World in Chaos or World Awake?

We are, once again, living in chaotic times. Each generation seems to endure it’s own brand of chaos, with new issues arising but old patterns of violence and despair recurring over and over in our so-called “civilized” societies. Those who have spiritual inclinations, and those who simply wish to love, visualize a world without this strife and suffering, and imagine that if all would wake up we would be a kinder world, with all people thriving. Perhaps this was the way Jesus hoped things would go when he advised us to love our neighbor as our self, or Moses when he offered ten commandments that would greatly improve human conduct on the planet. (I have often wondeIMG_1375red how we can ignore the simple dictum ‘thou shalt not kill!’.)

Despite the efforts of many teachers, guides and compassionate leaders to suggest models for human compassion and cooperation, our patterns of human interaction continue to generate violence, hatred and insanity. For others they produce anxiety, depression, and despair. In some they are met with courage, caring and a renewal of the desire to contribute something hopeful and positive to our societies. In many others there is escape from these patterns through economic, sexual or family preoccupation or many other social distractions. As far as I can tell, these have always been human patterns on this planet and most minds are entangled in the energies they produce.

There is a growing sub-culture of people seeking answers through  what is clearly an inward journey – an exploration of their own conditioning and a seeking for a calm center or a sense of connection with “god” or “Truth,” or the primal source deep within. When within this depth of self-exploration the primary and universal consciousness awakens itself, and it is clearly revealed and experienced how you are entangled in thoughts, emotions and beliefs not true but only generationally conditioned, then “awakening” occurs, and there is the possibility of becoming “free” of yourself, and ending  suffering. We each have a potential to “awaken” beyond the boundaries of the personal self and into a new perception of our universal connectedness, but very few access this realization consciously in their lifetime.

The search to awaken may emerge in the psyche as a way to end suffering, or the divisive thoughts of the mind that cannot understand the terrible things humans do to one another. It can be triggered by a trauma or by simply wondering why there is so much struggle in many lives. It feels very personal at first. For myself, it came when I recognized that I felt a hole inside related not only to my mother’s sudden death when I was a kid, but also because my faith in God had died along with her. I wanted to know what was True about life. Did something called god even exist?

Usually it is personal pain that propels us to ask these questions. But I have met people who simply fell into the vastness of pure consciousness for a short time due to a shock, injury or deep despair, and when they emerged they felt driven to understand more. Many who are drawn to the peace offered through meditation and self-inquiry go deeper, and find consciousness stirring itself into revelations that surprise them. There are many doorways into the transformation of perspective about who we are.

This searching for Truth is not the personal escape you may imagine it to be. When successful it cracks open the destructive collective patterns that trouble our world. There is a collective consciousness that allows the darkness on our planet to flourish – or we might say a collective un-consciousness. Each of us that can awaken ourselves to the universal collective field hold a potential for healing a small facet of it, bringing light in some degree into the whole. It makes clear the possibility of love and compassion to overrule hate, first within ourself and then in the greater collective. No authentic spiritual guide or teacher is in this work to further their own lives – they are driven to bring more light into the collective. They may not know how to do this effectively – they are ordinary beings after all – only awake – so they give pointers from their own experience to encourage awakening in those who are available to it. They may teach from heart or intuition or a process they have found transformative in their own lives.

It is unfortunate that in some systems the way to encourage Self realization is to discount the attractions of human relations with the world. This approach has a place in helping you to recognize the inner world may have something more fulfilling, lasting and joyful to offer. It helps you to release the addiction to form so that you can directly know the ecstatic essence prior to forms. But once that is felt then awakening will optimally be brought back through the heart and into the lived experience. Great poets. musicians and artists sometimes radiate this. Brilliant inventions may be birthed from this insight. Mental confusion, violence and suffering can be transformed into understanding and compassion, along with a profound appreciation of the beauty and the miracles of the ordinary life.

We may never have a world without some chaos and a percentage of wounded or misguided people striking out at others. But the hope for me is that awakening generates greater wisdom and an evolution of  a new perspective within humanity, so that we understand that we are One interdependent species, and it is to our benefit to accept and support our common human needs. Awakening is not for you alone – it is for all of us.

