I had an experience.
It happened while bartending. Over 12 years ago.
The bar I worked in had a cigarette machine in the back. The bartenders were told to keep an eye out for under-18 teens sneaking in to get cigarettes.
One night three young-looking guys walked in and headed toward the cigarettes. I stopped them to check their I.D.s.
I looked at the I.D.s but my mind got dizzy and I couldn’t make sense of how to figure out their ages (this mind dizziness still happens, especially with numbers. doesn’t bother me too much. But it used to).
I tried but couldn’t make my brain work and I felt a wave of panic. The guys were staring at me, waiting. I had to go find my shift manager for help. When I asked my manager to look at the I.D. cards, he looked at me like I was crazy. Yes, they are 18, he said, annoyed at me.
As I walked back to hand them their cards and saw the expression on their faces, I felt the shame intensify and engulf me. And then the experience happened.
I suddenly became bigger than myself. I expanded to about 6 feet bigger all around my body. I watched from this bigger space, somewhat above myself, yet everywhere at the same time. From that bigger space I watched myself being embarrassed and hand the I.D.s back.
But as I watched I was unattached from it all. Just fascinated by what was happening.
Unattached might give the impression of flatness. It was not flat at all. It was magical and joyful. It was total and pure curiosity (not an analytical curiosity, but a “see what happens” curiosity).
I was free from the need to control or direct anything, including myself or what I was feeling.
The whole experience must have lasted only a few moments. But it felt longer, like it happened in slow motion.
For the following few days I felt peaceful and then the peacefulness faded and I went back to my usual inner turmoil. If anything, feeling even more unsatisfied.
In the back of my mind I was wishing I could find a way to make that experience happen again. I sensed this to be the way out of suffering. But I couldn’t figure out how to do that. Because I didn’t make it happen to begin with.
It was a completely spontaneous experience. I wasn’t really meditating or doing dedicated inner work at the time. I was actually working 3 jobs, barely sleeping, and living off Redbull. I was saving money for my “dream” of traveling the world.
I had been reading books on how to make your dreams come true, visualizing, etc. I couldn’t think of a dream that would make me happy except traveling. So I decided for a little while, with nothing else to go on, that traveling the world must be my dream. As usual for me back then, I was focused outside of myself and on the future (I thought that's where 'happy' must exist). I was ignoring what was right in front of me and within me.
Even though my life didn't immediately change much on the surface, that experience was a glimpse of a truth for me.
That glimpsed truth was that I am not my body, my mind, or my emotions. There is something else to who I am.
I recognized this something else as what teachers and mystics call witnessing awareness. I've heard descriptions of this witness being a non-judgmental awareness of all that is, and that it is full of joy. That sounded exactly like what happened for me.
I never had anything like that experience again until I did travel, but not the outer world, I shifted my search inward, traveling instead through my inner world. Instead of making my dreams come true, I started seeing the untruth in the dream I had been living in.
As I began peeling away the layers of my unconscious, the experience of expanding beyond my mind, emotions, and body, and witnessing have become regular occurrences.
My perspective on what it means to Be Conscious.
It is not in the way I talk or words I use. It's not the way I look, act, or dress. It is not a technique I use or approach to life I prefer. It is not the teacher I love working with. Nor is it about some kind of gift, talent, or ability. It is not in being kind nor is it in any particular trait in me.
It's not a list of good deeds I can show off.
It's not in the money or any outer success I can attain.
It's not in environmentally aware habits, living clean, or simple. It's not in not having money, success or possessions either.
Becoming more conscious can certainly influence and bring profound changes, it has for me. The outer changes though, for me, are really secondary.
Consciousness for me is an inner alert state of being. It has nothing to do with spiritual correctness, in fact it obliterates it. I've come to a realization that consciousness is the only thing that recognizes and detects consciousness. Which is one reason there is so much confusion out there. This confusion is when we try to think ourselves into being conscious.
A story to illustrate what I'm trying to say…
Years ago, through a few documentaries, I became aware of how horribly animals are treated in the meat industry. Months after this I began to ask myself "If I care for animals, why am I still eating meat knowing how cruelly they are treated?"
I wasn't judging myself. I was honestly curious about this.
Not long after this question arose for me, I discovered that deep down I believed myself to be dark.
I was initially nervous to find out where this belief came from and what the darkness was about.
In allowing this belief to fully surface and be expressed (using the Dalian Method) I discovered this rigid stubbornness in me insisting that I AM dark. Insisting that this is who I am: “I like being dark and dammit I'm not letting this go!”
During the healing session this then shifted and I felt the fear that was behind the stubbornness. I was afraid (terrified actually) to dissolve into the light.
