The backward step x2

 

In Zen, the backward step is a shift from being caught up in the content of our experience to that which it all happens within and as.

For me, there are two backward steps. And often, it can be helpful to first take one, and then the other.

The first backward step is from being caught up in reactivity to notice and feel into what’s behind it.

The reactivity is to an uncomfortable experience we have in the moment, and we go into the reactivity to distract from this uncomfortable experience. In my case, and perhaps for others, this underlying experience is often fear. The reactivity itself can take the form of justification, blame, guilt, defense, and even sadness or depression, and it goes along with a contraction of both the mind (defensive etc.) and body (physical tension).

So I notice the symptoms of reactivity, step back from engaging actively in it, find curiosity to what in me – here and now – the reactivity is a response to, and feel into it. Often, I take a shortcut and look for underlying fear.

As long as I am caught in the reactivity, it’s stressful, tense, and a struggle. And as soon as I take this backward step and rest with the underlying fear, there is a relief, softening, and receptivity.

The second backward step is – as described above – from being caught up in the content of our experience to notice what it happens within and as. And when I say “caught up in the content of our experience” it really means caught up in our thoughts.

When I take my thoughts as true, and get caught up in them and engage in them, my attention is automatically caught up in the content of my experience and I experience myself as something or someone within this content of experience. My world becomes small and I become an object in the world.

Taking this backward step is similar. I notice the symptoms of what’s happening, step back from actively engaging in it, and notice what my experience happens within and as.

A verbal pointer may be to notice the field of experience or consciousness or the space it all happens within and as. And – especially in the beginning – we can explore this more effectively through a form of inquiry like the Big Mind process, Headless experiments, or exploring the sense fields through traditional Buddhist inquiry or modern varieties like Living Inquiries.

Eventually, we notice that what we are is what all our experience happens within and as, and this is what notices itself. It temporarily took itself to be something or someone within its own content, and it woke up from that little excursion or dream.

As mentioned earlier, these two backward steps are similar. Before the step, there is contraction and struggle. In the step, there is a release, relief, softening, receptivity, and a sense of returning home. And when we live more from it, we live more from noticing, allowing, receptivity, and from a kind of groundedness.

For most of us, we have an opportunity to take these steps many times throughout the day. We notice we are caught up in something, step back, find the fear behind it, rest with it for a while, and take the other step back and rest with and as that for a while.

In the beginning, it can be easier to take some time out of the situation we are in to take these steps. And as we get more used to it, we can do it more seamlessly in the situation we are in. If I am on my own, I’ll take a few seconds or minutes to do it. And if I am with someone, I’ll do the same – perhaps while the other person is talking.

It’s very simple. It’s not always easy, at least not in the moment. It’s always new and fresh. (It really feels new and fresh each time.) And it’s more rewarding than just about anything else. It’s a very useful life skill. And it helps us return home – in an emotional sense and as what we are.

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Demystifying awakening

 

Many see awakening as something mystical or even mythical, and some ideas about it are not well-grounded in reality: It doesn’t exist. It’s for a few special people. There is no way to understand what it’s about. It’s a state of endless bliss. It will solve all your problems. You need to “renounce the world”. We can’t do research on it because it doesn’t exist, it’s too nebulous, or it has no practical value.

Fortunately, we live in a period of history where awakening is demystified. Why do we see this demystifying?

Many Asian spiritual teachers ended up in California and other densely populated areas of the US in the mid-1900s. It means that some practitioners there have a lifetime of experience, some have become teachers themselves, and the teachings are adapting to the culture. And since the US culture is famously pragmatic, it’s often explored, understood, and spoken about in a pragmatic way.

Since the 90s, there is new ease of global communication. Although awakening happens relatively rarely, large numbers of people around the world are on an awakening path, and these are now able to connect, communicate, and share experiences. In the past, people would have to be in the same place or write letters to communicate, and write or read books in order to share information and thoughts. Now, we just need to go on a forum online, participate in an online conference, class, or sharing group, or connect with friends we have found around the world.

There is also more research on spiritual practices and I imagine this will only continue but grow and become more mainstream. There is even research on awakening, and I imagine this will continue and grow as well.

Secularized forms of traditional spiritual practices are becoming more widespread and used in medical and business settings. It’s not uncommon to have mindfulness classes in hospitals and workplaces. This is not about awakening, but it contributes to normalize the practices and develop a pragmatic language in talking about some of the effects.

As mentioned above, more people are using a pragmatic language to describe and explore awakening. A language stripped of traditional terminology, and one that is more easily accessible and understandable to the western mind. This goes along with what I – in other articles – call a small or psychological interpretation of awakening.

Modern forms of traditional inquiry – like the Big Mind process, Headless experiments, and Living Inquiries – can give just about anyone a taste of what awakening is about within a few minutes. It’s not distant or unapproachable anymore.

A more pragmatic and demystified view on awakening is perhaps not only inevitable but healthy and appropriate for a western culture that’s mainly secular and pragmatic.

I am personally grateful. When the initial awakening happened for me, it was in the pre-internet era and it took a long time for me to find people who understood – first in books (Meister Eckart was the first) and later with people (my friend BH and Jes Bertelsen’s then-wife). And I am grateful for the pragmatic and more secularized language. It helps us see what’s important and perhaps what’s less important (although we need to be open to the possibility that some of what we discard is important and bring it back in again).

If all language around spiritual practice and awakening would go secular and pragmatic, something essential would be lost. But there is little or no danger of that happening anytime soon. Spiritual language and understanding, and secular language and understanding, can very well co-exist and they can feed into and inform each other in a beautiful way. There is a richness in the traditions that can inform the secularized understanding. And there is a pragmatism in the secularized approach that can benefit the traditions.

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Typical aspects and phases of the awakening process

 

What are some of the typical aspects and phases of the awakening process?

I’ll mention a few things here based on my own experience. Not everything is sequential in this process, nor does it all happen or happen within one lifetime. There is also some overlap in this list, and I’ll just briefly touch on each point since other articles here have addressed most of them in more detail.

The following are some of the milestones that may happen in the awakening process.

Relationship with the divine

Our conscious orientation towards or relationship with the divine changes through the awakening process. In general, it goes from perceiving the divine as Other, to a sense of oneness with the divine, to the divine (or what we are) waking up to itself – and out of taking itself as fundamentally a separate being – and realizing it was what it was looking for through it all.

Divine as other

The pre- or early awakening phase often involves viewing and experiencing the divine as Other.

It may start as an interest. Or an intuition or knowing.

There may be glimpses – perhaps of divine beings or all as the divine.

There may even be an early awakening of the divine as all, of oneness with the divine as all.

In all of these cases, the divine is Other even when the apparent division seems more subtle. The divine is beginning to wake up to itself as all there is while retaining some of the identification as a separate being.

When I use the word “divine” here, it can be exchanged with consciousness, awakeness, love, Big Mind, what we are, or other similar labels.

What we are noticing itself

Eventually, what we are – that which all content of our experience happens within and as – wakes up to itself. It wakes up out of the dream of ultimately being a separate being. The human self and anything else happens within and as what we are.

What we are living more consciously from and as itself

Stability

I hinted about this in the previous segment.

In the very early phases of the awakening, the divine may seem like an idea, something others talk about, and something we don’t have any experience with. Although we may have an intuition or knowing or experience a draw towards it.

Then, there may be glimpses of the divine – perhaps of divine beings or all as the divine. These may be infrequent.

