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This page is where I blog some of my contemplations about spirituality and other stuff I feel like sharing.
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Posted December 26, 2016
The question of shaktipat is often raised in spiritual conversations, and as someone who actually possesses this ability, I feel particularly qualified to comment on this subject. There's also a lot of misunderstanding about shaktipat including disbelief in it, so I'd like to try to bring some clarity and validity to this method, as well.
First of all, there are very few true masters of shaktipat. This is a skill that only highly advanced adepts should even attempt to cultivate. There are always alleged gurus claiming to possess this ability, but my best guess is that in most cases the person making the claim is either a faker or unfit to perform shaktipat and guide spiritual seekers properly. Still, this doesn’t mean that grounded and competent shaktipat gurus don’t exist. It just means that they are extremely rare, so anyone claiming to be one is something to be skeptical about.
What is shaktipat exactly? It may seem like an obvious question with an obvious answer to some people, but the truth is that the commonly accepted definition doesn't provide a complete picture. Let me break it down.
Shaktipat is usually defined as a transfer of spiritual energy from an enlightened guide or guru in order to awaken kundalini in the person receiving it. And, in many cases, that is exactly what happens. But not always. Rising kundalini usually occurs when the guru transmits a little of his or her own shakti into the person's root chakra in order to stir it up so it rises through the sushumna, the central channel through which kundalini ascends. However, kundalini awakening is not the sole purpose nor the only outcome of shaktipat.
The actual effects of shaktipat vary depending on a number of factors, including – most importantly – the actual intent of the guru. For example, I usually work by opening the crown chakra in order to fill the aura of the receiver with as much spiritual light as possible. But this isn't the only approach I use. In actual practice, this method of conferring spiritual awakening can be applied a number of different ways, depending on who the person is and what they can handle.
In the broadest sense, shaktipat is actually the transmission of enlightening energies and states of being into the consciousness of the receiver. Exactly what gets transmitted depends on where the receiver is at on their journey, as well as what the guru is capable of accessing and then transmitting to whoever the other person is. Hopefully, you're getting a sense of how mercurial this method is and why a sophisticated level of inner development and spiritual attainment is so important.
Another important point to understand is that some people receive shaktipat easily, while others never receive it – usually because they are blocked for some reason. As a general rule, people who are open and unassuming receive shaktipat most easily, while people who are overly intellectual tend to have the most difficulty, although prior experience with reiki can sometimes make blocked individuals more receptive to shaktipat.
As far as this method and its effects being real, it is not that difficult to believe in. After a person awakens, it is not uncommon for them to embody certain qualities that others around them can sense. Peace, love, joy, and equanimity are some of the most common qualities, but there are many others. This happens because we naturally transmit whatever qualities or states of being are present in us. In short, we all get vibes from each other.
In the case of shaktipat, a transmitter is someone who is spiritually advanced enough to know how to energetically amplify the most liberating qualities of our true nature for the benefit of others.
What’s more, depending on one’s ability and level of spiritual attainment, it is possible to tap into all sorts of enlightening energies and transmit them, too. This can include all the known and best qualities of our true nature, plus all kinds of other cosmic and divine energies from the higher dimensions of reality.
As human beings, we are all energetically sensitive to one degree or another. The energies that all genuine realizers naturally transmit can be beneficial for helping others awaken spiritually. On this point, all the traditions agree. Shaktipat supercharges this naturally occurring activity by deliberately plugging into the deepest and widest dimensions of our true nature, as well as the highest and holiest energies of our divine nature. Few opportunities in life are more valuable for our spiritual awakening than this kind of energy transmission. Once again, on this point, all the traditions agree.
Before concluding, I'd like to summarize what can be reasonably expected and what is actually possible from receiving shaktipat. As I said before, the effects can vary from one individual to the next. But as a general rule, there is usually a felt wave of energy that may or may not be accompained by an inner knowing of the expanded state of being your soul or consciousness opens up to in the moment. Usually, a competent guru will gauge the intensity of the transmission so as not to overwhelm the person with too powerful of an awakening. However, if a person is open and ready, there is no limit to the amount of energy and the vast inner vistas of spiritual realization that a guru can impart during shaktipat.
Finally, in addition to the immediate effects of this method, the after effects can also vary. Sometimes the effect evaporates within minutes. Sometimes it lasts days. And sometimes a single transmission can send a seeker into such a powerful state of self-realization that it leads to a permanent awakening. This is rare, though. For most people, repeated transmissions accompanied by tools and techniques given by the guru to help the person grow in their spiritual awareness is the norm.
