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Awakening and The Death of the Search

©Copyright 1996, by Phil Servedio

Most spiritual seekers are filled with an inspiration and hope that enlightenment will occur for them. While this is noble, there is a side to awakening that is often overlooked in hopes that it can be bypassed, and that is the transition known as death. What is failed to be seen, or refused to be noticed, is that in almost all major transitions in life, something must die, or give way to something new. There is a hope in people that they may become awakened while remaining the same person that they always have been. This is not going to happen.

In many spiritual circles this death is not talked about, while in other circles teachers may use the aspect of death as a means to scare people. In my humble opinion, in order for awakening to occur, a death of some form must occur, which is completely individual to the person. However in most cases, this is the death of the seeker and his or her spiritual search. Love-Ananda brilliantly uses the analogy of Narcissus to describe the self-fascinated seeker, which to one extent or another is descriptive of us.

Awakening to some represents a way out of their situation or condition, and in some cases, literally out of here in one form or another. One underlying motivation for spiritual seeking is escape, to get out of the life that is suffering and full of pain and dilemma. The truth is that Awakening is exactly the opposite. It is the landing of the Puer Aeternus, the Peter Pannish archetype that the spiritual search embodies. Awakening means coming down, way down right into the body and back into our stupid lives, which is the very last thing many seekers really want.

Over the years of a spiritual search, the archetype of seeker grows to be more and more of a dominant sub-personality within the psyche of the individual. It seems to be inevitable, and just another form of baggage that must be released in order to pass through the doorway of Awakening. However, in many cases, this seeking is professionalized, made into a career and all-consuming occupation. Seeking is glorified and the mind entertains thoughts of nobility of the adventure. A magnificent temple is erected in the psyche to pay homage to this self-image on the altar. A personal or group culture begins to emerge out of our seeking, often involving superficial changes, such as adopting a mythical, mystical or Eastern name, wearing garbs from other cultures, shaving our heads, growing long hair, new speech patterns, various bodily adornments, outlandish behavior and statements, and a new circle of friends with which to share this new religion of the search. In the 3 decades of my own search, I have seen numerous " professional seekers" bouncing around from one group to another, accumulating and accumulating while remaining invulnerable and aloof, placing the blame on others for their suffering while not seeing their own folly filled game.

While it is all important not to suppress our individuality, uniqueness and personal creativity in life, and not to belittle various real and personal initiations that use outward forms, it cannot be denied that some aspects of the personality usurp these forms for their own agendas. What the seeker wants is to grow in his or her circle of self-fascination to others. The underlying motive for such obvious markings of "I am different than you ordinary slobs" is very often a childish need for attention, to be noticed as different. The person wants to be seen, but not be vulnerable, and this psyche of "I am different" or "I am advanced" is literally the wall of invulnerability that must be dismantled, a la Milarepa. While there is the impulse for realization in all of us, the seeker wears spiritual sincerity as a mask, and is only interested in keeping up the status-quo.

The professional seeker is a clown in a one man circus, Circ' de Narcissus, hoping to get attention and status from others, especially from the teacher with whom he or she is currently working. Even more so, over time, the seeker accumulates a great deal of experiences and stories in order to feed the strong thirst of self-fascination. All of this makes the event of the transition through the doorway of awakening all the more difficult and painful. The very last thing the seeker wants is to die.

For many people, death of one form or another is the doorway of awakening, and once this death occurs, then the flash of self-recognition may be possible, and not until then. The death of the seeker is the final release of bound up energy and attention in order to have this transition occur. For others, the instant of awakening is the moment of death of the search. It could be discussed to no end which may come first - perhaps it is a chicken or the egg kind of issue. The emphasis on death prior to Awakening is emphasized in this writing simply because that is how my process appeared to progress.

Awakening means a return to ordinariness and an ordinary life, a threat to a seeker's sense of hopefulness, fascination and adventure. Ordinariness is the wall that the hot rod of the spiritual search runs smack into and breaks into pieces. As the Chinese wood block paintings describe, the last part of the journey is to return to the marketplace, a frightening prospect to the self-fascinated seeker hoping to escape the world. Somehow, the ordinary blue collar world is something that we don't want to touch, to have anything to do with, something shameful and beneath us, and certainly not "spiritual". But in the event of real Awakening, all forms can become transparent, or a reflection of one's essential nature, so that dualistic notions of above and below, sacred or profane, ridiculous or sublime, can dissolve in a life of simplicity. From a psychological perspective, the personal and collective shadow can be embraced, as there is no place where "I am" is not.

