A spiritual awakening

Many spiritual traditions talk about the concept of spiritual awakening, or we could say people’s experience of it, and I’d imagine there must be many different definitions out there. For some maybe it’s realising that all things function in harmony and in dependence on each other, for others it might be a realisation that things and ourself don’t exist in the way they appear

For others it might be deeper still, realising, at the very core of it, that we are something much more incredible and profound than anything we could have ever imagined. Considering that to reach our goal, the spiritual path is something that generally needs to be practised over a long period of time (not always, but more commonly it seems), then if we think about the way these types of experiences are likely to be realised or to arise, it’s quite likely they’re going to develop gradually and evolve over time

Maybe we could say that an awakening is, at the very least, an insight into one of these types of experiences…. something deep and profound in itself. To whatever degree it happens, whether it’s realised spontaneously in its entirety, or rather something that builds gradually over time, from the moment we have that first experience something changes within us, and a new and profound unravelling starts to unfold

For me personally, the ultimate awakening I am focusing my energy on moving towards is in the direction of the enlightened state. In his book Introduction to Buddhism, my spiritual guide Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says:

‘In general, ‘Buddha’ means ‘Awakened One’, someone who has awakened from the sleep of ignorance and sees things as they really are. A Buddha is a person who is completely free from all faults and mental obstructions. There are many people who have become Buddhas in the past, and many people will become Buddhas in the future.’

As is the case with most meaningful things we can try to accomplish with our lives, I haven’t always found following this path easy, but I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing with my life. After all, what more meaningful goal could someone strive for than to abandon all pain and suffering for oneself, and then help everyone else to do the same?

As with following any path, as we apply effort to move in direction of the final goal, then naturally we start to gain experiences that indicate we are moving in the right direction. The attainment of buddhahood is clearly an incredible achievement, and therefore it should come as no surprise if along the way we experience things starts to change, and as a momentum is gained, a new reality starts to emerge

I think that part of the key of how we approach the different experiences we have on our path, is to try not to get fixated on them, believing them to be anything more than a bi-product of our practice, or if you like, a pointer showing us that we are heading in the right direction

It feels like it could sometimes be very easy just to stop moving forward and revel in the fact we can do things that previously we thought impossible such as levitate and fly, know the minds of others or at times awaken to a new reality that was far beyond anything we could have ever dreamed of. However it’s important we’re not satisfied with whatever attainments we might experience along the way, and even if we do have them, once again direct our energy so that we’re moving towards the final goal we set out to achieve

The emergence of a new reality

Spiritual awakening to a new reality

 

After having practised meditation for only a short period of time… say just a few months, initially I became aware of my reality starting to change…. in the sense that I felt much happier and at peace. This in turn led to me enjoying more harmony in my relationships, and generally made it easier to traverse this thing we call life

At the beginning of this year, after having been meditating for about 8 years, I experienced something previously unknown… a totally new perception of reality. In fact it’s quite difficult to explain due to the way we normally experience things, because for the average person they experience everything through the filter of an I… and from this perception or experience a duality implicitly arises – there is ‘us’ or ‘I’ and everything and everyone else

Of course that all sounds completely normal right? Maybe so, but it’s actually the source of all our suffering. I mean as a brief exercise try to suspend doubt and, just for a moment…. imagine that your self was much less concrete than you normally relate to it. Rather than this meaty, fleshy body taking up a prescribed amount of space, allow yourself to simply become aware of the space it takes up… and allow the feeling of a physical presence to fade away, just for a short while

In this space, what it would feel like if your self became entirely without boundaries… the space that it takes up almost instantaneously expands and encompasses all worlds and all beings… all phenomena known and unknown, and we experience a deep bliss and calm. How do you think that would feel…. to relate to this expansiveness as your self?

If we can even just imagine this then it’s likely that we’d feel an experience of peace arise. Why? Because there’s no more separation…. we no longer need to try and pull some things towards us and push others away. We have found peace in the union of all beings and things….. having realised this is the essence of our eternal nature

And so this is what happened for me in meditation. There was no longer the presence of an ‘I’ and my awareness mixed with a state of bliss and oneness. It was a deeply transformative experience that permanently changed something within me and, upon reflection, it feels like it most definitely effected the trajectory and direction of my spiritual path

After this happened, the way I related to myself in daily life began to change and evolve. It was like this presence, a pure awareness, had started to emerge from within and I started to relate to it as me. Upon experiencing it I also had this sense that it was somehow familiar, like it had always been there, just that I hadn’t been able to connect with it or been consciously aware of it…. that it was actually me

