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.