How is spiritual experience related to wisdom?
There are many varieties of spiritual experience, but when it comes to wisdom about the nature of reality, and ultimately who you are, there is only one to concern yourself with. Today, it is sometimes called nonduality or nondual realisation, liberation, or enlightenment; but the most accurate term is awakening.
Awakening is both an analogy and a technical description of the phenomenon
The analogy of awakening is taken from when you wake up each morning from a mere dream you mistook to be the total nature of reality, to a much larger reality you were always a part of, but which nevertheless seemed absent whilst you were asleep. And when you wake up from a dream, there is often the sense of relief from directly realising the details of the dream have no bearing whatsoever on your actual situation. You are not subject to the conditions you thought you were.
It is the same with awakening as a spiritual experience or phenomenon, except instead of waking up in your bed from a one-dimensional dream, you wake up to an unconditional nature radically free from the limited conditionality of existence. You directly realise that you are not subject to the conditions of existence in the way you previously thought we were, by waking up to a much larger reality you were always a part of, even whilst it seemed absent throughout your life. Given the details of existence, you can appreciate there is a great freedom and peace in this realisation.
Given that waking up from a dream is structurally analogical to the spiritual phenomenon we are describing, you can see that ‘awakening’ is also the appropriate technical term.
The 3 meaningful aspects of awakening: reality, identity, Life & death
From the description given above you can see that awakening can be considered a meaningful process concerned with realising the true nature of reality, but equally too it can be considered a process of realising the true nature of identity (sometimes awakening is referred to as ‘Self-realisation’), and as a process concerned with the true nature of life and death (sometimes awakening is referred to as ‘dying whilst alive’, meaning you have gained liberation from what you previously mistook yourself to be - like a role within a dream - which is someone subject to birth and death).
So how do I experience an awakening?
Let’s use the analogy of waking up from a dream to understand how to experience an awakening.
Consider you are in a dream and you wish to wake up (this is already the beginning of waking up, because simply recognising this intention means you are somehow aware of something other than the dream). There is nothing you can manipulate in the dream to make you wake up because engaging with the dream - for whatever reason, including awakening - is simply the same as perpetuating the dream.
In other words, your participation in your waking life as a human being doesn’t require or depend upon anything in the dream, and never could.
Your participation in your life as a human being simply requires and depends upon itself and nothing else! And it's already the case, with you lying in your bed even as you dream .
So how do you wake up from a dream? To participate in your waking life as a human being is no different from simply being aware of it, and so to wake up your attention moves away from the dream, and towards yourself lying in bed.
It’s that simple.
So let’s repeat the above paragraphs but change the terms for awakening as a spiritual phenomenon.
Consider you exist and wish to have an awakening (this is already the beginning of awakening, because simply recognising this intention means you are somehow aware of something other than your conditional existence). There is nothing you can manipulate within existence to make you wake up because engaging with existence - for whatever reason, including awakening - is simply the same as perpetuating your involvement with conditional existence.
In other words, your participation in your unconditional nature doesn’t require or depend upon anything within conditional existence, and never could.
Your participation in your unconditional nature simply requires and depends upon itself and nothing else! And your unconditional being is already the case, even as you exist conditionally.
So how do you wake up from conditional existence? To participate in your unconditional nature is no different from simply being aware of it, and so to wake up your attention moves away from conditional existence, and towards your unconditional being.
Despite the uncountable volumes written on the subject of nonduality and awakening, it really is this simple.
What should be my next practical step?
To bring your attention away from what you don’t care about, and towards what you do care about, as a way of participating in what you care about, is called meditation, or sometimes contemplation. Meditation is the natural activity of the mind.
So if you care to participate in your unconditional nature, you simply need to learn to meditate on it.
Meditation on your unconditional nature can be informal, like reading a book on the subject or listening to a talk, or you can formalise the meditation by sitting comfortably each day for a dedicated period of time.
You can meditate upon what is unconditional with practical strategies, such as adopting an attitude of ‘allowing everything to be as it is’ (which is the same as having an unconditional relationship with everything), by keeping your attention with an arbitrary sensation (such as breathing) so you have no option but to ‘allow everything to be as it is’, by ‘surrendering’ or ‘giving everything up’ through some form of prayer or ritual, and so on. This kind of practice is called ‘exoteric’, meaning it only deals with the superficial appearance of your experience, and requires faith that it will ‘work’.
