“You know all those great spiritual ideals we’ve cherished for years? Those are actually real things and they can be experienced by ordinary people like you and me.” These words were spoken to me by my friend Max in 2002 and, needless to say, they got my attention. His voice was so matter of fact and confident, I had to find out more. When he told me this normally takes two or three years, I thought to myself, “I can do a couple years standing on my head, that’s nothing.” Decades of spiritual quest trailed behind me and I had to find out about the Waking Down work because although it sounded too good to be true, it came from someone I knew well and was spoken with sincerity.
One thing that stands out from my first meeting with Saniel and Linda is that Saniel asked everyone in the room to “check in” saying something about themselves and why they were in attendance. I had been expecting to sit and listen, not speak before everyone and so felt pretty nervous and immediately started casting about for what I was going to say when it became my turn. Well, I came up with something I felt was sufficiently respectable to say, but when it came to be my turn, I became so overwrought and tearful, I could only blubber something about being so tired of swinging back and forth between hope and resignation. It was quite a surprise to find myself so emotionally aflame, but Linda just looked at my embarrassment and helpless plight with such tenderness and compassion, I felt reassured. Little did I know at the time, but this was just the beginning.
A month later two women came to Fairfield to lead what was to my mind a rather grandiosely named workshop called, the Human Sun Seminar. They were Sandra Glickman and CC Leigh and both were quite impressive; queenly and self-possessed and yet just themselves. CC in particular I remember as broadcasting a call to love that was palpable around her. The seminar contained a lot of information mostly around using new language for spiritual topics. In one exercise, I had a particularly clear experience of myself as consciousness which was distinct from anything I had experienced before despite years of meditation practice. At home, after the weekend seminar was over, I became so restless that I could hardly sit. I couldn’t read a book, I couldn’t watch TV, I was pacing like an animal in a cage. I called my friend Max to see if he could shed any light on what was happening to me. He was on the road, but his wife said to me, “this probably isn’t going to sound like good advice to you, but I think you should just feel it as much as you can. Be as restless as possible.” I did the best I could with that strange and unsettling advice. I didn’t sleep very well that night and the next morning, to my horror, I couldn’t stop crying. After some real struggle, I got myself together and went to work. As it happened, that day I was replacing some fluorescent bulbs and ballasts in the produce coolers of a local whole foods store and in the first 20 minutes of working, three people approached me and asked, “Steve, are you okay?” I thought I was putting a good face on my distress but was clearly failing miserably. The seminar presenters never said anything about stuff like this happening, so I decided I needed to talk to someone before they left town. I was squeezed into Sandra Glickman’s morning appointment schedule just before she left for the airport. As I sat in front of her in a small upstairs bedroom, she said “okay just look at me and tell me about what’s happening.” I’m not given to sobbing and blubbering, but this morning I wasn’t myself, I couldn’t handle that many tears with a sponge in each hand. She gently interrupted saying, “keep talking but just look at me.” After about fifteen minutes of what I later realized was an extended gazing session, I felt remarkably steady and at ease. The following three weeks were characterized by an effusive and seemingly endless happiness, freedom, delight in each moment, freshness and desire to engage others. I found that when I spoke, I felt I was hearing the words at the same time as whoever I was speaking with rather than having them pass through my mind on the way to my mouth. To be so continuously content and exuberant for weeks was a surprise, but in the midst of it, somehow it felt natural.
A few months later, I found that I had stumbled into some kind of orchard of love where I wandered for a long time. This wandering left me so enamored of the bits and pieces of daily living that each moment seemed to present itself anew; fresh, close and dear and in some way pregnant with meaning. I felt a kind of kinship and affinity with everything that I experienced. I found myself tearing up two or three times a day with the poignance of life. The best way I can describe this feeling is to say it’s like a parent’s love for a child when the extended family is gathered for the child’s birthday. The cake is brought out aglow with candles and when the singing stops, the child looks up and says, “mommy, why are you crying?” and his mother replies, “it’s okay honey, I’m crying because I’m so happy.” At times, this feeling became towering and left me as if assaulted, like I’d been ragdolled across the ocean floor by a huge wave that crashed over me. Most times, however, it consisted of little tremors that came unexpectedly at odd moments during the day reminding me of how this life and this world are so achingly beautiful. I didn’t know how or why this was happening to me or how I would feel when it was gone but I did know I had never been so fervently alive.
