“If I could define enlightenment briefly I would say it is ‘the quiet acceptance of what is.'” – Wayne Dyer
Enlightenment. Conscious Awakening. Just mention the words and the ears of the spiritual community perk up, only to hear nothing and then fall back asleep. We revere the enlightened gurus and read their books and aspire to be like them, and yet we lose interest when we assume we lack the lifetime of perfection required to get to that level of consciousness. We go to conferences and seminars and workshops to learn how to achieve the ultimate goal of any spiritually aware person, and then we find ourselves back where we started a few days later. So the question is, who is waking up? And how do they do it?
That’s exactly what Jonathan Krown and Johana Sand have been writing about for the past three months in this publication through their column, Radical Transformation. A couple who has been exploring consciousness since 1970, Jonathan and Johana have been on a journey of awakening that has led them to this moment, one in which they desire to assist others in learning the truth about conscious awakening. They’ve recently met Eric Putkonen, also of the Twin Cities, who for years has studied non-duality and awakening in the Direct Path traditions of Advaita Vedanta, Zen Buddhism and Jnana Yoga. A podcaster, Eric has been presenting a program called “Our of Our Minds” for nearly two years on his website Awaken to Life [www.awaken2life.org], and he leads biweekly satsangs or spiritual gatherings in Minnetonka, MN.
Jonathan, Johana and Eric are teaming up this spring to present the First Twin Cities Conference on Awakening from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 30, at Old Arizona in Minneapolis to assist seekers in understanding what stands in the way of their awakening.
The First Twin Cities Conference on Awakening will take place from Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 30, at Old Arizona, 2821 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis. This conference is about exploring your â€œwaking upâ€ in a very tangible way. This is not theoretical, but rather a personal and real examination of whatever presently creates barriers to your own awakening. In each moment, you can choose to try to control and understand the â€œdreamâ€ you live in, or to focus instead on awakening from that dream. For in that dream you remain a constant prisoner of your own mind, beliefs, thoughts and fears â€” a character in your own story. To awaken is why you came to earth. It is both your design function and birthright as a human being. While your mind wants you to believe that talking, reading and thinking about it will result in your waking up, the journey is anything but an exercise in â€œgetting better.â€ It is not easy or even logical. There are no rules. It cannot be undertaken through intellectual exercises, discussions or concepts – for it embodies a surrender that transforms life itself. The First Twin Cities Conference on Awakening is hosted by Jonathan Krown, Eric Putkonen & Johana Sand. They have no affiliation with any group or specific teaching â€“ only the sincere and uncompromising pursuit of truth and a heart-felt sense of humor. Donation $20. For further information, contact Jonathan Krown at 651.330.5658 or email@example.com; or Eric Putkonen at 612.991.7071 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan Krown, Eric Putkonen & Johana Sand spoke with The Edge recently to explain the awakening process and what they hope to share with attendees at the event.
Eric, on your web site it mentions that you discuss non-duality and awakening in the Direct Path traditions. Tell us about that.
Eric Putkonen: The Direct Path traditions is an overview of several traditions. A similar classification would be the perennial philosophy. It’s just a classification of teachings.
Direct Path is non-duality, as opposed to being somewhere or having something you’ve got to do, about needing to gather this stuff or needing to get to this point. It’s not about going anywhere. Just stop! Just be still and look. And that’s what Direct Path is. Direct Path is there is no path. You’re not allowed to take a path.
There are various traditions that are very much about self-inquiry. Many of them have no practices. Some of them have practices. The whole idea is experiencing a sudden realization by just looking or having someone point out what to look at and actually looking at it.
How does one define conscious awakening?
Jonathan Krown: There is a huge paradox inside of that question, because it is not what people think it is, and you are further from the truth the more you try to define it, because it takes you back into a linear way of explaining it. What I am aware of now is that almost everyone I encounter lives in their minds or in their heads. They think that their thoughts are real, and they are not tracking their thoughts and the effect of their emotions and their minds and their conditioning on their lives. They don’t question the thoughts in their minds, and those unquestioned thoughts become the status quo and the inertia and momentum of their lives.
