There is a vicious cycle in the awakening process that left unchecked, will keep us in the web of human suffering even when we are doing everything we can to move past it.
I remember sitting in Jax Fishhouse in Boulder Colorado when I struck up a conversation with a guy sitting next to me. He told me he worked for a CEO of a company “you probably know of” and his job was to travel around the world in search precious artifacts that will bring his boss enlightenment. He had just brought back a door from a Buddhist monastery which cost his boss $10,000.00, and chuckled when he said “I doubt it’s going to make him enlightened.”
While a CEO who purchased a $10,000.00 door is an extreme example, every human being has an innate desire to experience ultimate fulfillment in our lifetime, and this is the most elusive thing we will ever seek. It is why we strive to become more, acquire more, be more successful, achieve greater success, and seek deeper meaning in every possible way. It is inherent to the human condition and the foundation of why we all must awaken to something greater in order to reach ultimate fulfillment in our lifetime.
How this is going look on the surface is going to be different for everyone, but beneath the surface exist the same challenge everyone must face.
What happens in our awakening process is we get an initial burst of that something greater. This could come through meditation, breathwork, a kundalini awakening, a walk in nature, a concert, an ayahuasca experience, a reiki session, or anything really. These temporary states of awakening can be single experiences that are extremely profound, or they can be a series of events that lead us on a quest to live a more meaningful life. Basically, something happens or stirs within us that leads us to direct our attention inward towards deeper meaning and spiritual growth.
As soon as that happens we must be careful, for what we are doing is redefining who we thought we were and how we are use to seeing the world, and our ego doesn’t like that. This is where the ego can bring in fear, doubt, judgement, or even worse, attachments.
The ego is in place for a reason, it serves as our awareness of everything that we have been conditioned by in order to construct a view of ourselves and our reality. Everything we have experienced in the past creates the mental imprint of who we think we are, and thus forms our worldview of ourselves and our existence. When we experience states of awakening this totally shifts this perspective. And as soon as that happens the ego does everything it can to gain back it’s control.
What awakening does is it brings us into an awareness of wholeness, connection, and totality, which is contrary to the self-separate nature of the ego. Think of it this way, ever since you were a child and could see yourself in the mirror and said “that is me,” you have had an ego. From that point forward your mind literally constructs a view of yourself and your reality based on an illusion that you are separate from all other things. This builds and re-enforces what we can call self-separation, and this forms the basis of our ego. This results in some pretty cool stuff, like self-expression, creativity and freewill, but it also results in all the nasty elements of being human, such as; ownership, power, control, attachment, narcissism, fear, self-doubt, depression, anxiety, stress, and so on. The more we live our lives in separation, the more we believe in a false identity of self and existence based on separation.
Our awakening process brings us in to our true self through the experience of wholeness, connection and totality, and this is free from the dysfunctional elements that arise from a life of self-separation. We experience freedom when we experience temporary states of awakening, but as soon as we begin to travel down this path and seek further awakening we open ourselves to the potential for disaster. This is where our choice to take a spiritual path can end up down a nasty road of even worse suffering than we were experiencing before. It can get so bad that, “the pain has gotten so deep that it is now physical,” as one student admitted.
The difference between a liberating awakening path and an ill-fated one is all based in the underlying nature of our ego. If the process of awakening, or anything that relates to personal inner growth and spiritual development, does not focus directly on the underlying cause of why we need to awaken then it is only going to enforce the symptoms of separation. This is why so many people’s quest for Enlightenment leads then to deeper suffering. And it all comes back to why we all need an awakening in the first place.
Once we experience any form of awakening whatsoever, our entire view of self and reality begins to change and this shift redirects us towards a spiritual or inner path. This stage is called Temporary Awakenings.
“Out of nowhere, you experience deep emotional states or energetic outbursts. This might be intense feelings of joy, laughter, sobbing or unknown emotions. This can be triggered by music, in a yoga class, out in nature, or simply driving or being alone. You almost feel crazy at times and wonder if the world would ever understand you. It can feel lonely and you fall deeper into the realization that life will not be the same anymore. Life starts to seem brighter and with new hope, your senses become heightened. You start to experience ecstatic emotions like bliss, euphoria, and freedom.” - Breathe and Believe’s Accelerated Awakening Coaching Course
At this point we become a seeker, and this is when we are most vulnerable. We seek more awakening, more truth, more spirituality. This is awesome! However, it triggers something within us and this is the most important stage between success or failure in our awakening process!
