by El Collie
I caught a very interesting program on TLC the other night called "Life After Death." During a segment on rare, hellish NDEs (near death experiences), there was a depiction of the God/Self/Source experience I had 32 years ago. The narrator began this portion by intoning: "Darkness, Void, Vacuum, Loneliness, Absence, Nothingness, Nonexistence..." Nancy Evans Bush described a near-death-experience that happened to her 35 years ago. A voice or awareness informed her: "You never existed, you will never exist. You're not real. Nothing you ever knew existed. Nor does anyone you think you ever knew, nor your life, nor where you live. You made it all up." She goes on to say, "This meant that not only did I not exist, but the baby and her year old sister [her children] didn't exist. Your mother, your husband, nobody you know exists. You're not real, and nothing you know is real."
She concludes: "I found it instant holocaust." Yet she was compelled to deal with this awakening for the rest of her life, and slowly came to terms with it: "There is a gift in these experiences. Now, it's not a gift we want to get, but if we're stubborn and hang in there, we work through a lot of issues. We come to discover our religious faith in incredibly deep ways that we couldn't if we just dazzled around on the happy level. So what I'm trying to do is go beyond the idea that pain = bad = punishment = hell = eternity = despair. Because the alternative to despair I think is joy, which is different than happiness. But the paradoxical nature of this is that in order to get to real joy, we have to be able to accept suffering as part of us. And I know that sounds bizarre. But I didn't make up the rules... and it just seems to work that way."
The spiritual journey can veer into various levels of ego-loss in which our sense of self- identity is momentarily or permanently altered. The Eastern religions in particular extol the dissolution of ego -- the release of our sense of "me" as a separate and rigid "somebody" in the world. These traditions regard ego-transcendence as essential to spiritual liberation and enlightenment.
Most of us have experienced some degree of ego-loss, often as a self-expansion or self-eclipsing in the presence of something awesomely vast or beautiful: the spectacular wonders of nature, the encompassing joy of love, or through powerful inner experiences of sublime, mystical states of consciousness. I've had episodes of grace when, as if something suddenly changed the channel on my perception, I've been shifted into states of euphoric bliss. Everything became a sweetly flowing effortlessness in which I felt carried along as ephemerally as a summer breeze.
This, and other more common ego-suspension experiences mentioned above, are very different in their psychological impact than the stark confrontation with the illusory nature of existence which Nancy Bush and I encountered. The positive experiences have a melting-quality whereby ego-boundaries are blurred and we feel ourselves to be One with life. By contrast, being divested of all previous notions of self is a great shock to the psyche. At this deepest level, not only one's sense of individuality but one's total sense of reality implodes. One's entire perceptual orientation is turned upside down and inside out. In his classic compendium, The Perennial Philosophy, Aldous Huxley disclosed that "direct awareness of the 'eternally complete consciousness,' which is the ground of the material world, is a possibility occasionally actualized by some human beings at almost any stage of their own personal development, from childhood to old age, and at any period of the race's history." Spontaneous awakenings have apparently been known throughout history; the Vedantists, according to William James, acknowledged that "one may stumble into superconsciousness sporadically, without the previous discipline." (from The Varieties of Religious Experience)
Awakening to the "eternally complete consciousness" isn't about being in the presence of the One or feeling union with God, both of which assume the existence of two entities, self and Divine. In this experience, one's personal identity is obliterated. Nothing exists but self-aware Consciousness that knows itself to be the single and whole reality subsuming all space and time. The collapse of the phenomenal world (which doesn't instantly vanish from view, but is seen to be a stupendous "trick" of the One Mind) is disemboweling to the psyche. This was the most harrowing, soul-shattering, and simultaneously the most illuminating and transcendent experience of my life. For me, the unbearable thing was not that El Collie had vanished; my self-deletion was akin to removing a costume. The problem was that what remained was a single Consciousness which existed in absolute aloneness.
The "eternally complete consciousness," a.k.a. God/Goddess/Self is the Infinite One proclaimed by mystics from every tradition. Direct knowing of the One Consciousness dissolves the self who would be the "knower." There is no one standing apart from the One to bear it witness when awakening occurs. Rather, the individual self is understood to be an illusion of a separate identity. All duality ceases to have meaning; there is no opposition or division anywhere. In the deepest sense, no one can awaken to this truth. Becoming Self-Realized is the experience of knowing there never was and never will be anyone to become enlightened, and that nothing but Consciousness IT-Self is eternally real.
