Adyashanti: Waking Up: What does it really mean?

Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge.. Today, my guest is Adyashanti. Adyashanti, or Adya as his friends and students call him, is an American-born spiritual teacher devoted to serving the awakening of all beings. He offers teachings that are free of any tradition or ideology. His teachings are an open invitation to stop, inquire, and recognize what is true and liberating at the core of all existence. Together with his wife, Mukti, Adya has founded the nonprofit organization, The Open Gate Sangha. His books and audio programs with Sounds True include The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment, and Falling into Grace. With Sounds True, Adya has also just launched a new digital subscription called Adyashanti Weekly: Moments of Grace. You can visit for more information.

This episode of Insights at the Edge was originally broadcast as part of an online series called Waking Up: What Does It Really Mean? In this conversation, Adya and I spoke about how he defines spiritual awakening; his view of the age-old debate about whether or not awakening is sudden, or gradual, or both; what spiritual awakening does and doesn’t deliver; and, most importantly, his pith instructions on how to wake up. Here’s my conversation with Adyashanti:

Adya, it’s great to be with you in person for this conversation as part of our series, Waking Up: What Does It Really Mean? Welcome!

Adyashanti: Thank you, Tami.

TS: It’s such a treat to get to be with you, face to face, and do this. It’s wonderful.

OK. I’m going to ask you the same first question that I’m asking all participants in this series. When you hear the phrase, “spiritual awakening,” what does that mean to you?

A: OK. When I use the phrase “spiritual awakening,” I mean something very specific. Not that all awakening is the same, or is of the same depth. But, to me, to qualify as a spiritual awakening, it has to involve some type of revelation, which has the effect of shifting your identity—your sense of what you are—from a sort of mind-based or ego-based identification, where we find ourselves in that—whether it’s painful ego or exalted ego. It shifts from an ego-based identity to an identity that’s more based in our fundamental nature—whatever we would want to call that fundamental nature—Buddha nature, spirit, consciousness, something that’s certainly transcendent of the mind and the ordinary identifications we have. I would also add a shift from an emotional identification too, because we tend to identify with a kind of common emotional center as well.

TS: Tell me more what you mean by that.

A: Well, I think everybody sort of has an emotional sense that when they feel a particular way—it’s hard to define for each person, but it’s just sort of how they emotionally and probably even energetically know they’re here as sort of a feeling-based or an emotional-based presence. Not presence as such, but an emotionally feeling-based presence.

For instance, you kind of have to blow up the example so it’s bigger than usual, but if someone, say, has had a lot of depression in their life—and of course nobody likes to feel depressed, but if you have an experience like that for a long enough period of time, at some deep level—usually below the conscious level—we begin to energetically and emotionally associate that feeling of depression with who we are. Right? So that’s an obvious example.

It could be—it doesn’t have to be negative, it could also be something really positive like being a happy, up, bright person, [a] cheery person. Being a helper—a helper’s not just an image-based identity, it also has an uplifting, feeling-based identity too. So to me, they always come as a package deal—our mental identity always has its energetic, somatic, egoic, emotional counterpart to it.

TS: So, describe what you mean to me by this shift. There’s some kind of shift that you’re different after an awakening?

A: Yes. This is where it gets a little bit more imprecise. I’ll try to be as precise as I can. When we shift out of the egoic identity, it doesn’t mean everybody shifts into the same place.

For instance, someone might have a shift where they realize that they are sort of pure awareness, and they feel it in a sense—it’s not just an intellectual thing, they see the world from that viewpoint now. Even though that wouldn’t be a complete awakening in my view, it’s an awakening to a significant degree. It’s very meaningful, it’s very life-transforming, because you’re looking at life then from an awareness point of view rather than an egoic or a mind-based point of view. I would think that would be almost like the minimum kind of shift that I would even call a spiritual awakening.

