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What Triggers Your Emotional Inflammation?

It’s time to start unraveling the mystery of you by exploring your current state of mind. Think of this as an adventure, a path toward greater self-understanding and self-compassion—and an expanded appreciation of the complexity of you. To get a sense of the modern-world issues that tend to rile or upset you, put on your imaginary miner’s hat and head into the depths of your mind to see what lies below your conscious awareness. (You may want to do this with a trusted friend or partner.) 

Consider your true feelings about the following subjects, without letting preconceived ideas about the right or politically correct way to think or feel about these subjects guide you; simply let your real feelings flow out of you in a free-association style. 

Have a journal and a piece of paper ready. As you read the following words and phrases, jot down the first three to five words or phrases that come to your mind in response (don’t edit or change what occurs to you instinctively):

  • • Climate crises 
  • • Me Too scandals 
  • • Human rights abuses (on a grand scale) 
  • • Political corruption 
  • • Racial, religious, gender, or political discrimination 
  • • Environmental threats (toxins in our midst) 
  • • Volatile financial circumstances 
  • • Natural disasters (wildfires, floods, storms) 
  • • International threats 
  • • Social divisiveness in this country
  • • Hate crimes 
  • • Nuclear weapons threats 
  • • Gun violence 

If other current events are triggering emotional inflammation for you, write them down in your journal or on a piece of paper.

Don’t worry if you feel put on the spot, thought-tied, and unable to come up with the right words to describe how you feel in response to the prompts listed above. Take a deep breath, exhale, and peruse this sample response. Rather than letting this person’s examples sway or influence you, try to use them as inspiration to unlock the floodgates on your true feelings. 

Now it’s your turn!

After you’ve completed your list, assign a value to each of these concerns in terms of their potency for you on a scale of 0 to 3 (with 0 being neutral and 3 being intense). Do this quickly so you don’t have too much time to think about it or second-guess your instinctive responses. Once you’ve finished this, place these triggers into a hierarchical list from a potency of 3 to 0, based on how they affect or resonate with you. This will give you a sense of what is likely to get you riled up these days.

If you want to dig a bit deeper, think about the way you responded to the descriptions of certain triggers—that you felt disgusted, violated, sad, and threatened when you thought about Me Too scandals, for example—then consider whether any situations from your past have evoked similar feelings for you. As you may see, emotional injuries or reverberations from the past can make you vulnerable to similar insults and assaults in the present. It’s almost as if you have an emotional ember lying beneath your consciousness, and it’s predisposed to flaring up from time to time. If you hear a single piece of distressing news and find yourself reacting surprisingly strongly to it, think about what else may be crashing around you or whether the news has somehow opened Pandora’s box and exposed you to a deep abyss of other fears and worries. Or it may be that a more superficial emotional injury is on the way to healing but then the scab gets ripped off and the wound bleeds again when another upsetting event occurs. 

As it happens, we often experience emotions in our bodies, and sometimes our bodies register those feelings before our minds do. So if you have trouble pinpointing how you’re feeling with words, you may want to scan your body for clues. When researchers in Finland performed a series of cross-cultural studies with 701 people from West European and East Asian cultures, they had the participants view various words, stories, movies, or facial expressions, then color specific regions on silhouettes of bodies where they felt activity increasing or decreasing while they viewed each stimulus. This exercise in mapping bodily sensations in response to emotions revealed that basic emotions—including anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, and surprise—were associated with sensations of elevated activity in the upper chest, which likely reflects changes in breathing and heart rate. Increased sensations in the arms and torso were associated with anger. Decreased sensations in the arms and legs corresponded to sadness. And increased sensations in the gut (the digestive system) and throat were found primarily with disgust. The most fascinating revelation was that these effects rang true among people cross-culturally. 

So if you have a mental block that makes it difficult to recognize your emotional triggers (which some people do, in a subconscious effort to protect themselves from emotional discomfort), paying attention to your bodily sensations can give you clues about what you’re experiencing. Even if you are highly attuned to your emotional reactions, sometimes they can sneak up on you, and you might experience a particular bodily sensation before you are aware of the actual trigger or your response to it. That’s because we all have blind spots to reflexive emotional states we’re susceptible to experiencing. 

