Last Sunday I had the privilege of being in Gankashu training with an aikido master Utada shihan. 学習 (gankashū) in Japanese means learning or actively studying a subject. In aikido, we emphasize 修学 (shūgaku) which is beyond the superficial intellectual understanding and as a way to commit to the depth of true knowledge. 修学 (shūgaku) is similar to 修行 (shūgyō) or 修道 (shūdō) which is often used in martial arts training to describe one’s lifetime devotion to the path.
The path prior to awakening is similar to the path prior to attaining a black belt. We often aim our direction in such a way in order to achieve, to conquer, and to make the ego successful. It is not to say there’s no value in such an aim. It is just that the path after awakening is substantially different even though the outward expression of the path might hold certain similarities.
A few months into my aikido training years ago, I asked both of my senseis how long it would take for me to obtain a black belt. Back then, that was my aim. I thought if I made it to a black belt then I have made it onto the ladder of success. I remember clearly the older sensei just laughed while the younger sensei smiled and sincerely answered me in such a way that was fit for my level of understanding at the time. I could sense that I was blind to a greater knowing. I saw it on their faces that for me to even ask such a question I must only had superficial understanding but really was essentially ignorant.
Life worked out in such a way that my sustained awakening synchronized with my training for my shodan (first degree black belt). My training partner invested in aikido mats for a home dojo where he aimed to obtain his black belt no matter what. We trained during normal class times as well as in his home dojo and by ourselves. While he held an purpose to obtain just as I lost my obsession to obtain. I didn’t know what was really happening within me at the time. All I knew for certain was that I had lost the drive to ace the test, yet I still trained and trained with every once of my heart not at all concerned with the outcome. The interesting sensation was that I felt more truly devoted to my path without holding any agenda at all.
Utada shihan told us a story of a samurai’s search for Enlightenment. This samurai set his course to be the best. He did end up conquer and defeat even the best samurais around him yet he did not find what he was looking for. He decided that a warrior’s path cannot lead to Enlightenment so he switched his path to become a farmer. Years later still not able to find what he was looking for, he then switched his path again to become solitary and lived in a cave no one would ever find. Legends told that he never found what he was looking for.
Stories of samurais or warriors in search of one’s true path are often told in great details and variation in many cultures. They are all the same story in essence – a hero’s journey. Initially the hero wants to obtain skills for a grand purpose. There are much hardship and resistance internally and externally. This is symbolized as the fight. Often times duel to the death. Death is also symbolic where an old way must completely end in order for the hero to truly discover oneself. We project out our own inferior qualities onto others in the world and in such stories these inferior qualities must be “killed” in a duel so only one True warrior can live on. Unfortunately for some stories like our story of the unfound samurai, even winning the duel cannot bring a deeper understanding of Truth, Self, and the Life. Fortunately for some others, we dig deeper than just the superficial appearance and find a whole new world of being. There does come a death, more dramatic than the physical death is the death of the old, the death of our tinted beliefs, and the death of the psyche. In the physical death, the energy of the old way of being will still carry on and the psychological death does not allow any old parts to carry on – EVERYTHING must go, must be cleaned out.
The moment of awakening is the realization of “oh, I now know what I am.” Just because this realization takes place it does not mean all of our cellular memories, hardwired believes and reactions will shift in a single moment. The clearing out process takes time. The new neuron network takes time to disengaged and rebuild. And the new DNA transcription and new protein expression also takes time to re-educate. And these times of the post-awakening can sometimes be very clear while all of a sudden we sink into the mud again of confusion. This is because our system is rebuilding, readjusting, and relearning. Anything that no longer fits the new system will be brought to the surface, examined, and evaluated. There are times of blissful oneness followed by unshakable darkness. The path after awakening is that of purification. It does not happen by us, but it happens to us. Grace takes care of majority of the work, we just are just along for the ride – hence 道 is written as a the “one who emerges” riding a “carriage”. Like my 初段 (shodan) is written as the beginning of a path – the road after awakening is where the journey truly begins. This path is 修道 (shūdō) – the path of complete devotion to the life after realization.
Utada shihan shared several points through aikido to help one orient the focus in a constructive manner. These points will help aikidokas and freshly realized beings alike.
I) 道場とわ (dojo to wa)
“how to conduct oneself in the dojo environment”
In aikido, one must start from the self, once our inner space is cleaned then extend that onto our gi and into a cleaned and open space as we call the dojo. This is also true for our spiritual journey. First we must hold what is realized, then embody what is realized and be what is realized. We take the realization into the world.
II) 心技体の稽古 (shin gi tai no kei ko)
“the importance of the body and mind/heart training”
In aikido, the enemy is the constantly changing and wavering mind. The wavering mind unbalances the body. A unbalanced wavering body is already defeated. In aikido, we train to unify. In our spiritual path after realization, the mind can still try to take center stage and along the body, emotions and energy with it. The training is to become “no mind”, where movements are simple expressions from spirit not thought.
III) 二つの目付き (futatsu no me tsuke)
“two ways of witnessing”
There are two ways to witness, one way is 見 and the second way is 観. The first way is to view something with sight. It is only a superficially physical way to witness. The second way is to deeply see and intuit the completeness of something. It is often said 観 is a deeper way of truly seeing with one closing one’s two eyes but opening the third eye and turning it inward. It is the first word in the Heart Sutra – the beginning of truly seeing. Life after awakening demands us to no longer relay on 見 but we must look inward and view life by its completeness with our own depth through 観.