There can [then] be shifts into kind of unity consciousness, where you sense a sort of underlying sameness between yourself and all the other forms of existence. That’s a kind of awakening as well. There are other qualities too, but all of them involve a kind of shifting of the locus of our own sense of being.

TS: Now, I think for a lot of people, they experience the kinds of shifts you’re talking about for moments. They might experience it while they’re listening to you or reading one of your books. But it’s not really a shift in how they live their life, or even their ongoing experience of themselves. It’s more a vacation or a trip that they take occasionally, when they’re reading a book by a powerful spiritual teacher. Is that an awakening? What’s that?

A: Sure. I think it’s an awakening—you could call it a temporary awakening. Sometimes I’ll call those like “a foretaste.” You get a taste of something like you said—it’s a vacation.

But you know, like a vacation to—we’re in California—if we took a vacation to New York. If we just landed in New York, looked around for five minutes, got on a plane, and came back here, we still would have gone to New York. We would have been there. We might not know really much about New York at all, right? We don’t know much about the terrain, but we know much more than we did before we took a flight there.

So, it’s very common for people to have these shifts that may be momentary—a few minutes, few hours, few days, few weeks—but then seem to diminish to some extent or seem to disappear. Because they diminish doesn’t mean that what you realized was untrue, it just means that it’s still vacillating. It wasn’t sort of deep enough or encompassing enough to become more of a stable ground from which you perceive and live from.

TS: What would you say to someone who has had that kind of vacation taste, but it’s not their stabilized way of being, and what they feel is a sense of disappointment, grief, frustration? Talk to that person.

A: Yes, it’s so common. That experience is so, so common, and it does often leave a feeling of grief or disappointment in its wake. There are two things I often tell people and they sound very contradictory, but I tend to view them as more paradoxical.

The first one is I often try to help people see that what they saw—what they experienced when everything was clear at that moment—that there is still some of that with them now. It may be clouded over, it’s definitely going to be much more subtle than it was before. Sometimes it’s revelatory, it’s just put in your face, you cannot possibly miss it, but then it recedes to something that’s very soft, something that’s easy to dismiss.

So I’ll try to point them towards [it] often by asking them a series of questions. Something like, “Can you honestly tell me that everything that you saw, everything that you realized [in] that perspective, that all of it is completely gone now?” In almost every case, the person will tell me, “Well, it’s not all gone. It’s not like it was, though. That’s what I want.” I say, “Well, let’s come back. How is it presenting now?” So that’s one thing I’ll do, and suggest that not trying to grasp that or hold onto it, but just kind of abide with it, acknowledge that there’s still kind of the perfume of it. That can be important and significant too, because what we acknowledge tends to grow in our experience—what we give a little attention to.

The other thing I’ll say, which is quite paradoxical, is also don’t be grasping—don’t try to recreate that experience. That was the experience of that moment. Don’t become attached to it. Don’t be thinking now that that’s your reference point for your next experience of reality. It can be very difficult to let that go, because in essence you’re asking someone to let go of their experience of heaven, even if it was temporary. It’s like, “Really? You’re asking me to let go of heaven?”

And yes, because there’s a dynamic that’s often at play here, which is—I always think of the first awakening as a gift. It often feels like that—like it just comes out of nowhere, and you feel gifted. You know? Somehow the universe gifted you with this. I call it a freebie because it doesn’t really require anything—you don’t earn it with merit, it doesn’t come because you’ve mastered a certain technique. It can come at any point and any time and it’s free in the sense that we don’t have to earn or deserve it.

But once that’s happened, it’s almost as if the game shifts and what was shown to you for free now, in a certain sense, costs you everything to live with it. In other words, at the moment of revelation it’s almost like the letting go is done for you, by automatic. Then, later, it’s like now that you’ve seen that dimension of where that letting go can get you, but now you’re asked in a way—now you have to begin, you have to let go consciously and willingly. It’s not going to be done for you over and over and over again. It may visit you again, where it’s all done for you, but now you’re being asked—almost [to] re-traverse the terrain that you almost leapt over when this was all done for you, and now you’re doing it kind of consciously. Of course, you’re also having to encounter your resistances, the confusions—everything you transcended, in other words. Now you’re working through your humanity, what you transcended.

And so that’s what I mean: it costs you. You have to really participate. You play a very conscious role in walking back into what’s already there, as paradoxical as that may sound.

TS: Can you tell our listeners a bit about your experience of spiritual awakening?

A: Sure. I mean, for me, there [were] a couple of really significant moments. I’ll just describe them as briefly as I can, but try to give you all the important points. The first one happened after some years of real, strident seeking. I [was] really trying to have a breakthrough—meditating a lot, hours and hours. I just really, really hyper-focused on it. I got to a point where I just felt completely defeated. I’m sure many people listening to this have felt that at times. I remember I sat down once and I was pushing myself so hard in meditation to cut through my thoughts and sort of penetrate into something, I didn’t even know what it was.

But I sat down and it all coalesced at one moment. And I just said to myself as I was sitting there, just about to meditate, “I just can’t do this anymore. I just can’t.” And at that moment, it was like a nuclear explosion went off inside of me. It was actually violent—it was a very violent experience in the sense that the energy I felt was just ripping me apart and my heart was beating extremely—I’ve been an athlete. I know my max. I know what a 200-beat heartbeat feels like. I was very acquainted, and I was way, way past that. I really felt like my heart was going to explode.

So, I was feeling just ripped apart by this energy, and a thought came out of nowhere, in the midst of this chaotic violent kind of experience. I thought: “If this is what it’s gonna take for me to be free, if I’m gonna die today if I just let go to this, if it’s gonna . . .” because I literally thought I would die physically if I just let go, if I didn’t run away. And I just thought, “I’ve got to find out. I’ve got to know what happens.”

And somehow, something just let go. It was the simplest letting go. It wasn’t courageous. It was just like I was actually willing to die at that moment, and I just let go. In the snap of a finger, I was in a completely different dimension. There was no body, there was no mind, there was nothing to see, there was nothing to feel. There was literally nothing there. There was nothing there. There was no one there. That’s probably as far as I wanted to describe, because the more I describe, the more image it makes, and it was the complete absence of all that. And yet somehow, there was no fear. There was no—there was just a feeling of absolute freedom. Absolute freedom.

All the questions I’d struggled with, all the issues I’d had, they just, I just felt—even though I couldn’t feel my body at all—that somehow, these insights were flooding into me like a hundred every second. So fast that I couldn’t even record even a small fraction of them consciously. They were like little lights going off, or popcorn popping, and at some point it was happening so fast that I couldn’t even register anything near. It was like something was literally being poured into me—like liquid insight just poured in and poured in and poured in. It went on for I don’t know how long—it was a very timeless experience.

At some point I started to come back to my bodily awareness. Surprisingly, my body was just sitting there in total calm. There was no energy left in it, there was no heartbeat that was out of control. Everything was totally fine, and in a strange sense, absolutely ordinary.

After a while, I was just sitting there, and I thought, “OK. Well.” I got up, and [as] I always did, I sort of bowed to my little Buddhist statue that I had in my little meditation hut in the back yard, and as soon as I bowed, I started laughing hysterically. It seemed the most absurd thing that I had ever seen—that this Buddha figure represented to me in a symbolic way, everything that I had been chasing, everything that I had wanted. What is this Buddha nature? What is this divinity that this symbol represents? And all of the sudden, when I bowed, somehow I knew without any doubt that the thing I’d been chasing was the thing that I am—that I was what I was chasing. And it just seemed like the most absurd, ridiculous joke that I’d ever heard. And the joke was on me, and I didn’t mind at all. You know? I just laughed and laughed at how ludicrous this was.