This is an excerpt from Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times by Lise Van Susteren, MD, and Stacey Colino.

Buy your copy of Emotional Inflammation at your favorite bookseller!
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A Doctor’s Simple Tips on How to Get Better Sleep

Thanks to groundbreaking research, we have recently learned that every cell has its own timekeeper that can be thought of as a local clock. Deep within the brain, in the hypothalamus, lies a master clock that regulates all the local clocks, making sure that each one is set to the same time. This complex, coordinated process is in sync with the alternating cycles of day and night and with all the degrees of changing light that occur in a 24-hour period as Earth rotates on its axis. Called the “circadian rhythm”—from the Latin words circa, which means “going around,” and diem, meaning “day”—this internal process regulates the human body’s sleep-wake cycle, among many other functions. 

The master clock (think of it as circadian rhythm central) sends hormonal and nerve signals throughout the body, synchronizing the cells’ clocks to the day-night, light-dark cycle of life. On a continuous basis, the master clock can determine what time it is based on messages from photoreceptor cells in the retina that register light conditions outside and report these to the brain via specialized pathways. 

Meanwhile, the cellular clocks keep local time, making sure that various activities locally are timed right and are appropriately coordinated with other cells and organs. This is why, for example, key enzymes are produced at certain times, blood pressure and body temperature are controlled, hormones are secreted, the gut microbiome is populated with the right balance of bacteria, and gut motility is appropriate for the hour. 

Living in harmony with the way we have evolved brings physiological and emotional balance, creating a good fit between our bodies and minds, between what we’re doing and how we’re designed to function. Honoring our body’s natural rhythms helps stabilize our mood, become more resistant to stress, feel less physical pain, and generally feel and function better physically and mentally. It’s an essential step in cooling and calming emotional inflammation. 

The following are some ways you can adjust your habits so that they support your body’s inherent rhythms: 

  • Put yourself on a sleep schedule. Establish a regular sleep-wake schedule so that you go to bed at approximately the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. It’s fine to vary your bedtime by an hour or two occasionally, but don’t sleep in more than an extra hour on the weekends (unless you’re sick); otherwise, you will end up disrupting your sleep pattern for the next night. 
  • Identify your slumber sweet spot. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night to feel and function at their best. Once you figure out how much you need, determine what time you need to get up in the morning and work backward to set an appropriate bedtime; or, you can identify what time of night you typically feel sleepy and then set a wake-up time accordingly. 
  • Brighten your mornings. When you get up in the morning, expose yourself to bright, natural light to stimulate alertness, enhance your mood, and help calibrate your circadian rhythms. Take a brisk walk outside or have breakfast in a sunny spot. If you struggle to reset your internal clock to the “awake” setting in the morning, consider buying a commercial light box that emits 10,000 lux, which mimics a bright, sunny day. Sitting in front of such a light box for 30 minutes in the morning, perhaps while you have breakfast or read the newspaper or newsfeeds, has been found to stimulate alertness and improve mood. Alternatively, you could opt for a desk-lamp-style light box for your desk at work. 
  • Adjust your indoor lighting. Fascinating research has found that office workers who are exposed to greater amounts of light in the morning fall asleep more quickly at night. They also have better sleep quality and better moods, including less depression and stress, than those who are exposed to low light in the morning. 
  • Darken your evenings. There is another good reason to make sure that your bedroom (or wherever you sleep) is dark: When people are exposed to light during the night, their total daily melatonin production is suppressed dramatically, by as much as 50 percent. In other words, that nighttime light exposure throws the body’s 24-hour hormone production schedule off-kilter. It’s also wise to install a dimmer switch on the overhead light in the bathroom—or use a dim night-light—so that bright vanity lights don’t stimulate your senses and alertness while you’re taking care of bathroom business before hitting the sack or if you get up during the night.

Ultimately, honoring your body’s natural rhythms requires taking back control of your nights and days. It’s about putting time on your side and making conscious choices about the way you want to live so that you can restore your internal equilibrium, physiologically and psychologically. 