The problem lies when our search for inner fulfillment results in an outward quest for some sort of gain or achievement. When we believe the next reiki session, crystal, oracle card, retreat, teacher, book or retreat is going to bring us to the promised land is when our ego is taking center stage in our awakening. We can experience wholeness through anything we do, it is the Power of Now and the Meditative Mind. However, when our seeking becomes dependent upon external things we are only enforcing duality and separation, which is the underlying problem we are trying to solve. This is very subtle and most people are totally unaware of it. What this ends up doing is it makes us feel good at first because we think we are doing something better for ourselves, but once we see less results, we fall into a cycle of striving for results even more and our quest becomes completely external. This can then create disbelief in the process of awakening, or doubt in our ability to awaken. It enforces the ego’s control over us, and the very pain of our ego’s choke hold drives us deeper into that quest for some sort of fulfillment. This brings the quest even more to the surface and away from where we started out as an inner experience. We seek and we seek and we seek outside of ourselves for what is already within… to the point of spending $10,000.00 on a door, or worse, feeling physically sick because of the paradoxical nature of the process.
This represents a stage in our awakening process which signifies a resurgence of the ego.
“We need to be very careful at this stage. This is where people fall back asleep or fall deeper into the concept that they may be going insane; or simply lost in confusion. It is where the mind has a strong advantage over the heart because of it's conditioning and how it has engineered our life and beliefs. It is like a tug of war. We are in a dilemma between closing our eyes and opening them. Fear grows along with doubt and negativity, all because we’re not prepared for the consequences should we move forward in the path of awakening. The leap into the unknown is far too scary when coupled with the crumbling of things all around you. We seek more outside of ourselves than within. Unless we have proper guidance, our culture, friends, and maybe even our family tell us that this is all wrong for us.” - Breathe and Believe’s Accelerated Awakening Coaching Course
The resurgence of the ego exists between having temporary awakenings and being fully liberated from self-separation (what is known as our Dark Night of the Soul.) It is the trap many people face as a downfall in their spiritual growth process and one that is like quicksand, becoming more difficult to free ourselves the more we try and move from it. It can lead us to believe that our life and our awakening process will always include pain. It draws us towards our shadows rather than our light, and thereby creates deeper broader shadows. In fact, “shadow work,” while having some validity, can be a detrimental part of this process by keeping us drawn towards the darkness rather than the light. This is often confused with the Dark Night of the Soul.
When our awakening leads us to suffering, even to the point of physical disease, we are stuck in the resurgence of the ego. The core reason is because the fundamental nature of the awakening process has been hijacked by the ego through attachment to seeking awakening through external solutions. This can also be coupled with a “longing to belong” mentality, where we seek outside ourselves a person, place or thing to fix us. We think a different lover, different place to live, different guru, or different book or belief is going to be “the one” to save us. This is when the ego has its strongest grip and can lead to symptoms of narcissism or spiritual by-passing. Because we think we are doing things that are good for ourselves and the world, i.e. yoga, recycling, eating healthy, meditation, etc., our ego justifies anything that makes us feel good. We might leave our job, our family, our friends all because we are beyond them. We might fall into 'wanderlust' (which is fine in small doses,) simply putting our trust in the process and believing everything will be perfectly fine without any care for our future or how our choices may have an impact others. We might spiritual by-pass by not taking ownership of our actions or behaviors and instead convincing ourselves we are above the situation.
What is #1 to our awakening process is that the focus remains on the underlying cause of our symptoms. We must realize there is no certification, retreat, yoga teacher, spiritual master, plant medicine, or book that is going to remove our darkness for us… we have to remove the darkness ourselves and be our own Guru. It is essential that our process of awakening is grounded in a daily practice that draws our attention inward and connects us with the meditative mind and a feeling of wholeness. In order to overcome the strangle hold of the ego, we must reverse engineer the developmental process the ego has placed in our lives, the process that has created the illusion of separation and the story that we are incomplete in who we are. This same story will always tell us that salvation is found externally… insert evil laughing ego face here.
To re-wire ourselves out of this dysfunction we must practice or experience wholeness on a regular basis and know that it is coming from within ourselves. This is why daily practice is essential to our process, as it brings us into the Power of Now and the meditative mind, which builds inner strength & resilience to overcome the challenges we face throughout life.
As our worldview becomes more and more solidified into wholeness we begin to experience our true identity, which can feel uncomfortable and unknown. This is were we feel alone, naked, or vulnerable because we are embarking on a new journey we are unfamiliar with. This is the true meaning of The Dark Night of The Soul, which ironically, is one of the most beautiful stages of our awakening process. While sometimes painful, it simultaneously triggers newness, growth, and emergence. Like the butterfly emerging from the cocoon, the phoenix rising from the ashes or a snake shedding it’s skin; it is painful at first but eventually signifies a paradigm shift into a wonderful new existence.
The sacrificial cross is a great metaphor for the Dark Night of the Soul. It symbolizes the dying of the self-separate nature of the ego and the emergence into wholeness. We know we have made it past separation when we no longer fear death of the mental construct of the self. We no longer feel attachment to who we are, our belief system, or any form of possession. There is a loss of need to control, own or posses anything outside of ourselves, because we now believe in who we truly are which is wholeness. We literally loose everything that is holding us back from being our fullest expression of ourselves, and become the phoenix rising from the ashes.
This is when we know we have made it past the resurgence of the ego, and when our awakening moves into the forefront of our lives and we truly begin a miraculous journey.
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