The next phase seems to take many different forms. We may gradually sense the divine everywhere, or all as the divine. Or there may be more sudden and stronger glimpses. And this may get more stable either right away or over time.

At some, we may realize that what we are – fundamentally – is the divine, and what we took ourselves to be – this human self – happens within and as the divine, or within and as what we are.

Again, this may first be an intuition or knowing or come through glimpses, and suddenly or over time it becomes more clear. Over time, it continues to clarify and become more stable – including throughout more and more situations in our daily life.

Global to local

An awakening is generally “global”. It happens in a general sense for or as all of what we are. (It may even seem as if all of existence awakened, but that’s largely a projection and another topic.) And it may seem as if it’s inevitably stable.

After a while, we may notice that things in life trigger something in us that takes the system back into separation consciousness. One way to talk about it is to say that parts of our human self (subpersonalities) are still caught up in emotional wounds, trauma, the past, and separation consciousness. They are reliving traumatic past experiences and the separation consciousness they were created from. They are not yet aligned with the reality of all as the divine. They are not yet awake. Life situations – or our response to them – trigger these issues so they can be seen, felt, explored, and eventually awaken, align with reality, and bring the global awakening into more of these still unawake parts of our human self.

In our life, this may take the form of first assuming the awakening is stable. We then notice that life situations trigger old issues in us, and if the issues are strong enough and core enough to who we take ourselves to be, we may get caught up in them and go into and act from separation consciousness. To the extent we acknowledge and own this, and take it seriously, we can intentionally work on how we relate to these unawake parts in us, and even invite them to heal and align more closely to reality – the reality of Oneness.

Maturing in the awakening

There are many aspects to maturing within the awakening.

One is that the awakening – gradually and over time – becomes ordinary. It is both ordinary and extraordinary. We get used to it. Other things become more interesting to us, like how to befriend unawake parts of us, how to help these different parts of our human self to heal and awaken, how to live from the awakening in more and more situations, how to live so we benefit the larger whole, and so on.

During an initial awakening phase, we may emphasize what we are over who we are. This is natural since we are used to who we are and what we are seems more interesting and perhaps fascinating. As we mature within the awakening, this is balanced out and the two are seen more clearly as aspects of the same – or labels highlighting different sides of this lived Oneness.

Maturing may also mean that we simultaneously become more who we are and more ordinary. We live more from authenticity and we realize more deeply how what’s in this human self is universally human.

Early in the awakening process, we may get on a missionary kick and think others “need” awakening or need to hear about it or do meditation, etc. We may also think that more people need to awaken in order for humanity to be saved. Later on, this tends to calm down. We are obviously open to share when others are interested, but the “shoulds” tend to fall away.

As we mature in the awakening, other things tend to happen that I’ll mention elsewhere in this article. For instance, we may realize it’s an ongoing process and there is not a final or end point.

An initial glimpse or awakening may indeed come with certain states – of bliss, ease, joy, being untouched by old hangups, and so on – but these are byproducts of the initial awakening and like all states they come and go. As we mature in it, we realize it’s not about achieving a state but what we are is here through any and all states and experiences, and the noticing gradually becomes more stable through these states and experiences.

We also realize that although the awakening “solves” the most core “problem” of taking ourselves to be something we are not (a separate being), it doesn’t by itself solve any of our human challenges and problems. We still have to deal with them as any other human being, although from within a different context. In a sense, it solves a problem we didn’t even know we had, and it doesn’t really solve anything else or the problems we know we have!

Embodiment

Embodiment means to live more consciously from what we are in more and more situations in daily life. It happens through the global-to-local process of inviting unawake parts of us to heal and align more closely with reality. And it happens as part of the maturing process. As anything else related to awakening – and being a human being in the world – it’s an ongoing process.

Challenges

An awakening process is a shift of what we most fundamentally take ourselves to be. So it naturally comes with some challenges. As you’d expect, these can be experienced as mild or severe, can last for shorter or longer periods of time, and any struggle we experience is our own struggle with what’s happening.

Challenges, crises, and dark nights

Here are a few examples of the challenges, crises, and dark nights we can experience in an awakening process.

We can be disoriented, frightened, or feel overwhelmed. This can happen anytime the process enters a new phase, and it really helps to have a general understanding of the process and the guidance of someone who has gone through it and is familiar with the terrain. (Some that you’d expect to be familiar with it – like official spiritual teachers – may not be, and someone you’d not expect to be familiar with it – like an unassuming regular gal or guy – may be.)

Our energy system can go a bit haywire in an awakening process. It helps with nature, physical activity, reducing mental activity, and perhaps energy work like acupuncture or Vortex Healing. (For the first few years for me, it felt like enormous energies went through my system – as if sending high voltage through regular housing wires.)

As mentioned earlier, anything in our human self that’s not aligned with the awakening will eventually surface to be seen, felt, examined, understood, loved, and eventually recognized as the divine (temporarily taking the form of an emotional issue, hangup, trauma). If we have a good amount of trauma in our system (often developmental trauma), this can be an intense, confusing, overwhelming, and challenging process. Again, it really helps to have the guidance of someone who has gone through this process and – in this case – understand trauma. And it helps to understand that unawake parts of us surface to join the global awakeness.

Another form of spiritual crisis comes in the form of loss. An apparent loss of the divine or the awakening. (This helps us meet our neediness around it and ideas that what we are looking for is somewhere else.) A loss of motivation and drive. (Because it came from separation consciousness and needs to come back within more of a oneness context.) Perhaps a loss of status, relationships, health, or more. (Again, helps us meet whatever in us still holds onto ideas about how it should or must be.)

Some things are common for these challenges. For instance, struggle makes them more difficult and painful. And yet, struggle is also part of the process. We struggle until we learn, at a deep level, that the struggle itself is painful and – eventually – not needed.

These challenges also highlight what in us – in our human self – is not yet aligned with reality (the reality of Oneness). It’s an essential part of the awakening and embodiment process. What surfaces and how we deal with it is universal in that it’s shared by many going through this process. And since the unawake parts of us are somewhat unique to us, what surfaces and how we deal with it also takes on a personal flavor.

Pitfalls

There are many common pitfalls in the awakening process. I’ll highlight a few without going into them in too much detail.

Relationship with teachers: Unquestioned adoration of teachers and gurus. (Upside: Wholehearted devotion. Downside: Being misled, disappointed, give away our authority. Remedy: See them as temporary guides and coaches.)

Relationship with teachings: See them as set in stone, infallible, and final. (Upside: Temporary honeymoon. Downside: Misled, apply guidelines that don’t work for us, disappointed. Remedy: See them as human-made, guidelines, each one medicine for a particular person and condition.)

Relationship with awakening: Assuming it’s a state. (Upside: Carrot. Downside: Chasing a state. Remedy: Recognize that what we are is always here and notice that.) Thinking there is an end, something final. (Upside: Can temporarily function as a carrot. Downside: Chasing an imagined end. Remedy: Recognize it as an ongoing process.)

Relationship with students (if have students): Encourage projections. (Upside: Learn from the consequences. Downside: Misleading the students. Remedy: Make the projections and their problems explicit, actively discourage them.) Take advantage of student’s projections, fears, hopes, and trust. (Upside: Crash and burn and learn from it. Downside: Harms the students in an ordinary human way. Remedy: Be aware of the dynamic, make it explicit, address the wounds and neediness in us it comes from.)