Yes, changing your behavior requires giving up the patterns you chose, consciously or not, in the past, and making the switch does take some effort and resolve. But if you make it a priority to stop upsetting your body’s internal rhythms and start living in sync with your body’s inherent needs, the payoffs will be well worth the effort. Your mood is likely to end up on a more even keel, and your energy will increase. Your physical health will probably improve and your emotional equilibrium will, too. Think of it this way: By respecting your body’s rhythms and doing whatever you can to maintain their regularity, you’ll be resetting your internal emotional thermostat, which will improve the way you react to and deal with the stresses and strains that are unavoidable in our modern world.

This is an excerpt from Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times by Lise Van Susteren, MD, and Stacey Colino.

A Music Playlist for Better Sleep

To help you achieve the best night of rest, we recommend falling asleep to this relaxing music playlist, Music for Better Sleep, available through Sounds True on Spotify.


Lise Van Susteren, MD, previously served as a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University. She is a go-to commentator about anxiety and trauma for television (including CNN, Good Morning America, NBC, VOA, and Fox News), radio (NPR, Minnesota Public Radio, and others), print media (including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, the Huffington Post, and CQ Magazine), and online outlets (such as Live Science, U.S. News & World Report, Global Health NOW, and many others).

As a thought leader and activist, Dr. Van Susteren addresses issues related to trauma and emotional inflammation through her roles at the Earth Day Network and Physicians for Social Responsibility. She is considered an expert in the psychological effects of climate change.

Stacey Colino is an award-winning writer specializing in health and psychology. In addition to her work as a book collaborator, she is a regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report and AARP.org. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post Health section, Newsweek, Parade, Cosmopolitan, Real Simple, Health, Prevention, Woman’s Day, Harper’s Bazaar, Parents, and Good Housekeeping, among other magazines and newspapers.

Buy your copy of Emotional Inflammation at your favorite bookseller!

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Nature Meditation by a Window

With many people home-bound, we may need to get creative in seeking ways to connect with the natural world.  Sitting by an open window is one excellent practice for connecting with the outdoors, and it can be a powerful form of nature meditation as well.

“What is life?  It is the flash of a firefly in the night.  It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.  It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

Crowfoot, Orator of the Blackfoot Confederacy

  1. Find a comfortable seat by an open window that looks outdoors.  
  2. Morning, during the dawn chorus when birds are most active, can be a perfect time to enjoy your morning coffee or tea as you observe a new day emerge.
  3. Set an intention to stay present, letting go of thoughts or stories in your mind as they arise, and instead focusing your attention on whatever is fascinating in your environment.
  4. Sit for at least 15-30 minutes if you can.  Practice regularly to help alleviate stress, increase your sense of connection with your local environment, and awaken your senses.

Micah Mortali Facebook Live clickable image for guided meditation earthday

 

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

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Working with Difficult Emotions – free video

Many of us struggle with the experience of difficult emotions, such as anger, jealousy, sadness, grief, shame, anxiety, and depression. In the face of such challenges, how can we keep our hearts open? What is the most skillful way to work with these difficulties in a way where we remain fully embodied and radically committed to our lives as they are? Is there such a thing as a “negative” emotion? How can we most powerfully grow from the experience of difficulty and view these challenging experiences as messengers and allies on the path of awakening and love?

Join Sounds True authors Karla McLaren and Robert Augustus Masters, two pioneering teachers on the healing potential of skillfully working with difficult emotions, for this inspiring dialogue, moderated by Sounds True publisher, Tami Simon.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – now offered...

Dear friends, we are honored and excited to bring you the first ever Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program delivered in a fully online format. Now you enjoy and benefit from the very same curriculum that has been offered in-person in the comfort of your own home, in a self-paced, interactive training program.

In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts to bring a form of meditation known as mindfulness into the medical mainstream. Mindfulness is a basic human quality, a way of learning to pay attention to whatever is happening in your life that allows you a greater sense of connection to your life inwardly and outwardly. Mindfulness is also a practice, a systematic method aimed at cultivating clarity, insight, and understanding. In the context of your health, mindfulness is a way for you to experientially learn to take better care of yourself by exploring and understanding the interplay of mind and body and mobilizing your own inner resources for coping, growing, and healing.

