The powers, which are discussed in a rather erratic way in traditional Buddhism are something that aren’t talked about very often these days, so I wanted to give my take on it.
I’m actually going to start by renaming them to ‘the forces’.
This is because awakening to the realisation of an impermanent life of suffering that we do not exist separately from also includes ‘powers’.
They aren’t something you can attain or ‘get’ in any way, they are processes that arise with the beings in this Universe. They can only be experienced in the present moment, just like everything else, and are subject to change at any moment.
‘The forces’ seems like a more descriptive name of their conditioned nature; they aren’t something we can do – they are processes that happen through us.
The forces are the 5 areas of life that all my writing is based on and that I believe are the fundamental building blocks of our Universe:
- Physical matter
- Meaning/ story
- Awareness/ consciousness
If you took any of these out, the entire experience of what it is like being in and being this Universe would fall over. It would be an entirely different experience where everything would be unrecognisably different. A completely different dimension or plane of existence.
Buddhism talks about mastering the powers – it is my belief that this is actually about getting out of the way of the forces. Sounds simple, it’s actually very painful and involves being present with a lot of grief and heart-ache that has accumulated into this moment.
Getting out of the way is removing all the contraction and fixedness that we hold around these things so that our being is a pure, unfiltered expression of each of these forces. When you start getting close to this, it is an incredibly powerful state of being to be in.
Experiencing any of these in full force without resistance, even for a moment, is a powerful experience to have. When you have even small remnants of a fixed idea of a self left over, it can feel like you have obtained some really cool powers.
And holding the space for being fully present in this moment, having the meaning of the entirety of karma channelled through you, while feeling and being aware of everything that is happening in your experience, in a sustained way, can definitely be very powerful.
But it ebbs and flows like everything else. You still have to do your washing up.
When Buddhism talks about obtaining powers, it sounds as if it is something that you get; something that you overlay onto your experience.
In actual fact you are just opening to the forces that are already there. They are already moving through all of us in every given moment. They are what we are built from.
It is contraction and trauma that causes us to close to the free-flowing full power of these forces and for good reason. Contraction keeps us safe and stops us doing stupid things.
It also shapes our experience in fixed and helpful ways that allow us to move through the world. It is our sense of a separate self that creates our individual experiences and therefore leads to the creation of beautiful experiences like connection and joy.
Losing this sense of a separate self fully to a pure expression of these forces is incredibly disorientating, overwhelming and dangerous, if not done in an extremely safe and supported environment.
If we want to start opening to them, which is really what awakening is, we need to create safe spaces for these things to be expressed through us.
We don’t need to overlay another layer of control or fixed ideas about what should be there when we access them, we need to hold space for opening to what is already there. These forces include all aspects of life, so it is a process of exploring and befriending our darkness as much as opening to our light.
It is not the brain that needs to learn, it is the heart, mind and body that needs to be made to feel safe enough to open.
Once you have fully opened to each force in a sustainable way, it becomes something that is simply expressing itself freely through you in each moment.
The Buddha talked about the parts of experience that you have to resist in order to achieve his version of awakening. There were aspects of meaning/ karma/ the shared soul, which is where our darkness lives, that he avoided and instructed people to avoid in order to find the end of suffering.
My version of awakening is not about finding the end of suffering, that would require rejecting huge swathes of experience. When we reject things with our minds, because we think they are wrong or bad, they don’t go away in any meaningful or sustainable way. They just come out in imperceptible, subconscious ways.
My version of awakening is opening to all of life. No resistance.
Once you have fully opened to one of the forces it becomes something very simple. You don’t need a system or concept to describe it, it is just there in your experience.
This isn’t an on and off system, it’s a grey scale, which we are all moving around in at all times. We face different levels of contraction in different scenarios and the point of awakening is to remove the amount of contraction we feel in a wider range of scenarios. To liberate the energy so that it can flow more freely through us.
Our fixed ideas of what this is going to give us – peace, happiness, admiration, respect – have nothing to do with this process. They are just more fixed ideas and contractions that stop us from opening to what is actually there – depression, loneliness, feeling like a complete idiot for talking about stuff you’re pretty sure people aren’t going to believe or accept, for example.