IV) 伝統と継承 (dento to keishou)
“tradition and succession [of the art]”
In any type of martial arts, we base our training in the grounded-ness of tradition. Aikido is an evolved form from the way of the sword, jujutsu, and other forms of martial arts. Because of tradition there is training. Yet it does not become capped but a life-form that keeps evolving to higher and higher levels. O sensei said in an interview: “In my opinion, [aikido] can be said to be the true martial art. The reason for this is that it is a martial art based on universal truth. This universe is composed of many different parts, and yet the universe as a whole is united as a family and symbolizes the ultimate state of peace. Holding such a view of the universe, Aikido cannot be anything but a martial art of love. It cannot be a martial art of violence. For this reason Aikido can be said to be another manifestation of the Creator of the universe.”
And that too, is the path after realization.
“He has the right to experience the consequences of his actions,” said the wise young mother as she walked to the car. Moments later, a small boy ran out the door with open shoe laces, backpack in one hand and a half bitten waffle in another. He did manage to hop into the car seat with all of his belongings. He buckled himself in and without a word in the backseat, he finished the rest of waffle while mom drove to school.
Her words struck me…
Years ago my family visited an old monk who served us tea in his temple. Grandma asked for a safely protected life for our whole family. The old monk looked around and laughed, “life is just a series of cause and effect.” I chuckled to myself as I caught a glimpse of his gaze.
“What do you mean?” mom asked sincerely.
“Well, if you drink tea now you will later have to use the toilet. The act of drinking tea is the action that causes the effect of using the toilet.” I held my head high and did my best to explain the little bit I knew about the source of karma.
“Yes. Just as such – an action will always cause an reaction. This is the law of nature. If you eat something bad, your stomach will suffer. This is not because buddha did not have compassion upon you, this is because you made a choice that is causing your suffering.” The old monk gently rinsed each of our tea cups as he spoke.
One of the reasons I studied science is because I was drawn to the exploration of nature, the exploration of cause and effect. In my tissue engineering class, we searched for various pathways embryonic stem cells transform into other types of cells in the body. Depending on the chemical environment, stress-strain conditions, cellular orientation, and other factors, two stem cells can have a very different destiny. Under the microscope a neuron cell differs from an enteroendocrine cell in both appearance and function, yet they started from the same source. This is just the microcosm expression of karma – the start point for both is neutral, the causes differ, hence the outcomes diverge.
In the macrocosm expression of karma, human destiny takes a similar course but with more layers of cause and effect. As we live our daily lives, each moment we incur “causes” in the forms of thoughts, words, and actions. And sometime later we experience the consequences of our actions. These consequences can be joyful or painful. Hopefully we use the consequences to learn if our actions are beneficial for us and those around us. From our learning we have a choice to do things differently the next time around.
In the case of the small boy who ran out the door with his half-eaten waffle, he ended up arriving late to school, which caused him the title “star student of the day”. He arrived home that day feeling sad because of his lost title. To feel better, he ate lots of candies. Unfortunately he later faced an awful stomach ache from his over consumption of sweets. A classic tale of cause of effect.
The boy learned the next day that he better not allow himself too much time to play while eating breakfast. He walked out of the door with his backpack on, held onto mom’s hand and walked to school. Having arrived 10 minutes early and maintained his good attitude throughout the day, he became the “star student of the day”. He joyfully skipped home from school and had a good rest of the day. This too was his creation, as he learned from the previous day, he made difference choices with very different results.
Of course when there are multiple layers of cause and effect, the process of learning becomes more difficult. Sometimes I can get overwhelmed when the complexity of layer effects increase. In my youth, I often misinterpret events and come up with wrong conclusions. Other times instead of taking personal responsibilities to examine my own actions, I can play the ostrich or even blame the outside world for my own emotional dramas. Obviously, both strategies lead me nowhere.
Then I did something different.
I vowed for directness and honesty. In both what I reveal to myself as well as to others. I vowed to be truthful and direct the best I can each moment. No more trying to convince myself the lies I’ve created, nor hide without looking deeply at my own actions. I vowed to stay on my path of truth. I can’t say it was always easy, but the more I practiced the easier it become to maintain my balance.
Nowadays I can dissemble the layers of cause and effect, recognize the cause of my suffering, learn from my past choices, make difference choices, and live a life filled with peace and love as my natural state of being.
A few weeks ago I went home to see my 88 years old grandma. She held onto my hand tightly and said, “don’t go, just stay with me, it is safer at home!” I gently opened her grip, kissed her on her cheek, “don’t worry grandma, I am safe.”
A friend came to visit. He excitedly told me how the universe gave him everything he wanted from meeting celebrities to being on TV without the chance to allow himself to take a full breath. “I must be in such high vibration that everything’s working out for ME!”
Smiled, without a word, I served him a cold iced-tea with a piece of freshly cut white peach on the side. He pushed it aside and went on to tell me about how people everywhere are stopping with envious stare since he got his amazing six-pack…
In Southern California, there’s a culture of speaking of such things as “cleanse”, “mindfulness”, “detox”, “healing”, “meditation”, “organic”, “yoga”, “reiki”, “zen”, “juicing”, “being in alignment”, “high vibration”, ”unity”, “love”, “enlightenment”… The list goes on and on. Lots of us here eat organic to be in a higher vibration – not as an aware expression but as a concept – for the purpose of becoming better.
In more ways than one, we use yoga, meditation or anything “spiritual” for our own personal gain. When I do an “OM” chanting practice, I can do it in several different ways – 1. I can use it to show those around me how peaceful and spiritual I am, 2. I can use it to open up my energy so my life can run more smoothly; or 3. I can do it with subtle awareness and witness the interconnections and changes as each “OM” progressively expresses through my body. For these three ways, these actions are exactly the same, yet the essence of each are completely different.
Consciously or unconsciously we are always asking “what can Enlightenment do for ME?”
Our collective ego structure is always interested in how to feel better. We find shortcuts in life and indulge ourselves in momentary pleasures often resulting in long drawn-out pain. We use alcohol, television, sports, sex, fashion, games, relationships, politics as ways to escape reality, as ways to turn away from looking within ourselves. As a result, we put on a false mask along with lavishly decorated armors to show the world who we pretend to be.
