An awakening is typically characterized by a glimpse of the non-dual nature of things. That which is experiencing (Atma) is realized to be the same as that which is experienced (Isvara) because all is an expression of this ‘One’ infinite and everlasting field of pure potentiality (Brahman) that can manifest as any form or phenomena.
Awakening ultimately is the realization that the stories of the mind are devoid of any reality, or Truth, since they are the stories of an illusory, separate and, thus, fearful entity (ego) which is constantly compelled to improve, control or manage its seemingly separate environment to feel secure.
The glimpse into non-dual reality usually marks the start of a process towards full establishment in Truth which can take anywhere from milli-seconds to years to run its course. The ‘processing-time’ is typically defined by two variables: the depth and resilience of the psychological ‘stuff’ (karma) that needs to be seen through and the ‘force’ and vividness of the awakening(s). With ‘stuff’ I refer to deep-seated thoughts and behavioral patterns that manifest in our lives as uninvited ‘hang-ups’ and as psychological suffering.
What the awakening shows us is that our ‘stuff’ is fundamentally unreal, illusory. This doesn’t mean ‘stuff’ will not show up anymore or that we will never again get suckered in by its illusory power (maya). But as we now ‘know’ the Truth, we have an anchor insight which remind us that the fundamental beliefs causing our ‘hang-up’s’ are simply not true.
So, the awakening, in a sense, is what ignites the fire that (in a mostly painful but ultimately healing way) burns all our delusions and leads us into a state of acceptance, surrender and inner harmony and peace.
Unfortunately, there are only a few things we can do to accelerate this ‘burning’-process. One thing is to fed the fire. Obviously, the more we hide from painful situations or dis-own the suffering that they bring about, the less ‘stuff’ we expose to the fire. A lot of spirituality is, thus, developing an inquisitive warrior-spirit which supports us in facing the suffering and to look carefully at the stories that come attached to it. The other thing we can do is to constantly remind us of the Truth that we have discovered. The greatest Yogi’s have always said that most of what we can do is abide in the Truth and let the rest take care of itself. Everyone has got the ‘stuff’ that he’s got. Hence, everyone is on its own schedule in this. Patience is paramount.
As the process of de-delusioning deepens, the mind-driven individual that we once used to be naturally transforms into a more and more sense-receptive being. As this unfolds, just being and rejoicing in the Truth, that is, one’s Self, becomes enough. We start to live for life’s sake, with all its ups and downs, not to reach a certain goal.
Most people get a sense of it as this process is coming to an end. It is not going to be a ‘big bang’ kind of event, no diplomas are handed-out, there won’t be any standing ovations and we don’t suddenly get a shining halo around our heads. It is more likely going to be a silently approaching notion that sneaks up which tells us that the ‘stuff’ has probably run out. We’ll never know, though, if and how much more pockets of ‘stuff’ are hidden in the unconscious somewhere which could be triggered by some internal or external occurrence. But in our everyday lives we feel pretty much free of delusional ‘hang-ups’ and live in the non-dual Truth that all there is and all that we need, is always and forever right here and now.
So, whenever this post-awakening process weighs you down because a big chunk of heavily defended delusion is washed up into your consciousness, relax. Just remember what is true and it will eventually dissolve on its own. Rest assured that the day will come when you realize that you must have crossed the “finishing line” without even noticing it, because at some point you had become so care-free that you stopped caring about arriving anywhere anymore. One day between washing dishes and bringing out the garbage you must have unconsciously made complete peace with the ‘Now’, uneventfully claiming your birthright of freedom from unnecessary suffering.
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who couldn’t hear the music.”
When I am with my self, I miss you.
When I am with you, I am you.
You bestow abundance to life,
Putting to rest any quest for meaning.
Those who seek you don’t understand,
Where could you possibly hide?
In your presence the mind surrenders,
Collapsing into its own nouminous origin.
You yourself alone exists,
Forever perceiving yourself by yourself.
Being alone you are nothing containing everything,
You are the question and the answer.
Praising you I constantly praise myself,
Bridging the gap between inner and outer.
To whom ever dares to call out to you for no reward,
You indiscriminately distribute the grace of the heaven’s.
Although we could never abandon each other,
Beloved singularity, I will keep singing my song to you.
I would like to further expand a bit on the ideas from my post on The Holy Grail.
If we look around we can’t deny that most of us, people of the West, live in a paradise of affluence and security. We have food and shelter, friends and loved ones, time for leisure and pleasure and even the freedom to realize ourselves. Nevertheless, most of us don’t live a very fulfilling life. Somehow, it seems, that we are not truly grateful for what we have. And when see pictures of starving children in Africa and when we are truly honest to ourselves, deep down somewhere, we are a bit ashamed about it. There are those rather uncomfortable quiet moments, for example on a lazy day, when we know something is not quiet right or ‘missing’. If we allow to listen with our ears turned inside, existential questions are waiting to be answered, like:
What the heck this all about?
