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About the Author
Michael Damian, PhD is a spiritual teacher, psychologist and author of The Art of Freedom: A Guide to Awakening. Michael offers guidance for the direct path of self-realization, by which we discover the natural freedom and happiness of our true nature.
Read an Excerpt
At some time in our lives we sense that a great misunderstanding is at work within and around us. We sense that life is driven by a transcendent, ineffable intelligence that is somehow also our own deepest nature. We realize that our suffering is not caused primarily by events but rather by our own negative outlook and habits of mind. There also comes a budding recognition that we can transform this situation by examining ourselves and finding wisdom. Whatever wisdom may be, we sense its untapped potential within us. These intuitions mark the very beginning of spiritual awakening.
The process of awakening does not exclude any aspect of life, but it does frame all aspects in a greater context of truth. This is a living truth that has been perennially revealed and communicated across many cultures and ages. Sometimes called the perennial philosophy, this spiritual wisdom arises in our consciousness as the song of reality being sung through the human experience. Each human being reveals and sings this song in a unique way, but the song is universal.
Would you sing? If your experience were to shift from chronic emotional suffering to deep equanimity, from restless mental chatter to spacious clarity of mind, and from a lifelong sense of disempowerment and dissatisfaction to great ease and wholeness in your being — allowing you to navigate life's vicissitudes with full innocence and openness of heart — then would you sing?
Of course you would. And the notes would resonate in the hearts of others who sense the same music within them, who long to discover life as a conscious movement of creation and celebration instead of a constant struggle.
Since this opening of wisdom creates such a momentous shift of identity and perspective in us, it has been described with dramatic metaphors like awakening or enlightenment. Indeed, this realization brings the sense of having woken up as if from a spell, or having come out of the solipsistic shadows of a confused mind and into a broad and effulgent light of pristine awareness.
Meanwhile, because enlightenment is still a fairly rare experience on earth, there are many myths about what this shift actually means and how it arises. Popular sayings and slogans point to it but often leave us more confused than ever. For example, it is often said that everyone is already enlightened. This is not exactly the truth, though it points in the right direction.
Our true nature is the ever-present light of consciousness. Enlightenment means to discover this reality. From the point of view of consciousness itself, there is no darkness and no enlightenment. There is no change at all in Reality. But from the point of view of a human being who does not recognize consciousness — even while being that very consciousness — experientially there is psychological darkness and a search for the unknown light.
On the experiential level, the fact is that unless and until we know our true nature with full clarity, we cannot consistently enjoy the happiness that is our birthright. We will wonder why we touch into deep states of joy and clarity only to find ourselves swiftly returned to the dreaded "real world."
The reason is this: Our habitual mentality is a confluence of reality and illusion that I call the twilight state. Twilight is caused by the blend of light and darkness. We are the light of consciousness in which all things appear but we cast shadows of thought and get lost in them. In other words, although everyone knows the immediate awareness of I Am, which is pure, intrinsically awake consciousness, we experience this light through the haze of mistaken identity and false notions. To know and experience our real nature we need only shine through this haze.
We dissolve the haze of twilight, egoic consciousness by using the light that we are. Use whatever light you have, and it will grow. I describe this contemplative process as a movement of inquiry, insight, and awakening. Spiritual inquiry, often called self-inquiry, begins when a deep question has arisen in our mind about the nature of self and reality, birth and death, suffering and happiness.
Inquiry is triggered by suffering. If it were simply our nature to suffer endless torment then no longing for happiness would arise. It is the intelligence and sensitivity of our real nature that gives rise to spiritual longing and inquiry in us.
We long for love because love is our nature. We long for oneness because oneness is the nature of reality. We are already experiencing oneness but we do not realize it. We do not need to expand ourselves into oneness somehow; we need only remove our confusion about the actual nature of things.
We have all pondered the meaning of life at times, but when inquiry becomes a focused, intentional search for truth and self-realization, then we can say that the search has begun in earnest. This begins a phase of intensive self-observation and contemplation. It generally induces us to take up meditative practices and study of spiritual teachings.
I call this a spiritual process because it centers on the ineffable, subjective domain of consciousness, which in old-fashioned language was called spirit. Whereas matter refers to visible, objective forms and movement, spirit means invisible, aware presence. To explore the spirit does not mean to reject or deny matter; it is only to ask about the nature of spirit and its relationship to matter.
