A good measure for determining whether so-called spiritual, religious, or mystical experiences are higer or lower than average, mundane experience, is this: is there more or less awareness?

Some others might be…

Is your way of participation that of blind impulsivity, or engaged spontaneity?

Is your way of liberation one of fierce destruction, or creative dissolution?

Do you feel specialness, or nobility?

Suggestions to continue this list are welcome.

I realized today that I spend most of my time on this blog talking about awakening and practices which can help the process along. What I don’t talk about is the fact that none of this is necessary.

The truth is that awakening doesn’t make you better. Awakening won’t solve your personal problems. In fact, it only solves one very specific problem, which turns out to be no problem at all. When I take the time to consider my motivation for posting my writings here, I find that it has nothing to do with trying to convince people that they should try to wake up, so they can be better, or feel better, or gain some special salvation or safety from the world. I would never want to put those ideas into the heads of otherwise ordinary people. But, the truth is that so many people are already on this path. They’ve already decided that it’s important to wake up. It’s for those people that I offer these writings. This work can take a long time, and I would hate for it to take longer than it needs to.

Emptiness is not static. There’s nothing to it, nothing that can be set apart from anything else. Somehow emptiness and awareness are inseparable in essence. This is how your own awareness is the starting point, the path, and the goal. Therefore, if you don’t feel compelled to practice, don’t! If awakening isn’t important to you, that’s fine! You’re no better, and no worse, than me. I’m no better, and no worse, than you.

Honestly, “enlightenment” as a term is terribly misleading. Reality is always-already itself. There are those who don’t know this, and those of us who do. Likewise, there are those who simply don’t give a shit. They’re probably the best off! Those who don’t know, and don’t care, are the highest kind of Buddha.

Awakening will not save you from anything. If you take it all the way, you’ll see that there’s nothing to be saved from, and no one to save. Furthermore, this has no bearing on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. All of it is still just as fluid as it ever was. Human beings are human beings, period.

Forget Buddhist clichés like “carry water, chop wood.” Go to work. Play with your kids. Honk your horn at the asshole veering into your lane on the freeway. Go to your daughter’s dance recital, and bring her flowers. And most importantly, stay up late to watch Dexter, and go to work tired the next morning.

But if you can’t do that, I guess you should practice until you can.

Spiritual materialism is “having” in a spiritual context. There are a variety of spiritual things we can have, and thus hold on to, which at minimum do absolutely nothing to help someone wake up, and at maximum (which is more often the case) get in the way of waking up.

On the less dangerous end of the spectrum of spiritual materialism are things which are physical in nature; e.g. idols, clothing, jewelry, books, zafus, pictures of gurus, places of worship, etc. None of these things are inherently good or bad, of course. What matters is whether or not one is deluded about them. In awakening, you realize that none of these things had anything at all to do with the truth, or at least not any more than anything else.

On the more pernicious end of the spectrum are those things which are artifacts of memory. Said another way, events in our personal history. Maybe you had a experience when you were 10 years old, where you felt you were one with everything, and you hold on to this as being more special than, say, your experience of taking a dump. Or perhaps your guru confirmed an awakening experience for you, providing positive proof of your relative awakeness (relative, because your guru remains over you, as your authority). Our collection of past events become a lens that distorts and contorts our perception of the here and now, leading us to favor some experiences over others as being more or less “enlightened.” At least material things can be burned up, destroyed, or otherwise gotten rid of. Our precious experiences and life events remain with us as long as we have functioning brains.

What makes our precious memories so diabolical are the ways in which present experiencing is not always confirming of them. What happens when the insight gleaned from the special memory is confronted with contradictory facts of experience? Which will you choose, the memories or the truth? So often, people opt for the memories. They cling to them because their message is seemingly more meaningful and profound (which is untrue). When this happens, it’s best to go right into the disarray, jumping headfirst into the madness and confusion of contradiction. Let it break. Let it tear you apart. But this is too scary for most people, who are more likely to consider the truth too offensive. They think (consciously or not), “That isn’t true, because I don’t like what it says about me and my memories.”

How quickly we may swap one idol, religion, practice, or empty platitude for another of equal worthlessness. But, when it comes to ditching the whole program for the truth, we’d rather stay in the sandbox, while trying desperately to keep with winds and rains of reality from breaking down our puny sandcastles. It’s time to grow up, boys and girls! It’s time to see the sand for the castle. It’s time to lift your head, to see the great ocean and magnificent sunset, and to witness the decaying corpse of the whale laying 50 yards down the coastline. It’s time to see if for all it is, so reality can once again recognize itself, and finally let go of the fantasy.

It’s time to stop all this spiritual “having” and return to conscious spiritual “being.”