And so, in the days after that and the weeks, I wasn’t floating in any particular space. All the seeking energy was gone. I didn’t feel driven in any way. That was really nice. There was no drive. Why be pursuing what I know I am?

But there’s something that’s interesting that happened. Right at the door of my little meditation hut when I was leaving, I opened the door and right as I opened the door, this little—I call it “the still, small voice,” and it was the place that had always told me the truth—and that still, small voice said to me, “This isn’t the all of it. Keep going.”

And at that moment I felt so disappointed, because a minute later I was just hysterically laughing at the absurdity of chasing this eternity and realizing that I was eternity, and now this voice was saying, “This isn’t the all of it, keep going.” I just kind of felt like, “Oh no, you—can’t be.” And then, literally within a few seconds, I realized that it wasn’t discounting what I’d realized. Nothing said that what I realized wasn’t real or true, it was just telling me there’s more to the picture. Don’t fixate here. Don’t stop here.

And so, even though I had no seeking energy, no drive to attain, I knew that it was telling me the truth. I knew that there was more. There was a deeper clarification that was going to come, that came about—gosh, it was a while later, probably six or seven years later.

It was a totally different experience. Again, they always happen when I first sit down to meditate. Not even when I really got into meditation. But one morning, I sat down to meditate. I used to meditate early in the morning—a couple of periods of meditation before I would go see my teacher on Sunday mornings and meditate with her group and see her. So I sat down to meditate, and again, just as soon as I sat down, I heard there was a bird outside. I heard the bird, and again, up from my guts—not from my head, because I had never thought of this question or anything—up from my guts, this little question came up, and it said, “Who hears this sound?”

Ahhhhhhh. [Breathes.] And all of the sudden, the bird, the bird call, the sound, and my hearing of the sound were all one event. Just one thing. There wasn’t me sitting on the chair meditating, hearing a bird. There was just this one thing, and this was different than what happened before. That was like getting blasted into total emptiness before transcendence. But this was—I was very much here. It was almost like that transcendent energy entered into human form [and] displayed itself as the world.

So, once again, I sat there for a while, but the beauty of it—it was like this pure experience. There were no—even though now it’s still emotional to me to describe it to you, as you can tell, but at that moment, there was no emotion to it. There was no byproduct. There was no bliss, there was no expansion—which was beautiful because there was nothing to get in the way of seeing what the truth of it was, to have the absolute perception with no experiential byproduct that I was going to try to hang onto later. It was just so pure and so simple and so immediate.

I got up after a while, once again, and I did what I do because I’m a very practical person by nature—that’s why I got up and I just wanted to see, I wanted to test it, actually. And so I started to look at the most inanimate things I could—the little tiny refrigerator, that—at that time we lived in a 400-square-foot cottage where our refrigerator was two feet tall. I looked at the refrigerator and, sure enough, me and the refrigerator [were] one, and the perception was one happening. I went all through the house, looking at that. I went in the bathroom. I literally looked at the toilet. I was kind of testing it. Can I find separation anywhere? I went in the bedroom, I opened the bedroom door—Mukti was still asleep, my wife—and sure enough, it was just like there I was, sleeping. [Pauses.] Yes. [Pauses.]

I started to get ready to go see my teacher. The feeling, though—after I went in the bedroom and came out into the little living room area, getting ready—the fascinating thing was that everything I did, every step across the floor, I felt like I had just been born. [Pauses.] Like something opened its eyes that had never been here. That’s what it felt like.

I’m not saying that that’s what happened; that’s the way I’m describing the experience. [It was] like something was here for the very first time and everything was for the first time. And yet, it was wonderfully ordinary—just ordinary. [There were] no fireworks.

I went off and went to see my teacher, and went about the day, and I didn’t even bother to mention it to her for two or three months because it was so sufficient. I didn’t need acknowledgement, I didn’t need it to such an extent that it never even occurred to me to tell it to her until after about two or three months later. I thought, “Oh, it would be kind, it would be proper—this thing that she’d tried to point me to over all these years, that I would tell her about it.” That was the only impetus. So, I shared it with her, and then went on about my day.