The product of self-inquiry is fresh, direct insight into our identity. It is self-knowledge. In other fields of study we leave ourselves out. We gain knowledge about external things but this does not break the heart open or clarify the mind. Insight is a spark of illumination, born of the light that we are. Insight is the stuff of awakening, and awakening is the culmination of all insight.
Whenever we gain insight into our self-nature we shed a measure of falsehood. As we see through the false we start to experience our being more purely and sweetly than we ever imagined possible. When at last we have shed many layers of confusion our mind becomes predominantly silent, clear, balanced, and loving. Stripped of social artifice and defensive postures, the personality becomes refreshingly authentic and integrated. The mind rejoices in its own luminosity and expansiveness. This is called being near the goal.
The goal is reached in a moment when the primordial sense of doubt and distance created by our dualistic mentality fades away, and the undivided reality of consciousness knows itself. This moment cannot be understood or predicted beforehand, but it comes naturally as a result of your sincerity.
It is really that simple. If you have a sincere and abiding interest in truth then you will know the truth. If you are not very interested in truth then you have to suffer more, and life will make sure of that. Life will keep giving you rounds of experience and time to go through, until you sufficiently appreciate how you are exiling yourself from your own love and freedom by clinging to false beliefs.
Life on earth is a factory for making us conscious — that is all. It is very precise and elegant in this task. If life were not brutally efficient at delivering you the results of your false beliefs then it could not also deliver you the results of your receptivity, your yearning for real happiness, and your readiness to learn the truth about yourself.
Life gives you what you want, not what you think you want. Life in the general sense wants what is best for you, but life is also none other than your own being. And since you are free in consciousness, life must honor your freedom to choose for less than the best, for less than the truth. You do not have the choice to change the effects of truth and illusion once these effects are in motion, but you do have the initial choice between the two.
This primal choice exists in every moment. It is the point of grace and mercy in your life. The mercy is that no matter how wrongly you have chosen and how bad the effects have been, you have the freedom to choose again for truth, which means to awaken.
No matter how bad your dream has become, there is always an exit to the dream-state of mental chaos and false identity. When you choose rightly in a given moment you are effectively putting your attention back onto the real I Am, your sole place of empowerment and freedom. This ineffable, aware intelligence can never be objectified, located or defined in terms of something else. It is the root of the sense of self, beyond all self-images.
I Am is absolute, meaning it is not made of constituent parts. The world is full of things while you alone are not a thing. You are the pure knower of all things, states of mind and objective knowledge. That is why you can be in the world but not of it. You can wield objective, relative knowledge about the world without confusing yourself for one of the objects.
As you come to know your real nature, the superstructure of mental identity and imagination loses its support and gives way to light — the light of intelligent, aware spirit. The world of things remains but is now illumined and uplifted in your presence. The world becomes an intimate to you, so that you feel no real divide between your bodily form and other forms. On the level of form they are distinct and you honor that fact, but distinctions do not imply a fundamental separation. In fact, the distinctions only highlight the unified background of consciousness.
Naturally, this discovery often begins with extremes of wonder, exaltation, tears and laughter. It really is a cosmic joke you have been let in on, and that is why this laughter is like no other. It is the laughter of the universe that comes through you. When it comes you will be amazed to observe that it is truly no one who now laughs.
Of course, this cosmic somebody that you are is not literally nothing. It is pure consciousness experiencing its formlessness. In the world of things, seeing is believing. By contrast, the reality of consciousness cannot be seen or believed. It is only known and experienced directly.
You know now that you are conscious, but do you know that this consciousness is the sum and substance of reality? Until such non-dual understanding arises, all knowledge and spirituality is indirect and insufficient for the human heart, because you are not just this physical creation or social character. You cannot be satisfied by a pale reflection of your reality.
So make your choice. Moment to moment, choose again to seek the truth, to observe and contemplate this radical possibility. To actualize the happiness and love that arises from this recognition is the adventure of a lifetime. Your north star in this adventure is always your increasing experience of freedom, simplicity, and transparency of heart. This freedom and the happiness it reveals is the sole standard by which to weigh the fruits of awakening.
A Direct Path
Why is there so much confusion and struggle in the human experience? It is due to a core misunderstanding of the nature of reality, the only cure for which is understanding. This understanding is not a set of concepts but is an awakening and clarification of consciousness. It is self-realization. By realizing the true nature of self we come into accord with reality.