A young lady posts her intellectual achievements, re-shares the latest scientific discoveries, and shows-off how charismatically smart she is so she can gain the approval of her friends – only to find no matter how hard she tries to impress, she still felt like a black hole inside.
An older man got married to a glamorous “trophy” – only to discover 15 years later that he’s trapped in a marriage without ever experiencing true love.
Amy’s Baking Company asked Chef Ramsey to help improve their business, only to not take any feedback and decided that everyone else is wrong. The owners blamed the internet haters and never for a second quietly took a look to see if they themselves are to blame.
Like Chef Ramsey, Enlightenment is not shy to serve you a plate of truth. You might over look and ignore it for a while, but eventually it will slap you on the face until you wake up to the reality you’ve been avoiding for years.
Yup, I’ve been there. I’ve experienced the personal ego structure to the most delusional level and felt the collective ego structure on the most fundamental level within my own being. Our ego structure care feverishly about the outer appearances of things while pushing aside the gut feelings, and ignoring the simplest truth.
The last time I witnessed myself asking “what can Enlightenment do for me?” I didn’t expect the honest truth it served me in such a timely manner. I got to look within myself and saw how egotistical my whole life was. All aspects of my life had been contaminated by a self-importance, self-consciousness, fear of failure, fear of looking bad, fear of rejection, a need to be accepted, a need to show-off, and the list goes on and on. I was that young lady, I was that older man, I was the owners of Amy’s Baking Company, and I too once played all parts in these roles. When I looked for what Enlightenment can do for me, I had hoped for a chance to win a million dollars, a top of the line sports car, or a way to look young and beautiful forever. Instead, Enlightenment has a different sense of humor.
For me, Enlightenment was holding up a mirror to reflect where my life was lived as a way to put on a show. It unveiled the naked truth that I avoided for so long – in every area and every moment of my life. I could not run away any longer. This time, I was stripped naked by Enlightenment, with a magnifying glass to examine each and every part of my self, my believe structure, and my hardened delusions. Then it took a scalpel, and surgically removed each and every untruth as they are being revealed – sometimes with insurmountable pain, other times with gentle awareness. The surgery is not complete. It has to be done over time. A time reveals more truth when each moment presents itself.
So if you found yourself asking “what can Enlightenment do for me?” If you are not ready for the truth, run the other way as fast as you can. Because Truth has a way of catching up to you if you are not careful. For some people, they can run and hide until Death comes to claim them. If you happen to slip and fall, know that Truth in her naked form will come with her bright mirror held up high and show you the truth regardless if you want it or not. Usually after putting up a fight, most of us can no longer keep up turning the other way in denials. There is a point that Truth will bring the arrival of Judgment Day when you are least expecting – and blows your masks and armors aways without an apology. Truth is not nice. She is Truth. And Truth always wins.
What can Enlightenment do for you?
Enlightenment will strip you clean layer by layer until you recognize the naked truth of who you really are – Empty, Rich, Simple, Loved, and Beautiful.
(A special Thanks to this simple and yet honest blog from Dragon Rider One.)
It was a cold winter night when the snow was coming down hard and quickly covered the streets. I was very happy to have returned home from pre-school and curled myself up indoors to stay out of the blasting wind that was cutting through my skin. It had been one of those days everything was going well and I was overjoyed to see mom after being away in pre-school all day long. I followed her everywhere and all I wanted was to be near her. She smiled at me and told me how helpful I have been just being around her. I hugged her tightly and was basking in tender love.
Within minutes mom had returned to her busy activities. Nevertheless I followed her everywhere. As she gathered a bucket to fill a mixture of cold and hot water while adding drops of liquid soap, she told me that I can help her to soak grandma’s feet. Excited, I ran to the door and picked up grandma’s heavy winter “feet” and ran back to the bucket and dropped them in…
I stood still and waited for mom to praise me for a job-well-done. Instead, she screamed and glared into me with razor-sharp criticism to tell me that I was being a bad child. I was in shock. My tears rushed down uncontrollably as I could not understand why I was faulted for giving her all of my love. I could not understand why my love would make her so angry. And I hated myself for making her angry. I ran to the door, turned to look at her one last time, then kicked the door open with everything I’ve got and raced out into the dark snowy night. I ran and ran, down the cobblestone stairs covered in slippery snow with my bare feet. The tears were still burning on my cheeks when the frigid wind cut through my thin layer of pajamas – just as painful as mom’s sharp glare. I couldn’t stand it. I had to get away and take myself away from mom. Not for my sake but for her sake. I don’t ever want to make her angry again. I ran and ran, headed to the frozen river so I can just float away…
As I matured from 3 to 35, I have learned the different between feet and shoes. Yet whenever I think of that story I still find an old numbing pain in my chest.
Back in October 2008, I met this amazing man. We both shyly tried to approach each other in the next several months. We shared a mutual intimacy with one another that was both exciting and intimidating. He was working on a project that could use some positive marketing so I brought in Dave who I have adopted as a little brother for many years to do some video marketing. Instead of being full of appreciation, my amazing man quickly backed off from me and gave me the cold shoulder. I felt that same pain in my chest. Dumbfounded, I couldn’t understand what I did wrong to make him so angry. He ended up breaking our date and asked the whole group of video production out to lunch instead. I didn’t even have a chance to explain to him that Dave is my little brother before he wrote me off. Somehow I pushed him away and into the arms of another girl.
