It has been four years since the occurrence of my awakening from the mind. That particular awakening felt like a big bang where my perception shifted forever. Like many individuals passing through the same terrain, I had thought that point marked the end of my journey, now looking back, I am humbled by the continuing movement that is still being graced into my life – knowing now, that big bang of awakening was just the beginning.
In one of Adyashanti’s books, he said that enlightenment happens in three stages – the mind, the heart, and the gut. Now that I have lived through the first two and am still deeply immersed in the third stage, I am able to look back from the very beginning and mark several key points through my journey.
1. Desire – As early as I can remember, I’ve always had an unshakeable desire to know. During my childhood that feeling was very strong, but I never understood what exactly I wanted to find. I spent most of my childhood searching through nature, Buddhist monasteries, and science fiction stories, hoping to gain a glimpse of a greater truth. Most of my free time was spent by myself gazing at flowers, sitting in meditation with the monks, and reading endless stories of alternate realities.
One of my favorite science fiction stories at the time was about the last human colony living in a space ship completely unaware that they were living within the ship’s virtual reality program. Everyone believed that they were still on the beautiful planet earth with endless harmony. By accident, a young boy found a glitch in the system and discovered the truth – yet people on that ship still chose to live in delusion – until a catastrophic collision was about to happen… Somehow I was deeply touched by that story as a child. And I too was determined to find an opening where I could discover the truth – into a greater world I knew I must find.
2. Choosing the Untruth – During my late childhood and into my teenage years, I had given up my internal search; instead I wanted to be popular and agreed with the judgmental selective preferences of society just to fit in. When I turned 12 years old, my family moved from China to America. The most shocking part of the whole transition was not the food or language, but the vastly different belief structures of these two groups of people. Feeling different and inadequate after the move, I completely let go my quest of internal inquiry and jumped into an external seeking of new beliefs and new gadgets. A need to fit-in became the most important drive in my life. Time after time I muted the voice within and followed the path of popularity.
In college and my career thereafter, I worked hard to gain approval. Somehow the path of seeking approval killed my internal voice all together. With each choice, I focused on what others might think of me. With each choice, I valued the superficial face value more than my core value. I became a popular young woman, but in my heart I felt fake and lonely. Always pushing down that nagging feeling that I’m living a lie, I continued to immerse myself into expanding my social life and working on the next big scientific discovery.
3. The Momentum of Suffering – There was a man I worked with who suffered in silence. No one paid attention to his pain, but I felt his suffering like my own. Externally he was excellent in every way. But I could sense he was breaking apart quickly as he struggled to keep his life together. He was like that child in the story – as he begin to discover the delusion of his choosen reality. I wanted to understand him because I wanted to understand myself. At that time I didn’t know the reason for our mutual understanding, instead, I entered into an endless discussion with him about life, psychology, relationships, suffering, religion, and science. We wanted to connect the dots as both of us felt a need for a greater perspective.
As our intellectual friendship ended, he gave me a book by Stephen Batchelor called “Buddhism Without Beliefs – A contemporary Guide to Awakening”. I read the book several times in my mid and late twenties as I struggled with his choice to end our friendship and had to make peace with losing a friend who also searched for what I seek. The suffering of impermanence took control of my psyche for the first time.
4. First Glimpse of Truth – The first posts of this blog were my first glimpse of Truth through a near death experience. Truth – call it God, Ultimate Reality, Bliss, Buddha nature, or anything you like – came as a shock. My perspective at the time seemed to float above the gravity of everyone else’s busy life. I was losing blood and on the verge of being facially disfigured when the hospital staff rushed me through X-rays, CT scans, blood tests, and surgeries. Everyone I encountered felt sorry for me. I was in bliss – no one could make sense of my euphoria as I knew for the first time in my life that my state of being can never be touched by my external circumstances nor physical conditions. To me, these several hours before heading into surgery made me feel safe – as if I had always been Home – in the way life has always been before I was born. The whole experience was more real than anything else I’ve ever experienced in this lifetime.
