How I have learned to talk about an invisible and less-understood chronic illness

I have had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS, ME) since my teens, although I had a period in my twenties and thirties where I functioned better.

Through experience, I have learned a bit about how to talk about it. If I say I have CFS/ME, it won’t mean much to most people. They think it means I am a bit tired, or – in the worst case, which I have experienced during my education – they will dismiss it or even see it as an excuse for laziness. (In my studies and work, I was anything but lazy.)

So I learned to talk about it in a different way. Now, I say I have a chronic illness, and I add whatever makes sense in the situation. I may say it causes me to need to rest a lot. Or it makes it difficult for me to think and it takes time for me to think through things. Or that it makes it difficult for me to talk coherently. (When I am extra exhausted.)

That makes more sense to people. Most people have a rough understanding of what a chronic illness means, even if there are many types of them. Most take it seriously, respect it, and don’t feel they need to question it. (Or give uninformed advice.) And that makes my life much easier.

As with so much, the way we frame it – to ourselves and others – makes a big difference.

Note: I don’t often call it a disability, even if that’s what it is. In some situations, I would probably use that term as well to bring home a point.

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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Awakening is in the sweet spot of what can be described and studied, what cannot be proven to our satisfaction by others, and what we have to find for ourselves

I love the sweet spot where we find awakening. It can be talked about and studied. It cannot be proven to our satisfaction by others. And we ultimately have to find it for ourselves if we want to check it out and get a taste of it.

And that is, of course, how it is with most things in the world. It’s not unique to awakening.

IT CAN BE TALKED ABOUT AND STUDIED

We can talk about awakening and we can study it through science.

We can talk about our own experiences with it. We can talk about others’ reports on it and their lives. We can philosophize about it. We can talk about fantasies and misconceptions about it.

And we can study it through science. We can examine the reports of individuals. We can examine groups of reports for themes and patterns. We can examine biological correlates to what people report. We can try out methods for awakening and see how apparently effective they are. And so on.

And that’s how it is with most things. We can talk about it and we can do different kinds of research on it.

IT CAN NOT BE PROVEN TO OUR SATISFACTION BY OTHERS

There are many things we assume exist based on second and third-hand reports.

I assume Australia is an actual place even if I haven’t been there. I assume there are bears even if I haven’t encountered any. And so on.

And yet, if we want to be sure we cannot completely rely on the reports from others. We have to check it out for ourselves.

That especially applies to awakening since it’s not something we can take photos of and measure. And it’s not widely accepted in our culture so most people are less likely to accept second- or third-hand accounts.

WE HAVE TO FIND IT FOR OURSELVES

In terms of awakening, we can listen to what people have to say about it. We can pretend it’s true. And that, in itself, is ultimately not very satisfying.

To find satisfaction, we need to use effective pointers and find it for ourselves. That’s the only way for us to know for certain if what people talk about exists or not.

And to find deeper satisfaction, in terms of the transformation that comes with awakening, we need to keep noticing and finding it and make that noticing into a new habit. And to allow the noticing to transform our perception, identity, and live in the world and to keep working on us.

A GOOD MIX

This is a good – or even perfect – mix.

If we couldn’t talk about it at all, it would be difficult to share our experiences, learn from each other, and ignite our interest through the sharing of others.

If we couldn’t study aspects of it through science, it would mean it didn’t really touch the world that can be studied and measured which, in turn, would mean it didn’t touch our lives in this world and a significant part of its relevance would be missing.

If we couldn’t find it for ourselves, it would just remain something distant and irrelevant at – at most – something others talked about.

AWAKENING IS NOT UNIQUE IN THIS WAY

Awakening is not unique in this way. It’s similar to many or most other things.

To be certain, we have to find it for ourselves.

And for something to really do something with us, it has to be a firsthand experience and it requires a wholehearted engagement and willingness to be transformed.

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Nondual but dismissing the human?

Some nondual or neo-Advaita folks seem to dismiss or downplay the human aspect of what we are and say things like “I am not this human”, “there is no self”, “I don’t exist”, and so on.

I understand where they are coming from. As our nature, we are not primarily this human self. There may be a human self in a conventional sense, but there is no inherently separate self here in my own experience. As capacity for the world as it appears to me, I don’t really exist.

They may want to emphasize the capacity and oneness aspects of our nature and downplay the human aspect, perhaps to compensate for others (or themselves!) viscerally over-emphasizing the human aspect out of habit.

At the same time, it does seem one-sided and perhaps a bit like an ideology. It can be quite misleading to others not familiar with that terrain. And it’s not terribly nondual. They seem to mentally create a split where there isn’t one and where it’s not strictly necessary.

HOW IT APPEARS TO ME

I find myself as….

Capacity for the world as it appears to me. As what allows it all to happen within my experience. As what forms itself into any experience.

As oneness. As what the world, to me, happens within and as. As the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as. (And with “the world” I mean any content of experience, anything seen here, heard, smelled, tasted, sensed, and thought.)

A part of oneness is this human self, as he appears in my sense fields including my mental representations. He is as much part of it as anyone and anything else that’s here.

And there is a special connection with this human self. This oneness has inside information from this human self in the form of all his sensory input. Others take me as him. And this oneness plays the role of and as him in the world.

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The loops of consciousness creating a sense of separation within oneness 

When I explore what I am in my own first-person experience, I notice some of the ways oneness creates an experience of separation for itself. This seems to happen through several metaphorical folds or loops.

WHAT WE ARE 

In one sense, I am a human being in the world. That’s how I appear to others, and it’s not wrong. 

And yet, is it what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience? 

When I look, I find my nature more fundamentally is capacity for all of my experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else. I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. 

Thoughts can label this oneness, consciousness, love, or Big Mind. Or even, if we are so inclined, Spirit, the divine, Brahman, or something else. 

It may not be the nature of all of reality. But it clearly seems to be what I am in my own experience. 

It’s what I more fundamentally am than a human self, or a separate being, or an I or me or observer or doer or anything else. All of that happens within and as what I am. 

THE REFLECTION LOOP 

So how does this oneness create an experience of I and Other for and within itself? 

An early loop seems to be consciousness being conscious of being conscious of something. 

Consciousness is inherently low grade conscious of everything it creates itself into, and this is a loop of oneness being conscious of being conscious of something within itself. 

This early loop sets the stage for several other loops. 

THE LOOP CREATING THOUGHTS 

One of these is a reflection of an experience in mental representations including mental images and words. 

Thoughts can reflect experiences, and – as we know – consciousness can create all sorts of other mental representations that don’t directly reflect an experience. 

THE SEPARATION LOOP 

From the reflection and thought loop, consciousness can create a sense of separation for itself. 

It can create a sense of observer and observed, of being a human self in the world, and so on. 

It creates an experience for and within itself of being something within its content of experience (an I and me) and not being the rest (the wider world, the background). 

THE SEPARATION-CONSCIOUSNESS LOOPS 

This, in turn, sets the stage for all the dynamics created by separation consciousness. 

It sets the stage for all the drama we know from our own life and from humanity in general. 

It sets the stage for what we find when we ask ourselves: “What happens when I believe this (any) thought?” How do I perceive myself and the world? What emotions come up? What choices do I make? How do I live my life? 

THE RETURN 

And this sets the stage for a possible return. 

The oneness we are creates a sense of separation for and within itself, and may then find itself in a process of rediscovering itself – and its whole world – as oneness. 

This is what we call an awakening process, and it often goes through several phases: An early interest. Early glimpses. Investing in fears and hopes. Going into a more dedicated exploration. Finding itself and its whole world as oneness. Exploring how to live from this. Inviting in healing for our human self and psyche so we more easily can live from oneness in more situations and areas of life. Going through dark nights. And so on. 

CAVEATS 

This is a map, and any map is a simplification and highlights some things while leaving other features out.

It may also be mistaken in certain ways. I am sure others have far more detailed maps based on more detailed examinations and more familiarity with the terrain.

This is just how it appears to me right now, and it’s a very simplified version of even that. 

Photo: One I took in Cañón del Chicamocha

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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.

Is oneness a state?

I saw a quote from Jac O’Keefe saying “the oneness state is….”. while others emphasize that oneness is not a state.

So is oneness a state?

As usual, the answer may be no, yes, and it depends. 

ONENESS INHERENT IN REALITY

Most fundamentally, oneness seems inherent in reality and not a state.

The physical universe is a seamless system evolving into everything within this universe, including us and our life and experiences. As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

And if we look with some sincerity in our own first-person experience, we may find we are oneness.

We may find that our more fundamental nature is capacity for all our experiences – for the world, this human self, and anything else. And that we are what our experiences happen within and as.

The world, to us, is one. We may not notice it, but that’s our nature whether we notice or not.

So in these ways, oneness is not a state. It’s inherent in the universe, and it’s inherent in our more fundamental nature.

ONENESS AS A STATE

We can also see oneness as a state.

When we notice our more fundamental nature, it’s a state of noticing. It’s a state of oneness noticing itself.

Within this noticing, we notice we are capacity for time and space, and time and space happen within and as what we are. So here, the oneness noticing doesn’t seem like a state. A state happens within time, and time happens within what we are.

And yet, from the perspective of time, noticing oneness – or oneness noticing itself – can certainly be a state. It’s something that can come and go. It can come and go and come again over years and decades. When we notice more easily, the noticing will also come and go to some extent depending on where we have our attention.

ONENESS AS A STATE AND NOT

Oneness is inherent in reality and what we are.

When oneness notices itself, it recognizes that time and states happen within and as oneness. So here too, we find that oneness is not a state.

And from the perspective of time, noticing oneness can certainly be a state. We can shift into oneness states for a while, then shift out of it, and then back into it differently, and so on. And when we shift out of it, it’s an invitation to notice our remaining unquestioned beliefs and identifications.

Our individual history flavors how we talk about awakening

The essence of awakening is universal, and the way we live and talk about it will depend on our culture, spiritual tradition, and personal experiences. (And if we eventually meet non-human beings with an interest in awakening, we may also notice that our biology and physical characteristics also flavors how we live and talk about it.)

I see that I have some perspectives based on my own history that are a bit outside of the mainstream in the awakening world, although not that unusual.

The awakening shift happened early in my life, when I was fifteen and sixteen. I was an atheist and had no interest in religion, spirituality, or awakening. And I had done nothing for it to happen.

All of that gives me a certain take on it all.

I have lived with it for quite a while now. I am not tied to any one particular religion or tradition. And my experience with different practices has more to do with clarifying and inviting the different parts of me to align with the awakening more than finding what awakening is about.

This also means that although I appreciate the different traditions, my preference is to find ways to talk about it that are more immediate and fit even non-spiritual worldviews.

