A Shift – And Then the Search Is Over

A friend asked what is meant by “spiritual awakening.” I thought, good lord, that’s like trying to explain the taste of ice cream – or why the Beatles meant so much once. I decided to see if anyone had a decent description I could borrow. I researched a whole host of descriptions of mystical experiences: Kundalini awakening, psychic break, deep meditation, LSD, psilocybin, sweat lodges, the effects of following a guru. While I found exciting tales of dips into the mystic and powerful revelations, none described what I was seeking to answer my friend’s question.

Then I found a site that just nailed it. It was Bonnie Greenwell, Ph.D.’s site, awakeningguide.com.

Her description is simple, eloquent, and blessedly void of drama: “The experience of waking up is different than mystical events, and in fact has often been said to be no experience. It is a ground-level shift that occurs right now, right here, and whether it lasts a minute or a lifetime, the Truth of who you are is known,” says Greenwell.

She continues with her clear description of a spiritual shift: “Waking up is what happens in response to the question ‘Who is having these experiences?’ and searching neither thought nor emotion to find an answer. It is not the process of having an experience, however ecstatic and profoundly mystical it may be,” says Greenwell. “It is the understanding of that which has an experience, or that which lives through us and is eternally present through all time and experience. To wake up we have to give up the idea that we are a personal identity who is seeking experiences, and begin to wonder what is really true underneath and behind all experiences that humans live.”

She also well describes the absence of effort involved in awakening: “When there is no longer any struggle, because all that is left of the little ‘me’ is a slight memory and flavor, and perhaps a few insignificant preferences that can easily be put aside, the spiritual journey is over.”

Thanks you, Dr. Greenwell.


How Long Have I Been Here?

The answer to that depends on what we mean by “I.” During a good portion of my day, I’m very aware of “me,” the human being who was born a few decades ago, who had particular childhood and adult experiences. A good deal of the time, those experiences seem very personal and overwhelmingly real. “Of course they’re real,” I think.

But there are times when I’m not looking out through the eyes of “me.” There are times when the notion of “me” seems to have little charge. I’m surprised sometimes at how easy it would be to let go of it, to let it fall back into the energy of unrealized potential – or whatever energy goo our lives fall back into when they are behind us altogether.

When I was a teenager and later a young adult, I fealt threatened by the notion of having my life wash out like a rain drop into the ocean. I feared that would be obliteration – the death that some see as simply the lights going out.

Now, when I consider the idea of my life washing out into the ocean, it seems a blessed relief. The personal “me” is useful. It’s a tool. The experiences in our lives – in any one of our lives – are rich and colorful. But less and less do I see them as personal. My life is all our lives. I don’t own it, I don’t hold it, I simply use it.

Some say the “me” doesn’t exist, that it’s an illusion. Oh, it exists all right, but you don’t have to identify it as who you are. Who I am has moved on, or has always been beyond. I’m not sure. But I know the lights can’t go out on the who I experience now.

When We Awake We Will Remember Everything

The lyric, “When we awake we will remember everything,” comes from the chorus of “When we awake” by Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson of the Band. The song is about a boy going to his grandfather for wisdom. The song doesn’t explain exactly what the line means, but it has remained in my head for decades.

That thought, “When we awake we will remember everything,” seemed true to me on some level I didn’t understand when I heard it as a teenager. The idea has haunted me through the years in a very encouraging and hopeful way. In the very core of my presence here, I believed it.

While reading spiritual texts – anything from the Upanishads and the Way of Life to Eckhart Tolle and A Course in Miracles – I’ve experienced a remembering rather than learning. I get an overwhelming feeling of recollection when reading spiritual texts.

Over the years, I’ve come to believe we already know who we are. We already know our oneness with each other, so the process of spiritual learning, of coming to consciousness and being part of spirit, is a process of recollecting. Our spirituality is a path of coming home.

When we awake, we will remember everything. We will remember who we belong to. We will understand that we have never been alone. Even in the depths of seeming isolation, we are one with spirit and always have been. When we awake, we will remember everything.

