In the early fall of 1984 I had another experience that was particularly inspiring and illuminating. It has remained for me one of the most powerful sources of understanding since then because, of all the experiences I had during this time period, this one more than any other awakened in me a deep recognition of what a rich, embodied, integrated state of enlightenment could be like.
I was having an individual session with one of my students, a young fellow named Ben who was in his early 20’s at the time. Ben was telling me about a painful situation that had arisen in his life involving some other people. As I listened to Ben express pain and frustration, I noticed that I was becoming a little judgmental about the whole situation, about how people were treating each other. Becoming mindful of these judgmental thoughts, I let them go and relaxed my state into one of greater spaciousness, acceptance and presence.
Within moments of making this inner shift I suddenly experienced my consciousness rapidly expanding. I did not see or sense in any concrete way the presence of another being who might be facilitating this shift, but in a way that is difficult to explain, I have a distinct intuitive sense that this experience of expanding awareness was initiated by a Greater Presence. It was as if my own choice to shift to a deeper state was being used as an opportunity to introduce me to a much deeper level of realization. In Dzogchen they call this experience ‘introduction to the view’.
As this shift took place a strong awareness arose of my inner Self, a deep spiritual state of Presence within me. At first it was ‘above’ me, although not in the usual spatial sense. I became aware of my spiritual Self through being aware of its Presence incarnating, like a flow of expansive beingness and consciousness, into my physical body, and into ‘me’. It was not an aggressive feeling, but it did feel very purposeful, firm and insistent in its movement.
As this deeper dimension of my own consciousness poured into my body, the conscious ‘I’, the identity I had been experiencing normally in my body, rapidly expanded and merged with this deeper part of myself. They fused and became one.
At first I became aware that a deeper level of my being was now incarnating into my body. But very quickly, as this deeper Self incarnated, the ‘me’ that was watching transformed and disappeared into the Greater Self, so that only that Self remained.
This all happened fairly quickly and effortlessly but also included one peculiar aspect. This was the fact that, as this deeper part of my nature incarnated, much, but not all, of my ordinary self rapidly merged with this deeper Self. At the same time I noticed an aspect of my human nature did not seem to merge. Instead, as this deeper Self incarnated into my body and a large part of ‘me’ merged with it, an aspect of my personality seem to be gently forced downward in my body, consolidated in my spine and moved down into my lower chakras where it subtly popped out of my body through my lower centers, out the back. At the moment of this ‘pop’, the integration was complete, and I was now deeply awakened into a radically new mode of being and realization.
This state of superconscious presence was profoundly different from anything I had experienced before, especially being so fully blended with my body and ordinary experience. An important part of this was that, though I was now in a superconscious state of awareness and realization, my eyes were still open, I was still ‘in my body’, and I was fully aware of Ben, the room and the whole story we had been talking about. I had entered a state that was fully compatible and integrated with human nature and the world around me, yet with an entirely different experience of the nature of myself and of the world around me.
In the initiation experience that I described in Chapter 4 where I entered as state of transcendent being and consciousness, this state resulted from a withdrawal of awareness from other dimensions of being, from the physical, psychological and even soul dimensions, and entry into a formless, contentless universal being and consciousness. In this new experience, I had entered a state of transcendental being and consciousness also, but this time it was deeply integrated with all the other dimensions. In fact, it unveiled them all in such a way as to allow me to be simultaneously aware of all these dimensions at the same time.
This shift into this new mode of being and realization only took several seconds to unfold, and then I found myself effortlessly sustained in this state for an long enough period of time that I could simply rest in this state, remaining in a state of nondual presence and superconscious understanding.
In this state ordinary intellectual processes and emotional reactions seemed to have completely disappeared. Although there was a very profound sense of understanding, awareness of ordinary mental activity such as reason, distinct thoughts, words, images or other elements were entirely absent. Likewise, ordinary emotions seemed to be absent as well. These were replaced with a form of comprehensive understanding in which the quality of knowingness saturated every aspect of experience, and had a deeply holistic, integrative quality. Knowingness was inherent in everything that I was experiencing, and there was no place where there wasn’t consciousness. Even what we normally think of as matter, body and objects was continuous with, and a part of, consciousness and knowing.
Also inherent in this state was a pervasive and complete sense of wholeness that completely eclipsed any sense of separation between the world and myself. There remained a sense of spiritual individuality, but of a radically altered type that was inseparable from the total reality of which I was a part. And along with this state of total integration or wholeness came a profound dropping away of pain, alienation and other human emotions. I only felt harmony, deep peace, and an indescribable form of bliss that was less a trait that ‘I’ had, or a positive feeling that resulted from attaining or having something, but was more a quality inherent in everything when viewed from the experience of nondual wholeness.
Another aspect of this state was that there wasn’t really a clear line of distinction between the dimension of understanding and the dimension of senses, body and matter. This state seemed to be based on the explicit experience that mind and body were radically interdependent, so much so that there was now a seamless quality where body was so infused with ‘mind’ or knowing, and, in a way I won’t even try to explain, mind was infused with ‘body’ or ‘matter’. I was left deeply impressed with how much and how falsely we imagine mind and body, consciousness and form, to be two separate realities.
In retrospect I would say that in this state I realized, all at once, four ‘realities’. One was the dimension of body (or form, including bodies, time and space, etc.); another was the dimension of consciousness or mind; a third reality was the realization of their interdependence or interrelatedness – that they were deeply inseparable; and a fourth Reality that was the ‘ground’ or ‘base’ of these other three, upon which they ‘rested’. Or perhaps better put, a transcendent reality that is the essence or ultimate nature of the others, a nondual or primordial reality.
This last aspect, the nondual or transcendent aspect, was so pervasive and complete that it was inseparable from all the other elements. It was not a oneness behind the other dimensions or aspects, but their very nature. Awareness of this nondual aspect revealed the radical and seamless interrelatedness of the other aspects.