Relationship with our human self: Assuming the awakening will take care of all our human difficulties and challenges. (Upside: Carrot. Downfall: Disappointment. Remedy: Recognize it won’t and address our human challenges more directly.) Emphasizing what we are over our human self and…. (a) Not addressing our human needs and wounds. (Upside: Temporary imagined relief. Downside: Ignore what needs to be taken care of. Remedy: Realize the wounds and needs are here and address them more directly.) (b) Justify unethical and harmful behavior. (Upside: Crash, burn, and learn from it. Downside: Harms ourselves and others in an ordinary human way. Remedy: Notice what’s happening, take it seriously, and address it.)

Relationship with others and the world: Using awakening to fuel a particular image and a sense of separation (e.g. tell ourselves we are better than others, more awake, in order to feel better about ourselves and try to fill a very human hole of not feeling good enough, feeling unloved, etc.). (Upside: Crash, burn, and learn from it. Downside: Is out of alignment with reality, act from instead of taking care of own wounds. Remedy: Recognize what’s happening, address our wounds, hangups, and traumas more directly.)

These pitfalls come from believing stories, and they come from acting on our wounds instead of addressing them more directly. We act on unhealed and unawake parts of us, life responds and rubs up against them, and we get a chance to meet these parts of us and invite in healing, clarity, and a closer alignment with reality and oneness. How long this process is and how much pain it entails depends on our sincerity, receptivity, and willingness to look at what’s going on.

These pitfalls are not inherently wrong. They become part of – and fuel for – the awakening and maturing process. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge the problems and pain that may come from them, for oneself and others, and speak up with firm kindness as appropriate. That’s part of the process as well.

How we view the process

Ongoing process

As mentioned before, all of this – the awakening, maturing, healing of our human self, embodiment – is an ongoing process.

If we are caught up in unloved and unexamined fearful thoughts, we may want it to finish and we may have ideas about a final endpoint. But, as Adya says, that’s the “dream of the ego”. I find it’s easier and a relief to instead gently assume all of it is an ongoing process. It also makes it more interesting.

Small or big interpretation

As mentioned in other articles, we can use a small or big interpretation of awakening.

In both, awakening is what we are noticing itself. And what we are is what all our content of experience happens within and as. (We can call this consciousness, or Big Mind, or something else, and those labels also happen within and as what we are.)

In the small or psychological interpretation, we acknowledge that this may happen within a world as it is described by current mainstream science. It may be that the awakening “only” happens within the mind of an actual separate physical human being. The benefit of this interpretation is that it may be more acceptable to people coming from a (currently) mainstream view and understanding of the world.

The big or spiritual interpretation is the more traditional one as described by mystics from and outside of all the main spiritual traditions. Here, we take our immediate experience more at face value. Everything is the divine. Everything – all of existence – is as it appears, it is love and consciousness.

Either way, it doesn’t change anything about the awakening itself. It’s still experienced and described in the same way, it goes through the same phases, and it has the same consequences.

Notes

I had the idea of including my own personal experiences more explicitly for each point, but it would make for a longer article and I have addressed much of it in other articles tagged “autobiography”.

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I am not ultimately a separate being: What does it mean?

 

When I sometimes write that what I am is not ultimately a separate being, what do I mean?

As who I am, this human self, I am a being that’s not separate from anything. I am both a somewhat autonomous whole in myself and an intrinsic part of a larger whole. I am a part of the seamless living system called Earth and the even larger seamless system of the universe.

As what I am, I am ultimately not a being and not separate. What I am is what the content of my experience – here and now – happen within and as. (We can call this all sorts of things, and those labels also happen within and as what we are.) This human self happens within and as what I am. Any ideas of separation happen within and as what I am.

So it can be understood in at least two different ways.

As who I am, as this human being, I am a being that is not separate from anything. And as what I am, I am ultimately not a being nor separate… although both of those happen within and as what I am.

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What’s the purpose of trauma?

 

What’s the purpose of trauma?

There are several answers to this question, partly because meaning is something we create and add to life.

Creation & Maintenance of Trauma

What’s the purpose of the creation and maintenance of trauma?

At an individual level, the main purpose of trauma may be protection. The pain of trauma is an incentive to avoid situations similar to the one initially creating the trauma.

At a collective human level, it’s probably the same. Traumas serve a survival function for our species. When a situation is overwhelming and we feel we can’t cope with it, we create trauma and the pain of the trauma helps us avoid similar situations.

Healing from Trauma

What’s the purpose we find through healing from trauma?

At an individual level, we may get a lot out of exploring and finding healing for our traumas. We obviously learn from the process, we learn how to heal from trauma and perhaps emotional issues in general. We may find we are more mature and humanized. We may be more raw and honest with ourselves and others. We may find ourselves as more real, authentic, and perhaps in integrity. We may have reprioritized and found what’s genuinely important in our life. We may discover the universality of human life and that – even with our individual differences – we are all in the same boat. We may have found a different and more meaningful life path. Our life, in general, may be more meaningful to us. We may have found a deep, raw, and real fellowship with others on a healing path. We may have learned to be more vulnerable with ourselves and others. We may have discovered how the path of healing from traumas fuels, leads into, and perhaps is an integral part of an awakening path. We may discover the deep capacity for healing inherent in ourselves, humans, and life in general.

At a collective level, it’s similar only scaled up and with the extra illumination and richness that comes from the interactions of people with different backgrounds, viewpoints, and experiences. Collectively, we learn about and from healing from trauma. We realize the universality of it, and of our profound capacity for healing. We see that healing from trauma is something we do together and not just individually. We discover that much of what we thought were individual traumas are actually more universal and collective traumas. We discover that culture is not only what gives us much of what we love about human life, but the painful unquestioned assumptions inherent in our culture is what creates much if not most of our pain.

Bigger Picture

What’s the purpose of the experience of trauma in the bigger picture?

If we assume there is something like rebirth or reincarnation, then the experience of trauma provides food for our healing, maturing, and eventually awakening. It’s the One locally and temporarily taking itself to be a separate being going through a reincarnation process and through that healing, maturing, and eventually awakening to itself as the One. The One the adventure always happened within and as.

Traumas seems an important part of the dialectical evolutionary process of humanity as a species and – by extension – of Earth as a whole. The aspects mentioned above and much more go into this.

And it’s part of the play of life or the universe or the divine. It’s lila. It’s life exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself in always new ways. It’s part of the One temporarily and locally experiencing itself as separate.

Note

When I use the word trauma, I mean the traditional one-time-dramatic-event trauma, and perhaps, more importantly, the developmental trauma that most of have from growing up in slightly – or very – dysfunctional families, communities, and cultures.

In a wider sense, any emotional issue, any painful belief, any identification, is a form of trauma and comes from and creates trauma. It’s the trauma inherent in the One temporarily and locally taking itself to fundamentally be a separate being.

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What is wholeness?

 

What is wholeness?

There are several forms of wholeness, all part of the main form of wholeness.

There is the wholeness of what we are. We are that which the content of our experience happens within and as, whether we call this awakeness, consciousness, or something else. This makes our experience into a seamless whole, whether we notice or not.

As soon as the mind believes its thoughts and latches onto the viewpoints of some of these thoughts, there is an experience of fragmentation and it’s more difficult to notice what we are.

The process of what we are noticing itself is called awakening. And the process of living from this in more situations in our life is called embodiment.

There is also a wholeness of who we are, as this human self. Again, the wholeness is already here. And yet, there is also a sense of fragmentation since we tend to identify with some of who we are and disown or ignore other parts of who we are. The process of finding our wholeness as who we are is what Jung called individuation.

