I wrote an article about themes in the awakening process and how this can be useful in itself, and as a complement to a more traditional stage view on awakening. (Stage models can be interesting and useful to a certain extent, and also come with drawbacks.)
I thought I would give an example of how a theme orientation can be used in a specific case. And since the case I happen to be most familiar with is my own, I’ll use that.
Each theme could be its own book, so this is obviously a very simplified overview.
My interest in this came after the oneness I am shifted into noticing itself as all there is. It took the form of trying to find books written by others who had found the same, and then reading a lot of books and engaging in a variety of practices from different traditions.
In my late twenties and early thirties, my active exploration and interest dipped a bit since I was very engaged in sustainability and community organizing. I probably needed a little breather after a quite strong exploration in my teens and early- and mid-twenties. And then it returned in my mid-thirties and hasn’t waned much since.
My conceptual exploration started after the initial shift. At first, I had little idea about what to look for, apart from Christian mystics. And I did find people who seemed to have found the same, including Meister Eckart.
After a couple of years, I started finding more people and devoured a lot of books. Especially from Jes Bertelsen, CG Jung, Taoism, Ken Wilber, Fritjof Carpa, and Tibetan Buddhism in my teens and twenties. Zen in my twenties and thirties. Adyashanti, Byron Katie, and Douglas Harding in my thirties, and I also dipped my toes into Advaita/Neo-Advaita. I have also read a lot from other traditions and by other authors, often two or three books a week. (I used to have a library of a few thousand books on these topics.) In addition, I have listened to talks, talked with a few spiritual coaches, lived at a Zen center, and so on.
And I explore how to express and map out certain things here in these articles.
In my case, the direct exploration started the moment my system shifted into oneness recognizing itself.
In my teens, oneness recognized itself as all there is and explored itself. There was an enormous amounts of insights coming just about all the time, which sometimes felt a bit overwhelming. Most of it is, in its essence, the same as I what write about here now. (I often feel there hasn’t been all that much development, more a getting used to it.)
In my late teens, I also did tai chi and chigong daily. I did Christ meditation and Jesus/Heart prayer daily for one to three hours, and the heart prayer became ongoing even as I slept, and this was profoundly transformative for me. I did several Taoist “inner yoga” practices as described by Mantak Chia and Jes Bertelsen, and found these very powerful. And I loved doing tonglen. I continued all this into my twenties, and in my early twenties, I also started the Ngöndro practice from Tibetan Buddhism.
After moving to Salt Lake City for psychology studies, I found Kanzeon Zen Center, became a resident, and followed their daily program and the sesshins/retreats. I was also there when Genpo Roshi developed the Big Mind process, which I am very grateful for. The practices I did here were training a more stable attention, basic meditation, and koan practice.
I continued most of these practices, and in my thirties, I also got into ho’oponopono, Breema bodywork (instructor), The Work of Byron Katie (did daily for many years), the Headless experiments (love them), Living/Kiloby inquiries (facilitator), and more.
And a few years ago, I got into Vortex Healing and have continued to take these classes since they seem to do something interesting and possibly useful with my energy system, and I find the tools powerful and helpful.
I did have glimpses of oneness before the major and lasting shift that happened when I was sixteen.
During early childhood and maybe up until about school age, I experienced several flashbacks to what seems the time between lives. It seems to mostly happen when I was outside in the garden and the sunlight filtered through the leaves. It was an experience of all as consciousness, golden light, and one, and I found myself as consciousness without a physical body. It seemed timeless, with only a hint of change and of time happening mostly in a place far away. There was occasional communication with other consciousnesses, and they seemed infinitely wise and loving and were there to guide me. I felt profoundly at home. (It was all one and consciousness and golden light, and a sense of entities within this oneness.)
At the time, I didn’t consciously consider it very much. It just happened. And I made no connection between this and the word “God” or Christianity which seemed much more distant and abstract. When I later learned about near-death experiences, I realized that this seemed very similar although it was more of a memory from before this life. And when the oneness shift happened, I realized that the deep longing I experienced as a child was for what I had experienced between lives, and really for oneness – for the oneness I am recognizing itself as all there is.
After being profoundly influenced by Cosmos by Carl Sagan when I was ten, I also had several moments when I looked into the deep starry sky and experienced all as one. As Carl Sagan said, I am the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. I am the universe bringing itself into consciousness. I deeply and viscerally experienced that.
And since then, I have experienced glimpses and shifts that point to more lasting noticing and shifts coming up. For instance, in my mid-thirties, there were a few months when the essence of my nature came to the foreground very clearly and strongly and was unmissable. This was a temporary state, but it has helped my noticing focus on the essence of my nature since then. Thes essence stands out much more clearly and is less easily confused with states and other changing content of experience.
