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KAREN RICHARDS
interview with non duality magazine June 2011
Karen grew up in a small town in the heart of England and was born into a non-religious family. After a somewhat turbulent childhood and unsettled early adult life, she trained as a nurse in 1993. After qualification in 1996, Karen went onto practice nursing in the NHS full time for twelve years.

In February 2008 at the age of thirty-three, Karen experienced a sudden and radical awakening. Prior to this realisation, no teachings or practices were followed – in fact at that time the terms non-duality and awakening were completely unfamiliar. This spontaneous realisation presented itself during a period of intense emotional suffering and when demands in life exceeded Karen’s physical capability.

 

NDM: Can you please tell me how you became interested in non-duality and what would you say it is?

Karen Richards: As I was never a conscious seeker, there was no active interest prior to the ‘awakening experience’ in what can be termed ‘non-duality’. I had never heard that word before or terms such as awakening / self realisation and so I had no preconceived ideas about what it could be.

In a way it could be described that life circumstances seemed to engineer an opportunity for all ideas of a personal self to be seen through. It appeared that due to intense physical and emotional suffering the ‘I’ that I believed I was had to really stop. As a direct consequence of this stopping, there was a sudden and radical experiential recognition of life as it truly is – in other words an awakening experience. What is simple, obvious and always the case was clearly revealed when all ideas of a personal self fell effortlessly away.  Following this revelation, it was subsequently realised that this recognition required an ongoing dedication and commitment to embody what had been revealed – and not to simply live from the memory of an ‘experience’. What seemed to naturally emerge from this subsequent realisation was a deeply sincere commitment to what had been realised, to shed the layers of conditioned reactivity and ever more deeply abide as that recognition.

Subsequently, an interest then seemed to emerge about how this realisation is being communicated and how it could be communicated to ‘others’.  Although effectively it was recognised that there are no ‘others’ - all is appearing in life as life - it was realised beyond doubt that experiential recognition of life as it truly IS is the answer to all self conflict and the associated emotional suffering. Furthermore, recognition has a profound impact upon the way life is experienced moment to moment, making the peace that is eternally here experientially available – and this has huge potential implications for the wider ‘world’. This ‘understanding’ then cemented the commitment to living this realisation and gave rise to a great passion to share with whoever is receptive to self inquiry.

Subsequently, non-duality was experientially understood to mean that life is effectively ‘unified’ - that there is no separation anywhere – separation is only apparent and ‘lives’ in thought identification only.  Every ‘apparent’ thing is simply life expressing itself and as such all expressions are understood to be equal (that paradoxically includes thought identification). Awareness is a good ‘pointer’ to this unified ‘field’ from which all apparent things come and go – but in and of itself isn’t a ‘thing’. That thing-less thing is undeniably present, aware, exists and yet in cannot be separated from experience -  so in truth they are ‘understood’ to be one and the same. Awareness / experience (apparent ‘things’) = life itself.

NDM: Did anything change about you, your personality, character, temperament, disposition or otherwise after this realisation?

Karen Richards: This is difficult to say but as there has been a fundamental shift in the way functioning appears to happen ‘here’ there must have been some significant changes with regard to certain personality traits. The way life is approached now is totally different – there is a ‘responding to life’ as it naturally unfolds rather than deciding ‘what I want’ and trying to make that happen. As a consequence, there is a natural relaxation and peace underlying experiences that it would seem to have had inevitable consequences on the remaining ‘personality’.

NDM: How long did it take you to integrate this or for others around you?

Karen Richards: The integration of what has been realised and the commitment to that recognition is ongoing so I don’t see it as ‘finite’ but in experiential terms, more of a process of continuous evolution. As regards the others around me, I cannot speak for others; all I can know is the experience ‘here’ – however, people that have known me for a long time seem to indicate to me that I seem noticeably much more peaceful and content.

NDM: What about likes and dislikes, did this change at all?

Karen Richards:The main thing that appears to have changed is my diet. I seem to have moved away from eating a largely meat based diet to a more plant based one. I still eat meat (at the moment) but consumption is greatly reduced and there also appears to be a natural tendency to avoid red meat. This has not been a conscious choice but rather something that is happening all by itself. 

There is a sense of an intelligence guiding all action / decisions and as such there seems to be a natural moving away from doing things that could be considered harmful to the body and that seem to be out of harmony with the ‘whole’. Alcohol consumption has also been reduced to virtually zero. I have also noticed an inclination to be quiet and so there has been a moving away from noisy social events choosing more relaxed, peaceful and solitary environments instead.

