The essence of mystical experiences

 

My mystical experience has faded a lot now. I still spend time in nature, but that incredible oneness and closeness of feeling with the birds, trees, rivers is much less.

– J.

You may already have discovered this. One thing that has helped me with fading mystical experiences is to see what’s still there. Often, the strength of the experience may fade or the “bells and whistles” (the bliss, amazement etc.) may go away, but something is still there. And what’s still there is often the most central.

What I have found helpful is asking myself “what’s the essence of the mystical experience”, and then see if I can find that here and now. For instance, it may be a sense of oneness, or that all is Spirit or the divine. Initially, it can be a bit disappointing to see that it’s here but not as strong as before. But as you attend to it, you may find a real appreciation for what’s still here. It may turn out to be what’s most important and transformative in the long run.

– from my reply

I thought I would share this here. It’s common for mystical experiences to fade and for the side-effects – the bliss, awe, amazement – to go away. That’s the nature of mystical experiences. And there is an invitation here, and that’s to see what’s still here.

It’s easy to get into “chase the mystical experience” mode. I did for a while. Whether it works or not, it becomes pretty clear over time that it’s a bit like a dog chasing it’s tail. It can be fun, it may work, but it’s also exhausting and – if we are honest with ourselves – futile. It doesn’t really get us what we want because experiences, including the most amazing ones, fade and go away.

So what is it that didn’t go away? What’s still here? Maybe that’s what it is more about?

Meant to create a shift, not to last

 

When we have an opening, an experience of overwhelming love or bliss, a very clear recognition of all as Spirit, a deep sense of peace, or something similar, it’s not meant to last. Experiences come to pass, not to last.

What they do instead is inviting or creating a shift. A facet of reality may have been revealed clearly in the experience, so the shift can be to notice this facet here and now and through shifting experiences and states. It can also be a shift in how our human self is organized, aligned, and functions in the world.

If we expect the experience to last, we disappoint ourselves. But if we see it as an invitation for noticing or realignment, then the experience can be very valuable and it’s value may last far longer than the experience itself.

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Seeking a feeling or state 

 

It’s very common to seek a certain feeling or state. It’s also very understandable.

Most of us are very familiar with changing the content of experience and are less familiar with changing the context of experience. So we set out trying to change the content of experience. We try to avoid certain experiences and seek other experiences. We seek a feeling or a state. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s natural. It’s good to be a good steward of our life in an ordinary sense. And yet, to compulsively attempt to change the content of our experience is in itself suffering. It creates an additional layer of suffering. It creates an ongoing struggle with our experience.

The alternative is to change the context of experience. To notice what’s here: sensory input and imagination, and how they combine to create certain experiences. Notice that this experience is already noticed and allowed. Notice what it happens within and as (AKA awareness, presence).

I can explore this in different ways:

What would I have to feel if I didn’t try to change my experience now? Feel that. Stay with it for a while. Notice any resistance, fear, impulse to change experience, and feel that too. Include that too in the noticing and allowing.

How does my mind create the experience of something lacking or missing here and now? (UI on this lacking state or a deficient self.)

How does my mind create the experience of something else that’s better? (UI on the desired state.)

How does my mind create the experience of a threat in what’s here now? (AI on threat.)

How does my mind create the experience of a command to change my experience? Or not change it? (CI to change / not change.)

This impulse to change the content of our experience has an evolutionary function. It is, in a sense, built into us. And yet, it’s possible to examine it and shift focus to the context of our experience as described above. We may seek to change the content of our experience through food, entertainment, being loved, sex, status, being right, and also through trying to hold ideas as true. These ideas can be any ideas at all, including ideas about ourselves, others, life, politics, religion, and spirituality.

As usual, this exploration intertwines in how we ordinarily do things in ways that are simple and also complex. It’s simple in that (a) I continue to be the best steward of my life as I know in a very ordinary way while also (b) explore the things mentioned above. It’s complex in that this exploration will shift how I go about being a good steward of my life. It shifts the emphasis on changing the context of my experience rather than the content. It removes a layer of struggle and suffering, which brings more of a sense of ease into my everyday life. I go about being a good steward in a slightly more effortless way. And there is an ongoing deepening here.

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Can I find myself outside of this field of experience?

 

Meeting what’s here with love is befriending ourselves. It’s befriending our experience, as it is here and now, which is what we are. (Can I find myself outside of this field of experience, as it is here and now?)

– from a previous post

It’s easy to think that I am something else than this experience. That I am the person having this experience, and parts of that experience – especially the uncomfortable parts – are perceived as “other”.

And yet, can I really find myself outside of this experience? Is it true that I am outside of this experience? That I am something else than this experience?

Isn’t it more true that I am this experience, as it is here and now?

