Some people predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012, but amazingly we are still here! Others, with an interest in numerology, thought 12/12/12 might be the end, but that date has also come and gone and the world is still basically intact. Throughout history people have predicted apocalypse with specific dates generated from one system or another. It seems that human beings want a preview of “coming attractions” and are uncomfortable not knowing.
These kinds of prophecies go back a long time. When Jesus was on Earth those closest to him asked when the end would come. It may be the only time he said in effect, “I don’t know,” further explaining that no man knows the hour and day, not even the angels in heaven. He only indicated some things that would likely come to pass and spoke of signs, using the analogy of a fig tree putting forth its leaves when summer is near.
There are signs now that indicate the approach of climactic change. For example, the world’s population has reached seven billion people—a threshold perhaps—numbers never seen before. There are changes in the planet itself: extreme weather, melting ice, rising sea levels. The pace of change and flood of new inventions has accelerated, including instant communication, which permits us to experience a sense of Oneness, externally, with all humankind. With this global communication what happens in one part of the world is felt in faraway places, as with the recent shooting of children and teachers in Connecticut. That terrible tragedy evoked response throughout the world. People far removed offered acts of kindness and compassion and many found ways to give of themselves.
This event has stimulated debate about gun violence. We’ve seen a spate of such events recently—in a theatre in Colorado, outside a supermarket in Tucson, on college campuses, and so on. People want to do something to stop these tragedies, but what? Some suggest having more guns, with armed guards in the schools. Others say we need fewer guns, that laws should be changed. Violence in movies and video games is pointed to, where supposed heroes knock off great numbers of bad guys, piling up body counts. It’s suggested we need to change a culture that reveres gun violence.
But I question whether any of these policies will be effective? I’m reminded of another incident you may have heard about where a policeman in New York City noticed a barefoot homeless man out in cold weather. The policeman used his own money to buy him a pair of boots, a very kind act for which he was lauded and rightly so. What most people don’t know is the same homeless man was spotted a week later, once again barefoot. New boots did not change his core situation. I wonder if passing new legislation about guns or the entertainment industry will solve the problem of violence.
OK, what would be effective in changing the destructive and deadly state that afflicts the planet? For real change, something must shift at the core of individuals and move from there into the whole body of humankind, elevating our experience to a higher level of consciousness. That shift could be called spiritual awakening. Anything less merely brings superficial changes, just rearranging the kind of destruction. How can humankind lift above the coarse level of function it now knows? This is the key question.
I’ve recently been speaking with people who seemed to lack the experience of transcendent knowing. As I might have suspected, any discussion of spiritual things comes down to belief. People stack up their beliefs against yours or some religious dogma. This approach contrasts sharply with knowing, with having an experience of spiritual awakening, which changes a person forever. Even those who have had a near-death experience may touch a transcendent view and experience profound change. That kind of experience can override any beliefs a person has held up to that point.
Here are two examples of spiritual awakening. The first is my own, which is an interesting story, but no more important or significant than anyone else’s. It’s the one I know best. As a young man in medical school in New York, I should have felt satisfaction just to be there, often considered quite an achievement. But something was missing. I felt dissatisfaction that was intense, so much so that I couldn’t imagine life as a physician without understanding my purpose and the meaning of things. I spoke to classmates and professors about this quandary and they looked at me as if I were crazy or speaking an alien tongue. I wondered at times if they were right. Out of the one hundred students in my class, why was I the only one to feel this powerful urge to understand who I was? Why was I different?
I became obsessed with the search for meaning. I read spiritual literature, starting with western religions, finding bits and pieces that were useful, but nothing of great depth. So I explored eastern religions and philosophies, practiced yoga, read sacred texts, meditated for hours in all sorts of contorted bodily positions. I joined the Hare Krishnas in Greenwich Village, but much of their approach was singing and chanting, which I’m not good at, so that wasn’t my path! I couldn’t live without knowing a higher purpose and realized the answers I sought wouldn’t be found where I was, so I dropped out of school—much to the chagrin of those around me. I was desperate.
I drove west, towards California, hoping to find enlightened beings to guide me. On the way I stopped in Colorado and drove towards the mountains, through Loveland. It was late in the day and the mountains seemed distant, so I cut in towards the foothills and turned again. I found myself at the entrance to a place called Sunrise Ranch. I’d had no contact with anyone from this organization, yet it seemed inviting. I drove down the lane under a canopy of overhanging trees and a remarkable thing happened. For the first time in my life I felt at home, inexplicably, as if having returned from a long journey. Somehow, I knew I was where I needed to be, although I did not know why.
I drove to the Administration Building and was handed pamphlets and shown around, then invited to stay. Part of me, oriented in Eastern views, objected to the form of things (all the Christian references and the churchiness of services) but another part of me overruled these externals. I sensed a resonance and joy that could not explain away. In time, with help, I came to a transcendent sense of self, seeing from the perspective of Divine Being, not just the outer person. It has made all the difference in my life.
