Q: In the context of participating in the evolution of consciousness, how important is the spiritual experience of awakening? Can we “fake it till we make it,” or is it necessary to have that direct experience in order to participate fully?
Andrew Cohen: There are two dimensions to the teaching of Evolutionary Enlightenment. Evolution is about vertical development, and enlightenment is about the experience of consciousness beyond ego. So the experience of consciousness beyond ego is what I think you mean by “the spiritual experience of awakening.” That is when we have a direct experience of limitlessness, when the emotional, psychological, and cognitive boundaries fall away and the self is catapulted into a state of consciousness beyond all ordinarily felt constraints. Suddenly there is a sense of infinite freedom. And this kind of awakening is the very foundation for the evolution of consciousness.
The way it usually works is that is if we have heard about awakening then of course our heart begins to yearn for it, to long for relief and release. So then we start doing whatever we can to have that experience—prayer, meditation, reading, spending time in the company of people who we believe have some degree of enlightenment. We seek until we have some kind of breakthrough, until we find access to that consciousness. Ideally, once we have had one experience, we are convinced: consciousness is real. Maybe the experience itself doesn’t last, maybe we have another experience, but sooner or later there has to come a point where we get the picture. We know that there is an infinite ground of everything that exists and that it is the deepest nature of our own self. Why? Because we have experienced it.
Ideally, our orientation to life should change as a result of deep spiritual experience. Whenever we transcend the fears and desires of the individual and collective ego, we discover a completely different perspective on what it means to be a human being—a perspective that transcends the ego’s narrow, limited, personal world. And that is really what is so important about the discovery of higher and deeper states of consciousness. Once we have tasted higher states and are convinced that they’re real, sooner or later a point has to come when we realize that now our spiritual practice is no longer merely about trying to have more spiritual experiences; it is about acting upon what has been revealed to us in the experiences we have already had.
So I would apply the “fake it till you make it” approach after the experience of awakening. When we are experientially convinced, there comes a point where we have to start acting upon what we have realized to be true. In the way I teach, that’s a moral imperative. It’s not about you any more. It no longer matters how deep and profound your experience is at any given moment. The important thing is: How true are you being to what you know, whether you feel “in touch” with it at a level of experience or not? That’s a matter of moral development.
A very powerful example of this that we have all probably heard about is the recent story that came out about Mother Teresa. She was an example of surrender and unbelievable faith who inspired millions of people, and yet she herself, we now know, was in a state of agony because she felt emotionally cut off from her beloved God. But she was convinced because of initial experience, and then she completely changed her life—and look what became possible as a result. Now obviously, we would hope that we wouldn’t all have to experience such an extended period of spiritual dryness as she apparently was enduring. But the point is that we all need to go from initially being attracted to higher development because we hear about the promise of infinitude, to having the experience, to becoming convinced, to then acting on that conviction no matter how we feel.
At what point does what we are doing and why we are doing it become more important than how we happen to feel? In evolutionary enlightenment, what I’m trying to do is to get people to that point in their own development where they begin to care more about their relationship to life and the effect that they’re actually having on the world than about having particular experiences. And the way I measure a person’s spiritual development is always based on how profound is their effort to transform in relationship to what they’ve actually realized.
Of course, nobody wants to feel bad and everybody wants to feel good. But the point is, God did not create the universe just so you or I could have our spiritual breakthroughs and feel good! Too many of us these days approach the spiritual path as if the only purpose to all this was our own peace and happiness. So one of the things that I’m trying to share with as many people as I can is the recognition that a sign of moral development, spiritual development, and philosophical development is giving up that ridiculous idea.
I personally have come to the conclusion, and at this point I’m doubtless about it, that the reason God created the universe is so that the process itself could develop. And at this time in history, it is the awakening individual at the leading edge of cultural development who has to find the spiritual maturity to take responsibility for the evolution of the process itself at the level of consciousness. So once we become convinced beyond any doubt of who we are, beyond ego, at the level of consciousness, it is essential that we make the spiritual effort to develop so that we become an expression of that egoless freedom in action. That is when our own spiritual awakening becomes the limitless foundation that empowers us to take responsibility for creating the future—which is the whole point of Evolutionary Enlightenment.
Andrew Cohen is a spiritual teacher and founder of the award-winning EnlightenNext magazine. Click to learn more about his new book Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening.