Being & Becoming

Spiritual seekers for millennia have asked the question “who am I?” In order to discover the answer for yourself, the first step you have to take is a big one: you have to be willing to let absolutely everything go. You have to take a journey to the deepest dimension of your own self, a journey that will lead you all the way back to before the beginning—before anything ever happened, before the universe was born. Before the beginning, there was no time, no form, and no space—only absolute emptiness. Before the beginning, there was nothing . . . but you were there.

In order to go back to before the beginning in your own experience, you have to put your attention on the deepest sense of what it feels like to be yourself right now, and simultaneously let everything else go. Letting go means falling so deeply into yourself that you lose awareness of the physical body, until all that is left is empty space. In that empty space, the mind is completely still; there is no time, no memory, and not even a trace of personal history. And the deeper you fall into that space, the more everything will continue to fall away, until finally all that will be left is you. When you let absolutely everything go—body, mind, memory, and time—you will find, miraculously, that you still exist. In fact, in the end, you discover that all that exists is you!

The deepest part of your own experience of consciousness is the Ground of all Being. Beyond time, it is the formless emptiness out of which everything arises. It is what the Buddha called the deathless, what some call eternity consciousness. However we attempt to describe it, it is the very same timeless no-place out of which this whole evolving universe burst forth. And as I understand it, this is one definition of God. Already full, already complete, with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no-one to be or become.

That primordial ground is who you always are, no matter how things may appear at any moment in time. It is the very essence of your own self at its most fundamental level. When every attribute that you habitually identify as being you falls away, your Self is there. That Self has no name, no history, no gender, no personal identity. That Self is unlocatable, because it exists everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It is you and it is me; it is One without a second, the Self that we all always are. Beyond memory, beyond time, beyond the manifest realm, who you are never changes.

When you awaken in this way, you will find yourself always already resting in the eternal moment before time began. This is the recognition that liberates: prior to everything, I already am. In the great mystical traditions, it is this profound revelation that catalyzes enlightenment: The SELF is ONE, and before anything ever happened, IT IS. And I AM THAT.

Once you truly know this, it will radically transform your relationship to life. It is indeed a shocking revelation to experience directly that there is a part of your own self, your own consciousness, that was never born and has never entered into the stream of time. And when your locus of identification shifts from the personal sphere to that unborn Self, you stumble upon the unending miracle of a freedom and absolute positivity that is inherent in the nature of being itself.

The experiential discovery of the empty ground of all being is the discovery of the Source—the no-place that we all came from. It is the womb out of which the entire evolving universe was born. Everything that exists emerged from nothing at all.

The experiential discovery of the empty ground of all being is only half of the picture. The ground of being is the unmanifest dimension of reality—the static and unchanging, beginningless and endless, timeless and formless foundation of all that is. But out of that unmanifest ground of being, the entire manifest universe of becoming was born—a dynamic, ever-unfolding cosmic process. For any human being who aspires to know not only who we are but why we are here, understanding what actually happened at the very beginning, at that instant when something suddenly burst out of nothing, is crucial.

Before the beginning there was a void. It couldn’t have been more still or peaceful, simply because absolutely nothing had yet occurred. Then suddenly an impulse emerged and exploded—an impulse to become—that gave birth to a powerful creative process. But who or what initiated that process? What energy or intelligence made the choice to take that miraculous leap from formlessness to form? Somewhere, somehow, a choice must have been made. Such an audacious move, that instantaneous leap from nothing to everything, could only have been made by a force that was nothing less than God-like. So I interpret the word God as meaning not only the empty Ground of all Being but also that creative principle—the evolutionary impulse, the urge to become, the First Cause, the elemental driving force behind the evolving universe. And that creative principle does not exist “out there” or somewhere up in the sky, but emerges from the deepest dimension of Being itself, which is not separate from your very own consciousness.

That is why we could say, if you dare to let yourself think in such audacious terms, that at the very beginning, at the moment when the initial leap from formlessness to form took place, you and I were there. All matter, time, and space was a great singularity—compressed into one fine point. Think about it for a moment: Is there anywhere else that you could have been at the moment when the universe was born? That one point was the only place to be; and in fact, we were all there. We were there, but we were there as I. Before the universe was born, the One had not yet become the many. So there was only You, and You were alone. And since you were the only one, the only reasonable conclusion is that you made that choice to do this. To do what? To create the universe. As God, or the creative principle, you/we/I chose to take form.

This may be an outrageous thought, a theological fantasy, but if you make the effort to dive deeply enough into your own experience, what you will discover is that who you are is not separate from that creative principle or evolutionary impulse. Just imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to be God, resting in a perfectly blissful, overwhelmingly peaceful state of being for infinite eons of no-time. In that profound stillness there is nothing missing, no desire whatsoever. Absolutely nothing has occurred. That’s where we all were before the beginning, before the big bang. Perfect peace and beatitude. Quietude without end. Unburdened by the weight of existence, we could not have been more content. And yet, for some reason, out of that perfect contentment, we made a decision to create the Kosmos. We chose to manifest a material universe from our own unmanifest body. We could have continued to rest happily in Being, meditating on nothingness for more countless eons of infinite no-time. But we chose to take the unthinkable step and endeavor to manifest our own Self in and through form.

When you abide in the ground of your own Being, you can begin to intuit for yourself what that moment right before the beginning must have been like. In that emptiness, you experience two things. First, there is unconditional freedom, which is the inherent quality of consciousness when it is unencumbered by attraction to anything other than itself. But also, in that empty no-place, there is a sense of infinite potential. So you can imagine, if you multiply that experience a billionfold, how God might have felt when he or she was meditating in perfect equanimity before the universe was created: Absolute freedom . . . and anything is possible. You might even be crazy enough to think you could create a universe. A more bold or audacious thought I don’t think has ever arisen, and probably never will.

