Arjuna Ardagh is founder of the Living Essence Foundation in Nevada City, California, a non-profit organization dedicated to the awakening of consciousness within the context of ordinary life. Arjuna’s background combines a classical education from Kings School Canterbury and Cambridge University, where he took a masters in literature, with extensive periods living, studying and meditating with spiritual teachers in Asia and the United States, including H.W.L. Poonjaji, a direct devotee of the great sage Ramana Maharshi. In addition to his own career as a spiritual teacher, he has also devoted thousands of hours to interviews with hundreds of others, including such figures as Eckart Tolle, Byron Katie, Ram Dass, Lynne Twist and Bruce Lipton, and thus brings extraordinary breadth as well as depth to his chronicling of the spiritual state of the world.

The web site for the Living Essence Foundation says: “We recognize that a growing and tangible shift is taking place in our world. Increasing numbers of people are waking up to a deeper dimension of themselves and reality. In the light of this realization, there is the possibility to create a magnificent life of service and inspiration.” We talked recently with Arjuna about what that magnificent life might look like in the context of a networking business. — J.D.M.

Arjuna, how did you come to the work you do today?

It started for me very much the same way it starts for a lot of people. As I looked at the world around me, I had a deep, undeniable intuition that I was seeing something my head had come to accept as normal, but my heart could not accept as natural.

I saw that life was being lived predominantly in a state of separation, with people separate from each other and separate from themselves. From an early age, I felt pulled to find some practical means to connect more deeply to what is natural and what the heart recognizes to be real. At the age of fourteen, that led me to start practicing meditation and yoga.

In time, I realized that there were so many old habits and patterns from the past that meditation and yoga were not quite enough, so over the years, I found myself evolving from one thing to another, not only to awaken to the truth of who we are but also to embody that. This is, to awaken to a closer relationship to our true self, to who we are outside of the mind: a closer relationship to being silence, being presence, being spaciousness itself.

Anything you do from that sense of connectedness and spaciousness is going to be different. If you’re in business, then business shows up differently when it is initiated from presence.

Would you speak a bit about what you call the “mad relative”?

Most of the time, we have the experience of being the mind. We don’t necessarily think this consciously, but when thoughts and feelings arise, we have the experience, “I am angry, I am hungry, I am excited.”

Once you have even a flickering recognition of the spaciousness you really are, it becomes possible to recognize that these thoughts are not “who I am,” they are events occurring within that spaciousness.

When we start to observe the patterns of these thoughts, we recognize that they are actually insane. They’re all in some way trying to solve problems that don’t actually exist, or are oriented towards wanting things that don’t provide fulfillment. You realize that this entire world of thinking is a machine that’s gone off the deep end.

Then you trust the mind less—and when you trust the mind less, life continues to unfold in a beautiful way, not coming out of a separate thought machine but arising out of a connection to life.

We have all experienced this. Think of the five or ten most important events in your life, events that have changed your life, and then ask yourself, “How many of those things took effort, planning and strategy? How many of these things did I make happen?” Most of the great turning points in our lives simply happen to us; we don’t make them happen.

You say there’s an insanity to our thoughts. How does that show up in our lives?

Just stop and listen to the inner dialogue. If you could record what that thought machine is generating and then play it back, there would be absolutely no doubt in anybody’s mind that it’s insane.

So rather than pay attention to the ravings of this mad relative, if we step back and feel the space around that, we’re going to come to some more true decisions?

Yes, although decision is perhaps not the perfect word. We’re going to come to some clear realizations of what is trying to happen. It’s a little different. You see?

Decision implies a thinking process. Thinking implies that we’re going to figure out what to do by going through a process of weighing the pros and cons.

But that’s not exactly how it happens. It’s more that when you recognize the insanity or unreliability of the mind, what occurs is that you don’t actually do anything, but things happen to you.

Let’s say you’re involved in network marketing: how do you actually build a network marketing business? Through contacts and leads. I’m sure many network marketers have had the experience of making a lot of effort and going through all sorts of strategies, yet having it not work. Then at other times, you just let go and trust—and things start to happen on their own.

Yes—it’s the craziest thing.

Business is often most successful when we’re not trying to make it happen, but when we’re available and receptive to what life is sending us.

If you look through your network marketing organization at the people who bring you the most income, did you actually go seek them out and harass them to join you? Or was it more that it happened on its own, and all you had to do was sit back and allow it?