The fear lasted several minutes then it released from my system. A wonderful peace and clarity surfaced. I realized that the so-called darkness didn't have much substance to it. It was just my ego that wanted to stay in that identity of being dark because it was afraid to dissolve into the light. I let go of that identity and welcomed the beauty of more light (of expanded consciousness).
After this I decided it was time to stop eating meat. The next day after I made the decision, during my lunch break from my office job, I went to my usual Mexican food place. Out of habit I initially ordered something with meat and then stopped. I remembered my decision and changed my order to a vegetarian option. In that moment when I switched and ordered the vegetarian item I saw a vision of myself stepping out of the stream of darkness I had been attached to.
It was a beautiful experience in honoring with action my shift in consciousness. It was a way for me to step out of the old identity.
Now, here is what I didn’t have a desire to do…
To BECOME a vegetarian. Meaning I was not interested in now having a new identity for my ego to attach itself to. "I was dark, but now I'm light and don't eat meat".
I wasn’t interested in telling people they should do it too or feeling superior to meat-eaters and making any assumptions about them.
I was simply letting something go. I didn't want to fill that new space with something else. To fill it with a new identity (even if it does seem like an improvement over the old one). Instead I can enjoy having more space and light in me.
Working inside-out is how I like to do things. If I had become a vegetarian before that inner shift happened because I "should" than I am not sure how it would have gone. It would not have had the same meaning for me and I would’ve struggled with sticking to it. I probably would have also created another battle within (by trying to think myself into consciousness).
And if I’m really wanting to eat meat, which I do every now and then, I just let myself have it. I’m not going to fight with my cravings (been there, it sucks). I'm not bound to anything either.
My habits, including "bad" ones, are just to help me understand and discover new things. About life. About what it is to be human. About myself.
After what I've personally released and have worked through over the years, the last thing I want is more programming or another ideology (however healthy or altruistic it may seem).
There are definitely major turning points in my life but Being Conscious isn't a place I arrive at, it is an on-going expansion into new experiences. Some experiences I admit are way more enjoyable than others. But it is a never-ending discovery that lets me stay open and flexible so I can adjust when I learn something new (or UN-learn something new).
This is how I work best, it's not necessarily going to look this way for everyone. Perhaps for another it is expansive and fulfilling a purpose for them to tackle certain problems in our society. Just like those documentaries influenced me and I'm glad someone created them.
**Technically I’m a pescatarian because I eat seafood.
I love my body.
Not in the physical way and in the "my body is beautiful as it is" kinda way. That's there as well.
But what I mean is how my body brings me to the Truth.
I've had times where my mood seems very low and I'm thinking things are not going well in my life. Then I allow my attention to drop deeper into myself, into my body, and I have felt a surprising lightness and a palpable sense that all is okay and fine.
Sometimes I will be excited and in a whirlwind of feel-good energy, but then I realize that my body is signaling to me that something isn't right. This has happened to me a lot actually, since I tend towards excitability.
This can happen in my love life, it can happen in my friendships and in group settings. All is seemingly great but then I get a moment to myself and something in my body doesn't feel good.
It might feel like being suddenly drained or tired. I've also experienced it as uneasiness in my own skin. Sometimes it’s a heaviness in my heart.
Nothing wrong with that bubbly fun energy. I like that about me yet I've been looking more closely at times where I am in that experience and have momentarily disconnected from myself. In these moments I'm not truly experiencing connection or real joy, I'm actually escaping from something.
I might have been escaping because I don't want to acknowledge to myself that I do not resonate with the ideas coming from people I'm around in that moment (nothing personal against others and their choices). Or it might just be time for me to rest and be alone and I'm resisting it. I've also seen myself be entertaining to people to get attention I've been craving.
Exploring escapism, especially in social situations, has brought up valuable opportunities for transforming my blind spots.
A major one for me right now is the fear of being alone. In working with this fear I've had beautiful glimpses that I'm never alone because I have myself. And within myself is all of existence.
But there are deeper layers still operating on this fear. I am actually feeling sad as I write this. I realized yesterday how I still diminish myself, my wisdom, and the work I do to at times to avoid feeling isolated and misunderstood (being alone).
Ouch. In diminishing myself I broke my own heart.
I know this sadness is necessary though and I'm just letting it be there and feeling it.
This is why I love my body, it connects me to the Truth, even if that Truth is uncomfortable. It won't let me kid myself.
Where have you noticed the difference between what your mind or mood is saying and what your body is saying? Feel free to share in comments.
Leela Haris - Expanding Consciousness