Wednesday, February 24, 2010


This web site is dedicated to commentary in contemporary terms on the fundamental vocabulary and terminology of spiritual practice, the development of insight, and enlightenment. The previous postings address the major concepts of emptiness, non-duality, impermanence and no self as well as others.

It may be helpful to explain in practical terms what the process of insight is and how it may actually occur in many people. Without an understanding of the process, the terminology we address may seem abstract and artificial. The following is the summary of one approach.

STEP ONE: You live your life normally experiencing, responding to and influenced by feelings, sensory input, thoughts, fantasies, emotions and all the things you do, see and feel. You see everything as either out there or in here. You live all of this and occasionally reflect on it briefly but usually superficially while engaged in other activities or thoughts.

STEP TWO: You begin to play much closer attention to all the things you do, see and feel. You begin to observe internally the fact that you are actually aware of all these things that make up your life. You begin to watch your experiences in detail. We call this mindfulness. The first step to insight. Watching each present moment of your life in increasing detail. In addition to this increased level of awareness, the practice of mindfulness calms the mind and usually leads to a feeling of greater balance. It is the first practice step of most spiritual approaches.

STEP THREE: After a period of mindfulness, your awareness shifts subtly from mindfulness, or paying much closer attention to your life, to a type of slight detachment to where you begin to observe or witness that these thoughts, emotions, feelings, and events you are paying closer attention to are actually arising instead of being lost in their content as you once were. In other words, if you are angry, you are not only mindful and much more aware of the feeling and experience of your anger, but you now also see it as a separate process you are experiencing. You are now subtly and simultaneously aware of not only the substance of everything you experience but also the fact that you are aware of it. You begin to witness the substance or content of your awareness and the fact that you are aware of it almost as as two separate events. You also begin to realize that your awareness is not a fixed continuing uniform entity but is instead made up of countless individual mind objects that are constantly rising and falling. One of the benefits of this is that you are less frequently lost in thoughts and emotions and are far more present. Distractions and internal drama consume you less frequently and for shorter durations.

STEP FOUR: You begin to expand your attention to the process of your awareness beyond witnessing merely its existence to actually inquiry and contemplation upon how it arises and what is its nature. You observe all its components and attending feelings and emotions and you dissect it. You have a strong realization that in between those constantly rising and falling mind objects is a deep and inexplicable sense of peace and openness. This as well as the earlier stage of Step Three above is called the beginning of the Witness. You are not only aware of the content and process of awareness as it is arising but you begin to become intensely curious upon how it does so. You begin to analyze, meditate and contemplate on the very process of your own awareness. In other words, the subject, you, becomes the object. You begin to truly feel the first steps of insight and a recognition that you are moving toward an understanding of your true nature instead of being lost in and limited to the thoughts, feelings and fantasies of your life before these insights. You feel your consciousness inexplicably expanding beyond thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensory input to include an as yet unknown but intuitively larger context that actually gives rise to awareness. You begin to feel occasional profound flashes of insight but they are short lived and even momentary and they usually quickly fade.

STEP FIVE: Much of what you now experience is done as the Witness and you have developed a more insightful and sophisticated perspective to witness your own process of awareness. Your understanding of the nature of your own being has substantially expanded and you are beginning to innately understand that you are much more than a separate mind and body. You have conceptually identified that larger context of awareness and sense of openness and peace experienced between your thoughts and at times in meditation as Emptiness. Most people are meditating heavily and working with a teacher or reading spiritual and practice texts intensely at this stage and grasping for a practical understanding of the commentaries and vocabulary. The enormity of the challenge begins to become clear. The message of the mystics and sages that all of this is in the realm of intuition and feeling and not logic and empirical investigation becomes abundantly clear as you frequently encounter logical dead ends and inconsistencies as you inquire and contemplate the texts and commentaries.

STEP SIX: You begin to wrestle with the concepts of non duality and emptiness. You are beginning to understand the writings portraying what you always thought as the real world as unreal and illusory. Your exclusive identification with all the subjects and objects of your life begin to break down and you begin instead to recognize and identify instead with the space or Emptiness in which they are all arising. You begin to almost passively witness everything that is arising and you actually rest in that awareness or Emptiness. You become acutely aware of the constant rising and falling of all phenomenon on the screen of your awareness.

STEP SEVEN: You realize that even your own sense of self, your mind and body arise in Emptiness as objects identical to everything else. Your ego and sense of self usually fight this realization, struggling to maintain the sense of separate self and raising doubt and skepticism upon the whole process of insight and awareness. You eventually work through these doubts and recognize that these too are simply mind objects rising and falling in Emptiness. Your sense of a separate unchanging self and all the drama, pain and suffering that comes with it is rapidly dissolving.

STEP EIGHT: Eventually, resting and observing in this Emptiness, the inexplicable occurs, the truth that cannot really be put into words. As Ken Wilber put it "the entire manifest world continues to arise just as it is, except that all subjects and objects have disappeared...every object is its own subject. Every event "sees itself" as it were, because I am now that event seeing itself...I am no longer on this side of my face looking at the world out there; I simply am the world...I am not in the universe. The universe is in my awareness." You are liberated in the non dual awareness which is called One Taste. The sense of peace and balance is simply indescribable.

The steps I have described above are highly condensed and are drawn from my own experiences, teachings, readings, contemplations, experiences described by others and other sources. The specifics of course vary greatly among practitioners. This is just one path. Obviously, much is omitted including the Buddhist practices of compassion and loving kindness, the paths of other schools of spirituality, as well as the many new insights being developed pursuant to integral theory and practice.

What remains so frustrating is that the ultimate insight developed above is profoundly simple yet ineffable. I believe the key is grasping Emptiness. It is so difficult because trying to explain it is probably logically impossible. In doing so, you are attempting to express in relative terms the non relative. That cannot be done. Plus, semantically, the actual term itself is not the best expression. Although I referenced this previously as being derived from the speculations of several famous physicists and philosophers, I also heard it expressed on a much more humble level by a practitioner who startled me with the clarity of her insight, especially after I had wrongly dismissed her. "Stop fighting it," she said. "It all becomes beautifully simple and all the contradictions go away if you see the universe more as a thought and not a thing. We call that thought process Emptiness."

Please read the earlier postings where I addressed emptiness, non duality, selflessness and other terms.


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