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Life After Awakening, with Adyashanti

Friends, I wanted to share with you a free chapter from Adyashanti‘s inspiring (and very provocative) book The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment.

More and more people are waking up spiritually. And for many of them, the question becomes: Now what? “Information about life after awakening is usually not made public,” explains Adya. “It’s most often shared only between teachers and their students.” The End of Your World is his response to a growing need for direction on the spiritual path. Consider this Adya’s personal welcome to “a new world.”

Here is the excerpt, entitled “Exploring Life After Awakening.” 

There’s a phenomenon happening in the world today. More and more people are waking up—having real, authentic glimpses of reality. By this I mean that people seem to be having moments where they awaken out of their familiar senses of self, and out of their familiar senses of what the world is, into a much greater reality—into some- thing far beyond anything they knew existed.

These experiences of awakening differ from  person to person. For some, the awakening is sustained over time, while for others the glimpse is momentary—it may last just a split second. But in that instant, the whole sense of “self ” disap- pears. The way they perceive the world suddenly changes, and they find themselves without any sense of separation between themselves and the rest of the world. It can be likened to the experience of waking up from a dream—a dream you didn’t even know you were in until you were jolted out of it.

In the beginning of my teaching work, most of the people who came to me were seeking these deeper realizations of spirituality. They were seeking to wake up from the limiting and isolated senses of self they had imagined themselves to be. It’s this yearning that underpins all spiritual seeking: to discover for ourselves what we already intuit to be true— that there is more to life than we are currently perceiving.

But as time  has passed, more  and  more  people are coming to me who have already had glimpses of this greater reality. It is because of them that I am giving the teachings in this book.

The Dawning of Awakening

This discovery I’m talking about is traditionally referred to as spiritual awakening, because one awakens from the dream of separation created by the egoic mind. We realize—often quite  suddenly—that our  sense of  self, which  has  been formed and constructed out of our ideas, beliefs, and images, is not really who we are. It doesn’t define us; it has no center. The ego may exist as a series of passing thoughts, beliefs, actions, and reactions, but in and of itself it has no identity. Ultimately all of the images we have about ourselves and the world turn out to be nothing but a resistance to things as they are. What we call ego is simply the mechanism our mind uses to resist life as it is. In that way, ego isn’t a thing as much as it is a verb. It is the resistance to what is. It is the pushing away or pulling toward. This momentum, this grasping and rejecting, is what forms a sense of a self that is distinct, or separate, from the world around us.

But with the dawn of  awakening, this outside world begins to collapse. Once we lose our sense of self, it’s as if we have lost the whole world as we knew it. At that moment— whether that moment is just a glimpse or something more sustained—we suddenly realize with incredible clarity that what we truly are is in no way limited to the small sense of self that we thought we were.

Awakening to truth or reality is something that is very hard to talk about because it is transcendent of speech. It is helpful, nevertheless, to work with some sort of a guidepost. The simplest thing one can say about the experiential knowledge of awakening is that it is a shift in one’s perception. This is the heart of awakening. There is a shift in perception from seeing oneself as an isolated individual to seeing oneself, if we have a sense of self at all after this shift, as something much more universal—everything and everyone and every- where at the same time.

This shift is not revolutionary; it’s the same as looking in the mirror in the morning and having an intuitive sense that the face you are looking at is yours. It is not a mystical experience; it is a simple experience. When you look in the mirror, you experience the simple recognition, “Oh, that’s me.” When the shift of perception that’s called awakening happens, whatever our senses come into contact with is experienced as ourselves. It’s as if we think with everything we encounter, “Oh, that’s me.” We don’t experience ourselves in terms of our ego, in terms of a separate someone or separate entity. It’s  more a feeling of the One recognizing itself, or Spirit recognizing itself.

Spiritual awakening is a remembering. It is not becoming something that we are not. It is not about transforming ourselves. It is not about changing ourselves. It is a remembering of what we are, as if we’d known it long ago and had simply forgotten.  At the moment  of this remembering, if the remembering is authentic, it’s not viewed as a personal thing. There is really no such thing as a “personal” awakening, because “personal” would imply separation. “Personal” would imply that it is the “me” or the ego that awakens or becomes enlightened.

But in a true awakening, it is realized very clearly that even the awakening  itself is not personal. It is universal Spirit or universal consciousness that wakes up to itself. Rather than the “me” waking up, what we are wakes up from the “me.” What we are wakes up from the seeker. What we are wakes up from the seeking.

