Understanding awakening in an atheist and materialistic context

No matter what worldview we prefer, it can be helpful to also understand awakening in an atheist and materialistic context.

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

I’ll give the short version I often use in these articles.

In one sense, we are a human being in the world. It’s not wrong and it’s an assumptions that helps us orient and function in the world.

And when we look a little closer in our own first-person experience, we may find something else. Especially if we are guided by effective inquiries and guides familiar with the terrain.

I find I am more fundamentally capacity for any and all of my experiences. I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am capacity for this human self and anything connected with it.

I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as.

KEEPING NOTICING AND EXPLORING HOW TO LIVE FROM IT

This can be a glimpse, and this noticing can also become a habit. Throughout the day, we may notice this whenever we remember.

When it becomes more of a habit, we can explore how to live from this noticing. How is it to live from oneness? How is it to live from oneness in this situation? This is a lifelong exploration and new things will always be revealed.

And when the noticing is more of a habit, and we explore how to live from, something else tends to happen. And that’s a transformation of our human self. It’s a transformation of our perception, life in the world, and our human self and psyche. Whatever was formed within and still operates from separation consciousness (which is often a lot) comes to the surface with an invitation for it to align with oneness noticing itself.

THE LOGIC OF WHAT WE FIND

We may also discover that there is a logic to what we find.

If we “have” consciousness, then to ourselves we must BE consciousness. Consciousness is not some appendix we somehow have like we have arms, legs, and organs. It’s what we are in our own experience.

To us, the world and any experience happen within and as consciousness. The world and any experience, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

Consciousness is inherently one and cannot be divided. (Although what happens within its content can obviously be divided.) And that means that the world, to us, happens within and as the oneness we are.

This also means that, to us, the world appears similar to a dream. It happens within and as consciousness, just like a dream (and any experience).

OUR NATURE VERSUS THE NATURE OF REALITY

What does this discovery allow us to say something about?

We can say something about what we are in our own immediate experience, and not so much else.

For instance, we cannot say if the nature of reality – of all of existence – is the same as our own nature.

It will inevitably appear that way since the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are. It appears to us as if the world is consciousness. We may even call it Spirit or the divine or God. But we cannot know that for certain.

SMALL AND BIG INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

This leads us to the psychological (small) and spiritual (big) interpretations of awakening.

In the psychological interpretation, we talk about it as I do above. We keep it to our own experience, and we don’t generalize to the nature of existence itself.

In the spiritual interpretation, we take it one step further. We assume that our nature is the nature of all of existence. We assume all of existence is consciousness and what we can call Spirit, the divine, Brahman, God, and so on.

The spiritual interpretation is most common, perhaps because awakening has traditionally been talked about in the context of religions and spiritual traditions, and these use the spiritual or big interpretation of awakening.

THE VALUE IN THE SMALL INTERPRETATION

There is a value in the psychological or small interpretation of awakening as well.

It fits a range of different worldviews, perhaps nearly all of them. (I am sure it’s possible to come up with some that don’t fit but I cannot think of any of the common ones that don’t fit.)

It even fits an atheist and materialistic worldview. In our own experience, we are consciousness. That’s the reality in our own first-person view. And from a third-person view, it may well be that the most fundamental nature of reality is matter.

Taking this into account has value for those of us already exploring awakening. It helps us see that many worldviews may fit our experience. It helps us hold any preferred worldview a little more lightly. It gives us a common language to use when we speak with people from other backgrounds. And each worldview we explore may give us useful insights and pointers for our views and general and even how we live our life.

And it also has value in a more general sense. It makes awakening more available to more people. If it’s presented in a non-religious and non-spiritual context, then new groups of people may get curious about it. Some may even wish to explore it for themselves since they realize it may be compatible with their existing and familiar worldview. It’s more of an add-on or a nuance than a replacement.

WHICH IS MORE CORRECT?

So which one is more correct? The psychological or spiritual interpretation?

The psychological interpretation is safer. It stays with our own experience and doesn’t make assumptions beyond that. It allows us to consider different worldviews, hold them all more lightly, and find the value in each. It is, in many ways, more intellectually honest. It makes awakening available to more people. It goes to the essence of what mystics across times and cultures describe and can provide a common language for people from different traditions.

The spiritual interpretation may be more familiar to many. It may be more inspiring. And I personally suspect it may be more accurate. There are hints suggesting just that. (Sensing and healing at a distance, ESP, premonitions, synchronicities, and so on.)

On an awakening path, many of us experience things that best fit the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

And on a collective level, the more prudent approach is to hold that one lightly as well.

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The logic of what we are (awakening)

There is a logical inevitability to what we are.

There is a logic to what we are in our own first-person experience.

There is a logic to what we find when we are guided, and when we set aside thoughts telling us what we are.

THE CONVENTIONAL VIEW & WHAT I FIND

The conventional view is that we are this human self in the world. I am a human being in the world that has consciousness. That’s not entirely wrong. It’s an assumption that works relatively well in daily life.

But is this what I find when we take a closer look in my own immediate experience? Here, I find I more fundamentally am something else.

I find I more fundamentally am capacity for any and all experience. I find am what any experience happens within and as. And I find there is a logical inevitability to this.

THE LOGIC OF OUR WHAT WE ARE: THE SIMPLE VERSION

Why is there a logical inevitability to what we are?

The simple version is that if we “have” consciousness, then to ourselves we have to BE consciousness.

The world, as it appears to us, then has to happen within the consciousness we are.

And we and the world, as it appears to us, have to have the characteristics of consciousness.

THE LOGIC OF WHAT WE ARE IN MORE DETAIL

I’ll go into this in a little more detail.

(1) If we “have” consciousness, then to ourselves we have to BE consciousness.

Consciousness is not some appendix we happen to have. (The only way it can look that way is if we: (a) Assume we most fundamentally are an object in the world with consciousness somehow attached to it. And (b) don’t examine it very closely.)

If we “have” consciousness, it means that we perceive “through” that consciousness. It means that all our experiences happen within and as that consciousness. It means that what receives any and all experiences is that consciousness. And that means that, to ourselves, we have to BE that consciousness. There is no other option.

(2) The world, as it appears to us, then has to happen within the consciousness we are.

The world, to us, happens within and as consciousness. We are that consciousness.

That means that the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

And by “the world” I mean any and all content of experience including the wider, this human self, thoughts, feelings, states, and so on.

Anything that appears in any sense field – sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought – happens within and as the consciousness we are.

(3) And we and the world, as it appears to us, have to have the characteristics of consciousness.

Here are some of these characteristics:

Oneness. The consciousness we are is one. And the world as it appears to us happens within and as the oneness we are. Our experience of anything and everything inevitably happens within the oneness we are. (If our system is invested in a perception of separation, we may not notice that oneness, but that’s another matter.)

Timeless. To ourselves, our nature is timeless. It just is. And since the world happens within and as what we are, that too is timeless to us. Time happens within and as what we are. It’s not fundamental to what we are.

Spaceless. Similarly, to ourselves, our nature is spaceless and the world appears spaceless. Any sense of space happens within and as what we are, it’s not fundamental to our nature.

Love. We can also say that our nature is love. Love is a natural expression of the oneness we are recognizing itself. It’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right. It’s a love that’s not dependent on feelings or states. (It’s always here but it’s dependent on not being too obscured by our separation-consciousness hangups to be expressed.)

Not a thing. As consciousness, we are not a thing. And since the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are, that too – to us – is not a thing. It’s all happening more like a dream, within and as consciousness, than anything else. (Again, being caught up in separation consciousness can make the world appear very much as a thing, and there is some truth to that too.)

Ephemeral. Any and all experience is ephemeral. It’s gone before we consciously realize we have noticed it. In this way too, everything is dreamlike. (Any sense of permanence is created by the overlay of our mental field.)

Capacity. As consciousness, our more fundamental nature is capacity. We are capacity for any and all experiences. We are what allows it all. We are what all happens within and as.

Always here. Our nature is, inevitably, always here. It may not recognize itself, but it’s here. It’s what we already are.

NO IDEOLOGY OR SPIRITUALITY REQUIRED

No ideology or spirituality is required to explore this. It’s just what we find (or not) when we look.

What we find is what mystics throughout history and from any tradition have described. And yet, it’s not dependent on any religion, spirituality, or ideology.

If anything, it reveals that any religion, spirituality, and ideology is human-created, it’s created by our mental field. At most, and in this context, it reflects a direct noticing and can offer some pointers for how to explore it for ourselves.

HOW CAN WE EXAMINE IT FOR OURSELVES?

So how can we examine it for ourselves?

I’ll mention a few approaches I have found especially helpful.

Headless experiments and the Big Mind process are two of the most simple, direct, and effective approaches I have found so far.

Basic meditation is to notice and allow what’s here and notice it’s already noticed and allowed. Over time, we realize that any and all content of experience comes and goes, including what we may take ourselves to be. So what are we more fundamentally? Are we what it all comes and goes within and as? How is it to notice that? How is it to explore living from that noticing?

And there are also many approaches that support this noticing or support living from it, including other forms of inquiry (sense field explorations, Kiloby inquiries), heart-centered practices (prayer, tonglen, ho’oponpono, metta), training more stable attention (including body-centered practices), and ethical guidelines (reduces distractions, highlights what in us operates from separation consciousness).

WHY IS IT COVERED UP?

If this is our nature, why don’t we notice? Why is it covered up?

The simple answer is that as we grow up, we do as others do. We see others operate from separation consciousness, assuming they most fundamentally are an object in the world, so we do the same. And we don’t find a good reason to question or examine it. Or we don’t have access to good tools and guidance to examine it.

HOW IS IT COVERED UP?

How is it covered up? What are some of the mechanisms?

In short, it’s covered up when our mind holds onto mental representations – mental images and words – as accurately reflecting reality.

As soon as consciousness holds a story as true, it identifies with the viewpoint of that story. It becomes an “I” with an “other”. To itself, it becomes something within the content of experience. (1)

It temporarily takes itself to be one part within itself, and everything else as “other”.

That’s how separation consciousness is created, and it can seem very real.

If we grow up with separation consciousness, as most of us do, then many parts of our psyche are formed and operate from separation consciousness. That’s how emotional issues, traumas, hangups, ideologies, and so on are created.

Even when the oneness we are recognizes itself, it can still have many parts operating from separation consciousness, and it can take time to get all of these onboard with a more conscious noticing of oneness.

WHY DON’T MORE PEOPLE TALK ABOUT THIS?

Why don’t more people talk about this?

Well, some do. Many Asian spiritual traditions talk about this. Mystics from all traditions and times talk about it. Many spiritual coaches and teachers talk about it. Some psychologists and philosophers talk about it.

And yet, most psychologists and philosophers don’t talk about it, and few in academia explore it in any serious way.

Why do they ignore it even if it has logic to it? Why do they ignore it even if this has profound practical implications? Even if it can be profoundly transforming for anyone engaging in these kinds of explorations?

I am not sure.

Perhaps some lack curiosity or interest? (Which is fine. Our fascination is our calling, and there is no lack of things to be fascinated by.) Perhaps they haven’t investigated the conventional “have consciousness as an appendix” idea? Perhaps they are concerned to get lumped in with mystics, spiritual people, and weirdos?

I assume it’s not because this is not an important topic, because it is. It’s not for lack of information or guidance, because that can be found. It’s not because they cannot explore it for themselves, because they can. And it’s not because there is no logic to it, because there is.

IS OUR NATURE THE SAME AS THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE?

Is our nature the same as the nature of all of existence?

If we find our own more fundamental nature, it’s natural to assume that the nature of existence is the same. After all, the world to us happens within and as what we are, so it will appear that way.

And yet, do we know? Not really.

I cannot know for certain. I can find what appears as my more fundamental nature, I can explore how to live from that noticing, and so on. And yet, I cannot honestly say I know for certain that’s the nature of everything.

THE SMALL AND BIG INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

This is where I differentiate between the small and big interpretations of awakening.

This article is written from the small interpretation of awakening. It doesn’t rely on spirituality or religion. It’s about what we can find for ourselves through direct noticing.

It’s about our own nature, in our own first-person experience, not the nature of reality or existence.

From here, we can go one step further and say that our nature IS the nature of existence and reality. Reality IS consciousness. It is what we traditionally think of as the divine, as Spirit, as God.

Each of these interpretations has its place and value.

The small interpretation is more accessible to more people, it points more directly to what we can find for ourselves, and it goes to the heart of what mystics from different times and traditions describe. As I see it, it’s also more intellectually honest. And it may appear a bit dry and boring.

The big interpretation fits more what the main religions and spiritual traditions describe, it can be more inspiring, and it can open us up more. In some cases, it’s also a bit intellectually dishonest (presenting fantasy or speculation as reality), fanciful, and misleading. And there are several hints that the essence of it is more accurate in the bigger picture.

LILA – THE PLAY OF REALITY

All of this can be seen as play.

We can see it as the play of consciousness, reality, or even of the divine.

In the big interpretation of awakening…

It’s the divine exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

It’s the one experiencing itself as many. It’s oneness experiencing itself as separate. It’s love experiencing itself as what looks like anything but love. It’s consciousnes experiencing itself as an object in the world. And so on.

It’s the dance of reality or Spirit.

In the small interpretation of awakening…

It’s much the same. It’s the oneness we are experiencing itself as separate. It’s the love we are experiencing itself as anything but love. It’s consciousness taking itself to be an object in the world.

And here, we can see it as play or something that’s just happening.

In either case, we can see it as the dance of consciousness, reality, or the divine.

And any ideas of purpose or meaning are ideas and not inherent in reality itself.

(1) Said another way, the consciousness we are creates a lot of identities for itself and identifies with these. It takes itself as a human, a gender, an age, someone with certain characteristics, and so on. None of this is necessarily wrong, but it is limiting and it’s not accurate in a more real sense.

If we look more closely we may find another mechanism. The consciousness we are associates certain thoughts with certain sensations. The sensations lend a sense of solidity, substance, and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations. And the consciousness we are may create chronic tension in the physical body in order to have ready access to sensations lending substance to certain thoughts.

If we have chronic beliefs, about anything, it’s a good bet that these are connected with chronic tension somewhere in the physical body.

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What does “oneness” mean? Some examples of different forms of oneness

What comes to mind when you hear the word “oneness”? That it always refer to the same? That what it refers to is something mysterious? Something that belongs to certain religions or New Age thought? Something not grounded in reality? Something real you cannot check out for yourself?

The word oneness can refer to several different things and it’s helpful to differentiate.

THE ONENESS WE ARE TO OURSELVES

We may take ourselves to be this human being in the world, and that’s not wrong and it’s an assumption that works reasonably well. 

And yet, if we look more closely in our own first-person experience, we may find something else. We may find that we more fundamentally are capacity for the world – for any content of experience – as it appears to us. And we may find that the world, to us, happens within and as what we are. 

Said another way, we may find that we inevitably are consciousness and that the world, to us, happens within and as this consciousness. 

We can also say that we are oneness, and the world happens within and as this oneness. 

This is the oneness we are and we can explore in our own experience, especially if we are guided by a structured inquiry and someone familiar with the terrain. 

ONE IN A MORE CONVENTIONAL SENSE  

In mainstream culture, we sometimes say we are one – whether that comes from poetry, politics, science, religion, or something else.

We are one in an ethnic or political sense.

We are one in terms of our shared history, either as a group or as humanity.

We are one in terms of our evolution and shared ancestry, either as humanity or all Earth beings.

We are one in that the essence of what we want is the same and shared by all beings. We all wish for comfort and happiness and to avoid suffering.

In some cases, it can be a dangerous rhetoric if it sets “us” up against “them”. And it can be beautiful and healing to the extent it is inclusive.

ONE IN A SYSTEMS SENSE 

We can take this one step further and find oneness in a systems sense.

We are all parts of a seamless system. All of humanity, all of this living planet, all of this evolving universe, all of existence. All of existence is part of a seamless system. 

As Carl Sagan said: We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. 

ONE IN A SPIRITUAL SENSE 

It’s also possible that all of existence is God or the divine or Spirit. Spirit takes the form of all there is and all we know, including everything connected with this human self. 

It’s all the play of the divine. It’s the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways, as all there is. 

All of existence is divine and one. 

SEVERAL DIFFERENT ONENESSES 

We can find several different onenesses. 

To ourselves, we are the oneness the world happens within and as. 