Nearly three decades of scientific research at medical centers all over the world suggest that training in mindfulness and MBSR can positively and often profoundly affect participants’ ability to reduce medical symptoms and psychological distress while learning to live life more fully.

Since its inception, more than 20,000 people have completed the MBSR training program. They have been referred by more than 5,000 physicians, by hundreds of other health care professionals, and through self-referral. These participants have been strongly motivated to do something for themselves—something no one else can do for them—by learning to draw upon their inner resources and natural capacity for greater health as well as balance, ease, and peace of mind.

The MBSR Online Course is the only complete online training in MBSR and follows the same, well-respected method taught at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. This eight-week course offers the curriculum and methodology developed by Jon-Kabat Zinn and is taught by Center for Mindfulness director Dr. Saki Santorelli, and senior instructor Florence Meleo-Meyer.

The Power of Mapping Your Emotions

It’s in everyone’s best interest to learn to remove the emotional blinders and identify emotions accurately, both the uncomfortable and the upbeat ones. After all, unpleasant emotions are normal and natural, a fundamental part of being human. Emotions fluctuate on a daily basis, often several times in a given day. If you didn’t experience negative feelings now and then, the positive ones wouldn’t be as noteworthy or joyful; your emotional life would likely be unnaturally narrow. You would also be deprived of the opportunity to glean important insights into yourself. Feelings, both the good and the bad, are silent messages, alerting you to pay attention to something in your personal or professional life, in your behavior, or in the world around you.

Instead of separating emotions into categories such as good or bad, positive or negative, happy or sad, it’s better to view all your emotions as useful information, as “evolutionarily evolved responses that are uniquely appropriate to specific situations,” says Karla McLaren, MEd, author of The Language of Emotions. “When you stop valencing, you’ll learn to empathically respond to what’s actually going on—and you’ll learn how to observe emotions without demonizing them or glorifying them.”

Being able to recognize and express what you’re feeling helps you better understand yourself (leading to greater self-knowledge); validate your emotions and tend to your own emotional needs; and take steps to address those feelings directly by communicating and responding to them effectively. Having emotional self-awareness can motivate you to make healthy changes in your life, take action to improve the world around you, and become more psychologically resilient—that is, better able to cope with crises and rebound from setbacks.

Learning to Unpack Your Emotions

For some people, engaging in free association can clear the cobwebs from their minds, almost like opening the cellar door to a musty basement and letting in light and fresh air. To do this, you might take a break and consider how you’re feeling about what you’re doing, reading, seeing, or thinking every few hours throughout the day. If a general word comes to mind—such as stressed, anxious, or angry—dig deeper and ask yourself what other emotions you might be feeling (maybe fear or annoyance) along with it. If you do this out loud in unedited, private moments, you might find yourself blurting out what you’re really thinking or feeling, revealing the emotions that are taking a lot of energy to keep inside. This is really about unpacking your suitcase of feelings, or untangling the knot of emotions that is taking up space inside you.

When you think about this in the abstract, it can be hard to pinpoint how you’re feeling. You may just see a swirling mass of a feeling quality such as “dread” or “foreboding” rather than recognizing the specific emotions you feel. To get to the root of your feelings, spend five minutes looking at the word cloud below—no more than five so that you don’t have time to filter your responses—and choose the emotions that resonate with your mood-state lately.

If reviewing these words evokes other feelings for you or if words or phrases that apply to you were not on this word cloud, jot these down in the blank word cloud that follows. Give yourself another five minutes to think about your recent state of mind and jot down phrases, images, or words that occur to you. This is your opportunity to personalize it without any limits or restrictions. If you feel stymied or draw a blank initially, think about your recent responses to current events or situations in your personal life or on the world stage. Try to be as honest as you can by focusing on how you’re really feeling when no one is watching—free-associate without judging, censoring, or revising what you write down.