I told people I met God. But it was much more than that. I couldn’t communicate that the far-reaching, limitless, spaciousness of God is much more than their ideas of God. I tried to write about it but my attempts only ended up in disappointments as I could no longer embody the overwhelming sensation of God. I must tell people about God, and I must find God again.
5. The Quest – From my late twenties into early thirties I felt the urge to re-instate my quest. Initially I felt this nagging unshakable feeling inside me asking me to embark on something greater than myself. During the journey, I took many paths trying to find this glorious quest that would turn me into someone dazzling. I climbed the corporate ladder; completed marathons and century rides; embarked on new science/technology entrepreneurship; flaunted millions of dollars to invest in new ventures; mingled with the rich and famous; conquered the path of multiple personal development betterment; and even started my own daring undertaking to become “bigger than life” through a large format emotional support firm. At the time I was convinced I was chosen to become someone special and that I must do everything I could to meet this grand purpose head on.
Well, I was wrong. With every step in the external direction, I felt more and more fraudulent than the step before. I remember shaking the hand of a personal development guru as I signed up for his workshops – as I touched his hand I felt his cold, lost, empty sadness locked away from his own consciousness. I quickly took my hand back and wondered what just happened. Looking back, at the time I didn’t have the mental awareness to have faith in my own judgement and trust this deep-seated awareness. So I continued to walk on – hoping I would reach a point to conquer all that is – that is to conquer the external life and finally become SOMEONE.
6. The Awakening Mind – In a way, all the things I did were leading me away from my truth. Lucky for me, as I was convinced that I was in control of life, there was a barely noticeable undercurrent that was always present, flowing just beneath my perception. With every “wrong” step, I was greeted with a faint light of truth. With every external conquering, I was gifted an unnoticeable seed of internal potential. As my external conquering started to break apart rapidly, I was left with a broken heart – raw, open, and empty.
So it climaxed at the age of 33. After a rear-end car accident, my body, my mental health, and my life fell apart. I was in so much physical pain and negative mental chattering that I actually contemplated ending my life several times. Somehow something within me with a gentle strength always pulled me back to face my pain. I couldn’t escape the tears, the screams, the sadness, the loneliness, the heartache… All I could do was to witness my own suffering.
Such witness took place as I gazed upon what I called myself – body, mind, and emotions – and noticing my awareness was outside of “myself” – and this awareness was untouched by the action of witnessing the drama I called my life. There were several weeks I lost my will altogether. I just sat, stared off into the distance, cried and cried. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t make it to any of my appointments. With each spontaneous crying session, I felt lighter – as a layer of skin had just been stripped away. During that time since my life had completely fallen apart, my only job was teaching aikido to the children. Fortunately my boss, who is also my sensei, understood exactly where I was. There were days I didn’t make it to work at all and I couldn’t even pick up the phone to call. Sensei never complained. He only encouraged me with a smile – “trust the process,” he told me.
7. Naked Newborn – I lost count of how many weeks or lifetimes were spent doing nothing when the unseen current took over. One particular day I woke up and I knew to mark this date. July 7th. I was naked. I walked around and felt no shame. It is hard to explain what took place because at the time I had no mind. I was so clean, natural and filled with wonder. It was like my hard drive was completely erased and I was left with only this shell – and that shell was all I needed.
There were times I could not speak and make sense of words. Slowly, I regained my sense of how to behave in the world as I gradually started to socialize with those who might understand. One day I met up with my old friend Chris and told him about what had happened when I never returned his phone calls. I wanted to apologize but knew it wasn’t necessary. As I opened up and told him my experience, he calmly told me similar stories of Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle. As he explained to me, even though he never had experiences as such, he was however sensitive and empathetic to where I was. His sharing of simliar stories helped me to ground in my own nakedness with more solidity.
In the next several months, I slowly regained my ability to drive, to have a conversation, to reconnect with family and friends. I felt like I was walking on cloud nine, being completely one with God – and I have never been separate from people, nature, and life.
