January Challenge: Awakening Experiences

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Christ / Course Ideas

This post is part of a series on the subject of Awakening sponsored/inspired by Barbara Franken—a January Challenge that has claimed the first week of February as it’s own as well…

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One of my favorite descriptions of awakening comes from the book Dialogues on Awakening by Tom Carpenter.  These are Tom’s recounting of conversations he has had with his friend and brother, Jesus, that grew out of his daily practice of the teachings contained within A Course in Miracles.  After a time, Tom came to recognize Jesus’ presence and developed the faculty to sustain a type of inner dialogue with him.  This quote is from Jesus in one of these exchanges.

“What is it like to be enlightened or awake?  It is when you see only God as cause and effect being you expressing Him wholly.  You will no longer feel the need to see your mind as separately identified within the whole Mind, but you will feel its presence there and you will recognize your Self in it.  Fear of any nature becomes unknown.  Joy abounds with every thought as Love is once again remembered.”

This is a good place for me to start because I studied A Course in Miracles quietly for a good decade or so, and Jesus never talked to me like that once.  (Ha!  Laugh with me, for such foolishness has passed…)  That’s obviously a statement fraught with difficulties, so let me rephrase and simply say that I never had that type of experience on my end.  I used to wish that I had, though, on many an occasion.  When you’re staring down the barrel of meaninglessness and coming apart at the seams, decked out in your “Love is real” paraphenalia—fake beard, t-shirts, wrist bands, etc.—and making a really good show of it, inwardly hoping against hope it isn’t all just an exercise in self-delusion, staving off the inner “I told you so” voice that already has it all figured out (and not for the better), you really want the forces of Light to make an entrance somewhere in your story and roll out a little razzle dazzle—put paid once and for all to the notion of doubt being a reasonable consideration.  Offer something irrefutable.  I did, anyway.

And when it doesn’t come, the hole just gets deeper, the confusion surreal, like you’re watching it in slow motion.

My continuing journey towards awakening has been largely absent the lightning strike experiences you sometimes read about.  The irrefutable and obvious moment that drops out of the sky and affords one a fresh identity and a clean break with history has been like that tree alone in the forest.  It definitely dropped, but, did it make a sound…?  Did I miss it?  I can’t say when exactly it dropped.  This process was (and remains) more like a sunrise in slow motion.  Sometimes I’m not even sure it’s happening.  Then I think about it, and realize it’s a lot brighter out than it was before.  When before?  I don’t know.  Before.  This type of slowly-building Recognition has brought me to wit’s end on numerous occasions, but has simultaneously been a beautiful and extremely powerful process to live within.   It has indelibly stamped into my being a number of admissions and discoveries I think are valuable and worth sharing.

The first one is that comparison is so, so very useless.  Life is not a contest, and every life has a rhythm and a tapestry of meaning that is all its own.  I have ultimately begun to trust in the wisdom of my own experiences, and while that may seem an obvious and natural thing to do, I can only say that when one is in the grip of fear, it absolutely is not.

And there is that fear thing, so what of it?  What is it to be in the grip of fear?

Does having fear in one’s inner vocabulary mean we walk around all day petrified?  I don’t think so.  (Until one day, when we do.)  Life may be fine for a good long while, but then it brings us back to this precipice.  Suffering arises.  Confusion.  Fear.  A dilemma.  Call it what you like.  Once we face it—whatever “it” is—squarely and it lunges at us, it can be difficult to stomp it back into its cage, and even if we succeed, we can’t keep carrying this caged animal around with us forever…  I think fear is probably one of the most useless words in the English language because it fails to address the depth and complexity of this experience of separation we have dreamed up.  We like to say we’re afraid of something in particular—like falling or failure, or being vulnerable or trusting in our relationships—but fear is not necessarily so particular.  We can fix all these one-offs, and still, a moment arises and we find… we are at odds with something inside ourselves again…  Fear is living inside of a conflict we don’t even know exists, a conflict that seems it just might swallow us whole.  It simply haunts us.  If it were obvious what to do about this, we’d do it.

