What does it mean — “Enlightenment”? To me it’s about feeling and knowing that my Consciousness, my sense of being present and aware, will never die, because it is One with All-That-Is. It’s about feeling and knowing this all the time and living from it.
What is your definition? Feel free to submit comments.
Why do I think Enlightenment is so important?
I was four when my daddy told me the Easter Bunny wasn’t real. I remember thinking then that God probably wasn’t real either — just a big Easter Bunny for grown-ups. Grandma said Jesus loved me, but my scientist parents taught me to respect rationality. They assured me the scary faces that floated above my bed at night weren’t real and I assumed they were right. If you can’t touch it, it isn’t real.
For a long time after that, when they tucked me in, turned out the lights, and left me alone, a sense of dread would come creeping, for death was certain. There was no help for it, though I sometimes prayed for faith to the God I didn’t believe in.
I was fourteen before there was even a hint of relief. It was in the bathtub, looking down at my skinny arms in the water and ruminating as usual on how they would some day rot away beneath the ground. Suddenly I sensed, high overhead, a tiny opening, and the word, “Consciousness,” arrowed into my mind. I knew it meant that Consciousness is what I am. It’s all there is. It never dies. And that means I never die. My consciousness, being one with that Great Consciousness, goes on forever.
Of course I wasn’t sure I believed it. I couldn’t tell anyone. They’d dismiss it as nonsense and think less of me for trying to mix fantasy with reality. I told myself that “consciousness” was just a word, a set of arbitrary sounds with no power to save. But I never forgot that moment of hope.
A few year later, in the early sixties, I got another brief glimpse of the reality beyond words. Friends introduced me to the magical realm of LSD. I was standing in their kitchen when it hit, sweeping me up into an ecstatic sensation of riding the earth’s movement as it swooped up and out to circle the sun and the Mamas And The Papas sang their hearts out over the radio. “Monday, Monday.” It was the sound Earth made as it traveled. I was one with everything. The dog at my feet was thirsty and I knew it for we were one. I gave him water. All was happening as it should and I was safe and accepted within it.
Before very long I “got the message” from the Universe that I’d done enough tripping on acid and I stopped, for I had already received a major teaching. It was dawn. The others had fallen asleep. I sat by myself on an unmade bed, idly pinching and twisting bits of the sheet to form little peaks of fabric. It became obvious that the sheet stood for the Greater Consciousness, with my individual consciousness as the tiny bubble at the top of the twist. This was why I couldn’t be aware of the Greater Consciousness all the time: it was twisted up so tight that the little “I” above the twist was unable to see or feel through the twisting to the vast expanse of Consciousness below.
I let go and let it unwind, smoothing out into what it had always been — one with the sheet. “What a relief!” I felt it all through my body. This would be how it was when “I” died.
Always before I had believed I was just that little, uptight bit of sheet above the twist, that isolated consciousness — when what I’d really been all along, and always would be, was the whole sheet — the whole of the Great Consciousness.
It’s hard to convey the sense of certainty these experiences carried. Others might dismiss them as wishful dreams of a drug-addled brain. Yet convincing visions of being One with the Universe have been cropping up in mystics, deep thinkers, shamans, prophets, and ordinary people as a “perennial philosophy” for thousands of years — so prevalent they demand to be recognized as a deep and essential part of what it means to be human.
I feel lucky, touched by Grace, to have had these glimpses of a Greater Consciousness, yet all these years later, I still fall into our culture’s “normal” mindset that makes us believe and act like separate beings. So I’m always looking for “skillful means” for getting through to every reluctant hold-out in my body-mind that we really are One with All-That-Is,
I’d like you to join me in this fascinating quest. Perhaps you’ve had similar glimpses of eternity. If so, I’d love to hear about them.
One such skillful means is described in this post. I hope you’ll try it and respond to let me know how it works for you. I’d also like to know what other skillful means you’ve found on your own journeys.
Skillful Means: Awareness of Pure Awareness
Many spiritual teachers tell us that Pure Awareness is something we have when we’re enlightened. Pure Awareness means awareness of awareness itself, not of any object of awareness. (That’s not all there is to Enlightenment, but it’s important — a skill we can develop.)
Being aware of Awareness isn’t the same as “witness consciousness” — as when you imagine yourself watching TV and then imagine watching a movie of yourself watching TV. Or, while driving you remind yourself to look behind you when you back up and then give yourself a pat on the back while doing it: “Here I am being aware that I’m checking in my rearview mirror the way I should when backing up.” Pure Awareness isn’t that.
Pure Awareness is being aware of Awareness itself. To be aware is to be the doer, the one who sees. What you’re aware of is always some thing, an object of your awareness. The problem is that when you become aware of being aware of something, the awareness-of-something that you’re aware of becomes an object and is no longer the one who sees. So you’re not really being aware of your awareness of something, you’re aware of a concept of your awareness of something. The concept is a thing. The concept is not the living, active one who sees. There’s only one who sees and that is you while you’re doing it. That is also the One Consciousness, God, if you will, looking out of your eyes. Because that’s who You really are.
