One of the most defining moments of my scientific career occurred during my junior year in college. After receiving the highest scores on several difficult engineering exams, I started to feel arrogant in my ability to design complex systems through various published research and logical deductions. One day after my presentation in class, as I was basking in glory, my professor interjected me with several questions to inspect the quality of my assumptions. He was particularly interested in a key assumption I made using the data from a recently published paper. He was digging deeply into the details of that research which at the time I felt was completely irrelevant. After a period of agonizing cross-examination, it was clear to me that I had made a mistake in my design. As I packed up my computer to leave the lecture hall, he said something to me I have never forgotten.
“Do not believe in the things you read, you must do your own experiment.”
Years later I still felt awkward about the incident. Having not fully digested the significance of his words, I went on to make a mark through my science/engineering research and design.
I worked on a LED and photodiode based magnetic microsphere fluorescence system for infectious disease detection. Within our research and design group, we read lots of theoretical papers and countless research experiments. Not once did we take someone else’s experimental results as the ultimate truth. We always duplicated the experiments in the same and often varied conditions.
I remember one of the theories we researched was regards to the chemical and magnetic field effect on different sizes of magnetic microspheres. We theorized the chemical suspension of magnetic spheres would form dipole-dipole interactions which in turn would give us an amplified field for signal detection. The magnetic experts supplied us with their spec data, mathematical models, and prediction of outcomes, and also theorized the same phenomenon. With added mathCad prediction models we reached the same conclusion. Only upon the arrival of our expensive lock-in amplifier used in conjunction with phase contrast microscopy and other instruments along with endless experiments, we were able to detect and see our bio-chemically treated microspheres behave very differently than the expert opinions. They never formed chains of dipole-dipole interactions.
Time after time, in science we found someone else’s data is always just someone else’s data; if I have to find what is true for me, I must empirically come up with my own results. Now looking back, my science career gave me the proper foundation for my spiritual journey – to always find my truth through empirical inquiry.
During the days of my spiritual seeking, I read books, listened to talks, and attended many training events. The scientist in me never allowed me to take in anything second-handed without questions and empirical data. I only used what was fed to me as a point of reference. In the process I found myself diverging from popular opinions; in the process I had to give up what others believe to be true so I could remain faithful to my inner integrity; and in the process I slowly stumbled upon the Truth empirically through my own experience. Many people have tasted a single moment of awakening.
In movies, novels, songs, and even everyday conversations people speak of out-of-this-world experiences that came out of nowhere but somehow gave them the power to see and feel a moment of clarity. This is a great starting point to journey into the ultimate Truth through empirical data, as our first awakening experience is uniquely our own. However, many people grasp tightly to that single experience and never take another step forward into the journey. They would claim their old data is the ultimate truth and not just a speck of whole puzzle along the way. Like in science, each experimental result only makes a part of the whole puzzle, only through different sets of statistically significant experiments, looking deeper into the details, and our ability to put the pieces into a whole, are we then able to arrive at the clarity of the whole Truth and the ultimate expression of the Truth through us.
I’ve always enjoyed this quote from Adyashanti – “to take awakening into enlightenment requires a certain sort of fierce commitment to the truth.” That means we will not fake our data to make certain results happen. Just as in scientific integrity, we are committed to the unveiling of truth so we never lie and manipulate data to make the data match our theory.
In a way, my yoga and aikido is just my experimental ground. In yoga, the theory is if you “do” yoga, then you will be physically, mentally, and spiritually fit. Is that really true for you? I know for me, when I “do” yoga – meaning force my practice to be done as an exercise – I can feel more pain in my physical injuries along with a sense of deep sadness and a screaming out “STOP!” I could feel the movements becoming unkind and hence making me more tense. Other times when I stop the “doing”, I allow my body to come to a balance on its own time as I fall into a spacious place of deep peace, the movements somehow would just flow out of me. My physical injuries feel healed, loved and cared for. The unit of my body, mind are naturally in sync with the movement of the expressed energy – which all falls into a state of yoga – ending up giving me more clarity, flexibility and even deeper peace. Similar experiments apply to my aikido practice – which I will elaborate at another time.
If you are a logical person, use your logic to your advantage to find the truth for yourself. A strong scientific mind will not stand in the way of your seeking, in fact, it will enhance it. Don’t take what I say at face value, conduct your own experiments, repeat the experiments again and again – you will arrive at your own results. The Truth will not come to you through someone else’s experience, what you are looking for will find you if you commit to the path of scientific integrity – a fierce commitment to truth.
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!”
Smiling, 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 stares 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 decide 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 overlook and ignore it for a while, but eventually it will slap you in 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 cares 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 belief 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 away 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, Love, and Beautiful.
(A special Thanks to this simple and yet honest blog from Dragon Rider One.)
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?”