This morning as I finished my walk with my dog and ran into a neighbor. This neighbor is an elder wise-man who cared for me like a father. And I have always respected his perspectives. We casually chatted and he asked me how I’m doing. “Great!” I told him as I have been feeling good and it feels like my life is in a really good place. My garden is blooming beautifully this year, I have found a greater inner strength, and I find myself able to love unconditionally. Like a father, he searched for more, so he curiously asked me if I was dating this young man who came to visit me a week ago. I was surprised and asked, “you mean Dave? He is my little brother! And I haven’t dated anyone for years…” The elder nodded and apologized for jumping into conclusions. Suddenly I found a tear sneaking down my cheek. Unknowingly I was remembering the last time someone mistaken Dave (who is 13 years my junior) for my romantic partner. The tears started streaming down my cheeks. The elder padded me on the back and invited me into his home for coffee so I can tell my tale.
I did. Word for word. Tear for tear. I told him that I thought I have come to peace with that incident and I can be happy for that amazing man and his amazing girl. I thought I was able to love them both unconditionally and expect nothing in return. “But, that is not the point,” he sincerely looked into my eyes, “you are beating yourself up for a misunderstanding. It is your pain you must gaze into.”
My pain? I am fine, I thought…
Yet I was still holding onto the pain that I messed up and think if I could only have explained to him what was really going on then we wouldn’t have fought this silent battle for the past few years. I hate being misunderstood. I hate the pain of being misunderstood by someone I love. I quietly went home after my coffee to look within for the source of that old chest pain which resurfaced suddenly this morning. I knew it wasn’t just about that misunderstanding occurred several years ago. That incident was only a messenger to alert me for a deeper pain that needed healing. As I sat quietly in stillness, I touched upon that old pain in my chest again as tears rushed upward from the depth of me. I saw that little girl, who was me, at the age of 3, crying in the night of howling snow – that was the first time she felt misunderstood. She cried and cried. She couldn’t understand why the abundance of her love would hurt mom so much. And she never forgave herself for the perceived pain she caused. With my eyes closed, I held her, and we both cried and cried until our tears ran dry.
An hour ago I called mom. Told her the story of our first misunderstanding and how much pain I was still holding on. She and I had a good laugh, and a good cry – together. We rewrote the ending of the story. This time, I tossed grandma’s “feet” into the water and waited for mom’s approval. Instead, both mom and grandma looked shocked for a moment, then they laughed until we were all rolling on the ground. She then hugged me tightly and showed me the difference between shoes and feet. Then mom, grandma, and I all put our shoes aside and soaked a total of six feet into that bucket of soothing warm water as we laughed while sipped on hot chocolate. The door was never opened that night. The snow was howling out there, but inside the house, we were basking in love.
Unlike how I’ve imagined, after awakening, our identification and attachments don’t melt into thin air in the snap of a finger. I’ve heard incidences that a few people can work through their karma load easily and quickly but for most, it takes dedication and the help of grace to clear out all the remaining untruth. Once we’ve witness the truth and know in the depth of our being that we are consciousness itself, anything that is untrue tend to float to the surface so we can take a closer look with an open heart.
Last year I found myself unable to lie. This happened right after my explosive weeks of awakening. I walked down the street and saw how people pretend to be asleep and they soak themselves in the lies they created. It is almost like a fantasy bubble – each and everyone of them protect themselves in it. People are attached to their stories and like to tell their stories – in a way they define themselves with their past and what they believe in. For a while, it was very difficult for me to relate as if I were a newborn and I didn’t have a past. My senses could only be rooted in what is happening now that I didn’t have a story even if I searched for one. I didn’t mind listening to other people’s stories as I deeply felt what they were going through. When it was time for me to share something about myself I couldn’t conjure up anything at all. My past seem insignificant in comparison to the present. To me there is only the present and nothing else. Yet nearly everyone around me lived in the past or aiming for a fantasy future. At the time I thought if people truly become intimate with one another based on their attachments, beliefs, or even their shared hopes for the future, I will no longer be able to experience intimacy with people on that level again. There were moments of grief. For a while, I tried to push myself back in the game of pretending again, unsuccessfully, every time I would say something out of alignment with the truth of the moment my body would feel all twisted up inside with nausea that I had to admit my mistake and move back to complete honesty again.
It has been one year now. What I’ve noticed is our body and our energy are all affected by the untruth we tell ourselves on one level or another. If I were to believe that I am not well, my body would shrink down, I would slouch a bit, and react in such a way to match my belief. This identification with the belief actually comes even before the appearance of a thought. In a way, any identification system formed the structure that allowed us to grow up in an environment safely. Early in life when we had to navigate into our environment it served a purposed – kept us safe. As we progress in our spiritual path these structures might become too constricting or ill-fitted all together. Like a big fish in a small pond, as the fish grows in size, it needs to find a bigger pond – a more suitable environment. The same goes for us. As we grow physically, emotionally, spiritually to our full potential, our old structures might no longer fit. This is when struggles or internal conflicts might occur. In a way, like the ever expanding universe, we are growing beyond old dimensions, so somehow, with awareness, we need to uncover the structure we need to let go, and melt into the new truth of NOW.
When we speak of untruth, it really refers to a false identification of our past belief structure that’s outdated. This is where psychology and spirituality can co-exist as we bring awareness to see what is not true that is creating discomfort within us. I have a beautiful fuchsia plant. She is tall, beautiful, slightly timid in full pale pink blossoms. Because she grew up within a structure limited her upward growth, she twisted herself around the obstacle in order to get a glimpse of the sun. She had to bent her spine in order to survive. One day, I gently moved her away from that confining structure and give her a much bigger home with plenty of sun, food, shade, and water. Within a few days, she had miraculously straightened her spine and opened up herself to now heights. She no longer looked timid, but instead, she enjoyed her newly found freedom.
