Awakening as a safety valve

Why did the awakening shift happen when I was sixteen?

I am not sure. I hadn’t done any of the things that often go before such a shift. I had no interest in spirituality. I had done no spiritual practice.

What was happening was an unusual amount of teenage angst. It may have been strong enough so my system needed another way to deal with it, and that was where my system went most easily.

At my human level, and in my psyche, it got to be too much. So my system shifted from being identified with all of that to releasing identification with it and found itself as its more fundamental nature. As consciousness. As the consciousness all our experiences happen within and as. As the oneness all of it and the world to us happens within and as.

In that particular case, that was the safety value. And the stress and overwhelm at the human level were strong enough to propel my system into the awakening shift in a relatively strong and lasting way.

That’s the simple story, and it’s not quite as simple as that.

One year earlier, there had been another shift. A shift from the usual separation consciousness to a simple observer and observed duality. On January 1st, I experienced a fog coming in, as if I had cotton in my head. It was as if the world, including my human self and anything to do with my human self, was far away. Very far away. And “I” was the one observing it all. I went to my doctor and many specialists, and nobody could find anything wrong. It was quite distressing, and it really did feel as if something had gone very wrong.

And after almost exactly one year, between Christmas and New Year, there was another shift. This time into oneness. Into finding myself and any and all experiences as consciousness. Or, as I thought of it at the time, of God revealed as all without exceptions. God was this human self as it was everything. God was even the impulse to temporarily take itself as this human self, and then suddenly and out of the blue remember itself as all.

It’s not a glorious story. It’s messy and human. There is absolutely nothing there my human self can take credit for. And it seems to be one way our nature notices itself, or the divine remembers itself as all.

Teenage experience: the shift from simplified duality to oneness

I have written a brief autobiography where I touched on this, but I thought I would say a few more words about it since it’s interesting to me. 

When I was fifteen, there was a spontaneous shift into a simple duality of observer and observed. I found myself as what observed this human self and the wider world. It was a very uncomfortable experience, I thought something was seriously wrong, and I went to several specialists. This happened along with the onset of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) which made it extra confusing. 

One year later, I walked down a gravel road at night and there was an equally spontaneous shift into oneness. The divine woke up to itself as everything without exception. The divine had just temporarily taken itself to fundamentally be this human self. All it was happening within and as the divine. 

I haven’t written so much about what happened during that year, and I don’t remember all the details anymore. But I am able to reconstruct it to some extent. 

Before this happened, I was an angsty and nerdy teenager with a deep fascination for literature, science, music, nature, ecology, and more.

During this year, something shifted in me. I got more interested in spirituality and started reading whatever I could find at the local library. I was profoundly influenced by Fritjof Capra and “Bak tid og rom” by Erik Damman. I suspect this is also when I started reading Rudolf Steiner and other influences on western spirituality.

I had been an atheist since elementary school, although I did always have an interest in parapsychology. I read several books on the topic, especially scientific studies that hint at a reality outside of how it’s depicted in current mainstream science. I even did several experiments at home, including with the classic telepathy cards. (The results were often well above random although I don’t have the numbers here to check them with proper statistics…!)

Why did this shift into an interest in spirituality? I imagine it is because of this observer-observed shift. I found myself as consciousness, and although the world seemed infinitely distant, it also happened within and as the consciousness I am. 

If I remember correctly, it was also during this year that I started seeing energies, first around the leaves of the trees I was sitting under while reading. 

And I continued to be an angsty nerdy teenager for another few years. My nerdiness just took a slightly different form. 

Why the spontaneous awakening shift?

When I was fifteen and sixteen years old, there was an awakening shift in two phases.

Why did it happen?

And was it as spontaneous as it seemed?


As an early teenager, I was an atheist although I had some interest in parapsychology. I was interested in the mysteries of the world in general. I had no interest in spirituality or religion and saw it as a crutch for people who otherwise had trouble dealing with life.

At age fifteen, my sense of self was absorbed into what I now can label witnessing. From taking myself as primarily this human self, my whole sense of self became witnessing – a witnessing of this human self and the wider world and any and all content of experience.