Once you’ve finished your list, look at the order of the words you wrote down: Did they progress from all negative to increasingly hopeful? Do they portray an internal tension or friction in going back and forth between various feelings? If all the words are positive, consider the possibility that you may be in some degree of denial, focusing only on the window dressing rather than the emotions that lie beneath the surface. Also, consider this: Is there a pattern of shallow, visceral reactions that came out initially, followed by more complex thoughts and feelings? If so, think about whether you’re giving yourself enough time in your life to reflect. If you came out with highly intellectualized words or phrases first, it might suggest that you put on a bit of a facade when engaging with the world, and you might benefit from striving for a deeper engagement or familiarity with your emotions.

This is an excerpt from Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times by Lise Van Susteren, MD, and Stacey Colino.

Buy your copy of Emotional Inflammation at your favorite bookseller!
Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop

Timeless Classics

Life After Awakening, with Adyashanti

Friends, I wanted to share with you a free chapter from Adyashanti‘s inspiring (and very provocative) book The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment.

More and more people are waking up spiritually. And for many of them, the question becomes: Now what? “Information about life after awakening is usually not made public,” explains Adya. “It’s most often shared only between teachers and their students.” The End of Your World is his response to a growing need for direction on the spiritual path. Consider this Adya’s personal welcome to “a new world.”

Here is the excerpt, entitled “Exploring Life After Awakening.” 

There’s a phenomenon happening in the world today. More and more people are waking up—having real, authentic glimpses of reality. By this I mean that people seem to be having moments where they awaken out of their familiar senses of self, and out of their familiar senses of what the world is, into a much greater reality—into some- thing far beyond anything they knew existed.

These experiences of awakening differ from  person to person. For some, the awakening is sustained over time, while for others the glimpse is momentary—it may last just a split second. But in that instant, the whole sense of “self ” disap- pears. The way they perceive the world suddenly changes, and they find themselves without any sense of separation between themselves and the rest of the world. It can be likened to the experience of waking up from a dream—a dream you didn’t even know you were in until you were jolted out of it.

In the beginning of my teaching work, most of the people who came to me were seeking these deeper realizations of spirituality. They were seeking to wake up from the limiting and isolated senses of self they had imagined themselves to be. It’s this yearning that underpins all spiritual seeking: to discover for ourselves what we already intuit to be true— that there is more to life than we are currently perceiving.

But as time  has passed, more  and  more  people are coming to me who have already had glimpses of this greater reality. It is because of them that I am giving the teachings in this book.

The Dawning of Awakening

This discovery I’m talking about is traditionally referred to as spiritual awakening, because one awakens from the dream of separation created by the egoic mind. We realize—often quite  suddenly—that our  sense of  self, which  has  been formed and constructed out of our ideas, beliefs, and images, is not really who we are. It doesn’t define us; it has no center. The ego may exist as a series of passing thoughts, beliefs, actions, and reactions, but in and of itself it has no identity. Ultimately all of the images we have about ourselves and the world turn out to be nothing but a resistance to things as they are. What we call ego is simply the mechanism our mind uses to resist life as it is. In that way, ego isn’t a thing as much as it is a verb. It is the resistance to what is. It is the pushing away or pulling toward. This momentum, this grasping and rejecting, is what forms a sense of a self that is distinct, or separate, from the world around us.

But with the dawn of  awakening, this outside world begins to collapse. Once we lose our sense of self, it’s as if we have lost the whole world as we knew it. At that moment— whether that moment is just a glimpse or something more sustained—we suddenly realize with incredible clarity that what we truly are is in no way limited to the small sense of self that we thought we were.

Awakening to truth or reality is something that is very hard to talk about because it is transcendent of speech. It is helpful, nevertheless, to work with some sort of a guidepost. The simplest thing one can say about the experiential knowledge of awakening is that it is a shift in one’s perception. This is the heart of awakening. There is a shift in perception from seeing oneself as an isolated individual to seeing oneself, if we have a sense of self at all after this shift, as something much more universal—everything and everyone and every- where at the same time.

