I’ve never been a big bliss junkie.
Looking back now, I see that bliss came naturally, so it’s easy to dismiss. And orgasms? Oh yeah. Good at those, thank you for asking.
But bliss for no damn good reason?
Early on, once I learned Buddhist meditation, I immediately began having blissful episodes. I figured they were tied to the meditation practice I was doing (shamatha) which can lead to the jhanas (absorption states) and so I shrugged them off as early jhanas. As soon as I was filled with the joy and bliss of the second jhana, I would ramp up my concentration, knowing I’d soon be taken into the third jhana, which offers a peaceful, cool rest with just enough of a feeling of heart centered contentment that I felt I was floating on my meditation cushion. This didn’t have the flashiness of bliss. No, there was simply a contentment of mind and body and a feeling that all is well.
And then there was the fourth jhana, my fave, which is an expansive peace; a mind state in which there is very little “me” and a deep rest is felt. I always felt as though I was falling into a snow bank and discovering a deep tranquility where I could just abide. There was no sense of a body here at all. My head would slump forward, my shoulders would hunch, and I could stay like this for hours.
I wanted peace. After a life of turmoil and trauma, I wanted the peace the Buddha found, although this enlightenment stuff didn’t really sound like it was for me. (A little Buddhist joke – it’s never for a “me”. Haha.)
I also didn’t trust bliss. It never felt safe to be in my body, so why would I let myself go through the gates of bliss? Give this body over to the ecstasy of rapture? Peace was a better goal to have. This bliss stuff felt too busy inside.
So when I actually began waking up — something my mind wasn’t so sure I even wanted in the first place — I frog leaped over bliss. The kundalini awakening that came with an early shift in consciousness was a powerful, relentless force that knocked loose frozen trauma, conditioning, holdings and grippings in the body. So maybe there was bliss. I can’t remember now. What was so vivid was that I was now awake to everything. And that included the pain and despair and fear this body had been holding since conception which had suddenly all risen to the surface like dead fish in a lake, and the stench was overwhelming. I had some shit to sift through.
Some paths, like Hinduism/Vedanta, Sufism, and Christian mysticism really underline the bliss stuff. It’s considered a high state to be in bliss.
But I was a Buddhist (back when I identified as a “something” on the spiritual path) and I wanted to go beyond bliss, into the Void, into the Beyond that is beyond the beyond. Looking back, it was an escape on one level. On another, it was the intelligence of the evolutionary impulse toward enlightenment.
So I wanted no-self or bust…sometimes. And then other times I just wanted to live my damn life and wondered how I got sucked up into this spiritual stuff anyway. The mind has a lot of ideas about awakening, you know.
At the time, I knew absolutely nothing about other mystical traditions. And emptiness of self was what these Buddhists were all about. Enlightenment didn’t stop at union with the Divine in all its bliss, it stopped when there was total stopping – a cessation of being a someone. Liberation.
And for there to be bliss, one has to experience themselves as being — as existing — right? It didn’t add up back then.
The Vedas call the bliss one feels when awake, Satchitananda. It means Being/Consciousness/Bliss. Basically the bliss of existence. If you are awake to your nothingness, but also aware you exist at the same time, you experience bliss.
I don’t go into the jhanas anymore because day to day experience is now a seamless meditation, thanks to some shifts that are abiding. My current lived experience of life is beyond what I experienced while separating from life to be swallowed up by a jhana. The absorption states simply get one’s mind and nervous system ready for waking up. I feel a duty to mention that mastering the jhanas are not a requirement, and everyone’s unfoldment is so different. But as a tightly wound lady, I needed their medicine on my path.
With the heartfelt shift into unity (the oft-mentioned realization of “I Am That”), and only about a day to settle into it, there was then a plunge into what the Vedas might call “Brahman consciousness”, or what the Buddhists call no self. Nobody at home. Emptiness of self, and a meeting once again with the world as luminous and empty, but now through emptiness’ eyes. There was a going beyond the experience of there being two things (inside and outside; body and God/Awareness; you and me united, etc.) to even get all blissed out about in the first place. It was all just…One Thing. “Same taste”, as they say in Dzogchen, the direct path branch of Buddhism (or for hardcore Buddhist peeps who don’t want to fuck around).
