Robert Wolfe

Robert Wolfe

:: Awakening to Living in the Present Moment ::

I was born in rural Ohio--during the decade before the end of World War II. My mother was a life-long Baptist; and my father said he was an atheist. My mother was judgmental toward him, and he remained distant. I was raised predominantly under my mother's influence, and thus attended church activities with her. At a county-wide Youth for Christ "tent" meeting, I was swayed by a particular evangelistic speaker, and was baptized at age thirteen.

My parents owned a grocery store at a lake resort, so, aside from the summer months, we were poor. My parents separated when I was sixteen, sold the store, and eventually divorced. My father moved to the county seat and operated a newspaper and magazine distribution route.

My mother, and I, also moved to the county seat. She opened a newsstand, and found a house nearby. I had lived a quiet life, spending much time in the woods around the lake, and had gone to a small local school, attended mostly by farm children. I did not like the city, and so left home to live on my own, at age sixteen.

I went south to a small town in Florida, the home of a friend I had met in Ohio. I worked for room-and-board at a bed-and-breakfast Inn, and completed my high school education there. My mother sent what little money she could afford, from time to time, for clothing, books and the like.

I sometimes attended events at the local Baptist church, and also read parts of the Bible. But throughout my teen years, I was surprised by the hypocrisy and cynicism I saw in church members, assuming their strong belief in 'Gospel' values. Some of the anti-clerical writings I ran across, such as in magazines, seemed more straightforward and rational to me. Within a couple of years of leaving high-school, I no longer considered myself a "believer".

I traveled around, mostly in the Midwest, working at various temporary jobs for about a decade. Eventually, I headed back east and ended up living on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, as a reporter for a small sixties counter-culture magazine, The Realist. I had meanwhile been observing (or participating) in the turmoil in the around me, and asking the normal silent questions, such as: "Why are things the troubling way they are; what is all this; what does it all mean"? I no longer looked to organized religion to answer such perplexing questions.

At that time, when I was about thirty, Zen masters from Japan were arriving in the U.S. to guide Buddhist centers which were springing up. Zen masters were often scheduled to give an introductory talk, after they were settled. As a reporter for a progressive magazine, I covered some of these talks and was impressed by both the teachers and their wisdom.

I read one of the books (Alan Watts, The Way of Zen) which had sparked the interest in Zen here in the United States. Zen seemed to me to be a "religion" which was intent on putting itself out of business, so I became interested once again in "spiritual" matters.

Not long afterward, I left Manhattan and emigrated to a Zen farming commune in California, 150 miles north of San Francisco, in Mendocino. Outside this coastal village generally an arts-and-crafts community was a quiet setting called Big River Farm. There were about a dozen people, mostly young men and women living there in several rustic buildings. We jointly maintained a few goats, chickens, ducks, geese, an organic garden and orchard.

We had no Zen teacher in residence: our general guide was Suzuki Roshi's book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. We sat a couple of forty-five minute periods of meditation, morning and evening, but none of us felt qualified to engage in real dharma discussion. After a couple of years at the Farm, living a meditative life in relative monastic isolation, and studying some Zen texts--I felt that I had gotten that there was to get, under such circumstance: and so l moved out into the community of Mendocino.

I started a landscape-gardening business, and lived a more "normal" life, in the village of Mendocino. Within about six years, and while in my early forties, I met Linda--a school teacher, whom I married. With a down-payment given by my mother, and the help of Linda's steady income, we had a house built. Mendocino gets about thirty-eight inches of rain throughout December, January and February. Since I was generally out of work during those months and providing little family income, Linda pressed me to find a more stable occupation. With this in mind, I developed what was called a financial-planning practice. Basically, I was licensed to sell various investment securities and insurance products. Within about six years, I began to have a steadily growing income (surpassing Linda's). However, I was putting in about sixty hours a week (compared to about thirty hours for Linda).

