Welcome to my map of experience and awakening. You can also download it as a PDF. Each row shows a different part of our personal experience, the white columns show the different areas of experience we can meditate on.
Rather than seeing awakening as a linear process that we go through like other maps, this table gives us a framework for connecting to whatever experience we are having in this moment with more sensitivity, clarity and compassion. That process allows us to open to new parts of experience, which is essentially what awakening is.
If you haven’t before, it may be worth reading my blog post on imaginal practice, if you want to understand that aspect of meditation better.
All of Experience
In my experience it is the heart, both literally and metaphorically that holds the key to all awakening. The four inherent heart states (friendliness, inclusion, joy and compassion) plus spaciousness connect with different aspects of our beings to create our entire reality. They are the connection between the building blocks of reality and our personal experience. This table is structured around this, along with all of my writing, teaching and understanding of the world.
In order for the contents of the table to be representative of experience, it needs to be used in three dimensions. When used in this way this table summarises every possible type of experience and meditation practice.
To use it in three dimensions you use the collective parts of experience as different doorways through which you can experience the aspects of meditation and experience (the white squares) through.
- You can look at every aspect of experience through the doorway of awareness
- You can open to receiving the heart-felt expression of experience through the doorway of love
- You can connect with the meaning of it all through the doorway of story
- You can feel into the immediate, direct sensate experience of it through the doorway of matter
- Or you can create room for all of it to be expressed freely, through the doorway of space
I use the categorisation of mind, heart, soul, body and environment throughout all my writing.
It is worth noting that for the soul element of experience, the language I have used in my writing is quite fluid. I sometimes swap between the terms soul, shared soul, story, archetypal realm and karma. This is the part of experience where meaning sits and meaning depends on context, so this is just a reflection that different terms feel more meaningful in different contexts. I just wanted to bring attention to this to avoid any confusion.
The awakening experiences arise when our inner worlds are deeply aligned with our outer experiences. There is no separation so we merge into one big experience that shows us a facet of the true nature of reality. This non-duality feels different for each of the aspects of experience.
Lots of traditions pick one of these and focus on this being the ultimate enlightened state. They can be fun and insightful experiences to have but I have discovered that complete sustained alignment in any of these states is not the purpose of awakening.
Taken to the point of total alignment for any sustained amount of time, all of these states become completely absurd:
- When my mind was totally aligned with awareness, I spent weeks feeling like everything was a mirage. Whenever I closed my eyes for a second I would disappear into formless realms. But no matter how empty everything arose as, my physical reality and body never became empty. You still need to breathe.
- When my heart was completely aligned with love, I was not separate from anything around me. If someone else was suffering near me, I would be suffering with them. People felt very see-through to me – I could read everyone like a book and felt connected to what seemed like their deepest sub-conscious thoughts. It was a nightmare, but I did manage to heal my relationship with every type of human experience and am now able to retain an open heart to all experience. This fundamentally shifted my relationship with life and experience but it didn’t replace the need for me to be seen, loved and respected by other people.
- When my intuition or soul was totally aligned with our shared story, my life became one big epic story. Nothing in life had a fixed meaning, everything had a thousand different meanings. I walked around in flow states, where I was tasked with rectifying loads of collective karma and chaos. They were sometimes really fun and interesting, like magical quests full of synchronicity, but it could also be intensely confusing and disorienting and there was an insane amount of suffering. There’s no end to the story and no end-point with the meaning of things – it’s always related to the context of this moment, the stories that have led to this moment and the story that is still yet to be told.
- When I had removed enough of my own personal trauma and my energy and physical body were completely aligned with my environment I was present only in this moment. It sounds lovely and it can be, but it’s deeply painful when things aren’t good. Your entire experience can be pure pain or heart-ache and you aren’t very functional. Turns out, it’s actually kind of useful to remember that you are a person with a past and a future.
- In order to go through all this on my own, I experienced the Universe as a being that I was in a collective conscious with. But no matter how aligned I was with the entirety of the Universe just doing its thing in every aspect of experience, it didn’t replace the need for human connection.
Mastering them all – having them all taken to their absolute conclusion through me – has allowed me to see experience with an incredible amount of clarity and sensitivity.
The absurdity of all these experiences also taught me on every level that there is no one single source of truth or true experience. None of these things can exist in the Universe without all the other things. They are all interdependently arising together.
More importantly it taught me that there is no set place that we can find a home. There is no way of awakening into an experience that is genuinely pleasant, that doesn’t rely on having safety, love, connection and respect from other humans.
There’s nowhere in experience to land. We can only build a home in connection with each other.
‘Always go too far, because that’s where you’ll find the truth,’ Albert Camus
Interdependent origination is an impossible concept to get your head around. But the simple outcome of it is, if we didn’t have awareness or consciousness the Universe wouldn’t exist. If we didn’t have love the Universe wouldn’t exist. If we didn’t have a shared story the Universe wouldn’t exist. If we didn’t have matter the Universe wouldn’t exist. If we didn’t have space the Universe wouldn’t exist.
