More Notes on Waking Up

Anonymous comments:

> In Buddhism, waking up might be described as the cessation of suffering because of the cessation of desire (ie ceasing of attachments and aversions). Do your experiences fit that description, ceasing to suffer, letting go of attachments and aversions?<

I am not comfortable with the word “cessation,” it’s so absolute. As long as I’m alive in this body, e.g., I have no doubt that my body will crave air, food, warmth, etc., those sorts of things are built into the “hardware” of being human. Now I will note that in my ordinary state, where I spend 99% of my waking existence, there is a constant interplay and flow of attachments and aversions, I want to do this, I really should do that, I don’t want to do this other thing, I don’t want to feel like there’s always something to do, etc. A good deal of the time I am doing one thing and pretty absorbed in it, but these desires and aversions are always ready to pop in. Relaxing? What about that paper you’re supposed to write? Feeling too busy? Why don’t you relax. I think this is a description of “normal” consciousness for most people, most of the time.

When I’m more mindful and “awake” – remember, “awake” only in a relative sense compared to my ordinary mushy consciousness, not Awake in some grand and glorious spiritual sense – there’s an implicit feeling of contentment. A desire will come along, and sometimes if I’m staying mindful and present I’ll just note it but not be carried away by it, but often it will interrupt my mindfulness and I’ll be back in my ordinary, desire-and-aversion-drive state.

I suppose there might be some higher state of awakeness where you have worked through all those ordinary desires and aversions that are not necessary for biological survival and comfort, so they don’t even arise, but that’s just theory for me. Less drivenness, yes, “cessation,” no.

Anonymous again notes:

> Especially in modern times, because of our scientific outlook, people have a hard time accepting something unless they can understand it and I don’t think there is a very clear explanation about what waking up is.<

Yes, it’s easy to imagine fantastic things about “waking.” And there are probably various degrees of “waking.” What I’m attempting to describe may be moments of one of the lowest levels of it, but if it’s helpful to people to have a clearer understanding or goal, great! I’ve been told that one of my talents is to say and write things that are “perfectly obvious:” it’s just that nobody has ever said it before. I doubt the historical truth of that, it probably just means that the way I’m saying something now is useful for the listener, but who knows how many times it’s already been said before?

> Most people who hear about the end of suffering or letting go of attachments and aversions think waking up means being happy all the time, but I think the analogy to pain is more appropriate. Waking up doesn’t make pain go away it changes your attitude about pain. According to how I understand it, waking up doesn’t eliminate emotions it changes your attitude to them.<

That fits my own experience to date. Sometimes mindfulness, being present, being more “awake” feels great, sometimes it makes you much more precisely aware of just what a screwed up state you’re in! But that’s good, if you know you’re really confused, angry, etc. you may be smart enough not to act on your present state and feelings and so not create consequence you’ll later regret. Every once in a while I remind the students in my ITP mindfulness class to be careful not to change the sensing-looking-listening technique described in an earlier post into some other technique aimed at making you feel happy rather than mindful. Confusing imagination that’s pleasant with ongoing reality is the quickest way to feel happy, but then you do stupid things with later negative consequences.

> Is it just as apt to say “Before enlightenment worry, joy, anger, and love. After enlightenment worry, joy, anger, and love?”<

Sounds good to me. Same old emotions, but seen more clearly, less likely to start hours-long loops of compulsive feelings and thoughts. You come back to ongoing reality much quicker.

Anonymous commenting on Tor:

> I think everyone has to find their own balance of letting out (observing and understanding emotions) and letting go (displacing negative thoughts with neutral or positive thoughts, or just focusing attention on something else).<

We too easily fall into believing there is One Goal, reached by One Way. One of the jobs of transpersonal psychology as a field will be to investigate what sorts of ways work or don’t work for what sorts of people and directing those who want to grow appropriately. I’m sure there are times, e.g., when a little psychotherapy would be much more effective than spiritual practice, and visa-versa.

