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The Daily Meditation
There are hundreds of meditation methods available now and they have many different aims. Some are for relaxation, some are for reaching Divine states. Some are for opening chakras, some are to heal. Some are to release energy, some to master it. The list could go on and on.
With meditation, it is best to settle into one that is designed to take you to your goals. If your goal is to have a life that works better, that has better relationships and builds a stronger, more integrated spiritual foundation every day, the following method is the most effective sitting meditation technique I have ever tried or observed in others. For those who practice it, it unfailingly produces positive results. It is simple and takes about five minutes in the morning and about five minutes in the evening.
Morning: sit, close your eyes, breathe, relax, and be inside.
Then, anticipate the day. Let your attention go to the things you have to do today, the people you have to meet, the obligations you have, and so on. Review these.
If you have concerns about facing any situation or person, consider how to best face that situation or person.
If there is any aspect of today that you have great difficulty facing, call upon assistance from God or a higher power.
Affirm your highest intentions for today in what you want to accomplish and how you best want to live and treat people.
When you are complete, open your eyes, rise, and meet the day.
Evening: sit, close your eyes, breathe, relax, and be inside.
Then, review the day. Let your attention go over the day and the things that happened.
Your attention will tend to go to the points that were significant to you, either negative or positive. If a point was positive, enjoy the contemplation and reliving of it. Affirm your thankfulness for it.
If the point was negative, let yourself go over it, trying to understand what really happened, learning any lessons from it, and seeing if there is anything more for you to do about it.
Assess how well you carried out your highest intentions for the day. Reaffirm these intentions, accepting that it is probably beyond your current capacity to always carry them out 100%.
Once you complete this process, make a choice to let the day be complete, with all its successes and failures. Take a deep breath and let go of the day.
Sleep in peace.
Create your own style of doing this meditation that enhances the experience for you. This may include an altar, a special prayer, etc.
Always do this review process with self-love.
The subtle power of this method, as it builds week after week, is exceptional. One thing it does is it tends to dissolve the stack-up of daily problems and relationship glitches that commonly accumulate in the subconscious when there is no regular self-reflection. It also subtly changes one’s stance toward the day in the direction of one’s highest aims. It enables you to access higher wisdom in how to deal with decisions and relationship issues. Things go better and challenges are more wisely met.
This practice doesn’t work so well if it’s done ritualistically or superstitiously. It relies on who you are to compare your actions to your own inner standard and make choices independent of reactive behaviors.
As with all regular practices, you will run into barriers. You will probably have periods in which you get to it regularly and periods in which you don’t. Your lifestyle might interfere. Don’t worry about it, just begin the practice again. This is not about perfectionism, it is about going in the direction you want to go.
I am happy to receive any reports you would like to send me on what you have experienced doing this meditation.
The Self, the Cycles of Life, and Working on the Question, 'What is Life?'
When I was a teenager it became my job to wash the Sunday dishes. One Sunday I was washing them as fast as I could to get them done so I could go do something more fun, and I had a shocking realization. I realized that the dishes were never going to get done. I saw that I was going to clean up this batch here but next Sunday there would be more, and then, as I got older, more still after that, daily probably. I saw that no matter how fast I got the dishes done, they were going to keep piling up, indefinitely, infinitely, it seemed. Horribly, I glimpsed my future as an endlessly recreated pile of unwashed dishes with no end in sight, nor even any direction.
This was absolutely unacceptable. I stepped back from the sink, glowering at these dirty dishes. I was ready to have it out, there and then, to settle this issue of who's the boss here, me or the dirty dishes of life.
But the dirty dishes just kept being there. I could see that they didn't care about me or whether I was upset or peaceful, whether I did them or didn't do them. They were just 'ising' there. I saw they would never truly go away. I could create the appearance that the dishes were finished by washing them, but they, and everything else like them in life, would always find a way to recreate themselves.
I couldn't work it out that day, but it got my attention. Later I began to notice that all of life is made up of these seemingly endless cycles: day and night, going to work and coming home, taking groceries into the front door and taking the garbage out the back door, living and dying. I saw that nothing ever truly gets finished in life, absolutely. You can't build a house that will last forever. I saw that nothing ever gets totally fixed either. In college I had a friend who ran a Volkswagon repair shop. One day I was there and I said, "So, this is where you fix them, eh?" He just smiled and said, "Oh, we don't fix them, we just work on them. We send them back out, and eventually they come back in again. Until finally we don't see them anymore." He realized he could never permanently fix a car.
I grew increasingly agitated by the idea that I had been born onto a planet where nothing ever gets finished, nothing is ever fixed, and where we're all going to die. I began to want to know what life really is.
Looking even deeper, and from reading what other people had to say on the subject, I began to see that everything is in the cycle of its existence. Everything comes into being, exists for a while, and then ceases existing. There is no part of life that doesn't do that. Whether we are talking about a bolt of lightening, the kitchen table, or the entire universe itself, some things are in a fast cycle and some are in a slow cycle but all things are in the cycle of their existence. And it's deceptive. If you look at the kitchen table, it gives off a very convincing appearance of being a solid, stationary, reliable, absolute object. But if you think about it you can see that someone brought that table into existence as a table, that it will exist as a table for some years, and then at some stage it will begin breaking down. It will become no longer useful as a table, it will be discarded, and it will eventually go to dust. Nothing seems able to ultimately stop this process.
I had some resolution to this issue when I finally saw that even though I can't totally finish something in life, I can complete cycles. I can complete the cycle of washing these dishes here and be at peace with that, knowing that the cycle is cyclical and not a straight line that has a final end to it. This was a major breakthrough. My acceptance of this made life easier for me. I had worked out my relationship with the dirty dishes of life to a tolerable degree.
But it was only later, as a result of taking Enlightenment Intensives, that I experienced a deeper resolution to this problem of life cycles. It turns out that of all the countless cycles there are in life, all the cycles of birth and death and birth and death, there is one element that is not in fact a cycle at all:
Our bodies are in the cycle of their existence but who and what we are in our true nature is not cyclical. Even logically it's obvious that we can originate cycles, and no other part of life can do that the way we can. Yes, rabbits seem to originate cycles of more rabbits, but they do it unreflectively, unchoicefully. We are different. We can decide to create a poem and bring it into existence out of nothing, by our choice. We can start building a boat and complete it. We can also start building a boat and decide to drop the project, thereby canceling the cycle. We can forget that we started the cycle and leave the half-built boat in the back yard for a long time and feel guilty about it and pushed around by it, until we finally decide to reown this cycle and do something about it. We can either finish it or plant flowers in it or have a party and burn it down or sell it as is or decide to let it be and finish it later, or whatever.
On an Enlightenment Intensive, when someone works on 'What is life?', he or she is confronting this mysterious thing we call life and is confronting it directly. 'What is life?' can be regarded as a philosophical question but on an Enlightenment Intensive that's not the aim. In the laboratory of the Enlightenment Intensive, the person working on this question instead picks some piece of life itself, like the rug or a lamp or a finger or the blue scarf worn by the partner. It doesn't matter what it is, it just needs to be a piece of life.
Then the person sets out or intends to experience that thing directly, being open to it and to whatever comes up as a result of that intention. Then the person communicates what has occurred. The person does this again and again.
Eventually, if he or she does a good job at this, something strange begins to happen: the solid object being contemplated seems to slip through one's fingers. It seems to exist and not exist, all at the same time. This is not philosophy here, this is what happens. Most seekers at this stage will hang on to their unconscious, preconceived idea that life exists in some ultimate, stationary way, and a mighty struggle will commence. The piece of life, being in fact in the cycle of its existence rather than being something that ultimately exists, will refuse to hold still and be solid. Sometimes it may actually appear to dissolve. The unknowing contemplator will tend to either get frustrated, blame himself for spacing out, or simply disregard that particular piece of life and seek another piece, something more cooperative and 'solid', like a rock, a chair, whatever. But eventually the same experience will occur with that object.
What the contemplator needs to know at this point is that he or she is not doing something wrong but rather is doing something right and is on the verge of penetrating into the real nature of life. The thing to do is to keep going, being open to whatever life is or isn't, not insisting that it be something ultimately physical, not projecting one's ideas onto it.
People suffer in different ways over this crisis. Some shake their fist at God, some blame themselves for not being good enough, some go into confusion and wait for the Intensive to be over, some inwardly back off on the intensity of their contemplation and just paw at the issue of what life is. It is a very difficult crisis to get through and it tests the contemplator again and again. Many people have abandoned their search around this point either by giving up or settling for some insight rather than the true, direct penetration of what life is.
If a person continues and is fortunate, he or she will break through into an enlightenment experience that will reveal to some degree the illusion of life and the actuality behind the illusion that some people call God, or It, or You, or That, or sometimes they don't call it anything at all. But whatever they call it or don't call it they know now that it isn't what they used to call 'life'. This opens the gateway into the deeper realms of the true self.
For some people, the question of what life is, is a burning one. For such people, it is priceless to resolve it to their satisfaction and by their own direct experience. Technically, one doesn't have enlightenment experiences of life, one has enlightenment experiences of that which is behind the illusion, that which is the unchanging, eternal source. But so long as people find themselves in this amazing thing we call life, and wonder what it is, so long as it has caught their attention deeply, then the question 'What is life?' will be a worthy one for Enlightenment Intensives.
The Subtle Practices: Tips on How to Go Deeper on Enlightenment Intensives
I got a lot of great results from the Enlightenment Intensive. I'll outline here some of the extra little things I used to do to get the most from them, especially after my first one. If you are about to take your first one, it's fine to read this but it's more detail than you need now. For your first one, I suggest you go to it planning to follow the instructions of whoever is running the Enlightenment Intensive and just settle into the format. That will be enough. The method is very well worked-out and you can mainly get to know it on your first one.
Once familiar with the format, this advice here will make more sense. People are different and so not all of this advice may apply to you. You may find things from your experience that help you more. But this is what helped me:
Sign up Early and Mentally Prepare
I signed up for an Enlightenment Intensive early, a couple of months in advance when possible. I'd commit, decide on a question, and begin contemplating it informally.
I also reviewed writings about the Enlightenment Technique, the stages to enlightenment and the barriers to enlightenment, getting clearer about them. (See The Enlightenment Intensive) I made sure I arrived at the Intensive rested and ready to go.