Being One: Berkeley Satsang Nov. 29

Being One as Form and Formless is the title of the satsang i am privileged to give in Berkeley at  7 p.m. on Nov. 29, Thanksgiving Weekend, for Open Circle Center. The location is a synagogue, Chochmat Halev, 2215 Prince St. in Berkeley. I hope to see some of my readers there, which is my first public satsang in the bay area,  but if you cannot attend and know people in the bay area, please pass the information along. For more information about Open Circle programs with non-dual teachers go to http://www.opencirclecenter.org. Satsang is an invitation to sit in Truth in your own stillness, opening to being touched by one another.

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I once had a vision in which my consciousness was in a breezeway, with vast unbounded space in one direction, and all the creation of the world on the other.  I feel I have stood in this intersection between unbound consciousness and the limited expression of separation for most of my life now, and the focus of my work with spiritual awakening or spiritual emergence has been the same.  In my first book (Energies of Transformation) I called the initial challenges of these two apparent positions  the struggle between self and SELF, but in the awakened moments of being completely with what is there is no struggle, only relaxation into holding the miracle that as appearance in form we are both.  The challenge is in having no resistance to either, so if there is a moment of spacious emptiness, being with it fully brings a radiance into our lives.  In the moment of returning to the experience of life in its ordinary form there is a gratitude for the dance, a willingness to BE, since it is clearly the expression meant to exist out of the Oneness of the All. I wrote my recent books The Kundalini Guide and The Awakening Guide, to address some of the challenges awakening brings in my hope that as a reader’s understanding rises, and resistance falls away, the natural beauty and peace of spiritual emergence will unfold.

When following the ups and downs of many people who are awakening I have come to see that even a glimpse of the radiant formless, when trusted, will help them to feel the nature and  wonder of the transformation they are in. Then the challenges of the body, the rising of unconscious material, shifts in the energy field and psychic openings seem like curious manifestations rather than fearful invasions. One can rest in a stillness that simply witnesses and faces events beyond fear and eventually with equanimity.

Change can be hard, as it demands the release of all that no longer serves the new emergence.  Our minds want control and our bodies resist when we feel we have none. You might notice that when you feel afraid or angry it is almost always at the core an issue of control — the gut clenches when we feel helpless and vulnerable, the victim of a circumstance, or the butt of someone’s derision, attack, manipulation or rejection.  When phenomena arise that is unfamiliar, and we have no knowledge of what will happen next, or what the experience means, the mind is trapped in unknowing.  The emotions can overwhelm us at the sense of helplessness produced by fearful or confused thoughts.  Yet a significant condition for Self-realization is the willingness to live in the unknown.

Spiritual awakening by its very nature changes perspectives, bodies and lives. It is evolutionary. It is revolutionary.  Whether invited through deep and sincere spiritual seeking and practice, or exploded upon us unknowingly, it will bring surprises.  No one is ever adequately prepared or has a good sense of what will arise uniquely for them.  But it is a movement that happens to many people, and it can be met with openness, curiosity and gratitude for the revelations it brings.

We are, to our great amazement, an expression of the infinite, an appearance in a form that emerged from what the mind sees as vast uncharted territory of space, and thiscan be felt and realized but never adequately explained in the language of thought.

Non-Dual Perception — the Corrective Lens

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When I look out the window of my bedroom at night at the lights of my town below, if I am not wearing my glasses it appears that all of them are shaped like Christmas trees — the green and red traffic lights, the yellow of house lights, the white in the street lamps — all are triangular, pointing up like lighted Douglas fir trees. Then I put on my glasses and they reduce to their natural size and shape and I realize that however beautiful the view, my perception is distorted.

The shift in how awareness perceives the world after consciousness awakens itself is very similar. Many teachers compare it to awakening out of a dream. It is a shifted perception of how the world functions. In those moments when our deepest sense of presence arises — and we feel ourselves being alive as open and awake consciousness — we are unencumbered by thought and judgment. Suddenly the world problems appear to be due to misperception of our true nature and blindness regarding our interwoven connectedness to one another.