We are one in several different social, historical, biological, and evolutionary ways. 

We are parts of a seamless system. 

And all can be seen as expressions and explorations of Spirit. 

THE VALIDITY OF EACH 

Each of these ways of talking about oneness has validity, and the validity is slightly different in each case.

I can check the first one for myself. I can find myself as that oneness.

The two next ones make sense within the realm of stories, and I include science here since science produces stories that help us function and navigate in the world.

And the last one is what mystics from all traditions describe. We can say that they found the first kind of oneness and then over-generalized and assumed that their nature is the nature of all of existence. And there are also hints beyond that suggesting that the “all as Spirit” view is valid in itself. (See articles on the small and big interpretations of awakening for more on this.) 

Image: Enso / Zen circle by Sengai

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Several onenesses and one oneness

There seem to be several onenesses and one oneness, depending on how I look at it.

SEVERAL ONENESSES

If we use the small or psychological interpretation of awakening, we focus on our first-person experience of what we more fundamentally are. We find our own nature as what we can call capacity for the world and the oneness that the world to us appears within and as. And we don’t make the leap of assuming that our nature is the nature of all of existence. (Even if it will inevitably appear that way since the world, to us, happens within and as what we are.)

This view is compatible with the essence of what mystics of all times and traditions, and outside of traditions, have described. And it’s also compatible with a range of worldviews or assumptions or guesses about what our fundamental nature is in a more outside or objective view, and what the nature of reality is.

For instance, it is compatible with a guess that we most fundamentally, in an objective sense, is this physical human self and that consciousness somehow is created by the biology. To ourselves, we will still be what a thought may label consciousness, and to us the world will still happen within and as consciousness. We will still find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and as the oneness the world to us happens within and as.

Here, we can talk about several onenesses.

I find myself as the oneness the world, to me, appears within and as. You find yourself as the oneness the world, to you, happens within and as. And it’s fair to assume – or guess – that this is the case for all conscious beings. If they “have” consciousness, in conventional language, then to themselves they are consciousness. They are capacity for the world as it appears to them. And, to them, the world appears within and as what they are.

These onenesses may live from their nature, and the dynamics of the being they have a special connection with, without being consciously aware of it. (This may be the case for most species.) They may get caught up in a much smaller identity for a while. (Typical for humans.) Or they may notice their nature and live from this noticing. (AKA awakening.)

ONE ONENESS

At the same time, we can say there is one oneness.

Same kind of nature. Our nature – as capacity, oneness, and what we can call consciousness – seems the same for anyone who has reported about it. And, again, it’s fair to assume it’s the same for all conscious beings.

In that sense, there is oneness. There is an oneness of all beings consciousnesses since we seem to have the same kind of nature.

Oneness in perception. To us, all of existence happens within and as the oneness we are. This is another kind of oneness. A oneness in perception.

One system. At a story level, we can see all of existence as a seamless system. Everything is a seamless whole. It’s a holarchy with holons within holons.

All as Spirit. And we can also take the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening and assume – or guess – that the nature of all of existence is the same as our nature. It not only inevitably appears that way to us, it actually is that way too. There are certainly many hints suggesting this, including synchronicities, distance healing, sensing at a distance, and so on.

SEVERAL ONENESSES AND ONE ONENESS

So from a psychological interpretation of awakening, we can say there are several onenesses. Each being is a oneness whether they notice or not.

And we can say there is one oneness. All beings are one in that their nature is of the same kind. We perceive existence as one when we notice our nature. We can see existence as a whole as a seamless system. And the spiritual interpretation of awakening may be accurate, and all of existence is Spirit AKA God, Brahman, and so on.

All of it seems to have a certain validity in its own way.

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The logic of awakening & the inevitability of what we are and how it plays itself out

This is another topic I feel drawn to revisit.

What are we in our own first-person experience? What are we to ourselves? What is the world to us?

We can explore this in our own direct experience, and that can be profoundly transforming for our perception, life in the world, and our human self.

And we can also explore it logically, which can lead to and possibly support a more immediate exploration.

When I explore it logically, arriving at what we are – our nature – seems inevitable. And perhaps it looks that way since I have explored it in my immediate noticing since my teens. I shape the steps to fit what I notice in immediacy.

THE INEVITABILITY OF WHAT WE ARE

What are these logical steps apparently arriving at the inevitability of what we are?

Here is one version:

  1. There is consciousness.
    • This is indisputable, as far as I can tell.
  2. This consciousness has content.
    • We label this content this human self, others, the wider world, and so on.
    • All our experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else – are content of consciousness.
  3. To ourselves, we are consciousness.
    • All the content of our experience comes and goes. Nothing stays.
    • This also applies to our human self and any ideas we have about our human self.
      • This human self is more ephemeral than we may tell ourselves. This human self comes and goes. For instance, in a dream we may be someone else or not present at all. Our experience of this human self, including our ideas about it, is always changing.
    • To ourselves, we are more fundamentally consciousness.
  4. The world, to us, happens within and as what we are.
    • To us, the world happens within and as consciousness, what we are to ourselves.
    • Our nature forms itself into the world as we experience it here and now.
  5. We are capacity.
    • One characteristic of consciousness is capacity.
    • Consciousness is capacity for any and all of the content of its experience.
    • We are capacity for the world, as it appears to us.
  6. We are oneness.
    • Any content of experience happens within and as consciousness.
    • This consciousness forms itself into any and all content of experience, including this human self, others, the world, and so on.
    • Consciousness is one, no matter what experience it forms itself into.
    • To ourselves, we are oneness.
  7. Separation consciousness
    • Consciousness can take itself to primarily be one particular part of its content.
    • Consciousness can take itself to be this human self, a doer, an observer, and any concept.
    • This is how separation consciousness is created.
  8. Awakening
    • Consciousness can notice itself as consciousness.
    • This is what some spiritual traditions call awakening.
    • It can happen through intention, practice, or without any conscious work or desire.
    • The noticing happens here and now, and learning to keep noticing, clarifying, deepening, and living from it is a process.
    • This process is ongoing and has no finishing line.
  9. Universality
    • The essence of this has been described by people across time and cultures, it seems universal.
    • Mystics from all the major spiritual traditions, and outside of any tradition, talk about finding themselves as capacity (“God-head”), oneness, and so on. And they speak in very similar ways about the process leading up to noticing, and the process of living from this noticing.
  10. A psychological understanding of awakening
    • This is a more psychological understanding of awakening.
    • It doesn’t rely on spirituality or spiritual terminology, although what it describes is the same.
    • It says something about what we are in our own first-person experience.
    • It doesn’t say anything about the nature of reality. It doesn’t rely or depend on words like Spirit, God, or Brahman.
    • That makes it more accessible to people independent on their existing worldviews.
    • And it can also provide common ground for people who are exploring and finding this, independent on whatever spiritual tradition or religion – if any – they belong to.

I realize that some may have arguments with some or all of these steps. That’s the job of the mind.

For instance, someone may agree that to ourselves, we are consciousness, oneness, etc. And yet, they may not see it as possible for consciousness to “wake up” to itself in this way because it’s outside of their current experience and the worldview they are familiar with.

I also realize that this can seem abstract and intellectual if we haven’t tasted it for ourselves, in our immediate noticing. (In my case, the noticing came before finding this apparent logic.)

And I am sure there are other ways of phrasing this that are more to the point and make more sense.

SEPARATION CONSCIOUSNESS AND AWAKENING

I thought I would say a few more words about separation consciousness and awakening since that’s of particular interest to me.

For me, the essence of how separation consciousness and awakening plays itself out also has a logic in it. Although there is a wild diversity in how each is expressed and lived out, there is also an apparent inevitability in its essence.

SEPARATION CONSCIOUSNESS

The oneness we are can take itself as fundamentally something in particular within the content of experience. Typically, this human self, a doer, an observer, and so on.

This happens, at least partially, through social learning. We are taught to take ourselves to be, most fundamentally, this human self. So we are good boys and girls and play the game so well we overlook our nature.

The specific ways separation consciousness unfolds is individual and always different.

And yet, there are some universals that inevitably come with separation consciousness.

This game of separation consciousness comes with inherent struggle and stress. Seeing ourselves as most fundamentally an object in the world, at the mercy of innumerable other objects, creates struggle and is stressful. And operating from a view out of alignment with reality does the same.

We also tend to operate from several blind projections. We see characteristics in others and the world and not in ourselves, and the other way around. This comes from and reinforces a sense of fundamentally being an I with an Other.

THE AWAKENING PROCESS

We don’t completely forget. Our nature is, inevitably, what’s most familiar to us. It’s all we ever know.

Here are some typical phases of the awakening process, and with the benefit of hindsight, the process looks relatively logical.

Initial interest

We may have a longing for finding ourselves again as oneness. At the surface, it may take the form of a longing for love, truth, reality, Spirit, or God. For me, it was a profound longing for coming home.

We may hear about awakening and it resonates with us.

We may have glimpses or shifts that drive us to explore further. (I had a profound sense of being one with the universe when I was around ten years old, sleeping under an open sky filled with stars in the Norwegian mountains.)

Practice

We may engage in spiritual practice and explore maps from others more familiar with the terrain.

In the best case, this helps reorient us so it’s easier to notice our nature and live from this noticing.

Noticing

We then notice our nature. Oneness notices itself.

If it’s without bells and whistles, it’s possible we’ll tell ourselves it’s too simple and obvious and keep looking for something else.

If it’s with bells and whistles, we may get distracted by these, assume that’s what it’s about, and try to experience those particular bells and whistles again. We may end up chasing a state that’s by nature ephemeral, and overlook the much simpler essentials of our nature.

Keep noticing

We then realize this is about keeping noticing our nature. We can learn to notice it independent of and through changing states and experiences. Oneness notices itself independent of what content of experience it changes itself into.

Living from it

Here, we explore how to live from this noticing. How do I live from a conscious noticing of oneness in this situation?

Transformation

This process involves a transformation of our fundamental identity, our perception, our life in the world, and our human self and psyche.

Many parts of our human self and psyche were formed within separation consciousness and still operate from separation consciousness. These will color our perception and life even if we consciously notice our nature.

An essential part of learning how to live from noticing our nature is to invite in healing for these parts of us.

Dark nights

Many go through one or more dark nights in this process. These are periods where we more strongly rub up against parts of the old separation consciousness so it can wear off and be seen through.

We may wonder if something has gone wrong. It will often bring us to our knees. Some dark nights may be intensely uncomfortable and overwhelming. And, in hindsight, we may see them as an essential part of the process.

Always individual

This process is always individual. Oneness winds itself up in separation consciousness in an individual way and unwinds in an individual way.

This is just an idealized and generalized outline. For instance, I have gone through or lived each of these steps or aspects, but not in the order outlined here.

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Why I am drawn to a psychological interpretation of awakening

There are benefits to both a big (spiritual) and small (psychological) interpretation of awakening.

Here, I’ll revisit some of the upsides and downsides of both, and say a few words about why I am more drawn to the small interpretation these days.

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

In a conventional sense and to others, I am this human self in the world. This is also what I may imagine myself to be if I take on what others tell me I am. This is not wrong, but it’s not what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience.

When I look in my own first-person experience, I may find something else. I find that my nature is capacity for the world as it appears to me. It’s what allows any and all experience. And I find I am what the world, to me, happens within and as.

Both are valid in their own way. One is who I am in the world. The other is what I am in my own first-person experience.

THE BIG AND SMALL INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

We can leave it there and that’s the small or psychological interpretation of awakening.

Logically, I find that to myself, I have to be consciousness. And the world, to me, happens within and as this consciousness. To me, the world happens within and as what I am.

And that’s also what I find when I look in my own experience. I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me, and what the world – to me – happens within and as.

We can also take this one step further, and that’s the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

We can say that the nature of existence and reality is the same as my nature. All of existence is consciousness AKA Spirit, God, Brahman, and so on.

Since the world, to me happens within and as what I am, it will inevitably appear to me as if the nature of existence is the same as my nature. It will appear as if the world IS consciousness. And we can take a leap and say that this appearance is how it is: The nature of all of existence and reality is the same as my nature and what we can call Spirit or God.

A FEW UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES TO EACH

Each of these two interpretations has upsides and downsides.

What are some of the upsides of the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening? It may be more inspiring. It’s often expressed in a more poetic way. In terms of language, it’s what we are more familiar with from the different spiritual traditions. Ultimately, it may also be closer to reality.

What are some of the downsides to the big or spiritual interpretation? Mainly, it tends to encourage misconceptions about awakening. It can make it sound special, distant, for just a few, and so on.

The small or psychological interpretation of awakening also has upsides and downsides. It generally takes a more grounded and sober approach to awakening and makes it closer and more ordinary. It may also make it sound a bit more dry and boring. (Which I, personally, see as a benefit. It counteracts some of the common misconceptions about awakening.)

WHY I PREFER THE SMALL INTERPRETATION THESE DAYS

For a few years following the initial awakening shift in my teens, I definitely used the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

After all, to me, all of existence clearly was consciousness and what I called Spirit and God.

And now, I am more drawn to exploring the small interpretation of awakening.

Why has this shifted for me?

It may be a natural shift from one end of this polarity to the other so I’ll get more familiar with both.

Another reason is that the big or spiritual interpretation is more mainstream. Spiritual traditions and mystics have typically used the big interpretation of awakenings, and the small one is a slightly less explored ground, both historically and for myself. And that makes it more interesting to me.

I also see many benefits to it, as I suggested above.

The big interpretation of awakening tends to come with misconceptions. We may think it’s special, distant from us, for just a few. We may assume it comes with special powers. We may assume it’s a state or that it will solve all our problems. We may get seduced and mislead by the many fanciful stories about awakening, or the wishful thinking we often see among those drawn to it. (The connection between the big interpretation and misconceptions is not inevitable.)

The small interpretation tends to be more grounded and sober. It shows us it’s about what we are which is already here and now. It shows us that it’s not about a state. It’s not about anything within content of experience. It won’t give us any special powers.

The small interpretation is more compatible with a range of worldviews. Here, awakening is about finding what we already are in our own first-person experience. It’s about finding and exploring how to live from noticing our nature. It doesn’t say anything about the nature of the rest of existence and reality.

The small interpretation makes awakening more available to more people, for some of the reasons mentioned above. It’s more logical. It doesn’t say anything about the nature of reality or existence as a whole. It’s more honest. It points to something we all can explore and find where and now, with some pointers and perhaps with the guidance of someone familiar with this terrain.

Since it talks about our own first-person experience, it can provide common ground – and a kind of smallest common denominator – for people exploring awakening from a range of different spiritual traditions and religions.

The small interpretation appears more logical. If we think about it logically, we see that to ourselves we have to be consciousness, and to us, the world has to appear within and as this consciousness. We can take this through a few steps: (1) There is conscusness here. (2) No matter who or what we are in a more objective sense, to ourselves we have to be this consciousness. (3) Any content of experience, including this human self and the wider world, has to happen within and as this consciousness. (4) To us, the world happens within and as what we are. (5) We are oneness and to us, the world happens withi and as this oneness. Again, this doesn’t say anything about the nature of the rest of existence. This is just about how it is to ourselves when we look more closely.

The small interpretation is more honest for me. It’s what I can say something about without leaps of faith. It’s more honest for me to differentiate between the small and big interpretation of awakening, and look at the upsides and limitations of both.

That said, I love that both the big and small interpretations exist and that there are variations of both. They both have their value and usefulness.

Note: Because of my health and brain fog, I have been out of the loop for more than a decade when it comes to what others say about these things. So I am not sure who else talks about this, although I assume there must be several. If you are reading this and know about others, please leave a comment 🙂

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How does God see us?

We believe that God sees us from above. But he actually sees us from the inside.

– Shams Tabrizi

If we have adopted a sky-god view of God, then we may imagine that he sees us from above.

If we have a more immanent view of God, we may say that God sees us from the inside.

GOD SEES THROUGH OUR EYES

We can say that…

God sees through our eyes. Hears through our ears. Senses through our body.

God thinks through our thoughts. Feels through our emotions.

God lives through our life.

If we say that reality or existence as a whole is God, then this is clearly true.

A MORE IMMEDIATE NOTICING

And it’s also accurate in a more immediate sense.

If I explore what I am in my own first-person experience, what do I find?

I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. My nature allows any and all experiences that are here.