Why am I here?
Am I an accident in paradise?
Most of you may already be familiar with Abraham Maslow, the famous discoverer of the hierarchy of needs. In his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” he introduced the idea that once our basic needs for food, shelter and community are met we strive for intimacy with other people in the form of family and close relationships. Once this is accomplished, we are driven to gain esteem and recognition within our community. Finally, there will naturally appear an urge to realize one’s potential, which Maslow called ‘self-actualization’. Shortly before his death, though, Maslow expanded this hierarchy by another step: ‘self-transcendence’. Thus, the ultimate goal and motivation in life, according to Maslow, is to reach a trans-personal level where life is lived for the sake of the embodiment of ethics, compassion, creativity and spirituality. Self-actualization is ultimately not ‘enough’ to satisfy our deepest yearnings.
(Much to Maslows surprise he found in his research that self-actualization was not a necessary step preceding self-transcendence. Because of this ‘disorder’ in an otherwise structurally concise and elegant theory and because Maslow died before he could reach a final conclusion about his findings, ‘self-transcendence’ as the ultimate goal is somehow hardly ever included when we are taught about his hierarchy of needs.)
I find it extremely interesting that across all cultures and across all ages, humans have developed and cultivated means to induce a (self-) trance(-ndence) through enactments of rituals, studying ‘holy’ scriptures, performing and beholding forms of art or through the intake of psychedelic substances (see also my post on the Way of Bodhisattva). This confirms to me Maslows final analysis of the ultimate motivation in life.
Echoing Maslow and our cultural heritage, famous psychologist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, founder of Logotherapy, posited that meaning is ultimately found in being involved in something that points away from, that is, transcends one’s self. Accordingly, meaning can be found in one of three activities or attitudes: in the service of others (similar to the idea of ‘karma yoga’), in loving somebody (similar to ‘bhakti yoga’), or, in the bearing of unavoidable suffering (similar to Nietzsches ‘amor fati’).
If you read my blog you know that I would argue that there is a fourth way. Meaning can be found in the realization that all is ‘One’ (and the same). This insight is the gateway to the preciousness of ‘this’ moment as it is. We realize that this moment is the culmination and purpose of our lives, because life lives simply for its own sake and for no other particular reason than to rejoice in itself. In this intimacy with life as it ‘is’ a sense of mystery and gratefulness brings a natural joy of being alive. In it, the very drive to seek meaning becomes irrelevant and collapses.
Having said that, let’s backtrack a bit. So, are we accidents in paradise? I would say paradise is evolving. As a species we seem to be moving along the hierarchy of needs. Since we have managed to create civilizations of peace and material abundance, we suddenly find ourselves confronted with an innate need for self-actualization and, ultimately, self-transcendence.
But what exactly is this ‘self’ that we are in need to transcend to find meaning? I see the egoic self as arising out of the reptilian parts of our brains and minds. Our ego/ self is a bundle of reactive patterns which serve the purpose to keep our organism alive. It is fueled by fear which, ultimately, leaves us in an unsatisfactory state of existential dis-ease. Because of that, we can’t ‘get no satisfaction’. We can never rest in ordinariness. We are always pushed and pulled to crave security and assurance at any cost and at any time. As long as there is fear, there is an ego/ self and there will always be a next thing to improve, control, change, get etc.
In our times of prosperity and peace, though, the services of the ego/ self are no longer of much use. It has become an impediment to our well-being because it can’t address the higher ranking human needs. It is not to blame, though, it simply wasn’t set up for this task. It indeed served its evolutionary purpose very well. After all, we are still here after all those millennia of human history, which is quite amazing if we think about it. But its about time now to go beyond our ego’s/ selves to bring some real satisfaction and fulfillment into our lives. How? By cultivating ego/ self-transcending activities and attitudes or by realizing that the fears of the ego/ self are completely unfounded since all is ‘One’. Therein lie the answers to all our nagging questions about the meaning of life.
May you understand and be free.
“To practice the Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.”
~Zen Master Dogen
In this post I would like to share with you a list of 7 short and succinct masterpieces of non-dual philosophy. While each of these texts takes less than 20 minutes to read, they can take up to a lifetime to understand. Hence, they are true classics, good in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end of a spiritual ‘journey’. Enjoy!
Sri Atmananda (Krishna Menon)
Faith in Heart-Mind
10 Ox-Herding Pictures
What short, classic texts would you have selected?
Before you read on, close your eyes quickly and ask yourself: what is the most important thing in life?
I bet you did not come up with specific acquisitions or achievements but with something emotional, something related to the quality of your experience, like to love, to live your dreams, to be of service to others, etc. What this little thought-experiment shows is that what we all seem to be striving for in life is not to accumulate ‘things’ or ‘success stories’ but experiences of life. Or in short: the most important thing in life is to be truly alive.
