There are three stages to awakening. We begin as what we always are which is vast infinite awareness. But in the first stage we are not aware of this. We live our lives through a filter of thoughts. Awareness is aware of everything, including thoughts, but in the first stage we have become so focused on thoughts that we are lost. All we can see, perceive or experience are thoughts. We are not even aware they are thoughts. They just seem like reality to us.
In the second stage, we become aware of our thoughts. We realize that thoughts are not reality and that any suffering we experience comes only from our thoughts. We are able to observe our thoughts and the suffering they create in our life. At this stage we also may have brief glimmers of what is beyond thought, our True, Infinite, Aware Self. These are moments of great freedom, joy, peace and love without any reasons for these experiences other than simply freedom from thought.
Except for these moments of freedom, the second stage is generally not a very pleasant experience, at least in the beginning. As we begin to observe our thoughts and realize the suffering that comes from them, long repressed thoughts also begin to surface. This is necessary and great gift. But it is not pleasant. This is a purging and purifying of the thought-based suffering we are still attached to. As this repressed suffering comes into awareness, we experience it again. If we don’t turn away from it and repress it again, we are able to see the illusion of it and it will release by itself. This is necessary to do in the purifying stage if we want to be free. That is why I say it is a great and necessary gift.
In the third stage, we have done our purifying work and we are free from thoughts. All thoughts are seen clearly as illusions that limit, distort and obscure reality. We can use them but we are no longer used by them. We now act in life through this unlimited, infinite awareness that we are. There is no longer the sense of a limited, separate, personal self. This is also seen as merely a bundle of thoughts. We are not separate from all of life.
The whole process is actually quite simple, although it might not feel that way in stage two. Once you are in stage three, it will all make sense. You are no longer limiting yourself or life through a veil of thoughts. Because we have been conditioned to live our life through thoughts, it can take some time to let go of these attachments. That’s what is happening in stage two.
As we get to stage three in the process, this experience of freedom, unlimited, infinite spaciousness, unconditional love, peace and bliss become our new “normal”
Please don’t understand this as a criticism of thoughts or the experience of a limited, separate, ego self. It is not. These are also a necessary part of the process. Without conditioned thought and the sense of a separate ego self, we would not be able to function in this material plane. So this is very necessary. If we were born awake, we would not be able to function. We needed to learn to see life and ourselves as separate. Most of this basic functioning is learned pretty well by the time we are five or six. There are still some other things we need to learn later. But at some point our learning of limitation and separation is complete. At that point, it is time to wake up to life as it really is. It is often suffering that leads us to do this. The world of the mind, of limitation and separation, is the perfect factory for suffering. And it is this very suffering that prompts us to awaken from it. You will notice how this intensifies in stage two as you begin to become aware of it.
I hope seeing awakening as a very simple process is helpful for you. This may be especially true if you are in stage two. In stage one, it will make no sense at all. You still cannot see your thoughts as something separate from life and what you are. But in stage two you have become aware of your thoughts. There can be a lot of struggle, challenges and confusion in stage two, especially in the beginning. This is often where the “Dark Night of the Soul” appears. This is where transformation occurs. And transformation is often quite challenging. In stage three the transformation has already happened. The butterfly has already emerged from the cocoon. It’s not the end here of course. We still need to learn how to fly with these wings. That’s where the deepening comes in. At this point, we have stopped doing anything as a separate, individual self. We are one with life. The process happens by itself. It always has. But now we know.