There was a time when I didn’t know about being in the moment, being present. I didn’t know about awareness or acceptance and had never heard of spiritual awakening. I believed in the standard concept of time and a thought-based identity. I liked what I liked and didn’t like what I didn’t like.
At times, I was dissatisfied with life, how I felt and how I was. I’d often think, “There must be more to life than this.” It wasn’t enough, and something wasn’t right, so I searched for meaning—for another way to live, to be.
In no particular order, I read self-help books, listened to “enlightened” speakers (both live and on CD after CD) while driving in my car, studied psychology, received therapy, become a psychologist, attended self-development workshops and went on many spiritual retreats.
Discovering present-moment awareness
I first fell into spirituality by accident, when I was attracted to an advertised talk about realizing your true potential. I attended the talk, and everything the speaker said deeply resonated with me. His words landed on fertile ground, and it was as if he was speaking directly and only to me. Then I could see that there was something in spirituality that I wanted to look into.
Less than a year later, I attended my first spiritual retreat, where I made my great discovery, the present moment. This came with inner contentment, acceptance, spacious openness, aliveness and sensitivity that went way beyond my understanding. Something was discovered that I’d never before thought about, and if I had thought about it, I’d never have thought it possible. I felt so alive, with so much energy, I didn’t know what to do with it.
I returned home and looked at people and the world with freshly opened eyes, and to me, everyone and everything seemed just amazing.
I returned home and looked at people and the world with freshly opened eyes, and to me, everyone and everything seemed just amazing. I didn’t feel quite of this world. I felt like a wide-eyed, fascinated explorer from another planet, walking the Earth among the inhabitants, in disguise and unnoticed.
I felt totally alone, as if abandoned in some lost, distant world, but that was OK and accepted. People seemed mechanical in their movements, and their ability to think seemed predictable, limited and restricted; they seemed asleep to themselves, but nevertheless, I felt a sort of loving positivity for everyone.
I did try to share how wonderful my new way of being was, because I wanted so much for others, for everyone, to make the same discovery. Yet, virtually no one I came across showed interest or understood what I was talking about, and besides, they were all far too busy caught up in the drama and stress of their own everyday lives.
I remember leaving the retreat thinking, “I’m going to bring back 10 people next year, and then together we’ll bring 100 the year after, and then 1,000 the year after that, until the whole world awakens.”
But when I returned home, I quickly realized that almost everyone else had other concerns and interests that were more important to them. I realized that becoming alive in the present moment was never going to be a priority for the vast majority of people, and there wasn’t much of anything I could do about that.
A few people who knew me well commented on what they saw as a dramatic change in me: in my appearance and in the way I was. A close friend said that he’d never before seen such a transformation in anyone. A psychologist friend described me as being in a non-drug-induced altered state of consciousness, and thought something must have changed in me chemically. My sister said I was so happy and radiating positivity.
It wasn’t like that.
I was the present moment
The retreat leader led me somewhere that I’d never even imagined, and it was as if by God’s grace—without any effort, without intention and without thinking about it—I was the present moment, without any desire for anything to be any different from how it was.
Take away time and take away self-critical, self-absorbed thought, and what’s left is timeless self-thoughtlessness. Apart from a handful of people who knew me well, though, most didn’t seem to notice any difference in me, and if they did, they didn’t say so.
I remember going to a movie complex with a girlfriend, and before we set off, she wanted to find out what was showing and to check out the times—to know and plan, which is normal. She wanted us to decide what we wanted to watch and then plan our journey so we could arrive on time, just like everyone does. I wasn’t opposed to planning and time-keeping, but to me it was unnecessary, because I completely trusted the moment.
“We don’t need to do any of that,” I said. I wholeheartedly trusted that a movie would be about to start as we arrived, and whatever we watched would be the right movie. And if we were too late, then that would be exactly what was meant to be, and we would do something else instead, which would also be just right.
I didn’t believe in too late. I believed in right on time, which was always right now. To me, it was all win-win. I used to think, “I want to do what life wants, and I’m happy with not knowing what that is.”
