Fundamentally, consciousness is simply aware. Then it becomes self-aware and interacts with itself, causing the appearance of forms and phenomena to arise. This self-interacting dynamic is true both cosmically and locally. We can say consciousness is nested or in layers.
With a transcending practice like effortless meditation, we go beyond the mind and emotions, settling into simple awareness without content, pure consciousness. In its pure form, it is beyond time and space, infinite and eternal.
This is usually how people come to know consciousness itself – simply resting in their own nature.
And yet, often we only notice a pause in content, a blank spot. We go beyond the field of experience but consciousness is as yet a little too subtle to be recognized. Or we’ve had tastes but the fog in the physiology interferes with regular clear seeing. Perhaps we notice when thoughts resume or we get a wave of happiness as we pass up through the bliss body.
Because of variations in tradition and experience, pure consciousness is known by many names. It’s such a key part of self-discovery. Pure awareness, the witness, the observer, pure subjectivity, Atman, Self, pure existence or being, Isness, and so forth.
The state of resting in that is known as samadhi or turiya. Samadhi means evenness of intellect (from a settled mind). Turiya means the fourth, referring to it as a distinct state along with waking, dreaming, and sleeping.
This is also referred to as Yoga, the complete settling of the mind.
As we practice true Yoga, we integrate this inner settledness into our daily life and purify the physiology. This prepares the ground so that when Self sees itSelf here, we can sustain an awakening.
And that is the essence of what awakens. We as a person never become enlightened. Rather, Self becomes alert within and then it wakes up to itself through this body-mind. Put another way, jiva wakes up to itself as Atman (see below).
To understand the mechanics, let’s explore the parts. Each of these are aspects of the same wholeness but it illustrates the process.
1) Self-aware consciousness: this is aware of itself globally and at every point within itself. This is Atman, the cosmic Self.
2) When one of the points expresses it is Jiva, a specific perspective of that wholeness. Jiva expresses forward into an experiencer, built up in layers or koshas. However, jiva is stepping forward to experience the world. It forgets its wholeness or global nature as Atman. It is experiencing itself as this form.
3) The local intellect distinguishes self from other. In a new incarnation, the child works to distinguish itself from mother. This gives rise to a subtle concept of I. This is ahamkara, the I-sense or ego.
4) When the I-sense is not aware of its deeper nature, it becomes identified with the content of experience – this body, this mind, these emotions. This leads to the my-sense, asmita. My body, my mind, my possessions. We become possessed by the forms of our experience.
This is a natural process of becoming a young person. However, without a practice that connects us back to our deeper sense of Self within, the small self becomes entrenched and defended.
With a regular practice of transcending, we soften the bonds of a personal self and experience our deeper nature. Then, when the time is right for this soul, an opening happens. If there has been some preparation, the jiva recognizes itself as Atman, the cosmic Self. (There is some variation in the subjective experience.)
Update: Essentially, the silence within gets loud enough to recognize itself, washing away the attachment to a me.
That recognition breaks our identification with ahamkara, the ego. And it ends asmita, the my-sense. We recognize ourselves as pure Being or as a vast emptiness. It also roasts the mountains of karmic backlog associated with an identified ego.
The shift itself is a yes/no switch that takes just a moment. But it takes time to integrate that inner realization and change in self-sense. The other more dense layers take progressively more time to catch up.
However, there are variations that don’t result in a shift but may be confused with a true awakening. Because the mind is in play and trying to control the game, this step is the easiest to confuse. The ego is happy to co-opt an opening and aggrandize itself. If we develop a concept we’re awake when we’re not, that is a new identification that can be a barrier to actual awakening.
Some people have an opening or flashy experience but don’t actually make or sustain the shift. They become aware there is a Self and I am That. But they’ve not become it yet (fully recognized themselves as) and the ego remains identified. Ken Wilber describes having to constantly come back to it. If it’s established, that’s not required.
Similarly, there can be a shift to full-time witnessing. This means experiencing oneself as the observer of the body-mind rather than being them. This can be a symptom of awakening but can also be the jiva waking up to itself as distinct from the outward experience. It’s not woken up to itself as Atman yet. Again, the ego remains identified.
Another variation is awake presence. Presence can come alive in us but until it wakes up to itself, that’s not it yet. It remains subject to the mind and ego.
Or there can be a third eye opening that significantly changes how we see the world. But it doesn’t change who we are, just our perception.