Your friend, Sam

The ways in which many Western spiritual types relate to the profound teachings of the nondual traditions is deeply problematic. There is a tendency to learn about some high spiritual truth, like no-self or emptiness, and apply it to their experience using habitual, unrefined attention; basically, their baseline delusional state. They find some truth in the teachings – such as looking for a self and not finding one – and then think they’re enlightened. What they don’t realize is that a lot of the time, the fact that the spiritual truth corresponds to the gross/physical realm of experience is purely coincidental.

The fact of the matter is enlightened beings (humans, for our purposes) do not primarily speak from the same frame of reference as those who are still spiritual sleep walkers. Metaphorically speaking, enlightened folks are awake because they’re learned to use their eye of wisdom, while most people simply use their eyes of their bodies and minds. While this may happen spontaneously is an extreme minority of the awakened, most develop this capacity through good, consistent practice.

Prior to awakening, we are so stuck in our habitual mode of perception – our deeply engrained preference for body and mind – that anything outside of what we consider ordinary receives terms such as “altered states.” It’s silly, even ironic, to consider the deluded state as non-altered. To conflate the illusory with the real; to affirm the shallow as deep; to uphold delusion in place of wisdom; these are the symptoms of the sickness beings are plagued with – and they (read: most of you) don’t even know it!

I’m not one for politics. However, came across a phrase used by some libertarians to express the sentiment of being a part of the thoughtful minority. They say, “Truth is treason in the empire of lies.” How much more does that apply to reality as a whole? Enlightened folks train their minds beyond the baseline deluded capacities of the majority, and they peer into the nature of experience with laser-like precision. Not only do they discover truths about reality in general, but also the cause and cure of suffering. And what do the deluded say? “Bollocks. Rubbish. They’ve just learned to have state experiences. It’s their brains playing tricks on them. It’s a misapplication of neural mechanisms which evolved for a different purpose altogether. Everybody knows there’s only material. Any reasonable, sensible person knows there’s nothing beyond basic human perception.”

To that I say: Bollocks. Rubbish.

The same is true of some practitioners who have difficulties developing their eye of wisdom. They’re not good at training their attention, and thus haven’t been able to see into reality the way many others claim to. In attempt to validate their practice and insights to others, such an under-developed individual will likely endorse an interpretation of nondual teachings that allows them to fit within their model of what it means to be enlightened.

I find this approach to be very disingenuous, most of the time. What these people are saying is, “One doesn’t have to access this or that state, or train their attention to this or that degree, in order to be enlightened. To teach people this is disempowering and cruel. People suffer when their told that they are not good enough, and that’s just wrong.” I suspect what they mean is something more like, “Look I’ve been working my ass off for decades. If anyone should have been able to train their attention to the superlative degree, it would be me. When you tell others they have to do that, it makes me feel inadequate. I don’t like that, and I don’t like you because you’re the one saying this to me.” I would prefer the latter, because it’s honest, at least.

Bottom line: To get enlightened, it’s not enough to hear a teaching and apply it to your habitual, deluded baseline perceptual condition. Training, for most people, is absolutely required. Don’t think that you’re one of the special 0.000000001% (or fewer!) who can receiving a Dzogchen pointing-out instruction and realize full enlightenment without any practice.

Also, don’t sell yourself short. There are lots of valid ways to open and train the eye of wisdom. They have stood the test of time. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to pick one – seriously, just one – and follow the instructions, patiently and persistently, until you experience the appropriate stages that follow. This takes a lot of time. You’re not likely to master a practice in one month, or even one year. Do not deviate until you meet at least the minimum requirements of mastery, as outlined in whatever tradition you follow. This isn’t about dogma or religion. It’s just like learning a sport, or a musical instrument. If you don’t practice, and don’t follow the sequence, your form will be sloppy and you will not likely perform at the level you aspire to.

As Daniel Ingram once said, “[Don’t] settle for the chips and salsa, when [you] can get the big burrito.”


I just came across this excerpt from Bertrand Russell’s essay, Mysticism and Logic. It provides an exceptional example of delusion masquerading as intelligence:

“From a scientific point of view, we can make no distinction between the man who eats little and sees heaven and the man who drinks much and sees snakes. Each is in an abnormal physical condition, and therefore has abnormal perceptions. Normal perceptions, since they have to be useful in the struggle for life, must have some correspondence with fact; but in abnormal perceptions there is no reason to expect such correspondence, and their testimony, therefore, cannot outweigh that of normal perception.”

Let’s break it down, shall we?