Going back to original Buddhism, there are lots of fixed ideas and concepts about karma, rebirth and past lives. The Buddha either believed these were true or was using them as a way to point towards something that is happening in this moment.
The meaning of emptiness is that all these concepts and ideas are just metaphors. We can’t understand any real truth or meaning, because a system can only be fully understood by the whole system, which we are only one part of.
It doesn’t mean nothing has any meaning at all, it just means that something means what it means in this moment. It is a metaphor for describing something that is happening now. No concept or idea can hold for certain from one moment to the next.
Metaphors and concepts can be really helpful for making sense of our experience and these things – rebirth and past lives – do hold more than a grain of truth in them. When the Buddha talked about having thousands of past lives that led to his awakening, this was a metaphor for what was being experienced in any given moment.
It’s not inherently true that the Buddha himself had had past lives, but there had been a rich human history of thousands of lives that had created a story and karmic intelligence that held the information for him to access the things he needed in each given moment in order to go through the process of awakening that led him to the state of consciousness that he called enlightenment.
Equally, I was only able to awaken as deeply as I have because as a species we have created an insane degree of understanding, love, physical safety, complexity and spaciousness that I was drawing on in every single moment of my life and awakening experiences.
The process of waking up required me to consume the ideas of thousands of people, whose ideas had been built on hundreds of thousands of people before them. These ideas are what allowed me to become aware and make sense of the forces that were being expressed through me. The ideas had been simplified and perfected enough that I could just take what I needed to know. Clarity comes from just the right amount of information at the right moment.
I have encountered hundreds of really beautiful people who I was able to connect with throughout my life and awakening process who loved me in varying states of being, helping me to accept and open to them. It is only because we live in a very free and safe society that we were able to share this love freely between each other.
My physical body was only able to take the toll of removing the contractions and processing all the trauma that comes with being a human being because I could spend weeks barely getting out of my warm bed, except to drink water straight out of a tap and buy food from a supermarket.
I was only able to understand the depths and infinite complexity of meaning in life because our society has become so complex that everything could be looked at through a thousand different lenses and ways of looking. The rich metaphors that modern life lent me also allowed me to understand the workings of the Universe with a level of subtlety that just would not have been possible if I was a simple farmer who lived in a village and worked in a field.
Ultimately, there was enough room in the system for my mind, body, heart and story to be completely dismantled, all at the same time, in order for me to open to being a pure expression of Universal life force. And then for my mind, body, heart and story to be built back up again in a way that is incredibly open and still sustainable.
The whole thing was as much of a nightmare as it sounds. At various points I nicknamed it Universe bootcamp.
Call it lack of free will or just statistical likelihood of living on a planet with over 7 billion intelligent beings, there was also a very specific combination of attributes and life experiences that I was blessed and cursed with that allowed me to experience every facet of life with an open heart and open mind. Having a huge amount of confidence, tenacity and love coupled with a deep level of low self-worth, pain and loneliness is a very powerful combination, not to be fucked with.
Karma and the shared soul carries content over from one moment to the next. It is a mystery how it works, that is part of its nature, so if the weird intelligence of the karmic forces deems it appropriate for someone to be able to tell some semblance of what it thinks the future may be, based on all our collective intelligence in this moment, this can happen. It can also give someone access to information that they really have no logical way of knowing. The whole thing is working together as a system to work out the best way forward and expressing this through the entire body of us, all beings and the Universe. It is inherently harmonious. It is inherently magical and mysterious. It is inherently working in the favour of generating more joy in the Universe as a whole in the long-run.
We don’t get to understand it – that’s part of the deal. It doesn’t even understand itself. We can only open to it.
This is a much better understanding of no-self. We aren’t here to extinguish ourselves. We are here to let go of our hang-ups and allow ourselves to freely express what feels real and meaningful in this moment in service to the Universe and all its being, including ourselves.
Ultimately awakening is not about getting a thing and neither are the powers, or the forces. They aren’t something special or separate to the rest of life. They are just life expressing itself through us in this moment. Just like literally every other thing is.