We too are as such. We are also just a part of nature with innate ability to adjust to each moment anew. Yet, it is our attachment to old identifications that hold us in our old patterns unable to fully express our wholeness. Some might call it ego-identification, egoic nature, false beliefs, etc. Either way, as we progress we must reassess our current state without the clutter of old definitions that hold us back. Whenever we find ourselves contracting or shrinking down physically or energetically, we can use this opportunity to examine what we are still holding onto that is no longer true. Often times by seeing our identifications without judgement we can remember why that particular structure served us once upon a time. And how it was useful at the time. By seeing it with compassion we can then move into a more clear space of the now, with clarity to let go if that is the truth of the moment.
Some spiritual paths help us to strengthen our inner truth to push out any untruth. Other spiritual paths help us uncover untruth and polish clean ourselves to surface one’s true nature. For me, it has been extremely helpful to do both at various times. For a while, life took me onto a path with incredible grace as if the whole core of my body is filled with strength and light that is growing in size, pushing outward. Other times I feel uncourageous and small, yet with the awareness to sense the origin of these feelings, I was able to find and let go untruth – and to fully breathe again.
Many years ago I was a slave to science as I believed only science can solve life’s mysteries so I can uncover what life truly is. I laughed at the people who called themselves devotees as they blindly followed the idea that God is the force behind all existence. I didn’t know God. But I did know I can find amazing answers in a test tube. My friends shared a similar view. I remember one day I was searching in scientific medical journeys online and somehow stumbled upon a journal about near-death experiences. At first I was extremely offended how such publications can find its way to be categorized as scientific without proper documentation of truthful measurements. As I glimpsed into a few articles I was shocked to know what the scientists called data were nothing more than people’s recollection of bodily sensations and perception of events. I questioned the validity of such recalls since the biological functions of the body during such a time cannot be trusted let alone the brain’s ability to process information. I called up a friend and we continued to make fun of these so-called scientists who did not follow the proper path of science.
Did I believe science and spirituality were exclusively separate? Logically yes. Intuitively I had an inkling that all things might somehow be intimately connected.
A month later – May 6th, 2006, I was given the opportunity to experience the naked truth myself.
I had no instruments with me to collect data during the actual event but I did remember every bit of my near-death experience like it was yesterday. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve never made fun of this instrument I call myself, my feelings, and my sensations. It was lucid and extremely real – at the time it was more real than anything I’ve ever experienced in my whole entire life. It was out of this world and into a different dimension I could not measure or even try to explain logically. When I met my doctor in the ER I was high on bliss and somehow he seemed to understand how I felt. Yes, I could say I was lacking oxygen which could cause hypoxia, ischemia, temporal lobe trauma and dysfunction and neurotransmitter imbalance, yet the visceral conviction at the time gave me more certainty than any data I’ve ever analyzed. Family and friends came to visit me felt extremely sorry for my state of being, yet somehow my doctor just stood with me and trusted my decisions without a question. The way he looked into me like we’ve known each other since the beginning of time. Back then I thought it was good healthcare and plain caring. Later on I realized he too had experienced something profound but never talked to anyone about it.
When I came back to my scientific research in biotech and carefully shared my experience with a selected few, my intellectual friends rolled their eyes and talked behind my back that I am no longer normal. I learned quickly not to speak my experience of the truth. I kept what I went through to myself. Within a year the structure in my old scientific community became suffocating. I had to move on and search deeper. I had to conduct my own experiments even when a gold standard of collecting data cannot be created. I became an outcast of the scientific community. I didn’t care. I only cared about my search for truth.
The next year I went to MBA school and found several professors who would talk to me about intuitive decision-making in their classrooms. A few of them invited me to their office and behind closed doors they shared with me they too have experienced profound mystical moments beyond the construct of the logic processor. They called themselves “closet spirituals”. The seasoned professor did not want to risk his image to deviate from his beaming intellect. The associate professor must not be too modern in her thinking in order to be on track for her tenure. One brave professor suggested to me that he had seen profound shifts in people going through holistic therapies when he worked in the office of a prestigious psychiatrist.
I followed his map and found myself immersed in psychology and psychotherapy. At that time my new job consisted embedding a glucose monitor within a cell phone to collect data for the pharmacy and health care professional’s ease of integration into the patient’s everyday well-being. During our market research we found the hardest part was not building the instrument nor an app for the cell phone, instead, the challenge to bring success to our product is how to change people’s behavior - how to make a fundamental shift in someone’s core belief, their thinking – to eventually affect the choices they make in an everyday situation. Type II diabetes is a global epidemic and there was much money to be made in this investment. I didn’t care about making the rich company richer, I only cared about truth – what makes us who we are, and if we are dissatisfied with who we are how do we change ourselves at the core level. The following year I spent all of my money into exclusive personal development classes that promised to give me answers to truth as well as solve the problem of my defective self. Soon enough using the model of men as machines gave me hope of temporary relieve but didn’t take me closer to truth. I had to move on, I was in no-man’s land. Fewer and fewer people had answers for me. Those who did offer answers like the personal development experts could no longer provide the next stage of depth I needed for my journey.
Another year has passed and my quest for truth lead me to meditation, yoga, and aikido. When I found peace within I noticed the human body is a sensitive instrument that can be calibrated to even greater precision and take meaningful data. I cannot call myself a woman of faith. I am not. I question everything. I distrust everything until I can conduct my own experiment leading to new discoveries. One thing about being a scientist is we devote ourselves to the discovery of truth, we don’t fake data to fit our own agenda. We remain pure as the observer of truth. We remain pure as the witness of nature. The more I worked to fine-tune my internal instrument the more I can become a better scientist – staying pure to what is, staying pure to witness the truth as it is. My quest for truth has led me to discover a bigger Truth and a bigger Me outside of myself by looking within. My quest has led me down a path I could’ve never imagined nor ever expected. There is no point of return. I’m no longer afraid that my view does not fit into the limits and boundaries of popular consensus. I no longer care someone else out there like the old Flo who will be offended by my scientific process. I don’t care to “fix” my data so I will be accepted. I only care about truth – as it was witnessed – in my own journey of discovery.