Similarly, I am more interested in finding effective ways to notice what we are and live from it, than using approaches from any particular tradition. I prefer pragmatics over tradition, although there is a lot to learn from the different traditions.

And since it happened without any intention on my part or any previous practice, I am open for it happening in any number of ways for others. I don’t have any particular expectations of how it “should” look in terms of when and how and what goes before.

Another aspect of my journey has been going through a quite dense dark night for more than a decade. That too flavors how I see and talk about it. I know how difficult it is. I know there are many different types of dark nights. (The most intense for me has been the dark night of trauma, when deep trauma surfaces to join in with the awakening.) I know some of the things that can help a bit, and that it needs to run its course.

I should also mention that I have loved science since I was very little, and wanted to become a scientist. (I have a graduate degree but my health challenges put an end to any further career in science.) And that too colors my approach to awakening. I prefer a pragmatic approach, trying out things to see the effects, comparing my experiences with the reports of others, and being as intellectually honest as I can about all of it.

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We are not primarily human

This is a statement that can seem either obvious or outrageous depending on where we are coming from.

WE ARE NOT PRIMARILY HUMAN

If we are somewhat familiar with finding what we are in our own first-person experience, it may seem obvious.

In a conventional sense, we are this human self in the world.

And when we look more closely, and set aside our assumptions just enough to not be blinded by them, we may find that our more fundamental nature is something else.

We may find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and as what our world happens within and as.

If thoughts were to put (very imperfect) labels on what we are, it could be consciousness or awakeness. And this is the very ordinary consciousness and awakeness we are all familiar with.

It’s the consciousness or awakeness we are and which all content of experience – of the world, this human self, and anything else – happens within and as.

AND WHEN THIS IS NOT NOTICED

For most, the statement that’s the title of this article may seem silly or preposterus.

It may seem to come out of a weird philosophy or theology. Or something not meant literally but metaphorically or discovered through slightly forced logic. Or something said as click bait or for the (very moderate) shock value.

Of course we are this human self, and nothing else – unless you mean a vague idea of a soul or something like that nobody has seen or measured or have any clear idea what is.

I understand where this is coming from.

It’s not wrong that we are this human self in the world. We have inside information about this human self and outside information about all the other ones.

And yet, when we look in our own first-person experience, we may find that we more fundamentall are something else. To ourselves, we are something else.

HUMAN AND NOT

When we notice this, we find we are human for practical purposes in the world. And primarily something else in a more real first-person sense.

This only looks like a dilemma or paradox within a certain set of stories.

When it’s lived, is simple, given, and what we already are most familiar with even if we didn’t always notice.

Is awakening an experience?

Some would say that if the “spiritual experience” goes a bit further, it’s not an experience anymore. It’s what we are noticing itself. It’s a noticing, not an experience. Although, for me, a noticing is a kind of experience. I understand where they are coming from, and appreciate the distinction, but feel it’s a bit idealized.

– from a previous post

I thought I would say a few more words on this.

It is popular, in some circles, to say that awakening is not an experience.

So is awakening an experience? I would say yes and no, neither and both, and it depends.

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

We can say it is noticing what we are, and really what we are noticing itself.

Or that it is to notice our nature, which is capacity for the world as it appears to us, and what the world to us happens within and as.

This can sound very abstract if we don’t have a personal experience or noticing of it. And it can seem simple and obvious when there is that noticing.

IN WHAT WAY IS AWAKENING NOT AN EXPERIENCE?

Awakening is what we are noticing itself as all there is.

To us, the world happens within and as what we are.

Awakening does not happen within the content of our experience. It’s not dependent on any particular content of experience. We can notice what we are whether we experience elation or depression, sadness or joy, or anything else. It’s not dependent on any particular state.

And it can and will be reflected in the content of our experience. It will impact the content of our experience, to some extent. At first, our thoughts and emotions may respond with surprise, elation, fear, or something else. And over time, as we keep noticing what we are, our human self will transform within this noticing and align with it more consciously.

If we look for awakening as an experience and within our content of experience, we are looking in the wrong place. Sometimes, we may need to look in the wrong place for a while. And we may also use structured inquiry to guide our attention so we may more easily notice what we are.

IN WHAT WAY IS AWAKENING AN EXPERIENCE?

We can say that the noticing itself is an experience. Although perhaps a slightly different type of experience than most other experiences.

In a conventional sense, it happens within a timeline. We can often put a time period or even a specific day or minute for when the initial noticing happened. In that sense, it’s an experience.

As mentioned above, it does impact the content of our experience. Our system has a reaction to it. And if the noticing happens over time, our human self will transform within that noticing. In this sense, there is certainly an experience component to awakening.

And to others where this noticing may not be happening right now, it certainly looks like an experience. They (we) don’t have another option but to see it as an experience since that’s all we consciously know and are aware of.

POINTERS

When some say “awakening is not an experience”, it’s a pointer.

It’s meant as medicine for a condition, and the condition is to (mistakenly) assume that awakening is an experience and look for it within the content of experience.

It has a practical function only and is not meant to be any final, full, or absolute truth.

And that’s the same when I nuance it here. It’s meant as a pointer. As a support in unsticking from any one particular idea about awakening being an experience or not.

The extraordinary and ordinary of awakening

Awakening can be talked about as extraordinary and ordinary, and even extraordinarily ordinary (!), and all of it has some truth to it.

THE EXTRAORDINARINESS OF AWAKENING

A spiritual opening or awakening can seem special and amazing in contrast to an unawake state. This can last for a while until the awakening becomes more familiar, lived, and – in a sense – ordinary.

Finding what we are gives us what we most deeply long for. When the One takes itself to be something separate within itself, it tends to create neediness, a sense of lack, and longing. And awakening is the solution for that neediness, lack, and longing.

When we notice what we are, we can more easily dissolve any wounds, hangups, and traumas we have as human beings in the world. It’s not an easy process, and it can be messy, but we are coming from the right place to do and allow it. (It partly comes from intention and doing, and partly allowing.)

Presenting it as special and amazing can be used as a strategy to attract people. It appeals to our wishes and dreams when we come from an unawake state. (To me, this seems a bit too deceptive, even if there is a grain of truth to it.)

THE ORDINARINESS OF AWAKENING

At the same time, awakening is simple and ordinary, and the essence of it is already familiar to us.

It’s the ordinary consciousness we are all familiar with that wakes up to itself as that which all happens within and as.

What we find we are has always been here. We have just been temporarily transfixed by the assumption that we most fundamentally are something within the content of experience (this human self), and we have taken the rest – consciousness, the rest of the world – as others. When we find what we more fundamentally are, in our own first-person experience, we realize we (also) are what we took to be background or context.

We discover that our world, as it appears to us, happens within and as what we are. This is compatible with just about any worldview, whether it is atheistic or spiritual of some kind.

Since, to us, the world happens within and as awakeness or consciousness, it may seem that all of existence IS awakeness or consciousness. But that’s a step beyond what’s in our immediate experience. It’s good to be honest about this and differentiate what’s our own nature and fits most worldviews, and what’s an assumption about reality itself and fits only more spiritual or religious worldviews.

This is all pragmatic, practical, and something we can explore for ourselves. We can also say it is, in a sense, logical and even inevitable. To ourselves, we most fundamentally have to be what our world happens within and as. We are not, most fundamentally, any particular content of our experience since it all – including this human self – comes and goes and is in constant change.

THE EXTRAORDINARY AND ORDINARY

If we only present awakening as extraordinary, we leave out the inherent ordinariness of it. And if we only present it as amazing and perhaps blissful, we leave out the messiness and challenges of the process. In both cases, we present only part of the picture, it’s misleading, and we are likely doing people a disservice.

If we only talk about the simplicity and ordinariness of it, we leave out how amazing it can seem when we first discover what we are, that it is what we most deeply have been seeking, and the ability of this noticing of what we are to dissolve wounds, hangups, and even – over time – trauma.

Including both gives a slightly fuller picture, and gives people a slightly more accurate idea of what the process may entail.

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Why I rarely talk about “meditation” in a general sense

I find it curious when people talk about meditation in a general sense. To me, it’s inaccurate and easily misleading since the word can refer to innumerable types of practices with a wide range of intentions and effects. That’s why I rarely, if ever, use the word without specifying what I am referring to.

innumerable practices, with a wide range of intentions, can fall under the general heading of meditation.

Some are aimed at relaxation. (This is a kind of Russian roulette since they, in some cases, can take the lid off old traumas and lead to challenges that are anything but relaxing.)

Some are aimed at opening the heart. (Tonglen, ho’oponopno, metta, and so on.)

Some are aimed at exploration of aspects of how the mind works. (Traditional or new forms of inquiry.)

Some are aimed at training more stable attention. (Bringing attention to an object within experience. This can be helpful for just about anything in life.)

Some are aimed at devotion and opening the mind for something apparently beyond itself. (Christ meditation.)

Some are aimed at allowing the mind to settle and may have different ideas about what that may open us up for.

Some are aimed at discovering what we already are. What we more fundamentally are in our first-person experience when we look. (Shikantaza, Basic Meditation, Headless experiments, Big Mind process, etc.)

And I assume there are many meditation practices with other aims and effects that I am not familiar with, or forgot to include here.

What happens as a result of these practices is a combination of many things, including the technique, the intention of the instructor and the student, the deeper motivation of the student, how wholeheartedly and sincerely the student engage in the practice, what their mind is ready and ripe for, and so on.

The spiritual path & comparing ourselves with others

Comparing ourselves with others seems relatively universal although I am sure it plays out differently in different cultures. It’s also part of what fuels our current consumer culture, and advertisers know how to make use of it.

TWO WAYS TO COMPARE

There are two ways to compare ourselves with others.

One is for pragmatic reasons. It can give us useful information.

The other, which is often overlaid on the first one, is to make ourselves feel better or worse than others. This is not so useful. It can feel good to compare ourselves with someone and make up a story that we are somehow better than the other. But it’s a temporary victory since it means we inevitably are worse than someone else in the world, on the same scale, and we’ll inevitably be reminded of it. And it’s hollow since we know – somewhere in us – that it’s just a mind game.

In terms of spirituality, we can tell ourselves we are more advanced, sophisticated, or mature than someone else and it may feel good for a while. At the same time, we know we are less advanced, sophisticated, and mature compared with some other people. And we know, whether we acknowledge it or not, that it’s a mind game.

We cannot know for certain where people are in their process. We know we are comparing to make ourselves feel a bit better about ourselves. And we know it’s a losing game in the long run.

OUTSIDE VS INNER VIEW

When we compare ourselves with others, we often compare the public image of someone with our inside knowledge about ourselves.