Of course, as revelation goes, it’s never left me. It [hasn’t] got that sort of “Wow, for the first time, I’ve never seen this,” feeling to it, because now I’ve been existing within that for 20 years or something now. It’s become more ordinary, but as you can see, when I describe it, it’s still of deep significance and it’s still always with me. I’m often struck by it at many odd moments. I’ll feel like the first time for something—the first time walking somewhere or I’ll be drinking and all of the sudden, it’s like I’ve never drank—it’s for the first time. But it’s not like it didn’t have the me going, “Ooh, wow, the first time. Isn’t this fantastic? Isn’t this great?” That’s all there was, there wasn’t a reflecting on it. That’s all there was.

Those are two moments—the last one was very brief. A year to the day, to the very day—which I always thought was the strange ways that life weaves together. Mukti is my wife, and she comes from an Irish family. So, they have Irish roots in Ireland. I had this awakening I just described on St. Patrick’s Day, and a year to the day after that, on St. Patrick’s Day—which never held a great significance to me. I didn’t even know it was St. Patrick’s Day until later, in retrospect.

But a year to the day—the last [awakening I had] was, I’m just sitting on the couch one day reading a book. I [had just finished] reading, and I put the book down and I stood up from the couch, and it was like I left something behind. I didn’t know what it was. It was simple—I was just like, “I left something behind,” just like that. I thought, “What did I leave behind on the couch?” I got up, and something didn’t get up with me. Something—it had kind of been with me. Later that night—I didn’t even think about it much after that; it was a curiosity. But that night, I was getting ready for bed, I sat down on the edge of the bed, and all of the sudden it struck me: “Oh, I lost myself.” And it was just the simplest recognition, you know? Again, no fanfare, but just, “Oh.”

And now the way I describe that when someone asks me about it—I think the most concrete way I can put it is that I lost my inner life. You know: that life where you sort of process through things and the sort of narrative that’s talking to itself about everything? I don’t mean to say that there’s never a thought that flows through my head, but it’s not of a narrative quality. I’ve lost any kind of mental processing thing—[it] just disappeared. It’s just gone. So, there’s a different way of experiencing almost everything.

But those are significant moments, right? They’re significant moments. But, to me, it’s not just about the significant moments. There’s specific discrete moments, and then there’s also what I think of as—here I am, 20 years later or more, and there’s still an awakening. It’s the verb of awakening that’s continued. There just seems to be an ever-deepening clarification of what was realized in those moments—an ever-deepening capacity and ability to embody it in my humanity. I don’t see an end to that capacity to embody, and I’m always noticing that there’s a new way to embody. There’s a more precise way or a way that feels more integral or more whole. So, there’s awakening as a verb that continues. For me, it kind of keeps a humility there, because whatever I might have thought was all-inclusive last week, I realize at some point, “Oh, there’s another way to look at the same thing.”

TS: Now, you mentioned that with this third instance—the losing of yourself—that you started experiencing the world in yet a different way. I’m curious what that different way is.

A: Well, it wasn’t necessarily a perceptual shift like the last two. In both of those other experiences, I transcended Self. In the first experience I described, I transcended ego and Self, and the second one was also a transcended Self.

I came to see that to transcend Self—which, when you do that, you know that certainly ego is a useful and mostly useless fiction. You know that. But when we transcend something, it’s not the same as its falling away. That’s what I realized. When it fell away, what fell away was—another way to speak about it was like the self-referencing sort of turn or arc of consciousness that tends to reference. And usually what it’s referencing is the ego—the image, the idea, the story, the process. And then when the ego’s not really a big part of what’s happening inside, it’s like this turn of consciousness is orienting back towards itself. So, it could be quietness, it could be peace, it could be a whole host of nice experiences or not-so-nice experiences.