Welcome Every Partner
I'd go in with a willingness to work with any partner. I had a standing policy to be open to any partner, instead of always seeking my preferences and avoiding my un-preferences. Our preferences and un-preferences are a subtle barrier in this work. My approach was that this person is a piece of the truth itself coming my way and since I was interested in the truth itself, I ought not to reject it.
Openness to a Partner is the Same as Openness to the Truth
I eventually realized that being open to my partner and being open to the truth I was trying to directly experience are essentially the same thing. I set out to be a good listening partner with each one.
Affirmation of Being at Choice
I would remind myself of my basic choice to follow the rules or not, to leave the Intensive or not, to do the technique or not. I tried as much as possible to stay in touch with my choice about what I was doing. If you can affirm to yourself that you are there by choice and the rules are there to serve you and the staff may not be perfect all the time but they are there to serve you too, then you can just concentrate on working on your question.
Being Open to Assistance from Others
In my first Enlightenment Intensive I learned how important it is to be open to assistance. During those three days I received two important pieces of information from the master in interviews. I found the lectures extremely helpful and I had an interaction with a monitor that really helped me.
Besides the technical stuff, there is another kind of help we can receive from anyone. It could simply be called 'contact.' There's nothing technical or informational about it. It's hard to describe this form of help. But it really helps.
This mysterious form of help is taken full advantage of in the Enlightenment Intensive. That there is so much contact going on is one of the secrets of why the thing works. Recognizing this and letting yourself be in contact with your specific partner, for example, helps you go deeper.
Mean it When You Give the Instruction and Your 'Thank You's'
Partners can sometimes become mechanical about this. I tried to always mean it when I gave my instruction and my 'thank-you's.' This raises reality. It helps everything in the process.
Ignoring or Embracing Distractions
Suppose you are contemplating along and someone down the row starts screaming or a monitor steps on a kleenex box as he's moving around the dyads. There are always going to be these kinds of things happening from time to time. My approach was to ignore it and not give it energy or, if what happened was too intrusive for me to take that approach, I would embrace it and immediately include it in my contemplation: "What is another, that can absentmindedly crush a kleenex box? What is that?" This is a very effective approach, to do one of these two options when confronted with distractions.
Contemplating Fresh Each Time
In the dyads, when it was my turn to contemplate, I tried to contemplate fresh each time, rather than bouncing off what my partner was just saying. This helped me stay with my process and go deeper with it.
Contact Your Partner
Sometimes it's a problem when you see that your partner isn't really listening. One option is to call a monitor over. What I found worked better was to contact the person more directly. I would notice who they are and communicate to that one. The person would get that I was seeking to communicate to him or her, specifically, and would begin to listen again.
More Precision, More Openness to Truth
The deeper levels of enlightenment require more precision of technique. This is tricky to discuss. 'Precision of technique' is a rather technical, masculine way of putting it. A more feminine way of putting it would be more like, 'devotion to true practice' or 'staying open to truth, being a vessel for it, having a yearning for union.'
It is actually best when these two perspectives are joined in a married balance that is not fanatical yet is on purpose. Once I realized that a balanced combination of both approaches was best, I tried to walk that way: precision of technique balanced by openness and devotion to the living truth.
Working Only on the Truth Itself
If you can enter the Enlightenment Intensive with the pure choice to work on only the truth itself, your process will be more focused in the direction for which the Enlightenment Intensive was designed. Life issues are bound to come up. This is normal. But you'll save time by being clear that you are after the truth of your question and not just mulling over life problems.
Willingness for One's Life to Change
After any awakening you may be inclined to organize your life so it is a truer expression of who you are. Honoring this process seems to help in the integration of this work, and in setting the stage for your deeper process.
Maybe these subtle practices will help you. I wish you the very best in your deeper work on Enlightenment Intensives.
Stages of Contemplation
In the three-day Enlightenment Intensive, the common stages to enlightenment when using the Enlightenment Technique are described in chapter 1 of The Enlightenment Intensive. They are also described in The Transmission of Truth. I will describe these stages here in another way. Part of this exercise is to give broader clarity to the terrain. Mapmakers know that different maps can be made of the same terrain, which emphasize different aspects. A topographical map will be more technical, and detailed. A road map of the same area will be less detailed but it might point out places of interest and be artistically enhanced. Both maps will be different, and both accurate. Similarly, this description here is a different map of the same terrain.
Stage 1: Confusion
The Enlightenment Intensive participant will start out normally in some degree of confusion. If we could see into the participant's inner thoughts, there would be a lot of this type of thing:
How do I do this technique? Who am I? What's supposed to happen? Am I sitting right? Did I remember to feed the cat? I'm not sure I like that person there. That one's kind of cute. What are other people doing with this technique? I hope I'm not standing out in any way, or attracting any attention to myself.
Residual confusions of life linger in the shadows, about self-esteem, past behaviors, and so on. One's life experience is there, and the unresolved parts will be in a condition of mild confusion:
Can I do this technique? Sexual thoughts are coming up, should I let them or not? Who am I? Where should I be going with this contemplation?
And so on, in endless variations. The content is not important here and it's a lucky thing because it's usually vast, tangled, and filled with neurotic themes.
But this is considered a genuine stage of meditation because it's the starting place. The seeker is trying to reach for reality at a deeper level and is actually contacting it slightly. This brings up the confusion, which is there anyway but which is usually covered over by the busy-ness or stress of life. Busy-ness and stress act as a form of denial. If one stays over-busy and stressed, one will generally not experience confusion, one will experience busy-ness and stress. Free time will be spent recovering from stress. And so on. Staying busy and stressed is one way to achieve a confusionless existence.
But if one stops all that, the latent confusions in the mind will arise. With self-honesty and the knowledge that it is a valid stage, one can let it be, and continue with the contemplation. It is a strong tool of the meditator to be able to let confusion be, to recognize it as the beginning condition of a new cycle or contemplation, and to simply continue with the technique in the face of it. In the case of the Enlightenment Technique, the confusion should just be communicated to the partner.
Stage 2: Conflict
As the confusion gradually lifts from communicating out all that comes up, there eventually arises some form of conflict. This conflict has to do with the opposites of the mind. The mind, like all of life, is made up of opposites. Up and down, here and there, right and wrong, man and woman, success and failure, life and death, and so on.
It is these opposites which must come into union in order for the direct experience to occur.
But first they are in conflict. On an Enlightenment Intensive you see people getting into conflicts within themselves:
Will I get enlightened, or won't I?
Should I say what's really coming up, or not?
Am I doing it ok, or not?
Will I be accepted if I express loudly, or not?
The participant can generally be counted upon to lock on to one of these conflicts acutely, or some other, at least for a time. For example, if the person is having a hard time accepting the structure of the intensive, this conflict may take the form of a struggle to decide whether to stay or to leave. This conflict may obsess him, or her, for some time. Normally the person doesn't recognize this as a stage of the process, the person simply believes it, and struggles with it. However, if he or she continues to do the technique, this conflict dissolves, and staying begins to make more sense.
After a participant has come to do the technique fairly well, the conflict can take a deeper form: whether to do the technique or not. This is a fairly common one. For example,
Every time I be open now, I get horrible feelings coming up that make me feel like I might go crazy. I can't stand it. I didn't come here to go crazy. This feeling goes away when I stop doing the technique. But I want to go forward. But I can't stand going forward.
A mighty conflict can begin over whether to drop this technique and find relief, or keep at it and face something seemingly intolerable.
Usually what's happening here is that a major beingness of fixidity is being encountered. It is too tough to dissolve, too rigid, too much a part of the person's basic identification in life. In order for it to dissolve it must first crack, and it doesn't want to:
As I be more open now, I'm getting angry thoughts and feelings coming up about how much people really upset me. I even feel an urge to hurt them. But I've been nice all my life, everyone knows me as nice. My world would shatter if I let this stuff up.
The beingness of 'nice guy' is in danger of cracking here, and it is a conflict. Years have been invested in constructing it. It even has some workability in life. It never leads to real fulfillment because it's not who he actually is, but it gets him by. It can't dissolve because it's structure is uncracked.
The conflict stage comes about due to the deeper beingnesses with which we are identified and in which we are often heavily invested. We have given them our personal power and energy, and they have become strong. Thus, a chronic tough guy may feel genuine soft feelings of vulnerability come up, and hit a conflict over revealing himself as untough. A sexually repressed person may begin to have sexual thoughts and feelings arise, and feel threatened by them. A person who resorted to being highly intelligent to make life tolerable may find himself not able to figure out what's going on, and having conflict about expressing that openly.
As these conflicts go deeper, they become subjectively simpler, more stark, and more threatening:
The crisis and experience of ego-death may well occur around now. The participant may experience an acute anxiety or sheer dread about the consequences of letting go into a new kind of way of being in life.
Sometimes a participant will just sit there saying, "No! No! " He is communicating out the basic beingness of unacceptance. The master of course permits this, recognizing what's happening, and doesn't rush over and tell the person to not be so negative, to look at things more positively, and so on. The master knows to let the full flowering of the beingness occur, so that it can dissolve.
Where do these conflicts have their roots?
The fundamental conflict can be boiled down to this: we tend to want reality to be a certain way and it instead keeps being the way it really is.
This is the primary conflict trying to be resolved on an Enlightenment Intensive. In essence, that's all it's about. An Enlightenment Intensive is really just a bunch of regular people who show up stuffed to the gills with desires for their self, life and others to be different than the way they actually are. In the Intensive process, we continually confront the actuality that what all those things are is just what they are, not what we think or hope. And some of us go kicking and screaming over this, some of us go sobbing over our shattered illusions, and some of us hold out for a long, long time. But reality has this way of continuing to be what it is. And, if we keep at the project, it wears us down. Once we accept it, we find a better way, but we don't know in advance that it will be better. It often feels like it won't be. This is a genuine crisis point.
So much of our power, beauty, intelligence and fulfillment potential is caught up and held in check by these basic fixed beingnesses which are not, in fact, who or what we are. They are there to permit us to tolerate the intolerable aspects of life, like the loss of a parents' love, until the day comes when we are ready to face it, and awaken into the reality of our true selves.
