The way I see it, spiritual awakening means having experienced the mysterious truth of who we are deeply enough to lose confidence in our common conception of self, and I see enlightenment as the measure of how much direct access we’re able to maintain to the truth of who we are.
The whole point behind our pursuit of awakening and enlightenment is that we have become deeply conditioned to only experience ourselves as separate isolated individual entities that are limited by the boundaries of our physical bodies and the edges of our conscious awareness.
I am not the kind of teacher who wants to say that our individuated self is unreal, or that our body is unreal, or that our consciousness is unreal. I simply want to say that as real as they may be, none of them is the limit to the infinite being that we are.
The way we’ve been trained to think is that we start out as a baby born in a body and then we gradually learn about who we are. We learn that we are a human person, that we have unique characteristics, that we have a history and will have a future, and eventually we will die and leave this body, or perhaps just end.
By the time we reach adulthood we are more or less completely convinced that we are the person who has our name, was born on our birthday, abides wholly within our body, and will die at some as yet undisclosed moment in the future.
The moment of awakening occurs when we realize through some experience or other, and it doesn’t matter which, that we are more than that.
Enlightenment means having, to some degree or other, ongoing, trans-experiential, direct access to the mysterious and inconceivable truth of who we are.
The experience of enlightenment is a barely visible ongoing sense that we extend infinitely beyond the edges of our perception. We live our life, engaging with ourselves and the world as they are seen through our minds and yet knowing the whole time that it is all just a tiny slice of a vast unimaginable wholeness.
How did we do it in the first place? How did an infinite being cram itself into such a tiny space as a single human life.
We do it by being taught to believe that we are a separate self and then developing a relentless habit of tracking that self constantly through time and space.
At the moment of birth the timeless and un-locate-able awareness that is the consciousness of reality gets focused into and through the perceptual apparatus of a newly born biological entity on the surface of planet Earth. This awareness is quickly engaged by other entities of the species that calls itself human.
The baby is brought into an unlearning process in which it soon forgets its Self. It is introduced to the idea that it just appeared out of nowhere. It soon forgets where it was before. It eventually disconnects from conscious awareness of its own source and becomes convinced that it began with the emergence of this body and is limited to this one single lifetime.
The process of enlightenment is a re-learning of who we truly are. We don’t re-learn ourselves by reading about who we are in books. That is just a way for the separate self to gain knowledge about another person’s experience of who they really are.
The re-learning process occurs through a profound effort of breaking the habits of locating ourselves in time and space. If we can stop tracking ourselves. If we can lose our sense of who we are as a separate being that exists in a specific location at a specific time then we naturally land in the truth of who we are.
It is possible through spiritual practice to stop insisting that we are only this or only that, that we are only here and not there, and that we exist only now and not then. If we have the courage to entirely stop keeping track of ourselves, if we are willing to lose our sense of self completely, we will make a shocking discovery.
We are everything, always, everywhere! That is the discovery of who we really are as an inseparable infinite and eternal wholeness. Making this shocking discovery for ourselves is the great opportunity of spiritual practice and the time we spend doing practice during longer retreats.
Awakening occurs when we glimpse the truth of who we are for long enough to rock our world and leave us divinely confused about who we are.
Enlightenment is the state of being unshakably convinced that we are an incomprehensible, infinite and eternal wholeness. As we become more and more convinced our connection to the truth of who we are will become unshakeable so that no matter how much the experience of separation may dominate the experience of any given moment somewhere in the mysterious depths of our being we always know who we are.