I am what my experience of the world happens within and as. To me, the world happens within and as what I am. It happens within and as what a thought can call consciousness. To me, the world is like a dream since both happen within and as what I am, within and as consciousness.

If I use a big or spiritual interpretation of awakening, I can say that this is all Spirit or God.

And that means that God, quite literally, sees through my eyes. Hears through my ears. Lives through my life. And so on.

FINDING IT ON OUR OWN

It’s something we can explore and find on our own.

If we haven’t noticed it for ourselves yet, it may seem abstract, distant, a philosophy, a fantasy, unrelated to my life, without any practical use, and so on.

If we noticed it sometime in the past, it becomes a kind of reference. A pointer inviting us to notice it again here and now. Our nature is always here, so it’s always here to be noticed. It’s always here to notice itself as all it is in its own experience. It’s always here to find itself as what the world, to itself, happens within and as.

And we can find it on our own. We can explore what we are in our own first-person experience.

How? If we are not familiar with this terrain, we may not even know where to start.

That’s where more structured pointers come in. For instance, Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

That’s where being guided by an experienced guide comes in. Someone we trust, to some extent, and who is familiar with this terrain and in guiding others.

And that’s where any number of supporting practices come in, for instance, basic meditation, sense field explorations, heart-centered practices, training a stable attention, body-centered practices, ethical guidelines, and so on.

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Awakening described in five levels of difficulty

I keep seeing YouTube videos where people explain something at different levels of complexity. 

So why not do it for awakening? 

How may it look if I describe it from the essence and then increasingly add more detail and differentiation? Here is my first go:

What is awakening? 

LEVEL 1 

At the simplest level, it’s about exploring what we really are in our own experience. 

To see what we find and see how it is to live from it. 

It’s as simple as that. 

LEVEL 2 

We can add another layer of detail. 

In one sense, we are this human self, a being in the world, and so on. That’s not wrong. 

And yet, when we look, what is it we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience? 

This involves setting aside any ideas others tell us we are and we tell ourselves we are. Engage in a sincere and often guided exploration. See what we find in our own first-person experience. 

And then see how it is to live from that noticing and what it does with us. 

LEVEL 3 

This can be understood in a psychological or spiritual context. 

In a psychological context, awakening is just about discovering what we are in our own first-person experience. 

We have mental representations of this human self in the world, and we need those to orient and function in the world. And yet, when we look more closely, we may find we more fundamentally – to ourselves – are something else. 

Conventionally, we may say we “have” consciousness. And in our own first-person experience, we are this consciousness and all content of experience – including this human self, the wider world, and anything else – is happening within and as this consciousness. What we are forms itself into any and all our experiences. 

In that sense, all we have ever known and will ever know is what we are. All we have known and will ever know is our nature. 

In a spiritual context, we can go one step further. We can say that all of existence is the divine, and we are the divine first taking itself as a separate being and then reminding its own nature and oneness. 

The upside of the psychological interpretation is its simplicity and that it doesn’t require any particular worldview. It can help us ground our approach to awakening and living from and as oneness. 

The upside of the spiritual interpretation is that it *may* be more accurate in the bigger picture, and it can be more inspiring. 

LEVEL 4 

What may we find when we explore our more fundamental nature? 

We may find ourselves as capacity for all our experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else. 

And we may find ourselves as what any and all experiences, and the world to us, happens within and as. 

Noticing this is the first step. And it doesn’t necessarily involve a long and complicated process. 

Simple guidance from someone familiar with this terrain may be enough, for instance using the Big Mind process or the Headless experiments. 

The next step is to keep noticing this in more and more situations in our daily life, and over time deepen the groove of this new noticing habit. 

And to explore living from it. How is it to live from noticing my nature? How is it to live from noticing that the world and all of existence, to me, is one? 

What does this do to me? What does the noticing do to where my “center of gravity” is in terms of what I most fundamentally take myself to be? What does it do to me to intend to live from this noticing in more situations and more areas of my life? 

The noticing itself is relatively simple. It doesn’t ask that much from us. 

And to keep noticing it and to live from it asks everything from us. 

It involves a profound transformation of our most fundamental identity, our perception, our life in the world, and our human self and psyche. 

And it requires a deep healing at our human level. It requires deep healing of all the different parts of our psyche still caught up in separation consciousness, and emotional issues, hangups, beliefs, and traumas. 

We can notice our nature and even, to some extent, live from it, while also having many parts of us still operating from separation consciousness. These parts of us will inevitably color our perception and life, and they will sometimes be more actively and obviously triggered. 

In an awakening process, they’ll come up metaphorically asking to join in with the awakening. Asking to reorient within the context of finding ourselves as oneness. And find deeper healing through that. 

LEVEL 5 

A couple of things here are relatively simple. 

It doesn’t necessarily take much for us to notice our nature, especially with skilled guidance. 

And it doesn’t take that much to understand all of this, to some extent, at a story level. 

Both of those are good starting points. And the real work is in living it. 

The real work is in keeping noticing our nature, exploring how it is to live from it, and inviting the many parts of us still operating from separation consciousness to align more closely with oneness. 

There is always further to go in the noticing, living, and realigning of the many parts of us. 

It’s an ongoing process. 

What are some of the many things we may discover or experience? 

We may go through dark nights. As I see it these days, these are phases where our system holds onto deeper assumptions and identities and life puts us in a situation where these don’t work anymore. There are many types of dark nights, including one I am familiar with where deep trauma comes up to heal and align with the awakening. 

We may engage in different forms of structured inquiry and explore certain processes more in detail. We may notice what happens when our system holds onto a specific belief, examine this belief, and find what’s more true for us and how it is to live from this. 

We may explore our sense fields. We may notice how our mental field is a kind of overlay on the rest of the content of our experience to make sense of it all. Our mental representations help us orient and navigate in the world. 

We may see how our mind associates certain mental representations (mental images and words) with certain bodily sensations. The mental representations give a sense of meaning to the sensations, and the sensations give a sense of solidity to the mental representations. This is how the mind creates beliefs and identities for itself, and also emotional issues, hangups, and traumas. 

This is also how the oneness we inherently are creates an experience for itself of I and Other. It’s how separation consciousness is created. It’s a relatively basic mechanism behind separation consciousness. 

We may find that mental representations (thoughts) are questions about the world. Their function is to help us orient and navigate in the world. They are different in kind from what they point to. They simplify. In a conventional sense, they are more or less accurate. And they cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth. Reality is always more than and different from any thought, and also – in a sense – far more simple. 

As we explore this in more detail, we may discover more places where our systems hold onto identities and assumptions about ourselves and the world. We may find an identification as an observer, as consciousness, as oneness, as love, as capacity for the world, and so on. In each of these cases, the mind creates a mental representation for itself, associates it with certain physical sensations, and identifies with the viewpoint of that mental representation and its story. 

This is an ongoing process.

ABOUT THESE STEPS 

These steps are obviously somewhat arbitrary, and they turned out to be more about adding another layer of detail than explaining awakening in different levels of complexity. If I did it again, I may be able to follow the assignment more accurately…! 

I would likely also include more about the heart and energetic aspects and more about the dynamics of living from noticing our nature.

I am also aware of how these steps roughly mirror my own process. During the initial awakening shift in my teens, oneness woke up to itself. I wasn’t aware of the more detailed mechanisms and so on. All that came through different forms of inquiry and other practices later on. 

Note: If I wanted to point to it more directly in the first level, I could say: “It’s the one pretending to be two and then refinds itself as one and many simultaneously”. This is not wrong, but I prefer to emphasize the questions and exploration since it more clearly leaves the finding up to the person. Pointing to it more directly can give some a sense that they get it even if they only get it at a conceptual level. As mentioned above, that’s a good first step but it’s not what this is about.

Photo: A snapshot I recently took from the land that chose us in the Andes mountains.

Why don’t awakening teachers more often differentiate between small and big interpretations of awakening?

Why don’t more awakening teachers differentiate between small and big interpretations of awakening?

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

First, what is awakening?

It’s when we go from taking ourselves as most fundamentally something within the content of our experience, typically our human self, to finding ourselves as that which allows all content of experience, and that which forms itself into any and all content of experience. This is something we are already very familiar with, although we may not have noticed it’s our more fundamental nature.

Here, we find that our nature – and all of existence to us – is oneness, love, and so on. And this allows our human self and psyche to transform within this new conscious context. (Which has always been here, just not consciously noticed.)

SMALL & BIG INTERPRETATION OF AWAKENING

What are the small and big interpretations of awakening?

The small interpretation of awakening is what I used to describe awakening above. Here, we keep to what’s immediately noticed, and we avoid jumping to conclusions beyond what we can easily check for ourselves. It can also be called a psychological interpretation of awakening since it stays within the realm of psychology.

The big interpretation of awakening takes it a step further. Here, we assume that the nature of all of existence is the same as our own nature. We assume that all of existence is what a thought may label consciousness, or even the divine or God.

WHY IT’S A HELPFUL DISTINCTION

To me, this is a helpful distinction for a couple of reasons.

It’s intellectually honest. Since we experience all of existence through and as what we are, it will appear to us as if the nature of all of existence is the same as our own. And, if we are honest, we cannot know for certain.

And it’s pragmatic. A small interpretation of awakening, or being more fluid between the small and big, is more appealing to certain groups of people. The small interpretation of awakening is compatible with just about any worldview, including atheism, materialism, and so on. It doesn’t require any particular worldview or cosmology.

WHY NOT POINT IT OUT?

So why do not more awakening teachers point out this distinction?

I am not sure.

They may not see it as important, for whatever reason.

They may be familiar with one and not have much interest in the other.

They may point out the distinction in private to students who may benefit from it.

They may be unaware of the distinction.

SUMMARY

Awakening is the shift from taking ourselves most fundamentally as this human self, to finding ourselves as what all our experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else, happen within and as.

We can understand or talk about this from a small view on awakening. Here, we just point out what anyone can check and find for themselves, without making assumptions about the nature of all of existence.

We can also talk about this from a big view on awakening and use terms like God, the divine, and so on.

Differentiating between the two is, to me, intellectually honest. And the small and big views appeal to different groups of people, which is why this differentiation is useful.

If awakening teachers don’t point out this differentiation, it may be for a range of reasons. They may not see it as important. They may have their target group already and have terminology that works for them. They may point it out in private. And some may even be unaware of the distinction.

Note: If I am honest, I am not aware of any awakening teacher that does differentiate between the two. I assume there must be many out there, I just haven’t found them or heard them yet.

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A response to someone baffled by a materialistic view on awakening

Someone in a Headless Way forum shared her disbelief that some who discover headlessness find it compatible with a materialistic worldview.

For me, this is about the difference between the small and big interpretation of awakening.

Here is what I wrote:

I must admit I started out with the more typical spiritual view of all as God, the divine, and consciousness. And now, after three decades, I find myself exploring more the camp you describe.

I find myself as headless, as capacity, as oneness, as love, and so on, and explore living from and as it. And, at the same time, I realize there are two possible ways to explain this.

One is the Big or Spiritual view which says all is God, the divine, and consciousness. My direct and naive experience of all of existence as consciousness – AKA God or the divine – is how existence actually is.

The other is the small or materialistic view of the brain creating consciousness. In my direct experience, all of existence appears as consciousness. But I also realize it HAS to appear that way since I am consciousness, and the world to me happens within and as this consciousness. It would be that way even if the small or materialistic view is correct.

To me, both views are perfectly compatible with what I find when I explore myself as headless. In either case, what I am to myself, in my own first-person experience, is Headlessness and what a thought may label consciousness.

And, to me, admitting this is intellectual honesty. Anything else would be pretending I know something I cannot really know. Admitting this also helps not get stuck in any particular view, and – equally important – it brings me back to direct noticing.

That said, there are some hints that the Big view is more accurate: Distance sensing and healing, research into reincarnation and near-death experiences, and so on.

The fabric of all we know

The substance of everything is the divine. This is not something you believe, it is something you realize.

– Adyashanti

We are used to thinking of the world as being made up of different things: Rocks, minerals, wood, plants, cells, molecules and atoms, and so on.

That’s not wrong. And in our first-person experience, something else may be more fundamental.

EXPLORED LOGICALLY

We can explore this logically and within the realm of stories.

Consciousness is required for any experience.

And to me, what I experience happens within and as consciousness.

It cannot be any other way. I can only experience what happens within consciousness. What happens within consciousness is consciousness taking the form of that particular experience. And to me, there is nothing else.

Even any ideas about who and what I am happen within and as consciousness. What I am to myself, and what the world is to me, is all happening within and as consciousness. It’s consciousness taking all these forms to and within itself.

The fabric of all I am and what the world is to me is consciousness.

Adya uses the big interpretation of awakening here and calls it the divine. And yet, to us, it’s simpler. It’s what we are and what everything, to us, is.

It’s what a thought can call consciousness, and that word and any associations we have about it also happen within and as what we are.

WHAT’S ALIVE HERE AND NOW

We can also explore this through what’s alive here and now, in immediate noticing.

Again, it’s not wrong that I am a human self in the world.

And in my first-person experience, I find something else is more true.

Here, I find that my experiences – of the wider world, of this human self, and anything else – all happen within my sense fields. It happens within sight, sound, taste, smell, sensations, thoughts, and so on. Any “outside” or “inside” are labels put on this sense field. In itself, it’s a seamless whole.

The sense fields happen within and as what I am.

When I look closely, I see that my experience of matter is created within these sense fields. Specifically, any sense of solidity is created by certain sensations (contractions) in my body combining with certain mental representations. The sensations lend a sense of solidity and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts give the sensations a sense of meaning.

I find I am capacity for all of it, and what it all happens within and as.

A thought may label this awake space, consciousness, or even the divine. And those thoughts and what they point to happen within and as what I am.

The fabric of it all – of all of existence as it appears to me – is what a thought may label awake space, consciousness, or the divine.

BIG AND SMALL INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

This is where the big and small interpretations of awakening comes in.

When I explore this for myself, I find that – to me – existence has this nature. It’s inevitable since, to me, it appears within and as what I am. Acknowleding that, and that I cannot say anything for certain about all of existence, is the small interpretation of awakening.

The big interpretation of awakening takes the next step and assumes that the nature of all of existence is the same as this nature I find here. There are many hints that this is accurate.

Adya uses the big interpretation of awakening when he says the fabric of everything is the divine.

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The sobering quality of the small interpretation of awakening

What are we in our own first-person experience? Are we most fundamentally this human self? Or are we more fundamentally, in our own experience and to ourselves, something else?

What I find is that my nature is capacity for whatever is in my experience – this human self, the wider world, etc., and I am what my experiences happen within and as. My nature is capacity, oneness, and – from there – love and stillness & silence. (And using the words “I” and “my” is a convention and inherently misleading since any “I” and “me” happens within and as this.)

Since the world, to me, happens within and as what I am, it will inevitably appear as if the world is what I am…. consciousness, a seamless whole, love, and so on. Whether it actually is or not, is not something I easily can say something about.

This is independent of any worldviews or ideologies. It’s just a noticing. And it’s compatible with a range of worldviews.

This is also what I call the small or psychological interpretation of awakening. The essence of what we discover – and what we live from if we chose to – is the essence of what mystics from all the main spiritual traditions have reported, and also those outside of spiritual traditions. And we are cautious about assuming that our own nature is the nature of all of existence.

I like this way of looking at awakening since it’s intellectually honest, and it may make awakening more accessible to those who don’t have a spiritual worldview or inclination.

Already, it’s sobering. We are honest about what we find for ourselves, and hold back from drawing any big conclusions beyond what we can easily say something about.

It’s also sobering in another way.

My life is still the same. I still have a life to live, as best I can. I still have the same challenging situations in life to deal with. I still have to be a good steward for my life. I cannot so easily tell myself otherwise, based on some religious or spiritual idea about karma, fate, that all will be good after I die, that it’s all guided by the divine, and so on. I have to rely on myself and live my life the best I can.

I prefer to have some fluidity and shift between the small (psychological) and big (spiritual) views on awakening. The small keeps me more sober and grounded, and the big opens things up and can be more inspiring.

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Awakening doesn’t require any spirituality or religion, and is compatible with (philosophical) materialism

As far as I can tell, the essence of awakening is completely compatible with materialism. And that’s a very good thing. It makes it more accessible to more people.

BASIC AWAKENING

Awakening is to notice what we are in our own first-person experience.

