In the mid-2000s, I went to a spiritual teacher. (The main one at the Center for Sacred Sciences in Oregon where I lived at the time.)
I told him about an especially strong shift into no-self that was happening at the time. (There was a strong no-self state, where the no-self aspect of what I am was strongly in the foreground, and it lasted for about half a year. I have experienced many states and phases like this, and they all highlight certain features of what I am.)
He asked me: Do you experience paradoxes?
I said honestly: “No”
And he responded: “Then it’s not an awakening”.
And that was it.
I was a bit baffled since I was more interested in exploring the no-self shift. For me, it’s a process with a lot of different aspects and phases, and I find it all intriguing. A binary view on awakening has some validity, but it’s not what I personally find most interesting. Also, why ask about experiencing paradoxes? I vaguely remember experiencing paradoxes following the initial awakening shift more than two decades earlier, but that went away as my thought processes got more used to oneness.
WHAT IS A PARADOX?
What is a paradox?
For me, it’s when we intellectually assume something is contradictory and we have trouble reconciling it.
In an awakening shift, we may notice we are both this human self and the oneness it’s all happening within and as.
This is not a paradox. Both are valid. And they are two different things. In a conventional sense, I am a human being in the world. And to myself, in my first-person experience, I am capacity for the world and what the world happens within and as.
If we hold thoughts as true or not, and as having some kind of exclusive truth, then this can appear as a paradox. We may struggle with understanding how both can be true. The experience of paradox comes from a certain habitual way of thinking about things that reflects separation consciousness.
PARADOXES AND AWAKENING SHIFTS
Following an initial awakening shift, our mind – still operating to some extent from separation consciousness – may have difficulty reconciling apparent opposites. For instance, that we are human and divine, or that we are something within the world and we are what the world happens within, and so on. After a while, we get familiar with this new terrain and the experience of paradox fades away. These are no longer paradoxes for us.
We can also say this another way: If we hold thoughts as holding some form of exclusive truth, then it’s natural to experience paradoxes following an awakening shift. But when we get used to it and our thoughts are more aligned with oneness, we see that thoughts are questions about the world. They help us orient and function in the world, but they cannot hold any full or final or absolute truth. At the same time, there is some kind of validity in any thought. Getting used to this removes the ground for experiencing paradoxes. We get used to the divine as everything and we recognize thoughts as questions about the world and hold them more lightly.
When I look back to the initial awakening shift, I remember experiencing paradoxes as an early reaction to the shift. My mind was baffled that everything is nothing and something, that what I am is this human self and the divine, and so on. At the same time, it was very clear that the divine embraces and takes the form of any and all polarities. And with time, I no longer experienced it as a paradox. My mind got used to it.
TESTING THE TEACHER & DON’T DO ANYTHING TO CLARIFY
There are a few other things that may have happened here.
For me, this encounter was as much a test of the teacher as anything else.
It seems that he cannot see energies. If he did, he would have relied on that to evaluate how much awakening there is in someone’s system. (As I do.) It’s much more direct and reliable than words.
And it seems that he doesn’t understand that the experience of paradoxes is an initial reaction that tends to fade with time and as we get more familiar with the terrain. He asked a question that makes sense for a relatively fresh awakening shift, not one that happened 25 years ago.
This is in marked contrast to when I have met with other spiritual teachers. For instance, in my teens and early twenties when I met teachers who sees energies and could see the awakening in my system before talking with me. And when I met with Adyashanti and there was a deep mutual sense of recognition.
From this and other experiences with this particular teacher, my sense is that he had a prejudice against new members. At the time, I had started the introductory course which contained pointers, books, and practices I was familiar with from twenty-five years of practice. He was reluctant to meet with me since I was a novice in his mind, and he seemed to meet me with that filter. He assumed that whatever I said was from the view of a novice. (For the same reason, I was also not allowed to join their retreats, even if I had decades of serious meditation practice, and had done a large number of far longer and more intensive retreats as a resident of a Zen center.)
Another side of this is a wound I have. When people jump to conclusions about me, my pattern is to do nothing to clarify it even if their conclusion seems odd or doesn’t fit reality. I let them believe whatever they want to believe. This has, at times, created difficulties in my life and it’s something I am conscious of and working on changing. It’s also one of the more ingrained patterns in me.
This pattern is related to a wound of not being seen and understood. A part of me expects to not be seen and understood, so I don’t even try to clarify in anticipation of misunderstandings or clear up misconceptions that have already happened. My passivity then sets up a situation so just that – not being seen or understood – is more likely to happen. In this case, the teacher played into it. And I left feeling not seen and understood. This pattern is also reflected in that I did nothing to explain my background or history upfront.
Finally, I may have understood the word paradox differently from the teacher. He may have just meant realizing the inherent richness of existence, and that the divine includes and takes the form of everything. And I understood it as having trouble reconciling apparently contradictory things.
WHAT QUESTION WOULD I USE?
If I were to ask one question to see if there is an awakening, what would it be?
Most likely, it would be: Is your human self happening on its own?
In your own direct and visceral experience, is your human self happening on its own? Is it living its own life?
And I look for a way to ask it that is less leading and more open-ended.
In my experience, that’s one of the essential signs of awakening and it’s there whether the awakening shift is new or familiar.
Some other possible questions:
How do you experience your physical body? For me, where my mind has images of this body, I find some sensations happening within and as the consciousness I find myself as.
How do you experience the world? To me, happening within and as what I am.
When you walk or drive in a car, are you moving through the landscape? Or is the landscape moving through you? For me, it’s moving through me. I can almost not remember it being any other way.
Do you have an experience of distance? Yes and no. I can relate to and use distance in a conventional sense. But I don’t experience distance, it’s all happening within and as the consciousness I am.
Of course, with all of these questions, there is a risk of getting an intellectual answer rather than how people viscerally and directly experience something. So finding questions that are more open-ended may be helpful, along with some follow-up questions.
Personally, I would just look at their energy system and see it there. That cannot be mistaken and it cannot be faked. When I look at the energy system that’s awake, the awakeness goes out infinitely from the body, and the energy field is clear, more transparent, and high vibration. (It’s very difficult to describe in words.) If there is less awakeness, then the awake part of the energy field stays closer to the body, and the energy field is generally more dense,
Ironically, around the same time, someone at the center had some kind of awakening shift and was pronounced “awake” by the main teacher. (Another oddity I don’t quite understand. The initial awakening shift is a milestone but doesn’t mean the person has matured into it or is ready to teach or guide others.) I looked at his energy system and could see the awakeness there, but I also saw that it wasn’t very stable. It was half awake and half unawake. Some weeks later, the main teacher announced that the awakening for this person wasn’t very stable.Read More