Waking up to WHAT we are ...
A dear friend recently asked this question,
"Can you explain how the experience of waking up spiritually has happened for you?"
. . . and here is my answer:
(warning: anyone may read this, but it is VERY VERY long and laborious. I wrote it for the person who asked the question. You are welcome to continue at your own risk…)
How far back to you want to go? I was 10 years old when I walked out of our house one morning, stuck on the thought that I was not my name. Everyone calls me ‘Swan’ but that’s only my name. My name isn’t me—is it? Who am I? What am I? I began to repeat my name out loud, trying to get behind what it meant. I tried to feel myself through the way my mother’s various tones sounded, as she spoke my name.
I sat down on the log that lay across the empty half of our acre (from a tree my father had recently cut down). My name had become a silent chant, trying to bore its way through this burning question. Eventually I found myself in a deep place of expansive spaciousness, a sort of ‘quiet’ that I’d never experienced. Afterward, I was left with the sense that ‘self’ was much more than what everyone seemed to think it was. None of us were ‘our names’. I also ‘knew’ somehow, that whatever I had ‘touched upon’ would be the same thing anyone else—asking the same question—would also discover.
Wandering through my yard, afterward, I began to suspect that there were no words for what “I” was (what we are). So I dropped the whole thing and climbed up the gnarly branches of my favorite pepper tree, but I never forgot that moment because it was one of those defining SHIFTS between past and future.
Over the years, there were many other ‘spiritual experiences’, often accompanied by altered states through chemical substances, as well as through meditation practices. The next major SHIFT took place in cute little white wood-fr
Twenty minutes later she was gently touching my arm and inviting me to follow her back out of the room. I wondered why she’d returned so quickly. It felt like only a few minutes had passed. I had melded with the chair and really didn’t want to get up. I couldn’t say ‘where’ I’d been or ‘what’ had happened (or not happened). But I can tell you that the sunset hues of the ripe peach she handed me, was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen, touched or tasted (we’d been told to bring a piece of fruit, flowers and a white handkerchief to the ceremony and she gave them back to me as I left).
Walking out of that house was like moving through liquid silk, each step a slow, deliberate miracle. Every leaf on the sycamore trees, that summer afternoon, was utterly awe-inspiring. It took me about 15 ecstatic minutes to eat that peach. Driving was delightful; something had turned the sound off in the world around me—It felt like everything was happening in a vacuum. When I got home, my partner told me that my voice had never sounded so soft and serene before—that my movements were more peaceful, and my face looked different. In fact I was not at all the person I had been up until that moment. And I liked this new person waaaay better! Or I should say, I liked how everything was so much more present and so very precious, delicious, and unique.
Thirty years later, I was walking down the corridor of the hospital where I now work as a NICU nurse (neonatal intensive care). They had just called the ER response team because a 29 week fetus was being born. As the RN assigned to attend the high-risk deliveries, that day, I grabbed my tackle box of supplies and walked at a brisk clip down the hall, knowing that the Pediatrician and the Respiratory Therapist would be right at my heels.
I will admit that such moments have always terrified me (even though I don’t ‘show’ it). Even though I’d made sure the supplies were well prepared, and even though I knew each member of the team would know how to respond, there is still the possibility of so much going wrong. There are the parents who will be worried. There is the passage of time, which is crucial at any resuscitation, and the fear that any of us might bungle something. The weight of such responsibility has often felt paralyzing to me and my worse fear has been that I will freeze up and go blank inside. Be a useless member of the team, or worse.
On this particular day I had been ‘doing something’ different—something I’d learned bit by bit throughout that recent year, while relating to my spirituality in an entirely new manner. I was ‘doing’ this at home, at work, with friends, alone, with strangers—everywhere, all the time. It had helped me through a marriage break-up and it had helped me through a legal nightmare, as well as a reconfiguration of the parent/child relationship between my college age son, and me. It had helped me with everyone in my life. It had allowed me to step out of my life-long dysfunctional patterns. And now, as I walked down that hall, I was doing it—even in the face of the most challenging thing I have to deal with in my profession.
