The Process of Purification

From my upcoming book "Meditation Is Not What You Think"

As I have emphasized a few times by now Awakening is not the end, it is the ever-new beginning.  There is no spiritual insight or experience, no matter how profound that can magically free you from all your suffering and conditioning.  On the contrary, if you have genuinely awakened to your True Nature to a significant degree, then you have opened the door to being capable of confronting your suffering in a way that simply would not have been possible before.

The ingrained tendencies of the ego “I” will surface and they must be faced, understood and transcended if you want to realize, to make real, your Awakening.  If you give yourself authentically and wholeheartedly to that endeavor then, in the early stages of the Process especially, you will feel the suffering of your born existence much more acutely, because now you can no longer engage in all the ordinary things that people do to distract themselves from that suffering.  You can no longer blithely avoid confronting the suffering that underlies ordinary life by indulging obsessively in money, career, food, sex and casual entertainments.  And so you are inevitably turned back on your suffering with much greater intensity.


As your habitual patterns and tendencies are progressively burned away in the purifying Fire of the Heart the regenerative qualities of the Way begin to emerge, but a very big part of that journey especially in the initial stages will most likely be an intensification of the energy of your neurosis.  You may experience dramatic highs as you open into greater liberating depth and expansive states of peace and joy but then the “honeymoon” period eventually gives way to the backlash of the ego “I” as it attempts to reassert its agenda through various strategies of doubt, fear and pride.

In the midst of an “ego backlash” you may feel that, “I have lost it”.  But how can you lose that which you always already are?  Rather what occurs is that your identification with the self-contraction of ego acts like a veil that intervenes and seems to cut you off from the wellsprings of your True Nature.  This veiling movement happens to the degree that there are still remnants of attachment, resistance, confusion and impure motivation active in your psychophysical system.  That veil seems to separate you from Consciousness Itself but then it disappears again when, through your aspiration for Freedom, you re-cognize your True Self that is always already free and pure.

The transformational challenge, as I have been describing in different ways, is to allow all of the permutations of your psychophysical experience to be as they are without dramatizing them.  Then, through the power of your aspiration, devotion, meditation and inquiry, your contracted self-serving tendencies are scrutinized and released.  This rhythm of constriction and release keeps on renewing itself, until the impurity has been worked out through deepening self-understanding.  This is the self-transcending process of purification, the Divine Test of gradually transforming our self-expression as an individual into an authentic reflection of the Divine.  To engage the Divine Test most effectively we have to find the big-heartedness to hold the Great Paradox, which is that this gradual process of purification and Self-Realization can only fully unfold itself when we simultaneously have the courage to embrace the radical immediacy of our always already free True Nature here and now.

If you can muster the strength of character and flexibility of mind to embrace this Great Paradox on an ongoing basis then the Awakening Process will unfold much more organically.  You will notice how there is a kind of natural order to what arises for your inspection.  In general you will first confront the grosser emotional neurotic tendencies related to the arena of vital life.  Your strategies, issues and addictions associated with money, power, work, relationships, food and sex and the associated emotional dramas of shame, guilt, desire and fear will come to the surface of your awareness and assert themselves.  That is why a sound basis for true spiritual life has always been the foundational disciplines of a clean and healthy diet, responsible sexuality, and as the Buddha denoted in his eightfold path, Right Livelihood, Right Speech, Right Action and Right Meditation to name a few.  These disciplines facilitate the Awakening Process by confronting you with all of your neurotic, self-indulgent habits.

