A Spiritual Awakening

Excerpt from Chapter 4, The Art of Freedom

In the quiet dawn of realization there was a great sense of death and completion, as though an entire life had ended and all its contents were fully loved and redeemed. All was fresh and timeless as though I had entered the uncreated eye at the center of creation. A deep stillness unfolded. In that stillness was the awe and wonder of an absolute aloneness beyond every created thing, yet without any loss of ordinary perception. Nothing outward had changed, but the sense of being a known mental or physical object had collapsed, taking down with it the diaphanous boundaries of the dream-self. Life was immediate, unmediated, charged with presence. An unworldly silence prevailed, along with the most delicate and immense sense of love I had ever known—a love without object. I was drenched in the original innocence of being, and I was the innocence.


A few days after that shift, I joined some friends at a restaurant by the ocean, where my friend would be singing jazz songs for the evening dinner audience. When we sat down for dinner I noticed that I was intoxicated with bliss.I was helplessly, wordlessly gazing at people. One of our companions noticed my strange state, so I explained that I was having some spiritual experiences. She casually replied, “Oh I see. So you’re pretty Zen right now.”


As soon as she said this a wild laughter erupted from me and rolled on uncontrollably. When the laughter finally settled, some tears started to well up yet without any emotion, and my body was seized with rapid breathing. In the next instant there was a rush of radiant energy like a lightning bolt from the ground up out the top of my head— and then there was only absence. I do not know how to explain that absence except to say it is an absence from which so much never returns. It is like sailing over a horizon where concepts permanently lose their grip on the world. When awareness of the world returned, I was sitting in perfect, supreme peace at the table, eyes closed. Some soft laughter rolled out from that emptiness. It was the laughter of the universe, beyond all sense of personhood. There never was anybody separate from pure consciousness, pure existence. The dream of separation was absolved in the absolute. Self, reality, was nothing that could be captured by thought, image or perception. 

That evening by the Pacific Ocean, I was as if reborn. If you have ever prayed to be cleansed, this was the ultimate cleansing by the rain of infinite reality. Traditional yogis want to stop the waves of the mind in order to get to nirvana. But you do not exactly get to nirvana. Nirvana gets you, and then you as you knew yourself are gone. It may sound nihilistic but the reality is anything but empty or meaningless. It is the meaning and fulfillment of life. To seek and ask for this truth-consciousness is no game of selfimprovement or escape from life. It is to ask for the lightning of utmost life.


Following this shift I experienced life from an inconceivably different vantage point. For me to describe this new experience to friends and family was like telling them that I was from Mars. For many days I experienced an extreme silence of mind in which very few thoughts arose. The energy of thought was so neutralized that it took a great effort to speak. To speak felt like a chore, a trivial task to be performed up there at the surface of mind.


This silence was a holy and intense experience. Even more poignant than the silence was its cause—the knowledge of being nothing other than this cosmic, absolute reality. The silence was a symptom of release, known as moksha in Sanskrit, from the ancient illusion of the mind and world. Imagine, for example, how sweet the sunlight would feel to a prisoner who has just been freed after spending many years in a dark prison. As good as the light would feel, the sense of freedom would be the greater joy behind it, and the source of all the sweetness to come.


The idea that this freedom might disappear never entered my mind. There was the awareness of a permanent shift, because what awoke to itself was timeless consciousness. At times, people describe awakening as a powerful experience of transcendence that comes and then goes. Some teachers warn that such awakening can become a memory that the mind uses as a reference point. They emphasize that we must keep awakening in every moment. I can only say that such words do not apply to genuine awakening or, to use a more precise term, realization.

If you truly realize that your nature is consciousness, it cannot exactly be called a “moment” of awakening, for that emphasizes temporality and partiality. By definition, if it is merely a moment or a memory for you, then it was never realization of timeless truth. When I refer to realization, I am not speaking of glimpses of oneness or seeing that the self-image cannot define you. I am speaking of the irrevocable seeing of true nature, absolute reality, which has been called a turning-about in the deepest seat of consciousness, entering the stream, or gnosis. There are well-known ways of ascertaining genuine realization from partial insights and subtle mind states.


The signs of realization include first of all the awareness of a radical shift of identity and understanding. The shift has a weight of authority that cannot be touched or approached by anything else. Also, the change must include both identity and understanding. Although it brings a degree of wonder and bewilderment, it is made of a vast clarity and direct insight. Whereas previously we understood spiritual teachings partially or vaguely, both the reality itself and the words that point to it are now crystal clear. If there is not the sense of thorough liberation and illumination, it is not realization.


The next sign is a great peace of mind, a peace that is weightless and transparent. This comes with a sense of release and lightness of heart that are too fine and subtle for words. It is not just that “I” am free but that reality is and has ever been free. Existence is whole, complete, and radiant. It was never the somewhat sad and senseless thing we imagined.


The next sign is the arising of a great love for all beings, almost like a slow-moving tidal wave. The tidal wave does not come to crash over and change and fix everyone like the restless waves of the deluded, missionary mind. It comes as a welling up of compassion, affection, and the awareness of inseparability. If this seeing is true, it brings an abiding urge to serve, help, and embrace others in truth and love.


All things become dear and precious, and that leads to the next sign, which is that for the awakened mind the preciousness of things and of human existence is not separate from but is rather a perfect reflection of the absolute. Though there is great detachment—a detachment made of total clarity as to the nature of delusion versus wisdom—there is no distance. The detachment is the clarity aspect of wisdom. The lack of distance is the love aspect of wisdom. So one feels the whole of the human experience as infinitely precious and meaningful, at the same time as knowing that our journey in life has been largely shaped by confusion. But we can awaken, and there are no mistakes in this divine scheme. There is only grace, and life is a precious opportunity to discover this. 

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