It sounds kind of dumb when you write it out like that. Like, duh. But it’s amazing how enticing it can be for people and spiritual traditions to believe that only one of these is the one true answer. So it’s worth saying explicitly.
There are parts of our experience and bodies that connect directly into each element of the collective part of experience. Our experience is not being created by our minds, as some traditions suggest, it is being co-created by these five different areas of ourselves and our environments.
We would not be able to create our experiences without a brain, nor a heart, nor a soul, nor a body, nor a physical environment for us to be in. Again, obvious but worth saying.
We have a tendency to believe that the mind and our awareness is doing most of the heavy lifting, but this is a post-rationalisation and the other parts contribute to creating our experience much more than we realise. Awakening into this fundamentally changes how you experience being in the world.
Ultimately, it became apparent that I not only needed to align my inner and outer experience, I needed to have some balance between the different parts of experience.
The experience I have ended up in feels normal, it’s interesting how quickly we adapt to a new way of being, often without even realising it. If I compared it with someone else’s experience and spoke honestly about what was happening in each moment, it would seem very strange to other people. My inner and outer worlds are still very aligned in the ways I described above, but in a much more stable and balanced way.
We don’t however necessarily need to have big moments of awakening to be living our best lives. Balance is the state that will allow us to feel good in ourselves and engage with the world in a healthy way. By the way, when I say balance I don’t mean a fixed state of perfection. It’s like riding a bike, you have to keep moving and shifting to retain a sense of balance in life.
If you want to awaken these parts of yourself or bring them more into balance then my advice would be to start wherever you feel drawn to, the area that feels most interesting or important to you. The signs of imbalance can be a good indicator of what would be most beneficial for you to focus on.
Deepening our experience or growing requires us to go out of our comfort zone. If we go out of our comfort zone on our own, it is inherently difficult, painful and we don’t know what we are doing.
You have to be willing to look stupid and get things wrong. Even the best practitioners don’t know what they are doing when they are outside of their comfort zones.
I have included the column about how growth and deepening can feel, because things have to get worse before they get better. If we want to achieve happiness, we have to face fear. If we want to achieve a clarity of purpose we have to face burning away everything that isn’t that.
By going through this process you are liberating your energy and freeing it up. You no longer need to hold onto these things to protect yourself.
The exception to having to go through the pain and difficulty of facing our own shit, is when we can find a guide or role-model who can take us out of our comfort zone.
If someone has awakened this part of themselves, they can hold us through the process. We feel safe and nurtured and quite often don’t even notice that we’re growing or deepening our experience, it just happens organically. This is the magic of the spiritual teachings and the collective conscious.
The types of insight will help you identify the people that bring this out of you:
- If you have a lot of ‘huh’ moments talking to someone they are probably helping you expand your mind.
- If you feel inspired by them they are probably helping you burn away prejudice and focus on what’s important.
- If you feel drawn to them they’re probably one of your spirit guides, or a person that is helping you navigate through your life.
- If you feel safe with someone they are probably helping you to be more present with your experience.
- And if being around someone feels like coming home then it is a sign that they are allowing you to be your true self.
If someone brings out the signs of imbalance in you, this is a chance for you to expand your comfort zone of experience. You can travel inside and explore in what ways this is a sore spot for you. You may have the capacity to feel it or see it for what it is – some way that you have learned to operate because you have been hurt or mistreated before – and heal it.
It is also a chance to travel out of your comfort zone and think about how they are experiencing the world, which could give you a better understanding of human nature. Remember that we are all being created from the same stuff so their experience is valid, too.
Ultimately, when we know we are safe, black and white thinking can completely disappear. We can experience the world in a way in which there is nothing wrong with ourselves or the world. We can accept everything as it is in this moment, even if it’s a bit fucked-up or painful in some ways. It becomes an exploration into the different facets of our experience and the experience of others.
When we have created a safe space, like a meditation setting or a therapeutic place where we can explore our experiences together, you literally can’t get it wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you or your experience.
All your ‘worst’ thoughts, perceptions, emotions, sensations and desires are all a manifestation of you being born a human baby and then living through a far-from perfect life. They are completely acceptable. Even the ones that you think I can’t be talking about because they are too awful. Those too.
If you have a lot of darkness in you, it’s because it got put there through your experiences and genetics. It is all meant to be there, because it couldn’t be any other way. Every other moment in history has led you to this moment, this experience in your life.
Acceptance in this moment, includes acceptance of any desire to change. And if you want to change, you need to show up to the experience whole-heartedly, to face yourself or your reality. Alternatively, we can show up whole-heartedly for each other. We can love the bits of each other that each of us thinks is unacceptable and this will bring the darkness to the light in a pain-free, wholesome way.
The more we can do this, the more life becomes a joy for everyone. It is the best thing you will ever do for yourself and for humanity.
Appendix – Time
Each of the different aspects of experience relate to a different aspect of time and I just thought that was worth noting here:
- Awareness – Timelessness
- Love – The entirety of past, present and future
- Story – The infinite flow of time
- Matter – There is only this moment
- Space – Experiencing being here