8. The Purge of stale Emotions – The spiritual honeymoon on cloud nine ended as I discovered the untruth within me still controlled my body and my emotions. This is where the real work begins. Enlightenment is not a one time deal of crossing some kind of invisible finish line, it is actually the beginning of something big – the beginning of life! I discovered in order for life to truly flow through me, I have to purge out all the untruth that is still governing my every move.
At the time as I was going through this during the first, second and into the third year of my awakening, I discovered an enlightened master who helped me uncover all the untruth I still carried in my body. His extensive list questioned nearly all assumptions that are common but untrue. We worked through categories concerning mother, father, society, self, and the collective archetypes. Things were getting pulled out of me I never knew existed – until I questioned the validity of the judgmental selective preferences of society I took upon myself to believe in. I processed non-stop as I looked at my life with a magnifying glass all hours of the day. There were days I discovered dreams carried my unconscious assumptions, and after a period of cleaning the “house”, I began to see I even respond differently in dreams. As in my daily choice, I found how much of my past conditioning governed how I walked through life – and how cleaning the “house” would free me from being tied down by belief structures.
9. Healing of the Physical Body through Movement – At the same time, I was battling with the physical neck pain of a pinched nerve from a car accident. During the internal healing work, I was beginning to see at this stage of my spiritual development that only I can heal my own body. In the last year, I had given up on all doctors attempting to help me to regain the movement back in my neck and spine. I used my own perception to accept the healing from the Source.
There were days I did traditional upa yoga and hatha yoga from Isha while finishing with the Isha Yoga’s Inner Engineering Shambhavi Maha Mudra. Usually near the end of my practice, a surge of energy would become alive in my body as my physical system and nervous system were completely relaxed. Other days I could not do my normal routine of practice, so I just sat. This was when the inner energy from the hollowness of the body started to guide my movements. I never moved unless I was taken over by this energy. Somedays I would just sit and nothing happened. Other days as soon as I sat, my body began to move in ways that mimicked animals or some strange rotation I could not logically understand. Nevertheless, I just went with it.
On multiple occasions, my neck would start to rotate by itself to one direction and another direction. The switching of directions happened by itself and the number of repetitions was dictated by the internal energy as well. My body would relax and tears would fall down from my eyes naturally. Sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes several hours later, my body came to a stillness, and after sitting for a while, I could finally open my eyes. Profound shifts happened during these spontaneous sessions and I experienced more healing during these sessions than all the lifetimes of doctors put together.
10. The Commitment a Life with God – Unfortunately the gravitational pull of the ego still takes over at times. One way to flow through dark moments when the ego is acting through me is for me to completely allow it to happen while watching every move consciously. Another way to flow through dark moments when my energy system is getting cleaned out is to just sit. In stillness, in the deep space of emptiness, things just wash though as the “I AM” is completely untouched.
The trick to go through any internal challenges is a full commitment to God. By now, you must see God does not refer to a old man watching us from the sky, God is the source of creation that is either alive or dormant within each and everyone of us. This commitment to God is a commitment to the source of creation. Jaques Payet sensei would always tell me to be in my center, move from my center, never resort to use the passive aggressiveness we all experience as a way to end conflicts. In aikido’s teaching, the only way to create peace is to be that peace yourself – to always move and act from the source of creation.
I have just recently received my nidan (second degree black belt) in aikido during a visit to Canada to train with Payet Shihan again. I was not particularly satisfied with my lack of knowledge of the aikido techniques during my exam, but I was very much content with the energy I carried out in my exam – I was in complete devotion to God as I moved from the source of creation. In a way, my exam felt like a passage leading me into the next phase of my enlightenment – always choose to be God.
11. Every Moment Choosing Truth – Choosing to be a living expression of Grace is the same as choosing to live in complete Truth moment to moment. If I can become the full embodiment of Truth, I become the embodiment of God consciousness. This sounds simple but it is not an easy task. As I choose to stay conscious, accepting, allowing, and committed, I am beginning to become more and more clear in my perception, and in my being. Life is no longer about doing, it is about being or better yet “doing the being”.