Yes, I am this human self in the world. And more fundamentally, in my own first-person experience, I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am what my sense fields – which contains this human self and the wider world – happen within and as.

Here, there is oneness. My sense fields – containing this human self and the wider world – is a seamless whole. Any sense of boundaries comes from my overlay of mental representations. To myself, I am that oneness.

And from there, there is that love that’s independent of states or feelings. There is stillness & silence, all my experiences are that stillness & silence, and I find it’s what I more fundamentally am.

What I am is, if we want to label it that way, consciousness. To me, all my experiences happen within and as consciousness. So all I see and know is consciousness, taking all the different forms of this human self and the wider world.

All of this is the essence of what mystics from all the major traditions, and outside of any tradition, describe. It fits their reports.

I ONLY KNOW THE WORLD THROUGH MYSELF

I only know the world through myself. To me, the world is how it appears to me in my sense fields. To me, it happens within and as this consciousness that is my more fundamental nature. To me, the world has the same nature as myself.

Since I, most fundamentally am capacity for the world, consciousness, and one, it appears to me that the rest of existence is that way as well.

It has to be that way. And it doesn’t mean that this is how the world actually is. It doesn’t mean that the world shares the same nature as I find I have in my own experience.

AWAKENING & PHILOSOPHICAL MATERIALISM

materialism (philosophy) – the theory or belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications.

I can find my own more fundamental nature, and that doesn’t help me say what the fundamental nature of all of existence is. It may well be that the materialist view is the correct one.

To myself, I inevitably have to be consciousness, the world to me happens within and as this consciousness, and the world then appears as consciousness.

And, in reality, it may well be that the world is most fundamentally matter, and that this consciousness comes out of matter in this body and only exists locally here in this human self.

INTELLECTUAL HONESTY

If I wish to be intellectually honest, I have to admit all of this. And it’s healthy, in several ways.

Being honest about this means that people with a materialistic view may feel more comfortable in exploring awakening. It doesn’t require any spirituality or religion.

Being honest about this helps me stay close to my own experience. It helps me see what I notice for myself and can say something about, and what’s outside of what I notice and can check for myself.

And it also helps me recognize projections and when I adopt what others say as a belief.

Yes, people say that all of existence is Spirit and consciousness, and it – obviously – appears to me that way since it has to appear to me that way. And yet, I cannot easily check it for myself. For me, it remains what others say. (And it may well be that they are not honest with themselves. Perhaps they assume that their own nature is the nature of all of existence, even if that seems an obvious fallacy.)

Yes, people say we live beyond this life, and to me, it also inevitably has to appear that way if I look at it superficially. To me, time and space happen within and as what I am. My nature is not touched by any of it. And again, that’s how it has to appear to me, and it doesn’t mean that’s how it is in reality. It doesn’t mean that this consciousness will continue after the death of this body.

WHY IS THIS NOT SPOKEN ABOUT MORE?

I am sure many must talk about this and point out some of the obvious things here:

To ourselves, we are consciousness, and our nature is what mystics of all traditions and outside of traditions describe. We are capacity for our world, oneness, love, and so on.

To us, the world has to appear as we are. Since we experience existence through and as ourselves, it has to appear to be like ourselves. It has to appear to have the same nature as we do.

And we cannot really know if that’s how it actually is. We cannot know if our nature is the same as the nature of all of existence. To assume so is to make a big jump, a big leap of faith. It’s OK to do that, but we have to be honest and say that it is a leap of faith.

And if I am honest, I haven’t seen it spoken about very often. I seem to come across a lot of people – spiritual teachers and practitioners – who seem to assume that their nature is the same as the nature of all of existence.

The simple answer for why this is, is that these are spiritual people. They have adopted a spiritual worldview. These are the ones I have sought out and know.

It’s also possible that some haven’t made this differentiation for themselves.

AWAKENING FREE OF SPIRITUALITY AND RELIGION

It seems important to be able to talk about awakening, and help people find what they are to themselves, without referring to spirituality and religion.

It makes it available to more people.

It brings it down to its essence.

It highlights some of the common projections and assumptions often found in spirituality and religion.

And some do this, of course, including the Headless Way and the Big Mind process. Some would also say that Zen does this, at least in some variations of that tradition.

SMALL AND BIG INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

I like to think of this as the small or psychological interpretation of awakening. It’s where we strip down awakening to its essentials and don’t use or need any spiritual or religious language. It tends to be very honest and doesn’t require any leaps of faith.

There is also the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening, where we do assume that our nature is – more or less – the same as the nature of all of existence. We assume that existence is Spirit, the divine, God, and so on. This is, in a sense, a leap of faith. Although there are also many hints suggesting it’s accurate.

HOW DO I SEE IT?

For me, the small interpretation of awakening is important for the reasons I mentioned. It seems more honest. It doesn’t rely on spirituality or religion. It makes it more accessible to more people. And it contrasts with my own projections and assumptions, and shows me when I go beyond what I can easily check for myself.

At the same time, I love the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. It’s inspiring. It opens things up. It helps me find more trust. And so on.

And there are many hints, from what other report and from my own experience, that suggests it’s likely more accurate.

NOTE: To clarify, what I am referring to here is the general experience reported by most mystics of all as consciousness. All of existence, to us, appears as consciousness. All is Spirit, the divine, God, and so on. I am not talking about what other beings are to themselves. It’s very likely they are to themselves as I am to myself.

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Ocean and drop analogy, and big and small interpretations of awakening

This is perhaps not so important, but I was reminded of the ocean and drop analogy.

Our sense fields are made up of our experiences of this human self and the wider world, and it’s all happening within and as what we are.

We can call this the ocean. To us, what we are contains the whole world as it appears to us. Any boundaries happen within and as what we are. Any time happens within and as what we are. We are capacity for all of it, and we are all of it as it’s here.

In a sense, this is the ocean. It’s the only ocean in our immediate experience and noticing.

This is also the psychological or small interpretation of awakening. We don’t need to refer to anything divine. We don’t need to use any special terminology. It’s not something other or apart from us. It’s right here and we can notice it here and now.

There are several pointers and approaches that can help us find this for ourselves, sometimes in a short period of time and without much if any preparation. (The two I am most familiar with are the Big Mind process and the Headless experiments.)

There is also the spiritual or big interpretation of awakening, and this is where we would talk about the divine, Spirit, God, and so on. For instance, we can assume that all of existence is like us – it’s capacity for itself and, in it’s many forms, it’s consciousness. The details here are open for discussion, for instance, we may assume the existence of divine beings and so on. There are some hints that this may be accurate, although none of this is required for talking about awakening.

If we take this larger view on awakening and make some assumptions about the nature of all of existence, we can say that we – as we experience ourselves – are a drop in this larger ocean.

To ourselves, we are the ocean. And to existence as a whole, we are a drop in the larger ocean.

Note: When we discover our nature as it appears to us – as capacity for the world, as what our sense fields happen within and as, as oneness, as consciousness, and so on, all will appear as this.

We experience all of existence through and as what we are. So it’s inevitable that all of existence will look like what we are. But we cannot really know. It’s an assumption, which may be correct or not, or may be partially correct and partially not.

That’s why I like to differentiate between a small or psychological understanding of awakening, and a big or spiritual understanding of awakening. The first is simple and down-to-earth, the second makes some assumptions beyond what we easily can check for ourselves.

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Talking about awakening: a more sober and grounded approach

These days, I find myself enjoying finding ways to talk about awakening in a way that’s as grounded and sober as possible. I have written about this in other articles and will give the essence here.

TALKING ABOUT AWAKENING

Talking about awakening is, in many ways, the least important part of it. What it’s about is exploring it for ourselves and how it is to live from it.

Still, what our heart is full of, our mouth speaks.

And it does have a function.

It may invite some to explore it for themselves.

It may serve as a pointer for how to explore it.

And it creates a kind of map which can be helpful for others exploring the actual terrain.

At the same time, it’s inherently futile. Words create imagined boundaries, and what it points to is without boundaries.

THE ESSENCE OF AWAKENING

For me, awakening means to notice what I am. To find myself as capacity for the world, and what my field of experience happens within and as.

That’s the essence of it. This can be understood in a psychological sense. No matter our general worldview, we have to admit we experience through and via consciousness. All our experiences happen within and as consciousness. To ourselves, we are consciousness. (We cannot be anything else.) We are what our experiences happen within and as.

Saying that we are this human self is not wrong. It’s how others see us and it mostly works in daily life. We may also assume that we most fundamentally are this human self. But in our own immediate experience, we are consciousness. We are what our field of experience – which includes this human self and the wider world – happens within and as.

Awakening means to notice what we already are in our own immediate experience. And this can be described and understood in a relatively simple way.

WHAT COMES WITH AWAKENING

When we find what we are to ourselves, we may also notice a few other things.

My field of experience happens within and as what I am. To me, it’s one. It’s a seamless whole. Any distinctions come from an overlay of mental representations. To me, I am oneness and all of existence is one.

This too isn’t very mysterious. It’s a function of noticing what I am and finding myself as capacity for the world as it appears to me.

Also, to me, all of existence is consciousness. To me, all my experiences happen within and as what I am. To me, they share my true nature. To me, they are consciousness.

SMALL AND BIG INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

What I have described here is the essence of awakening.

It’s also what we can call the small or psychological way of talking about awakening. It’s the most sober and grounded way of talking about it that I have found so far. (Which perhaps says something about my own limitations!) It’s the way of talking about it that requires the fewest assumptions, leaps of faith, and big words.

There is also the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. Here, we take a few leaps although – in some instances – these leaps are also grounded in what we can notice.

When we notice what we are, we also notice that to us all of existence inevitably happens within and as consciousness. It appears as consciousness to us. To us, the true nature of all phenomena is the same as our own true nature.

So it’s natural here to take the leap and say that all of existence inherently is consciousness. And from here, we can say that all of existence is Spirit, the divine, God, Allah, Brahman, Buddha nature, and so on.

After all, that’s how it inevitably appears to us.

Whether all of existence actually is like this is another question. There are some hints suggesting that it’s the case – ESP, distance sensing, distance healing, and so on – but this is for another article.

THE UPSIDES AND LIMITATIONS OF A SOBER APPROACH

There are several upsides to a sober and grounded approach to talking about awakening.

It can be relatively simple and pragmatic.

It makes it available to more people.

It demystifies the topic.

It can make sense to people who are not into spirituality.

And there are also some limitations.

It speaks to only some people and not others. That’s the limitation inherent in any approach, and that’s why we have a wide range of flavors and approaches.

There are sides to awakening that are better pointed to in another way, for instance, a more poetic or metaphorical one.

If it’s presented in a simple and clear way, we may understand the thoughts and assume that means we get what it refers to. (Even if one is a pointer and the other is direct noticing.)

Depending on how it’s expressed, it can sound a bit boring and uninspiring. I love this aspect of it since it means that if we are still attracted to it, it comes from a deeper and more sincere place in us.

OTHER APPROACHES TO TALKING ABOUT AWAKENING

When we talk about awakening in another way, it generally comes from two places.

It can come from clarity and wisdom, and perhaps personal preference or a strategic choice.

It can come from lack of clarity, unexamined beliefs, and emotional issues.

And it can come from any combination of those two.

Here are some examples if we come from clarity and wisdom.

We may come from a tradition or culture that emphasizes another way to talk about it. For instance, one that’s more devotional, poetic, or metaphorical.

We may have a personal skill, orientation, or preference that leads us to use a more devotional, poetic, artistic, or metaphorical expression.

We may choose a more devotional, poetic, or metaphorical expression as a strategy, in order to reach certain people, speak to people at a certain phase of the process, highlight certain aspects of awakening or the divine, or evoke something in the recipient.

And here are some examples if we come more from lack of clarity.

To us, awakening may be a story. We may not have a reference for it from our own noticing or even a memory of noticing. That makes it an open field to imagine just about anything into.

We may mix up direct noticing with imaginations and fantasies, even if we notice what we are. And this can happen for a variety of reasons.

We may be caught up in what we have heard from others, whether this is our culture, spiritual tradition, spiritual teachers, or someone else. We may use this in how we talk about it, even if it doesn’t fit our direct noticing.

We may not prioritize intellectual honesty, so we mix up stories with our direct noticing.

We may be caught up in beliefs and emotional issues, and this fuels certain stories that are not supported by our direct noticing.

We may confuse the side-effects of an initial awakening with its essence.

We may take our immediate perception as reality itself. For instance, we may notice that to us the whole world appears as consciousness, and jump to the conclusion that all of existence is consciousness.

THE RICHNESS OF MULTIPLE APPROACHES

There is a richness in how we collectively perceive and express all of this, and that’s not a coincidence.

We may notice different aspects of what we are. We come from different cultural and spiritual backgrounds. We have preferences and talents in talking about it in different ways. We may choose certain ways to talk about it as a strategy, to speak to a certain audience, or to evoke something in the recipient.

We also have our own lack of clarity, blind spots, unexamined beliefs, hangups, and emotional issues that filter our perception and expression.

And all of that creates a richness we all benefit from. It creates a fuller picture.

There are valuable pointers in the expressions that come from direct noticing, no matter what form those expressions take. And all of it – the clarity and wisdom, and the confusion and hangups – is our mirror. It’s up to us to sort it out for ourselves, through our own explorations and direct noticing.

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What’s unique in these writings?

I am writing these articles mostly for myself, and I am also aware that some can be helpful to someone else.

In that context, I sometimes wonder: What’s unique here? Is there anything people can’t get somewhere else?

In its essence, nothing is unique here.

If it’s grounded in reality, direct noticing, and experience, it’s been discovered by others and likely many others through history and even today. It’s all been said, one way or another, by someone else, and sometimes in a more clear, direct, and perhaps poetic way.

At the same time, we all have a unique voice. We all have somewhat different backgrounds, insights, experiences, and ways to talk about it. And someone may resonate with just this way of expressing it.

There may also be some ways of making distinctions or some terminology that’s a little different here. For instance, I like to use the phrase who and what we are to differentiate between our human self (who) and Big Mind (what). I also like to differentiate between the small and big interpretations of awakening, or the psychological and spiritual ways of understanding and talking about awakening.

And, as everyone else, I have my own blind spots, biases, hangups, and things I haven’t discovered or consciously explored yet. Those inevitable limitations also color what I write.

A relatively simple and pragmatic view on awakening

How can we understand awakening in a simple and pragmatic way?

I keep coming back to this since it seems important for a few reasons: It helps us find the essence of awakening. It helps us view it in a way compatible with spiritual traditions as well as science. It helps us be more intellectually honest about it. And it can make it more accessible for more people.

So what’s this simple view?

To ourselves, we are consciousness. The world to us happens within and as this consciousness. And awakening is consciousness noticing itself and our “center of gravity” shifting into this.

This applies mostly independent of worldviews. It applies whether we assume a more materialistic worldview where this consciousness is the product of this body and brain. Whether we see existence as Spirit. Or if we see it as something in between.

Clarifying a few things

As usual, there is more to say about this.

We have learned to see ourselves as this human self and the rest of the world as “other”. This is not wrong, but it’s not the whole picture. It’s not what we most fundamentally are. And it’s not what we are to ourselves when we honestly look and set aside these assumptions for a while.

When I use the word “consciousness”, it’s just to make it more accessible and seem more familiar. What we are is what all experiences happen within and as, including words and labels, and including the word “consciousness” and what we associate with it. Its function is to serve as a signpost pointing to what we are.

This way of talking about it may require some concessions from us, depending on what worldview we are coming from. If we are coming from a strictly materialistic view, it may require us to be more interested in consciousness. If we are coming from a view of all as Spirit, it may require us to pull back our language a bit.

How can we explore this for ourselves?

We may get this intellectually.

There is a body here, and we may have learned to identify exclusively with and as this body. But to ourselves, we are consciousness and the world to us happens within and as this consciousness. It has to be that way.

But our experience of ourselves may still be that we are this human self.

So how can we explore this for ourselves? How can we have a more direct taste?

We can do so through some simple pointers, and being guided by someone familiar with the terrain and how to guide others to notice it for themselves. The most effective ones I have found are the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process. Living Inquiries, a modern form of traditional Buddhist inquiry, can also help us notice.

What’s the implications of finding what we are?

When we find ourselves as what the world, to us, happens within and as, it has several implications. If we take it seriously and continue to explore it and how to live from it, it can be profoundly transformative.

