Awakening Rick NurrieStearns
The Awakening of Rick NurrieStearns
In each issue of Personal Transformation magazine we printed two or three stories from individuals about a powerful personal transformation they experienced.
In the years I spent editing and sifting through others stories, I never dreamed that I would be writing a personal transformation story about my life. Nor did I ever dream that my transformation would propel me into spiritual awakening and end the magazine that I had founded nine years earlier. And yet, that is exactly what happened. Here is my story of transformation.
It has been over two years since I closed the doors to our publishing office. On my last day at the office we held a liquidation sale of all of our office equipment. I was left with a pile of books and several boxes of business records of which I crammed into my car.
As I drove home that day after the sale it struck me that I was not grieving the end of the magazine that I had worked so many years to create. I was experiencing a lightness, joy and happiness that was unaffected by the external drama of ending a business. The happiness stemmed from a deep internal stillness, presence of beingness and a complete acceptance of "what is." There was no expectation of future, or memory of past, I simply was.
I had started my spiritual seeking some twenty-four years earlier following a near death experience in which I had no pulse, breath or heart beat for over twenty minutes. During the experience I was completely aware, yet awareness was not localized in my body. It was as if space itself held awareness as I witnessed my friends and family trying to save me from several feet above and beyond them.
The near death experience profoundly impacted me as it gave awareness that "I" was not my body. The awareness dramatically changed the course of my life and gave me the resolve to discover more about the mystery of life.
After the near death experience (NDE) I took up a study of mysticism and Eastern philosophy and started a practice of sitting meditation. I practiced sitting meditation regularly for over seventeen years until stopping some seven years ago after experiencing an overwhelming energy near the base of my spine.
I was confused about the arising energy and didn't know if I was doing something wrong or something right. I consulted with friends who meditated and a couple of meditation teachers but none really knew what was going on and their suggestions were unhelpful.
I stopped sitting meditation and started a daily walking meditation. I focused on staying one pointed and mindful as I went about the day. Later, in the early 1990's, upon a suggestion from a Buddhist friend, I started to integrate meditation into the chores I did around the house; doing the dishes, cutting the grass, cleaning the house etc.
I became focused on psychological work and started going to personal growth workshops and seminars with my wife. Being a licensed psychotherapist she had to attend several trainings a year to maintain her state license. During the 1990's there were plenty of quality intensives, workshops and seminars being offered.
We attended three to four intensives and seminars every year, experiencing gifted teachers on personal and spiritual growth. Some of the most helpful focused on integrating the unconscious aspects of self. I learned how various personas often undermined one another causing an unneeded stress, anxiety and wasted energy. We attended workshops on body centered psychotherapy which helped bring more consciousness in the body.
Over time I started going to individual talk therapy sessions and was able to see movement and integration with parts of self that had been somewhat frozen and rigid. I also started journaling my dreams and got interested in Jungian dream work and later joined a dream process group.
I continued to experience a powerful energy at the base of my spine in the middle of the night after I had been asleep for a couple of hours. I would awaken suddenly and feel energy expanding and rising from my hips into my lower lumbar area. At the time I was both curious and afraid of the energy. I tried letting go into it but when I did the energy would radically increase and my body would shake uncontrollably while I felt an odd stiffness in my muscles.
I mentioned my experience to a friend and she told me that it could be a spirit trying to possess me. I became fearful and for months tried purification and protection schemes in an effort to push away the experience. Nothing quelled the experience and after some contemplation I felt it was internal rather than external to me. After a few months I got used to the experience of waking in the overwhelming energy and didn't think much about it.
In the mid 1990's the energy shifted somewhat and when I woke in the middle of the night I started to experience it as sexual energy. Experiencing the energy sexually was much more pleasant than the body shaking and muscle tension of before. I still experienced discomfort as it was uncontrollable and I was fearful about experiencing something so intense and primal.
A couple of years later the sexual energy became more intense and at times started to manifest during the day. When the energy came forth I would feel sexually charged to the point of being consumed in raging lust. The energy was intensely primal, being completely beyond all thought and having no ethic or moral discrimination to it.
I became concerned that if this energy manifested while I was away at one of the many seminars, workshops or conferences that I was attending that I would sexually act it out with someone other than my wife. Being in a committed relationship and wanting to stay that way I became distressed over what to do.
