Stage models, reality, and when the sequences are jumbled

For me, it was more about finding cosmologies that fit my experience. Specifically, that in my experience I am consciousness and the world to me appears as consciousness. (Whether that’s how reality actually is, is an open question but possible.) I had to go to Buddhism, Taoism, mystics from different traditions, etc. to find cosmologies that reflected this. (When the shift happened for me, I was an atheist living in a Christian culture so I wasn’t familiar with any of the cosmologies that eventually felt more like home.)

This was my reply when someone in an online “spiritual emergency” group asked about shifts and cosmologies.

In many cases, people will initially be interested in spirituality, read and hear about it, explore some practices, and so on. And if there is a real shift in perception and identity, it often comes some years into the exploration.

Most maps and models of the awakening process reflect this. First, there is an interest or draw to it. Then an exploration of maps and practices. And then a shift.

And, as we all know, maps are maps. They are mental representations of a part of life and life’s processes. They are more or less accurate in a conventional sense. They are always refined as we get more information and experience. They are simplifications. They leave a lot out. They are different in kind from what they refer to. And life is more than and different from any map.

Life operates independently of human maps. And if we have our noses too deeply into our maps, life will inevitably throw up surprises and remind us that it’s different from our ideas about it.

In my case, life didn’t follow the standard maps. This human self was an atheist, mostly interested in science, and saw spirituality and religion as a crutch of little or no interest. One night – while this human self was walking down a dark gravel road under a sky filled with stars and a big wind, out of the blue, and for whatever reason – oneness shifted into noticing itself, and the “center of gravity” shifted into oneness. And then this human self spent a long time playing catch-up and exploring the sharing from others who had recognized the same or similar, cosmologies, and different types of spiritual practices.

It took at least a couple of years before I found anyone who seemed to describe what seemed so obvious to me. I still remember it. I was still a teenager, standing in the man library in Oslo, in the religion and spirituality section, reading in an old book of Meister Eckhart’s sermons. And there, behind some layers of cultural differences and Christian language, I saw someone who had at least glimpsed the same.

Later, I found reflections in some Taoist writings, and also Buddhism and especially Zen, but all of it seemed hidden behind layers of tradition, cultural differences, and sometimes intellectualizing that deviated from actual immediate noticing. I found Jes Bertelsen, a fellow Scandinavian, who clearly knew what this was about. Some years later, I found Adyashanti who most clearly of anyone reflected what seemed so obvious to me but few talked about in a direct and simple way. After that, I also found the more modern Advaita and neo-Advaita folks who talked about the same, often in a clear and direct way, and also sometimes seemed a bit caught up in ideology.

If I am honest, I still feel I am playing catch-up to what was revealed back when I was sixteen and what is still shows itself to itself here. I still feel a bit like I was hit by a truck. I still work on helping my human self reorient and reorganize within it.

And when it comes to stages and models of the awakening process, I hold it all lightly. Yes, there are some common phases and elements of the process. And no, it’s not always sequential and especially not in a particular one-size-fits-all way. The phases may happen in different sequences. Sometimes, several phases – or elements of several phases –– happen at once. Sometimes, phases return in a different way.

To me, it all looks more like themes woven into each other and expressed in our life in different ways. The themes are recognizable. And they are always woven in an individual way.

Here be dragons

Early European mapmakers famously drew in dragons, monsters, and weird creatures in lesser-known or unknown areas of the map.


And that’s what we do as well.

We sometimes imagine monsters in areas of the world we don’t know well. Conspiracy theories are one example of this. Another is hearing something about someone we don’t know, imagining it’s true, and then realizing it wasn’t true – or wasn’t the whole picture – when we get to know that person


And these maps also mirror us.

We sometimes have metaphorical dragons, monsters, and weird creatures in unknown and unmapped areas of ourselves.

As with maps in general, these dragon maps – whether they are the old literal ones or the ones we create for ourselves in daily life – are projections in two ways.

First, as a mental construct that we imagine out there in the world and that helps us orient in and navigate in the world. (And sometimes not!)

And second, they are a projection in terms of characteristics and dynamics. We imagine characteristics and dynamics out there in the world, and they are also here in us. Maps may or may not describe the world, and they certainly describe us. What’s the story I have about something or someone in the world? What do I find when I turn this story to myself? Can I find genuine and specific examples, here and now and from my past?


