Spiritual “Experiences” vs. Awakening
Depending on when ‘you’ started actively pursuing your spiritual or awakening path, you may have encountered different descriptions & promises of what you might expect to experience as you ‘advance’ on your path.
The first barrage of Eastern teachers, Buddhist, Zen, Hindu & Sikh, to arrive in America came throughout the 50s & 60s, coinciding with the time when many young rebels seeking deeper meaning to life were dropping out to become beatniks and hippies, and, with standard Western impatience, dropping psychedelic agents to circumvent years of arduous spiritual practice and quickly usher spiritual experiences. Most of the gurus of that time promised that if you practiced their prescribed techniques committedly – meditation, mantra japa, hatha yoga, breathing techniques, kriyas, selfless service, and devotion to the guru – you would eventually experience enlightenment, or at least, be very far along your way to experiencing that, before you died. ‘Before you died’ had portentous implications, first, because even if you didn’t attain full enlightenment by your physical death, you could at least count on your progress and the fruits of your efforts & purification to be carried over into your next incarnation and second, because it fostered a sort of ‘race to the finish’ apprehension in so many seekers who wanted to guarantee they ‘reached’ enlightenment while still in their current body.
The way in which these mid-20th-Century teachers presented a prescribed ‘path’ to ‘attaining enlightenment’ planted the seeds for some of the first incidences of turning enlightenment or awakening into covetable goal, assured by taking specific actions, and thus, the birth of “spiritual materialism.” In the USA, land of guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, where we were all taught that if we do well in school, get a good career, and follow a specific life plan, we get the gold ring, this equation of ‘do these steps, reap these rewards’ fit in perfectly.
As the number of seekers and New Agers grew throughout the 70s, 80, and 90s, more meditators, breath-kriya-kundalini practitioners, bhaktas (devotion-based aspirants,) and jnanis (direct-inquiry students) started to experience all kinds of ‘cosmic’ visions, breath-stoppage, kundalinis rising, travel to other planes of consciousness, and Shaktipat or transferable transmissions of energy, and a second type of spiritual materialism manifested; the coveting of these experiences as, both for cosmic pleasure (bliss) and as a clear sign you were a very high practitioner, indeed! Insert ego-alert here.
These experiences can all be wonderful & amazing, and following a stipulated path from your Master – wearing the right garments, rigidly adhering to the practice schedule or a spartan diet, prostrating correctly at your guru’s feet, etc.- can confer a sense of community, belonging and a tried-&-true path that you believe will definitely get you from point A to point B. However, they are all total sidetracks to having full awakening or enlightenment dawn through you; indeed, they have nothing to do with That. Ask any fully awake master, including all those who had their awakening without doing any spiritual path or practices, and they will confirm this. Adyashanti reminds us that a common report from all the awakened people he’s spoken to, is that when they woke up, it was nothing like they thought it would be…nothing! For some it arrived with a crash and a bang, a tremendous cosmic energy that felt like it wrenched them from their old perception or damn near felt like they were dying. For others, a quiet but all-encompassing shift in point of assembly where they became One with everything, and saw the entire universe inside them instead of outside, never to return to the ego-view.
Communal identity, cosmic experiences, and measurable progress from conscious effort, are all pleasureful, but they are just spiritual experiences ‘you’ can collect, and as such, no different from collecting worldly experiences like wealth, sexual partners, power & influence in society or worldwide travel. They’re just ego-gratifying experiences to satisfy your never-content mind and they don’t lead to enlightenment or even increase your ‘chances.’ If anything, coveting these experiences is the ultimate distraction, because it means you are not yet resting in the Now, in things being exactly as they are, which is not only where enlightenment lives, it is Its very definition.
Remember, anytime you say, “I had this experience,” you are right back in subject-object – ‘I’ being the subject that’s experiencing this feeling or event, all of which are objects. But there is no subject, no ‘I.’ There’s only all these sensations; no contiguous ‘I’ experiencing them, Indeed, the feeling of a continuous ‘I’ that you’ve been from birth to death is just another sensation, that rises & falls. Saying “I had or am having this experience,” just reinforces the lie that we are a separate ‘I,’ separate from the whole…and as such, pulls you out of your natural state of Awakening.
You will awaken, because you can’t not awaken. You can’t not awaken because you are already awake. Your True Nature, Reality or Spirit, is already fully real, the full truth, and always awake to That. You need do nothing but be conscious of This. If that resonates as obvious truth to us, but we still don’t feel fully awakened, it’s simply because some part of us is still in denial of that fact, still holding out for something to do to get awakened. That part is our mind, our sense of a personal identity & story separate from All This, and it’s fine that the ego-mind sees things that way…let it rave on! Since you know the Truth, your magic key is, don’t believe it. That’s all. Listen to it nattering on about what you must do to wake up, and how those spiritual experiences are not just like worldly experiences, they’re superior and indicate you’re on your way. Listen to it say that a True Reality where everything is just as It Is would be flat & boring and not worth practicing for. Where’s the angels, the astral travel, the thousand-headed visions of Krishna, for gosh sakes? Where’s the part where I cross the fully-enlightened finish line, and really feel enlightened, where I walk down the street knowing I’m enlightened, and so does everybody else?!
“Egos don’t get enlightened; Enlightenment gets enlightened. We don’t wake up; Awakening wakes up through us” – Adyashanti
“Why do so many students never wake up? Because they are still ‘otherwise occupied.’ They believe what their mind is telling them, and chasing what the mind suggests. But mind is past” – Papaji
So…hear that noise the mind, the “separate” identity is making, and let it go. Simply, don’t believe it or follow it’s trail. You can either be a collector of experiences, both worldly & spiritual, or you can be Awake. Prior to consciously awakening, it near-impossible to do both. Wake up first. Wake up now.
Then if you want to entertain & collect lots of cool experiences, have at it! Nothing wrong with in enjoying your worldly life or walking through the cosmos arm-in-arm with Siva or bouncing your kundalini up & down your spine. They’re just experiences, but You are All This. You won’t mistake the two again.