Upon returning from a ten-day intensive I realized that if I did not address what was happening with the arising energy I could easily become overwhelmed by it. I told a spiritual teacher the story of the arising energy. He suggested that I have a sexual affair with another woman as a way to explore the arising energy. His point was that when we become mentally and emotionally wrapped up in the dynamics of relationship underlying primal needs can be suppressed.
He suggested that if I did not engage the energy I would never truly become fully embodied in life, yet if I did engage it I might bring huge suffering to my relationship with my wife.
To engage the energy really made sense to me, but to have a sexual affair did not. I pondered this for several days, knowing that I had to engage the energy to move on in life but to have a sexual affair didn't feel right.
As I continued my contemplation of how to engage the energy it became an intense personal dilemma that really seized me. It was like one of those unanswerable Zen koans and there seemed to be no logical solution. The question for me was how could I fully engage the arising sexual energy while at the same time being appropriate for my life situation. My desire to be appropriate had a repressive and stifling effect on letting the energy come forth so it seemed like an irresolvable dilemma.
One day, while driving to work and deeply pondering my dilemma, I suddenly became immersed in a powerful erotic sensualness. It was as if my body and being were being merged with a dynamic, vast, and electric like feminine energy. My vision intensified with recognition of immense spaciousness along with an almost microscopic awareness that everything was alive with energy. Awareness expanded and sharpened, I felt as if I was on fire. The experience engulfed my whole being, it was far more energetically powerful and blissful than anything I had ever experienced.
I was barely able to drive the last few miles to work. Once there I could do nothing but lay on the floor. Making an effort to write something of my experience all I could do was to write a few lines of poetry. Although I was mentally very lucid and aware, my writing, reading and speech skills were greatly impaired. The energy was blissfully sweet but I was also mentally distressed as I was on a tight production schedule for my publication and I was completely unable to work.
After several days my experience shifted. I experienced the energy as an impersonal current of bliss--it no longer had a sensual sexual edge to it. The energy was so overwhelming that when I quit resisting and surrendered into it I would become completely incapacitated with awe and bliss for the rest of the day.
[In retrospect if I had followed the suggestion to have a sexual affair I feel certain that I would have circumvented the energetic opening.]
Driving, computer work, conversation were all very difficult as the experience was so overpowering. After several days I started to get distressed, as I was still unable to work. I called a couple of spiritual teachers I knew to get their take on what was going on. One gave me a list of things I could do to stifle the experience and the other commented that it sounded like I was resisting and afraid, that perhaps the arising energy was a part of myself that was trying to come forward. The latter comment seemed to make sense to me as I had been trying every which way to control or to convert the energy and nothing at all worked.
A couple of nights later I stayed up late to organize my work for the magazine publication. It took extreme focus to work as the energy was profoundly intense.
Exhausted, I laid down to rest. The energy magnified to the point that it felt like a huge tsunami was just about to engulf me. The surge was completely overwhelming, I could not stop it. The energy felt like it was about to annihilate me, I concluded that I was entering into my death process.
Being curious about witnessing my death I resolved to remain open, conscious and not recoil from what was to happen. I then surrendered fully and unconditionally accepting my death. The wave of energy washed me into being absolute light; not being in the light, but being light itself. The word "light" conveys only a sliver of what "that" is. "It" is far more than light, "it" is infinite beingness, infinite consciousness and infinite energy all in one. It is truly beyond all thought and all descriptors. There was lucid consciousness but no "I," no subject and no object.
My awareness withdrew and figuratively hovered at the edge of "it." I saw nothingness/voidness surrounding absolute beingness. I allowed awareness to move back into being "that." When my awareness withdrew again I became aware that even at the very edge of this infinite beingness I could not retain the completeness of "it" in my consciousness. Only by being "it" could I totally grasp "it."
Again I allowed awareness to move back into "it" and tried to look deeper. But the effort of trying to look deeper moved me away from being "that." I immediately let go, surrendering all effort and again merged deeper with "that."
When awareness emerged I tried to hold onto the awareness of "it" as I consciously moved back toward my brain mind self-consciousness. I felt as if I was settling deeper and deeper into heaviness and the thickness of egoic personality. I saw what I had identified as Rick, the memories and the preferences, were all based upon a false notion and perception of self. Who Rick had been, seemed hollow, empty, meaningless and heavy. I sat up and looked at the clock, almost two hours had passed in what felt like just a few moments.
