Enlightenment Explained

4 of 9 – Enlightenment Explained

By Marlyse Carroll
(Author of ‘Am I Going Mad? The Unsettling Phenomena of Spiritual Evolution’ – www.amigoingmad.com.au)

Having explored spiritual evolution, spiritual initiations and Kundalini, we’re now going to focus on Enlightenment.

In deeply spiritual societies such as the Australian Aboriginal culture, having mystical experiences is considered a normal part of life. It’s known as ‘entering the DREAMTIME’. In other cultures, prophets are revered for their REVELATIONS. Shamans are chosen for their VISIONS. Mystics seek ENLIGHTENMENT and religious texts revolve around ILLUMINATIONS.

Yet, in our society, such experiences are usually considered pathological and labelled HALLUCINATIONS.

So, Dreamtime, revelations, visions, illuminations, enlightenment or hallucinations – what are we experiencing when our consciousness expands into new realms?

In this article, we’ll focus on enlightenment, which is a very specific type of mystical experience. One shared by many people on the spiritual path, regardless of their religious beliefs and cultural background. Yet those who experience it rarely understand or talk about enlightenment – with good reasons too!

Unitive consciousness

Unitive consciousness is the name given to a peak experience in which we feel a sudden loss of boundaries, a dissolution of our usual awareness that ‘this is me, and this is otherness’. We become one with something or someone whom we normally perceive as being separate.

We can have an episode of unitive consciousness with a leaf or the whole universe, with a loved one or an unknown person, with a tree or a rock, with anything. Usually the experience involves an initial sense of affinity and appreciation before the merging occurs; however, this is not always the case.

This profound shift in consciousness can last from a few seconds to a few hours in earth time, but it’s timeless in essence.


Imagine that you’re looking at a distant star in the night sky.

Symbol of enlightenment

There you are, standing somewhere on Planet Earth, looking at a star that is shining on the horizon, possibly a few million light-years away. And suddenly, without any process or in-between step, without any thought, you become this star. It’s as if a veil had lifted from your eyes or your mind, and you are experiencing this star from the inside, as an extension of who you are.

Imagine now that this star is radiating love to you and the whole of humanity, an amount of love so huge that you can’t compare it to any human love you have ever felt in your whole life. And because you are the star radiating love, you are simultaneously experiencing a universe of love in every cell of your body.

How incredibly beautiful, how perfect would you perceive yourself to be, as well as the rest of the Universe? For a short while, you would know that you are nothing but one atom of the divine plan in physical form…

Imagine now that you have transcended time as well as space and entered into a world that spreads into infinity and eternity. And for an instant, you understand everything about this universe. After all, the star has been there right from the beginning of time; it experienced the Big Bang, and you’ve entered the star’s consciousness. So there are no more mysteries, only a sense of awe. A deep gratitude for the perfection inherent in everything and everyone, in every moment and every way.

Expanding awareness

Would such an experience change your perceptions of the world and your place in it? Very likely.

An episode of unitive consciousness is timeless and is felt as very sacred – numinous is the word usually used. The emotions associated with this peak state are profoundly joyful, ranging from a deep sense of peace and gratitude, to ecstasy and bliss.

Eventually you would re-enter a more ordinary level of consciousness and regain your boundaries. Simultaneously, you would most likely forget what you knew during the experience, although the sense of love and connection would always remain.

That’s an enlightenment experience. And it might take your ego a while to recover from its close encounter with All That Is.

“A surefire way to earn a diagnosis of psychosis
at a modern psychiatric clinic is to punctuate a
conversation with references to losing one’s identity
so as to become one with all creation.”
John E. Nelson MD
Healing the Split, page 347

Enlightenment is a direct experience

Most mystical states are sensory based, they involve visions, feelings or messages. But enlightenment is different, because it’s NOT something that we think, see, feel, hear, smell, taste, decide, ponder or describe to ourselves. We become something that we normally don’t identify with. It’s a moment beyond time and space where experiencer and experienced merge and become one.

