what this life is trying to convey to people in the West.
LML: Because the fear didn’t change the recognition that there was no personal reference point.
SUZANNE: That’s right. From that bus stop time onward it was clear that there had never been a personal reference point–absolutely no personal reference point at any moment.
LML: Could you say that you were believing the fear, and not seeing it for what it was?
SUZANNE: Yeah, okay, and that was the training in seeing the sphere of the mind and how things are taken for something else within the mind. It still didn’t create a reference point. When I say, everything is there, too, I mean everything is there, too. Mind is there doing its interpretations, doing its fear about what something means, and trying to understand what it all is.
LML: So, you are saying that all of that was there, but still there was no “me,” no reference point.
SUZANNE: No reference point. And there were so many years of that. Who knows what would have happened if there had been more years without somebody saying, “Yes, I know what this experience is.” A big part of that change of season came from mind realizing that it couldn’t grasp what was occurring, it was too mysterious.
LML: The mind just went to the end of its road where there was nowhere else for it to go.
SUZANNE: Yes. And the mind couldn’t actually gather any evidence for the fear being justified. Functioning was going on just fine, everything was happening, it was all unfolding, one thing would happen then the next thing would happen, then the next thing. The mind wasn’t required to make decisions about how things were going to be.
LML: So, the mind wasn’t needed for what it previously thought it was necessary for. It was seen to not be the central doer.
SUZANNE: Yes. I think that is the most important thing that this life is conveying. There has never been a personal doer. The seeing that there is no personal doer is not when it starts that there is no personal doer. This gets into something that I actually want to convey. This is the kind of thing you want to mention, that seeing everything is being done by a non-personal doer is not the same as nothing being done. The obvious will still always be showing itself. It is really ultimately unavoidable to live by the obvious because it is always showing itself.
JLW: I think we are complete; this has been wonderful.
SUZANNE: It was nice.
JLW: It was fun being with you.
SUZANNE: That’s another one of those things that this life is to convey–this is fun! It’s not all serious and it doesn’t have to be a certain way. That is just not so. I’ll say it again and again; everything is there too. It always has been. You cannot say that because something is arising it means that the Vastness isn’t vast, or it means that it is not made of the Vastness.
The Awakening West is a book containing interviews with several contemporary spiritual teachers.