Here I shall share the result of my finding. I hope you will not take me experience as your own but instead stay pure, fine tune your instrument, conduct your own experiments, and stay truth to what is.
My Original Hypothesis: there is no God, no higher power than the power of our intellect
My Instrument: myself (thoughts, sensations, emotions, movement of energy)
Experimental Method: devotion to the discovery of truth; devotion to the clearing of untruth; not taking answers given by others as truth, conduct your own experiments, repeat; toss out lies but pay attention to outliers, etc…
My Conclusion: I was wrong. God does exist. God is in everything, everyone, and that is the higher power – the power of nature, the power behind all of life.
Like many of you, my first taste of awakening was in my early childhood. In a moment of clean stillness, I closed my eyes, looked within, and touched upon an eternal empty space. Intrigued, I went back to it again and discovered this presence spanned all of time and space. I didn’t tell anyone, as a child, I was afraid this powerful immeasurable presence might engulf me if I looked too long. It was even more unsettling to sense this presence has complete awareness of me. Terrified, I pulled back and talked myself into believing if I just close myself to it then it will no longer to be able to “spy” on me, and if I just close myself to it then it will not be able to engulf me.
That was my first memorable encounter with fear of the void.
For a human being, fear always appears uninvited during a burst of spiritual growth. The mind is comfortable with the past or what it knows. However when it encounters a completely unknown territory, it feels anxiety, fear, or even terror as the body tightens, heart rate and respiration increase. Regardless if a potential threat is real or imagined, the hypothalamus will produce corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) that triggers the production of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). In a series of unconscious physiological response, fear can quickly take control of the body. During the event of a spiritual growth the mind will undoubtedly enter a space of unknown causing fear in your body, without your consultation whatsoever.
Recently I went to a sathsang hosted by one of my favorite Zen teachers Adyashanti. There was one girl in particular when she voiced her fear, the body trembled. She described facing her fear is like facing a cliff where she must jump off of to find her freedom yet she was terrified what might not be on the other side. She is not alone. An Isha Yoga meditator I spoke to also wrote to me about his fear of the darkness when he looked within. Because he didn’t know what was in the dark empty space he refused to enter that space. As for myself, when I fall into extremely love and intimacy, my mind and body often encounter terror that quickly pulls me out of the experience.
Fear is natural. Fear often is a signpost to indicate that you are arriving at yet another point of exponential transformation. Well, tell that to the mind, it still isn’t very comforting. So what to do in the face of fear?
A lot of people will tell you that you must combat fear with courage. This strategy often worked when the ego was in tight control. In that stage, you can use your will to power through anything. In fact, you don’t even have to see the face of fear as you run your four-wheeler down the highway and kill any fear that might have stood in the way. As we progress in our spiritual development, we will begin to notice that the will is only an illusion. The fear we thought we had destroyed will come back in another form. With more awareness, we realize that we have no choice but to come face-to-face with our fear. We cannot fight it, yet we cannot turn the other way. We have to meet it. We have to talk to it. We have to be willing to understand it from the deepest level.
The only thing that is standing between you and your freedom is that little voice telling you to run away from or fight fear. The real courage is not to fight but the willingness to relax in the face of fear. Only from a relaxed place you can then allow yourself to dig digger into what thought might be the trigger of that fear. And next what belief you planted a long time ago supported such a thought. This is the willingness to relax and meet your fear face-to-face. This is the true expression of courage.
A few months prior to my big awakening I started to notice that everything I did and all the choices I made were being contaminated by fear. I didn’t write because I was afraid of writing an incoherent article. I didn’t do my ukemi in Aikido fearful of injuring my body. I didn’t let any cars drive near me afraid someone might change lanes and run into me. These were just the superficial fears. As I was digging deeper I found that same fear of the void never left me… In fact it had held me captive so I only pretended to meditate when I knew I was resistant to the state of yoga. I didn’t allow myself the opportunity for a deeper experience into God. What a prison I have built for myself. I finally started to become fully conscious of every single one of these fears and somehow once I know my “enemy”, it turned into a friend.
After talking to several of you on the topic of fear I decided we can revisit this old friend often. Fear is nature. It is a signpost that you are ready for the next stage of your spiritual growth. No matter what part of the path you are on, honor your fear, meet it face-to-face and know that “All is Well”. On the flip side one day, you might look back and laugh to yourself and say “what’s the fuzz?”
Chances are, if you are a spiritual seeker, then you have heard of enlightenment. We were told Buddha was an enlightened master, so was Jesus and a few selected individuals throughout history. There are others such as Muhammad Rumi, Albert Einstein, Joseph Campbell all exhibited such inherent passion for life and ease of living that they too might possess something mystical. Even various cultures throughout history have shifted into a space that completely transformed human reason to redefine the quality of our very existence.
What is the commonality between various categories of enlightenment?
Look up the term in google, the definition comes to be 1) the action of enlightening or the state of being enlightened; 2) the attainment of spiritual knowledge or insight that which frees a person from the cycle of [karma]. The Buddhism root of the term translates into “awakening” and “understanding”, which then allows us to break the bondage of suffering. Spiritual enlightenment promoting individual well-being in the Western civilization leading into the twenty-first century are often called a new age idea drawing on Eastern cultures and philosophies. Hence spiritual enlightenment is thought to be an “achievement” all individuals seek to obtain.
A more well-known use of the term is the “period of enlightenment” roughly span the early seventeenth century through the eighteenth century where traditional hierarchical political-social structures such as the French monarchy were violently overturned. The “period of enlightenment” occurred with a shift in thinking. Unvoiced in the past, individuals were encouraged to criticize the corruption of the monarchy and the aristocracy. At an earlier time in the late fifteenth century a parallel force of the scientific revolution triggered a yearning for new science, new experiments, and individual searches of intellectual freedom.