We all have a public persona, which is more or less polished and inclusive. We present a certain image to the world and often leave out a lot of the confusion, pain, and unsavory attitudes and behavior. At the same time, we are often very aware of all the confusion, pain, and unsavoriness in our own life.

So it’s inherently an unfair comparison, and it tends to make us feel not so good about ourselves.

Often, it looks like the spiritual path and insights of others is clean, easy, and perhaps even joyful. And we know that our own spiritual path is windy, confused, didn’t go as planned, and so on.

HOW WE TALK ABOUT OUR SPIRITUAL PATH

The pain of comparison is greatly enhanced or diminished depending on the culture (or subculture) we are in.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers like to present a glossy image of their own path, and of the spiritual path in general, it can lead to a more unfavorable impression of our own path.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers are open about the messiness of their own path, and the spiritual path in general, it can help us see that we are all in the same boat. My own messiness is less painful since I know it’s similar for others.

And if we are in a culture that encourages us to work with projections, then…

MAKING USE OF THE TENDENCY TO COMPARE

…we can make good use of the tendency to compare. We can use it as material for our own exploration, and to invite in healing and maturing, and even awakening and living from the awakening.

We can make a practice of finding in ourselves what we see in others. (And in others what we know from ourselves.)

We can identify and examine our painful comparing-thoughts and find what’s more true for us. (Often, that the story is not absolutely true, and that the reversals have validity as well.)

We can explore how the comparing appears in our sense fields. What are the sensation components? The mental image and word component? What happens when I differentiate the two and rest with each? What do I find when I follow the associations, for instance back in time to my earliest memory of having that feeling or thought?

Instead of indulging in thoughts and feelings relating to the messiness of our own path, we can take a pragmatic approach and make use of whatever comes up.

THESE DAYS

I am grateful that these days, in our culture, there is more transparency and openness about the messiness of the spiritual path. People seem to feel more free to share all aspects of their experience. And many work intentionally with projections and inquiry, which also helps.

A glossy image of the path may serve as an initial carrot. But in the longer run, it seems far more helpful to be open about everything that can – and often will – happen on a spiritual path, warts and all.

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The problem with stages

Although I love Ken Wilber‘s integral model in general, there are several sides of him and the integral community I find a bit troublesome. This includes green-bashing (vilifying the ones they see at the green level of development), Wilber’s tendency to misrepresent the views of others (straw man arguments), and the tendency of the integral community to adopt both the good and bad sides of Ken Wilber’s personal approach.

I would also include an over-emphasis on stages, and especially the stages described in Spiral Dynamics. Of course, these models can be useful in some contexts and to some extent, if they are held lightly.

WHY FASCINATION WITH STAGES?

Why is there such an emphasis on stages in the integral world? One reason is obviously that they see the difference between first- and second-tier orientation as important and fascinating. (Very roughly, this is the difference between seeing your own view as right and other views as wrong versus appreciating the validity in each one and being curious about how they fit together in describing the world in a more rich and nuanced way.)

I can’t help wonder if there isn’t more going on.

Stage models offer neat ways of dividing up the world and understanding people. They are generally easy to understand. We can put them on top of just about anything and tell ourselves we understand what’s going on. They give us a jumping-off point for easy analysis.

They can be attractive because they give us a sense of understanding and that we grasp something important about the world, and many want to feel they understand.

Also, they can be used to boost our self-esteem. If we understand and like a model, it’s often because we imagine we are pretty high up on the hierarchy.

THE PROBLEMS WITH STAGES

At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind some things about stage models of human development.

Stages are not inherent in reality. They are imagined and put on top of something we observe. These imaginations can fit the data well, and help us orient in the world, and they are still imaginations.

If we have a set of observed data, we can find innumerable imagined overlays that fit this data – more or less well. In the future, we’ll likely come up with models that seem to fit the data, and new data, better, and models we may see as more useful in helping us orient.

What we observe largely depends on what we look for and expect to find. We already operate from assumptions and use those to determine the setting for gathering data, the data we gather, and how we interpret those data. To some extent, we see what we expect to see. It’s easy to imagine alien anthropologists or psychologists coming here, studying us, and highlighting and understanding what they see in a very different way from us, and it may be equally valid and useful as what we are familiar with.

We all operate from different parts of us in different situations and settings. What comes out in one situation may be different from what comes out in another. There is a richness, complexity, and fluidity here that may not be well captured by models.

We are rich and complex, and stages will by necessity only look at one or a few of the aspects of who and what we are. As Ken Wilber says, there are several lines of development. (In reality, there are innumerable since we can divide this up in as many or as few as we want.) Stage models tend to (over?)simplify and overlook the complex ecology of interactions within this organic richness.

We tend to develop stage models of what we value and where we, as culture and individuals, are high up or on top. In another culture, they may see something else as valuable and would develop stage models of that. In these models, they are likely to be closer to the top since they live in a culture where that particular development is valued, encouraged, and supported, and we may be further down. (These could be stage models of being in tune with the natural environment, hunting skills, shamanic development, valuing the interests of the group over self, living from a sense of deep time, and so on.)

In general, stage models can be over-emphasized and held too tightly.

Life is far more complex and rich than any model. Models and thoughts are different in type from what they refer to. Life is always more than and different from our thoughts about it. And our models tend to reflect – and reinforce – our own culture, orientation, and values.

Stage models can still serve as valuable guides for certain things and in certain situations. It’s just helpful to see the bigger picture, be aware of their limitations, and hold them lightly.

Note: I wrote this from what came to me, I am sure others have done a far more thorough and insightful analysis of the limitations of stage theories.

Is Big Mind / Headlessness a perspective?

Someone on social media asked this question about headlessness.

In itself, what we are – and noticing what we are – is not a perspective. It’s what allows any and all human perspectives.

When we live from it, it becomes a context for our life. Does this mean it’s a perspective or orientation? Not really, and perhaps not necessarily. Although in practice, we may make it into a kind of perspective for ourselves.

When we put it into words, it becomes a kind of perspective. A framework that becomes a way of talking about things.

And if we make it into an ideology or a belief, it certainly becomes a perspective. One of many, and maybe even one in apparent conflict with other perspectives.

The question may not have a yes or no answer. In itself, our nature is obviously not a perspective. And noticing our nature doesn’t in itself create a perspective. But when it’s translated through and as a human, it can become a kind of perspective.

As so often, it’s good to notice, be honest about it, and inquire into these perspectives and if anything in us feels a need to make it into a perspective.

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Brutally honest? Lovingly honest?

I find it interesting that “brutally honest” has been a common expression in our culture, and lovingly honest not so much.

Why is that? It may be because of a generally cynical view in our culture suggesting that truth and reality is unkind. We had the idea of original sin, that we are born with sin. (Christianity.) We had the idea of being brutal beasts beneath a veneer of civilization. (Some early views on evolution.) We had the idea that if we explore what’s unresolved in us, what we find won’t be kind or loving. (Early psychology.)

Fortunately, these days, this seems to be changing.

What more of us discover, when we explore this for ourselves, is innocence. For instance, when I explore what’s unresolved in me, I find innocence and confused love.

So maybe it’s time to change “brutally honest” for “lovingly honest”?

After all, there are ways to be lovingly honest – with ourselves and others. We all function better when we operate from truth, and especially when framed in a loving way.

How does loving honesty look? For me, it comes from being lovingly honest with myself. And as Adya says, that often takes the form of a kind of confession.

I may find what I really want by tracing wants back to the universal essentials. I may explore a contraction and find the unmet and unloved fear behind it, and the unfulfilled sense of lack (and then give that to that part of me). I may notice that quiet inner voice that guides me, free of fear and contractions.

Ways of talking about mystery

The biggest mystery in the universe is you.

– Adyashanti

I posted this quote from Adya on Facebook.

THE RESPONSES

The quote received a variety of responses and comments, each with some validity.

We can know things in a conventional sense. The first emphasized that we can know who we are and the importance of knowing just that. Yes, that’s true enough. At a human level, it’s helpful to know who we are in a variety of different ways. We can get to know our preferences, inclinations, and what makes us feel alive. We can find ways to bring this into life. We can examine our hangups, stressful beliefs, and traumas, and shift our relationship to these and invite in healing for them. We can explore some of the universals of how the mind works. And so on.

To some extent, these things are knowable and it helps us to explore and get to know it.

Several others responded to this and clarified Adya’s quote in different ways.

We cannot know anything for certain. I took a close-to-conventional view. In an everyday sense, there is of course a lot we know. And yet, when we look more closely, reality is often far more complex, rich, and open. Realizing we don’t know for certain opens us up to be surprised and discover something new.

We all have all sorts of knowledge in a conventional sense, which is more or less accurate and useful. And ultimately, we don’t know anything for certain. What we are and what anything is, is ultimately a mystery. We are that mystery.

The idea of mystery happens only when we try to think about it. Another said that mystery only comes about when we think about it. If we simply live, it just is. That’s true as well.

The label mystery only comes from a thought, and we can also say we are and live mystery.

Oneness. Another mentioned that the mystery is oneness. Which also, in a sense, is true. To us, the world happens within our sense fields and these are seamless and one. And there is also a oneness in a conventional sense since the universe is a seamless evolving whole.

To me, oneness isn’t a mystery different from the mystery inherent in anything since we can perceive it directly.

Poetry. Another expressed it beautifully in poetry.

Conventional knowing happens within a thought. Yet another mentioned that knowing only happens within thought, and what knows is what we are and a mystery to itself.

I would add that there is a kind of knowing in being, outside of thoughts. Although knowing is perhaps not the best word since most associate it with knowing within thoughts.

And a couple of other things…

To us, we are the biggest mystery. Adya specifically said that we are the biggest mystery. To ourselves, we are the biggest mystery. And that’s because, to us, the world happens within and as what we are. We don’t know, or know about, anything we are not.

Medicine for a condition. When Adya points out that we are the biggest mystery, it’s a remedy for a condition. It’s meant to help us shift out of any ideas that we know what we are, or that thoughts can tell us what we are – at any level. And perhaps also the thought that there isn’t more for us to discover in direct noticing.

The ultimate mystery. After going through this, I am reminded of the ultimate mystery: that anything is at all. How come there is something rather than nothing? (Even if that something is, to us, nothing taking the form of something.)

VALIDITY IN EACH ONE

It’s beautiful with all of these comments since they all are valid in their own ways.

We can know ourselves in a conventional sense.

Whatever we know within thoughts is limited and reality is always more than and different from this.

The idea of mystery happens only within thought.

Since the world to us happens within and as what we are, we – what we are, our nature – is the biggest mystery to us.

Adya’s pointer is medicine for the tendency to think we know what we are.

And the ultimate mystery is that anything is at all. How come there is something rather than nothing?