13 comments

  1. Are there different kinds of waking up?

    Someone recently brought to my attention a chapter from a book called Kundalini Rising that considers something called Physio-Kundalini Syndrome in NDErs. (It is the chapter contributed by Dr Bruce Greyson.)Dr Greyson refers to kundalini as something that can lead to many types of changes (i.e. mental, spiritual, physical and emotional effects) in an individual once awakened. Something very surprising that is suggested in this chapter is that kundalini that has been awakened by a NDE can actually be a dangerous and destructive force on the NDErs body and psyche due to the fact that typical NDErs do not have access to the sort of guidance needed to cope with these effects.

    I find that pretty scary stuff. I wasn’t looking for any kind of enlightenment or awakening to mess up what I think is a pretty good life. And now I find out that I’m kind of along for the ride with this kundalini thing. I thought kundalini was just pretty balls of light, but reading this material has really hit home with me. There is so much of what I’ve experienced in that chapter. So now I’m scared.

    I didn’t want to meditate today. I didn’t want to do anything remotely like waking up. I went to the park to feed the birds and just be quiet for a while instead. I found myself getting caught up in watching the colors around the nuthatches and chickadees. I probably sat there for 30 minutes just watching colors before I remembered that normal people don’t pay attention to such things. That realization kind of woke me up.

  2. “Now I will note that in my ordinary state, where I spend 99% of my waking existence, there is a constant interplay and flow of attachments and aversions, I want to do this, I really should do that, I don’t want to do this other thing, I don’t want to feel like there’s always something to do, etc.”

    “A good deal of the time I am doing one thing and pretty absorbed in it, but these desires and aversions are always ready to pop in. Relaxing? What about that paper you’re supposed to write? Feeling too busy? Why don’t you relax. I think this is a description of “normal” consciousness for most people, most of the time.”

    Practicing concentration meditation (in addition to vipassana) would help with that.

    “I suppose there might be some higher state of awakeness where you have worked through all those ordinary desires and aversions that are not necessary for biological survival and comfort, so they don’t even arise, but that’s just theory for me. Less drivenness, yes, “cessation,” no.”

    In Buddha’s time (and today) lay people weren’t expected to wake up in one life time but there are still many benefits to following Buddhist practices that they could enjoy in their life time. However monks who were only allowed to own two robes and a begging bowl had a good chance of waking up. If you renounce material possessions and spend all day practicing meditation (concentration and insight) and mindfulness you have a chance.

    “Every once in a while I remind the students in my ITP mindfulness class to be careful not to change the sensing-looking-listening technique described in an earlier post into some other technique aimed at making you feel happy rather than mindful. Confusing imagination that’s pleasant with ongoing reality is the quickest way to feel happy, but then you do stupid things with later negative consequences.”

    True, but is that confusion really what people do? Self delusion is not the only way to manipulate emotions or the only consequence of fantasy. You can remember a pleasant experience of the past or imagine something you know is a fanatsy like a future vacation but indulge in it as relaxation technique. Imagining success at something you want to accomplish can help you accomplish it. I think this type of “vision” is recognized as one of the forces that has led to humankind’s cultural, artistic engineering, and scientific advancement.

    The instructions Buddha gave for meditation are found in the Anapanasati Sutta ( Mindfulness of Breathing ).

    I have a copy of the book by Thich-Nhat Han (“Breathe! You Are Alive”) where translates certain instructions as:


    4 ‘I am breathing in making my whole body calm and at peace. I am breathing out making my whole body calm and at peace. This is how he practices.’
    5 ‘I am breathing in feeling joyful. I am breathing out and feeling joyful. This is how he practices.’
    6 ‘I am breathing in feeling happy. I am breathing out and feeling happy. He practices like this.’
    8 ‘I am breathing in making the activities of the mind calm and at peace. I am breathing out making the activities of the mind calm and at peace. He practices like this.’

    Another translation is more neutral:


    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.118.than.html

    ” [4] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.’ [3] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.’

    [5] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to rapture.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to rapture.’ [6] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to pleasure.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to pleasure.’…[8] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming mental fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming mental fabrication.’

    My interpretation of this comes from trying to fit what I read with what I experience when I meditate. It seems to me that Buddha’s instructions combine what to-day we would call concentration, insight and relaxation into one technique which he called “right concentration”. When I meditate, I include in the focus of my attention (among other things like counting the breath, noticing distractions) the pleasant feeling of peaceful relaxation that occurs when you sit quietly and observe your breathing. It is very pleasant and relaxing and helps to calm the mind. In a way it is like is a form of bio-feedback where you train yourself to let go of things that upset you.

