I have seen over and over how important right understanding is. Much as we may have cultured our physiology with meditation and other spiritual practices, our beliefs about what awakening or enlightenment is will be a barrier to actually living it. For most westerners, the “last stress” to awakening is our expectations of it. There are thousands of people who are ripe for awakening, hindered only by this one thing.
I’ve noted that to actually switch or awaken after all that preparation is much aided by 2 things:
1) Right understanding
2) A living example (darshan) we can emulate or resonate with.
The first clears our personal barriers above, the second helps us step through the gate-less gate, something outside our entire history of experience. Both can be supported by a skilled teacher able to speak from the silence. When you’re listening in a group but the teacher seems to be speaking directly to you, this is why. It is Self in you hearing Itself.
Some teachers approach understanding by mostly avoiding concepts, asking you to put them aside. They focus on the “subtle” shift in attention needed to awaken. Gangaji is one such teacher I’ve enjoyed hearing. In her interview on Batgap, she clearly touches on the 3 stages in her own unfolding but doesn’t name them. She may not even have words for it.
For some, this is all they need. But many of us have strong enough minds to need some more complete understanding. You wouldn’t be on this blog otherwise. (laughs) Without that, our mind will naturally be seeking ways to fill in the gaps. We usually don’t even notice it doing this but the result is a set of beliefs about what we need to be or do in order to awaken. Usually it contains some ideas like ‘perfect’, ‘infallible’, ‘later’, ‘difficult’ and other nonsense we’ve applied. Enlightenment is awesome beyond conception but it is also normal; for ordinary people rather than some future ideal. Flawed ideas don’t serve us well in either the approach or after the shift.
I’ve quite enjoyed Adyashanti’s books as he takes a more middle ground, touching lightly on the stages and making the process much more real and relatable rather than presenting some high, impossible ideal.
I sit at the other end of this spectrum with a history of a profound drive to understand. I’ve studied some of the worlds oldest traditions and have found myself sitting in unexpected circumstances with some remarkable beings. My approach is to lay out and explore the underlying process and the variations in which it might be experienced. I like a good map of the journey. But it always comes with the caveat that the map is not the journey. It will never be what we expect it to be. Thus, to paraphrase Ruiz, don’t believe it, but listen.
As we progress through the process of higher stages, we’ll become very familiar with dropping our ideas to let it unfold. This is surrender on a mental level. It happens for people like me with any significant opening and at every major stage. Then, with the direct experience, we can understand the teachings in a new light. We have a sense of the path and we have language and verification after the fact. We can help others on their journey.
Our ideas of it can also be impediments after the fact. If you come from a tradition that defines awakening as emptiness or no-self, for example, you may have barriers to the experience of cosmic Self and fullness. The same is true at every stage of the journey. If you have the idea that Atman is the ultimate Self, you may struggle a little when you leave it behind. I discovered a couple of my own conceptual barriers again recently. Correcting them made a remarkable difference.
If Self decides to wake up to itself, perhaps even in spite of our history, concepts will not be a barrier but they may make settling into it more difficult.
It’s also good to be reminded that knowledge is different in different stages of development. We don’t see the world the same way at age 8 as we do as adults. Similarly, each stage has its own perspective and understanding. What is true for one stage may be false for another. Thus each stage requires some adaptation and re-jigging. For this reason, what had been developed in a prior stage must be released. But it is not lost. Rather, it rises again in the new context, in a fuller and richer way. Understanding this also helps us get where a teacher is speaking from. Supposedly contradictory statements are more likely addressing different stages.
Be easy. Have fun. Tread lightly. 😉