There is also the wholeness of the world and the universe. The Earth is one seamless living and evolving system. The universe is also one seamless evolving system. And we – as human individuals and species with our culture – are an intrinsic part of those systems.

Finally, there is the wholeness of all of existence. Whether we use a small (psychological) or big (spiritual) interpretation of awakening, we can say that all of existence is one. We can also say that everything is existence exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself.

How do we explore these forms of wholeness? I have written many articles on each of them but I’ll say a few words here.

To explore the wholeness of what we are, we can use inquiry (Headless experiments, Big Mind Process, Living Inquiries, etc.), often combined with meditation (basic meditation, quiet prayer, training stable attention), and perhaps mindful movement (yoga, taichi, Breema, etc.).

To explore the wholeness of who we are, we can use psychology (parts work, shadow work, projection work), bodywork, relationship work, and more.

When we explore the wholeness of Earth and the universe, we can use systems views and integral (aqal) maps.

And what about the wholeness of all of existence? It includes all of the above, although we can most directly explore it as we explore what we are.

Note: The examples of approaches above are just the ones I have found useful. What works for you may be different, and what I use in the future will probably also change as I discover other approaches.

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The “I can if I want” test

 

I love Life 101 topics. The ones that are simple, practical, and can change your life.

This is one for when I notice a should. When I feel I should do something and notice tension or stress.


The original thought may be: I should go to the presentation.

Change it: I can go to the presentation if I want.

Check it (a): I can go to the presentation if I want, and I want to. Notice how it feels in the body.

Check it (b): I can go to the presentation if I want, and I don’t want to. Notice how it feels in the body.

Which one allows the body to relax? Which one is true for me?


This is a very good little exercise: It’s simple. It can be done in a few seconds in just about any situation. It shifts our thinking from a should to a can and a want. And we check in with our body to see what’s true for us.

The body relaxes when we find what’s true for us. It can breathe. Release. Let go.

This is a form of inquiry, and I think it’s from cognitive therapy and/or ACT. It’s also similar to the I should -> I want to because inquiry where we list reasons and see if they hold up. They are both useful although I like this one since it makes use of checking in with the body and learning to trust the body. There is a part of our mind that knows what’s true for us and this is reflected in the body.

Knowing how one of the magic tricks of life is done

 

I enjoy watching Fool Us with Penn & Teller and also learning how the tricks may be done. (Often, there are several ways to do each trick.)

One thing I pay attention to is the audience reaction. Sometimes, the strongest audience reaction is to tricks with an amazing effect but disappointing method. (For instance, when the magician surreptitiously instructs an audience member in what to say or do.)

Other times, the method of the trick is as or even more amazing than the effect. These are typically tricks that take years to master like Kostya Kimlat’s third performance and The Evansons. They are both impressive although the first has a simple method and the second a complex method.

Life is full of magic tricks from the big magic trick of anything existing at all to the myriads of smaller magic tricks of how life expresses itself.

One of the magic tricks of our mind is of special interest to us. The effect is the mind creating a temporary experience for itself of ultimately being a small part of the world. And a related effect is the mind believing a thought (taking it as true), identifying with the viewpoint of thoughts, and creating emotional issues, hangups, and traumas. The method is the same for both, and the second creates the first, so it’s really one and the same trick.

We can discover how the mind does this trick. We can learn the theory of it, which is a starting point. And, more importantly, we can explore it in real-time, as it happens, in our own experience.

The best way to do this may be to mentally divide our experience into sense fields and then see how these combine to create our experience. It’s slightly arbitrary how we divide up the sense fields (e.g. taste, smell, sight, sound, sensation, thought), although the two important ones are sensation and thought (mental images and words).

I initially explored this through traditional Buddhist inquiry and more recently through the contemporary version called Living Inquiries.

When we explore this, often over and over, in our own experience, we learn to recognize the magic trick and how it is performed. Our mind gradually becomes less fascinated with the effect and less caught up in it. The charge that made the effect seem real gradually goes out of it.

(This is partly because we recognize that the charge comes from the mind associating certain sensations with certain thoughts, and the sensations lend a sense of reality and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. When we see that the connection is only an association, it’s easier to recognize sensations as sensations and thoughts as thoughts, and we are no longer so caught up in the effect of the magic trick.)

The effect of this trick is certainly amazing. It’s the One creating an experience for itself of being separate and one among many.

And what about the method? Is it disappointing or amazing? In my experience, it’s both. It can be almost laughably simple when we first discover it. And yet, it’s also impressive in its simplicity, elegance, and effectiveness.

P.S. The Evansons is an amazing act, and – as mentioned above – they use a complex method (system of verbal cues) which requires years of practice in order to appear smooth and effortless. They say they do mentalism, and we can see that as either a tongue-in-cheek white lie that’s part of the performance, as misdirection, or as a mostly innocent bordering-on-unethical form of deception. I am with P&T and prefer when the magicians/mentalists are more transparent and tell the audience what they are doing, or – in this case – what they are not doing, without necessarily revealing the method.

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Central vs peripheral issues

 

I saw someone ask: is this a core issue for me?

What is a core issue?

For me, I think of them as central issues. Issues that are central to who I take myself to be. Issues that have a general impact on my daily life. Issues that are often tied into many other issues – they are networked, have branches, roots and so on. And they are often universal. Shared by many or most humans and ingrained in our culture one way or another.

Some examples of typical core issues in our culture: Fear of rejection. Low self-worth. Define ourselves by our actions and accomplishments.

In contrast, peripheral issues are less central to who I take myself to be. It has less of a general impact on my daily life and tends to be triggered only in specific situations. And they appear more isolated and less tied in with other issues. Although if we explore them, they often lead to more central issues.

Of course, the separation into central and peripheral issues is mind-made and imagined. It’s fuzzy. It’s a matter of definition. It’s there just as a general guide. Sometimes helpful, sometimes less so.

For me, the distinction is mostly helpful in prioritizing what to work on. I’ll generally choose to work on more central issues, although sometimes it’s important to work on the more peripheral ones as well.

I should also mention that if I notice I am reluctant to work on one of my own issues, and it’s difficult for me to do so when I finally get to it, it’s more likely to be a central issue. The peripheral ones are usually easier and more enjoyable to work on. So if it’s a central issue for me, I may get someone else to facilitate me in inquiring into it, or do Vortex Healing for it.

This is also why we often end up working a lot on our peripheral issues and put off working on the central ones. It’s easier to work on what’s less central to who I take myself to be. And that’s another reason why being aware of this (mind-made) difference between central and peripheral issues can be helpful.

Which category do I tend to work on? Perhaps I need to acknowledge my fear of working on the more central issues? Perhaps it will be easier for me if I ask for help to work on them?

So what about the initial question: is this a core issue for me? Only you will know. But if it’s central to who you take yourself to be, colors your daily life, seem tied into other issues, and it’s difficult for you to get to know or work, then it may be a central issue. If so, and you want to explore it, it may be good to ask for assistance.

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Writing about healing and awakening is like writing a guidebook

 

Writing about healing and awakening is a bit like writing a guidebook. We know there is a lot we don’t know about the place, and there may be others who know more about it in general, or who know more about different parts of it. But we (hopefully!) have been there, we have some experience with it, and the little we know may be helpful to others.

Also, when we write a guidebook, we focus on what we have a particular interest in – whether it’s the history, art, nature, food, or something else. And for someone out there, our approach may be a good fit.

Guidebooks don’t pretend to be complete or the final word about a place. They are incomplete, selective, written from our own interests, experiences, and limitations, and they need to be regularly updated. And that’s also how it is with guidebooks for healing and awakening.