“From a scientific point of view” – I’d like to know what he means by “scientific.” I would guess he is referring to empirical science, which takes as its object of study those perceptions that arise directly from the five senses. If so, then…

“we can make no distinction between the man who eats little and sees heaven and the man who drinks much and sees snakes.” – This is what happens when you think of everything in quantitative terms. Hallucinating and mystical visions are qualitatively different, which Russell would know if he put in the effort to have a mystical experience. (Just to be clearly, experiencing a heavenly vision is not the same as awakening.) When there is no qualitative hierarchy that clearly differentiates pre and post, both are seen as just non (Wilber’s “pre/trans fallacy). This is clear to enlightened folks. We know the difference between pre-egoic, egoic, and trans-egoic. Anyone who is operating from the perspective of ego will look at trans-egoic states as simply non-egoic, and lump them into the same category as pre-egoic. Russell is doing just that.

“Each is in an abnormal physical condition, and therefore has abnormal perceptions.” – There he goes again with lumping all abnormal (read: non-normal) physical conditions, along with their associated perceptions, into the same category; which are, of course, categorically “lower” than “normal” perceptions…

“Normal perceptions, since they have to be useful in the struggle for life, must have some correspondence with fact; but in abnormal perceptions there is no reason to expect such correspondence” – Once again, Russell makes a covert value judgment, preferring those perceptions which aid in the survival of the organism in its physical and vital form. And really, who can blame him? This is all he knows!* And although rooted in common sense, the assumption that all normal perceptions must have some correspondence with fact is not easy to support. The arrogance of this position is astounding.

“but in abnormal perceptions there is no reason to expect such correspondence, and their testimony, therefore, cannot outweigh that of normal perception.” – Oh, but it can – for those who have mastered the territory. This is analogous to saying that astronomical evidence collected using a telescope cannot outweigh normal perception, because telescopic perception serves no survival value. That’s what spiritual practice does – it calibrates your instrument; your eye of wisdom. For the enlightened, the testimony of the eye of wisdom far outweighs that of “normal” perception.

*I’m aware he is dead, but I don’t like writing in the past tense.

“The point arrives, then, when it is clearly understood that all one’s intentional acts – desires, ideals, stratagems – are in vain. In the whole universe, within and without, there is nothing whereon to lay any hold, and no one to lay any hold on anything. This has been discovered through clear awareness of everything that seemed to offer a solution or to constitute a reliable reality, through the intuitive wisdom called prajna, which sees into the relational character of everything. With the ‘eye of prajna’ the human situation is seen for what it is – a quenching of thirst with salt water, a pursuit of goals which simply require the pursuit of other goals, a clutching of objects which the swift course of time renders as insubstantial as mist. The very one who pursues, who sees and knows and desires, the inner subject, has his existence only in relation to the ephemeral objects of his pursuit. He sees that his grasp upon the world is his strangle-hold about his own neck, the hold which is depriving him of the very life he so longs to attain. And there is no way out, no way of letting go, which he can take by effort, by a decision of the will. . . . But who is it that wants to get out?

“There comes a moment when this consciousness of the inescapable trap in which we are at once the trapper and the trapped reaches a breaking point. One might almost say that it ‘matures’ or ‘ripens,’ and suddenly there is what the Lankavatara Sutra calls a ‘turning about in the deepest seat of consciousness.’ In this moment all sense of constraint drops away and the cocoon which the silkworm spun around himself opens to let him go forth winged as a moth. The peculiar anxiety which Kierkegaard has rightly seen to lie at the very roots of the ordinary man’s soul is no longer there. Contrivances, ideals, ambitions, and self-propitiations are no longer necessary, since it is now possible to live spontaneously without trying to be spontaneous. Indeed, there is no alternative, since it is now seen that there never was any self to bring the self under its control.” –Alan Watts, The Way of Zen

Picture a man sitting by the edge of a still pond, admiring the calm, serene, reflective quality of the water; truly relishing in its apparent qualities.

Now, let’s suppose every now and then a boat cruises by some 50 yards away from the shore, causing waves to appear, rushing toward the man and disturbing the stillness of the water. The man gets upset at the sight of the waves, so he jumps into the water and attempts to stop the waves using his hands. He tries pushing them down and breaking them apart. He even tries to hold them back so they don’t reach the shore. After a while he will see that the waves are not longer coming in, and he finishes his wave-stopping process until he feels the water is calm enough go back to sitting on the shore.

And then a storm comes. The howling wind disturbs the water, and rain drops splash through the surface. Again, the man jumps in, doing his best to shield the water from falling drops, and still the wind-blown surface. Eventually, the storm recedes. He finishes his work, and goes back to the edge of the shore, exhausted.

And then…

The man in this story fails to realize three very simple, yet important, things: First, that there’s nothing he can do to prevent the water from become disturbed on occasion. There are forces beyond his control, which do not under any circumstances surrender to his desire or will. Second, the act of jumping into the water and manipulating it only exacerbates the initial disturbance. Not only are there waves, but now there’s a man frantically thrashing about, bringing about even more chaos. And third, the water is of the nature to self-stabilize once the disturbance has passed. It didn’t become still because the man jumped in and made it so. Rather, it became still after it was allowed settle according to its own nature.