To truly live does not sound to be too hard a thing to accomplish, doesn’t it? The great Oscar Wilde would have disagreed, though, stating that “to live is the rarest thing in the world – most people exist, that is all.” Why is it, then, that although we are striving for more ‘life’ in our lives most of us seem to fail quiet miserably at it and end up merely ‘existing’?
The quest for the elixir of (more) ‘life’ is a recurring mythological theme. In the Grail legend, for example, there is the fisher king who reigns over a kingdom that has degenerated into an infertile wasteland ever since he had gotten a mysterious injury for which there was no cure. Only the legendary Grail was said to be able to heal the king’s wound and thereby restore the kingdom to its splendor of the old days. While the wound in this myth symbolizes the king’s impaired capacity to fully experience life (his kingdom!) in all its greatness, the Grail is that which can bring back the juice into a lifeless existence.
So, what is the ‘holy’ Grail? Where can it be found? In the Grail legend, the knights of the kingdom in demise who are called to find it, all set out in different directions. That is to say, the Grail can be found in many places. If you read my last post about the different ‘Way’s of the Bodhisattva’ you know that I posited that the Grail, whose healing powers are none other than those of the ‘Now’, is present in any self-referencing and self-sufficient activity or symbol since either possesses the capacity to -at least temporarily- cut through the subject/ object duality which otherwise covers the ‘Now’ in a thick cloud of fear and desire.
What the Grail legend with all the ordeals the knights have to go through is also telling us is that to live, to be truly alive, we first need to make sure we are facing our experiences. Although that sounds rather straightforward and easy enough, it actually isn’t. Because non-disalignment with our experience means that we not only ‘flow’ along with ‘pleasurable’ experiences but also with the ‘unpleasurable’ ones. It means saying ‘yes’ to everything. If we repress or hide from ‘unpleasant’ experiences, we become emotionally and experientially numb. Just like in the story of the fisher king, any inability to properly attend to our emotional pain slowly grows into a disability turning our worlds, our kingdoms, into dry wastelands ruled by hidden dragons in our unconscious. The famous motivational speaker Jim Rohn was spot on when he said that “the walls we build around us to keep the sadness out also keep out the joy”.
While the ‘artistic’ knight may use his or her artistic craft to deal with and release emotional pain, the ‘spiritual’ knight, lacking such a craft, heals his- or her psyche by surrendering to and, thereby, accepting all experiences unconditionally. (S)he does so by cultivating non-judgemental awareness to all that ‘is’. This cultivation, sometimes called ‘meditation’, reaches its climax when (s)he identifies with the indiscriminating, unconditionally loving awareness itself or, alternatively, when (s)he has realized that all that ‘is’, even the ‘unpleasant’ experiences are non other than the fundamental reality (emptiness) manifest as relative reality (form).
Surrendering is the process of purification (or purgatory) any ‘spiritual’ knight has to pass through to be eligible for the final, grand at-one-ment. The deeper (s)he dares to surrender, the more deeply buried, repressed emotional pain and trauma is released from the darkness of the unconscious to be subsequently burnt in the light of consciousness. As the difficult ‘healing’ process in this ‘dark night of the soul’ progresses, resistance to the phenomenal world starts to fade, calming the ‘spiritual’ knight’s mind and gradually tearing down the imaginary walls that create the sense of an isolated ‘self’. As a result, the whereabouts of the Grail become more and more intuitively known.
No matter how much the ‘spiritual’ knight surrenders, though, the notion of subject-object will still hold, and as long as this is the case, thought-waves of separation will have a recipient, a shore to crash upon. The ‘spiritual’ knight who wants to get hold of the Grail once and for all and, thereby, become a sage, thus, needs to go one final step further: the notion of a subject surrendering to an object has to let go of. (S)he needs to realize his- or herself to be inseparable of all that ‘is’, of this ‘One’ which encompasses both, ocean and waves, emptiness and form, of ‘That’ which is no-thing because it is every-thing. In this realization the ‘self’, finally known to be illusory, a mirage, ‘dies’ to be resurrected into the ‘spirit’. Henceforth, thought-waves ridden by fear and desire originating from the trance of separation between the individual and its environment, simply fade out in the vastness of the ocean unclaimed. Surrendering then becomes an impossibility, as it is known that there is no-body to surrender to any-thing since there is no-thing apart from every-thing (which of course, and quiet paradoxically, is the most complete form of surrender). In the discovery of the ‘un-reality’ of the self, the ‘holy’ Grail naturally reveals itself as having never been lost, yielding its boon to the ‘spiritual’ knight of being able to peacefully rest in the abundance of the eternal ‘Now’.
“What we are really living for is the experience of life, both the pain and the pleasure.”