Linda and I were married for about ten years. For me, it was a happy and satisfying marriage--and I have since felt no need to attempt to repeat it. However, Linda was always somewhat discontented. She finally developed a relationship with another man; decided that she wanted to be free to be with him; and so we separated and divorced. I grieved over this for about a week (as if she had been killed in an automobile accident) and then let go of it in an act of conscious detachment.

We sold our house, and (with my share of the equity) I bought, and paid cash for, a campervan. The van was entirely self-sufficient; it was my home for about the next seven years. Some friends had a summer cabin in the redwood forest not far from Mendocino on a dirt logging road next to a creek. I parked my van there, plugged into the pumphouse electricity, and lived on their land as a rent-free "caretaker". About once a week, I drove into town for groceries.

Living on savings, I was free to spend the next few years as I pleased. When Linda had decided that she wanted to leave, I had quit my career. My original motivation for pursing financial stability had been to provide for our retirement; with Linda out of the scenario, I no longer had a motivation to fuel my career. I realized that: a) I did not intend to have a marital relationship again, and b) I did not intend to be a homeowner again.

I also recognized that I had some unfinished business; while I had gone from Big River Farm to a successful financial career, I was persistently reminded of the hollow values that my life revolved around. Interestingly, the more deeply enmeshed I became in the world of business (which is what I had understood that Linda wanted), the more my spouse reacted to it. While I was reading mutual-fund brochures at night she was reading "new-age" prophets. When we separated, she gave me a book by Shakti Gawain, and said she hoped I'd find some comfort in it. (It was Living in the Light; clearly I was, at least as far as Linda was concerned, living in the dark). On perusing, I was reminded of how far I'd come away from the insights I'd known at the Zen farm. I went to a bookstore and bought a number of "spiritual" books. Through these, I became acquainted, for the first time, with the writings of Krishnamurti ("K").

For three years, while living alone in my van in the woods, I did little but study K's "teachings", take walks that were hours long, and contemplate. While Zen had provided the cobblestones, K provided the mortar. Also included in this mortar were writings by Ken Wilber, and Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics.

I sometimes left the woods for a week, or a month or so, at a time, to house-sit for friends. During this period of ferment, I had been constantly making notes--often waking up at night and turning on the light to write paragraphs. One cold day, as I sat near the fire reading and contemplating, I left the (Krishnamurti) book, went to my friend's typewriter and typed out a single page, setting down the connections that were suddenly swamping me. When I took it out and read it, I realized that I now understood something that I had never before understood. And I knew, without doubt, that which I now knew.

Over the years many persons asked me if I still had the typed single-page produced in relation to this pivotal moment in awakening. After inspecting a large ring-binder of pages and monographs, I chose the following as possibly the original page, or if not at least an extremely close approximation. So here it is.

:: In a Nutshell ::

You can't initiate a communication with It; the communication can be to you, not from "you". And it won't communicate with you if something is in the way. Questions are a barrier. It will not flow through the fishnet of a barrier, such as desire. To hold onto any-thing is a desire. The questions, the desires, are protecting "you". It will not communicate with "you". You are an idea; It is not an idea. To move into It, the mind must be free. You can't set up perimeters in the Boundless. It has no cause, it is spontaneous: it will not be summoned or even invited.

There is not anything that is separate from death. The particular dies into the universal, and the universal also dies. The "universal" is not infinite. The universal principles that man strives for have no meaning. Everything of the universe that becomes, dies.

There is no relationship to It. If you are to be in communion with it, you can have no relationship. You must sacrifice all the concepts, such as "pleasure" and "pain". The "relationship" is to have no relationship, to look for no meaning, to have no motive. The "I" can't live with the idea that there is no meaning, no continuity, or hope, no link with God or the infinite. The death of the "I" is to remove the barrier to It. When there is no "I", there is no desire, concepts, hopes, motives, continuity or questions.