At one point, I came across a painting of Saint Augustine by the medieval artist Father Lippo Lippi which spoke directly to me about this passage. It depicted Augustine sitting in his cell, pen and paper in hand, writing about a vision he was in the midst of where the trinity appeared before him and filled him with its divinity. The part of the picture that arrested me was the three large arrows sticking out of his heart. It so clearly captured this piercing quality of love that just kept penetrating me. This experience was further clarified for me by my primary teacher during this time, who, at an open sitting where I was tearfully describing what was happening to me responded by saying, “yes, the Sufi’s call this broken-hearted hemorrhaging of love ‘the spilling of the rubies.’ ”
On the subject of awakening, for months I had been adamantly and maybe even a little bit defiantly insisting to my teachers CC and Sandra that I was not going to intuit, assume, conclude or deduce this awakening. It simply had to be clear, stark and unmistakable. CC would typically respond, “well, good luck with that.” An uninspiring response which somehow didn’t even make a dent in my resolve. This was simply not going to be ambiguous. I had been working with Sandra on the phone for seven months and during the time she was out of the country for six weeks I began to feel an indefinable angst that was quietly pervading all my days. It didn’t really interfere with my daily life but it was distinctly uncomfortable. I felt off my game, unbalanced, restless. I began talking on the phone with CC with whom I had always felt a tender connection, but the anxiety continued. At the end of one call she said, “Steve, I want you to consider a question as home work.” I said, “Okay what is it?” She said, “what if your life as it is right now is all you could ever hope for in terms of spiritual realization. If that were true, would it be enough?” “Hell no!” I protested. “Steve, it’s homework. Just ponder it for two weeks and call me back then.”
When I called her back, I reported that the enoughness or not enoughness of my life as it was right then seemed to vary quite a bit. Sometimes “yes” sometimes “no”. As I was talking, she interrupted with the question, “Steve, where are you located?” I felt myself feeling uncharacteristically nervous and said, “What do you mean? I’m talking to you on the phone here in my office.” So she fired off another question, “What is your understanding of consciousness?” Now the panic was rising in me and I felt like someone on a submarine when fire has broken out and red lights were flashing and warning klaxons were blaring as I fumbled through some non-answer about sentience. As she asked a third question, there was a feeling of her moving a chess piece into place and this was going to be checkmate. The terror moving in me peaked and I felt like someone running down a hall screaming not knowing which door lead outside to safety. Whatever it was that was unsafe, it was going to be the end of me. Then, in an instant, it all stopped and there was this peace I had never felt before despite a lifetime of “good experiences” in spiritual practice. I felt as if I were in outer space in a way with no up or down or means of orientation even though I knew I was lying on a bed in my office. There was only silence, emptiness, endlessness which had never been touched by anything and, wonder of wonders, I WAS that! Sensing something significant had happened, CC waited saying nothing as I lay stupefied by this recognition. Although it sounds pretty dramatic, it was a very quiet moment actually but at the same time completely sufficient. It needed nothing and was utterly unmoved. I was unmoved. I, as That, had never moved. These words don’t really convey the reality of this because they sound both grandiose and contradictory, but it was neither. It felt natural and ordinary and yet it was so mind boggling that I never could have conceived of it before. I tried to say what was happening but couldn’t begin to express it satisfactorily. She said, “yes, you can’t really say this, but you know it in the depths of your being.” Since that moment, I have never been the same although in many ways I am unchanged. I am wondrous, majestic and changeless and, strangely, I am also constricted, ambivalent and afraid. While I all these qualities, I am undivided, and simultaneous.
