What Awakens?

What Awakens?

Cat by Iezalel Williams
Cat by Iezalel Williams

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.

Self Realization
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.

The Ego
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.

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  1. Have you ever mapped out all of the different types of ego and identification modes of self? Seems to be comprised of a huge field of categories and expressions of ego. Some severe, some extremely subtle. We use the expression “ego” yet its meaning seems to cover such an incredibly broad expanse we don’t give the details and nuances of ego enough attention. I fear the extent of ego is so poorly defined we all too easily convince ourselves we have slayed it only to find itself crop up again and again and yet again in endless forms. I get what you say about the functional ego. My concern is only with the dysfunctional ego. It is almost as if it reinvents itself with greater and greater cleverness to hide within each step of the path. Seems it does every thing it can not to lose its grip.

    1. Hi George
      Well, there are infinite ways we can identify. But at the core, there is three primary levels of it – the mind, heart, and gut (instinctive body). Each of them typically have a point of contraction, then there is a vast supporting cast of self-concepts, emotional justifications, and resistance we use to support that and build it up.
      As the article mentions, there is also the way we identify with our sense of individuality (ahamkara) which usually leads into identifying with the my-ness (asmita).
      But yes, some of this expresses as overt acting out and drama, some as mental babble, and some as more subtle contractions.
      Here I use ego for I-sense. This arises from the intellect distinguishing self from other. Some use ego in much broader ways but i distinguish it this way to differentiate what remains vs what ends after identification falls away. I’m sure there are other ways of modeling this.
      The only problem with definitions is they’re mind. We can’t use a concept to detach from ego. We have to go beyond all that, step outside the box so we can see it from the “outside.” Then we can see through it.
      However, ego generally feels its survival depends on its control, so it will work to distract us from this. However, every night when the body sleeps, the mind does too. With that, ego goes off-line. In that sense, we wake up every night. Only we wake in sleep so the Self isn’t known. The magic is when we wake up when we’re awake. (laughs)
      In the article, I do talk about nuances as there are strong seekers who very much want to be awake. A handy way for ego to avoid the actuality is to decide it is already. But i don’t mean this to imply the shift itself can be lost.

      If it’s a clear shift, it is unmistakable and never falls back. There can be periods early on where the dust may overshadow a bit but thats temporary. And for some, other stages quickly unfold, revealing new vistas.
      At one point, I wondered how i was ever going to outsmart the ego. But it was just ego saying that, drawing me into the trap of self-conflict. What does it is not tricking the ego. Awakening happens when the Self gets loud enough to see itself. Then the little ego attachment is just washed away. Keep in mind we’re talking the difference between a tiny self-concept and infinite existence. In the larger scheme of things, the ego doesn’t have a chance. 🙂

  2. To be very clear here, the article has a lot of detail and concepts. But awakening is very, very simple. Ego machinations about it can be convoluted but the shift itself is grace. It is a non-doing, a letting go.
    This is not something a me can control so the ego can feel frustrated. But that’s not awakening, that’s ego. It’ll get over it. 🙂
    “Awakening isn’t about becoming extraordinary. If anything, it’s about becoming ordinary. It’s about becoming who we really, really are.”

  3. Clarice

    Thank you for this article that addresses those that are really in the beginning of the journey like me. I am very drawn to your work and love how you consistently respond. Your cat picture is beautiful and has similar markings to mine.


  4. Aalok

    Thanks, Davidya-ji.
    In the Gita, Lord Krshn says:
    “… he sees His Self (Swa Aatmaa) in all beings and all being in His Self”.
    I guess that’s Unity (Maharishi-ji says: “it’s still someone in Unity” (from “Conversations with Maharishi”). – This goes well with the Lord saying “His Self” – not just Aatmaa, but His Aatmaa).
    This to me would correspond to “Aham Brahmaasmi” – Again, there is an “I” here (Aham).
    Then the Lord goes on to says (as a next step, apparently): he sees Me everywhere and everything in Me.
    Is this what You call Refined Unity, or God Realization ?
    This would seem to be represented by “Sarvam Khalvidam Brahm” – Everything is Brahm – when the Lord can be seen as associated to the collective value of all individual points (and more). So, instead of just one point realising itself as Totality, here each point of this Totality is realised to be the Totality (fractal reality).
    God can see everything from all points of view at once.
    In this case I’d use the word “Brahman”, or “Brahm”, to identify this realization (instead of what comes next).
    This because Brahman means “huge”, or as Maharishi would say, “Totality”. Kind of… real Totality of Unity. Supreme Unity. Full value of what is earlier realized in Unity.
    I understand also Maharishi using the world “Brahman” for this (rather “Brahm” – it’s just a Sanskrit distinction, but clearly with practicle differences in terms of value of sound).

    Then (as before, in my rawness of experience, just on the intellectual level from reading from You, the Vedic Literature and Maharishi), I’d say that what You call Brahman, post Unity, could be a first, very partial and unclear “(non-)experience” of Param Brahm, what is beyond this Totality, Brahm.
    That would go well, I’d say, with You numbering this “3” and Param Brahm “3b” (not 4).
    Then one realisez this in a refined value, then completely.
    Also, “Brahm” meaning “huge”, would seem a word going better with the experience of something huge, Totality (as “fake” (very improper, I guess) as it may be) rather than with something that might be experienced (according to what You say), as a sort of void.
    How does it feel ?


    Separate consideration:
    I think “Brahm” might also be taken to mean “that which has become huge” (I’m not expert enough to say, but I heard it – maybe from Maharishi). This would explain why the Lord, in the last verse of Chapter 2 (if I remember correctly) says:
    “Esha Brahmi sthiti, Partha”: “this is being established in Brahm, Arjun”, or “this is firm, stable Brahm, Arjun”.
    Here He seems to refer to just CC (at least, also to CC), both from my understanding and from Maharishi’s commentary. So here “Brahm” would seem to indicate the Transcendent, Pure Consciousness (which is also Brahm…) – that which has become huge (Consciousness realized as Totality in full Unity).

