Journey After Awakening
Over the course of my early life I gave little thought to where my life was going. I was experiencing things. I was learning things. As long as I continued to receive guidance about what to do, I simply assumed that at some point I would understand how everything fits together.
After we retired and moved to Oregon, Elizabeth and I both felt a pull to start a meditation practice. We joined a weekly Zen meditation group and six months later we began attending week-long meditation retreats at the Great Vow Monastery outside of Portland, Oregon. At one of these retreats the idea that I should be focused on becoming enlightened was planted in my mind. (Read the account here.)
I never gave any thought to what life would be like if I did awaken. But if it did happen, I assumed my journey would be complete. After all, what could there be after awakening? And then it actually happened. (Read the account here.)
I had no idea what came next. Without realizing it, I had been transported from the end of one journey and into the beginning of another.
My teacher Adyashanti once said: “understanding is the booby prize”. Putting this into my own words: if you haven’t had the experience, trying to understand what it is does not amount to much. Experiencing something makes it real. Science understands this. Most theories have to be proven by empirical evidence before they are accepted as truth.
In the months following my awakening, I found myself in a strange place. On the one hand, everything felt different. And yet everything was the same.
The biggest single change I felt was that life had become impersonal: life was no longer about me. Even if it appeared to be about me, it was not about me. Life just simply is. It is what it is.
What matters is how we respond to life. Are we part of the problem or are we part of the solution? More often than not it is neither of these. Life is never a problem. What we call a “problem” is something another person is doing. We see a “problem” when we do not like what someone else is doing. My awakening experience led me to pull back all of my “problems” I had projected onto others.
Now I was experiencing other people as simply being human. This is what we humans do. We attribute problems to other human’s motivations. And we all live lives entangled in one another’s problems. It is very freeing when we stop attributing problems to others.
This abrupt change is disorientating. We spend our whole lives assigning problems. Then we awaken and this comes to a screeching halt. The result is disorientation. Life goes on as before. Yet everything is different.
Even my physical life was different. I found myself becoming disoriented at times. I felt uneasy in my own body. There were times when I would stumble or trip. I acted like I had Alzheimer’s, which was disconcerting because my mother died of Alzheimers. I am at risk.
My journey had taken a twist. Instead of looking for something, I was now trying to figure out what I had actually found—or at least experienced. Over the next four years I attended two to three retreats a year with Adyashanti. In addition, I attended two more retreats a year with teachers that Adyashanti had given transmission to teach. Each in their own way helped me see my situation a little more clearly.
My writing had become a way for me to work out what I actually understood. At first my writings were basically reiterations of what others had said. Adya especially has a way of saying things that are provocative. His utterings inspired me to try my own hand at clever wordsmithing.
But in time I noticed something curious: I found myself writing about things that none of the teachers had ever mentioned. My inspiration was taking on a life of its own and I was curious to see where it would lead me. If you are reading this, you know the answer.
I felt that a lot of the mystery about enlightenment was undeserved. In part this is the result of people writing about things they have never experienced. Could I make it clearer? I wanted to remove the idea that enlightenment is impossible to achieve. After all, if I can do, so can most other people.
Difficult—yes. Impossible—not at all.
There was a lot I wanted to say. The greatest challenge was finding a framework for saying it all. A friend suggested I develop a website. I liked this suggestion. I liked the idea that anybody could turn on a computer and learn about enlightenment. They do not have to buy a book or attend a workshop. Of course, learning about it is not the same as attaining it. But it is a beginning, and an important one if people now believe that this is something they really can do.
Designing a website turned out to be just as challenging as writing a book. The greatest challenge was creating a framework that made it comprehensible.
I have lost count of how many different ways I have tried to organize this. Each year I took writing workshops at the Tucson Festival of Books. One taught me about the power of story-telling. Another discussed the Hero’s Journey as a framework for a novel. I had found my framework for telling the story.
In 2016 The Story of Enlightenment went online. But more was needed for the website. I wanted articles about what enlightenment is and why it has become such a mystery. I also wanted to expand the discussion of what is required to achieve it. I also thought there would need to be some information about who developed the website and why.
I wanted to get some feedback on The Story of Enlightenment. I sent a link to a bunch of people who I thought would be interested. The response was underwhelming. To be sure, there were a few people who were quite positive in their comments. But many others seemed almost disinterested. To my discomfort, some never bothered to read it. This would not surprise me for the general public, but I did not think this would be true of the people who received my link. I was in for a surprise. I tried to make sense out of why this was so. Then it occurred to me that unless someone has a Buddhist background, they probably would not think much about the subject of enlightenment.
I realized that the scope of my website would have to expand. I would have to explain not only what enlightenment is, but why we need it (Humanity’s Dilemma), how it is similar to other forms of personal growth (MindSet Mastery)and how it differs from other forms of personal growth. (Self-Actualization or Enlightenment?)
It has taken me 5 more years to expand the website. I wait to see what the reaction will be this time.