For many years, I’ve been a student of spiritual literature. Some of my favorite writings are from or about people who have had what can be described as “spiritual awakenings”, where the metaphorical light of consciousness came fully on and they discovered there was no-one there. While the awakening experiences themselves are often fascinating, I’m equally fascinated by how life changes after.
For some, nothing much seems to change, although everything may well be different:
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
But for others, not only is everything different on the inside, life changes on the outside as well. Here’s how my friend Anita Moorjani metaphorically describes life before and after her NDE (Near-Death Experieince):
Imagine, if you will, a huge, dark warehouse. You live there with only one flashlight to see by. Everything you know about what’s contained within this enormous space is what you’ve seen by the beam of one small flashlight. Whenever you want to look for something, you may or may not find it, but that doesn’t mean the thing doesn’t exist. It’s there, but you just haven’t shone your light on it. And even when you do, the object you see may be difficult to make out. You may get a fairly clear idea of it, but often you’re left wondering. You can only see what your light is focused on, and only identify that which you already know.
That is what physical life is like. We’re only aware of what we focus our senses on at any given time, and we can only understand what is already familiar.
Next, imagine that one day, someone flicks on a switch. There for the first time, in a sudden burst of brilliance and sound and color, you can see the entire warehouse, and it’s nothing like anything you’d ever imagined. Lights are blinking, flashing, glowing, and shooting sparks of red, yellow, blue, and green. You see colors you don’t recognize, ones you’ve never seen before. Music floods the room with fantastic, kaleidoscopic, surround-sound melodies you’ve never heard before.
Neon signs pulse and boogie in rainbow strobes of cherry, lemon, vermillion, grape, lavender, and gold. Electric toys run on tracks up, down, and around shelves stacked with indescribable colored boxes, packages, papers, pencils, paints, inks, cans of food, packages of multihued candies, bottles of effervescent sodas, chocolates of every possible variety, champagne, and wines from every corner of the world. Skyrockets suddenly explode in starbursts, setting off sparkling flowers, cascades of cold fire, whistling embers, and animations of light.
The vastness, complexity, depth, and breadth of everything going on around you is almost overwhelming. You can’t see all the way to the end of the space, and you know there’s more to it than what you can take in from this torrent that’s tantalizing your senses and emotions. But you do get a strong feeling that you’re actually part of something alive, infinite, and altogether fantastic, that you are part of a large and unfolding tapestry that goes beyond sight and sound.
You understand that what you used to think was your reality was, in fact, hardly a speck within the vast wonder that surrounds you. You can see how all the various parts are interrelated, how they all play off each other, how everything fits. You notice just how many different things there are in the warehouse that you’d never seen, never even dreamed of existing in such splendor and glory of color, sound, and texture—but here they are, along with everything you already knew. And even the objects you were aware of have an entirely new context so that they, too, seem completely new and strangely superreal.
Even when the switch goes back off, nothing can take away your understanding and clarity, the wonder and beauty, or the fabulous aliveness of the experience. Nothing can ever cancel your knowledge of all that exists in the warehouse. You’re now far more aware of what’s there, how to access it, and what’s possible than you ever were with your little flashlight. And you’re left with a sense of awe over everything you experienced in those blindingly lucid moments. Life has taken on a different meaning, and your new experiences moving forward are created from this awareness.
While most of us have neither died nor become enlightened, we all have the same capacity for awakening inside us. We are all made of the same stuff as the universe itself. And each time we take a breath and go inside to the infinite spaciousness of our one true nature, we catch a glimmer of the warehouse beyond the narrow beam of the personal flashlight of our conscious attention.
While we may never get to experience the lights coming fully on, taking a closer look at the space within brings its own reward. By seeing what is always present but rarely noticed, our life changes for the better, one tiny glimpse at a time.
With all my love,