AUTHENTIC SPIRITUAL AWAKENING is both a lot more and a lot less than most people think. I insert the word “authentic”, because 99% of the people I hear talking about spiritual awakening are talking about a spiritual experience. Spiritual experiences can be very beautiful, and can even be life changing, but it’s just not the same thing. I say that in candor, without even a hint of dismissiveness, after having experienced both.
LET ME QUICKLY STEP IN and say that there is a slight paradox here when I say that “I” have had spiritual awakening. This is because the actual beholding in a spiritual awakening is that there is no separate “I” to have or not have an awakening. It’s all illusion. The personal ego, the body-we-think-we-are, does not wake up. God does. She beholds Herself. She sees the cosmic joke She has played on Herself by pretending to be an individual so that she can experience Herself as form. Elsewhere on this blog, there is a whole essay about what enlightenment is and is not, entitled, “What is enlightenment, anyway?” that explores this in greater detail. There's an easy link to it in the box in the right-hand column titled, "Digging in the Archives". For now let’s move on.
I INITIALLY WOKE UP in September of 2006. And, unbelievably, I was unaware that Betsy was awake with me and before me until at least 2008. I suspect it was even later than that. My ignorance is now nothing short of embarrassing. But it’s because she really had no words to describe her experience. Everyone in the world could see she carried a light within her, but that can be quite different from being consciously awake. I think now, after many long talks in the night, that she has been in apparently fluctuating awakeness since she was a small child, possibly since birth. I’ve heard one of my teachers, Adyashanti, discuss such things; I can’t really know. Plainly said, Betsy had never been a spiritual seeker. Why be a Seeker when you're already a Finder?
THE INSIDE JOKE HERE is that I have always been the one considered to be the family mystic. Betsy didn’t read spiritual books. I’ve read hundreds, on Buddhism, Taoism, different branches of Hinduism, a little on or by the Western, Christian mystics, even a bit of Sufism. When I was in jail I read the Christian Bible. Betsy, however, always reads popular history, biographies, and tons and tons of books on animals: cats, dogs, horses, birds or other beasts, it doesn't matter, so long as an animal was the star. I’ve seen her cry over those books. She glows like a light bulb when she finds an especially good one.
BETSY NEVER TOURED the boundaries of the Internet in search of Truth. I did, for years. I still do study there, and teach there as well, via this blog, and also live with my teacher, Scott Kiloby, in online video meetings with groups of ten to twenty people. Betsy, however, is more likely to be found perusing The Huffington Post for what the stars wore to the Oscars. Most spiritual teaching, including most of my own, gives her a headache. She just doesn’t care for it. Until she does. At those uncommon times she’ll press me for answers and explanations, but once satisfied, she drops the subject like a bag of dirt. She's done with it until once again, when a Blue Moon is shining, and she's not.
WE HAVE A BOOKCASE in our living room that also serves as sort of a pseudo-altar. There’s a nice Buddha statue on top, a lot of books, an incense bowl, flowers, all the standard mystical fare. All of that stuff is “mine”. Betsy long talked about putting animal pictures or something on it, which drove me nuts. Then someone gave us a pretty little plaque of a bird, probably a raven. I hammered a small nail into the back of the bookcase and hung the plaque above the top row of books, giving it a place of significance. And that was enough. She loved it. I never heard another word about adding pictures of animals to my “Eastern” altar. Yesterday, in honor of this article, I went and placed a little round, black, Asian coin box, I guess you could call it, on the second shelf. Inside I put a dime-sized fossil of some primitive sea being and a shark’s tooth, in honor of my wife. It’s very much a Boo Radley type of thing, as in To Kill a Mockingbird. Betsy loves that story, and especially that character. I think she identifies with the shuttered Boo.
BETSY HAS BEEN A LONER all of her life. Ours is the only long-term love affair she’s ever had. She had a lot of boyfriends, but they came and went with the seasons. She has a lifetime friend or two, but they tell stories of Betsy staying in her room as a child and as a teen, alone and reading. Betsy sometimes tells the story of when she was a small child, and her dad built her a sandbox. A number of neighborhood children came to play in it, so it got a bit crowded. Betsy ended up outside of the sandbox playing in the dirt by herself. I know of no story that nails Betsy’s love of privacy and seclusion any better than that one.