But, there’s this turning inward—I don’t know how to describe—it’s like consciousness doing a U-turn or something. And then somewhere along the line, the U-turn just stops. It stops because there’s really nothing there for it to look at. There’s no process going on. There’s just nothing there. How long would you look into an empty room? At some point, you would turn around and just go somewhere else. And that’s what happened on that one day on the couch. Something just stopped looking into an empty room. It just turned around. So, it’s not like a perceptual shift. For quite a while, it was kind of an oddity. I would even say to myself, “It’s strange. There’s no process going on.”

[It’s] not that I can’t use, say, deductive logic or things like that. But [there’s] no emotional process. There’s no working something out because there’s nothing there to do it. Which doesn’t mean that I’m emotionally perfect. I don’t mean to project ideas like that. But it’s like the understandings just come of themselves, so I can just pose a question and the question—I don’t even work with it. I wouldn’t even be able to work with it anymore. If I have a question, it’s just there, and then at some point, an insight that’s a resolution of the question just comes up. There’s no discernible process. Perhaps in the unconscious level there is, but consciously, it’s just kind of life without a process.

TS: Now Adya, here in this conversation, when you were talking about these awakening moments, markers, turning points in your life, you actually were quite moved—emotionally moved. I’m here with you, so I can see it in your face, hear it in your voice. What’s going on for you, that you’ve had this . . . ?

A: That’s a really good question, Tami. I don’t actually know, and the reason I say this is, I don’t talk about this stuff a lot, but I do share it when I feel it’s useful. In the early days, shortly after this stuff [occurred], it would create a kind of emotion, because there’s a kind of poignancy and significance. It’s like the deepest jewel you have, you’re sharing [it] with somebody. It’s more meaningful to you than you could ever describe. But for years—I would say for the better part of 10 or 15 years—I haven’t really gotten emotional when I’ve described it. So it was as much a surprise to me as it was to you or to anybody else.

I don’t know why I felt that, but the poignancy of it was what I was really experiencing. I just felt how valuable it is to me. How valuable. Not the past, but how it’s living now, that’s almost like—maybe it has to do with age, also. It’s almost like feeling that the older you get, you realize the gifts that you’ve been given and you appreciate them. You know? It’s a different time of life. I’m 52 instead of 32. Maybe that’s some of it too.

I really appreciate some of what’s occurred for me, and I think I’m also humbled by it. And I don’t mean that in like an “I’m humble” sense, but I think I’m definitely, completely at peace now with my humanity. I didn’t struggle with my humanity after these things, but now I feel that these kind of experiences make you feel—[laughs] it’s going to [be] another paradox—kind of strangely at one with, but in another part—in another sense—apart, because you’re experiencing or perceiving something that a lot of people around you aren’t.

So, whenever you experience something there’s a little bit of apartness to it. But, now that’s part of this ongoing “awakening” verb—maturing, is really what I think it is. I’m just very comfortable with the entire experience of existing and the human experience. I think poignancy and appreciation is something about our limited humanness that feels those emotions. Perhaps because I’m even more and more and more comfortable and appreciative of the humanity with all of its frailty and all the rest, perhaps that’s a reason—it just feels like that. I’m trying to give words to something that’s hard to describe. Like I said, I haven’t felt emotional like that about it for quite a long time. I certainly don’t mind it. [Laughs.]

TS: I think most people’s experience is that awakening is a gradual process for them. Perhaps small, punctuated moments, but not the kind of story that you share for yourself—the kind of depth [and] nuclear explosion. I think that’s more rare. One of the things I’m curious about is: do you think that people can actually reach a depth of knowing, a depth of awareness of being—however you want to put that—this shift of identity—through a gradual approach? Or do you think, “Really, come on. At some point, there has to be some big, dramatic event?”

