Fred suggested that I post the below as a separate forum topic, although it was he who called if forth as a response (slightly edited here) to his post under this same forum titled "Inner Pioneers: We ask questions from the inside out." Thanks, Fred. It's wonderful that we can all call forth things from one another to share. It's as if (or maybe actually) we're all just nodes of the same conscious Being, wishing to be more conscious.
Thanks, Fred, for these insights and questions about vital things -- both everyday and fundamental. Would that more people asked them. They remind me that both questions and answers can come from different places in ourselves. And so, relative to this, I would like to share a very recent experience (from the inside) and a resulting perspective.
Three days ago I returned from a meditation retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains -- near you. It was wonderful and I learned much that satisfied the mind. But the most crucial thing I learned was beyond my thinking mind. I learned that when meditating (or just going about my life), when I pay attention to my own mind and emotions (and body) in a direct, open, non-analytical way (as a pure observer with no judgments, goals, or expectations), I see, first, that emotions and thoughts of every kind come and go. They have no enduring quality in themselves. And the shadows are there, too, naked, flitting in and out of existence with all the rest. It's all okay -- nothing to reject. As time goes on I notice that there are spaces betweens my thoughts. These spaces become more numerous and longer as my "observer" stays on the job. And these spaces grow, and sometimes there is only empty space, which is filled with light and love. It's simpler than simple. Can we call this True Self? God? Well, these are just words. Why pile names on it?
So I see that in the experience of (identity with) this empty, luminous space, lay the answer (non-verbal and comprehensive) to the questions you posed. In one sentence, this is what I'm left with: Everything -- all of existence (the world, all things and events, our thoughts and emotions and shadows, ourselves [all of us]) -- is shot through with luminous awareness and love. That's it. But it's an experience, not an idea. We needn't even look for it, just open to it. It's already there and always has been. We are that. That's fundamentally all there is. So we can truly relax (with awareness, not laxity). Easier said than done in this turmoil, but even if it isn't easy, it's simple -- and possible. It's about opening to what is "inside" as well as "outside."
Having said this, I realize that there are many paths through this phenomenal world -- and experiences -- on all levels. For what it's worth, this is one.