The Enlightenment Process Excerpt


Enlightenment is often spoken of as awakening. But what do we awaken to? How does enlightenment transform our experience of our environment, other people, the cosmos, and our own self? This book is about the relationship between the individual self and the unity of self and other experienced in spiritual awakening.

Most psychologists claim that a healthy self is the goal of human maturity. Yet many of the Asian spiritual teachings say that there is no self. They teach that the sense of self is delusory and that belief in the self is the greatest obstacle to spiritual progress. For contemporary seekers, who for the most part are pragmatic and just want to “get on with it,” this conflict of ideas is often a source of doubt and confusion. They ask: If I am to be more aware of my feelings and needs, as Western psychology advises, if I am to think for myself and maintain my boundaries, how am I to achieve the cosmic unity and unconditional love promised in spiritual teachings? And if I am not truly a separate self, how should I reconcile myself to living in this separate shape? If the experience of my body is also delusory, what can I do about the sensations and hungers that I feel in my body?

As you will see, because of my own particular path to enlightenment, this book presents a somewhat different view than many other books on this subject. It does not emphasize changing one’s beliefs or behavior, although that is certainly part of the enlightenment process. Instead, it describes how enlightenment—the experience of one’s own nature as subtle, unified consciousness—is revealed through deeply inhabiting one’s body. Through this internal contact with our body, we come alive within our own skin, at the same time that we experience ourselves as open and unified with everything around us. This means that our tangible sense of existing in our distinct form develops as we transcend our distinct our form. Although is seems paradoxical, we become more present and authentic at the same time as we become more permeable and transparent.

I will begin by telling you briefly how I came to the understanding presented here. Like many stories of awakening, mine begins with a crisis, an injury that shattered the identity that I had created for myself. When I was ten, I became a dancer, performing with a dance company in New York City. I grew up in a strictly atheistic background, and dance was my spiritual nourishment. The discipline of a dancer’s life has much in common with monastic life. The rigor and focus of the daily classes, of physical exercises done repetitively in unison with other dancers, can quiet the restless mind, and dedicate the heart to a single purpose. During performances, communion with the dark, responsive expanse of the audience can instill the awe of connecting with something greater than oneself. I had also felt, since early childhood, a numinous presence in nature and in the sky. Before performances I would pray to this presence. I felt that I could draw it inside my body, and that it would displace my fears or self-consciousness until there was nothing left but the dance itself.

When I was twenty-five, during a rehearsal, I injured my back so severely that I could barely move at all. After two years of trying a variety of healing methods, I had surgery on my spine that fused me in the injured, off-center position. I felt like I had been cut in half and glued back crookedly. I was disoriented both physically and mentally. All my ideas of myself as an artist, my carefully trained body, my visions of the future, were completely gone. I could no longer feel the numinous presence that I had known since childhood, but I lay on the floor of my dance studio and sent prayers into the void.

Gradually, I began to notice a strange sensation. I could feel currents, like waving blades of grass, coming up from the floor and moving through my body, pulling me towards alignment, with no effort on my part. I also found that I could see light around my body, and a luminous web-like structure in the air. I became curious and began to experiment. I found that if I attuned inwardly with a very subtle focus, some of the discomfort in my body would begin to ease. One night I had a dream that I was entering a dark stage and my whole body was made of light. Another night, I dreamt the words “god is consciousness.” I had no idea what these dreams meant, but they caught my attention.

Since I was still teaching dance for a living, I began to teach this kind of self-attunement to my students. I also studied whatever I could about bodywork, psychology and spiritual philosophy. I made several trips to India and met many teachers, all the time applying the practices I learned to my own healing, and teaching them to the people who came to work with me. I trained as an Alexander teacher and then as a psychotherapist.

It became clear that to heal my body meant also healing my heart, and refining my mind. I found that I could release the tensions in my body if I attuned to myself on a level that was deeper, and subtler, than the injury. The attunement exercises that I had discovered in my dance studio continued to develop, in response to my needs and those of my students. As my healing process uncovered increasingly subtle levels of my body, I was able to gain an understanding about the relationship between the body and spiritual openness.