Me = We
We = Me

And because senses aren’t involved, an enlightenment experience is impossible to describe adequately. There are no words for it. But living it, even for just a few seconds, is enough to be a life-changing event, if it’s not suppressed out of consciousness. It can also be the start of a harrowing emotional roller-coaster ride.


Sustainability is the main difference between most peak experiences and a moment of enlightenment. For most of us, as a direct experience of extreme intensity, enlightenment cannot be sustained over time, whereas auditory messages, feelings and/or visions are phenomenal and involve witness-consciousness. As such, sensory based experiences are sustainable. They do not threaten one’s equilibrium as much as an enlightenment experience does. Yet they can also be powerful enough to be life-changing and/or to induce states of crisis.


All mystical experiences are linked to altered states of consciousness and can be triggered in many different ways; amongst others nutrition, bodywork, breathwork, sex/Tantra, energy work, meditation, dreaming, experiential psychotherapies, sensory overload or deprivation, emotional shocks, near-death experience and drugs.

What’s different about an enlightenment experience is that it’s linked to Kundalini reaching the 7th chakra – the state of union. And we cannot make it happen. It’s a divine gift, or Grace in Christian terminology.

Just a word of warning about psychedelic drugs. LSD, ecstasy, DMT, magic mushrooms, ayahuasca and other substances often lead to extraordinary experiences. They can also lead to a premature Kundalini awakening, which is dangerous. Please refer to the previous article on Kundalini for more details.

For those on the spiritual fast track, a safer and more beneficial alternative is to attend experiential workshops run by reputable organisations or individuals. Breathwork in particular can lift the same veils without the risks.

Emotional Reactions

Many people who experience enlightenment have strong emotional reactions. They laugh or cry and often do both simultaneously. This happens because enlightenment is poignant and simple. It’s a remembering of who and what we truly are. Our eternal Self, our divinity. Something very obvious we know at a cellular level but often forget.

Imagine for a minute that you were a raindrop and someone asked you what water is. You might spend millennia searching for an external answer, exploring snow, steam, ice, clouds, rivers, lakes and oceans. And one day, Eureka! You get it. Water is what you are. Wouldn’t it seem funny to discover something so obvious?

It’s the same for us. What we discover isn’t water though, it’s a universe of love and light. Love and light of a magnitude never encountered before.

The energy connecting everything in the universe
is also part of what it connects
Gregg Braden

Cosmic Love

We suddenly find out that love is everywhere, we breathe it in and out, it feeds us, it supports us, it glows and pulses within us. Because we are part of the vibrational structure of the Universe, we ARE love. Cosmic love made physical. A wrinkle in the Field. Yet we had somehow forgotten this simple fact.

And what becomes so obvious is that our mind, and only our mind, creates pain and suffering, our deepest fears, our sense of being alone, different, disconnected. We suddenly remember that we are always connected to a Force that is an inexhaustible source of love and wellbeing. All we ever have to do is open ourselves to its flow and allow it to carry us.

So, as the psyche suddenly gets flooded with this incredible love, we experience all of the above and more. Much, much more. Far more than we can usually express or remember later on.

This expansion of awareness is mind-blowing

It certainly gives our poor ego the shock of its life. So much so that it usually shuts down for a while. So we bask in the pure joy and happiness that we are. We know with absolute certainty that each one of us is part of the Field, part of God. That each one of us can tap into the source of everything, the matrix, the void, the field of potentiality out of which everything is possible.

Expanding awareness

Laughter arises at the cosmic joke that we are all connected and yet keep behaving like lonesome cowboys frightened of Indians. Tears pour out as we remember that we are loved and lovable beyond belief, regardless of what we might have done or not done.

The good news is that such experiences often put us on a new life path. One that is far more heart-centered and fulfilling at soul level. We lose much fear and gain trust and courage. So external circumstances soon change.