This shift is not revolutionary; it’s the same as looking in the mirror in the morning and having an intuitive sense that the face you are looking at is yours. It is not a mystical experience; it is a simple experience. When you look in the mirror, you experience the simple recognition, “Oh, that’s me.” When the shift of perception that’s called awakening happens, whatever our senses come into contact with is experienced as ourselves. It’s as if we think with everything we encounter, “Oh, that’s me.” We don’t experience ourselves in terms of our ego, in terms of a separate someone or separate entity. It’s  more a feeling of the One recognizing itself, or Spirit recognizing itself.

Spiritual awakening is a remembering. It is not becoming something that we are not. It is not about transforming ourselves. It is not about changing ourselves. It is a remembering of what we are, as if we’d known it long ago and had simply forgotten.  At the moment  of this remembering, if the remembering is authentic, it’s not viewed as a personal thing. There is really no such thing as a “personal” awakening, because “personal” would imply separation. “Personal” would imply that it is the “me” or the ego that awakens or becomes enlightened.

But in a true awakening, it is realized very clearly that even the awakening  itself is not personal. It is universal Spirit or universal consciousness that wakes up to itself. Rather than the “me” waking up, what we are wakes up from the “me.” What we are wakes up from the seeker. What we are wakes up from the seeking.

The problem with defining awakening is that upon hear- ing each of  these descriptions, the  mind creates another image, another idea of what this ultimate truth or ultimate reality is all about. As soon as these images are created, our perception is distorted once again. In this way, it’s really impossible to describe the nature of reality, except to say that it’s not what we think it is, and it’s not what we’ve been taught it is. In truth, we are not capable of imagining what it is that we are. Our nature is literally beyond all imagination. What we are is that which is watching—that  consciousness which is watching us pretending to be a separate person. Our true nature is continually partaking of all experience, awake to every instant, to each and every moment.

In awakening, what’s revealed to us is that we are not a thing, nor a person, nor even an entity. What we are is that which manifests as all things, as all experiences, as all personalities. We are that which dreams the whole world into existence. Spiritual  awakening reveals that  that  which is unspeakable and unexplainable is actually what we are.

Abiding and Nonabiding Awakening

As I’ve mentioned, this experience of awakening can be just a glimpse, or it can be sustained over time. Now, some would say that if an awakening is momentary, it is not a real awakening. There are those who believe that, with authentic awakening, your perception opens up to the true nature of things and never closes back down again. I can understand  this perspective, since ultimately the  whole spiritual journey does lead us to  a full  awakening. Full awakening simply means that we perceive from the perspective of Spirit—from the view of oneness—all the time.

From this awakened perspective, there isn’t any separation anywhere—not in the world, not in the universe, not in all the universes everywhere. The truth is anywhere and everywhere, at all times, in all dimensions, for all beings. It is a truth that is the source of everything that will ever be experienced—in  life, after life, in this dimension or any other dimension.

From the perspective of  the ultimate, literally every- thing—be it at a higher or lower dimension, here or there, yesterday, today, or tomorrow, everything—is but a manifestation of Spirit. It is Spirit itself that wakes up. So, ultimately, the trajectory every being is on, whether they know it or not, is a trajectory toward full awakening—toward  a full knowing, toward a full experiential knowledge of what they are, toward unity, toward oneness.

But the moment of awakening may or may not result in a permanent seeing. As I said, some people will tell you that unless it’s permanent, the awakening is not real. What I’ve seen as a teacher is that the person who has a momentary glimpse beyond the veil of duality and the person who has a permanent, “abiding” realization are seeing and experiencing the same thing. One person experiences it momentarily; another experiences it continually. But what is experienced, if it is true awakening, is the same: all is one; we are not a particular thing or a particular someone that can be located in a particular space; what we are is both nothing and every- thing, simultaneously.

So, as I see it, it doesn’t really matter whether an awakening is instantaneous or continuous. It matters in the sense that there is a trajectory—nobody’s heart will be totally fulfilled until that perceiving from the point of view of truth is continuous—but what is seen is an awakening, whether it is sustained or not.

