Enlightenment versus Awakening

Olivia Wood fire image

I am not enlightened.

I feel I have to clear this up as a couple of people who follow me on Facebook have accused me recently of claiming that I am. I don’t believe I have ever, in the written word or in speech, declared that I am enlightened. However, I take on board people’s feedback, especially when it triggers me, which this did, both times. I am looking into this reflection and would like to share some of my thoughts here.

What I assume is that, for more than one person to make this accusation, I must be giving off the impression that I think I’ve reached a higher state of consciousness than others. Because of this these people (and perhaps others) think that I see myself as above them, a ‘know-it-all’, and/or a preacher. This triggers them because the ego does not like being told what to do or that someone knows better than it. This triggers me because I can see an element of truth in it all. I do think I’ve reached a higher state of consciousness than some people and there is part of my ego that wants to be above others, to preach, and to know it all. There is a part of me that thinks that this is OK, and another part that thinks it’s not. So I am taking this critique on board and looking into it.

Let’s start with differentiating between enlightenment and awakening. I am not going to refer to Google, Wikipedia or any books to make this point. I’m going to rely on my mind’s interpretation of the experiences I have had in my own life, and the knowledge I’ve gathered along my path from teachers and guides who I trust.

Enlightenment, as I understand it, is a state of being / a state of consciousness / a resonance / a frequency, which any soul residing in a human flesh suit can align with, as we are all simply energy. It is the highest (or should I say, purest?) state / frequency one can be in. I believe that there have been many saints and sages over the ages that reached and maintained, for at least part of their lifetimes, this very high vibrational state of being, such as Mary Magdalene, Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Guatama Buddha, to name some of the most well-known ones. Though, based on my own life experience, I question whether it is actually possible to function effectively in the third dimensional realm and be in this state all of the time. Perhaps that is just my limited perception.

The qualities of the enlightened state of being, as I understand it, are unwavering focused presence, acceptance and compassion in every moment. This state of consciousness is beyond the egoic mind (which serves to keep us safe in the 3D), therefore does not fall into patterns of desire or aversion in regards to the physical, mental or emotional worlds. It is not attached to the past or concerned with the future. It is the bigger ‘I’ consciousness that accepts all as it is, without needing to change it. Because of this acceptance and compassion for all that is, it feels blissful to be in this state, as there is nothing to do but observe, and act only when needed. Action feels effortless from this state as there is no attachment to outcomes (‘succeeding’ or ‘failing’). From this place of awareness there is no good or bad. There is no judgement to be made. All is just as it is. All is perfect as it is. Emotions and thoughts may come and go like ripples in otherwise calm waters. Often the mind is empty. There are no huge elative highs or despairing lows. It’s a state of harmony and perfect equanimity. In energetic terms it is the perfect alignment and functioning of all energetic centres (chakras) from root to crown.

So, just to reiterate, I am not enlightened. I am not in a state of perfect equanimity all the time. I am not without likes and dislikes. I am not without judgements, opinions and preferences. I am not free from the highs and lows of life.

I have however experienced this state, relatively briefly, at various times in my life, as I’d like to believe most people have. I’ve experienced it through deeply connected sexual union. I’ve experienced it through dance and yoga. I’ve experienced it through plant medicine and psychedelic drugs. I’ve experienced it during deep meditation. In these moments of pure bliss (presence, acceptance and compassion for all that is) I felt what is often described as ‘oneness’. There is no separation between me and the world around me. It is clear that all is interconnected and interdependent—a dance of energy, ever-changing and omnipresent. Life feels peacefully and beautifully perfect as it is. I want for nothing. Nothing to change. Nothing to do. Just presence.

These instances are generally fleeting—sometimes lasting only a few seconds, or minutes, if I am lucky. The most prolonged experience I’ve had of ‘enlightenment’ was in 2014 during my already well documented initial kundalini awakening. When that happened I stayed in a state of bliss for eight days, and it took months for the effects to slowly ‘wear off’ and for me to come back into my ‘normal’ denser energetic and physical body.

I empathise that it is triggering for some people to read about my brief experience of enlightenment. I imagine it can induce envy, which is then masked as condemnation, or dismissal. I can really understand why. When you are not in that state—when you are in quite the opposite state (anger, fear, hatred, judgement, etc.)—it feels awful when someone tells you that there is a better place to reside in. I know this feeling. It feels like you’re being told you’re doing something wrong or that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you for not feeling good. When you have no idea how to ‘get there’ or what it might feel like to ‘be there’ it might also feel like enlightenment is an unattainable fantasy. It might feel like I’m making it up. So the response of the ego is to dismiss my experience as delusional.