Sometimes this crisis passes easily on an Enlightenment Intensive, sometimes with great difficulty. Just as some people had a smooth, relatively easy birth process when they were born and others had a difficult one, so it is with this crisis on an Enlightenment Intensive. Some people shift through their crisis points fairly easily, others with more difficulty. Once this crisis is passed, the person has transcended the struggle of the opposites and often shows up in a transformed way.
Stage 3: Emotion and Bliss
We pay a heavy price for the rigid beingnesses of our life. They suppress real emotion, and personal power. For example, a heavily fixed 'nice' person might be reluctant to get honestly angry.
Once cracked though, the emotions underneath come out: anger, and perhaps attendant fear, deep sadness, or loneliness. As this stage flowers, the person will take their place in their body in a new and fuller way than before. He or she may experience some degree of bliss. This may take the form of simple deep happiness, or a profound inner joy in just being. Life and simply existing may become somehow deeply ok, after however many years of it not being ok. At this stage, the master may observe in the person years of tension and fixidity drop away, and some kind of natural life energy and inner beauty begin to emerge.
Some participants think this is enlightenment, but it is not. Sometimes they don't care about enlightenment anymore, it's such a good result they'll take it. Often they would like to stay in this place. Sometimes they lose their motivation to keep doing the technique.
For this reason, some participants go up to the master to report this result, some even pouring over with thanks and saying they would like to leave now. Sometimes they find it hard to believe when the master pleasantly receives their experience and says, "Good. Now go ahead and stay right with the technique."
Participant, incredulous: What? Isn't this it? I'm actually happy for the first time in my whole life! You're telling me there's more than this?
The participant returns to the dyads, happy but now with a seed planted that there is more. What could be beyond this? The release of long-suppressed energies and a more centering of them in the person's body, set the stage for a more spontaneous level of self-inspection, or true meditation. Eventually this leads into a new realm.
Stage 4: Self-inspection (True Meditation)
It is hard to imagine a self meditating upon a self, but this is what can begin to happen in a more steady and energized way. The transcended conflict, the released energy that had been locked up, the sensing of one's real self, can all bring a condition of self-introspection that penetrates deeply. At this stage, participants often experience reality as more present. The happy state leaves but one is not unhappy. This is because happiness and its honorable brother unhappiness, have both been transcended.
This may sound disappointing, but under the circumstances it is not. The participant is absorbed in the meditation upon the self. If working on What is another? he or she becomes absorbed in that other there, their true nature. If working on What is life?, he or she begins to penetrate the apparency of physical life, that Buddha talked about, and enter the divine reality which it cloaks, which then becomes spontaneously fascinating. All of these end up at one place: what could be called the Self.
If all goes well, this leads to a deeper union, a deeper enlightenment, than is seen in the beginning flashes of enlightenment that many people have on Enlightenment Intensives. The beginning flashes encompass the stages I've described here too, but in a more surface, transitory form. But whether at the surface or going deeper, at some point the basic construct of all the opposites shatters and the individual goes into union for a timeless instant. This union is with that which has been known by many names: Truth, God, the ultimate Reality, the True Self, the Divine Other, etc. The names the participant uses are completely unpredictable. They are also not that important. Sometimes no name is used. What is important is that he or she has broken through into the enlightenment experience.
These stages are not regimented but are general stages, passed through more or less by the meditator. Any given stage might be a fleeting experience or one may become entrenched there for hours. Thus there is great variety in how people traverse this territory. But if you watch people for a long time in this process, you see these general patterns emerge.
Self-Realization of a Research Scientist
This old friend of mine asked that I not use her real name. She is a 54-year-old biochemist teaching and doing important research at a major university. She has traveled widely in her capacity as a much-published scientist at the leading edge of her field of research. I knew she liked taking Enlightenment Intensives in her private life and I was interested in her story. I interviewed her in February of 1996 and especially enjoyed listening to her describe her early development as a scientist. "In high school, I was a nerd." she told me. "I used to literally run home from school because I just couldn't wait to get to my science homework." She is a lover, a devotee, of science, which is to say, the truth. And she is one of the unique ones to find a way to participate actively in both the scientific approach and the spiritual approach.
"I am a reluctant joiner of this whole . . . growth and self-awareness aspect to my life. I started out in an extremely closed down place, very committed to my career and to science, which I've always loved. In a way science was my temple. And it probably would have continued to be my temple if I had stayed in the East Coast, where I was in a small research institute, very high powered, and where they really took care of us. I was valued and respected there and they wanted me to stay. But my marriage broke up, and I needed to start a new kind of life, so I moved away.
"When I came to my new position in 1978, I experienced a level of rejection and isolation that was beyond anything I was prepared for. I had sole custody of two young children, and I had few friends. So the security in my life first cracked with my marriage break-up, and then cracked further when I came into a work environment that was basically hostile to me. I was hired under Affirmative Action. They didn't really want me. I was a token. I was certainly qualified but that was not the point. They would not have hired me if it had not been for Affirmative Action. It was during a time when the women on campus were clamoring for more leadership and I was supposed to provide it. But in those days there were times I would come home in the middle of the day and get into bed because I just couldn't stand what I was having to deal with.
"I eventually met this man who was really into personal growth. And a lot of what he had to say had the ring of truth for me. And through him, I began to get into growth processes. He gave me a shove. It was hard at first, because as a working, single mother I didn't have that much time. But I started with Lifespring and eventually, in 1980, I joined a women's group which has been like an anchor for me to this day. Most of these women are not spiritually questing but it is a group of solid and strong and loving people. That group has been a family to me.
“I took my first Enlightenment Intensive with you in 1987. In those days I was suffering from migraines and during the first two days I had one. I was working on my question but I felt sick, I felt like vomiting and I felt like leaving. The migraine went away on the second day but I was still having a hard time. I had no idea what direct experience was. And it actually wasn't until years later that I really understood the Enlightenment Technique well. But what really turned it around for me was sitting across from someone who had a direct experience. This was the morning of the third day. And the energy that moved from him toward me, in the process of it, it was as if we merged. And something clicked in me at that point and I knew that there was something here. So that was how it started for me. I began putting my intention behind my technique in a way that I hadn't up to that point. This led to a lot of openings after that. And on the afternoon of the third day, in a dyad, I had a direct experience of the who of me. I was working with a woman who I didn't care for, really. She reminded me of my mother. Everything she said annoyed me. But then suddenly I experienced myself as this shining light, this burning light, that was who I am . . . and I experienced my impermanence. I saw all these others who are here in this impermanent and brilliant way, just kind of like the light coming on and disappearing, and coming on and disappearing. I experienced the flickering out of this light, even. My whole body got hot, and all these biochemical changes came on. I could feel the heat emanating from me. Afterwards a lot of words and thoughts came to me, but in the experience there were none.
"I made a shift from this that was so big. It became alright for me to die, after that. And I remember coming home after the Intensive and reading Krishnamurti. I had been trying to read him for several years and had never understood a word of what he was talking about. But I just sat there the day after the Intensive and read a few of his books cover to cover, finally understanding them.
"When I went back to work I just decided, "I'm going to go for it, I'm going to go for it in my science and my work." And in the space of three years we opened up two new areas of science. But to do this, I had to separate myself from my mentors. I have had some very powerful mentors in my life, almost all men, who have dominated my field intellectually. I had to separate myself from them in order to have the courage to move into new paradigms. One of my mentors was a brilliant and loving man who was probably the major thinker in the field. I love him dearly and I was really lucky to have him as a mentor. And he was the main person I had to consciously separate from. I'm not sure I would have had the will and the courage to do that without the experience I had on the Intensive. Most of the people who have worked with him have stayed wedded to him, because he is so powerful. They don't separate and do their own work.
"Women have traditionally been outsiders in science. We've been marginalized. There is a lot of pain in that but also a lot of freedom. And this freedom gave me the space to pursue things like the Enlightenment Intensive work. This all became possible because I was an outsider. If I were an insider I would have been playing all the power politics, I would have bought the whole thing. I would have wanted to be Dean or have a bigger lab so I could go around ball-clanging with the other boys. For my generation, it has been hard being a woman. I was grossly underpaid for years, in relation to my male colleagues, for example. This is now partially corrected but I had to correct it myself. It has really been a man's world.
"The best direct experience of all that I've had so far was after an Intensive I did working on 'What is another?" I was quite terrified of working on that question. I had no idea where I was going to go with this. But my step-dad kept coming up for me. Wherever I looked in my contemplation, he kept coming up. I kept seeing the penny box he would go to, to get money for my tuition. And I got confused about this and went to the master and she said, "Go where the energy is, and tell the truth." These are two of the best things anybody ever said to me. So I let it happen, and my step-dad kept coming up. He was such a loving schlub. I remembered how he resented my going to college. It was an Ivy League school, it was really expensive, and he was having a really hard time financially. I remembered seeing him go to his penny box, to give me money for tuition. It was such a trip he laid on me. But on the Intensive I started to see his love for me, instead of all my years of resentment and holding out for my real Dad and so on. In the direct experience I experienced the love of another inside of me as God. It was the most profound experience of God in my life that I have ever had, and I really got it. I experienced another as love. His nature was love. It was an ecstatic experience. I experienced in a single flash all the ways he had loved me, and it was huge. And it was God. It was the love of the universe, inside of me.
"I came home after the Intensive and I called him. He was turning 80 the next August and I said, "Dad, we're coming, all of us, and we're going to give you a big party." Which we did. And he really got my love then. And six months later he died.
"The ecstasy I experienced from that Intensive lasted for a long time, months . . . here now, I'm still reeling from reliving this experience, talking about it . . . I feel so expansive with it . . . it really shook me out of a shell of isolation that had existed all my life, a deeper layer of it.
"Real science is about inquiry into the truth and I think anytime the truth comes out it is a spiritual experience. Any evil in science is what society chooses to do with it, it's not in science itself. And the Enlightenment Intensive is about the inquiry and the need for the truth of the most essential questions people have ever asked. It's similar to science in many ways. You focus on the object and you keep going into it, breaking down its pieces, until you get to the essence, to it."
Direct Experiences on Enlightenment Intensives:
A Personal Account by Lawrence Noyes
(From a talk with Virginia Munroe May 13, 2005, Toronto)
I always had a sense of myself, even as a young child. I remember looking around as a child and thinking, ‘What an amazing reality this is!’ But as I grew older I developed a spiritual problem that wouldn’t leave me alone: I didn’t know what life is. I was aware of myself and I was conscious that life was going on. But I didn’t know what it is.