In the early eighties, I lived for about a year at a Zen monastery in upstate New York. I had a favorite bench that I often sat on, looking out at a circular meadow. One day, sitting on that bench, I suddenly felt that my own body and everything I was seeing and hearing was made of luminous space. It was something like the presence that I had drawn inside my body when I was a dancer, but more subtle. And it was everywhere, effortlessly, a single orb of radiant, transparent life. Since then, this realization has never left me. I have found ways to deepen it, to gradually become more open so that I embody it more fully.

In the following chapters I describe how our most fundamental dimension of consciousness is the basis of both our individual sense of self and the transcendence of our separateness. Our own being and our experience of cosmic unity develop not only at the same time, but also in the same way, through the realization of fundamental consciousness. This process involves a gradual transformation of our entire being, including our experience of embodiment, our psychological health, and our relationship with the world around us.

I call this dimension “fundamental consciousness” but it has many names in the spiritual literature of the world. Some Buddhist writers call it self-knowing awareness, or nonduality, or Buddha-nature. Some Hindu traditions know it as Brahman, or Advaita (the Sanskrit term for nonduality), or pure consciousness. In the West it has been called Godhead, cosmic and unity consciousness. Although there are differences in the philosophical explanations of these terms, they all seek to describe the same experience of spaciousness, authenticity, and unity.

Fundamental consciousness is beyond our mental representations, psychological projections, images and archetypes. It is deeper, and more subtle, than the physical and energetic levels of our being. Since fundamental consciousness is not a mental concept, and not an object of consciousness but consciousness itself, it is difficult to comprehend until one has experienced it. One image often used to convey the experience of fundamental consciousness is the mirror, because fundamental consciousness reflects everything it pervades, while remaining empty and unchanged itself. It is not transient like the inner and outer events it reflects. It holds steady like a mirror while each moment of sensation, emotion, thought, perception and action occurs and vanishes in its reflection.

For this reason, fundamental consciousness is sometimes called the ‘witness.’ This term, although traditional, causes some spiritual students to create a rift between their awareness and other aspects of their being. But fundamental consciousness is realized with our whole being. It is as much the essence of our love and physical sensation, as it is the essence of our awareness. With the realization of this subtle dimension, every aspect of ourselves becomes open to, and unified with, the world around us. It is important that we do not assume an observational stance towards our experience, in which our own responses to life become objectified as something separate from ourselves. In the dimension of fundamental consciousness, the experiencer does not disappear; rather, it becomes one with its experience. As fundamental consciousness, we become a unified, all-pervasive experiencer. This means that we let go of our grasp on our perceptions and responses, only to experience them more directly and vividly.

This book addresses a phase of personal growth that is often ignored in both psychological and spiritual literature: the gradual deepening of enlightenment, following the initial realization of fundamental consciousness. In this phase we learn to live in (or as) the empty, pervasive space of fundamental consciousness, in union with the environment and cosmos, while becoming integrated, alive and whole within the space of our own body. If we attempt to eradicate our internal experience of ourselves, we thwart our spiritual progress and deprive ourselves of the great pleasure of becoming whole.

In order to describe the relationship between the sense of self and spiritual enlightenment, it is important that these terms, as I am using them in this book, are clearly understood. In Chapter One, I present what I mean by enlightenment, and I describe the experience of living in the dimension of fundamental consciousness. This is a radical shift from a fragmented perception of “I” and “other” to an experience of our inner and outer life occurring in a single, unbroken expanse. Barriers between our self and our experience that we may not even have known were there, dissolve and we find ourselves in immediate, vivid contact with life.

Chapter Two presents five different interpretations of the words self and selflessness that are often confused by spiritual students: the true, or essential self, the false self, ethical selflessness, logical selflessness, and ultimate selflessness. I describe what it feels like to become an essential self and how the qualities inherent in fundamental consciousness give us our authentic sense of self.

Chapter Three is about the relationship of psychological healing to enlightenment. Meditation practices show that there is a potentially spontaneous process towards complete enlightenment. Just by sitting and doing nothing but breathing, the body and mind unwind towards the balance and openness of fundamental consciousness. In this chapter, I describe how this spontaneous process is impeded by the bound childhood pain and psychological defenses that we hold in our bodies, and how this binding can be released.