The other news, good or bad, is that having an enlightenment experience doesn’t mean we’re enlightened! Nor does it mean that we’ll never face challenges again.

The aftermaths of an enlightenment experience

Our perceptions are usually very clear when we are in the midst of the experience, yet we lose this clarity as levels of consciousness shift. As the ego comes back, the veils reappear. It’s somehow similar to waking up from a powerful dream. In most cases, some of the dream’s content remains with us in waking consciousness while some of it is lost.

So the aim of the spiritual journey is to remember more and more of the dream. It isn’t an easy task. As we wake up spiritually we realise that there are many levels of dreaming and that what we thought was ‘solid and real’ in our life might just be another dreamscape. For a while it might feel as if we were floating in between worlds, with both of them appearing simultaneously real and unreal. At that stage, the ego starts to panic.

Am I Going Mad?

This question often arises when sudden, huge shifts in consciousness threaten our previously stable world-view. In some cases, they can lead to a psychological crisis known as ‘spiritual emergency’.

When handled well, enlightenment experiences soon become integrated into the self and lead to higher levels of happiness, better health and more emotional intelligence. That’s why the spiritual traditions that understand Kundalini recommend having a teacher. Teachers are there to help others have a safe journey of enlightenment.

Only love can save you from the hardness and
remoteness of a partial spirituality
Robert Johnson

When mishandled, misunderstood or misdiagnosed, they lead to a contraction of the psyche, with much accompanying suffering.

Spiritual crises are the subject of our next article, which is titled Spiritual Emergency explained


Feel free to copy this article provided you reproduce it in full, acknowledging the author and source (www.amigoingmad.com.au).


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2 thoughts on “Enlightenment Explained

  1. I very much appreciate your article on enlightenment experience and the following description of my personal experience will well explain why.

    Driving the car 8:00am on Saturday 28th July 2013 I thought of the words “Facsimile Lives”. I was cynically imagining the aspirations I thought perhaps led to the ownership of a 4wd vehicle towing a boat at a set of traffic lights on the cross street. I thought this might be a good theme for song lyrics.

    This led me to realise I had been living my life according to some blueprint or expectation of what was a correct life, experiencing more or less but nevertheless ubiquitous disappointment as actual events or behaviour departed from this self developed expectation.

    I perceived this life blueprint was created from a collage of influence of others. The life I lived was only a disappointing facsimile of this expectation.

    I then thought that logically the probability of moment to moment existence conforming to any future expectation was infinitesimal. Life was not inherently dissatisfying. Expectation created dissatisfaction. I felt as if a momentous event was immanent.

    I then considered other song lyrics I had written and how they were directed at the “outside” world. I then realised that in fact these lyrics had always been an attempt by a deeper consciousness to communicate with my ego self, about my ego self.

    I then lost all thought and heartily laughed for about 10 minutes. My entire body felt vital and “electric” centred around the top of my head.

    Everything I perceived was vastly and indescribably vibrant and dynamic. It was as if I was awake for the first time as a new born child. While I continued down the highway I was completely within the present but also had the experience of timelessness.

    I experienced no separation between myself and the outside world and was at one with all.

    This purity of this Paradise state lasted for around a week. Many people I passed by noticed me by smiling spontaneously or reacted in some positive way. By my observation people I had known were perplexed by my joyous equanimity.

    In time I felt I needed to withdraw from this state to fulfil “earthly” commitments to my children. It was an effort. In the process I re-attached to my thought and emotions and re-entered what I might describe “time-stream”.

    Now with some small effort, generally by contemplation or meditation, I am able to release my self of attachment to thoughts and emotions in a way never possible before.

    I believe that others who have had an experience such as this might have described this in religious or spiritual terms, “born again” or some phase of enlightenment such as Zen Kenshō. I think Peak Experience is a more suitable term for the current age within my culture being non-theistic. Peak experience was studied by Abraham Maslow who observed the experience is far more common than previously thought.

