“Bring things in order before they exist.” -- Tao Te Ching #64
On Tuesday April 26 I was present for Thomas Hübl’s first public talk in Vancouver (in all of Canada I think). Vancouver was the last leg of Thomas’ inaugural speaking and teaching tour in North America. Thomas Hübl is a contemporary spiritual teacher originally from Austria, now living part of the year in Germany and part in Israel. His work blends a deep appreciation of the timeless wisdom of awakening with the contemporary world. The best place to gain an introductory sense of Thomas’ teaching (in English) is through a series of short videos he has produced. These cover a number of the points in his teaching and they are highly recommended. There is also this great interview between Thomas Hübl and Terry Patten.
This essay is my reflection on the evening, mostly from the side of Thomas' teaching.
Full Disclosure: I sent a draft copy of this essay to Mathias Weitbrecht, who works for Thomas. I asked him to check my piece to make sure my explanation of Thomas' teaching was basically correct.
Our Vancouver evening gathering began with a silent meditation. There was a palpable sense of rest, stillness, and deep ease in the room. As that still ease pervaded the room there was a strong current of things being filled.
Thomas then spoke for about an hour with some time for questions and discussion. After the talk and the discussion period, Thomas led the group through a short (but powerful) exercise in what he calls Transparent Communication (more on that one in a second).
The evening ended with a moving, intense introduction to the practice of Toning—toning is a kind of humming or chanting that reverberates throughout the whole body (more on that one too below).
I had the privilege of spending a short amount of time (about 20 minutes) with Thomas before the talk as we ate delicious Indian food together. Thomas was very generous with his time—he had been traveling all day, the setup of the space took longer than we expected, and he was about to go on in just a little while. If I was him I might have just eaten my dinner and relaxed alone. But there was no sense of being rushed—he was just there. It was all very deliberate (in the best sense). Words weren’t wasted I felt. As we were walking out of the room, Br. Bergen said to me, “Wow, that was a download.”
My sense was that Thomas was not simply sharing information or ideas (though he was doing that as well) but was sharing his very state of being. It was this I think that Bergen was referring to in his download statement. This state, this presence was profoundly inviting and attractive. I found myself being drawn in and becoming absorbed in this other space. The normal concerns and anxieties and cares of my day melted away—I felt pulled in by a tractor beam.
When I asked Thomas what was the basis of his teaching he said there were four foundations to his path. His evening talk went through the same foundational points. Having heard him speak about these twice in the same night really allowed I think a deeper level of retention for me.
The four are: meditation, downloading the future, transparent communication, and loving service. [A fifth element which we practiced was the toning.]
There is a famous Zen Koan: “Show me your face before you were born.” Sometimes called The Original Face, this face before you were born is what Thomas called “The Unchanging Face.” It is the space of Eternity, existing before time and space (within which we are born and arise).
Thomas however also asked this question: “What is your changing face?” He spoke about how every moment of existence is a series of changes, a dynamic movement. As the great Heraclitus said “You can’t step in the same river twice.” For the river is not ever the same. Manifestation is nothing but dynamic alteration.
In other words, as I understood it, in meditation we need to learn to become sensitive to both the eternal and the temporal nature of reality. The ultimate view would then be one inclusive of both The Unchanging and The Changing in a true nonduality.
Thomas said that what he was interested in was the stillness in the movement and the movement in the stillness.
#2 Creative Future
The second element was something Thomas called downloading the future. The first form of meditation (foundation #1) reveals what (for lack of a better term) we might call classic nonduality or awakening. In the classic realization there is the awareness that The Eternal and The Temporal are one. Take for example from the Buddhist tradition, the Heart Sutra which says: “Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.” Or “Nirvana (The Unchanging) and Samsara (the changing world of form) are the same.” In the Christian tradition there is the saying of St. Augustine’s: “There is only one Christ loving himself in all his members.” Many other sayings could be brought forth from all the great traditions communicating, in essentials, the same thing.