This wave of scientific revolution also helped to shape “enlightenment thoughts” in philosophical discussions. Against popular beliefs promoted by religion, Before the mid-sixteenth century, Descartes joined Galileo in advocating a heliocentric solar system. To avoid the Inquisition, his books in science were mostly published anonymously. Yet this undercover passion shaped his philosophical inquiries of doubt and knowledge, which allowed his skeptical arguments to penetrate the court of Queen Christina. In the mid-seventh century, Voltaire stood out to question popular believes by his words against myth and superstition taught by religious authorities. At the same time, Hume’s inquires into the sometimes false perceptions of the mind, Kant’s aim to unite new empirical experiences with established rational reasoning all propelled a shift in thinking – this shift is known as the Enlightenment.
In a sense, no matter how unrelated each categories might seem, various forms of enlightenment somehow point to the same direction – a question, a reassessment, a revolution, an awakening, a transformation leading to the freedom of true knowledge. In essence, enlightenment is a shift in perception, a shift in being that sheds light on something, illuminating what was in the dark to making it stand out and absolutely clear.
What does enlightenment have anything to do with you? And why would you want a piece of it?
Have you ever thought there might be more to life? One time or another in our lives we all strived to be happier, live deeper and experience more. What we’ve been taught by society is to achieve more in life and possess more materialistic things. We would purchase a bigger house, a more expensive car, exotic vacations, marry a handsome husband, earn a good living, yet somehow all these achievements quickly lose their attraction and we still feel unfulfilled. Some of us might turn to addictions such as food, drugs, sex, TV shows, video games to fill the hole yet still not able to find the happiness we yearn for. We don’t see a way out of this darkness, we yearn for more…
Second, like most human beings you have probably experienced suffering. If you are lucky, a tragedy in life might have brought pain to your awareness – physically or emotionally. From an early age we often cry in response to unpleasant events. Later in life, we tend to spin our wheels and try to solve various life’s dramas only finding ourselves unable to break free. For some, this suffering is always screaming and leaks into every part of our existence. Such as a solider who lost his legs in battle later found himself unwilling to take part in the simplest daily activities due to his overwhelming sadness, anger and shame. For others, this suffering is unconscious yet dictates all the choices we make in life. Like a young woman who believed she is not pretty enough so she spent hours each day to prepare herself, endless hours in the gym, purchased new breasts to feel better, dated hot guys to validate her own self-worth. For her, all of her energy is spent in this endless loop of the believe that she is not pretty enough, nevertheless she is trapped in a subconscious suffering.
Third, no matter if you are a scientist, a historian or a psychotherapist, you care about truth. As the Enlightenment philosophers once explored, truth can be very difficult to come by. As a scientist, I would form a theory of the world and then design experiments to examine the validity of my theory in an attempt to find truth. As a historian, you might research paintings, literatures, personal documentation in attempt to find what were the true forces responsible for a radical global shift. As a psychotherapist, it is your job to help individuals to discover which mental perceptions are faulty and how to form reality-based knowledge without the effect of delusions. Or if you are anything like me – a skeptic of everything you read or hear, you are tired of being living in other people’s structures of life and you want to use your own experience to feel life as it truly is.
No matter if you are yearning for fulfillment, seeking the end of suffering, or needing the clarity of truth, enlightenment holds the promise to set you free. It literally unmasks an old belief like the painting “Time unveiling Truth” – resulting in a break-away from the endless loops our old conditioning. It is difficult to describe what enlightenment is if the actual experience has not yet taken place. Everything you read here and elsewhere is only a finger-pointing to enlightenment, it is just a map hoping to get you closer. That is when Kant’s argument of external knowledge and reasoning might be helpful leading one to an actual internal experience. Upon the union of both – external knowledge and internal experience – Truth can then be attained – cycles of suffering or karmic ties can then be broken.
But, what the heck is enlightenment?
It is often referred to as “awakening”, “self-realization”, “freedom” and more. Like the word “enlighten”, it literally has the quality of shedding light onto an area of darkness. The contrast of this event is so great, it is like day and night. Once enlightenment happens, you cannot deny it. Just like dawn might still be very cold and dark, and upon the arrival of the day, the sun shines brightly you know you are no longer in darkness. It also has the quality of waking up from a dream. As we were once asleep, life’s problems were hunting us and we drive ourselves mad trying to come to a resolution. As we wake up, we realize all that suffering was just a dream. In fact, after awakening we realize all is well. Like the word self-realization, it is a realization of who you are, and that dream was all the untruth, that dream was everything you were not yet you just didn’t know it. Upon awakening you will know you are not your thoughts, you are not your body, you are not emotions, you are not your intellect, you are not your personality, and all that’s left over is you are space, you are pure awareness.
You are free to go beyond your past conditioning so each moment greets you anew. You are no longer dictated by the monarchy of your karma. You get to experience life fresh, without trying to focus on the moment, the moment simply just is. You are no longer controlled by your mind or by an external standard of right or wrong. You realize all the knowledge you accumulated before was somehow not of your own, it was passed down to you from other authorities, and you have somehow believed to be Truth.
After awakening you profoundly understand Truth spoken by Jesus when he said “the kingdom of God is within you.” You realize that the God you once prayed to as an old bearded man in the sky was just a mental imagine of what God might be because you didn’t know better. Upon enlightenment, you know with empirical experience that the essence of God is within you, God is omnipresent, and God is all there is. You know who you are, you know who everyone else is as well, and magically you are no longer separate, you are no longer sad or lonely, somehow, you are naturally happy. Then the you that was once the center of your universe disappears into a heliocentric solar system where God is the sun. You no longer aim for achievement to make yourself look better, instead, you naturally care about the well-being of the whole. After enlightenment you will know that God lives within you, and you are joy, you are Love. And you are glad that there’s no more you, there is only Flow. life literally becomes magical and everything happens between time, space, and in the perfectly harmonious order.