I still love many of the things that I enjoyed ‘before’: music, travel, walking in nature, being with friends -although now it seems as if there is even greater enjoyment in these simple things. The moment is always enough - there is no ‘looking for something better’ outside of the current experience. This means that the peace that is naturally here is more experientially obvious - seeming in effect, to permeate through everyday experiences with an ever increasing brightness. This appears to make even the most ordinary of moments extraordinarily ordinary, full of aliveness and awe.

 

Karen Richards

 

NDM: Did you practice meditation of any kind before this realisation?  Do you still meditate and what are your thoughts on this as a path or method to realisation?

Karen Richards: Prior to the realisation I engaged periodically in guided visualisations / relaxation techniques, but no ‘formal’ meditation practices.

What prompts the revealing of one’s true nature is a mystery; therefore I couldn’t advocate any one path in favour of another - or deny any path. However, what was realised experientially ‘here’ is that you can’t get to where you already are by any path and that a step on a path is (effectively) a step away. However, all paths are valid until they are seen as futile, so from that perspective they serve an ‘apparent’ purpose and are ‘valid’ and ‘meaningful’ from that perspective.

In relation to ‘practices’ it is important is to understand the possible effects that any practice can have – that being the potential to keep thought identification active. The very nature of this risk is a probable barrier to actually seeing beyond thought identification. So any practice that is undertaken with a hope of getting somewhere or achieving some end result can potentially create an apparent paradox - the practice can actually serve as an invisible barrier to realisation and not actually reveal ones natural state - which is the practice’s apparent ‘aim’.

In respect of meditation practice, I see true meditation as mindfulness – complete awareness of experience (sights, sounds, tastes, smells and touch) – in the presence of a relaxed body and a quiet, alert mind (which incidentally is also part of ‘experiencing’).

‘Mindfulness’ could also be said to be a natural consequence of realising what you are and surrendering fully to that recognition. In addition, one could engage in mindfulness as a ‘practice’ until it is no longer a practice as such, becoming a more natural way of functioning - so in effect there is an apparent merging with the primordial way of ‘Being’.

Sitting in silence is another practice that could be considered useful as far as the integration or embodiment during the post awakening journey. This ‘practice’ of sitting in silence enables the natural silence to be more prevalent throughout all experiences. Both mindfulness and sitting in silence are regularly practiced ‘here’, being mindful throughout the waking state and also completely surrendering to silence most nights before sleep - there has been on occasions, also been full ‘awareness’ during the experience of ‘sleep’.

I think what is paramount in respect of any practice taken as a pathway to awakening, is knowledge of the limitations the practice may by nature potentially impose. When seen in context, no practice is a problem and can subsequently not only create a ‘space’ for what is always present to be revealed, but also aid experiential embodiment post awakening.

NDM: Did you read advaita scripture of any kind before this shift from any traditional sources. Vedanta, Buddhism, Sufism and so on.  Or was it mostly contemporary books.

Karen Richards: As I wasn’t an active ‘spiritual’ seeker before the awakening experience, in relation to ‘realisation’ I hadn’t read extensively from any source - traditional or otherwise. In my early teens I had a fascination with near death experiences and spiritual psychology, reading books like ‘The Light Beyond’ by Raymond Moody and ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by M. Scott Peck.  From the age of sixteen I was enjoying Khalil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’ and a number of years later I had recommended to me a book called the ‘Tao Te Ching’.  The Tao was a book I loved to read and reread periodically, I had a deep fascination with the text for some reason, it really spoke to me and there was a really beautiful quality, likened to poetry that seemed to emanate from the words. These books were simply enjoyed for what I thought they were - just beautiful and poetic writings. There was no real understanding at all of what the words could have been pointing to.

After the awakening experience, my fascination with the Tao Te Ching made perfect sense and I could at last understand experientially the recognition that words were actually inviting. Due to the nature of the illness that was being experienced prior to, during and after the awakening experience reading pages of text is problematic. However, an interest naturally arose as to one’s ability to communicate the incommunicable and, as a result I started collecting books of a mainly traditional orientation.

 

One of the books that seemed to ‘find me’ quite early on after the awakening experience came to me while I was on a meditation course. It was a book called ‘A Garland of Guru’s sayings’ by Sri Murgunar. What attracted me to the book was one of the faces on the cover – a man I now know to be Sri Ramana Maharshi, the great sage of India. The poetry contained within the pages resonated deeply and lead to several visits to the ashram at the foot of Arunachala, Tiruvannamali, South India - the place where Ramana Maharshi lived from the age of 16 until his death in 1950.  I have yet to read any of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings in detail, to this day I have only reading short passages but feel a strong resonance with what the message points to, the experiential recognition of one’s true nature. Ramana’s physical form in the images of recorded photographs can evoke strong emotions to arise of deep love and gratitude. His image seems to symbolise everything that I have come to understand as true - that is not to say there is devotion to him, but to what his physical image seems to represent – the true nature of what we ARE – that beyond form or description.