What’s the practical use of this?

We can be aware of this tendency to metaphorically draw monsters and dragons into what’s unknown to us. This helps us notice when it happens and counteract it.

And we can use this to actively explore the dragons and monsters in unmapped areas of ourselves. When and how do I imagine monsters in the world? How does that mirror me? When am I like that? Can I find specific examples here and now and from my past? How is it to recognize this? How is it to include it in the image I have about myself? How is it to recognize in me more of what I see in others and the world?

Read More

Outside of any labels and categories

Words divide the world, and the world is a seamless whole. So naturally, words leave a lot out and are also often a bit misleading.

That means that any real exploration or who and what we are will, invariably, happen somewhat free of any labels, categories, and what fits into any particular tradition or orientation.

Life is more than and different form any maps or ideas about it.

No closer to really understanding

During a recent Breema workshop, one of the students asked about the hara (belly). What is it? What happens with the hara during a session? Is it connected to the chakras? The meridians?

For me, it was one of those moments that shows very clearly that no matter how many models and theories we are familiar with, and no matter how well these seem to explain what is going on, we are no closer to really understanding it.

Of course, these theories and models and maps can be very useful. They have a practical value, and we can certainly understand something more or less well in this conventional and practical sense. In a conventional sense, a map is “true” or “valid” if it works well enough, and false if not.

But even if they work, we are no closer to really understanding.

In a conventional way, we know that a map is different from the terrain. Any map highlights some features, ignore other, and may be inaccurate in what it highlights and leave out something important. Chances are, it does leave something important out, we just don’t know it yet.

Also, a map is made of thought, while the terrain is something else. They are different in kind, often dramatically different.

Thoughts are always about the past. Even if they are about the present, they lag behind. And if they do say something about the future or present, it is always drawn from memories of the past.

Models always have a shadow, a reversal that is not included. They are inevitably partial. They leave out views and perspectives that also have validity. And life, as it goes about its business, has a tendency to bring up just those things that can only be understood through those reversals views.

So in all of these ways, we see that a map is not the terrain. It can be quite useful – and “true” – in a practical way. But that is how far they go in terms of their relationship to what they supposedly are about. They work (or not) in a practical sense, and that’s it.

There is also a more immediate way to see that the map and terrain are quite different, not only in degree but in kind. Where we see that the terrain is awareness itself, taking different appearances, and the map is just an overlay.

If we explore it through the sense fields, we see that thought is an overlay on each of the sense fields. It is an interpretation, a question, about what happens in the sense fields. It has immense practical value for our human self in the world, and no value – or truth – beyond that. It is just a thought. An activity of the mental field.

Any statement, theory, model, map, is a question only. Sometimes it helps our human self to function in the world. Sometimes it is less helpful. Sometimes it can even be a pointer for us to explore what we really are, and also here be more or less effective in a practical sense.

Read More

What is a mystery, and what is not?

There is another irony here:

Conventionally, we tend to think that the Truth with capital T is a mystery, and always will be. Possibly, at best, something revealed after death, if we are lucky and the universe is set up that way. We can always know quite a bit about this physical world, the world of form, so that is not really a mystery, but the Ultimate Truth will quite probably always remain a mystery.

But when Ground awakens to itself, this too, as so much else, is reversed.

Now, we see that the Ultimate Truth is revealed to itself, so simply and plainly that it is difficult to express in words. All is God, awake void and form. There is no separate self anywhere, no I with an Other. The nature of all is God, is awake void and form. The ultimate truth is no longer a mystery.

And we also see, equally plainly, that the content of world of form is always a mystery. Whatever maps we put on top of the world of form is always only a map. There is an infinite number of ways to filter the world of form, and even if it was filtered only one way, there is an infinite number of maps possible to account for the world of form as it appears.

The nature of everything is clearly revealed, but the content of everything ultimately remains a mystery, independent of how refined and sophisticated our maps are.