Exactly what we find depends on where we are in the process, and even with guidance, we are ultimately our own guide and have to explore this for ourselves.

What I can say is that when we find ourselves as capacity for the world, all content of our experience happens within and as what we are – and within and as oneness.

So how is it to live from oneness? How do we relate to the parts of us still operating from separation consciousness when these come up? How can we invite them to join in with the awakening and align with oneness?

This is an ongoing process and there is always more to discover.

Not agreeing with the basic premise

I imagine some wouldn’t agree with the basic premise.

They may say: I know I am this human self, not consciousness. I am this body, and I have consciousness.

It’s easy to understand this view. It’s what we have been told and it has over time become our experience.

But this is about what we are to ourselves.

Logically, to ourselves, we have to be consciousness. The world, to us, happens within and as consciousness. All our experiences happen within and as what we are.

And this is also what we may find if we look – with some sincerity and guided by someone skilled.

Does our timeless nature mean we won’t die?

I sometimes see people who have found themselves as timeless say it means they won’t die. Our timeless nature means we won’t die.

When we find ourselves as capacity for the world, we find that all our experiences – including of space and time – happens within and as us. We are timeless and time happens within and as us.

From here, it’s easy to assume we won’t die. This human self comes and goes, and what we really are stays around.

It can seem convincing, but it all depends.

To ourselves, we are consciousness, and that’s how it would be even if the materialist view is accurate. This human self and the brain may be what supports and allows consciousness to exist, and – to ourselves – we would still be consciousness. We will still find ourselves as capacity for the world, and all our experiences will happen within and as what we are. In this case, when this human self dies, we – as consciousness – dies. What we are dies with the body. (This is the small interpretation of awakening.)

That’s why I am a bit more careful with stating that I – as what I am – will be around even after this body is gone. I don’t know. And if I am honest, I have to admit that the scenario above is possible.

There are hints of something else. We have accounts of people apparently remembering past lives, and research that seems to support it. We have stories of near-death experiences and people perceiving things they couldn’t through their body. We have stories of sensing at a distance and healing at a distance. We have synchronicities. And so on. It’s possible to dismiss this, especially if we don’t know much about it. And yet, many of us have experiences of this and more which hints at something more.

To ourselves, we are consciousness so the whole world appears as consciousness. It has to. It’s inevitable, whatever its true nature is. And these experiences – of near-death experiences, sensing and healing at a distance, and so on – suggest that the true nature of existence may be the same as our own. (This is the big interpretation of awakening.)

So if I am honest with myself, I cannot know if “I” continue after the death of this human self. And yet, it does seem possible, but not because I find myself as timeless and what time happens within and as. It’s because of these other experiences and research into these phenomena suggesting a life beyond death.

Talking about the inevitability of what we are

What are we to ourselves, in our own immediate experience?

We can approach this through logic or direct noticing. Only the latter is transforming, and in some cases, we may need a bit of logic before we even try noticing.

Logic and what we are

So how can we talk about it in a clear, simple, and logical way? Here is one attempt:

  1. We can agree that consciousness is required for any experience. Without consciousness, no experience.
  2. We cannot experience anything in itself, we can only experience how it happens within consciousness.
  3. What we experience not only happens within consciousness but as consciousness.
  4. To ourselves, we are this consciousness.

From this follows a few things:

  1. This human self happens within and as consciousness, as does the idea that we are this human self.
  2. To ourselves, we are awake no-thing full of the world as it appears to us.
  3. Since our world happens within and as what we are, it’s a seamless whole, it’s one.

And also something practical:

  1. Noticing this and allowing our human self to reorganize itself within it is transformative.
  2. All of this is an ongoing noticing and exploration.

So to ourselves, we cannot be anything else than consciousness. It’s inevitable.

We just need to notice, or think about it strictly logically.

Of course, it may be that this consciousness is dependent on this human self and that this human self in that sense is primary. But what I am talking about here is what we are to ourselves, in immediacy. (It may also be that consciousness is primary and continues before and after this human self.)

Noticing what we are

For this to be transformative, we need to notice what we are.

And as I often mention, the two easiest approaches I have found are two forms of inquiry: Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

We can also notice it through Living Inquiries or The Work of Byron Katie, and sometimes also following long meditation or prayer practice.

Becoming like a child

For both the logic and the direct noticing, we need to become like a child.

We need to set aside, for a moment, what society has told us we are. We need to find some receptivity and curiosity. And most of all, we need to find intellectual honesty and be brutally honest with ourselves.

The true nature of what?

To ourselves, our “true nature” is this awake no-thing full of our world. It seems the most basic of what we are.

And yet, is that the true nature of all of existence?

If we are honest, we may find that we cannot really know.

To us, the world happens within and as what we are, so this inevitably seems the true nature of all of existence.

There are, at least, three possibilities:

It is possible that consciousness is dependent on this human self and that all of it goes away when this human self dies. It’s also possible that this consciousness continues before and after this human self, whether or not it’s the true nature of all of existence.

And it’s even possible that our true nature is the true nature of all of existence. That all is – to use those labels – the divine, Spirit, God, Buddha Mind, Allah, and Brahman.

Most of modern science would say the former. Mystics of most or all traditions would say the latter.

And there are some clues. Near-death experiences suggest this consciousness continues before and after this human life. Synchronicities, ESP, sensing and healing at a distance, and so on suggests that the true nature of all of existence is the same as our own true nature.

Everything has tiger

Hamaro kamungka turuwati / everything has tiger is a saying from the Arawak people in Colombia.

I don’t know what they mean by it, although this book suggests it means there is a potential threat everywhere.

That makes sense, but it got me curious about other ways to explore this saying.

What does it mean for me?

All happens within and as what I am

What the tiger is, is what all is.

To me, the tiger and everything else happens within and as what I am.

This is the small interpretation of awakening. It assumes that to me, everything inevitably happens within and as my true nature. As awake capacity for the world.

All happens within and as the divine

The divine is tiger and everything else. It’s all the divine.

This is the big interpretation of awakening and assumes my true nature is the true nature of everything.

It’s a mirror for me and colors my perception

I can find the tiger in me. What the tiger represents to me – its characteristics and dynamics – are also here in me.

And since it’s in me, it colors the whole world for me. I can find the tiger everywhere.

This is the projection side of it.

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What we are to ourselves

What are we to ourselves?

It’s a question explored by mystics and spiritual traditions around the world. It’s sometimes but not usually at the center of science.

And yet, what question can be more important?

LOGIC

We know what we appear as: a human being, a collection of cells and atoms, a holon in a larger holarchy, and so on.

And to ourselves, we are the awake nothing that our world appears within and as. It cannot be any other way.

Even if we assume we are this human being in flesh and blood, to ourselves, we have to be consciousness.

Here is the logic:

  • Consciousness is required for us – or anyone – to experience anything. Without consciousness, no experience of anything.
  • When we are conscious of something, what we are conscious of happens within consciousness. What we experience happens within and as consciousness. We cannot experience the thing in itself.
  • To ourselves, we are consciousness. This consciousness may be connected or even come out of this human body, and that doesn’t matter. To ourselves, in our own experience, we are consciousness.

As consciousness, all my experiences happen within and as consciousness. To me, the world – this human self, thoughts, feelings, others, the wider world – happens within and as consciousness.

And what we call consciousness is perhaps more accurately called awake nothing full of the world, or awake capacity for the world.

From a purely logical view, we cannot be anything other than consciousness, and the world as it appears to us happens within and as that consciousness.

NOTICING

We can also notice this directly, especially if guided by some pointers and perhaps someone who can lead us into this noticing.

It’s what mystics from all traditions have described and tried to talk about, and also mystics outside of traditions.

And it’s not inherently so mystical. It’s more immediate to us than anything. It’s right here. It’s what we already are.

LIVING FROM IT

When we notice this, and become more used to noticing it through daily life, there is another question: how do I live from it?

If my world happens within and as what I am, if it’s all One to me, how would I live my life? How would I live my life here and now?

How do I invite all the different human parts of me that operate form separation consciousness to realign within this noticing?

THE TRUE NATURE OF EVERYTHING?

Another question also comes up here.

I notice that my own true nature, what I am in a most essential sense, is this awake nothing full of the world as it appears to me.

And I also notice that, to me, all appear as awake space. It happens within and as this awake nothing or space. Since I am this, and all my perceptions happen within and as this, it cannot be any other way.

Is that the true nature of everything? Of all of existence? Is all of existence inherently this awake space?

When I hear what other humans who have explored this say, it seems that this is the true nature of all humans. They can find it for themselves.

That makes it likely that this is the case of all conscious being. To themselves, they are this awake space full of their world.

And it may also be the true nature of all of existence. Several clues point in that direction: synchronicities, the effect of distance prayer and healing, sensing at a distance, and so on.

WHY ISN’T THIS OBVIOUS ALL THE TIME AND TO EVERYONE?

Since both logic and direct noticing points to this, and it’s what we already are, why isn’t it obvious always and to everyone?

One answer is habit. We are trained by parents and culture to take ourselves as an object in the world and as this human self. We are trained to take ourselves to be what others see us as. We are rarely encouraged to set this aside for a while and explore what we are to ourselves, in our own immediacy.

Another is that this noticing hasn’t been required for our survival. Our ancestors got by without noticing their true nature. They could still farm, hunt, fish, make a fire, build a shelter, and so on.

At a more technical level, we see that identification with the viewpoint of any thought creates a sense of being an object within consciousness, and a sense of separation. When we believe a thought, we become an object to ourselves. We can also explore how our mind associates certain sensations with certain thoughts so the sensations appear to lend solidity and reality to the thoughts (appear as true) and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations.

Yet another answer is that it’s all the play of existence and the divine. It’s all the divine expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself in always new ways. Including locally and temporarily as us taking ourselves to be objects in the world without noticing its true nature.

WHAT’S THE PRACTICAL USE OF THIS?

Good question. Most of us get by without this noticing.

The question of practical use is something we have to explore for ourselves, through asking ourselves: how is it to live from this? What happens?

For me, it means it’s easier to invite in healing for parts of me, and invite them to realign within this noticing and oneness. That’s true healing. And it doesn’t mean that the process itself is easy. It can be immensely difficult, confusing, and overwhelming when these parts of us come to the surface.

It also means we can live more responsibly as a part of a larger seamless whole. If all is one, how would I live?

And for some of us, it’s a deeply fascinating process. There is always something new to discover. And few things are as essential than what we are to ourselves and how it is to live from that noticing.

IS THIS SCIENCE OR MYSTICISM?

It’s however we approach it and talk about it.

We can take a scientific approach. We can take a more devotional or traditional mystical approach. We can take a poetic approach. Or psychological. Or whatever else.

If we are sincere and honest in our approach and what we find, then all of these general approaches enrich and fill in the overall picture.

MY OWN EXPERIENCE

What I am to myself, my true nature, was revealed to me when I was sixteen. It happened out of the blue and turned my life upside down and inside out. It seemed so obvious, so clear. And yet, others around me didn’t seem to notice. I have since met others who do notice and live from this, I have found people talking about it, and I have found ways to help people notice – for instance the Big Mind process and Headless experiments.

To me, it also seemed obvious that all is God. All of existence is consciousness and love. And yet, I also know the mechanisms that make it appear that way (projections), and I know that a lot point to it being reality too. I find it helpful to differentiate my true nature and the true nature of all of existence. It’s honest, and it can give a slightly smaller step for people to get into it and explore it for themselves.

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Recognizing others as capacity for their world

Even if I notice myself as capacity for my world, do I actively recognize others as capacity for their world? And what happens when I do? What shifts do I notice?

To me, it seems that this is an important and helpful practice. It helps me shift out of my ancient habitual – and often less conscious – conditioning of taking others as exclusively local beings operating in time and space.

This practice is mostly for myself. It helps me consciously align more closely with reality. It helps shift some conditioning in me. It opens my heart a bit more to others. And it also helps me notice my old conditioning so I can relate to it more consciously.

As a side-effect, it’s also for others since it tends to shift how I relate to them. It can make me a little less annoying.


That’s the short version. There is a lot more to it.

When I look, I find I am capacity for my world. And that seems to be the same for others when they look, they find themselves as capacity for their world.

One thing is to generally know this, but how is it to actively remind myself of this in daily life? How is it if I make it into a daily life exploration?

When I remind myself of this, I notice a shift that’s small yet significant.

The main shift is that I experience others more clearly and vividly as awake capacity taking the form of that human being, just as I am that over here.

And why stop with humans? Humans are the only ones who, so far, have reported finding themselves as awake capacity for their world. But it’s more than reasonable to assume this is the case for all animals. To themselves, they are likely capacity for their world, just as I am and we are.

When I make a point out of perceiving others in this way, I relate to them differently. Over time, all of this – the noticing and the shift in how I relate to others – becomes a new habit and normal.

I can take this one step further, as another experiment. What happens if I perceive everything, including inanimate objects, as awake capacity taking a particular form over there – as a chair, a rock, the stars, this computer?

There are a few layers here.

When I find myself as capacity for my world, I also notice that this human self, others, and the wider world all happen within and as what I am. To me, it’s all happening within and as awake space. (Of course, space happens within and as this capacity, but “awake space” is as good a way of talking about it as any.) So to me, others already happen within awake space. They are awake space taking that human form over there.

There is a shift from this to reminding myself that to them, they too are capacity for their world. They too are awake space that their world happens within and as. All conscious beings are capacity for their world, just as I am.

The true nature of all conscious beings, to themselves, is this capacity. We are capacity for our own world. The content of our experiences – this self and the world as it appears to us – happens within and as the awake space we find ourselves as.

Is that also the true nature of all of existence? Is the true nature of everything capacity? Yes, that seems inevitable. Without nothing, there isn’t something. But is it awake? To me, it seems awake but that awakeness may just be the awakeness here – the one it’s happening within and as. If I am honest, I cannot know if the true nature of everything is consciousness, even if it appears that way to me, and there are several clues pointing to it.

What I can do is to experiment. How is it to remind myself that other beings are capacity for their world? That to them, their world happens within and as awake space? How is it if I extend that to everything? If I perceive everything as awake space taking that particular form over there?

My own process has gone through a few different phases with this.

During the initial awakening, in my teens, I experienced all of existence as the divine or God taking all the different forms in the world, including as human beings and temporarily and locally identifying as these human beings. At the same time, there was and is conditioning here in me that takes human beings as human beings and the divine aspect goes a bit in the background.

I have also explored differentiating between my true nature over here, the true nature of others, and the true nature of all of existence, although I know that the two first ones very likely are the same, and the third likely is too.

I see that actively reminding myself of the awake space others are to themselves is helpful to me. It helps me shift out of the old – ancient – conditioning of taking others as exclusively human beings.

Note: When I say “capacity”, that’s terminology from Douglas Harding and the Headless Way. I like it since it’s simple and to the point. “Capacity” refers to finding myself as capacity for my world – for this human self, others, the wider world, and any content of my experience. To me, all of my experiences happen within and as what I am. And we can, inevitably imperfectly, call this awake space, consciousness, or something else. It’s what we all are to ourselves, whether it’s noticed or not.

How does God speak to us through nature?

I love to think of nature as unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour.

— George Washington Carver, Tuskegee University, 1930

I love this quote and it fits my experience.

Although the quote speaks for itself, we can also explore it further.

First, what do we mean by nature?

We obviously mean nature in an ordinary sense, as ecosystems, landscapes, oceans, air, water, plants, animals, and so on. And we cannot exclude ourselves from it. We, as human beings, belong to nature. And even our culture belongs to nature. It has grown out of and is part of Earth as a living and evolving system, although I doubt that was what Carver had in mind.

And what do we mean by God?

For me, God is the word for all of existence and what existence happens within and as (awake emptiness). God speaks to us through nature as nature.

So the question is, how does God speak to us through nature?

Nature, through its existence and as it is, speaks to us. There is a huge amount of information there for us, which helps us understand nature, ourselves, and how to better live our lives. Most humans through history have learned from nature in this way. Sometimes, it’s just insights we pick up from living our daily lives. Other times, it’s information systematically sought out. I imagine people through all time and in all cultures have systematically learned from nature, and we do it today as well – including through formal science.

There is another way God speaks to us through nature.

If God is all there is, then we can also find God in nature. Some do it through nature mysticism. They may sense or perceive the divine in or as nature.

There is also a simpler way to find God as nature – as all there is, and there are two ways to talk about this.