At the end of the day, nothing beats the value of personal experience, which is what shaktipat provides. And once you've experienced something even once, you know it is possible and therefore something you can experience again. Provided, of course, that you take the necessary steps to do so.
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Posted May 24, 2016
I’m a minimalist writer. I like to be as precise as possible, paring my words down until nothing but the essentials remain. I also enjoy the challenge of creating memes that are visually appealing and succinct. I've posted some samples below. If they speak to you, please feel free to share them on your favourite social media sites.
Photo Credit: Jasmine Andrews
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Posted May 24, 2014
Ascents & Descents
Most spiritual paths are concerned with ascending above the body into the formless dimension of the absolute and abiding in the impersonal and transcendent self. But what many people don't realize is that what goes up must eventually come down.
This downward movement is often involuntary, which leads many to mistakenly assume that they've lost their enlightenment, when, in fact, it is a normal part of the maturing process of spiritual life.
In essence, this returning phase involves dropping into your body more completely in order to embody your true nature. In effect, the impersonal self comes down and reanimates the personal self but also transforms it in a major way.
The realization that you are not the separate ego still remains, but in contradistinction to the impersonal self which lacks all sense of individuality, this stage leads to the realization that you are still an individual, but one that is a unique expression of the formless dimension.
A theistic way of describing this spiritual adventure is to say that the ascending phase is the process of a person becoming God, and the descending phase is the process of God becoming a person.
Over time, this return to the body and personhood eventually brings about a deeper, more intimate relationship with life, experiencing all that it means to be human, but in a way that still retains the liberating freedom and objectivity of the impersonal and transcendent self.
Posted March 11, 2014
It's no mystery that being fascinated by light seems to be hardwired into the DNA of countless living creatures. Think of moths rushing to a flame and you get an idea of how powerful this attraction is. This same yearning for light appears to be present throughout the entire animal and plant kingdoms. And we humans are no exception. In fact, being the creative creatures that we are, we've taken this natural attraction for the nourishing energy of sunlight and turned it into a dedicated form of spiritual practice.
Sungazing is probably one of the oldest forms of spiritual practice, with roots that likely trace back to actual sun worshipping. In practice, sungazing is super simple. You gaze at the sun. However, sungazing does have risks. Your mother's warning that staring at the sun leads to blindness is a real possibility. But if approached intelligently, sungazing can be done safely. I have sungazed occasionally for years, and in my experience, the benefits are amazing. It makes me feel more energized, more aware, and also more compassionate.
To avoid permanent damage to the retina of the eyes, the recommended time to sungaze is just after dawn or before dusk when the sun is closer to the horizon and the light is less intense than it is during midday. I've discovered an even safer and more convenient way to get into this practice. Close your eyelids and absorb the sun's luminous energy through your inner eye. You get the same incredible benefits. And, best of all, it can be done any time of day. Of course, nothing beats the spiritual upliftment of watching the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening, so be sure you give sungazing a try then, too.
Posted May 10, 2011
What Enlightenment is Like
Q. Is it possible to get a sense of what enlightenment is like using your imagination?
A. Yes, although it is not a substitute for the actual experience itself. I'll include a few simple transformative practices that can help bring about the enlightened state of being. But first, here's a brief description of one way to describe it:
Imagine your body dissolving and all traces of the life you are living disappearing. Then picture that the only thing left is your awareness, and then even that falls away. You momentarily cease to exist in a way, becoming nothing. But this state of nothingness is not empty. Rather, it is a boundless dimension that has always existed, even before the Big Bang. What's more, the moment you make contact with this eternal dimension, you realize that this primordial realm of creation is filled with the cosmic energy out of which everything in existence is continuously arising, including you: a self-aware being having a human experience. This direct recognition of your true nature, which is who and what you are at the deepest depths of being, is the essence of enlightenment.
There are several ways to get a taste of your true nature. One of the simplest is to contemplate the vastness of the sky. Find an open field and spend some time looking up. As you do, let your awareness widen. Let it spread out until it has no boundary. It really is that simple.
Or, in the comfort of your own home, you can try imagining you are floating in the ocean, letting yourself become so vast that you feel limitless. I still do this every time I go for a swim and also at the end of a nice warm bath.
Lastly, some people may not need to picture anything at all. If you can become aware of your own awareness in a sustained way, your consciousness or beingness will naturally expand until it becomes boundless.