The second element, the downloading of the future is the distinctly evolutionary side of Thomas’ teaching. Form and Formless are one to be sure, but the world of Form is evolving—the ancients understood (correctly) that the world of form was dynamic and ever in flux but they did not know that it was evolving.
The world of form evolves through the Creative Future coming into the present and alluring into a new trajectory. The technical term for this is emergence—the new emerges on the edge of chaos and order. Spiritual practice in this area brings a stronger sense of Intuition—the ability to hear, trust, and respond to the moment to moment impulse and inner movement that is aligned to the evolution of life itself.
Thomas spoke about how great artists, scientist, and thinkers tapped into this world of Creativity. They were able, somehow, to tap into this Future Potential and bring it down to earth, in concrete form. He spoke of being “online” or “aligned” with this present Creative Future.
These two streams are technically separate from one another: the creative and the mystic. There is overlap to be sure, but it is entirely possible to tap into one while neglecting the other. They are distinct modes and therefore require separate practices.
What I find deeply inspiring about Thomas’ teaching was the desire to practice both forms of meditation (#1 and #2).
An inquiry that Thomas offered to help tap into this future-creative domain included:
What happens when a person comes from the future?
And this powerful mantra:
[If coming from this Creativity], I’m the update of whatever I’m working on.
The future, as Thomas said, is not simply tomorrow. Tomorrow may not be the future, he said. Tomorrow may only be (in essence) a repetition of today. The future, in his teaching, is that which is calling to us to bring itself forth into existence. The Creative Future is a desire, an urge from the Source to give birth to creative new potentials and it requires us to tap into this Urge, follow its movements, and bring it to life on earth. It is Us and We are It.
If we do not do this, “the future”, will simply be the playing out of all the conditional destinies of the present. For something radically new to emerge requires us to tap into this potential and to do so collectively (not just individually). And this brings us to practice #3: Transparent Communication.
#3 Transparent Communication
Transparent Communication is the work Thomas and his students do in various groupings (dyads, small groups, larger collectives) with each other.
Transparency was a word Thomas repeated over and over that evening. As I understood the term, transparency is the result of this radical presence that lies at the heart of Thomas’ teaching. As the Presence more and more pervades the bodymind, filling all the dimensions of a being, the individual’s essence shines through automatically—becomes available and easily seen or experienced (“transparent”).
Life or Evolution, Thomas argued, develops spontaneously. Life is guided by an intelligence that will simply fulfill itself—like the seed that blossoms into the flower. In human life however there are many parts of ourselves that become closed off from this natural evolution—stuck places. These constrictions arise out of fear, past wounding, social conformity, on and on.
And this leads to an element of Thomas’ teaching that I found really profound (and oftentimes missing in spiritual teachings): shadow integration.
When Presence, as described, encounters these knots in our being, if a person can stay in the experience, Presence will begin to reveal these places. Moreover it may (with deeper practice and compassionate awareness) begin to unravel these knots and release the latent potential, returning that part of the being to its developmental course. The Presence will heat up the bodymind as it seeks to burn away the inner roadblocks to this development and growth of Life.
Transparent Communication not only includes shadow integration but also helps in the development of higher levels of consciousness [see the appendix for more detailed examination of this very important point.]
Transparent Communication is the process whereby in a collective (2 or more) beings hold one another in radical Presence. Individuals become transparent to one another—this means that all the dimensions reveal themselves out in the open. Thomas used the analogy of an open book. The process of the Transparent Communication is one of learning to “read the book” or interpret the multi-dimensional communication of another’s essence in any moment. By holding this space of Radical Presence, we can bring that Loving Awareness to the painful, unintegrated, contracted, sides of ourselves. The Presence may also reveal the hidden gems of our beings dying to offer their beauty to the world.
By the cultivation of this field of Transparent Presence, Thomas argues we create a ‘higher We.’ He is interested in a new culture where this new form of communication and relationship (“transparency”) becomes more and more the norm. He spoke about his desire to see this form of human relationship becoming a universal phenomenon—in intimate relationships, in friendships, between spiritual students, at work, in politics, economics, in all domains of existence.
