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
“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 the 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 a 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 neuronal 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 starting 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 lost 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 and 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 different 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 misinterpreted events and came up with wrong conclusions. Other times instead of taking personal responsibility 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 of 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 became to maintain my balance.
Nowadays I can disassemble the layers of cause and effect, recognize the cause of my suffering, learn from my past choices, make different 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 year 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.”
I told a white lie. It was best to agree with her when she’s feeling down, so I thought. I held her hand and lied. I couldn’t possibly tell her the truth. It would devastate her. And besides such a small lie is too harmless to be noticed.
Well, life is never that simple, is it? Of course the little lie I told somehow had to be covered up in layers of other lies and before I had a chance to correct my course, a huge snowball was rolling down the hill full speed and I have nowhere to hide…
Great. Just what I needed. Another mess I’ve created for being too nice. Seems as if whenever I want to make things right, something would back fire and show me what I thought was best is often not what’s actually best.
How much needless suffering has gone into building layers and layers of covering to conceal the original lie? I can’t help to think perhaps the best way is to just tell the truth from the beginning. Maybe it is not the most comfortable thing to do but it will save us a lot of trouble later on.
If the core is pure then no layers will ever need to be added to hide what’s real, right?
What if we can simply speak the truth from the beginning? What if we can be honest with one another? Are you willing? I think I’m going to give it a go.