This is a common experience in the awakening process:
The world seems insubstantial. And this human self, that we perhaps previously took ourselves to exclusively be, seems insubstantial along with it.
It’s completely natural. It’s part of the process. It’s part of what we are waking up to itself.
Here is my experience with it and some ways of looking at it.
The world seems insubstantial. All matter seems insubstantial as if I could put my hand through it. It’s as if it’s in a dream.
Why is it that way? Because it’s all consciousness. It’s all happening within and as consciousness.
In a spiritual interpretation, I can say it’s all Spirit, it’s all the divine. In a smaller or psychological interpretation, I could say it’s all consciousness to me since I am – even if there is a separate being here – consciousness. To me, I am the consciousness it’s all happening within and as.
Why am I writing about this? Mostly to reassure others who may be on a spiritual path (with or without knowing it), experience this for themselves, and perhaps feel disturbed by it.
It’s normal. Nothing is wrong. It’s part of the process. It’s a part of waking up to reality, and reality waking up to itself.
For me, this shift happened when I was fifteen and found myself shifted into or as the “observer”. I found myself as what observes the world, including this human self. At the time, it was disturbing and I thought something was wrong. (It happened after the onset of CFS although I didn’t know about CFS either at the time.) A year later, this opened up into a more full-blown opening or early awakening. Here, everything without exception was revealed as the divine. Any sense of being a separate being was revealed as the divine temporarily and locally experiencing itself that way, as part of the play of the divine. The world still seemed insubstantial but it wasn’t disturbing anymore. And it’s still that way.
This experience of the world as insubstantial can happen spontaneously and out of the blue (as it did for me), it can happen from certain drugs or plants (I don’t recommend it), and it can (seem to) happen from spiritual practice. It can also happen suddenly (as in my case) or more gradually over time.
The easiest way of having a direct experience of it may be through inquiry, for instance, Living Inquiries, the Big Mind process, or Headless experiments. The Living Inquiries gives us the most detailed look of what’s happening “behind the curtain”, and we get to see how the mind creates its own experience of a substantial material world.
I’ll say a few words about what’s going on behind the curtains:
The mind creates its experience of the world through a mental overlay on the other sense fields. And this is enhanced when mental images and words are associated with sensations in the body. The sensations lend a sense of substance and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations. When this happens “behind the curtain”, it all seems real, solid, and self-evidently so. When we take a closer look, it all starts to appear more as it is – and this includes experiencing the world, as it appears to us, as insubstantial. As consciousness. As awakeness.
For it to sink in, we typically need to discover it for ourselves, over and over again.
So, does this mean that nothing is “real”? Not really. In a sense, the world is real as it appears to us conventionally (with individuals, food to eat, bills to pay, people to treat with respect and so on), and the sane and kind approach is to live and function as if it’s real.
On the other hand, the word does appear a certain way to us because of this mental overlay, and we do well to investigate this overlay and how it creates a certain world for us.
When we see through it, it doesn’t mean that the conventional world goes away. We still operate and function within it. We just hold it all more lightly. We (more) know what we are.
In the words of a man who (possibly) lived a long time ago:
We are in the world but not of it.