is there in a relative sense, perhaps still and empty, or perhaps blissful,
but one is no longer identified as this. Waking up to our true nature
is the first step toward liberation.
The varieties of awakening experience
are many varieties of mystical or spiritual experiences which have come
to be described as spiritual awakening, and this leads to great confusion
for many spiritual aspirants, who having experienced a great event,
but still not sensing completion or freedom in their process, become
attached to the idea that a frequent repetition of such awakenings will
lead to some big overwhelming experience that will be the final awakening.
In addition, many people refer to any event that motivated them to begin
a spiritual search as a “spiritual awakening”. While all
of these other forms are definitely great movements that might be given
this label, there would be more clarity in the understanding of spiritual
process if we could limit the term to its classical meaning, and define
other events more precisely
of spiritual experiences that have been called awakening include:
Awakening: An activation of energy, usually beginning from the base
of the spine and flowing upward, which brings about significant changes
in consciousness and cellular patterns over a period of time, bringing
about a clearing of the former identifications.
Opening: A deep sense of opening in the chest, often with an overwhelming
sense of unconditional love for all beings, which brings about a significant
change in the psychological orientation, increasing sensitivity, compassion
and appreciation for life.
Opening: An eruption of an image or an inner knowing about people, events,
other lives, physics, celestial music, auras or other paranormal, visionary
or auditory experiences.
Mystical Experience: Consciousness breaks through it’s boundaries
of your personal self, and experiences a vast expanse of being or presence,
great light, a spiritual vision or a sense of cosmic connectedness for
a brief period of time, occasionally lasting for a few days. Sometimes
understanding about the nature of reality, or other aspects of wisdom
or love accompany the experience.
Response to a guru or teacher that stimulates one to follow a spiritual
path: Shaktipat is the Sanscrit term for the transmission sometimes
received in the presence of an awakened teacher, and is usually felt
as a charge or rush of energy or ecstasy, or perhaps a stopping of the
mind for a few seconds. One is impacted in such a way that they directly
feel how consciousness and physicality are intimately related to spiritual
experience. This often inspires them to follow spiritual teachers or
practices and begins a process of reorganizing the energy system in
new patterns. An experience called Diksha is an energy transmission
given by people who have training in moving energy into others, that
appears to activate kundalini and trigger an intense clearing process.
During a drug-induced high some people apparently have aspects of the
above experiences, or perceive the universe of form in its aspect of
energy or light. These tend to be temporary openings, not readily accessible
once the high has passed, or repeatable. But they can open a person
up to a genuine search, so that other awakenings can occur in a way
that more sustainable.
Up is Not an Experience
of waking up is different than these mystical events, and in fact has
often been said to be no experience. It is a ground level shift that
occurs right now, right here, and whether it lasts a minute or a lifetime,
the Truth of who you are is known. This is a significant step towards
self-realization, and essential to the liberation of consciousness from
the confines of a limited personality structure.
experiences can be rich, ecstatic and deeply satisfying while they last,
but are subject to coming and going, leaving behind much frustration
in the person who felt them, and stimulating the ego to expose themselves
to more and more experiential stimulants in order to regain what it
feels has been lost. In simpler terms, we become addicted to seeking
high experiences. We strengthen the spiritual ego when this happens,
and may stay in a cycle of pleasure and loss for many years, and miss
a precious opportunity to find total inner peace.
up is what happens in response to the question “Who is having
these experiences?” and searching neither thought nor emotion
to find an answer. It is not the process of having an experience, however
ecstatic and profoundly mystical it may be. It is the understanding
of that which has an experience, or that which lives through us and
is eternally present through all time and experience. To wake up we
have to give up the idea that we are a personal identity who is seeking
experiences, and begin to wonder what is really true underneath and
behind all experiences that humans live.
who have followed spiritual practices for a long time have a history
of sporadic mystical experiences; some of them, unfortunately, even
suffer from the naive belief that they did something bad to cause these
experiences to go away. But all experiences pass. That is the nature
of experience. We are blessed with the joy or the insight or the expansion
as if it is a taste of something beyond our comprehension. And it passes.
Unfortunately there is little understanding of the dynamics of spiritual
process, and so people create beliefs about what is happening that do
not help them move more deeply into Truth. I know this is so because
I did it for over twenty years. I studied eastern spiritual systems,
met over a dozen gurus, moved very deeply into my own transformative
process through meditation and energy work, and had many experiences
of merging, of energy and ecstasy and of expanding into what psychiatrist
Richard Bucke so beautifully labeled, Cosmic Consciousness. I have known
dozens of others who have done the same. While these were all rich and
wonderful experiences I never felt finished. Instead it seemed like
I could leave my life and visit a more ecstatic place, and return to
cope with all the disagreeable aspects of living. It felt like I was
living much of my life by escaping it. I still believed “I”
was having the experiences, both good and bad. I asked the proverbial
question “Is that all there is?”
