By Phil Servedio
But that [the causal] is not the “final story” according to the Nondual traditions. Because at some point, as you inquire into the Witness, and rest in the Witness, the sense of being a Witness “in here” completely vanishes itself, and the Witness turns out to be everything that is witnessed. The causal gives way to the Nondual, and formless mysticism gives way to nondual mysticism. ‘Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.’
—Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything
The title of this piece, as well as some of the content, uses some rather “crude” or unabashed sexual metaphors. If this is offensive to some, my sincere apologies. It is just that sexual themes, particularly in the dream realm, are classical signposts of spiritual transcendence and integration of disparate parts, and arose quite distinctly in the midst of my process, and thus are reported here.
SATURDAY AUGUST 12 WE HAD A NEW morning sitting with Lawrence & Ardeliza that was just designed to be a meditative session. It was one of those special occasions where it was very, very powerful for most everyone. In the beginning of the sitting, the mind was very active, a usual occurrence these days. Gazing with Lawrence was really a meeting in being, heart to heart and wonderfully opening for me.
But the gaze with Ardeliza was nothing short of phenomenal that day. When I started gazing with her, something clicked, as if some part of me that was “out there”, was acquired and brought back into the fold, into me, resulting in me being more “here”. This has occurred several times in the past, most notably was the first time with David Wheeler, which seemed to be an acquisition at a fundamental level that led me to the experience of falling into the heart the next day. This kind of event has the feeling that one gets when a missing jigsaw puzzle piece is found and snapped into place, only in this case, I am the jigsaw puzzle. I never felt more present in my whole life. It is as if something lines up at a fundamental level. It is a difficult experience to describe, save that it results in a deeper sense of wholeness and presence. Perhaps all my ducks are now lined up in a row...
As the gazing continued with Ardeliza, I became not just utterly still, but utterly, utterly still. I felt like I was Shiva, and she was Shakti dancing, in movement around the corpse of me. I was a statue, no movement at all at any level, even physically. I felt like the dead guy that Kali does her dance on in those famous paintings.
Another thing that was occurring is hard to explain. I felt like I was sinking into the ground. I felt like I was so grounded, I was submerged into the earth, up to my neck, it seems. I was sinking lower and lower, cutting through some barely perceptible layers or limitations as the gazing continued.
It was an intimate experience of gazing with both of them. Gazing with Ardeliza, being a woman, had a particular tantric quality to it, a meeting of consciousness with shakti, and it was very profound and intense for me. After the meditation was over, the feeling of love was thick in the room. We joked a lot, which I thought kind of blew off some of the energy, but hell, it’s just energy.
Previous to this sitting, I felt a point of pressure on the right side of heart that I hadn’t experienced before. I wondered, what the hell, do I have gas, or is it a muscle spasm? As the days went on, it was clear that it wasn’t gas or a muscle spasm. The pressure point was exactly over the sino-atrial node, but felt closer to the front surface than in center of body. I suspected something was going on - something was heating up.
I woke up the next morning , I woke about 9:30, so there went any chance of heading towards Saniel’s house. Besides, sometimes you need some space from teachers. The transmission can burn the shit out of you. When I sat for meditation, I discovered that the heart on the right opened up in a manner that has never happened before. It opened up in the front, and I realized that I was in the “foreground”, in fact I was so foreground that somehow I was in front of my own body. Something gave way - the knot of self in the front of the heart. My experience was that this was a release of this fundamental tightness or bubble of self, experienced at the front of the heart on the right.
Simultaneously, the quality of embrace occurred from the background, from Being itself, from a position behind my own attention, which of course is me, to embrace the walls and space in front of me. It was as if a hidden set of arms and legs that I never knew I had, manifested themselves to embrace what was in front of me. The embrace felt just like the analogy of a hand fitting in the glove. It had a quality of love that was unique in its feeling - a particular sense of joy-love was pouring out from this point on the right side. At that moment, I realized that separation between me and objects was gone. No more gap! No more background. This is non-separation!! Of course, it is at the level of Being, from the heart, where separation comes to an end, when the membrane is pierced.