My primary concern, since then, has been how to convey this revelation to others--especially since I had known so many others, during my lifetime, who claimed to also want to know this truth. I began to talk about it, with the few friends I had at that time. But they were more interested in the pursuit of worldly success, pleasure, seeking and improvement of "self-image". I soon found that I had no one to whom I could talk, about the more transcendental discoveries. An opportunity for conveying this "good news" turned up eventually, when I later moved to Ojai, California.


Traditionally, the word enlightenment has been used interchangeably with "realization" and "awakening". I prefer the word realization, for its accuracy: firstly, to real-ize semantically means "to make real", secondly, when we realize (that is, "recognize" or "apprehend") something, it is an action which is instantaneous. The substance of "enlightenment" that is realized, I found is realized immediately: it is (in more ways than one) like looking at one of those optical illusions which, in a single moment, reverses the perceptual field so that we see the presentation entirely differently. And once we have recognized the actuality of doing that, we can always (or constantly) do it.

In this sense (only), realization might be said to be a "psycho-logical" shift, a revolution of the psyche, almost like reversing the left brain with the right brain. It is primarily a perceptual shift, as is the consequence of a change in perspective or position. As with the example of the optical illusion (above), one is beforehand of "not seeing what some others say they've seen"; but afterward is aware of having perceived something which previously had not been recognized. In this "knowing", there is knowing that there is "knowing". However, while this realization may be "instantaneous", to absorb (or appreciate) the entire panorama which is presented will likely be a matter of extended induction; having now penetrated the "optical illusion", one now re-assesses the entire picture, "image by image".

Put another way, I had come to the teachings, as we tend to do, with the desire to end personal suffering. K repeatedly asserted, "where there is division, there is conflict"; and he frequently used the phrase--as have sages since recorded time--"no division". I began to contemplate, "Is it possible that the truth of actuality is that there is no division whatever in any possible time, or at any conceivable place"? Suspending the usual perspective and probing the implications of this (tentative) actual truth, I came to recognize (during that three-year period of my isolation in the woods) that my previously-held identification was a false identification; that to put it as it has most succinctly been put, "the observer is the observed". The false optical illusion falls away to reveal the truth.

This realization, or awakening, was not accompanied by lights and bells and whistles (such phenomena do not seem to have ever been a constituent of this particular psyche). It was basically as quiet and simple as putting a sheet of paper in a typewriter and typing out a state-ment, on a single page, of con-firm-ation of the truth which appeared imminently present. When I read what had been written, I recognized it; I realized that this was so. I had awakened, as we always do, to the truth that is in the present moment (therefore, in "every" moment).

The inseparability of all things, which has been referred to persistently by mystic sages for 3,5000 years of our written history, is commonly spoken of as "oneness" (or Oneness). There is an aspect of this oneness which is rather apparent to most any attentive mind. But the aspect which seems to give many of us some difficulty has to do with our personal, "individual relationship" to this oneness. This latter aspect is the matter which had now become clarified for me. It was not that something was added to my fund of knowledge; it was that I saw the truth in what was already actually present but which had been overlooked or ignored. The situation is similar to one of those "optical illusions", again, which you have probably encountered: what appears to be, say, a black candlestick and its holder is displayed against a white background. But in addition to this apparent picture is a picture which is not so apparent; if the white portion is viewed as the foreground and the black, candlestick portion seen to be its background, an entirely different picture emerges: the outline of two matching profiles whose noses nearly touch.

My relationship to the whole of existence was now revealed in a radically different light. If you were to view a fish in an aquarium, for instance, directly head on, what you would perceive would be remarkably different from what you would perceive if you were to shift your perspective so as to observe it broadsided . It would not be a different fish than it had been--and nothing would have been added to it--but your perception of it would now be thoroughly different.

This radical, and sudden, shift in perspective was liberating. Where before there had been confusion and perplexity concerning the relationship of the individual to the whole of existence, now there was a calming clarity. There was profound resolution of the uneasy questing which had punctuated my prior 18 years, a resolution which was not transitory because it has not since been apart from my general awareness.