Mystics throughout the ages have struggled to convey this apparently logic-defying Reality which seems to be saying that nobody is there when satori/samadhi occurs. But that is just it -- there is no body, there is only the One Eternal Self, the true Self who we all are. In this highest sense, we do not each have a distinct and separate Atman/Self. Rather, we are individuations, creative expressions of a Single Being. Throughout my life this knowledge has followed me as a reminder that nothing in this world is entirely as it seems, particularly not my own ego-self. Whoever wrote the script for the TV program obviously found it inconceivable that Nancy Bush had a genuine revelation of Self/Source, so the narrator inserted the explanation that Nancy's story exemplified one of the hell experiences that Stanislav Grof says is the product of a terrible childhood. Wrong on every count. Grof actually discusses the type of awakening Nancy experienced on a tape called "The Cosmic Game." On this tape, Grof distinguishes between experiencing deities and divine personages (Buddha, Jesus, Shiva, Kuan Yin, Divine Light, etc.) and experiencing the core God/Self -- the I-AM of pure consciousness. Many of the people who have this core experience (which a friend of mine calls "God-in-the-Void") seem to be exhilarated by the absolute freedom of realizing that everything and everyone is an illusion. But some -- like Nancy, me, and others I've met who are more love-and-relationship oriented -- are devastated by the eternal aloneness of Self/God. And I've run across a number of people who have had this experience but buried it in rationalizations afterwards because they couldn't bear to carry the knowledge of eternal emptiness in which nothing/nobody really exists. The few people I've personally met who awakened to the "you don't exist, nothing is real, nobody you love is real" Source/Self have been mentally and emotionally eviscerated by the experience. Yet for me, while still in the egoless God/Self state, there was also a spontaneous shift into the joy that Nancy later discovered was the second half of the equation. So I didn't spend years working through "issues" to get to that completion. My joy came during the experience of God/Self's ecstatic love for all creation -- even while acutely aware that all creation is maya, dreamstuff, nothingness.
So I came "back" from it both reverberating with love and shattered by the knowledge of God/Self's solitary predicament. Reconciling God/Self knowledge with just about any other facet of existence was a humongous challenge. For a very long time, although I continued to function normally on the surface, I was in a twilight world where nothing, including myself, seemed to have any substance. I pretended not to know what I knew, and I was ever in search of an illumined soul who might somehow help me bear the weight of my secret knowledge. There was always an element of absurdity in the attempt to find someone who understood. I was ever aware that "I" in the encapsulated form of a human El Collie was a hollow shell, a clever pretense that Consciousness used to deliberately disguise itself. I knew why the disguise was necessary, while at the same time, I knew there was nothing which could be hidden and no one to hide from. I had the acute sense that I was a transparent vessel through which God plaintively sought relief from being God. I found myself filled with tender envy for those who believed in a God who was "other" -- a deity they could adore from a distance, sweetly enfolded in a relationship of child to Father or lover to Beloved. The God that had exposed IT-Self to me could neither be approached nor escaped from.
Trying to come to terms with my lasting sense that nothing was real, I went on a rampage of reading all the religious and occult literature of every sect and creed I could find in hopes that I might come across some piece of wisdom that would rescue me from the immensity of what I knew. I found what I had experienced being described over and over again, couched in myriad symbols and semantics.
Most of the authors of the spiritual texts who described the God/Self realization were exultant and bubbling with promises of eternal bliss. Almost nowhere was there acknowledgment of the devastating part of the experience. I did, here and there, come across a poignant admonition that the spiritual path was a voyage into ego-annihilation, and anyone who could should run from it. Yet the irony was clear: the only ones able to understand what was being warned against were those who were already too far into the journey to turn back.
I had repeated episodes of going fully into God/Self consciousness over several years. After the initial shock, it was never again so harrowing. Even so, having this realization so early in life, before I had come across all the hoopla in the religions about it, seemed for a long time like a strange kind of cheat: I was finished before I had in earnestness begun. I knew too much but I didn't know what to do about it except to play dumb and carry on with my mundane life. Although most people seem to think that the God/Self awakening is the culmination of the spiritual journey, Iran Tweedie said that while in other yoga systems, God realization is the ultimate goal, in the Sufi system in which she was being trained, it was "only the beginning... the first step" (from Daughter of Fire). This seemed even more so in my case than hers, for her Kundalini awakened years before she reached this awareness, while my own Kundalini was apparently dormant at the time of my realization. It was certainly was not the end of the journey for me; my life is testimony to that. The Hindus describe the qualities of the God/Self as Sat, Chit, and Ananda, which translate as Being, Awareness and Bliss. The first two fit my experience; the third, bliss, seems too small a word for the quasar-intensity love which I experienced as the Creator's adoration for everything in existence. This Oneness experience differs from the blossoming of the seventh chakra. The spectacular union with the divine which occurs at this seventh center is still an I/Thou relationship, a sense of being rhapsodically united with God. In this awareness, one knows oneself to be of and in God, to be an emanation of everlasting Divine Light. The realization that "God and I are One" at this level is very different from God-realization at the eighth plane.
