What is Enlightenment?

What is enlightenment? I asked Adyashanti this question once and he said “It is being undivided.”  Unfortuimg_4835nately, many people imagine enlightenment to be a state of having magic powers, continual bliss, and connection with other-dimensional beings. Some think of it as genius or having omniscience.  I remember being told as a child that God knew everything and was everywhere, and this impression seems to be the way some look at enlightenment – as if it means becoming all-knowing, all-powerful, having control over everything.  This would be an exciting possibility for an ego, and may encourage some people to seek enlightenment who are not well suited to it.

But what does it mean to be undivided? Could enlightenment or awakening to the Truth of our real nature have a result as simple as this?  The ego’s way of being undivided might consider it as being one-pointed, determined and set in one way of looking at things, never allowing facts or feelings, or the needs of others to interfere with your set direction.  But that is being narrowly one-sided, rather than living the undivided way of an awakened mind and heart.

 I believe we come into life undivided.  It is the state of openness to whatever arises. It is availability.  It is a part of our cellular structure that naturally allows anything to happen.  It is always within you but from your first experiences of pain or sorrow, and your first lessons of separation and identity, you formed a shell around this openness and became a character with opinions, demands, emotional upheavals and drives that you think of us as “me”.  This “me” has fear and resistance to many aspects of the human experience and generates many problems and thoughts in a life.  Of course this “me” can have lots of accomplishments and feel love and joy and be a positive force in the world as well.  These options are usually thought of as free will – but since in the early years there is so much conditioning and shaping of identity – positive and negative — it is questionable just how free you are.

 When a person’s True Nature awakens there is a sense within the body/mind of no boundary or border to the energy of the heart and mind, no separation from either form or space, and no argument with life as it is. We might call this clarity. Some have called it radiance. This openness into life as it is can be felt viscerally, at the core.  It feels as if all identification with that “me” has fallen away and what remains is clear, at peace, sometimes kinestically flooded with love or bliss.  This realization may look like an experience but it is more of a knowing of what always was and will be, even before birth, and after death.

 There is no division in the True Nature. All division comes from the mind’s ideas about protection and separation.  When events in your life seem threatening this need to create safety is a genuine response of the body and mind.  The dimension we live in as humans has definite boundaries. We cannot fly off cliffs or stand in the middle of the highway and survive. We must have water and food and protection from the elements. As infants we need others to care for us and as emotional beings we crave love and community. Enlightenment does not remove these patterns that are part of our human imprinting. We are energies dancing as form and the form has specific limitations that the spirit does not

This is why no matter how deeply you have felt your True Nature you may at times have medical problems, you may sense waves of the suffering in others, you can feel loss as loved ones pass, and you may still have patterns of conditioning arise to be met and released.  The difference is that when undivided you can have compassion for or perhaps even laugh at your human vulnerabilities because there is no one there who cares to judge them.  And when the events in the world are troubling, you understand that human form by its limitations produces troubles and challenges, and if you feel an inclination to engage you can do it without attachment to results or acquiring new karmas (conditioning) to be worked through (the true meaning of karma yoga).  You are unbounded formless consciousness living within the patterns and boundaries of energetic forms, imprinted with the uniqueness of your conditioning and DNA, and thus you are One and Undivided.

 

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.

Spiritual Practice As Preparation

sky w stairsThe fact is it is rare when a spiritual practice wakes someone up. Practices are not designed to wake up; they are the preparation. Just as the sun and the rain prepare a fruit tree to produce the fruit, they are not what cause the fruit to fall from the tree. It falls when the moment is right.

I held a retreat called Opening to Grace this weekend in a beautiful rustic mountain camp called Camp Latgawa. I realized in hearing the many traditions and practices the retreatants had experienced that while spiritual practices do not consistently wake up most of us , they do a wonderful job of preparation. They lay the groundwork so that both consciousness and energy can flow freely and joyfully into an expression of the awakened state.

If you have done years of TM or Bhakti (devotional) practice , or sat in meditation or prayer for long hours, or worked with kundalini or other yoga practices, or followed Zen, Mindfulness or Qigong, but you feel as if you are still not self-realized or awakened to the Truth that cuts away longing and seeking, look at those years with gratitude.

Awakening in the Non-Dual perspective comes suddenly, like a lightning storm that shifts the inner landscape, when consciousness “gets” that it (consciousness) is the fullness of our sense of self, and the essence of all existence. Consciousness wakes up. The ego self may burst or just go into hiatus for a while and the body may be roiled with bliss, tears or even laughter.

But in almost every case there is a period of regression, with periodic returns into the old mental and emotional patterns, or difficulty with the changes in the energy that carries the life force throughout the body. The ego structure collapses and if the person believed this awakening was going to give them a new tool or capacity to be more special or important or just an improved version of themselves they are astonished at how all the old reliable identities have fallen away.

Awakening and living in the vastness of Truth requires a reorientation of the body and the psyche. The energies of the subtle field must become free of contractions and blockages and flow throughout the nervous system into all areas of the body. The mind must learn to move free of all beliefs, bias, judgment, self-criticism, attachments and rejections. Basically the possibility is one of living in the moment, without the influences of the past and the worries of the future. At the same time this newfound detachment from old ways of thinking does not ultimately mean there is no action or compassion. But these move spontaneously from a different source.