Paradoxically, I was at the place of phenomena and at the point of attention simultaneously. I felt pressed up against the space and objects, as opposed to hanging back in the background. It was as if the background consciousness cave “squeezed” itself forward so that it became flat and phenomena came forward to meet me face to face. The phrase “fusion” made perfect sense. It was not hard to see, to quote Lawrence, “I am consciousness and the objects around me are also grounded in consciousness”, and there was nothing in the way. The sense of oneness, “no-difference”, continuity was at the level of consciousness, as functional attention was still in place, leading to this paradoxical condition. I thought to myself, I’m never gonna get in a car with Ardeliza driving if this is her constant perception.
Though this had all the trademarks of a full and complete transition, I’ve learned my lesson to not get overly excited. I am comfortable and at ease in what I know is a very profound process of consciousness, and based on signs over times, I know it is only a matter of time when a transition will take place. I simply let it be, and said, “cool, a neat satori”. I didn’t want to make too much of it, in order not to blow something out of proportion. Yet at the same time, it seemed that the signs were part of a natural process, and that I felt I was at a place that this step would be something I could be responsible for. In other words, it would not be a flash in the pan. Somehow, it felt like a real transition at the level of hridayam.
From then on, up till the present, I began noticing my relationship with phenomena to see if what had occurred had a real fundamental basis. That night I had an X-rated dream:
I am in my grandmother’s kitchen in Jamaica, Queens. There are three women there, either cooking or giving massages. On the counter of the kitchen sink is Lady Di, on her back, propped up on her elbows. She is naked from the waist down and her legs are pointing straight up like a dancer. A man finishes having sex with her and now its my turn. I look at her crotch to see a huge vagina, about 7 inches long, and very dilated. I look into the blackness of her open vagina. Her vaginal lips are sticking straight up, as if erect and extend out an inch or two. I go down on her, performing oral sex, then I stick my arm into her vagina up to the elbow. I am aroused and hope the other women notice this sexual act, but they do not acknowledge what is occurring with me and Lady Di.
When I woke up in the middle of the night, I was ecstatic, not just emotionally, but also I was truly in bliss. I realized that this was a very significant dream. This dream was validation to what had just occurred in meditation. It brought to mind all of the sexual metaphors of spiritual growth and transcendence. Anyone who has done any significant amount of dream work knows the spiritual ramifications of sexuality in dreams.
In this particular dream, there are two ways that I have looked at it. One is that I am Lady Di, and she represents the feminine or goddess side of myself. Occurring in “Queens” was sort of dream joke, having sex with a future queen. And my grandmother’s house has been the site of many dreams in the last years, appearing in times when I have had major breakthroughs. The appearance of my grandmother herself in past dreams has been an indication of the goddess . The fact that it takes place in the kitchen, a place where raw materials are processed and “transformed” into nourishment was not lost on me. Sex in the kitchen is a superb metaphor for the process of integration. In this case Lady Di’s dilated vagina is an indication of my own openness and receptivity to this process. The fact that she is a royalty indicates “the bright shadow”, something that I’ve yet to aspire to (and the fact that she’s English is also not lost on me - most of my girlfriends and my wife have been Anglo-Saxons).
Another way of looking at the dream is to see Lady Di as the goddess herself. My sexual encounter represents a validation of the events of the past week - the sacred marriage had occurred. Using my arm indicated a deep penetration of my own goddess nature.
This dream reminded me of much of what is called, the “sacred marriage” - the union of consciousness with phenomena, Shiva with Shakti. What occurred for me was a literal “embrace” of this world by consciousness, my own self-nature - a sexual act at the level of the heart. And it wasn’t lost on me that my gazing session with Ardeliza was the final blow for my transition to this “sacred marriage” - it took a woman to send me across the line. In Saniel’s case, it was in the act of physical love making; in my case it was gazing with Ardeliza, which was an intimate as sexual intercourse (as we can often meet in Being in gazing).
What I realized that the classic Advaitic “background” self realization does not necessarily include the goddess, and therefore a subtle membrane exists between consciousness and shakti, and her children, the phenomenal worlds. This type of realizer lives in that cave, and the membrane that covers the cave opening is a hymen - the hymen of one’s own heart. In my case, and others, this membrane can be felt as a real separative mechanism and an indication that one’s process is not complete. This hymen has to be penetrated for the a marriage between the Witness, and form, god and goddess, to be consummated. In the “background” stage realization, one is still a spiritual virgin of sorts, but now I’ve been freshly fucked!!