The next morning I felt utterly thunderstruck. Experiencing consciousness without subject or object obliterated the ground and foundation for personal identity. The experience was totally cataclysmic to who I thought I was. Seeing the personal self as imaginary and devoid of substance left me in shock and speechless.
I was left in awareness of beingness in an all-pervading emptiness and fullness. I felt completely overwhelmed and was unable to attend to business duties. Just being alive was totally immediate, blissful and incredibly joyful.
AFTER SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
Notes From My Journal
Since writing above story about my spiritual awakening, I have wanted to add more about what life has been like since. So I have gone through my daily journal and pulled together some topics and commentary that I thought would be of interest.
When the energy (kundalini) arose in my body the night of the spiritual awakening it changed the shape of my skull. Along the sagittal suture a ridge had formed in the skull bone from the crown to the forehead. In the first several months when I would sit in meditation the skull would soften and feel somewhat pliable like a young babys head. The bone of the skull would change shape with the ebb and flow of energy in the body.
One morning on my way to work (shortly after the energy opening), I bumped into my folks and I mentioned my experience of bliss and my skull changing shape. They looked at me convinced that I must have some brain tumor or something seriously wrong as bliss was not normal. When I told my wife Mary that they wanted me to see a doctor, she also became concerned. After several days of conversation I agreed to see a doctor just to clear up any thought that there maybe something physically wrong.
A doctor friend ordered a MRI and a Xray for me and both came back with no sign of any dysfunction. The nurse at the Xray lab was most helpful when she commented "honey, you’re probably not going to find any answers here."
Later, I found that acupuncture was very helpful in helping the body adjust to the increased level of energy. Doing physical labor, yoga and walking in nature were also a great help.
After spiritual awakening I went through a period of time where I grieved the death of who I was, the personal "me" and the future life that was lost. It was as if I was grieving the death of a close friend, (my self). The grieving also felt rather odd as at the same time I was filled with incredible joy.
Several days after the spiritual awakening I gathered up my courage to drive to town. Driving a car with heightened awareness took on a new challenge. Being aware of many things simultaneously was overwhelming, taxing my ability to drive. Usually when I drove I would operate somewhat mechanically. That morning everything stayed present in my awareness. Moment after moment, I re-experienced the senses of touch, sight, smell and hearing along with awareness of breath and my thoughts. Each moment was experienced totally new, as were all sensations and observations.
When I got into the car I could feel the skin on my back touching the shirt and seat back. I felt the sock on my foot as I pressed my shoe against the gas-pedal. As I drove off I watched the speedometer as I felt my foot upon the gas-pedal while feeling the shirt on my skin while keeping in the proper lane while looking for traffic and keeping in mind where I was going. Each of these awareness were constantly re-experienced again and again in each moment.
It was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky, I listened to the air as it pasted by the open window and felt the sun on my arm. Going 45 miles an hour was the best that I could manage, as there was so much to take in. Thankfully there were few cars on the road that day. As I drove everything became very immediate and moved by like I was viewing it from a high speed camera viewing many more frames per second than normal. I particularly noticed the road ahead of me as I drove. Its texture, its color, how the light made the asphalt shine.
While taking the whole driving experience in, I noticed some cracks in the road ahead, they formed a dimpled indentation in the road, the beginnings of a pothole. As I noticed the cracks I suddenly became one with the road loosing all awareness of anything else, there was only road. A moment or two later I startled myself when I remembering that I was driving the car, my consciousness snapped back instantly to being in the car, driving. The continuation of my car trip that morning was fraught with tension as I fought to steady my awareness so I wouldn't drift into oneness and crash into something.
The feeling of being freed of karma has been something that has been very difficult to describe. It is as if something heavy was gone from my life, a feeling of lightness and a loss of resistance to what “is” in life. Metaphorically it felt like the weight of a 1500 pound backpack had just slipped off my back.
After spiritual awakening, old desires, dislikes, preferences and obsessions no longer had impact on me. I found that they only affected me if I intentionally invested energy into them. The habits and ways of being that had been accumulated over the years had been wiped away.