And there was also a shift that happened when I was fifteen which seems to have led to the oneness shift one year later. This was a shift where the world – including this human self and anything connected with this human self – seemed infinitely far removed and I found myself as what was observing it all. In hindsight, it seems that my mind created the experience of a clean observer-observed duality, and this – one year later – led to a shift into oneness recognizing itself as all there is.
MORE STABLE SHIFTS
The first stable shift that happened was also the first shift I am consciously aware of. It’s what happened when I was sixteen, walking down a gravel road to the house, with a big wind going through the landscape and the infinity of space filled with innumerable stars above me. For whatever reason, and perhaps as a safety valve for stronger-than-average teenage angst, oneness shifted into recognizing itself.
From one millisecond to the next, all without exception was recognized as God, as the divine and consciousness. This human self was the divine exploring itself as and through this form, and the divine takes and explores itself through all forms and everything that is. Even temporarily and locally taking itself as most fundamentally a separate being is the divine exploring itself through and as that.
Many years later, the shift mentioned above happened – where the essence of my nature came to the foreground in a clear and unmistakable way. This led to a more immediate and clear noticing of the essence of my nature through daily life situations. The noticing became a little more precise, at least that’s how it seems.
I have gone through a few different dark nights, and it obviously depends on what definition we use.
In my teens, I went through a kind of conventional dark night filled with teenage angst, social anxiety, and a self-esteem that was very low in some areas and OK in other. I assume the oneness shift may have happened as a kind of safety valve for this pressure that was building up.
Later, I experiences another kind of dark night when I went against clear and unmistakable inner guidance on a major life issue. I geographically moved away from what I deeply loved and what felt deeply right for me – graduate studies, Zen center, a community, and nature I deeply loved in Utah. I did on the surface to support my then-wife in her studies and career – by sacrificing my own – and deeper down I was caught up in fears. And it felt deeply wrong and I felt deeply off track. One consequence of this was that I was abruptly unable to continue drawing, painting, and meditating, which I had deeply loved and did daily for 10-15 years before this.
Some years after this, I went into an even deeper dark night. It started with strong pneumonia which led to severe CFS and being confined to a dark room for months. Then, there were several months with huge amounts of archetypal images going through my system, including the dark ones. Then, divorce (which was good) and loss of my house, belongings, friends, community, and just about all of my money in the divorce process. A part of this process was also asking the divine to “show me what’s left”. This was followed, a few days later, with an enormous amount of primal survival fears and trauma surfacing. It was overwhelming, felt unbearable, and led to nine months of immense pain where I was lucky if I could sleep one hour in the morning, and walked for hours every day in the forest listening to Adyashanti and the dark night chapter in “Mysticism” by Evelyn Underhill. This gradually eased over the next several years. Along with this, I have felt that my brain doesn’t work very well, it’s been difficult to make good decisions, and my system has felt disorganized. This dark night is still here, several years later, although it seems to gradually ease up.
EXPLORING LIVING FROM IT
How do we live from what we notice? How do we live from the shifts that come about through heart-centered approaches and other practices?
For me, it makes the most sense to allow this to unfold naturally.
I notice and am curious about what happens.
If I notice I act from reactivity in some situations or areas of life, I make a note of it, identify some issues behind it and perhaps some stressful thoughts and identities, and typically explore it using one or more approaches.
Sometimes, I’ll take a turnaround from The Work and make it a living turnaround” and explore how it is to live from it in daily life.
Sometimes, I’ll intentionally go against an old habitual pattern that is not so helpful for me (or others) anymore.
And that’s about it. As with anything else here, this is an ongoing process. And there is certainly a lot of room for improvement for me and probably all of us.
HUMAN SELF ALIGNING AND REORGANIZING
I have been passionate about psychology and healing since my teens. Initially, I devoured a large number of books (talks made into books) by Jung and humanistic psychology and explored it in my own life. I have gone to therapy at different times in my life. I trained in Process Work for several years and did a number of workshops and classes with Arnie Mindell and others. I have done Breema bodywork since the mid-2000s and am an instructor. I trained in the Big Mind Process with Genpo Roshi since I was at the center when he initially developed it. I have done heart-centered practices since my teens. I have explored a good number of issues using different forms of inquiry.
And that doesn’t mean I am anywhere near “healed”. There is always further to go. Some central issues – formed through my mind’s response to ongoing childhood experiences – take time to explore and unravel. And often, it’s as much or more about healing my relationship with certain hangups in me and their triggers than finding healing for the issues themselves. (The two are obviously connected, and healing my relationship with what’s triggered and the trigger does invite healing for the issues.)