In the past week or so a number of insights and experiences have been signs that I’ve passed over a threshold that I’ve yearned for decades. I have found that at times there is a gaping hole in the front of my heart, as if Lady Di’s vagina exists over the right side of my heart. Any sense of a covering, membrane or amniotic sac over my heart is gone. The heart itself is fully exposed and vulnerable - no membranes left. The cave of the heart of the “background” realization became shallower and shallower till it became flat and I was sent into this world. Now I have to reiterate that what has occurred is at the level of consciousness, felt at, but not limited to the point of Amrita-Nadi, the right side of the heart.
There is an easefulness at the core level that is new and profound (for me, at least). At this point, it seems that all remnants of the sense being separate is gone, but I’ll give it time. The feeling of non-separation is obvious, no longer am I back, up, withdrawn, or covered. I am the consciousness on which everything is based, and it seems that I am also the phenomena in the world. In another sense, I feel like I am having a participatory relationship with phenomena that has never before existed. What it feels like can be summed up in the following: I AM HERE. Or more precisely, the I AM is HERE.
I’ve never really, really been HERE. There has been always a subtle or gross sense of “away” or up or back or search for escape from life. Lawrence talked once about how even the most vital athletes aren’t really HERE, that’s there’s still something subtly not in place, away. Now I know what he means. I feel like I am in front of myself at times, or that my heart is way out in front of me. Those “sacred heart of Jesus” paintings comes to mind, where he is holding out his heart in front of him, covered with thorns. In my case, it is the right side of the heart, and there ain’t no thorns. It appears that I AM lives now in the world of phenomena, not in the recession of a cave on the right.
Sometimes it feels like a membrane is still there, but that I am on both sides of it, or that I can walk through it like a non-invasive force field, with functional attention on one side and Being on the other side. Other times, a hole appears in the membrane that I can walk through at the level of Being, and sometime there is no membrane whatsoever. Now I understand when Saniel says that the Amrita Nadi is not really a physical function. The heart is now no longer “in” the body, though the interface at the right side of the heart is still in effect. An underlying and deep sense of joy-love seems to be occurring there, more fundamental than body-mind sensations.
Funny thing, I feel like I have penetrated the heart of reality, but there was no gigantic flash. In one moment, on Sunday August 13th, the membrane just disappeared, and I moseyed on forward in a sacred embrace. I feel like I have penetrated the heart of reality. Though I don’t think I can ever say I am done, it sure feels like I am done. Nothing is left for me to do - the heart has been freed from its covering at the core level, without a doubt. I AM.
In retrospect, this transition began with the Night of the Living Denny’s, when all three guys were at Lawrence’s telling their tales of Awakening. I awoke the next morning absolutely on fire, hot, angry, furious and jealous of their stories. This resulted in the poem, “My Destiny”, above. What I realize now is that it was the emergence of a yang-like quality that was needed for the final bursting of this hymen in the heart. Again, it was not a volitional or strategic form of willful intention, but the impulse of my own heart coming forward for a final push forward into the world, like a woman in labor.
This sense of easefulness has continued. It seems as we progress spiritually, we become more sensitive to the limitations, contractions and bodily sheaths at more fundamental levels. What may feel as the vague contraction of normal existence for most people can be refined to a level of sensitivity that notices that the fundamental pain in our lives are the knots on our own heart. A brilliant metaphor that Saniel has described is that the heart has two knots, one in the back and one in the front. The breaking of the knot in the back leads to a level of self-realization exclusive of phenomena, resulting in the core of oneself residing in a “cave” of the heart on the right. The unraveling or popping of the knot at the front, leads to a full “sahaj”, open-eyed realization, and resulting in the dissolving of the witness with form, and full realization.
The easefulness is a core feeling that the sense of Being is no longer confined to the walls of my bodily form or subtle bodies. It has been described as the popping of a bubble, so that the pressure is equalized inside and out, and this fits my experience. On one occasion, in March, the bubble of self burst in the back, leading me to a classic Advaitic self-realization of the background consciousness. As wonderful as that was, there was still a very subtle sense of separation between me and the world. On August 13th, the knot on the front gave way, leading to something even more profound. The last membrane of separation was overcome, and not only was the background consciousness pushed forward, any sense of separation between my being and the world itself was penetrated. It appears that Awakening is a constant release of the pressure of an apparently separate individual. My sense is now that not only the front, but the bottom has fallen out.
