The essence of spirituality doesn’t require anything esoteric

 

There are many ideas about spirituality in our culture. Some see it as a refuge or something that will save them. Some see it as escapism, fantasies, and avoidance. Some see reaching the “goals” of spirituality as only for special people. In some situations, and in some ways, there is some truth to each of these.

And yet, the core of spirituality is pragmatic and secular. We don’t need to take anyones word for it. We don’t need to assume anything about the nature of existence. We don’t need to leave it to someone else. We can try it out for ourselves.

So what is this secular and pragmatic core of spirituality?

It takes two forms. One is the many effects of spiritual practices on our human life. The other is finding what we already are.

I have written articles about both so I’ll just give a brief summary here.

Finding what we are

This isn’t dependent on any philosophy or particular worldview. It’s just dependent on noticing what we already are to ourselves.

Even logically, we see that – to ourselves – we must be consciousness.

Consciousness is what’s aware of any experience at all, so that’s what we are to ourselves. Any sense of being something happens within and as this consciousness, any experience of anything at all happens within and as this consciousness. Even the idea of consciousness, the mental images and associations we have about it, happens within and as consciousness.

And we can find this for ourselves. Consciousness can notice itself as, to itself, all there is. We can find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us. We can find ourselves as what the world, as it appears to us, happens within and as.

Our habitual identification is typically with this human self which appears within and as what we are. This is a kind of “trance” as many have pointed out, and is self-perpetuating unless something comes in to help us notice what we already are, or – more accurately – help what we are notice itself.

The most effective approach to notice what we are may be inquiry (headless experiments, Big Mind process). The most effective approach to stabilize this may be a combination of inquiry and basic meditation (notice + allow). The most effective approach to live from this includes heart-centered practices (tonglen, ho’oponopno) and regular emotional healing work. And training a more stable attention helps all of this and our life in general.

Is this the awakening spiritual traditions talks about? Yes, as far as I can tell it is. It’s what we are noticing itself, and noticing itself as all its experiences. It’s oneness. It’s a waking up from the trance of being this one separate self happening within and as what we are. It’s a noticing that what we are is love. After all, oneness noticing itself is expressed as love.

Helping who we are

Traditional spiritual practices, and modern versions of these, can also help us at a human level.

Training a more stable attention supports just about any activity in our life and our general well-being.

Basic meditation – notice and allow what’s here, and notice it’s already noticed and allowed – helps us release out of struggling with what’s here, our experience as it is.

Basic inquiry – finding ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us – also helps release us out of struggling with what is. It brings a lighter touch. It creates a space for us to act a little more from clarity and kindness.

Heart-centered practices helps us reorient in how we relate to ourselves, others, situations, and life in general. It helps shift us out of a struggle orientation to befriending what’s here. And this, in turn, helps our well being and allows us to act more from clarity.

The essence of spirituality doesn’t require anything esoteric

To me, this is the essence of spirituality, and it doesn’t require anything esoteric. It doesn’t require us to believe anything or go outside of our own experience. On the contrary, if we want to take it as far as it goes, it requires us to be ruthlessly honest about our own experience and find what’s already here.

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Is my true nature the same as the true nature of existence?

 

I rarely use the term “true nature” since it suggests certain knowledge, although I also understand why they call it that in Buddhism.

My own apparent true nature

When I explore it for myself, I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. What I am is what my experience – of myself and the wider world – happen within and as.

One aspect of this is being capacity for the world as it appears to me. I can also say it’s no-thing full of everything. Or void allowing any experience. Or awakeness and all happening within and as awakeness. Or oneness since all is happening within and as what I am. Or love and all happening within and as love. (This is the love of the left hand removing a splinter of the right, not the type of love that is a feeling or dependent on a feeling.)

It can also be called Big Mind, Brahman, Spirit, the Divine, or any of the labels that points to roughly the same.

So I understand why they call it “true nature”. It’s difficult to imagine anything more fundamental than finding ourselves as capacity for all content of our experience, including awakeness, love, and whatever else it may be.

The true nature of existence

If my true nature is capacity, or capacity and awakeness, what about the true nature of the rest of existence?

The honest answer is that I don’t know.

Another answer is that, yes, it appears – to me – to be the true nature of all of existence. To me, the world happens within and as capacity and awakeness, so it naturally appears that way to me.

It makes logical sense that it’s the true nature of existence. After all, what’s more basic than capacity for anything and all? I am not so sure about the other qualities like awakeness. Is the universe and existence awake in itself? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps in part. I don’t know.