In ordinary life, where we think of ourselves as separate beings, we experience only ourselves as the one who is aware. Even though we know that other beings have awareness too, we don’t ordinarily experience their awareness first hand. We can infer it and guess at what they’re aware of. We can imagine it and form a concept of another person being aware of something: “I wonder if she’s aware of the candy bar I’ve got in my pocket? Will I have to share it?” But unless we’re psychic we don’t experience another person’s awareness the way we do our own. (And if we are psychic, we’re probably well on our way to Enlightenment.)
Pure Awareness (awareness itself) is awareness without any object. When you say, “I have the capacity to be aware,” you’re getting close. For me it usually goes like this: “I’m aware of my capacity to be aware. I’m experiencing awareness.” It’s different from being aware of an object I’m focusing on. It’s more like simply noticing that awareness exists and focusing on the quality of that experience — what it feels like. Then I start to feel that Awareness and Existence are the same thing. I want to say, “Existence exists.”
“Awareness exists. Existence exists, and I’m here.” I’m an essential part of the experience of “Existence exists.” I don’t know who or what “I” am. This “I” that’s having this experience can’t be described, can’t be stuffed into a box of words and concepts. All I know is that Awareness is happening and whatever this “I” is is experiencing it.
This exercise involves expanding your awareness out into the Universe and beyond. From a perspective beyond the Universe you can see it as a whole. And when you keep expanding your awareness so far out beyond the Universe that all of physical reality dissolves into nothingness you can get a taste of the existence of your awareness in the absence of any object to be aware of.
To prepare for the exercise, you might want to watch one or more videos zooming out from earth to the entire known universe, e.g., The American Museum of Natural History’s six-and-a half-minute video, “The Known Universe” or other similar videos available online. This will give you an idea of the what you’ll see as you expand your awareness out to the Universe.
But, keep in mind that this exercise is intended as practice in expanding your awareness far out into the Universe and beyond. In contrast, watching a video on a screen is more like contracting your awareness to fit within the boundaries of the screen. As you go through the following exercise of expanding your awareness, have the intention to keep on broadening your field of awareness.
You can read through the following instructions to get the general idea and then take yourself through the process by memory, or you can listen to the following guided mediation here:
Guided mediations have the advantage of keeping you focused, and doing it for yourself allows you to linger on areas that need more attention.
Guided Meditation: Awareness of Pure Awareness
We’ll begin by becoming aware of the body and its energy, feeling the inner sensations that are there, such as tingling, tension, heat or coldness, etc, and expand out into the Universe from there.
Patiently go through your body parts, allowing at least about ten seconds for each.
Try to avoid touching the body part you want to become aware of. If you have trouble feeling a body part, you can get in touch with your internal body sense by closing your eyes, lifting your hand up to the level of your shoulder, then asking yourself how you know where your hand is in space. Focus on the feeling that lets you know where your hand is. Use this feeling to locate other body parts.
If you still have trouble feeling your body parts, it’s ok to touch them or apply soft pressure, but the point of the exercise is to develop an independent sense of internal bodily awareness.
✴ Get comfortable and take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes.
✴ Become aware of your right hand. Feel the inner sensations that are here, which may be tingling, tension, heat or coldness, and so on.
✴ In the same way become aware of your left hand, feeling the inner sensations that are here.
✴ Become aware of both wrists.
✴ Become aware of both lower arms.
✴ Become aware of both elbows.
✴ Become aware of both upper arms.
✴ Become aware of both shoulders.
✴ Flow your awareness down your arms and out to your fingertips.
✴ Become aware of the front and back of your neck.
✴ Become aware of your jaw.
✴ Become aware of the line between your upper and lower lips.
✴ Become aware of your tongue.
✴ Become aware of your throat.
✴ Become aware of the tip of your nose.
✴ Become aware of both nostrils.
✴ Become aware of both cheekbones
✴ Become aware of your sinuses behind your cheekbones.
✴ Become aware of both ears.
✴ Become aware of both eyes.
✴ Become aware of both eyebrows.
✴ Become aware of the space between your eyebrows.
✴ Become aware of your forehead and the back of your head at the same time.
✴ Become aware of the top of your head.
✴ Become aware of your chest and upper back at the same time.
✴ Becomeawareofyourheart,beatingandsendingoxygen to all of your body.
✴ Become aware of your stomach and mid-back at the same time.
✴ Become aware of your abdomen and lower back at the same time.
✴ Become aware of your pelvic area.
✴ Become aware of your genitals.
✴ Become aware of both upper legs.
✴ Become aware of both knees.
✴ Become aware of both lower legs.
✴ Become aware of both ankles.
✴ Become aware of both feet.
✴ Become aware of both heels.
✴ Become aware of both big toes.
✴ Become aware of both second toes.
✴ Become aware of both third toes.
✴ Become aware of both fourth toes.