I don’t know why this problem was there. I didn’t wonder about my true nature, or what God is, or what happens when we die. I didn’t know about those things, but it didn’t bother me to not know. It bothered me, though, that I didn’t know what life is. Each day I would look around and think, ‘What is it? How did it come into being? What is the purpose of it? What are we meant to be doing with it?’ I couldn’t imagine finding my place in life, my real place, without knowing what the thing really is.
I’m not suggesting I was having the crisis that Buddha apparently had. His initial spiritual problem was also about the nature of life. But according to the stories his was more of a profound need to know about why there is suffering and how to escape the endless cycles of birth and death. I had no thought of such ideas. My concern had nothing to do with suffering or death or cycles. And I certainly had no great spiritual ambition, like wanting to be a saint or be close to God or become totally awakened. My inward ambition in those pre-teen days was to simply live my life in what I regarded as a normal way. I wanted to be ok with each day here in life, to be in the true way about that. I wanted to be at rest in myself with some genuine awareness of what life really is and with what we are really doing here. That’s all I was really up to. I wanted to know what life is so I could live it.
I remember feeling discouraged that the people around me didn’t seem to wonder about this. I began to feel peculiar in having this wondering. I thought, ‘Why do I have to be concerned about this? Why can’t I just live and be happy?’ I felt that some part of my birthright had been taken away. I don’t feel that way now. But at the time I felt I’d been somehow robbed of a normal life. I didn’t exactly know where to go to solve this problem. But I knew I had to do it.
At one point I had a serious talk with God. I was around 15. I had no notion of God. My parents never tried to pre-determine in me anything about that. But I remember speaking to whatever the source of all this reality is and saying, “I’m sorry, but it looks like I am supposed to grow up and get a job and work at it and die and I’m just not willing to do that. I need to find out the nature of life and my real place in it and I’m not going to stop looking until I find it. And if that’s not alright or you have no place for me or you’re going to have me die in the gutter, okay. But that’s what I’m going to do.”
So I set out from that point, from this spiritual questioning that was developing into a kind of spiritual depression. And I began searching. I carried on outwardly going to school and so on, but inwardly, in a kind of parallel universe, I was working on this project. And I discovered books. I talked to people and gradually learned that I was not the only one who had ever wondered about this. That was encouraging. I began to acquire more book-learning and various ideas about reality. But deep down, I was always aware that in my own core experience, I didn’t really know.
The Enlightenment Intensive
I continued my research on the side and eventually began to work on my own inner exploration and growth. I took seminars, I saw therapists. I got good results and I began to open up more and feel better about myself. But nothing really spoke to the core of my inner search until I took my first Enlightenment Intensive in December of 1976 in Berkeley, California. I was 25 by then. When I first learned about it I remember being happy that there was no heavy belief system with this method. It was not going to be religion or therapy. And there was no grandiosity. There was no teaching about how in three days you can become totally enlightened or totally liberated or anything like this.
The ideas being put out were that there was a certain kind of breakthrough possible into a different way of knowing about your true self and about reality; that this could occur through intensive contemplation and communication on a key question such as ‘Who am I?’ And that if such a breakthrough did occur it would occur spontaneously. You couldn’t make it happen. But you could set up the internal conditions in which it might be more likely to occur. And it was a kind of union. And usually only a small percentage of any group would break through in this way. And if you did break through, these awakenings had unique power to enrich your life by giving you a base of your own experience of spiritual realities. You wouldn’t have to rely on belief systems or rumors of other people’s experiences. You could live from your own experience and build on that.
It sounded intriguing to me. The key questions that people used, like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is life?’ had the ring of authenticity to me, of cutting through to the core of things. I sensed a great freedom in all this from the endless complexity of psychological systems I had been looking into. The people who were running these Enlightenment Intensives also seemed to have some authenticity about them. I don’t mean that they appeared perfect. They were regular people. But they had some depth from out of their own experience of something. They seemed to be on to something real. So I was drawn to try it.
Who am I?
When the Intensive started I began working on ‘Who am I?’ It was the policy that first-timers were to work on ‘Who am I?’ And I was working hard at it. I was young and determined and although I had plenty of ideas about reality by then, they weren’t particularly fixed.
The first surprising thing I noticed was that I understood everything talked about in the lectures about the contemplation, how to do it, the barriers, and so on. There had been a lot of subjects in school that I had had a hard time keeping my attention on, that didn’t draw my natural interest. But this subject was easy for me to grasp. It was almost as if I was being reminded of it rather than learning it for the first time. I had never had that experience before. I was surprised, and inspired, by this. The result was I found I could apply the technique very clearly, very purely.
I liked the dyad approach of picking a new partner each forty minutes and alternating times to communicate and contemplate. I had no previous meditation training to speak of so I had nothing to unlearn about that. Experienced meditators sometimes have a problem with this method because it involves presenting your experience regularly. I didn’t have a problem with that, I liked it. I always liked honest communication. The idea that you could alternate contemplating with communication was not a big confront for me. It made sense to me. I had also done some growth work prior to this so I was ok with sharing what was going on with me. Sometimes it takes people a while to learn this skill, but I was able to just start doing it.
By the second day I was going along very well, not expecting anything at that stage. I thought the third day was when something might or might not occur. So I was just contemplating along, staying right at it. I was surprised when the lecture came because the master described everything that was happening for me, the barriers, the states of nothingness, and what is called ‘chasing’ in which you mentally try to chase yourself back to the source of you. I remember being touched and inspired by the fact that people before me had mapped this territory out, that the interim stages were well-known, that there was guidance available on how to proceed. So by the middle of the second day I was heavily involved in just doing the process as well as I could, nothing else. And then, suddenly, while I was in a dyad, something completely different happened.
What happened was I directly experienced who I am. And it was the ‘me’ that I had always experienced myself to be. It was not something new. What was different was that I was directly conscious of me. And there was this hilarity about the fact that I was the one I had been searching for on this question. I still didn’t know what life was. I still didn’t know many things. But I had entered this world of direct realization and of my true self.
It’s difficult to get across the quality of this experience. It was a sudden union, like a flash earthquake in the core of my consciousness, of how things actually are. My whole mind was completely bypassed. This was followed by a revolutionized state of consciousness of myself. It wasn’t an insight or an ‘Aha’ experience. It wasn’t an emotional catharsis. It wasn’t an experience in the ordinary sense of something happening. There was a unity or a oneness of my self and my consciousness of my self.
It was not deep, this thing. It wasn’t as if the heavens opened up like you hear described sometimes. One of the main qualities attending this was extreme obviousness. I had literally never seen something so obvious before in my life. What could be more obvious than that I am me? It was privately, cosmically, hilarious.
This breakthrough subjectively separated me from everyone else in the room. I remember looking down the row at people struggling to know who they are and it all seemed hilarious, like a game of some kind. I remember feeling at home in some way I never had before. Some degree of this feeling or sense of myself has actually never left me since that day.
On the next break I went to a senior staff person and presented what I was conscious of, which is to say, me. He recognized my change of state and advised me to see the master. I actually became a little concerned about this. I knew what I had. I knew it was real. I knew it was the thing he had been talking about, that we were going for. But I thought, ‘What if he doesn’t see what really happened? What if he launches into some trip about how that’s not it and I should keep going?’ It would be a disappointment. I almost didn’t want to risk it. But, I followed the directions anyway. I went to the master, this gray- bearded guy who had developed the method years earlier. And before I even opened my mouth we contacted each other and I could see he knew. I knew he knew and he knew I knew and I knew he knew I knew. My concerns dissolved instantly and I presented myself to him. He smiled and said, ‘Good. I suggest you change your question to, ‘What am I?’ The whole interview took about twenty-five seconds.
I had never before been directly in union that way. There was a completeness about the experience that went beyond all other types of experience I had known up to then. In fact, it was not an experience I had had, it was me. Who I am. Directly. It was deeply fulfilling of itself. It was a coming to my true home in the universe, which I had always sensed but had not known with such completeness.
It was very validating: validating of myself, of my search, and of the method. It was validating of anyone who has ever had an initial awakening and tried to describe it. I felt I had stumbled onto a secret, the secret of the true me.
And even though the staff people had said there were these breakthroughs possible, when I did break through there was also something startling about it. Not about who I am but about the direct nature of the realization. It was startling because I had intellectualized what they had said before. I just didn’t know any better. So when I did actually break through, there was something startling about it because I had not actually anticipated this completely other form of knowing about reality.
How could such a thing occur in just two days of intensive work? It sounds ridiculous on the face of it. And it is unusual. It doesn’t usually go that way for people. It usually takes longer. But I was well-primed. The years of contemplating already, the other growth processes I had engaged in that helped open me up, the lack of heavy-handed religious indoctrination in my childhood, my deep interest to actually know, they all somehow positioned me so that when I had the right tool, everything was ready to crack. There would also have been some kind of grace or good fortune involved. I have no explanation for that part.
It revolutionized my search, though. I took the next Enlightenment Intensive that I could, about a month later. I took six of them in that period of about two years, including two of two weeks long. They really worked for me.
I haven’t usually talked about these awakenings. I haven’t been inclined to. I’ve been carrying on with the work they inspired in me. The stories of someone’s awakenings are not as important as what you do with the awakenings, how they change where you come from in what you do. The stories are ok but they never really capture the real qualities or the impact of the realizations. They always somehow fall short, too. Words are very limited that way. But I tell the stories now for these reasons: it was important for me in my early days to hear about the awakenings of other people, to learn that there was a whole other way of knowing about reality for oneself. It was crucial for my spiritual development to be directed toward something beyond ideas and psychology and personality development and spiritual ethics. It’s partly in this spirit that I am talking. People should know that real awakening is possible. And it’s possible for us regular folks. We don’t have to settle for less.
What am I?
After this initial breakthrough I turned to the question, ‘What am I?’ This is different from ‘Who am I?’ The question ‘What am I?’ has more to do with one’s true nature. Sometimes people get confused about this. They ask, ‘What is the difference between ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I?’
‘Who am I?’ is basically your true identity as a nameless ‘I’. It’s the tip of your true nature, you might say. But it is not the depth of it.
