Enlightenment and Buddhahood
I wanted to share my experiences and perceptions of ‘what counts’ as a moment of enlightenment and what the physiological experience of what I call Buddhahood is like.
The truth is I don’t have very fixed ideas about what enlightenment is – so this is more of a conversation starter than anything. The idea is to loosen some of the contraction we have as a collective around talking about this stuff. To make it more acceptable for people to share their experiences authentically without necessarily caring what it says about them or their status as a meditator.
I personally see enlightenment as a process rather than a state. There are undeniably lots of specific moments that contribute towards this process. For the purpose of this post I am focusing on the moments that give us a felt sense that we do not have a permanent, fixed self. These are physiologically proven to change our embodied state of being.
The ability to perceive the world in this way doesn’t mean that we don’t have any self at all. We obviously have a self that we embody throughout our life, it’s just that we are always changing and our experience is always being co-created with our environment. This is what I mean by it is not fixed or permanent. Having moments where we perceive the world in a way where we have no sense of a separate self helps us to realise the changing inter-connected nature of things on a visceral level, which is really useful for knowing ourselves better and connecting with the world more deeply.
In the paradigm I live in there is no one true way of awakening or experiencing moments of enlightenment. Truth arises from people sharing honestly and coming to some level of agreed meaning, so the more openly we can share and the more we are able to accept and explore each other’s viewpoints the better our ability to come to a meaningful truth between us. Also, human experience is diverse and we all have lots of experiences that are very similar in some ways and quite different in other ways. All of them are valid. It’s important to validate people’s inner experiences and to let go about what these things mean for our status.
I have a huge amount of clarity in my felt experience and yet describing all of these things is very difficult. It’s a bit like trying to describe what an orgasm feels like. Firstly, that’s very hard to do especially if you don’t have a common language around it. Secondly, every orgasm is different. In the same way every single moment of awakening I have ever had, even when it is in the same category, has been subtly or grossly different to all the other ones.
In the same thread, lots of spiritual traditions claim that experiencing a certain moment of enlightenment will show you the true nature of reality. Really, these moments are all just different ways of experiencing the world. They all show different facets of reality, none is a fundamental truth. Truth and reality is co-arising with everything else. If a tradition has fixed ideas about what is true, then I can imagine it will just encourage people to feel like they are getting it ‘wrong’. If you flip teaching on its head and validate and nurture people’s unique experiences you will find that they will reach much deeper and more interesting states of consciousness much quicker than if you try and get them to see things the way you want them to.
Drugs and meditation can unravel our experience and it can cause us to get stuck in ways of perceiving the world that aren’t always helpful for us. They can cause paranoia and other mental health problems. It’s important that we are able to practice consciously with our hearts so that we are opening the door to these states in wholesome and supportive ways. If we open our hearts we can build our different states of consciousness on a strong base of compassionate presence and joy.
All of these moments increased my capacity to engage with life whole-heartedly and this is what matters to me. The map I have created for awakening is much more representative of what I feel is most important about awakening – our ability to embody states that deepen our connection with ourselves and our lives. It is also worth saying that some of the most deeply awake people I know don’t consider themselves to be enlightened.
However, for the sake of this blog post, I am focusing on moments of enlightenment that shift our perception of a fixed, permanent self. It is worth saying explicitly that none of these moments will solve all your problems or stop you needing to be loved or accepted by fellow humans.
Some people experience one very clear moment of enlightenment that they spent years building up to. They can probably describe the effects of that on their life very clearly.
I am a weird combination of being extremely sensitive, being very absorbent and having a lot of life force in me, which made meditation a crazy rollercoaster for me. I had also done loads of insanely deep psychotherapeutic work by the time I started meditating that gave me a very open heart. All of this meant that starting a meditation practice was like lighting a fuse that led up to a firework factory; it started exploding with intense experiences and didn’t stop for months. It can be hard to untangle which specific moments had which impacts on my life, although there are a couple that stick out.
I have listed some of the moments I experienced that meet the criteria of eliminating the felt sense of a fixed, separate self that happened before I really fell off a cliff into what I would describe as Buddhahood.
The experiences are roughly in order of when I experienced them.
