Secular and spiritual understandings of awakening

I find differentiating a secular and spiritual understanding of awakening intuitive and helpful.

OUR HUMAN SELF AND WHAT WE MORE FUNDAMENTALLY ARE

First, some background.

In one sense, we are this human self in the world. That’s how (most) others see us, what our passport tells us, and what our own thoughts may tell us. It’s not wrong, and it’s an assumption that works relatively well in daily life.

Is that what we more fundamentally are? What do I find when I explore in my own first-person experience? What I find is that I am more fundamentally something else. I am capacity for any and all experience. And I am what any content of experience happens within and as. (AKA consciousness.)

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

To ourselves, we are consciousness. And to us, the world happens within and as this consciousness.

The consciousness we are may take itself to most fundamentally be this human self. It takes itself to be a particular content within itself, and mainly a set of identities created by our mental field.

This likely happens because we do as others do. Most onenesses connected to humans do this today, so that’s what we see and we do the same.

When the oneness we are recognizes itself, that’s what some call awakening. And that’s just the start of a new exploration – of keeping recognizing it, exploring how to live from and as it, and allowing our human self and psyche to transform within this new context.

A SECULAR UNDERSTANDING OF AWAKENING

We can understand it in a secular way.

To ourselves, we are consciousness, and the world to us happens within and as this consciousness.

If we “have” consciousness, then we ARE consciousness in our own experience, and the world to us happens within and as that consciousness. And the consciousness we are has the characteristics mystics of all times and traditions describe. It’s one. It’s love. (A love that comes from recognizing oneness and is independent of changing states, moods, and feelings.) There is a quiet bliss there. And so on.

This is phenomenology. It describes our experience and how it is for us. (And inevitably any consciousness connected with any type of being.)

It doesn’t say anything about the nature of existence itself. It may well be that in a third-person view, we are most fundamentally a physical human self. And yet, to ourselves, we are inevitably consciousness.

It’s an understanding that fits with a range of different worldviews, including atheism and materialism.

And we can still explore and learn a lot from the many spiritual traditions in the world and their pointers and practices. The essence of all of it is valuable.

A SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING OF AWAKENING

We can also understand this in a spiritual way.

To ourselves, we are consciousness. That means that the world, to us, inevitably appears as consciousness.

That’s where the secular or psychological understanding of awakening ends.

And in a spiritual understanding of awakening, we take this a step further.

Here, we assume that the nature of all of existence is the same as our nature. All of it is as it appears. All is consciousness AKA Spirit, the divine, God, Brahman, and so on.

WHAT ARE THE UPSIDES AND LIMITATIONS OF EACH?

Each of these understandings has upsides and limitations.

The secular understanding helps us find the lowest common denominator and the simple essence of what awakening is about. It can be a common language for people from different traditions. It can help people from different traditions to recognize the essence more clearly. It can make (the idea of) awakening interesting to a wider range of people, including atheists and materialists. In a sense, it’s also more honest since it keeps it simple and stays with our immediate experience.

It also strips away a lot of cultural baggage from different spiritual traditions, which is both an upside (simplifies and brings focus to what’s essential) and a limitation (may lose out on a lot with cultural and practical value). And some may find it slightly mundane and uninspiring. (Which, to me, is an upside since I prefer a sober approach.)

The spiritual understanding of awakening may be more familiar to many. It may be more inspiring. There is a lot of cultural, social, and practical value in the different existing traditions. And a spiritual understanding may, ultimately, even be more accurate. (There are hints in that direction, including synchronicities, sensing and healing at a distance, precognition, and so on, although this can also be understood in other ways.)

The downside to a spiritual understanding is that it may put some people off any interest in exploring it for themselves. The essence often gets mixed in with cultural and traditional baggage and it can be difficult to tell what’s what. And some traditions may fuel fantasies and misconceptions about awakening.

A NOTE ABOUT LANGUAGE

When I have written about this before, I have often called it “psychological” and “spiritual” understandings of awakening.

To me, “psychological” here just means that it’s within the domain of psychology. It’s phenomenology.

When I on rare occasions have mentioned “psychological understanding” to others, they have responded with: “It depends on what framework of psychology”. To me, that’s missing the point and it confuses the topic. So I may just call it “secular understanding” from now on.


INITIAL DRAFT

WHAT DOES “PSYCHOLOGICAL” REFER TO IN “SPIRITUAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING”?