And if that’s true, does it make sense to struggle with it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to notice and allow? To notice it’s already allowed? To meet this field of experience, whatever is here, with love?

I can explore this more systematically. Where do I find myself, here and now? What do I find when I look at the images, words, and sensations that come up? Are any of those me? Are any of them outside of my experience here and now? Can I find myself outside of my experience, here and now?

Befriend, and it appears friendly **

 

When I struggle with my experience, I do so because it seems scary to me, and in the struggle, it still seems scary. It becomes even more scary.

When I befriend my experience, I get to see it’s not as scary as my mind initially told me it was. It appears more friendly to me.

So they way I relate to my experience, is how it seems to me. When I relate to it as scary, it becomes scary to me, or even more scary. And when I befriend it, it reveals itself as friendly to me. (No wonder, since it is me. I am my own field of experience.)

It seems so obvious. And yet I know it’s often not. It’s not what most of us have learned, from parents and culture and others.

How do I befriend my experience?

By resting with it. Noticing. Allowing. Notice it’s already allowed. Shifting from thinking to noticing. (From being identified with thoughts and their stories, to noticing them as thoughts and stories.)

By meeting it with kindness. I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. (Ho’opopnopno.) Thank you for arising. I love you. Stay as long as you like. (Living Inquiry.) You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me. I love you. What would satisfy you forever? (Holding Satsang with it.)

By noticing it’s already allowed. It’s already allowed… by life, mind, existence.

By noticing it’s there to protect me, and comes from deep caring, and love. (Anger, sadness, grief, pain, and more.)

By exploring it through inquiry. Looking at images and words. Feeling sensations. Asking simple questions to see what’s already there. (Living Inquiry.) By examining my beliefs about it. (The Work.)

All of these are (or can be) forms of love and curiosity. Very natural, simple, and even (eventually) quite effortless forms of love and curiosity.

And anything is included. Any experience. Anything that’s here is included, whatever it is. Especially those things that tend to slip through the cracks. Including tiredness, sleepiness, resistance, fear, seeking, judging thoughts, and more.

I perceive, therefore I am

 

This is quite straight forward, and yet has a big impact to the extent it sinks in:

The only thing I know is that perception (awareness, consciousness) is. That’s all. Any content of experience is up for question.

For instance. I know there is experience here. That’s indisputable.

As for the content of this experience, I see a laptop, a room, a fire place, windows, I hear sounds outside, there is a cat here etc. Thoughts interpret my current content of experience in this way, and also adds a human being perceiving all of this, a me sitting here, and so on. And all of that is made up by images and words. It’s all up for questioning. It is, for instance, possible I exist in some sort of Matrix type reality. All of this content of experience may be created for me. It’s perhaps unlikely, but if I am honest I have to admit it’s possible. (And in a loser sense, it’s accurate. My world, as I perceive it, is created for me by this mind, by life.)

Also, I know quite well that as I question my thoughts and assumptions, including the most basic ones of a me and I, what’s revealed is often quite different from how it initially appeared.

So in this sense, Descartes had a point. If we take cogito to mean perception, he was close. I perceive, therefore perception is.

That’s all that’s known. Anything else is up for questioning. (When I wrote “I perceive, therefor I am” in the title, it’s intentionally sloppy – and more aligned with Descarte’s statement. It’s assumed that the “I” in that statement is questioned too, and that even “perception” is questioned. What is the “I” that’s perceiving? Can I find it? What’s left when I see that my images and words of an “I” are not “it”? And if I look, can I really find perception? Can I remove it and show it to someone? Can I take a picture of it and publish it in a magazine?)

Just to mention it: Questioning doesn’t mean not using conventional views as guides for my everyday life. I will still do that. The only difference is that I am open to question even my most basic assumptions, and from that holding them much more lightly. From taking my assumption as true, solid and real, and identifying with them and feeling I need to protect and defend these identities, I recognize them as assumptions and hold them more lightly. And that gives a sense of ease in my life.

Experiences, insights and shifts

 

Experiences come and go. Joy, sadness, grief, anger, bliss, temporary release of identification, strong identification and contraction, openings, periods of clarity, ease, surfacing shadow material. It all comes and goes.

From this may come insights, and these are a bit more lasting although also transient. I may notice I am what all this happens within and as. I may notice the circle eight pattern of going “up” (clarity, bliss) and “down” (shadow material, wounds). I may notice the effects of identifications and beliefs.

And from this may come a shift – in perspective, noticing, identity, or identification. For instance, there may be a shift into more consistently exploring and noticing that I am what experiences happens within and as. There may be a shift into more consistently meeting what’s here in satsang.

An experience or series of experiences leads to an insight or noticing, and this in turn may lead to a shift in perspective, noticing, identity, or identification.