    The different possible interpretations of Sanskrit words reflects the “complexity” of reality, where something is something, but also something else, or its opposite. 🙂
    Very curious to read Your comment.
    Thanks a lot.
    Jai Guru Dev

    1. Hi Aalok
      Lot’s to explore… Firstly, I’d resist the Hindi tendency to drop the A’s from the ends of Sanskrit words like Krishna. It’s incomplete.
      Yes, the opening quote is a reference to Unity. In Self Realization, we come to see everything as in Atman but don’t yet see it all AS Atman.
      Aham Brahmaasmi or ‘I am That’ can be equated with Self Realization but is a reference to Brahman. There is an assumption here that Atman and Brahman are seen as one but this is not recognized (these days) until post-Brahman so I’m still a little unclear on the Mahavakyas. Maharishi described them as the sayings one needs to recognize the Unity shift but I’ve not seen that in practice. Again, they’re references to Brahman.
      In English, the common sequence is the reverse of how they’re listed in Sanskrit. But to say they’re realizations of Brahman is also not entirely accurate as Brahman is not a realization of the intellect. Perhaps they serve as confirmations rather than realizations. 🙂
      The Gita does unfold the stages of enlightenment but by the experience rather than a named model. This reflects that he’s walking Arjuna through the process.
      You could say ‘Me everywhere and everything in Me’ is a refined value of the Unity statement above as the Self is being recognized as an expressed form of the Divine.
      “All of this is Brahman” is not the same thing. As above, it’s a perspective of Brahman rather than Unity. The English sounds sequential but the Sanskrit isn’t.
      I usually translate Brahman as Great which is why the Brahman shift is often called the Great Awakening. It’s an awakening from the prior enlightenment into a whole new perceptive beyond consciousness.
      That may be where the Mahavakyas really fit in.
      I suspect Maharishi used Brahm as a more refined version of Brahman. Brahman with the presence of Divinity. But I didn’t study this part of his teachings as they were reserved for retreats.
      Yes, the refined values and the stages come together in ParaBrahman.
      Brahman is not experienced as a void in the prior sense of it. A sense of void comes from the subtle quality of space created by self-aware consciousness. Some experience this as an emptiness or void. Others are more aware of the potentiality in that and experience a fullness. And then refinement fills it in.
      Brahman on the other hand is a no-thingness. It is an absence even of this subtle void or any sense of creation having ever been. But this is temporary if refinement is being cultured.
      Soon the more subtle values (words fail) become more apparent, and then pure Divinity.
      Some of the Upanishad and other texts recognize Atman and Brahman as one and the same, as I mention above. This is a valid perspective in later stages but I find it less useful to frame it that way in early stages. In the current age, it’s extremely rare for someone to know Brahman prior to Brahman. If we did settle that deeply, there would be nothing to recognize as it is beyond the current capacity to know.
      But yes, reality is vastly more complex than the perspective of a point of consciousness (an experiencer) and that perspective changes a number of times. We can’t even imagine what it would be like to experience all space and all time simultaneously until it is the experience. But even there, our ability to relate to that still means experiencing one point of view and time at a time.
      Best of the season!

  5. Kerri Heffernan

    Thank you David. I had the flashy experience in the beginning which has led me into a world of exploration. My ego remains identified and I listen to Eckhart Tolle and Kim Eng and follow their teachings which has helped me a great deal. I am a full time witness. I notice that sometimes I witness more than other times and I cannot tell wether or not I am becoming more identified or less identified with my ego Sometimes I feel as if I am going backwards. Any suggestions? Also, I want to make sure that I am not identifying with the concept of being awake as you described. Any pointers to help me recognize if I am experiencing that? Completely unrelated to this…I am experiencing a lot of burning sensations in my body. I’ve been to the doctor and no one can find anything wrong. I wanted to see if you’ve heard of anyone experiencing that during there awakening process? Ps. Dorothy is great! My rash is still gone and I am working on better eating habits for my dosha. Thank you, Thank you.

    1. Hi Kerri
      There has to have been significant softening of the identification for the witness to be sustained. Clarity and depth always vary so I wouldn’t be concerned with that. But it does take that moment of deep letting go for the core ego identification to pop.
      I found that time with the awake can be key then. The Self is awake but has not woken up to itself yet. It doesn’t have anything in experience as a reference. But the awakeness in the awakened can catalyze the awakeness within.
      Lorn Hoff offers a free online webcast on Sunday evenings, for example. Just sitting with that, without much mind, has catalyzed a lot of people. (if you listen from the mind as if to a usual talk, he often won’t make sense. He’s not speaking to the mind.)
      However, awakening itself also happens by grace. There’s nothing we can do to awaken – it’s a non-doing. We can however prepare the ground so that when opportunities arise, we’ll be better able to sustain a shift.
      Don’t get into trying to figure out if you’re identified with this concept or that. That’s just ego wanting to control. Just if you notice a contraction or rigidity around something, like an expectation awakening is supposed to happen a certain way, etc, then you know you have an identification there. It’s the emotional energy behind that you want to feel into to release, then the concepts will lose energy and dissipate.
      Yes, indeed. Heat in various forms is very common. It’s called transformation. I talk about that here:
      Note that burning isn’t something everyone goes through bodily. It can be more subtle, depending on where the inertia is to roast.
      In your case, it’s probably also related to dosha so as you move to a more suitable diet and settle the Pitta, that should also help, given you experience physical burning.
      It’s also sometimes associated with the kundalini process but in your case, you’re already witnessing so you’re past that.

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