    It doesn’t mean that when you finish meditation, you ignore your responsibilities or neglect to plan for the future. It does mean that you can try to do those things while maintaining a peaceful frame of mind. I think a person will probably do a better job if that person has a calm mind than if that person is overreacting to fears and doubts.

  3. “Are there different kinds of waking up?”

    Yes. Different philosophies have different definitions. That’s why I think it is better to discuss the goal and result of Buddhist practice as “letting go of attachments and aversions”. It is more specific and instructive than “waking up”. It is also more suggestive of a continuous process rather than a situation where you have two classes of people: those who are awake and those who aren’t.

    “Something very surprising that is suggested in this chapter is that kundalini that has been awakened by a NDE can actually be a dangerous and destructive force on the NDErs body and psyche due to the fact that typical NDErs do not have access to the sort of guidance needed to cope with these effects.”

    This is a problem no matter what awakens the kundalini. If you don’t understand what is happening you can misunderstand it and become confused and react to it inappropriately.

    My interpretation based on my own experiences with kundalini is that it has something to do with the physiology of releasing emotions. Emotions cause muscle tension and have effects on the nervous system. Over time these effects are cumulative. When suppressed emotions come pouring out when one’s mental barriers are lowered (from meditation in my case) it can result is all sorts of physical sensations accompanying the emotions.

    Typically it is described initially as a sensation of energy moving up the spine and out the top of the head, and can involve twitching and other physical manifestations as well as emotional disturbances.

    In my case while the release was caused by insight meditation the “cure” came from improving my diet to remove foods that tend to cause anxiety. Mostly this was sugar but some other things too. Also, doing relaxation exercises or relaxing foms of meditation helped.

    The book is “Living with Kundalini” by Gopi Krishna is very good. It explains what symptoms are indicative of a kundalini release.

    “I went to the park to feed the birds and just be quiet for a while instead.

    I think it is always helpful for people to be aware of why they meditate and find a technique appropriate to their goals. Some people meditate to get enlightenment for themselves. Others do it to help develop a quiet mind. If your goal is to have a quiet mind, then going to the park and being quiet is a perfectly acceptable form of meditation.

    You don’t seem to want to wake up, but vipassana is especially designed for that goal. I wouldn’t recommend a strong concentration type of meditation for you either. But, maybe you should try some more relaxing type of meditaiton, such as …

    Just sit, relax, breathe in a natural or comfortable manner. Notice your breathing. Notice the relaxed feeling you get from this. If you have trouble concentrating also count exhalations up to 10 and then start over at 1. Let the mental distractions come and go, they are expected and part of the process, but just go back to the meditation when you notice your mind is wandering. You will get plenty of insight (vipassana) from noticing the mental distractions and physical sensations and emotions that accompany them. Meditate with your eyes closed if your mind is turbulent, open them if you get too drowsy.

  4. “improving my diet to remove foods that tend to cause anxiety”

    Oops.
    I should have written: “improving my diet *and* removing foods that cause anxiety”. I think fixing nutritional deficiencies were part of the solution.

  5. “In Buddha’s time (and today) lay people weren’t expected to wake up in one life time but there are still many benefits to following Buddhist practices that they could enjoy in their life time. However monks who were only allowed to own two robes and a begging bowl had a good chance of waking up. If you renounce material possessions and spend all day practicing meditation (concentration and insight) and mindfulness you have a chance.”

    In Buddha’s time they thought you had to get enlightenment to stop reincarnating. So getting enlightenment was believed to be necessary to spiritual advancement, and to end the pain unpleasantness of earthly life. Having monks in the neighborhood was considered good luck and feeding them was considered good for your karma, so the people who were living at a barely subsistence level didn’t mind feeding them.

    Personally, I don’t think those views are correct. Based on what people who have had NDE’s say and on information that has come through evidential mediums, if you accept reincarnation, it seems more likely that a spirit moves beyond the earth plane after a handful of incarnations with or without nirvana. You don’t get many NDE’ers coming back saying we all have to abandon our families (like Buddha did) become beggars, and meditate all day so we can advance in the afterlife. The NDE’ers tend to say things like we should be more loving, considerate, and helpful towards our family members and other people.

