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Energy and Emptiness in Spiritual Experience

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Energy and Emptiness in Spiritual Experience

All spiritual practices are aimed at bringing us to an experience of our deepest interior reality. As we meditate, layer after layer we are given experiences that show us who we are, down to the very cells of our being.

The first task of infancy is that of diffuse consciousness becoming identified with a body. We did not come into the world identified, but gradually, as infants, the comforts and discomforts we experience bring our awareness into a sense of identification with the boundaries of our bodies. The awareness within us begins to feel, “This is who I am.†Someone gives us a name that we understand is “meâ€. As we grow we begin to accumulate and store experiences. The sense of a personal self evolves from the accumulation of experiences and the unique patterns with which mind stores, links and makes connections between experiences.

Soon there is a “me†who we believe must be defined and protected, and from this we create a web of desires and avoidances, a sense of direction or purpose, our relationship to others, our drives and our hang-ups. We become an identity and a person. All of these concepts and motivations form energy patterns within us that shape our lives, and greatly impact our emotional and physical health.

Spiritual practices are designed to break our identification with the body or the form of who we are. When this happens it is said in yoga that the first knot is broken. This allows our awareness to become much more conscious of itself as an energy field. One could say that instead of knowing ourselves as the outer structure of the cells we begin to experience ourselves as the movement inside the cells, as vibration.

There are many possibilities once this happens. We may begin to use practices to gain some control over the directional flow of this interior energy (called prana or chi), such as in martial arts, healing, Reiki, yogic and Taoist breathing practices, and in this way we can build strength or open chakras or various energy centers. We may begin to experience erratic energy releases as cells begin to release old patterns and attract new ones. We may open up new pathways for energy and awaken kundalini, which is an intensified energy that amplifies the energy and orchestrates the gradual deconstruction of the entire energy system – reorganizing us cell by cell. We may go through periods of mental disorganization or disorientation, emotional volatility, the breaking out of latent illness or apparent physical or hormonal problems, radical shifts in our world view and interests, and changes in our eating patterns, sexuality, senses and inclinations. There may be sudden bursts of inexplicable paranormal or mystical phenomena, beyond what the personality thought was a possibility for humans to experience: e.g. visions, channeling, out of body sensations, merging with others or with space, unconditional love, and many other activities.

Although spiritual practices and sudden experiences of spiritual awakening can trigger all of these changes in energy and consciousness, in some people they happen without any warning or invitation, especially during times of great emotional intensity, or in response to a near-death experience or trauma, an intense drug or sexual experience, or for other inexplicable causes. When this is so, confusion, fear and resistance can make the deconstruction much more difficult to bear. But all that is really happening here, underneath all the drama, is an emptying of lifelong cellular holding patterns so that cells can become at peace, and allow life to flow through the body in a more spacious and natural way. The subtle body is the portal between the physical and causal, the forms through which we express ourselves and the vast spaciousness that is beyond form. Everything we are identified with is woven in the subtle field or energy body. This intense process of deconstruction is both the gift and the risk of spiritual awakening.

We have been told by scientists that 99.9% of our cells are space. Our bodies are made of the cells yet they appear to the eye through its own unique mechanism and connection with the mind to be firm objects. All our movement and activity helps to hold this identification in place. But spiritual practices are leading us into spaciousness, outside of identity. That is the point of the emphasis on stillness and silence and sitting for long periods of time without doing anything. Ever so slowly awareness begins to turn into itself and sink into the space of our cells. We may pop into something that feels like penetrating allof the universe, as the emptiness in us becomes the consciousness of the cosmos. Attention caught by this emptiness may feel terrifying to the sense of “me†as it means annihilation of who I thought I was. When the personal I is allowed to drop, the opening into emptiness becomes profound awakening which brings the peace and wisdom beyond understanding that is the mystery of which sages cannot fully speak. There is a graceful and natural falling away, which if we could study it, would likely be accompanied by complete sinking of consciousness into this 99.9% cellular space of our bodies. It is said by the sages that this is where we are when we sleep, which is why we awaken refreshed.