I didn’t know it then but I later learned that in Zen practice it is well-known that there are these initial levels of awakening to yourself that clarify who you are but that might or might not reveal more of your true nature. They are not usually very stable and they don’t necessarily tell you what you are. Are you a spirit? Are you a human? Are you a body? Do you die? What is your fundamental connection with reality?
These breakthroughs can occur to different depths for people although the quality of direct realization is what characterizes the type. I’m just describing my own particular process. Sometimes people break through more deeply, initially, than I did. They get who and what at the same time and it is more explosive. In India there are traditions of working on Who am I? exclusively, through all levels of the true self. These words can be interpreted in different ways that influence the internal gunnery of your meditation and the unfolding of your particular process of awakening.
In my case I had a pure ‘who’ experience, with no other deeper experience of my true nature. And when I broke through, that was clarified. But then there was this question of, ‘what is the nature of this who? What is a who? What am I?’
It’s a more challenging question. I was confronted with my basic ignorance about myself, the basic assumptions I’d made about what I am in life as a human, as something existing. There were many barriers in dealing with this particular question. And I struggled with them. I’m talking about periods of straining at the meditation process, periods of not feeling progress, periods of self-doubt. States of nothingness. It’s amazing how many forms of nothingness you can encounter internally. I had peaceful nothingnesses, disturbing nothingnesses, nothingnesses contained in my brain, and nothingnesses that seemed to stretch out all around me to infinity. I had to deal with distractions, anger at God. My wanting to know was seriously challenged. But no matter what was happening I kept coming back to ‘what am I? What is the source of all this that I am?’
Eventually a breakthrough occurred into the first stages. At one point my mind shattered momentarily and a union took place before I knew what was happening. This one had some depth. Instead of obviousness as an attendant quality I experienced a kind of shock at what I became conscious of. Out of this union I directly realized my nature as not a thing. This was not an intellectual realization, you understand. It was not an intuition or a sudden idea. It was a direct union revealing my true nature as not anything, that my nature does not have ultimate physical existence. It’s real, but it’s not a thing.
This was shocking to me because I had had the assumption that I must be something. I had just assumed that I was something and I was trying to experience that. So this experience set a new awareness about myself. I saw how it is that we can show up in life as something born, something alive, something with traits, that all goes to dust at the end of our life when we die. Yet who we are in our true nature is untouched by this. I experienced this no-thingness that I am as beyond life or death.
A fundamental part of my mind had been blown away by this, at the core. It was the part that had assumed I am a thing of some type. But, I kept working on this question on another Enlightenment Intensive because I knew there was more. I had experienced what I am not. And I had become very interested in the nature of this no-thingness.
I set out on the next Intensive working on ‘What am I?’ again. I was working hard and I eventually hit a wall. I reached a point where I began to experience that my mind might break. Literally. Permanently. I couldn’t shake this sense, which I increasingly experienced as traumatic. It got so bad that at one point I quit doing the practice. I began to just go through the motions while I internally reviewed my options.
By backing off I got some relief. I checked in with what I really wanted. And I made a choice that would forever change my life. You know how sometimes there are moments in your life where you are at a choice point and you know that whatever you choose will change everything? And you know you will have to live with the choice you make? This was one of those moments.
I decided I wanted to know my true nature, whatever it was. I was not being fanatical. I was spooked, but I made a real choice. And it heartened me. I began contemplating again and the same distress began to occur, the same fear. But before I knew it I was through it. The state dissolved. And about an hour later a sudden union occurred. It was associated with something like a bolt of lightening splitting through the core of my consciousness, but it was not made of electricity or heat. It was as if it was made of pure truth-energy. It revealed my true nature as being everything, that all reality, all so-called existences, all of them, even nothingness itself, are contained in or are sourced in what I am. This is logically impossible of course. But in direct union with reality logic is out the window and one is simply awakened to the actuality, whether it makes sense to the mind or not.
My mind hasn’t been the same since. Its basic characteristics changed fundamentally after that. It was as if a wall of intellectualizing had been closing in around me but the first experiences had rattled that process and this one had annihilated it. I could still think and analyze when I wanted to, even overly so. But my basic ground of being was no longer ideas. Until then I had not realized the extent to which my reality had been based on ideas. Now, instead of a world of ideas, there was a kind of peaceful space with nothing in it except a sense of myself and my connection with all of reality.
Words become problematic here. Over the years people have used different ones to try to describe these core unions that I’m talking about. They’ve called it direct experience, awakening, an enlightenment, direct consciousness, Truth-knowing, union, direct realization. None of them really do it, especially in our culture. We have no real, agreed-upon languaging about all this. I often sense a lot of disconnect out there when it comes to this kind of discussion.
I came to know my true nature as the source of all existence and non-existence. I didn’t really know what to do with this. What did it mean for my life? I had no answer at the time. But I felt a deep relief at the abiding connection with reality I began to experience each morning when I woke up. I was even more interested now in going on with Enlightenment Intensives. The very quality of the union itself drew me on.
What is Another?
On the next Enlightenment Intensive in this period I worked on ‘What is another?’ meaning, what is another individual? There’s what I am, but what are you? Are you the same? Or different? Or what? By now I was feeling my oats about this method. I began this Intensive feeling, ‘Ok, I get what this process is about now, let me at it, let’s do it.’ But this question pulled me up short. I couldn’t break through on it, even to the end of the Intensive. The last bell rang and I had not broken through. And it was hard. I suffered. Or something suffered, anyway. My pride, I guess. I went home feeling like the question had held me up against a chain-link fence for three days, beating on me with a fist. I ended that Intensive shaken.
I know now that this is nonsense. Three days of intensive, hard work of this kind can sometimes produce an awakening but more often it doesn’t. Looking back, I see that I was laying groundwork for going deeper and for setting up conditions for a breakthrough, whenever that might come. A lot of my demoralized attitude was due to plain spiritual innocence and naivete, which was rampant in those days. We just didn’t know any better.
However. At the time, I felt how I felt.
I signed up for the next Intensive. I was provoked by that last Enlightenment Intensive. So I really prepared for this next one. In the weeks beforehand I kept looking at people and contemplating them, opening up to them, thinking, ‘What are they? What is the source of them? How do they come into being? What is their true nature?’ I kept trying to think of what I might not be willing to face up to or communicate about. I tried to think of the hidden assumptions I was making about others and I tried to let go of them. I went jogging each day and got myself in good physical condition for all the sitting.
On the third day of this second attempt at what another is I was sitting in a dyad listening to my partner. It was his turn to contemplate and speak. He looked pretty bad. He was unshaven. He had a hangdog expression, sitting there slumped in a victim state, pawing emptily at his question. He was a picture of futility. I was just sort of noticing this when I suddenly had union with his true nature. It was like falling into his core nature beyond all the outward appearance. His nature and mine had union, or should I say I experienced the sameness of our true nature, the oneness of it, the no-differenceness of it. And he had no idea of it. He just sat there with an unshaven, hangdog expression. But I was in conscious union with our true nature and I experienced it as sheer potential, the purest, most potent you can imagine, more than a hydrogen bomb.
A feature that stands out for me about this was the dichotomy between what I was experiencing and how this guy was feeling. I was conscious of his true nature, or should I say our true nature, and he was not. My eyes were seeing a guy with a hangdog, victim expression but my consciousness was in union with his true nature as total, total, limitless potential. I remember trying to communicate to the master what I had experienced. I searched the English language for meaningful words and couldn’t find any. I still can’t. I can say that I experienced our true nature as pure potential but that doesn’t even begin to describe it. Try to imagine the potential of all possible forces, all capabilities of every kind, even the capability of being a victim, all in an unmanifested state. You could call it absolute power in the form of sheer potential. The reality was startling.
These breakthroughs annihilated large parts of my inner search. I realized that the question ‘What is another?’ is just another form of ‘What am I?’ I felt that I had realized important realities. But also that there was much more. So I continued. By now I was drawn on by a fascination that dwarfed the other interests in my life. From out of these experiences I naturally began to view life in spiritual terms. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t look at others and not sense our eternal kinship. I still can’t. All the apparent differences between people, the social differences, gender differences, cultural differences, they all began to appear as interesting creations to me, rather than as something ultimate.
What is life?
Not long after this, a Two-week Enlightenment Intensive was offered in which everyone would work on ‘What is life?’ I was automatically attracted because my initial search was about this question. This event was taking place in the Napa Valley, north of San Francisco, August, 1978. This two-week format was very experimental at that time. Only a few of these had ever been done. We were to be like test pilots – or chimpanzees maybe - climbing into an unproven prototype aimed for the heavens. But, I was hardcore by then. I couldn’t resist the idea of two weeks. I signed up immediately.
Even more than my initial experiences, this two weeks changed my inner reality and how I am with others. On the fifth day of this Enlightenment Intensive, after a lot of hard work on this question and many barriers I won’t bother to detail here, a whole series of direct realizations occurred that seemed to come in a chain, one after the other, over a period of several hours. I broke through the illusion of life as a physical thing. But there is some background to this.
Earlier I had realized that life is all that I could see around me and all that I couldn’t see. It’s not something else. This sounds rather stupid. But actually this realization is not insignificant. It was attended by a simple obviousness similar to what I experienced with ‘who am I?’ I had experienced that life is this that is going on around us, it is not my ideas about it. The significance here is that I was no longer contemplating the idea of life, I was contemplating it. And I was traveling way beyond this now, into its true nature.
And at one point on that fifth day the whole thing dissolved as a physical reality. I could still see it, nothing had changed outwardly, but I had de-identified with it as a separate, physical reality. I experienced the nature of life as not having an existence of its own. I had stuck my head through the illusion of life as a solid, ultimately physical thing. Life gives a great appearance that it is ultimately solid, ultimately ultimate. But I experienced that life is not a fundamentally ultimate reality, that what is ultimately true is us, or, you might say, our true nature.
This changed everything about how I regarded life. Out of it I experienced the inherent sacredness of our relationship. I realized the foolishness of becoming attached to anything. I saw that the only sensible way of dealing with life is to renounce it and to surrender completely to whatever the ultimate reality really is. I had the feeling of beginning to give my life over at that stage or, should I say, allowing it to be what it is anyway, which is of something much beyond the surface appearance of life.