At the seventh chakra level, as Dr. R.P. Kaushik says, "Your consciousness of your achievement, your height, your status is not gone. This feeling that you are the greatest yogi, or the greatest mystic, or a great personality, does not go" (from The Ultimate Transformation). By contrast, the revelations of the eighth level negate the very concept of there being any levels at all. One is thrust into a position of utter humility by default.
Contrary to myth, individuals who have awakened to their God/Self are not immediately recognizable to others as somehow special or spiritually radiant. Ramana Maharshi spontaneously realized his God/Self when he was a sixteen-year-old schoolboy, but neither his family nor anyone at his school recognized the change in him. It was not until many years later, when he began to teach, that his illumined status was widely acknowledged.
The experiential realization that the singular, seamless, cosmic consciousness (aka "Absolute Mind", "God" or "the Godhead") and one's eternal self are one and the same does not confer permanent omniscience or omnipotence, nor does it guarantee spiritual clarity. Individuals who are mentally ungrounded may blur the spheres of the One and the Many. I know several people who spun into psychosis after this awakening because they couldn't handle the implications. I know a woman who couldn't allow herself to accept that ultimately nothing but consciousness exists, so she twisted it into believing that she was God which everyone else secretly knew. She convinced herself that everyone hated her, since she was solely responsible for all the woes of the world. As harrowing as her egocentric delusion was (she would scream and weep with grief and guilt and horror for weeks on end), it was less painful to her than accepting that at the level where she is God, there is nothing but God... and no "others" to hate her or to love her. That there was no one in existence to love her was the absolute worst, as she had an insatiable need to feel adored by other people. I felt more grief in the discovery that the people and creatures (animals, nature, etc.) I love were all illusions than in finding out that there isn't really an El nor is there anyone else to give a rat's ass about me (not even a rat, ha!).
People imagine that non-duality means perfect bliss, yet my experience of non-duality was a paradoxical fusion
of all opposites: ecstasy/agony, joy/sorrow, existence/nonexistence, form/ formlessness, abundance/desolation...
Non-duality isn't the absence of things we don't like, but the presence of everything on all-levels and no-levels
simultaneously. All One equals alone equals all-one equals alone equals all-one in a never-ending cosmic spiral-loop.
The knowledge of the One God, One Consciousness -- the primordial and eternal Intelligence which is the sustaining force and power of existence -- is enshrined by every major religion. "The records left by those who have known, " wrote Aldous Huxley, "make it abundantly clear that all of them, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Hebrew, Taoist, Christian or Mohammedan, were attempting to describe the same essentially indescribable Fact." (from the Introduction to Song of God: Bhagavad-Gita). The essence of awakening to the God/Self is the same for everyone, as evinced by countless firsthand spiritual accounts which uncannily overlap in their descriptions of this sacred territory. Yet the meaning individuals derive from their awakening is colored by their personal background and ability to understand what they have been shown. While no one can perceive or know the whole picture, we are all vantage points of God/Goddess describing the picture back to Itself. This is why there are widely divergent views between different religions (for example, the chasm between the Buddhist and Judaic conceptions of divinity) and why there are innumerable splinter-sects and schisms within the same traditions. I had no idea at the time of my realization that so many others throughout history had experienced this same awakening. Even if I had known, the last thing I wanted or needed to do after my enlightenment was to proclaim myself any kind of advanced soul. This would have been in contradiction to the realization itself, since it had been made wholly clear to me that at the ultimate level, there was no one in existence but the One, and that even God-asleep-to-God in so many "dream" forms of multiplicity was by divine design. There was no one else for me to attempt to awaken. "On seeing through the illusion of the ego, it is impossible to think of oneself as better than, or superior to, others for having done so," Alan Watts aptly put it. "In every direction there is just the one Self playing its myriad games of hide-and-seek." (from The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are)
The God I experienced had not set up the universe as a labyrinthine game of solitaire, the sole purpose of which was to find the way back to the starting point and win. The game, if one would call it that, is infinite, and both poles are necessary: self as individual and Self as Cosmic Source; world as Self-creation and world as everlasting mystery; yin and yang in eternal embrace. "One has to live in the two extremes; like the snake, up and down, right and left," wrote Jung. "One cannot take the road of life without taking both sides of it because one side alone would lead to a standstill; if one wants to live one must endure the opposites because the way is two-fold." (from The Visions Seminar) My awakening bore more resemblance to the Zen depictions ("Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water") than to the celebrated yogic Self-Realized superhero playing paranormal stuntman blissfully ever after. Supernatural powers were available to me in my God-Realized state, but they held no allure. (I use the term "supernatural powers" with reservation. From the view of the God/Self, neither "supernatural" nor "power" is relevant. Rather, there is unlimited creativity, in which anything imagined is easily and effortlessly produced. At the God/Self level, all manifest existence is demonstration of this creative process and perceived as simultaneously "miraculous" and "nothing special.") Nor was there anything the world offered that drew me back except the possibility of relationship. It was only here, in the sphere of sweet duality, that I could experience communion with other selves. This was not necessarily a failing on my part. "Most yogis who went up to this level came down and rested in the heart center," Kaushik told his students. "Only in that center can you stay in a state of relationship to the rest of the world, as other human beings -- not high, distant, withdrawn from the rest of humanity. Though you have gone to the highest, yet you come down and rest in the heart center." (from The Ultimate Transformation)
I now regard my early enlightenment as a gift of a different order than what it is generally touted to be. It spared me years of searching for the Secret of the Universe. I wasn't driven, as my lust to understand everything would have otherwise compelled me, to follow the yellow brick road in a desperate desire to meet the Wizard (or to torment myself with doubts over the Wizard's existence). For me, that was all gotten out of the way from the start, so I could spend the remainder of my life learning to “rest in the heart center”.