This was obviously unsettling and confusing, and I went to a series of medical specialists for an answer. They found nothing. The idea that this had anything to do with anything that could be called spirituality didn’t even enter my mind.


About a year later, when I was sixteen, there was a shift into recognizing everything – without exception – as God or the divine. This human self, and any sense of fundamentally being a separate self, was all the play of God and the divine. It was all revealed as the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in all of these ways.

This never went away, and I have explored it since. It was a bit like being picked up and plonked down in a very different land and having to get to know this new and previously unfamiliar place. For many years, this happened on my own without others who seemed familiar with the same terrain.


So why did this happen?

I had done no practices to invite it in. I had no interest in religion or spirituality.

My best guess is that there was a good amount of “psychological pressure” building up at this time for me, from my version of the common teenage angst. Angst made up of a mix of social anxiety, fear of not knowing how to be an adult, insecurities passed on from my family, and so on.

This pressure needed to find an outlet, and the safety valve in my case turned out to be a shift into awakening.

It could have gone any number of other directions. In my case, the most likely would have been a continued freeze. It could have led to some kind of breakdown which would have allowed me to rest and remove myself from the situation. In other cases, or perhaps even in my case, it could have gone in the direction of insanity or substance abuse. And, for whatever reason, in this case, it went in the direction of awakening.

It seemed spontaneous. And, most likely, it wasn’t.

Most likely, the conditions were ripe for just this shift at that time. The psychological pressure was there. Perhaps also genetics, general psychology, and more. And this may include a ripeness that comes from previous lives if there are any.


To us, it seems that awakening shifts sometimes happen without much leading up to it. Other times, it happens following a lot of practice and exploration. Sometimes, it’s a sudden shift. Other times, it’s more of a gradual slide. Often, it’s a combination of several of these at different times.

And, in reality, we ultimately don’t know why it or anything else happens. We can have educated guesses. We can have stories that seem to fit the data. And if we are honest, we don’t really know. We cannot know for certain.

What we can say is that everything has innumerable causes. We can always find one more, and one more.

We can also say, in the words of Carl Sagan, that we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

Our life is the local expression of movements within the whole of existence. We are the whole locally expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself as us and our life.

What’s happening here may appear as the result of our own individual effort, and that’s not entirely wrong. And, more truly, it has innumerable causes stretching far beyond us as individuals. The apparently individual effort, the shift itself, and how we respond to it are all local expressions of what’s happening in the whole, within existence as a whole.

Similarly, it’s not an individual that wakes up. It’s existence that locally wakes up to its more fundamental nature.

Photo: Midsummer at Nesoddtangen.

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Witness, then oneness

I thought I would make a quick note about the shift that happened in my mid-teens.

At the time, I was consciously an atheist although I was also very interested in parapsychology and research into parapsychology. I probably intuited there was something to it while also seeing the nonsense of organized religion.

When I was 15, there was a shift that was hard to describe at the time. It was as if the world became far away. Now, looking back, I realize that what happened was that I was absorbed into the witness. I became the witness function or aspect of consciousness. Or, more precisely, identification was released out of content of experience and into the witness or observing function. It was quite unsettling to my mind and I went to a range of doctors to see if they could find anything. Not surprisingly, they didn’t.

When I was 16, almost exactly a year later, there was another shift. This time, it was a shift into oneness. The One woke up to itself as all there is. Senses and thoughts etc. were still connected to and from this particular human self, but Spirit woke up to itself as all there is including this human self and anything going on with it. This lasted and there were quite a few side effects such as huge amounts of energy going through the system, “downloads” of information, and so on.

When I later found Ramana Maharshi and Adyashanti, I saw that they described this very clearly, and they were the first ones I found who did. They even used some of the ways of describing it as I had done for myself early on. Others else seemed to cloud it over through remaining veils and ideas.

From what I have heard, the sequence of being absorbed into or as the witness followed by oneness is not atypical. I am sure it can happen in many different ways, and that sequence is probably also not universal. I am sharing it here just to have recorded this one example.