The man’s attachment to stillness may be the root of the problem. But, even if he remains attached to stillness, he is better off to not interfere with the water when it becomes disturbed. For, then he is likely to experience more stillness than would otherwise be the case. He could do nothing about his attachment and merely behave differently, and his attachment would be better fulfilled.

But, how much better would it be if the man no longer cared whether or not the water was still or disturbed? What if he could learn to appreciate the various ways that water behaves under the various changing circumstances of life, that remain utterly beyond his control? Why, he wouldn’t even need to speed all of his time tending to the shore. He could come and go as he pleases.

Now, that’s dharma!

I’ll get right to the point: I’m not a fan of appeals to tradition.

The reason is simple. There are two primary ways that one can approach the teachings of a well-established spiritual tradition; either one uses the tradition, or the tradition uses them.

How can you tell the difference? That’s pretty simple, too. Those who are used by their tradition show more trust in some particular interpretation of a set of teachings over both their own experience, and/or the experience of flesh and blood beings who are actually awake. When you are used by your tradition, you’ll find yourself saying things like, “But the Buddha said…” (insert any prominent spiritual figure, past or present, in place of “the Buddha” if you’d like), or, “Well, how can you say that when Buddhism has always taught that…” as if one can even know real Buddhism is with any real confidence.

It’s quite a different story when one uses tradition, rather than the other way around. In fact, one who uses a tradition will likely be using traditions, as in, more than one. They look for matching descriptions sometimes, and other times for clues into what might come next. They’re less trusting of anything firmly established, for in rigidity and inflexibility are usually signs of illness or death.

The truth of the matter is this: no awakened woman or man has ever explained the path nor the result in precisely the same way. There are always differences, and these should in no way be swept under the rug. With strong confidence in any tradition comes a lack of confidence in one’s realization. You’ll never see a truly awakened person sticking to the stuffy, traditional script laid down before them by some other religious authority who came before them. If it’s genuine, it’s uniquely conveyed. If it’s partial or phony, it will sound just as you would expect it to. Ingenuous awakening is never expressed in bad faith.

The fact that awakened beings communicate their realizations to such varying degrees is not cause for alarm. Those who are rule by tradition, however, will see the lack of consistency and insist that at least ONE of them must be right, and the others wrong. “Guru So-And-So is the true example of awakening, and all those other guys are either fakes or less realized.” And it is in this very act of looking for authority outside of themselves that leads them on their everlong search for something that is right under their noses.

My advice, which you are free to accept or reject, is to pay attention to the ways that tradition is using you. If you’re looking around for an awakening that fits the description given in some tradition, forget it. It will never be like you imagined. For example, no matter how many times you imagined what it would be like, or had dreams about it, or heard others’ descriptions, or even watched it on cable TV, I would venture to guess that having sex was in most ways spectacularly different than you imagined it to be. (for those of you who have had sex, of course. Kissing works as an example as well.) Awakening is like that, and it’s just as life changing.

Doubt gets a bad rap in most of the spiritual teachings teachings I’ve come across. It’s so often viewed as some kind of stumbling block that is to be removed one’s path, so they don’t trip over it. Instead of doubt, seekers are told to cultivate faith (i.e. confidence, trust) in the teachings or their teacher. Doubt is seen as an opposite to faith, as though you can either express one or the other in any given moment. You either have faith or you have doubt, and to have the latter is to be set up for failure from the beginning. Among communities of faith, expression of doubt is often taboo. Sure, it’s OK to express doubt for a brief period, but it’s expected to be cleared up through prayer or by receiving advice from elders who know better. Faith is the higher virtue, end of story.

The problem is that this faith/doubt dichotomy puts the intelligent seeker in a wicked double-bind. By intelligent I don’t mean genius. I’m referring to ordinary levels of adult intelligence. And this means that for many adults, perhaps upwards of 50% of them, have matured to a point in their human lives where doubt is the expression of higher developmental processes than what is required for doubt to arise in the first place. Was it not doubt that made the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil attractive to our mythical first human beings? Was the serpent not other than that voice inside each one of us that is unsatisfied with anything but knowledge acquired by testing things for ourselves? Giving in to this voice is seen as the root cause of our lives gone-askew, and it is our inheritance, our original sin. Thank God for that sin, for you can’t travel a path if you stay in the garden.