I had hoped to share the good news, particularly With those whom I knew to have quested concurrently with myself. I knew, from my own experience, that a certain element of this unitive understanding is communicable from one mind to another; the analogy is sometimes given of a flame leaping from one torch to another torch. Probably a more apt analogy is that of a center-fielder in baseball making a throw to homeplate: if the catcher is not fully attentive, there is nothing within the center-fielder's power which will complete the transmission. But the fact that the transmission may rarely be received is not a reason for inaction.

There is a certain reasonableness, or even "logic", to the unitive understanding up to a Beyond which logical progression will not take you. At that point, only an intuitive connection can be made. But once the tumblers have fallen into place, it matters not that a hairpin replaced a key. A subsequent and even less experiential -deepening of this dis-identification is more difficult to describe. I no longer felt the need to confine myself to the Northern California forest; it occurred to me that I was free to live in a warmer and dryer climate, if I now chose to. I relocated to a little valley near EI Cajon, which is a small town, inland from San Diego. Specifically, I lived in my van for one year at Swallows Sun Island, a small nudist resort in a dry, sunny valley.

Aside from a weekly trip to town for groceries (and aside from exercising in the gym or pool, hot tub/sauna, and attending our weekly dance), I had nothing to do but "contemplate". There was a remote, sandy, shady spot at one end of the "park", where a couple of oak trees framed the view of a lone distant hill. For sometimes as many as forty hours a week (day or night), I would sit (usually in a deck chair, which I kept there) "sitting quietly, doing nothing". Doing nothing. Doing not anything, save for being present--open, and present.


Toward the end, I wrote a booklet: "Elementary Cloud-watching: Contemplating the Meaning of Living in the Moment." The resource was later self-published, but is now out of print. A sample piece is presented below.

:: Sunday Matinee ::

It is not just quiet today, it is still. It is a stillness which you can almost hear, or feel. It is not a stillness in which the grasses are not rehearsing their Ballet to the Breeze, but there is a silence of the earth.
Past noon, it is likely the warmest day we've had this year. You can hear the birds, but you scarcely note any movement. Even the flies and bees are all but absent. It is a day in which a limb can suddenly drop from a tree.
And, there is quiet. Mother's Day: perhaps everyone in this hemisphere is at dinner with their mother. Even the few airplanes seem remote, and the atmosphere is clear without the slightest haze. It's breathtaking.
The colors are rich. The pale blue sky, the dark green of the tight oak leaves against their shadowy branches; the wild garden, up the slope, with dark blue spikes that appear, from here, to be larkspur, and the pink of what looks like godetia, among the bright yellow of mustard and the glowing white of morning glory; the wild grasses which in the past weeks have yellowed to golden straw; the tan/sandy path at the base of your bare feet.
Few can afford the luxury of this time and place: a Sunday afternoon in spring in a wooded ravine. To be here now is too expensive: it is to give up a day of gold; to forego the washing of the car; to ignore obligations; to forsake companionship--all prices to be paid for being civilized.
Civilization and stillness--quiet, inactivity--do not go together. Civilization is a continual process of choices; stillness comes without choice. There is nothing which can be done to create this stillness. It is not something which is to be acquired; it has no value as currency. It is, put another way, priceless.
One must relax, to breathe this stillness. Not just the body: the mind, the psyche. One must relax ambition. Ambition and stillness are not compatible. There is no ticking of the clock here. There is no effort in stillness.


During that time, on a particular day, there was a feeling of immersion into that which is indivisible, a sense of something without limitation which I have not felt the need to inculcate since. It was a feeling of validity, which one need have no cause to doubt. It was not a spectacle, in any way--therefore un-spectacular; just quiet.