Generally speaking, after an awakening, a deeper level of clearing and opening moves through the body.   Consciousness feels more alive and present in the moment, and the qualities arise of moving usefully and more sensitively in the world.

This is a transformation of body, mind and spirit. It thrives on love and devotion — a non-dual kind of devotion that is to the All, to the inclusive beauty and grace of the form and formless. So when non-dual consciousness is clear the human expression can be fully embraced. This does not make the awakened being dualistic. It makes him or her whole, and capable of bringing wisdom and love into the world. He or she knows it is not the little me doing this — it feels like a spigot is opened and whatever is meant to be flows forth. There is no division.

The years spiritual seekers spend in preparation, by opening their bodies, or quieting their thoughts, or clearing their psychological hurdles, or discovering other dimensions of experience, offer the following gifts:

They help the body/mind relax about letting go,

They wash away the barriers to feeling free,

They open the channels through which conscious and energy will carry love,

They make a person more receptivity to grace and the boundlessness of Source.

They reorganize and harmonize the energy flows in the body

Often they provide a community that supports the spiritual quest

Be grateful for the time you have given to your spiritual search and the trust you have had. Waking up without any preparation is much more challenging to body and mind and often the realization cannot stabilize because the physical/emotional/mental system is just not capable of being present with the vast potential of consciousness. Whatever time you have spent in preparation, be grateful, as it will serve you well.

But paradoxically, when all attachment to the process falls away, consciousness is most inclined to awaken itself and strike in an unexpected moment, like lightening on a clear day!

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.

Awakening: Answering Questions of the Heart

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It is about the Questions, not of the mind, but of the Heart.

If you want to wake up to the Light of Truth, so that it can flood your life like the sun, the way is not revealed by what you hear from someone else; it’s about the questions you ask yourself. Teachers can only offer pointers. They cannot describe exactly where you are going. True teachers will only invite you into yourself.

How deeply will you search for Truth?

How can you know your connection with the Source of all life, that which ignited you as a separate sense of Beingness in the womb?

What are you?

From what place has this consciousness arisen?

What do you know that no one ever taught you and you never read in a book?

What do you know that is felt in every cell of your body?

And ultimately can you live from that instead of all the thoughts in your head?

I could tell you that you are God or Brahman, Presence or Source,

That there is no separate self, or separation, only a locator felt as “I” that has a tendency to attach to experience,

I could tell you that you are the vast and boundless consciousness,

I can tell you that you are already whole and free and letting go of everything you believe is the way to know this.

I could tell you there is love flowing from your heart unconditionally

To the extent I am living these truths consciously I may be able to transmit them.

But none of this has essential value to you because hearing words is not a direct experience of being these things. The sensation of transmission will fade just as the music of a great orchestra fades once you have walked away.

By the time the knowingness here moves into the mind and becomes language it is second hand, and like second hand clothes it carries the energies of a separate body mind so it is no longer coming from untainted Truth. It is a concept. This is similar to reading a recipe rather than eating the food.

You will make this discovery in the cells of your own body, prior to thought,

You have to enter the territory alone and naked, silent and fearless, innocent and trusting. Now.

Then it can reveal itself.

Awakening: Unexpected Consequences

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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.

 

Surrender As Art

I begin to see surrender as an art, having recently witnessed the most graceful surrendering in form at the San Francisco ballet in a sequence called Hummingbird, danced to the music of Philip Glass. A male and female dressed in white, floating across the stage, she in drifting chiffon, completely releasing their bodies into one movement, a merging beyond form as she was lifted above his head, or melted her body over his back to back.

I’ve rarely seen ballet so this vision of surrender was a new realization. I have thought of the form as demanding great discipline and even very painful practice as young girls learn the challenging task of standing on their toes.   And while we might see great sequences of grace and strength, coordination and agility, it was a revelation to view the total surrender of the dancers body into the strength of her partner, whether falling back to back, or being lifted and carried in another sequence from one set of arms to another.

So of course this made me think of the act of surrender in spirituality. This moment of letting go seems terrifying to some people – they feel they are “losing” themselves, or that they might never know how to function again, if they relax into the mysterious unknown that arises at some point in the spiritual journey. They lack trust in the Whole, in the strength of that which is eternal and vast to hold them. So when moments of grace are at hand they contract, and the energy of fear washes over and paralyzes them.

Adyashanti wrote a book about awakening to life called “Falling Into Grace: Insights on the End of Suffering.” Another remarkable book on awakening during the process of dying was written by   Kathleen Dowling Singh , called “The Grace in Dying: A Message of Hope. Comfort and Spiritual Transformation”. This grace, which we do not easily understand and often wonder how to “achieve”, is actually the response to surrender, to slipping gently into the arms of another dimension, with a profound trust and relaxation of every cell in our body. We need this surrender to fall into Truth, into the recognition of our true nature, and ultimately to have a peaceful passage into the unknown vastness beyond our lives. Like the ballerinas, we each struggle and seek discipline within our own destinies to become capable and agile in our own lives and spiritual practices. And then at the right moment, we must utterly surrender and trust in the emptiness and the fullness in which consciousness rests.

She must trust her partner in dance. We must trust our partner in that which has enabled our existence.

Perhaps we are touched by great artists, whether in dance or painting or music, because it holds this paradox – the passion, the power, the hard work and the grace of surrender.