I am finding that meditation is occurring to an even greater level during sleep than in waking times. For my entire life of sadhana, sleep has been an enemy that robbed me of the blissful experiences that I felt the night before. For now, it seems an ally. For most days, but not all, as soon as I gain consciousness, recognition of objects as Being is there. This recognition can be a “general”, all around insight, meaning that I don’t have to focus on any particular thing for recognition to occur. Other times, when I d place my attention on something, it is recognized immediately, even if the “general” sense is not evident.
It is as if I now have a body, at the fundamental level, that has no boundaries, for Being has no boundaries. There is no such thing as a separate thing or object, and that includes me. What separates this from a devotee “feeling the Guru everywhere”, or someone having the experience of the Dharmakaya, is a core identification with Being that has no particular locus. It is not an experience but an identity shift. However, paradoxically, there is still simultaneously the experience of the body-mind (well, most of the time) and all of its usual stuff. However, my investigation has begun to look at both the “inner” and “outer” world - to notice the “transparency” (i.e. the ability to see an object as consciousness) of thoughts, bodily sensations and even attention itself. When this occurs, I clearly notice the “continuity of Being”, that is, the lack of separation of all objects, both “inner” and “outer”. It is simply all one.
What has occurred in the last week is that the movement of my heart into the world has resulted in this identity shift at the core level. All sorts of perceptions come and go, for example, a feeling that there’s a second simultaneous locus of attention in a heart projected out in front of my own body. Or that everything is up close, as if I am in a pressure chamber. Several days ago, it became even more obvious that the heart really has no locus - every point of location in me, around me, front, back, up down and sideways is the heart itself, and this is who I AM. My own self-nature has been released into and revealed itself in the world, as the basis of the world. This is different than experiences of cosmic consciousness, where the bodily feeling expands infinitely. This event is a movement into and a recognition of the world as fundamentally being consciousness, Being, the heart, whatever name you wish to give it, without any extraordinary shift in functional attention. I feel no longer trapped as a separate being in a body. The whole damn thing is me - and I really feel like a new born baby in a brave new world of Being.
Looking at a particular object has a new meaning now - everything reminds me of me, a sense of familiarity, as it is fundamentally the same being as I am. I am the Heart, Consciousness, Being, and have always been that.
As the days go on, I notice that on some days, this capacity for recognition is easier than other days. I notice that on the days when it is not so obvious, that I tend to push or seek or try to force recognition, and then I am brought back to the simple teaching of allowing whatever is arising to be. This fundamental tantric teaching is invaluable, whether we think we’re Awake or not. I believe that there is no rhyme or reason as to why on some days this recognition is more clear than others. However, I do realize that the body-mind and even transcendental openings have their cycles and seasons. Things open up, close down, and I do not expect all the signs to be there all the time. This is an important shift for me, in that somehow this transition marks a significant “slicing off” of doubt mind. I feel so much more confident, full of “faith” perhaps. Something in the realm of doubt and “fear of loss” of realization has been cut away. This doesn’t mean that doubt has completely gone away, but it has been significantly reduced, and this is evident especially during times when the signs that I look for to validate my Awakening are not so present. There is much more of a relaxation in the knowing that this process is real, valid, powerful and profound. The need to be on guard to make sure something is in place, which I felt a lot of during my previous background shift, is significantly lessened.
Another interesting aspect, which is true of any major shift, is the impact it has on one’s body-mind and body chemistry. Except for the first week, which was a true honeymoon, the intensity level has increased significantly. I have experienced a number of anxiety attacks, feelings of raw fear and terror, causing my hands and feet to go cold and clammy, particularly in the morning. Some of this may have nothing to do with what has occurred spiritually, but my feeling is that the opening has caused a “rip” in the fabric of my own koshas, and my body is going through some heavy duty realignment and resolution. I particularly notice during the times of great fear, my capacity to recognize objects as consciousness is heightened, like a dual or triad experience. The body would feel tight, tense at the belly, all knotted up, the mind could be racing and playing fearful scenarios, but the heart on the right would be open, no “membrane” whatsoever, leading to a most wonderful sense of oneness in Being, even in the midst of an apparent crisis in body and mind. Go figure. It is a very clear and apparent lesson that what has occurred, this resolution of awareness and phenomena is at the level of consciousness/being, more fundamental than any of my koshas or bodies, and that this realization can express itself no matter what arises “internally” or “externally”. In the same fashion as this arising of intense fear, I have noticed times of excessive heat in my body, way beyond anything that I’ve ever experienced. It has come to the point where Anne has noticed that I am burning up when I hug her. Nothing to get concerned about, but something unusual is going on!
