We can come up with any number of maps and models for the awakening process. Many of these fit much of the data we have, and they also tend to reflect our own biases, experiences, tradition, and culture.
I’ll outline a few general phases many seem to go through. And this fits, more or less, my own process as well. (I did skip the two first phases, see the last section.)
As with any phase model, any one individual process may look different. Some will skip some of these phases. Sometimes, a phase is baked into other phases. The path for some may look nothing like this. And many may not go further than the initial one or two phases.
Casual interest. Many have a casual interest in spirituality. Something in it is fascinating to us and we are drawn to it, and we may enjoy going to some events or reading some quotes or books. And that’s about it. This may progress to more serious interest, or stay like this, or fade.
Either one is perfectly fine.
Fascinated by what’s bright and shiny. Early on, we may be drawn to the bright and shiny. We may be attracted to teachers, teachings, and traditions that are charismatic, appear confident, and tell us what we want to hear. This can especially happen if we haven’t had a taste of what it’s about.
Engaging in more serious practice. At some point, which may be right away, we are called to engage in more serious practice. We devote time and energy to following pointers and practices from certain guides and traditions.
Here, we tend to focus more on the content than the packaging, and our discernment hopefully improves with experience and maturity.
A taste. We may have a taste of oneness, all as the divine, and so on. If the taste happened more spontaneously, it can function as a carrot, and, for a while, we may get caught up in chasing the experience.
If the taste comes from guided inquiry – like Headless experiments and the Big Mind process – several things may happen. We may find it interesting and not do anything more with it. We may feel it’s too simple and obvious, and it doesn’t fit our preconceived notion, so we dismiss it. Or we may engage in continued finding and exploration of what we are.
Learning to find and live from. When we more reliably can notice our nature, our invitation is to keep noticing in more situations in daily life and exploring how to live from it. Over time, this becomes a new habit.
Inviting the human self to transform within it. Here, we may notice that many parts of our human self still operate from separation consciousness. These color our perception and life. And when they are triggered, we may get caught up in them for a while. We get caught up in the insanity of these scared parts of us instead of noticing and living from our nature.
An important part of this process is to notice these parts of us and invite them to join in with oneness and transform within oneness.
Dark nights. It’s common to experience different types of dark nights during an awakening process. We may have found the divine as all, and then it goes away and we respond with despair and loss. We may realize that none of what we believe is true the way we took it, including about spirituality, and have a kind of crisis. Our mind and heart open, and it also opens to anything unprocessed in us which then comes to the surface. (And this can feel disorienting, scary, and overwhelming.)
There are many other variations than the three I mentioned here. Common to them all may be that they help wear off some of our more cherished and essential assumptions about ourselves, life, and awakening. And although I inserted the dark night section here, it’s somewhat arbitrary. We can have dark night phases during any part of the awakening process.
Deepen into oneness and transformation. If we keep noticing, keep exploring living from it, and invite more of our human self to align within oneness, we may find that all of this gradually clarifies, deepens, and becomes more natural. We may also recognize that this is all ongoing and there is no endpoint.
ASPECTS OF THE PATH
In addition to phases, there are also aspects or characteristics of the path.
Religion vs. spirituality. Some may go into or stay within a religion. They may do it for the community, comfort, and promise of some kind of salvation, or to engage in serious practice. Some may go into a more general spirituality that’s open for pointers and practices from many different traditions or that’s outside of any tradition.
Ideology vs pragmatics. We may engage in wishful or fearful thinking, believe whatever a teacher or tradition tells us, and go into ideologies. Or we may take a more pragmatic approach, hold whatever we are told lightly, engage in a serious practice, and see what works.
The world as a mirror. We may take the world as “out there” and more or less as it appears. Or we can use it as a mirror. We can use it by turning our stories about the world to ourselves and find specific examples of how it’s true. We may that, to us, it happens within and as our sense fields. We may find that our stories about the world, including the most basic assumptions and labels, come from an overlay of our own mental images and words. We may find that the world – any content of experience – happens within and as what we are.
Relationship with thoughts. We may take our thoughts as true and saying something real about the world. Or we may recognize thoughts as thoughts, as questions about the world, as serving a pragmatic function, as often only partially correct in a conventional sense, and as unable to hold any full, final, or complete truth.