The shared illusion that we are nothing but physical forms driven by thoughts, opinions and emotions, keeps us confused about the nature of reality and our natural role within it. This illusion locks each of us into conditioned thought and behavior until it is shattered by the explosive recognition called awakening or Self-realization.

Human thought has a tendency to doubt, blame, rage, attack, hide and fear. These emotions are universal and we often project them on others as well as turn them against ourselves.  From an awakened perspective it is as painful to watch a person hate and reduce herself or himself as it is to watch her or him hate and reduce another. It is painful because it is seen clearly how these patterns and beliefs are deluded, false and destructive to life.

Every spirit or presence enters the world as a spark of potential, a package of talents, an openness to love and be loved. If this is lost it is because of a distorted perception caused by rejection, grief, trauma, verbal or physical abuse, or violence. When love is not encouraged and nourished it recedes deep into the heart which then armors itself against feeling, often at a very early age. The distortion can be severe — a belief arises either that “I am bad” or “Others are bad,” or “All humans are bad and my genuine expression in life is unsafe”. We can see streaks of hatred, rage, and prejudice in people who compensate through power and manipulation. We can see the same qualities turned inward in those who feel powerless, believing their lives do not matter. Both are blind to the incredible power and beauty of expressing their human potential.

Non-duality is a teaching — a spiritual perspective originating from the ancient eastern perspective of Advaita Vedanta, which sees all existence as the production of appearances coming out of One vast stillness or potential. God is seen as All– the One consciousness in multitudes of forms. Some non-dual teachers have pointed students toward the realization of being Nothing — No Thing, Emptiness. Others emphasize Oneness or the Vast endless universal Self or Non-Self. These are efforts to describe a realization that is beyond language, which cannot be contained in words.

When consciousness shifts an initial perception is often that Nothing exists — it is appearance only. All is an illusionary dance in the vastness, and therefore not to be concerned about. This is nihilistic from the point of view of mind, and in some folks there is a return to self-identity and this brings up depression, despair and a deep passivity. Because the egoic drive deserted them they collapse. This is an interpretation of mind and a great loss. It has been called the Dark Night of the Soul, the chasm, the pit one can stumble into on the path to liberation. Sometimes one is stuck here for a long, long time. It is like an endless long winter when all seems dead.

Paradoxicaly, awakening may reveal that out of the ethers and boundless nothingness everything arises and there is One infinite consciousness exploding in a myriad of forms and dances, and every piece has its potential to express and bring new forms into the world. There can be a new perception through which the smallest flower expresses glory and love. There can be a time when it seems there is a natural flowing of all that is needed in each moment. There can be spontaneous and irrational compassion and joy, even in the most trying of circumstances. When the awakened can lean into the possibilities that arise from the heart and the deeper intuition of the gut, then a new birthing can happen. The natural impulse toward life as an expression of love or wisdom or creativity can emerge without the barriers of conditioning and contraction.

No matter if you believe you are nothing or you are everything there is a need in the human form to live, to move, and to express. One needs to be willing to do their unique dance and live their unique mark on the world because all of us are part of the expression of the One, and in this sense each facet of this universal jewel is relevant. We are the aspects of god that move forward the consciousness of the planet. Whether you as a separate being are real or simply a dream you are still a participant in the flow of humanity. Even if you have seen you have no control, you still have a role that no one else can play — the god/source/light in you gets to grace this moment through your form so you may as well lean in and live it out all the way. You find it by abandoning conditioned beliefs, and  following your authentic Truth.

To wake up is to see through the burden of conditioning, shed negativity and self-limitation, and be willing to go with the flow of circumstances with which you are presented. Living is not nothing. It is what spirit gets to have through you. Whatever happens to you is happening to god. Whatever your response it is god’s response.

When you pull the psychic energy out of the ego where will it go? It was wrapped up in illusion. Shift to the lens that will correct your perception. Let your energy be infused with Truth and love and become a positive force within our species. Why else would awakening be possible at all?

Emptiness, Spaciousness and Love

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Frances Bennett, a former Trappist monk and now an awakened teacher who blends Christian mysticism, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta in his teachings, put a quote on Facebook that points directly to the potential of spiritual awakening, in any tradition.

