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This is a description of the different parts of my experience. The separate bits are sort of distinct from each other – they are like the ingredients of reality – but they can only be experienced as separate for very brief moments and these moments were only accessible from a very raw and dysfunctional baseline experience.
Each aspect of experience has a personal part and a Universal part. The aspects are:
- A body and a Universe
- A heart and Universal love
- A mind and consciousness
- A soul and the Cosmos
Our experience is made up of a blend of these things. Mostly it is a tangled and confusing mess for people.
Having disentangled them it is very easy for me to understand and identify the different bits with a huge amount of clarity. This took months of going through unimaginable shifts in consciousness at least once a day to arrive at. This isn’t a concept that I’ve created, rather a reality that I feel into.
Like a somalier who can identify the exact vineyard a grape was grown in from tasting a wine, I have developed a level of clarity and sensitivity to experience that allows me to describe things with an insane degree of accuracy and precision.
I can pull apart most spiritual teachings, spotting the subtle loopholes, meaningless platitudes and shadow sides from a mile off.
In each part of experience, awakening, coming into presence or experiencing non-duality presents differently. There is no one part that holds the final truth.
1. A Body & A Universe
Often when I am walking around I feel as though I am primarily a body, that occasionally has a mind. I walk around in flow states with no separation between me, the environment and the things I am doing. I feel very animal-like a lot of the time.
I do have thoughts, lots of them, but I don’t get what I call the double think, where you are getting in your own way and wrestling with yourself.
I very rarely get lost in thoughts that take me away from this moment. When I do it feels like bliss – it’s actually kind of a lot to always be in the present moment and there’s a reason humans are addicted to thinking. It feels better than being here.
It’s amazing how much the body needs to change and go through if you want to awaken. Our body is as much an imprint of our consciousness as it is our genes. It feels like my entire nervous system has been completely rewired.
I am as much an energy body as I am a physical body and this allows me to feel very connected with the external world. The Universe is as much a wave as it is a particle and the wave is a more connected and loose part of experience that has room for things like transmissions and experiences of unity and connection.
When I talk about essence, it is this embodied part of experience that I am talking about. It is the flavour that being in our unique physical body gives to experience, that comes from our natural preferences, ways of being and felt senses.
Our physical bodies are one of the ways in which our experience is undeniably separate from the external world. No matter how much our minds and experiences can feel like there is no separation at times, we are in fact existing in a body that is separated from the world around it.
The entire human experience is built on us having a body, so it is not possible to remove separation completely. In this way you will always have a self.
This does not mean that your experience cannot be non-dual. It means that a non-dual experience of body and environment has to include and respect this separation.
We are constrained by our physical limitations and the laws of physics. Part of this is that we can only do so much, so we have to prioritise what we care about.
So much spirituality gets muddled up on this basic fact and thinks that because it is possible for the mind to experience infinity, we are somehow naturally infinite or can behave in an infinite manner in a sustainable way – operating from a place of ‘unconditional love’ for example.
Real unconditional love, includes honouring the conditions and limitations of our love.
If we can’t respect our own boundaries, ask others to respect them or trust other people to communicate their boundaries to you, then we are moving from a subservient place not a loving place.
It is telling that the word ‘matter’ means both importance and physical substance. The things that really matter (people, wellbeing, nature, emotions, making an impact on the world) tend to be grounded in physical matter.
Knowing what you care about most and behaving in a way that honours that is the most loving act there is. Spirituality needs to empower ourselves and others to be able to do this.
Unless there is someone who is dependent on us (a child, a vulnerable person or someone we are directly responsible for like an employee for example) then it is important that we learn to be able to take care of ourselves first. And that we are empowering others to be able to take care of themselves.
This isn’t selfish, it’s wise and helps the world create a network of mature and effective relationships rather than a series of unhealthy, codependent relationships.
This is the maturation process from codependence to independence to interdependence. A simple example of this is the way we move from children to young adults to fully mature grown-ups.
Once our needs are met and we are able to show up fully in interdependent relationships, our love naturally overflows to those around us. It is from this place that we feel not separate from the environment around us.
We also exist within a Universe being. It too is very much a physical being with limitations and boundaries. Although there are some quite wild claims from mystics and awakened people, I have never seen experience not obey the laws of physics.
The laws of physics are fascinating. There is no way of reconciling them in a way that makes sense and this I believe is part of the reason we exist; the system arises because it cannot complete itself.
Uncertainty is baked into the system, in this moment we can only know the position or the velocity of the particle. This mystery is also what stops the whole thing being a mechanical operation.
Ultimately, this shows us how life is not a logical thing that we can get right or wrong, but an experience to be embodied.
The doorways into this aspect of experience are somatic or embodied therapy, yoga, jhanas 1 – 4, and meditation practice that focuses on being in the present moment exactly as it is, even if it is painful or difficult to be here.
2. A Heart & Universal Love
This area of experience is all about connection.
Connection with humans, with animals, with nature, with our belongings, but especially with humans. As humans, we are capable of expressions of love that are far more complex than any other thing in the Universe and so we are uniquely made to meet each other in this space.