We All Shine On

“Why in the world are we here? Surely not to live in pain and fear.” These are lyrics from John Lennon’s song, “Instant Karma.”

Lennon used intuitive powers to reach this metaphysical point. He knew about pain and fear and knew those emotions couldn’t possibly be the point of life. In the chorus of the song he repeats, “We all shine on.”

When you strip away the pain and the fear, we do all shine on.

In Ana Karenina, Leo Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” He was right. Our pain and fear differentiates us. We’ve all heard someone say, “You don’t understand what I’ve been through.” They’re talking about their pain and fear. We never hear anyone say, “You just don’t understand how happy I am.”

We identify with our pain and our fear. We are not as quick to identify with our happiness or peace. We tend to see those as temporal.

When you strip away all our ego identification, our roles, our childhood pain, our adult trails, the addictions and compulsions, the obsessions and betrayals, when you take all of that away, there is something that remains that’s powerful, something that remains that we share alike. We all shine on.

It’s the presence. In the presence we are one. Our truest self lies beyond the particulars of our lives, beyond our likes and dislikes, beyond our promises and failures, beyond the short-lived triumphs, beyond illness, beyond our pain and fear. While our truest self may sometimes seem far beyond our reach, it’s actually right here. It’s here in the now.

When we strip away those things that are not our truest self, the pain and fear, we release our suffering.

What’s left when we let go of our pain and fear? The here and now, the happiness and peace, the love and acceptance.

To be here now is to demonstrate the awareness that is the same in all of us. All that’s left when we take away the pain and the fear is love and acceptance. In that we’re all the same, in that we all shine on.

You Are a River

The most profound question we ask in this life is: who am I? The answer to that question will influence many of your decisions, including how you live your life.

Most of us believe we’re not a thing. We’re not just flesh responding to stimuli. However, some of us believe we are psychological beings who are responding to stimuli.

Many of us believe we are a conglomeration of our roles: a child, a parent, a business owner, a teacher, a sibling. How we perform these roles helps determine who we are: I am a good child, a caring parent, and so forth. This can be played out negatively as well: I am addicted, I am dishonest.

Ultimately, the role-based view of ourselves is unsatisfying – not as unsatisfying as believing we’re just a thing, but unsatisfying nonetheless. Many solve this problem by associating with a belief system: I am a practicing Catholic. I am Mormon, Buddhist, or simply I am spiritual.

I have seen friends reach a state of honest bafflement with the question. “I don’t know who I am,” is an amazing and refreshing statement. It acknowledges that roles and religious affiliation are not sufficient to explain who we are.

I think we’re a river.

The river is not the water that it contains. That water passes or evaporates. At some point the water is no longer a river.

The river is not the river bed or the banks. The bed and the banks are simply the scar the river makes on the earth as it passes.

The river is not its behavior. Some rivers are rough, some are calm, and some are frozen much of the time. Most rivers change their behavior by seasons or by weather.

The river is not its water, the river is not its bed or banks, the river is not even its behavior. Yet there is still something we all recognize as a river. We even name our rivers. We recognize there is something there, even if we can’t say what it is.

I think we’re a river.

The river simply is, just as I simply am.

The Lunatic Is in My Head

“There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”

This line is from the song “Brain Damage,” by Roger Waters. The song appears on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, released in 1973. In the song, a lunatic is approaching. First it’s on the grass, then in the hall, and finally, “The lunatic is in my head.”

Waters tells the story of seeing a “keep of the grass” sign on a beautiful patch of lawn, a place that was welcoming. He thought that was crazy.

The powerful song sends a simple message. Given time, and given the lack of a creative or spiritual force in your life, the messages and pressures of the world will grow near and ultimately become who you are. What seems crazy in this world is at first on the outside. We see it as teenagers and swear we will not become part of the craziness. Yet, unless we know how to outmaneuver it, the insanity moves to the inside. Few of us are given any instruction in how to outmaneuver the madness.