I imagine that people who have followed me for the last seven years online during my journey of awakening (I’ll define that shortly), might have been triggered often by my posts on social media. After my initial kundalini rising experience I was so high on life I was practically shitting rainbows. To be honest I cringe when I look back at some of my past sharings, although they were authentic for me in the moment. I cringe because I see now, in hindsight, that I knew so little about real healing then. I knew so little about myself then. There were many areas of my life which were less-than-perfect, which I kept subconsciously hidden in the shadows. I wasn’t yet ready or willing to explore the depths of my pain and see myself clearly, the good, the bad and the ugly. And I was using social media as a platform to project my idea of the perfect life, with little compassion and understanding of where the people seeing my posts were at in their journeys. I was at times addicted to social media, my ego nourished by the comments, likes and love hearts I received when sharing my adventures. I was living in an illusion that due to my first ‘waking up’ experience I was now ready to be a shining light to the world on how to live as happily as me.

It was an illusion alright. If you’ve read my more recent writings on this blog you’ll know that in the past year I have been taken right down into those shadows to face head on the murkiness that was always lurking there. This process is ongoing. I now have a better perspective on what awakening truly means, which I’ll try to explain now.

For me, my initial awakening was an abrupt and forceful assault on my being. As kundalini energy exploded and snaked up my spine it was like I was being showered in Divine light from the inside, expanding out. My consciousness and my perceptions of reality were immediately and forever changed. I went from being an atheist with no direct conceptual experience of the non-physical world, to seeing spirits, auras, gods and other dimensions (while sober). For other people, I know the process can happen differently. The light can enter from the crown or the heart rather than the root. It can also be more gentle and gradual. I’ve heard many different stories of ‘aha’ moments, supernatural encounters and life-changing epiphanies that have changed the course of an individual’s life.

Essentially, to awaken is to become more awake / aware / conscious. Of course everyone on the planet with a pulse is awake to some degree or another, otherwise they’d be dead. But to ‘wake up’ is to start to experience reality, inside and out, in a whole new way. It is characterised by a substantial expansion of awareness. The most common theme that I have noticed amongst people who are on this journey is that when you start to awaken you start to question everything. Once you see your reality in a profoundly new way, it’s like you look back at your previous years of existence as if you were a character in a movie. It doesn’t seem real. It’s like waking up from a very real feeling dream and becoming aware that you were dreaming all along.

Waking up usually happens by virtue of a shocking event, or at least a significant break in one’s normal patterns and routine. It can happen through the use of psychedelic drugs and spiritual practice. (Both of these aided in catalysing mine.) It may happen following a dark night of the soul—a period of deep inward reflection and disillusionment with the world. Usually there is pain involved—a ‘breakdown’ before the ‘breakthrough’.

What I now know is that awakening is an ongoing journey. It also happens in stages. There is the initial ‘shitting rainbows’ phase, which I mentioned above, where everything feels like magic, your heart is bursting with love and you want to share your new state of being with everyone and anyone who will listen. The next stage is more tricky. Now you’ve been shown the beauty of the light, the universe is ready to show you the darkness. For me, and I think it’s a commonality for those on this path, the darkness I first encountered was in my outer world. I started to wake up to the corruption, manipulation and lies that keep the ‘matrix’ system intact. I began to see clearly that the structures that govern the world and the people at the top running them do more harm than good to humanity as a species, the animal kingdom and the earth’s natural ecosystems.

I’d never really trusted religious institutions, governments, doctors and other authority figures before but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Now the pieces of the puzzle started to become clearer. I started to connect the dots, follow the money, and without really trying, was presented with tangible and logical explanations for why the world is such a divided, unjust and unequal place to live. For thinking in this unconventional way I’ve often been labelled a conspiracy theorist. I don’t mind this really, as I am a conspiracy theorist. I don’t believe just anything I’m told but I have a very open mind. I naturally enquire into all perspectives before landing at a firm viewpoint. It’s not hard for me to believe, especially since my awakening, that things are not as we have been taught to believe. I do resent though that the meaning of the term ‘conspiracy theorist’ has been twisted to hold a negative frequency and is used as a throwaway insult to anyone who questions the status quo. In my mind it is synonymous with ‘truthseeker’.

