Interview with Nathalie Delay by Roswitha Sirninger (Verein Lichtung), June 2016
Nathalie, the road you’ve travelled is fascinating. On the one hand, a profession and a family life, which is fairly standard for a western woman, and on the other hand a path to awakening… which isn’t very typical for a western woman! How did you manage to combine the demands of daily life and spiritual practice? How were you able to follow a path of such depth while taking care of everyday things at the same time?
It’s essential not to separate the two, because reality is one. There are not two realities, a spiritual reality on one side and daily reality on the other. I would say instead that there is real life, and then there is my dream. Actually having to stay involved in daily activity in all its forms is a very good way to way to avoid fantasies of realization. The challenges of daily life, like an implacable teacher, show me my level of realization in every single instant. If the slightest situation becomes a problem, that shows I’m not free, and I thank reality for giving me the chance to see it. The essential practice is to see ourselves with great honesty as we function in each situation life offers. Seeing that I am struggling with reality by thinking that it should be different. Feeling the physical and psychic impact of this resistance. Then, discovering a light heart when I go along with events and don’t defend myself. Fatigue rarely comes from activity itself, but rather from my resistance.
What does realization mean for you? How can we imagine it when we haven’t had the experience?
It’s essential to avoid projection on a subject which is such fertile territory for the imagination. Best to stay with “I don’t know.” The experience is not an object, it cannot be put in an objective frame. Closest to the truth would be to say that it is being, without anyone there to claim the ineffable quality of presence. It is pure presence — a great I, without limit — a living state of expansion which cannot be enclosed in any framework.
Can we want awakening? Does it come from grace, or from constant practice?
It’s a mistake to think we’ll turn into something special or get anything special. When we talk about realization or awakening, we have to understand that it is waking up to what is already there: the realization of our true nature, one with the Absolute, as it has always been. Working hard to get something is a personal project. The person has to disappear, along with all desire to find something, in order to live in natural pure happiness. Truth calls us to itself constantly, and it’s important to find out how to let ourselves be taken up by the call. We become available to it when we offer no resistance to the situations of life and are able to let ourselves be in a space of presence, outside the reassuring framework of the known. My ability to empty myself of any specific expectation will create the space needed for the explosion of grace. It is there, at work everywhere, but I can’t see it or live in it as long as I place myself in the framework of my thinking. I have to be open to something non-verbal, and enormously more vast than anything I can project.
Who are your teachers, and the ones who have inspired you or shown you the way?
My main teacher is reality. The moment I stray from its truth, the feeling of fulfilment disappears and worry begins. A few remarkable beings have been able to show me a true perspective, and transmit precious yogas meant for encountering the truth of body and mind, in its multiple aspects from the grossest to the most subtle. These yogas, which can be transposed into every situation of life, daily and emotional, have turned my own life into one immense practice which continues to deepen. I don’t feel that I have arrived anywhere. I know I’m on a voyage which has no end. The heart is a bottomless abyss and within the essence of your own heart it is always possible to die a little more. Today my source of inspiration is the space of the heart, without any images or methods, in a clarity which is ever more radical.
What does being a woman mean to you?
It has no special meaning. I feel that I am, without needing to belong to a gender. Sometimes an activity arises whose quality could be called feminine, but it’s a passing coloration. There is no interior movement which tries to claim this quality. The next moment, a quality which could be called masculine shows itself. Who am I? A woman and the whole universe at the same time. I no longer need to feel I exist through a coloration. I quite simply feel that I am, upstream of all description. This naked presence is so palpable and so full of substance that it annihilates all need to limit itself to a quality.
Are there two Nathalies — the teacher and the everyday woman?
There is an infinity of Nathalies, and there is one unique presence in whose breast all the Nathalies melt. This is the paradox of every human being. It may seem contradictory, and intellectually incompatible, but these two aspects are lived experience, internal and external, coexisting simultaneously and incapable of excluding anything at all. I’ve realized that it’s natural and easy to place yourself in this comprehensive presence which can take on every function with absolute integrity, without being affected by the function itself. I am one and multiple at the same time. All the beauty and the unfathomable folly of life is in that.