The ‘thing’ I’d been doing was to abandon myself to the present moment with absolutely no energy going toward the past or the future. In each instant I would do it all over again. I’d done it right up until that instant when I was walking down the hall, and then when I realized what I was doing, I wavered,
“But this is a matter of life and death—not one of your ‘mundane life’ moments! Isn’t it rather a risk to take such a stance at a time like this?? To be with whatever arises, not trying to control it or resist it? To remain free of worry or plans? How safe is that?”
That's when it hit me. To take such a leap of faith is the only way to know if something is REAL or not. If it’s really true, then it must apply to everything, and to all situations. If it has exceptions then it’s not actually true. So I decided to abandon myself to the present moment then and there. I asked myself
“What IS my present moment?” And the answer was obvious: FEAR. DREAD. INSECURITY.
“Well, then I will have to abandon myself to that…and that doesn’t sound like such a good idea.” My dialogue continued (it was a long walk down the hall).
“Is that the ONLY thing that’s happening at this moment?”
“Well, I also have this simultaneous sense that I can totally trust everything to work out. But that doesn’t have any basis in anything I’m certain about.”
“These are all thoughts about what might happen or what you have felt in the past. What else is actually true in just this moment?”
“The only thing I can really say is true right now is that I am walking down this hall. Alone. Hoping that everyone else will show up on time and that it will all go well.”
“VERY GOOD! So abandon yourself to that!”
I followed my own advice and simply walked down the hall, knowing that in that moment it was the only thing that was real. And a strange thing happened. I trusted it. It was deeper than trust, really. It was a sense of being held, of knowing. Not of knowing anything in particular, but just a reassurance from the universe, that in this instant I was where I belonged, doing precisely what I was supposed to be doing. Nothing more. There was strength and a certainty; a ’rightness’, and a sense of being ‘in the Tao’ that I’d never known before. It was like that day on the log but this was taking it to a new and amazing level. Words don’t touch it. They can only hint.
When I entered the delivery room I took in the entire scene in a brand new way. It was as if the 'old me' was missing. Scanning the room all at once, I saw the newborn table well prepared, the team ready in sterile garb, and the father holding his wife's hand looking excited and scared at the same time. One of the doctors in blue scrubs made a warm, yet playful comment and we all laughed. As I laughed it was strange to notice how, without the 'old me' (and its baggage of stress and insecurity), everything was unfolding within a spaciousness of freedom and clarity. I could actually SEE the couple and FEEL their joyous exhaustion. I could actually HEAR the playfulness and DELIGHT in the doctors voice. At the same time I could fully LISTEN to the nurse who shared a some important patient data with us all. There was a noticable absence of anxiety and a soft ease in the room. It was as if an aura of trust engulfed the entire experience. The delivery went well. The baby screamed, was healthy and needed no resuscitation. We did a brief examination and placed him into his parents arms. There was an effortlessness innocence to everything. What struck me most was the utter absence of any self-consiousness whatsoever. Each one of us felt like harmonious parts of a greater whole. I loved being there without the 'old me'! She was not missed. She was not needed. Truthfully, I had no need to encounter her again.
For the next month I remained “there”, oriented toward being fully honest and present for ‘things as they are’. I continued to return in each ‘next moment’ to the essence of what was happening at the core. I remained free of the 'identity-based me' whom I've catered to all my life. My interest was not oriented toward mind-chatter, nor feeling-tone. But merely the acknowledgment of what was occurring. IT was all part of a WHOLE that grew increasingly obvious the more I paid attention to it. Any sense of separation or distinction (making me feel that there was a need to choose between me or you, this or that, now or later, right or wrong, etc.) all dissolved. There was only the ‘next obvious thing to do’.