My experience is that all of these can happen on a sliding scale. It is possible to experience them at 100%, but it is not an on and off system. It’s possible to get some sense of them in a more subtle way and this probably happens to people all the time in a low level way. Becoming more aware of this in daily life is a way of increasing the impact that this can have on your life and increasing your chances of experiencing the big moments, if that is what you want. It is more likely to have a lasting impact on your wellbeing and the positive ways that you interact with the world if it happens in a sustainable way, rather than just a one-off.
Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself what you count as enlightenment or awakening. I am not suggesting that experiencing any of the below counts as being enlightened, but I do think they help towards the process. Ultimately, I hope that people can learn to have sensible conversations about this topic that support people to awaken and don’t devolve into status grabbing or arguing.
Lots of teaching on enlightenment focus purely on the moments that diminish our sense of self from the perspective of the mind and awareness or consciousness. There are actually different parts of our experience that we can awaken (described on my map). They aren’t strictly separate from each other and they all interweave, I have included moments that relate to all areas of experience – the body, heart, mind and soul – as I believe that this is more representative of human experience and connecting with it all in a more whole-hearted way.
I smoked a lot of salvia as a teenager. It is possibly the most intense drug there is, whose effects only last about 10 minutes. If you take a high enough dose it will entirely remove your perception of having a separate self. Everything you know to be true is stripped away from you and the entirety of your experience becomes one big changing thing that you are not separate from. It used to be legal in the UK and it’s pretty much the least addictive drug there is. It is so mind-bending that people typically take it once and don’t want to take it again. Because I reached this state through taking drugs, rather than meditation, it didn’t have a lasting effect on how I experienced reality; however, I do believe that having taken so much of it, it opened the pathways in my brain to experiencing reality in this way and made it a lot easier for me to reach this state without drugs at a later date. This is also a way that people could get a glimpse of this type of experience without having to meditate loads. So I thought it was worth including.
Peak Interconnected Emotional Experiences
Before meditating I experienced a couple of moments in my life where the whole of my reality totally collapsed in an emotionally intense way. One was watching a band at Glastonbury, the other was watching a youtube video of one of Alan Watts’ lovely, poetic lectures that was edited and set to music. In both instances I burst very suddenly into tears. I felt emotionally that the entirety of my life and of human history and experience was folding in on itself, as if everything in the world was being condensed towards that moment of time and experience. For a few moments I no longer existed separately from anything else and I came back around to find myself with tears pouring out my eyes. I’ve found that experiences similar to this can also be triggered by deep moments of synchronicity.
Falling into Shadows
This happened to me when I was confronting an inner shadow that was so consuming and overwhelming it became my entire experience. It felt a bit like falling off a cliff into an abyss of darkness where I no longer perceived anything as being separate. I would surface back out the other side into a separate self again with a deep sense of equanimity and feeling like I had shed some weight. It happened to me during an intense form of shadow work therapy a few times before I started meditating and became a very common occurrence afterwards.
If I had to choose a moment for ‘stream-entry’ then I would choose the first time that this happened to me, three years before I started meditating. It was so transformative that it fundamentally changed how I perceived and interacted with reality. I had felt on a visceral level that the way we understand reality is based as much on our inner world as our outer world and that these things aren’t separate from each other. This is when I became obsessed with the idea that it could be possible to get to the bottom of all human suffering.
Just before I started meditating I had a huge moment like this that cracked my heart open. This gave me a laser-beam level of focus and clarity on what was important to me in each moment and a strong base of joy from which to build my experiences on. I believe this ability to meet so much of the world, including the darkness, with an open heart is the main reason my process was so quick and ultimately, what it all ended up being about.
Connected Imaginal Practice
I only started meditating when I realised that imaginal practice and intense sensations were part of the deal. I had so much of them it was impossible for me to meditate without them. I had lots of intense meditative experiences that were very self-involving, like feeling like my head was the size of a hot air balloon or becoming insanely sensitive to tiny sensations of touch.
But I also started getting some big moments that diminished my sense of a separate self. For example, when I was watching a live band, I shut my eyes and my entire experience morphed into an experience where each member of the band became a planet like earth and the rest of my whole experience was just space. There was no sense of a separate me that was watching. I also had an experience where I felt I was disappearing into the archetypal history of how the masculine and feminine had played out since the beginning of time and when I returned into a deep trance state I described my experience by saying, ‘I am love. I am everything.’