This glimpse of awakening, which I call nonabiding awakening, is becoming more and more common. It happens for a moment, an afternoon, a day, a week—maybe as long as a month or two. Awareness opens up, the sense of the separate self falls away—and  then, like the aperture on a camera lens, awareness closes back down. All of a sudden that person who had previously perceived true nonduality, true oneness, is quite surprisingly now perceiving back in the dualistic “dream state.” In the dream state, we’re back in our conditioned sense of self—in a limited, isolated sense of being.

The good news is that once a moment of this clear seeing has actually taken place, the aperture of our awareness can never completely close down again. It may seem like it has closed down completely, but it never quite does. In the deep- est part of yourself, you don’t ever forget. Even if you’ve only glimpsed reality for a moment,  something within you is changed forever.

Reality is nuclear; it’s incredibly powerful. It’s unimaginably potent. People can experience a f lash of reality in the time it takes to snap your fingers, and the energy and the force that enters into them as a result is life altering.

Just one moment  of awakening begins the dissolution of one’s false sense of self and, subsequently, the dissolution of one’s whole perception of the world.

Awakening Is Not What You Imagine It to Be

In a very real sense, it is much more accurate to talk about what we lose upon awakening rather than what we gain. We not only lose ourselves—who we thought we were—but we also lose our entire perception of the world. Separation is only a perception; in fact, when it comes to our world, there is nothing but perception. “Your world ” is not your world; it is only your perception. So while it may seem negative at first, I think it’s much more useful to talk about spiritual awakening in terms of what we lose—what we awaken from. This means we’re talking about the dissolution of the image we have of ourselves, and it’s  this dismantling of who we thought we were that is so startling when one wakes up.

And it is indeed startling: it’s not what we think it’s going to be like at all. I’ve never had a single student come back and say, “You k now, Adya, I peered through the veil of separation, and it’s pretty much what I thought it would be. It measures up pretty closely to what I’ve  been told.” Usually they come back and say, “This is nothing like what I imagined.”

This is especially interesting since many of the people I teach have been studying spirituality for many years, and they often have very intricate ideas about what awakening is going to be like. But when it happens, it is always different from their expectations. In many ways, it is grander, but also in many ways, it is simpler. In truth, if it is to be true and real, awakening must be different from what we imagine it to be. This is because all of our imaginings about awakening are happening within the paradigm of the dream state. It is not possible to imagine something outside of the dream state when our consciousness is still within it.

How Does Your Life Change after Awakening ?

With awakening there also comes a total reorganization of the way we perceive life—or at least the beginning of a reorganization. This is because awakening itself, while beautiful and amazing, often brings with it a sense of disorientation. Even though you as the One have awakened, there is still your whole human structure—your body, your mind, and your personality. Awakening can often  be experienced as very disorienting to this human structure.

So it is the process that happens after awakening that I want to explore. As I’ve said, for a very few people, the moment of awakening will be complete. It will be final in a certain sense, and there will be no need for a continuing process. We might say that such people had an extraordinarily light karmic load; even though they may have experienced extreme suffering before awakening, one can see that their karmic inheritance, the conditioning that they were dealing with, wasn’t too deep. This is very rare. Only a few people in a given generation may wake up in such a way that there’s no further process to undergo.

What I always tell people is this: don’t count on that person being you. Better to count on being like everyone else, which means that you will undergo a process after an initial awakening. It won’t be the end of your journey. What I will attempt to do here is to point you in a direction that may be useful and orienting as you embark on that journey. As my teacher used to say, it’s like getting your foot in the front door. Just because you’ve gotten your foot in the front door doesn’t mean you have turned the lights on; it doesn’t mean you have learned to navigate in that different world that you’ve awakened to.

I’m very happy that this book, which is based on a series of  talks I’ve given, offers  me the opportunity to  address this subject—the question of what happens after  awaken- ing. The information that exists on life after awakening is not usually made public. It’s most often shared only between spiritual teachers and their students. The problem with that approach is that, as I’ve said, a lot of people are now having these moments of awakening, and there is very little coher- ent teaching available for them. In that sense, this book is meant to be a welcoming to that new world, that new state of oneness.

What Are Your Five Healing Music CD Picks…That Don...

by Andrew Young (Writer at Sounds True)

Can you help me out here? I need more great “background” music for de-stressing and sparking my creativity.