I could see, feel, and know, exactly what was needed. I would hear myself saying something before my mind had weighed in on the matter. It was all flow. There was no sense that I was ‘doing’ any of this. It was life doing itself. I was no longer there. There was only AWARENESS noticing, being, speaking, feeling, doing, loving (it was all LOVE, unconditional, non-emotional, all-inclusive LOVE) and this love did not distinguish between nice/ugly, good/bad, smart/dumb etc. It held everyone and everything with an equal regard and an infinite support.
Sadness, death, loss, pain, fear, anger, confusion---the whole host of human dilemmas were there and compassion soaked through it all. But not in a sticky, dramatic manner. Rather, this AWAKENESS, this CORE ESSENCE, this was clearly what we all are. There is a saying that captures it perfectly: “What you’re looking for is what’s looking!“ The AWARENESS itself was always ready to do exactly what was necessary. It was very practical. And supportive. Any of us can be its agent. It is there in every particle of existence. If we don’t get in the way of it, then it acts effortlessly through us. This is what I discovered.
The one sense I had almost constantly, throughout this time, was GRATITUDE. I was so grateful for the grace (or whatever it was) that allowed me to partake in such revelation, such beauty, such ONENESS of being. It was a continual feast of gratitude and sometimes I felt that I almost could not contain my joy and appreciation.
Okay, just as suddenly as this happened, just as unexpectedly as it began for me, it ended. One moment I was just back to being caught up like before, like most of us, most of the time. And according to the teachers, and pioneers, of this territory, this ‘coming & going’ is typical (that is another entire topic and not part of the question you asked me!) But it is relevant to my answer. Because what I want to say is that I did not ‘AWAKEN’. I am, have been, and will continue to be, WAKING UP gradually. The way it happens is different for everyone. We are all in the process of ‘waking up’ and whatever any one of us is doing right now, THAT is part of our path. We are all ON our way. Nothing is left out of waking up. No one is left out.
I must now add one last disclaimer. Although I have told my story as if it were a sort of ‘all or nothing’ experience, there is this well known, scientifically documented thing called ‘memory fabrication’, where we take something, which did occur and we add to it, embellish it, glorify it, or deemphasize it, often unconsciously. Nothing ever actually ‘occurs’ except ‘this instant’. But we take whatever moments we do recall, and string those reconstructed ‘present moments’ together into a ‘story’ and call it ‘what happened’.
Many of our moments are barely noticed, faintly experienced, and typically seen through the haze of preconceptions & conditioning. “Spiritual awakening” is a misleading term. Even great beings like Jesus or Buddha were unlikely to have had a single dramatic instant of sudden, total and final ‘awakening’ though the tales handed down often make it seem this way (information about their lives was admittedly written often centuries after they died.)
Although I understand about ‘fabricated memory’ it does not stop me from stringing together stories and sharing them. That’s what humans do and we all love it. That is why E.P. is so successful.
The single most important thing I want to say in response to your question is that our stories can be helpful and inspiring, they can offer a means of understanding and support. AND, at the same time, what I experienced for that month of my life (and I do still continue to dip into it, regularly—its just not sustained for that long), but what I experienced was starting over at each instant. It was not a ‘spiritual experience’. It was an opening. I just opened myself over and over, to be THERE for whatever was occurring, AS IS, with no resistance, no wish for it to be ‘other than it is’ and no sense of reaching back or ahead. It was a continual surrender into NOW. So it was always a brand new moment, always starting over. And it was not always easy. Many times, the things I was being asked to notice were uncomfortable. Only by walking directly into the discomfort was I able to emerge out the other side. Again and again and again. These words may only crystallize what is vital and ever changing. The words can mislead and set up a false idea of what to expect. Forget it all, and only be there for your own awareness—as I know you are already doing. Hope you are not sorry you asked, my dear friend!
ANYONE WHO HAS MANAGED TO READ THIS FAR DESERVES TO BE RECOGNIZED FOR AN AMAZING SPIRIT OF PATIENCE & DEDICATION!!!