Hi, I’m Kevin. I’m the founder of meditationmag.com (and have written a bunch of the articles on here), so I guess I should take a moment to tell you a little about myself, and why I’m interested in meditation & spiritual awakening.
Living in a Dream World
When I was a kid, my dreams were trippy AF. Sometimes, I would wake up from a dream, and then I would go about my day… only to realize at some point that I was still dreaming. Then I would wake up from that dream… into another dream, completely convinced that I had woken up “for real” this time. This happened enough times, on enough nights, that I started to doubt whether I was ever really “awake” at all. Maybe my entire life is just a dream.
I also watched a lot of TV as a kid. Flipping through the channels one day, I settled on a conversation between a man and a woman walking through a field of tall grass. The woman was interviewing the man about his “spiritual awakening” experience. The man described it as “like waking up from a dream.” It struck me that this “spiritual awakening” thing might be the key to my existential confusion; maybe my life is just a dream, and there’s some “realer” reality that I need to wake up into. But then I flipped to another channel and forgot about the whole thing.
Awakening Through Meditation
In college, I had a lot of existential anxiety & depression. Why are we here? What’s the point of anything?
Luckily for me, I found meditation, and it helped a lot. Meditation not only helped with the anxiety & depression, but actually made me feel more “alive” and “awake.” Over many years of meditation, I felt myself “waking up” from the dream-world of thoughts & concepts inside my head, into the reality of the world as it is… that which exists beyond my limited, dream-like perception of it.
In my mid-20s, after spending some time in Buddhist monasteries in Thailand and the USA, I found myself teaching basic meditation classes to large (and small) groups of people in Miami. Some described their experiences in my classes as feeling like “waking up” or “awakening.” One day, I was standing with a student who said “I haven’t had an awakening like that in a long time.” Suddenly, I remembered that moment when I had been watching TV as a child. I was struck, right there in the front of the classrom, with a powerful thought. This feeling of waking up that I had been experiencing through meditation practice is what that guy on TV meant when he’d talked about “spiritual awakening!”
Trying to Define Spiritual Awakening
I wondered why nobody had been able to explain this to me before. I wondered why nobody had written a book on the subject, explaining “spiritual awakening” in simple, down-to-earth, and practical terms. So I got to work doing it myself. I wrote a book called “Awakening.”
After writing a couple hundred pages explaining “Awakening” in logical, common-sense, modern terminology (and providing detailed instructions explaining how to experience it yourself), I decided to end the book with a chapter full of quotes from the great spiritual masters of the past millennia. I assumed that all of these spiritual masters would say pretty much the same things about Awakening, since (I assumed), we’re all experiencing essentially the same thing. Some masters (like Eckhart Tolle) said things very similar to what I had been saying:
“Spiritual awakening is awakening from the dream of thought.” — Eckhart Tolle
But other masters used very different words — at times so different that I wondered if they were talking about an entirely different experience. For example, check out this video of a young Alan Watts explaining what Awakening means:
In this video, Alan Watts talks about Awakening in terms of foreground implying background, black implying white, order implying chaos, etc. This description of Awakening is beautiful and powerful as well, and the video above is well worth a watch. In his 1989 book “What is Reality?” Alan Watts wrote:
“If you awaken from this illusion, and you understand that black implies white, self implies other, life implies death — or shall I say, death implies life — you can … feel yourself, not as a stranger in the world, not as someone here on sufferance, on probation, not as something that has arrived here by fluke, but you can begin to feel your own existence as absolutely fundamental. What you are basically, deep, deep down, far, far in, is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself.” — Alan Watts
Alan Watts is talking about “awakening” from the illusion of the “separate self,” or as he often called it, the “poor little me.” In Alan Watts’s words, the Awakening is realizing that you are not separate from Existence; you are Existence. He has expressed this insight by saying that to awaken is to “discover that you are god.”
These insights are beautiful in and of themselves… and often, they can be realized through the process of meditation as well. When the thoughts quiet down, and reality is perceived directly (rather than conceptually), one realizes a great many things about the nature of reality. But when it comes to actually defining “spiritual awakening,” it seems Alan and Eckhart would disagree. Eckhart Tolle seems to say that “awakening” is waking up from the dream of thought into the reality of the present moment. Alan Watts, on the other hand, seems to say that “awakening” is waking up from the dream of separateness into the reality of Oneness.
Over the course of months of research, I found many different descriptions of Awakening — some similar to each other, some very clearly different. Being honest with myself, I found that I was unable to pin down a single, unanimous definition of Spiritual Awakening that could be attributed to all (or even most) of the gurus.
What is Spiritual Awakening?
So what gives? Are these gurus talking about different kinds of Awakenings, and assuming that they’re talking about the same thing? Or are they all describing the same Awakening, the same Reality to which we awaken… and just using different words? I pored through hundreds of quotes, books, and wikis of all kinds. I sat with these questions. I analyzed for hours. In the end, I began to wonder if any of it really mattered.
Does it matter if Alan Watts and Eckhart Tolle define “spiritual awakening” differently? Does it matter if they had the same experience, or different ones? Does anything really matter in the first place? At the end of the day, isn’t “Spiritual Awakening” really just a couple of words?
After having written 200+ pages of Awakening, I decided I couldn’t publish the book.
There’s a popular saying in the spiritual community: “There are many paths up the mountain, but they all lead to the same peak.” Or, as Ikkyu put it, “Many paths lead up the mountain, but at the top we all gaze at the same bright moon.” I decided to set out on a quest to find out whether or not this is actually the case.
Maybe Hindu styles of meditation lead to different “awakening” experiences than Buddhist styles do. Maybe Amazonian Shamans, Gaelic Witches, and Aboriginal Australian Mystics experience completely different kinds of Awakenings, the likes of which I can’t even begin to imagine at this point. Or maybe we are all Awakening to the same Ultimate Reality, and we’re just using different words to describe it!
The only way to find out for sure is to spend time with spiritual masters from all of these different paths, practice with them, talk to them, and really figure out: do all spiritual paths really lead to the same ultimate peak?
So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. I’ve been traveling around the world and hanging out with gurus and spiritual leaders from the world’s greatest meditative traditions (which is why I haven’t had much time to write articles for meditationmag.com recently).
For your benefit, I’ve actually been recording some of my conversations with these gurus, and putting it all together as a documentary series. If you want to see whether “spiritual awakening” is a universal experience of waking up to a transcendent, ultimate reality, or whether we’re all just having different kinds of neuro-spiritual experiences and using the same labels (awakening, enlightenment, nirvana, etc) to describe them… check out some of these interviews 🙂
The first season is 4 episodes: New York, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. So far I’ve released the first three, and the Cambodia episode will be released over the next few days.
Check out these episodes, and subscribe to my YouTube channel to see more in the future! I plan to release everything for free, for the benefit of mankind, and for the love of humanity. Feel free to like and comment on the videos if you feel like it. I want this to be a dialogue rather than a monologue… a conversation rather than an explanation.
Have fun 🙂 And be well!
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Meditation Magazine.