Kundalini awakening is a process that supports awakening in the physiology. But kundalini isn’t causal so is not a direct indicator of awakening. Some have a crown opening long before awakening, some after.
And there can be an actual shift that’s not yet abiding. The physiology cannot yet sustain it and the mind steps back in the drivers seat. But at least here, if we engage with the unpacking process, we can finish the preparation and the shift will become abiding.
Even an abiding shift can come very quietly and seem very ordinary. Can this really be it? Because it’s something very new, there can be some uncertainty at first. It’s so simple – how did I miss this? In that case, the help of an experienced teacher is valuable.
We can see from this that it’s important to recognize the difference between experiences and awakening. Awakening is not an experience, it is a shift in who we are, a shift in being. Even with an awakening, there are often experiences and purification. It’s important to recognize these are effects of the shift but not the shift itself. We don’t want to chase experiences and miss the point.
Further, there are several distinct subjective styles of awakening. If your shift differs from the teaching you’re in, it may cause confusion. Doubt can be a lever for the mind to regain control.
At some point the shift becomes established and there is a continuity of Self or presence 24/7. It is both infinite and eternal. Not that it’s always dominant. Sometimes it can be very background. But it’s always there if we check. Even in the depth of sleep the continuity of Self continues. Self quickly becomes normal and ordinary.
There can be a “honeymoon” period after the shift but soon enough, a sped up unpacking process may begin. We’re effectively meditating 24/7 now and the large open space of awareness is an invitation to heal. What is unresolved rises to be seen. We’re also now the detached observer of this purification so it generally completes easily.
Over time, quality of life steps up significantly with new levels of clarity and relief.
For many, the outer life remains much the same, gradually shifting as we shift. But for some, the shift comes with a lot of external change. This depends on timing, prior clearing, karma, and how out of dharma we’ve been.
Some say the person and ego end with awakening. They may even experience an ego death. However, it’s asmita that ends plus our identification with the ego. An awake person still has a personality and still experiences from this body-mind and not others.
I appreciate that a renunciate approach discourages supporting a sense of personal self. But for most of us, we live in the world and need this to function effectively. If we believe we don’t have them, this can create blind spots to old shadows when they come to the surface. I’ve yet to meet a very awake person who hasn’t had some personal issues to deal with. They’re much easier to address after awakening but if we’re blind to them, it doesn’t help. Worse if we see ourselves as somehow beyond or above human concerns and think we can do no wrong.
No matter how enlightened and illustrious we become, as long as we’re in a human body, there is work to be done and shadows to clear. This is the nature of our life.
The 3 Am-Ego’s
Awakening is also just the first stage of the process. The ego-sense expresses through several layers. Losing the concept of a me (Intellect identification) with awakening is an important first step. But there can still be energetic drivers behind that that can revive old attachments.
The second stage is awakening the deeper heart or mahamarma, hridaya. The heart and emotions are where we entangle energetically. As we refine perception and awaken the heart, the God Consciousness stage can unfold.
I’ve met people in the Brahman stage who have not yet resolved this second contraction. They’ve moved through the stages in consciousness but not yet the stages in refinement.
The third stage is releasing what I call the core identity. It is a key contraction in the upper gut related to the third chakra and mahamarma. Usually, it is unconscious until close to it’s release.
Originally, I equated this release with the Unity shift. That’s when it happened here. Adyashanti described similar. However I’ve since discovered it often happens later. It comes after the heart opens but this relates more to healing and refinement.
One example is Susanne Marie. She had this release with her Brahman shift (second part). I know others in Brahman who have not gotten to this yet.
I should note that not everyone will have a distinctive gut release. Just as the initial ego identification loss can be like a death or just a very quiet release, so too the core contraction can let go quietly or with a bang. The understanding of these steps is less common so the experience may go by without us realizing its significance. But typically it should be distinctive enough to be recognized at least by its effects. Here, for example, it came as a very brief but distinct release of old, dark energy. It had a quality of being roasted. Loch Kelly called this the Barbecue. (The quality of the solar plexus chakra is fire so it would naturally roast its releases.)
Clearly, we can see there are degrees of awakeness, both of consciousness to itself and of the clarity of experience. Further, there are all those layers between consciousness and the world.
In fact, there are a series of awakenings to follow Self Realization as consciousness wakes up to Self in the world, then transcends itself into Brahman. And there is a rich tapestry of refinement and the unfolding of Divinity.
Self awakens to Itself as a first step. And then it can awaken to everything else.