Awakening can be said to happen through the non-Self being “devoured” by Brahman or through the descent of the divine. It is not something we control or manage. Rather it comes as grace.
We can thus see that spiritual practices are not to create enlightenment. Rather, they are to prepare the ground so the process is as clear and smooth as possible. To use the analogy of farming, we clear the rocks and rubble from the field, sift and till the soil, and add water and fertilizer.
In other words: healing, refinement, sangha and study.
It’s quite interesting how different traditions frame this. Recently I was reading Halfway up the Mountain by Mariana Caplan. She wrote about creating a Matrix. This is defined as a foundation or energetic structure that is slowly built through sadhana (practice). And I would add simple life experience. This gives the platform to “contain higher spiritual energies and processes and to integrate those into his or her daily life.”
This is distinct from the “mesh” I’ve spoken about before that is built of temporal connections between unresolved energetic nodes. These are shed as we resolve our past and karma.
In a sense, the mesh is our history that sustains our limited experience of the world where our matrix is a deeper value that can sustain much higher perspectives.
If that matrix is not properly established and big experiences arise, Mariana outlines the issues that can arise.
1 – a “spiritual emergency” where some help is needed to bring things back down again.
2 – ego inflation where we misinterpret the experience in favour of self-importance or specialness.
3 – no transformation so no lasting benefit, simply some experience.
I would add the hazard of identification with the memory of the experience, leading to the idea this memory is what enlightenment is and thus wanting to get the same experience back. Yet it will always be something else.
You may feel lacking if you have had little in the way of special or flashy experiences. But they can be a serious distraction and lead to issues like the above. Not to mention confusion, distorted reality, and so forth. As the saying goes, the ones who run fast are the most likely to fall down.
Mariana mentions an old Zen saying that it’s not the quality of the enlightenment that makes the person but the quality of the person that makes the enlightenment. We are the vehicle through which it’s lived.
Returning to the prior list: healing, refinement, sangha and study.
Healing is largely taking out the trash and winding down unresolved experiences. This settles the internal noise and monkey mind and brings clarity. As we shift deeper within, we also become much more aware of mental habits that no longer serve.
Further, as we upgrade the internal energy quality, we upgrade our quality of life and the support we’re provided with.
Refinement is a natural process that comes with exposure to subtle levels of being, especially samadhi or pure consciousness. I’ve talked about the chemistry. It’s a polishing of the mirror of our ability to reflect the light of consciousness but also takes place on all levels.
It’s also like refining the basket weave of this container. Most of us have a fairly coarse weave so the finer values simply leak out and are invisible to us. As the finer polish happens, the weave tightens and we’re able to reflect these finer values and experience them.
I spoke of Study and Sangha here.
Build the foundation and the garden will flower beautifully, bringing rich fruit.