Teacher Can Shift Your World
my entire world was an encounter with a young man who had known and
now lived a true awakening, following many years of intense practice
in the Zen Buddhist tradition. Adyashanti’s perspective was that
the intense practice, with all the experiences it brought, were an absolute
failure. Only when he reached the depths of despair that this thing
was not working for him did he have a total breakthrough of consciousness,
and the recognition of who he was. This occurred in conjunction with
such an extreme rise of kundalini energy forcing itself through his
body that he thought he would die. When he surrendered to this possibility
he was opened into the vastness and a direct realization of his true
nature. Of course, his intense zen meditation practice likely laid the
groundwork for this awakening, but it was the totality of despair that
seems to have cracked open the separate sense of self.
thing I saw clearly when sitting in a silent meditation retreat with
Adya was that there was no absolute truth available to the mind. All
mental constructs are relative, time-limited, and far, far too narrow
to encompass the truth of what we are. It can be known directly but
it cannot be taught, so teachers are left with only the possibility
of pointing the student in the direction they need to go.
thing I learned, and I am not sure how this happened, is that awakening
was something that happened right now, in this moment, in this body
and this world. It was not a transcendent dip into the cosmic plane.
This is not to say that such dips can and do happen regularly to mystics.
But that is a trip of the mind into another reality, and not the true
understanding of Self. Perhaps in some traditions deepening samadhi
states eventually erase the experiencer, so that the Truth of Being
dawns on them. But I have not seen large number of truly liberated people
emerging from these traditions. Very often the seduction of samadhi
means the return to a lived awakening is not made.
direct path or the non-dual traditions, such as Adyashanti teaches,
there is a transmission that occurs in the intimate relationship between
student and teacher in which a kind of resonance opens the student’s
mind or heart until they can see that they too are what the teacher
lives. There is only one being and both of them are it. I once thought
this was something special, only existing between a teacher and student.
But no, it is the secret of all existence. We are all this One being.
My teacher is simply the first person who reflected it to me so perfectly
I could not miss it, and I was ready to see it when he came into my
life. Every single person that has ever lived or ever will live is this
can hardly bear to consider this, because its primary role in our lives
has been to establish our separate self, collecting all kinds of evidence
to help us individuate into the unique person we are at any moment in
time. Minds are busy creating us, through every life experience, and
every stage and age of life. They mold us according to the teachings
of our family, race, culture, gender, religion and many other influences.
When we take on a spiritual path the mind begins turning us into a spiritual
person, with all the beliefs, identifications and trappings that entails.
This may be a new and improved “me”, but if we wake up we
will see through it all as a play, a dance, and an illusion. Waking
up ultimately makes us more simple, and brings us down to earth.
the Ecstasy, Deconstruction
the realization of Self or Truth that is spiritual awakening can bring
great passionate joy and exaltation. It feels like the culmination of
a search that has lasted thousands of years, finding at last our roots,
our home, and our source. But after the ecstasy, an adjustment period
lies ahead. There is a paradox because the search has ended, but a new
dimension of spiritual development has begun; every aspect of the psyche
is going to be exposed to the light of consciousness. This has been
called the dark night of the soul, the stage of purification, the unloading
of the unconscious, transformation, crucifixion, moving through the
hell realms, and many other things. I think of it as deconstruction.
The structure is being disassembled so that spirit can live freely without
the old conditioning.
period can involve the activation of kundalini energy, dramatic shifts
in perception and senses, opening to psychic and paranormal experiences,
and what Adyashanti has called “The fire of Truth.” A person
may go into great expanses of emptiness, which is wondrous to the being,
but frightening to the mind. To the extent one clings or tries to return
to the old mental habits and perspectives there is great distress. The
challenge is to stay present with whatever arises and eventually surrender
all tendencies to be divided. In other words, until the Self or the
Emptiness or the Oneness (however we try to frame this enormous internal
truth), comes completely forward to rule our life we are unfinished,
and struggling with a sense of two worlds and two lives. Gradually as
the inner spirit becomes dominant a sense of deep and unspeakable peace
moves into the cells. Over time we find ourselves spontaneously feeling
love, compassion, clarity, acceptance of what is, and even a slight
inclination to action that is authentic and natural for us. These qualities
are not chosen, but rather seem to bubble up from the source of consciousness
is no longer any struggle, because all that is left of the little “me”
is a slight memory and flavor, and perhaps a few insignificant preferences
that can easily be put aside, the spiritual journey is over. There can
be more, perhaps an endless range, of teachings and blessings, but there
is no more longing or desiring for any of them. Just as the empty screen
on the TV tells you the programming is over for the night, the mind
who seeks or longs or desires is no longer functioning in that space.
And the program is very unlikely to be renewed. Of course the functional
mind still works and everyday tasks can be done, sometimes with greater
efficiency because there are no psychological impediments. But the story
that defined you has faded into oblivion. To live without the story,
without demands, and without a sense of personal struggle is to live
an awakened life.
Please do not Reproduce without written permission from the author
Bonnie Greenwell Ph.D.
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