I remember a week or so after this shift, I sat completely amazed that I was sitting at all, since there was no sense of a someone here. My teacher confirmed the realization I had had. I was sharing with him about the peace that had been found, but that it was also a bit disorienting that there was now no center at all.
I remember he said something about a “spiritual realization” and I had said that this feels like what is underneath what we conceive to be “spiritual”, and so it didn’t feel spiritual at all; it simply felt ordinary and like what underlies all concepts, labels, words; a center-less center that is prior to everything.
This is the ground of being, as they say in Buddhism. It’s the fabric underneath all of our human notions of “god”, “spiritual”, and “divine”. I remember telling him, “So it seems bliss is the body’s response to encountering the ground of being. But what’s been found is way beyond bliss. The ground of Reality is without bliss, because it’s prior to bliss.” He just nodded.
I was swimming in emptiness, as emptiness itself, and this shift needed to settle.
I bowed to him, deeply grateful for having crossed paths with him, even though I had gone off on my own after an early-stage awakening five years prior when it seemed our work together had finished. Now I felt a lovely completion with him.
Bliss left my life for awhile.
Months later, the world and my experience of life got flat for a time, as everything seemed to be sucked out of experience. There’d be the pervasive experience of unity, vivid in all its yummy love, and the sense of a Self as an expanse that is everything, and that everything is Self…and then it’d go flat for weeks at a time. There was still the unbreakable connection with all and everything, as all and everything…but the color was drained out of experience. It was all being devoured, an apt word that’s used to describe this process of deepening in to no self or Brahman consciousness. There was a shifting back and forth from unity and the Self, to no self, for quite awhile. These stages within realized consciousness need time to integrate.
As trauma and conditioning continued to clear my system, I never lost contact with the spacious expanse that I experienced the Self to be. During these clearing times, there would be a wobbling back into unity consciousness (I am everything, everything is me), and then maybe back down into simply the Self (I am Awareness) when a chunk of old trauma (samskaras) would release; then into a flatness, and then an opening again into the no self of Brahman consciousness (pure experiencing) where all is just One Thing Happening and it’s actually a Divine Fullness. Oh! the vibrant fullness.
“Hey, Sarah, what have you been up to lately?”
“Uh…errr…gloriously drowning in the stages of enlightenment.”
But not much bliss. The fullness of emptiness would bring bliss. But it was as though this poor body still couldn’t trust it.
Today, perhaps the somatically-stored, decades-long trauma has finally cleared this body. Who knows. There has been a release at the gut, a dropping into what has always been here, prior to being here. It feels like trauma is gone, although the clearing of karma and conditioning apparently continues for the entirety of one’s life. I don’t claim to have all the answers. This knowing and embodying of our original nature is infinitely endless.
So yeah, there has been a deepening of this fundamental, core peace that first became known several years ago. And this peace feels to be the fabric of my existence day to day. All is well, even when it isn’t. Deep in the core of what is experienced on the surface – frustration, misunderstandings, a swollen toe, a jolt as a driver nearly misses my car on the freeway – there is always this equanimous evenness.
But if I notice the bliss, if I turn attention to the felt experience of my existence, then…aaaaah….there it is. I just say the word: “bliss” and it’s instantly recognized, softly vibrating through this body, around it, and, well, everywhere, really, since there seem to be no boundaries anymore. All is this bliss.
It’s always been there, resonating through the foundation of existence. Even though I’m in contact with our non-existence, there is also existence simultaneously. Both are occurring. This sacred totality is our lived life, this felt existence, is bliss.
It’s been in the background the past few years, but was never given full reign to engulf my experience.
But more and more, ever since this body got on board with this waking up business, there’s been an opening to the bliss. So I stop and notice the bliss. Ah, yes, there it is. Hello.
I understand bliss better these days. It’s a friend that’s always right here. What is our existence but this bliss, underneath all the details?
Bliss is the aliveness of a nobody experiencing being alive. A burning, pulsating paradox. Ultimately we are a dream of the Divine that never happened…or happened in a blink of an eye, long ago, just like a star whose radiance is seen, light years away, long after it’s gone out of existence.
This is the bliss of Being, right here, right now.