The stories we put on weird experiences

What stories do we put on weird1 experiences?

What do those stories say about me and my worldview? How do they impact my life? How can I find more kind, accurate, and useful stories?

In many ways, those questions are as or more important than the “truth” about these experiences, and what we can find through regular scientific research into them.

I have experienced and gone through a number of states that can be called spiritual. If I took these as some kind of goal or place to get back into, I would create a lot of problems for myself. I would be on a wild goose chase. Instead, I chose to see them as highlighting aspects of what I am, aspects of my nature. I ask myself if I can find the essence of it here and now. That seems more kind, wise, and useful, and I am sure there are other ways to look at it that may seem even more insightful and useful.

I have periods with frequent and amazing synchronicities. I can try to figure what they mean as if there is some meaning inherent in them waiting to be found. That seems stressful since I can never know if I have found it, and it also looks like a wild goose chase. Instead, it seems to point to me being in a kind of flow state and following my inner guidance. I can see if that seems accurate. I can also see it as a question about reality: Perhaps all is connected in a far deeper way than it looks? Perhaps all these surface expressions are movements within a seamless whole? I can also take it as a reminder that the universe seems like a seamless system.

As a kid, I had what seemed like flashbacks to between lives. I shifted into a state of disembodiment and all as consciousness and love. I was profoundly at home, beyond anything I can imagine in this life. It brought up longing and some grief in me. I can try to figure out if this is how it really is between lives. I can try to tell myself I know this is how it is between lives. Again, that’s futile since I cannot know any of that for certain, and somewhere in me I know that. I cannot successfully deceive myself even if I try. Again, it seem more wise, kind, and useful to use it as a pointer for what’s here now. Can I find it here and now? (The answer is yes, I can find it here and now. The essence is the same although it doesn’t look exactly the same, and it’s generally much easier to find it than it has been at some points.)

I seem to be able to sense to some extent what’s going on in the system of others and invite in healing at a distance. Again, I could try to tell myself I know that this is how it is and perhaps even how it works. And again, that’s futile since I know I cannot know for certain. It’s far more comfortable for me to hold the questions and keep exploring. The sensing and healing seem to work, so why not keep exploring it?

I have precognitions, either through dreams or in waking life. Many of these seem accurate. I dreamt I would live in Oregon fifteen years before it happened2. I dreamt I would live in a neighborhood with a very particular schoolhouse in South America, and that happened roughly thirty-five years later3. I also often have a sense of how situations will unfold, and when that sense has a certain quiet solid feel to it, it often turns out to be correct. (Hopes and fears can muddle it, of course.) I find it useful to see these as questions more than anything else.

My nature seems to be able to recognize itself and this whole field of experience as happening within itself. I could tell myself stories about how this is awakening or enlightenment, or that it’s a full awakening, or that it’s some kind of endpoint. It’s the same with this as with the other examples. It seems obviously not true. Those are stories and I cannot know any of it for certain. On the contrary, it seems that this is an ongoing process of exploration, clarification, deepening, maturing, healing, and so on. I cannot find any finishing line. That’s far more comfortable and it seems more aligned with reality.

I seem to have what could be called insights. I could tell myself these reflect some final, full, absolute truth. That seems stressful and it would require a lot of work to try to talk myself into it. The reality is that I cannot know. They seem provisional and more like questions about the world than anything else. I am sure there are other ways to looking at it that would make more sense to me now or will in the future. Taking it that way is far more comfortable for me. It seems more aligned with reality. (And that too is provisional and a question.)

To me, waking life seems like a dream. It’s all happening within the consciousness I am, just like night dreams. The consciousness I am forms itself into all of it. These too are questions more than anything else. If I got caught up in the mental mirroring (representations) of it and told myself that’s how it is, it would distract from the actual alive noticing. Holding those stories as questions frees up attention to actually noticing.

I could tell myself that having weird experiences with the “spiritual” label on it makes me special. That too seems stressful because it’s not true. Many if not most people have unusual experiences once or several times. Many have had far more experiences than me. (It’s not a competition.) I didn’t choose or create any of these experiences, they just happened. I cannot keep them or make them come back. They live their own life. At most, some of them are pointers for aspects of what I am and what I can find here and now.

I have had ghost and UFO experiences. Again, I could make up stories about these and tell myself I know how things are. I don’t. I can explore and have questions about it, and that’s about it. That’s more interesting and aligned with reality, and allows me to keep exploring.

With the things that relate to something “out there” – ghosts, UFOs, synchronicities, and so on– I take it as only “out there” in the world. That way, I would miss out on the richness of also seeing it in here. I can notice that it all happens within and as my sense fields, and that my sense fields happen within and as the consciousness I am. I can identify my stories about them, turn these stories to myself, and find genuine and specific examples of how it’s true.

These are all provisional stories, and I keep exploring to see if something else may seem more useful for me. Of course, to be useful, they also need to be as sincere, honest, and true as possible – in a conventional sense and in my experience.