And yet another answer is that there are signs that suggests it’s the true nature of existence, for instance synchronicities, ESP, distance healing, and more. At the very least, this hints at the oneness of existence.

Exploring this for ourselves

As I often write about, there are ways to explore this for ourselves. Any words are pointers and questions, at most, and this only comes alive and has meaning as we discover it for ourselves.

Headless experiments is an excellent way to explore this, as is the Big Mind process and the Living Inquiries, and many other approaches out there.

Summary

I can say something about what appears to be my own true nature. I can say that existence itself appears to me to have the same true nature. It makes logical sense. There are some hints. And that’s about what I can say.

This is something we all can explore for ourselves. What do I find when I investigate for myself? Is it similar? Different? Would I talk about it differently?

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The role of intellectual honesty in spirituality

 

For me, intellectual honesty seems an intrinsic part of spirituality. After all, spirituality is an exploration of reality, and intellectual honesty guides and supports that process.

This is another large topic perhaps better suited for a book, but I’ll say a few words about it.

Intellectual honesty is intellectual honesty no matter what the topic is. In general, there seems to be some universals to it and some universal findings. And there may also be some universal findings when it comes to spirituality.

How does intellectual honesty look for me in general?

I don’t know anything for certain.

Thoughts are questions about reality.

Thoughts help me orient and function in the world. They can be more or less valid in a conventional sense, and it’s not their function to give any final or absolute truth.

Life is ultimately a mystery, including what we think we understand or know something about.

How does intellectual honesty look for me when applied to psychology?

The world is my mirror.

(a) My mental overlay of the world creates all the maps, separation lines, labels, interpretations and so on that I operate from as a human being in the world. Anything I can put into words or images is just that, my own words and images. It’s not inherent in the world.

(b) Also, what I see “out there” reflects dynamics and characteristics in myself. Whatever I can put into words about someone or something else also applies to me. When I look, I can find specific examples of how it applies to me.

I am my own final authority. I cannot give it away, no matter how much I try.

I operate from a wide range of underlying assumptions. It’s good to bring these to awareness, as far as I can, and question them.

How does intellectual honesty look for me when applied to spirituality?

Awakening can be understood in a small and psychological or big and spiritual way. In both cases, it’s about what we are noticing itself and then living this human life in that context. We are capacity for the world as it appears to us. Any content of experience happens within and as what we are.

In the small interpretation, we say that this is MY or perhaps OUR nature. In the big interpretation, we go one step further and say it’s the nature of EVERYTHING.

What we can say for certain is that it seems to be our nature. And although saying it’s the nature of everything is a leap, there are some hints that this may be the case. (I have written more about this in other articles.)

What are the benefits of intellectual honesty?

It helps us stay honest, on track, and grounded. And it helps us avoid detours created by wishful or fearful thinking. (Although these detours become part of our path and have their own function.) It helps us – individually and collectively – to make better decisions.

Why is intellectual honesty important in spirituality?

I have mentioned a few things about this above.

Spirituality is about reality. It’s about noticing what we already are and living from it. It’s about seeing through our assumptions about ourselves and the world. And in that process, intellectual honesty is invaluable and essential. It keeps us on track. It helps us see through what’s not aligned with reality.

Can intellectual honesty be learned or trained?

Yes, absolutely, although it does require readiness and willingness. We can learn about cognitive bias, logical fallacies, and so on, and learn to recognize them in our own thinking. There is always more work to do in these areas for all of us, and especially in recognizing it in ourselves.

Does intellectual honesty preclude trust, devotion, or poetic expression?

Not at all.

I can trust an approach or a guide, at least for a while and to some extent.

I can engage in devotion and devotional practices towards the divine.

I can enjoy poetic expressions and even engage in my own.

Are the examples above all there is to it?

No, these are just some examples that come to mind. There are a lot more out there and variations and clarifications of these. And probably a lot I am not aware of and won’t be aware of in this lifetime.

Are the examples above examples universal?

They do not represent any final or absolute truth, although it seems that many of these are relatively universal. And it’s always possible to go further with each one of these and other insights and pointers.

The examples I gave above apply to the part of the terrain of reality I am exploring. If we explore other parts of the terrain, there will be some other ones that applies specifically to that terrain. For instance, if we see ourselves as a more conventional Christian, we may chose to “believe” something while also admitting we don’t know.

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My early longing: a longing to return home to the divine

 

As a child, and I remember this best at elementary school age, I had a longing. I would wake up in the morning, feel this longing, and not know what it was for. I had my favorite food – cornflakes or bread with strawberry jam, I read my favorite comics (Carl Barks’ Donald Duck stories), I read my favorite books (Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, Hardy Boys, Famous Five), I spent time with my parents, I played with friends, and nothing did it. Nothing helped alleviate the longing.