You don’t need to live like that – a very mechanical, automatic way of life. You have an opportunity to truly live from a very, very, different place, a completely different place where your mind and your thoughts and your emotions are not bad, but they no longer drive what you do, because you see through them as learned, mechanical behavior. Once you see beyond that, it opens up a whole other universe. What I’m talking about is not an exercise, and it’s not meditation. It’s literally a radically different approach to seeing the world that comes to you, or arises within you, through your unwillingness to tolerate things as they have been, your unwillingness to tolerate the mechanical way of living, the illusion that you have previously been in.
Would you say that this process is a way of living from your authentic self?
Jonathan: Right. In the East they define self with a small “s” – the combination of the personality and what we call the ego mind. The Self with the large “S” is connected to the greater universe, and that is always there. But for most people, they have too much going on, too much interference, too many preconceptions and too much territory to allow that connection to be who they are all the time. You might call that authentic self. Authentic comes from the word “author.” We are the author of our own experience. But most of us interpret everything from the small self, from the habitual way of living, from the thoughts that we think are true but are not. We are continually creating our own experience from our authentic Self, but we are not allowing ourself to tune into it.
Or to be conscious of it.
Johana Sand: I think it gets very tricky and challenging when we start talking about this because there is a tendency for the mind to create what it calls an authentic self, as well as the mind to create what it calls the inauthentic self. It can be a trap to believe that the challenge is to constantly attain something. So we think, “Now we’re going to live from our authentic self and we’re going to get there.”
The awakening process seems to appear as a real deconstruction of what we call our conceptual or thought reality. What I know is that you begin to see through the illusion of what we call our life, that it does not have a lot of substance, including our spiritual search. When we start to see that break down, there is a realization that any experience we have – perhaps it is our authentic self or an experience of expansion, or whatever – is part of that same dynamic so it begins to lose the grip on one.
You could say, “Well, does this make my life fantastic? Will I have all these good feelings as opposed to bad feelings?” I don’t think there’s any guarantee of that. I don’t think it changes the mechanics of life, because life is mechanical. One just operates within the heart beats. But one begins to see through it all. You see that you are lived rather than that you are in control of what you think is happening.
Eric: In a simple way, I would define awakening as realizing who and what you really are. Would I say that’s living the authentic self? It could be called as such, but to call it the authentic self immediately creates its own pitfall, because suddenly now you think that you need to get somewhere and become something else. Actually, we’re already that. We’re just misidentifying and interpreting what we perceive incorrectly. Awakening is more of a deconstruction or demolition of our thoughts and constructs and beliefs, and just trying to see what is as it is, without the mind interfering or commenting or altering or putting any of the typical blinders or colored glasses that we perceive the world through.
Jonathan and Johana, in your Radical Transformation column, you have commented on a number of myths that we have in the culture about awakening, principally that awakening is a process that we are all collectively doing at the same time right now, and also that there are a number of people who are awakening at this time. For decades, the New Agers have sought the path toward ascension.
Jonathan: Everyone seems to be looking for a convenient something that is going to do it for them. There is something to grasp, there is something that is going to happen, or someone is going to emerge that is going to get them to a place that they are not already and, therefore, they have to just do one more thing, be it a technique or a teaching, or book that by grasping and by getting and by obtaining that will change them in some way, will resurrect them in some way, so that they become really what they already are, but are not allowing themselves, for whatever reason to experience.
What we are saying is that everyone thinks Ascension is a way, that it’s going to happen to everyone, but what I’m seeing is that it’s helpful to realize you’re creating all this. It’s all up to you, and it’s helpful to take responsibility for whatever happens to you rather than just think it’s just happening to everyone and you can sit back and continue on with your life. Secondly, ascension may be a convenient thought form, a convenient belief like a carrot on the stick that we have no idea about, that no one has any idea about.