We can notice ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us. We can find ourselves as that which all our experiences – of ourselves and the wider world – happen within and as, and we can call that capacity, awake nothing full of everything, awakeness or consciousness, or Big Mind.

We can also call this the divine. If this awake nothing full of everything is not only our own “true nature” but the true nature of existence itself, then this is the divine, it’s Allah or Brahman or God. God speaks to us through nature AS nature.

The true nature of nature, existence, others, and ourselves is right there on display and not hidden at all. It’s just up to us to notice it.

If the true nature of everything is on display, why don’t more people notice? And how can we find it for ourselves?

Why don’t more people notice? Mainly, because we identify with and as this human being, and we are fascinated with these stories of ourselves as this human being with all sorts of identities and roles and activities in the world. There is nothing wrong with this, although it’s inherently a bit uncomfortable since it’s not completely aligned with reality.

How can we find it for ourselves? The most effective approaches I have found are the Big Mind process, Headless experiments (Douglas Harding, Richard Lang), and Living Inquiries. Through these, we can relatively easily get a taste of what it’s about, learn how to re-notice in daily life, and – if we are interested – learn how to bring this noticing more regularly into daily life and explore how to live from it.

Wait a minute… if God is all there is, what does that make us?

Yes, good question. In this context, we are the divine locally and temporarily taking itself to be something physical and separate, and then –sometimes – (re)discovering its true nature. This is the play of the divine, lila. As Alan Watts said, it’s the divine, or nature, playing hide and seek with itself.

The essence of spirituality doesn’t require anything esoteric

There are many ideas about spirituality in our culture. Some see it as a refuge or something that will save them. Some see it as escapism, fantasies, and avoidance. Some see reaching the “goals” of spirituality as only for special people. In some situations, and in some ways, there is some truth to each of these.

And yet, the core of spirituality is pragmatic and secular. We don’t need to take anyones word for it. We don’t need to assume anything about the nature of existence. We don’t need to leave it to someone else. We can try it out for ourselves.

So what is this secular and pragmatic core of spirituality?

It takes two forms. One is the many effects of spiritual practices on our human life. The other is finding what we already are.

I have written articles about both so I’ll just give a brief summary here.

Finding what we are

This isn’t dependent on any philosophy or particular worldview. It’s just dependent on noticing what we already are to ourselves.

Even logically, we see that – to ourselves – we must be consciousness.

Consciousness is what’s aware of any experience at all, so that’s what we are to ourselves. Any sense of being something happens within and as this consciousness, any experience of anything at all happens within and as this consciousness. Even the idea of consciousness, the mental images and associations we have about it, happens within and as consciousness.

And we can find this for ourselves. Consciousness can notice itself as, to itself, all there is. We can find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us. We can find ourselves as what the world, as it appears to us, happens within and as.

Our habitual identification is typically with this human self which appears within and as what we are. This is a kind of “trance” as many have pointed out, and is self-perpetuating unless something comes in to help us notice what we already are, or – more accurately – help what we are notice itself.

The most effective approach to notice what we are may be inquiry (headless experiments, Big Mind process). The most effective approach to stabilize this may be a combination of inquiry and basic meditation (notice + allow). The most effective approach to live from this includes heart-centered practices (tonglen, ho’oponopno) and regular emotional healing work. And training a more stable attention helps all of this and our life in general.

Is this the awakening spiritual traditions talks about? Yes, as far as I can tell it is. It’s what we are noticing itself, and noticing itself as all its experiences. It’s oneness. It’s a waking up from the trance of being this one separate self happening within and as what we are. It’s a noticing that what we are is love. After all, oneness noticing itself is expressed as love.

Helping who we are

Traditional spiritual practices, and modern versions of these, can also help us at a human level.

Training a more stable attention supports just about any activity in our life and our general well-being.

Basic meditation – notice and allow what’s here, and notice it’s already noticed and allowed – helps us release out of struggling with what’s here, our experience as it is.

Basic inquiry – finding ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us – also helps release us out of struggling with what is. It brings a lighter touch. It creates a space for us to act a little more from clarity and kindness.

Heart-centered practices helps us reorient in how we relate to ourselves, others, situations, and life in general. It helps shift us out of a struggle orientation to befriending what’s here. And this, in turn, helps our well being and allows us to act more from clarity.

The essence of spirituality doesn’t require anything esoteric

To me, this is the essence of spirituality, and it doesn’t require anything esoteric. It doesn’t require us to believe anything or go outside of our own experience. On the contrary, if we want to take it as far as it goes, it requires us to be ruthlessly honest about our own experience and find what’s already here.

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Is my true nature the same as the true nature of existence?

I rarely use the term “true nature” since it suggests certain knowledge, although I also understand why they call it that in Buddhism.

My own apparent true nature

When I explore it for myself, I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. What I am is what my experience – of myself and the wider world – happen within and as.

One aspect of this is being capacity for the world as it appears to me. I can also say it’s no-thing full of everything. Or void allowing any experience. Or awakeness and all happening within and as awakeness. Or oneness since all is happening within and as what I am. Or love and all happening within and as love. (This is the love of the left hand removing a splinter of the right, not the type of love that is a feeling or dependent on a feeling.)

It can also be called Big Mind, Brahman, Spirit, the Divine, or any of the labels that points to roughly the same.

So I understand why they call it “true nature”. It’s difficult to imagine anything more fundamental than finding ourselves as capacity for all content of our experience, including awakeness, love, and whatever else it may be.

The true nature of existence

If my true nature is capacity, or capacity and awakeness, what about the true nature of the rest of existence?

The honest answer is that I don’t know.

Another answer is that, yes, it appears – to me – to be the true nature of all of existence. To me, the world happens within and as capacity and awakeness, so it naturally appears that way to me.

It makes logical sense that it’s the true nature of existence. After all, what’s more basic than capacity for anything and all? I am not so sure about the other qualities like awakeness. Is the universe and existence awake in itself? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps in part. I don’t know.

And yet another answer is that there are signs that suggests it’s the true nature of existence, for instance synchronicities, ESP, distance healing, and more. At the very least, this hints at the oneness of existence.

Exploring this for ourselves

As I often write about, there are ways to explore this for ourselves. Any words are pointers and questions, at most, and this only comes alive and has meaning as we discover it for ourselves.

Headless experiments is an excellent way to explore this, as is the Big Mind process and the Living Inquiries, and many other approaches out there.

Summary

I can say something about what appears to be my own true nature. I can say that existence itself appears to me to have the same true nature. It makes logical sense. There are some hints. And that’s about what I can say.

This is something we all can explore for ourselves. What do I find when I investigate for myself? Is it similar? Different? Would I talk about it differently?

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The role of intellectual honesty in spirituality

For me, intellectual honesty seems an intrinsic part of spirituality. After all, spirituality is an exploration of reality, and intellectual honesty guides and supports that process.

This is another large topic perhaps better suited for a book, but I’ll say a few words about it.

Intellectual honesty is intellectual honesty no matter what the topic is. In general, there seems to be some universals to it and some universal findings. And there may also be some universal findings when it comes to spirituality.

How does intellectual honesty look for me in general?

I don’t know anything for certain.

Thoughts are questions about reality.

Thoughts help me orient and function in the world. They can be more or less valid in a conventional sense, and it’s not their function to give any final or absolute truth.

Life is ultimately a mystery, including what we think we understand or know something about.

How does intellectual honesty look for me when applied to psychology?

The world is my mirror.

(a) My mental overlay of the world creates all the maps, separation lines, labels, interpretations and so on that I operate from as a human being in the world. Anything I can put into words or images is just that, my own words and images. It’s not inherent in the world.

(b) Also, what I see “out there” reflects dynamics and characteristics in myself. Whatever I can put into words about someone or something else also applies to me. When I look, I can find specific examples of how it applies to me.

I am my own final authority. I cannot give it away, no matter how much I try.

I operate from a wide range of underlying assumptions. It’s good to bring these to awareness, as far as I can, and question them.

How does intellectual honesty look for me when applied to spirituality?

Awakening can be understood in a small and psychological or big and spiritual way. In both cases, it’s about what we are noticing itself and then living this human life in that context. We are capacity for the world as it appears to us. Any content of experience happens within and as what we are.

In the small interpretation, we say that this is MY or perhaps OUR nature. In the big interpretation, we go one step further and say it’s the nature of EVERYTHING.

What we can say for certain is that it seems to be our nature. And although saying it’s the nature of everything is a leap, there are some hints that this may be the case. (I have written more about this in other articles.)

What are the benefits of intellectual honesty?

It helps us stay honest, on track, and grounded. And it helps us avoid detours created by wishful or fearful thinking. (Although these detours become part of our path and have their own function.) It helps us – individually and collectively – to make better decisions.

Why is intellectual honesty important in spirituality?

I have mentioned a few things about this above.

Spirituality is about reality. It’s about noticing what we already are and living from it. It’s about seeing through our assumptions about ourselves and the world. And in that process, intellectual honesty is invaluable and essential. It keeps us on track. It helps us see through what’s not aligned with reality.

Can intellectual honesty be learned or trained?

Yes, absolutely, although it does require readiness and willingness. We can learn about cognitive bias, logical fallacies, and so on, and learn to recognize them in our own thinking. There is always more work to do in these areas for all of us, and especially in recognizing it in ourselves.

Does intellectual honesty preclude trust, devotion, or poetic expression?

Not at all.

I can trust an approach or a guide, at least for a while and to some extent.

I can engage in devotion and devotional practices towards the divine.

I can enjoy poetic expressions and even engage in my own.

Are the examples above all there is to it?

No, these are just some examples that come to mind. There are a lot more out there and variations and clarifications of these. And probably a lot I am not aware of and won’t be aware of in this lifetime.

Are the examples above examples universal?

They do not represent any final or absolute truth, although it seems that many of these are relatively universal. And it’s always possible to go further with each one of these and other insights and pointers.

The examples I gave above apply to the part of the terrain of reality I am exploring. If we explore other parts of the terrain, there will be some other ones that applies specifically to that terrain. For instance, if we see ourselves as a more conventional Christian, we may chose to “believe” something while also admitting we don’t know.

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My early longing: a longing to return home to the divine

As a child, and I remember this best at elementary school age, I had a longing. I would wake up in the morning, feel this longing, and not know what it was for. I had my favorite food – cornflakes or bread with strawberry jam, I read my favorite comics (Carl Barks’ Donald Duck stories), I read my favorite books (Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, Hardy Boys, Famous Five), I spent time with my parents, I played with friends, and nothing did it. Nothing helped alleviate the longing.

When the awakening happened age sixteen, I finally understood what the longing was for. The longing was for coming home – to all as the divine. To recognize all, without exception, as the divine and the play and unfolding and exploration of the divine.

I imagine the longing had a more human element as well. I longed for a deeper and more real relationship with my parents. But a large part of the longing, perhaps fueled by this more human longing, was for coming home.

This longing was fulfilled, and is being fulfilled. It’s a process. Returning home is something we don’t need to since we are always here. And it’s also an ongoing unfolding process and exploration.

There are two ways to talk about this. One is that the longing is to return home to what I am – as capacity for the world as it appears to me, as what all my experiences happen within and as. The other is that this is a longing for a return to the divine, a return to recognizing all – without exceptions – as the divine and the unfolding and play of the divine. The first is what I call the small or psychological interpretation of awakening, and the second the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. The awakening itself is the same, it’s just how we talk about it that’s different.

Is anything here original?

As usual, the answer is yes and no.

It’s original in that we all explore slightly different landscapes and have our own perceptions and flavors in how we express it. For instance, I tend to differentiate between respectively who and what we are, and small and big interpretations of awakening, and although I am not aware of others talking about it that way, I assume there must be others who make the same differentiations with same, similar, or different words.

And it’s not original. Just about everything here are things others have discovered and talked about. It’s about reality so of course many will discover similar things. (Or have the same misunderstandings!) We are all exploring and learning about the same or a very similar landscape, so it’s natural if our experience is relatively similar and if the maps we create are similar.

Oneness and individuality

From a small interpretation of awakening, it’s easy to see how oneness and individuality fit together. To us, we are consciousness and all our experiences happen within and as this consciousness. It’s all one in that sense. And the content of our experience is all individual. Everything is unique. Including this human self that others take us to be.

From a big interpretation of awakening, we can say that all of existence is consciousness – or Spirit, the Divine, God. And the divine expresses, explores, and experiences itself through and as everything in existence and all of it as unique expressions.

When what we are notices itself, this question of oneness and individuality falls away – apart from perhaps as a gentle curiosity. The answer is right here. Oneness takes all these forms and they happen within and as oneness.

How does this play out in real life? In awakening, there is an invitation for our human self to become more authentic, real, and genuine. To shed some of the pretense and trying to live up to images. And to be more as we are, naturally and without the extra effort. I say invitation since this depends, as so much, on intentionally joining in with this particular process.

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Why do spiritual teachers not acknowledge the projection aspect of awakening?

To ourselves, and independent of world views, we are consciousness and all our experience happens within and as that consciousness.

This consciousness may temporarily get fascinated by thoughts and stories, hold them as true, and take itself as a particular content of consciousness – an I, a me, an observer, doer, human being, and so on.

And it can notice itself as consciousness and all experiences as happening within and as consciousness. It can learn to notice this more steadily and through different situations. And our human self may reorganize and align within this noticing.

We can honestly say that to us, all is consciousness.

But to say that all of existence in itself is consciousness is a leap.

That’s a projection.

For me, the only thing that’s honest is to say that to me all is consciousness. My world happens within and as consciousness. And although there are signs and hints (synchronicities, ESP etc.) that all of existence is consciousness, I cannot honestly say that that’s how it actually is.

So why do many spiritual teachers and traditions say that all is consciousness? Whether directly or indirectly by calling it Spirit, the Divine, Allah, Brahma, God?

It may be just because it’s tradition and a habit?

It may be to make it simpler for most people?

It may be because they notice but don’t want to speak up because it goes against official and unofficial tradition?

It may be that they don’t have noticed?

And is it important?

Yes and no.

It’s perhaps not so important in a practical sense. But it is important in terms of noticing and honesty.

For me, it would not be intellectually honest to jump to the assumption that all of existence is consciousness – at least not without acknowledging that it’s a leap, an assumption, a projection.

A few notes:

It can take some examination to notice that we are consciousness and all our experience happens within and as this consciousness. As I often write about, there are structured forms of inquiry that can help us discover this more easily – Headless experiments, Big Mind process, Living Inquiries, and so on. And it can take continued examination to notice this through different situations. And the same for allowing our human self to reorganize within this noticing.

Also, the label “consciousness” happens within and as what we are. It’s a thought, an idea, a label. It points to it but isn’t it.

What about oneness and no-self as some talk about? When consciousness notices all its experience as happening within and as itself, it’s all one. And it also notices any ideas of an I, me, observer, doer, human self and so on as happening within and as itself, so there is no final identity in any of it.

On a personal note, I can say that this differentiation is something I noticed in the initial awakening in my – this human’s – teens. I did bring it up to some spiritual teachers but it was dismissed so I learned to not mention it very much. But I am doing it here since it seems important enough.

As mentioned above, the oneness – and recognition of all happening within and as consciousness – is the same whether we make the projection differentiation or not. It’s just a noticing, or an interpretation, or a way of talking about it. For all practical purposes, it’s the same, apart from one being a little more intellectually honest.

What are some of the hints and signs that tells us that perhaps all of existence in itself is consciousness? For me, there are a few things. Synchronicities – and especially the frequent and undeniable ones – suggests that all of existence is one and consciousness. As does ESP – sensing and picking up information at a distance or before something happens. And having prayers in different forms – including distance healing – answered in a relatively systematic way.

When the historical Buddha awoke, according to tradition he said “all of existence woke up with me”. (Paraphrased from bad memory.) That’s a projection. We can say that his world woke up to itself as consciousness, and he jumped to the conclusion that all of existence woke up. Or – equally accurate – it was a poetic expression of his direct experience there and then.

And yes, these questions are – not by accident – similar to what The Matrix is about. In the Matrix, all of people’s experiences happen within and as their own consciousness. The difference is that when they wake up from it, they awaken to a real (maybe!) physical world instead of as consciousness.

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Oneness from a psychological perspective

This is one of the recurrent themes for me, but I like revisiting it to see if I can find other aspects to it and simpler and more clear ways to talk about it.