Guidebooks are also typically written by people who know just enough about the place. While many who know as much or more about the place do not write about it. And that too is the same with guidebooks for healing and awakening. It doesn’t mean that guidebooks are not useful. Just that the authors of guidebooks may not be the ones who are most familiar with the place.

People who read guidebooks know the difference between reading about a place and actually going there. Again, that’s the same for healing and awakening. The guidebook is a good initial orientation and can be helpful – for some things and in a limited way – when we go there.

Guidebooks can be very useful and even essential. I usually read one or more before going to a new place, and I sometimes read them for places I am quite familiar with. And when it comes to guidebooks for healing and awakening, it can be helpful to recognize that they are not that different from guidebooks to physical places.

Sincerity on the spiritual path

 

Professor Broom: In medieval stories, there is often a young knight who is inexperienced, but pure of heart.
John Myers: Oh, come on. I am not pure of heart.
Abe Sapien(who’s psychic) Yes, you are.
Professor Broom: Rasputin is back for him. What I’m asking of you is to have the courage to stand by him when I am gone. He was born a demon; we can’t change that. But you will help him, in essence, to become a man.

– from Hellboy (2004), quoted in Wikipedia

One of the most valuable qualities on a healing and spiritual path is sincerity, a pure heart. As Broom says, this is a recurrent theme in some of the traditional legends and perhaps most famously the grail legend (Perceval).

Sincerity allows us to be more honest with ourselves, and that’s essential for emotional healing, awakening, and embodiment.

Is also essential for having a meaningful and juicy relationship with ourselves and others, one that allows for authenticity, growth, and surprises.

If we have some sincerity, it doesn’t matter so much if we are young or inexperienced on the path we are on. Sincerity is gold, and we can always learn tools and we will gain experience.

Is sincerity something we can learn or develop? Perhaps not. But I can notice when I am not sincere and I can then shift into sincerity.

Sometimes, it’s not so easy. We may be caught in fear of a situation or something coming up in us and retreat into defensiveness to try to stay safe. That’s OK. Again, it helps to notice. I can be honest with myself about what happened. And that, in itself, is sincerity.

It also helps to notice what in me takes me away from sincerity. What is the fear about? What is the fearful story? What beliefs do I find? Identifications? And then explore it further, befriend it (find healing for my relationship to it), and perhaps find healing for the issue itself.

As I wrote the second paragraph (“Sincerity allows us….”), I noticed a synchronicity in the lyrics of the song I was listening to:

There are times when a man needs to brave his reflection,
And face what he sees without fear,
It takes a man to accept his mortality,
Or be surprised by the presence of a tear.

– Sting and Rob Mathes, I love her but she loves someone else

Image: The Achievement of the Grail by British Artist Sir Edward Burn-Jones design, William Morris execution and John Henry Dearle flowers and decorations, from the Holy Grail tapestries 1891-94, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham, wool and silk on cotton warp.

Adyashanti: Spirituality is simply a way of indicating that we’re plunging beyond the personal

 

Spirituality is simply a way of indicating that we’re plunging beyond the personal consciousness. The depth of our being is just astonishing.

– Adyashanti, Silent Retreat Vol. 70

There are many definitions of spirituality, and the most basic one is perhaps Adya’s definition above. Spirituality suggests that we are going, or intend to go, beyond the personal human being and into something wider. Whether that is our human community, our Earth community (nature and Earth as a whole), the Universe as a whole, or Existence as a whole. And whether it is to connect with this larger whole, take it into account, live as if it matters, expand our sense of “us” to include all there is, or – ultimately – find ourselves as that, and this human being as an expression of it.

Life 101

 

Most of what I write about here is Life 101.

It’s simple, and – for me — essential.

And that’s why I write about it.

I wish to contribute, in a very small way, to a society where (some of) these things are seen as basic and essential.

It may be helpful to some of the people reading it. (For me, it’s always helpful to be reminded of the basics. And I know it’s helpful to me to find others with similar experiences and interests as myself.)

And, in the best case, it’s helpful to me when I write. It allows me to explore, clarify, and remind myself. The more sincere I am, and the closer to immediate experience, the more I benefit and the more likely I am to be surprised by what I discover.

All maps are projections

 

All maps are projections.

They are projections in a few different ways.

First, they are projections of our ideas. They are an overlay of ideas and thoughts that the mind puts on (it’s images of) the world. This helps us orient and function in the world, and is essential for our survival.

Often, they are also projections of our own characteristics and qualities. We can find in ourselves the characteristics we see in the wider world. It may not be as strong or explicit, but it’s here if we look.

And sometimes, our maps are expressions of our unresolved emotional issues. They express our hopes and fears, how we would like the world and ourselves to be, and what we fear it may be.

We have many different maps of ourselves, the world, and our place in the world – whether they are formal or informal; explicit or implicit; about the world, ourselves, or our relationship with the world; and whether we recognize them as maps or not.

Some maps are explicit and what we typically call maps. For instance, political and geographical maps.

Some maps may not be what we think of as maps. For instance, some ways we categorize people (politically, social status, friends or not etc.); our mental timeline of past-present-future; and our general world-view (materialistic, heaven and hell, afterlife, reincarnation, planetary influences, gods, God, nondual), and so on.

Some maps are mostly outside of our conscious awareness – and may even be contrary to our conscious ideas about the world, although they still have a major impact on how we experience the world and ourselves. These are often (somewhat charged) ideas about other people, ourselves, and the world as a whole.

Most of our maps are shared with others in our family, subculture, and culture. Some may be shared with most of humanity. And even the ones that may seem unique to us are probably shared with many others.

It’s often useful to recognize our explicit and implicit maps as maps. It helps us hold them more lightly and not invest so much identity and fears and hopes into them. At least at a conscious level, we know they are used by our mind to make sense of the world. They are questions about the world, leave a lot out, and are not in any way the final word.

Also, recognizing our maps as projections can help us get to know and understand ourselves better. We can use them as pointers for healing for ourselves as individuals and even for us as a society.

Here are some examples.

I have a mental map of past-present-future. And yet, it’s created by my mind and is an idea, and it happens here and now. My map and what I place on the map all happens here and now. This helps me hold my ideas of past, future, and present – and what happened or may happen –more lightly.

I may have mental maps inherited from my culture that rank people based on (relatively superficial) characteristics like gender, ethnicity, politics, religion and so on. It’s helpful to recognize this, question its validity, and find all of it in myself.

I may have religious maps – of heaven and hell, afterlife, reincarnation, divine beings and so on, and myself in relation to it. Again, it helps to see that these are maps. They are projection of ideas into (my image of) the world. This helps me hold it all more lightly. And here too, I can use these maps to find it all already in me and my experience, and perhaps to point to some unresolved issues (fears, hopes) in me.

I may have esoteric maps of planetary influences, divine beings, energies, energy systems and so on. The same goes here for holding it more lightly and finding it all – the images and anything charged about it – in myself.

A map can even be of a situation. I may have a mental map of a situation where I see myself as wronged or a victim, and that map is part of what holds the pain or trauma in place. These are the types of maps is helpful to identify and investigate in a healing process.

I can still use all of these maps. We need maps to orient and function in the world. And yet, it’s helpful to recognize them as maps and sometimes explore them as projections. It helps us hold them more lightly. It helps us question their validity and perhaps replace them with other maps that are more helpful. It helps us find it all – what we see in the world – in ourselves. And it may point to something unresolved in us we can find healing for.