I am just at the beginning of my journey to live in the non-abiding expression of Grace, since I don’t have much experience with this section, hence I’m just going to leave you with a quote as you enjoy the journey –
“Enlightenment is not like a Big Bang – it is an ongoing process.” – Sadhguru
Sitting across from the dinner table, Liz looks up at me casually and says, “I don’t know if it is my path to be married but if I’m getting married I want Sadhguru to pick my husband.”
She takes another bite of her sweet and sour mock chicken and starts to explain that her guru would pick the perfect partner for her spiritual growth and she doesn’t necessarily know who that would be. “Sadhguru won’t pick someone easy for me but someone who is challenging,” she smiles effortlessly and goes on to pick up another piece of passion red mock chicken with her white chopsticks, “when he marries two people they are bound for life no matter what happens, neither one of them can escape!”
I cannot help myself and let out a burst of laughter while trying so hard to keep my mango milk tapioca not turning into an out of control sprinkler in my mouth.
Ack! Marriage. What a dinner table conversation killer! Next to the list of things NOT TO TALK ABOUT such as religion and politics. Nevertheless I feel fearful yet intrigued. Underneath all that naive pureness of a sweet young lady is an intelligent thoughtful woman. How refreshing it is to hear a 23-year-old young lady speaking her truth so clearly! Liz understands that most people get married for the wrong reasons. Reasons such as societal structure, economic and social convenience, family pressure in the Eastern culture. Whereas lust, power, romantic addiction occur in the Western culture. The Americans for Divorce Reform estimates that “probably, 40 or possibly even 50 percent of marriages will end in divorce if current trends continue.” So what is the point?
Not often people use this partnership as a tool for self-transformation. According to Liz, her guru speaks of difference types of people. He preached that marriage is not for everyone. For example, some people, their spiritual path might lie within their creation such as Albert Einstein. Some might find their spiritual path by serving others such as Benjamin Franklin. Others might find their path by sitting underneath a bodhi tree to meditate like the Buddha. While there are distinctive individuals feel an inner pull for marriage at an early age for their spiritual growth. Liz tells me that she is not sure what type of person she is yet. It is difficult to form a partnership with anything or anyone when one does not know oneself fully. Once she can discover herself more deeply then she will know which path to take.
“Don’t pretend you don’t need marriage when your spirit tells you that you do,” sipping on her mango milk tapioca, she looks up at me from the corner of her eyes, “you must follow your inner guidance toward that you fear.”
Fear. That is the big cha-ching! I’m the someone who pretends that I don’t need marriage because I fear it. I fear it more than death itself. I fear that I will fail miserably. I fear that I am not good enough. I fear that I will loss myself. I fear my husband will see my faults. I fear… I want a blueprint for the perfect relationship before I will even consider walking into the marriage dojo. I want to know that I can do it perfectly before I will even allow myself to begin…
Liz somehow is bringing up these fears within me I must face just by her authentic conversation. Listening to her reminds me of interviews of Joseph Campbell. Professor Campbell spoke of A Hero’s Journey as an individual’s growth to self-realization and self-actualization. It is a difficult journey yet it brings such triumph once we take on the challenge and take one step after another. “When people get married because they think it’s a long-time love affair, they’ll be divorced very soon, because all love affairs end in disappointment. But marriage is a recognition of a spiritual identity,” said Joseph Campbell. Professor Campbell believed that marriage in an ordeal, an ordeal so intense that it possesses the power to transform both individuals at a profound level. It is a tool for individual transformation.
To me, marriage is shugyo. It is a process of purification of the self toward true expression of the spirit. It takes tremendous courage to walk this path. Author and poet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry fondly put it, “love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself.”
“You are right Liz, it doesn’t help to pretend. Lao Tzu said ‘marriage is three parts love and seven parts forgiveness,'” as I gaze down into the last grain of rice on my plate, I let out a burst of laughter, “and I’m going to need a lot of forgiveness upfront!”
A few days ago I got an email from a reader of my blog. Seemingly confused, he wanted to clarify what he had read in the post A Forgive-ful Christmas. At first I laughed to myself because forgiveness is such a simply yet difficult concept that most of us spend our lifetime digging away the rough carbon to find the real diamond. Like formation of a diamond, we too can find our inner diamond by not shying away from heat and pressure but instead using them to find our true glow.
His request was simple: “Question please… In your writings you mention that during your martial arts, you are aggressive, attacking, and defending, yet at the end you BOW to your opponent as a means to say [thank you] for what has happened, could you please help [me] understand this logic? I am [in] sales and I go hard for the deals and sometimes, I don’t have a closure. I love your writing around this, I just don’t fully understand the complete meaning. Thanks, J.”
My answer might be slightly complex so I will do my best to stay true to my heart by sharing the heat and pressure of my own experience.
My first conscious experience of forgiveness was during a personal-development seminar with Christopher Howard. On stage, Christ illustrated a beautiful children’s parable called The Little Soul and The Sun. This story began with the Little Soul found that he is the Light. But he also wanted to experience himself being the Light. The only problem was there were no easy ways to experience himself when “there is nothing but the Light.” God had a wonderful idea to allow the Little Soul to experience being the Light by the use of darkness. “Then God explained that, in order to experience anything at all, the exact opposite of it will appear … You could not know Warm without Cold, Up without Down, Fast without Slow.” Little Soul then selected a special part of the Light to experience called Forgiveness but didn’t know how the simulation would take place. So the Friendly Soul jumped up to volunteer as darkness and do something really bad to the Little Soul on earth so the Little Soul can experience himself as Forgiveness. Initially the Little Soul couldn’t understand why the Friendly Soul would become dark to do something against his true nature as the Light to help the Little Soul. ” ‘Simple,’ the Friendly Soul said. ‘I would do it because I love you.’ “
With no conscious understanding of what had hit me, I bursted into tears before Christ can finish the whole story.
The next conscious experience of forgiveness I can remember took place during a conversation with a friend named Sandra. She confessed to me she had so much stored up anger and sometimes she can feel her chest caving in. She was dealing with a divorce where her husband left her for a younger woman. The anger was consuming her and whenever a younger beautiful woman walked by she would switch to her devil eyes glared with judgment. At the same time I was feeling guilty because my loving nature had caused some people to believe that the love I gave was more than platonic and I didn’t understand love enough to communicate it otherwise. And that became the catalyst that drove one couple to the edge of divorce where I was perceived as the angel who helped them to face therapy turned into the devil who nearly broke their marriage. The circumstance was the husband contemplated getting a divorce and he conversed with me intimately about his life-long feelings whereas the wife believed his emotional intimacy with me was an affair she cannot forgive and it broke her heart.
As Sandra and I opened up to each other played the parts of the wife and the other woman, we were able to see the hidden suffering in each other’s story. For Sandra her marriage was who she was. When she got married in her early 20s she had quit her job to take care of the house and a new baby. When the child grew up and left for college she no longer remembered who she was before her marriage. She spent her time cooking and cleaning while feeling more and more empty. The passion between her and her husband was gone and she projected onto him the anger she felt for herself. Secretly she wished she had done something more with her life. She was not satisfied being only the mother and the house-wife. She was mad at herself for giving up her career for the family. She eventually opened up to me and spoke responsibly, “in a way I’ve always dreamt escaping this jail I built for myself, now after the divorce I am finally free!” A year later after our conversation she had stopped blaming her ex for her dissatisfaction in life and re-entered the nursing program and became a nurse at the age of 50.
As for me, I saw the pain Sandra had to go though and I felt an intense sympathy for the wife who accused me of an affair and I forgave her for attacking me. In the past few years I’m slowing forgiving myself for being the Love that I am as I’m learning to communicate the difference between romantic love and platonic love. Because of the wife’s upset to my emotional intimacy with her husband, I am now protecting myself by my certifications in the art of psychological therapy occasionally working as a life-skills coach.
