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You've merely discovered who you really are--transformation follows or not, depending on how effective your ego is in its attempts to derail the process. But the spiritual superego likes to compare your insights to the enlightenment experiences of the great masters and sages and find them wanting. What better way for the ego to stay in control?

Co-opt awakening and make it your own

Rather than allowing awakening to unfold and continue to illuminate the emptiness of self, the ego obscures the light of truth by claiming awakening as its own possession and creating the fiction of an awakened separate self, which is a contradiction in terms. The proliferation of spiritual teachers claiming to be enlightened attests to the widespread popularity of this tactic, which is known as "ego inflation," or "spiritual drunkenness." As I mentioned earlier, no one ever becomes enlightened, and awakening can't be owned in any way because it's not an object or a mind-state, but the unseen subject of all objects, the mysterious and ungraspable background of all experience, the light that illuminates all phenomena. Attempt to grasp it, and it slips through your fingers. Let go of it, and it fills your hand.

Even the ultimate pronouncement "I am That" (where That refers to ultimate reality), which recurs in the Upanishads and other great spiritual texts, doesn't mean that the separate self has in any way encompassed the absolute. It simply means that the separate self is not, and only the absolute exists. In complete self-realization, any sense of identity, even with ultimate reality, dissolves in the ocean of the Self.

Yet the mind may grab hold of a particular mind-state, such as bliss or love. "How blissful or peaceful I am," the ego proudly declares to itself (and possibly to others as well). "It's a mark of my spiritual attainment." But such fabricated emotions have nothing to do with awakening and naturally arise and pass if you let them. Awakening is the impersonal nonstate that remains unchanged while all states come and go.

Cycle back and forth between getting it and losing it

"Now I have it, now I don't," thinks the mind, as it chases the awakening it believes it once possessed but now has somehow misplaced. Because awakening can't be owned, it also can't be lost. But the mind mistakes a particular experience for enlightenment and keeps attempting to recreate it. "Once I felt so open, so spacious, so loving, so empty, and now I don't," says the mind. "Maybe this means I'm not awakened anymore, and I'd better do everything I can to regain it."

For this reason, the word awakening can be misleading; it seems to refer to an event in space and time, whereas it's actually the instantaneous awareness of the timeless and boundariless dimension of being. Even though the energetic phenomena that accompany this awareness--the rush of bliss, the upsurge of love, the profound peace --can be extremely appealing, the point is not to focus on the passing states but to open to the awakeness, the timeless presence, that's been revealed as your very own self. Just as you don't keep trying to recreate your wedding once you're married, but instead enjoy your partner and the life you now share, you don't keep trying to recreate awakening, but relax and allow awakeness to express itself through you.

Hide out in the transcendent

Adyashanti has observed that spiritual people tend to be more afraid of living than they are of dying, and some respond to the powerful transformational process that awakening precipitates by retreating from active participation in the world to the detached position of the disengaged witness. Also known as the Zen sickness or spiritual bypassing, this tactic turns awakening from a living, breathing reality into a fixed position or point of view and prevents it from unfolding, deepening, and embodying in an ordinary, everyday way.

Claiming that there’s no doer, for example, you may decline to do anything and spend your days in stubborn and determined inaction. In social situations, you may remain on the periphery, detached and undisturbed but also unresponsive and inflexible, with a smug, knowing half smile on your face. In relationships, you may participate to the degree that suits you, but pull back into a forced equanimity and insist you don’t have any feelings or needs when difficulties arise. “Who, me? I never get angry or upset. After all, I don’t really exist.” In this way, the ego uses awakening as a pretext for remaining in control by withdrawing from a world that seems demanding, frightening, overwhelming, or chaotic. If you can’t control the board, you simply refuse to play the game. (For more on spiritual bypassing, see Chapter 9.)

Fear the emptiness

When you first awaken to the emptiness at the heart of existence, you tend to experience it as vast, radiant, silent, and infused with love. But as the fullness and richness of the experience fades, the ego may turn it into an intimidating absence of meaning and identity, a groundless abyss through which it’s terrified of falling, endlessly and without support. People who were inadequately nurtured and held as infants may project onto this emptiness the desolation and isolation they endured when they were young and helpless, and those who were abused may view emptiness as potentially invasive and engulfing. In essence, the ego is once again frightened of dying and losing control, even though at another level it longs for its own dissolution in the vast ocean of being. (Otherwise, why would you pursue awakening in the first place?)