And, of course, this was just the beginning. I learned to live with and from it. I had a honeymoon phase that lasted several years. I did self-healing and embodiment work. I had a dark night of the soul. And it’s all an ongoing and always changing process.

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From witnessing to being

When fear and other difficult emotions and experiences surface, I find it’s painful – and futile – to try to escape it. And something shifts if I instead meet it.

The pointers go from witness and observing, to being space for and allowing, to meeting and being with, to welcome and say YES to it, to dive into and be it, to notice it’s already allowed, to notice it’s already what I am.

Any of those can be very helpful, perhaps at different times.

For me, I am now more attracted to diving into the middle and being it.

How does it feel to dive into the middle?

How does it feel to be it?

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Boundary between I and other

Sometimes, it is said that awakening means the boundary between I and Other is recognized as imagined

That is true and a helpful pointer. It helps us see that boundaries are created in the mind. They are, quite literally, imagined. This is a good starting point. 

And it is just that, a starting point, because it leaves something out. It can be taken as saying that the boundary may be imagined, but the I and other is real. There is an I here and a wider world, but it is part of the same seamless whole. 

The truth is more radical than that. So the next pointer is to say – as many do – that there is no separate I, no other, no world, no boundaries. All of those are imagined. All of those happen within our own world of images. 

This is an invitation to notice not only boundaries as imagined, but any object is as well. They all happen as a mental field overlay on the sense field. They all happen within our own world of images. And this includes the wider world as well as any sense of doer and observer. They all happen as content of awareness. They all come and go, on their own schedule. They are all gestalts, made up of mental field overlays on each of the sense fields. 

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Mindfulness, including of doer and observer

Something simple about mindfulness….

In mindfulness practice, I can notice what is happening in the different sense fields. Sensations. Sights. Sounds. Smell. Taste. Mental field activity. 

And included here is noticing the doer and observer. What is it that appears to be doing this practice? What is it that appears to be observing? For me, I find a set of sensations in the head area, and a set of images in the mental field. The doer and observer too is content of awareness, just as any other content of awareness. 

In this way, mindfulness practice shifts into and includes atma vichara, self-inquiry, and becomes even more inclusive and helpful. 

If the doer and observer is left out, mindfulness practice may only reinforce an unconcious (pre-conscious) identification with the doer/observer gestalts. When the doer and observer is included in what is noticed, they may be found to be content of awareness just as anything else, and identification may release out of them. 

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Whatever the “I” is doing…

At some point on the process, quite late, we paint ourselves into a corner.

There is a sense that whatever this “I” is doing is not going to do it. It can’t touch what I am and everything is.

And there is also an acute sense of the irony of this “I” trying to get rid of itself.

In both cases, this “I” is only spinning its wheels. And gradually wearing itself out.

This “I” as a doer/observer is a gestalt, a fabrication, and it is wearing itself out. (Or more accurately, wearing identification with it out.)

And it is completely innocent. A part of the play of God.

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Being present

What does it mean to be present? Or more accurately, to notice that you are present? When is it a useful pointer, and when not?

It is a pointer to bring attention to what is here now. To what happens in any sense field, including the mental field when it is noticed as happening here now.

And it is helpful in just that way. It is an invitation to notice that it is all happening here now, including mental field creations of past and future. It is an invitation to notice what happens when I get lost in ideas of past and future and take them as real and substantial (stress), and what happens when I notice them as ideas only (recognized as memories and scenarios, and as tools only).

As any pointer, it may be helpful and functional in some situations – in this case when someone is in the habit of getting lost in mental field creations without noticing what is happening.

But the pointer can also have drawbacks.

The witness/observer gestalt tends to come up, and it may easily be taken as what we are. I recognize that I am not most of what is happening in the sense fields, and the gestalts that come from a mental field overlay. Instead, I take the witness gestalt as what I am, and don’t recognize that one as a gestalt as well.

The idea of present also implies past and future, the three come in one package. So if the idea of present is taken as substantial and real, the idea of past and future tend to be taken as substantial and real as well.