Posted May 2, 2011
How to Meditate
Q. Can you give your most concise and comprehensive instructions for meditation?
A. The following instructions outline the fundamentals. I hope you find them useful.
1) I'd recommend a good half hour to an hour of meditation every day, ideally first thing in the morning, though the time of day is not as crucial as consistency, which is the most important thing when developing any new habit.
2) Understand that the point of meditation is to begin to witness or objectify whatever arises without getting overly engaged in any of it. So, observe any sensations, thoughts or feelings that arise. If you end up recreating and inhabiting an entire virtual world in your imagination, catch yourself and come back to your breath, which is the best anchoring point for getting re-centered so you can start witnessing again.
3) Once you are able to witness whatever arises, intentionally shift your attention towards witnessing itself. Eventually, you'll recognize that awareness is the essence of who you truly are, which, at the deepest level of realization, is experienced as the boundless freedom and joyful brightness of pure being.
Posted April 11, 2011
Simran, Satsang & Seva
I read the following quote from Deepak Chopra recently:
“There are three important Sanskrit words: SIMRAN, remember who you are; SATSANG, hang out with the right people; and SEVA, do things without selfish motivation.”
This was confirming to read because it named each of the three activities I’ve always felt are the most important for us to do as human beings to help create a more enlightened world. The volunteer opportunities through GAIA = Seva, the gatherings = Satsang, and the primary focus of enlightened coaching = Simran.
Posted March 29, 2011
Q. Many of us have heard the popular idea that anyone can be, do, or have whatever they want. Is this true? It sounds nice, though also too simple of a concept to take literally. I think that every soul comes into the world in each incarnation with a specific purpose, various experiences to go through to help the soul grow and learn, etc. If everything the person wanted were to come to him, or at least arrive so easily, what would be the point of this life? I've even read some Kabbalah-related texts where it says that the main form of free will that we have in this world is choosing how we respond to situations.
A. As far as the whole notion of the destiny of the soul, I think that what you wrote is an accurate reflection of one aspect of the metaphysical reality of our journey in this life. That is to say, we all have a certain amount of karma 'carried over' that we have to go through in order to grow and learn. But not everything is bound by fate. We also have free will, and more of it in direct proportion to the amount of karma we've resolved.
In terms of manifesting whatever we want, theoretically anything is possible. We are creative beings with intention and imagination, and much of what we visualize can come to pass. But not like some magical formula as suggested in The Secret, the movie that popularized the concept of the Law of Attraction. The part that many viewers gloss over is the fact that not everything comes as easily as we might expect or want.
Some things take years to materialize, often requiring a great deal of personal sacrifice and self-discipline. On that count, the Kabbalah-related texts stressing the will to choose how we respond to situations could be extrapolated upon. Which means the choices we make will also determine what our options are in terms of realizing our dreams. Plenty of bright souls have come to the sobering realization that they spent too much time wasted on lesser pursuits and distractions when they should have been developing their God-given talents.
So, just to bring this conversation down from the abstract, if you have goals and dreams you would really like to accomplish, I think it is definitely worth going for it! But remember that things don't always turn out the way we expect. If we "Let go and Let God," though, in the end things tend to turn out better than we could have imagined. Hope that helps!
Q. Thank you, Stephen. In regards to your last point, it's true that when we set goals we have to take some steps toward them and trust that if it's meant to be then things will flow along to allow us to reach success. Sometimes it may take longer, though, for example if you still need to earn some money while on the side working on building a company/idea, but also sometimes you can start delving more into things without having everything 'in place.'
A. You're welcome and I agree with you about not having to wait for everything to be in place. Sometimes that's part of the risk we have to be willing to take and then also be willing to stick with it through thick and thin.
Posted March 21, 2011
Q: Do we need to work directly with a spiritual teacher to become fully self-realized, or can we awaken our true nature on our own?
A: The most direct and honest answer is that it really depends on the person. Some people are able to achieve a complete awakening on their own, while others need the personal guidance of a spiritual teacher. A definite modern trend is for people to gather spiritual teachings and practices from a variety of different sources, like Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti, or Byron Katie, and then apply what they’ve learned on their own.
It is also possible to encounter teachers in more subtle ways. Like the right book serendipitously falling off a shelf. Or a message in a movie that speaks to us deeply. Or a chance encounter with a fellow pilgrim who imparts a pearl of wisdom. This is all part of a very real mystical phenomenon known as synchronicity, which is the magical way life has of responding to our deepest desires and intentions to discover and know the absolute truth. “When the student is ready,” it has been said, “the teacher will appear.” In other words, the teacher is not always a person. If we are open to receiving these messages, life itself can help direct our steps on the path.