To one degree or another, we all are or have been professional seekers, full of the twin sisters of hope and fear. I was involved in the spiritual search for 22 years, and because of this, the archetype of the seeker was a dominant sub-personality in my psyche. It ran the roost for a good part of my life. Recently, however, this death process of the search began to manifest. I began growing tired of my own fascination with experience and spirituality. Everything became flat to me, like a beer left out in the open too long. Nothing could give me a rise anymore, despite a great deal of spiritual experiences. Rigor mortis was beginning to set in. And due to some good fortune, the process in consciousness brought forth an individual who demanded I give up the search. He asked me in the heat of a moment if I was ready to be a finder instead of a seeker, and I saw that I had to give up something precious to me, a "special friend" called the seeker. Despite the process of death already taking hold, the prospect of this final death rattle was particularly frightening in the moment. It must be noted, however, that calling off the search is not a volitional act. It occurs purely by Grace, which is not outside ourselves. Many people call off the spiritual search, give up, get cynical, disillusioned or frustrated and go back to do something else to occupy their time and attention. This action has nothing to do with going directly through the death process, only a delay, a bypass, putting off the eventual transition into the future. In retrospect, I believe I would have never had a breakthrough of recognizing my own nature to be Consciousness/Being without this primary expunging of the seeker. I believe that Awakening occurs in tandem with a deep shift of the psyche, and results in the noticing of feeling subtly but obviously quite different than ever before.

It seems that in the early stages after awakening, a form of mourning occurs, just as with the loss of a good friend that provided one with endless distractions and fascinating adventures. This is the beginning of what my friend Ardeliza calls "the fall", the rot of the karmic seeking adventure that occurs right in front of the individual, and is unavoidable. There is no decent burial, as this loss has to be faced directly, head on. But in the midst of this sense of loss, a great space emerges that was created by the dismissal of this crazed friend, the archetype of the spiritual search. What will fill this space up in the future, if anything at all fills it up, remains to be seen in my own case. It does appear that a newly found sense of creativity and expression is emerging from that space that was once occupied by the intensity of my own search. In addition, the release of the "clenched fist" of seeking (as described by Love-Ananda) brings forth an utter simpicity to the life of the individual, even though the outward forms may not change drastically. Seeking the goal of realization is a weight that the seeker bears until a few lucky individual find themselves standing prior to the motions and motivations.

It appears that for some a prerequisite for Awakening is the release of the most precious icon within the being. What is at the altar of your most glorious inner temple? What sits on that altar is precisely what is the obstruction to a seeker's Awakening, when the time is ripe for that individual. What sits on that altar may be surprising - in my own case, it wasn't my investments, my career, my wife, or an image of myself as a good person. It was what was in my heart-of-hearts, what I felt to be the most precious thing in the world: my own impulse to seek the truth. Like Gollum and his Preciousss..., that ring had to be abandoned for this transition to take place. No anaesthetic was allowed for this surgical procedure, it had to be faced directly, no matter how painful or frightening.

The Guru-devotee relationship has been prevalent for ages, and the foundation of the passing of various traditions from generation to generation. However in my own experience and observation as a devotee, particularly a Westerner devotee, I can see how this psychic structure can also be a detriment at a particular point in time, and must be let go. There are numerous stories of monks being kicked out of the monastery in the Zen tradition, which resulted in eventual Awakening, I'm reminded of Saniel Bonder, who spent 18 years with Love-Ananda. During those years, he had profound flashes of recognition, but could not claim Awakening. Eventually, due to his own process in consciousness, he was forced to leave, making the difficult decision of seeking Awakening over being a devotee. Apparently, in his case, the innermost temple altar displayed a devotee, and it was not until he went through the death of this image, that was he able to flash forward in Awakening. In my case, I too had to release that image of the devotee, and it was a painful one, but it wasn't the innermost core image. The story of Milarepa is particular poignant in this regard. Marpa, his Guru, forced him to build numerous structures only to have Milarepa dismantle them, placing the rocks back exactly where they came from. Somehow in the spiritual process, an unavoidable structure is built, the spiritual search in one form or another, which at the opportune and ripe time, must be dismantled in order for the real transition of Awakening to occur.

It must be noted that even after Awakening various forms of seeking still exist and actually may be heightened, simply because a body-mind is still arising. The freeing of bound up knots in the Awakening process can make a person increasingly passionate, creative and juicey, as the energy bound up in the spiritual search is transmuted. The body-mind still prefers feeling good over feeling crappy, loving environments to cruel ones, though Consciousness may see no difference in them, recognizing all forms to be a reflection of one's own nature. There may even be a heightened interest to examine and study various schools of spiritual thought and practice, in order either to weigh their value or corroborate one's own awakening with realizers of the past. What specifically dies is the search for "Who Am I?", "What is My Self-Nature?", and all of the energy and attention bound to this increasingly consuming cause.