When putting this experience into words it begins to sound complicated. But the state itself was effortless, natural, and very simple. All this intuitive, trans-rational understanding was simply inherent in the state and didn’t seem complicated at all. And all the aspects that take time to draw out and try to describe with words were all realized all at once, all at the same time. Everything just fit together and was so natural that I didn’t even react to this realization with any emotion like ‘amazing’ or ‘inspiring’. It just was how things are and I was completely unified with that reality.
Soon after entering this state of superconscious awareness and presence, I became aware of not only Ben’s higher self or soul, and his incarnate nature, but also the souls and bodies or incarnate nature of both the other people Ben had been talking about. It is difficult to explain, but I could directly experience them, both with a kind of formless spiritual vision, and deep intuitive comprehension. Although the other two people in Ben’s story were not physically present, there was no boundary at all to being deeply aware of their nature and relationship to Ben.
It was as if in this state of consciousness a veil had lifted, not only revealing a profoundly whole and unified reality, but also, as a result, unveiling the complete nature of the others, including not only their human personalities and spiritual selves, but also even their physical bodies. Because in this state the difference between these aspects was not as black-and-white or clearly divided as it normally seems to us in our ordinary, human experience. All were interrelated and inseparably part of a total reality.
Though in this state the dimension of nonduality revealed all aspects and dimensions of human nature and the world as interdependent, two aspects stood out as a primary polarity in life and humanity. I was aware of one dimension that we could call the soul, the ‘higher’ or spiritual Self. This aspect was formless and was essentially made up of consciousness or wisdom. It was the inner, spiritual state of each individual’s level of spiritual realization at this stage.
The other aspect was their ‘personality’, made up of their concrete ideas (which were more solid than their formless, intuitive realization), emotions, desires, and physical body. This second dimension I recognized in this experience as a karmic environment, a dimension conditioned by cause and effect, and dimensions in which bodies, forms and activities and their karmic implications unfold, both in physical and subtle dimensions.
These two levels – soul and body (the later including subtle bodies of emotion and thought) – were both ultimately nondual in nature, and were radically interrelated to each other. One of the effects of the experience of their interrelatedness is what I have been calling a seamless quality. Although, paradoxically, in this state I was aware of the distinction between soul and personality or body, a formless dimension and a karmic dimension, there was a complete awareness of their interdependence with each other. They were truly mutually interdependent, and the qualities of each extended into the other fully.
The quality that stood out about the soul aspect was that it was the essence of a dimension of our nature that grows in wisdom and spiritual qualities. This is not the same as the nondual nature, which is transcendent. The soul (as I’m calling it here), is a part that evolves, but is more formless than the personality and emphasizes consciousness. The quality that stood out about the incarnate dimensions was that they were made up of forms, bodies, time and space, and were governed by karma. This level acted as a kind of mirror to the soul in its learning experience. One of the realizations that was profoundly evident to me in this state was that, in line with the realization of the radical interrelationship of soul and form (or the karmic dimension), was that this meant that the soul was always in incarnation in a personality and life situation that perfectly reflected the soul’s own evolutionary necessity. The soul was always in a life and personality that exactly matched precisely where they needed to be in their spiritual education.
This truth was very pronounced during this experience, and had a strong quality of feeling that there was a perfect fit, even a kind of profound intimacy, between the inner self or soul, and its incarnate personality and life. The two fit together like a hand in a glove, and, even if it doesn’t feel this way to us, demonstrated an intimate mirroring, each aspect of the other.
Interestingly, the whole experience was first triggered, in part, by noticing that I was lamenting the fact that Ben was in the situation he was with the other two people, and the personal drama going on between them. In this vision I had a direct superconscious perception of the reality that each person, not only Ben, was exactly incarnate into the situation that the state of their soul required. It was a perfect fit. There was nothing to judge. Nothing to wish was different.
Of course, that does not mean that on a relative level there is no need to embrace our desire to improve our circumstances, make efforts to grow, and even try to help others with their circumstances. Spiritual aspiration and cultivation are a natural and inevitable part of our human awakening and maturation. Rather, in the context of this nondual state, it is simply that the reality of spiritual cultivation and improvement is balanced with a profound appreciation of the necessity and rightness of each person being exactly where they are at any give moment in life. This state revealed to me a view in which this basic spiritual paradox was transcended. In certain traditions such as Buddhism this is described as the integration of Two Truths – the Relative and the Absolute. The integration of the nondual state of presence with the relative level of activity, thought, planning, intentions and so on, is part of what is meant by the union or integration of the Absolute and the Relative levels of truth.
As I remained in this state for a time, listening to Ben continue to talk, and allowing the wholeness of these realizations to unfold in my being, I became aware that I would need to talk soon. This began a gradual process of re-introducing a new element – activity. So far my eyes remained open and I could listen to Ben talk while I remained in this superconscious state. But one aspect of life that was not integrated with this state was being able to talk and move my body.
So after a while more ordinary thoughts began to arise – ‘I wonder if I can talk to Ben and remain in this state at the same time?’. ‘What will I say?’. ‘Will he see that I am in a different state of consciousness?’. And so on. Now, I believe it is possible to remain in a state like this and integrate it with normal human activities like talking, but I was unable to. As soon as this train of thought arose, I gradually started to come out of this state. Slowly at first, so I was able to experiment with talking at first while still deeply immersed in the state of superconsciousness. But over a period of time it substantially receded.
This introduction to a state of a more comprehensive spiritual realization left a profound impression on me. And in retrospect I can see that in the thirty-two years since that time, the essence of my spiritual practice has included the gradual integration of more and more of this state into my meditation and, ultimately, my daily life.