A practical approach here is to use notice you are present as a pointer to bring attention to what is happening in the sense fields, and notice them as content of experience.

Then notice the idea of “present” overlaid on the sense fields, how it implies past and future, and how all of those ideas happen here now in the mental field.

And also investigate the sense of witness or observer created, see how it appears in the sense fields, and notice that too as a gestalt and content of experience.

Am I content of experience? Am I any of the gestalts? Content of experience comes and goes, what is it that does not come and go?

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Witness and Ground

I have been curious about the sense of a witness or observer lately.

What are the sensation components of the sense of a witness?

What images is it made up of?

Is it content of awareness? Does it come and go? Is it different from other gestalts, such as the gestalts of me (as this human self), pain, emotions and so on?

What happens when there is identification with it, when I take it as what I am?

What happens when that identification is released? (Even if I just imagine it.)

What happens when I notice the sense of observer or witness as a gestalt, as any other gestalt?

When I explore the identification with it, I see that identification with a sense of an observer is another foothold for that sense of a separate I. It gives it ground to stand on, another ledge within content of experience, facing the (apparent) abyss of releasing identification out of any gestalts and stories.

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It can be very interesting to explore the different gestalts… emotions, pain, joy, bliss, me as this human self, and the different flavors of I as a doer or observer.

First, where is the sense of an observer? A witness? Where in space is it? In or around the head? Above the head? Behind the head? Somewhere else?

Then, what sensations go with that sense of an observer? Sensations in the head area? The scalp? Throat? Neck? Inside of the mouth?

And what images go with that sense of an observer? An image of a center? Of a view as a cone with starting point,  aperture and direction, and sometimes open in all directions?

Is the gestalt of an observer any different from any other gestalt? Is it content of experience, as any other gestalt? Does it come and go? Is it made up of sensations and images?

If it is different, then when and how? Is it different when there is a shift into witnessing? And how is it different? Is it different in that it is identified with, taken as what I am, while other gestalts are recognized as content of awareness and not what I am? Or not?

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Stream of form flowing through awareness

The world is a stream flowing through awareness. The stream of forms and experiences is always new, fresh and different, and with a past and future. Awareness is always here, timeless, allowing anything to arise within and as itself.

And when I try to change this stream, to hold onto some things and push other things away, my center of gravity shifts into this stream. Trying to change it comes from identification with the stream, and it only reinforces the identification, until it becomes uncomfortable enough – or the whole game is seen clearly enough, to release this identification.

I see this daily, even in subtle ways. As soon as there is even the smallest resistance to experience, I know it comes from identification with form – with a fragment of the seamless field of seeing and seen. And in noticing this, there is the invitation to allow it all to be as it is, even the impulse to change it. The center of gravity now shifts back into the witnessing of it all, or even the Ground of seeing and seen, absent of I anywhere.

Deity Mysticism, Witness & Fall from Grace

Even as the center of gravity moves to nature and deity mysticism and/or the Witness, there is still an identification with a segment of what is.

There is a belief in the idea of I, and it is placed on the soul (nature/deity mysticism, F7/F8) and/or pure awareness (F9). There is still a sense of I and Other, no matter how apparently transparent and subtle.

It is an awakening still with the presence of a sense of I, and identification with a segment of what is, so it is naturally subject of change with changing content.

Nondual awakening

From here, it can move on to a nondual awakening, to Ground awakening to its own nature of no I anywhere, allowing any content to come and go as it naturally does. This is an awakening where the context is the only thing that needs to change, from a sense of I to an realization of no I anywhere. Content – states, experiences, phenomena, come and go freely and naturally, as they do anywhere, but no with no trace of attachment or resistance to them.

Fall from grace

If this does not happen, if there is a stuckness here even as there is a deeper readiness to move on, there will be a fall from grace, a dark night of the soul. And this fall from grace invites to a gradual wearing off of any sense of I, eventually revealing the Ground – absent of I anywhere.

It seems terrible as it happens. It seems that everything is lost. But it is just another phase in the process of Ground awakening to itself, of God remembering who it is, of Buddha Mind realizing its own nature, of emptiness dancing.


