By Russell Scott
Throughout the ages to the present time there have been many reports of a new form of consciousness arising in individuals. This form of consciousness has been called by many names. A few of these labels are "awakening", "enlightenment", "illumination", "transcendence", "self-realization", "kensho" in Zen, "anubhava" in Hinduism" and "unitive consciousness" in modern psychology.
It is often described as a life altering spiritual experience where one suddenly breaks through one's normal mode of sensing to perceive and become cognizant of the true reality of one's existence. It is also accompanied by a deep sense of peace, serenity, wholeness and inner harmony. Because it results in an exalted awareness of one's self, it is always life altering.
In modern times more descriptions of the phenomenon have been articulated, beginning with the impressive classic study "Cosmic Consciousness" written by Maurice Bucke in the early 1900's extending into present time with authors such as Eckhart Tolle, Stephen E Levine, Deepak Chopra, Ken Wilber, etc. However as more has been written about the subject, more confusion about this state has arisen. Mixed in with the confusion are the images of "enlightenment" we have in the "new-age" culture of the smiling Buddha, eastern gurus engaging in ascetics practices, western saints and what are labeled as ascended masters, to mention just a few.
People from different belief systems often argue over who's really enlightened and who's not, often getting defensive and self-righteous in the discussion. Some spiritual teachers maintain that the true self is consciousness, or divine love, or pure spirit, or god or even doesn't exist. Some gurus even argue that enlightenment is an illusion and those that promote it are deluded. It is surprising to me how heated some of these conversations can become.
And then as awareness of the concept grows in our consumer culture, advertisers are appropriating the phonemena, using it to sell their wares much like they have done with natural food and the green movement. You can now "awaken your senses" with air fresheners, "realize your inner beauty" with hair shampoo and take courses to become an "enlightened millionaire".
In my opinion the source of the discord is that gurus and spiritual seekers each approach the subject with a different definition of the phenomenon... and of course advertizers really don't care at all what the definition is. They just want to sell their products.
So this discourse is an attempt to clear up the confusion.
Lets first begin by naming this experience. I have deliberately chosen to use the term "awakening" to indicate this state of consciousness. I could use any word. I could call it "self-truth", "localized consciousness",” the real field" or even "gibbly goo". In reality a word is just a label. It is just a name like "tree" or "sun". It indicates the subject but is not the subject itself. I am selecting the label out of the many labels there are for this state of spiritual awareness as "awakening"...for three reasons:
1. It most closely indicates what occurs for people when they enter this realm of consciousness.i.e. It is very much like "waking up."
2. It is a term that is more in the modern vernacular.
3. It is a term that is has the least association with other religions and "new-age" jargon and therefore fewer tendencies to cause confusion or controversy.
Awakening: A Definition
Within this context here is a definition:
Awakening is the direct consciousness of one's true nature.
This will need some further clarification of each term to ensure a full understanding.
By "true" I mean in exact accordance to the "truth".
By "truth" I mean, "the way things actually are".
This does not mean the way you believe things to be as this is really a subjective perception and of course may differ from what others believe. This does not mean the constructs that a religious or philosophical system, "holy" book or an old tradition has established. Just because beliefs have been held for hundreds of years and adopted by millions of people, does not mean they are in fact true. Something does not mature into truth due to the fact that it is popular or ancient. It is either true or not. Your reality is either the way it is or it isn't. Truth is the actual reality.
An additional clarification of "true" is: "it is always that way". If something is true it is consistently that way, just like "true love" or a "true course" means "unwavering". So your "true nature" means "the one that you actually are eternally".
By "true nature", I mean the essence of who you are, beyond your mind, emotions and body. I also mean the one that you were born as, before all the influences of your personal history and before your ego formed due to the socialization of your family, friends, school, job, culture, society, etc
By "direct consciousness" I mean through no via. Most of our interaction in the world is through a process. We interact with the world and others through our senses, which transfer information to the brain, which interprets the information. Even the intellect is indirect. We can take concepts and ideas and string them together into a logical sequence and come up with a conclusion about something but even this is separate from the actual experience.
Awakening is also not subject to affirmation, visualization, positive thinking or believing. We can very easily go through a process of repeating an affirmation or visualizing a scene of "oneness with the universe" and manufacture an exalted sense of self. But it will fade if not reinforced. This again is a process.
"Direct consciousness" means: to be in union. For a brief moment in time we are no longer separated from our real essence. We have united. We are one with ourselves. There is no subject or object... no person here witnessing the same self there.
In that experience there are three things that are occur: unity, experience and knowingness.
We are united with our true nature in such a way that we are not only experiencing the magnificence of who we are but we know with absolute certainty the fact of our being.