Read More

Dream: far too simplistic

Someone I know from some years back recognizes me on the street, and wants me to give feedback on a project she is working on (possibly for a university class.) She shows me a map of everything in the universe, organized according to alchemical symbols and processes. Nigredo, albedo and rubedo are there, with lines going from one to another, and so are innumerable other processes. Among all of these are listed galaxies, planets, molecules, many different spiritual traditions and so on. I am speechless for a while as I try to process it, and also try to find a kind way to say that the mapping attempt is far too simplistic.

Although it was a noble and brave attempt at mapping everything, it was far too simplistic. First, the different alchemical processes cannot be thought of as one necessarily leading to another… for instance, calcinato (fire, heat) is a part of any phase of the overall process, not just happening once as the map indicated. And also, the different parts of the universe do not correspond to just one area of the map… Buddhism is not rubedo and Christianity is not albedo.

Of course, I am the one who made that map. It is far too simplistic in relative terms, and needs more work and to continue to develop and mature. And if I take it as anything else than a relative truth, with limited and only functional value (at best) then that too is far too simplistic. What stays with me after this dream is the necessity to put in more work in the mapping process, if I am to engage in it in the first place.

The person in the dream is someone I know from real life from some years back. I admire her as a person and see her as very intelligent, receptive, open hearted and mature, but also as someone seeing this from the outside, as an academical exercise and an intellectual game. And that too represents me. I am the one who places myself outside of it, and get caught up in the enjoyment of moving symbols around making them fit together on paper, without doing the work of having the map conform to the terrain more closely.

The map sometimes becomes primary and the terrain secondary, rather than the other way around.

The dream invites me to see how I am doing this in daily life. And as many insights into what is going on, it is sobering and humbling… and liberating as well, liberating from a too simplistic and false view.

I also see that this it not only applies here and now, but probably always will apply as well… Any map can always be more closely aligned with and in service of the terrain, placing the terrain as primary and the map as secondary. And any map is always only a relative truth, with all its reversals also containing grains of truth. There is always the temptation to make the map primary and the terrain secondary, and to make the map into an absolute truth, even in subtle ways.

Eating the menu

One of the reminders teachers of just about any subject give is to not be satisfied with the menu alone, and not to try to eat it either. Looking at the menu does not give the nourishment of the meal, and eating the menu is also not quite the same.

The menu is the theory, and the meal is when what the theory points to is a living reality.

Reading the menu is listening to it, taking it in, even being exited about it or believing in it. Trying to eat it, is the wrestling with the theory, the exploration of it, trying to make sense of it.

Both are fine, and even an essential part of the process.

Original beliefs

As we start out on the path of discovering who (as individual) and what (as spirit) we are, we already have lots of beliefs from our family, culture, society and our own individual experiences. All of these beliefs, from seeing ourselves as a thing in a world of things to believing that our kids should pick up their socks, defines what is true and good and what is not, splits life in general, and our own life in particular, down the middle, often creating stress and even suffering.

Modifying our beleifs

So when we read and try to eat the menu, we are modifying our original beliefs in ways that have several effects. Hopefully, it relieves some of the stress which becomes an encouragement to continue the exploration. It can serve as a map for our continued exploration. And it can be a pointer to something beyond itself, allowing us to find it for ourselves.

As we have glimpses of what the words point to, these too inevitable become memories and beliefs, which is another menu, and another phase of the process. As with the initial menu, this one encourages us to continue, provides a map, and points to a living reality beyond itself.

Discovering what is beyond the beliefs

Eventually, as we become more and more familiar with the terrain itself, the map goes from being primary, in the foreground, a way to orient and navigate, and something to believe in, to being secondary, in the background, derived from our immediate experience, and just a relative truth, one of many ways to talk about it.


One of the many areas where I find this for myself is with The Work. Initially, it was a nice map which fitted my own experiences and previous maps. Then, as a explored it in my own life, I gradually became more and more familiar with the terrain itself, and this in turn fed back into the map.

It is a continuing process. Sometimes, the map is more in the foreground. I may be caught up in a belief, and the map tells me it is only a belief, which helps a little but not that much. Other times, the living reality of it is more in the foreground, on its own. And other times again, when I actively engage in the process, I may start out with the map, the theoretical understanding that it is only a belief and that reality (and peace) is on the other side of it, and this becomes a living reality as I go through the steps.