By now, most of us have heard about the tremendous benefits of meditation for nearly every area of our lives.
Thanks to extensive research over the past few decades, the overwhelming scientific consensus seems to be that meditation is good for you.
But saying meditation is good for you is a bit like saying exercise is good for you.
Just as there are literally hundreds if not thousands of different forms of exercise, there are also hundreds if not thousands of different types of meditation.
And, as with physical exercise, different types of meditation are designed to achieve very different goals.
Various forms of meditation are being taught as a means of reducing stress, improving mental concentration and focus, enhancing athletic performance, boosting creativity, improving decision-making as well as generating relaxation, emotional well-being and a host of other physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual benefits.
But it wasn’t always this way. Amidst today’s enthusiasm for the diverse tangible, measurable benefits of meditation, it’s important to remember that meditation was originally practiced and taught with one goal in mind: spiritual awakening.
So, if we want to understand the true higher potentials of meditation, we need to first understand what spiritual awakening really is.
What is Spiritual Awakening?
Like meditation, the idea of spiritual awakening or enlightenment is used these days by different people to refer to many different types of insights and experiences.
So, before we even begin to approach the nature of spiritual awakening, it’s important to recognize that there are countless different kinds of religious or spiritual experiences human beings can have.
We can experience powerful spiritual feelings like bliss or ecstasy that overwhelm our system.
We can have experiences of oneness, where we feel like we merge with all of reality and lose the ability to distinguish between ourselves and the world around us.
We can suddenly perceive the profound interconnectedness of everything and realize we’re part of what Buddhism calls “Indra’s web.”
Some of us have had spiritual experiences where we were overcome with awe and a reverence for the sacred.
Or perhaps you’ve had an encounter with another person where you felt a deep soul connection—a kind of spiritual nakedness. In these moments, we feel our consciousness becoming one.
We can have experiences of divine love where we realize that we are loved by God or that our true nature is love. We discover that love is always here, ever-present and flowing through us. We just didn’t see it.
We can have spiritual experiences of intense clarity, where everything becomes lucid and unimaginably clear.
It’s also common for meditators to have experiences of intense energy, sometimes referred to as Kundalini. It can feel as if you are plugged into a wall socket with thousands of volts of electricity surging through your body.
On the other end of the spectrum, we can have spiritual experiences of a kind of expansiveness and openness where all the boundaries dissolve and there’s just this awareness of infinite space.
And we can have hundreds, if not thousands, of other kinds of spiritual experiences. And these are all wonderful experiences to have. They’re often transformational. They often give us powerful motivation to pursue the spiritual path.
But the distinction I want to make here is that awakening itself is not any of those experiences. It’s not a state of consciousness, but something more permanent and profound than that.
When I speak about awakened consciousness or enlightenment, I’m pointing to something very specific. It’s a very particular kind of realization. It’s been described as the discovery of our true nature or the recognition of our natural state. It’s the recognition that who we are is not this limited, separate self or any of the thoughts and feelings that we previously identified as ourself or took to be our self.
Spiritual awakening occurs when we realize that who we are at the deepest level is something much bigger and more profound than who we thought we were. We see that our true nature is this kind of superconsciousness, intelligence, love, being, and presence that is at the foundation of reality itself.
This essence is already free and whole and perfect. Who we truly are is this sacred dimension of reality that is beyond comprehension. It’s missing nothing, lacking nothing, and so full that it endlessly overflows with goodness, love, wisdom, power, clarity, humility, strength, courage, and care.
The kind of spiritual awakening I’m talking about is not just the realization that God exists. It’s the realization that that is what we are. The thing we were always seeking and putting outside ourselves is actually our true nature. It’s what’s looking out through our eyes and always has been.
It shatters every conscious or unconscious belief we’ve had in our own limitation. It destroys every sense of lack, of not being enough, of feeling there is somewhere else we need to get to. We realize that the whole thing is already here. I already am that.
I want to make it clear that the awakening I’m pointing to is not a special experience or an altered state of consciousness. It sounds pretty altered, and it does lead to a lot of altered states of consciousness. But the realization itself isn’t any of those experiences.
The reason awakening catalyzes so many powerful experiences is that the realization of our true nature unleashes profound energies and emotions in our psyche. We are living, breathing human beings after all, and when we wake up, we’re often overcome with the experience of the realization.
But awakening, in and of itself, is not a feeling or a particular kind of mental state. In fact, it’s the recognition that every feeling, every mental state, every experience—regardless of how spiritual it seems—has this same essence.
The life-changing realization that the mystics of the ages have been pointing to is the realization that the essence of everything is sacred beyond measure and glorious beyond comprehension. When you discover it, it will bring you to your knees.
It’s called a “nondual realization” because we recognize that the same sacredness and holiness that we associate with our most beautiful experiences is actually the essence of everything else too, even though it’s harder to see. When you look at a beautiful sunset, it’s easy to feel a sense of majesty. But when most of us look at a garbage dump, it’s not quite as easy to feel that way. In spiritual awakening, we realize that all of reality is actually made of this “God-stuff,” or “Buddha-stuff.” We just didn’t see what it was before.
Awakening doesn’t mean that we’re going to some other reality or some other dimension. It’s a realization of what this dimension really is. We just couldn’t see it, and now we do. And that changes everything.
The implications of awakening are immense. Although it often initially occurs in fits and starts, when we’re finally able to deeply embrace who and what we really are, we become a living expression of this miraculous dimension of being. Our cosmic essence, our super nature, is now free to express itself in this world because we’ve made room for it, embraced it, and allowed it to come forth.
That’s the power of awakening and it’s the ultimate promise of the practice of meditation. When we approach meditation as a spiritual practice, we are making a practice out of inviting this profound consciousness to reveal itself within us. We are practicing opening ourselves up to allow awakening to occur.