INVITES US TO DIRECT NOTICING

We can all explore this and will express it differently if we try to put it into words. In that sense, it’s a shared exploration since we can use pointers from each other for our own exploration. And we are also ultimately alone in this exploration.

Words are no more than pointers. While sharing can be helpful, a discussion is not really apart from showing us the futility of discussing these things. I notice getting caught up in all of this is, to some extent, interesting. And it also feels a bit removed, stale, confusing, and uncomfortable if it goes too far.

It can get us caught up in abstractions more than immediate noticing.

For me, it’s a relief to drop all of this and return to the freshness and immediacy of noticing and exploring what’s here.

I, over-I, it

It’s been a while since I explored Freud and his views, and I am not at all updated. What seems clear is that the essence often has a great deal of value and usefulness, while much of the specifics reflected his particular culture and time.

For instance, there is a lot in each of us we are not very aware of that colors our views, interpretations, and how we live our life.

Also, when I explore myself, I often find what he called I, over-I, and it. (Ego, super-ego, and id in a terrible, awful, no-good translation.)

The I is what I consciously identify with and as. It’s my conscious and partly private and partly public identity.

The over-I is a part of me evaluating what’s coming up in me, possible actions, and so on. It’s often what we have learned from our culture, parents, teachers, and so on. This has many layers. Superficially, it may seem like a value judgment. It can be related to wanting to fit in and not be unfavorably judged by others. And we can also see it as an evalutation of the consequences of our actions for ourselves and others.

The it are the parts of me I don’t acknowledge as me. To me, they appear as other, as it. Certain of my emotions, impulses, thoughts, and even actions can seem to me as it. They appear a bit foreign to me, while also being part of me and my life. When we see characteristics in someone or something and not in ourselves, it’s usually because it’s an “it” to us. It appears as other to us because we don’t (yet) acnowledge it in ourselves, and don’t yet know it in ourselves.

When these are called “ego”, “super ego” and “id”, it can all seem exotic and a bit weird and removed from our own experience. And when we use the more ordinary words – I, over-I, it – as Freud did, it can make more sense. It’s what most of us already know from our own experience.

It’s more familiar to us, and less esoteric, than it initially can seem.

Why don’t more people and traditions talk about waking up issues?

When we find our own nature, it seems that one of the most natural things is to invite our issues to wake up.

WAKING UP ISSUES

I notice an issue in me, a contraction that has psychological, physical, and energetic components. I may notice the contraction in any of those areas: as a psychological contraction (defensiveness, reactivity, obsession, going into ideologies, etc.), as a physical contraction, or as an energetic contraction.

I notice it operates from separation consciousness. I may also notice that although I notice my own nature, and all of my experiences – in general – as having that nature, I may not notice that this contraction as having the same nature. I still struggle with it. I tend to join with it and identify with it, or I struggle against it.

The remedy here is to notice it has the same nature as me and everything in my experience, and to rest with and as this.

I may also notice that the contraction itself is not aware of its nature. It operates as if separation consciousness is all there is. So I invite the contraction to find its own nature. I notice its nature, have a gentle invitation for it to find it too and rest with it.

It can take some time, although there is movement. And typically within some minutes, there is a shift. I find it’s helpful to stay with it longer so it can deeper further. And sometimes, it’s good to revisit it, especially if it’s a deeper and more central issue.

There is also several other things we can do here to ease and support the process. Basically, we notice how the issue is kept in place and do the reverse. Instead of rejecting and struggling with it, we welcome it. Instead of trying to make it go away, we allow it. Instead of trying to contain it, we invite it to get as big as it wants. Instead of avoiding or joining the stressful thoughts within it, we examine them. Instead of secretly hating the issue, we find genuine love for it. Instead of getting caught up in the sensation-thought mix, we bring attention to the physical sensations. The issue has neediness and comes from a sense of lack, so instead of trying to feed it through other people and life situations, we can give it what it needs directly (love, attention, safety, etc.).

SEEMS NATURAL, SO WHY IS IT NOT TALKED ABOUT MORE?

This seems very natural, so why isn’t it talked about more?

It may be that some who discover who they are, don’t have a heavy issue load. They may have cleared much of it up through years of different types of spiritual practices, or they never had a very heavy load.

Many teachers and traditions may reserve these types of instructions and pointers for close students who clearly notice their nature. It may not be part of their public information.

Some traditions and teachers, for instance within Zen, may wait for the students to find it for themselves.

Some traditions and teachers may rely on the more standard practices – basic meditation, prayer, heart-centered practices, service and so on – to do the heavy lifting. They don’t see the need to emphasize this approach.

TODAY AND IN OUR CULTURE

Today, and in our culture, it may be different. We like to have it all out in the open. We like to give people any information, pointers, and tools they may need.

We also have access to tools and pointers that can give people a relatively quick access to noticing their true nature, and these are also out in the open. (Headless experiments, Big Mind process, Living Inquiries, and so on.)

So we are seeing more transparency about this. More people are talking about this and exploring it for themselves.

Higher vs ground consciousness

Some people talk about higher consciousness, and I am not exactly sure what they mean by it. For me, it sounds like too much work and something that’s created.

I am more drawn to what’s already here. To the nature of consciousness, to what’s here independent of anything manufactured. To finding my nature as capacity for my experiences, and for my field of experiences happening within and as what I am.

Why are some drawn to higher consciousness? It may just be another label for the same, for finding the nature of what we are and finding ourselves as that – in addition to being this human self with roles and so on. It may also be that it sounds like it will make us special, and it can be another “dream of the ego” as Adya calls it.

When I notice the nature of what I am, it’s very likely the nature of what we all – all conscious beings – are to ourselves. (Based on what people report.) It’s what we already are. It’s more familiar to us than anything else, although we may not consciously notice that it is our nature.

In general, I seem to be inclined towards what seems the most natural and organic and is the most essential and universal.

As what I am, all is subject and object

In one sense, I am this human self in the world.

And when I look more closely, I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am what all my experiences – including of this human self and the wider world – happens within and as.

And here, I find that all of my experiences are both subject and object.

Anything happening within my sense fields – of this human self and the wider world – is an object. It’s all happening within me. It’s not what I more fundamentally am.

And anything happening within my sense fields is a subject. It’s what I am. What I am takes all these forms.

THE PRACTICAL USE OF THIS

Why is this important? In some ways, it isn’t. It’s just something to notice, and it can be a bit fun to notice.

At the same time, it is helpful to notice all the content of my sense fields as objects. That helps me find myself as capacity for it all, and as what it all happens within and as.

And it is helpful to notice all of it as subject since that’s helps me find myself as oneness. As what takes the form of all of it, as it appears to me.

THOUGHTS CREATING A SENSE OF SUBJECT AND OBJECT

There is one thing here to clarify.

When we normally experience something as subject (what we are) or object (other), it’s really a thought telling us this, and a thought we hold as true.

The conventional sense of subject (me as this human self with all these identities and roles) and other (the rest of the world, and the parts of me that don’t fit my desired image) comes from holding a thought as true. It comes from identifying with a thought.

A thought says: I am this human self with these identities. My mind holds that thought as true and identifies with the viewpoint of this thought. In my own experience, I become the viewpoint of this thought.

Another thought says: I am not this table, or phone, or this room, or what’s outside the window, or these other people. And my mind identifies with the viewpoint of that thought, and that becomes my experience. All of this then is “other” to me.

This is our conventional experience of ourselves and the world. We take ourselves as this human self (roughly since we exclude some things we don’t like), and we are not the rest of the world.

That’s not wrong. But it’s not what we more fundamentally are, in our own first-person experience. To ourselves, we more fundamentally are capacity for it all, and what it all happens within and as.

This human self and the wider world happens within my sense fields, and I am what these sense fields – what this human self and the wider world – happens within and as.

And we can find this for ourselves. We can notice it, and it can become something we live from – and as.

And here, all my experiences – including my thoughts – become objects. They happen within me. They are not what I more fundamentally are.

And they all become subject. They are all what I am. What I am takes all these forms.

NOT QUITE AS CLEAR CUT

There are some wrinkles here. It’s not quite as clear-cut in practice.

Yes, I may notice what I am. And at the same time, I may still be partially identified with certain thoughts – mental images and words.

Both can co-exist. The task here is to notice where there is identification, and find that too as what I am capacity for, and what happens within and as what I am.

I can find it as having the same nature as myself – capacity for itself, stillness & silence, and so on, and invite it to find itself as that and relax in that noticing.

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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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Ric Weinman: You are the living expression of the divine’s process of experiencing itself as you

You’re the living expression of the divine’s process of experiencing itself as you.

– paraphrased from Ric Weinman, founder of Vortex Healing

This is phrased in the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. We can also find it here and now, without any spiritual labels.

When I look, I find that all my experiences happen within and as my sense fields – sight, sound, sensation, smell, taste, mental representations, and so on. This human self happens within these sense fields. The wider world happens within these sense fields.

In the world, and to others, I am this human self. And in my own experience, I am what my sense fields happen within and as. This human self and the wider world happen within and as these sense fields, and all of it happens within and as what I am.

I find myself as…. Capacity for all of this, whatever happens in the sense fields. What it all happens within and as. And what can, imperfectly, be labeled awakeness, awake space, and even consciousness. (And all of those labels are mental representations happening within and as what I am.)

We can also call it life.

So as a human self, I am an expression of life’s process of experiencing itself as me. And as what I am, as what all of this happens within and as, I am also an expression of life’s process of experiencing itself as me.

All my experiences – of this human self and the wider world – are expressions of the creativity of consciousenss. It’s consciousness taking on all of these forms and experiencing itself as it.

I see the value in using spiritual labels for this. The downside of using spiritual labels is that it can give the impression that this is something mystical or magical or something outside of ourselves or “other”. (I know that’s not now Ric means it, I am just talking about how it can be received by some.)

That’s why I prefer to use simpler and more ordinary labels, and point to how all of this shows up in our own experience here and now.

How can I talk about it so it invites us to notice it for ourselves, here and now.

Note: When I say the quote above is paraphrased, it’s because it’s not the original quote. Someone posted it on social media with bad grammar and without a source. I cleaned up the grammar and don’t know how that process changed the quote from the original.

The word “spirituality” (and why spirituality is not really about spirituality)

To continue on the previous post:

There are many commonly used words in spirituality I prefer not to use, for a few different reasons.

One of these is the word spirituality itself.

The upside of using this word is that most people have a rough idea of what it refers to. It’s a convenient shorthand, and I sometimes use it for that reason.

If the upside is that it gives people a general idea of what it’s about, that’s also it’s downside. It’s imprecise and sometimes misleading.

It’s a word with many different definitions, and there are probably as many understandings of what it refers to as there are people. I may use the word and mean one thing, and you understand it differently and possibly very differently.

