What is unexpected about spiritual awakening is that it is the beginning, not the end, of a spiritual process. Few are prepared for the shifts in perspective, energy and orientation it offers. At the moment of awakening there is often a sweeping sense of freedom as all the identity falls away, yet a sense of radiant presence remains. But such a change in the view of who and what we are can leave a mind disoriented. Some say it is like becoming a baby Buddha — one must learn to navigate the world in a new way.
Concerns that often arise as a sense of identity returns are the feeling of having known great peace, clarity or joy which now seems to have faded away, the sense of flowing through synchronicities in one’s life has been lost, feeling a lack of drive and direction, and loss of interest in engagement with old habits and friends. There can also be many unfamiliar movements of energy, vibration and heat in the body. It is the re-awakening of the little “me” that notices these changes and worries about them or feels a sense of loss or sadness, anxiety or even panic. The spiritual “me” that has driven one toward an awakening has lost its thrust and so it may also seem like there is nothing to do. The awakened consciousness had none of these concerns — it doesn’t buy into drifting thoughts or stories about the past or future. But the human tendency to create meaning and want familiarity and understanding is very powerfully programmed into the patterns of mind and it can easily resurrect itself even after a deep and profound realization of Truth.
Awakening has been called in Hinduism the experience of Self, and in Buddhism the experience of No-Self. Paradoxically the two refer to the same realization — that of being the essence of all life or what some call Source. It is a moment of consciousness recognizing its roots, which are free of the overlay of conditioning, emotional and intellectual patterns, even DNA. There is a sense of being Nothing, yet in some strange way also everything. This moment may occur following years of meditation or energy practices, but can also happen spontaneously. It is extremely rare for a moment of realization to become a permanent condition but, like an aroma that never leaves a place, the sense of knowing never goes away. If the mind is attached to escaping human identifications it can be very painful to lose the fullness of awakening. And if the mind is attached to old patterns of being, the shift of perspective can be very difficult, because it challenges everything one has believed true.
We can enter a passage into a stable awakening only by witnessing ourselves with love and compassion, staying present with what is, being willing to lean into life as it presents itself, and trusting the radiant emptiness we may feel internally. Instead, many people try to return again and again into transcendence, which has a limited shelf life. It may reoccur but it is not the completion of knowing who we are.
When the mind looks at the return of human foibles and emotions it may get depressed or anxious, especially if it had expectations of an awakening that would make it a wonderful and admired part of society, or it longed for a complete escape from human tendencies. A few minds will appropriate the spiritual process and jump into inflation, which curtails any capacity to end separation and find a stable realization. A few minds become fearful and believe they should return to the identity they used to be, and struggle to hold patterns that will not serve their full awakening. Authenticity to the Truth you have seen is extremely important in this process.
I was once told of a Roshi’s wife who said being awake was like being a breeze. I love this analogy because it reflects the freedom of moving through life without a fixed position, with fluidity, and with full acceptance of everything one touches. It is like love, caressing all existence without stopping to analyze it. It is not a separation, nor is it an identification.
As humans there are many things the mind resists and many events that can cause emotional pain and suffering, disappointment, fear and anger. These responses are part of our programming. They may arise after an awakening, and even for a time more intensely than before. They arise for us to see through them, to see our deepest stuck places, to wake them up along with the rest of us. We have to be willing to walk through them if we are seeking an awakened life, and not just an awakening moment.
At the core of this “I” sense that we carry is a basic belief about who we are, and it will reconstruct itself periodically until we are capable of letting go. We cannot make this happen because the “I” that works at things is not in charge. We can only be willing for any clinging belief or pattern to fall away. We can wave it away gently, with appreciation for how it served us in the past. We need to be compassionate with our humanness for hanging on — another paradox. We are a process that we are not in charge of. When we relax into this we may begin to experience our life as a breeze.
If you long for more support in your own awakening process you may benefit from the guidance in my new book “The Awakening Guide”, available on Amazon.