✴ Become aware of both little toes.
✴ Now flow your awareness down from your hips through both legs to the tips of your toes.
✴ Become aware of your hips and your torso.
✴ Become aware of your neck and head.
✴ Become aware of your whole body.
✴ Flow your awareness up from your toes through your whole body and imagine it fountaining out through top of your head and falling down around your body.
✴ Again become aware of your ears, and listen for the sound of silence. It’s a staticky sound, like the ocean — like what you hear when you hold a seashell to your ear. Notice how loud it is, and whether it’s shrill or soft. Notice how your body reacts to the sound. Take a minute or so to experience this.
✴ Now expand your awareness outside your body, to a distance of about two inches past your skin.
✴ Expand your awareness further out to fill the whole room.
✴ Expand your awareness to fill the whole building.
✴ Become aware of the space around the building
✴ Become aware of your whole neighborhood.
✴ Become aware of the whole city.
✴ Become aware of the land and cities surrounding your city.
✴ Become aware of your whole state.
✴ Become aware of your whole country.
✴ Become aware of the whole planet.
✴ Expand your awareness far out from earth and feel our home, the earth, at the very center of your being. Feel the momentum of the earth as it circles the sun.
✴ Expand your awareness even further, out to the giant burning furnace of the sun.
✴ As your awareness expands even further, beyond the sun, feel its power and allow your loyalty and your sense of home to shift from Earth to the sun. Feel it roaring and radiating from the center of your being out into the solar system.
✴ Keep expanding your awareness to encompass the whole solar system.
✴ Now expand your awareness even further, out beyond the solar system to the whole Milky Way Galaxy spiraling in space.
✴ And as your awareness moves outward, beyond the galaxy, and the sun becomes quite small, the size of a single star among many, allow your loyalty to shift from our sun to the magnetic force of the whole galaxy and the black hole at its center. The entire Milky Way galaxy now occupies the core of your being, the center of your awareness.
✴ Remember your intention for your awareness to expand to encompass the entire Universe, and resist that magnetic pull of the black hole at the center of the galaxy. Allow your awareness to keep moving out to encompass the galaxy neighborhood and beyond, watching as the galaxies shrink down to the size of single stars.
✴ Feel yourself floating in and as this field of a billion, billion stars.
✴ As you keep expanding the borders of your awareness, you may have noticed how new stars keep appearing at the edges of your field of vision.
✴ You are now approaching the end of the visible universe. Become aware that fewer and fewer new stars are appearing at the edges of your awareness. A growing perimeter of darkness thickens at the outer boundaries of your awareness as it expands outward.
✴ You have expanded your awareness beyond the entire material universe.
✴ As the darkness takes up more and more of your field of vision, listen again for the sound of silence.
✴ All the billions of bright stars that recently filled your field of vision have contracted into a small misty ball no larger than an orange, emitting a weak radiation at the center of your being.
✴ All is silent and empty. Your awareness continues to drift outward; the darkness deepens and appears to move in, and as the ball of light at your center shrinks even smaller, its light grows dull and appears no larger than a walnut.
✴ Take a moment to remove your attention from that dim walnut of light at your center and shift your awareness out to the empty space all around. Experience its boundlessness, its stillness. Feel its absolute cold and its endless expanse.
✴ And notice that while you weren’t looking, that small, dull walnut at the center of your being that contained all and everything that exists in material form, has continued to shrink. You try to find it in your awareness, but, perhaps with a faint prickling on your tongue, it fades out entirely . . . and now darkness.
✴ You are alone.
✴ Take a minute to experience the emptiness . . . then ask, who am I?
✴ Who are you, left here alone when All That Is in Form, including your physical body, has disappeared?
✴ What’s left?
✴ Pure Awareness.
✴ Turn your attention back to your body and the room you’re in here on Earth. Move your fingers and toes, stretch lightly, and when you’re ready, open your eyes.
✴ Welcome back. Congratulations on completing your voyage of expansion. Now you can get this new perspective on the material Universe and its sacred Source in emptiness whenever you want.
You may be familiar with the occult law, “Energy follows thought and manifestation follows energy.” To get the most out of this Awareness exercise, you might want to perform it again, using your breath to transform Awareness (thought) into energy.
As you breathe in, imagine sending the breath into the various part(s) of the body and feel the energy accumulating there (tingling, heat, etc.). As you breathe out imagine the breath causing energy to flow out of the body part(s) into the air around you. Try to feel the energy as it flows.
As you expand your awareness outside your body, imagine that breathing in builds energy in both your body and your expanded field of awareness (room, building, neighborhood, whole earth, etc.). Imagine that breathing out pushes your energy out even further, expanding your energy field as you expand your awareness. Again try to feel the presence of the field as it expands.
Apology to scientists: You may object to this exercise on the ground that there may not be an end to the actual Universe, even though there’s an end to the visible universe. Of course you’re right, but this is an imaginal experience to give you a taste of what awareness might feel like without something to be aware of.