Oneness can be understood from a relatively ordinary psychological perspective.

In our own experience, we are consciousness. We are not a human being. We are not a brain. We are not the way others see us. All of that happens within consciousness. To ourselves, we are consciousness and this human self and the world and all experiences are content of this consciousness.

Another way to say it, which is a little more accurate, is that all our experiences – of this human self and the wider world – happens within and as consciousness.

Perhaps even more accurately, all our experiences happens within and as what we are, and the mind can label this many things including consciousness, awakeness, or Big Mind.

This also means that to us, all is oneness. All is one in that it all happens within and as consciousness.

Looking a little closer, we may also notice that all happens within and as – what we can call – emptiness or void. Nothingness makes something – consciousness and all its experiences – possible. So in a more basic sense, we are this nothingness that something happens within and as.

Also, when we discover ourselves as consciousness and all – as it appears to us – as consciousness, then it makes sense that some would take a leap and assume all of existence inherently is consciousness and call it Spirit, the divine, Brahman, Allah, or God.

I find it helpful to think of what I describe here as the small or psychological interpretation of awakening. We are consciousness to ourselves and all our experiences then happens within and as consciousness. This says something about how we are, but it doesn’t assume anything about how all of existence is.

The leap of faith, assuming all of existence is consciousness and calling it Spirit or the divine, is then the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

From the small or psychological interpretation, the big or spiritual interpretation is understandable. It makes sense that people would interpret it that way, even if we ourselves may not go that far.

From a small interpretation, the big interpretation may be seen as a projection and a leap of faith. From a big interpretation, the small interpretation means swimming in a pond that’s a little too small.

And personally for me? I find it helpful to switch between both interpretations. The small interpretation allows our view to stay grounded and it may make a little more sense to more people. And I suspect, for a variety of reasons and personal experiences, that the spiritual interpretation is valid as well. It may say something accurate about all of existence.

The nice thing about this way of looking at it – using both a small and big interpretation – is that the essential experiences of mystics form all traditions makes sense from either one. We can understand it from a small or psychological interpretation, and we can understand it from the big or spiritual interpretation.

Oneness makes sense. The awakening process makes sense. The pitfalls and dark nights make sense. The transformation of the human self in the context of oneness recognizing itself makes sense. Early glimpses make sense. Nature spirituality makes sense. And so on. (I am very aware that I haven’t gone into these here so it’s a bit of a teaser. I have written about it elsewhere on this website, and I may explore it more in further articles.)

Describing awakening in a simple and grounded way

I like to demystify what can be demystified – including awakening. Why not try to describe it in simple and ordinary ways that others can check out for themselves, and that doesn’t rely on references to what’s outside of most people’s experience?

So what is awakening?

Awakening is what we are awakening to itself.

Independent of our worldview, it makes sense that what we are – to ourselves – is consciousness. Even within a materialistic view, it’s hard to not admit that to ourselves, we are consciousness.

All our content of experience – including the world and ourselves as a human being – happens within and as consciousness.

Typically, we identify with a particular content of our experience. We identify with and as this human self, and as an observer, doer, and so on.

Awakening refers to noticing that we are consciousness that this content of experience happens within and as. The initial noticing can be called an initial opening or awakening.

Sometimes, that’s all it is. And sometimes, the process continues.

We notice. Identification releases somewhat out of content of experience. Consciousness wakes up to itself as all there is. (To itself it’s all there is.) This noticing becomes more ordinary and continues through more and more situations in daily life. Our human life reorients and transforms within this new noticing and context.

Why are not more people interested in it?

We may not have heard about it.

We may not have been exposed to it in a way that makes it seem possible or attractive to us.

It may seem too mysterious, obscure, and distant.

It may seem like it’s for other or special people, not us.

We may not see how it’s useful.

It may seem like something we already know, intellectually.

Why are some people really into it?

We may have had a glimpse or opening and wish to continue to explore it.

We may intuit that there is something and set out to explore it.

We may be drawn in by traditions or teachers speaking about awakening.

We may seek to avoid suffering and have heard it will help.

It may happen out of the blue and stay and we keep exploring this new context for our human life.

What are some of the effects of awakening?

Mainly, our human self reorients and reorganizes within this new context.

This involves a lot of different changes and processes and lasts a lifetime.

It typically involves healing of emotional issues and hangups. Examining old beliefs, assumptions, and identities. And changing how we relate to others, ourselves, and the world in general.

How do we live within oneness? That’s the question, and the transformation of our human self can be more or less thorough within this lifetime.

What about spirituality?

Isn’t awakening about spirituality?

Yes and no. Yes, spirituality is often about awakening. And no, awakening doesn’t requite religion or traditional spirituality.

At the same time, there is a lot of practical and valuable information in spiritual and religious traditions.

Small and big interpretation of awakening

This article is mostly about the small or psychological interpretation of awakening. We talk about it a way that (can!) make sense independent of whatever worldview we have.

There is also the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. Here, we use the more familiar language of God, Spirit, the Divine, and so on.

We may say that awakening is God (Spirit, the Divine) awakening to itself locally through this human self.

Spirit temporarily and locally took itself to be an ultimately separate being (this human self), and then woke up to itself as all there is.

How can we explore it for ourselves?

Mainly, we need to find one or more approaches that make sense to us. Perhaps they feel intuitively right. Or someone we trust recommends it. Or we happen to have a local awakening-coach and join for a while.

There are some approaches that within minutes can give us a glimpse or taste of what awakening is about. The two I enjoy the most is the Big Mind process and the Headless experiments.

Is there anything I need to be aware of?

Mainly, the usual guidelines for exploring and learning anything applies here too. It helps to have the guidance of someone you trust and who has experience. Trust yourself and what feels right to you. If the approach you use has little or no effect, consider trying something else.

When I said “consciousness” earlier, it was to make it more understandable. The mind may label what we are “consciousness” but that’s just a label. That label and all our ideas about it also happen within and as what we are.

The awakening process, and the approaches we may use on the path, tend to open our heart and mind, and that can open for whatever unprocessed psychological material is in us. If that happens, it can feel confusing, scary, disorienting, and overwhelming. So it’s good to find an awakening-coach who has experience with this, can take some precautions, and knows how to help you through it.

It can help to set aside what you think you know about awakening, especially the myths and ideas from religion and traditional spirituality. Make it simple for yourself. This is about noticing what you already are. There are ways to help you notice it. And there are people who can help you with it. It’s not so different from learning or exploring anything else in life.

Is awakening important?

Yes and no. If it happens, it may be the most important (no-thing) thing in your life since it becomes the context for everything. It can also help transform your human self.

And yet, most human beings live without having a (conscious) taste of this and that’s fine. You can have a very good life without conscious noticing of what you are.

If what you mostly want is a good life, and that’s the case for most of us, another strategy may be more direct. For instance, focus on self-compassion and healing the most obvious emotional issues. Nurture nurturing and important relationships in your life. And, in general, be a good steward of your life. And there is no problem with including this in an exploration of what we are. They work very well together.

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A secular spirituality

Most or all of the essentials of spirituality can be understood from a secular view, and there are some obvious benefits to this.

Awakening itself can be understood in a secular context. Awakening means that what we are – that which our experience happens within and as – notices and wakes up to itself. This may sound a bit nebulous but we can have a taste of it relatively quickly through some forms of inquiry – the Big Mind process, Headless experiments, and so on.

This can be understood within a secular context. Even if we assume a physical world and (relatively) separate beings, we are – by necessity – consciousness. We experience the world not only “through” consciousness but as consciousness. To ourselves, we are consciousness and the content of our experience happens within and as consciousness.

When we notice or wake up to ourselves as consciousness, we also wake up to and as oneness. The whole world – as it appears to us – happens within and as consciousness. Within and as what we are. Within and as oneness.

Awakening itself, the whole awakening process, and the process of reorienting (embodiment) within this new context can be understood within a secular context.

Spiritual pointers and practices can also be understood within a secular context. When done with sincerity, these practices transform us. And that’s something that can be understood and studied within a secular framework.

When I say spiritual pointers and practices, I mostly think about different forms of meditation, inquiry, body-centered practices, heart-centered practices, ethical guidelines, and even prayer. Each of these transform us when done with sincerity and over time, and the effects and mechanism can be understood and studied in a pragmatic and grounded way.

What’s the benefits of a secular understanding of spirituality? In the best case, it can help us be more pragmatic and grounded in our approach to it. It can help us find some of what’s essential to awakening and how the spiritual practices transform us. And it can – obviously – make it more understandable and accessible to people who already have a more secular orientation.

What’s the drawback? The drawback is that we may miss something essential if we focus solely on what we find when we use (what we understand by) a pragmatic and grounded approach. It may be too narrow.

A more fluid approach may make the most sense. I personally use both a more traditional spiritual approach and a more secular and pragmatic approach. They both have their strengths and value. They are two sides of the same coin.

What do I mean with the words secular, spiritual, and spirituality?

With secular, I mean a pragmatic and grounded approach, and an interpretation and understanding of awakening and spiritual practices that makes sense within a modern secular view and without referring to anything “spiritual”.

Spirituality means whatever spirituality traditionally has been focused on, including awakening and spiritual practices.

A spiritual approach is perhaps less easily defined. For me, it means a big interpretation of awakening (the divine wakes up to itself locally through this human self). It means a trust in the divine (all of existence) and divine intelligence and love. It means asking for and perhaps following divine guidance (including the quiet inner voice). It means acknowledging a whole range of things that are perhaps not so easily understood from a secular view, including synchronicities, seeing energies, sensing at a distance (without using physical senses), distance healing, and so on.

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Spiritual materialism: Spirituality within a materialistic view

In a family lunch yesterday, the topic turned to spirituality. A little out of the blue, one mentioned the materialistic worldview of Communism and that it’s incompatible with spirituality. I didn’t say anything at the time – perhaps because I didn’t know how to phrase it – but I don’t necessarily agree.

When I sat down to write something about this, the headline that fell into my mind was spiritual materialism – in the sense of spirituality within a materialistic worldview.

As I see it, most forms of genuine spirituality and awakening can happen within a materialistic view. The two are not opposed to each other.

Here are some examples:

Awakening can be understood within a small (psychological) or big (spiritual) view. In either case, it’s what we are – that which our experiences happen within and as – that wakes up to itself. We wake up to oneness, or – more accurately – oneness wakes up to itself as all there is. In the small interpretation of awakening, this happens locally and in this human self, and it can easily fit into a materialistic worldview. In essence, to us – as consciousness – everything happens within and as consciousness. Oneness wakes up to itself. And that can be interpreted to happen within a world that’s mostly or exclusively material. We can explore this through, for instance, the Big Mind process and have a direct taste of it for ourselves.

What about past lives? One side of this is research, and if they find that rebirth seems to happen (as researchers do), then that may create some troubles for a strict materialistic worldview. If we look at rebirth as it may come up in our own lives, for instance through apparent memories, the most pragmatic and useful approach may be to hold it lightly and explore it as a projection or as if it was a dream element. Whatever it is, it mirrors something in us here and now, and that’s useful. That’s something we can use to explore whatever it represents or mirror in ourselves. And that’s something we can easily do within a materialistic worldview.

What about spiritual practices, like prayer? Doesn’t that require a deity or some idea of divinity? Not at all. Prayer is transformative. It has an important psychological function, and if done with sincerity and receptivity and we allow it, it can profoundly transform us. It can open our heart and mind. It can help us find healing. It can even lead into a taste of oneness or a real shift into oneness.

When it comes to many other things associated with spirituality – heart-centered practices, forms of meditation, ethical guidelines, and so on – these help us in our own lives, makes us a little easier to be around for others, and fit into a materialistic worldview.

So we see that awakening can be interpreted within a materialistic worldview. And most or all pragmatic spiritual pointers, practices, and guidelines don’t require a “spiritual” worldview and are compatible with materialistic worldview.

How do I see this? I love that the essence of spirituality fits nicely into a strict materialistic view. Personally, I find both the small and big interpretations of awakening useful. And, for me, the big interpretation is – in a sense – a little more correct and closer to reality. (In another sense, reality is always more than and different from any words or world views.)

Note: Chögyam Trungpa initially coined – or popularized? – the term spiritual materialism and used it to describe something else: an attitude of wanting to accumulate signs of spiritual progress in order to feel better about ourselves.

Typical aspects and phases of the awakening process

What are some of the typical aspects and phases of the awakening process?

I’ll mention a few things here based on my own experience. Not everything is sequential in this process, nor does it all happen or happen within one lifetime. There is also some overlap in this list, and I’ll just briefly touch on each point since other articles here have addressed most of them in more detail.

The following are some of the milestones that may happen in the awakening process.

Relationship with the divine

Our conscious orientation towards or relationship with the divine changes through the awakening process. In general, it goes from perceiving the divine as Other, to a sense of oneness with the divine, to the divine (or what we are) waking up to itself – and out of taking itself as fundamentally a separate being – and realizing it was what it was looking for through it all.

Divine as other

The pre- or early awakening phase often involves viewing and experiencing the divine as Other.

It may start as an interest. Or an intuition or knowing.

There may be glimpses – perhaps of divine beings or all as the divine.

There may even be an early awakening of the divine as all, of oneness with the divine as all.

In all of these cases, the divine is Other even when the apparent division seems more subtle. The divine is beginning to wake up to itself as all there is while retaining some of the identification as a separate being.

When I use the word “divine” here, it can be exchanged with consciousness, awakeness, love, Big Mind, what we are, or other similar labels.

What we are noticing itself

Eventually, what we are – that which all content of our experience happens within and as – wakes up to itself. It wakes up out of the dream of ultimately being a separate being. The human self and anything else happens within and as what we are.

What we are living more consciously from and as itself

Stability

I hinted about this in the previous segment.

In the very early phases of the awakening, the divine may seem like an idea, something others talk about, and something we don’t have any experience with. Although we may have an intuition or knowing or experience a draw towards it.

Then, there may be glimpses of the divine – perhaps of divine beings or all as the divine. These may be infrequent.

The next phase seems to take many different forms. We may gradually sense the divine everywhere, or all as the divine. Or there may be more sudden and stronger glimpses. And this may get more stable either right away or over time.

At some, we may realize that what we are – fundamentally – is the divine, and what we took ourselves to be – this human self – happens within and as the divine, or within and as what we are.

Again, this may first be an intuition or knowing or come through glimpses, and suddenly or over time it becomes more clear. Over time, it continues to clarify and become more stable – including throughout more and more situations in our daily life.

Global to local

An awakening is generally “global”. It happens in a general sense for or as all of what we are. (It may even seem as if all of existence awakened, but that’s largely a projection and another topic.) And it may seem as if it’s inevitably stable.

After a while, we may notice that things in life trigger something in us that takes the system back into separation consciousness. One way to talk about it is to say that parts of our human self (subpersonalities) are still caught up in emotional wounds, trauma, the past, and separation consciousness. They are reliving traumatic past experiences and the separation consciousness they were created from. They are not yet aligned with the reality of all as the divine. They are not yet awake. Life situations – or our response to them – trigger these issues so they can be seen, felt, explored, and eventually awaken, align with reality, and bring the global awakening into more of these still unawake parts of our human self.

In our life, this may take the form of first assuming the awakening is stable. We then notice that life situations trigger old issues in us, and if the issues are strong enough and core enough to who we take ourselves to be, we may get caught up in them and go into and act from separation consciousness. To the extent we acknowledge and own this, and take it seriously, we can intentionally work on how we relate to these unawake parts in us, and even invite them to heal and align more closely to reality – the reality of Oneness.

Maturing in the awakening

There are many aspects to maturing within the awakening.

One is that the awakening – gradually and over time – becomes ordinary. It is both ordinary and extraordinary. We get used to it. Other things become more interesting to us, like how to befriend unawake parts of us, how to help these different parts of our human self to heal and awaken, how to live from the awakening in more and more situations, how to live so we benefit the larger whole, and so on.

During an initial awakening phase, we may emphasize what we are over who we are. This is natural since we are used to who we are and what we are seems more interesting and perhaps fascinating. As we mature within the awakening, this is balanced out and the two are seen more clearly as aspects of the same – or labels highlighting different sides of this lived Oneness.

Maturing may also mean that we simultaneously become more who we are and more ordinary. We live more from authenticity and we realize more deeply how what’s in this human self is universally human.