Most everyone understands that liberation of mind means becoming conscious in some way, but we generally do not understand the nature of the unconsciousness we are up against. If we did then it would no longer exist. The only way to begin dissolving our unconsciousness is to look very clearly and intently at it. This process brings our entire life into question, including everything we think, feel, and believe.
The effort involved in facing our ignorance is not measured in outward physical activity. It is an inward engagement of attention. Although awakening is often described as letting go of all effort and simply being, the practical fact is that checking the mind's habits of ignorance takes great attention and energy. It is the energy of interest, not force. The doing is in the listening and looking.
Although observing is a receptive process, it demands sustained intention and attention. All the spiritual platitudes in the world, no matter how comforting or inspiring, will not erase the specific aspects of unconsciousness an individual suffers from. In truth, everyone who finds freedom has done their inner work. They have looked at the true and false within themselves with greater and greater intelligence until they realized that pure intelligence as their own nature.
The way out of suffering is through. It is through yourself and all the particular blocks you have built up against love and truth, each of which contribute to the main block of mistaken identity.
You must take total responsibility for this process, for no one else can give you your freedom. Yet you are not truly alone in this. When you are fortunate enough to hear the truth and it resonates within you, then the truth will be with you from then on.
What is the truth? It is that you are not what you think you are. You are consciousness, divine intelligence. It is truth or reality because it does not change, vary or depend on anything else for its existence.
Though truth is beyond energy and all the games we play with energy, truth has energetic impact. It is a dynamic, transformative force that works to clarify and awaken our being from the inside out. By contrast, when you try to solve your energetic, emotional and mental problems at their own level, you only play with states of mind and at best create a brief sense of relief. Truth takes you beyond this frustrating approach to the direct experience of innocence and freedom within.
I can affirm that there are no short cuts, but you can take the direct path. The direct path is the most simple and sincere approach possible. It is based in a love for your reality, for that which has always been called the sacred, the divine. This love for the ineffable reality behind the appearance of life gives you the strength to face your pain without distracting yourself. Love gives you the strength to forbear, nothing else.
As insight grows you will learn that you cannot expect anything on this path except to realize freedom in your own experience. In this freedom there is pure love beyond the idea of what love should look or feel like. There is pure knowing beyond the desire to understand everything conceptually. And there is pure awareness beyond any effort to be aware.
Yet until you realize the effortless nature of consciousness, you will feel a sense of effort and desire — a desire to be conscious. The effort arises from your natural discomfort with suffering, and it will not abate until that suffering is dissolved. I won't tell you to drop your effort, because you cannot. I only tell you how truth works and how to understand what is happening. This helps convert the raw energy of effort and longing into clarity.
The sense of effort is the friction of intelligence working against the ignorance within you. It will fall away entirely when it has done its job. And then you will know beyond all doubt that you are free, that you are the living essence of reality, awake to itself while living an ordinary human life.
Fundamentally the mind can move in two directions — toward the false or toward truth. When the mind moves toward the false we narrow our perspective, harden our feelings and become fearful and confused. We may eventually get stuck in a web of deep delusion. When the mind moves toward truth we open in awareness, soften our feelings and gain peace. As we learn to observe and think along the lines of truth, the mind comes into accord with reality and the need to think dissolves into the simple clarity of pure awareness.
Mind is the gateway. Mind is all. Mind is consciousness, absolute reality. Freedom is found here in this ordinary mind or not at all. There is no getting rid of our mind, and there is no need to do so. We need only know its real nature. Mind is unlimited awareness, but we who are this limitless reality are entertaining an illusory confinement in mental creations.
If we go to war against the movement of thought then we have misunderstood the situation. The fact that we think and feel is not the problem. Nor is it a problem that we have a conditioned personality with unique strengths and weaknesses. The problem is only that, starting with false premises, our thoughts and emotions proceed on and on in the wrong direction until we realize we have to go back to the beginning and look at our premises.
The way to free the mind from the false is to observe it in light of a new perspective, which we call the teachings of truth. By truth we mean the non-dual wisdom that reveals totality. Who can say what is truth? Where does that authority come from? The answer only comes in your own experience of insight. When you understand, you do not have the answer — you become the answer. Ultimately, you are the only authority who can confirm wisdom or its absence.
Excerpted from "The Art of Freedom"
Copyright © 2016 Michael Damian.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
2 A Direct Path,
5 Life in Freedom,
7 Outshining Ignorance,