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Note: All models are just an effort to bring one to a place where models are no longer necessary. They are like stepping stones and should never be picked up and carried along…
The Continuum of Conscious Awareness is a dynamic model that represents five distinct stages of the spiritual journey. It does not keep us bound to any one particular stage though. As a ‘continuum’, it honors the fluid nature of the awakening process and recognizes that we may move through several different stages over any measurable length of time, be it hours, days, weeks, months, or years.
The five stages that make up the continuum include:
Sleeping: This is the normal resting state of most people in our society today. We can all summon to mind the mental image of one or more people who fit the traditional definition of ‘one who is asleep’. For these people there is little to no interest in spiritual exploration, or if there is, it’s at the surface level; lacking in real substance. The unquestioned assumptions, firmly rooted in their minds, govern their day to day lives – lives that are spent pursuing the activities of the world with little consideration for the possibility that there may indeed be another way. In many cases, those who are ‘asleep’ are also in deep psychological or emotional pain. This pain may be conscious or unconscious, but either way it has a tendency to manifest itself in attitudes of negativity and self-defeat. It is a fearful pain, a contracted pain, a pain born in the isolation and separation of misunderstanding. For this reason, it is important for those of us on the spiritual path to acknowledge their pain and forgive them for their actions. We can call this ‘the practice of compassion’. This practice is an invitation to hold our hearts open for all those who are enduring their own inner suffering. Not to judge or condemn them, but to love them despite themselves. In many ways, these people are our greatest teachers. They are offering us the gift of patience and understanding. For those on the spiritual path, this kind of practice may be difficult; and can be fraught with its own kind of issues and challenges, but it is an essential part of our flowering process. In some cases, the manner in which we treat such people may actually inspire them to begin questioning their underlying assumptions about the nature of life. In doing so, we become the catalyst for their evolution into spiritual seekers
Seeking: The seeker is generally born, within our direct experience, as an acknowledgement that something may be missing from our lives. The seeker can also ‘explode onto the scene’ as the result of a traumatic experience, or a particularly difficult set of circumstances. For some, the seeker is just a natural unfolding that comes without any coaxing at all. What produces the seeker is generally of less importance than the simple fact that the seeking quality has emerged within our experience. As this seeking quality arises, we somehow find ourselves compelled to question the inner workings of our own minds, and to find answers that resolve the incongruities of our apparent existence. We may develop an insatiable appetite for knowledge about religion, spirituality, psychology, science, and more. We may dedicate a large part of our lives to the activities of seeking, such as prayer and meditation, participation in spiritual communities, listening to teachers, going through various forms of psychotherapy, and engaging in a myriad of other such explorative methods. Some of us may even go so far as to travel to distant lands, or disappear into cloistered spiritual communities where everything is a reflection of our spiritual intent. There is really no wrong way to engage in the activity of seeking – the seeking itself draws us in whatever direction we need to go. It is enough that we are seeking. What really matters is the degree of sincerity and earnestness with which we approach our seeking activities; the degree of self-honesty that we are willing to apply to our seeking process. If our desire is pure, and we are willing to do the work required of us, then we greatly increase the chances that we will experience that which is sought – the experience of ‘awakening’
Awakening: When we begin to talk about the true nature of an authentic ‘spiritual awakening’, we may be tempted to believe that this terms has a particular meaning associated with it. Because we already have a preconceived notion, we may prefer to seek out descriptions that are consistent with these notions rather than opening ourselves up to the possibility that it may not ‘mean’ what we think it does. In fact, one of the most challenging aspects of talking about spiritual awakening is the mind’s tendency to insert itself into the dialogue and begin describing what it wants the awakening to be. For many of us, we are fixated on the end result of the awakening process – not on what it actually takes to arrive at it. We want the peace that is promised, the freedom from suffering, the bliss of being; but we want it in pill form so that it’s easy to swallow and offers immediate benefits. None of these preconceptions actually have anything at all to do with awakening though. Awakening is something else entirely. This gentle warning is offered to the seeking mind so that it is prepared to engage in an honest discussion about what an awakening really is. The experience of awakening can be a gradual one, or it can come on all at once, but its quintessential hallmarks are largely consistent across the stories of all those who have been invited into it. They are common enough, at least, to warrant mention. These include the direct comprehension of emptiness and wholeness; not as mind-made conceptualizations, but as an intimate and immediate realization of ourselves as unconditioned awareness. This realization is not the end of the journey however, it is the beginning of a new one – a deepening into the understanding of who and what we truly are.
Deepening: Once we have crested the shores of awakening, and glimpsed the fundamental truth of our essential nature, we are properly positioned to engage our seeking activities from an entirely different vantage point. It is the awakening process itself that demands deepening. As we awaken, we begin to recognize that, although we are none other than awareness, our conditioned minds still have a tremendous hold over our experience of life. This conditioned mind is very much akin to an old-style record, with many deep groves in it. If we are to arrive at a culminating point in our experience of awakening, then we must take the time to polish the record until all of the grooves have disappeared. For many, the deepening process is actually the most difficult and challenging stage of awakening. It can even include a more pronounced sense of suffering than before our experience of awakening. During this stage, we are forced to feel everything, investigate everything, and allow everything. The weight of watching our inner and outer worlds crumble can be devastating to the egoic mind, and is absolutely inescapable. We are often drawn into a dance of fear and surrender that requires us to abandon every aspect of our old conceptual world and learn how to become comfortable with a new life of complete uncertainty. Meanwhile we are also called to experience ourselves with such love and compassion that we fall inward towards its invisible center of gravity. As we empty ourselves of ourselves, this love pours in from every direction, completely consuming our old identity and restoring our inherent innocence, wonder, and joy. Eventually something begins to dawn within our direct experience – a sense of wholeness, fullness, and completeness that gives way to the quality of ceasing.
Ceasing: For those who have not experienced it for themselves, ceasing is just as difficult to speak on as ‘awakening’. Primarily because within the dawning of ‘ceasing’, there is a recognition that reveals to us we never needed to seek anything in the first place. Even ‘awakening’ itself is a myth. Anything and everything that we have ever read or heard said about the awakening process is seen in a completely new light. We are invited in to the cosmic joke of spirituality, of which we are love’s punchline. There is so much openness, spaciousness, and joy within our direct experience of life that all seeking activities fall gently away into a direct knowingness that all there is to do, has been done; and all that there is to know, is now known. Everything is clear, crystalized, effortless, and simple. There’s no resistance left, only love. We are ‘in the world, but not of the world’. Life goes on, just as it did before, but nothing will ever be the same again because we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we cannot know, and that all is always well. Life is just taking care of itself, as it always has. What we are, just *IS*, and we are all *IT*. It is all *JUST THIS* and our role is to *JUST BE*. Nothing more can be said on the matter. It is a state that would appear as a complete paradox to the mind, but because of the deepening process, the mind has attenuated to a new reality where it no longer needs to know or do anything in particular. It sees itself as a contextual remnant of a dream world, but also sees beyond itself into the sphere of absolute reality. It can hold all paradoxes because it is no longer the point from which life is lived. It can weather all ambiguities because it no longer expects life to comply with its demands. It is from this place that we enter into the infinite last mile.