In A Course in Miracles Jesus speaks periodically about the fact that the natural state of our mind is wholly abstract, and it took me a good long while to grasp hold of that one.  Love is abstract in the sense that it doesn’t really require any particular object or attribute to identify with in order to be what it is. We are like that, too, we just aren’t familiar with identifying ourselves with this type of being, and I think that the specific object of our fear is similarly irrelevant.  Fear in its most abstract or generalized sense, for me, is the sensation of being on the wrong side of what is real.  There’s no such thing as being on the wrong side of what is real, but if I had known that, known it absolutely in my bones such that living it was the most obvious and natural thing to do/be in the face of any event or circumstance this crazy world can concoct, then I’d have known I was truly real, and really true.  I wouldn’t have been thinking I was alone, and been trying to– even as I feared doing so– invoke the razzle dazzle.  Fear may not have permeated my daily experience, but I found I could not prevent this sensation of being on the wrong side from what is real from creeping into and slowly discoloring my world, chipping it away into bits and fragments, and eventually I realized, I’m crippled inside.

I’m not operating at full strength here.

Realizing that personally, and hungry for this experience called “awakening”, I wanted to call in some air support to set things straight.  It’s like I was in jail, and hoping Love would come bail me out.  Surely Love would do that for me.  I felt I was ready for a storied ending.  I waited patiently, but… I never made bail.  Even though I knew this reality of Love was real, I felt (at times) completely abandoned or alone, left to my own devices, and plagued by uncertainty.  Other people seemed to be having this and that experience, but I was confronted by this confounding enigma we call a self.  I was confronted by all the things I had asked this self to be.  No more.  No less.  And I felt intensely and extremely conflicted.

In addition to not comparing one’s experience to that of anyone else, another big one for me was the realization I was being told something very important with the silence that seemed to greet every desperate plea for an obvious sign of redemption.  In the particular form of validation I sought, which never quite came as requested, I was being shown, directly and gently: the jail doesn’t exist.  What need for redemption do the already redeemed have?  When I realized this was perhaps “the message” all along, Love’s seemingly empty silence transformed entirely into something solid and dependable.  I realized She’d been veritably drowning me with the only answer I had ever needed.  I was knocked over.  There were some things I had thought that were simply incorrect, and could not be validated.  There were lines that couldn’t be and would never be crossed and I was too confused to know them.

Love wasn’t going to spring me from a trap that wasn’t real to begin with.  To do so, at least on the terms I had set, would have been akin to acknowledging that the trap in which I was so utterly convinced I was stuck, was indeed real.  The possibility of dwelling in a state of peace that surpasses all understanding hinges upon Love’s inviolate position in this regard.  Even though we take the bait sometimes, Love never does.  Jesus is a specific representation of this principle: of dwelling in an error free state of mind.  This, I have come to discover, is true power: to remain in perpetual communion with the Truth.

In realizing Love’s message to me, I discovered as well that I can’t figure this stuff out on my own.  I didn’t have the wherewithal to know, as Love does, how to properly interpret my experiences in this world.  A Course in Miracles was a lifeline for a period of time as it provided the type of powerful clarity I needed in this regard.  Many other sources of information as well.  For me, it has been about piecing this together, with tremendous help, one breath at a time.  This path for me has been a million tiny quanta of lightning that collectively are assembling into freedom.  Now, the training wheels are steadily coming off.

Now the sunrise has gained enough momentum I’m pretty sure there’s no going back.  Awake or not awake?  I don’t know.  It’s a huge relief to be at peace with not needing to dignify questions such as these with an answer.  The sun is still enfolding me, enveloping us all.  I think some sort of merging awaits, some relinquishment of final barriers, but the reality of such a relinquishment seems less of a question than an inevitability.  It will come.  It is happening.

I found ultimately that regardless of what we think, believe or experience, we live on the right side of real.  That’s one choice we don’t get to make, and thank God for that.  Because I thought I knew something about myself once, and I was quite mistaken…  To walk away from ignorance unscathed is the outcome we are guaranteed.  It is humbling to begin to accept that such things are truly real…

* * * * *

Next up in the series is aMusing Spirit.


  1. Love your introduction, it’s very poignant but also kind of funny. This is what I like about the way you express yourself, you manage to integrate seeming opposites in a coherent way that totally makes sense.
    Silence my Friend, only in silence our vision is clear, our feelings are true, our knowledge undoubted. Love’s silence is never empty, it just is. Love 🙂 xox


    • Amen.

      I do have to have some literary fun with all this… The thing I forgot to say is that a bit of light-hearted humor is the balm of existence.



  2. Thank you for sharing. I find it really helpful to know your experience was a gradual one over some time. I know for me, my growth has occurred at at glacial pace sometimes.

    I’m still here, though real life has needed more energy of me lately. I don’t get to comment much on others’ blogs.