One of the most significant realizations from this was about the notion that my life is ‘my’ life. I had always had this idea that my life was mine. I had assumed it. And in a certain human way it is true. My life is mine to decide about. But I had gone past the human way by that time, even past the way of ‘I’, and into the nature of life and the true self. And all this about my life being ‘mine’ dissolved.
I also realized out of this that my path was one of service. I experienced that the true expression of our fundamental relationship is to serve others. This was not a do-good thing or an avoidance of hard realities. It was a natural response to the dissolving of life as an ultimate thing and a revealing of us in our true nature. I saw too that spiritual work was my path in life. This was a personal realization. I just saw it.
This series of experiences on the fifth day didn’t turn me into a saint. They didn’t annihilate my ego for more than a while. They didn’t make me a perfect liver of life. In fact they didn’t make me anything. They just showed me the way things actually are. At least to that degree. And I couldn’t forget it. This was the fifth day.
So we had nine days to go. I was already staggering around the Intensive in an ecstatic state, knowing my whole future had just been fundamentally altered. But, after about a day, and even though I had had these realizations into the nature of life, I still wanted to know, what is it? Ok, it’s not real in the way I thought, it’s somehow coming from our pure relationship, but what is it? I kept working on it. By now I was essentially using the question as another form of, ‘What is our true nature?’ I would look at a piece of life and sense its apparency, its flimsiness in terms of substance. I somehow knew about the nature of life now and the key barrier was getting through this notion that life is an ultimately physical thing that goes on around us. I had again unconsciously been looking for some thing.
The Veil Lifts
I continued working on the question. On the thirteenth day I was sitting in a dyad, working with a partner. She was a former prostitute. That is probably an irrelevant detail. But somehow it’s symbolic for me that in order to know the nature of life, I had to open up to the way it really is. I couldn’t just open up to the socially appropriate parts. Many days earlier I had realized that life is what it is – the good, the bad, the appropriate, and the inappropriate. Life is the parts I like and all the parts I am appalled or horrified by, too. With some difficulty I opened up to this reality. And I determined to experience the true nature of it, whatever it was.
I was working with this particular partner, being a listening partner, and she was quietly contemplating in a very open state. Somehow in this state of just waiting for her to speak, I went into union with a spot on her cheek, completely spontaneously. I wasn’t even thinking about her cheek or particularly gazing at it. It just happened. It came out of left field. And I experienced it as God. This word sounds flat and meaningless and I don’t especially like using it. But it’s the only word that even points to what I experienced. I don’t know how to speak about it other than that. It was not a mental event. And to this day I am trying to integrate this experience, that this thing we call life is not life, it is . . . .That. I was awestruck by this. I still am.
I actually don’t have much more to say about that experience. I wish I could describe the qualities or say something more meaningful. But there was nothing more. Just the reality that all of existence is not merely from That, it is That. This union was characterized by a sense of profound mystery. I had encountered It and I could no longer deny it’s reality even in the swirl of the apparency of life. But the union was associated with a sense of utter, unfathomable mystery, as if my sense of ‘I’ would never be able to know this truly, that the maximum it could know was the presence of it. And that to know it more would mean having to let go of this sense of ‘I’ completely and to know it in some other way than I could conceive of.
Anyway, one result was I never worked on the question, ‘What is life?’ after that. My whole spiritual problem about what life is went to nothingness then.
Starting to Walk
After that two-week Intensive I stopped taking three-day Enlightenment Intensives. I gave a lot of them but I quit taking them. Many years later I did take one in South Australia, just to check in. But in terms of my initial search I had no more draw to take three-day Enlightenment Intensives. Instead I concentrated on cultivating yoga meditation for depth, and learning more about how to live daily life as a spiritual unfoldment. I needed a new approach at this stage, something daily, something more grounded, something not just for having high-octane experiences on extreme retreats. Something that built on my ongoing awareness. This new concern became a daily project, a daily walking.
The Heart Awakens
In this next period a whole different kind of spiritual process began for me, which is really another story. But a special awakening occurred at one point that I will mention because it is significant to my initial awakenings and also because up until now I had been having awakenings of consciousness.
At one point in meditation my heart chakra spontaneously opened. This was not during an Enlightenment Intensive. But it was as if my heart opened so wide it did not exist anymore as something separate, or something protected, or even something physical. All physical limits dissolved and I was in a heart-union with all reality. I was not making this heart be open, it just was. And it opened so deeply that I was not able to look at people without crying. I spent a couple of days staggering around in various states of crying because I could not look at people without seeing their perfect beauty. With each person I looked at I was seeing love in a form, even though they themselves were not conscious of it. If you took pure Divine Love and gave it a physical form, that’s what I was seeing in each person who came before me. And I was not able to listen very well to people during this time. They would speak to me, I would see their lips moving, but I wasn’t able to hear what they were saying. I was completely absorbed in their endless purity, their perfect love-form.
The world and every object took on a subtle pink glow during this period. And I have not been able to look at people the same since. After a few days, just as spontaneously, something closed down. But not completely. And so with each person who comes before me now, I cannot completely forget about this reality. And I experience it to some degree. Since that time one of my main challenges has been what to do with this love. It’s not a consciousness question at all. It’s a question of what to do with it.
I realized out of all this that awakenings of consciousness are not all there is. I had previously thought that our purpose in life was to become more conscious, to accumulate awakening experiences to a critical mass, that if I could just know enough, realize enough, I would be ok, I would win the game, or get to wherever there is to get to, to be ok in life. But by now I had realized that consciousness awakenings are just part of the picture, they are not the point in themselves. Actually they are a kind of illusion. It is an illusion that there is an ultimate ‘I’ that will become ultimately conscious independent of all others and somehow master of reality. It doesn’t work that way. This was a hard lesson for me and it came as a shock. I had been more committed to the brainal, individualistic approach to spirituality than I had realized. This was all really crumbling by now. It was like my brain had dissolved and dropped into my heart.
What am I? Revisited
So with Enlightenment Intensives, I thought that was it for me. My attention was moving on, my daily meditation was deepening, my purposes in life of working with people were beginning to consume may attention. I was busy regarding each day as a spiritual unfoldment. The notion of just doing this work on intensive weekends once in a while was no longer interesting to me. But some months later, in the following year – this was 1979 by now - I got tricked. Another Two-week Enlightenment Intensive was offered, this one on ‘What am I?’ And I couldn’t resist. I had no strong pull to do it in terms of my search. The question didn’t draw me. But I just couldn’t bear the thought of this thing taking place without me. It didn’t seem right. I had a special affinity with the Enlightenment Intensive by then, and with the sort of people who like them. So when this thing was announced it was like a call to arms. The warrior was still in me, somewhere. Anyway, I signed up.
I worked two weeks on ‘What am I?’ And I suffered. I suffered through days and days of challenge on this question. I kept hitting insidious barriers that threw me into an inability I had never known. I seemed to have lost my battleaxe. Looking back, it was partly that my inner drive had been satiated by what I had already experienced. I was not on fire that way anymore. Also, a deeper process of surrender had begun in me and I was energetically in the wrong place being on this Intensive. But, I didn’t really understand that then.
In dyads I often felt like I was in a kind of floating stupor. Then the dyad would end and I would be ok. Until the next dyad began. Then my partner would say, ‘Tell me what you are,’ and it was like a hunk of kryptonite had been set in my lap. It was like someone had sprayed anti-contemplation mist all over me. This was really hard to take. Inwardly I gave up around the seventh day. I had had no sense of progress. The kind of determination and discipline I had even a year earlier was non-existent. Any idea I had had that I could do this kind of work was being pounded brutally, pitilessly. The humiliation felt personal. It felt punitive.
Nothing I had come to know about the stages of meditation or the barriers in this work seemed to apply to me anymore in any way that was meaningful to me. My courage, which had been a close comrade on my past Intensives, had deserted me. This was disconcerting. I had no courage because I had the sense of having no opponent, no direction. I couldn’t find the ramparts. There was nothing to storm. I was like a fighter in a ring with no opponent. Courage is irrelevant in that circumstance. And it looks stupid, too. I was in a kind of goal-less state yet I had signed on for a highly specialized retreat set up on the basis of ‘go for a breakthrough, go for the goal.’ I was hanging in the balance between still trying to find somewhere to get to on this question and the internal condition of not only having experienced that there is nowhere to get to but having no internal mental machinery for generating even the illusion of ‘progress.’
Still, I kept coming back to my question, as a kind of dumb habit, or a kind of gesture of solidarity to our effort there together. Herd behavior, or something. Sometimes out on walks the maximum I could do was remember what question I was working on. My entire contemplation effort would consist of, ‘Oh yeah, that one.’ Less than two years before I would hold the question and pour my attention and openness onto it for 18 hours straight, each day of the Intensive. A lot had changed since then and I didn’t completely understand the process.
Still, on this Intensive now, and in my own flaky way, I kept stabbing at the question whenever I could. But I had long since given up any notion of actually breaking through.
Then, towards the end, on the last day, convinced I had made a hash of the whole attempt, counting down the hours until this thing would end, a breakthrough occurred into a deeper experience of my true nature. I was so certain that a breakthrough would not occur that the unexpectedness of this union was total. It was beyond startling. What can I tell you about this?
I had union with a primordial reality prior to even the notion of ‘I’ or ‘I am.’ And I was that.
This particular breakthrough stands out for me because it occurred after I was totally convinced I would not break through. And yet it happened. Inside I have felt very humbled by this since then. That it occurred left as deep a mark on me as the union itself. I was an abject failure and it occurred anyway. It was one of the biggest surprises of my life. The reality of another hand at work out there was undeniable to me.
I also eventually came to understand that in depth meditation, after significant breakthroughs, the mind dissolves in such a way that the normal mechanism for willful contemplation becomes non-existence, in terms of how one may have contemplated initially. One eventually needs to just be empty of all seeking at that stage, so the unseen hand can work. I didn’t know that then.
The End of Searching.
What was left was this question or rather a kind of impulse of, ‘How do I realize That? How do I walk with it?’ And my whole spiritual path continued on that basis then. The searching mode had ended for me, at least in terms of searching for new awakenings. The thing left for me to do was to practice surrendering more deeply to what I had experienced and to live from it. I began to do that. The method of the Enlightenment Intensive had fulfilled its purpose for me. My life and spiritual practices took on a richness that has deepened and lasted to this day. And I began teaching. I had never before had had any idea or impulse to teach spiritual matters. But it started happening and has continued to this day.