When the awakening happened age sixteen, I finally understood what the longing was for. The longing was for coming home – to all as the divine. To recognize all, without exception, as the divine and the play and unfolding and exploration of the divine.

I imagine the longing had a more human element as well. I longed for a deeper and more real relationship with my parents. But a large part of the longing, perhaps fueled by this more human longing, was for coming home.

This longing was fulfilled, and is being fulfilled. It’s a process. Returning home is something we don’t need to since we are always here. And it’s also an ongoing unfolding process and exploration.

There are two ways to talk about this. One is that the longing is to return home to what I am – as capacity for the world as it appears to me, as what all my experiences happen within and as. The other is that this is a longing for a return to the divine, a return to recognizing all – without exceptions – as the divine and the unfolding and play of the divine. The first is what I call the small or psychological interpretation of awakening, and the second the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. The awakening itself is the same, it’s just how we talk about it that’s different.

Is anything here original?

 

As usual, the answer is yes and no.

It’s original in that we all explore slightly different landscapes and have our own perceptions and flavors in how we express it. For instance, I tend to differentiate between respectively who and what we are, and small and big interpretations of awakening, and although I am not aware of others talking about it that way, I assume there must be others who make the same differentiations with same, similar, or different words.

And it’s not original. Just about everything here are things others have discovered and talked about. It’s about reality so of course many will discover similar things. (Or have the same misunderstandings!) We are all exploring and learning about the same or a very similar landscape, so it’s natural if our experience is relatively similar and if the maps we create are similar.

Oneness and individuality

 

From a small interpretation of awakening, it’s easy to see how oneness and individuality fit together. To us, we are consciousness and all our experiences happen within and as this consciousness. It’s all one in that sense. And the content of our experience is all individual. Everything is unique. Including this human self that others take us to be.

From a big interpretation of awakening, we can say that all of existence is consciousness – or Spirit, the Divine, God. And the divine expresses, explores, and experiences itself through and as everything in existence and all of it as unique expressions.

When what we are notices itself, this question of oneness and individuality falls away – apart from perhaps as a gentle curiosity. The answer is right here. Oneness takes all these forms and they happen within and as oneness.

How does this play out in real life? In awakening, there is an invitation for our human self to become more authentic, real, and genuine. To shed some of the pretense and trying to live up to images. And to be more as we are, naturally and without the extra effort. I say invitation since this depends, as so much, on intentionally joining in with this particular process.

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Why do spiritual teachers not acknowledge the projection aspect of awakening?

 

To ourselves, and independent of world views, we are consciousness and all our experience happens within and as that consciousness.

This consciousness may temporarily get fascinated by thoughts and stories, hold them as true, and take itself as a particular content of consciousness – an I, a me, an observer, doer, human being, and so on.

And it can notice itself as consciousness and all experiences as happening within and as consciousness. It can learn to notice this more steadily and through different situations. And our human self may reorganize and align within this noticing.

We can honestly say that to us, all is consciousness.

But to say that all of existence in itself is consciousness is a leap.

That’s a projection.

For me, the only thing that’s honest is to say that to me all is consciousness. My world happens within and as consciousness. And although there are signs and hints (synchronicities, ESP etc.) that all of existence is consciousness, I cannot honestly say that that’s how it actually is.

So why do many spiritual teachers and traditions say that all is consciousness? Whether directly or indirectly by calling it Spirit, the Divine, Allah, Brahma, God?

It may be just because it’s tradition and a habit?

It may be to make it simpler for most people?

It may be because they notice but don’t want to speak up because it goes against official and unofficial tradition?

It may be that they don’t have noticed?

And is it important?

Yes and no.

It’s perhaps not so important in a practical sense. But it is important in terms of noticing and honesty.

For me, it would not be intellectually honest to jump to the assumption that all of existence is consciousness – at least not without acknowledging that it’s a leap, an assumption, a projection.

A few notes:

It can take some examination to notice that we are consciousness and all our experience happens within and as this consciousness. As I often write about, there are structured forms of inquiry that can help us discover this more easily – Headless experiments, Big Mind process, Living Inquiries, and so on. And it can take continued examination to notice this through different situations. And the same for allowing our human self to reorganize within this noticing.

Also, the label “consciousness” happens within and as what we are. It’s a thought, an idea, a label. It points to it but isn’t it.

What about oneness and no-self as some talk about? When consciousness notices all its experience as happening within and as itself, it’s all one. And it also notices any ideas of an I, me, observer, doer, human self and so on as happening within and as itself, so there is no final identity in any of it.