The skinny: I review healing and meditation music CDs for Sounds True and other retailers and labels and have listened to well over two hundred over the years. Most of them are, uh…just okay. Some totally suck the pranic wind. Of course, you’ll find none of those at soundstrue.com (nudge nudge, wink wink).

I play this kind of music for relaxing, writing, and drawing, so I don’t like distracting melodies, in-your-face vocals, cheesy synthesizers, or stuff that I’ll get sick of after a few weeks of frequent play. Recommendations please!

In the meantime, here are five of my faves:

1. Sampradaya – Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Real World Recordings). Great for when I’m feeling mentally sluggish or “stuck.” Not marketed as a healing music CD—but incredibly effective as one. The Indian hammer dulcimer (santoor) master plays here with his son Rahul and tabla wizard Shafaat Ahmed Khan. These are traditional ragas, but sound nothing like the familiar sitar/tambour offerings: uplifting, resonant layers of bell-like melodies and jaw-dropping overtones arise independently from the actual struck notes and float beyond the room. Joyful and mind-expanding, sparkly and fresh like cool sunlit rain.

2. Crystal Bowl Sound Healing – Tryshe Dhevney (Sounds True). This is my favorite CD to play when writing, drawing, or photoshopping piles of photos. 100% organic (no synths), beautifully recorded in a giant natural cave (seriously). Tryshe uses rare customized gemstone bowls perfectly tuned for expanding consciousness via the Om frequency and other well-tested resonances. It’s so good that when I first got the 8-minute sample track for writing the CD package copy, I set it on “repeat” and listened to it looped for hours. Tip: if you download this album, don’t “re-rip” the tracks to make them smaller. You’ll want the highest sound quality to fully experience the effect of the pure, subtle harmonics.

3. Aural Resonance Astral Harmony – Simeon Hein (Mount Baldy Press). Yes “astral harmony” sounds really new-agey, but this recording is not, and it is amazing. My massage therapist played this for me during a session years ago. It’s just a sustained, multi-layered perfect-fifth harmonic chord that goes for 70 minutes. Made with 100% synth, but works so well that I grant it full amnesty. This CD is my sure-fire last resort for insomnia and clearing writer’s block, BUT it is not for everybody: the effect is so intense that the first five times I used it, I would sometimes hear it resonating in my head for hours after turning it off.

4. Relax – David Ison (Sounds True). I play this album on my iPhone so often that if it were an old-fashioned LP, it would be worn out. What makes it so good? For one, David doesn’t use brainwave frequency entrainment—he builds his compositions using healing principles based on sacred geometries and proportional tonal relationships and rhythms from ancient Greece, Egypt, and his own intuition and rigorous experimentation. He also uses some very unique studio sound production tools to create tuned ambient spaces that have a clear and calming somatic effect. Even more relevant though is that the music on this album is simple yet incredibly beautiful. The first time I played it, it gave me the chills. The primary “voice” on this album is Ison’s guitar (a massive dreadnought Martin acoustic I think). David has been using this music program to help war veterans in the healing process with powerful results. For maximum effect, play this on a good stereo speaker system or with high-quality headphones.

5. Audio Serenity (iAwake Technologies). These folks are at the far event horizon of brainwave entrainment research. For example, they’ve addressed the problem of frequency habituation—your brain adapting to sound entrainment so that it no longer syncs to beneficial effect. Problem solved here (don’t ask me how, but it works). And they use a suite of other acoustic technologies to massage your brain, nadis, meridians, and positronic circuits (if you’re a Star Trek android). Sound-wise, this program does in fact use synth, but it’s very gentle. Get ready for an extremely quick and deep calming effect. My only caveat is that it’s pricier than a conventional music track (iAwake’s first-hand research takes time and resources). That said, I can tell you that this program is as effective as the awesome MindSpa [http://avstim.com] audio-visual entrainment device that we reviewed here at Sounds True a while back—at a fraction of the cost.

Okay your turn: please recommend some of your favorites so we can all have more relaxation and creativity music options!

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