To give this a bit more context – most of us will have had times when a deep experience of peace and well-being envelops us. This isn’t necessarily dependent on anything external happening, but maybe the experience has arisen when we’ve felt very connected to nature or another person for example….. this feeling of being completely free and at peace. Well that blissful, peaceful awareness is us, or at the very least we could say the essence of our pure nature, emerging from within

It’s funny cause this evolution, this relating to a new being and thinking ‘I’, just felt so natural, and I started to feel much more joyful and at peace. However, as is the case with so many experiences of the spiritual path, it didn’t last. After a few weeks the experience, or we could say my awareness of the way in which I identified my ‘self’, started to fade and once again I related to this ordinary person as being me

Funnily enough this also felt quite natural, albeit a much less desirable experience. That’s because this self as the ordinary person that I’ve related to since birth (and even long before) experiences almost limitless problems and suffering, whereas this blissful, pure self is always free and at peace

So it was like I had started to emerge from the dream of ordinary life, maybe I could even say a nightmare comparatively speaking, and experienced a new joy of being. As that experience faded and I went back to relating to my ordinary self, it was like I knew something had changed and that I had lost ‘something’, but I wasn’t really sure what and so once again I just slipped back into the painful dream of being ‘rob’

Learning to approach our spiritual life more light-heartedly

Perspective of spiritual awakening

 

There was actually a defining experience which acted as a trigger for me to once again relate to myself in an ordinary way, necessarily losing the experience of this peaceful new reality

The experience manifested in the form of a challenging situation and it threw me back into my old world of problems… the experience of duality. Upon reflection I can see the great benefit of it however, and as spiritual practitioners we need to expect to encounter significant obstacles along the way

Thinking about the types of problems we can encounter, then perhaps we could say that as spiritual practitioners some of these situations may be particularly challenging in a unique kind of way, not necessarily worse than, but often differing from those an ordinary person might face. However these obstacles, if approached in the right way, will help us to purify our mind, and propel us in the direction of a lasting experience of peace and joy

Recently I’ve found it helpful to try and think of this whole journey as like as a game… it can make it all a bit more light-hearted. So it’s like we’re the main character who needs to go through a series of challenges to achieve the task set out for them

In fact then I was a kid I used to play this game, and games weren’t quite as modern back then as they are today, anyway it was called ‘King’s Quest’. It was pretty cool at the time, despite only being in two different colours (black and some sort of green, computery colour)

The point of the game was to travel through all these different regions on a quest maybe to find a jewel, presumably so you could become king or something (I never got to the end). You encounter many obstacles along the way….. challenging people and situations, or people who might try to lead you astray… ultimately taking you on a voyage of self-discovery and exploration

And so following a spiritual path can be a little bit like that. The quest in this case is to become what we could say is a perfect being, and to become that perfect being then necessarily we need to be confronted with difficulties and problems, which in turn can often highlight our own imperfections and where we need to improve

Looking at it in this way, then encountering obstacles and difficulties doesn’t seem like something we need to be so worried about, and can actually even become a welcome challenge if approached with the right attitude… one that is joyful and light-hearted. In this way we see them as necessary for us to move to greater joy and happiness rather than just gritting our teeth and putting up with them

Challenging situations help us grow

Moving towards spiritual awakening

 

The challenging situation I encountered actually related to the buddhist centre I had begun my spiritual training at. Of course conflict is a natural part of life for most of us, and it’s likely we’ll encounter it in any organisation we’re involved with, however for those of us who have attended spiritual institutions for any decent period of time, this may sound familiar

For me, my own spiritual practice had been evolving in quite unexpected ways in the six months leading up to this event. Simply put, I had been engaging in a purification practice using subtle energy, very similar to one of the practices outlined in the book Clear Light of Bliss. The practice I was engaging in however, wasn’t explained in much detail and so, superficially at least, it appeared unrelated to the practice and therefore to the tradition I follow

The ways in which my practice had changed became public knowledge after I posted about my experiences on facebook. After having been advised that this way of practising wasn’t suitable for a teacher at the centre, and having decided to continue practising in the same way, this led to my being asked to no longer teach my regular meditation classes

Although difficult at the time, I understood the centre’s perspective and could see how this decision made sense, and building on that it also presented yet another opportunity to deepen my faith and learn something more about my self

When I was initially told I could no longer teach it wasn’t such a big deal because I still had this experience of a pure awareness I was relating to as myself (at least some of the time anyway). However, because this experience was still new and unstable, it didn’t take long for the ordinary self to come crawling back out of its hole, with all its opinions and objections. And so perhaps even quite rapidly, the perception of the self as this pure and blissful awareness started to fade, and there I was back again grasping at being rob