These days, I mostly enjoy using the befriend & awaken (wake up) process which I have written about in other articles. In short, I notice a contraction, which is reflected in the body (tension) and mind (reactivity). Notice the physical sensations connected with it, that they are physical sensations, and rest in noticing that it’s already allowed and noticed. Thank the contraction for protecting me, and for its love for me. Explore what it deeply wants and needs, and rest in giving it to it. Notice some of the painful beliefs behind it and inquire into these. Notice that its nature is the same as my nature, and rest in that noticing. Invite the contraction to notice its own nature. And so on.
I haven’t shared much about this. I tried in my teens, in very small portions with friends, but none seemed to have any interest in it. I also tried with one or two Buddhist teachers in Oslo, but I got the sense that they were more familiar with – or interested in? – the teachings than the actual terrain.
I did meet two people in my late teens where there was an immediate mutual recognition, and this was very important to me. One was my friend BH whom I met at tai chi, and the other was the then-wife of Jes Bertelsen whom I took some workshops with. Later, I experienced the same with Bonnie Greenwell and Adyashanti when I got to spend some time with him one-on-one.
I imagine most people who know me don’t even know I am interested in these things. And my sharing these days is mostly here, in these articles.
At a human level, I notice some loneliness in me around this. Parts of me wish for more of a sense of shared exploration and a community of people exploring this. What I have found is that people who follow a traditional path often seem to be as or more interested in the tradition than the actual terrain. And for me, the terrain has always been primary and the traditions more of a support.
STAGES AND THEMES
I thought I would add a few words about stages and themes.
THE GIFTS AND LIMITATIONS IN CONCEPTS AND MAPS
Any map and any concepts about reality are superimposed by the creativity of our mind. They are essential and useful in helping us navigate and function in the world. And they also come with limitations. They are not reality itself. They are different in kind to what they are about. They are simplifications and leave a lot out. And they are inherently inaccurate.
They are questions about the world. They are provisional.
STAGE MODELS OF AWAKENING
And so also with stage models about awakening.
They can give us a generalized map of a typical awakening process, and that can be useful. It can give us some markers. It can help us feel we understand a bit more about the overall process. It can be intellectually fascinating. And so on.
At the same time, they come with inherent limitations and possible drawbacks.
I mentioned some above. Stage models, by necessity, simplify and generalize. And when we develop them or use them, we tend to emphasize data that fits and set aside, ignore, leave out, or interpret away data that doesn’t fit.
Life is always more than and different from any map, and it’s also in its essence simpler.
We can superimpose universal themes and phases on an awakening process. And it’s also inherently individual. The way oneness ties itself into separation consciousness is somewhat individual, and the way it unties itself is also somewhat individual.
In many cases, the process may not fit a particular stage model. The stages may be jumbled. We may apparently skip one or more. The characteristics of several stages may happen at once. There may be something else happening in our process that seems important and is not covered by the stages in the model. And so on.
If we hold stage models lightly and are aware of their limitations, then they can be useful.
And if we hold them more tightly and ignore their limitations, it’s often stressful.
For instance, if we are in an awakening process, and the form it takes doesn’t fit the models we are familiar with, we may think something is wrong and this may create unnecessary confusion and doubt. (Although, if it happens, then it’s part of our process and we are invited to learn from it.)
Similarly, if a spiritual coach is caught up in certain stage models and encounters a student whose process doesn’t follow these models, the coach may not be able to adapt so easily, they may get a wrong impression of the situation, and they may even try to fit the student into the model even if that’s not what they need. (I have experienced this several times.)
That’s why I like the theme orientation.
Many themes are found through the awakening process, and it’s interesting to see how each theme changes over the course of the process.
A theme orientation is more adaptable to the individual quirks and flavors of the awakening process.
We can always add or subtract themes depending on what we wish to focus on or find useful. (For instance, additional themes may be relationships, our life in the world, and special states, abilities, or experiences.)
And we can weave in a (lightly held) stage understanding into a theme orientation if or when that seems useful.
IN MY CASE
In my case, a stage view does work to some extent, although some stages will be in a different sequence than in most models. (For instance, interest and exploration came after the initial shift.) Also, several aspects of the process have been present throughout the process and not just in one or a few stages. (Interest, glimpses, shifts, dark nights, etc.) And several important aspects of the process may not fit neatly into any particular stage. (E.g. early glimpses.)
For these and other reasons, it seems a bit forced to try to fit my process into the stage models I am familiar with and even the ones I have come up with in articles here. It’s like trying to fit my foot into a shoe that’s too small or has a different shape than my foot.
A theme orientation feels far easier and more logical to work with, and it’s more fun for me to explore the themes and how they have changed through the process.
And in exploring that change, it’s possible to test out or include the idea of stages if we want to. Read More