This is an ongoing exploration since our system usually holds some thoughts and basic assumptions as true even if it doesn’t match our conscious view. These inevitably color our perception and life. And we may not be aware of these until one or more of them are triggered.
Finding effective tools. We may stay with the tools given to us by a guide or tradition. (Which may work fine or very well.) We take a more pragmatic approach, find what works for us, and learn which tools do what and apply them as needed. Or we do both, staying with the tools of a certain tradition and also exploring outside of this tradition.
Recognizing our own authority. Some may be tempted to give away their authority, especially early in the process. After a while, we may realize that we are always the final authority when it comes to our own choices and actions. Even when we pretend to give away our authority, we are our own final authority.
States vs our nature. For a while, we may experience unusual and amazing states, assume it’s about states, and chase states. At some point, we realize that this is about our nature, not states. And we can notice our nature here and now, independent of whatever states or experiences are here. (Unless they are very strong, our noticing is not so strong, and our attention gets distracted.)
Living for ourselves vs the larger whole. We can go overboard in either direction here, or life places us in a situation where we get to explore one more than the other. Over time, we may find more of a balance in a conventional sense, and look a little deeper and find where one is the other. (For a while, I tended to ignore my own needs and instead serve others, which doesn’t work especially in the long run and comes from some issues and hangups. Then, life placed me in a health and life situation where I had no choice but to focus on and take care of myself. The situation was too urgent and I didn’t have the energy or resources for anything else.)
Growing and waking up. As many talks about these days, both are important. We can work on healing and maturing as a human being. And also notice our nature and live from this noticing. They go hand-in-hand, and if there is an awakening, life tends to put us in situations where we need to grow up. (That happens no matter what, but it seems to get intensified in this process.)
USE AND MISUSE OF ANY MAP OF PHASES
When we are presented with a map of phases, it can be helpful or not depending on how we use it.
It can be of help when we personally are going through certain phases. When I was in the darkest dark night, I listened to Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism, and especially the chapter on the dark night, over and over. Just about everything in it matched my experience, and it gave me some comfort knowing that others had gone through something similar. I felt a kinship to these people she wrote about, and I also went to some of the sources she used.
When we are in earlier phases, it can be moderately helpful to have a general map of the process. It gives us some idea of what to look out for, and it can help us avoid some of the pitfalls. (Although knowing about pitfalls is often not enough to avoid them, and we may need to gain our own experience.)
And as an awakening guide, it’s helpful to have a general map of the process. I assume just about anyone on this path eventually forms a map in their own mind of the process. And this map is often based on their personal experience, what they have seen from others, and maps created by others.
The idea of phases can also be less helpful.
It’s not so helpful if we use it to want to get to the next one. It’s better to just keep doing our practices and see what happens.
It’s not so helpful if we get caught up in placing ourselves and others in the different phases to see who is more “advanced” and so on. Life is more complex than that and there is a lot more going on than what’s described in any one model.
And it’s especially not helpful if we assume it has to be that way for everyone including ourselves. There are always cases that don’t fit a certain map or model. Life is always richer than any model. It’s always more than and different from any model.
As with so much, maps and models may be most helpful when we hold them lightly, use them for specific practical purposes, and know that reality is different.
MY OWN PROCESS AND BIAS
It may be important to say a few words about my own process since it explains some of my biases. And it’s also an example of how life doesn’t always conform to the map. My own process doesn’t fit all of the phases I listed above.
In my case, the initial awakening shift happened spontaneously in my mid-teens. I didn’t go through an initial casual fascination phase. On the contrary, I was an atheist and saw religion and spirituality as impractical, something people seek for comfort, and something to avoid.
Since it happened outside of any tradition, I have felt free to explore any tradition. And I also tend to take a pragmatic approach and find and use what works for me whether it’s from a tradition or outside of traditions.
As mentioned earlier, I have gone through a relatively dense dark night. For me, it had to do with a lot of primal fear and trauma surfacing so it could join in with the awakening. It hasn’t been so strong recently, but it’s still very much a focus for me. It’s a process of allowing it to work on me. Healing my relationship with it and life. Inviting in healing for the trauma itself. And recognizing it all as flavors of the divine.
My main focus these days is to invite the different parts of me to join in with oneness.Read More