Still, there are some very convincing reasons why we may also choose to work personally with a spiritual teacher.
One of the main functions of a spiritual teacher is to provide accurate information and proper guidance about how to make progress on the path of awakening. No doubt we are living in an age of unprecedented access to information via the web, which means that anyone with a computer can ask 'The Great Google' all kinds of questions about how to become enlightened – and get all sorts of answers, too!
In my experience, however, this approach can be problematic for some seekers. First, there is a lot of content online that is either partially or completely inaccurate, and many people don’t always know how to tell the difference. Second, gathering knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into progress. As Morpheus says to Neo in the Matrix, “Sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”
On both counts, working with a spiritual teacher can be an invaluable source of help and inspiration. A good spiritual teacher will constantly encourage you to make progress, and, frankly, nothing beats the live interaction with a real person who can answer your questions directly, providing you with sage advice about possible next steps, as well as potential pitfalls to be avoided along the way.
Another benefit of working directly with a spiritual teacher is that he or she will tell you when you’re not quite on the right track and hold you accountable until you are. I’ve had people tell me during the initial stages of working together that talking with me feels similar to talking with a good friend, so what is the difference between what I do and what they are already getting from their friends?
Well, I have a useful saying that speaks to this: “A good spiritual teacher is your true self’s best friend and your ego’s inevitable enemy.” Quite often our friends will coddle our egos rather than shake them up, in their caring effort to provide emotional support. But a truth-centred and solution-focused teacher has no interest in coddling anyone’s ego. Rather, a good teacher will help you become aware of your ego’s tricky defenses and avoidance ploys, and will offer corrections and feedback that is ultimately more useful and beneficial for your evolution.
And, of course, as with anything we wish to pursue with more dedication and mastery, how we do that is often by learning from a teacher. Want to be better at delivering jokes? Spend time with comedians and pay close attention to the art and science of joke making. Want to become a welder? Apprentice with a professional. Farmer? Intern for a season. And what if you want to awaken your true nature? Live from your most authentic self? Transform the very ground of your being? Same thing applies. Immerse yourself in all things beneficial for awakening your true nature. Read, meditate, reflect, share, and yes, ask for guidance, when you need it, from someone who is awake or has made enough progress on the path that they are able to offer valuable advice.
At the end of the day, we are our own ultimate authority, because it’s our own true nature that we must discover and know. The Buddha said it best: “Don’t take my word for it. Find out for yourself!” This doesn’t mean spiritual teachers have no value on the path, though. The point is that they can only show us the way. It’s up to each person to follow the injunctions in the same way that a scientist tests hypotheses using experiments. The only difference is that we are testing out prescribed spiritual practices and checking for results in the laboratory of our own consciousness and lives.
Posted March 8, 2011
Q. What's the difference between masculine and feminine spirituality?
A. There is no difference at the level of true nature. When we’re in touch with our true nature it’s sexless and genderless, and so we understand that at the ultimate level of identity, who and what we are is also sexless and genderless.
At the same time, there are certain qualities that we tend to think of as more masculine or more feminine. For example, qualities such as care, concern, love, compassion and so forth are typically considered more feminine, whereas qualities like strength, courage, conviction and ambition are commonly regarded as masculine.
When we’re living from our true nature, such distinctions no longer have as much meaning. We see clearly that they’re all just various qualities that we can experience and express as human beings, or different ways that our true nature expresses and manifests itself through us. So, a fully awakened, well-rounded individual will access all the above qualities and many more, regardless of his or her sex or gender.
This means a fully enlightened woman will access all of the so-called masculine qualities and still very much be a woman, and vice versa. An enlightened man is completely comfortable and able to express all of the qualities that we would normally associate with being a woman and still feel like a man. In fact, a person really stops making the inner distinction between being either a man or a woman altogether after enlightenment. One simply is what one is, whether male or female.
Lastly, in terms of the inner work that’s needed to make this possibility a reality, what is required is examining any cultural conditioning based on gender or sex that we may have received that either limits or prevents us from allowing whatever qualities need to come through us in the moment.