I had gathered (from K's biography) that there was a small community of people who still lived in Ojai, who had been influenced by him--some of them very personally (such as his former companion, Mary Zimbalist). It occurred to me that I might feel more at home among that community. So about 12 years ago, I attended one of the semi-annual "dialogue" weekends in Ojai, where I presently live and conduct discussions with persons interested in clarifying the truth of "no division"--the condition where there is that in which there is truly only one thing; and that one thing is the Absolute.

For the past half dozen years, I have conducted a considerable number of discussions (both individually and in groups) with persons who indicated their interest in resolving and in recognizing that they had resolved what has been called the perennial question. I have carefully observed the junctures at which their confusion compounded. I have also observed that for a few individuals there was no point at which their confusion was not surmounted, to their satisfaction.

The essence of the unitive understanding is that it is liberating; the marvel of the unitive understanding is that it is basically effortless. Its liberation is a consequence of the non-attachment it engenders. This is not detaching of piece from piece, item by item. It is an across-the-board release of attachment, which even includes non-attachment to the continuity of one's life. This dispelling of attachment is, in the same moment, the dispelling of correlated fear--and that is dynamic liberation.

And, so, it is not that one first removes fear; removes attachments; and then the unitive revelation falls into place: it is that the latter is coincident with the former. This is the true marvel of the unitive realization, the effortlessness of the deconstruction.

As a consequence of my attempts to share the enlightenment teachings with scores of others, I have read widely from other nondual (advaita, in Sanskrit) teachings. This has made it possible for me to be increasingly more effective in communicating the essence of the realized state. After thorough study, I have found the most direct teachings to be those of the South Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi (who died in 1950). Less direct but also well-grounded are the teaching of another Indian sage (also now deceased) Nisargadatta Maharaj. A living relative of Ramana Maharshi conducted interviews with 63 persons who were awakened to Absolute presence by late (Indian) H.W.L. Poonja ("Papaji").

Papaji attracted a number of spiritual seekers, after Ramana had died, particularly English-speaking. (Ramana spoke his native Tamil; Papaji spoke English). Among these was an American woman who now teaches in the U.S., using the name Gangaji. One of her awakened students, John Sherman, now lives and teaches advaita in Ojai .

Nisargadatta, too, has an English-speaking lineage (though he, again, didn't speak in English, except through a translator). The Indian man who was his translator, Ramesh Balsekar, is recognized as Nisargadatta's successor. One of his awakened American students, Wayne now gives teachings in that lineage here in Southern California .
But probably the most prominent American teacher in the advaita tradition today was formerly, for about 15 years, a zen student--using the Sanskrit name Adyashanti. From an organizational center in San Jose, California (south of San Francisco), his videos, DVDs, tapes and books have made a consistently sought-out teacher who has already brought many seekers to the end of their spiritual quest.

And so today, in addition to my own writings and materials which I provide to those who desire them, I urge those I communicate with to augment our explorations with the wisdom provided conveniently by Adyashanti; and the transcriptions of the message of Ramana and Nisargadatta (or those of their successors). My own study of the transmission methods of the advaita masters aided my ability to transmit the message of nondual realization in the most direct way. It expanded the perception I'd had from my days in the Mendocino forest.

And it is this simple, direct realization of the nondual actuality of our existence which activates and guides my life, from day to day. My life is the life of the Absolute. Thus my foremost interest in life, now of 70 years, is the transmission of the awareness of our infinite true nature. My days are spent in communication with those who seek spiritual truth: in person, by letter, or by phone (I have no computer). I live on a small pension now, in a federally-subsidized low-rent apartment complex. For those to whom I can be of assistance, I can be contacted at: 999 East Ojai Avenue, apartment 98, Ojai California 93023; telephone (805) 646-1739. Ojai, where Krishnamurti lived and died, is north of Los Angeles and inland from the coastal town of Ventura. Though a town of only about 8,000 population, many contemporary spiritual teachers have visited here. For me, it has been a journey from "belief" in the Omnipresent in Ohio, to living as that Presence, now in Ojai--a journey of unpredictable unfoldment!

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