"Suddenly I knew who I was. Tears just streamed down my face, I was so overwhelmed. It was so simple...and I was so grateful, not just for what I discovered about myself, but also for the total certainty associated with that experience. There can never be any doubt... I knew it in a way that didn't depend on any feeling, idea, belief or anything - I was just directly conscious of who I was." P.C. – Academic
The No-Process Event
So awakening does not happen through a process. It is a spontaneous event, a profound "aha" moment, a deep intuitive flash that "lights up" your whole being. Suddenly you know who you are but this occurs to you in a way that is much more enveloping than an insight. It is not an intellectual idea or a “proof” that is developed or verified through logic or scientific analysis. It is an instantaneous “knowingness” or recognition of reality followed by an experiencing or seeing of that reality.
These three aspects of unity, experience and knowingness are the crucial aspects of an awakening experience. If they are not all present, the phenomenon is not awakening. One can be deeply in touch with oneself in deep meditation and feel calm, blissful and at peace but if one cannot articulate who it is that is calm, it is not awakening. Conversely one can intellectually state an idea of self but if the person is not in union with his/herself and in experiential self-connection, it is also not awakening.
So awakening is very much like waking up but waking up in a very different way.
Before going into a darkened room we can have all kinds of ideas about what the contents are. Others can give us their descriptions but this is totally different than going into the darkened room and turning on the light. When we do this, instantly we are awake to what is in the room. We know it from direct experience rather than through some disconnected idea or concept. In a similar way with awakening to the true self, we suddenly become consciously connected to the one that we have always been being (but not conscious of).
The change is noticeable by others. There is an obvious change but we do not change into something else. Actually what happens is we drop more of the personality that we have been trapped in and fall into our true authentic self and are more able to present ourselves from this state.
What we become is ourselves. It is simple, exhilarating and revitalizing.
"It happened just like Russell said, I was eating breakfast on Saturday morning, and like the snap of the finger, I was awake, the light came on, I knew who I was. Everything was new, like I had never seen it before, and it was exquisite. I was born again, free to experience life... fully".
- Roger Groulx, Procurement Officer for DND, Ottawa
Levels of Awakening
So often on the spiritual path, in your reading and investigation you will come across different iterations of enlightenment experiences. One religious affiliation may say that the self does not exist, or that you are consciousness, or that life is empty, or it is all God, or you are divine love, etc. Many spiritual groups can be quite surprisingly fundamental about their version of enlightenment. "This is the truth and all other enlightenment teachers are full of B.S." This can be quite confusing and the mind will not be able to figure it out. The danger here is taking on one point of view to the exclusion of others. The problem is twofold. If you believe in one belief about awakening:
- You will unconsciously try to make that experience happen or
- You will reject a different experience of enlightenment if it occurs
The tragedy in both cases is that you will have lost a genuine transformative realization.
In my experience this can all be resolved by understanding that there are different levels or dimensions of enlightenment, that you encounter along the way. These are like layers of an onion. As you open up and drill down deeper in to the nature of self and life you will meet these paradoxes. As you keep inquiring and surrendering to these deeper realities a new realization will "swallow-up" the previous contradiction and give it a broader context.
For example you may suddenly realize that you do not exist, then later on realize that there is a self that is you that is noticing you do not exist and what does not exist is your ego that is a contruct of your personal history and all the beliefs you have made up about your self. You actually are a self.
Then you may come to realize that that self is empty, has no content and does not exist in time and place. Then you may wake up to the fact that your being is actually full. It is a full potentiality...the possibility of being anything in any moment to any degree. And then you may have a deep insight that you are an individual self but that self is the universal self at the same time. You are everything, God...the whole business and everything and every other individual exists in you as other individual representations exploring your nature and coming to full consciousness of yourself.
So the solution here is to not believe in anything. Get that any belief you have not experienced as being true is just dogma. Do not believe in it and at the same time do not reject it. Just suspend it. Be open to any experience, whether or not it is consistent or inconsistent with what the spiritual teachers of the ages have stated.
The Paradox of Not-Doing
Often spiritual teachers will say that there is nothing you can do to awaken. That doing anything is an obstacle or that you are already your true enlightened self anyway so just give up the search. This can confuse the hell out of genuine seekers and the confusion can really get in the way.
Here's my take on it all.
First off ...yes you are already your true self. The truth of life, self and others already exists. It is in fact the only thing that exists. Its obvious but the problem is you cannot see it because you have some other erroneous point of view obscuring your "vision". What is not lacking is the existence of truth... it is your awareness of the it that is deficient. If you use the definition of awakening as the "direct consciousness of the reality of yourself "then it is clear that your path is to become enlightened or awake to who and what you already are.
Awakening does not make you any different but it does bring you to the awareness of the truth that already exists.
So what about doing or not-doing something to awaken? Well here's my experience on this question.
Those people that make an effort tend to get enlightened more often than those that don't. But the fastest way is to do both.
If you are constantly doing a technique and pushing and pulling to make enlightenment happen then that very effort is filling up the open space in which awakening needs to occur. However on the opposite side, if you are just being open with no effort to investigate or inquire there will be no movement of events coming into consciousness.
So the solution is to do a technique that combines effort and non effort.