When I first heard the song as a young man, I felt it as a potent warning . I was at the stage where the lunatic had moved from the grass and into my hall. I felt very much in danger of losing the battle of the self to world. There is a passage in the children’s novel, A Wrinkle in Time, where a character faces a similar battle. Charles must maintain his identity in the face of life-threatening darkness.

In spite of my noble attempt to stay sane in this world, the lunatic did eventually enter my head and I succumbed to the darkness. For many years, there was someone in my head and it certainly wasn’t me. The world, of course, saw it as sanity. I tried to see it as sanity. I thought I had finally come around. But it was not sanity, and I suffered for succumbing to the world’s madness.

During the time when I was young and I felt so threatened by the world, there was something very important I didn’t understand. The light may go out in your head, but it hasn’t gone out in reality. The light surrounds us, and our failure to perceive it does not diminish its power.

Willingness was all I needed to step back into the light. The lunatic is still in my head. It comes with our DNA, it’s in the drinking water of our culture, and it gets passed from generation to generation like a virus. But now I’m aware that the lunatic is the lunatic and it’s not me. Likewise, it doesn’t have to make my decisions.

Yes, there’s someone in my head and it’s not me. That “someone” does a lot of thinking. It’s a whole committee. But I don’t have to believe the thoughts that rattle in my brain. There is also light in my head, and I can trust that light. The light doesn’t make me suffer, and it can actually untangle the darkness of the thinking brain.

What Spiritual Journey?

When did your spiritual journey begin? Maybe at the beginning of time. Maybe it’s not a journey at all.

Our spiritual unfolding can feel like a journey. We may sense development or progress. We may be able to identify milestones, breakthroughs, shifts in consciousness, moments of awakening. These are not illusions. They are real. But there is no journey, and you don’t move from one place to another.

You have always been whole. You have always been connected. Any thoughts or feelings that are otherwise are illusions. If there’s a journey, it’s a journey of undoing illusions.

When I was a young child, I experienced life as whole. Every day was one day. There were milestones, but they weren’t milestones of self or consciousness. My self was intact and connected. One day, I didn’t need a crib. On another day, I could turn on the TV by myself.

But I wasn’t different. I was the same. And every day was like one continuous day.

Things changed abruptly when I went to school. Teachers identified me as a me. It was very surprising. I had a difficult time understanding what they saw. Mostly they saw things they thought needed improving. Some things they praised. I didn’t know what to make of it either way.

Soon enough I noticed my parents were in collusion with my teachers. So were aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, strangers in the stores and parks. I quickly realized I had to identify with whatever “self” they were all seeing and try to bring that self into acceptance. In confusion, I desperately tried to create a self – a self to hide behind. That self was mostly created by everything around me. I worked hard to fit into it, but I wasn’t great at the process. And there was no escaping the work to create a self that was acceptable.

Deep down I knew that everyone was wrong about who I was. I knew I was connected to something more, something vast, something larger than our neighborhood. But I was outnumbered.

During summers I could let much of my budding ego go as I ran free in fields and woods, seeking tadpoles, snakes, and caterpillars. For years, I was partly successful. This ended completely with the onset of puberty.

It can take decades to remember who you are. It can take lifetimes.

Imagine the relief I felt as I discovered that my five-year-old being was real after all. It wasn’t a journey to get there; it wasn’t even a returning. It was simply an awareness of the truth, a sense of presence that was dearly familiar.

My true being never left. It was never diminished. I didn’t have to travel anywhere to align myself once again with a true self – the self that isn’t a self. I had to nearly die, but I didn’t have to go on a journey.

Living the Ego Blues

Each day, in our own way, we choose either the spirit world or the ego world. Over and over each day, we make the choice. Knowing the difference between the two, the choice should be easy. Just as easy as it is for an alcoholic choosing not to take that next drink.

Here are the choices:

In the ego world, you rarely have a truly good day – that is, unless you have a really, really good day. We know what follows that.

In the ego world, one taste is never enough.

We’re always struggling to get things right in the ego world.

In the ego world, every opportunity is matched with a downside.

In the ego world, we all say, “Come on, let’s get real.”

Everything is addictive in the ego world, even pain.