I see how this is also the case with “spiritual” experiences or openings.

There may be an experience of oneness, all as one. It comes into the foreground of experience, clear, undeniable. As this experience goes away, as any experience does, there may be an insight that all is one even if it’s not experienced directly. Further, there is an invitation to notice this oneness within any experience. Is it true oneness is not here?

There may be an experience of all as awareness, or all as love. Again, it’s strong, in the foreground, undeniable. As it goes away, what’s left may be an insight that all is awareness or all is love, whether it’s noticed or not. And there is an invitation to notice this too within any experience. Is it true this is not awareness? Is it true love is not here? Is it true this is not love?

There may be an experience of selflessness, of no self, and this too may be strong, clear and undeniable. And this experience too shifts and something else is here, leaving an insight of selflessness even if there appears to be a self here. And again, there is also an invitation to see what’s really here independent of any particulars of experience. Is it true there is a self here? Is it true that this, that appears as a self, really is a self?

In this way, the different facets of reality can be an experience (a visitor that comes and goes), which translates to an insight, and with an invitation for it to be noticed within any experience. The first is given, the second may or may not follow from the first, and the third may require some intention, shifts and new habitual grooves.

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Interpretation of experience

 

Sometimes when old wounds and beliefs surface, they feel huge. What surfaces happens to fill consciousness so it appears huge. More specifically, it triggers a belief that it’s huge, and that creates an label and interpretation that it’s huge, and the full experience of it as huge.  There may also be underlying beliefs: It’s too much. It will never end. It will never heal. It’s hopeless.

After it passes it’s seen more in perspective, and perhaps as quite small and manageable again.

I notice something similar around heartbreak. When it surfaces it may feel unbearable, and yet, when it’s felt and allowed, it can be quite small and gentle, and even beautiful to me. The belief that (the sensations, experience of) heart break is unbearable is what creates the experience that it’s unbearable.

Any experience can be explored in this way. Is pain what it appears at first? Tiredness?

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Reality knowing itself vs experience

 

A simple reminder for myself:

There is an important difference between (a) reality knowing itself and (b) experience.

Reality already (i) allows and (ii) appears as any and all experiences, and this is what awakens to itself. It awakens out of the identification as a separate I. And since it already allows and appears as any and all experiences, it can recognize itself independent of (through/in) any and all experiences and states.

While there is identification as an “I” there may still be glimpses and direct knowing of this reality, although it is filtered through this identification. So the recognition of all as God (awareness) is filtered to appear as unity, all as God yet experienced by an I. Also, since there is identification as something within experience, there may at first be the mistaken belief that awakening has to do with states, and specifically the initial side effects of recognizing all as God – such as bliss, joy, insight, inspiration, passion, perhaps seeing auras etc. These side effects happen just because of the relief inherent in glimpsing reality, and since they are experiences, they pass too. As they pass, there may be a sense of loss and dryness. Since God was mistaken for states, when the states pass it may appear that “God” is lost too. The next phase is for reality awakening to itself and out of identification as an I.

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Layers of experience

 

A few layers of experience…

There is awake emptiness. Experience happening as awake emptiness.

There is a quiet joy inherent in experience itself. Independent of its content.

There can be a kindness towards experience. Independent of its content. Including myself and others.

There is a quiet voice. Intuition. An invitation from the heart. A quiet guide for my human self in the world.

And there is my ordinary human experience. A sense of being fulfilled or not. And much more.

All of these are sometimes more in the foreground and sometimes more in the background.

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Not happening to anyone?

 

Is it true, as they sometimes say in the non-dual world, that whatever is happening is not happening to anyone?

It is true in three ways: it is not happening, it is not happening to anyone, and it is not happening to anyone.

It is not happening.  At least not in the conventional sense, the way it appears when filtered through stories. It is all the play of awakeness itself, taking temporary forms which appear real and solid – when filtered through stories and these are identified with.

It is not happening to anyone. Something is happening, not to someone or something, but within and as something. Within and as this field of awakeness and form, inherently absent of inside and outside, center and periphery, I and Other.

It is not happening to anyone. There is no separate self it is happening to, no I with an Other. It is all happening within the field of awakeness and form, already and always free from I and Other.

And it is not quite true in several ways.

It is happening. It is happening as the play of awakeness itself, taking on innumerable temporary forms within itself.

It is happening to someone. It is happening within, as, and – yes – to this field of awakeness and form.

It is happening to someone, although this one is the field of awakeness and form, and it is a one without an Other.

It is happening to someone. When there is a sense of a separate I, an I with an other, it certainly seems to happen to this separate I. It is experienced as happening to a separate I, and it is very real in that way.

Whenever there is an identification with stories, there is a sense of an I with and Other, and of Other happening to this I. It appears as very real, so it is real in that sense.

