We can say that there is ‘not awake’ and ‘awake’. Like waking from sleep, we are sleeping or we’re awake. But we can notice that there can be gradations in the waking process. A point where we’re groggy, perhaps where we don’t know who we are, or perhaps the winding down of a dream, and so forth. In a similar way, the shift into spiritual awakening has common stages that some people will experience.
Some will go straight from being ego-identified to being clearly awake. But many will step through some intermediate stages in the process.
Here are common steps that come to mind.
1 – Concepts – some people study deeply and develop a mature understanding of this process. But as long as it remains conceptual it is just mind and has no reality. As well, such expertise can become a barrier. Partly because our concepts of it are never it. (the map is not the territory) And partly because it can culture a conceptual arrogance or certainty, even though our concepts will never meet our direct experience. Liberation is not something we gain through the mind or by the mind. Concepts characteristically offers no freedom. It is however a form of devotion to and focus on spiritual knowledge. And it is potentially an intellectual illumination. But nothing more.
A related conceptual issue here is people using spiritual concepts to avoid life problems or traumas. This is also called spiritual bypassing. A big one is “world is illusion“. While this is a real experience of a deep witness, building a belief system based on a concept of this can be a deep form of disassociative denial. That does not support life or a spiritual journey. Spirituality is about forgiveness and accepting what is. Denial keeps us locked in illusion.
2 – Tastes – all of us have had some experience of being expanded or awed, of profound love or happiness for no reason. Sometimes, it can be a life-changing experience that begins or increases a spiritual seeking. And sometimes, little mental impression is made and they are easily forgotten.
3 – Witness – the sense of being a detached observer of our life can arise then pass or arise occasionally. Some inquiry techniques try to culture this. It might be called Self Consciousness as the Self becomes known but not yet fully. (this can indicate the kundalini has been rising above the throat, consciously or not)
4 – Makara – when the kundalini reaches makara, above the third eye, the witness becomes stable and ongoing. The kundalini stays up. Reaching makara may be experienced as a brilliant, all-absorbing, flash of white light. One that stays lit thereafter.
5 – 3rd eye awakening – some people may begin to have celestial and inner perception prior to awakening. This can be a distraction from awakening itself but opens vast vistas previously unknown and undreamed of.
6 – Actual awakening – when we shift identification from the ego or me-sense to the cosmic Self (or no-self). This is Cosmic Consciousness or Self Realization. This is not an experience but a shift in being. It is also not something we do but rather allow. This never matches our concepts of the mind. It’s also often a surprise in timing, simplicity, and normalcy. Everything changes but nothing does.
As the distance from makara to awakening in the crown is short, many gain the witness, makara and waking one after the other or all together. But I know a few who gained makara but didn’t awaken for many years. All were young and still growing at the time.
I’ve noticed 5 typical ways the awakening shift is experienced subjectively. All of these are the same thing, just seen uniquely due to differences in orientation, understanding, culture, and practices. If someone awake is nearby, they will also experience the awakening as it is the same Self waking.
1- a sense of ego death or ending, becoming cosmic Self (actually just the end of ego identification)
2- a sense of ego death into no-self (the term depends on teaching or experience)
3- a sense of ego expansion into universal
4- devotional or related surrender of the ego, perhaps yoking to God
5- a quiet, gradual shift that clarifies over time
Of course, we could categorize the experiences other ways. The key thing is that we shift from being a me to being universal or boundless. The initial experience may have a focal point outside the body, but its an edgeless focus. A deep silence and bliss may or may not yet be present.
Awakening itself can come in gradations.
– the actual shift may be very clear or subtle, intense or mild.
– there can be a “honeymoon” followed by the minds attempts to dominate again, largely due to long habits. Mind can take 6 months to 10 years to finally let go according to Adyashanti. Thus, the waking can become overshadowed to some degree for awhile. Obviously, a clear awakening is ideal and effortless meditation does seem to help prepare for that.
– there can also be a simple, clear awakening with little clouds. Mostly just settling in.
The test is simply time. If it’s not stable and permanent, there is some processing to do. If it is, more will unfold.
Some do a lot of doubting, underestimating their progress. And some tend to overestimate, confusing experience with being. And some are a little too concerned with labels and the map.
It appears that clear, simple shifts are becoming more common over time, due to prior shifts paving the way. Recently, someone I know has gone through all stages clearly in a few months. They will undoubtedly still have some processing to do and certainly lots of learning. But their clarity means no falling back. This would have been profoundly rare not so long ago.
Mature awakening is sat chit ananda – absolute bliss consciousness. Typically, the freedom and peace comes first and the bliss a little later. No bliss means not fully established yet.
We could now say a person has graduated from the kindergarten of enlightenment. The higher stages are yet to come.