First, a little background. In 1991 I was living in India. I had already been pretty deeply involved in “spiritually seeking” for about twenty years. The giddy pursuit of “enlightenment” had by that point come to seem a bit like a hamster on a wheel: not only for me, but for everyone else I knew. The idea of being on a path, slowly erasing the ego so as to reach the elusive goal of liberation, at some future time, had lost its allure. I learned about a little-known teacher who lived in Lucknow named H.W.L. Poonja. He was a retired army officer. Stories were circulating that people went to see him and quite quickly went through some kind of shift.
I got on a plane.
I have told the story of my meeting with him many times before, so I will cut it short here. In my first one on one meeting with him, he asked me, quite gruffly “What do you want?”
“I feel I’ve been seeking, for as long as I can remember,” I replied, “What is in the way of finding?”
He frowned and looked at me as though it was the most stupid question he had heard in his entire life. “What’s in the way of finding? Why seeking, of course.”
Half an hour later, when we were back in the small meeting room with the other people, again he looked at me, very sternly and asked, “What do you want? Why did you come here?”
Obediently, I repeated the answer which spiritually oriented people have learned to repeat by rote: “I want to be free.”
“O.K.” he said. “No problem. Show me that which is bound, and I will make it free.”
What followed was six days close to insanity. I spent most of my days lying in my bed in the Clarks Adadh Hotel, trying to find the entity called “me” that was trapped, so that Poonjaji could set it free. Finally, on the morning of the seventh day, came the few minutes that changed my life forever. It was early, about 6 a.m. As I sat up in the bed, I knew there was something very important that had been on my mind the night before. “Oh yes. I have to find the ego, so he can set it free.” Still somewhat drugged by the innocence of sleep, I reached out inside my own consciousness to try and find this thing called “me,” and the reaching out just went on and on and on forever into more and more infinite, empty space.
The body burst out laughing all on its own. Sudden massive relief.
It was immediately clear that this had been one huge lifelong misunderstanding. Nothing really changed in that moment; there was just an ahhhhaaa. All that has ever really been here, for all these years and maybe lifetimes, has been this infinite empty space: silent, still, ever at peace, and seeking nothing.
We could call that a moment of “awakening.” It is not a change in your condition, it does not make you a better person (or in fact a different person) in any way at all. It is simply a restoration of an oversight about what it is that is really here, experiencing all of this.
Since that moment in 1991, I have met and interviewed hundreds of people who have been transformed by moments like this. Some would call themselves spiritual in their beliefs and lifestyles, but many would not. I have interviewed bankers and doctors, people in Hollywood, politicians, and the CEOs of large companies.
That moment changed everything, and at the same time it changed nothing. In the intervening years I have had two children, been through a marriage, a divorce, and then another marriage. I have had financial ups and downs, fluctuating heath; all the usual trappings of a human life. But this recognition of consciousness without limits has always been there, available, as the backdrop of it all.
My second life-changing moment happened just a few days later. I changed hotels and was sitting having breakfast on a Sunday morning in the Carlton Hotel, a colonial structure left over from the British. I was sitting up in bed with a breakfast tray: boiled egg, toast, cup of tea–also left over from the British. There was a knock on the door.
A young German woman stepped into the room, inexplicably wearing an Indian wedding dress. “I feel like today is my day,” she said. Poonjaji is not holding any meeting, something has obviously happened for you, and I’d like you to help me.”
I truly had absolutely no idea what to say. I was just having breakfast, and if anything had happened to me at all I had no idea what it was. So I asked her more or less the same question that Poonjaji had asked me, albeit a little less gruffly: “What is it you want?”
“I want to wake up,” she said.
“O.K.” I said. “Well, what is in the way?”
“My ego and my mind,” she said.
Something very spontaneous and innocent happened then, completely unrehearsed and not premeditated. I held up my knife from the breakfast tray.
“Can you see the knife?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Is the knife real or imaginary?”
Then I held up the egg. “Is the egg real or imaginary?” I asked.
“Real,” she said.
I went through five or six other items on the breakfast tray this same way. Then I held up an empty hand and asked her if she could see the lemon.
“No,” she said.
“So if we were to talk about a lemon, would it be it real or imaginary?”
“Imaginary,” she said.
I continued like that, holding up a real object and then an imaginary object, and each time she would say “real” or “imaginary.”
Finally I added, “Ego.”
And then, “Mind.”
Her eyes completely changed. Rather like a kid who has been given access to the cockpit of the plane, playfully presses a few buttons, and suddenly the plane takes off, I realized pretty quickly that this seemingly innocent series of questions had precipitated a big shift in this woman.
The same thing happened (not always with a breakfast tray) dozens of times after that. By now, I have had conversations of this kind with thousands of people over the intervening 26 years.
If you are interested, here’s a little video of such a conversation.
In moments like this, where we turn the attention away from what we can see and hear and feel, and think, we change nothing, and at the same time, we change everything. We are all so keen to make more money, improve our health, find the perfect soulmate, and gain popularity and approval. But in my experience, this little shift of waking up to your true nature, waking up to that which has no limits in time or space, is the most significant moment in any person’s life. That this moment of awakening in the hotel room for me was life-transformative. But even more life-transforming was becoming a vehicle, a catalyst for the awakening of someone else.
A few years later, in 1995, I was living back in the States with my wife. We were expecting our second child. I mentioned earlier that life continued to have its ups and downs, and this was a period when I had just lost an enormous amount of money through unwise investing. I was down to the last dribbles. Jocelyn Olivier, the owner of Alive and Well School in San Anselmo, offered me my old job back as a hypnotherapy instructor. I told him it would be difficult to go back into the kind of work I had been doing before because my time in India had changed my perspectives so deeply. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You can teach any curriculum you want.”
And so, in the summer of 1995, for the first time I offered a training program to teach others how to become facilitators of awakening . We had 32 people in that first class and the results were beyond my wildest expectations. Now I discovered not only was it relatively easy to support other people to have this kind of awakening, but it was also easy to train others to do the same. Who would have guessed? This was the beginning of Awakening Coaching.
In the last 21 years I have trained more than 2,000 people as Awakening Coaches. They learn not only to initiate this kind of shift, but to support people, in a multifaceted way, to live from this kind of expansive consciousness in relationship, in parenting, in the way they experience thought and emotion in the body.
This year I completed a new book called Radical Brilliance, which is another new beginning for me. So I will only be teaching part of one entry-level Awakening Coaching training this year, near Munich in Germany, from May 1-7th. If you think this might be interesting for you to join us, please contact Sabina Frech