So as well as trying to work through this situation, which I then began to struggle with, I was also trying to cope with what was a very difficult experience on a macro level. That is, when one experiences the self as being a blissful expanse of peaceful awareness, then having that fade away and once again relating to being an ordinary person with pain and problems, it didn’t feel very good… to say the least

To be honest it didn’t take too long for me to become okay with my no longer being a teacher even after losing this experience, as I understood the reasons and it made sense. However by this time relating to the actual self, this pure awareness, was no more than a distant memory and the stark contrast felt crushing and overwhelming

And yet I sense that this is something all of us who are following spiritual paths must go through. In one sense it’s almost like going from heaven to hell and not really being sure what happened. Although it’s encouraging to have these types of peaceful and transformative experiences, because it’s an indication our path is moving in the right direction, at the same time when you’re subsequently  in the midst of pain and confusion, it’s not much consolation

However, as is always the case with difficult times, they don’t last. All we can do is try our best to work through them with the skills we have, and eventually we’ll once again move towards a more peaceful experience within our mind

So although this situation was challenging, particularly given how it effected my entire experience of reality, it still helped me to learn and grow. It made me much stronger, increased my faith and reliance, and ultimately renewed my determination to keep moving towards knowing the truth of the way things are

Uncovering our true nature

Pure path of spiritual awakening
It feels like a big part of our ability to understand who we truly are at our deepest level of being, is first of all to figure out who we are not. This might sound a bit strange at first, but we can understand that because we have so many pre-conceived ideas of who we think we are, then this actually prevents us from realising who are truly are. We could think of it as a bit like stripping back the layers of an onion – each of the layers represents an aspect of our own identity that we believe or ascent to, and once we’ve stripped back all of the layers, then at the very core our true essence is revealed

What all of this taught me, was that my belief that I was ‘a teacher’ wasn’t what it had appeared to be. In my mind, my identity as being a meditation teacher was built on a number conditions, like always teaching on behalf of the centre. However when that was essentially taken away, I realised that my being a teacher in the way I had imagined, was merely a mental construct and so my identity with being a teacher essentially disappeared

Since then other ways in which I’ve identified with being the ordinary self have been revealed, challenged and removed. I’ve found this to be quite a painful experience at times, but ultimately an essential part of my spiritual growth. And when we come to understand from our own experience that the self is something that cannot be constrained by boundaries or defined by labels, then this practically makes sense

After all, how could we be any of these things anyway when they’re just ideas. They simply keep us trapped within the identity of a small, limited being, and have no existence outside of our mind

Of course we still need to function and live our life in a practical way, and using labels helps us to do this. However the insight for me has been that that’s all they are, just labels…. when we search for something beyond the label of self it disappears and all we’re left with is this identification with a pure awareness

More recently, having continued with my practices in the same way, this self has once again started to emerge and gradually I’m finding myself identifying with the ordinary person less and less. To be honest I’ve found it to be quite an erratic process at times, and it can also be quite isolating and cause one to feel very uncertain and confused. However whenever I find it overwhelming I try to remember my spiritual guide and then my mind becomes peaceful and happy again

Most of us don’t like feeling confused or uncertain, however moving into the realm of uncertainty, although confronting at times, can often be exactly what we need. And in fact, if we understand that our path is taking us in the direction of revealing to us what or who we are not, and never have been,  then surely uncertainty is a feeling we should start to get familiar with and ultimately aim to embrace

Whilst we continue to remain fearful and ascent to uncertainty about things, this also helps keep us trapped within a very limited self-view. Bringing this back to my personal practice, although being challenged on what I was doing threw me back into the realm of uncertainty, by relying on my spiritual guide my confidence was restored, and subsequently has become deeper than ever before

I believe it’s this type of confidence that’s allowed the experience of the ultimate nature within myself to emerge and grow more stable. And I know it’s something I’m going to need. One day I’ll need to have the courage to completely abandon this ordinary self, the one I’ve known and cherished for so long, and I’m pretty sure that’s going to take a lot of confidence and faith

In the end, all of us following paths that lead to the truth of who we are will need to be willing to let go of this self, however difficult that may be, and come to embrace our remarkable, true essential nature

We can train for many years in spiritual paths, but if in the end we’re not able to do this, then we won’t have fully taken advantage of the opportunity offered to us, and the door holding behind it a new reality, one that will completely transform the way we view and experience our self, our world and everything in it, will remain closed

To read the conclusion to this article, please go to the follow-up article here

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