Other books that became of interest that I have collected include: The Dhamappada, poetry by Hafiz and Rumi, The Gospel of Thomas, The Upanishads, Zen flesh, Zen bones by Paul Reps, The Bhagavad Gita, The Seven Valleys of Baha ‘u’ Lah, The Ashtavakra Gita, Padamalai by Muruganar, The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi in his own words by Arthur Osbourne, Be as You Are by David Godman, Bodhidharma translated by Red Pine, Song of the Adadhut by S. Abhayananda, The Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali by Alistair Shearer and The teachings of Huang Po. None of these have been studied extensively; rather a few pages savoured over a cup of tea during quiet moments. Books by modern teachers that I have dipped into are mainly by Eckhart Tolle and Adyashanti – Adya’s teachings seem to resonate the most strongly of all the modern teachers that I have encountered so far

 

Sri Ramana Maharshi

 

NDM: What do you talk about in these Satsangs that you do?  Is it mostly Q and A?  What is the format?

Karen Richards: As sharing publicly is a fairly new occurrence that has only been undertaken following recent invitations, I am in the process of discovering what happens each time the experience unfolds. So far the pattern that seems most common to meetings is a period of silence followed by a short discourse lasting between 20 and 40 minutes before inviting questions.

In relation to what is discussed at these meetings, the discourse / pointers arise around a central message – the unchanging source of life. Questions and answers flow around this core topic and discussions relating to suffering, awakening – the experiential recognition of one’s true nature – the integration / embodiment of this understanding beyond words or intellect commonly arise.

NDM: Do you call yourself a teacher or do you use some other term for this?

Karen Richards: I don’t call myself anything, I am simply myself. Sometimes a label such as ‘teacher’ maybe used, but I don’t see myself as a teacher at all. I am just the same as everybody else, only there seems to have been an experiential recognition of what has always been the case in this instance. As this recognition has revealed deep peace and has had a fundamental effect on how life is experienced as a result, there has been a natural inclination to want to ‘share’ this discovery with ‘others’. This however is a somewhat paradoxical statement as upon this experiential recognition the ‘I’ that it appeared to happen to disappeared - so to say it happened to somebody is misleading – it was also realised simultaneously there are no ‘others’ - only life.

However, from this direct experience of human-ness, recognition means that life is seen in its true context and so is experienced differently due to a self evident natural clarity. It is challenging to say how life is different - as nothing in terms of circumstance may have changed at all - but seeking (conscious or otherwise) ends and an allowance of the innate peace that was seemingly hidden by conditioned tendencies becomes increasingly experientially obvious.

Awakening is not the end - far from it. If anything, it can be likened to a beginning-less beginning of true experiencing - life seemingly offering a deeper opportunity to experientially surrender to what has been recognised and abide with increasing conviction as that.

NDM: Do you also do private consultations of any kind?   What method do you use?

Karen Richards: I do conduct private consultations. The method I use if it can be described like that is meeting the moment as it is / meeting someone where they are. I offer what I consider to be a holistic approach that is unique each time - based on what it seems is needed for each person that contacts me.

Generally, I like to find out a little bit about the person speaking to me, to see how they view themselves and ‘world’ around them. Depending on what it is sensed about what the person is ready for, several approaches maybe then adopted and a line of reflective questions offered according to what seems to be required. For example beliefs / perceptions / ‘conditioning’ and conditioned responses maybe explored that are specific to the individual, clear pointers to what ‘is’ offered and the direct experience investigated. In addition, exercises or practices may be suggested and discussions that relate directly to the experiential integration / embodiment of what has been recognised can all arise as part of the process too.

The aim (if there is one) is to create a quiet space that potentially promotes the simple, natural experiential recognition of one’s true nature and to assist the individual as necessary into a clear and autonomous way of ‘being’ in the world.

 

All is Grace by Karen Richards

 

NDM: What about a book, are you writing one?

Karen Richards: I am writing a book. The inspiration for this book was really ignited from the perspective of the experience here – ‘waking up’ without a teacher due to intense suffering, without any ‘active’ seeking / initial interest in advaita or other traditions. I aim to address - in a modern way, many aspects of this pathless path but in easy to understand language that would appeal to the ‘ordinary’ person. It will hopefully be a book that family, friends and acquaintances would be able to understand, that is ‘current’ and yet weaves in with that modern perspective the relevant aspects of the more ‘traditional’ approach.

The book will be a ‘live’ text taking the reader on a journey of self discovery - pausing at key points to investigate the direct experience with questions and exercises. The text will aim to address in a logical sequence many of the main point’s surrounding the ‘awakening experience’ from suffering through to recognition and the subsequent integration.

 For more info visit. www.karen-richards.com