It comes with a lot of baggage, and people associate a lot of different things with it. In our contemporary western culture, they may take it to mean something fluffy without substance, divorced from reality, irrelevant for our daily life, without practical use, or for especially interested people.

The way I see spirituality is very different. For me, spirituality is not really about spirituality. It’s about exploring what I am in my own first-person experience. It’s about living from that noticing. It’s about befriending my experiences. Finding healing for my human self. Live a life with life at the center.

This type of spirituality is not really spirituality, and it’s not dependent on any spiritual or religious traditions. (Although we can find many valuable pointers there.)

So I sometimes use the word spirituality as a shorthand. And I prefer not to use it very much since people may understand it very differently from how I intend it, and what spirituality is about for me is not really about spirituality. It’s about life.

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The word awakening

I often feel that words commonly used in spirituality are too much. They can make something sound more special than it is, and – for most of us – they often come with baggage and misleading assumptions.

So also with the word awakening.

What it refers to is noticing what we already are, finding ourselves as capacity for the world, or – more simply – our experiences.

Yes, in a metaphorical sense we awaken from the dream of taking ourselves most fundamentally as this human self and a separate being. There is a kind of metaphorical awakening to noticing what we already are.

And yet, what it refers to is very simple and even a bit mundane.

It’s just finding ourselves as capacity for the content of our experiences. We are what our field of experience – which contains this human self and the wider world – happens within and as.

That’s about it. Nothing more mystical or weird is required.

Of course, the consequences of noticing this – and keeping noticing it, exploring how to live from it, and allowing our human self to transform within this noticing – can be profound.

If we take this seriously, it can be profoundly transforming for our perception, life in the world, and how our human self functions and operates.

So what are the alternatives?

I sometimes use the word awakening as a headline, since it’s a convenient shorthand and most people have a rough (and often misguided!) idea of what it’s about. If I use the word, it’s usually before clarifying and bringing it more down to earth.

Mostly, I talk about noticing what we are. That’s simpler and more to the point.

And I like Douglas Harding’s seeing. That too is simple and to the point, although it makes most sense in the Headless Way context.

What are some other words that seem too much? The word spirituality itself comes with a lot of connotations and misleading associations for most people. It makes it sound special and perhaps disconnected from this world. In reality, the essence of it is about noticing what we are, it’s not reliant on any spiritualty or religion, and it’s hugely practical.

When curiosity and parts language is misunderstood

I am used to parts language and, with someone I assume will understand, I sometimes say what I am curious about and notice in myself.

Most of the time, they understand since I know them and they know me and we both have a shared curiosity and language about this.

And sometimes, it’s misunderstood.

HOW I SEE IT

I notice that a part of me feels or perceives a situation a certain way. I know this inevitably colors my perception, feelings, thoughts, and life, even if it’s only to a very small degree. I also know that we all have everything in us. We have everything we see in others and in the whole world in ourselves. Even if I love someone deeply and wholeheartedly, there is also a (small) part of me who dislikes or even hates that person. It’s all normal and we all have this in us.

So when I notice something in me, and it seems the right situation to mention it – to a friend, or my partner, or a therapist, I may mention it since I am curious about it, find it fascinating, and want to be authentic and transparent.

HOW IT CAN BE PERCEIVED

If people are not familiar with parts language, they may misunderstand in several ways.

They may assume that what I say is how I – as a whole – see and feel and perceive it.

If they do, they may take it personally and feel hurt, offended, and get upset.

They may also take it as something big and dramatic instead of something very small, and blow it out of proportion.

They may assume it’s something persistent instead of fleeting and assume it’s something that has been brewing for a long time and I haven’t said anything about it.

They may see it as very unusual, weird, and pathological instead of something we all have in us.

They may also think I mean something hidden by saying it, that it’s some kind of code, and try to figure out what that is, instead of seeing it as an innocent and natural curiosity and noticing.

REMEDIES

What is the remedy?

The obvious one is to be more discerning. I am usually quite discerning, but I sometimes assume – or hope – that the other person will understand, and it turns out they don’t.

Even people who have been into spirituality for a long time, or who are trained therapists, are sometimes not familiar with this way of exploring and talking about it.

Another is to frame it and then put it in the frame. Before sharing what I notice, I may preface it by saying that this is something I notice in myself, it’s not big at all, it doesn’t mean anything, and I am curious about it and want to share it.

And, if it happens, to talk about it. If these misunderstandings happen, I can explain. Although I have experienced that this is too late and they have already made up their mind and reacted to it. It’s better to do it upfront.

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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The word awakening in a spiritual context

I use the term awakening in a spiritual context, but am not completely comfortable with it.

WHAT IT REFERS TO

It refers to noticing what we are, and perhaps keeping noticing it and living from it.

We find ourselves as capacity for the world, and what our field of experience happens within and as.

And we may keep noticing it, and explore how it is to live from it.

METAPHOR

Used in a spiritual context, the word awakening is a metaphor.

We use it in the sense of waking up to something. We wake out of a metaphorical sleep or dream.

We wake up out of taking ourselves as most fundamentally this human self, and find that we more fundamentally are capacity for our field of experience – which includes this human self and the wider world.

THE UPSIDE OF THE WORD

The main upside of the term awakening is that it’s widely used and many have, at least, a rough understanding of what it refers to. As a metaphor, there is also some poetry to it.

THE DOWNSIDE OF THE WORD

The main downside of the word awakening is that it can be misleading. If we don’t have a reference from our own noticing for what it refers to, it’s easy to imagine something into it that’s not there.

Specifically, we may imagine it refers to a different awakeness than what’s already here.

In reality…

-> The awakeness that’s inherent in consciousness is the same whether we notice what we are or not.

-> The content of our experience is the same whether we notice it or not.

-> Our true nature is the same whether we notice it or not.

The only thing that’s different is whether we consciously notice what we are or not.

We may metaphorically wake up to what we are. But the awakeness that’s inherent in consciousness doesn’t change, nor do the other things mentioned above.

THE (LACK OF) ALTERNATIVES

What’s a good alternative?

I am not sure. I usually use the word noticing since that seems more accurate, although it obviously needs an explanation for what we notice.

In the Headless world, they talk about seeing which I like. It’s simple, unassuming, and direct, although it makes the most sense in the Headless context.

THE GIFT IN THE SHORTOCMINGS OF WORDS

The essence is that there is no single word that is accurate and does it justice.

It will always have to be explained, to some extent.

And there is a gift here. Words are inevitably misleading when we try to talk about what we are.

Our only option is to find it for ourselves.

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Adyashanti: When we use the word consciousness, it gives the impression that we are talking about something other than us

When we use the word consciousness, it gives the impression that we are talking about something other than us. It’s not the ‘me’ talking about consciousness, it’s being it. It’s something more like talking from Consciousness than talking about consciousness.

– Adyashanti in The Fluidity of Consciousness

This is one of the reasons I rarely use the word consciousness, although I do in some specific situations to get a point across.

DOWNSIDES OF THE WORD CONSCIOUSNESS

There are at least three ways the word consciousness can be heard and misunderstood.

As Adya suggest, we are used to thinking about consciousness as other. We are this human being, and we have consciousness. Consciousness is somehow seen as an appendix.

When we use the word consciousness, it can seem as something within content of experience, and it’s not.

And it can give us the impression that we know what it is. We tell ourselves we know. This knowing is a story and we may not know in the sense of direct noticing.

WHAT CONSCIOUSNESS REFERS TO

What consciousness actually refer to is what we are.

To ourselves, we are what all our experiences happen within and as. We are this awakeness all our experiences happen within and as.

A word for this is consciousness, and it’s not necessarily a very good word for the reasons mentioned above.

EXPLORING IT IN TWO WAYS

We can examine this logically.

We may think of ourselves as a human being that somehow has consciousness as an appendix. It’s what our culture tells us. And yet, this clearly doesn’t hold up to any closer examination.

We experience through consciousness. To us, all our experiences happen within and as consciousness. Waking life is just like a dream in that sense. And that means that logically, to ourselves we have to be consciousness. To ourselves, we are consciousness that has a body and a human self.

To ourselves we are consciousness that has a body, a human self, a human life in the world, a wider world, and even a whole universe. It’s all happening within and as what we are.

We can also find this through direct noticing.

Through guided noticing, we can find ourselves as capacity for the world, and what our field of experience happens within and as.

We can call this consciousness, but it seems many – including me – prefer to not use that label for the reasons above.

WHEN WE FIND WHAT WE ARE

So we can see through the false idea that we primarily are a human being that happens to have consciousness as a kind of appendix. We can see through it logically. And we can find it through direct noticing.

Seeing through it logically can put us on the right track. And direct noticing is profoundly transforming for how we perceive ourselves and the world, and if we keep noticing and exploring how to live from it, it can be profoundly transforming for our human self and life in the world.

When realization appears as philosophizing

When we notice what we are, and put it into words, it can seem like philosophizing to others.

If they don’t have a reference from their own direct noticing, it looks like words that don’t point to anything. They see it as just words and philosophizing.

If they notice what they are, or even have a memory of it, then it’s different. Then, they recognize what it points to and that it points to a direct noticing and realization.

When realization appears as philosophizing

Say we notice what we are. We find ourselves as capacity for the world, and what our experiences happen within and as. And we put it into words. We talk about it and how it is to live from it, to the best our ability.

To us, these words come from direct noticing and experience. We may try to talk about it as simply, clearly, and directly as possible.

It’s not so easy since words differentiate and this is about something that’s beyond what’s differentiated. And the way we do it will inevitably be colored by our culture, background, and how we have heard others talk about it. We may even slip into a bit of philosophizing if we go beyond direct noticing and experience.

To others who don’t have a reference for this, it easily appears as philosophizing. The words don’t relate to their own noticing or even a memory of past noticing, so the words inevitably appear as words and philosophizing without any real-life reference. It can easily be taken as fantasy and imagination.

To others who have a reference, it’s clear where it comes from. They recognize that it comes from direct noticing and living from it. They recognize it from their own noticing or even a memory of a past noticing.

Why put it into words?

So why even talk about it?

It’s a question I sometimes ask myself. Why do I write here?

I do it mostly for myself. It helps clarify a few things for me, and it helps me further notice and explore.

And I also know that it’s sometimes helpful for me when others put what they notice into words. It’s a reminder to notice. It can be a pointer for noticing different aspects of what I am. It’s a pointer for exploring how to live from it. It encourages me to keep exploring all of this. And it’s interesting to see how others put it into words.

For some, hearing about this may trigger curiosity and an interest in exploring this and finding for themselves what they are. If that happened just once, that in itself would make it worth it.

So although this is perhaps the most personal type of exploration, it’s also shared. We share what we find with others, and that helps all of us in different ways.