God is primary

 

I personally find it helpful and interesting to sometimes explore my connection with aspects of the divine like angels (frequently), saints (St. Francis and others), avatars (Amma) and so on.

And yet, God is always primary. God is what I always return to, including in my prayers and my gratitude.

Whether we see God as Source, the wholeness of existence, that which allows and is all, as Mother and/or Father, or something else, God is primary.

Even if emphasizing aspects of the divine can be instructional, helpful, and interesting, and sometimes easier, I remember (through grace) that God is primary and I keep returning to God in my prayers and gratitude.

This is another very simple and basic topic, and yet it’s good to remember since the basics are important.

Waking up issues and more

 

I’ll write more about this in other posts, but wanted to make a quick note of it here.

When there is some degree of awakening here, this awakeness can be used to wake up other things, including emotional issues.

In my case, I connect with the awakeness (bring it to awareness), I connect with the lack of awakeness in the emotional issue, and I intend for the emotional issue to wake up. To wake up from its painful dream (the reason it’s an emotional issue is that it still lives in separation consciousness) and to reality (all as the divine and One).

When we wake up emotional issues in this way, it’s deeply healing, and it also helps us to live our awakeness in more areas and situations in life (embodiment). Instead of certain situations triggering the emotional issue, there is now more space to live from awakeness.

We can also wake up parts of the physical body or objects in the same way. The divine becomes more awake to itself as and through these objects.

This is the direct way to wake up issues and other things. And there are also other ways, including through a whole range of healing modalities such as Vortex Healing (after Core Veil is gone), the Big Mind process (shifting into Big Mind/Heart, holding a part of us still not awake, and invite it to wake up and align with reality), and different other forms of inquiry (Living Inquiry, The Work, headless experiments etc.)

A few additional notes:

How, more specifically, do I go about waking up issues? In my case, I notice the awakeness of all of existence – as it appears to me and as it stretches out indefinitely. (Some connect to the awakening in their spiritual heart, a little above the physical heart.) I then bring attention to the emotional issue – where I notice a physical contraction (there is a bodily contraction with every emotional issue), and I get a sense of the (stressful, separation-consciousness created) stories connected with it. Then, I intend for the issue to wake up – for the awakeness that’s already here to infuse the issue so it can wake up to itself as the divine. (And also, so “I” can recognize it more clearly as the divine, temporarily confused, temporarily pretending to believe in stressful stories, temporarily creating a “hook” for identification and so on.) And I stay with it until I notice the shift, and a bit longer so it can deepen and settle.

There can be a “general” and “global” awakening, and yet when we have emotional issues, as we all (?) do, these parts of us still remain in separation consciousness. They were formed from separation consciousness and still operate from separation consciousness. And life “wants” these to awaken, so it’s common that at some point after the general awakening, these confused and unawake parts surface so they can join in the awakening. To the extent we struggle with it and don’t know how to deal with it in a constructive way, it can be distressing and painful, and yet it’s an essential part of awakening and embodiment. And most of us learn, over time, how to better and more consciously dance this dance.

As I sometimes do, I have written this in a more ordinary language. It’s more accurate to say that it’s the divine waking itself up. The divine is (somewhat) awake to itself here, and uses that awakeness to wake up other parts of itself (emotional issues, parts of the body, objects in the world).

I should also add that the dynamic behind waking up issues is also why it can help to be in the presence of someone awake. That local awakeness helps the divine nearby (in the form of other people) to ripen and eventually wake up to itself.

And I want to add a few words about why I am writing about this now. I have naturally done this since the initial awakening in my teens, but it has sometimes taken a back seat since many people recommend and speak about other approaches to healing and embodiment. I have re-found courage to use this more direct approach since it’s used (in a slightly different form) in Vortex Healing, and since new people in my life have spoken about it and use it themselves. Another reason is that I overcooked myself a few months ago from giving myself and receiving a lot of energy healing, and I am unable to do much conventional energy healing right now (Vortex Healing). So what’s left is this more direct approach of awakening the issues. It doesn’t tax or strain my system nearly as much.

Awakening the issues can be very helpful and can create a big transformation. It doesn’t necessarily remove the issue, but it becomes lighter and has less charge, and since it’s more awake to itself as the divine it’s easier to relate to it more intentionally and in a healthier way. And any other healing or inquiry approach can be very helpful in conjunction with waking up the issue.

I assume when we wake up issues in this way, they wake up to the extent the “global” consciousness is awake. At the very least, we can wake up issues to the truth that the person is currently aware of and experiencing.

What I write are pointers for myself

 

We teach what we need to learn.

That’s very clear for me with these articles. The pointers I share here are for me.

If I finish and article without taking time to intentionally apply it for myself, it feels incomplete. And when I do, it completes it.

Of course, what I write does come from my own immediate experience. And I do go into it before writing to make sure it’s alive and I can discover more about the topic, or at least remind myself about it. And yet, it makes a difference when I take the main pointer from the article and intentionally apply it after the article is written.

In The Work of Byron Katie, this is what they call Living Turnarounds. I take the most juicy pointer from the inquiry and apply it in my life. That’s how the work comes alive in me and my life. That’s how my insights ground in real life. That’s how I get to see what’s left.

I sometimes tell myself that if just one person benefits from what I write here, it’s worth it. By applying my own pointers after writing a post, I make sure at least one person benefits from it – and that’s me. And if one other person benefits as well, that’s wonderful. That’s icing on the cake.

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Therapeutic tremoring is not enough in itself

 

I love therapeutic tremoring. It’s as natural as it can be. It reminds me that I am a mammal and am part of nature. It allows the inherent wisdom in my system to take over and I (the conscious me) can take the back seat. It allows deep tension to release out of my body. It tones and relaxes the tissues of my body. It frees up energy from being bound up in contracting muscles.

And yet, it’s not sufficient in itself. For mammals in the wild, it may be and probably often is sufficient. But it doesn’t seem sufficient for us mammals called humans who live in a (often pretty screwed up) culture and were not taught or encouraged to naturally use therapeutic tremoring from early childhood on.

We need to also approach it from the mind side. Tension is created by stressful beliefs and identifications. Releasing tension out of the body certainly improves our well being and how our body functions, and it can even lessen the stress connected with these beliefs and identifications. But it doesn’t resolve the causes of the tension and underlying stress in our life and body.

To do that, we need to bring the stressful stories we have about ourselves, the world, and certain situations into awareness. We need to find them, investigate them, and through that allow them to find a resolution. We can do this on our own, with friends or confidantes, with a therapist, and through a range of different modalities.

How do we (re)learn therapeutic tremoring? The approach I am most familiar with, and find very helpful, is Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE).

And what modalities can we use to help resolve the causes of stress and tension? We have to find one or more that works for us (that we like, resonate with, and get results from), and it helps to have a good guide, at least at first. Again, for me, inquiry complements therapeutic tremoring very well. As do energy healing (Vortex Healing) and heart-centered practices.

Note: Some call this neurogenic tremoring, and that’s accurate although a little too broad. There are many types of neurogenic tremors (for instance shivering to warm up our tissue and body). Therapeutic tremoring is the tremoring built into our body through evolution specifically to release tension and stress, including tension and stress from traumatic experiences.

Conversely, tremoring is a little too specific! When the body releases tension in this way, it can do a lot more than just tremble. We may stretch (often on one side of the body, and then symmetrically on the other side), make sounds, cry, laugh, and so on.