    • Casey, I’m glad it was helpful. There’s something very powerful about the inner resonance that develops when we turn the wheel slowly, every day, bit by bit. It makes for considerable momentum once you arrive at cruising speed. Real life is a good place to be. 🙂



  3. Whoow Micheal… a magnificent journey of experience…. of discovery … that is so unique to how each of us grow in our ‘knowingness’… I feel that how ‘it’ used to be… ‘an awakening and enlightenment’… was appropriate in those times and now our awakening experiences are different and appropriate now…. We are calling the shots and this is what it means to each of us now…

    I can see similarities in all our experiences, I see journeys of winning the conflict between the mind and the heart… fear being the bait of the mind and love the bait of the heart… which do we choose? until we finally realise, through our unique experience that there is no separation… that everything is real, everything is connected, having the potential to work together and that we are LOVE…

    To feel this truth of mine deeply… is ‘my awakening’… and as I meander peacefully on my journey radiating love… IAM allowing my enlightenment to flow totally into my life…. in a new way…

    Thank you so much for sharing your own insights into your awakening experiences… you truly are an inspiration… Barbara


    • Thanks, Barbara. I agree there are many wonderful threads that weave their way through all of the stories people have shared. It has been really great to read what others have felt and experienced, and to have an opportunity to share with such a group as well. Looking forward to the e-book!



  4. The one idea I remind myself when I begin working into a twist is this: the dharma door is already open.

    We are already awakened. The question is: to what?
    What what?
    Describe it.
    Like you were five.

    Don’t expect a way with coming into the “be” or “look” or “feel,” because that’s just brain chatter that distracts us from conscious presence. Just stand in the doorway (wherever you are, in any now that comes to mind) and embrace the opening of Michael, and know gratitude. You are the miracle in progress. Oh! Now you are even more awake. What a miracle! Breathe your awakenings for as long as you feel right with it.

    What does it look like?
    Trust knowing, and not knowing.
    Breathe with them both with the same gratitude.

    as you said: “The sun is still enfolding me, enveloping us all.” what grace!

    … the dharma door is already open, Michael. You are here, and it’s happening. What’s the greatest thing about this moment? What do you hear between the noise?



    • Thank you, Meredith. You’re right on about the brain chatter. I’ve had enough of that to fill a few lifetimes. 🙂 Standing in the doorway to freedom, breathing, is such a potent antidote for the world’s simulcast of misperception. I did that once, and a feeling landed on my shoulder. We sat and looked through the doorway together for a good long time. Then it took off and flew through, daring me to chase after it. I tried, but I took off too fast, slipped on a wet patch of grass, and face-planted. They called out the instant replay official and she confirmed: there is no door, because if there was, there would have had to have been a here and a there. Otherwise, what the hell good would the door have been? Ha!



      • ~meredith says

        Ha! yourself. 🙂 If there hadn’t been a door, there’d be no feeling you sat with, and remembered. (Just because you don’t think you see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Okay, seriously… I love reading your posts and I get very excited about ideas when I read… so excited that twelve versions of thought dance on the keyboard at the same time without bothering to link hands, and become a mindfu,fluid thought Hats off to you for fielding the comment, and thank you for the fun reply. I must have been on a tangent when I left the comment… (eye roll).


        • We are, collectively, like the twelve thoughts you describe all dancing at the same time- God’s myriad enthusiasms. You provided such lovely images to play with tonight! I also like the idea that we are God’s tangents, his side projects, those “other bands” he is in so he can explore his musical range when he is not playing his usual role in the band that made him famous. With us, he gets to just be however He feels like being… Please be wholly comfortable with being however you feel like being… 🙂



  5. Hi Michael,
    Perhaps the idea of awakening itself needs an awakening. We humans, living through the necessity of desire, love to shop because we are perpetually in need of supplies, or sustenance.

    I’ll have one extra large scoop of Awakening please, no nuts, sprinkles are okay.

    It’s hard not to use language in a way that has us in one place while seeing the “goods,” out there somewhere.

    When I went shopping in the Therapy Store and picked out a Jungian experience, I had no idea what would happen. Like you insightfully acknowledge, fear and in my case, fear that I wanted to check out of the Big Store, life itself, wanted something from me, even if it’s being attentive to its grip on me.

    What happens, I think, anytime we start attending to anything in a deep way, we experience the motion of life and then comes the ease of relocation. Looking out instead of in, we see others and in so doing we ourselves in others. Maybe fear is Love’s unrequited desire to throw us into the motion of living and comes upon us when we’re hunkering down, sheltering from storm chasing that although becoming our habit, no longer keeps us safe.

