So, what is enlightenment anyway?

I want to talk about non-duality and enlightenment and open up that whole can of worms, because there’s just a lot of talk about it these days. We put ourselves through all kinds of crazy things in order to achieve it: we join ashrams, follow spiritual teachers, spend lots of money, and really do all kinds of things. Often, it’s like a minefield looking for a spiritual teacher to help us get there, because spiritual teachers can have issues―a lot of them. I’m not saying all spiritual teachers do, but as a general group, since I’ve been kind of awake and on the path, they have not covered themselves with glory. There has been a lot of acting out, financially, sexually, and in so many ways. Do we really have to put up with this in order to wake up? I don’t think so.

I think with the practice of the Profound Meditation Program and a lot of dumb luck, or maybe grace, we can actually begin to experience non-dual states, and that with continued work and practice, we can actually stabilize these states into a pretty consistent and solid component of our Self. With time and effort, we learn that we can tap into our non-dual Self pretty much at will. There was a Zen teacher in San Francisco who said, “Enlightenment is an accident but practice makes you accident-prone.” Exactly so, I think that enlightenment or non-dual states come by grace, however, it is our practice that sets us up to be in line for grace. When these states of unitive experience actually happen, it feels like we haven’t done anything; it feels like waking up, like remembering what we always knew but somehow forgot. It certainly feels like grace―like an easy, undeserved gift was just given to us. But our part in it is to actually do the practices.

One of the extraordinary things about the Profound Meditation Program is that it actually takes you down into very deep delta brainwave states. Prior to this technology coming on line, this was something that very few people could actually achieve or sustain on a consistent basis. A lot of the master meditators who were tested in the 1970s were able to spike down to delta pretty consistently, but even they weren’t there for very long. But with this technology, we can actually go down to delta and stay down. Then we’re in a very deep and powerful state where some really interesting things can happen. You could call it digital grace, electronic grace, God showing up and giving these gifts through technology, because… why? Because we really need it right now.

I want to share with you some ways to do this, so you can actually begin to have an experience of what these non-dual experiences are like. One of the things that I tell my Integral Recovery students is that when you go into meditation, you want to focus on becoming the context and not the content. Most often, but not always, there is a lot of content. This is the monkey mind: thoughts, memories, agendas, resentments, feelings, ideas, stuff from the past. All this comes up in meditation. What you want to do is become the actual spaciousness, identifying with the space rather than the stuff in it. Normally, in our regular ego selves, we identify with our stories, our dramas, our wants, our avoidances, our hatred, and our love. All these things make up our egos and that’s who we think we are. Well, if we can become the spaciousness, or the contexts that arise, then all of a sudden, Wow! Now we’re just observing outside of what we formerly thought we were.

Working with students in recovery, I’ve noticed that even before we start doing the practices, just talking about mindfulness, emptiness, spaciousness, or the observer―the witness, the transcendent witness, or however you want to language that― the process will often come on line very quickly. The students are able to step outside of their addicted self, with all of the stuff and the drama that they have been going through for years, see it from the outside, and say, “Wow! How interesting. No wonder I’m so miserable.” Once you’re able to do that, then it starts loosening up the hold that we have on our ego structures. So, we practice with that.

Before I even started meditating with brain entrainment technology, getting on seven years now, during one of my meditation sessions, I thought, “I’m going to just try to watch and see where my thoughts come from.” So, I started doing that and watching. I thought, “Wow, my thoughts seem to come out of nothingness. They just seem to ‘poof!’ into reality out of some kind of open, creative void.” With the Profound Meditation Program, I began to expand that to, “Wow, the whole―all of us, on the quantum level―these entities, these subatomic wavicles or particles, whatever they are, these mysterious things down there, the very basis of our lives just seem to come in and out of existence in this quantum void. Just ‘poof!’ in and out. My thoughts come from this spaciousness and I do too.” Apparently 13.7 billion years ago, the universe did kind of go “poof!” as the beginnings of the universe came into existence and we had hydrogen, which is the first element that started coalescing into stars and whatnot, and then we had new elements, and in a very short cosmological period of time, we have me and you, sitting here and thinking about this stuff. Quite an interesting story.