The couple of times I have mentioned small and big, or psychological and spiritual understanding of awakening, the response has been: “It depends on the framework of psychology you are talking about”.

That misses the point. When I say “psychological” I mean it as referring to something within the realm of psychology. The subject matter is psychological and not spiritual. And this is independent of any particular tradition within psychology.

A small or psychological approach to awakening looks at it as a psychological phenomenon.

In terms of logic: We “have” consciousness”. If we “have” consciousness, then to ourselves we ARE consciousness. If we are consciousness, then the world to us happens within and as the consciousness we are. And that consciousness has all the characteristics mystics from all times and traditions describe: Oneneness, love, quiet bliss, and it forms itself into any and all experiences.

And in terms of our own noticing: In one sense, I am this human self in the world. And when I look more closely, I find I am more fundamentally something else. To myself, I am more fundamentally capacity for any experience. I am what any and all experience happens within and as. I am what a thought may label consciousness.

And this is very much within the realm of psychology. This is a psychological approach to awakening. We can understand it without referring to spirituality. (Although we can find a lot to explore within spiritual traditions.)

DRAFT 2

I like to differentiate between a small and big understanding of awakening, or a psychological or spiritual understanding.

To put it briefly, a small or psychological understanding takes a phenomenological approach. To ourselves, we are consciousness and the world happens within and as the consciousness we are. And that doesn’t mean we can make assumptions about the nature of all of existence. How it appears to us is one thing, and what it is is another.

A spiritual understanding assumes all of existence is how it appears to us. It is consciousness, the divine, God, Brahman, and so on. Our nature (consciousness) and the nature of all of existence is the same.

I find this differentiation helpful. The small interpretation of awakening finds the lowest denominator, it finds a simple essence of awakening. It’s more honest. And it’s compatible with a wide range of traditions and worldviews. The big interpretation is, for some, more familiar and inspiring. (And, I suspect, more accurate in the big picture.)

I rarely talk with others about what I write about here. Partly because it’s difficult for me to string the words together while talking because of the brain fog. And partly because I rarely find someone who resonates with these ways of looking at things.

For instance, I have mentioned the small and big understanding – or the psychological and spiritual understanding – of awakening a couple of times. And each time, the response was: “It depends on the framework of psychology you are talking about”.

To me, that misses the point. When I say “psychological” I mean it as referring to something within the realm of psychology. The subject matter is psychological and not spiritual. And this is independent of particular traditions within psychology.

In short, a big or spiritual understanding of awakening assumes that our nature is the nature of all of existence. All is consciousness, Spirit, the divine, God, Brahman, and so on.

A small understanding of awakening recognizes that our nature is not necessarily the nature of all of existence. It focuses on what’s within the realm of psychology.

That’s the brief version, and I’ll say a few more words about it.

DRAFT 3

I rarely talk with others about what I write about here. Partly because it’s difficult for me to string the words together while talking because of the brain fog. And partly because I rarely find someone who resonates with these ways of looking at things.

For instance, I have mentioned the small and big understanding – or the psychological and spiritual understanding – of awakening a couple of times. And each time, the response was: “It depends on the framework of psychology you are talking about”.

To me, that misses the point. When I say “psychological” I mean it as referring to something within the realm of psychology. The subject matter is psychological and not spiritual. And this is independent of particular traditions within psychology.

In short, a big or spiritual understanding of awakening assumes that our nature is the nature of all of existence. All is consciousness, Spirit, the divine, God, Brahman, and so on.

A small understanding of awakening recognizes that our nature is not necessarily the nature of all of existence. It focuses on what’s within the realm of psychology.

That’s the brief version, and I’ll say a few more words about it.

SMALL & BIG UNDERSTANDING OF AWAKENING

A small or psychological approach to awakening looks at it as a psychological phenomenon.

In terms of logic: We “have” consciousness”. If we “have” consciousness, then to ourselves we ARE consciousness. If we are consciousness, then the world to us happens within and as the consciousness we are. And that consciousness has all the characteristics mystics from all times and traditions describe: Oneneness, love, quiet bliss, and it forms itself into any and all experiences.

And in terms of our own noticing: In one sense, I am this human self in the world. And when I look more closely, I find I am more fundamentally something else. To myself, I am more fundamentally capacity for any experience. I am what any and all experience happens within and as. I am what a thought may label consciousness.

And this is very much within the realm of psychology. This is a psychological approach to awakening. We can understand it without referring to spirituality. (Although we can find a lot to explore within spiritual traditions.)

The essence of this is simple.

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