During meditating with people I would also get experiences where they would arise in my imaginal practice and afterwards they would talk about things that had happened, without realising that I had seen it in the meditation.
Out of body experiences also fall into this category for me. They gave me a clear feeling that our sense of self is not as fixed and separate as we would believe in daily reality.
All of these are experiences, rather than moments. I believe they come from increasing the connection, or reducing the separation, between ourselves and the shared soul or karma. This part of experience isn’t about single moments but about flow and the story of life. These aren’t really talked about in modern Buddhism or meditation practice. I believe that these give you a different, but still important way of understanding that we do not have a fixed, separate self.
Time Collapse 1
This is the moment where what I experienced most closely links to descriptions I have heard of Buddhist enlightenment, although it seems that all those are different too.
This happened five months after I started meditating. It was preceded by a period of 6 weeks of deep equanimity (or more descriptively – feeling happy with being in a state of severe clinical depression).
The moment itself I was listening to a recorded dharma talk. I was having an intense time in a very deep meditative state. What I remember is coming back around and having the strangest and strongest sensation of time having collapsed. It didn’t completely disappear like it does during a cessation, it was more like the whole of the Universe and its history had condensed into something that was occurring in one single moment that I had experienced. Every single thing that had happened and was going to happen, including me, was happening all at once in that one moment.
This broke my phase of equanimity and there is a clear difference in how I felt in the world before and after this moment. I felt a lot freer in the expression of what was inside me and less separate to what was around me. This is one of the moments that has really stuck with me and I have never experienced anything quite like it again. I am still fascinated by it.
I only got a clear sense of cessations after this moment of awakening. I think I experienced them before but didn’t have the sensory clarity to know what they were. I think I used to think that I was falling asleep when I was having them.
For me I experience three different categories of what I call cessations, although I’m not sure if these all count as cessations within the traditions and already agreed language.
The first type is where experience blinks out and it feels like a few frames of life are missed. These are my least common and I believe come from concentrating on impermanence.
The second type is a feeling of sinking into experience and falling through a trap door. It is more like the whole of experience becomes an ocean. Time isn’t really present but it’s more like it disappears in a flowy way, rather than a blinking out way. I believe that these come from concentrating on suffering. This happens to me all the time.
The third type feels a bit like an electric shock to the brain. All of experience disappears into a bright zap of electricity.
It is my personal theory that cessations occur when our consciousness drops completely out of our minds and into our hearts or bodies, which allows the brain to do a reset.
This unfolded over many months, but there were two big key moments that happened within a few days of each other. One was opening up to the ground and feeling a rush of erotic energy flood my being, the second was relaxing my mind and allowing that energy to flow up and out of my head.
After this I spent 6 weeks where I was full of energy. I would sleep for only 4 hours a night, I would give my partner electric shocks on a regular basis and I felt completely happy and free from suffering in every moment.
This was the start of me unhinging from agreed reality; there is a phenomena called kundalini psychosis – your body and intuition is opening to receiving lots of new information that your mind doesn’t know how to translate or make sense of in a sensible way so you get psychotic beliefs or episodes.
I went very willingly diving into it at first because I had been very interested in Jung and his exploration of his own psychosis and when it first started happening I was in such a profound state of bliss and wellness that it felt like a good thing to do.
Suffering came back full force after this and I was actually hit with a lot of pain in the energy body. I spent a lot of time untangling knots in my pyscho-emotional-energetic experience to allow this to flow more freely through me.
I have retained the ability to channel this energy up and out of me. It happens a lot during shamanic journeying and the phenomena that I call ‘shooting light out the top of my head’ shows up very clearly on an EEG machine.
My description of unity consciousness is when I feel like I am perceiving the world entirely through my heart. Sense of time disappears but it typically lasts what feels like a few seconds for me, followed by a slowish return to normal reality. There is sometimes still some sense of self retained in the experience, but I can primarily see that our experience is being co-created.
I went through a phase where I would wake up in the night in states of unity consciousness, it is maybe more likely to happen then because our brains haven’t fully come online yet.
