A Meta-Stage Map (An Attempt)
Keeping in mind the difficulty of trying to have a singular map for an integral path such as Awakening in Life, one attempt that could be useful is the following:
A few caveats of this meta-stage map:
1. This diagram represents both a linear unfolding of awakening and a cycle of awakening that repeats over and over.
2. It is called a meta-stage map given that it is integrating multiple areas of practice: release, response, and inhabiting.
3. It is called ‘an attempt’ to indicate that we should not be too attached to the specifics of this model given how much complexity it is trying to hold.
4. It is also called ‘an attempt’ because no meta-stage map can be totally inclusive, neither in generalities nor in granular detail.
5. Use this when you find it helpful.
The following represent meta-stages of awakening with respect to Awakening in Life and the three primary areas of practice: release, response, and inhabiting. Refer to the diagram above for a helpful visual aid.
Each stage is expressed as a verb to indicate an active orientation to practice and life versus a static plateau of experience.
In this stage areas of life and practice are isolated, much like not letting food touch on a plate. Practice feels compartmentalized in life.
In fact, one might only engage in conscious practice in one of these areas at the exclusion of the other three. Or one might engage in practices of all three - release, response, and inhabit - but in one’s life and practice these are not experienced as having any overt, embodied, integrated relationship with one another.
For example, one might practice nondual meditation for awakening, engage in emotional healing in psychotherapy, and have a yoga practice that cultivates somatic embodiment. But each are practiced in very separate containers. It is unconscious to the practitioner that all these three practices influence each other, and even more so how the experiences and insights cultivated in each practice simultaneously arise, support, and influence each other.
On one hand, the separation allows a practitioner to focus on each practice and area of life on its own terms more fully, but the lived experience is characterized by pervasive fragmentation, a lack of being able to feel spontaneously present in the totality of one’s human experience.
At this stage, practitioners might seek more prescriptive paths and techniques that they adopt versus being intuitively guided by experience and life. This prescriptive approach, while ultimately limiting one’s depth and breadth of one’s awakening and integration, can be helpful by providing clear steps that lead one deeper into more presence, and as a result, the capacity to more fully release and let go of needing steps.
Here one begins to consciously experience tensions of keeping practice and life separate, and in keeping various areas of life practice completely separate. The tension between the authentic need to release, respond, and inhabit starts becoming overtly felt. Fragmentation is starting to be consciously felt and acknowledged.
One also begins to directly experience and accept the paradox and tension between release, response, and inhabit, all equally valid, and yet often seemingly moving in different directions or having different flavors in experience.
The experience at this stage can be a bit like purgatory as the tension of fragmentation persists in experience, even though it is starting to be consciously recognized, and one isn’t entirely sure of what to do/be. As a result one might fallback on prescriptive paths and practices, or practice might be abandoned for a while.
It is in this process that one starts to cultivate radical acceptance of not-knowing (given paradoxes of life in experience don’t resolve neatly or rationally). Because of this it is common for practice to begin to waver in consistency and focus. Alternatively, a response might be to double down on techniques and practices, even if that only exacerbates the situation.
One now begins to experience less resistance to the inherent paradox and tension in practice and life, and as such integrating life and practice becomes desirable, easier, and more naturally arising.
Some ease with the unknowable nature of reality emerges in experience, such that a movement toward response in life can also emerge. One is no longer seeking absolute answers, immovable places of being to escape into, nor is one floundering about in not-knowing.
Because of this there is an acceptance and embrace of life and a movement towards intimacy with life. An unconscious, habitual seeking to get somewhere other than where one is dissipates, and a desire to know what is arising right now emerges. Inquiry becomes a relevant practice.
The embodiment and authentic inhabiting of the full spectrum of one’s self, relationships, and life starts to become central focus in awakening and practice. One begins to let go of prescriptive approaches to practice and instead lets experience and life intuitively guide what practice is needed.
Integrating and inhabiting have now become second nature as a guiding principle and focus of practice, and one feels they can respond to life more fluidly and dynamically.
Unifying and emerging are an integration of release and response. We have the capacity to radically let go of what arises and experience sameness and interconnectedness, and we respond to life as it emerges, in an embodied, fully participatory way.
Experiences of deep release lead to a deeper desire to respond to life, and a deeper intimacy and engagement with life motivates a desire to let go into experiences of connection and unity.
Here combining techniques and practices into meta-practices occurs, for example nondual somatic meditation to heal trauma, or social metta practice in response to ecological crisis.
Practice becomes much more spontaneous and responsive, letting what is happening moment to moment and in life guide what one focuses on in practice (or even letting go of practice entirely). Said another way, the struggle to decide what path or practice one should be doing subsides and evaporates.
While these meta-stages can be seen as linearly unfolding, they can also be seen as a cycle that one can repeat, albeit with increased subtlety and refinement. As an example, one might return to experiments of practices of release and response, cultivating capacities and insights to new depth and breadth, then bringing what emerges from those practices closer in embodied relationship, experiencing new tensions that require integrating and inhabiting, and from that new unifications occur, and new experiences emerge.