There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.
— Anaïs Nin
In this essay I want to describe as simply and clearly as I can my understanding of what spiritual awakening is, how it can be sustained, and what role meditation plays in the entire process.
Let’s start with where we find ourselves. We have all been conditioned to keep our awareness focused on a narrow part of our experience. From that limited perception we are taught to draw conclusions about ourselves and the world around us.
The bottom-line conclusion that we are taught is that we are a separate individual who is limited by the five senses of our physical body, and the power of our conscious mind. We learn that we were born on our birthday and will live only the span of this one lifetime. From the very beginning of our life we are conditioned to interpret all of our experience through these assumptions of a separate existence, and so by the time we are an adult that is what we experience all the time.
There are people who, either through practice or simply by chance, experience spiritual awakening. That means that for some amount of time their awareness is liberated from the constraints of conditioning and they experience the incomprehensible vastness of reality. In these moments of awakening we see that our attention has been riveted to ideas about a self that does not exist. At the same time we see that we are so much more than that. There is no line that separates us from the immensity of reality. There is no gap between us and anything. We are All and All is One.
That fully illuminated view of reality becomes a permanent attainment for the very rare saint, but for the rest of us, it is an experience that comes and goes. It explodes inside us for a time, lifting us to immeasurable heights, and then passes away, until we gently settle back down again into the habitual ground of our previous awareness.
For most of us, our moments of awakened consciousness do not become permanent states, but they don’t have to. There are other ways that we can learn to sustain the awakening we’ve had. It is possible, through practice and perseverance, to gradually move into greater clarity through the hazy sunshine of an illuminated mind.
A strong and deep practice of meditation can catalyze spiritual breakthrough, but that is the least of it’s gifts. The far greater gift that meditation offers is the gradual retraining of our senses so they learn to remain open to the vast expanses of reality that always lies beyond the mind.
When you meditate, at least the way I teach it, you learn how to relax all effort. You just sit and resist the temptation to do anything, and let your experience unfold however it will. You don’t do anything and what you discover is that nothing changes. Everything that was there before is still there. Everything you thought you were doing is still happening. All of the reactions you’ve always had to whatever’s happening are still there. Nothing changes except the idea that you are doing any of it.
When you see that everything is still happening even though you are not doing anything, you realize that you were never doing any of it. You were always just watching it all happen, but you had been trained to assume it was you doing it all. You are not the doer doing things, you are the awareness that is aware of all the things that are already happening.
You don’t meditate just to have this experience once or twice. You meditate so that you can learn to rest in this experience. Over time, you will be able to simply sit in perfect peace and relaxation aware of whatever is happening without reacting to, or identifying with any of it. You will rest peacefully in meditation without effort.
Initially you will find everything you see fascinating. The intricate workings of your mind and senses will reveal themselves. You will see exactly how the delicate and relentless dance of thought and feeling ceaselessly creates the illusion of your small self. You will see how that limited self is created by a string of experiences that are held together by an ongoing narrative about the person those experiences are assumed to belong to. It will become more and more clear that what you used to think of as you, is actually a set of experiences and a story that goes along with them.
Eventually, you will get bored with all of it. It doesn’t change that much. The story has about a dozen plot lines that repeat through all of the circumstances of your life. After a while paying attention to them is as boring as watching old reruns on television that you’ve seen too many times already.
At this point something interesting begins to happen. Around the edges of all of the familiar patterns of your mind you begin to see a hazy light shining through from beyond. It’s as if you are seeing some distant sunrise through leaves and branches of trees.
That light is the light of divinity. It is the light shining through from a higher mind. And everything looks different in that light. The light of divinity touches everything and makes it miraculous and sacred.
As you sit and learn to relax your reactivity and any effort at all, your inner vision will begin to open up. You will start to see possibilities in the hazy distance of inner space that you could not have conceived of before. Tremendous powers of intuition and insight will become activated.
As you rest for longer and longer periods of time the hazy light of divinity will become more distinct. The possibilities that were distant and fuzzy become clear. A new universe of possibility opens up to you. The normal world starts to feel more like a dream. You feel free from the familiar and your consciousness expands effortlessly into more and more of reality.
This is the start of a completely new spiritual adventure and a new human life – a life dedicated to ongoing awakening and the release of all the creative potential found there. Meditation starts as a way to disengage from the world. It ends up being the means to access the higher creative potentials that exist in the deep recesses of inner space.