Being undefended: alertly present without choice or preference, unwaveringly rooted in direct experience. Clearly seeing without impediment. Fully relaxed, open and vulnerable while courageously facing risk. Denying no thought, emotion, sensation or occurrence, yet skillfully responding to everything that arises in a beneficial way. Restfully and easefully attentive, knowing full well that everything arises from the same source.
Normally when we hear a word like “undefended,” it has a bit of a negative connotation, as in for example “the soldier was left undefended,” or “in that undefended moment she was very vulnerable.” If the world is a place full of threat and malevolence, it would not be wise to be undefended, and we would necessarily always have to be protecting ourselves. However, that is not the vantage from which I am viewing this word.
Seen in another way, to be undefended means to be totally at home in the universe; it means to lack nothing and feel an indivisible unity with all. It means that nothing is seen as outside of oneself, because that “oneself” is not bounded by a skin line. When one does not exist anywhere, from where does the threat come that needs to be defended against? When “good and bad” “safe and unsafe” are merged and non-different, then the notion of self-defense takes on a different meaning.
Now, of course, this sounds very theoretical and in some ways impossible, so it is good to bring this to the level of our lived experience. Let’s look at “undefended” first from the perspective of what being totally “defended” looks like. Being totally defended is where most all of us find ourselves most of our lives. If we trip or stumble in public, we look around to see who has noticed; if we make some embarrassingly stupid mistake, we attempt to cover it up. We want to avoid revealing our most hidden secrets, and we fear being found out.
We give a great deal of attention to seeking our advantage in order to protect ourselves. We often take great pains to appear rich, accomplished and respected to others whose opinions matter to us rather than just being naturally present as whatever we are. What terrific anxieties people often experience when they go, for instance, to reunions with old schoolmates, wondering, “What will they think of me? Will I measure up?”
If there is any doubt about the extent of defending oneself, we can observe our own thoughts. There is a constant stream of threat in subtle forms that needs to be defended against and dealt with. “This is not right; I have been wronged; how ridiculous that person is; why can’t things be better; why don’t I belong; how will I be safe and secure?” The mental stream includes a constant attempt to set right all sorts of things that are felt to be wrong.
Basically one could say that to be defended is to be afraid: afraid of death, afraid of failure, afraid of impoverishment, afraid of not being right, afraid of not getting what we want or getting what we want and being disappointed. The list is endless, and we are all very familiar with the items on that list in our own lives. We take great pains to protect ourselves from all these things, and the act of protecting oneself is going on constantly, whether we are aware of it or not.
So, now we come to the gift of being totally undefended. If we believe all the threats running through our heads are real, then certainly we are not in a position to remain undefended. We clearly perceive threat that needs to be dealt with. However, if we slowly begin to take a different perspective, something quite miraculous can happen. Maybe for just an instant we can stop thinking; we just pause for a moment and notice the alertness that is present whether thought is there or not. Maybe we grow more interested in that basis of thought. “Wow, is there something present in me that does not come and go with the thoughts? Is there a basis for all of my experience that rests unchanged as all the experiences flow on by?”
This is a most fortunate question to be asking and investigating! By just getting a bit of distance from our thoughts and feelings, we begin to see that in fact they don’t have an independent nature. They arise, appear and disappear in an unmovable intelligence. We get more and more familiar with that basic intelligence by coming back to it over and over again, for short moments many times. Again and again we come back to the intelligence, rather than getting pulled along by the thoughts.
As we gain more and more confidence in this basic intelligence, we also grow in assurance that the thoughts, feelings and experiences that seemed so threatening before are actually not threatening. We find that the old defense mechanisms are unnecessary, even silly. We no longer struggle to make an impression or preserve an image. Whereas before we were walking around as if with a mirror in our hand always looking at our reflection: “How am I doing? How am I looking?” we can now fully be with people without that defense. Things that were frightening are no longer so, not because the fear has gone away, but because we choose to not dance with the fear when it arises.
How simple, uncomplicated, transparent and available we become when we are not defending ourselves all the time. Our total self-focus dissolves, and lo and behold we begin to notice that there are actually other people out there, and we need not be afraid of them or their opinions. We begin to experience levels of relationship that were impossible for us as long as we were hiding out.
When we no longer fear our thoughts and emotions, we open up to a whole new world. It is a world filled with courage, joy, intimacy and possibility. This does not mean that disease, danger and death disappear. No, they are very much present, but our relationship with them is not one of fear and defense. Slowly we move into choiceless relationship with all of experience. In our undefended stance, we find our greatest strength.