So whatever I did become my favorite thing to do. I really didn’t mind the outcome—I trusted it, and couldn’t see how anything could go wrong—not as I naturally lived in the moment, genuinely, without any desire for a particular outcome. If something went wrong, that was right. I was so carefree and trusting and accepting, whatever the outcome.
I felt open to all possibilities and outcomes. Whatever happened, happened, and I trusted that it would be what was supposed to happen. I often said, “Let’s see what happens,” or “Let’s see what life wants,” and meant it, literally. Back then, I was genuinely excited about what was coming next, and to see what I did. It was a special time for me to be alive.
So what happened to me?
What happened to me? At the time, I thought I’d experienced some kind of spiritual awakening, but there was little desire within me to make such a claim or talk about it in that way. To me, it would’ve seemed irrelevant and unnecessary.
In any case, my mainstream friends wouldn’t have understood what I was talking about, and I suspect even my ‘spiritual’ friends, who shared my interest in this, wouldn’t have believed me. Over the following years, I didn’t dare say anything about it to anyone, because back then, in the enlightenment game I was in, making such claims just wasn’t done.
I understood spiritual awakening only in black-and-white terms. It either happened, and then you were enlightened, or if you weren’t, then it hadn’t really happened.
For many years, I wasn’t able to make sense of what happened to me. I understood spiritual awakening only in black-and-white terms. It either happened, and then you were enlightened, or if you weren’t, then it hadn’t really happened.
Worse still, if you claimed that you’d experienced an awakening, but had obviously not lost your identity (as some of the more famous spiritual teachers have done)—and even more obviously, weren’t an enlightened master—then your claim would be thought of as an ego-driven delusion of grandeur.
In spiritual circles, the ego can be seen as the bad, negative force that people are trying to be free of. So was I dealing with my ego (or “me-identity”) that was deluded to the extent that it thought it had spiritually awoken?
Recently, I’ve come to a better understanding of what happened to me all those years ago. Looking back, I can say now that I wasn’t in an awakened state without a sense of identity or self-centre, because my sense of self-identity, my sense of self, was always there. However, I can’t deny my experience and say that nothing happened, or that it was a delusion or a trick of the mind.
What I understand now is that my consciousness was more expanded, and I was more aware and sensitive, with a smaller and more distant sense of self. There was an ‘awakening’ of sorts, which manifested as a shift in my perspective of consciousness.
For many years I was somewhat confused, because I was aware that I’d experienced this through my sense of self, through the lens of a “me,” and I knew that wasn’t the “right” kind of awakening. I sometimes thought that if it was like that, then it didn’t count, and it was just the mind up to its old tricks.
But that wasn’t right, either. It wasn’t a full-blown awakening, nor was it a non-event, but for a long time, I thought those were the only two options and neither fit my experience. Yet, something did happen, and it does count for something.
It feels like such a bad thing to admit to, because spiritual practice is all about being free of the ego; and therefore, an ego-awakening is a complete contradiction, because you’re supposed to wake up from the ego-identity by seeing through it (or should I say, beyond it?) in its absence.
To admit experiencing a spiritual awakening through the lens of the self would be seen by some as a big fat fail. But our experience is our experience, and this kind of experience isn’t negative, wrong, fake, delusional or something to be ashamed of. It was for me wonderful and valuable, something that relatively few people on this planet get to experience.
The self was experienced as smaller and more distant. Thoughts were no longer at the foreground and no longer seemed to be so important. It was as if the self was the tip of an inverted pyramid, with a widening and expanding sense of consciousness, which I’ve recently heard referred to as “big sky” consciousness.
And then it was gone
Looking back, whatever it was seems to have stayed with me from August to the following May, and after about nine months, I noticed it was gone. I was no longer “in the moment,” accepting myself and what is, without any desire to change anything. At that time, my mind become more in charge, and wanted what I already had.
Immediately after my almost accidental “awakening” experience, my spiritual search began—or perhaps, the awakening instinct was activated, and then the self-criticism started.
Read the second part of this article by visiting BLESSED: The discovery of the accepted moment [Part 2]»