On a personal note, I can say that this differentiation is something I noticed in the initial awakening in my – this human’s – teens. I did bring it up to some spiritual teachers but it was dismissed so I learned to not mention it very much. But I am doing it here since it seems important enough.

As mentioned above, the oneness – and recognition of all happening within and as consciousness – is the same whether we make the projection differentiation or not. It’s just a noticing, or an interpretation, or a way of talking about it. For all practical purposes, it’s the same, apart from one being a little more intellectually honest.

What are some of the hints and signs that tells us that perhaps all of existence in itself is consciousness? For me, there are a few things. Synchronicities – and especially the frequent and undeniable ones – suggests that all of existence is one and consciousness. As does ESP – sensing and picking up information at a distance or before something happens. And having prayers in different forms – including distance healing – answered in a relatively systematic way.

When the historical Buddha awoke, according to tradition he said “all of existence woke up with me”. (Paraphrased from bad memory.) That’s a projection. We can say that his world woke up to itself as consciousness, and he jumped to the conclusion that all of existence woke up. Or – equally accurate – it was a poetic expression of his direct experience there and then.

And yes, these questions are – not by accident – similar to what The Matrix is about. In the Matrix, all of people’s experiences happen within and as their own consciousness. The difference is that when they wake up from it, they awaken to a real (maybe!) physical world instead of as consciousness.

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Oneness from a psychological perspective

 

This is one of the recurrent themes for me, but I like revisiting it to see if I can find other aspects to it and simpler and more clear ways to talk about it.

Oneness can be understood from a relatively ordinary psychological perspective.

In our own experience, we are consciousness. We are not a human being. We are not a brain. We are not the way others see us. All of that happens within consciousness. To ourselves, we are consciousness and this human self and the world and all experiences are content of this consciousness.

Another way to say it, which is a little more accurate, is that all our experiences – of this human self and the wider world – happens within and as consciousness.

Perhaps even more accurately, all our experiences happens within and as what we are, and the mind can label this many things including consciousness, awakeness, or Big Mind.

This also means that to us, all is oneness. All is one in that it all happens within and as consciousness.

Looking a little closer, we may also notice that all happens within and as – what we can call – emptiness or void. Nothingness makes something – consciousness and all its experiences – possible. So in a more basic sense, we are this nothingness that something happens within and as.

Also, when we discover ourselves as consciousness and all – as it appears to us – as consciousness, then it makes sense that some would take a leap and assume all of existence inherently is consciousness and call it Spirit, the divine, Brahman, Allah, or God.

I find it helpful to think of what I describe here as the small or psychological interpretation of awakening. We are consciousness to ourselves and all our experiences then happens within and as consciousness. This says something about how we are, but it doesn’t assume anything about how all of existence is.

The leap of faith, assuming all of existence is consciousness and calling it Spirit or the divine, is then the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

From the small or psychological interpretation, the big or spiritual interpretation is understandable. It makes sense that people would interpret it that way, even if we ourselves may not go that far.

From a small interpretation, the big interpretation may be seen as a projection and a leap of faith. From a big interpretation, the small interpretation means swimming in a pond that’s a little too small.

And personally for me? I find it helpful to switch between both interpretations. The small interpretation allows our view to stay grounded and it may make a little more sense to more people. And I suspect, for a variety of reasons and personal experiences, that the spiritual interpretation is valid as well. It may say something accurate about all of existence.

The nice thing about this way of looking at it – using both a small and big interpretation – is that the essential experiences of mystics form all traditions makes sense from either one. We can understand it from a small or psychological interpretation, and we can understand it from the big or spiritual interpretation.

Oneness makes sense. The awakening process makes sense. The pitfalls and dark nights make sense. The transformation of the human self in the context of oneness recognizing itself makes sense. Early glimpses make sense. Nature spirituality makes sense. And so on. (I am very aware that I haven’t gone into these here so it’s a bit of a teaser. I have written about it elsewhere on this website, and I may explore it more in further articles.)

Describing awakening in a simple and grounded way

 

I like to demystify what can be demystified – including awakening. Why not try to describe it in simple and ordinary ways that others can check out for themselves, and that doesn’t rely on references to what’s outside of most people’s experience?

So what is awakening?

Awakening is what we are awakening to itself.

Independent of our worldview, it makes sense that what we are – to ourselves – is consciousness. Even within a materialistic view, it’s hard to not admit that to ourselves, we are consciousness.

All our content of experience – including the world and ourselves as a human being – happens within and as consciousness.

Typically, we identify with a particular content of our experience. We identify with and as this human self, and as an observer, doer, and so on.

Awakening refers to noticing that we are consciousness that this content of experience happens within and as. The initial noticing can be called an initial opening or awakening.

Sometimes, that’s all it is. And sometimes, the process continues.

We notice. Identification releases somewhat out of content of experience. Consciousness wakes up to itself as all there is. (To itself it’s all there is.) This noticing becomes more ordinary and continues through more and more situations in daily life. Our human life reorients and transforms within this new noticing and context.

Why are not more people interested in it?

We may not have heard about it.

We may not have been exposed to it in a way that makes it seem possible or attractive to us.

It may seem too mysterious, obscure, and distant.

It may seem like it’s for other or special people, not us.

We may not see how it’s useful.

It may seem like something we already know, intellectually.

Why are some people really into it?

We may have had a glimpse or opening and wish to continue to explore it.

We may intuit that there is something and set out to explore it.

We may be drawn in by traditions or teachers speaking about awakening.

We may seek to avoid suffering and have heard it will help.

It may happen out of the blue and stay and we keep exploring this new context for our human life.

What are some of the effects of awakening?

Mainly, our human self reorients and reorganizes within this new context.

This involves a lot of different changes and processes and lasts a lifetime.

It typically involves healing of emotional issues and hangups. Examining old beliefs, assumptions, and identities. And changing how we relate to others, ourselves, and the world in general.

How do we live within oneness? That’s the question, and the transformation of our human self can be more or less thorough within this lifetime.

What about spirituality?

Isn’t awakening about spirituality?

Yes and no. Yes, spirituality is often about awakening. And no, awakening doesn’t requite religion or traditional spirituality.

At the same time, there is a lot of practical and valuable information in spiritual and religious traditions.

Small and big interpretation of awakening

This article is mostly about the small or psychological interpretation of awakening. We talk about it a way that (can!) make sense independent of whatever worldview we have.

There is also the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. Here, we use the more familiar language of God, Spirit, the Divine, and so on.

We may say that awakening is God (Spirit, the Divine) awakening to itself locally through this human self.

Spirit temporarily and locally took itself to be an ultimately separate being (this human self), and then woke up to itself as all there is.

How can we explore it for ourselves?

Mainly, we need to find one or more approaches that make sense to us. Perhaps they feel intuitively right. Or someone we trust recommends it. Or we happen to have a local awakening-coach and join for a while.

There are some approaches that within minutes can give us a glimpse or taste of what awakening is about. The two I enjoy the most is the Big Mind process and the Headless experiments.

Is there anything I need to be aware of?

Mainly, the usual guidelines for exploring and learning anything applies here too. It helps to have the guidance of someone you trust and who has experience. Trust yourself and what feels right to you. If the approach you use has little or no effect, consider trying something else.

When I said “consciousness” earlier, it was to make it more understandable. The mind may label what we are “consciousness” but that’s just a label. That label and all our ideas about it also happen within and as what we are.

The awakening process, and the approaches we may use on the path, tend to open our heart and mind, and that can open for whatever unprocessed psychological material is in us. If that happens, it can feel confusing, scary, disorienting, and overwhelming. So it’s good to find an awakening-coach who has experience with this, can take some precautions, and knows how to help you through it.

It can help to set aside what you think you know about awakening, especially the myths and ideas from religion and traditional spirituality. Make it simple for yourself. This is about noticing what you already are. There are ways to help you notice it. And there are people who can help you with it. It’s not so different from learning or exploring anything else in life.

Is awakening important?

Yes and no. If it happens, it may be the most important (no-thing) thing in your life since it becomes the context for everything. It can also help transform your human self.

And yet, most human beings live without having a (conscious) taste of this and that’s fine. You can have a very good life without conscious noticing of what you are.

If what you mostly want is a good life, and that’s the case for most of us, another strategy may be more direct. For instance, focus on self-compassion and healing the most obvious emotional issues. Nurture nurturing and important relationships in your life. And, in general, be a good steward of your life. And there is no problem with including this in an exploration of what we are. They work very well together.

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A secular spirituality

 

Most or all of the essentials of spirituality can be understood from a secular view, and there are some obvious benefits to this.

Awakening itself can be understood in a secular context. Awakening means that what we are – that which our experience happens within and as – notices and wakes up to itself. This may sound a bit nebulous but we can have a taste of it relatively quickly through some forms of inquiry – the Big Mind process, Headless experiments, and so on.