A: That’s a good question. I appreciate that. I’ll answer as honestly as I can, which is: The reason I’m reflecting, the reason for the moment to reflect is because—one of the things that really stands out in my experience these days is how paradoxical truth is. It’s not paradoxical in experience, but it’s paradoxical as soon as I even think about it to myself, much less describe it.

What I mean by that is, yes, I’ve seen people that have had quite gradual awakenings where things are realized in retrospect, where there’s been some real change. And I don’t mean just ordinary psychological change, but a real fundamental change of how they perceive life that they just kind of slide into. A day comes when they kind of go, “Oh yes. Yes.” It’s like they recognize it, but they can’t tell you when.

But, having said that, I can’t imagine any kind of awakening that at some point there weren’t these moments of recognition. Not necessarily mind-bending experiences, but just recognitions where you really do realize unequivocally that you really are perceiving differently than you did. If you never know that you’re perceiving differently than you did, that’s one of the hallmarks of a real shift—is there’s a consciousness about what’s happening.

So, it’s kind of in the middle. I think there will always be moments of recognition. But, when I look back, the reason I think in large part that the first opening was so explosive, even violent—it was very much connected with how [hard] I was pushing. I was like a bottle of carbonated liquid that had been shaken up [violently] for five years, and then the top got taken off of it. There’s going to be a violent eruption of that energy—it’s all going to explode at one point. So, I think I was almost, without knowing it, creating and storing this kind of psychic tension that released. That’s why years later, when I had the other awakening, it wasn’t violent at all. It wasn’t explosive. It was revelatory, but there was no explosive quality to it. It’s because I wasn’t pushing. I wasn’t striving. There was no buildup of psychic tension that had been happening.

So, some people are just hooked up to where striving in the way I was striving is not part of their makeup. They can have the same interest, but they go about it in a different way, and they’re probably not going to experience these almost volatile-sounding shifts. They’re going to happen more gently.

Since I’ve been teaching and I’ve watched people have different awakenings, usually when it’s real explosive, there has been a buildup of psychic tension either through their own seeking or through their psychology—where they’ve been carrying a tremendous amount of pain or sorrow. Something has created a deep psychic tension. They’re the ones that tend to have these explosive awakenings. The people that for whatever reason aren’t hooked up to carry a lot of psychic tension, theirs are a bit more like a flower opening. It may open quickly, it may open a little slowly, but there’s a gentleness and an ease to it.

I often tell people now—I know I can’t alter people’s course any more than my teacher can convince me not to strive like I was striving, but I certainly don’t try to encourage a kind of pursuit that builds up a great psychic tension. Number one, it’s not ultimately necessary. It may be necessary for a person like it was me, but ultimately it’s not necessary; and it’s not always wise. It’s not always wise. It takes a kind of ordinary human groundedness to be able to experience those things without you coming out of it feeling very ungrounded or extremely disoriented. Even though it was a wild experience—I mean, 10 minutes later I did not feel ungrounded at all, and that’s because I was kind of a pretty grounded kind of person going in. But if you’re not, then I really try to get people—don’t push really hard if you’re already all tight, tied up inside, because it may not be the best thing for you. You may get more ungrounded than you’re ready for.

TS: OK, just two final questions for you here, Adya. I’ve met people who I think have had some level of a spiritual awakening, but they still seem quite challenged in parts of their life. Maybe it’s their relationship life or their ability to function well in organizational life (which is relationship life)—something like that. I’m curious to know: what do you think awakening does and doesn’t deliver in a person’s life?

A: That’s another good question. When it’s authentic, it does deliver these sorts of profound perceptual shifts. That’s not real accurate, but I think it gets the point across. There [are] these profound perceptual shifts; that’s sort of the hallmark of it.

But I think one of the things that can be disappointing to people—I kind of call it the selling pitch for enlightenment, which isn’t all true—is that these profound experiences, or even all the way up to a fair degree of enlightenment, it doesn’t mean that it solves all your problems for you. It doesn’t mean you necessarily have all your emotional baggage together. It does not mean that you know how to be in a relationship well—romantic, friendship, business—any more than having this big spiritual shift makes you suddenly capable of understanding theoretical physics.