The problem with defining awakening is that upon hear- ing each of  these descriptions, the  mind creates another image, another idea of what this ultimate truth or ultimate reality is all about. As soon as these images are created, our perception is distorted once again. In this way, it’s really impossible to describe the nature of reality, except to say that it’s not what we think it is, and it’s not what we’ve been taught it is. In truth, we are not capable of imagining what it is that we are. Our nature is literally beyond all imagination. What we are is that which is watching—that  consciousness which is watching us pretending to be a separate person. Our true nature is continually partaking of all experience, awake to every instant, to each and every moment.

In awakening, what’s revealed to us is that we are not a thing, nor a person, nor even an entity. What we are is that which manifests as all things, as all experiences, as all personalities. We are that which dreams the whole world into existence. Spiritual  awakening reveals that  that  which is unspeakable and unexplainable is actually what we are.

Abiding and Nonabiding Awakening

As I’ve mentioned, this experience of awakening can be just a glimpse, or it can be sustained over time. Now, some would say that if an awakening is momentary, it is not a real awakening. There are those who believe that, with authentic awakening, your perception opens up to the true nature of things and never closes back down again. I can understand  this perspective, since ultimately the  whole spiritual journey does lead us to  a full  awakening. Full awakening simply means that we perceive from the perspective of Spirit—from the view of oneness—all the time.

From this awakened perspective, there isn’t any separation anywhere—not in the world, not in the universe, not in all the universes everywhere. The truth is anywhere and everywhere, at all times, in all dimensions, for all beings. It is a truth that is the source of everything that will ever be experienced—in  life, after life, in this dimension or any other dimension.

From the perspective of  the ultimate, literally every- thing—be it at a higher or lower dimension, here or there, yesterday, today, or tomorrow, everything—is but a manifestation of Spirit. It is Spirit itself that wakes up. So, ultimately, the trajectory every being is on, whether they know it or not, is a trajectory toward full awakening—toward  a full knowing, toward a full experiential knowledge of what they are, toward unity, toward oneness.

But the moment of awakening may or may not result in a permanent seeing. As I said, some people will tell you that unless it’s permanent, the awakening is not real. What I’ve seen as a teacher is that the person who has a momentary glimpse beyond the veil of duality and the person who has a permanent, “abiding” realization are seeing and experiencing the same thing. One person experiences it momentarily; another experiences it continually. But what is experienced, if it is true awakening, is the same: all is one; we are not a particular thing or a particular someone that can be located in a particular space; what we are is both nothing and every- thing, simultaneously.

So, as I see it, it doesn’t really matter whether an awakening is instantaneous or continuous. It matters in the sense that there is a trajectory—nobody’s heart will be totally fulfilled until that perceiving from the point of view of truth is continuous—but what is seen is an awakening, whether it is sustained or not.

This glimpse of awakening, which I call nonabiding awakening, is becoming more and more common. It happens for a moment, an afternoon, a day, a week—maybe as long as a month or two. Awareness opens up, the sense of the separate self falls away—and  then, like the aperture on a camera lens, awareness closes back down. All of a sudden that person who had previously perceived true nonduality, true oneness, is quite surprisingly now perceiving back in the dualistic “dream state.” In the dream state, we’re back in our conditioned sense of self—in a limited, isolated sense of being.

The good news is that once a moment of this clear seeing has actually taken place, the aperture of our awareness can never completely close down again. It may seem like it has closed down completely, but it never quite does. In the deep- est part of yourself, you don’t ever forget. Even if you’ve only glimpsed reality for a moment,  something within you is changed forever.

Reality is nuclear; it’s incredibly powerful. It’s unimaginably potent. People can experience a f lash of reality in the time it takes to snap your fingers, and the energy and the force that enters into them as a result is life altering.

Just one moment  of awakening begins the dissolution of one’s false sense of self and, subsequently, the dissolution of one’s whole perception of the world.

Awakening Is Not What You Imagine It to Be

In a very real sense, it is much more accurate to talk about what we lose upon awakening rather than what we gain. We not only lose ourselves—who we thought we were—but we also lose our entire perception of the world. Separation is only a perception; in fact, when it comes to our world, there is nothing but perception. “Your world ” is not your world; it is only your perception. So while it may seem negative at first, I think it’s much more useful to talk about spiritual awakening in terms of what we lose—what we awaken from. This means we’re talking about the dissolution of the image we have of ourselves, and it’s  this dismantling of who we thought we were that is so startling when one wakes up.

And it is indeed startling: it’s not what we think it’s going to be like at all. I’ve never had a single student come back and say, “You k now, Adya, I peered through the veil of separation, and it’s pretty much what I thought it would be. It measures up pretty closely to what I’ve  been told.” Usually they come back and say, “This is nothing like what I imagined.”

This is especially interesting since many of the people I teach have been studying spirituality for many years, and they often have very intricate ideas about what awakening is going to be like. But when it happens, it is always different from their expectations. In many ways, it is grander, but also in many ways, it is simpler. In truth, if it is to be true and real, awakening must be different from what we imagine it to be. This is because all of our imaginings about awakening are happening within the paradigm of the dream state. It is not possible to imagine something outside of the dream state when our consciousness is still within it.