I’d like to mention something about the sense of “continuity” or oneness. I had a “dorje” like, lightning in a dark night, kind of insight about a month after I transitioned to a background Awakening with Arjuna last April, leading me to see the “continuity” or “no difference” between, consciousness, attention, space and objects. What I am talking about now is different, however. That previous flash occurred within the context of a background realization, and the sense of “being in the background” remained. It was as if the insight was analogous to taking a core sample of the ocean floor from a boat - the insight was the cable, which extended out into the ocean floor, but “I” remained in the boat. Even though the insight led to a similar recognition, is far different when, in the full realization, you “are” the objects, not separate from them by any background cave. In the previous case, the locus of my self-nature remained in the background, whereas now, that locus of self-nature, heart, whatever, is interspersed in objects. So basically what I am saying here is that similar insights from the position of background and foreground may lead one to the conclusion that these are identical realizations, but my own experience has shown them to be very different, based on the metaphors of “fission” (background realization, the culmination of the sifting out, neti-neti process) and “fusion” (the marriage of one’s self-nature, consciousness, with objects). But try to tell that to an Advaitic realizer!!
Another major aspect to this shift (for lack of a better, less romantic word) is the sense of vulnerability. I know that a major effect of the spiritual process is vulnerability, but I am surprised to the extent that this vulnerability has heightened. I feel about ten times more vulnerable, less armored than ever before, and to a degree, it is frightening. The opening is in the front, where I stand, and this makes me feel tremendously more vulnerable. But somehow I also feel a strength from that vulnerability, but not in the obvious, extrovert, worldly fashion. It has paradoxically allowed me to be more straightforward, open and confessed than previously, as I have nothing to lose now - any bodily shake-up that may occur in a moment of conflict I now know for sure will have no effect on realization. This is very different than before, where somehow I was protecting or guarding my state, in the fashion of “fear of less”. This vulnerability is a powerful weapon in a sense, but it is scary at times.
Another issue relative to what changes can occur with Awakening is in the realm of the personality structure. A few of us have said that the event of Awakening may not change much of the personality, but some changes do occur. What I have notice in my case, aside from the heightening of vulnerability, is the tendency to be more straightforward, direct, and willing to take up issues with people. For most of my life, there was a tendency to avoid conflict, in some kind of subconscious fear that I would lose something in the heat of an argument, or I wouldn’t be liked, etc. This tendency of protecting myself from the possibility of “loss”, be it some blissful state or self-image, has been reduced considerably. I don’t feel so afraid of losing face, or losing anything, since there’s nothing to lose (simply because I haven’t “gained” anything, just recognized my self-nature). Now I know that this doesn’t mean that it gives me license to be a total asshole in all situations, but just that some kind of fear has been cut through that prevented me from honest and direct expression in the moment. Anne has noticed this change in me, so it’s gotta be true! Time will tell how this plays out...
Recently, I was looking at the process of Awakening expressed in terms of the “re-capture of projections”. For most people, we project otherness onto “apparent others”, particularly people whose major “style”, tendencies or qualities we have lacking. I believe that part of both the spiritual and individuation process is reeling in these qualities, taking them in and making conscious those qualities we previously thought lacking, as a means of becoming more whole as an individual. Spiritually speaking, the result of Awakening is to reel in the ultimate projection, the projection that there are “others besides me”, in the summary recognition of the Onliness of Being. Specifically, this could be a real and visceral knowing that the Goddess “out there somewhere”, is simply an aspect of one’s own being, or Being itself, once the identification with Being is established. The goddess becomes part of one’s own nature, while still paradoxically and apparently residing “out there”.
I was just thinking that it took 13 months from my first sitting with Lawrence and Ardeliza to effect these changes in me. All this has happened while I am 40 years of age, and if these are truly permanent transitions (in other words, if they’re not psychotic episodes, fantasies, delusions or satoris), and at this point I see no evidence that they are not, then it is true that life begins at 40.
Text copyright © 1995 Phil Servedio. Used by permission.
When we published this journal in 2000, Phil Servedio was 45 years old, worked as a software engineer, and lived in California with his wife Annie.
This page was published on February 22, 2000 and last revised on September 3, 2019.