Everyone goes through a unique process of awakening into who and what they are, but there are also some shared patterns… or rather some general groups of shared patterns.
Here is how it has been for me so far…
I grew up in a family and a Northern European culture that is primary agnostic (and orange and green in spiral dynamics terms). There is a great deal of respect for religion and spirituality, at least if it has integrity, but that is about it. I guess agnostic was not good enough for me, because I decided in third or fourth grade to become a die-hard atheist, and continued with that until life propelled me into something else.
- Absorption into witness
15 years old, I drank a lot of vodka on new year’s eve. The morning after, I felt fine, but around noon I started feeling strange. It was as if the world retreated and I observed it all from a distance. Later, I realize that this was an absorption into the witness, into pure seeing. It was disconcerting, and I went to many doctors and did many tests (including brain scans), but all checked out OK. This continued, and deepened over time.
- Big Mind
Almost exactly a year later, on a clear and windy winter evening, I walked down the dark gravel road from the house to the mailbox, and it was as if all veils had been removed. Suddenly, everything was revealed as consciousness, as God, although not anywhere the God I have been told about or hear about so far in my life. The whole universe is consciousness, awake, form with no substance… tremendously alive, awake, intelligent, loving… beyond and including any and all polarities. It was impossible for me to even begin to put words on it, as it was so completely beyond words and polarities.
Over the next several years, there was a deepening into this, and it seemed to especially happen during the night… there was a sense of a tremendous influx of information, and a pulling apart and reorganizing of the human self (an aspect of the dark night of the senses). It was an extremely intense period, and one with a great deal of bliss and pain at the same time. I also had an influx of insights, essentially recreating anything I have since found in the many spiritual traditions in the world, and especially the nondual ones. There was also a great deal of intensity in terms of things coming out in the form of art and music during those years. A read at least one book a week, including Yogananda, Jung, Steiner, Buddhism, Taoism, Christian mysticism, systems theories, Jes Bertelsen (Danish psychologist and mystic) and much more. I also did a good deal of Tai Chi and Chi Gong during those years, in addition to Buddhist meditation and Christian prayer (Jesus/heart prayer) and meditation (Christ meditation).
I then moved to Utah to continue my studies in psychology there, and moved into Kanzeon Zen Center. It helped ground what had been happening so far, and I also found a great deal of support in the community there.
- Dark Night
After some years at Kanzeon, I got married and moved to another state, which initiated several years of a dark night. Up until then, I had lived in a constant samadhi… everything was easy for me, including studies and work. Now, everything was taken away, both on an outer and inner level… it was impossible for me to do any form of meditation or prayer… from being one with the whole universe, living in cosmic consciousness, I found myself as a pitiful, tiny and separate human self.. it was all gone, and there was an agony beyond description. This was the dark night of the soul, stripping away the finer layers of identification with and holding onto content.
- Knowing that it had to be stripped away
In the years before this happened, I saw clearly a remaining sense of a separate self even in the midst of the dramatic awakening, one that gave birth to a certain arrogance, which – no matter how much I worked on it – remained… I knew that something had to happen to wear it off, and this was it. But it was far more awful, and more completely awful, than I could have possibly imagined. At the same time, even in the midst of it, I knew that it had to happen, but that too gave absolutely no comfort. Nothing gave any comfort, apart from throwing myself into work to benefit others… (for me, that too the form of solution-focused and partnership-oriented sustainability work at a local community level) Much later, I discovered Theresa of Avila describing just that, actively working for the benefit of others, as commonly experienced as the only comfort for those going through this phase.
- Tail end of the dark night
The last few years have been the tail end of the dark night, and it wasn’t until recently that I even recognized it as a classical dark night of the soul. I found Breema during this phase, which has been a great help. And I have also found other practices that have been very helpful, as described in other posts. As commonly experienced by others going through the same, I too at, at one point, got dropped into a far more clear realization… of being emptiness, awake emptiness, and no trace of any separate self anywhere. This lasted for a couple of months, and then some old patterns came up, more to wear off, to see more clearly. And that is where I am right now. There is more to bring awareness into, more to see about the mechanisms of samsara, more beliefs and identities to wear off. There has also been a great deal of fatigue the last couple of years, which is something that has come and gone throughout this journey.