Have you ever had one of those nocturnal dreams where you are convinced you just got out of bed and made a cup of coffee but for some reason the coffee tastes like nothing and the clock on the wall is unreadable? And then your lucid dreamer mind kicks in and you go, “oh shit, I’m not really awake, I’m still dreaming.” And in that very recognition, you snap wide awake in your bed and laugh at how real the dream seemed, this dream of waking up.
Well. That’s what happens to most folks in the spiritual awakening and enlightenment game. In the words of Gurdjieff: “As soon as man awakens for a moment and opens his eyes, all the forces that caused him to fall asleep, begin to act on him with ten fold energy, and he immediately falls asleep again, very often dreaming his is awake, or awakening,”
I know this is happens because it happened to me. Let me explain.
In 2011, I had a pure, unadulterated overnight execution of the fictional self. The local mind that would call itself me, had simply and spontaneously disappeared. In its place was what I called Awareness — it was no different than when you wake up at night from a dream and the real you looks back at the dream character you with zero affiliation. All the conflicts and adventures of the dream character, who in the dream believes in the reality of its identity, is suddenly seen as unreal. (And yes, what a curious relief!).
This shift of point of view is radical. It’s not a stilling of the monkey mind, or a bliss high, or a kundalini surge. It’s not a serenity pill or a feeling of merger with all that is. Yes, it can include some of these, but these are side-effects that float around within the larger context of what is essentially a dramatic Point of View Shift no different than the dreamer waking to see that she is not the dream character.
Or it could also be expressed like this: The dream character self that I had mistaken myself to be was just one of myriad happenings on the screen of consciousness. Just like a film screen is real but the projected images appearing on it are not, the real you (you can call it consciousness, awareness, the is-ness, the I AM) is the backdrop on which reality is appearing.
This shift that occurred seven years ago was what is termed “abiding” in the spiritual lingo. It endured without compromise for about four years and then, it began like a spinning top, to wobble, finally toppling in about 2016.
This is where things get tricky and I want you to really track with me here: because if this can happen in “my” awakening, it can and will happen in most awakenings.
When abiding-ness topples, there is an insidious tendency for the process of re-identification to get a good PR spin by the newly fortified spiritual ego—this spin takes many narratives, from “Real enlightenment is about being human and feeling all of our feelings” to “It’s not that you don’t have intense emotions or anxious thoughts it’s that you don’t believe them anymore” to “Yes I just kicked the cat (shouted at my wife, hit the dog, lied to you, behaved badly) but there is no me or you, there is just this.”
Real awakening is, as Byron Katie states it, simply no longer arguing with reality — but not because it’s the smart, right or wise thing to do. But because who the heck would argue with the characters and events of a dream?
If this makes no sense yet that’s entirely okay. You are likely dreaming your wakefulness and any hint that you might still be asleep will be as unwelcome as having someone natter beside you in bed to wake up while you are enjoying an amazing dream.
But over the next few posts, I am going to go into more depth about this “dreaming you are awake” storyline, especially the signs of becoming groggy and what sorts of maya shenanigans are the usual culprits for seducing or lulling you back to sleep.
For me, it was the unravelling of a teenage daughter into depression and substance abuse, the bitter disillusionment with a spiritual teacher friend, the near-death eight week coma of my daughter’s father, and the end of a marriage — all converging as a maelstrom of happenings in 2015 and 2016. By the time the event firestorms settled, the equanimity and point of view clarity that had been the hallmark of the 2011 awakening had turned to ash. Granted, there was an afterglow of sorts, but best I can say is that I could remember the awakened state well enough to replicate it in my dream.
To be clear, not all life happenings have the gravity to pull an authentic awakening into a dream of being awake. The stroke my husband had in 2014 was a happening that for whatever reason did not have enough re-identification hooks. I wrote about it here in the post: When You Are Okay and Everyone Else is Not).
Your own awakening toppling into a dream of being awake is probably not why I am writing this. I am addressing the myriad spiritual teachers who either pretend that their awakened state is abiding or naively believe so because they are dreaming they are awake.
