There are three basic ways awakening shows up. It’s sort of a linear progression, sort of a circle, sort of a venn diagram, sort of a spiral, and sort of a snakes and ladders board. You can enter anywhere, settle anywhere, exit anywhere. And then there is a fourth way, which is a bit like the paper your diagram was drawn on, or the board for your game.
I’m giving them all an instrument that exemplifies the description in some way. And a simple nongendered name in case I want to talk about them again in shorthand.
ASH: THE SWANEE WHISTLE PLAYER
The vast majority of people in awakening are playing the swanee whistle. It’s such a big group, you’ll sometimes see it segmented. But it’s better to think of it as a sliding scale. Well, in the spirit of the classic personality assassination grid, two scales. The X axis (feeling) is everything from ‘I kind of logically know I’m okay, even if I don’t often feel it,’ to ‘I pretty much feel okay all the time.’ And the Y axis (knowing) runs from ‘I’ve never questioned the nature of reality,’ through to ‘I see the nondual paradigm in my experience of life.’ The challenge of this stage is holding those two axes at the same time. A spiritual seeker will often increase in knowing and find a decrease in feeling – from unexamined conditioning, from a disassociation with the body and emotion, or from something in the teaching amplifying the seeking, even as they discover a level of awakeness. Out in the wild (as in non-seekers) you’ll find people who live their whole lives in deep okay-ness, and have never questioned the nature of reality. These people simply don’t show up in the stats, because they have never felt any kind of lack or need, and therefore no draw to follow teachers. Often if you talk to them about the nondual paradigm, they’ll agree, but they won’t see why the spiritual seeker gets so excited about it. Ash is all of these. Mainstream western nondual teaching tends to point to the settled Ash, whilst creating the seeking Ash – with time, support, and a dedication to controlling the whistle slider, the seeker can settle, if they choose. You can see Ash as working at the level of the human mind.
BAY: THE FLUTE PLAYER
To the western perspective, Bay is the easiest to understand. The big three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all have a mystic sect or component. And for the Christian mystic, “Make me a channel of your peace,” is the ultimate expression of understanding and faith. Some mistakenly consider this expression of nonduality a return to dualism, but that is incorrect. Whilst a lot of the language is of a me plus the divine, this apparent distinction is to allow for the human experience of feeling ‘other’ and ‘coming back’ to a feeling of Oneness. This makes a lot of logic sense, as it doesn’t exclude anything, even the feeling of separation. Bay lives in deep peace. You’ll see this in the wild in those dedicated to a religious life. It is rare to see it expressed cleanly outside of a religious setting, though many spiritual groups strive for this simple happiness. There’s the clue. The music of the flute does not come in the striving, but in the surrender to something greater. For Bay, the only true service is service to the divine. In this way, Bay can be a little (or a lot) unworldly – which makes this stage attractive to those seeking to escape the harsher realities of life. I have an appreciation of the flute player, having lived this way as a teen. But sometimes struggle a little with the complacency that can be demonstrated by those feeling chosen and saved by their god. In human terms, Bay operates at the level of consciousness – raw emotion, in-the-moment-ness, and profound gratitude. Hafiz ( a Sufi poet from the 1300s) sums this up:
A Hole in a Flute
I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath moves through.
Listen to this music.
I am the concert from the mouth of every creature
singing with the myriad chorus.
I am a hole in a fluteHafiz
that the Christ’s breath moves through
Listen to this music.