Eric: All of what we are talking about is predominantly based on Eastern tradition, going back to the old yoga philosophies. The essential idea is that we are already perfect, we are already Brahman, we are already there, so, to a certain extent, we are already ascended. It’s the games the mind plays on us that convinces us that we are not. Through life we don’t accept what is, we resist, we grasp, we repel, we make these judgments, we create these life dramas, these life stories, we create all of our own suffering through our mind.
What we’re talking about is removing a lot of junk to see through to the truth, as opposed to a gaining something new for you to ascend.
Johana: I think there is nothing to do about that. There just is an appearance of evolution, an appearance of one maturing, getting better, evolving, transcending, ascending, whatever you want to call it. This is all a piece of what you call the dream that seems to have that momentum.
We know how that mechanism works. We all take supplements. We all think we’re going to get the better job. We’re all trying to better ourselves in some way, and I don’t think we’re going to stop that kind of mechanism. But I would suggest that the awakening process is a way to – instead of being on – that ever-evolving trajectory. You somehow wake up inside of it and you see it for what it is, and so then you find yourself. You find yourself part of that appearance of evolution, and at the same time you see the illusion of it.
That’s the paradoxical nature of all of this. Who you are can’t be experienced, because you are not an experience. It is seeing it for the dream that it is, and that we all have everything we need. We all have enough.
I don’t know if awakening is a process or a way. Talk to anybody who finds himself waking up in the illusion they will have a very different interpretation of how one wakes up. I don’t know if there is any agreed upon way to do it, and I think it’s a mystery. But at the same time, once you have the ability to see the suffering or the grasping of the mechanism, then it seems to subside.
So is the value of this whole process that you are bringing forth to let us know that this dream exists? In other words, there is no method, book, video, conference or expo to teach you how to awaken or to awaken you – and there may be as many different ways of awakening as there are individuals. What is the value in discussing this?
Eric: So why do we have this life of dream and why do we create all this stuff? There’s really no easy answer. It’s all going to come on a belief or some concept you have to create for it. In Hindu philosophy, they often say the basis of all existence is desire. We wanted to experience, and so we created this life dream, mutually, as a group, or as an absolute. We created this because this is what we wanted. We wanted to experience. Why do you go to movies? To be entertained. It could be a drama, it could be a horror, or it could be a comedy. We go to be entertained. Likewise, this is a game; it’s life, it’s a dream, it’s entertainment. We forget that.
There are many reasons to have a conference to talk about this. Some people go to satsangs or conferences or read these kinds of books because they are suffering deeply and they are looking for a way out. Others are just interested in awakening and enlightenment. That’s where I came from.
It’s about resonance, like a tuning fork. To a certain extent you are sitting with people who are also interested in this stuff. Some of them understand it, presumably. Any teacher on this topic is always trying to point at the self or through the illusion to tell you to look at it a different way. All we can really do is is point. We cannot really lead someone through the gateway. As Zen calls it, it’s a gateless gate. You just point. It’s there – look. And, so that’s what we do. The purpose of this is to get someone to look at something long enough to see through the appearance to understand what it really is.
Jonathan: First you become aware of your mind, without making it your enemy. You see that you have been living in an illusion, or basically a lie, and that you have created a story, both consciously and unconsciously. You create who you are and project that out to others – and then you pretty much spend all your energy defending that story and supporting that story.
You have a choice of continuing to live in an illusion or a lie that you know is not true, or seeing and living the truth and coming to a place of what is not known. You then have to deconstruct the story and deconstruct the programming, the conditioning and decisions that you made. When you do that, then you are just here, without having to defend anything or having to be anyone. Now you are no longer willing to live a lie or live in illusion anymore.
In the analogy of Plato’s cave, he talks about everyone living within a cave where they just see their shadows. Once you have gone out of the cave into the world, why would you want to go back again and just live in a world of shadows? It makes no sense.