At this point Thomas guided us into a short (but as I said powerful) experience of this relational transparency. The way this worked on this evening was that Thomas invited everyone in the room to split into pairs—preferably with someone we didn’t know.
Each person had a chance to speak and to listen to the other. The person speaking was simply to talk about their day—what happened, who they were with, what they were doing. The person listening Thomas said was to listen on deeper and deeper levels to the other person—attempting to take in this other person’s world from the inside.
He correctly pointed out that there are all kinds of subtle communication going on beyond simply the words being spoken. And our normal human response is simply to listen to the other through our own filters.
After each person had a chance to speak and to listen, Thomas gave us four questions. Each one was asked to guess the answer to these questions from what they heard spoken by the other person.
The questions were:
- Is it easy for this person to relate to new people? [Very easy? Moderately easy? So-so? Difficult? Very Difficult?] Also: What do you think is the main way this person plugs into relationships?
- Is this person intuitive? (Are they in touch with their intuition?)
- Is this person happy? An alternative form of this question was: “Is this person a Yes to Life?” (Are they a yes, maybe, or a no?).
- Is God (or Awakening) the first priority in his/her life?
Thomas maintained the fundamental gift we can give each other is deep listening and honesty in response. So he encouraged folk to be radically truthful (to the best of their capacities through the listening).
As with the first round, each partner had a chance to respond to the questions and to have the other person respond in relation to them.
In my case, I found my conversation partner was dead on the money with each of her answers to the questions. I also found that even with Thomas’ encouragement to be radically honest, I felt parts of me wanting to soften my responses to my speaking partner. There were parts of me that were worried I might hurt her feelings or some such thing.
At the end of everyone speaking, Thomas asked the entire group how many people felt seen and heard (at a deep level) in their speaking. A huge number of hands went up—clearly the majority though by no means all. My unscientific guess would put the number around 80% or so. That was powerful testimony I thought.
It’s a very simple but powerful practice that I encourage others to try for themselves to get a sense of that transparent space.
In the days since that night, I have been more conscious of the ways I am either listening or not listening to another person with whom I’m relating. I’ve found myself (at moments, by no means all the time) beginning to listen at a much deeper level to the other, to start reading and trusting (Question #2) all the information the other is communicating to me in any moment.
The last piece Thomas described was the reason a person should undertake the spiritual path is to become of loving service to the world. If we do not have this end in view, we may approach the spiritual path in order to get something out of it, whether that ‘it’ is peace, healing, connection, even enlightenment. All these occur along the way, but they are means to this deeper end. The spiritual path is the end itself. Healing, deeper awakening and integration, all these take place in order that we might be serve.
As Thomas asked: “Is God the highest priority in your life?”
Thomas did not mention Toning in his four practices talk, but the evening concluded with an experience of toning (and therefore clearly also a strong part of his teaching).
I’m not really sure how to describe toning. Thomas’ website puts it this way:
Tonings invite us to experience meditative states in a common tapestry of sound. They carry us in a healing togetherness and are closely interwoven with the One Language of the world. Tonings are a form of synchronisation of many people in a common space of transcendence.
On that same link you can listen to some tonings—the only way to really describe it is to listen to one for yourself.
My favorite is this one with a group toning:
It was a kind of humming chant meditation. Thomas invited those present to hum and to begin to try to listen to all the voices in the room and hum in harmony with them. Meanwhile he played a recording of him chanting over the top of the hum. [He would normally have done this live but the sound system was being a little temperamental.] I heard Thomas ‘doing his thing’ (don’t know what else to call it) before the presentation. It was ethereal and pretty other-worldly.
Before he began the toning, Thomas asked everyone to imagine the space between the two hemispheres of your brain. I remember thinking this was a rather odd statement as I had never heard a spiritual teacher refer to paying attention to that part of the body. Usually teachers refer to bringing attention up above the top of the head (the sahasrar or 7th chakra). But as the toning went on I felt an immense amount of pain and constriction right along this ridge of my skull—as well as in the spot right above my eyes, the ajna or 6th chakra (or “third eye”). There was an incredible amount of constriction right down the middle of my skull extending from right above my brows all the way along the central axis of my head to the top of my neck. It was like a psychic mohawk.
The toning process tuned into to what was already occurring and in my case simply revealed the places of contraction (which is why I felt and noticed pressure there as opposed to other open spaces in my body).
It was really profound to feel contraction via sound and the breath. This is clearly one of the more contracted forms in my own being (one of the forms of meditation I’m less accustomed to). I tried to not focus on the pain (which was not debilitating but sharp and quite apparent) but rather to keep listening in to the larger group as Thomas had encouraged. And I could begin to feel a sense of everyone beginning (without any specialized training) to begin to tone together. Toning was like tuning. The hum went and all of us became something like tuning forks, each one resonating off the previous one, picking up the same frequency.
Conclusion: The Elements of a Spiritual Existence
During the time of questions, someone asked a question of whether anything else was necessary on the path beyond practice. Thomas responded that in his mind those elements were a spiritual teacher, a spiritual friend, and a sangha (or community of practicioners).
The spiritual friend remark I found very powerful. A spiritual friend is an equal, a peer, with whom one practices, shares, and holds each other accountable. I find myself this smaller sub-set of spiritual community is so important and so vastly underestimated in spiritual communities (where the emphasis tends to be on the teacher and the community alone).
Spiritual practice integrates via spiritual friendship, in spiritual community, under the guidance of a teacher, for the life of awakened, loving service.
The evening lasted roughly three hours. Three hours to cover and begin to experience all this.
Postcript: After the presentation, a number of us went to a local watering hole (Vancouver’s hockey team, the Canucks had won the all important Game 7 against our hated rivals The Chicago Blackhawks). I drank some celebratory beers while Thomas & Crew drank tea. It was a really beautiful space and what impressed me most from the three different contexts I was fortunate enough to spend with Thomas was that I experienced him as exactly the same in each. His presence was totally steady throughout. At the bar he wasn’t in “off hours” after having put on a spiritual show. It wasn’t about him; it was about this work.
Appendix: Thomas & Integral Theory
I thought it might be helpful for those readers interested in the topic of integral spirituality to say a few things about how I see Thomas’ teaching in relation to integral theory.
I believe Thomas’ teaching is deeply integral (in the best sense of the term). His teaching includes recognition of and practices aimed at all three spiritual identities: Spirit, Soul, and ego. He combines evolutionary teaching with shadow work.
And he has a very intriguing real felt sense of what in integral theory is the distinction between levels and lines. He spoke a few times that evening (and this is a point referenced in his videos) of different streams (lines) of intelligence in the human being: artistic, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, sexual, relational, and so on. Each of those streams desires to develop to deeper and deeper (or higher and higher) structures of complexity (levels) but often become fixated or stuck at a certain point. These levels are really waves, a deep current of flow marks Thomas’ teaching. It’s multi-dimensional and ultimately interested in the radical Presence he speaks of penetrating all levels of all lines of our being. Descending and ascending currents of spirituality both find a home in his teaching.
The Transparency Thomas spoke of is a radical simultaneous addressing of all dimensions, lines, and levels of being, as well as individual and collective communication. To encourage, train and practice such interpersonal competence in all levels and lines is new and unique in the integral community. Using this, in the presence described, allows our own access to higher levels (downloading the future, #2).
When a person follows the authentic impulse moment to moment, what they reveal, in the totality of all of their dimensions but perhaps most especially in their deepest truth, is what integral theory calls The Unique Self. The Unique Self is the individual expression of Enlightenment (with an inherently evolutionary element). The Unique Self is The Transcendent (Godhead or Emptiness) Plus Perspective—a distinct angle from which and out of which one lives awakening.
So Thomas’ teaching find resonance in integral theory (and vice versa), but Thomas’ teaching is radically based in practice and spiritual experience rather than the shadow tendency of integral theory-ites to mentally study and adhere to (rather than to experience) the truths to which the theory points.
* Photo Credits: Mathias Weitbrecht