    I have never felt that life permenantly locates me in any particular state and so never chased after something as vague as being awakened, or enlightened. I have always been very suspicious of anyone or any group that shows up in my life solely for the purpose of inviting me to achieve some unspecified state.

    Wanting to belong, because I did not feel that I did, and to feel myself in the world, not outside looking in – from the rearview mirror, is what I needed, and is more an ontological shift than a state of being. States of being, by the very nature of the multiplicity of creatureliness, are relative and shifting, coming in and out of view. I cannot in all honesty declare myself, or anyone else, awake without also referring to those who are asleep. It’s an unneccesary distinction that more often than not feeds a fantasy of separation and division.

    “I found ultimately that regardless of what we think, believe or experience, we live on the right side of real.”

    This line is intriguing and I am not sure what you mean here. I think you might be saying that no matter how much we are incapable of seeing the true nature of life and ourselves, we are that nature. Is that close?

    Thanks, as always, for your wonderful poetic phrasing that inspires me so much to reflection.



    • Hi Debra,

      You are correct regarding the quote you pulled out. You said it far clearer in your summary.

      You gave this delightful sentence about states of being: “States of being, by the very nature of the multiplicity of creatureliness, are relative and shifting, coming in and out of view.” So true. For myself awakening has little to do with ever-changing states of being, and much more to do with an inner knowing that is constant, throughout, between, and beyond these transient conditions. I think we are probably expressing similar notions, because I agree it’s not about chasing any particular state or condition.

      And I agree. Awake. Not awake. The distinction is not helpful. The extension of what resides in our heart to another requires no such conceptualizations.



      • ” For myself awakening has little to do with ever-changing states of being, and much more to do with an inner knowing that is constant, throughout, between, and beyond these transient conditions.”

        Yes, agreed again! Although any attempt to put it into words does fall short, for me it is as if I found the well, became the well and it is infinitely deep, but always accessible.



  6. You are talking about yourself, you, the Michael, but in the carefully connecting lens you choose through which to frame your experience, you are telling the subtle nature of the sunrise for all who are observing the change within. The exploration of the fear, deriving in the incorrect belief in separation, is the same jail, and thus this tale of yours reflects for me like my turn to gaze in the large, ornate mirror of my choice to make the human journey – I gaze at my face here and see the shifting features of all in the commonality that you’ve captured. Thrilling.


    • Thank you for this note, Marga, which is full of presence and recognition. Recognition strikes me as perhaps our greatest untapped resource. We feel it when it arises, the potentiality lurking within every sacred “ping of prayer”. There is a type of silence from which worlds spring, like a park in which we all stroll together beneath the stars, and walk our thoughts, letting them off their leashes to roam and scamper through Possibility, to dig up bones that remind us a great migration of mindfulness has brought us to this point.



  7. As a former longtime student of the Course, I was pleased to read about your experience. I have discovered that I was more likely to absorb the material in a supportive group format as it is too elusive for me individually to grasp , even peripherally. Love and fear and fear and love, separation and union, the complexities and simplicity elude me except in brief flashes.

    The one thing I am certain of in this moment is that what I thought I knew or felt is less than the eye of an eye of an eye of a needle to infinity. Having said that, on some level we are always swimming in the eternal ocean of knowingness.

    much love,


    • Realizing we can’t, don’t, and won’t ever know “everything”- whatever that so casually used word refers to- and accepting that, brings a comforting certainty, doesn’t it? Then this knowingness you describe sneaks up and taps us on the shoulder. We whirl around to see who tagged us, and find ourselves in this sea of grace, and remember we’ve been playing this game of tag with Love the entire time. Thanks for your note and the swim. 🙂



    • Thanks for the link, Linda. A beautiful story! I read it this morning and left you a few more thoughts over on your site.



  8. Sunrise gains enough momentum…nothing can EVER hold the light back once we allow enough to see the tipping point of no return. Love devours us whole and spits us back out into the world as seeds :).

    Maren, Maren quite contray how does your garden grow? Graced with wonderful flowering words that can rock peoples world wide awake.

    Wonderful reminding share.



    • “Love devours us whole and spits us back out into the world as seeds.” I love that metaphor. Those seeds are peculiar, though. They never grow the same being twice!


  9. Pingback: A Selection of True Awakening Stories... Part III - Me, My Magnificent SelfMe, My Magnificent Self

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