"The spiritual world is one single spirit who stands like unto a light behind the bodily world and who, when any single creature comes into being, shines through it as through a window," said Aziz Nasafi. "According to the kind and size of the window, less or more light enters the world." This single "spirit" is the Self/Source addressed by the Katha Upanishad: "Smaller than the smallest, greater than the greatest, this Self forever dwells within the hearts of all." The same spirit/Self/God is, as Joan Borysenko writes (in The Fire in the Soul), "present in all things, all experiences." Spiritual awakening seems to be a process whereby we each in our own way become aware of our Source/Self while, by evolving through each one of us, God also becomes aware of Itself and learns through its own creations: every one of us. In Borysenko's words, "The Universe knows itself and expands itself through me."
We really hadn't intended to make this a double -- and thus our final -- issue! It honestly came as a surprise to us as the material came together and was obviously too much for a single issue, but too relevant to break into 2 issues. The main thrust of the "All One" article (on page 5) was the only "big" Kundalini subject I felt we'd never adequately addressed in past issues. Several years ago, I'd asked readers about their experiences of the Void, but received so little response I figured it wasn't the right time to tackle that topic.
I've always tried to let myself be led by Spirit in whatever we've published in ST. I carefully planned the issues in advance, but often I'd receive books or a series of letters from readers which addressed some new aspect of Kundalini, so I'd take that as a cue to make that the focus of the next issue and put my other ideas on the shelf. Before putting this issue together, I'd asked Kundalini-ma if she wanted me to publish my God/Self story in more detail. Within days, this very subject was coming at me through magazines, emails, TV programs... I took it as a resounding "Yes!" I remember how hesitant I felt when writing about my bizarre Kundalini experiences in the earliest issues of ST. I knew there were others who were going through similar things, but I didn't know how many of them we would reach with the newsletter. I wondered if any of our first subscribers could remotely relate to my Kundalini experiences, or if they would read my stories and decide I was totally gonzo. For much the same reason, it took me nearly 30 years to begin to tell anyone but a select few friends about my God/Self awakening. I doubted that more than one person in ten thousand could begin to comprehend what I'd experienced, although I knew people devoted to Eastern religions who believed the type awakening I had to be the prime spiritual goal. I had learned long ago that people whose religious doctrine reveres a certain spiritual phenomenon are the ones most likely to take offense at anyone who actually has encountered that phenomenon -- especially if you're not one of their flock. The Christian fundamentalists, for instance, speak reverently of being "born again," but woe to anyone who suggests that the rebirth Jesus spoke of was most likely Kundalini! (And worse yet if in addition you mention that your Kundalini has risen.) When the Christian contemplative, Bernadette Roberts, had a prolonged experience of ego-loss, the very person she imagined would be most receptive to her proved to be the most indignant and intolerant of her situation: a Zen master!
So it is with some trepidation that I've come out of the closet by publishing my God/Void story, knowing that of all the mysteries and marvels of the Spirit, this is one of the hardest to convey and the one most likely to provoke protests from those who haven't experienced it firsthand. On the other hand, the "one in ten thousand" rare souls who have crossed the threshold to enlightenment are likely to be Shared Transformation readers. Throughout the years, we've published much about the mystical/spiritual realms that not many people in the modern world truly understand until they experience for themselves.
So we'll say our good-byes now... Thank you so much, especially everyone who has written to us to express appreciation
for ST and sadness over it's demise. So many beautiful letters of thanks for the newsletters and well-wishes for
my health have poured in. I haven't been able to reply personally to most of them, but we will cherish them all.
We'll probably spend our old age rereading them with a tear in our eye and a smile in our hearts. Oh, mush, lump-in-
throat... hugs and kisses to you all!
© El Collie 1995