NOTES

(1) When I say “weird” it means weird as seen in our mainstream culture. Something that doesn’t fit the mainstream materialistic worldview and the views of our current science. In some subcultures and in most other cultures, it will not be seen as weird. It fits their worldview. (For a couple of hundred years, our culture has worked to shed superstitions, and that’s good. Now, it may be time to include some of it again, and to do so in a more grounded and science-based way.)

(2) I was a teenager and lived in Norway at the time, and had absolutely no intention to go to the US. I didn’t like much about the US so it was very far down the list of places I wanted to visit and even less live in. Through a set of circumstances, I did eventually find myself in Oregon and in the setting described in the dream.

(3) I almost fell out of the car when I saw that schoolhouse while we were in the process of buying the land. At some point, we had given up since it seemed impossible – there was no road access – but the dream suggested that it would happen. Now, I can see that school from our tiny house.

Image by me and Midjourney

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States highlight characteristics of who and what we are

We always experience different states.

Anything we experience – the fullness of our experience – is a state. It always changes.

And each of these states highlights characteristics of who and what we are.

WHAT THEY CAN TELL US ABOUT WHO WE ARE

Some of what we experience tells us something about who we are as a human self in the world.

For instance, I am in a situation that brings up anger in me. What’s behind the anger? Is it an energy I use to get things done and protect myself or someone else? Does it come from an unquestioned painful story? Does it come from love and a wish to protect, perhaps with some layers of confusion on top?

Or I notice I am drawn to something. What is it about it I am drawn to? What do I hope to get out of it? And what do I hope to get out of that? What’s the essence of what I am drawn to? How can I bring that into my life? How can I give it to myself here and now? How can I rearrange my life to bring it in more often?

WHAT THEY CAN SHOW US ABOUT WHAT WE ARE

And some of what we experience tells us something about what we more fundamentally are.

Here are some examples from my own process:

When I was fifteen, my system was shifted into a strong observer-observed duality. I experience the world, including anything connected with this human self, as very far away. I was what observed it all. (To me, this was distressing since I didn’t understand what was going on. I went to a lot of doctors and specialists to figure out what was going on, but they didn’t find anything.) This showed me – clearly and at a visceral level – that I am not, most fundamentally, anything within content of experience. (At the time, I wasn’t really consciously aware of any of this, but my system got it at a deeper level.)

A year after, there was another strong shift and this one into oneness. Everything without exception was revealed as God. This human self, and any tendency for the mind to take itself as this human self, was revealed as the play of God. It was God temporarily expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself that way. (These days, I would say “consciousness” instead of God.) This was especially strong for the first few years, and the oneness aspect of what I am was in the foreground and unmissable. It showed me the oneness aspect of what I am so clearly so I can notice it through shifting states and experiences.

Some years later, in the mid-2000s, my system was shifted into a strong no-self state. No-self was already part of the oneness shift, but for about six months, this particular aspect of what I am was brought into the foreground. This period highlighted something about what I am that’s undeniable and I can now more easily notice through shifting states and experiences.

There has been many shifts and states like this, highlighting features of what I am. One that followed the previous one was a shift into noticing what can be called the luminous dark or the divine feminine. I experienced a luminous dark aspect of the divine peering out through and as all forms. It’s difficult to describe but this also highlighted something that it’s now more easy for me to notice.

A small synchronicity: When I re-read and pondered “anything we experience is a state” the lyrics of the song I listened to said “What we feel now”. (Got to be real by Cheryl Lynn.)

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Awakening and altered states

To perceive everything as one is not an altered state of consciousness. It’s an unaltered state of consciousness. It’s the natural state of consciousness.

– Adyashanti

Enlightenment is not an altered state of consciousness. It’s coming out of an altered state of consciousness.

– Adyashanti

It’s interesting to look at the relationship(s) between awakening and altered states.

MEDICINE FOR A CONDITION

Why is Adya pointing this out?

Likely because some assume that awakening is a kind of altered state. The pointer is medicine for the condition of assuming it’s about altered states.

If we assume it’s a state, we’ll chase states – something that’s “out there” in others or in our future or even past. We’ll miss it right here. So by pointing this out, Adya is inviting us to look at what’s here and now independent of the presence or absence of any particular states.

Awakening is about noticing our more fundamental nature and living from this noticing. And this nature is here no matter what our content of experience is, and no matter what state is here.

THE MORE FUNDAMENTAL ALTERED STATE

Altered states is conventionally defined as the altered states we can experience through drugs, insanity, or something similar. These are not what Adya talks about.

When he says awakening is coming out of an altered state, he probably refers to the altered state created by holding stories as true. The mind believes certain assumptions and stories about ourselves, others, life, and the divine, and – to some extent – perceives and lives as if these stories are true. Most of these assumptions and stories are not very conscious. It will also interpret whatever is happening from within the stories it more explicitly holds as true.

Since thoughts are questions about the world, have a pragmatic function only, and cannot – by their nature – hold any final, full, or absolute truth, holding stories as true brings us out of alignment with reality. It’s a kind of insanity. And it’s responsible for nearly all of the insanity we see in our own life and the world.

THE UPSIDE OF ALTERED STATES

There is one benefit to altered states. If we experience some of them over time, we’ll eventually notice that their nature is to come and go. They are visitors. They are not what this is about.