It’s the darkness phase of awakening which I believe takes the lives of many souls too young. It feels like you are ‘losing your mind’ (because you are in a sense ; your consciousness is being blown apart). I couldn’t talk to anyone about my awakening at first because I feared I’d be called ‘mad’ and even locked in a mental institution for expressing the way I now saw the world. It takes time to integrate a big shift in awareness and if support is not available it can be dangerous, even fatal. It’s for this reason that wise teachers of kundalini yoga now and in the past exercise caution when sharing practices for rising this energy from within us. Once you wake up you cannot go back to sleep.

Sometimes I want to, believe me, especially now that I am in the next phase of awakening— shadow work (facing the darkness within). My ego longs sometimes to be able to just ‘Netflix and chill’—to switch off and go back to ignorance. But I can’t. I’m embodied and awake now and there’s no going back. It is really challenging to become increasingly aware of my own psyche and all the ways in which I hide from the truth, deceive myself and others, procrastinate, manipulate and control. Every day I see more and more things that I don’t like about myself and the world, and my task is to love and accept every one of them. Now I understand : this is true healing.

One of the challenges I am faced with right now is how to be of greater service to the world. I want to be. And yet so much of my time is taken up right now by the inner work. I feel in a very self-reflective place. I don’t have much energy to give to others. I’m finally learning how to take care of myself. Shadow work is exhausting and empowering in equal measure. Though my ego tells me that I should be doing more and going faster, there is a deeper knowing that I am doing all I can and going at the pace that’s right for me. I trust that this work is what is needed for me to find more compassion and acceptance for myself and others, so that I can be of service in this life in whichever way I’m called.

Another challenge I’m facing now is about expressing myself authentically and with grace. I am studying non-violent communication as I recognise how important it is to relate compassionately and non-aggressively with others. I know I don’t always get it right. My ego gets triggered. I react. When I feel really passionate about a topic the language that comes forth from that vibration can certainly be seen as ‘preachy’. I am aware of this and am trying to find other ways to get my point across without a ‘holier-than-though’ vibe.

On the other hand, I do not want to suppress my passion and my truth. I am a good teacher. I am a good writer. I am a wise woman. I have a lot to share. There is a leader within me wanting to be born.

For many years I repressed my voice. I talked about this in a recent post—about how I played the people pleaser. Using another analogy, I was ‘the camel’. The camel says yes to everything and everyone. It constantly nods its head to be in agreement with others and keep the peace. It is afraid of saying no because that would equal rejection and potential death. The opposite of the camel is the lion. The lion says no to everything and everyone in order to maintain its sovereignty and power. I am learning to say no (which also means to speak words that not everyone wants to hear). I am finding the lion within me. The lion’s roar is bound to upset some people. The people pleaser / camel within me are terrified of this emerging aspect of my being. And yet I feel the roar coming forth despite my fear. It can no longer be contained. I have words to speak that not everyone wants to hear. And while that’s scary for parts of me, and parts of others’ too, I cannot feel whole without allowing them to be expressed.

The ‘middle way’ between the camel and the lion is the magical child. The magical child is the pure essence of the unwounded, unbiased, unconditioned psyche which we are born with. The magical child says yes when she/he feels like it and no when he/she feels like it, without worrying about rejection and potential death. Reconnecting with my own magical child is a big part of my healing journey right now. I also have work to do with my wounded child. My wounded child is terrified of rejection. She is also fed up of being the camel.

To answer my own question about how I can serve more—one way that I am already doing that is by sharing my truth. I am doing my best to be authentic in person and online, after many years of not. I am removing the filters and being raw.

Another way in which I am serving the whole, though it may not look like it, is by doing this inner work. I am daily cultivating the bigger ‘I’ consciousness through meditation, yoga, and being present with myself, whatever feelings and emotions arise. I am practising authentic relating with the people I am living with, sitting in circles and sharing everything that is going on inside (and holding space for others to do the same). I’m looking at my thoughts, words and actions with a critical eye. I am willing to change and to grow. I appreciate that I have a lot to learn and my soul is up for the challenge, despite my ego’s protests.

So, no, I am not enlightened, nor is it my goal to attain enlightenment. I am not pretending that I am ‘there’ yet (if there really is a ‘there’). My goal is not to get rid of my ego, as we need the ego in this life. My goal is more awareness, more compassion, and more acceptance. My goal is freedom of expression and letting go of fear, shame, blame and guilt. My goal is balance and integration of all the different parts of me.

I am simply growing up and waking up. And I feel a call to inspire others to do the same.





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