WHILE WE ARE ON HISTORY let me say that once Betsy and I found each other, we knew early on that this was it. I originally passed her a note in a recovery meeting, written on the back of someone's business card, that said, "Are you in some kind of a 'relationship thing'? She wrote back, "Mostly with my job and my dogs..." It was classic Betsy: all worker bee, and all animal lover.
I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I WROTE, because that note, written over ten years ago, is three feet from me right now in a black frame. I collected memorabilia about places we went, photos of our animal friends, and other little treasures and put them in a frame. It started with the note, and it ends with a picture of us cutting our wedding cake in 2008. I can clearly remember telling Betsy back in 2001, when we got together, "Actually I'm kind of a magician, and I'm creating history in advance. The only reason for me to save that first note, and all the other little things here, and put them in a frame, would be if we were going to stay together for a long, long time, and would then have this to look back on in loving nostalgia." Such was my foolish and circuitous logic. But you'd have a hard time convincing me that it didn't work.
JUST BECAUSE A PERSON WAKES UP to Reality doesn’t mean they necessarily lose their self-centeredness right away. A few do, but for most it takes much longer. For me it’s a work in progress. It was this lingering self-absorption, and Betsy’s lack of the standard seeker baggage—what we think of as “spiritual” knowledge and “spiritual” vocabulary—that kept me from seeing the obvious: That in some unknown measure, my wife came to be “enlightened” long before her husband did. By the way, don’t misunderstand Betsy’s innocence for some lack of intelligence. As an adult student, Betsy was Phi Beta Kappa at the University of South Carolina—while being drunk the whole time. It’s a little unusual. She’s been sober fourteen years now. I’ve been tagging along for the last eleven. This is a lot more fun.
MY OWN AWAKENESS FLUCTUATED for about four years, with the time spent consciously awake growing as the years passed. Somewhere along the way I began to suspect that Betsy was genuinely, consciously awake. I say “consciously”, because from the awakened state it is seen absolutely clearly that everyone and everything is “awake”. Everything and everyone is seen to be One. Simultaneously, it is seen that almost everyone is pretending to be asleep. It’s a complex and wonderful game that God plays with Herself. There is no such thing as “why”, when one is seeing from a state of Truth. It just is. But if any individual, including you or me or Betsy, thinks they are awake, they aren't. Paradoxes abound in Truth.
AT ANY RATE, somewhere along the way, as my own awakeness stabilized, I began be puzzled by things Betsy said. She was talking about things as they are seen from the awakened state. She just dropped them in conversation, casually, not meaning to impress me, but just to illustrate her point of view. This business of a point of view is critical, because that’s really the theoretical dividing line between being awake and being asleep. It’s not what is seen, but how it is seen.
I HAVE HAD A COUPLE of completely non-Eastern-exposed, blue-collar, good ole South Carolinian men wake up while talking to me. I was as surprised as they were. This just goes to prove that none of what typical spiritual seekers (like I was) do to wake up is actually required to wake up unless they think it is. Then it’s absolutely required until it isn’t. Once a person drops their beliefs, opinions and positions (which I call BOPs) for What Is, all is seen very clearly and can be expressed reasonably clearly without benefit of any previous spiritual context or vocabulary. Mind you, all of that is mightily helpful, especially if you’re going to teach, but it’s not necessary. Awakeness can function through any body anytime it wants to, it just generally doesn't choose to, because too much of that would spoil the game, and kill the delightful spice of the "spiritual journey".
THIS INNOCENT WAY, what might be said to be the most natural Way, was the Way that chose Betsy.
To be continued…
Let me welcome Hong Kong and Thailand to the Awakening Clarity family. They join 32 other countries that are already helping to awaken Clarity.
The Nondual Diary: A Nature Mystic's Path, Part I, in it's first 24 hours on the Internet has proved to be far and away the most popular piece I've ever posted. Once again, I am witnessing Betsy's magnetism in action. Who knew?