Recently I was on a retreat in which someone had an eventful Awakening, not unlike their personality. A subject came up in later discussions I thought it useful to go over here – the three aspects of an awakening. Unpacking them is important in understanding both your own shift and the descriptions of others.
By Awakening here, I’m referring to Cosmic Consciousness or Self Realization, the shift from being a personal me to being the cosmic Self. This is not yet Enlightenment but is the ground floor of it.
An Awakening has 3 aspects. They are the flash, the purification, and the actual awakening. The flash may not be present but a purification generally is. Awakening itself is not an experience – it is a shift in being. The other 2 aspects can produce experiences though. These may overshadow or be confused with the shift itself. Also, the experiential aspects are more easily described and thus may dominate any description.
But experience is not being. No experience is an awakening. If you focus on the experiential aspects, you can misunderstand what the actual awakening is and how it deepens.
1 – Flash – these are general experiences that may accompany the shift such as brilliant light, a sense of oneness with all, subtle perceptions, and other sensory artifacts. These may be triggered by opening, energy changes, or simple activity in the physiology. They can be quite beautiful but they are still just passing experiences.
Describing them as flash may be overstating it, but occasionally they can be flashy. It’s not a problem if they arise or if they don’t. The important part is simply to recognize these are passing experiences as a result of the transition. They are not the transition itself – just effects of it.
Similarly, profound experiences can change our sense of the world but by themselves, they are not an awakening in this context. If we get attached to an old experience and seek to regain it, we are investing in a memory of the past and getting stuck there.
Like all experiences, we allow them to arise and we allow them to pass. It is the ego’s desire for control that causes us to grasp at experiences.
2 – Purification – it is common for major shifts to be preceded or accompanied by an opening and some release. This may be experienced in the mind, in the emotions, and/or in the body. Laughter or tears may come – or both. We allow it all to arise and depart. Such shifts are what allow the awakening to unfold, be integrated and sustained. They bring clarity and relief. But they are not in themselves anything but release. Again, they are side effects of the process.
As with flash above, these are a passing thing. If any discomfort arises, we don’t want to engage it or resist it, just let it go. Obviously, purification and flash are closely related and may be intertwined. Flash may be triggered by release and release by flash.
If someone awakens with others already awake, there can be a shared release.
3 – Awakening – the opening itself is a momentary surrender or letting go that leads to a recognition and shift in who we know ourselves to be. The ego sense of “me” is seen through and the cosmic, boundless silence within is recognized as the true Self. Self wakes up to Itself through an apparent form. There are a variety of ways this might by recognized and described.
Joy and relief and astonishment are common. And the surprise of it being so simple. Again, these are experiential side effects.
This distinction from experience is critical. As an extreme example of someone forgetting the basics, I know someone who discovered that he had better experiences when fasting. After decades of spiritual practice, they ended up starving to death in the pursuit of experiences. They forgot that experiences are not being. Enlightenment is meant to be lived in the world, not lost in illusion.
Less extremely, I know several people who remain enamoured of decades old experiences, identified with the idea of getting those experiences back. They fail to recognize they’re holding on to only a memory of an old experience, like a sad lost love song. No matter how juicy, that is not awakening. I also know people who are pursing drug-induced experiences, calling it spiritual but polluting their energy and largely chasing a dead end.
Again – Enlightenment is NOT found in experiences. EVER. It arises beyond all experiences. Even if experiences may seem to accompany the shift for some people, they are side effects. They are not it.
Chasing experiences is just chasing the ever-changing. Just a slightly subtler version of chasing ownership or control. Experiences are not the source of happiness or peace, much as it may seem otherwise at times. These things come from a deeper place beyond experience. They come from our very being, from the container of experiences itself. It is not something that is done but rather allowed.
Clarity is critical for a clear shift to take place. Some have a quieter shift that is recognized but not with the same certainty. The mind’s doubts can then obscure again. Such people need more patience and support until it is clear. Adyashanti calls this a non-abiding shift. But even a foggy shift is not an experience.
Be. And there you are.