    So, from the modern spiritual perspective, it is a legitimate question as to whether it even makes sense for a person to pursue enlightenment as a personal goal. Certainly if someone has an interest in it they should be free to do it. But, to me it seems that if one takes a spiritual point of view and tries to do what is best for your own spiritual development, a person should to use the techniques of Buddhism to help them develop spiritual values and qualities while living an ordinary life. Abandoning your family, becoming a burden to society by becoming a beggar, and pursuing enlightenment to end personal suffering is not what I think of as a spiritual life.

    For example some form of meditation may be the most practical approach to get a lay person as close to waking up as is possible. But is that necessarily the right goal? What is best form of meditation for developing spiritually? I think it might vary from person to person. Some people might feel more comfortable doing one type of meditation instead of another and therefore they might be more diligent doing what they feel comfortable with.

    1. >The NDE’ers tend to say things like we should be more loving, considerate, and helpful towards our family members and other people.<

      As a practical note, research has shown that living out the vision of the NDE is not at all easy, and NDErs may have many years of struggle. The divorce rate among NDErs, e.g., is more than 70%. The vision to love everybody doesn't sit well with spouses who want to feel special, e.g. So there seems to be lots of room for continuing spiritual growth, even if you've had a cosmic vision….

  6. As a practical note, research has shown that living out the vision of the NDE is not at all easy, and NDErs may have many years of struggle.

    Dr Tart, it will get better, won’t it?

    When I saw my Grandmother in the NDE place, she promised to help me get through the challenges that lay ahead. I had no idea what she was talking about. When I came back here, I thought she meant the challenge of learning to walk again and getting through the physical recovery. But she is still around, so I’m guessing that means I still have stuff to get through.

    I think NDEs ask too much of NDErs. I want to be OK with how I experience this world, but I don’t know how. I miss the NDE place so much, even though I still think this existence is pretty awesome too.

    I’ve been trying to think about the good parts of what I’m going through. Grandma keeps telling me to just look at the colors and relax. And truthfully, sometimes I do enjoy looking at the colored lights around things. It is sort of like meditating because you have to be quiet inside to see the colors. I have this tiny pinwheel I play with, and if I look at the colors around it and just see the colors and not the pinwheel… the pinwheel will sometimes spin. It’s a silly game, but it is sort of fun.

  7. “The divorce rate among NDErs, e.g., is more than 70%.”

    The divorce rate is pretty high in the general population to begin with. I’m not disputing there is such an effect of a NDE but it is informative to put it into perspective:

    http://www.divorcerate.org/

    “50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce, according to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri.

    According to enrichment journal on the divorce rate in America:
    The divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%
    The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%
    The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%”

    Note, you only have a third marriage if you’ve had a divorce or been widowed from your first marriage so I’m not sure what to make of these numbers. But the older you are, the more divorces you are likely to have, and also the more likely you are to have an NDE (I assume). I think at most the incremental effect of a NDE is 29% (70 – 41 = 29) but it might be less than that.

    I think just becoming spiritual can be disruptive to a marriage if the partner doesn’t share the interest (as any new strong interest might). Just as an anecdote, I know of a woman who didn’t have an NDE but became very spiritual sometime after her marriage. Her husband didn’t share her interest and he was quite skeptical and dismissive about the Spiritualist church services, spiritual healing, mediumship etc. She dragged him to a service one Sunday and the medium gave her a reading and told her something like (I forget exactly what) “You are going through turmoil in your life, it will bring about positive changes.” I know it sounds like a cold reading, everyone goes through changes in their life, but it was particularly unhelpful because they were already separated at that point and it seemed to him that the whole business was encouraging her and driving a wedge between them. The ultimate result was divorce.

    Anecdotes like this don’t prove anything, and I’m only speculating here, but the effect on the divorce rate of NDE’s might be at least partially due to increased interest in spirituality. That in itself would be a personality change, but it might be that aspect rather than some other type of drastic personality change that might be attributed to an NDE such as becoming more “more loving, considerate, and helpful towards our family members and other people”.