How Does Your Life Change after Awakening ?

With awakening there also comes a total reorganization of the way we perceive life—or at least the beginning of a reorganization. This is because awakening itself, while beautiful and amazing, often brings with it a sense of disorientation. Even though you as the One have awakened, there is still your whole human structure—your body, your mind, and your personality. Awakening can often  be experienced as very disorienting to this human structure.

So it is the process that happens after awakening that I want to explore. As I’ve said, for a very few people, the moment of awakening will be complete. It will be final in a certain sense, and there will be no need for a continuing process. We might say that such people had an extraordinarily light karmic load; even though they may have experienced extreme suffering before awakening, one can see that their karmic inheritance, the conditioning that they were dealing with, wasn’t too deep. This is very rare. Only a few people in a given generation may wake up in such a way that there’s no further process to undergo.

What I always tell people is this: don’t count on that person being you. Better to count on being like everyone else, which means that you will undergo a process after an initial awakening. It won’t be the end of your journey. What I will attempt to do here is to point you in a direction that may be useful and orienting as you embark on that journey. As my teacher used to say, it’s like getting your foot in the front door. Just because you’ve gotten your foot in the front door doesn’t mean you have turned the lights on; it doesn’t mean you have learned to navigate in that different world that you’ve awakened to.

I’m very happy that this book, which is based on a series of  talks I’ve given, offers  me the opportunity to  address this subject—the question of what happens after  awaken- ing. The information that exists on life after awakening is not usually made public. It’s most often shared only between spiritual teachers and their students. The problem with that approach is that, as I’ve said, a lot of people are now having these moments of awakening, and there is very little coher- ent teaching available for them. In that sense, this book is meant to be a welcoming to that new world, that new state of oneness.

Pema Chödrön: Living with Vulnerability

Pema Chödrön is an American-born Buddhist nun who currently resides at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. Her many publications include How to Meditate, Getting Unstuck, and Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better. This special episode of Insights at the Edge—originally broadcast as part of the Living with Vulnerability online program—features a deeply heartfelt conversation between Pema and Tami Simon. Here they discuss why it can feel so hard to live with your innermost self open to the world. Pema emphasizes that choosing to be vulnerable brings a more genuine and fulfilling experience of your daily life. Finally, Tami and Pema talk about listening to the inherent lessons of your emotions and why acceptance of the moment will open you to ever-greater opportunities for joy and enrichment.(66 minutes)

Scott Shute: Moving from Me to We: Compassion at Work

Scott Shute is the head of LinkedIn’s Mindfulness and Compassion Programs and a featured trainer in the Inner MBA, a nine-month immersion program that Sounds True has created in partnership with LinkedIn, Wisdom 2.0, and MindfulNYU. In this week’s podcast, Tami Simon and Scott discuss the new revolution that is underway at today’s workplaces. Their conversation explores the importance of being present in order to find strength from the inside, learning to relax our minds and bodies, integrating spirituality and business, the power of compassion to shift a workplace from “me-centered” to “we-centered,” and much more. (57 minutes)

Dr. Rachael Wooten: The Liberating Power of Tara

Dr. Rachael Wooten is a Zurich-trained Jungian analyst and psychologist who has been in private practice as a therapist for more than 40 years. An enthusiastic interfaith activist, she has studied and practiced in Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and indigenous traditions throughout her adult life. With Sounds True, Dr. Wooten has written a new book called, Tara: The Liberating Power of the Female Buddha.

In this episode of Insights at the Edge, you are invited to get to know Tara as a very real and deeply empowering presence in your own life, as Dr. Wooten introduces you to the radiant figure beloved by millions in Tibet and across the world. In conversation with Tami Simon, she also discusses the 21 traditional emanations of Tara, the first steps involved in embarking on a relationship with Tara, and how to enlist her help at this particular time in history. (1 hour, 7 minutes)

The Power of Mapping Your Emotions

It’s in everyone’s best interest to learn to remove the emotional blinders and identify emotions accurately, both the uncomfortable and the upbeat ones. After all, unpleasant emotions are normal and natural, a fundamental part of being human. Emotions fluctuate on a daily basis, often several times in a given day. If you didn’t experience negative feelings now and then, the positive ones wouldn’t be as noteworthy or joyful; your emotional life would likely be unnaturally narrow. You would also be deprived of the opportunity to glean important insights into yourself. Feelings, both the good and the bad, are silent messages, alerting you to pay attention to something in your personal or professional life, in your behavior, or in the world around you.