The great misnomer here is that doubt could somehow be removed and replaced with faith, like uprooting a weed and replacing it with a food-producing plant. Some people think this is possible, and some even claim to have done it. Perhaps they have. But in suppressing the expression of doubt (since I sincerely doubt anything has actually been removed), the source energy of doubt is also suppressed. This energy is a tremendous resource that goes untapped for so many people, because they either don’t no about it or don’t believe in the possibility of it. The confusion lies in what I said earlier about doubt and faith being misconstrued as opposites. This isn’t so. Faith and doubt are not expressions of the same energy. The flip-side of doubt is not faith, but rather clarity. We could also call it discernment, or even wisdom. And to which coin do doubt and clarity make up the heads and tails? I’ve been speaking of it already… intelligence.

This is not the kind of intelligence that comes from memorization of facts, the “book smart” variety. It’s the intelligence that is capable of seeing things clearly and accurately as they are. It is the primordial intelligence of the source. It is before ego, before identification of any kind. Therefore, it is selfless, belonging to no one and everyone alike.  I have never known one single awakened person who did not have access to this resource, and who didn’t gain that access through allowing doubt to remain on their path. It is by working with doubt – exploring it, using it, testing it, allowing it – that one discovers how to use this same energy to give rise to clarity and understanding at the deepest levels available to humankind.

I said already that doubt is often mistaken to be the enemy, even the flip-side, of faith. But, in my view, faith and doubt do not arise from the same basic energy, so  so they are not really opposites. I bring this up to point out that faith is not the enemy of doubt, even thought that’s how it seems sometimes. One can simultaneously express great faith and great doubt for this very reason. There’s something more sneaky, more clever, more cunning, to watch out for on the path, which is the expression that attempts to suppress or deny the basic source energies as they are, and thereby distorting their expressions into the forms we call “hindrances.” It can be none other than fear.

But what is fear, really? Much like doubt and clarity, whose source is primordial intelligence, fear also has a source and an alternate expression. For, what is fear other than the fundamental expression of “No”? The opposite of fear is often said to be love, and that is true in some ways. But the word love doesn’t really do this expression justice. If fear is the fundamental “No,” it is that which we are able to close ourselves off from experience. If the fundamental “Yes” is that which we express as openness to experience, this “Yes” is a more basic form of trust; and therefore, faith. Faith is that which says “Yes” to what arises, and fear is what says “No.” And the root energy of both is choice.

Confusing as it may seem, choice is built into the fabric of reality. Yes and No are not unlike wisdom and ignorance, yin and yang, expansion and contraction, nirvana and samsara. This doesn’t jibe well with the philosophy that says because there is no self, there is no real choice or agency. But to think that choice requires an inherently existing self is ignorance. And the more one taps into the source, realizing the primordial intelligence, the more all of this becomes clear. It’s a matter of learning when to say Yes and when to say No on this path. Our confusion leads us to say Yes when saying No would be more beneficial, and vice versa. And this is when doubt becomes particularly useful, for it’s expression says, “Am I saying Yes to this when saying No would be better?” Doubt raises the important questions, leading to skillful experimentation. And this experimentation refines doubt into clarity, which then guides us to taste and see the results of our Yes and our No when applied to life as it shows up for us. Really, there can be no real inquiry without doubt.

So often people say No to doubt when saying Yes will take them further. But you can say Yes when your mind, body, and emotions say No. Feelings often lag behind the decisions of the higher regulating centers; that is, you don’t have to wait until you feel like doing something to do it. All of these energies are expressed in your body, your use of speech, your thoughts, and your actions (that is, expressions as a bodies of No, feelings of No, thoughts of No, actions of No). They need not all be aligned at first. It just takes one step with one of these to give a Yes instead of a No, and that can turn your whole life upside down… or rather, right-side up.

If you doubt any of this, that’s wonderful. Explore it. Use it. Trying saying Yes to doubt if No is getting you nowhere.

I laid out a general sketch of the path of awakening from beginning to end in my previous post on Disintegration and Reintegration. In this post I hope to elaborate on a common misconception that frustrates many a spiritual seeker, and for much longer than necessary in most cases. It is a misconception about the nature of path and its result.

We know the first phase of the path is one leading to the disintegration of the illusion of separateness. This illusion (or delusion) is not merely one of abstract thought, but also of direct perception (as an aside, “direct” here does not mean clear or correct, as one might suspect when contrasting with abstraction). Not only is how you think about the world skewed in the beginning, but also how you experience the world. This is because the thinking and perceiving are interconnected processes, however counterintuitive this might seem to those who have yet to experience any amount of disintegration.