The Divine Accident
Let me explain this further. It all comes down to understanding what the purpose is of any awakening technique. The purpose of any awakening method is not to produce awakening. Its purpose is to clear the mind sufficiently of the barriers to you seeing the truth so that you spontaneously at some unpredictable time directly experience that truth.
So any good technique combines a doing method of clearing or settling the mind with times of giving up doing and then being open to having awakening happen.
One of the best techniques of doing and non-doing is the method of assisted self-inquiry as practiced on the Coming Home Retreat (aka the Enightenment Intensive). On the retreat participants sit across from each other. One person gives to another the instruction "Tell me who you are" . The person giving the instruction just listens empathetically. The person receiving the instruction makes an effort to get a sense of themselves and then intends to "directly experience" who they are. Then they let go of efforting and just be open to what enters their consciousness. Then they make an effort to communicate what came up.
Its a process of doing and non-doing over and over again. When the energy of the listener is added to the energy of the person self-inquiring the whole process ramps up! Awakening can happen in 1 to 4 days!
One might say that "Awakening often happens by accident but self-inquiry just makes you more accident prone"
The Tremendous Benefits of Awakening
Essentially you get to be who you really are for the rest of your life. The ego gets dethroned and the true self assumes its rightful sovereignty. You are less trapped in the falseness of the mind and are more able to interact with others authentically rather than through the mask of a personality. As such relationships become more fulfilling. Because there is less of the veil of the ego between you and life you experience life more fully in its richness and depth.
You will begin to feel that you are actually engaging in life and with others in a very real way, as if you are digging into it and making a difference to your existence rather than vaguely feeling it is a dream disconnected from reality.
New vitality is liberated into your body and mind as the energy that was required to hold a false self in place is released. An experience of feeling whole, resilient, peaceful, expansive and completely natural is there.
Awakening however does not mean that you will have no more problems in life. To be told this is to be misled. To one degree or another, the ego mind is still there and it will be an ongoing project of clearing this. There will be experiences of fear, sadness, grief and loss as well as experiences of happiness and fulfillment but with a grounded inner strength you will have more ability to face difficulty and make more progress in life defined by referencing the truth in yourself. To understand more about the project of living the awakening life download the free copy of: “The Independent Seekers Guide” from my website: www.awakentheguruinyou.com
Here are the benefits of awakening as described by some participants of the Coming Home Retreat (known around the world as the Enlightenment Intensive) that you can read about on the same website.
“Before the retreat I was feeling lost, unfocussed and looking for a greater meaning and purpose in life. I released many painful past experiences and thought patterns. I now feel whole and beautiful inside and out, aware of myself and the gifts I have always possessed. Like “Amazing Grace”, I was lost but now I am found. My heart is open and more present to others.
When I finally got home from the retreat I started to read my sugars multiple times daily. It appears that my sugars are in the normal to low range for the first time in 20 yrs or more. I am now in the process of lowering my daily insulin intake. My Doctor will surely be astonished!”
Norma Greene, Westville, Nova Scotia
“When I came to the Coming Home Retreat was feeling blocked, powerless without any hope of improvement in my life....unloved with a low self-esteem. The feeling of victim was taking over.
During the retreat I let go of: anger, false beliefs, resentment and deep sadness…the feeling of not being loved. I realized and now feel: I am whole, love has been within me all the time so it didn't need to be "searched and found". I now become aware faster of my critical me...and question it!!! I feel peaceful, excited to move on and experience what’s coming up, hopeful, joyful. I feel more love for myself, more relaxed.
SO....LOVE is a state...it is always present, it can't be earned or merited...It IS. So I can't seek love from others or myself....LOVE is present and settled within me! END of the search: Bang!!”
Marie-Johanne Bourget, Quebec City, Quebec
“I have a total NEW LIFE! I’m totally out of the dark and dingy prison that I lived throughout all my life. I’ve broken the shackles that I created and I feel totally free! Love and Compassion have a total different meaning and feeling to me. I truly feel that I’ve got a second chance in Life, and it couldn’t be any greater and better. I feel so excited that I could burst! I also, for the very first time in my life, don’t worry about the constant approval of others about me. I KNOW WHO I AM and no matter what they say, this is ME and I’m totally happy with myself and who I am! This is such a breakthrough for me.”
Elaine Preiss, Markdale, Ontario
I offer this definition into the much larger discourse and exploration into the growing research in the field of consciousness. May it help guide you in your way through your own special and exciting journey of Self-Actualization.
For more information on awakening, purchase a copy of Russell’s book
“Awakening the Guru in You” at the links below.
For more information on awakening retreats also click on the links below and read about the Coming Home Retreat.
Retreat Leader, Speaker, Spiritual mentor and Author of Awakening the Guru in You
Find out more about the Coming Home Retreat at: www.awakentheguruinyou.com.com
Or read the book: “Awaken the Guru in You”
Available at: www.AwakenTheGuruInYou.com