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.Read More