And I am sure that in some cases, we notice what we are, explore how to live from it, and don’t see any need for putting it into words. And that’s beautiful too. In a sense, it’s more honest since this cannot really be put into words. We can at most, and imperfectly, point to it and offer some practical guidance.

Some of my own experiences

When the initial awakening happened in my mid-teens, I didn’t know or know about anyone else who had the same realization. I had been an atheist with some interest in parapsychology. I lived in a small town in Norway. And this was in the pre-internet era. So it wasn’t easy to find anyone else.

For several years, I didn’t talk about it because I knew it wouldn’t resonate with those around me. But I did explore books to see if I could find someone who had the same realization and had put it into words.

The first one I found was Meister Eckhart, in a book in the main library in Oslo. I still remember standing in front of the shelf, looking at an old book with blue library-style cover, and realizing that this guy got it too. It was covered up in Christian terminology and ideas, but behind it was clearly a direct noticing.

Later, I went to the Tibetan Buddhist center in Oslo, and noticed that if I spoke from my own direct noticing and experience, it was typically perceived as if I referenced something from a book. Perhaps the ones I talked with didn’t recognize it for themselves, so they automatically thought it was from a book? I had many of that types of interactions in the following years.

There were two I met who got it, and where we immediately recognized it in each other. One was a woman I met in a tai chi class and who is still a friend. The other was the then-wife of Jes Bertelsen when she held a couple of courses in Oslo. I also saw that Jes Bertelsen clearly got it, and loved his books.

When I got to the Zen center in Salt Lake City (Kanzeon Zen Center), I could see that the main teacher got it, and also several of the junior teachers. Here, I felt that the tradition got in the way of a more human-to-human connection. When Genpo Roshi developed the Big Mind process, it all got to be more immediate and more free of tradition, and it was exciting for me to find a way to share the noticing with others through a relatively simple process.

Even some years later, I discovered Adyashanti and Byron Katie, and this was the first time I felt a real kinship. These two clearly got it, and they expressed it in a clear and direct way free of tradition. A few years later, I discovered Douglas Harding and the Headless Way, and that was the same experience.

To this day, these are the ones I feel the most kinship with.

I also saw that many Advaita and Neo-Advaita folks got it, but again it seemed caught up in ideology. I found a lot that was interesting and useful there, but it didn’t resonate as much with me as Adya, Katie, and Douglas Harding. Too often, they seemed to favor the “absolute” at the expense of the wholeness and living from it in the world. That’s completely valid and I am grateful someone is taking this approach, but it doesn’t resonate so much with me personally.

I almost forgot that in my teens, while still in Norway, I discovered Ken Wilber’s “No Boundaries”, and that immediately became one of my favorite books and I read everything I could find by Wilber, including his new books as they came out. I also loved the books by Fritjof Capra. And I completely loved Taoism and read everything I could find – I Ching in the Richard Wilhelm translation, the Taoist classics, Mantak Chia’s books and exercises, and a lot more. In my teens and early twenties, I also got deeply into Christian mysticism and the Christ meditation and Jesus/Heart prayer. And in my early twenties, I discovered the “Overview Effect” by Frank White. Through all of this, I found a virtual community of people with insights and realizations that resonated with me.

If I am honest, it’s been a quite lonely process. When I talked with Adya some years ago – in private for a couple of hours – I realized how much I missed someone who got this. There have been people, but they have often been in a teacher role and not friends. And there have been people who got it but cover themselves up in tradition so there is less of a direct expression and connection. Fortunately, I now have a partner who gets it, and that makes a big difference.

After all, although we are capacity for the world, we are also a human being in the world. And as that human being, we seek companionship and people we resonate with.

Why are there so many ideas & misconceptions about awakening?

Why are there so many ideas and misconceptions about awakening?

One reason is that it’s relatively rare. If it was more common, there would also be more general clarity about what it is and isn’t.

It’s also because it’s intangible, and that gives room for a wide range of different ideas about it.

Among a few, there is perhaps some vested interest in perpetuating some of the myths around it.

Mainly, when we operate from separation consciousness and are interested in awakening, we tend to put our dreams and fantasies onto it. We imagine or hope it will give us what we imagine we, as a separate self, need: a state of bliss, freedom from challenges, elevated status, being saved, extraordinary abilities, and so on.

Since I have written about the other ones in other articles, I’ll focus on its intangible nature here.

The intangible nature of awakening

If we have a physical object, we can use our senses to explore it. We see, touch, taste, use a microscope or other tools, and so on. In most cases, it’s something we can all see and explore, and we can share photos, videos, and so on to share our experiences with others. It’s tangible.

If we have a psychological phenomenon, it’s immediately more intangible. It may still be something we can experience, study, do research on, and so on, but its intangible nature makes it more difficult. It opens for more speculation, fantasies, and difficulties in sharing what we find and checking what others find. It’s not impossible, just more nebulous by nature.

When it comes to awakening, it’s even more intangible. Awakening is not even a typical psychological dynamic like a thought, emotion, attachment pattern, or developmental phase. It’s finding ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, as what our experiences – and all phenomena – happens within and as.

With physical things, there may be different opinions, views, experiences, and so on. Blind people touching different parts of an elephant will report different things. With psychological phenomena, the variation of experiences, findings, and ideas and interpretations about it is even wider since it’s more intangible. And when it comes to awakening, it’s even more intangible and apparently open for interpretations and ideas.

I say apparently because this is true only in a certain sense. The wild diversity is only true if we approach it and try to understand awakening within thought. Here, just about anything (apparently) goes since it’s not grounded in direct realization.

If it is grounded in direct realization, it becomes simpler. What we find is universal. Although we may express it using slightly different words, it all points to the same. And if it’s realized here, we tend to immediately recognize it when it’s recognized and expressed over there, through someone else.

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Does enlightenment take lifetimes?

Some traditions and teachers say enlightenment takes lifetimes.

Why is that when noticing what we are can literally take minutes? If we are guided, it can take a few minutes to frame the pointing verbally, and a moment to notice.

I assume it’s because they don’t just talk about noticing what we are, but living from it. They talk about embodiment, and about inviting all the different parts of our human self and psyche still operating from separation consciousness to reorganize within a conscious noticing of oneness.

To notice what we are takes no time. Making a habit out of noticing, and doing so through more and more situations in life, takes time. Exploring how to live from it takes infinite time. And allowing more of our human self – the parts formed and still operating within separation consciousness – to align with oneness and join in with the awakening, takes infinite time.

Awakening vs enlightenment

This is why I make a distinction between awakening and enlightenment.

Awakening means finding ourselves as capacity for the world, as that which all our experiences happen within and as. We can be guided into this relatively easily.

It takes a bit more time and engagement to make a new habit out of noticing this, and doing so through situations in our life. Past memories of noticing can help us remember and serve as a pointer for noticing, and the noticing always happens here and now. It’s fresh.

Exploring how to live from it is ongoing. We are never done with this. We can always discover more and be a little more skilled. And as we (hopefully) continue to heal and mature as a human self, this will change how we live from the noticing.

Many parts of us as a human self were created and operates from separation consciousness. When these are triggered, the center of gravity can get pulled into this separation consciousness for a while. And if we continue to be identified with some of these parts of us, it means we operate from separation consciousness to some extent, and perhaps especially in some areas of life.

Embodiment generally refers to living from the noticing of what we are. And it refers, more specifically, to inviting more of our human self to more deeply realign within a conscious noticing of oneness and what we are.

So what is enlightenment? Is it the noticing? Making a habit of noticing? Living from it? Inviting the parts of our psyche operating from separation consciousness to join with the awakening? All of the above?

For me, it’s all of the above. It’s a ridiculously tall order, it’s ongoing, and if we have lifetimes to work it will still be an ongoing process.

There is always more to explore. And as we continue to heal, develop, and mature, living from it will always look a little different.

We can say that awakening is noticing what we are. Enlightenment is a relatively ongoing noticing of what we are, living from it, and having our human self mostly on board with it. (I am saying relatively and mostly since there is always further to go.) And we could perhaps call the continuing exploration of how to live from it – as we continue to heal, develop, and mature – self-realization.

I don’t know. The process seems to be more or less as I describe it here, and although I find this way of using the labels helpful I also know people use them in different ways.

Enlightenment is ongoing

In any case, when people say that enlightenment takes lifetimes, this is what comes to mind.

It’s obviously not the noticing of what we are since that doesn’t need to take long at all.

It’s the rest of it – and especially inviting all the parts of our human self operating from separation consciousness to join – that’s ongoing and takes whatever time we have to work with.

Perhaps instead of saying “enlightenment takes lifetimes”, it makes more sense saying….

Noticing what we are takes no time at all, and exploring how to live from it is an ongoing process.

Or…. the path to God is finte, and the path within God is infinite.

A few words about time

Some sticklers will argue about how I talk about time here. I deliberately talk about time in a conventional sense, as most people understand it.

Although noticing what we are happens here and now, and what we find is that we are capacity for space and time along with any other experience, it does take a few minutes to set it up before we can notice. If we are guided, it takes a few minutes to frame it verbally and give the pointers.

And although we are capacity for our experience of time and space and everything else, we can still talk about time and lifetimes and ongoing explorations. They are two sides of the same coin.

What’s the ego in a spiritual context?

I rarely use the word ego in a spiritual context for a few different reasons. It can be confused with how we use the word in a psychological context. It can be taken as something solid and an object. And it can bring associations to something we need to get rid of – since that’s how it’s sometimes talked about.

These ego dynamics are the dynamics that happen when we hold a thought as true and identify with the viewpoint of the thought. This creates a sense of I and other, with an ultimate truth in it. And all of this can happen more or less consciously.

These dynamics are understandable, natural, and innocent, and they come from the desire to protect the separate self. They are something to understand and befriend and find love for.

Awakening is not incompatible with these dynamics. They may not currently be so active, and we may not identify so strongly with the ones that are, and this opens for the possibility to notice what we are.

When we notice what we are, we can notice that these dynamics have the same true nature as ourselves. This helps shift our relationship with them, and it also opens up the metaphorical space for these dynamics to realign with reality and oneness and find a deep transformation that way.

IN MORE DETAIL

I’ll go into a bit more detail on these topics, although not too much since I have addressed this in several other articles.

The word is used differently in psychology and spirituality

First, it’s important to differentiate how the word is used in psychology and spirituality.

The psychological ego refers to the operating system for this human self. We need it to function, and it’s important to help it be as healthy, resilient, and well functioning as possible.

Ego used in a spiritual context refers to separation consciousness. This is a certain dynamic that happens when we identify with the viewpoint of a story and hold it as true.

They are two different phenomena that happen to have the same name.