Love is all about meeting each other, giving to someone who can receive what we’re sharing and being open to receive that which is being given to us.
When we are together, hearts have conversations with each other all the time without us realising it. We are communicating shared emotions through felt senses, meaning through subconscious messages, and understanding through things like body language and social signalling.
Love is not a static thing, it is the process of giving and receiving. This means that love is also inherently incomplete because there has to be a separate receiver and giver.
‘A knife doesn’t cut itself, fire doesn’t burn itself, light doesn’t illumine itself’
Non-duality in this case is about giving and receiving freely without trying to control the flow or stop any part of it.
It sounds beautiful, but often this ends up not being that pretty. Loving what is there freely can just as often mean grief, pain, heart-ache and disappointment as it can mean joy, happiness, care and connection.
Loving something doesn’t mean to like it – it means to be open to receiving and giving what is naturally there freely.
When we are closed-minded, disengaged from our bodies, overwhelmed with emotion or being shut out of experience by someone or something, we can’t connect with what is truly happening. Things get distorted by the perceptions that are trying to keep us safe, separate and disconnected from the thing that we don’t trust.
In an environment where people aren’t getting the connection they need, the addictive cycle becomes a warped expression of love – people are doing their best to get their needs met in the environment that they have available to them at the time. We can become addicted to thoughts or other things like sex, power or money.
The entirety of the Universe is built on this process of giving and receiving and this is what I mean by Universal Love. Universal Affect is perhaps a better word – things impacting and being impacted in every moment – as it avoids the common perceptions that people hold about love being a pleasant experience.
As part of the process I went through, I had to let every bit of life affect me freely, including the bits of life that are unloveable. This was immensely painful and indescribable in a way. It was like being totally present with surrendering completely to the idea that things are just irredeemably terrible, again and again in all the different ways that that is possible.
Universal love or Universal affect includes everything in the past, everything in the present and everything in the future, so there was a lot to process. It fucking sucked like nothing else I have ever experienced has ever come close to and I have had a pretty hard life at times.
It is by going through this that I am now able to embody and hold this absolute clarity on the different parts of my experience. Every part of myself is connected – there aren’t any parts that are disconnected or unseen.
We can only love in others what we can love in ourselves and when you love all of yourself, love just flows freely out of you without needing to protect yourself or pretend that reality is any different to what it is. I can see things as they are because I am not turning away from any aspect of it.
Part of this is what I call ‘dancing with the devil’. Loving the parts of experience that are unloveable doesn’t make them loveable, it just means that you are able to be with the discomfort of this without turning away. To let it effect you.
It means that I am totally aware of the shortcomings of experience, the bits that feel dark, evil or irredeemably weird in some ways and don’t need to turn away from them. Often that bit of separation can actually be an opportunity to laugh at life or yourself, as a way to fuel creativity or as the little bit of darkness that keeps the spice of life alive.
The devil really is in the detail. It is my ability to perceive this aspect of experience clearly that allows me to cut through other people’s bullshit – all the subtle power grabs or mistruths that are there to mask what is really happening – and meet it with love. Not blaming or punishing it when I see it, but offering up a sense of love and connection for what the sincere desire that is underneath it.
Going through this process has also opened up a unique ability for me to be able to love other people through their most difficult states, which makes the process of them opening up to them much less painful. Because of what I’ve been through I can meet people exactly where they are.
Again, this relies on people being able to show up in a mature way that isn’t based on codependence. In a codependent relationship one of the most loving things you can do sometimes is to walk away or stand your ground.
Love is complicated, it can never be boiled down into simple formulas. It is only something that can be felt in this moment.
This is a huge area of experience; it essentially encompasses everything. Some of the direct doorways to this experience are learning to be sincere with yourself and others; getting clear on your intentions and what feels important to you; therapy focused on lifting shame and guilt; mediation and other mature forms of communication where people feel seen and heard; any meditation practice that actively validates different parts of our experience that we aren’t normally present with; and developing patience and the ability to be able to be with discomfort.
3. A Mind & Consciousness
This is the place where humans typically spend most of their time and is the area of experience that most modern meditation is focused on.
Opening this up completely allows us to see the impermanent, transient nature of our subjective experience.
Please note, that often people take this realisation and apply it to understand how reality is constructed, particularly if they have not done much soul work where they are connecting deeply with their emotions. They get lost in a confused mess that all of reality is transient in the same way that their experience of it is. Unless you have awoken the other aspects of your being this is how experience presents itself to you but the reality is that our physical reality does have a degree of permanence to it.
This is one of the reasons it is important to open up these different parts of experience in balance.
Awakening the mind and consciousness, or opening to all its aspects, can give you a kind of open centreless awareness of how things are or a sort of bird-like transcendent perspective on things playing out. You can be with the direct sensory information without adding a layer of judgement or projection on top.
Time doesn’t really exist in pure consciousness so accessing this can create cessations in experience.
When this part of experience is opened up, you can sort of dissolve into it. There’s no longer an object and a viewer, they are just one thing.