Changing content or not?

 

This is a topic that has come up in conversation a few times recently… usually when I describe a pattern I notice in own experience, and the other saying something along the lines of “don’t try to change the content of experience”. It is good advice, but also a little too general and simplistic.

When I notice what is already more true for me about what is experienced, the content of experience does change… almost as an unintended side-effect.

An emotion of sadness comes up. I bring attention to it in an heartfelt way, and the character of the experience changes to a tender sweetness. (I see that the initial experience of sadness came from resistance to the experience, when when there was a more wholehearted allowing of it, the content of the experience reveals itself as different flavors of bliss.)

An emotion of irritability comes up. I bring attention to what is really there, and see that all there is is a sensation and a story about the sensation, which together make up the gestalt of irritability. By seeing this, in real time, the gestalt falls into its components, and there is simply a sensation recognized as sensation, and a story recognized as just a story. Again, the content of experience inevitably changes due to a more clear and differentiated seeing of what was already there.

An emotion of anger comes up. I identify the story behind it (she should be more careful), inquire into it (is it true, what happens when I believe it?, what happens without the story?, what are the truths in its turnarounds?), and again see in a more clear and differentiated way what is already more true for me. This invites the attachment to the story to fall away, and along with it the pattern of reactivity giving rise to the emotion. Again, the content inevitably changes simply from seeing what is already more true.

Of course, it does matter what the motivation behind it is… Do I explore experiences to see what is more true for me, or to change it? If I do it out of curiosity, to see what is revealed when I explore it, then a change of content is just a side-effect, and not really that important apart from something else to notice. If I do it to change content, I have an image of the outcome, and possibly also of how the process itself should look, which makes it a less sincere, genuine and open-ended investigation.

In that sense, the advice is a good one. But it is also important to allow the content itself to change on its own, as a consequence of whatever investigation we engage in.

Experiences as guests, living their own life

 

Seeing experiences as guest can be a useful (and rich) analogy.

Any experience is a guest, which lives its own life and comes and goes on its own.

We can of course invite certain guests, and discourage others, but that only works to a limited extent. We can invite happiness, through gratitude inventories, rejoicing in other’s happiness, acts of kindness and so on, but happiness still lives its own life… it comes and goes on its own, on its own time. No guest stays around permanently. We can discourage pain, yet pain also lives its own life, coming and going on its own and on its own time.

When guests are around, we can also be different types of hosts. We can cling to some guests, trying to convince them to stay around longer. We can be nasty to other guests, trying to get them to leave. But again, that has only limited effect, and is also quite stressful. As before, the guests live their own life, they come and go on their own time.

We can also be a courteous host, allowing the guests to come and go on their own, as they do anyway. We can find peace with them arriving, hanging around, and leaving, on their own time. We can even find appreciation for them, and their coming and going.

The ultimate hospitality is that of Ground which inherently allows any and all experiences to live their own life and come and go on their own. Mimicking this hospitality, we may even eventually discover ourselves to (already and always) be that Ground… this awake void allowing any forms which are not other than the awake emptiness itself.

In a relative sense, it is stressful and creates a lot of drama when we act as less than hospital hosts… it goes for our external life in the world, and also for our experiences. When we act with more hospitality, allowing the presence of the guests and recognizing that they live their own life, there is more peace and even appreciation for them. And it may even invite Ground to notice itself as Ground, as ultimate hospitality.

Briefly: transition experiences

 

What are some common transition experiences during awakening?

Here are some I have noticed for myself, and also heard from others:

Within form…

  • A sense of no separation between “I” here and the rest of the world out there
  • A sense of oneness with all of Existence. I am here, yet one with all.
  • A sense of the world of form as a seamless whole, with no separation between this human individual and the wider world
  • Noticing synchronicities – the outer world mirroring the inner, as if one seamless field.

Within awareness…

  • A sense of “I” as awakeness, as witness, pure awareness, pure seeing.
  • A sense of awakeness out there, in the wider world… in plants, trees, objects, the universe. it all seems mysteriously and inherently awake somehow.

Within emptiness…

  • A sense of awareness itself as a void, as empty, insubstantial.
  • A sense of all forms being insubstantial, transparent. Almost like a dream.

With the sense of a separate I…

  • The sense of a separate I weakens, becomes more transparent. There is just what is, content of experience staying much the same, yet with an absence of a separate I. And this becomes gradually more clear.

And it makes sense.

If what we are is awake emptiness and form, inherently absent of a separate I, then that is what comes through, in different ways, during the awakening process. We may take ourselves as an object in the world, but what we really are breaks through… as an intuition, a sense, a glimpse.

It is Big Mind gradually becoming more familiar with itself, as it already and always is. Only temporarily filtered through taking itself as an object within form.