So what happens when it all finally clicks? When the ego collapses utterly into the divine, when the self discoveries the infinity of love abounding? Is it different for me than it would be for you? We’re all unique, for sure. But there seems to be a handful of characteristics, if you will, “before” and “after.” As a sociologist, I find myself constantly dabbling into these sort of studies. The empirical poking and prodding method may not be able to grasp the wisdom behind nirvana, kundalini, satori- perfectly fine by me. What it can do, though, playfully and with passive observations, is list a few characteristics about this elusive, mystical state. Believe it or not, there are some physiological traits of this experience. They do not reveal to us the insides of samadhi, only the outsides. So, I promise nothing in this entry that will reduce the mystic to scientific variable, a lab rat, test tube or statistic. Instead, I only offer what empirical science can tell us, and leave it up to the wonderer you are to take a leap into the unknown.
Mystical states are often a process, or transformative growth. One could call it a metamorphosis of you, totally and completely. It’s a revolution, J Krishnamurti would call it. A revolution of the bodily state, the mental state, and the spiritual state. To be a mystic misfit, it takes the right tools to unlock a natural process that is already within you. Nope, I won’t get into metaphysics. Way too complex for me. There are so many metaphysical theories on the subtle and psychic world, that to try to squeeze them all in this blog would totally lose the point. While you read this, remember that there are exceptions, and that enlightenment is not always so rough a transformation. This is really describing the dramatic, sudden shift that occurs often enough. Keep in mind that it may take years, it may take days. It may be blossom like a flower or rage in like a thunderstorm. We’ll be dancing in the lightning for today.
So I’ll keep it to the point, and in a nifty list. What’s enlightenment like?
The End of Becoming
1. the body.
In The Three Pillars of Zen, there’s an wonderful chapter that actually describes a number of satori experiences by both westerners an easterners. In fact, all of these are first-hand accounts. If we wanted to know “what’s enlightenment like,” we couldn’t have found a better answer than by those who have gone through it. So, how do they explain it? The first aspect they often describe is a bodily change.
Hallucinations- Visual blots of light, shapes, figures. These are common.
Tremors- The body may start shaking violently. Not a seizure, but often enough the practitioners must lie down for a while.
Fainting- Literally, just passing out, with a combination of other characteristics on the list.
Sensation of Dying- many feel as if everything is being let go, and they go through a death-experience, the “death pose.” UG Krishnamurti described his own experience like this. He actually thought he was about to die, and lied on his bed to let it all go black.
Blackouts- Where am I? Hours vanish, in and out of consciousness.
Intense Pain- The body goes through varying levels of pain. Yikes. Discomfort, aching, or sometimes even total-body pain.
Sweating- Nothing more to say. Usually accompanied by fever.
Often the Roshi will have the person taken care of. A blanket, some water, some rest are all important. The sensations can come and go over a few days, as in two noted cases (one of which is Krishnamurti’s).
2. The Mind
The Mind and Heart go through an intense period as the body wrenches through the shift. A severe depression might arise, a disconnect from the outside world, or a hypersensitivity may occur (Asking not to be touched, etc).
Sometimes, the experience is described as an accumulation of all your troubles, your pathologies, your crisis or in other words – your shadow self bubbling up to the surface. You may feel as if every pain and fear you have ever felt is happening now.
3. The Spirit
A sense of many lifetimes may arise. You may feel disconnected from a sense of self. There’s no “I” anymore, it’s dying. You may feel that your past lifetimes are all coming to the surface. Just like your shadow self, your subtle self is shifting.
The Constance of Being
Often after these intense periods of time, the individual feels absolutely refreshed. There is a strange calmness and resonance in everything. The people, the cars, the plants and animals – it all feels and looks, and is – so vibrantly alive. It becomes difficult to differentiate things anymore. You start to just see things without labeling them. UG Krishnamurti, after his experience, went out for a walk and had to have a flower explained to him. “What is that?” Is replaced by a simply acceptance of everything that arises.
Thoughts seem diminished. They are present, but like everything else that arises, they are neither grasped nor let go. They just come like wind, rain and clouds.
A sense of self is still there, but so tiny the awareness is no longer “my” awareness, little “i” is now just “I am”-ness.
Past and Future as Now
Many times, individuals feel a sense of “timelessness” in which they see past and future in the present. They claim to, sometimes, look at someone else and see their former lives, or even their future lives – just as naturally and as easily as normal sight.
As you can see, the list is dynamic and not conclusive. Not set in stone at all. What it does show, however, are tendencies.
Tendencies for gravitate towards these traits. What’s it mean? Probably ripples on the pond, the moon’s reflection on the surface, when “I-am-ness” manifests totally in a human being. What these ripples will show, however, is that the empirical eye can observe them. That the half blind vision of science, studying bit-by-bit of the kosmos, can begin to see connections, and hopefully a bigger picture here. This is not some crazy “inner attitude” that people can dismiss without a second thought (although this does happen…), what I hope is that other scientists will start taking this seriously, and join the mystics in their song.