Using more poetic language, it’s a bit like normally you’re perceiving the world as if it was a drawing on a piece of paper in front of your eyes. Opening your mind to pure awareness is like turning that piece of paper on its edge – you see that your perceptions are just a thin veneer and that reality behind or underneath it is a lot richer and more immersive than you realised. And you aren’t actually separate from it. Rather than it being something you are looking at, it is something you are in.
Once you have turned the paper on its edge, you can either hang out in that thin top layer, which gives you that bird-like detached perspective, which is a very sutric approach, or you can immerse yourself in the reality that is underneath, which is a more tantric approach to life and practice. Both of these perspectives stretch outside the limitations of a separate self.
The best way to see through the illusion of the sheet of paper is through continual mindfulness, concentration on impermanence and loving kindness meditations.
More poetically, you are ‘turning the page’ by opening your mind to change.
4. A Soul & The Cosmos
If you include anything that exists outside of what is here purely inside of this moment, then the entirety of the Universe is an allegory or an expression of meaning and we are all just characters in the story. I mean this very literally.
Truly understanding this requires throwing scientific materialism out of the window.
Part of this is that everything is always moving in sync; people are occasionally given a glimpse into this world when they experience deep synchronicities.
This has implications for free will, which causes this way of experiencing the world to be infused with an inherent sadness. It’s deeply sad to embody the understanding that all the suffering in the world is unavoidable.
It takes a while for people to be eased into the idea of this and lots of people don’t seem to need or want to access this aspect of experience.
Having access to this, is a bit like ‘I’ can be dropped out of my own character and into the bit that is ‘Universe’. This makes the whole of reality feel very dream-like to me while giving me a sense of soul safety (or trust in the story) and an unshakeable feeling of non-self.
In this state I am experiencing the story playing out from a very centreless place. As if dissolving into the meaning and cosmic intelligence that is infused into everything. The meaning is not being created or perceived, it is already there.
An aspect of this part of experience is that everyone is living their own story. While they all tie together and create a cosmic order, there is a deeply personal aspect to each person’s life and you cannot know from the outside what that is like for someone.
My own story has been rife with mind-blowing experiences, unbelievable synchronicities, insights into the future and access to information that has no logical explanation. This has destroyed my fixed perceptions of what reality is.
All I really trust is that there is a cosmic order and intelligence to how things unfold.
Soul-making, Jungian psychotherapy, being with your suffering and engaging with meaning or the imaginal are the doorways into this part of experience.
5. Love, Paradoxes & Belonging
Love, or opening ourselves to being affected by experience, is the only way in which we can connect with anything, including: ourselves, other people and the world around us. Awakening fully was a process of loving all experience, or letting it impact me, with no exception.
Different aspects of love touch the different aspects of our inner experience and the outer world.
Allowing and gratitude are the heart states that allow us to feel at home in the world; when we are safe, held in a loving space and we notice and appreciate that fact, we feel like we are at home. We can be ourselves.
Part of this is accepting that things aren’t perfect and never will be. Easier said than done. The nature of paradoxes explains why this is necessary.
I say that both the soul and awareness exist outside space-time. The reason for this is because separation can be entirely removed from both of these aspects of experience, making them complete. When you do this you get a perfect paradox:
In the soul realm – if every single thing in the Universe is meaningful, then nothing is meaningful.
In the realm of pure awareness – if everything becomes completely clear, then nothing is clear.
The nothingness and everythingness of the paradox extends beyond the parameters of what is created in space-time.
This ‘completion’ frees your brain up from thinking about these aspects of experience and your being is free to allow things to mean what they mean to you in that moment and appear as they are to you in that moment.
The combination of the two in my experience is that simultaneously everything makes total sense and everything is an endless chaotic mess. I am not wrestling with concepts or ideas to try and understand things, things just naturally appear already making sense in this moment.
In contrast, both love and matter have a fold in them that mean they can’t be everything. Inherently, they can never be made complete.
In the realm of love – it is because it is always in the process of being given and received, which means there must be a separate giver and receiver.
In the realm of matter – it is because there is a physical boundary that defines the edge of experience and experiencer.
This stops life being able to solve itself, and means that it remains a thing that we experience. If this wasn’t the case, the Universe wouldn’t have started. If it had it would have solved itself by now and we wouldn’t be able to exist in it.
It’s also what binds us together – our need and desire to have our physical needs met and to love and be loved.
Although we are incomplete, there is a place of wholeness that we can move from, where we have integrated our shadows, validated our desires and believe that we are worthy of existing and being loved, even if we aren’t perfect.
Belonging isn’t about arriving at a fixed identity where we know who we are and where we fit in life – belonging is about finding the people and places that we gel with and we can enjoy working together with, on things that we feel matter.
It is taking that piece of incompleteness in life, or unsatisfactoriness, and rather than believing that it says something about us or trying to push it away onto other people, we are seeing it as a challenge to enjoy overcoming together. We find a place in the process where we can enjoy a sense of connection and shared purpose.
You can read more about these different aspects of experience in my True Nature Framework