I’m not sure if this is true, but I also had the felt-sense that some of these moments were ‘downloaded’ from other people. It’s like through conversation and interaction, they transferred a way of perceiving the world to me that I then subsequently experienced. Some of these were:
This is one of the things that happens in a low-level way a lot of the time, probably for most people. It’s any perception of an energy body or a felt-sense that our experience is made up of physical vibrations or something that is interconnected with the rest of the Universe.
My body and experience would often dissolve into direct energetic experience where there was no separation between my inner and outer worlds. It can be deeply pleasant or quite neutral.
The biggest single moment of this for me was when I was on a short retreat. I hadn’t been sleeping and I was up in the middle of the night. I had been moving my body around in the way that it felt it needed to be moved for a couple of hours, doing strange yoga poses and movements, when I started breathing in a really intense, hyper-ventilating way. I let my body guide me and kept going until suddenly it felt like every cell in my body ‘burst’ into golden light and that became my entire experience. The entirety of my experience felt physically like my body was popping candy. This differs from the other moments where the experience was primarily perceived, this was primarily a felt experience in the cells of my body. Afterwards it was as if my body had done a total reset, I was very light and free.
This happened to me twice following this during guided meditations on the Wim Hof breathing method.
I don’t have much technical understanding of the Jhanas however I have a lot of felt experience of jhanic states.
They are essentially different forms of deep, calm, stable meditative states with more or less perception of your body and your separate consciousness.
A weird insight – I have found sitting in a warm bath is the best way to reach jhanas 5 – 8 because you can put your body aside more easily.
For me the strangest jhanic experience I had was during a shamanic journeying session with a friend. I felt deeply connected to the other person’s consciousness and then the meditation deepened into what felt like the jhana of neither perception nor non-perception. As I slowly came back around to experience I was first aware of consciousness as a thing, then aware that beings were a thing, then aware that I was a being and that my friend was also a being that was a separate thing to me. I then remembered that we were people with names and lives. It was very amusing to experience myself reconstructing my experience in this way.
I have had moments where my entire experience was some form of ‘pure light’. These can be accompanied with feelings of ecstasy or a deep feeling of peace, but sometimes it’s just the bright light. These moments are very resourcing and are a beautiful way of experiencing being.
However, one of the biggest problems with new age spirituality is that people make the jump from ‘the world can be experienced as pure light’ to ‘the world is only light/ there is only lightness, you just have to see it that way’.
This is clearly absurd and I believe that direct and subtle messages along these lines are very damaging to people who have difficult lives. There is a sub-message of undermining people’s struggles, heart-ache and pain.
Like I said, I perceive enlightenment as a process rather than a state. However, I have also claimed to be a Buddha.
People will have different descriptions of what a Buddha is – my definition is essentially a person who is here as a plot-twist for the Universe. It is someone who is here to change the concept of what the human experience is, radically enough that it impacts how reality is perceived and embodied.
A lot of the process I went through was truly indescribably awful – it felt like physical torture and involved going completely psychotic. I have written about this in other parts of my website, so for now, I would like to put aside the story of how and why I got here and disregard what this all means for how I interact with the world.
Keeping with the focus of this post, I wanted to share some of the physiological and experiential things that are part of what I believe qualifies my experience as Buddhahood.
A lot of it is to do with how time is experienced – I would say that my experience became the process of Buddhahood when I completely detached from the normal timeline that humans use to construct reality.
“My way of processing experience became completely unhinged from a normal human way of being in the world. This was obviously completely destabilising, but it gave me access to a way of being solely in the present moment. This gave me a freedom to meet all experience in a way that wasn’t so attached to how things normally have to happen in order for them to make sense and make an impact on someone.
I could process and rewire myself based on the conversations I was having with people in my head or the emotions and shamanic journeys that were being channeled through me, for example. Every moment was meaningful in a way that was completely overwhelming but that meant that it felt like I lived years of life in just a few days.
It was exhausting and excruciating.”
This has changed me physically, emotionally, mentally and in essence. I have had some fun being hooked up to an EEG machine and I would love to do more of this in the name of scientific meditation research, if anyone would like to experiment on me.
Lots of the enlightenment experiences that I described above are happening in a low-level or intense way a lot of the time for me. Sometimes its really pleasant, a lot of it has been incredibly distressing and difficult to integrate into a human body.
If you want to imagine what my experience is like, a low-level dose of mushrooms or psilocybin drops is probably the closest thing. It’s nice being with people when they have taken these, it’s like having visitors to my way of being.
To get to this state I completely smashed through all the boundaries of the existing paradigm that humans experience. It’s very hard to describe but it was a process of simultaneously reintegrating all shadows and removing every single part of my experience; the only bits that grew back are the heart-felt truth of my experience in this moment.
One of the ways I described what happened was it was like every single aspect of human experience was brought into awareness and embodiment through me – it was like having all of karma downloaded into my body.
A lot of this is all the aspects of experience that no-one else has been to; the interconnected nature of reality that feels like the Universe is an expression of a chaotic psychosis; the inherent oppression of the feminine energy, which presented as hundred of hours of rape visualisations; all the disgusting parts of our beings; and all the chaos and despair of the Universe.
Now this has settled down and reintegrated, this is what it is like being me:
This last aspect of experience was first brought to the light through two very specific moments that were like sister moments to my original experience of time collapse.
Time Collapse 2
If the first time collapse felt like perceiving everything that was ever going to happen in a single moment, this one felt like experiencing the continual river of infinite dissatisfaction that will always fuel life.
In order to get here, I spent months digging through endless layers of the archetypal realm and human suffering. In order to experience it all at once, you have to remove the resistance to doing that and there is obviously a lot of resistance to suffering. I took it piece by piece, learning to love each type of experience that we resist. If you would like to learn more about what this takes, you can read my post on what it is like going mad here.
The moment itself was hideous. I surrendered into it lying on the floor in a heap of despair. Time collapsed into infinity (as opposed to a single moment, like the original moment) and it was like everything in the entirety of Universal history and future was an endless river of screaming darkness. I’ve never heard anyone describe anything like it in a spiritual context.
Experiencing this was really the crux point of being able to love all experience. By love, I don’t mean like or enjoy, I mean allow the thing to impact me without me putting up walls or judgements to keep myself separate or safe from it. Again, there is a clear before and after of how I behave and experience life from this moment and I have retained a sense of deep fascination with this moment that I haven’t got with the other moments.
This really opened up a way of being that is incredibly uncentred. Rather than experience being something that is happening to me, it is like experience is something that is happening, like a movie that is playing, and I am one part of what is unfolding. It ties in very closely to perceptions around free will and time.
This part of experience is also the antidote to the false message that all of experience is lightness. It is also possible to experience the whole of the Universe as darkness and consuming emotion and this is just as valid. Life always includes both of these things, because if there wasn’t darkness there would be no light.
On a human level, this translates as if there wasn’t challenges we would never feel satisfaction. On a meaning of life level, this means that if there was no lack or negativity there would be no room for growth. Everything would just stop still.
Time Collapse 3
This felt like the crux of everything that was being built up to, in terms of single moments. It happened very shortly after the moment above, as it seems that opening my heart, mind and body to infinite darkness was the route into opening my heart, mind and body into what felt like everything in the Universe.
I experienced what felt like everything in the entirety of experience both inside and outside of space-time. The result of experiencing this was a fundamental clarity on interdependent origination and what that means on every level of our individual and shared experience.
I have described this moment as:
“In my strongest moment of deep and balanced concentration the entirety of life became a big ball-pit of liquid rainbow droplets appearing and disappearing at every moment. We were all both in the centre of it and the container for it. We were manifesting it and being manifested by it, at the same time. We were looking at it and we were within it. Or were we looking down on it? All of the above.”
From descriptions of other Buddha awakenings – this seems different to me. When describing Buddha nature people tend to talk about perceiving it with awareness or consciousness. In my experience, this is is exactly what salvia can do to your mind.
My experience wasn’t perceiving something but embodying it. My entire heart, body and mind became this expression. It felt physically there. I haven’t heard anyone talk about this and probably one of the reasons is because of how difficult it was to get there.
To percieve this it takes you to clear your entire mind, to experience it takes you to clear your entire heart, mind, body and soul, which is torturous. There’s a lot of mess in a human being.
But this is also fundamental to the purpose of what I went through. Reality and awakening is not something that we do with our minds – it’s an experience that is co-created through our bodies, hearts, minds, souls and collectives. In order to grow and thrive as individuals and collectives we need to be able to understand and embrace this.