This can be understood within a secular context. Even if we assume a physical world and (relatively) separate beings, we are – by necessity – consciousness. We experience the world not only “through” consciousness but as consciousness. To ourselves, we are consciousness and the content of our experience happens within and as consciousness.

When we notice or wake up to ourselves as consciousness, we also wake up to and as oneness. The whole world – as it appears to us – happens within and as consciousness. Within and as what we are. Within and as oneness.

Awakening itself, the whole awakening process, and the process of reorienting (embodiment) within this new context can be understood within a secular context.

Spiritual pointers and practices can also be understood within a secular context. When done with sincerity, these practices transform us. And that’s something that can be understood and studied within a secular framework.

When I say spiritual pointers and practices, I mostly think about different forms of meditation, inquiry, body-centered practices, heart-centered practices, ethical guidelines, and even prayer. Each of these transform us when done with sincerity and over time, and the effects and mechanism can be understood and studied in a pragmatic and grounded way.

What’s the benefits of a secular understanding of spirituality? In the best case, it can help us be more pragmatic and grounded in our approach to it. It can help us find some of what’s essential to awakening and how the spiritual practices transform us. And it can – obviously – make it more understandable and accessible to people who already have a more secular orientation.

What’s the drawback? The drawback is that we may miss something essential if we focus solely on what we find when we use (what we understand by) a pragmatic and grounded approach. It may be too narrow.

A more fluid approach may make the most sense. I personally use both a more traditional spiritual approach and a more secular and pragmatic approach. They both have their strengths and value. They are two sides of the same coin.

What do I mean with the words secular, spiritual, and spirituality?

With secular, I mean a pragmatic and grounded approach, and an interpretation and understanding of awakening and spiritual practices that makes sense within a modern secular view and without referring to anything “spiritual”.

Spirituality means whatever spirituality traditionally has been focused on, including awakening and spiritual practices.

A spiritual approach is perhaps less easily defined. For me, it means a big interpretation of awakening (the divine wakes up to itself locally through this human self). It means a trust in the divine (all of existence) and divine intelligence and love. It means asking for and perhaps following divine guidance (including the quiet inner voice). It means acknowledging a whole range of things that are perhaps not so easily understood from a secular view, including synchronicities, seeing energies, sensing at a distance (without using physical senses), distance healing, and so on.

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Spiritual materialism: Spirituality within a materialistic view

 

In a family lunch yesterday, the topic turned to spirituality. A little out of the blue, one mentioned the materialistic worldview of Communism and that it’s incompatible with spirituality. I didn’t say anything at the time – perhaps because I didn’t know how to phrase it – but I don’t necessarily agree.

When I sat down to write something about this, the headline that fell into my mind was spiritual materialism – in the sense of spirituality within a materialistic worldview.

As I see it, most forms of genuine spirituality and awakening can happen within a materialistic view. The two are not opposed to each other.

Here are some examples:

Awakening can be understood within a small (psychological) or big (spiritual) view. In either case, it’s what we are – that which our experiences happen within and as – that wakes up to itself. We wake up to oneness, or – more accurately – oneness wakes up to itself as all there is. In the small interpretation of awakening, this happens locally and in this human self, and it can easily fit into a materialistic worldview. In essence, to us – as consciousness – everything happens within and as consciousness. Oneness wakes up to itself. And that can be interpreted to happen within a world that’s mostly or exclusively material. We can explore this through, for instance, the Big Mind process and have a direct taste of it for ourselves.

What about past lives? One side of this is research, and if they find that rebirth seems to happen (as researchers do), then that may create some troubles for a strict materialistic worldview. If we look at rebirth as it may come up in our own lives, for instance through apparent memories, the most pragmatic and useful approach may be to hold it lightly and explore it as a projection or as if it was a dream element. Whatever it is, it mirrors something in us here and now, and that’s useful. That’s something we can use to explore whatever it represents or mirror in ourselves. And that’s something we can easily do within a materialistic worldview.

What about spiritual practices, like prayer? Doesn’t that require a deity or some idea of divinity? Not at all. Prayer is transformative. It has an important psychological function, and if done with sincerity and receptivity and we allow it, it can profoundly transform us. It can open our heart and mind. It can help us find healing. It can even lead into a taste of oneness or a real shift into oneness.

When it comes to many other things associated with spirituality – heart-centered practices, forms of meditation, ethical guidelines, and so on – these help us in our own lives, makes us a little easier to be around for others, and fit into a materialistic worldview.

So we see that awakening can be interpreted within a materialistic worldview. And most or all pragmatic spiritual pointers, practices, and guidelines don’t require a “spiritual” worldview and are compatible with materialistic worldview.