The downsides of using the word in a spiritual context

There are a few downsides to using the word ego in a spiritual context.

It can be confused with the psychological ego which is something different.

It makes it sound as an object or thing, which is misleading.

When people use the word in a spiritual context, it’s sometimes with a flavor of it as bad, wrong, something to get rid of, and so on.

How does separation consciousness come about?

A sense of separation comes as soon as we hold a thought as true and identify with the viewpoint of the thought. In our own experience, we become the viewpoint of the thought, and this creates a sense of I and other and a fundamental reality in that separation. (It’s perhaps more accurate to say that our system holds a thought as true since this doesn’t have to be conscious, and it often isn’t.)

We then perceive and live as if the thought is true, and this can create struggle, tension, and so on.

What are some other ways to talk about this dynamic?

As mentioned earlier, another word for ego in this context is beliefs or identification. As soon as a thought is held as true, the ego dynamics are created, and we take ourselves as the viewpoint of the thought. We identify as the viewpoint of the thought, which is how the appearance of separation is created.

We can also call it a coping mechanism to deal with unmet, unloved, and unexamined fears. As we meet these fears, find they come from love and find love for them, and examine the fearful stories behind them and what’s more true for us, the “ego” dynamics tend to soften.

Is this ego a problem?

These dynamics can create suffering and struggle for ourselves, and it can trigger the same in others.

But it’s not inherently a problem. It’s natural, understandable, and ultimately innocent. There is even beauty in it since it comes from an innocent misunderstanding and the dynamic within it is here to protect us. It’s an expression of love, although a bit misguided.

Is this ego an enemy?

Only if we take it that way, and if we do, it’s the “ego” dynamics making itself into an enemy. The idea of enemy is itself an expression of holding certain thoughts as true. In reality, it’s innocent, and it is created from unmet, unloved, and unexamined fear. And even if it’s here, we can still find ourselves as capacity for all our experiences including these dynamics.

Do we need to remove this ego?

We can’t decide to remove these dynamics. We can just explore them and understand them. We can see what’s more true for us than the stories initially held as true. We can get some insights into the dynamics. We can dialog with these parts of us and get to know them. And we can get to know the fear behind these dynamics – which are typically unmet, unloved, and unexamined.

The ego dynamics, awakening, and spiritual practice

Since I am writing about the ego as the words is used in a spiritual context, I’ll say a few words about these dynamics in relation to awakening and spiritual practices.

What’s the relationship between awakening and these dynamics?

The ego dynamics are sometimes presented as incompatible with awakening. Is that true?

Yes, no, and it depends. If we are completely identified with a thought in the moment, it’s difficult to notice what we are. We may have ego dynamics but they are not so active and we are not so identified with them, and this opens for the possibility of noticing what we are.

So it depends on whether ego dynamics (AKA beliefs) are currently triggered, and how identified we are with them.

What’s the role of spiritual practice here?

Spiritual practice can help us shift how we relate to these dynamics.

Befriending the dynamics and getting to know them helps shift how we relate to them, which helps them soften, and helps us relate to them more consciously and not always act on them.

And finding ourselves as capacity for it all makes it easier to relate to them more consciously, not always act on them, and invite them to realign with and join in oneness.

What’s the role of awakening?

Awakening is another word for noticing what we are. For finding ourselves as capacity for the world, and what our experiences happen within and as. It’s something that happens here and now, and it can become more of a habit over time.

When we find ourselves as capacity for it all, we notice that these dynamics happen within and as us as anything else. We may also notice that our true nature is the true nature of these inherently innocent dynamics.

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What’s the difference between mysticism and insanity?

Mystics typically report experiences and insights that are well outside of consensus reality and what’s considered normal. So why are they not considered insane? What’s the difference between mysticism and insanity?

There may be several reasons.

Although mysticism is fringe, it’s often culturally accepted. There is a tradition for it in most cultures.

Mystics talk about God and Spirit, and our culture gives us a larger leeway when we talk about that topic.

Mystics often report similar experiences and insights to each other. In the essence, there is a universality.

Mystics are usually well-functioning people. They typically manage their life and relate to other people in a way that’s not a problem for others or society.

To the extent mystics are empathic, kind, and perhaps have some wisdom, they are given some leeway if what they talk about sometimes sounds odd.

And perhaps most importantly, it depends on how we relate to our experiences and insights and what stories we tell about it.

To the extent mystics are intellectually honest, they appear more sane and ordinary even if what they report is out of the ordinary.

In my case, I emphasize the pragmatics of it – practices and what they can do for us at a very human level.

On the rare occasions I talk about my own out-of-the-ordinary experiences, I have evaluated my audience and wouldn’t talk about it unless I know they understand or have a genuine personal interest. I also often preface by saying I know it sounds weird, I am clear that I hold my stories and interpretations about it very lightly, and I find ways to talk about it that are as down-to-earth as possible.

Exaggerating the distinction between what and who we are

The nature and purpose of words is to make distinctions where there, in reality, is none. All is a seamless whole, and when we use words, we create imagined separation lines in the world to help us communicate and function in the world.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s how we function, and it’s what allows us to function as human beings in the world.

The distinction between who and what we are

One of the distinctions many, including myself – guilty as charged – make, is between what and who we are. Between our true nature as capacity for our world and the world. Between what all our experiences happen within and as, and all the changing experiences.

This can be a helpful distinction since we typically identify with the content of our experience and overlook what it happens within. It can help us notice our true nature.

And it’s not such a helpful distinction if we come to think and believe that this distinction is, in any way, real and somehow inherent in reality.

The reality is that both are aspects of a seamless whole, and even highlighting them as aspects is taking it a bit too far. Still, that’s what we have to do if we are to talk about it, and it can be helpful. It’s just good to notice that we are placing imagined dividing or distinction lines on this seamless whole.

Trying to talk about it in a way that highlights the seamless whole

If I am to talk about it with these distinction lines while trying to point out the seamless nature of it, it can be said simply but it will seem opaque and confusing unless we notice it for ourselves. For instance, our true nature takes the form of all our experiences.

It can also be said in a more detailed and convoluted way…. What we are is awake capacity for our world, it’s what our experiences happen within and as. This awake capacity takes the form of the content of experience, and the true nature of the content of our experience is this awake capacity.

What happens if we take the distinction too seriously?

What can happen if we take the separation line too seriously? If we hold onto the words more than we notice what they point to, and take the words as pointing to a division inherent in reality?

We can tell ourselves that the world is somehow less important or an illusion, perhaps in order to distance ourselves from it and the pain inherent in it (instead of embracing and befriending that pain), and we can live as if this is how it is. This can lead to all sorts of misguided adventures, which then become a valuable part of our awakening path and is not inherently wrong.

In a general sense, we may overlook that our true nature takes the form of all our experiences, and overlook the true nature of each of our experiences.

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.

Am I enlightened?

I have written about this before and thought I would revisit it.

I’ll look at why we would ask the question, some foundations, and then answer the question more directly.

Why ask?

Why would we ask the question?

It can be pragmatic. We are looking for a guide, and want to know roughly if that person is familiar with the terrain.

It can be that we want to learn about awakening itself – what it is and its complexities.

It can be about finding something or someone to idolize and project onto, and perhaps hope that this person can somehow save us.

It can be about putting the label on ourselves in order to feel special, better, and compensate for a sense of lack, and this comes from separation consciousness.

Both of the last two often rest on a series of assumptions about awakening. For instance, that it’s special, it makes us special, it makes us better than others, it will save us, it will bring us to a constant state of bliss, it will remove challenges and problems, and so on. All of these are misconceptions and if we have these ideas, it’s good to examine them through inquiry and get a reality check by talking with someone who has a grounded and pragmatic approach and personal familiarity with it.

Also, if we find ourselves idealizing it, we can use it to discover more about ourselves. We can use it to identify and find healing for emotional issues (often feeling not good enough as we are). We can identify and examine our stressful beliefs behind it. In this way, we use it to find healing and clarity.

What is awakening?

I tend to talk about awakening and not so much enlightenment, and I’ll say more about the distinction below.

Awakening has to do with noticing what we are. To notice that the world, as it appears to us, happens within and as what we are.

Said another way, we are capacity for the world. We are awake space for the world as it appears to us.

What we already are

Awakening is noticing what we are, and in terms of what we are, we are no different from each other.

We are awake capacity for our world.

This is the basics and the essence. Any noticing comes on top. It doesn’t change what we are.

Anyone can notice

Anyone can notice what they are, at least if we have some willingness and guidance.

We can be guided through the headless experiments, the Big Mind process, or similar forms of semi-structured forms of inquiry that helps us notice what we are.

It’s not something terribly mysterious or hidden or just for special people. It’s for all of us.

This noticing is what we are noticing what we are. It’s simple and natural.

Yes or no? It’s not that simple

The yes/no question comes from a slight misconception of awakening.

Awakening is a process.

We can have glimpses of what we are. We can notice.

We can notice in more and more situations in daily life.

We can live from this noticing. We can live from it in more situations in daily life.

We can invite the parts of us – our subpersonalities living from separation consciousness – to join in. We can recognize these as what we are. We can invite them to heal. We can invite them to realign within oneness.

And all of this is an ongoing process. Nothing happens once and for all. It seems that there are always more parts of us operating from separation consciousness that come to the surface to join in with the noticing.

The difference between awakening and enlightenment

I like to differentiate awakening and enlightenment.

For me, awakening is the awakening process – all the way from no interest to beginning interest, glimpses, noticing, living from it, deepening, and so on.

Enlightenment is a word I usually don’t use. When I do, I use it to refer to stable noticing + stable living from this noticing. It means that all our human parts – all subpersonalities, all parts of our psyche – are aligned with a conscious noticing of reality. They have shifted out of separation consciousness and are aligned with oneness.

This typically means that these parts of us are recognized as the divine, recognize themselves as the divine, are healed, and operate and are fully aligned with oneness.

This is an abstract ideal that can be misleading. It ignores that we cannot know if all parts of us are there or not, until they are triggered and we see them. It ignores that it’s a process of noticing, living from it, and inviting more parts of us to join in with the awakening. It’s certainly not where I am in my own process. And that’s why I usually don’t use the word.

I should mention that not everyone uses this distinction. I do since I find it useful.

No-one here to be enlightened

Finally, the “are you awake or not” question only makes sense if we are seen as primarily a separate being and a human in the world.

To ourselves, the question doesn’t make so much sense. We wake up out of the idea of being inherently or ultimately a separate being. It’s oneness that wakes up to itself. So there is no “I” here to be enlightened. There is just a human being that can live from it, imperfectly and more or less.

Answering the question honestly

If someone asks the question, it’s usually from sincerity and a genuine interest, so it’s worth taking the question seriously and answering it as well as can.

