Breakthrough – Part Two

““Breakthrough artists always expand the very concept of freedom.”

~ Talismanist Giebra

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One reason we admire breakthrough artists of every kind is because they remind us of our own inherent ability to escape self-imposed comfort zones, and one of the most addictive in self-improvement circles is the spiritual bypass.

We’ve all met workshop junkies. They stream from one peak experience event to another, soaring and crashing their way through life. Meanwhile, authentic masters tend to discount phenomena as distracting and champion consistency instead.

In The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening, Dr. Steve Taylor identifies what he calls 18 unmistakable signs of spiritual awakening which provide a detailed expose of everyday life on the path. We’ll explore these in our next few blogs. Here’s his list:

1. Intensified Perception
2. Increased Presentness / Timelessness
3. Awareness of “Presence” or an All-Pervading Spiritual Energy
4. Aliveness, Harmony, and Connectedness
5. Inner Quietness
6. Transcendence of Separation / Sense of Connection
7. Empathy and Compassion
8. Well-Being
9. Absence of (or Decreased) Fear of Death
10. Lack of Group Identity
11. Wide Perspective: A Universal Outlook
12. Heightened Sense of Morality
13. Appreciation and Curiosity
14. Altruism and Engagement
15. Enjoyment of Inactivity: The Ability to “Be”
16. Beyond Accumulation and Attachment / Nonmaterialism
17. Autonomy: Living More Authentically
18. Enhanced, More Authentic Relationships

Taylor begins by describing Intensified Perception. “Spiritually awakened people see the world in a very childlike way — struck by the wonder, beauty, and intricacy of phenomena that other people take for granted and don’t pay much attention to. One of the signs of spiritual awakening is that the world is a brighter, more fascinating and beautiful place to them. In particular, they are captivated by nature — the amazing is-ness and beauty of the natural landscape, the sky, and the sea; the strangeness, complexity, and intricacy of animals, plants, and other phenomena.” 1

His nod to nature is noteworthy because one characteristic of those lost on the spiritual bypass is disconnection from the physical world. What’s imagined to be “spiritual” is often “mental,” that is, preoccupation with thoughts. For many, nature has become a mere backdrop for life, something incidental rather than important.

Those having an authentic spiritually awakened experience celebrate every dimension and understand that this earth plane may, in some ways, actually be the highest one… because all the other levels are represented here. One of the people Dr. Taylor interviewed for his book reported “a sense of awe and a new appreciation for simple pleasures and activities like walking, cooking, eating, and simply attending to their surroundings.”

Number two on his list is Increased Presentness / Timelessness and he writes: “In wakefulness, the past and the future become much less important, and the present becomes correspondingly more important. Awakened individuals spend much less time recalling past experiences or ruminating over past events, just as they spend less time looking forward to the future, daydreaming about future events or focusing on future goals. Instead, they focus on their present experience, on the surroundings they’re in, the people they’re with, and the sensations and impressions they’re having.”

Committed meditators enjoy this experience every day. In fact, the true purpose of meditation has always been to deepen and extend this experience of timelessness to the point where it becomes the norm. We learn to be vividly present, no matter what’s going on. This means that we pay attention to events and people, we listen and learn. In other words, we get out of our heads and into our lives!

Awareness of “Presence” or an All-Pervading Spiritual Energy is number three. “In my research, one person described this as ‘a deep sense of a living presence within that is both magnificent and also very ordinary.’ Another person described one of his symptoms of awakening as ‘a vast presence which is just infinite and pretty mind-blowing. Especially in nature.’”

He makes another reference to nature here, which introduces one of the most enjoyable, easily accessed, inexpensive, and effective paths to take for those serious about spiritual enlightenment: a walk in the woods!

Some of us are fortunate to live in nature settings which makes that easy. But all of us can find a nearby park, not to jog for exercise but to stroll for meditative nourishment. As John Muir famously said, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

The next time you need a break, or a breakthrough, instead of imagining that you need to sign up for the next workshop, just head for the woods!


Breakthrough – Part One

“Every challenge you encounter in life is a fork in the road.
You have the choice to choose which way to go – backward,
forward, breakdown or breakthrough.”

~ Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

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Exploring the spiritual path is fraught with challenges, especially when we realize that there is no destination.

I often make the distinction between enlightenment as a hoped-for destination vs enlightenment as a state of experience that can be known right now. I actually prefer to use the term “enlightening” rather than “enlightenment,” to further emphasize that there actually is no final spiritual destination. We will continue expanding our awareness forever, because that is the nature of the life force we are.

This process is a world apart from what’s commonly known as “self-improvement. We’ve just turned the calendar and find ourselves in a new year, which means that millions of people are now busy following through on their New Year’s resolutions, in order to improve themselves. But, “according to U.S. News, approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.” 1

Why? Beyond the usual reasons relating to motivation and discipline, let’s consider an out-of-the-box possibility: self-improvement programs fail because we’re trying to improve the wrong self.

This is the same self that desires enlightenment. Ironically, it’s that very desire that prevents one from having the experience. That self, with a small “s” can never replace Self, with a big “e.” That Self, who you really are, is already enlightened… because it’s part of the light.

This realization doesn’t mean that we immediately cease meditating to reflect on our perfection! Spiritual practice remains essential, but not to gain an unknown experience. We deepen a known one. But there’s an odd challenge to this. Yes, we inherently know who we are (and always have), but that knowing is hidden from us. So, there is a process of learning, growing, improvement, not to acquire something, but to remember. And success comes, not through accumulating knowledge but from shedding limiting concepts.

It’s often said that breakdown precedes breakthrough. Using a computer analogy, faulty programming must be uninstalled before a new, clean program can run. Fortunately, we aren’t required to seek out breakdown opportunities. Life brings us all we can handle! But we do have a say in how we respond to those challenges. That’s what makes the difference.

A friend told me about someone who felt they were going through a nervous breakdown. Whoever they were commiserating with said, “You mean a nervous breakthrough?” Apparently, that comment changed her perspective and she began to view her breakdown as a breakthrough. What was falling apart in her life was making room for what was coming together, and it was all happening in the same moments.

It’s easy to witness breakdown in the world around us; we read, see, and hear about it every day in the news. But what if this was not the full truth? What if breakdown was also breakthrough? What if that “crap” the media serves up all day was actually compost and that something alive is now breaking through the surface of consciousness, fed by nutrients arising from that decay?

We can complain about compost or witness new life forms growing out of it. That’s a choice, a choice to see from a different vantage point. This relates to the truth of enlightenment. When we learn how to have a consistently enlightening experience, we are always shining light on our circumstances. Light dispels darkness, that’s it’s nature. So, when we identify with the light, we harness our capacity to dispel darkness. This is what a true spiritual experience becomes. Not basking in a glorious state of perfection but exerting an impact in the world.

That enlightening impact travels in many dimensions, from the obvious – what we say and do – to the subtle, our thoughts and our feeling states. We even broadcast through time, whenever we visit memories or project into the future. This is the work of the Self, with a capital “S,” to transmit the qualitative reality of “heaven,” that invisible state of being where we eternally dwell, into the “earth,” this 3D experience in a human body on a material planet.

With this understanding, we can relax from our striving to become better. Relaxing from that pursuit, we can simultaneously open to the emergence of wisdom and blessing, from within our Self. As we express our Selves, then we experience what we are expressing. Here’s the simple formula for a fulfilled spiritual life: embrace your identity in life, then shine your unique qualities without reservation.

Challenges will come. Breakdowns will occur. Turning them into breakthroughs is the best resolution we can make, and it’s one we can keep.