Eric mentioned suffering. For most people, listening to the mind is very painful. For many people, it is hellish. You may not be aware to what extent you have been in prison or in hell, but if you are listening to your mind I can almost guarantee you you are living in a type of hell, or certainly a prison of your own thoughts, and it’s not very much fun. Within the prison, you could carve out a corner where you have some time to yourself and maybe have some nice furniture, but you are still in a cave seeing your shadow. You can have a consciousness focus group within Plato’s cave, but you are still in the cave.
What we are talking about is that you don’t have to do this anymore if you don’t want to. There are options that are very real. It’s an invitation to explore something else if you want to do that.
This type of invitation and opportunity has been given to people throughout millennia, right? I imagine back in the early days of Hinduism and Buddhism that people were talking about the same thing we’re talking about right now.
Eric: That’s sometimes called the perennial philosophy. It keeps coming back. (All laugh).
Johana: The challenge, though, is that even if you see through the illusion of being an individual, it doesn’t necessarily stop the momentum of that individual in wanting to survive. Everything has its own momentum in trying to keep alive and keep the construct growing. Even though one sees through this, you still have this momentum of looking at survival, whether it’s monetary survival, whether it’s surviving of the story, or whatever mechanism. You begin to even see the one who is perceiving that also as a construct, so it becomes this constant sense of trusting of the whole, because you cannot ever figure it out, nor can you control whatever is happening.
One starts to see that none of this is ever knowable. You can’t know very much at all, and that’s very hard, particularly for the Western mind. We all can attest to not know. So, what you experience is the overall sense of paradoxically pushing for your own so-called survival, making yourself better, and at the same time letting go.
Does awakening lead to happiness?
Eric: Even in the Bill of Rights, it’s called the pursuit of happiness. We think happiness needs to be pursued, that it’s something you get. But who and what we are is in Indian philosophy satchitananda – sat means “being,” chit means “consciousness” and ananda is “bliss.” That bliss is pretty much equivocal to happiness. What we are is happiness. We do not need to seek it out. To a certain extent, when you awaken and realize who and what you are, I guess you can call it happiness, but it is a deep contentment, peace, and general well-being. I guess that would be the easiest way to explain it. I would call it happiness. Others might not call it happiness. It depends on their definition.
It’s not to say that there is never any pain. There is forever that flux between pleasure and pain. So it’s not that everything is pleasant all the time. It’s not that kind of happiness.
Johana: I like the Leonard Cohen line where he says, “The wars, they will be fought again. The Holy Ghost is on the rise again.” You see the juxtaposition of the dynamics, the duality, which are those things, but not getting caught in one or the other.
Jonathan: Not identifying.
Johana: Yeah, you see that everything works as a whole.
Jonathan: People have the illusion that you awaken or you have an awakening experience or begin an awakening journey and then you never again have a fear or a worry or a concern. That may be true for maybe 1 out of every 1,000 people in the general population who have had this experience. The vast majority of people who have felt that they have truly awakened then have had to go back into themselves and re-look at ways in which their prior programming and decisions and conditioning has really surrendered their true nature to their mind. That can be an incredibly painful experience, which ultimately leads to a further embodiment of the initial awakening. But in the meantime you can feel you are going crazy or about to die. There’s a fellow on the West Coast named Adyashanti that we all are familiar with, and he says don’t even think that you’re just going to have an awakening experience and never go back into the mind. It happens – so rarely that you might as well not even consider it.
Johana: There’s a sense, though, of going with the flow of things. You find that you are playing a role, so you begin to see deeply into that role. It does not mean that you stop playing the role. Occasionally people sit in a cave and never move. But you begin to see the flow, and the sense of needing to be in control, making something happen or trying to fix or adjust diminishes greatly. What falls away is the analysis of our typical constructs of the mind of why are we doing this and who’s doing it and what’s the motive. It takes away a lot of the complexity of life.