How do you share your experience with your daughter? Do you invite her to meditate? How does she see her mother, do you think?
I try to transmit to her, through example, that you don’t have to shut yourself into an identity to exist. I encourage her to observe everything, without preconceptions or judgments, in a spirit of constant discovery. Since she was very small, I’ve stimulated her sense of wonder by taking time with her to look at every aspect of living, without trying to impose my own knowledge. I encourage her really to be her real self, with the reality of her potential, and appreciate that for what it is, without underestimating or overestimating. Above all I give her space to do her own experimenting and, whatever happens, I show her it’s a perfect opportunity to know herself and win more freedom. She sees me as her mother when she needs to be my daughter, but she’s also able to be in a relationship where mother and daughter disappear. And then it’s pure joy to be together and explore all the situations of life, from the most complex to the least serious. In moments like that she’s as much my teacher as I am hers. I try as hard as I can to avoid any obsession, any rigid role for either of us, and this is an art in every second.
You teach the nondual tradition of Kashmiri Shaïvism. How do you define the special nature of your transmission?
While it’s true that there is a resonance, I can’t say that I teach the Shaïvite tradition as such. My connection with it is essentially intuitive. Its particular approach — via the senses, the emotions, beauty and wonder — make it a natural path for an artist like myself. It has inspired my life and teaching for so many years that I can no longer really dissociate it from them. I transmit it in the way I live it, organically, not intellectually. There is no emphasis on tantric doctrine; over and over I come back to practical experience. My job is to waken the intuitive quality in the searcher, so the habit of living from beliefs and second-hand information diminishes little by little. You know, I feel above all that I’m a human being who has found the truth of her essence and who marvels at the beauty and rightness of reality. In the end my teaching proposes nothing more than a return to what is true within us and is also inseparable from the whole — a return to the depth and the wealth of reality.
What can you transmit to seekers in your workshops?
I can give them this: the desire to face the reality of their own reactions, emotions and sensations as they really are, using tools which can be applied in everyday life. Simple but detailed explorations of the body, of movement, of sensation. This way people realize that tension and worry calm down naturally when there is no longer any intention to transform what is really there. They experience a vast presence which embraces things instead of rejecting them. The movement which pushes them to search outside themselves reverses direction, and a feeling of confidence grows. There is a blooming of the maturity which wants nothing more than what life offers from one moment to the next. In these conditions the heart can be recognized. I try to bring them to touch the great silence which lies beneath the production or non-production of thoughts. This is what encompasses these two mental states and unites them. So by direct experience they discover that their own nature is silence, and that it is not the result of any effort but instead comes to be known through a deep relaxation and acceptance. When they are no longer in a state of struggle with reality, this true silence hits them, because it is the source of everything.
At the last retreat in Rastenberg, you invited us to listen constantly to life. How is it possible to blend this listening with the personal will to give form to your life?
The will is a tension, a kind of aggression towards living. The more I open myself to a greater listening, with no intention other than to discover what is, the more I realize there is no need to give form to my life. My life is always adapted to the truth of the moment. To discover this, the need to interfere according to what I believe I know has to empty out. With non-selective listening I gain access to a comprehensive intelligence which is perfectly adapted to the environment and to my possibilities. There is no more a gap between what I want and what is. There is tension and frustration inherent in my desire to make something of my life according to my standards, and these dissolve. I am happily present at the continuously-surprising unfolding of an unprojected life. I discover the unique taste of the freedom to be, in complete integrity, at the heart of the grand play of reality.
Nathalie, you’ve told us we need to do things gratuitously, just for the beauty of the act. Can you tell us any more about this gratuitousness?
I act for the sake of the action itself. I honor life by my total presence in the act, without projecting any result. I have no other expectation than what the moment offers. To find lightness and harmony in action, it’s simpler not to be two. When there is nothing but presence in action, there is a feeling of unity and rightness which is very soothing to the body and mind. The action dissolves into the moment, there is no residue. Doing, without expecting any outcome, leads to a very great relaxation and brings play back into our lives. We are open to all the options and these are always a surprise. There is no more sense of success or failure.
Translation: Toby Earp