Form ist Leere

When you are able to see your ego and your structure from the outside, a lot of things happen. Ken Wilber once said that it is not so much your experiences themselves that are important, but how you interpret and act upon them. When you tap into being the context, the open spaciousness, you find that this emptiness is aware, it’s not just dead spaciousness, and you can watch your ego structure and your stories all just arise and do their thing from the outside, from this whole new space. The whole ego game loses a lot of its mortal seriousness. Like, wow, if you can observe yourself or what you identify as yourself from outside of yourself, what does this say about the nature of yourself? Well, it says that the nature of yourself is a lot bigger than you thought it was, because awareness consciousness exists outside of structure, outside of your body, outside your ego, yourself identified, who and what you are. So, when this happens, you think, “Oh, maybe I can loosen my grip a little bit. Let go of some of my resentment and see some of the conditionings and stories I’ve developed that aren’t serving me very well anymore. There may have been totally logical, good reasons for forming them earlier in my life, perhaps when I was a child, but they don’t serve me anymore. I really need to make this structure that I seem to be inhabiting more functional, more beautiful, more capable, more creative, more loving, and so I’m going to have to let go of some things, untie the knots, and come up with some more optimal stories.” That’s one of the things that begins to happen. Keep practicing with that.

At times you will have experiences of just being the context where you can only do it for a couple of seconds. Then you go back to thinking your thoughts. And then you come back and become the spaciousness. Well, at a certain point, people often have what they call in the Zen tradition a “body-mind drop.” What does that mean? It means that in these deep meditative states, you have times when body-mind goes “poof!” and they are no longer there in awareness. If you’re completely identified with everything that just went “poof!” this can be terribly frightening, as in, “Oh my god! I don’t exist anymore!” Part of you is just not there anymore but what you are, the true original emptiness, spaciousness, creative void, intelligence, Godhead, spirit, Buddha nature, however you want to name it, is there. And that is what your body and yourself and your ancestors and the planet and the universe morphed out of―that original creative spaciousness. When we go into that―with practice, dumb luck, accident, or grace―and when we keep setting ourselves up for that, we begin to have this experience. And if we are graced with this type of experience and want to stabilize and deepen it, then we have to keep practicing.

Back in my generation, in the ’60s, a lot of us had non-dual experiences using psychedelics. It was like, “Wow! Bam! Super powerful! I’m connected, I’m not just me. I’m everything! I’m connected to all things past, present, and future. I’m it!” It was shocking. Then the drugs would wear off and we would be plunked firmly back in our ego self. Oftentimes, it would be very, very disconcerting because it would leave the impression of an experience that in some ways felt more real than our normal, everyday reality, but then it would go away and you couldn’t access it again. Of course, we would try. We’d take more drugs, and if we understood nature, reality, or met God on drugs, we’d think if we took more drugs more often, we’d stay in that consciousness. But, it didn’t really work. The good effects would get less and less, and, of course, if acid or mushrooms were good then heroin and speed and everything had to be good, and so it kind of imploded and lots of people were hurt because we didn’t understand what we were doing. We were a bunch of children dealing with these very powerful substances and experiences, but we didn’t really have any elders who could teach us how to bring it forth and use it wisely, so there was a lot damage done. For all the good things that the ’60s generation brought, it also brought an embrace of the drug culture, which we’re still paying for today, in a huge way, all over the planet.

Getting back to cultivating non-duality, you hear the word enlightenment thrown out a lot (there was a magazine What is Enlightenment? around for years). I think we have a lot of myth around enlightenment that once you hit it, Bam! You’re enlightened. You get it. It’s like a giant wave that cleans out your karma and all your neuroses, your trauma, and all your ego problems. Suddenly you have direct access to God Central, answers to everything, and you can speak Latin and Portuguese and do trigonometry. You can be an artist, walk through walls if you want, but you just don’t do it because it would freak out the rest of us who aren’t so enlightened. This doesn’t seem to be such a smart idea. It’s kind of like the old, mythic-level story that the pope is infallible. I mean, hello? Has anybody read church history? It is anything but infallible, but this is the kind of magical story that we put on our spiritual teachers. The least wise of them will even promote these stories in order to enhance their influence or their power. So, we have to look out for that.

When you have a non-dual experience, it is really important to follow up with an ongoing practice so that you can deepen it and stabilize it. Otherwise, it is just smoke in the wind, a state of consciousness that comes and goes. However, if you do set yourself up, perhaps following some of the instructions that I have mentioned, and do a daily practice, really focusing and surrendering yourself into being the context, this stuff will really begin to come on line. The more powerful of our unitive experiences (or “peak experiences” as Abraham Maslow called them) can really change the whole direction of our lives.

I had my first such experience when I was 11 years old. I was reading a Bible, Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount, and all of a sudden all my stuff dropped away and I felt an intense love of God, God was love, God was everything, and I was absolutely permeated by it. Afterwards, I spent several months just trying to figure it all out. I had grown up a Catholic, but I didn’t think a priest knew about this kind of thing because I had never felt anything like this coming from a priest, so I didn’t talk to one. My feelings around my experience floundered and went underground―it was like a perpetual underground stream for me and I always knew that somehow my destiny was tied up with this stuff. My wife, Pam, had her first unitive experience―I think she was around 19― just walking down the street. She looked at a flower and bam! It certainly changed the course of her life, and because both of us had similar experiences, I think it gave us a really strong basis for our relationship and our spiritual questing.