Now, the spiritual path is often described as path leading to the end of suffering, particularly in Buddhism, and also in various forms of Hinduism and Jainism (among others). It becomes pretty clear early in one’s journey that the path leading to the end of suffering is not itself free of suffering. In other words, you will suffer on your way to freedom. Disintegration hurts. Realizing your limitations, facing your fears, experiencing your lack of control – it’s a humbling experience, to say the least. But one inevitably passes through the war zone to a stretch of the journey where the battle has largely, if not completely, subsided. If one keeps practicing, awakening (in the form of completing the path of disintegration) is realized.

A sense of accomplishment undoubtedly arises. “I did it! Suffering has been conquered! It is finished!” And it is… sort of. You see, the difficulties you face on the path give you no other option than to open up, to become exposed and vulnerable. There’s no other way through. And so you open up just enough to get past the difficulties and realizing the initial awakening. You remain open, exposed, and vulnerable for a time, but then you start to close up. Only you don’t notice it, because you feel safe and sound having travelled what seems like a great distance from the war zone.

Herein lies the misconception that thwarts the progress of countless spiritual seekers, even the newly awakened. You thought awakening was a state of calm, where everything is OK. No war, no pain, no grief or sadness, no disappointment or frustration. You feel as though as long as you stay right year, on the other shore, those sorrow-filled days are over. All of that madness happens over there, not over here.

But that isn’t true at all.

The misconception is that believe you are now OK because you’re no longer in the treacherous territory. But moving past the territory is not what saved you. It was the way in which you past through the territory that saved you. It was the shift in the way you relate to whatever you experienced that changed you, even if the change may now seem temporary.

What really occurs on the path is an opening. The opening cannot stabilize to any significant degree without disintegrating the sense of separateness, but that alone will not sustain or fully develop a truly reintegrated freedom. And that’s why reintegration must follow disintegration. One has to keep moving, allowing themselves to experience whatever comes. This isn’t because the first landmark of awakening – the fulfillment of disintegration – was somehow an illusion that now must be discarded and forgotten about. It truly was necessary. But the path of awakening is the path of life as it is, and life as it is brings experiences of joy AND suffering, beauty AND ugliness, pleasure AND pain, fulfillment AND longing. To close yourself off to any of it is to live only a partially-awakened life.

It’s not that you continue to go through struggles because you have yet to finish the job. Difficulties will always come and go. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. The key is to open yourself up equally to all of the ups and downs of existence. There is no escape, and yet there is freedom in the midst of it all. Freedom is not found outside of life, detached from experience. True freedom is realized only when one first able to let it all go, and then embrace it all once more. You don’t really end up where you started, but you also kind of do.

True doneness comes when being done no longer matters. In that sense, it isn’t being done at all, and is also exactly where and how the awakened live their lives in freedom. But there is no way to realize the result by way of bypassing your difficulties. Skipping over the path is impossible.

Waking up entails first realizing you are asleep, or at least questioning whether or not you understand the way things are. You suspect that there is more to this life than the status quo of mundane human habit patterning and cycling. At this point you have a base-level gut feeling that things may not be what they seem, and that you just need to figure it out.

The process of waking up that follows is best explained as a process of disintegration followed by a process of reintegration.

Disintegration is necessary because up until the point of setting out on a path to awakening you feel an intuitive sense of being a separate being in a world which is simultaneously familiar and foreign to you. This sense of separateness becomes utterly unbearable. Going about your life in the usual way, in attempt to fulfill the longings themed around the common sense ambitions of status quo humanity, seems pointless. You feel dreadfully unfulfilled as a result.

Thus, your inquiry into the nature of Reality begins. Whether inquiry is prescribed to you by a teacher or guru or whether it arises spontaneously from the depths of your dread makes no difference. You want to know who you are, what you are, or even more basically – if you are. You want to know if there is an actual purpose to your life, a reason for living. And this procedure of inquiry begins to necessarily dismantle whatever sense of security you once had in your old ways of thinking and being in the world. You begin the process of disintegration – the picking apart and scattering around of all you thought you were and all you believed to be true. None of it holds up, and you feel a mess.

There is a point at which the disintegration process reaches a kind of critical mass, at which point it escalates beyond the point of no return – at least no return in the old sense, in which you could just turn around and forget you ever started on the journey in the first place. But if you’ve reached the point of no return, your awakening is almost guaranteed in this lifetime (barring you don’t physically die before the process is complete).

In hind sight, the best response to having reached the point of no return would be to simply let go and allow the fall to take place. It would be best to just give up and let the process finish you off. But hardly anyone does this. 99% of the time, people will fight tooth and nail to conjure up an old familiar sense of self. You will almost certainly to put tremendous energy in propping up the lie just to try to feel a sense of being secure or grounded, even though you know deep in your bones that this is not your destiny. The driving force of this resistance is none other than fear – primal, pure and condensed.