Jonathan: Once you are solidly on this journey, even though you certainly may need to look deeply at your prior conditioning, you still have a trust of the greater universe and you are still aware that something has changed and you don’t see things in quite the same way.
So it is more of a journey than a single destination?
Jonathan: Yes, of course.
Eric: Awakening is sometimes called sudden and complete, and although that seems to hint a finality, it could also be considered a new beginning. This is when the fun really starts. There really never is an end. Nothing in the universe ends. It’s a transformation from one thing to another.
Who or what has influenced your path to awakening.
Johana: I can name usual suspects. There are some, probably teachers I read along the way for 30 or 40 years, including Byron Katie, Jed McKenna, and some folks who are waking up and are not known and have not publicly written anything to be catalyzed in awareness.
Jonathan: For me it was not so much the many teachers and wonderful books. The thing that catalyzed my own journey was an absolute recognition that I was no longer willing to live inside an illusion that I knew was not true. It was a case of just repeatedly and consciously deciding that I would rather die than continue to do that, and I think that created a momentum that shifted something inside of me. We truly are not aware that all this is up to us, that it is our creation. Everything we’re talking about is not an aphorism or an affirmation. It has nothing to do with that. It is a deep recognition of truth and continually asking what is truth, who am I, and a willingness to let go or deconstruct what we find is not true without any preconceptions.
And it becomes a choice.
Jonathan: It’s a choice – something that we feel compelled to do once we are willing to see what is really true without any preconceptions as to what that is.
Eric: For about 13 years, I devoured everything. There are too many authors to even mention. I had learned meditation toward the beginning. I did a lot of that. I realized my own beliefs and fears would be a hindrance so I did a lot of personal work dealing with those. I guess there was just a search for the truth, whatever that is. I just wanted to see what was as it is, and I was prepared to let go or tear down anything that wasn’t in accord, because in the end, reality wins. I figured what’s the point of fighting it (laughter)!
Sometimes I think some of the preparatory work might have helped, and other times I see it did not help at all. So, there’s really nothing I could say, “This did it.” But there was that search. I did read Krishnamurti. He helped quite a bit. He deals a lot with seeing through thought and getting behind it. But I also heard through other authors about living in the present, being still. I heard all these words many, many times and I actually thought I knew what they meant. And then about four years ago now I was sitting at home watching Eckhart Tolle’s “Flowering of Human Consciousness.” He presented inhabiting the body and being present in a different way, and that way worked for me. Things clicked. It made sense. I finally was able to be truly present as opposed to mentally thinking I was present. I guess you would call it more of being ripe and ready. Things just dropped. I was finally able to see through it, and I saw who I was.
In the end it does not matter how long it takes or how short it takes. I would say for anybody who is remotely interested in this stuff, you’re ready.
Johana: It’s almost that you are operating at such a different level of how things are that it is not comparable. While that evolutionary piece of our lives keeps functioning, and we find ourself “trying to improve things,” one still knows there is just an organic process here. It is a flowering of things and things will do what they do, and I think the awakening process is a similar thing.
Eric: Once you realize the game of life is a game, there is a certain underlying joy in it now. You can actually enjoy what’s going on, even the ups and downs. So when you recognize the game as the game, you can enjoy the lows as well as the highs, and because you realize it’s a game you don’t suddenly quit playing. You keep trying to improve your situation in the game just for the fun, because that’s the game rules.
Jonathan: I think what’s in common is that you are no longer invested into the outcome of whatever you may appear to be choosing.
Tell me about the Awakening Conference.
Jonathan: It truly is an invitation to anyone who wants to ask what is true and pursue that direction, and we’re here to support and encourage that journey, without preconditions. Anyone has the potential to awaken at any time. No one is ahead of anyone else. That is a joke. It’s something within you calling you to push further. This is not a theoretical conference. We are not going to discuss philosophy. We want it to be real for those who attend in terms of supporting their awakening.