Even more ideal however is a meditation practice that recognises there is no difference between being aware of your unconditional nature and participating in that nature; meaning the practice itself is indistinguishable from awakening. This kind of practice is called ‘esoteric’, meaning it deals with the intelligible structure of reality, and doesn’t require faith or doubt; it simply makes sense instead, and participation or growth in awakening happens all by itself.
The Wiser Master Class offers interactive guidance in learning to meditate specifically for wisdom, or awakening, and is designed to help you establish a daily and sustained practice in the easiest and most rewarding way possible.
Our research on awakening
Here are the results specifically concerned with self-reported awakenings from during our pilot research group, where participants worked through the Wiser Master Class for 13 weeks:
"I now experience an abiding sense of peace, goodness, well being and beauty."
- Research Participant
If awakening is so easy, how come so many people don't wake up?
Firstly, most people who say they are interested in awakening don’t meditate, even informally (as described above). The Wiser Master Class can help with this.
Secondly, many people who do appear to meditate, even informally, are really doing something else: playing out a personal problem. These personal problems can be considered an act of sabotage, and if they are not resolved, no amount of going through the motions of meditating will help.
Interestingly, these problems have the same analogical structure to awakening, and can be resolved on their own terms with a specific kind of meditation where the problem is drawn out and described. You can learn to do this for free in the Wiser Master Class, and read more about Wiser Research on the subject here.
Why don't you use the term 'nonduality', and what should we use instead?
It is currently popular to describe awakening as being concerned with ‘nonduality’. This simply means that the conditional world and the unconditional nature you have realised during an awakening are not separate from each other, or: ‘not-two’.
However, this causes more problems than it solves. Why is reality such that it is ‘not-two’? How can two polar opposites nevertheless be the same thing? How do the two things - even though they’re apparently not two things - even relate to each other? ’Nonduality’ tells us nothing.
A better term is ‘participation’ for understanding the relationship between the conditional and unconditional. Participation means one shares in the nature of, and is found in, the other, even whilst remaining itself. Again, just as a dream occurs and is found within a human life, and the details or qualities of the human life inform and are found in the dream. By participating in each other, the dream and the human life share in each other’s nature - inseparably - and yet remain distinct within a hierarchy of truth when it comes to reality, identity and the nature of life.
Is there a tradition of awakening in the West?
People have been experiencing the phenomenon of awakening for millennia, and there’s even an argument that it is as old as the human race itself. Although extensively described by eastern wisdom traditions, the very first historical description we have of awakening is actually by the western philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, who lived 2,500 years ago. Heraclitus no doubt belonged to a tradition much older than himself, and this tradition openly persisted in the west until 1,500 years ago with the advent of Christianity and the closing of the public wisdom schools. (The tradition continued underground, however.)
Heraclitus opens his life’s work (of which we only have fragments) with this:
"Although this logos [the true nature of reality as ‘words spoken’] is forever people fail to comprehend, both before hearing it and once they have heard. Although all things come to pass in accordance with this logos, people are like the inexperienced, even when they experience such words and works as I go through, distinguishing each according to the real nature and telling how it is. But what they do awake escapes other people just as they forget what they do asleep."
In other words, Heraclitus begins by describing how people do not understand the truth about reality, no matter how much he tells them (and is about to tell them), because this truth about the larger reality escapes them in life in an analogical way to how the details of life escapes them when they are asleep.
This analogical understanding of awakening comes first in the work as it is the key to understanding everything else Heraclitus has to say. For instance:
"Listening not to me, but to the logos, it is wise to agree that all is one."
And then reiterated using the analogy:
"The world of the waking is one and shared, but the sleeping turn aside each into his private world."
For more on Heraclitus, including how he woke up, and the essential elements of the western tradition, such as the emphasis on opinion and truth, the nature of life and death, and cosmology, you can read Heraclitus and the Work of Awakening.
For more on the western tradition, specifically the comparable figures of Empedocles and Parmenides, see the work of Peter Kingsley.
For later figures such as Plato and the ‘Neoplatonics’, you can watch the lectures of Pierre Grimes.
And if you want to be a part of the original rational wisdom tradition, in its current modern and essential form, you can start the Wiser Master Class and learn the basics in 30 seconds for free.