Sublime Sublimation

The snow is gone for the moment but winter is not yet done with us. The cold will return, the snow will fly, and we will deal with whatever arises. In the meantime, frosty mornings reveal a surprising lesson. As the sun rises in the sky, ice miraculously disappears. Sometimes it melts and evaporates but other times the temperature remains below freezing. The ice disappears nonetheless.

This process is called sublimation, the conversion between solid and gaseous phases of matter with no intermediate liquid stage. In the water cycle, sublimation is most often used to describe the process of snow and ice changing into water vapor (gas) in the air without first melting into water. This fascinates me and mirrors the meditative process.

In meditation, we watch the natural settling of the mind into its original unconditioned nature. Thoughts seem to take form in the mind and immediately dissolve with no traces left behind. With practice, we recognize thoughts have no solidity in the first place, so they effortlessly return to ungraspable vapor. In the dzogchen teachings this is referred to as natural self-liberation. The light of awareness naturally liberates what seems to appear as solid, without any intermediate stage.

This is called “natural arising and liberation”. Like waves on the ocean, in the moment a thought arises, it naturally self-liberates. Padmasambhava said it this way in his treatise, Self-Liberation Through Seeing with Naked Awareness:

And when you look into yourself in this way nakedly (without attaching to any discursive thoughts)—since there is only this pure observing, there will be found a lucid clarity without anyone being there who is the observer; only a naked manifest awareness is present.


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