And there is the same benefit to noticing that we are always experiencing altered states. The content of our experience is always changing. It’s always altered. Noticing that, and really getting it in our bones, helps us notice that we cannot – most fundamentally – be any content of our experience. It all comes and goes. Even anything related to this human self comes and goes and is always changing. So what it is that’s more fundamental? What’s not changing?

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The role of states in the awakening process

Awakening means what we are noticing itself as that which our content of experience happens within and as. And a more stable awakening happens when this noticing goes through changing states and is independent of any particular state. (Although we can say that this noticing is a state of noticing.)

So what is the role of states in the awakening process?

Some states may function as a preview of awakening – as a taste, or a guide. There can be a taste of oneness, or all as the divine or God, and this can function as a preview or direction for us for a while until the awakening is more clear, stable, deep, and mature.

These preview states can also function as a carrot, as can any state we see as spiritual (bliss etc.). They can keep us going. In an awakening process, it’s common to have previews and then chase these previews or states, and although it’s ultimately misguided it can serve an important function of keeping us interested, fascinated, motivated, and consciously on the path. (Although we are on the path no matter what.)

Some states highlight aspects of what we are – it can be Big Mind, Big Heart, the divine feminine, bliss and so on. These then become an invitation for us to keep noticing this aspect of what we are through the changing states, including when these more dialed-up states are gone.

And in general, changing states – which we experience all the time – is an invitation to notice what we are. It’s an invitation for what we are – that which all our experiences happens within and as – to notice itself. This invitation is always here.

So although awakening is not ultimately about any particular state (apart from the state of noticing), states of all types can serve an important role in the awakening process. Some function as pointers and guides. Some as carrots. Some as an invitation to notice aspects of what we are through changing states. And all of them – spiritual or not – function as an invitation for us to notice what we are.

What’s my experience with this? The initial awakening was a oneness awakening with a lot of side-effects (bliss, stable focus and so on). And I did chase some of these states for a while. It was one of the motivations for doing hours of prayer, meditation, and body-centered practices each day for several years. It felt really good to do it because it amplified the oneness and these blissful states. It functioned as a carrot for me, and although I could see what was going on, I was also compelled to dial up some of these states. (Probably to fill a hole in me, to try to make up for a sense of lack.)

It took some years with little or no spiritual practice and a dark night of the soul for a shift to happen out of the slightly obsessive chasing of states. I am still doing it to some extent as most of us do – even if it’s just in very ordinary everyday ways – but it feels more relaxed and less essential.

Why did I leave my spiritual practice? And what was the dark night of the soul? It’s a story better suited for a longer article. In short, I made a major life decision against my inner knowing, and this made it hard for me to continue my spiritual practice.

Each time I sat down for meditation or prayer, I was connected with the still inner voice guiding me to something that was very difficult for me, which was painful, so I ended up avoiding it. This lead to several years where I was more engaged in the world and didn’t do much spiritual practice. It was also the beginning of a dark night of the soul that has gone through several phases. It was mild for several years and took the form of feeling deeply off track, and then got much stronger and brought up a lot of old trauma.

Somehow, in the process, the state-chasing got softer and less relevant.

The prayer I mentioned was Christ meditation (visualize Christ in front, back, on each side, over the head, under me, and in the heart), and heart prayer (Jesus prayer). The meditation was basic meditation for training a more stable attention, and basic meditation for noticing and allowing whatever is here. And the body-centered practices were tai chi, chi gong, inner Taoist practices (Mantak Chia and similar), and some yoga.

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Altered states: We are already living it?

I personally have not been very interested in “altered states” in a conventional sense. Perhaps it’s because I define it differently for myself.

So how do I see it?

We are always experiencing altered states. Our experience is always new, fresh, different. And, at least as I experience it, obviously so. It’s inevitable and doesn’t require us to do anything.

From another perspective, altered states seem easily induced by ordinary experiences, including food, nature, engagement in current activity, and so on. For instance, I just had a cup of hot cocoa and ginger (nothing else added) and it significantly changed my state and experience of myself and the world.

And from yet another perspective, the ultimate altered state is our ordinary human experience. The base state for existence is awake oneness. So when life (the divine, Spirit, the One) moved towards experiencing itself as separate, it created the ultimate altered state for itself. We are already living it, just by having the ordinary human experiences. As do Spirit when it temporarily made itself into innumerable beings – as part of this planet and possibly elsewhere – and the temporary experience of being a separate being.

So we are already living altered states. It’s inevitable. Our experience is always new, fresh, and different. Any activity creates a different and new state and experience. (We just need to notice.) And our ordinary human experience is the ultimate altered state for the divine, and all is the divine.

The only reason we would seek an altered state – as the term is used conventionally – is if we don’t notice the magic in our ordinary experience. And, of course, we are set up so many of us overlook that magic. That too is the divine experiencing itself through an altered state. That too is the play of the divine. That too is the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

Note: I am aware I wrote this from a slightly arrogant view. But, somehow, that was fun. I may do that more. Others sometimes point out that I often make myself small, so writing in a more direct way and revealing myself more is interesting.

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