Clearly, the latter.

Whatever business we’re in, life happens most beautifully when we’re allowing it rather than seeking to make it happen.

In network marketing, we often talk about belief as being critically important to our business—our belief in our business, in ourselves, in our product and company.

Let’s take a look at belief. We’re so used to belief that we assume we must have belief. But let me ask you a few questions. Do you believe in life after death?

I do.

Okay, good. Do you believe in life on other planets?

I would say, yes.

Good. Do you believe in love at first sight?


Now, look at your left hand. Do you believe in the fingernail of your little finger of your left hand?

It hardly seems necessary.

Exactly—what a wonderful answer! It hardly seems necessary. Now, let’s continue, just to take this deeper. Do you believe in your son?

I do.

But do you need to? When he’s in the room with you, do you need to believe in him for him to be there?

No, he’s real, I know he’s there.

You see what you just said? “He’s real.” You’ve just pointed that you don’t have to believe in something if you know it’s real. Belief is only necessary in the domain of those things we don’t directly experience. In other words, when you’re working in the realm of belief, you’re working in the realm of things that you don’t actually experience.

Or you’re not sure if you do.

Exactly. Which means it’s a very fragile environment. If you actually stay with what you directly experience, you’re working in the world of reality.

The other critically important thing about belief is that no belief exists in isolation. If you believe in one thing, you must have a relationship to the opposite.

If somebody says to you, “I believe that the universe is an abundant place and that money is flowing into my life,” what do you think is the experience underlying all that mental activity?

“I hope the opposite isn’t true!”

Exactly. That person is living in a fear of lack—which means that person is having a vivid experience of lack. When you believe in abundance, you have an equally strong relationship to lack.

This is where the world of affirmations and positive thinking tends not to work entirely. Because if you believe in one thing positively, you’re equally creating its opposite. You must, because they can only co-exist.

Truly wealthy people do not have to believe in abundance, because abundance is simply their experience.

It’s like my fingernail: it’s just there.

Truly loving people do not have to believe in love. Truly awake people do not have to believe in oneness or interconnectedness. You only need belief to substitute for what you don’t actually know to be true.

This is very important when it comes to business, because if you’re running your business on a bunch of beliefs, then you’re not running it on the basis of your experience. You’re running it on the basis of what you hope is true, but what to an equally strong degree you fear is not true.

And because our hopes and beliefs and all our projections have an influence on what happens to us, who knows what putting out all these contradictory signals will do?

Exactly. Your thoughts and your beliefs have an influence, which is limiting.

So you notice the negative thoughts that are having a limiting influence, and you think, “Okay, what I need to do is start creating positive thoughts. I need to shift from negative thoughts to positive thoughts.” That’s step one. But step two is to recognize that the limitation is not so much in the negative thought, the limitation is in the world of thought itself.

The Russian philosopher George Gurdjieff once said, “Humankind lives in a prison cell, and most people are happy to simply rearrange the furniture in the prison cell and call that freedom.”

What a great observation! Changing a negative belief into a positive belief means you now have a more pleasing prison cell. But you do not yet know reality outside the mind.

Business will flow most magically, most effortlessly and most successfully when you’re in tune with the desires and the direction of the universe itself. The way to be in tune with the universe is not through thinking and believing, but through dissolving thought and dissolving belief.

When we do, then we find that the universe is an abundant place. By our doing nothing at all, something kind, benevolent, humorous and relaxed wants us to be successful and happy. All we have to do is surrender our mind and allow that something, which some people would call God, to do the work.

That sounds so simple in words, but it really does seem a tall order.

In a way, but once you recognize the mechanisms involved, it becomes much easier. The first thing is to be able to experience the mind for what it is: a thought machine spinning out of control.

What you call “the Iago principle.”

Yes. In Shakespeare’s play Othello, Othello was a beautiful, kind man, but he had this so-called friend, Iago, who turned out to be not such a good friend after all. Iago kept whispering doubts in Othello’s ear: “Maybe your wife is cheating on you, maybe you can’t trust the people around you.” He drove Othello so crazy that Othello ended up killing his wife and eventually killing himself, too.

Iago represents the mind, this thought machine that keeps telling you that there’s a problem, that there’s something different you need to be doing.