“Another way of describing the spacious awareness that is sometimes called ’emptiness’ is to refer to it as ‘unconditional openness…I have taken to calling it that because, this phrase of ‘unconditional openness’ seems to point a bit better to its essence which, for me, is LOVE.”

It happened that on the same day I saw this quote someone contacted me who was concerned about the fact whenever he closed his eyes to meditate he experienced spaciousness, and he was alarmed about this.

Our human mind is used to being busy, to sorting, dividing, judging, maintaining our separate identity and staying within the social constructs with which it has identified. We panic during a spiritual emergence because experiences are arising that do not fit our belief system about what is normal and acceptable in our lives.

Sometimes we panic about energy buzzing and shaking in our body. Sometimes we are struck with unfamiliar moods and rushes of emotion long repressed in our guts and hearts. For a few people a vision or dream arises that seems inexplicable and frightening. For others the feeling of consciousness free of the body, or the moments of consciousness having no boundary, seems evidence of “losing my mind”.

Why do these things arise in a spiritual awakening? Because despite what we have heard in our culture and spiritual traditions, this is what an awakening is. It is not what the mind wants it to be — a perfect bliss and freedom from all the traps of depression and anxiety and feeling inadequate that plague many people in the world. It is not a sweet and easy escape from life. While meditation brings an inner strength and calm, a sense of a center, if spiritual realization is to arise, turmoil will usually come along with it, at least for a while.

To understand our true nature, consciousness must take a journey that reveals all that we are not. For a few rare souls this happens suddenly — consciousness arises or expands rapidly and breaks forth into the vastness of no-self — no personal self — or One Self — the realization there is One consciousness penetrating all existence. This feels like God to many people, and resolves the desire to search further. But inevitably, unless the journey to this moment already covered the territory, there will be a return of body-identification, and movements that reveal all the old conditioning and blocks that cloud this realization and its expression.

For most people who long to know God or to know what is true, this search has been a long inner journey, and thus their shadow side, stuck points of view, emotional traumas and contractions gradually appeared to be met and released. Even overwhelming energies of the collective unconscious may arise. This usually happens over months and years before the final moment when consciousness is experienced as free and is realized as the ever present now,or encountered as unconditional love when it opens the heart.

Yes there is bliss in some moments, especially as the heart releases the burden of carrying old pain and resentment, or as energy opens long blocked flows in our bodies. There can also be great moments of insight, glimpses of other lives, or visions of deities (I think of these as transitional objects that stand between our mundane lives and the radiant unboundaried source of life). There may be an emergence of psychic, precognitive or healing possibilities. Many phenomena may arise along this journey as each chakra opens and clears, or latent brain centers in the head begin to come alive. It is easy to get stalled along the way — in the same way an intriguing or particularly challenging part of traveling the world would delay our completion of the journey.

Why would all this happen, only to dump the psyche into “emptiness”, “vastness” or what Bennett has called “unconditional openness”?

Is it to clear us of all illusion of separateness, empty the mind of the need to compare and divide, offer a taste of presence without limit, or discover that what has created us feels like love and has no demand? Is “nothing” the end of the journey? What would be the point of this?

One needs to rest in this unconditional openness and allow it to permeate the cells of the body and fall into the heart so true presence, love and intuitive wisdom can permeate the life. Then it is said you will be free. You will feel your divinity in your center. It may happen that some life circumstance will pull you back into personal identification from time to time, but you will be resting in openness and return to it. The flavor of who you are, and some of the cultural conditioning will remain but these will feel more like the clothes that consciousness is wearing that will someday be discarded. The thoughts and feelings that flow through you will just be part of the landscape of your life, neither to be accepted or rejected.

One of the favorite quotes I have carried throughout my life, long before I knew the fullness of their meaning was from Longchempa. It is a pointer toward Truth. “Since everything is only an illusion, perfect in being what it is, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one might as well burst out laughing!”

Be willing to rest in the vastness, this unconditional openness, and invite it to show you what it will. Be at peace.