, author of The Way of Liberation, Falling into Grace, True Meditation
, and The End of Your World
, is an American-born spiritual teacher devoted to serving the awakening of all beings. He teaches throughout North America and Europe, offering talks, weekend intensives, silent retreats, and live internet radio broadcasts.
1440: What does it mean to have an awakening, or to wake up?
An awakening is a fundamental shift in how we experience ourself. It's a shift out of experiencing self from the egocentric point of view, as a particular someone trying to negotiate our way through the immensity of life, into something more broad and more inclusive—whether that's pure awareness, or an intimate unity with existence, or an encounter with what I call the ground of being.
1440: Is an awakening the same thing as an insight?
We may have an infinite number of insights about ourself and life that may be useful and important on our journey, but they may not shift us out of identity. That's the difference between spiritual experiences and insights and a real shift in the ground of how we experience ourselves and the world, which I call awakening.
1440: Once you awaken, does it always stick?
You can have an awakening and an hour later you can be back in the egocentric perspective again.
If it's a real awakening, it will always be seen as a seminal moment in your life because it shows you that there are options in the way to experience yourself.
But it in no way guarantees that you are going to stay there, that's for sure. There is a great variety in terms of depth and stability of awakening.
1440: How does enlightenment fit into this? Is that like a permanent awakening?
Before we even get to the question of what enlightenment is, we always have to ask, "According to whom?" As far as I can see, there isn't some monolithic definition of enlightenment. Different traditions, different teachers, and different teachings have very different definitions of what it is. Some would say if you glimpsed your true nature, then that's an enlightenment experience. You could call it that.
To me, enlightenment is on a spectrum. I don't see enlightenment as some event where you have finally crossed the cosmic finish line. It's not some place where you can say, "I'm done with my human evolution and growth." I think that's a fantasy.
But I do think there are these almost unknown or unwritten lines that we cross, and we may not even know that we cross them. So I would say, at least as a minimum, enlightenment would be when a vastly more connected perspective than the egocentric perspective becomes your norm.
1440: Is spiritual practice the way to experience more insights and awakenings in our life?
This is one of those things that is a paradox. Good spiritual practice is obviously very useful. But is there a direct cause and effect between our spiritual practices and awakening or enlightenment? No, there isn't. It's not like you do this and this and it will equal that. But that doesn't mean our practice has no influence.
The way I like to say it is our practice has an indirect influence on whether we awaken or whether enlightenment happens. Practice sets up a whole stream of indirect influences. Probably 95 percent of the time awakening will happen to people who are actively engaged in some practice. About 5 percent of the time it will happen out of the blue. That tells us that the practice is having some influence.
1440: But we clearly can't give everyone the same practice and get the same results, so what's the secret?
That's right. This is one of the insecurities we need to embrace about spirituality—that there isn't a cookie-cutter version. Like everything else in life, our spiritual practice is very unique to each of us. It's necessary for us to be open to trying new things or open to guidance or mentoring, but at the same time we also have to pay attention to our own unique unfolding.
I try to help people find out what they can trust inside themselves, to find guidance inside themselves.
Otherwise the reference for all guidance and trust gets projected onto the teacher and in the end, I don't think that's a particularly mature way to go about this.
1440: How can we learn to discern what's true and what's not inside ourself?
Finding out what's true in ourselves is almost like learning to walk and find our balance. When we learned to walk, we took a few steps, we fell down, and we got back up. But falling down helped orient our bodies kinesthetically a little bit closer to what real balance is. That's what it's like to find out what you trust. We're all going to trust something that we find out later maybe wasn't the clearest thing in us to trust. Unfortunately that makes a lot of people gun-shy to trust again, but it's part of the process. You have to be willing to fall down and get back up.
This interview was conducted on behalf of 1440 Multiversity by Jenn Brown—a freelance writer, editor, producer, and educator.
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