In the ego world, you can stay up all night trying to straighten out a relationship, trying to figure it out. You can’t figure it out in the ego world.

Winning, while exciting at first, eventually fade to gray.

In the ego world, we earn our resentments and hold on to them dearly.

I am never wrong in the ego world. If I did something wrong, I had my reasons.

In the ego world, nobody really understands, and betrayal is just a matter of time.

Luck is critical in the ego world, and luck is cruel.

In the ego world, there’s always a bad moon rising.

We are all trying to find our way home in the ego world.

It’s all searching but not finding in the ego world.

Good feelings don’t last, love doesn’t last, and mothers and daughters don’t get along.

God is far, far away.

In the ego world, I need a drink. But a little coke would be better. Then a drink.

There are no truths inside the ego world.

In the ego world you have to learn to protect yourself. From everything.

In the ego world, we all die.

In the spirit world, we are home. We are one with spirit; we are one with each other. We always have been, and we always will be. I can see you in the spirit world, and you are beautiful.

Watching Love Watching Back

So, who am I? Such a huge question. Who am I and why am I here? When I was a teenager and later as a young adult, these questions were critically important. They meant everything.

Later life, I became surprised by the lightness of the questions. The intensity is completely gone.

These questions were so  mysterious once. Who am I? Why am I here? They were colossal. Existential chaos lived in the unknowing of these weighty considerations. They were the only questions that mattered.

Yet they no longer hold any mystery for me. The answer to these questions are as simple as breathing. I am spirit looking out through the eyes of a human being. While the answer may seem pat, it is true. I have always been with spirit. I always will be. And I am here because love is present.

When I was young, the questions swirled in a dizzy wind of change; change surrounded me every day. Now, the answer to the questions is unchanging. And though the world still seems to change, I know that’s an illusion. Only its appearance changes. The spirit within does not change. That is my truest self.

I have a worldly self – some call it the ego, some call it the false self. It walks and talks and has a personality. It grew up in this world. I remember a moment when I was young – about eight years old – when the idea of who I was moved to the earthly self. At the time, the shift was overwhelming. That feeling of overwhelm happened a number of times over a period of a few weeks. I would suddenly realize I was actually a human being.

That thought – that I’m a real person – was so surprising, so startling, that I would run inside from play, plop myself on my bed and just spin around with this new idea. This extraordinary feeling was physical. My bed seemed to fly around the room. I would think the thought over and over – I am real. It was tantalizing, frightening, and thrilling. It was a new and powerful thought – that I was a person, a distinct human being, and that I was real.

From there I began the dusty trek through the world. My ridiculously dear self had to go through the rough thickets of life – falling short, knowing that my tender core was hopelessly incomplete, raw, and vulnerable. And of course I was drawn to those very souls who could effortlessly penetrate even my strongest defenses. And since hurt people hurt people, I attacked back.

Through all the years, I would get the taste of something greater in life, whether it was young love or early spiritual strivings that made me believe I could walk into heaven intact. Young love was followed by a more mature love where we would negotiate a truce – a pact between two able warriors. But the pressure of the world is unrelenting, and it was only a matter of time before we would take up the emotional weapons – reluctantly, out of necessity, but brutally – and use them on each other.

All the time, my true self was brimming with love but hidden from me, far out of reach. In the world of my true self, no balm was needed for my wounds, nor even for the wounds I had scored against others in my frustration and confusion. For all is healed in the presence in the true self, the Krishna, the Christ within. My true self waited for me in the place where nothing changes, where nothing is real but love. Some call it heaven. It’s the place we came from, where we were born, where all road eventually lead.

What a way to see the world, from the eye of the truest self. The world is gorgeous in spite of its fiery delusions, and it is even more beautiful when we come to see the help we may bring to this rough and eager place we once called home, knowing that our Christ-self looks upon it all and sees nothing but love and offers nothing but healing. In this earthly world, with each person we meet, we can see the Christ within – even if just an ember glowing – and see that this person before us, struggling so hard with life, is actually at home with spirit all the while, watching love watching back.