Some weeks after spiritual awakening, in my enthusiasm, I spoke with some family and friends about my experience. I quickly learned how there is a strong tendency in our society to pathologize spiritual experiences. This seemed especially true when I spoke about only awareness remaining and the experience of "no-self." I was dumfounded by others reaction at first, what I experienced was vastly more real and fulfilling than what I had previously known in life. Yet I was met with a look that there must be something wrong with me, a look that conveyed skepticism, doubt and disbelief.
After the initial couple of months, a friend who was well versed in both eastern philosophy and western psychology, told me a Chinese proverb. He said "The difference between a wise man and a fool, is the wise man knows when to speak and when not to." After hearing the proverb I became more discreet about who I told my experiences to.
A month or two after spiritual awakening I discovered that I had developed a morose persona to mask my buoyant joy and experience of bliss. My masking of the joy was an attempt to sidestep the pathologizing I experienced when around friends and family. I began to think that being depressed or down was more accepted in our society than being light and buoyant.
I discovered the persona one morning when I was feeling completely distressed that I had been unable to accomplish my work and was behind in my publication schedule. I sat down to think over my situation. I worded my discomfort back to myself, "I am distressed because I am completely overwhelmed with joy and bliss and unable to work." After speaking out loud to myself it sounded so absurd that I burst out laughing at my biggest complaint in life.
[It’s interesting to witness how the ego likes to attach and identify with stories about being rather than directly experiencing life.]
Joy and Bliss
It took some time to relax into experiencing more energy, joy and bliss. Previously, I had been content with a lot less energy. After the opening I realized how many strategies I had developed to lower my energy level. In the past, when my energy would start to go up, I ate, slept, had sex, did physically demanding work, stayed up late, worked longer, took hot showers, got moody, worried, read, watched TV, etc.
It's been nearly three years since the spiritual awakening and my normal experience is one deep stillness, inner peace and a flow of energy I relate to as blissfulness. In the first year after the spiritual awakening I was completely blown away with the flow of energy. The experience of being washed away has significantly reduced as I am able to stay present and not identify or separate from it. Generally, just "being" is what "is."
Once able to read again I studied books on spiritual awakening, consciousness and enlightenment. I contacted spiritual teachers and authors searching for answers. The driving force was to find out what to do. I felt as if I was struggling to keep it all together in the mundane world. Even though a part of personality knew that everything was OK, another part felt shattered. I also had an intellectual curiosity and need to name, understand and verify my new experience of life.
Being a publisher was a great help in contacting spiritual teachers. The spiritual teacher I felt most connection to was from the Zen tradition. I felt immensely helped by his ability to mirror back my state of consciousness and also verify and confirm the spiritual awakening/enlightenment.
Through my studies of eastern philosophy, I learned that my experience of consciousness without an object without a subject is referred to as nirvikalpa-samadhi, enlightenment or spiritual awakening. The experience of no-self and ecstatic blissful ecstasy is referred to as nirvana. I felt relieved to name my experience and I felt joy that I knew and understood what the sages were talking about.
Some months after the spiritual awakening a spiritual friend suggested that I take up meditation again, so I started sitting each morning for a couple of hours. Rather than taking the attitude that I had arrived at the end goal I felt that I now had something to really sink my teeth into. I started my meditation practice with beginners mind and a feeling I was just beginning my spiritual journey.
At first I had to learn to keep my eyes open during meditation in order to keep from disappearing into nothingness. With eyes closed I dropped into voidness, no "I" and nothing other. I let go of all prior notions of what meditation was or what it was suppose to look like. At first it was challenging to let go of trying to do something. All deeper movements in meditation came when I let go of effort and expectation, when I surrendered completely, not trying to do anything.
Previous meditation teachers had taught me to watch my breath in meditation, in my new practice I found watching the breath distracting in that it kept my mind engaged. I found it was far more useful to let my attention rest on a sensation in my body. Attention on a sensation was less likely to activate thinking. Most of the time, after resting attention on the sensation for a short time, attention would become one with the sensation--moving me into deeper meditative states.
By letting go of preconceived ideas of meditation this meditation that suited my temperament bubbled up from within me. After some months of practicing "my meditation" I randomly picked the book "Who is My Self" by Ayya Khema from my library shelf one morning for inspirational reading. I was surprised to find that the meditation that had bubbled up was actually a Buddhist jhana meditation detailed in Khema’s book.
