Enlightenment as a Skill — Part III: On Uniting the Personal and Impersonal
Many nondual spiritual teachers says that one must drop the ego for one to awaken. I can understand this, and when I woke up, I believed it because that was what it felt like. Like I had dropped my ego.
But knowing what I know now, I realize that this is a backward understanding. You don’t try to drop the ego. Upon awakening, your ego (me-me-me) automatically dissolves into the impersonal. It does this all on its own. When you watch a good movie, you don’t try to drop your ego. You sit down, “dissolve” into the movie and your ego vanishes.
With awakening — when the personal and the impersonal merge — you experience the ego as “other.” Just like you don’t take the movie seriously, you stop taking me-me-me thoughts seriously. It feels like the ego drops away because me-me-me thoughts no longer feel personal. An ego without a person behind it doesn’t feel like an ego at all. Poof! The ego vanishes.
You will still have me-me-me thoughts (see the Self Aspect), but you will stop taking them so personally.
Why, after over 30 years of spiritual seeking, did a simple mediation contest with a cold-blooded amphibian wake me up? What was different about this meditation session than the thousands I had done before?
The difference was that I took the meditation session personally. I challenged the frog to a contest which I was certain to win… and I lost.
Notice what happened. I had been sitting for two hours and my thoughts were driving me crazy. At that point, I had given up looking at the fields or the brook or Mt. Hood. My entire focus was on that damn frog. He wouldn’t move! Please move! Please, please, please, please, I’m so tired of sitting here! These thoughts are driving me crazy! Please move, Mr. Frog, please, I’m begging you! I can’t take this anymore.
When he wouldn’t move, I went back to pushing away thoughts. Then pleading with the frog to move. Then pushing away thoughts. Then frog. Then thoughts. Then frog. Then thoughts…. Personal. Impersonal. Personal. Impersonal. Over and over. Faster and Faster.
My interior world was active — very active. Me, me, me. I’m going crazy! These thoughts won’t shut up! Argh!
At the same time my perception of the exterior world was also very active: Mr. Frog, you’ve got to move. Please move! Hop! Get the hell off that rock so I can leave!
The interior world (me-me-me) and the exterior world (my Frog Master) were active at the same time. The personal (me-me-me) and the impersonal (my Frog Master) were united.
Some Example Awakenings
Uniting the personal with the impersonal and “activating” enlightenment is not without precedent.
Just prior to his awakening, Ramana Maharshi visualized his own death. Contemplating his demise, “I am dying,” activated the personal part of his brain. At the same time, he visualized his deceased body being cremated. He saw his body as other, which activated the impersonal part.
Eckhart Tolle hated himself so much (personal activated) that he was contemplating suicide. While hating himself, he realized that what he hated was his ego story. He saw his ego story as other (impersonal activated). “If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me — the I and the self that I cannot live with.”
Byron Katie was depressed, angry, and suicidal. Living in a halfway house, she woke up one morning to a cockroach crawling across her ankle. Suicidal, depressed, angry… personal. Cockroach… impersonal.
This is not to say that traditional meditation practices don’t work. They are just not as focused on the issue. They tend to be more focused on the result (unified awareness) rather than the cause (unifying separate networks in the brain).
Adyashanti’s initial awakening at 25 is a good example of traditional practices (Zen) leading to the activation of both parts of the brain. One day his intense meditation practices released powerful energy waves through his body (kundalini). Zen activated the kundalini, but it was Adyashanti’s interpretation of the experience which activated the personal and impersonal:
The whole body was completely out of control and again these internal energies and lights and just this incredible happening that intensified to the point that I was quite certain, absolutely sure that I wouldn’t survive it, because I knew what the body could take, and it couldn’t take this very long. At that moment, I knew I was going to die.
“I knew I was going to die.” Personal. Seeing the body as other (“The whole body was completely out of control”). Impersonal. Both parts of the brain active simultaneously.
The personal and impersonal unite. It doesn’t matter what led up to it (a cockroach, years of Zen training, suicidal thoughts, a frog, …). What matters is getting the two parts of the brain to talk to each other. What matters is getting them to unite.