I was still human, you understand. I was not walking on water. I still liked sports. I still had a bad back. People have a lot of misconceptions about all this. But I was still a guy fully capable of doing dumb things sometimes, or getting upset, or feeling any other normal human emotion. Awakenings take place in another realm, the soul realm, and beyond. They are not actually of life in the normal sense we think about life. So I still couldn’t play a piano without learning how. The tax office still wanted me to file a tax return. There was no section on my tax form saying, ‘If you have had profound awakenings of your true nature you do not need to file.’ Outwardly many things carried on as before. The aging process had not been arrested. Normal was still normal.
By 1980 I didn’t feel totally enlightened or somehow finished. But my initial search had been satiated. That was the main result of about two years of taking Enlightenment Intensives. This opened up the possibility for me of walking a real path. I became much less identified with the suffering and the dramas of life after all that. I became more contactable, more able to participate in real relating. Scripture, from anywhere in the world, became interesting and meaningful whereas before it had not seemed relevant to me. I could see the inherent beauty in any part of life and in any individual. This whole reality of life had became a kind of glorious fascination to me instead of a burden or a trap.
I became more relaxed internally. Whole portions of my core ignorance about reality had been annihilated. Almost as a side-effect, my deeper purposes in life blossomed. Subjectively, my interior reality became like a church, with no one in it. You know that experience when you walk into a church somewhere and no one is there but the candles are lit and a great peace is upon the room? And it somehow touches you? My inner being, when I am at rest, is like that.
Those were the significant initial awakenings for me. There’s much more to the story that came later but these were what got me going. I still feel deeply grateful to all the people who helped me in that period. I feel deeply grateful for the Enlightenment Intensive. It liberated me from searching to know. It brought me onto the path of trying to respond.
Enlightenment Intensives and Kundalini
By Lawrence Noyes, December 2008
‘Kundalini’ is a Sanskrit word from Yoga that has grown in use here in the West because English is so lacking in terminology for inner work phenomena. Around Enlightenment Intensives the term is sometimes used casually to refer to just about any unusual energy experience, especially spontaneous shaking, throwing back of the head, or the body jerking this way or that way. You sometimes hear people say, ‘Their kundalini is awakening.’ Of course, these kinds of shakings are not essential to the process of the Enlightenment Intensive. They just happen sometimes for some people in the process of working on their question.
But is this kind of thing kundalini? In Yoga, most of the spontaneous shakings or movements seen on an Enlightenment Intensive would actually be called, pranothan or sometimes pranotthana. It is true that many yoga teachers will call any spontaneous movement or strong energy phenomenon ‘kundalini.’ The term is often used sweepingly that way. I prefer to discriminate because a deeper understanding of the process of transformation is revealed.
The potential for pranothan begins when the life energy, the prana, is purified through willful activities such as intensive dyads, meditation, concentration, study of truth, discipline, or austerities. Body practices such as hatha yoga, dance, and Tai Chi also purify the prana and can create conditions for a possible pranothan experience. Devotion to God or a teacher may also do it.
These practices have their worth in the purification of the energy channels in the body and mind. This process produces the good results such as feeling better, being more balanced, more at peace, and so on. These results encourage folks to continue a willful practice even when the purification may become difficult and the body and mind protest. With obvious benefits we are more likely to get ourselves to the next yoga class, sit again for meditation, continue to eat better, or whatever the practice is.
The Limits of Willful Practice
But all willful practices have an inherent limit, a place at which real results diminish and something else wants to happen. This something else is surrender. The reason for this is that willful practices purify but do not evolve. This is why the results reduce sooner or later and people quit the practice or continue it only as maintenance or to teach it; or, they push on anyway, subtly forcing the energy by their will and get increasingly distorted returns.
In pranothan, the prana has been willfully built up and purified, and the will suddenly abandoned. In the Enlightenment Intensive, this takes place from contact with reality at a deep level, yet usually short of union. The concentrated prana takes over for a little while as it releases and the person may shake, rattle and roll, have spontaneous breathing, make sounds, feeling energy moving inside in news ways, or some variation. After a while the shaking will subside. To someone unfamiliar it can be impressive in its spontaneity.
But all of this still only involves the prana, the life energy. Most of the internal energy experiences people have on Enlightenment Intensives are prana flows. For evolution, the kundalini must be awakened and it is a different, more potent form of energy. It comes from the world of union, not from the world of life energy. Prana sustains life, kundalini evolves it.
Swami Kripalu, in Kripalupanishad, states:
‘In modern times, most yogis . . . believe that the pronotthana that takes place is the arousal of kundalini. This belief is an illusion. . . . In the beginning phases, it is prana which is rising in the body, not kundalini.’
A search on the internet of the terms ‘pranotthana’ and ‘kundalini’ reveals conflicting information and some outright mistranslations about this point, but also a growing general awareness that these are two different things.
Signs of the Awakening Kundalini
When willful practices have been faithfully undertaken, and whether pranothan has occurred or not, so much purity in the prana takes place that kundalini begins to stir. A transformation crisis, often unrecognized as such, begins to dominate the psyche. In terms of spiritual growth, this is exactly what should occur and it is a sign of success in the prana purification process. But it may not seem like success at the time because events begin occurring that are confusing and disturbing.
Typical signs of kundalini stirring are that you may begin to be awake in the night, not through ordinary sleeplessness but from a more subtly intense energy of wakefulness. At any time, day or night, you may (or may not) have more sexual energy than usual, not merely fantasies but the energy itself. Your desires in general may intensify. Your ordinary personality may be harder to maintain in society. Following social rules may become more of a burden. You may be inspired, creative, more than usual. You may also feel an agitated energy inside, but this is not the kundalini. This is your prana being aroused and disturbed by the approaching kundalini. The prana becomes almost like a cat that hears dogs approaching down the street.
Usually people do something at this stage to knock down this intolerable, cranked up energy and restore normal balance, such as quit their practice, eat food, have sex, pick a fight, talk, or take up a cause. These actions blunt the crisis by squashing the energy back down, channeling it somewhere, or doing some of both. And it works, at least in terms of relief. The kundalini goes back to sleep or at least withdraws to a tolerable level that might be useful in life. The dogs are called off. You’ll feel more normal and more OK at this stage. People will think you are your old self again. You might feel guilty for having indulged, lashed out, or failed in your willful practice in some way but this is only through lack of understanding of the transformation crisis.
Willful practices fail in the end, if the aim is to evolve. They fail not because of the individual but because any willfulness blocks surrender, which is what needs to happen past a certain point to get through the transformation crisis. We could as well say that the purification process has succeeded and the transformation process has commenced. In Yoga this would all be well and proper, not a failure. But since most people don’t know about the transformation process, they believe they have failed when their willful practices lead them to the limits of prana purification and something else wants to take place.
Mild or Strong Release of Kundalini
When kundalini awakens strongly in the body it may be accompanied by any combination of spontaneous movements, mudras, pranayamas, divine sight, direct experience, or heat in the body. Spontaneous heart openings can occur unleashing a torrent of divine love. Mild or strong energy rising in the spine may occur. The oneness of all may become obvious. A drinking of the divine waters may take place bringing knowledge from the direct source of reality itself. Visions may occur, or powers, such as cognitions of the future, seeing past lives, or seeing the soul’s journey of others. Saintly behavior may appear for a time. On an Enlightenment intensive, people sometimes have some of these experiences without a full body kundalini release. They indicate a more mild release of kundalini.
The Heather is on the Fire
A full body kundalini release is different from pranothan in that it is more intense and has a deeper quality about it. A truly great force is moving here, this is not merely a release of prana in the body with some spontaneous jerking motions or nice prana flows in the body. When kundalini awakens fully in the body it is like the universe unleashing inside and it is more impressive than pranothan. Depending on the state of the person’s purity and understanding, the person may be ecstatic, awed, or disturbed by what is happening. Usually direct experience is occurring to one degree or another and divine consciousness in some form is present. Sometimes the person presents a combination of divine awakening along with weird ideas or presentations.
Kundalini releases in the body sometimes occur on Enlightenment Intensives but they are rare and not the main purpose of the method. Enlightenment Intensive are designed to access kundalini in another way.
Kundalini Awakening in the Psyche
In a direct experience on an Enlightenment Intensive (or anywhere), the kundalini has awakened in the psyche of the individual. But there may be no powerful body actions. This is because the Enlightenment Intensive holds the body in place in the dyads and concentrates all efforts on purifying the mind. The Enlightenment Intensive is a chitta technique, meaning a technique of the mind-stuff. It is not a technique of the body. Participants are meant to stay in their seats so all their energy can go into their question.
The Enlightenment Intensive uses a specific contemplation/relating method unfettered by doctrine and unmixed with body practices such as yoga postures or breathing techniques. This emphasis beseeches kundalini through the doors of contemplation and relating and does not invite it through body purification. Any pranothan that occurs on an Enlightenment Intensive, although significant in broader Yoga terms, is just another possible distraction from the method of staying at the question in order to break through into direct union. Inexperienced monitors may be impressed by seeing pranothan occurring for a participant and believe it is a sign that kundalini is present and enlightenment is about to occur. It probably is not. It’s pranothan happening. The person begins vibrating or spontaneously shaking or falling off their chair and it can look new and different. It indicates that a new stage of purification is taking place and that the will is losing its dominion. But it does not indicate closeness to direct experience. It also does not indicate distance. Most direct experiences on an Enlightenment Intensive occur without pranothan because the energy and purification are being constantly directed into the question and not into the body.
With the contact, communication, and repeated inner questioning, purification of the mind can take place rapidly, relatively speaking, in the area being contemplated over three days (self, life, or another). The rest of the mind is lurking around but as long as the contemplator stays on the question a column of purity, you might say, is generated in the mind that can lead to a direct experience of beginning or medium depth on the question. This is the purpose of the Enlightenment Intensive.
A direct experience on an Enlightenment Intensive is a union unlike all other experiences in the soul or mind of the individual. It is not just a purification of the prana in the mind, an insight, or a super-alert state. It evolves the consciousness of the individual at its core. There may be side-effects of surprise, laughing, crying, or no special emotion, but all of this can vary due to the make-up of the individual and the depth of the experience. Regardless of the outward side-effects or lack of them, the individual is directly conscious of reality in some completely new way. The formation of a new version of the person is taking place. In the Enlightenment Intensive this is occurring in the psyche and usually not much in the body. And only kundalini can do it.