CLEM: THE BUGLE PLAYER
As much as Bay sits within western mysticism, Clem belongs to the eastern classic nondual school. Clem might traditionally have been on a classic Buddhist path of purifying mind and body until nothing remained. I’m using ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ lightly here, because you will see the same work ethic in other religions. It is a path of total devotion, but unlike Bay’s joy in the moment, Clem is fixed on future redemption and re-absorption back into the whole. Clem generally wants to disappear, or they maybe feel that they already have. This is why they spend a lot of time in ritual, mediation or any other activity that lets them escape the hum-drum. “This is simply what is arising, and it is perfect,” epitomises the bugle player. The bugle is, of course, a fairly blunt instrument – and Clem doesn’t have much (if any) empathy. Not because of a disregard for humanity, but more a perspective from where the normal range of human emotion has dissolved into freedom. They simply can’t imagine or recall emotions being important or valid. It’s why this stage can be co-opted by narcissists – though the narcissist will never truly feel the freedom they crave. Clem thrives within an institution – a monastery or commune of some kind, where basic daily needs are met, or as a hermit living very basically in his cave. You are unlikely to encounter Clem in the wild, so don’t be fooled by the pseudo-Clem in the monastery of one, who has somehow arranged for others to care for their basic needs, so that they can transcend life. A true Clem can evolve from the bugle to the trumpet, and learn to bring back some elements of nuance to their experience over time. There is no end to this stage, which is why it’s often equated with the infinity of awareness – though actually the key theme is of an unfolding, or of one thing happening. Despite a sketchy relationship to time, in some ways ‘process’ is a more appropriate word.
DREW: THE FRENCH HORN PLAYER
Just as D follows C, I’ve stuck to wind instruments. But Drew could equally be called River, and the french horn replaced by the harp. That’s the level of difference we’re talking about. The French horn player, with their hand inside the bell, demonstrates an understanding of the full circle of experience. Drew is a bit like if Bay and Clem had a baby, and their true Ash grandmother raised them. Here we have someone who is engaged in life – doesn’t matter whether as an activist, or sitting in a hospital bed chatting to a nurse. There’s a profound nondual perception and a genuine interest in humanity. Drew knows that our contribution is our beingness, and that even a rounded sense of Self and self-in-the-world is not required for that. They may then choose to take action in alignment with who they know themselves to be, but that is always secondary. They learn as much from the owner of the corner shop as they do from any spiritual teacher – though they often sit for short periods as spiritual teachers. They know the ‘perfection’ of the moment is only because it is ‘now’, and the perfection includes the human impetus for change. They can hold this perfection and the recognition of the harshness of life without contradiction or paradox. Drew might be religious, or not. Follow ritual, or not. Be vegan, or not. Do yoga, or not. Work a corporate job, or not. Drew is fully invested in this human experience, whilst never losing sight of its essence. They will certainly welcome all emotion, and have the freedom to feel it fully, no holds barred. Drew cares deeply about all of life, whilst carrying that care lightly. They will, almost certainly, have some level of increasing psychic experience (though not all psychic experience has this foundation). The Drews of this world may have accidentally kept this knowing from childhood and not lost it through puberty, or they landed here after a significant event. And some spiral here as each other stage appears to them to be incomplete in some way. The core of this stage is essence, which will express fluidly as mind, consciousness and awareness. To everyone else on this journey, Drew looks kinda ordinary. Compared to the activity level of Ash, the outpouring of love from Bay, the shininess of Clem…Drew is ordinary. They are as likely to be drinking cacao at home watching a silly movie as imbibing a plant medicine on an exotic mountain retreat. Because for them, there’s no difference. Drew could live more like Ash, or Bay, or Clem – again, because there is no difference to them. It becomes a matter of choice of expression.
THESE ARE NOT ACHIEVEMENTS OR QUALIFICATIONS
Your awakening journey, your nondual experience, your underlying sense of self… these are uniquely yours. You might recognise elements of Ash, Bay, Clem and Drew in yourself. You might find the one instrument calls to you more than the others. If you can, take from this that there is no right way to do nonduality, and no right way to do life. You will express your sense of self in how you think, feel and act – including the choice to ease towards a different expression. No stage is better than any other – though they tend to be progressively happier (more free, more at peace, more okay) as their base mode of operating. And no stage is a destination.
If I wish anything for you, it would be simply to know that all are available to you. They can’t not be.
With Love, Sara
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash