In a set of previous pieces I’ve looked at a model of spiritual awakening following the flow or evolution of awakening through transcendence, immanence, and incandescence. Each of those three constitutes a spiritual paradigm, organizing both the practices undertaken, the kinds of experiences experienced within that paradigm, and the framework for interpretation of those experiences (for a fuller treatment of the real meaning of paradigm, see this piece).

This piece will explore a fourth phase: evanescence.

The process of immanence constitutes an incarnational path (“waking downward”). After an initial glimpse of transcendence there is the choice to take the “road less travelled” and look to bring that transcendent awakening concretely into human day to day life. The path of immanence involves bringing awakening into the realms of our emotions, traumas, desires, organs, longings, nerves, and bodily sensations—a very broad set of terms for which is alchemy or tantra. In immanence the infinite and finite natures of the human-animal become united, each playing an equally important part in the creation of something greater than the sum of the parts. That is, a state of deep wholeness and individuation—a human existence infused with divinity.

In incandescence the union of infinite and finite, divine and human-animal, fuse. The two sides crystallize through the heat of the transformative process. The creative friction between the divine and human natures gives off a light (incandescent meaning a light source giving off heat).

Both immanence and incandescence are the paths of becoming deeply integrated. There is still within this approach however an organizing sense of self. It’s a sense of self deeply open to and rooted in a connection with the divine. It’s a unified sense of self.

The Christian realizer Bernadette Roberts used the analogy of a piece of paper. At the beginning of the path a hole opens up in the center of the paper. The hole in the paper is the still, unmoving centerpoint within. The hole is the access to the divine. The mystic realizes that what initially feels like a falling away or emptiness (“hole”) becomes the source of a deeply still and immovable fullness.

Mahayana Buddhism has the term shunyata, which is often translated into English as emptiness. But shunyata really means the seamlessness of all life. Things are empty of a separated and separating self sense but that emptiness becomes the opening to profound fullness, wholeness, and oneness with life. Or as the great Tibetan Buddhist teacher Trungpa Rinpoche used to say, “emptiness is not an empty wallet.”

The hole is whole in other words. Over time that hole widens from the center out. As it does so it begins to integrate with the periphery. This represents the path of immanence as the divine center or core is now coming to be woven with more and more layers of the human being (the remaining portion of the sheet of paper).

During this period the divine is experienced as both the transcendent without—the space outside the paper—and immanent, i.e. the hole in the paper. Both “emptinesses" are of the same spaciousness nature.

That process may reach a zenith in incandescence where now the divine center/hole has grown to encompass almost the entirety of the paper. But there remains, as Roberts says, the thinnest of division represented by the edge of the paper. It is only that edge that creates a sense of within and without. If that edge were to dissolve that the notion of inside and outside would immediately fall away as well. The edge of the paper is the only element remaining created a boundary between the zones of inner and outer.

So what if that edge/boundary were to fall away?

The path of evanescence is the answer to that question.

For Bernadette Roberts what happens in this moment is that entire sense of self, rooted in the divine (i.e. the hole in the paper) has now dropped away. With it drops away the divine as experienced by a human self.

If in immanence the divine and human aspect join and if in the incandescence they fuse and heat up, in evanescence they go “pop”. They burst like a bubble. With the loss of one goes the loss of the other.

Roberts is very radical in her assertion that with the loss of the self there is the loss of all the aspects associated with the divine as experienced by a self: light, Consciousness, energy, radiance, power, intensity, and bliss. In other words, all the qualities of the path of immanence and incandescence.

For Roberts all those attributes turn out to have been conflated with The Divine Nature, when in reality they are the divine as experienced through the medium of human consciousness, selfhood, and personal will. All those listed qualities are not an illusion but rather simply the consequence of the divine being experienced throughout the lens of human consciousness.

With the loss of the separate self-sense, however, The Divine simply IS. There is no way to really speak of an experience of the divine, of a state, for there is no experiencer—at least in the way that term is generally understood.

The realization in Evanescence is Absolute. It is beyond any specific reference because any reference intrinsically requires its opposite for it to make sense. This dialectic is true even of the term Absolute, for Absolute only makes sense in relationship to relative. We could say non-relative rather than Absolute and that perhaps gets a bit closer but of course non-relative still only makes sense as compared to relative.

There is a teaching from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition known as the two truths doctrine: an absolute and relative truth. These two levels of truth are compatible with each other while remaining distinct. They do not contradict each other. The Absolute refers to the Divine alone and the relative layer of truth refers to conceptual and everyday matters: e.g. the temperature at which water boils; the historical date of the signing of the Magna Carta; the given name of the historical Buddha (Siddhartha).

There’s right and wrong answers in the relative level of truth. Siddhartha’s name was not Harold. Water doesn’t boil at 10 degrees Centigrade. The Absolute level requires metaphor and symbolism as The Ultimate is beyond any and all references—including Ultimate which is opposed to non-ultimate or continent.

The two truths doctrine is valid from the prospective of the paths of transcendence, immanence, and incandescence.

In Evanescence, however, even the two truths doctrine falls away. The Two Truths Doctrine depends on the edge of the paper being there—the emptiness outside and inside. When that falls away there’s simply a knowing ignorance, a direct encounter with Mystery that is endlessly wonder-filling but can’t be named.

There’s only One Truth then. The Truth of Absolute Simplicity. Which again are only symbolic terms because absolute only makes sense in relationship to relative and simplicity only make sense in relationship to complexity. Call it Zero Truth which also works in a way though of course zero only makes sense as up against non-zero numbers. 

The Divine is neither simple nor complex, neither absolute nor relative.

Roberts said that all that was left was a smiling—where smiler, smile, and smiling were one.

Things become simple, plainly what they are. It is more ordinary than ordinary. So ordinary as to be almost extraordinary.

The felt sense of the “edge of the paper” is gut, primal existential fear in losing control. Adyashanti calls it awakening at the gut and says the gut is a primal contracting or grasping rooted in the shock of the infinite Spiritual Reality coming into form (what Aurobindo called “vital shock.”) An archaic sensory-bodily defensive posture of grasping comes into place in response. I’ve talked previously about the self-contraction through the sacred wound of the heart but this is the self-contraction in the gut, in the viscera.

This grasping at the gut cannot be forced open. Roberts, from her Christian perspective, argues that only Christ within the mystic makes the journey across that void—the void of the final edges of the paper. For Adyashanti there is a total letting go and complete surrender to take place, but one that can’t be engineered by the self and its personal will.

Spiritual teacher (and colleague of Adyashanti) Susanne Marie calls this passage “the body’s koan.” It’s a very beautiful and insightful phrase: the body’s koan. A koan cannot be solved by the mind. The contemplation of a koan and its confusion generates the energy necessary to breakthrough to a new level of organization. Marie talks of earlier koans—the koan of her mind and later a koan of the heart. Those koans and their resulting resolutions awakening the mind and heart—transcendence and immanence in other words.

The koan of the body (or the gut) is awakening at the level of sensation, deeper than thought and emotion. The body itself must somehow resolve this koan. Effort and will do not avail one here.

Roberts’ book The Experience of No Self details in stark terms her path through pushing beyond the edges of the paper. The Personal God she experienced as a personal self co-died as the two were inextricably linked to each other.

What was left was Godhead, The Divine Absolute Simplicity. Simply WHAT IS.

For Roberts this recognition brings with it the insight that Spirit is Matter and Matter is Spirit. In the earlier phases of Immanence and Incandescence, Matter and Spirit join in a deepening unity and integration. But here there is no unity for there are not two things that can then unite. There’s non-difference or pure oneness.

There is a specific something or mysterious whatness in matter that is Eternal. Roberts’ term for this mysterious whatness is The Eternal Manifest (or Eternal Form), which as a Christian she equates with the Eternal Nature of Christ as The Logos/Wisdom of God. That Eternal Manifest is in Eternal Movement or Eternal Manifesting—which Roberts, through her Christian Trinitarian lens, equates with The Holy Spirit. And to finish off the Trinitarian depiction, according to Roberts The Father (1st Person of the Godhead) is the Eternal Unmanifest, i.e. the nature of glorious Eternal Love and Beauty in which the Eternal Manifest eternally resides.

Or more simply all that remains is The Godhead, the one essence shared by The Three Divine Persons in Christian theology.

What remains, without a separated self-sense, is wonderment, is sheer grace, and spontaneous gratitude. Roberts calls this the Resurrection and believes that the true spiritual meaning of Christ’s crucifixion was the loss of his human oneness with The Divine, through the descent into hell and across the Void, into the resurrected status of Eternal Oneness.

For Roberts then there are two fundamentally distinct spiritual paths: one is about the uniting of a human self with the Divine in love; the other is the dropping away of that human self leaving only Truth.

As Adyashanti details, as the awakening happens at the gut there is no longer person will. One is beyond surrender because there is no self, no separated entity that can surrender or accept. Rather than is some spontaneous movement to flow without a doer—what the Taoist tradition calls wu wei. There’s still personality and uniqueness to the individual but no longer a separate self sense or a reinforcing narrative inner observer creating a sense of a unified psychobiography. There’s simply action and manifestation without a sense of a persona will or inner experiencer.

What has evanesced, like a dandelion in the wind, is the entire self-sense, even one that was united to the Divine. There’s an even deeper form of stillness and quiet in evanescence as the body learns to move and act of its own accord, as the self-sense becomes more and more stripped even from biological conditioning, what Mirra Alfassa (aka The Mother) called the Mind of the cells.

Matter is Eternal, as matter is spirit. Or rather the “whatness” or mysterious “thatness” of matter is eternal. And there is eternal flux (Eternal Manifesting). For Roberts the human body has within it a trajectory based on consciousness and selfhood—including form the most reactive forms of consciousness all the way to the deepest and highest forms of mystical union as a self (immanence, incandescence). For Roberts the medium of consciousness and selfhood is a grace which allow us to orient and adapt to incarnation. According to Roberts it would too shattering to encounter reality directly without the medium of consciousness initially.

There is, however, another trajectory within the human body argues Roberts. That trajectory is what she calls a pure sensory one, i.e. a trajectory/capacity not predicted on consciousness or selfhood and its attendant sense of personal will.

The path of evanescence is learning somehow to live with and as that pure sensory trajectory of the body, though learning isn’t really the right word as there is no learner. Or said slightly differently, the fascination and draw to the eternal flux of matter, that is to Life, pure, immaculate, whole, indivisible, absolute Life becomes so strong and foregrounds that it puts in the background any residual sense of a separated self, particularly at the level of mind, emotion, and will. Over time, for those who continue as detailed in the research of Jeffrey Martin, deeper and deeper layers of self-sense evanesce from primal layers of biological conditioning (more on that research to come in a subsequent piece).