And the tricky part here is probably the only way to tell if a teacher is really still awake (I don’t doubt that at some point most were) is if you have the chance to suss out major incongruities in what they say versus what they do. I am not suggesting that awakened beings are saints, not really. But what they ARE NOT is jealous, angry, bitter, deceptive, greedy, usurious and vain. They are also not under the illusion that they won a spiritual lottery by waking up, or that they are superior, or that they are wise. (Are you wise because you woke up in bed from a dream? No. You just woke up and smelled the truth, that’s all).
And real teachers who are really awake don’t tell you that you have to do anything to “deepen” your awakening. It’s an on or off switch, not a progression.
Yes, it’s hard to imagine the whole spiritual satsang industry surviving the one simple truth that you don’t wake up by sitting cross legged in a trance, or listening to endless well intended questions earnestly answered by a teacher — though quite possibly you could wake up because sitting cross legged is your on switch, or something the teacher said while you crossed your legs acts like a bedside alarm clock. (As the story goes, Papa-ji apparently said to Ganga-gi, Just Stop…and that was the switch that snapped her awake).
And I will grant that meditation which stills the thinking mind can and does allow for forays into the I AM-ness, or the Awareness, that you are. I am just not sure that it doesn’t run the risk of becoming a kind of sedative where you get to keep all the goodies of being a ‘Me” with cross-legged vacations to samahdi land and now and then. Simply: you get to have a more peaceful dream at the expense of actually waking up.
So. Why am I writing this now?
Because the switch flipped again, all at once, as it is known to do. One day last week, for no apparent reason other than grace and perhaps a nagging feeling that I was dreaming again, I woke up in Troncones, Mexico from a deep sleep and a dream of a unicorn. And I could not find the me again. And that’s when I laughed out loud and realized over the last two years, I had been dreaming I was awake, Seriously, it’s funny! (I should also add that I spent two weeks listening on and off to a dude named Magdi Badawy doing his satsang routine on You Tube. As in the 2011 awakening, when I had been listening to Adyashanti CD’s, it’s quite possible that listening to Magdi was a trigger — he just might have been that nattering voice that jolted me awake). Oh, and the book “The Impersonal Life” that just happened to be on the bed stand of the woman’s home I stayed at in Mexico.
And so, in defence of spiritual teachers most of whom are probably not awake, they are not trying to deceive you, they are likely just dreaming their wakefulness. And yes, there are those teachers who have not fallen back asleep, though my sense is they are rarer than we would all like to believe. If you have 60 presenters for instance at the Science and Non Duality Conference, you probably have 6 truly abidingly wide awake folks. (Honestly, it’s likely too that most wide-awake types steer far and clear of spiritual conferences and talk shows because they know it’s just more entertainment in the modern media and business circus of enlightenment).
Next post I am probably going to address “stages of awakening” because there is a lot written about it by people who have had genuine awakenings. However, get ready for some dissection because now I see that stages of awakening are more like stages of rousing from the night dream. Just as when you are sleeping in the morning and you hear the lawn mower next door, or the blender in the kitchen, and you begin to incorporate those real life sounds into your dream state and eventually, you begin to rouse from the dream. So too do shifts like “witnessing” and “mindfulness” and “non-ordinary perception” and “hyper flow synchronicity” signal that waking up is in progress.
But remember: the real deal is an on-off switch, not a spectrum. You go over a cliff more than you scale a mountain.
Or simply, enlightenment is binary. You are awake. Or you are not. It’s not something you can miss any more than you can doubt you just had an orgasm. It’s obvious, not subtle. So when a teacher tells you that you need hang out with them to get your kundalini activations, or sit in meditation with them to up-level your spiritual growth, or even to take a course with them, ask yourself this zinger of a question: Is your disenchantment with the fictional dream self stronger than your fear of no-self?
In other words, are you ready to die? Because if you are not ready for annihilation, for the complete destruction of the dream you by the simple act of awakening, all you will have is a pleasant dream that you are awake.
Awareness is here, again, (for now).
PS: One thing about the awakening bit. It doesn’t meant you stop having a job, a life, friends, a family, creativity, a purpose etc. It means you identify more as a “function” than a person. It also means that you feel divinely supremely guided and of service. Life becomes magical because it is no longer just a dream but a lucid dream, or as that old biblical phrase goes, you are now “in the world but not of it”. But more on that later.
PPS: I am sure some of you are going to have a lot of arguments about why this post is all wrong. Tip: sleep, dreaming. awakening. It’s just a metaphor!