Instead of separating emotions into categories such as good or bad, positive or negative, happy or sad, it’s better to view all your emotions as useful information, as “evolutionarily evolved responses that are uniquely appropriate to specific situations,” says Karla McLaren, MEd, author of The Language of Emotions. “When you stop valencing, you’ll learn to empathically respond to what’s actually going on—and you’ll learn how to observe emotions without demonizing them or glorifying them.”

Being able to recognize and express what you’re feeling helps you better understand yourself (leading to greater self-knowledge); validate your emotions and tend to your own emotional needs; and take steps to address those feelings directly by communicating and responding to them effectively. Having emotional self-awareness can motivate you to make healthy changes in your life, take action to improve the world around you, and become more psychologically resilient—that is, better able to cope with crises and rebound from setbacks.

Learning to Unpack Your Emotions

For some people, engaging in free association can clear the cobwebs from their minds, almost like opening the cellar door to a musty basement and letting in light and fresh air. To do this, you might take a break and consider how you’re feeling about what you’re doing, reading, seeing, or thinking every few hours throughout the day. If a general word comes to mind—such as stressed, anxious, or angry—dig deeper and ask yourself what other emotions you might be feeling (maybe fear or annoyance) along with it. If you do this out loud in unedited, private moments, you might find yourself blurting out what you’re really thinking or feeling, revealing the emotions that are taking a lot of energy to keep inside. This is really about unpacking your suitcase of feelings, or untangling the knot of emotions that is taking up space inside you.

When you think about this in the abstract, it can be hard to pinpoint how you’re feeling. You may just see a swirling mass of a feeling quality such as “dread” or “foreboding” rather than recognizing the specific emotions you feel. To get to the root of your feelings, spend five minutes looking at the word cloud below—no more than five so that you don’t have time to filter your responses—and choose the emotions that resonate with your mood-state lately.

If reviewing these words evokes other feelings for you or if words or phrases that apply to you were not on this word cloud, jot these down in the blank word cloud that follows. Give yourself another five minutes to think about your recent state of mind and jot down phrases, images, or words that occur to you. This is your opportunity to personalize it without any limits or restrictions. If you feel stymied or draw a blank initially, think about your recent responses to current events or situations in your personal life or on the world stage. Try to be as honest as you can by focusing on how you’re really feeling when no one is watching—free-associate without judging, censoring, or revising what you write down.

Once you’ve finished your list, look at the order of the words you wrote down: Did they progress from all negative to increasingly hopeful? Do they portray an internal tension or friction in going back and forth between various feelings? If all the words are positive, consider the possibility that you may be in some degree of denial, focusing only on the window dressing rather than the emotions that lie beneath the surface. Also, consider this: Is there a pattern of shallow, visceral reactions that came out initially, followed by more complex thoughts and feelings? If so, think about whether you’re giving yourself enough time in your life to reflect. If you came out with highly intellectualized words or phrases first, it might suggest that you put on a bit of a facade when engaging with the world, and you might benefit from striving for a deeper engagement or familiarity with your emotions.

This is an excerpt from Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times by Lise Van Susteren, MD, and Stacey Colino.

Buy your copy of Emotional Inflammation at your favorite bookseller!
Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop

The Place You Awaken

Establishing a place for regular outdoor meditation and nature observation is often referred to as a “sit spot” or “medicine spot”.  Like the Buddha, who found his own tree of awakening, we too can go to nature and practice being awake to the reality of the present moment.  This practice can also help us become more intimate with all the qualities of the land we live with.  

If one day I see a small bird and recognize it, a thin thread will form between me and that bird. If I just see it but don’t really recognize it, there is no thin thread. If I go out tomorrow and see and really recognize that same individual small bird again, the thread will thicken and strengthen just a little. Every time I see and recognize that bird, the thread strengthens. Eventually it will grow into a string, then a cord, and finally a rope. This is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes with all aspects of the creation in this way.” 

San bushman

Guided Sit Spot Practice

  1. Go to a place in nature that is close to where you live and that you can visit regularly.
  1. Take a few moments to center yourself, breathing in and out, and arriving fully in the present moment.
  1. As you are ready begin to walk mindfully with an intention to find a spot that calls out to you, a place you can sit and deepen your relationship with this place.  The spot should feel welcoming, safe and comfortable.  It could be under a tree, beside a boulder or in an open space.  Often, east facing spots can be nice for early morning sits.
  1. When you find a spot that feels good, in your own way, ask permission of that place and wait to see what comes to you.  If you feel invited, sit.  If not, keep looking.
  1. Once in your spot, sit comfortably and become as still as you can.  Imagine that you are melting into the earth, becoming a part of the land.  Sit for at least 15-30 minutes, noticing any movement, sounds, or other sensations and activities.
  1. Return often.

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Bookshop

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