Eric: It’s not lecture. It’s not a place to gather more information. It’s not a place to meditate and think and ponder and converse these theories.
It’s not a place for the mind.
Jonathan: It’s a place for the no mind.
Eric: It’s the path of direct experience. You have to feel it to get it. You actually have to get to that point. Some pointers work better than others. No doubt there will be a time where we’re going to have a session on inhabiting the body or being very present for a period of time, and getting people used to the idea of letting go of the past and future and paying attention to what’s going on now. Feeling it, and that alone changes how things work.
If you can be present, if you can inquire and really look to see who you are, you may see it immediately – or you may need nudges in other ways. But it’s not “I’ve heard that before, what’s next?” or “It’s little bit different theory than I’ve heard before. Maybe it’s more like this.” We don’t care. If that way works for you, great. It’s experiential; it’s not philosophy.
Jonathan: Two types of individuals may be interested in the conference. One group has been struggling with “working on themselves” for a long time and just can’t take this jump. They may want to awaken, but they don’t seem to be able to move. Many of those people, unfortunately, have convinced themselves that they have already woken up, but the proof is in the pudding in terms of how they live their lives. Those in the second group may be those who are aware that the way that they are living right now is not really fulfilling and is not really authentic. They know there is another way and want to explore that.
Eric: Buddhism is built on those who want to wake up and those who want to escape suffering. Any of these people would be interested in this conference. It is available to anybody who has studied this stuff before, has heard about “being in the present” and maybe is not sure if they are doing it right. Maybe people just want to meet other people in the community who have also been working with this stuff and go, “What’s your experience?”
Eric: Networking is a part of it.
Jonathan: It’s support.
Eric: It’s more of a communal support. It’s just getting to know who else in the city is into this stuff and using each other’s experience to get around possible obstacles we may be having. For years I had been familiar with the Zen meditation of observing the breath. Observing the breath never worked for me, because it became a mental exercise, and the mental exercise will not get you anywhere. It took Eckhart’s teachings to go, “No, no, it’s feeling…try feeling the breath.” He only said that once. The rest of the time it was inhabiting the body. Then I started revisiting the old days of doing the Zen meditations and said, “Well, what if I felt it instead of just mentally just observed it?” And so I felt the breath going through the nose and going through the windpipe, and I felt the diaphragm move, and the meditation took a whole new aspect and cleared a lot of the things it never did before.
Are you encouraged by the fact that someone like Eckhart Tolle is becoming more well known throughout the population from all walks of life.
Eric: He’s gotten very big, very popular, very well known. He’s bringing in a lot of concepts within the spiritual community. So I like how big Eckhart is and has become, but he’s also limited about what he can talk about, because there are other subjects that he stays away from on purpose because they are controversial and it will be a nosedive to his popularity. There is the pitfall of being trapped in the body. You don’t have to just feel the body, you can feel beyond the body. There are many mystical experiences about sitting in the woods and being one with the woods. It is possible to feel beyond the body. Eckhart does not talk about that, and I think one of the main reasons why is because we’re Westerners there are a lot of skeptics. If he started talking about feeling beyond the body, there is a segment of the group that would walk away. So it’s great how big he is, but I think there’s limitations to being that big.
Jonathan: Not that he wants to remain popular, but I think he’s trying to support his audience.
Eric: He’s trying to support his audience and get a more generic useful message out there that is very much needed.
But, at some point perhaps he can take these people further, deeper, in time.
Eric: He may. I will be curious to see what he does.
Jonathan: Probably the greatest illusion that almost everyone has is that we’re separate. But if we are not separate, which you start to see as you awaken, then there is something deeper going on. Someone like Eckhart Tolle is part of something else that we are co-creating, and we can’t really see the plan or know the plan. We can just trust that it’s time. What we’re sensing is it may be time for more individuals in the Twin Cities to create an awakening experience for themselves and to start living not from their minds, but from their deepest essence for real.