Once upon a time ago, I was enlightened — allowed to see the nature of reality, in its totality, for a time. This great awakening came about when I wasn’t doing very much: I was taking a leak, actually. Which leads me to say something about the value of the taoist notion of wei wu wei, or doing non-doing: it is very valuable indeed. Nothing is the most valuable thing you can do.
It was thirty years ago this summer that I was naked in a sleeping bag with a woman on a full moon night on a beautiful hillside overlooking the great blue Pacific Ocean outside Santa Cruz. I had to pee, so I wandered off a ways, settled my feet onto the California earth, and closed my eyes. Part of what happened then was expected — I voided my bladder — and another part was very much not.
When I closed my eyes, I found myself in a sort of tunnel. In my visual field, moving past me in the blackness, were something like the icons we see on our computer desktops today. This was before GUIs were commonplace, but that is what it was like: individual symbolic representations were streaming toward and past me. One was my family life, another my work life, another my life of adventuring, another my life with my friends, still another my life with my girlfriend.
I intuited that I could select any one of these with my mind — click on it, if you will — and go deep into it. I also understood somehow that it would be better not to do this, that I should remain detached and let them all go on streaming by.
The instant I made the decision to do this, they accelerated at a quantum pace. Where before there were perhaps a few dozen of these icons visible in motion toward and past me in this darkened tunnel, now there hundreds or thousands. Then, inside the very same instant, so many of them began rushing so rapidly toward me that they blurred into intense light.
At once the illumination was all-encompassing, exploding any previous notions of tunnel, icons, Brian. I burst into a place of immense radiance — what I might now call “the heart of God”, for lack of any more serviceable phrase. Everyone I had ever known was there, and everyone I every would know. Each was individually identifiable, yet they were all a part of a unity. That unity was complete saturated with radiance, profound intelligence, and love.
Every question I had — and I had millions per second — was individually and specifically answered the instant I had it, and I was aware of each, individually, as they arose and were answered.
I knew absolutely that this was the place from which we all emerge, the place to which we all return, and in that moment I also completely understood that in fact we never leave this place — that our experience of being booted out of heaven to travel a great arc through the cold universe, suffering for lack of food or love or warmth or understanding, struggling to get back to something we sense but aren’t sure of, is altogether illusory. Perfect unity, perfect understanding, absolute loving intelligence are our home, forever and always.
The experience, alas, turned out to be transitory. Kenshō, they call it in zen, or sometimes satori, the two having roughly the same meaning: an awakening into understanding the true nature of reality which eventually passes and is replaced by a more ordinary experience of consciousness.
In my case I was given in the moment to understand that I could step into this unity, as it were, that I could join it, but that I would be leaving my body there on that hillside if I did. I’m fairly certain this would have been my daigo-tettei, or final enlightenment, but the choosing of it didn’t seem fair to the woman I was with. I also didn’t feel “done” with my family, my girlfriend, my life on this earth, so I made the conscious decision to decline the opportunity.
Foolish, foolish boy! Ah well. I was given a few more moments to savor and appreciate what I was being shown, and then I was gently backed out of it, as one might be eased out of a foyer when underdressed for the ballroom, and I found myself once again Brian, in a body on a hillside, with my dick in my hand and the moon and the Milky Way and the immense multiverse beyond.
I can say more another time about how my life changed (and didn’t) after that awakening. The point is what I was doing when it arrived: pretty much nothing. I was doing non-doing.
On another occasion, years later, I rolled over on my bunk in a jail cell — yes, it’s been a colorful life — and experienced enlightenment. This immersion was different but the same: everything was still, everything was perfect, I desired nothing to be different, desired nothing at all, not even to be elsewhere than in jail. What was the same was what I was doing when it happened: nothing. I was practicing wei wu wei, to make it sound fancy, but the truth is that I wasn’t consciously practicing a thing. I was just lying there, and over time my mind stopped, and in the space afforded by that, reality appeared.
We are taught to do in this world: to stand up straight, to study vigorously, to will our will, to endeavor. But as Nisargadatta Maharaj taught, “When you demand nothing of the world, nor of God, when you want nothing, seek nothing, expect nothing, then the Supreme State will come to you uninvited and unexpected.”
Wei wu wei is your friend. The hammock is your ally. Go forth and do nothing, now, forever, once upon a time.
tradition of wei wu wei,
we don’t have a thing to offer
you. That is why you can
rely upon it for
Wei wu Wei Ching, Chapter 64
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