A common-sense approach to awakening

 

Here is what I see as a common-sense approach to awakening. One that may even work for people who have a relatively conventional wordview but also curiosity and an interest in what’s true in their immediate experience.

In our immediate experience, we are consciousness and any experience we have happens within and as this consciousness.

This is the case whether we notice it or not. (If we don’t notice it, we tend to take ourselves to be this human being that happens within our content of experience, but that’s only until we have investigated it.)

And this is the case independent of what wordview we tell ourselves we have, whether it’s a religious or spiritual one, or atheist, or materialistic, or whatever it may be.

When we notice this, we have a choice. Should I still keep it uninvestigated and take myself to primarily be this human self that happens within my experience, or do I want to investigate it and see what happens? Do I want to see for myself what I find, and what transformations it may bring?

Either choice is perfectly OK. The second option is – at least so far in our culture – mostly just for especially interested people. Those who have an inexplicable draw or calling to investigate it.

If we wish to explore it, we again have a choice. Do I want to follow a more traditional spiritual path and take it as a spiritual adventure, or do I wish to explore it more as a scientist without the extras (the spiritual add-ons)?

Again, either one is perfectly OK. And we can also combine both, as I have. Use insights, pointers, and practices from a range of spiritual traditions, and approaching it more as a scientist.

When we chose to explore it, it’s all about what we find in our own immediate experience, what’s true for us in our immediate experience. It’s typically a process of….

  • Noticing what we are. (Aka consciousness.)
  • Notice that any content of experience happens within and as what we are.
  • Inviting our “center of gravity” to shift (a) out of taking ourselves to primarily be something within content of experience and (b) into that which allows and is all of it. (This tends to happen in glimpses at first, and then gradually more stably over time.)
  • Inviting all our human parts to align with this new context. This typically involves healing of these parts of us and how we relate to them. (Healing, maturing, embodiment.)
  • Live from this new context. (Embodiment.)

All of this is a process. It’s an ongoing exploration, clarification, healing, maturing, and embodiment.

I won’t go into how we can do this since most of my articles are on aspects of that topic.

But I will say that there are two ways of seeing this process.

The essence is the same in either case: Notice what we already are, notice all experience happens within and as this, invite the center of gravity of what we take ourselves to be to shift into this, invite our human parts to realign with this new context, and bring it into daily life and explore how to live from it.

We can stay close to our experience and leave it at that. In immediacy, I am what all my experience happens within and as. I am capacity for it all. Since this is what I can call consciousness, it seems that all – the whole world, all beings, the universe – is consciousness. I can even call it love, or bliss, since that’s as true as the word consciousness. (A quiet love and bliss – through and as all of what we are – is a natural side-effect of noticing what we are.)

And yet, if I am honest I know it seems that way because of what I am. I am what we can call consciousness, so everything seems like consciousness to me. That’s about all I can say. And, of course, any ideas of an I in a world, and projections and anything else, happens within and as what I am.

If we are so inclined, we can take it one step further and say that all of existence IS consciousness (and love, bliss, Spirit, the divine). This is the more poetic approach and the approach of most traditional mystics. The benefit is that it has a rich tradition, and it does fit our immediate experience. The drawback may be that it can seem less attractive to many in the modern world.

Personally, I switch between these two since both have value and richness to them. The first is a little more honest. The second a bit more juicy.

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Where is the final “I”?

 

Where is the final or ultimate “I”?

Where do I think it is? Where have I glimpsed it is? And where is it, in my immediate experience?

Is it in this human self? Is this apparently separate self the final word on what I really am?

Or is it in life itself? As this Earth? As the universe? As all of existence? As all as consciousness? As that which is capacity for it all?

There are several layers to this as well as ways of noticing.

I can have an intellectual understanding, either through western science and philosophy (Universe Story, Epic of Evolution, Ecospirituality) or from mysticism and maps from different spiritual traditions.

I can have glimpses, either without anything apparently bringing it about or through certain practices (inquiry, Big Mind process, basic meditation, practices to reconnect etc.).

And my center of gravity can shift. Perhaps it’s first as this human being in the world. Then, as the wholeness of what I am as human and soul. Or as the wholeness of existence. Or as consciousness somehow separate from the content of existence. Or as consciousness that all experience happens within and as. Or as that which is capacity for it all. Or as this capacity and all it is capacity for (consciousness and all content of experience happens within and as consciousness).

This is one aspect of what spirituality is about. Being curious about where the final “I” is. Exploring it. Noticing new layers of “I” in glimpses. And gradually, and sometimes suddenly, having shifts in the center of gravity of what I experience as “I”.

And really, it’s life exploring itself. It’s life temporarily and locally taking itself as a local “I” and not questioning whether this is the final or most basic “I”. And then being curious about it, either through spontaneous glimpses opening up to something more, or through intuition or a knowing, or perhaps through a crisis that makes it question basic assumptions. It’s life gradually gaining an intellectual understanding and seeing that it must be life itself not this apparently separate self. And it’s life gradually inviting the center of gravity of what it takes itself to be out from the local and to the whole, to all as consciousness, and to what’s capacity for it all.

I want to add a few words about using (structured) inquiry to explore what we are. We can use forms of inquiry that explicitly helps us shift into what we already are, like the Big Mind process and the headless experiments. And we can use inquiry that helps us see what we are not, and helps us see how our mind creates a certain experience for itself of what it is (through images, words, and sensations), and how it holds onto it as true in order to find a sense of safety. Both are equally helpful and they feed into each other.

Shifting into what we are highlights our old (an incomplete and ultimately false) ideas of who or what we are. And shifting out of our old ideas of who or what we are invites in a noticing of (more of) what we really are. And it’s good, and eventually essential, to question absolutely all our experiences or ideas of who or what we are, even the most “spiritual” or “enlightened” ones, and perhaps especially those. They may still be roughly accurate and serve as helpful pointers, but if we hold onto those ideas as true and our identity, we’ll eventually need to question and see through them.

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Awakening: small vs big interpretation

 

This is something I have found interesting since the initial opening or awakening, and I have written about it a few times before. 

The experience of awakening is, in itself, quite simple. And yet, there are different ways to interpret it.

What do we mean by awakening?  I have found a simple way of talking about it that seems relatively accurate. What we are, which is what any experience happens within and as, wakes up to itself. We can label this consciousness, or love, or Big Mind, or the divine, or many other things, but each of these labels makes it seem that we have pinned it down more than words really are able to. What we are wakes up out of identifications with anything created by words, with any identity.

Thoughts – mental images and words – describe what happens within content of experience. And identities are created by thoughts so also happen within content of experience. They cannot easily point to anything outside of the world of experience. They cannot very easily point to what we are, what awakens to itself. 

Small interpretation. There is a small interpretation of this, and we can also call this the psychological interpretations. I assume this is the interpretation that some within psychology or academia use or will use in the future. We can assume a world much like most people perceive it. There are separate beings. We have a physical world. And the awakening happens because we are, in our own immediate experience and whether we notice it or not, consciousness.

Since we are consciousness, or that’s where the identification “lands” in an awakening, everything appears as consciousness. All of content of experience – all our sense fields including thoughts – happens within and as consciousness. So, to us, the whole world appears as consciousness. It’s a projection. 

Awakening is real, and happens much as it’s described by mystics of all and no traditions. And yet, the world as the mainstream society and academia assumes it is, is just like that. Separate physical beings exist within a physical world, and that’s it. This interpretation makes awakening more palatable to the mainstream society and academia. And the essence of awakening is still as described by mystics from all times and around the world. 