When we learn to move into this space while awake we begin to see creation from the level of pure physics – as light and energy, and to feel consciousness through the senses and body as profound love, and to penetrate the wisdom and order of universal mind, wherein we can see the wholeness of life exactly as it is in each moment, and the wonder of form that dances out of this empty fullness of consciousness. In time the rare person who becomes stable in this perception lives from the spaciousness rather than the identification with form. The sense of I is discarded for the sense of we. This experience is not something that causes an “I†to feel superior to others. When inflation follows awakening it is a condition that means stabilization in the emptiness has not yet occurred, and there is still personal attachment to the experience. But awakening is not inactive and passive either.

If we think of mental activity arising from all the motion within a cell, we could think of this as activity arising from the peace and spaciousness of the whole. All wisdom and truth arises from this spaciousness, but the distortion of millions of belief systems, and personal human identifications contained in the pattern of energy, create the great diversity of human experience. The tendency to be addicted to our thoughts and patterns causes us to be blind to what we really are – this is what is called maya.

So spiritual process can be imagined as cellular clearing and opening, and the capacity of consciousness to experience itself without identification with form. In some ways we could call spiritual awakening, cellular spirituality.

Eastern scriptures have described three forms of kundalini awakening, based on the intensity of energy which moves through the body at the time. It may be mild like a river flowing, moderate like a snake crawling up the spine, and intense like a geyser. When this energy activated fully in Adyashanti it was sudden and intense, causing his heart to pound beyond normal limits, and his conclusion to be that he was probably going to die. When he surrendered to this with the thought that if it took death to be free, so be it, the energy process swept through and stopped, plunging him into an experience of cosmic unity.

Another modern spiritual teacher. Eckart Tolle, speaks of his awakening more in terms of a permanent penetration into emptiness and space. His awakening was spontaneous, without any spiritual training, after he fell completely into the depths of depression. After falling into emptiness, he never retrieved his former mental patterns again, but instead demonstrates a deeper access to wisdom and understanding.

For many people there are tastes of this empty-fullness in meditation for many years, before they fall into the realization that this is what they are. Others come upon it when out in nature, and being swept into a realization that they are everything that is – the mountains, sky, earth, rocks and every being within it. It is as if there is a sudden movement out of the form with which we were narrowly identified, and into the pure consciousness out of which every natural form has emerged. We may be moving into the space of our cells and discovering it is one with all space, full of the consciousness that is all and eternal.

It’s important as therapists or friends of those moving through this process, to hold the utmost respect for the difficulties many experience as cells restructure and release all the trapped experiences and patterns of the past. Imagine for yourself if everything you believed about yourself was dissolving into space – who and what are you without the mental concepts, without words, without any system to hold on to as truth? Interiorly this is what people who are leaning into spiritual awakening will eventually experience. If it happens as a glimpse they will bounce back into the ordinary lives, and may feel divided between two worlds until the process is ended. The great gift of having an authentic spiritual teacher who has gone through this is that they can unflinchingly lead the person into a life in which they live from who they truly are.

I have met with hundreds of people caught somewhere in this process, and I believe most spiritually awakened people are living this gradual deconstruction, inspired by sudden bursts of wisdom, or insight, or love, or the bliss that bubbles up as cells release themselves. We can be allies along the way if we are willing to give up our own rigid patterns of belief and simply share the wonder and the faith that this is a natural and hopeful process of evolution which all of us will eventually enter. I began my research in 1984, looking for commonalities in those who were in a kundalini process, and looking for solutions to the issues and difficulties, but this perspective of energy and emptiness, is the deepest truth I have found thus far through the research I have been offered by participating in my own process and those of many others.

What are the implications if it is so that many can and will encounter this awakening? It means more and more of the people who share this planetary mindset will understand their true and intimate relationship to each other. We will see clearly how the way we condition our children impacts the painful patterns that are set in adults as thoughts and emotional reactions, and underlie the greed, addiction and violence in our society. And we will recognize there is an element of eternal life, goodness, and wisdom in all beings. When we move out of addiction to thought and begin to search for the flow of authenticity and relationship in our lives we then ask the right questions and move in more natural directions in our families, cultures and societies.

We are vibrations of energy moving through space and fields of energy-thought-forms. We are consciousness capable of recognizing itself. We are forms and formless both and when we have the direct understanding of this we can relax and simply live our lives in natural response to each moment.

~ Bonnie Greenwell Ph.D.

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