Once you have faced and transcended the grosser addictive emotional tendencies to a significant degree, then you will tend to confront the deeper constructs of belief, self-image, doubt, arrogance and all of the narcissistic patterns of self-absorption that compose your characteristic strategy in relationship to life.  As this process of self-observation matures you progressively penetrate into the fundamental structure or “holding pattern” of the ego “I”.  You begin to observe a particular kind of “face” that you present to others and a characteristic “role” that you tend to play.  You may observe yourself being characteristically ironic, superficial, aggressive, passive, seductive etc.  When you have become sensitive to these movements you can then detect the underlying self-image or primary self-sense that shapes your fundamental disposition towards life.  For example, one might find that their characteristically tough, or even aggressive stance toward life is a cover for a constant underlying sense of vulnerability, insecurity or weakness.  Or one might find that their social persona of shyness and inferiority is really a cover for a secret sense of superiority or mistrust.  Or one might find that their identity as a nurturing, caring individual who is overly self-sacrificing is a cover for a deep sense of unworthiness and self-hatred.  In general you will discover that your characteristic external strategies are compensations for an inward strategy that might be very different, and perhaps even the opposite of the face that you present to the world.


When the Awakening Process penetrates to this core level there is often tremendous resistance and friction generated as we uncover and confront layers of emotional pain that start coming to the surface.  We might even find that there is an entire underworld of phenomena rising up that can be deeply disconcerting and even terrifying, not only because of the intensity of what we are feeling, but also because we do not understand why it is happening and where it is coming from. 

If you experience something like what I am describing here then do not be alarmed, because as “bad” as it might seem and feel, something very positive and important is happening.  The Awakening Process is now penetrating into what is often called “the shadow”.  The shadow by definition is a dimension of our psyche that we cannot see with our conscious awareness yet it insidiously influences and dictates much of our reactive behavior from “behind the scenes”.

This shadow aspect of the ego “I’ is largely made up of repressed pain that was laid down in childhood when we did not yet have a strong enough sense of individual autonomy to deal with unbearable feelings of loss, abandonment, anger, betrayal, and so on.  The shadow is particularly evident in people who have suffered forms of sexual and emotional abuse as children, but we all repressed and denied experiences of pain and trauma as we grew up to different degrees and so the shadow is made up of all that we have judged to be the most dark and undesirable aspects of ourselves.

So when the shadow starts to be illuminated by the searchlight of the Awakening Process it can erupt like a sudden storm.  And when the storm starts coming in, as I explained in the chapter “Like a Hurricane”, what is most essential is to allow the space for these painful emotions to unravel and to hold fast to our faith and trust in the Process.  Then we allow the raw energy of the repressed emotion to transmute like water boiling off into steam.  The more conscious we become in our capacity to bear and disentangle ourselves from the intensity of our habitual emotional reactiveness, the more the energy of the emotion will have space to self-liberate and the more that reclaimed energy can then become fuel for further growth and transformation.

Take anger for example, one of the most challenging and “unspiritual” of emotions.  There may be all kinds of reasons why anger is coming up; it may even be very healthy that it is coming up.  But because there is a common idea in “spiritual” culture that all expressions of anger must be inherently ego-based, we usually repress it or feel that its presence must mean something negative about us.  But there is great energy behind anger.  If that energy is liberated into its pure, authentic essence what does it become?  If we practice bearing witness to our anger without suppressing it, we will find that it often transmutes into a conscious force that is cleanly penetrating and can cut incisively through confusion into clarity.  The authentic energy behind anger is often a fierceness that can be a purifying force of heat and light.  Of course if we abuse the energy of anger and let ourselves go with it in the wrong way it turns into aggression and violence, but if we can harness the energy with clear consciousness then anger can have immense heart in it.  The other person is far more likely to hear us then because our heart is reaching out to their heart.

People who have a strong self-image of being a “nice” or “spiritual” person habitually deny and suppress their anger and as a result often have weak boundaries and collapse under pressure in circumstances that require them to take a strong stand.  They might find it very difficult to say a firm and dignified “No!” when it is appropriate and required.  Anger can provide the energetic will to change what needs to be changed in a situation; indeed we may need our anger to move forward, to address injustice and to protect the sacredness of life.  In the face of injustice, whether individual or collective, anger rouses us to take action—its heat can catalyze the fire of spiritual activism.  On the other hand, an ego-based expression of anger is aggressive and seeks to dominate, and to shame and blame the other.  So the energy of anger itself can either be completely destructive or a sacred fire which manifests spontaneously as an unfettered expression of intense compassion.

