THE EXPERIENCE OF FORM AND FORMLESSNESS
BY JAN NICHOLSON, EDD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Virginia, Maryland
The first time I entered the dharmakaya (infinite, timeless, formless awareness)-- that I remember--was when I was drowning at age five. A friend of mine and I were floating in a tire inner tube in a river, and we slipped out of the tube. Neither of us knew how to swim. We were right by the ladder to a dock but every time I tried to grab onto its mossy slippery steps, my friend grabbed me and we both went down again. Whenever I bobbed up for air, I could see my grandmother staring into space on the riverbank, paying no attention. At first, I panicked. But then I began to feel enormous peacefulness, like everything was perfect and there was no cause for worry about anything at all. It was while I was in this state of complete surrender that a swim instructor noticed us, dove in, and came up with one little girl on either shoulder.
I never forgot how this expansiveness felt, this spaciousness. And while it may have been an artifact of lack of oxygen, it also began my spiritual quest to recreate the experience of formlessness, of spaciousness, of oneness. To quote Dr. Rudy Bauer, “This formlessness is the potential space manifesting in us as us. . . Formlessness is the beingness of being which manifests within forms and then disintegrates and reintegrates in greater levels of coherence and vibration.”
After having a kundalini awakening about a decade ago, in which “rolling thunder” energy roared through me like a freight train cracking open my heart, I began to have experiences in meditation of sacred geometry shapes inside me such as triangles and diamonds. These are said to support the light body. My body was de-densifying, becoming increasingly permeable as I experienced spaciousness within and without more and more. When someone has practiced being grounded, able to integrate, dissolve and reintegrate, the body becomes less dense; it becomes the light body. Depending upon the mind alone shifts into more direct knowing, the subtle body becomes a body of light.
Even as I began to experience certain kinds of forms inside me, moments of being in formlessness became a more frequent occurrence. If I tried to pass through someone else energetically, something I always have had ease in doing, it began to feel like it didn’t make sense in a way. When in formlessness, there would feel like there was no focal “self” unless it was way out on the periphery of my awareness, no central place from which to connect to outside surroundings—including to be able to pass through someone else. Sometimes I felt different in a nameless way, like there was no in and no out. Just being there in the formlessness.
Over time, I began to experience feeling totally present in meditation yet simultaneously having a feeling of infinity. It was startling to realize that I was so far out that I was actually in. It began to come full circle. I believe this can explain the difference between where people go when they’re in trance states versus remaining present in one’s relaxed, natural state, fully present. Transcendence seems to be more of an “outside” experience of going out to embrace the infinite, and feeling nonduality. Dzogchen emphasizes immanence as more of a natural, embodied, inner “already there” experience that permeates us and comes through us as oneness with the infinite.
As I began to be aware of immanence more of the time, it became clearer to me how the light body is something that is constructed. In a session in 2009, my energy therapist touched me lightly and above my body while focusing on creating the inner form. Working energetically together for many years has been a co-emergent experience taking place in the nirmanakaya, the phenomenal world in which we live and have social support. The sambhogakaya dimension joins in, archetypal energies infusing and informing the work. Sometimes a session feels like an extremely powerful experience, other times it feels like a lasting shift occurs. This was one of those times. It felt like a tailor sewing a suit onto me, like having on a leotard and tights, forming a container in a sense. It shifted me from experiencing palpable shakti and light, more subtle than shakti, inside and outside of me to having it all contained somehow. No matter how vast or intense my meditation experiences became, I would still feel the inner form. It was a place from which to experience many realms without getting moved out of this centered, balanced, stable place. It felt odd to feel such intensity and yet to remain calm at the same time. It all emanated from the same place with my containing it all. There was fearlessness but not in a fierce way, more in a calm, settled way. This was our developing the vase body. It gave vastness along with a container, and a great feeling of protection.
As I felt the inner form more and more, it helped to contain ever more immense luminosity. It would begin as a fluid process as the light body opened up, then it traveled in various directions. It had a mind of its own, going where it needed to or wanted to. While it felt like a leotard at first, it then became less “binding,” still with the sense of a container being there. That sense of a focal place was there, from which to lean through my surroundings including being able to pass through someone else. It had a feeling of focus to it yet it easily went into the vastness of the dharmakaya, deeply restful, relaxing, and nondual.
At another energy session in 2011, I could feel three lines encircling me. First the three lines went up my front, then joined at my lower back, having encircled my neck. It was described as a progression of the formation of the light body. There was a triangle with the apex down at the second chakra, going down to the root chakra too. I felt formlessness along with form, with the form being more explicit than ever—like being encased, permeated by sacred geometry. I felt more in touch with other dimensions. The energy therapist said, “Go with the stretch” and my awareness went in all directions, way out, infinite while fully present in this dimension. I realized I was the light rather than seeing the light.
One of my most recent experiences was of feeling lighter than air, as though a breeze went through me in one puff and cleared all thought and obstructions as it did so. That progressed into an awareness of myself on a cellular level, of being particles, even as my base (the whole lower body) was quite apparent to me simultaneously. All this smoothed out with some viscosity, like smooth cake batter, into feeling very centered and complete. My energy therapist brought up the rolling thunder as he did so long ago, and there was no need for anything to roar through, rather it was as if a huge spotlight got turned on inside and all around us. He had me take a posture with my elbows and knees out a bit like a frog, and it felt like I held the totality, embodying that. Even though the totality is infinite and formless, there’s a sense of all That being held by something perhaps even more vast. The totality is held by itself.
In terms of the progression of this process in myself, when I experienced transcendent states years ago, I was no longer present whereas now, my consciousness can go out as far as I want and I still stay grounded, fully present and embodied. The light increasingly has come into my form, helping me to hold all that I am. More and more of the time, there is ongoing continuity of awareness. It is possible to hold it and whenever preoccupation or constriction arises, it is a simple matter to shift and enter into time-free awareness of non-duality within duality, which includes sensing form within formlessness.
I am dwelling on a potent statement that we embody the light and then it embodies us. It just is this way. I love this ongoing exploration of the ways in which formlessness and form co-exist and co-emerge with each other in the dance of life.