Throughout this process there were forces leading me greater than my mind. In fact, spirit often leads us towards fulfillment or creative opportunity in spite of ourselves. Factors we do not see are in play. We might think we’re doing one thing, but spirit looks beyond our mental comprehension and puts us where we need to be, if given a chance. It helps if the soil is ready to be planted. For spiritual awakening to occur there’s often a longing, a passion, something of the heart, whether consciously so or not, that seeks meaning. A person may feel different, perhaps not a part of traditional society, not so accepting of the status quo. Most of us go through a phase of knowing something of the truth of life, acting in kind and generous ways at times, yet not fully comprehending our movement towards Oneness with spirit. To really be awake requires understanding and cooperation of the conscious mind; then we know, and know that we know.
The second story of awakening is taken from an interview with Eckhart Tolle, a man whose clarity of vision and fineness of expression I greatly appreciate. In speaking of his own process towards awakening he said:
For many years I had been deeply identified with thinking and the painful, heavy emotions that had accumulated inside. My thought activity was mostly negative, and my sense of identity was also mostly negative, although I tried hard to prove to myself and to the world that I was good enough by working very hard academically. But even after I had achieved academic success, I was happy for two weeks or three and then the depression and anxiety came back. On that night [when he had his awakening] a disidentification from this unpleasant dream of thinking and painful emotions occurred. The nightmare became unbearable and that triggered the separation of consciousness from its identification with form. I woke up and suddenly realized myself as the I Am and that was deeply peaceful.
For the transformation to be integrated fully into my life took quite a few years. At first, on the external level my life continued as if nothing much had happened, although there was one change. Things came into my life without any effort, sometimes on a very small scale, or on a larger scale. But I still continued with my old life, believing that the academic world was still my path. I got accepted for graduate work at Cambridge and, again, that came effortlessly, and for a while I enjoyed it. Then gradually I noticed a heaviness because everybody was in their minds and their egos. So, it took a few years before I readily realized, “This is not where I am meant to be.” I almost touched on unhappiness again at that point. I had to bring myself back to the present moment. It was like the mind tugging on my sleeve and saying, “Come this way towards unhappiness.” And I had to say, “No, I’m not going there.”
With Eckhart Tolle there was a process working out over a period of time. Finally something broke through into consciousness. He saw himself as I Am, as Being—beyond the outer form he had thought himself to be, identified with mind and emotions. Afterwards he worked at refining his consciousness for years. Many think that when they have attained enlightenment or had a transcendent experience of awakening, they are done, having arrived at their goal. But it is only the beginning. There is continual work to do, constant evolution and refinement, which relates not only to the individual but to the body of humankind, for it said that while any are bound, none are free.
Think of the explorers who first stepped onto the new world. It must have been quite a revelation finding land where most thought there was none, and putting that first tentative foot on shore. But that person did not really know this new land—the rivers, the valleys, the mountains, the desert—the vast terrain to be explored, experienced and known. It is a process of change, refinement, rising up in consciousness, being consistent and incorporating this transcendent perspective into every area of living. There is so much to see and learn.
Even if you achieve your outer purpose, it will never satisfy you if you haven’t found your inner purpose, which is awakening, being present, in alignment with life. True power comes out of the presence; it is the presence. Some people are called upon to do great things externally in this world by creating some new structure that reflects their awakening consciousness. Other people, whom I call the frequency holders, are not called to go out into the world and create great big things externally. Their purpose is to let consciousness flow into whatever they do—to do everything in a sacred manner.
With spiritual awakening comes a rising tide of awareness. Newly generated substance pushes out coarser thoughts and feelings. For example, with regard to gun violence, it would never occur to me to pick up a high-powered rifle and use it to create mayhem. It’s unimaginable, unthinkable. Such thoughts have no place to land in consciousness. I’m not angry, frustrated, spiteful or vengeful, but focused on giving and creating. Love and hate cannot coexist, so it is not a matter of forcibly driving hate and negativity out of my consciousness. The latter automatically dissolve as I awaken to and express my true nature, which is love, divinity and sacredness. In essence we are creators, not destroyers. The question at the core for every person is: How can I create and uplift? Not, how can I destroy and bring low? Love purifies by fire; it consumes what does not belong. The former things pass away and are seen no more.
What is true for the individual is true for the collective body of humankind. There is work to be done. Those who are spiritually awake, to whatever degree, carry a special responsibility. As they sound the true tone of life in their awakened living, those who hear that tone are compelled to awaken. With this rising tide of awareness the whole body of humanity may begin to become conscious of its divine identity, which would be a monumental accomplishment! Ignorant of true purpose, as humankind is now, people find myriad substitute purposes, some deemed good, others bad. A rising tide of understanding and awareness will push out what does not belong. When that occurs destructive thoughts will become unthinkable, gone from memory, and that will solve the problem of gun violence!
As Eckhart Tolle pointed out, in the flow of spirit things happen easily, something like being in a canoe carried down river, requiring only a light touch now and again. This describes the true state. Our role on Earth is to sound the vibration that calls for awakening, a sound as of a trumpet, to reach those who long to know the truth of themselves and find genuine meaning in their lives. Our message is basically this: “Awake o’ man, rise up out of your slumber, remember who you are—your divine birthright which is I Am.”
Words of writer Franz Kafka come to mind:
You don’t need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Don’t even listen, simply want.
Be quite still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you.
To be unmasked.
It has no choice
It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
Awakening spiritually is magical. It changes a person forever. Love is the unifying current, the force that pushes away the destructive nonsense that now fills the heart and mind of humankind. This one spirit is everywhere, waiting to be revealed, and is wonderful—full of wonder. As Kafka said, “It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”