Through valuing the raw energy of our emotions in this way we can work with them and seek out their liberating essence and free awakened expression.  For example, reclaiming the shadow of our childish temper deepens our capacity for clear communication, facing our co-dependent neediness deepens our capacity for true love and intimacy, and confronting the often wild and confusing terrain of our sexual urges enables us to gradually discover a fulfilling sexual liberation.  But all of this is only possible if we are absolutely determined to free ourselves from guilt and shame.  Guilt is a demon that keeps the shadow caged and so divides us against ourselves.  The greater the guilt the more we usually try to emancipate ourselves by trying to live up to idealized notions of flawless behaviour, and the more we tend to lock ourselves in either-or, black-white moral thinking.

When we deeply free ourselves from the weight of shame and guilt we release tremendous energy.  That energy will then become available to us as a greater capacity to conduct and transmit vitality, discriminating wisdom and feeling-intelligence.  To transmute these emotions successfully requires patience and perseverance.  Besides an ongoing practice of meditation and self-observation I also suggest physical exercise and bodywork if you are going through an emotionally turbulent period.  Emotions that have been habitually repressed over a long period of time usually get frozen in the nervous system and musculature of the body in the form of constrictions and blockages so releasing them in that way can also help immensely.   

As we free our emotional nature from chronic patterns of shame, guilt, resentment, rage, jealousy etc., we will discover an increased capacity for love and intimacy.  By that I mean a capacity to love deeply in a way that is free from need or attachment.  Some think that such “spiritual” love must be something cool without any flame or passion in it, but spiritual love can have a flame as, or even more, intense than ego-based love.  The difference is that it is a pure fire that is not dependent on the satisfaction of selfish desire.  We could metaphorically say that it burns with a white flame not a red flame.  This love is expressed as tenderness, egoless passion, self-giving, self-sacrifice and the deep care that choicelessly moves us to reach out to the True Self in another. 


As this Process deepens you will penetrate into the pre-verbal and pre-mental subtle stress that the contracted sense of self is built upon.  The mood of primal doubt, the unexamined presumption that there is a problem, that there is something fundamentally wrong or missing is felt.  You become sensitive to the subtlest primal avoidance of your True Nature, which may be felt as a subtle tension in the heart or solar plexus.  And, as you all the while intuit and yield to the Transcendental Consciousness that you know most deeply is your True Self, you become more and more capable of standing in and as that Freedom that you always already are, regardless of the conditioned momentum of the ego “I.

The sacred obligation of the Divine Test is always to surrender to God, Spirit, Consciousness as your own intuited Self in this moment and not to postpone your sacrifice in expectation of future states that you imagine will somehow make it easier. Once you have seen and consciously acknowledged that in the deepest dimension of your being you are always already Free, then no matter how far from that intuition you may appear to be, you endeavor to surrender to it nonetheless.

Surrender means freedom from all strategies whatsoever.  It is not a posture of meditating on your own limitations but one of transcending them in Reality itself.  That is the heat.  That is the sacrifice.  But if you insist on needing to be in touch with some kind of “spiritual state” in order to surrender (which usually translates as “I want to feel better first”) then your attachment to spiritual experiences becomes part of your demand and suffering, instead of your Liberation.

A true finder of Consciousness, a true disciple of Spirit, a true devotee of God is converted so that he or she is essentially turned towards Consciousness, Spirit, and God at all times, in all places and through all circumstances.  Then he or she is purified, regenerated and enlivened by that conversion.  Then he or she is made fit for Grace through climbing the mountain of self-transcendence, rather than settling for the paths of least resistance and the strategies of self-serving consolation.  Then the Awakened Life becomes a celebration of the Truth that there is no Light without Fire and that the Path and the Goal are One.