This is what apparently happened in my case.

The nature/deity mysticism awakening and the awakening as Witness initially came out of the blue, uninvited in any conscious sense (to somebody who saw himself as a die-hard materialist and atheist!). It deepened and stabilized over some years.

At some point, there may have been a deeper readiness to move on to a Ground awakening, yet there was also an attachment to and holding onto the belief in I and to the nature/deity awakening and the sense of Witness as I.

So there was a fall from grace, a dark night of the soul, also lasting for years, gradually wearing off attachments to a sense of I, to segments of what is, to any content. And it is still far from complete.

Causal Only?

I thought of the night last summer where I woke up during a lightning storm, and there was just pure awareness – nothing else. There was no sense of time. No sense of space. No sense of any form of conceptual knowing, and no sense of awareness of the absence of conceptual knowing. No associations, and no awareness of the absence of associations. No knowledge of being a human being, in a room, watching lightning outside the window, on Earth, in this universe. There was just pure awareness of the situation, absent of all this.

After some time – which I later assumed could have been 30 seconds to a few minutes – there was a slight discomfort stirring, an emerging awareness of the not knowing, and this lead to the “booting up” of my conventional knowledge and associations. I then realized that although there was no sense of time, there had been several lightning strikes so it must have happened over some time – maybe up to several minutes.

Looking back at it now, it seems that this could have been the causal level apparently functionally isolated from the other levels – apart from the physical obviously, since this body sat up in bed, opened its eyes, and looked at the lightning flashes outside of the window.

There was just pure witnessing, pure awareness. Pure causal level.

Until, after some time, the other levels functionally came back in.

Maybe the main outcome of this episode was a renewed and deepened appreciation of all these other levels. The causal level alone, functionally isolated from the others, is not really that interesting. It is just a big eye, taking it all in equally, and not much else.

With the other levels, it provides a sense of disidentification and liberation which is wonderful. But alone, it is not much to write home about. To anthropomorphise, I guess that is why all the other levels are around, to flesh it all out and make it more interesting.

No Distance

One of the characteristics of an awakening beyond our human self – to F7 (nature mysticism), F8 (deity mysticism), and/or to F9 (witness) – seems to be a deepening sense of intimacy with the whole world, a deepening sense of no separation.

Jen has shifted in and out of the witness over the last few weeks, and I asked her tonight if she also experiences a sense of intimacy with the world. She immediately said yes, and that it seemed that the world had become two dimensional – that there is no distance anymore, although also of course the usual distance in meters or feet that we all are familiar with.

There is the conventional space, measured in meters or feet, within the context of a sense of intimacy with it all, of no distance.

Early sense of ground

And why is it so?

It seems that it is an early intuition or sense of the ground, an early taste of nondual realization. Consciousness is beginning to be aware of itself as everything, including the seer and the seen.

Early sense of God watching God

In addition to this deepening sense of intimacy with the world, there may also be glimpses beyond this – where there is a stronger realization that this is God watching God.

When I look into somebody’s eyes, it is God watching God through God. And this can be very obvious sometimes, especially with the right people in the right setting.

We can have tastes of this even as there is still a vague sense of I placed on this human self or the witness.

Deepening further

As this deepens further, it shifts into a more clearly nondual realization. There is not any inherent I anywhere. It is all just happening. There is no doer, only the doing. It is all the play of God, all emptiness dancing.

Buddhist God Realm, Identification with Witness, and Fall From Grace

I am sure this is detailed in Buddhist philosopy, although I can’t recall having seen this in the sporadic readings I have done in the area.

One of the six realms is the God realm, defined by bliss but also impermanence.

It seems that this describes an awakening as formless awareness – as the Witness, F9, causal realm – quite well.

There is bliss and a certain release from suffering, and it can certainly last for a long time. Still, there is the belief in an “I” here, now just placed on pure awareness. The seeing is made to appear as a seer.

With this subtle “I” there is also a subtle “other” and attachment to content. And as content always changes, it inevitably leads to a fall from grace. It is temporary.

All of this sounds a lot like the God realm.