When you first recognize the mind for what it is, it’s sort of disorienting, because you feel, “I’m basically nuts.” But then you realize that there is also that which is experiencing the mind, yet is not the mind—and that is not nuts. That is consciousness, presence, awareness, and in that there is no problem.

When you do your business from there, your business will be fun and successful, and you will be capable of receiving the opportunities life seeks to bring to you and responding to them in a joyful way. You can’t do that through beliefs or the thinking in your mind. You can do it only from the innocence of presence.

And you say this is happening right now on a broad scale.

It is. More and more people now are ready to wake up from the mind and recognize that there’s another way to live life outside of the mind.

What do you say to the reader who says, “Yes, but what do I do? How do I bring this into my life and into my business?”

Let me tell you a joke. A man goes to his rabbi and says, “Rabbi! Rabbi! What should I do? We have nine children already. I’m working three jobs—one day job, one evening job, one night job—just to keep everybody in food and clothing. And now, Ruth has become pregnant with our tenth child. Rabbi, what should I do?”

And the rabbi says, “Do? Haven’t you done enough?”

See, it’s this endless, incessant sense of doing, doing, doing, that obscures the benevolence that is trying to happen through us underneath the doing. It is not a matter of, “What should I do,” but to become aware of the mechanism of the mind.

A first step might be to recognize that you are not the mind. As you relax into the confidence of being that which is not the mind, then it becomes rather like there’s a television going in another room in Chinese. You can hear it, but it’s no longer dominating.

Is that television in the other room something we need to learn to ignore entirely, or is there not some value to it?

You can use the thought process in a conscious way to accomplish practical tasks, but very few people are using their minds in a conscious way. In most cases, the mind is using us: it has completely taken over and become the mad relative who’s running your life for you.

We think that it’s us, and then lose ourselves in it.

Yes, exactly. In your business, this is when you chase after things to try to make them happen. Getting all pumped up like that takes a lot of effort, which is counterproductive. On the other hand, pushing things away with an attitude that says, “I’m not going to do anything at all,” is equally counterproductive.

What lies between these two states is simply being available to life, allowing life to happen to you. It’s neither doing or not doing, it’s allowing.

Let’s say you become interested in a new product, maybe some herbs that make you feel good. The first thing is to pay attention to see if this particular business is right for you, or if you’re attracted to it simply out of the fear of not having enough.

If it’s right for you, you’re going to enjoy what you’re doing, and you’ll spontaneously start speaking to other people about it. You won’t be able to stop yourself. You’ll be having dinner and you’ll say, “Look, here are these fantastic herbs I’ve been taking, and they’ve really helped me a lot.”

The next thing that happens is someone else realizes this is a beautiful thing and they want to try it too. It all happens organically, out of the universe blessing you, because you’re available.

Here’s the problem, John. Very quickly, a mechanism starts in the mind that says, “Oh, I started the herbs and now my aunt and cousin and best friend are all taking them, I could make a lot of money,” and then we start running around and doing cold-calling and feeling rejected. What started as an organic process has now become a doing.

When you first fall in love, it’s completely magical. You meet, you feel fantastic and you’re just carried by these feelings.

But once you get into the idea, “This is my boyfriend, or girlfriend, or husband or wife,” then you start having an agenda, and now you start to make it happen. That’s when we start to feel possessed and possessive, and of course, that’s when the relationship goes south.

Business will flow organically for you when you’re available to it. But you’ve got to be very, very aware, because every time life gives you something, Iago is waiting in the wings to try to take it over.

What you’re saying sounds a lot like authenticity.

Authenticity is a good word. I like that.

Our type of business is so without structure, because we don’t have bosses or hours or paychecks. This gives us extraordinary freedom, but at the same time, I think we sometimes feel a nervousness or anxiety that if we don’t do, do, do, nothing will happen.

That’s the whole key, what you just said. And it’s not exclusive to network marketing: that’s what the mind does in every arena of life. It runs on the thought, “If I don’t do something, nothing will happen.”

But the truth is, it will happen the way it always happens: life occurs despite our efforts, not because of them.

That analogy of how you meet your sweetheart is so perfect: I don’t know anyone who made that happen by doing something.

And your business can be a sweetheart, too. Business doesn’t have to be serious and difficult. Your business can be just like a love affair, if you’re willing to surrender and allow it to flow.