Prana Crisis, Kundalini Crisis
Masters who give Enlightenment Intensives, and their staff, can grow in their understanding of what’s happening by seeing the work in a broader spiritual context. A good place to start is to begin to discriminate between prana and kundalini, between life-energy purification practices with their associated crises and the kundalini transformation crisis and its associated crises.
A participant wanting to leave the Intensive because he is afraid to say what’s coming up is facing a prana purification crisis. Some of his prana is tied up in withholding himself in life. If a staff person supports him and he starts relating more fully, the stuck prana will free up. The man will pour forth. He will look more present, less guilty, more alive, more available. The crisis will have been got through. His prana will be more pure. It will be real progress in the Enlightenment Intensive. But this was not a direct experience and it was not a kundalini crisis. It was a prana crisis.
If a participant is working on ‘What am I?’ and hits a crisis of feeling like she will be shattered if she opens up any more to what she is; and she keeps going in the face of this and later breaks through into a direct experience of what she, this was a transformation crisis, a kundalini crisis. It was more than a prana crisis, yet not a full-blown kundalini release in the body. But the evolutionary force was active in the psyche, bringing its unique power of union, transforming her consciousness at the core.
A participant pouring forth divine love and wisdom from the source of reality has been touched by kundalini whether there has been a distinct breakthrough experience or not. A participant pouring forth inauthentic emotions of divine love and mind-generated wisdom he has heard from others is unconsciously trying to manufacture experiences by pushing them into being. This is a prana crisis. He is still searching for the path of authenticity and openness that purifies the prana.
A participant who was suffering earlier and now feels great but there is no fundamental awakening of consciousness has gotten through a prana crisis. The prana in the body and mind are more released and purified, leading to a sense of unusual well-being. A participant who was suffering earlier and has union with the nature of life has gotten through a kundalini crisis.
Anytime you have something evolving to a higher form, kundalini will be present in subtle or released form. Through prana a person’s capacity can purify and grow. Through kundalini it evolves. The purpose of an Enlightenment Intensive is not to release the kundalini in its full-body form but to access it for a brief awakening of consciousness. Only a portion of most Enlightenment Intensive participants will succeed at that.
Are Prana and Kundalini Fundamentally Different?
Is there a distinct difference between prana and kundalini? Are they two completely separate energies? Some systems talk about them as two forms of the same energy, one transforming into the other. Some systems speak of them as two different things. Both of these points of view can be argued with some basis in reality. It’s like asking: is an ocean basically different from a river? Or is it a higher form of the same thing? Does the river transform into the ocean or are they basically separate things? Well, both points of view are true in a way. Functionally speaking, we know that oceans possess vastly more power than rivers. Hurricanes can form there. Oceans have extraordinary depth, extraordinary expanse, by comparison.
This analogy only goes so far though. There is a basic shift of context that occurs when a prana purification suddenly changes to a kundalini event whether in a mild or stronger form. The shift is from a condition of partial will and partial surrender to fuller surrender and even union.
From a point of view that is from inside life, I don’t regard kundalini as just prana in a bigger, vaster form. Because of the fundamental difference in their domains – one life-based, the other eternal-based - I hold them separate, each honorable in its own domain, each acting according to its nature and energy physics, each a friend to us or an enemy depending on our wisdom in dealing with it. Kundalini is to prana as an orgasm is to foreplay. Yes, they are intimately related. One is more intense than the other. But there is also a fundamental difference.
Sudden or Gradual?
When you see someone have a direct experience and then return to the world of prana filled with the wisdom and energy of Truth itself - it is impressive. And sudden. However, sometimes you also see people seemingly flow from a condition of separation to a condition of union as a river flows into an ocean. There was no discernable, distinct breakthrough experience. Yet there they are, in a divine state.
My experience is that if the person has been quite willful, the sudden shift and the hallmarks of ‘an experience’ will be more pronounced. If the person is more surrendered, the discontinuity will be harder to detect and there will be less of a distinct ‘breakthrough experience.’ There will be more of a flow from the state of separation to the state of union and back. In these cases, it is as if prana and kundalini are in love now and getting along ecstatically. Yes, they are separate but their harmony is so realized that the doorway to their Oneness has been left ajar. Whereas with the use of the will, prana and kundalini are trying to get to know each other somewhat awkwardly. They hit rough patches which highlight their differences and ignorance. But with care and authenticity they can get through these barriers and move toward union.
How can one go on with kundalini and be successful with it after such brief experiences on an Enlightenment Intensive? It takes a lifestyle of more purification and more surrender rather than predominantly willful practices. It takes more wisdom and choice about managing prana and kundalini as they apply to oneself. This topic goes beyond what the Enlightenment Intensive was designed to do, which is to briefly open the door to that world in a way people can use in life; and to glimpse the process of actual spiritual growth beyond the quicksand of ignorance, doctrine, and thinking.
In the meantime, any master, staff person, or participant can begin to grow his or her ability to discriminate between the life energy being purified on an Enlightenment Intensive and kundalini stepping onto the scene to do its work. There are many mysteries with kundalini and this is the first one. Beginning to notice these differences lays the groundwork for a deeper understanding of the Enlightenment Intensive process. It also brings more discernment in dealing with energy in one’s own transformation process afterwards.
Are We Ultimately Good or Bad?
This question has been wrestled with for a long time. It’s a good question, a basic question. It is strange, though, that we ask this of ourselves. You would think we would know.
I remember the first time I heard the teaching that we are fundamentally good. It sounded intuitively correct to me. It was positive, hopeful.
I had also heard the teaching of original sin. According to this teaching, we are fundamentally flawed and cannot attain to God without grace. I had read enough history and seen plenty of evidence for our being flawed. Our legacy is a vast canvas of warfare, injustice, and suffering. Reading our history you can almost begin to imagine a kind of rogue, half-crazed species, loose on planet earth with no adult supervision. Original sin makes a lot of sense.
But the theory that we are fundamentally good also has a lot of evidence to back it up. When people engage in successful therapy, for example, their lives improve and they become better people. They relate more authentically, with less acting out, less vindictiveness. They get along with others better. If we were fundamentally bad you would expect that good therapy would uncloak our basic badness in its full splendor. We would come out of the closet and really start mistreating each other. No more Mr. Nice Guy. We would become more fulfilled this way because we would be living from our deepest truth.
But that’s not what we see. And the thought of it is intuitively grating.
Certainly we are preoccupied with issues of good and bad in life, especially as they relate to survival. And it is a moving target. Sometimes being good according to the prevailing standard is the best way to survive in a situation. In other circumstances, being bad may offer more survival value. We have a constant choice about this.
In love, of course, everything goes. Being good sometimes works. Being bad sometimes works. Sometimes being neither works, just being is what works.
What is it that can be good or bad or something else, by choice? Only something that is neither, something beyond them, something that can adopt either point of view when it wants to, or not. We are in that category.
Here is some interesting evidence about all this from the Enlightenment Intensive: in the journey toward direct experience you see participants periodically struggle with issues of good and bad. People suffer in the dyads with guilt over things they did that they regret and things they failed to do. They rage at the injustices inflicted on them. They wrestle with whether to admit to murderous fantasies or criminal behavior. People’s song and dance around good and bad, whatever it is, surfaces in this process.
In the Enlightenment Intensive people have a chance to move through these layers of good and bad in the processing that takes place in the dyads. The container of the Intensive gradually enables people to reach into a deeper authenticity. This is where the real progress starts to take place.
And what is really interesting is that when a person breaks through into a genuine awakening, you never see someone expressing their true nature as good or bad. There are always other qualities being expressed: nothingness, everything, the source of all potential. There are many other qualities people may express. But by this time, notions of good and bad are long left in the dust.
You don’t just see this on Enlightenment Intensives. Any system of awakening, such as Zen, reveals some version of the same process.
Real awakenings improve the basic state of one’s relationship with reality. Depending on the depth and stability, they generate an experience of deep peace, emptiness, and connectedness with all things. The behavior that emanates from this condition is neither good nor bad, it is from beyond these notions. It is from our native connectedness, and our true, eternal nature. It tends more toward being appropriate to the moment than being ‘good’ in any normal sense. It comes from a deeper attunement with reality.
In awakening work, it is only by getting past the apparent conflict of good and bad that this doorway begins to open. On the Enlightenment Intensive one can see that the question of whether we are basically good or bad is a transient struggle that eventually goes to dust, part of the greater process of our psyche as it grapples to resolve who and what we really are in the midst of a world of opposites. We eventually find that we are the space in which opposites can appear and that there is nothing to which we are not connected.
This fundamental connectedness is not good or bad, it’s just part of the way it is. Yet it does lead to more connected behavior and fewer mind-generated problems. It holds the promise of the possibility of union. If we were fundamentally unconnected, no union would ever be possible. But union is possible because of this underlying connectedness. And it leads to elevated lives and the emergence of saintly behavior.
It’s not so much that we are fundamentally good, it is more that we are fundamentally connected. Even more than that, we are a oneness. This is better news even than that we are basically good.
Yet in this ocean of connectedness we also have a separation of things that makes up life, a duality, a world of opposites, in which individuality and choice may exist. This makes relating as we know it possible. Because of our individuality, we will always live and act from a point of view, a point of view that inevitably is not the perfection of the whole connectedness. Any act from a single point of view will always be flawed to some extent. Original sin is the fact of our individuality, our power of choice, which is necessarily separate, solo. Original sin is the price we chose to pay to have life as we know it, to interact from points of view. And we cannot will ourselves into union from these points of view. We can create conditions where union might occur more readily. But when it comes, union comes only by grace.
This is part of the great unfoldment seen again and again in microcosm on the Enlightenment Intensive, not as philosophy but as the participants’ journey to awakening.
With awakening comes the project of living from it in a human psyche limited by its point of view and prone to mistakes and shortcomings. We live in the paradox of the limits of our point of view on the one hand and the perfect divinity of our connectedness and true nature on the other. Holding this paradox and flowing with it, sometimes being an agent of change in it, sometimes riding the waves of this divine love that connects us all – this becomes the dance that is. And the question of whether we are basically good or bad is not thought of much anymore.