Yes, awakening happens.
Yes, awakening includes not identifying with thought, emotion, sensation.
Yes, awakening can involve subtle to powerful shifts in perceptions about the nature of reality and separation.
Yes, awakening is about seeing no self.
No, there is not one static event or state called awakening that everyone arrives at in some magical moment, never suffers again, and then holds hands in bliss, light and love eternally singing Cumbaya. Life is way too fluid to neatly fit into those kinds of static myths. That’s the stuff of spiritual poems that are written during spiritual highs. Notice that you often don’t see spiritual poems about the lows of spiritual awakening. It just doesn’t sell.
I can’t be an authority on all things related to awakening. I can only speak from my experience, so that’s what I will do. My experience includes my own unfolding and the thousands of people I have worked with and stayed in contact with through the years. Many of them are teachers.
Mostly, what gets passed off as awakening is a certain shifting that happens, where one sees that they are not the concepts in their heads. In awareness styled awakenings (there are different awakenings that look and feel differently in different traditions – awareness styled is just one),
...the shift usually involves some sort of non-conceptual realization of awareness, being, presence or no self that seems to be an end point at first. It can be a sudden or gradual shifting but people generally report this kind of change in perception.
Things are seen to come and go within awareness inseparably or things seem to come and go but there is no self to be found (again, different teachings style the words and the realization differently). This head awakening, no matter how it is described, is often taken to be the Holy Grail. Some teachings are more sophisticated in the way they speak of this kind of realization, calling it liberation. Liberation is a strong word. I reserve that only for the kind of realizations that warrant such a tagline. And many of those claiming liberation do so prematurely. Remember the “rush to judgment” in the OJ Simpson case? A rush to awakening is the same kind of dire desire to be done, to firmly place on one’s resume “I have realized X and now there is nothing else to see or do.” It’s like shoving a flag in the ground on the moon’s surface. Out of wishful thinking, we think we can claim this territory. But usually it is the mind trying to claim the territory. Our actual experience reveals otherwise, but we often can’t see it at first.
In chakra terms, the head awakening is the opening of the crown and/or the mind’s eye chakra. Because this opening reveals a profound seeing that separate things, including a separate self, are not really there, it is easy to see why the proclamation of “I’m done” feels so appropriate at that juncture. In many ways, one is done – done with seeking as a self in time and in thought. But this is only a head awakening. Even in a head awakening, it can feel as if the body is open and transparent at first. But given time, areas of the body that are dense with the feeling of separation start to become conscious. This head awakening gets passed off as the Full Monte prematurely.
We want so much to be done after years of seeking or suffering. It’s no wonder we want a head awakening to be the whole enchilada. But mostly, it is a half-baked enchilada. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with in sessions and at the Kiloby Center who had an initial awakening which was followed by addictions, obsessions, relationship and money issues, anxiety or depression years later.
The good news is that once the head awakening happens, the rest of the unfolding no longer has to be about seeking a future event (which is often how people approach the head awakening, as something that “will happen to me”). The “me” is made into toast at some point, revealing a lack of an inherent self and its time-bound story. There are plenty of teachings and methods that bring about that “no self” initial awakening. They are helpful and yet they are limited to the extent that they say that one is done when the head awakens.
There are at least two other big areas to be navigated after a head awakening. One is the body and another is the baggage of mental concepts around awakening itself. Let’s start with the mental concepts. In my experience, there is a desire in many people to grasp mentally what has been realized. There are elaborate conceptual frameworks devised to “make sense” of awakening, just as this writing is a conceptual framework. Nothing wrong with having a conceptual framework, until it becomes the new mental prison. Just as there is a rush to a head awakening, there is often a rush to neatly place the realization into certain conceptual boxes. There are many boxes. All the buzz words you hear in awakening circles can be imprisoning boxes including:
“we create our own reality,” “everything is just a concept,” “nothing is true,” “life is a divine mystery,” “oneness is the ultimate truth,” “no self,” “awareness,” “I AM,” “all there is, is THIS,” “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao,” “The Middle Way.”
Again, there is nothing wrong with boxes. They can be quite helpful in communication and quite cozy for the mind. But inevitably, when the box is mistaken for moment-by-moment living of the realization, everything that has been realized is reduced to some ideas and memories. People then speak and act from the memory or the ideas about awakening, rather than seeing awakening as a living, breathing, constantly unfolding moment-by-moment adventure. The archetype for this is the spiritual teacher who sits in front of the room proclaiming full realization while being addicted to sweets or involved with sex scandals or control issues in his/her personal life.
People can spend years after a head awakening endlessly identifying with all sorts of mental stuff around the awakening. This is the time when people desire to be teachers. I went through it. It’s really very innocent and comes from good intentions. But what gets passed off is only what a teacher has realized, nothing more. And many times what gets passed off are ideas about static, fixed things that are taken to be objectively true and real. Spiritual experiences and realizations get concretized into doctrine or dogma or “this is the only way” type thinking.
The good news is that when one is ready, the boxes can be burned up in the fire of freedom, thrown away like yesterday’s garbage. At that point, what becomes important is the living of the realization itself, rather than the conceptualizing and understanding of it. Conceptualizing goes on, like with this writing. But things are held a lot more lightly and non-seriously. The Living Inquiries were born out of my experience of being first immersed in certain boxes and then turning attention towards the moment-by-moment living and seeing.
The body has its own say in the matter. There are other chakras – not just the crown and mind’s eye. The heart can feel heavy, dense and closed for years after a head awakening. So can the root chakra, the sacral, the stomach and the throat. If you think that none of this matters, watch what happens after a head awakening. You’ll see the continued arising of addictions, anxieties, self-limiting thoughts, grasping after understanding, issues with money, depression, big ego trips, issues with control and jealousy – all of it in one degree or another. I found this out by proclaiming that I was done too early. My issue was the continuation of certain addictions long after the head awakening. In my conversations with other teachers, they reported similar things. It takes a while, sometimes years, after a head awakening to fully see the darker, denser aspects of the body that remain closed. This is why becoming a teacher right after a head awakening is not a great idea. It’s like the blind leading the blind.
If you still don’t believe me, listen to Adyashanti. He speaks eloquently about the post-awakening dilemma. Somewhere between 3 to 7 years after an awakening, the other shoe drops. Everything that was held in the mind and body and that was not seen through in that awakening will come up and bite you in the ass. Its like it all wants to be seen and released. And it can be painful. You can even wonder why you started the awakening process to begin with.
Again, the good news is that the unfolding can continue in the body, if you remain open. Some of the later work I did on the body (and still do) was truly the most liberating of all. When dense areas dissolve or open, it’s life-changing. If you are working with a friend or teacher who stopped at a head awakening, that’s all you will get, unless you break free of that mold and explore the unfolding with an attitude of complete openness.
Don’t worry, the body awakening part is not about seeking in the same way you were seeking in the beginning. Spiritual seeking comes from mind/head chakras that are closed. The body awakening doesn’t happen through seeking. It happens just from remaining open and working with those energies in skillful ways.