The awakening of Annette Knopp
After some years, the depression got a little bit better, but there was still this sense that there was something I had to find. So I left my life behind when I was 29—my partner, my dog, my friends. I had a good career, I was self-employed, and I lived at the ocean. These were privileged circumstances, and I felt guilty about it. I was supposed to be happy. Yet, all these worldly things didn’t have much meaning anymore.
I had this urge to throw myself completely into the world, to travel widely and intensely so I would finally understand what is the essence of life. I had this sense that if I would stretch myself enough, know all the extremes within and without, I would find the common denominator, the answer to the riddle of life.
My partner didn’t want me to leave. Some friends said I was nuts, others thought I was ungrateful, but a yoga teacher supported and encouraged me to follow that calling. I was very scared when I left, but I didn’t have a choice. I met a few people in India, they were speaking about enlightenment, but I wasn’t interested in that concept. I didn’t even ask what it meant. I was just interested in following this inner fragrance that was saying, “You follow me, and I will lead you.” I stayed almost a year in India, traveling, studying, meeting different people. I also lived and traveled in Nepal, Thailand, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. I traveled for three years. It was quite an adventure.
Q: So what happened after three years?
It reached a crucial point in Japan in 1997 in the winter. Suddenly, I realized that I had gone through all these different life experiences. I had done all these different things in the world, chasing continuously around to find some answer or a lasting sense of rest. I had had experiences of the fullness of life, the bliss, deep connection, and meeting like-minded people. I had also endured loneliness, fear, and doubt about my journey. I had had different meditative experiences, what people call “openings” like being flooded by lights. But it was never anything that felt like the “real thing,” so I didn’t give it much attention.
I came to this certain point where a natural inquiry took place. I said to myself, “Hold on a minute. I’ve done this and that, and it seems to be like dresses I wear and then leave behind. This is Annette scene one, Annette scene two, and all this is changing. If all this is changing, who am I?” I was shocked and thought, “I have lost my mind. I’ve lost the plot completely!” I couldn’t find the “I” that was me! I was extremely upset about it. I didn’t have the knowledge that would say, “This is a very good discovery, go on.”
Instead it was this feeling, “You are in really big trouble. You left a good life just to go on this crazy journey, believing in God and that everything would be fine, and look where you are now.” It was devastating. It came together with states of paranoia where in the morning I didn’t want to look in the mirror because I was afraid I wouldn’t see my reflection anymore. Upon looking, I was relieved, but then immediately the panic set in again because this body, this face didn’t seem to really be me.
It felt like my adventurous endeavor was a failure. I looked back and asked, “Where did I make the mistake?” I felt I had done my very best so I decided, “Just call it life and say goodbye.” I was ready to finish, commit suicide. It wasn’t out of a feeling that my life was all terrible, but I was really tired. There were moments of being concerned about my family. I didn’t want to cause them suffering nor have my neighbors find me with blood on the tatami. But my sense of complete alienation from life and the world was stronger.
So, I went through the snow at 2 a.m. to a 24-hour shop to buy some razors. I knew I wouldn’t find sleeping pills. I still had a cell phone in my coat pocket from when I had come home before. I touched the cell phone, and there was this thought, “I could call one of my friends and say, ‘I need help. I don’t know what’s going on.’” But it was clear that they wouldn’t have the answer. If there’s anything that could help me, it must be That I had always trusted. So if That wouldn’t want me to die, it would stop me.
As soon as I arrived at the front of the shop, my phone rang. It was a man’s voice. He said, “It’s Brett.” I didn’t remember anyone with that name. He reminded me that we had had coffee together six weeks ago and exchanged phone numbers. He apologized saying this was a terrible time to call anyone, but he had woken up in the middle of the night with an intense feeling he had to call me right now. He was a sensitive and bright person. He said, “I don’t know what is happening with you, but I feel you must be in a very difficult space. I want you to come over to my house so you have someone to talk to.”
I resisted at first, but then something broke down in me and was relieved. I went into the shop and handed the cell phone over the counter, and Brett gave the man his address and the directions to call a taxi. Half an hour later, I was at his house.
I broke down completely, and I was crying, “I don’t know who I am!” Brett looked at me quite puzzled and said, “Well, you’re Annette. You were born in Germany. You’re studying in the morning, and in the afternoon you work. I think you’re a competent person, and you’re a beautiful woman.” I kept crying, “No, this is not who I am.” We didn’t get to an understanding, but it was OK. He was very kind and comforting, and something in me gave up. I felt, “OK, That made this happen. That shall take care of me now.” I didn’t do anything anymore. It was a hanging out, not even a waiting.
Q: Are you talking about a surrender?
I am not very fond of that word. It can convey a sense of someone “doing” it, and it is not like that. To me, it was an organic development, a choiceless understanding, a simple falling away of trying to control life, reaching for something.
Q: The idea that I’m the one doing life or creating my reality.
Yes, there was not knowing what would happen. A week or two later, a friend from San Francisco called to see if she could visit me in Japan. I told her I didn’t know if I would still be here when she came. She suggested we could meet in Australia. “I’ve done that. I’ve been there.” She wondered if I had been to Byron Bay. After I hung up, it was so strong. I knew I had to go to Byron Bay, and I didn’t want to. I was tired of traveling and ending up in new places, but a day later a friend in Australia called. She offered to take me to Byron Bay, so I ended up in Australia a month later.