Early in the awakening process, we may get on a missionary kick and think others “need” awakening or need to hear about it or do meditation, etc. We may also think that more people need to awaken in order for humanity to be saved. Later on, this tends to calm down. We are obviously open to share when others are interested, but the “shoulds” tend to fall away.

As we mature in the awakening, other things tend to happen that I’ll mention elsewhere in this article. For instance, we may realize it’s an ongoing process and there is not a final or end point.

An initial glimpse or awakening may indeed come with certain states – of bliss, ease, joy, being untouched by old hangups, and so on – but these are byproducts of the initial awakening and like all states they come and go. As we mature in it, we realize it’s not about achieving a state but what we are is here through any and all states and experiences, and the noticing gradually becomes more stable through these states and experiences.

We also realize that although the awakening “solves” the most core “problem” of taking ourselves to be something we are not (a separate being), it doesn’t by itself solve any of our human challenges and problems. We still have to deal with them as any other human being, although from within a different context. In a sense, it solves a problem we didn’t even know we had, and it doesn’t really solve anything else or the problems we know we have!

Embodiment

Embodiment means to live more consciously from what we are in more and more situations in daily life. It happens through the global-to-local process of inviting unawake parts of us to heal and align more closely with reality. And it happens as part of the maturing process. As anything else related to awakening – and being a human being in the world – it’s an ongoing process.

Challenges

An awakening process is a shift of what we most fundamentally take ourselves to be. So it naturally comes with some challenges. As you’d expect, these can be experienced as mild or severe, can last for shorter or longer periods of time, and any struggle we experience is our own struggle with what’s happening.

Challenges, crises, and dark nights

Here are a few examples of the challenges, crises, and dark nights we can experience in an awakening process.

We can be disoriented, frightened, or feel overwhelmed. This can happen anytime the process enters a new phase, and it really helps to have a general understanding of the process and the guidance of someone who has gone through it and is familiar with the terrain. (Some that you’d expect to be familiar with it – like official spiritual teachers – may not be, and someone you’d not expect to be familiar with it – like an unassuming regular gal or guy – may be.)

Our energy system can go a bit haywire in an awakening process. It helps with nature, physical activity, reducing mental activity, and perhaps energy work like acupuncture or Vortex Healing. (For the first few years for me, it felt like enormous energies went through my system – as if sending high voltage through regular housing wires.)

As mentioned earlier, anything in our human self that’s not aligned with the awakening will eventually surface to be seen, felt, examined, understood, loved, and eventually recognized as the divine (temporarily taking the form of an emotional issue, hangup, trauma). If we have a good amount of trauma in our system (often developmental trauma), this can be an intense, confusing, overwhelming, and challenging process. Again, it really helps to have the guidance of someone who has gone through this process and – in this case – understand trauma. And it helps to understand that unawake parts of us surface to join the global awakeness.

Another form of spiritual crisis comes in the form of loss. An apparent loss of the divine or the awakening. (This helps us meet our neediness around it and ideas that what we are looking for is somewhere else.) A loss of motivation and drive. (Because it came from separation consciousness and needs to come back within more of a oneness context.) Perhaps a loss of status, relationships, health, or more. (Again, helps us meet whatever in us still holds onto ideas about how it should or must be.)

Some things are common for these challenges. For instance, struggle makes them more difficult and painful. And yet, struggle is also part of the process. We struggle until we learn, at a deep level, that the struggle itself is painful and – eventually – not needed.

These challenges also highlight what in us – in our human self – is not yet aligned with reality (the reality of Oneness). It’s an essential part of the awakening and embodiment process. What surfaces and how we deal with it is universal in that it’s shared by many going through this process. And since the unawake parts of us are somewhat unique to us, what surfaces and how we deal with it also takes on a personal flavor.

Pitfalls

There are many common pitfalls in the awakening process. I’ll highlight a few without going into them in too much detail.

Relationship with teachers: Unquestioned adoration of teachers and gurus. (Upside: Wholehearted devotion. Downside: Being misled, disappointed, give away our authority. Remedy: See them as temporary guides and coaches.)

Relationship with teachings: See them as set in stone, infallible, and final. (Upside: Temporary honeymoon. Downside: Misled, apply guidelines that don’t work for us, disappointed. Remedy: See them as human-made, guidelines, each one medicine for a particular person and condition.)

Relationship with awakening: Assuming it’s a state. (Upside: Carrot. Downside: Chasing a state. Remedy: Recognize that what we are is always here and notice that.) Thinking there is an end, something final. (Upside: Can temporarily function as a carrot. Downside: Chasing an imagined end. Remedy: Recognize it as an ongoing process.)

Relationship with students (if have students): Encourage projections. (Upside: Learn from the consequences. Downside: Misleading the students. Remedy: Make the projections and their problems explicit, actively discourage them.) Take advantage of student’s projections, fears, hopes, and trust. (Upside: Crash and burn and learn from it. Downside: Harms the students in an ordinary human way. Remedy: Be aware of the dynamic, make it explicit, address the wounds and neediness in us it comes from.)

Relationship with our human self: Assuming the awakening will take care of all our human difficulties and challenges. (Upside: Carrot. Downfall: Disappointment. Remedy: Recognize it won’t and address our human challenges more directly.) Emphasizing what we are over our human self and…. (a) Not addressing our human needs and wounds. (Upside: Temporary imagined relief. Downside: Ignore what needs to be taken care of. Remedy: Realize the wounds and needs are here and address them more directly.) (b) Justify unethical and harmful behavior. (Upside: Crash, burn, and learn from it. Downside: Harms ourselves and others in an ordinary human way. Remedy: Notice what’s happening, take it seriously, and address it.)

Relationship with others and the world: Using awakening to fuel a particular image and a sense of separation (e.g. tell ourselves we are better than others, more awake, in order to feel better about ourselves and try to fill a very human hole of not feeling good enough, feeling unloved, etc.). (Upside: Crash, burn, and learn from it. Downside: Is out of alignment with reality, act from instead of taking care of own wounds. Remedy: Recognize what’s happening, address our wounds, hangups, and traumas more directly.)

These pitfalls come from believing stories, and they come from acting on our wounds instead of addressing them more directly. We act on unhealed and unawake parts of us, life responds and rubs up against them, and we get a chance to meet these parts of us and invite in healing, clarity, and a closer alignment with reality and oneness. How long this process is and how much pain it entails depends on our sincerity, receptivity, and willingness to look at what’s going on.

These pitfalls are not inherently wrong. They become part of – and fuel for – the awakening and maturing process. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge the problems and pain that may come from them, for oneself and others, and speak up with firm kindness as appropriate. That’s part of the process as well.

How we view the process

Ongoing process

As mentioned before, all of this – the awakening, maturing, healing of our human self, embodiment – is an ongoing process.

If we are caught up in unloved and unexamined fearful thoughts, we may want it to finish and we may have ideas about a final endpoint. But, as Adya says, that’s the “dream of the ego”. I find it’s easier and a relief to instead gently assume all of it is an ongoing process. It also makes it more interesting.

Small or big interpretation

As mentioned in other articles, we can use a small or big interpretation of awakening.

In both, awakening is what we are noticing itself. And what we are is what all our content of experience happens within and as. (We can call this consciousness, or Big Mind, or something else, and those labels also happen within and as what we are.)

In the small or psychological interpretation, we acknowledge that this may happen within a world as it is described by current mainstream science. It may be that the awakening “only” happens within the mind of an actual separate physical human being. The benefit of this interpretation is that it may be more acceptable to people coming from a (currently) mainstream view and understanding of the world.

The big or spiritual interpretation is the more traditional one as described by mystics from and outside of all the main spiritual traditions. Here, we take our immediate experience more at face value. Everything is the divine. Everything – all of existence – is as it appears, it is love and consciousness.

Either way, it doesn’t change anything about the awakening itself. It’s still experienced and described in the same way, it goes through the same phases, and it has the same consequences.

Notes

I had the idea of including my own personal experiences more explicitly for each point, but it would make for a longer article and I have addressed much of it in other articles tagged “autobiography”.

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What is oneness?

What is oneness?

The most basic oneness is what’s here now. In immediate experience, for all of us, all our experience happens within and as what we are. The content of our experience happens within and as what we are.

We can call this consciousness or love, or awakeness, or the void all happens within and as, but those are labels. The labels tempt the mind into thinking it has got it while it’s not anything that can be gotten conceptually. It’s what we are.

Awakening means that what we are wakes up to itself. Glimpses itself. Notices itself. Notices itself more and more clearly as what any experience happens within and as, including as that which this personality and this conditioning like the very least.

Why is this not always noticed? Because mind likes to identify as parts of the content of its experience. Mind likes to take itself as a me (this human self) and an I (the observer, doer, etc.). It’s not wrong but it’s incomplete. It creates an experience of duality, of I here and the wider world out there, and that’s all there is to it.

That duality is valid in a functional or pragmatic sense. It’s helpful to take this human self as what I am, in a pragmatic sense. But it’s not the whole picture.

In immediate experience, “I” am what my whole field of experience happens within and as. That is, in a sense, a more fundamental identity. Although it’s not an “identity”, it’s just what we are.

We can see this in a couple of different ways. One is that the fundamental reality of the world is of me as a human self in the physical world, and it’s only in my experience all appears as consciousness. All appears as consciousness because that’s how it has to be in my experience since I am consciousness. This is the small or psychological interpretation and it’s a possible and valid interpretation.

The other is that reality is more directly as it appears. All is actually consciousness, all of reality is and happens within and as consciousness. We can say all is the divine or whatever name(s) we have for the divine (Spirit, the One, Brahman, Allah, Big Mind etc.). This is the big or spiritual interpretation and is also valid.

There is another form of oneness, or another oneness within the first oneness: the oneness of this universe. It’s one seamless whole, one seamless system. This system is what has formed itself into stars and planets, this living planet, and everything that’s part of this living planet (including us humans and all our experience). As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, feelings, and thoughts of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into awareness.

I should mention that within the small interpretation of awakening, the physical world – including our own physical body – appears as consciousness because it happens within and as consciousness. (Which is what we are.) In the big interpretation of awakening, the physical world actually is as it appears to us, it is consciousness.

In either case, we can investigate, with guidance, how our mind creates its own experience of the physical world, and perhaps of this physical world as real in itself, as solid, as dense and material. As we investigate this – and as we find ourselves as that which all our experience happens within and as – what we call the physical world will appear less and less solid to us and more as consciousness. In that sense, it will appear more and more as a dream (happening within and as consciousness).

How can we notice oneness and live more from it? This is, in a way, the main question of spiritual practice so it’s too big to address here. I’ll just mention that the easiest way to have a glimpse of oneness may be through inquiry (Big Mind process, Living Inquiries, Headless experiments, etc.). And Practices to Reconnect is an excellent way to deepen into the second form of oneness.

We are the divine digesting itself

When I notice and allow what’s here in experience – thoughts, feelings, etc. – it feels like it’s all being digested.

Since it’s all happening within and as consciousness, we can say that it’s consciousness digesting itself.

And we can say that it happens all the time, just by living our life, whether we notice and allow, or are distracted and fight.

We can even say that all of existence is existence digesting itself.

Or that all of life and existence is the divine digesting itself.

The divine, or existence, or the universe, creates itself into complexity and digests itself.

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Lila as a (kind of) projection

Lila (Sanscrit) or Leela can be loosely translated as the “divine play”.

Wikipedia article on Lila

I like the word Lila, the play of the divine. Traditionally, it’s seen as the One (the divine) expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself as the universe in its always changing richness, including as us and our life and experience.

A slight variation of this is to see Lila as a projection. Lila reflects what’s here, in immediacy. The play of this consciousness. The creativity of this consciousness.

All my experience is not only an expression of this consciousness, it is this consciousness. It’s this consciousness expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself. Right now, it takes the form of this experience as it is, here and now.

I am calling this a kind of projection since it’s only a projection if we see Lila as “out there”. Even in the traditional sense, Lila is also – and obviously – what we take ourselves to be, our lives, and all our experience. Including this one, as it is, here and now.

Why is this important? The traditional view can be dismissed as a fantasy. (See footnote.) But it seems undeniable that our experience is an expression of the creativity and play of consciousness. All of our experience is this consciousness expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself.

And why is that important? For me, it helps me hold my experience more lightly. It helps me see it as a little less important. A little less solid. A little less final.

What I am experiencing is the creativity of consciousness. It’s the play of consciousness. And somehow, that makes it more interesting. I find curiosity for it. Receptivity.

A footnote to “The traditional view can be dismissed as a fantasy.”. This depends on the words we use and how closely we look at it. It’s undeniable that we and our life and experience is part of reality or existence or the universe. From here, we can say that we and our life and experience is reality or the universe expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself. And we can say that we and our life and experience is the play and creativity of the universe.

Of course, reality and the universe is not a human being like you and me, so the words (express, explore, experience, creativity, play) are metaphors or analogies more than meant to be taken literally as we use the words when we talk about humans.

And we can also say that our familiar human creativity is an expression or part of this larger creativity of existence or the universe.

Additional footnotes:

This article relates to the big (spiritual) and small (psychological) interpretations of awakening. I took the big and applied it to the small. Although when it comes to Lila, the small is really built into the big.

We sometimes unthinkingly say “my consciousness”. I avoid that since who I take as I or me happens within consciousness. If anything, I and me belong to consciousness, not the other way around.

I should also mention that for a long time, I didn’t know there was a word for what was alive for me in immediate experience. I was happy when I found the word Lila, also because it meant someone else experienced it as I do. (Or, at least, similar enough.)

Intellectual honesty and big & small interpretations of awakening

Most people who have an awakening will interpret it in the usual spiritual way. I did too, and still mostly do.

But I realized quickly that if I am to be honest with myself, and that is part of living from the awakening, there is another interpretation that also is possible.

First, what is a spiritual awakening? The essence is that what we are – that which all our experience happens within and as – wakes to itself. We can say that all our experience – of a me and a wider world – happens within and as awakeness, or consciousness, or perhaps awake space (although space also happens within and as it).

Identification is released out of the parts of the content of experience that we usually call me, or I, or the doer, observer or something else. It’s not that we are not that. It’s just that what we are is what all of it – this me and the wider world as it appears to me in a very ordinary sense – happens within and as.

The big or spiritual interpretation is that all of existence is Spirit or the divine or God, Brahman or whatever else we prefer to call it. That fits the immediate experience. It’s also this human self and locally, it took itself for a while to only be this human self and then woke up to itself as all of it without exception.

And yet, if I am honest, there is another interpretation, the small or psychological interpretation. Even within conventional psychology, they acknowledge that there is consciousness. And, logically and in direct experience, that is what we are. We just tell ourselves we are a human being, in the world, with a name and identity and so on.

So I have to acknowledge that there is a possibility that not only is the awakening local, but the consciousness that wakes up to itself is local too. It doesn’t exist as all of existence even if it appears that way in (naive) immediate experience. The world is as our materialistic worldview says, and what woke up to itself is the consciousness created by the brain in this one human being.

Both interpretations fit the basic data.

I have to be honest about that. And I can choose one or the other depending on what the situation calls for. For myself, I usually use the big interpretation. It’s more inspiring. When I talk with others, I sometimes use the small interpretation.

Although – I have to admit – there is a lot of data in my own experience that better fits the big interpretation. Mostly things like synchronicities, seeing energies, ESP and so on.

The benefits of a small interpretation of awakening

I have written about small (psychological) and big (spiritual) interpretations of awakening before. (See previous posts on this topic.)

Although I appreciate each, I am daily reminded of the benefits of the small interpretation. It makes awakening seem less mysterious, more attainable, and more free from the baggage of centuries of ideas about awakening from spiritual traditions and culture. It makes it seem more mundane and ordinary.

That’s why I tend to remind myself of the small interpretation in daily life. And at the same time appreciating the big interpretation, see it come alive in me in some situations – for instance when I am in nature and when I pray, and suspect and know that it is more accurate.

I wrote this post since one of my practices these days is to take whatever happens in me that’s uncomfortable (discomfort, reactivity) as a reminder to notice myself and it as (what a thought may label) consciousness. It’s pretty easy for me, although when reactivity comes up in me it does require a slight shift of attention. I also find it’s easier when I keep a small interpretation of awakening in the back of my mind because it then feels more mundane, ordinary, and simple. It really is mundane, ordinary, and simple (along with a lot of other things), and that’s a relief.