The third experience I’m sharing is of good humor. Similar to the post A Forgive-ful Christmas I was told to throw a full punch in martial arts training. As you know in martial arts one of us pretends to be the attacker so the other partner can learn the self-defense technique. Only this time I couldn’t throw a punch into the gut of a friend who I love very much. I didn’t want to inflict pain in cause the punch was not blocked. “Stop!” Sensei yelled out, “you must attack like you are really going to hit her.” I told him I didn’t want to as tears filled up my eyes. Sensei took us both aside and spoke in a softer tone, “if you only throw soft punches then she will never be able to learn. If she doesn’t move in time and gets hit, the next time she knows to move faster. Now train!” We ended up training with tears in our eyes. Nowadays I don’t take it easy on her and whenever we do hurt each other we scream out “ouch!” and after that we giggle together.
Looking back, I have learned so much from my past experience. I don’t pretend to be the expert in forgiveness but I have certainly noticed this: whenever I feel the emotions completely from a painful experience without getting stuck in the mode to blame the other, I move forward with a greater understanding beyond circumstances to kick-start my psychological healing. Finally I naturally see the good in the painful experience and always end up thanking the person for giving me the gift of heat and pressure so I can find my true glow. Did you notice the words in “for giving me the gift” contains forgive? Hmm, interesting…
In Aikido, we always say Arigato Gozaimashita (ありがとうございました) when bowing at the end of class. The meaning roughly translates to “thank you for what we just did together”. In a way by bowing to one another we thank our partners for training with us, for the lessons brought to our attention, and forgive any physical pain we might have inflicted on one another. It is a ceremonial gesture to conclude the lesson.
During our tanto practice a few weeks ago, a senior student accidentally stabbed me on the leg during a throw. I tried to walk it off but the pain lingered as we continued our lesson. At the end of class I found myself wondering why he didn’t pay more attention when holding a blade. Thin wisps of resentment clung over me as I bowed to him at the end of class. I knew he did not mean to hurt me. It was an accident. Just a meaningless accident. I took a deep breath and told myself it was good learning for us both. If he was able to control the blade better he would have. I forgave him quickly. Within minutes we ended up laughing at ourselves for each of our unique clumsiness.
Other times I was unable to forgive quickly. Clinging onto the past can certainly make one heavy load. Especially when I carry it with me day in and day out. In Buddhism Upādāna describes such clinging results in suffering. This is exactly how I’ve suffered this year. Last December someone’s careless remark wounded me deeply. For most of December and January I cried in secret wondering why he wanted to hurt me. I realized that perhaps I have wounded him deeply once upon a time. It was easy for me to forgive him no matter how many times thereafter he cuts into me knowing the pain he must go through. I had tremendous compassion for him and my love grew stronger. On the other hand, it was not so easy to forgive myself. I thought since I played a part in his suffering therefore it was rightful for me to suffer. In a way I secretly wished that my suffering could take away his pain. This self-loathing went on for nearly a year as it took on different forms. Unconsciously I found ways to torture myself and felt it was needed for me to learn my lesson. My self-punishment got worse and worse and forgiving myself was never part of my agenda. While bleeding on the surgical table one early October morning, I knew I can no longer go on this way.
Only if I could let go the past and start anew… Only if I can forgive and be forgiven.
In Luke 23:34 – Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” When we did not know how our dishonesty, our careless remarks or our insensitivity can deeply wound another, we go on repeating our old behaviors again and again. Only by truly experiencing and understanding our own pain and hence someone else’s pain, we then learn the suffering we all share. This is when compassion arise and we humbly ask God to forgive us and release us from the past.
Only if I could let go the past and start anew… Only if I can forgive and be forgiven…
In the night before Christmas, a star was born to guide us from darkness into light. As we gaze into the sky finding our own guiding star, a miracle is released for each of us – gently flowing toward our hearts and expanding throughout our bodies and flowing towards others around us… We shall let go the past and keep the learning forward. We shall keep our lantern lit to guide the path of those who follow… As we travel forth, I pray for love to return to our hearts, I pray for peace to dwell our minds, and I pray for a forgive-ful Christmas for all.