The very first day on the street in Byron Bay, I met a man who was doing Tibetan eye readings. He looked familiar to me. I asked him if I had met him in India, and he said, “Yeah, yeah, you look familiar,” and we chatted. “Come on, I will give you a little eye reading.” He looked into my eye and said, “Oh my God, you are so ripe. Look, you have to see a man who’s here in town who is doing satsang.” “Satsang, what’s that?” He told me it was a spiritual gathering. I said, “No thank you. I’m not interested,” but he explained they were meeting in a wooden building, the surf club on the beach.
Somewhere in my head I remembered the conversation because after a few days something got unruly in me and said, “You need to go there.” I didn’t want to, but I found myself walking towards it like in a daze. There was a gathering of maybe 80 people or so, and someone was playing guitar. After awhile, a man came in. He sat silently for a few minutes, and then he said, “Welcome everyone to satsang. Please feel free to speak. We have a microphone that goes around.”
People would get the microphone and speak, but the teacher suddenly said, “Excuse me. Give the microphone to this young lady there,” and he pointed to me. The microphone came to me, and I felt embarrassed. I didn’t have any questions, but something came out of my mouth. “I have this very simple and yet it seems complex question, ‘What is all this pain about?’”
He said, “Well, if you have a lot of pain and you have a nightmare, then you want to wake up. If you’re dreaming very pleasantly, it’s just fine to be asleep. Are you willing to explore something? My experience is that when people come and they have pain or suffering, it all has to do with who they think they are. So I want you to just be open and forget everything you have ever read or heard or perhaps studied that you’re a soul, that you’re this body or anything. Just for a moment, allow yourself to directly experience who are you?”
When he said these last words, the whole world stopped. It was just complete stillness. Then suddenly the first sound I heard was the ocean crashing against the beach, and I knew immediately, “I am this ocean out there! I am the ocean.” I looked at the room which was me as well. “I am the people. I am the chairs. I am the microphone. I am this body.” I wanted to say, “I’m everything.” As soon as I wanted to utter this, it sort of popped and gave way to limitless transparency, a transparent nothingness that could not be located specifically. Yet everything was made out of that. I couldn’t speak anymore.
He asked again, “Hello, who are you? What did you find?” The answer came, “I am everything and nothing.” He started to laugh and said, “Yes! That’s it. That’s it. Wow. That didn’t take very long.” The next step was, “OK, let’s look again. This everything and nothing, do you have to do anything to be that?” “No,” I said. It was obvious. It seemed a very silly question.
“OK, let’s go back a bit more into the story. You spoke of some pain. Was it emotional pain or physical pain? What was it?” I wanted to tell him about this red thread in my life that felt like a hole in my heart. I looked, and I tried to find some pain, but I couldn’t find anything anymore. It was like nothing ever really happened. It was like a dream.
What had happened in that moment was the knowing I am outside of manifestation, prior to the universe and galaxies, never born. Yet I was at the center of everything in creation. This is what I had always been looking for. I was at home. I had never left. It was like a thirty thousand pound backpack dropped. And this laughter deep from my belly swelled up. I laughed and laughed, and the teacher laughed with me.
Q:This teacher was Isaac Shapiro, right? [Annette nods.] Last night you talked about people coming through the back door and others having a big bang kind of awakening. That sounds like a big bang.
I know. This is why I usually don’t tell the story because it seems a big bang, a dramatic story. Also, it doesn’t end here. It is a beginning.
Q:And are you afraid people will think it has to look like that?
This is always the tricky thing because when people hear certain stories, there is the fascination with the different experiences of someone else, a belief that it should look this or that way. The person, then, is made special. But it is not about the person or one particular way. The most important thing is to ask, “Where do these experiences arise from? What is present already prior to all experiences and is unchanging?” This is what we have to recognize.
Q:So this so-called awakening experience is the beginning. How did it get more refined?
There’s an integration or a refinement on many levels. Again, this might be different for someone else. On one hand, there was a shift of perspective, living and operating from a deeper understanding, sometimes being completely awake while the body is deeply asleep, knowing myself as causeless happiness, as the infinite, then sometimes being completely wrapped up in the limits of the personal identity.
Also with time, there was an intense and sometimes truly agonizing emotional clearing. There was no way to hide from my experiences anymore. It felt that things from the past would arise again, be relived, but now there was the opportunity to really be with it and not turn away.
Of course, the world goes on with its demands and needs. We all need to make money, go to the dentist, and so on. I was getting used to undisturbed spaciousness, and at the same time was really opening to the human experience with all its splendor and pain. This opening uncovers the inherent softness of the heart. It is not anything intellectual but a “slipping into place” with all of life which is ordinary and humbling but also exquisite and deeply rewarding.
I remember one day seeing a rotting bird on the beach and being completely overwhelmed by the beauty of it; images of starvation and dying passing through—all that we see as horrible. In that moment, I saw it as the unfathomable beauty that is me. At the same time, I am increasingly sensitive to all the suffering that exists.
Q: Can you give us an example of something painful that you could be with?
After that shift of perspective, I had a boyfriend who left me. I was in pain about it because I didn’t wish the relationship to end, but I could see that my pain was actually made out of many components like, “What will other people think? What does this mean about me?” It was seeing that all those thoughts were imposters in a certain way, movements away from what is. Then pain was simply flushing through my chest, clean pain or sadness without stickiness. Beautiful.
Original article here