How does it happen?
Like the “period of enlightenment”, a personal enlightenment is also a revolution. It starts with a profound discomfort that you are not living your full potential and something must be done. You might feel that something different is taking place but you can’t pin-point exactly what is going on. Often times deep suffering can be the birthing place that promotes such revolution. Like a society, when old structures no longer work in the current context, something must change. Many individuals feel an unrecognizable fear as if life is no longer mapped out. Each and everyday becomes a struggle as our old way of operations is shedding away and we no longer how what to “DO”. Some people might feel as if suddenly their whole life is falling apart in the traditional sense. Some might feel their own masks of individual identity has being ripped off by external events. Others might feel chucks of their memories are missing or being re-invented. All these are indications of an under current of a powerful internal transformation.
Enlightenment can happen by a traumatic trigger such as a near-death experience or diligent hard labor such as a monk’s daily devotion. For most, it happens somewhere in between. It requires a personal willingness to let go everything we once were taught to be true and search for our new inner science (hence Sadhguru’s Isha Yoga is an inner science towards self-realization and his beginner’s program is called Inner Engineering). It also requires a softness to perceive beyond the logical mind and receive whatever God has in store for you – however, whenever. Sounds simple yet it may not be easy. Most people are stuck yearning for the grace of God to unveil Truth yet they are not willing to let go their self-centered personal identities. It is often called letting go of the ego – meaning letting go false identifications of who we believe yourself to be (as in the painting by the old woman with the mask, she is old outdated and her mask must be lifted off by Truth).
Similar to the “period of enlightenment”, once enough momentum is gathered to start the movement of a revolution, it can no longer be stopped. It becomes a rolling snowball, so anything that is untrue will be violently overturned and destroyed in the process to pave way for Truth. Yet at the time of war, your days can become extremely unpleasant, yet this must take place to bring-forth a transformation. One day you might realize that you are dying and there’s nothing you can do about it. What’s dying is your old perception of who you are, this death of the ego in painful but it will not kill the real you. It destroys the impostor who posed as you only to give space to the who you really are.
Like a caterpillar “dying” in the cocoon, it does not know what’s on the other side of the death only that he can no longer be a caterpillar. When this happens, the revolution has been well underway and it can no longer be reversed. An incubation time will begin in the darkness of deep self-reflection and fierce inquiries of truth. You might wonder how long you must watch yourself melt away… Then another day might arrive on this continuous stream of journey that suddenly you are no longer dying but rebuilding as a new part of nature. Your vision somehow seems brighter, you no longer get bothered by other people’s comments or your own internal dialog, you notice the way you view things is completely different from everyone else around you, and you KNOW who you are. You might laugh, cry, or both at the same time. But suddenly you will KNOW – you will KNOW who you are, you will KNOW who everyone else is, you will KNOW what the Truth is and what are merely masks. Slowly like a newborn butterfly, you will find yourself navigating in a brand new world, testing our your new wings.
Like aikido master Nev Sagiba said, “Enlightenment is like getting a shodan - AFTER ENLIGHTENMENT THE WORK BEGINS! After enlightenment, life truly begins.
Common misunderstandings of enlightenment…
“Enlightened people never cry again.” – NOT TRUE! After enlightenment we are more open to the vast collection of emotions, we no longer shy away or judge our organic emotions. We might laugh, feel frustrated when the computer didn’t auto-save, we might cry – yet somehow even the tears become sweet.
“Enlightened people experience perfect health and never feel pain.” – NOT TRUE! Some pain and illness are just another natural aspect of life. However, pain does not equate to suffering. One might feel pain and become intimate with that pain yet never suffer a minute through it.
“My life should work out exactly the way I plan to when I’m enlightened.” – NOT!!! After enlightenment there’s no more I, nor planning. “I” melts into nature and planning no longer applies when you are a part of God. Therefore you do whatever is needed whenever it is needed – as a part of harmony, a part of nature, a part of God.
“I was doing great with amazing mystical experiences then suddenly I’m lost in a black hole with no more amazing experiences. What’s wrong?” – NOTHING IS WRONG. Many people chase after experiences they label as “good” believing these experiences will get them closer to enlightenment. In actuality, everything life hands to you is exactly what you need and when you need it – designed for your growth, with sufficient awareness, you can awaken.
“I must be a nice and happy person in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.” NOT TRUE! You must be a truthful person in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. We were often taught what is nice and not nice. We often suppress our “negative” emotions to be nice. Not facing whatever arises within us, we lose the opportunity to be truth. By stuffing away what we judge to be “bad” or “not nice” can only delay our progress. Pretending you are not sad or angry when indeed you are will only lead you further away from the truth. The key is to meditate on such feelings before we act out unconsciously.
“The ultimate goal of life is enlightenment. After that, I can rest and never have to work a day in my life ever again.” – NOT TRUE! Enlightenment is a rebirth, before enlightenment our vessel is too dirty to be an instrument of God, after enlightenment true work can finally begin because we have finally become emptied of our own desires and are now instruments of God. After enlightenment we still need to continuously polish our vessels to remain pure and free of optical illusions.
How do I become enlightened?
It all starts with a desire. Dedication. Devotion. Shugyo. Consistently devote to truth and commit to the demolishment of untruth.
How does individual enlightenment translates into collective enlightenment?
History is a beautiful illustration of a collective transformation, like the “period of enlightenment”, through individual efforts, seemingly unrelated events at the time can result in a whole movement to bring forth a whole new world. Like a fractal, the macroscopic social enlightenment can manifest from the microscopic bursts of individual enlightenments. In a sense, from the smallest metamorphosis of consciousness can result in an boundless global transformation. As Mahatma Gandhi once said – “be the change you wish to see in the world!”