    I have a personal philosophy which seeks to interpret this event and the subsequent permanent change in myself based upon various concepts I have picked up over the years which for the sake of brevity I won’t reference here.

    For all practical purposes what exists is only what your mind/body can perceive.

    “True” reality or “everything” is unknowable. This would only be knowable if you could inhabit and perceive every point in space-time. A pre-requisite for this experience would to actually be “everything”, a reductio ad absurdum which should illustrate the above point (or does it?)

    The logical deduction is that the mind/body must select what is perceived from the innumerable possible observations which would be capable by the mind/body apparatus. As we know from the above this perception is existence for all practical purposes. You create your own existence.

    What exists for you is you and you are all that exists and you have chosen this existence. What exists for you exists only for you and no other. What exists for others only exists for them and cannot be shared. The shared experience is how we each create our own reality. We are each vessels for an entire universe of perception.

    Every action of the self is instantaneously reflected in the creation of the self. I believe this is the true meaning of Karma i.e. the world reflects back upon the actor but this is instantaneous rather than the popular misconception of Karma as being some weird cycle of revenge which chases you in this life and possible next lives.

    If you hate the world you hate yourself. Your action of hating has created a hateful and hated self, a hated and hateful world. If you forgive the world you forgive yourself. Your action of forgiveness creates a forgiving self and you are forgiven by the world which is you.

    Those that are suffering are suffering and that suffering is real until they see that the suffering comes from the world they have made and the self that they have made. The true light of this knowledge ends all suffering.

    If you hit your hand with a hammer it’s going to hurt. The suffering comes in the form of “I’m such an idiot. Why do I keep doing that? Why can’t I get anything right? If that other clown hadn’t distracted me this never would have happened.” and this reaction is absolutely a choice. I’ve read quite a few references to studies showing optimists enjoy better health and recovery and face death with good grace. This is not to say that an optimist is “better” than the pessimist but just my beliefs regarding cause and effect.

    I feel that no amount of adversity (which is the failure of reality to live up to expectations) is a valid excuse for unhappiness. Furthermore happiness is the most effective practical response to adversity.

    Discovering this truth is an experience unlike any other. It engages and effects the entire mind/body consciousness. For this reason a unique symbolism is used to describe this understanding; spiritual, mystical, etc. However there is nothing mystical about it, at least as that term is understood by those who have not received this unique experience. Neither is the experience “necessary” nor an “achievement”.

    Myriad stories have been told to assist seekers to bring about this insight, any or all of which may be useful, none of which are necessary. The moment of realisation could be brought about by any experience; observation of a dead bird, thoughts on a distant galaxy, the flow of a cotton dress around the legs of a desirable woman – all experience is enlightening when viewed from a non-dual perspective.

    A common theme in religious philosophy (as distinct from practice) is the importance of compassion, love, loving kindness. I believe an experience of singularity with one’s created reality without the presence of compassion leads to solipsism or nihilism and reality becomes devoid of meaning or filled with self-loathing, but with compassion, life becomes supremely meaningful and beautiful. I believe this is why enlightenment teachings are typically delivered in stages or shrouded in secrecy and esotericism.

    I truly have no fear of death while at the same time I value life more than ever before.

    1. Thank you Cameron for sharing your enlightenment experience. I appreciate your contribution to this site. And I love the context in which you explain what happened in your inner world. Far-reaching, very profound and beautifully explained.

      Amongst many others, the paragraph that really struck me as pure gold is this one: “I feel that no amount of adversity (which is the failure of reality to live up to expectations) is a valid excuse for unhappiness. Furthermore happiness is the most effective practical response to adversity.”

      How true.

      So thank you again for your words of wisdom. And please accept my apologies for my late response – a glitch on my side, which means that I’ve only just read your comment…. Hopefully I’ll do better next time.

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