After a couple of months of meditation practice I found that I was able to keep my eyes open and experience both manifest and voidness at the same time. My experience became neither one nor the other but both voidness and manifest simultaneously. Seeing both as one and not two was a huge ah-ha for me, everything exists and does not exist at the same time.
After about a year after the spiritual awakening I noticed that meditation became effortless and deep meditative states happened spontaneously day and night.
One hot afternoon after doing some yard work, I felt exhausted to the point that I could not do any more physical work. So I decided to go inside to finish up some accounting work on the computer that had long needed my attention. As I sat in front of the computer I noticed that the experience of energy increased in my body and I found it very difficult to shift awareness into thinking about accounting. I felt somewhat confined in the house so I went outside to sit in the shade on the porch.
As I relaxed into the chair I fell into a deep meditative state. Everything seemed to slow down and I sensed awareness expand beyond my body to the surrounding environment. Everything was vibrant and rich in color, the air seemed thick and full of energy. The birds were singing and the leaves of the trees gently rustled in the breeze as the dragonflies flew in circles around the water garden. I relaxed and sank deeply into presence.
A horse fly flew around the corner of the house, flying as horse flies do, so fast they appear as a blur. But as this horse fly flew nearer I noticed the movements of his wings going slowly up and down, as if I was watching him fly through the lens of a high-speed motion camera that took many frames per second.
The point of my perception seemed to be less than an inch away from the fly as he made a wide arcing turn several feet away from my body. During the arcing turn I noticed his head cock to the left and I saw the many reflections from his multi-lensed eye as if I were looking at him through high magnification. In another moment it registered in awareness that there was only fly and no other. The immediacy and intimacy of being fly startled me and I recoiled back into brain mind consciousness (as I knew what the fly had just eaten for lunch), in that same instant the fly zoomed off in the familiar blur of speed.
Since then total absorption in an object (samadhi states) have happened spontaneously in relation to other objects, people and animals. When it occurs there is an immediate and total knowing of that which is perceived. Expressing what is perceived has been a challenge as it's like trying to put words to a vast mountain of knowing.
One morning, while working in the yard building a water garden, I contemplated the nature of consciousness and the meditative experiences I was having. Throughout much of the day I wondered what it would be like to live from my deepest awareness. I needed some pipe fittings for the water garden pumping system and decided to go into town to pick up the parts.
While driving and pondering what it would be like to live from my deepest awareness, my awareness spontaneously expanded. It was as if I was 1500 foot above the car, seeing everything at once, seeing up, down and all around while being aware of driving. I saw the road from inside the car while also being 1500 foot or so above the car being aware of everything in all directions--the trees, wind, sky, the smell of the leaves, gravel on the road. Then, as quickly as the expansion appeared, it left me back in the car driving down the road.
Sleep and Awareness
Since spiritual awakening, sleep has been one of the most perplexing changes in my daily existence. For over a year and a half after the spiritual awakening I never lost awareness. At night, after going to bed, I remained consciously aware. laid there and meditated or simply watched the mind thinking and or day dreaming. Awareness was empty and undivided, with no "I."
For months I was disturbed by this and realized how attached I was to sleep consciousness. In the mornings I always felt rested and relaxed and very rarely did I feel tired during the day. One of the pleasant side effects of constant consciousness was an increase of time available to me. Since I slept very little I was free to do as I wished during the night. Usually I went for walks with our dogs or sat and watched the night sky.
[In retrospect, I realize that my belief about how much sleep is required conflicted with my reality. I had been taught and believed that I needed to sleep at least eight hours each night and if I did not sleep enough, something was wrong.]
The story above relates but one side of my story, the ascent. This recounting would be incomplete if I did not mention the other half of the story, the decent into the heavy and thick places of personality and the difficulties of opening to expanded experiences in everyday life.
Jack Kornfield's book title "After the Ecstasy the Laundry" speaks loudly of the fact that after spiritual awakening life is still to be lived. Spiritual awakening does not pay the mortgage, magically solve health problems or resolve practical matters in life. It is true that we are far more than our thinking mind and our body. However, there is still life to be lived on this earthly plane. An awakened life is one where we live in this world with the peace that comes from knowing who we truly are.
Enlightenment is right here, right now. There is no need to look outside of yourself for it, as it is the very essence of being.
Whatever we give space to in life, we nurture.
What we nurture in life is what we reap.
Nurture spiritual awakening.