Fear is never overcome through force of aggression, for aggression is the expression of fear in its most basic form. The only antidote to fear is courage. Contrary to what you may believe about courage, its expression is not emotionless or stone cold. The expression of courage, in its most basic form, is surrender. But again, this surrender is probably not what comes to mind when you first think of it. You probably see a frightened soldier hiding behind a mound of dirt, bullets whizzing by, raising and waiving a white flag. But that’s not the kind of surrender that positions you for awakening. The type of surrender that is the expression of true courage is a willingness to experience whatever comes, eyes wide open, unflinching. When the activity of aggression as the expression of fear is finally realized to be pointless, corresponding to feelings of utter exhaustion, one may – if they are so fortunate – choose to turn and face their difficulties head-on. No shields. No anesthetic. And this is precisely the right move to make. This is what allows the disintegration process to complete itself.

This is not the end of the pain, but it is the end of the old way of relating to it. In your mind you know there is no guarantee of success. There’s no way to know for sure whether you will awaken today, or 12 years from now. But in either case you know that the necessary response is the same. There’s only one option left: courage, surrender, willingness to experience whatever comes. During this final stretch (although you may not even know it is the final stretch) there will be times of peril and times of peace. Sometimes you will feel as though you can get through anything this world (i.e. your mind) throws at you, and other times you wish you never would have undertaken this path in the first place. But you walk on. There’s no going back. The moments of peace along the way provide just enough nourishment to sustain you as you travel straight into the unknown. You can’t see more than two feet in front of you at any given moment, but you are becoming acclimatized to the uncertainty. Your tolerance for ambiguity and mystery is steadily rising. Things are getting better.

The full disintegration comes when you least expect it. No willful act can bring it about. There can be no intention at this point. I’m dead serious about this. Neither can there be intention of non-intention, for even THAT gets in the way. You must simply keep going, welcoming everything that comes on its own terms, until you literally forget that your path has an end point…

And then it happens.

The way it happens, the experience of it, is not the same for everyone, and so there really isn’t any reason for me to describe any particular experience in detail. But when it happens you will know. What can be said about the final disintegration is that it is a dying before death. You will die that day, but you won’t be dead. And having died, you will no longer fear death – at least not for your own sake. When you disintegrate you see that there was never a separate you in the first place. Your complete dissolution doesn’t hinder the Universe, for you understand quite clearly that whatever dissolves and reappears can be nothing other than the same THAT which is both the source and essence of everything. You realize the essential non-duality of the All, and that there is nothing other than the All. In losing everything, everything is gained. In realizing that you are nothing, you comprehend that you are everything, and that there is no in-between. At this point you are no longer sleeping. The eyes of wisdom are flung wide  open. You wake up.

But (of course you knew there had to be a “but.” There’s always a “but.”), the completeness of disintegration is not the end of your journey. This is perhaps the most common misunderstanding on the path of awakening. The finality of disintegration is not to be denied, so the newly awakened is not deluded. And yet, there is a tendency of the newly awakened to try to take up residence in the All, to plant their feet in the Abyss, as though their personality could be an adequate expression of the ineffable Reality they realized they are. When the sense of separateness is disintegrated and Reality is apprehended, there tends to be an ever-so-subtle contraction of the remaining tendency toward identification, which is just enough to delude the individual into thinking, “I am the All.” When you first awaken, this will likely occur. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, as it is almost entirely unavoidable. Few, if any, have traversed the path of awakening and not fallen victim to this subtle duality that remains after the disintegration process.

It is here when the recognition of the necessity of reintegration becomes paramount to any genuine and complete teaching on awakening. But this begs the question, what could possibly be the source of the remaining identity-delusion? What allows the self-contraction to remain in this subtle form? You traversed the treacherous path of disintegration, whereby you faced your fears and ended the activities of aggression and replaced them with courage and surrender once and for all!… or did you?

If you know anyone who has awakened and fallen into the, “I am the All,” trap (which, like I said, happens to nearly all of those who awaken), you’ll pick up on some of the dismissive ways they respond to “worldly” concerns. They may appear calm and collected most of the time, and make statements about how they just don’t get why everyone is so upset about the economy, or their sick grandmother, or their tooth pain. Don’t they see that it’s all an illusion? Isn’t it just easier to realize it’s all a game, a drama, a production on the Universal scale, and then to just sit back and watch, unattached? When you occupy this point of view, it feels like you’re invincible. No one can touch you because “you” don’t exist – only “You” exists, which includes you and you and you.

The funny thing is that this position cannot be sustained forever. Your newly inflated ego will become increasingly frustrated with others for not recognizing the Truth. You wish they would just leave you alone, or that they would just snap out of their delusion so they would stop bothering you. And it’s here that, if you’re lucky, you’ll notice that you are once again resisting life as it shows up for you. You are expressing an unwillingness to experience whatever comes, which is the expression of that same cause which put you through so much misery in the first place… Fear. You thought you had rid yourself of fear, which is what allowed you to take on this new Universal point of view as, “I am the All.” But a seed of fear remained, and now it has grown into another obstacle that must be dealt with in order to reach a truly complete and unshakable awakening.

It is only natural for you to think that if this subtle fear-based duality remains, this calls for further disintegration. You will likely opt for attempting to go through more of the same. This makes sense. But, the path of awakening is such that it doesn’t have to make sense. You must accept that the process of disintegration has truly come to an end (because it has), and that there is only one way to finish the job. That is, embarking on the path of reintegration.

To travel the path of reintegration you must allow yourself to care. You have to find your raw, unconditioned tenderness and vulnerability and refuse to cover it over. You must allow life to touch you. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, this is the most necessarily activity at this stage. In allowing yourself to care as a human being cares, you directly face your fears pertaining to going back into a life that resembles what you thought you had escaped from. But there is no escape. There never was.

So, while the path of disintegration was the path of, “Not this, not that. None of this,” the path of reintegration is, “This, and this too. All of this.” You must return to your body, to your human relationships, to your job, your spouse or significant other, your kids, your neighbors, your daily chores and responsibilities, and you must do so with fully engaged presence. It will hurt at times, and it will be pleasurable at times. You must learn to let go into pleasure as well as pain. You must allow yourself to get attached, to have an opinion, to have wants and needs. In doing so, you will be scared that you are simply putting on the same old chains that bound you to a life full of suffering and despair, which you set out to escape from in the first place. But you will not know the difference between where you started and where you will find yourself again until you walk the path.

The funny thing about reintegration is that it doesn’t stop. The process becomes more stable, in that you learn to settle into the flow of life, and your existence is experienced as the expression of both the Universal and the personal, eating together, playing together, sleeping together. It doesn’t ever truly end because there is no where you can fix a position in this Reality. There is only opening, and presence, and participation. And that’s why you hear the most profound teachings describing the most seemingly mundane experiences as being undeniable expressions of awakening. Ryokan:

If someone asks what is the mark of enlightenment or illusion,
I cannot say…….wealth and honor are nothing but dust,
As the evening rain falls I sit in my hermitage
And stretch out both feet in answer.

It’s true that the process of reintegration following disintegration leads to the stabilization of a natural, ordinary awakened state. But there is a danger in disclosing this information, and there’s a clear reason why some traditions and teachers have elected to remain silent about it. The reason is simple. So simple, in fact, that I might suppose that it’s implied in the context without any further explanation. It’s too important to miss, however, and so there is a strong motivation to share it with anyone who may not be picking up on it, or perhaps just doesn’t want to believe in the truth of it. There’s something of a moral imperative of the awakened to shed light on the dubious errors in judgment made both by awakened individuals of less sophistication, skill, or care, and also of those who will have a difficulty beginning the journey on the right foot due to the confusion that arose due to hearing too much, too soon.

This trap, which is set at the very start of the path by teachers or authors of books (many of whom are well meaning, no doubt) is the idea that for the person who has yet to undergo a path of disintegration, there really is no path. The teacher might tell you, “You are already enlightened. There’s nothing to do. There’s nowhere to go. The path just leads to more seeking and suffering. The path is the problem. Avoid the path forever and you will be awake forever.” And that, my dear friends, is complete and utter bullshit.

Yes, Reality is the way it is. It has always been the way it is. The root cause of our errant perception of separateness is ignorance of the truth of Reality. But you can’t transform by simply hearing a description of what the end result is like, anymore than you can read the menu instead of eating the meal and feel that your hunger is truly satisfied. If you’re going to wake up, and to really apprehend just what it means to be integrated, whole, and ordinary in the most profound sense, you need to embark on the journey of disintegration first. You must die-before-death before you can be reborn for the last time. Only then will your human life realize the expression of the truth that this is how it has always been.

I’ll close this essay with Master Dogen, who sums up the entire path of awakening, including disintegration and reintegration, in the opening lines of his Genjo Koan:

As all things are buddha-dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, and birth and death, and there are buddhas and sentient beings.

[Sam: Before you awaken, you are better off having a view like the one stated above.]

As the myriad things are without an abiding self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddha, no sentient being, no birth and death.

[Sam: The culmination of the disintegration phase brings this into clear apprehension.]

The buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many and the one; thus there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas.

[Sam: We move from disintegration into reintegration, coming back the mundane, which is now also anything but.]

Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread.

[Sam: In other words, the final result is not static. There is always engaged activity. There is always a choice.]

I sincerely hope this essay is helpful for those at all stages of the path. If anything, it may help you not to sabotage yourself along the way.