  8. I wonder if waking up is a unique experience to each individual person. Maybe for some people it is about waking up in an emotional sense, while for others it is more about intellectual or spiritual ways of waking up. Is that possible?

    A while back someone suggested that I should watch the colors of the birds in the park and write down my observations of what I see as a way to connect my spiritual experiences to my scientific interests.

    I’ve been watching birds quite a bit this week, and paying attention to their colors. It isn’t always easy to get in the right frame of mind to see colors. And picking out the colors of fast moving little birds from the background noise of everything else really takes a bit of effort. It is almost the opposite of effort, because if you try too hard it doesn’t work. You have to just relax and let it happen.

    Today I thought that I would try to takes notes for the first time while observing colors. Every time I started to think analytically, I would lose the colors. I had no idea it would be so difficult to see colors and take notes at the same time. Sometimes I couldn’t help but laugh because it was like I had a switch that kept flipping between “science” and “spirit”. When I would laugh, the colors would turn back on without even trying. But then they would wink out again as soon as I started writing. Only for a very brief moment near the end of my efforts did I manage to get a glimpse of colors while I was writing. It was a very short-lived glimpse. It occurred to me later that when I got that glimpse I was all excited because an uncommon type of nuthatch landed only a meter or so in front of me while I was observing and writing. So there was a particular feeling of joy not involved in my previous attempts.

    The thing is, when I got it right I felt so connected. Like I was very aware, but also like everything was OK with me. Like everything was OK in my universe. So maybe for me waking up has something to do with bringing science and spirituality to the same place.

  9. “So maybe for me waking up has something to do with bringing science and spirituality to the same place.”

    I don’t know if it’s waking up, but one might speculate that you might have been experiencing consciousness through the different hemispheres of the brain, and at the end you integrated them and were using both at the same time. Having access to all your faculties at once might give one a feeling of being aware and connected at the same time, which might cause one to feel that everything is ok.

  10. “I wonder if waking up is a unique experience to each individual person. “

    It depends how you define waking up.

    You have to have a definition of it in order to know if you are experiencing it. How do you define it?

    In Buddhism there is a very specific definition of waking up. The way I understand it is that you let go of attachments and aversions and you stop making yourself suffer wanting things to be different than they are.

    However most people don’t know that definition or understand its practical implications. I think most people envision that the absence of their own particular life’s problem to be the goal of waking up. If someone had a bad temper he might think being even tempered is what happens when you wake up. If someone had a lot of anxiety he might think being calm and serene all the time is what happens when you wake up. If someone was a control freak he might thing being laid back and easy going was the result of waking up.

    I think this is why no one understands what waking up is. Each person has a unique idea of what waking up is.

  11. “I wonder if waking up is a unique experience to each individual person. “

    So to continue my previous comment, yes, it may be that everyone has a unique experience because each person applies the term “waking up” to something different. For example, after meditating regularly or irregularly for a few weeks or for a few decades someone has an unusual experience and decides to call it waking up. For that reason everyone would be experiencing something unique but they are all calling it waking up.

    My point is that if we are going to have a conversation about something like waking up we need to have a common definition of it or else we should not use the term but instead use a description of the experience such as you did when you wrote “The thing is, when I got it right I felt so connected. Like I was very aware, but also like everything was OK with me. Like everything was OK in my universe.” In my opinion, that type of explicit description is very useful, much more so than a metaphor like “waking up”. It gives us something concrete to discuss. In which case trying to decide if we should call it “waking up” is just a distraction from the important point of your comment which was how you got to that state and what that state really felt like to you.

  12. “Sometimes I couldn’t help but laugh because it was like I had a switch that kept flipping between “science” and “spirit”.”

    Sandy,

    I think your discussion of switching mind sets, and what was happening in your mind when you saw the colors, what made them stop, how you were able to experience it in contrast to a different state, etc is a very useful thing to observe and communicate. If you have any more observations like that I would be very interested in them. I think it has implications for people studying what psi is and how it works and for those interested in developing methods for becoming psychically receptive.

    Do you think doing something analytical like writing your observations, (or solving math problems, or doing puzzles) would help you when you are having other unwanted psychic perceptions?

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