Masculine and feminine spirituality on another level
There is another aspect of this topic that I would like to touch upon. It’s a big part of my teaching, which is that the spiritual path has two primary movements. One is an ascending movement; the other is a descending movement. Both are needed to complete what I call the arc of enlightenment. Here’s a quick breakdown of what I mean:
The first part of the spiritual journey is universally described as an ascent, which typically involves raising one’s consciousness to higher and wider perspectives, until ultimately one’s perspective spirals out so far and wide that it literally merges with the perspective of the Transcendent, which is revealed to be the absolute source of everything in existence. But that’s only a halfway point on the spiritual path. It’s kind of the culmination of what we could call the masculine-oriented goal of enlightenment, the pursuit of total freedom and liberation from the world of form.
Once we reach this goal there is also a corresponding sense that one is situated above everything, beyond the world and even outside of space and time altogether. Your perspective can also radically shift so that you actually feel like you’re no longer in your body. The body becomes something objectified from this absolute and transcendental perspective. That is why you’ll sometimes hear or read about spiritual realizers (men and women alike) referring to their own body and mind as ‘the body’ and ‘the mind’ as if it’s something that no longer belongs to them anymore. Because their perspective has been so radically expanded, they no longer think in terms of being identified with something so small.
At the same time, if one attains this level of self-realization, which is often considered the ultimate spiritual goal, eventually there comes a time when the self or soul feels inclined to descend and come back down into the body and the world of form. In terms of the masculine/feminine dyad, we could say that this downward movement or aspect of the arc of enlightenment is the more feminine-oriented goal. To put it in terms of one of the oldest spiritual archetypes, Father Sky comes down to Mother Earth. The higher self reanimates and becomes re-embodied in the body in order to live more fully in the world once again.
What's ironic is that the culmination of the spiritual path is a return to the body and the world – the two things that our souls struggle to escape from in order to fully rediscover our true nature. In other words, we have to leave our bodies and the world behind in order to become enlightened. But we don’t stay high in the sky, so to speak. We come back down to the earth. The difference is that upon our return we no longer feel disconnected from the transcendental source of existence the way we did prior to the journey of ascent. We bring the boon of enlightenment with us – the knowledge of true nature in the form of a direct connection, a living sense of still being in contact with the eternal and immortal source of existence itself, while simultaneously living in our mortal bodies and this temporal world. What's more, once we make the journey of descent, there is no longer any sense of needing to go from here to there or from there to here. The arc is complete. The journey transforms into the utter simplicity of nowhere left to go and nothing more to find. As an old Zen saying puts it, "Before enlightenment – chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment – chop wood, carry water."
So that’s another way of describing the connection between the masculine and feminine aspects of the spiritual journey.
Posted March 2, 2011
Q: Stephen, can you help me understand the following quote? It’s by Thich Nhat Hanh. "There is no enlightenment outside of daily life." What exactly does that mean?
A: Well, it can be interpreted many different ways. But maybe one of the most relevant ways is that enlightenment is about becoming a better person, not about escaping the trials and tribulations of your everyday life.
How does that look? you may ask. Well, how do you “show up” in terms of all your relationships? In other words, how do you interact with all the people in your life?
Your friends? Your family? Your parents, siblings, or children? How do you approach your family obligations? How are you when you’re at home?
What about your co-workers? What’s your attitude towards work?
Do you make each of these areas of your life a better place for everyone? Or do you spend your time complaining and taking away from the collective experience, making the environment a toxic one?
All these areas of your life are reflections of where you’re at in terms of your personal development and spiritual growth, which are really one and the same thing. In other words, the real measure of spiritual progress is the way we live our lives, which is evidenced by the way we are as human beings.
At the same time, there is no need to get obsessive about this idea. Enlightenment doesn't carry the heavy burden or weight of some religious commandment. In fact, a huge part of the freedom of awakening comes from realizing the fact that there’s nothing you have to do to become a better person. Enlightenment or self-realization simply reveals your true nature, and as long as you act from that place, it automatically brings out the best that is already in you.
It is also worth mentioning that enlightenment is not an end in and of itself. We don’t try to experience the absolute or the transcendent so that we can think to ourselves, “Ahh, finally, I’ve become enlightened...I’ve realized the absolute truth, therefore I’m more special than others because I came to the same realization that the Buddha came to.” No, spiritual realization is simply for the purpose of understanding who or what you already are, which consequently also makes you far more sensitive to the importance of living your life with real humility, but also integrity. In real-world terms, you tend to do the right thing more often simply because you know it is the right thing to do. Plain and simple. What’s more, this ability becomes easier because your ego stops getting in the way. You end up dropping all sorts of hang-ups and issues (i.e., judgments, resentments, regrets, expectations), which is what creates or exacerbates most of the actual problems we experience in our lives in the first place.