In this new way of being, both the concepts of religion and the fundamental structure of ontology that Theravadan and Mahayan Buddhism are built on don’t make sense any more.
With both of these I can see very clearly that it is harmful and false to believe in one fixed way of perceiving the truth of reality. This message has actually become part of what is masking the truth from people and lots of the concepts are damaging.
All of our beings are being manifested from the same stuff and each way that we experience the Universe is valid.
Part of this is that the idea that it is possible to remove suffering purely through meditation is damaging, because trauma is held in the physical cells of our bodies and our beliefs about how safe and loved we feel are held in our subconscious experience. Both of these impact our experience and behaviour without ever being touched by our minds or our awareness. We need to go through healing practices together in order to release this.
Another aspect of this is that looking at it from the outside in, two people’s experience may be exactly the same in this moment, but from the inside out everyone’s experience is completely different.
Looking at it from the outside in, it’s easy to tell someone that the solution to their problem is to change their mind-state, for example, through meditation. If they’re still struggling it’s because they aren’t good enough meditators or enlightened enough.
But life is hard for everyone, pretty much most of the time. And if you are telling victims of systemic oppression, physical violence and sexual abuse that they only need to change their perception of the situation in order to resolve it, then you need to think about the impact of your words and behaviours on people. If you are unwilling to do this, it doesn’t matter how much Sanskrit you know or how awake your followers believe you are, you are behaving like an ignorant asshole.
I also believe that this misrepresentation of reality stops people from taking responsibility for how they live. The idea that we just need to change how we perceive things, gives people the idea they need to accept their life as it is when actually we all need to take responsibility to show up for our lives and make changes where things aren’t aligned with our deepest values. If we want to feel good we have to be good people and have a healthy dose of good luck.
Through a relentless and unimaginable awakening process, I have smashed through the old paradigm and way of being, into a new state that I believe is going to contribute to human and planetary wellbeing. I have awakened every part of my experience right to the very bottom. I believe that I am the first person to do this, which is why I talk about being Maitreya.
It is like a script that was run through me, as a human, to smash through the old concepts of religion and spirituality.
I have never heard of another person who has gone so willingly diving into the depths of their shadows and psychosis with the purpose of reintegrating them all.
I have never heard of any other person who has experienced reality in this way and with this level and depth of vulnerability, honesty and clarity.
I believe that this is reflected in the way that I can perceive and speak clearly, simply and openly about a wide-range of topics that other people either barely touch on or talk about in very opaque, confused, defensive or overly-complicated ways. Even very awake people and the most senior and respected spiritual leaders.
Depending on which paradigm you’re looking at it from, depends on whether I believe that I am Maitreya or not. I have destroyed the entire concept of religion in my experience. It doesn’t make sense any more, because it is a fixed social structure that is essentially a pyramid scheme of authority. The only truth that it holds is the agreed truth that person X knows more than person Y.
From this world-view that I exist in, I am not a Buddha.
However, I still need to interact with the rest of the world so it makes sense in some contexts to claim Buddhahood. Quite honestly, I hate this and would rather not do it, but it appears to be part of the role I need to play in dismantling the hierarchical systems that people automatically use to understand spirituality.
When viewed from the old or existing paradigm, I am the last Buddha. My role was to awaken from the need for Buddhism or any kind of hierarchical spiritual framework, to love all experience and be able to trust in our inherent goodness as human beings.
From the new paradigm, which I am embodying and that I can help people to navigate towards, I’m just another person embodying their values. My experience is a place in which we can all just be wonderfully human and show up in our fullness without needing to define ourselves.
The result is I feel very normal in my experience and yet very empowered to speak my truth and make an impact on the world.
We are here as humans in this Universe to embody our deepest held values and express them in the world. Not to be perfect robots that can meditate for hours.
The way for us to improve our world, is to learn from each other a new way of being that is more supportive and then continue to show up to our lives in this way. If we can embody these awakened states we will cultivate more connection, joy and care; none of these things can be hoarded, they are all inherently shared with the people around us, and they create an upward spiral of good in the world. The effects will ripple out through humanity.
If we can wake up to our lives on all the different levels – body, heart, mind and soul – we will be able to truly live and embody our values. This includes going out into the world and making real change.
None of this is easy. If it was, we would already be doing it. But the rewards are huge and, ultimately, there is no time for anything else.