So, these experiences can be very life-changing but you always need to follow up with more practice. Being an ex-soldier, I’ll use a military metaphor: Say you have two armies lined up and George Patton and his tanks go in and they achieve a breakthrough; they break through the German lines. Well, at that point, they don’t sit down, have tea, and say, “Wow, this is great. Let’s have a party, we had a breakthrough.” Because the Germans will say, “This is our chance.” Just like the ego that comes back if you don’t exploit your breakthrough. When you have a military breakthrough, or, in this case a spiritual breakthrough, you don’t want to stay attached to that state. If you think, “Oh my God, I was in this unitive light and it was all bliss and I saw the perfection and beauty of all things and all of human history was redeemed in a moment, and it all made sense, and I just want to get back there,” well, that’s a very good way to become really, really ill―attached to a state. You want to keep practicing, you want to keep surrendering, you want to keep becoming the context, and then whatever happens is supposed to happen.

In your inner contemplative practice, you will go through many, many states and you just have to accept whatever comes along. But as you become the context, as you open up to this kind of pure awareness out of which our egos arise every moment, and as that circle gets bigger, then it’s not just about my ego, but it’s about the whole universe, every moment, born afresh and new from this creative void, this spaciousness, this emptiness. When you tap into this, it is not emptiness as in the existential Western philosophy of being and non-being, where you’re looking into the existential void of nothingness and say, “Oh my God, it’s awful.” No. This particular spiritual emptiness is wonderful. You tap into it and there is peace, there is bliss, there is ecstasy, and the structures of your own ego are illuminated. It radiates and then things begin to shift.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t have any more work to do, that you’re fixed―quite the contrary. After you have this experience, you can actually stabilize it through ongoing practice, and what you need to do is go back and start doing the work all over again. It’s like Jesus said, “Except the man be born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” When our non-dual consciousness stabilizes as something that imprints us and becomes somewhere we can really tap into, realizing that no matter what our ego thinks―the sadness, the trauma, the depression, the love, the hate, and all the drama of being human beings―that a part of us is consistently free on every occasion, when we can rest in that, then the whole journey becomes completely renewed―things have changed.

Now the whole life and death thing has shifted because you find out that what you truly are, what you always have been, and what your current human identified ego state arose from is that what you truly are. At the deepest level, you become identified with that and there is much less fear. It becomes not so much about, “Oh God, I want to look for happiness and save my soul.” Instead, it becomes, “Okay, how can I take this true nature and manifest it through the structure of my own Self, my own human ego self, so that the ego is no longer the enemy.” All of the “You’ve got to get rid of your ego” stuff is ridiculous; you can’t get rid of your ego as long as you’re incarnated. But you want to be able to hold your ego in this larger context, polish it, clean it, and deal with your shadow stuff and your traumas and your addictions, so that your structure, instead of being the enemy, can become the vehicle, the tool, or the channel. As it says in the great St. Francis prayer, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” And that takes a lot of work.

Once you have an expanded context, stabilized from your practice and from your accidental grace, then the whole ego thing becomes completely shifted and you’ve been initiated into this deeper side of what it really means to be human. It’s like a metaphor from quantum physics when they talk about subatomic quarks and entities. If you look at them one way, they seem to appear as a particle, like a discreet individual thing. And then, if you look at them another way, they appear to be a wave that’s connected to everything. Well that’s kind of the way it is: as we deepen our own spiritual path and maturity, the ego self becomes even stronger, more vibrant, and more healthy, but it’s held in its larger context, so you don’t get lost in the ego as if it’s the ultimate trip. The ego becomes something very beautiful and becomes the vehicle of what we’re supposed to be doing and working with while we’re here at this particular time and place, honoring the generations that came before us, all the sentient beings that are alive and aware and doing their evolutionary journey and dance in the present, and all those that come after us. So, realizing what the real source of our identity is and who we are, and tapping into that place, our ego structures become easier and looser and more enlightened, if you will. But does it mean that we never make mistakes, that we’re perfect, and that we know all of the answers to all things? No, I don’t think so. But we’re able to live with more faith in the process, and more humility; we can weep more deeply at the sadness and we can laugh more fully at the joy and the beauty and the humor of the whole thing.


Adapted from iAwake Technologies’ free, weekly teleconference call on April 11, 2012.


John DupuyJohn Dupuy is the CEO of iAwake Technologies and the founder of Integral Recovery, a holistic addiction treatment approach inspired by Ken Wilber’s Integral Model. He is also the author of Integral Recovery: A Revolutionary Approach to Alcoholism and Addiction, recently published by SUNY Press. As a pioneer in the use of brainwave entrainment in therapy and personal development, John has dedicated his life to helping others deepen their spiritual practice and transform their lives.


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