How do I see this? I love that the essence of spirituality fits nicely into a strict materialistic view. Personally, I find both the small and big interpretations of awakening useful. And, for me, the big interpretation is – in a sense – a little more correct and closer to reality. (In another sense, reality is always more than and different from any words or world views.)

Note: Chögyam Trungpa initially coined – or popularized? – the term spiritual materialism and used it to describe something else: an attitude of wanting to accumulate signs of spiritual progress in order to feel better about ourselves.

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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What is oneness?

 

What is oneness?

The most basic oneness is what’s here now. In immediate experience, for all of us, all our experience happens within and as what we are. The content of our experience happens within and as what we are.

We can call this consciousness or love, or awakeness, or the void all happens within and as, but those are labels. The labels tempt the mind into thinking it has got it while it’s not anything that can be gotten conceptually. It’s what we are.

Awakening means that what we are wakes up to itself. Glimpses itself. Notices itself. Notices itself more and more clearly as what any experience happens within and as, including as that which this personality and this conditioning like the very least.

Why is this not always noticed? Because mind likes to identify as parts of the content of its experience. Mind likes to take itself as a me (this human self) and an I (the observer, doer, etc.). It’s not wrong but it’s incomplete. It creates an experience of duality, of I here and the wider world out there, and that’s all there is to it.

That duality is valid in a functional or pragmatic sense. It’s helpful to take this human self as what I am, in a pragmatic sense. But it’s not the whole picture.

In immediate experience, “I” am what my whole field of experience happens within and as. That is, in a sense, a more fundamental identity. Although it’s not an “identity”, it’s just what we are.

We can see this in a couple of different ways. One is that the fundamental reality of the world is of me as a human self in the physical world, and it’s only in my experience all appears as consciousness. All appears as consciousness because that’s how it has to be in my experience since I am consciousness. This is the small or psychological interpretation and it’s a possible and valid interpretation.

The other is that reality is more directly as it appears. All is actually consciousness, all of reality is and happens within and as consciousness. We can say all is the divine or whatever name(s) we have for the divine (Spirit, the One, Brahman, Allah, Big Mind etc.). This is the big or spiritual interpretation and is also valid.

There is another form of oneness, or another oneness within the first oneness: the oneness of this universe. It’s one seamless whole, one seamless system. This system is what has formed itself into stars and planets, this living planet, and everything that’s part of this living planet (including us humans and all our experience). As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, feelings, and thoughts of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into awareness.

I should mention that within the small interpretation of awakening, the physical world – including our own physical body – appears as consciousness because it happens within and as consciousness. (Which is what we are.) In the big interpretation of awakening, the physical world actually is as it appears to us, it is consciousness.

In either case, we can investigate, with guidance, how our mind creates its own experience of the physical world, and perhaps of this physical world as real in itself, as solid, as dense and material. As we investigate this – and as we find ourselves as that which all our experience happens within and as – what we call the physical world will appear less and less solid to us and more as consciousness. In that sense, it will appear more and more as a dream (happening within and as consciousness).

How can we notice oneness and live more from it? This is, in a way, the main question of spiritual practice so it’s too big to address here. I’ll just mention that the easiest way to have a glimpse of oneness may be through inquiry (Big Mind process, Living Inquiries, Headless experiments, etc.). And Practices to Reconnect is an excellent way to deepen into the second form of oneness.

We are the divine digesting itself

 

When I notice and allow what’s here in experience – thoughts, feelings, etc. – it feels like it’s all being digested.

Since it’s all happening within and as consciousness, we can say that it’s consciousness digesting itself.

And we can say that it happens all the time, just by living our life, whether we notice and allow, or are distracted and fight.

We can even say that all of existence is existence digesting itself.

Or that all of life and existence is the divine digesting itself.

The divine, or existence, or the universe, creates itself into complexity and digests itself.

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Lila as a (kind of) projection

 

Lila (Sanscrit) or Leela can be loosely translated as the “divine play”.

Wikipedia article on Lila

I like the word Lila, the play of the divine. Traditionally, it’s seen as the One (the divine) expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself as the universe in its always changing richness, including as us and our life and experience.

A slight variation of this is to see Lila as a projection. Lila reflects what’s here, in immediacy. The play of this consciousness. The creativity of this consciousness.

All my experience is not only an expression of this consciousness, it is this consciousness. It’s this consciousness expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself. Right now, it takes the form of this experience as it is, here and now.

I am calling this a kind of projection since it’s only a projection if we see Lila as “out there”. Even in the traditional sense, Lila is also – and obviously – what we take ourselves to be, our lives, and all our experience. Including this one, as it is, here and now.

Why is this important? The traditional view can be dismissed as a fantasy. (See footnote.) But it seems undeniable that our experience is an expression of the creativity and play of consciousness. All of our experience is this consciousness expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself.

And why is that important? For me, it helps me hold my experience more lightly. It helps me see it as a little less important. A little less solid. A little less final.

What I am experiencing is the creativity of consciousness. It’s the play of consciousness. And somehow, that makes it more interesting. I find curiosity for it. Receptivity.

A footnote to “The traditional view can be dismissed as a fantasy.”. This depends on the words we use and how closely we look at it. It’s undeniable that we and our life and experience is part of reality or existence or the universe. From here, we can say that we and our life and experience is reality or the universe expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself. And we can say that we and our life and experience is the play and creativity of the universe.

Of course, reality and the universe is not a human being like you and me, so the words (express, explore, experience, creativity, play) are metaphors or analogies more than meant to be taken literally as we use the words when we talk about humans.

And we can also say that our familiar human creativity is an expression or part of this larger creativity of existence or the universe.

Additional footnotes:

This article relates to the big (spiritual) and small (psychological) interpretations of awakening. I took the big and applied it to the small. Although when it comes to Lila, the small is really built into the big.

We sometimes unthinkingly say “my consciousness”. I avoid that since who I take as I or me happens within consciousness. If anything, I and me belong to consciousness, not the other way around.

I should also mention that for a long time, I didn’t know there was a word for what was alive for me in immediate experience. I was happy when I found the word Lila, also because it meant someone else experienced it as I do. (Or, at least, similar enough.)

Intellectual honesty and big & small interpretations of awakening

 

Most people who have an awakening will interpret it in the usual spiritual way. I did too, and still mostly do.

But I realized quickly that if I am to be honest with myself, and that is part of living from the awakening, there is another interpretation that also is possible.

First, what is a spiritual awakening? The essence is that what we are – that which all our experience happens within and as – wakes to itself. We can say that all our experience – of a me and a wider world – happens within and as awakeness, or consciousness, or perhaps awake space (although space also happens within and as it).

Identification is released out of the parts of the content of experience that we usually call me, or I, or the doer, observer or something else. It’s not that we are not that. It’s just that what we are is what all of it – this me and the wider world as it appears to me in a very ordinary sense – happens within and as.

The big or spiritual interpretation is that all of existence is Spirit or the divine or God, Brahman or whatever else we prefer to call it. That fits the immediate experience. It’s also this human self and locally, it took itself for a while to only be this human self and then woke up to itself as all of it without exception.

And yet, if I am honest, there is another interpretation, the small or psychological interpretation. Even within conventional psychology, they acknowledge that there is consciousness. And, logically and in direct experience, that is what we are. We just tell ourselves we are a human being, in the world, with a name and identity and so on.

So I have to acknowledge that there is a possibility that not only is the awakening local, but the consciousness that wakes up to itself is local too. It doesn’t exist as all of existence even if it appears that way in (naive) immediate experience. The world is as our materialistic worldview says, and what woke up to itself is the consciousness created by the brain in this one human being.

Both interpretations fit the basic data.

I have to be honest about that. And I can choose one or the other depending on what the situation calls for. For myself, I usually use the big interpretation. It’s more inspiring. When I talk with others, I sometimes use the small interpretation.

Although – I have to admit – there is a lot of data in my own experience that better fits the big interpretation. Mostly things like synchronicities, seeing energies, ESP and so on.

The benefits of a small interpretation of awakening

 

I have written about small (psychological) and big (spiritual) interpretations of awakening before. (See previous posts on this topic.)

Although I appreciate each, I am daily reminded of the benefits of the small interpretation. It makes awakening seem less mysterious, more attainable, and more free from the baggage of centuries of ideas about awakening from spiritual traditions and culture. It makes it seem more mundane and ordinary.

That’s why I tend to remind myself of the small interpretation in daily life. And at the same time appreciating the big interpretation, see it come alive in me in some situations – for instance when I am in nature and when I pray, and suspect and know that it is more accurate.

I wrote this post since one of my practices these days is to take whatever happens in me that’s uncomfortable (discomfort, reactivity) as a reminder to notice myself and it as (what a thought may label) consciousness. It’s pretty easy for me, although when reactivity comes up in me it does require a slight shift of attention. I also find it’s easier when I keep a small interpretation of awakening in the back of my mind because it then feels more mundane, ordinary, and simple. It really is mundane, ordinary, and simple (along with a lot of other things), and that’s a relief.

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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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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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. Read More