Saying there is no-one here to be enlightened is accurate enough, and it points to something important about awakening. And if we leave it there, it can feel like a dismissal of the question.

That’s why it can be helpful to explain the process and answer honestly where we are in the process.

And it’s also helpful to point out that many have a lot of misconceptions about awakening, that what it’s about is what we all already are, that there are ways to relatively easily notice what it is about. If it’s appropriate, we can also give some pointers about how we can work with the question to find some healing and clarity for ourselves.

What would I say?

How would I answer the question?

I would say that it’s relatively easy for me to notice what I am. That noticing is something in the background when I am focused on something that requires a lot of my attention, and sometimes more in the foreground.

At the same time, there are many parts of my human self that still operate from separation consciousness. These are parts of me that need healing and often surface to join in with the awakening. I am sometimes struggling with this process, and sometimes it’s a bit easier.

And I would say what I mentioned above, that what wakes up is not this human self. It’s what we all are to ourselves that wakes up to itself.

So am I awake? It depends on your definition. Anyone can notice what they are. It’s not terribly special or hidden or difficult to notice with the right guidance.

Living from it, and living from it in more and more situations, is what’s sometimes challenging.

Notice vs realize

In spirituality, people sometimes talk about realization or realizing our true nature.

I tend to avoid using realize in that sense.

Why? It’s mostly just a personal preference.

The word realization can come with some baggage and misleading associations. It’s a word that can be taken to refer to something we figure out within thought. And although thoughts can play a role, that’s not really what it’s about. For the same reason, we can also take it as something we realize once and for all and then it’s done. Of course, the traditions and teachers who use the word realize point this out as well.

I prefer the word notice, to notice what we are. It suggests it’s immediate, fresh, and direct, and suggests it doesn’t have to do with thoughts. It also seems simpler and more ordinary, which is appropriate since what’s noticed is the most ordinary (no) thing there is. It’s what we are and are the most familiar with, even if we don’t consciously notice it.

At the same time, realize has useful connotations notice doesn’t have. For instance, one definition of realize is to become fully aware of something and understand it clearly. It goes beyond just noticing and suggests that it needs to be seen and understood thoroughly, and even lived thoroughly. This is, of course, something we can clarify when we use the word notice.

I don’t have a strong preference here and I have no trouble with people using realize. It’s just that notice resonates with me more right now, and it may change.

Note: Since I mentioned the role of thoughts earlier, what is the role of thoughts in this context? Thoughts can serve as a pointer for noticing what we are, for instance through guided inquiry. Thoughts can reflect what we notice and find. And thoughts can also serve as a pointer for how to live from it and perhaps avoiding some of the pitfalls (although we often have to get our own experience with those pitfalls).

Higher consciousness?

Some folks talk about “higher consciousness”. I understand that it can be seen that way. But to me, there is another way to look at it that feels more comfortable and is, in many ways, as or more accurate.

Awakening is about finding what’s already here. It’s about finding ourselves as what we already are. It’s about finding ourselves as what’s at the “bottom” of everything. As awake capacity for the world as it appears to us. As what everything in our experience happens within and as.

Yes, we can call it higher consciousness, for whatever reason. Perhaps because it seems to come after conventional views, or it allows for a more kind way to live. (Or because it makes us feel superior and better about ourselves and we use it to compensate for a sense of lack.)

And we can also call it basic consciousness. It’s at the metaphorical bottom of everything. It’s what’s always here. It’s what’s untouched by any of its content, including any human cleverness or stupidity.

It’s what all already share. It’s what, most likely, all of existence share.

The value in the dark

In western culture, we are used to thinking that light=good and dark=bad.

There are many variations on this. We shed light on something (good). We are in the dark (bad). Something is a beacon (good unless it’s misleading). A story is dark (good because it’s a story so it only flirts with the dark). Something is happening in the shadows (bad). We have enlightenment (good). Trolls burst in the daylight (good for us, bad for the trolls). We go through a dark night of the soul (looks bad but may be different). Heaven is light and hell is dark. The angels are bright. The devil is dark. And so on.

There is a lot to explore here. Why do we have these associations? In what way do we use these metaphors? How do they influence our perception and life? What are the upsides and downsides? How do they help us? How do they limit us? What do I find when I explore specific dark/light assumptions?

THE SOURCE OF THESE ASSOCIATIONS

First, where do these associations come from?

It may be partly encouraged by evolution. Favoring light over dark – and the metaphors that come out of this – is understandable for daylight animals like humans. We evolved with eyes that function best in daylight. For us, the daytime is safer than the night. Light is good since it supports our survival, and dark is bad since we can’t see what potentially dangerous things are there. If nocturnal animals developed language and metaphors, theirs may be the reverse of ours.

At the same time, it’s clearly cultural. It’s easy to imagine cultures that don’t have the same assumptions, and we can also find many real-life examples in cultures around the world. (For instance, in some African cultures, white is associated with death.)

THE UPSIDE AND DOWNSIDE OF DARK/LIGHT ASSOCIATIONS

What’s the upsides and downsides of these associations?

The upside is that our shared understanding of these metaphors allows for shorthands and easier communication of certain ideas. That’s the same with all the images we use in our language.

The general downside is that these images become filters for our perception. We perceive, think, and partially live from them. If these remain unquestioned, we may mistake our assumptions for reality, and that creates rigidity, limits to our perception and views, and – in the worst case – harmful behavior.

A more specific example is that these associations have been used by Europeans to support colonialism, slavery, and racism. White people have –explicitly and implicitly –used the darker skin of other people as justification for seeing and treating them as inherently bad or inferior.

EXPLORING SOME EXAMPLES OF THESE IMAGES AND ASSOCIATIONS

What do I find if I explore specific examples of these associations?

White vs black. As mentioned above, in the European culture, the color white is often associated with purity and good while black has less favorable connotations. Good guys wear white hats, and bad guys black. The pure bride wears white, while the mourning widow wears black. These are clearly cultural assumptions and, in some other cultures, it’s reverse.

Skin tone. This connects with European racism where white skin is seen as good and superior while darker skin traditionally has been associated with savages. Again, this is clearly a cultural assumption that is not based in reality, and it’s been used to justify colonialism and generally horrific treatment of those with darker skin. Skin color has to do with human migration, adaption to place, and biological ancestry. It doesn’t say anything about us as people. And, again, in some cultures and societies, these associations are reverse.

Days vs night. We are daylight animals so it’s natural for us to favor the day and daylight. The night belongs to other creatures. But even as daylight creatures, we can find value in the night. For us, it’s a time of rest and sleep. We rest and sleep during the night, and in many cultures, the winter is also a time of rest and catching up with smaller tasks we may not have had time for during the rest of the year.

Known and unknown. Some things are in the dark, and we can shed light on them so they are known to us. What’s known is in the light, what’s unknown is in the dark. Again, this metaphor makes sense of us since we are daytime animals, and seeing and knowing what’s here helps us function and orient in the world.

At the same time, there can be immense value in the unknown. To the extent we take in how little we know, it helps us stay receptive, flexible, and curious. And it makes life far more interesting since we get the adventure of ongoing and never-ending discovery.

What’s unknown may be “in the dark” for us, and can be as valuable as what’s in the metaphorical light and what we think we know.

Good and bad. In many cases, good is associated with light and bad with darkness. There are many wrinkles here. For instance, at a conventional human level, what first appears good in our life can later turn out in an undesirable way, and the other way around. As we see if we look more closely, the light=good and dark=bad analogy isn’t the whole picture and typically doesn’t hold up to examination. Our ideas of good and bad are ideas and labels and not inherent in reality.

Dark nights. A dark night of the soul can refer to many different things, but in the mainstream, it typically refers to a deeply troubling and difficult time in our life. It’s dark because we may not understand what’s happening, and we feel we are in a dark state of mind.

We can see these dark nights as invitations. We are invited to revise our priorities, align our life with our values and what’s most important to us, find authenticity and be more honest with ourselves, heal unhealed parts of us, and heal how we relate to ourselves, others, and life.

There is a blessing hidden in these dark nights.

What’s in the dark in us. We all have parts of ourselves we have shed light on and are relatively familiar with. And we also have a lot that’s in the dark. This darkness just means we are still unfamiliar with it. We can find things there that our personality would like, and also things it would dislike. And as we bring more into the light, and depending on how we relate to what we find and make use of it, it can help us in many ways. It can help us heal, mature, find authenticity, recognize the inherent innocence in what we find, find our wholeness as a human being, be more grounded and sober, and also feel and become more alive.

Awake and not awake. Enlightenment has light in the word, and it’s understandable. Metaphorically, awakening has to do with bringing into light what we are, and perhaps how we temporarily obscure this for ourselves. At different phases of an awakening process, we can also more literally experience or see a lot of light in our system. Of the two – awake and not awake – one isn’t inherently better than the other. And one isn’t more or less the divine than the other. It’s all the play of our mind, life, the universe, existence, or the divine, or all of these, depending on how we see it.

The light and dark divine. Many religions and spiritual traditions include light and dark representations of the divine. In Christianity, we have the black madonna representing an aspect of the divine feminine, fertility, the life-giving womb, transformation, and so on.

Womb. The womb, soil, and early universe all are associated with darkness. And this is where life comes from. We live our first months in and are born from dark wombs. The soil supports most plant life and land life, including our own. The dark and early universe reorganized itself, over billions of years, into the universe as we know it, and into everything we know including ourselves. Darkness is often fertile. Quiet periods in our life can be a womb, as can the night, the winter, spending time in nature, incapacity because of an illness, metaphorical dark nights, and more.

SUMMARY

The essence of this is simple: Our associations with light and dark come from our culture and we recreate it for ourselves here and now. These associations are not inherent in reality. At the same time, they do influence our perception and life, so it’s good to bring these to awareness and shed the metaphorical light on them. This helps us relate to these associations more consciously in ourselves and when we find them in our culture.

A PERSONAL NOTE

When I write these articles, I prefer to write brief and simple articles that give only the essence and some pointers for further exploration. In this article, I found myself venturing into a more complex and messy terrain that would require brushing up on mythology, depth psychology, and so on, to do it justice. It may be more appropriate for a much longer article or a book.

This is a reminder of one of the reasons I stick with brief and simple articles: my brain fog. I don’t have much capacity for either reading or editing, so anything beyond a simple and short article – and one that comes directly out of me and doesn’t require any reading or studies – is difficult.

I haven’t read or taken in much information for the last ten years, which is a sharp contrast to my earlier life where I read voraciously – often three books a week. I had plans for writing books, but those plans are on the shelf (pun intended) for now.

There is an upside to this as well. I have to rely on what’s here in me and what I discover for myself through my own explorations. And that’s an invaluable gift.