Of course, any thought of the world existing as the mainstream sees it happens within and as what we are. So we just pretend that’s how it is. It’s a strategic choice. A guess. An assumption that makes sense because it makes awakening more understandable to more people. 

Big interpretation. There is also a big interpretation of awakening, and this is the one often found in spiritual traditions. Again, the essence of the awakening is the same as described above. But here, we assume it’s all about the divine. All of existence is the divine, and it wakes up to itself locally and sees through the thoughts of being separate, being a separate being, the world inherently being physical and so on.

In an awakening, the world appears as consciousness and love taking all the forms we see in the world, and that’s exactly how it is. It is all consciousness and love, and we can call it Spirit, Brahman, the divine, or whatever else the different spiritual traditions call it. 

Which one to choose? Which interpretation do we choose? It depends on our situation, background, and inclination. If we want to approach the mainstream world, or work in academia, the small interpretation may make more sense. If we are more free agents or come from a spiritual tradition, the big interpretation may make more sense. 

And there are also some hints that can help us choose. With an awakening, there is often a whole range of side-effects. We may see auras and energies. We may pick up information at a distance. We may experience a great deal of hard-to-dismiss synchronicities. We may sense what will or may happen in the future. All of this, in my view, points to and fits better with the big interpretation of awakening or reality. All happens within and as the divine. Within and as the One. Within and as the nothingness allowing it all. 

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Intellectual honesty on the spiritual path

 

For me, spirituality is about being consciously aligned with reality, and deepen in clarifying and living from it. 

That means that intellectual honesty is an important component. So how does that look? At least for me? 

Here are some examples: 

In immediacy, content of experience – input from all the sense fields including thought – happens within and as what I am. I can say that it’s all happening within and as consciousness, or awake space. The whole universe appears as happening within and as what I am.

It appears as consciousness (aka love, wisdom, the divine, Spirit, God). And I can go one step further and tell myself the whole universe and all of existence is consciousness. That fits how it all appears to me, but I also know it’s an assumption. It’s going one step further than what I can be more certain about. 

And the same goes for a whole range of other things. I may have direct experiences of something. Someone – great spiritual masters – tells me it is a certain way. It may fit some research. It may make complete sense to me. I may wish it to be true. All of these may align. And yet, I don’t know for certain. All I know is that some stories, some overlays of thoughts, make sense and seem helpful to me in orienting and functioning in the world. They are not the final word, and there is no absolute truth to them. 

That’s how it is with ideas about God, life beyond death, reincarnation, divine beings, angels, distance healing, awakening, ESP, and anything else. At best, they are ideas that seem to fit the data, make sense, and help us orient and function in the world. And that’s about it. That’s all I can say about it.

This is as honest as I can be about these things now. It’s as aligned with reality as I can make it for now. It’s as aligned with the divine – if I see reality as the divine – as I can make it. And there is a great freedom here. I don’t need to defend anything.

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Awakening from a psychological perspective

 

From a conventional view, there is this human being and consciousness is somehow connected with it.

And logically, since it’s the consciousness experiencing we must experience ourselves as this consciousness. Whether we notice or not, we are consciousness.

The next logical step is that we can notice ourselves as this consciousness, and any and all content of experience as happening within and as this consciousness. And that’s awakening. 

It’s really super simple. Almost banal. It certainly doesn’t have to be very esoteric. And yet, I realize it can seem a bit mysterious since that’s often how it has been presented in the past, and if we don’t have a direct experience or taste of it ourselves it can seem a bit abstract.

But in reality, it’s very simple. It’s already our experience, whether we notice it or not. And there are simple ways for us to have an immediate taste of it. 

The essence of what the mystics and spiritual traditions have talked about is also true. It takes time to clarify this and make it our new conscious home. It takes time to get all the different parts of ourselves on board with it. It takes time to learn to live from it more consistently and in more and more situations in life.

And any and all of the different practices from different spiritual traditions can help us with this, whether it’s natural rest, training a more stable focus, prayer, heart-centered practices, inquiry, body-centered practices, a life of service, and so on. 

This is the psychological perspective on awakening. We can still imagine there is a physical body and world, and that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we notice that all of it – all of our current experience of this human self, others, and the world – happens within and as what we are. It happens within and as what we may call consciousness. In our immediate experience, all is one since all happens within and as what we are. 

The difference with the spiritual perspective is that here, we go a step further. We acknowledge all of this, but we may say that the world really is consciousness, and we may call it the divine, or God, or Spirit, or Brahman, or Big Mind. 

And if you are like me, then you’ll find both of those perspectives valid and useful. Which one we use just depends on what seems most helpful for ourselves or others in the situation. 

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Psychological and spiritual interpretations of awakening

 

This is something I have been curious about since the initial spiritual awakening: an awakening can be interpreted in a psychological or a spiritual way, and most of the data fit either explanation. Which one we chose depends on our inclination, which one seems most helpful to ourselves, and perhaps which one seems more helpful for the reciver if we point to it for someone else’s benefit.

In short, an awakening is typically experienced as a realization that all is awakeness or consciousness. Any apparently separate beings are expressions of this awakeness. They are local and temporary expressions of awakeness or consciousness, as is everything else including what appears as the physical world.

This can be interpreted in a psychological way. This awakeness or consciousness is connected to this human being, and since we are this awakeness we can awaken to ourselves as this awakeness. We – as observer, experiencer, doer, human self – and the world as it appears to us happens within and as this awakeness. This is an explanation that actually would fit within conventional psychology, although not that many talks about it this way. (Yet… I imagine more will in the future.)

This allows us to operate with our immediate experience on the one hand, where everything happens within and as awakeness, and the conventional world on the other hand, that exists and functions as before. Of course, in our immediate experience all of this, including this framework or map, happens within and as awakeness, as everything else does.

It can also be interpreted in a conventional spiritual way. The whole world is the divine, and it temporarily and locally takes itself to be a separate being, and then awakens to itself as awakeness and everything happening within and as this awakeness.

Both the psychological and spiritual interpretations fit most of the data. In the first case, we – naturally – project the awakeness onto the whole world. In the second, everything – the whole world – is this awakeness and awakens to itself as all of it.

So which one do we chose? It depends on our culture, background, and inclination. And it also depends on what is most helpful to ourselves and others. If we talk about this in a conventional psychology setting, we may choose the psychological approach. If we talk about it in a spiritual context, the spiritual interpretation makes more sense.

In either case, it’s good to be aware of these two ways of interpreting awakening, hold both lightly, and see that we can choose to use one or the other depending on what seems most helpful in the setting we are in.

I said that most data fits either interpretation, which means some data fits one better than the other. To me, what’s revealed through parapsychological research – ESP, near-death experiences, reincarnation cases and so on – fits the spiritual interpretation better. As does my own personal experiences of ESP, seeing energies and auras, distance healing, and more.

I also said, “This awakeness or consciousness is connected to this human being”. I use the word “connected” intentionally since it leaves room for both a materialistic interpretation (the mind arises from the brain) and the reverse (the mind and consciousness as primary and using the brain as radio waves uses a radio).

Why is most mainstream psychology is not yet on board with the psychological interpretation? Partly because they are not so interested in awakening, and may assume it’s just a fanciful idea and not something pragmatic and close at hand. Partly because they may not realize or have taken in that we, in our own experience, are awakeness or consciousness, and that all content of experience happens within and as this awakeness. It can’t be any other way. When this awakeness wakes up to itself, and to all its experiences as happening within and as itself, that’s what we call awakening. It’s close at hand and not very mystical or fanciful.

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