My expectations for this awakening were both unmet and exceeded. I had compiled a long list of qualities in response to a question asked of me by a mentor which I felt to be necessary for me to consider that I had awakened. As it turned out, none of these qualities had anything to do with this awakening because it is not a matter of thought, emotion or perception. My identity is no longer the product of my thoughts or my feelings but of my self. Like many people, I had grand ideas about how perfect life would be when I knew my infinite nature. However, it is clear now that measuring sticks based on any part of my life that changes cannot begin to define this unnameable freedom. When my spiritual seeker friends would ask if I witness sleep, I would say, “yes, but not in the way I thought I would; not as something distinct but in the same way I witness everything.” The constrained parts of myself haven’t become free but what was always free is now authentically alive. I am that One without a second, I have no history because I never began, I am ceaselessly creative and eternally identical. Changeless and impervious, I move and become. I am that self-interacting dynamics of consciousness which constitutes all that is. A quantum physicist, in describing this movement within the unified field, might speak of spontaneous, sequential, dynamical symmetry breaking. The universe doesn’t emerge from the unified field, it is the unified field. Moving and changing, it is eternally the same and I am that.
It might seem a bit counter intuitive, but this realization didn’t blow out of the water all of the attractions, repulsions, attachments, hopes and regrets of my life. Indeed, I am more impassioned, more ardent, more fervent than I was previously. I care more, I feel more, I rise and fall on a grander scale. I am easily moved to tears, I am angered by social injustice, I commune with the natural world, I inflate in the presence of joy, I feel deeply the suffering of others. When I leave the house for work in the morning, I am momentarily intoxicated by my wife’s smell as I nuzzle her neck, I turn to reach for the back door and I feel the silk turtle neck I’m wearing caress my arm, I step down and feel my cushioned thermal socks settle into my new Christmas boots, the bracing air tightens my skin and waters my eyes, as I open my truck door a crow calls in the distance. I am alive to the world in a way that is continually new.
My acquaintances who have had awakenings through a less tantric and more Advaitic lineage speak of the experience of their life as an open, spacious attention without past or future leanings; no fulfillments or regrets and no hopes or dreads. They say it’s just a steady presence in the midst of the motion of their lives, a kind of nothingness that implies there’s nobody home in the house of there individuality. To me, there is definitely someone home, and that someone is more intensely engaged in his existence than ever, but he is also that with which he is engaging and the process of engagement as well.
Since this awakening, I have felt a transforming fire rising that is burning so much of the person I have been all my life. It’s as if all the habits, assumptions, prejudices, intuitions, beliefs and understandings have to be reconfigured in the face of this new reality that so confounds the previous presumptions. Throughout my life, I have tended to be an accommodating, acquiescent kind of character. Even though I was looking pretty good and being well-liked, this strategy was costing me a lot in terms of personal integrity. It was also based on fear of conflict. To avoid conflict, I was prepared to and did give up a lot of my own desires, interests, needs without even being particularly aware of it. By seeing everything from everyone else’s perspective, I was saving myself from ever having to stand for anything. To use an analogy offered to me by a friend, it’s like I have abandoned parts of my own house and in my absence, others have taken up residence on my deck and in my back yard. It has taken time, but I have come to see the need to reclaim what is mine and have found that the property line is a better place for a boundary between myself and others than the doorstep.
I was attending a six-session workshop on myth and archetypes to which we would each bring an object to place on the altar every week and say how it spoke to something deep in us or that inexplicably moved us. As the weeks went by, others would bring a different object each week but somehow the image of a sword was haunting my days and nights. I didn’t have a sword, so every week I brought the Cub Scout knife I still carried in my tool box after all these years. After four weeks, it was clear this wasn’t going away so I went on line and bought an inexpensive sword which I brought to the last session and when I pulled it out and spoke as the object I was bringing, I heard myself say, “I am that which will cut to pieces the life you have created to serve the life that is waiting for you.” Since that time, a resolute quality has been growing in me that balances the placating habits of my previous life. This new energy is still a work in progress, but I am confident that, in time, the pendulum of timidity and aggression will find its steady mid-point.
There is so much more to say about this astoundingly potent process. There could be whole paragraphs on how deeply music now moves me or on inhibition versus exhibition and introversion versus extroversion particularly with respect to parties and dancing or on experiences of communion with the natural world or on tears and their place in the life of a man or on the sacredness of the ordinary in life.
© Steve Boggs 2010