Chapter Four is about the relationship of self and other in the dimension of fundamental consciousness. In our everyday interactions with people, the shift from self/object fragmentation to the oneness of enlightenment is a shift in our sense of boundaries. On one level, boundaries are a question of how much we give to others, how much we allow ourselves to receive from others, and what we consider intrusion or abuse. But there is a more subtle level of boundaries that can be described as the placement of our consciousness in relation to our body and the bodies of other people. As I will explain, most people create artificial boundaries to separate themselves from other people, or they attempt to live without boundaries, losing contact with their own body and self in order to connect with others. In fact, most of us manage to do both.

In the process of enlightenment, we realize that the fundamental dimension of our own being is continuous with the fundamental being of other people. There is no true barrier between us. At the same time, we begin to live in the core of our body and to relate to the world from this innermost core. The shift inward to our core is a deepened perspective on the world; it feels as if we are relating to people from further away. There is a sense that we are finding our true distance from other people as we discover our oneness with them.

In Chapter Five I show how the realization of fundamental consciousness transforms the body, as well as our experience of embodiment. Our sense of identity shifts from the muscular surface of our body to the subtle, unified consciousness pervading our body. I describe how this shift affects our breath, the use of our senses, our physical comfort and health, and our relation to gravity.

Chapter Six looks at the relationship between enlightenment, the experience of self/other oneness, and devotional, “I-Thou” types of spiritual experience. Events such as synchronicity and the effectiveness of prayer suggest a spiritual “Otherness” that responds to our needs and desires. In this chapter, I explore the mystery of this “Otherness.” I speculate that it may be our underlying oneness with the vast dimension of fundamental consciousness that seems to inform and guide our progress towards enlightenment. An exchange, or dialogue between the incomplete self and the whole of fundamental consciousness can be consciously engaged in through communion with nature, visualization and prayer. It can be experienced as a relationship with the cosmos, which matures, and becomes more available to us, as our realization of oneness matures.

The spiritual practices presented in this book grew out of the attunement exercises that I first discovered in my dance studio over thirty years ago. This method, now called Realization Process, is a series of gentle, precise attunement exercises to help people realize their authentic self and their oneness with other people, nature, and the cosmos.

Although enlightenment is a vivid, tangible experience of being alive, to describe it always sounds abstract, until you have experienced it yourself. I have included exercises from Realization Process throughout the book, so that the reader may better understand the experience I am trying to describe. But this is not a self-help book. The full benefit of the exercises requires the guidance of a qualified Realization Process teacher. I also describe the experiences of some of the people with whom I have worked. For the sake of their privacy, these descriptions are compounded of several different people and events, and all names are fictitious.

My intention in this book is to bring some clarity to understanding the process of becoming enlightened. Enlightenment is not something other than our humanness, it is the fruition of our humanness. It is also the innate potential of every human being, our birthright. In the following pages, I present the individuation of the self, the transcendence of the self, the transformation of the body and the deepening capacity for relationship with other life as equally important, concurrent aspects of the realization of fundamental consciousness.

Although I have studied many different spiritual philosophies and disciplines, I am not aligned with any one school. My main teacher has been the path itself: the unfolding of my own realization. The argument about what the experience of realization signifies about the nature of reality, and what truly constitutes enlightenment is as vigorous in our society today as it was in ancient India. I believe that this is a valuable dialogue. We now have access to all of the world’s wisdom on this subject, as well as to the contemporary Western knowledge of psychology. But most importantly, we have access to the mysterious, natural source of wisdom within our own being. If we examine our own spiritual development carefully, we may gain new insight into this advanced phase of human maturity.

Judith Blackstone’s The Enlightenment Process carves a clear path through the confusing nature of human life, cutting away the underbrush of our own misconceptions about and resistance to the practice of awakening. I recommend it to anyone, newcomers to the path of meditation and consciousness, and those who have been studying for years. What a gem of a book, written by one of those rare authors who writes beautifully, from the core of her own experience, and in service of the reader’s most noble self.

Elizabeth Lesser

author of Broken Open

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