As I see it, there are different lines of development with us: there’s a relational intelligence, there’s an emotional intelligence and maturity, there’s a spiritual intelligence and maturity. And they’re all interconnected, but they’re [not] interconnected the same. Just like everything’s actually one, but I am also still a distinct individual. It’s not one or the other. Oneness doesn’t cancel.

So, even spirituality—it’s a part of who we are, of what we are. When your perception changes, you often have deep emotional change also. You’re less attached, and all that kind of stuff. The possibility to be able to relate better or to have your emotional baggage handled with much more ease or resolution—the possibility is there, but it in no way is [guaranteed]. Most everyone, even with really powerful shifts, they’ll have to at some point own up to what’s left of their confusion—of their emotional confusion or conflict or dysfunction, their relational dysfunction. We could talk for a long time of the things that I—other parts of myself that matured over many years, and I hope [are] still maturing and will mature until my lifespan is over on a human level as well as a spiritual level.

So, I think that’s part of the honesty. These awakening experiences do not bestow perfection on anybody. They do not necessarily make you instantly easy to get along with. But, they do give you a groundwork from which it’s easier and more advantageous to address whatever conflict may still be there.

But you’ve still got to own up to it, and you’ve got to be honest and you’ve got to step to the plate. Sometimes people just try to cop out and go, “Well, I’ve had this shift, and it really doesn’t matter. I’m not my ego, I’m not my mind. I’m pure spirit, so it doesn’t matter.” Number one, that’s a profound state of duality. So, it’s not anywhere near—it may be a significant realization but it’s nowhere near complete, and it’s also dripping with ego hiding out in a transcendent place—not wanting to deal with anything, not wanting to step up and take responsibility.

So we also can deceive ourselves and we can use our awakening to deceive ourselves. That’s why I always state that your real great guide is your capacity and willingness to have great honesty with yourself so that when you do hide, you’ll catch on to it and you’ll own up to it. That’s why I always say we have a human component to us and we’ve got to become comfortable with that human component.

TS: My final question, Adya. I know all of your teaching work, in a way, is about awakening, but here I’m going to ask you for your pith instructions. Just the pith for our listeners who are interested in waking up. What’s the pith?

A: Ahhh, well, now you’ve put me on the point, haven’t you? Thank you, I don’t mind it at all! [Laughs.]

OK. Here’s the pith instruction. Since—as I see it and as I work with it—awakening has to do at least initially and for quite a long time with our identity—our true identity—first know that that’s what it’s about. That’s the bullseye that you aim at, and you look at whatever the identity is, and it’s that identity you’re calling into question. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about whether your consciousness expanded, how you feel, what you experience, if you see lights or angels or visions. It’s all about moving your base point of identity.

So, one of the most simple—well, let me give you the most simple. This is oversimplified, but I think it’s very useful—something that anybody listening can take with them or question.

Just ask yourself, without answering the question—never answer the question, but ask it and see what it elicits in your experience. You have your eyes open. What is it that’s looking through my eyes? What is it? And just endeavor to sense into that, and to feel into that—not define it. What is it that’s looking through my eyes? What is the experience of that? What is that?

Just something that simple. If your eyes are closed, if you’re meditating, what’s noticing this thought? What’s noticing these feelings? What is that? And don’t answer it. Just let the question evoke whatever it’s going to evoke, and just stick with it.

TS: You’ve been listening to Adyashanti on the topic of Waking Up: What Does It Really Mean? I’m so pleased to announce that with Sounds True, Adya has created a new digital subscription called Adyashanti Weekly: Moments of Grace. With this subscription, people will receive a new, never-before-released audio teaching from Adya on a weekly basis. If you’re interested for more information about Adyashanti Weekly: Moments of Grace, please visit many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.

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