What could be a greater challenge than to create something out of nothing, to manifest a material universe before we even existed in form? But we decided to take that unimaginable step. How do we know? Because it’s happening. Because we are here, now, fourteen billion years later, reflecting on this very question. And considering the fact that at the deepest level of consciousness itself, there is only one and that one is who you always are, you would have to conclude that from before the beginning in infinite no-time, through the choice to take the plunge from formlessness into form, and up until the present moment, it could only be you and you alone who is responsible for all of this. Who else could it possibly be?

In Evolutionary Enlightenment, reality is understood to encompass both Being and Becoming. The Ground of Being is God or the Self in his or her unmanifest form, but the minute the threshold is crossed from nothing to something, God manifests as the evolutionary impulse, the one Self decides to create itself in form, and out of nothing surges an unthinkably vast desire to become. The entire universe, including your own experience in this very moment, is the expression and manifestation of that one desire.

As you awaken to the spiritual impulse, you begin to intuit and feel directly connected to that evolutionary momentum, to that surging energy and intelligence. You actually start to feel it working in you, moving in and through your own body and mind as the mysterious compulsion to evolve at the highest level. When you feel that surge, what you are experiencing is the most subtle and profound expression of the initial cosmic explosion—the outer reaches of the Big Bang. That’s the furthest it has gone, as far as we know right now: when you, a human being at the leading edge, awaken to this mysterious compulsion to evolve at the level of your very own consciousness. So when you experience the spiritual impulse, you are experiencing the Big Bang as a surging compulsion for interior development and growth. The innermost regions of the Kosmos are aspiring to actually evolve and be developed in and through you. The evolutionary impulse is the felt sense of that initial burst from nothing to everything that you participated in, fourteen billion years ago. At the level of consciousness, it is experienced as a sense that there is something unthinkably important that must occur NOW.

As audacious as it sounds, what you begin to feel is what God feels. The evolutionary impulse is inherently free from fear and self-concern, because it is not an individual. It’s a force of nature, a function in consciousness that is wild and fearless and utterly one-pointed. So when you, the evolving human being, awaken to that powerful impulse, God’s mission becomes your mission. When a human being is flooded with the passion of that evolutionary energy and intelligence, he or she is spontaneously liberated from fear and self-concern, because now his or her attention is focused primarily on the power and the purpose of that creative principle.

When you experience the urge to evolve at the level of consciousness, the nature of the impulse itself is ecstatic. It is the movement of a profound positivity that is difficult to put into words, a deeply wholesome, absolute YES. You find yourself overwhelmed by the inherent goodness of life, of consciousness, of knowing who you are, and the miraculous nature of the process you are part of. When you’ve awakened to this evolutionary impulse, you have no doubt that it is good, that life is good, that God is good, that the whole process is good. It is inherently good, and you know what? It wants to be better.

Of course it wants to be better—that’s why you experience the creative impulse! That’s what the urge to evolve is all about, especially when that impulse becomes aware of itself through the awakening human being. Then you directly experience how much the process itself wants to evolve, wants to develop. The energy and intelligence that initiated the big bang is compelling you, as its own creation, to evolve. Why? Because to whatever degree you evolve, that very energy and intelligence evolves also. God evolves through you—through each and every one of us, as we evolve. When you really get this, there’s only one thing left to do: you have to get on with it. You have to evolve, you have to develop, you have to become. That’s when God’s purpose becomes your purpose.

What is God’s purpose? To create the universe, in his or her own image. And what is that image? Consciousness. To create a material universe in the image of God, as outrageous as it sounds, would have to mean nothing less than the awakening or enlightenment of all matter. That seemingly impossible task is what I call the Universe Project. From this perspective, we’ve obviously barely begun. It’s been fourteen billion long years, which to the human mind seems like an inconceivably vast expanse of time, but in the mind of God is probably just a few moments, considering what an infinite project this process appears to be. So the creative principle, the god-impulse, has an overwhelming amount of work to do. Throughout history, when we were in need, we would pray to God for help. But now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, God needs our help. The fact that now there are highly evolved human beings who can awaken directly to the evolutionary impulse means that God, as the creative principle itself, like never before is able to see, hear, taste, touch, and feel his or her own creation, through us. And even more importantly, that Kosmic intelligence and creative energy can begin to consciously act through the awakened human being. If that principle is who and what we really are, if we have recognized that I Am That—the acting representative of the creative principle in the world—then what we are doing, and why we are doing it becomes all important. God is completely dependent upon us. Indeed, the evolution of consciousness, which is the evolution of the interior of the Kosmos, is entirely dependent upon the conscious evolution of human beings at the leading edge. There is no other way for God to evolve in and through matter.

God is only as powerful in this world as those of us who have the courage and audacity to become one with our own impulse to evolve. That’s the awesome significance of being a human being who is awake. When you realize this for yourself, you discover what an extraordinary blessing it is to be who you are, in this world, right now. In fact, the whole point of the creative process is to be here—to participate fully, radically, consciously in the Universe Project. So in this evolutionary context, the whole point of enlightenment is not merely to transcend the world so that you can be free of it, but to embrace the world completely, to embrace the entire process as your own Self, knowing that you are the creative principle incarnate, and you have a lot of work to do. As an individual, you are instantaneously liberated, simply through taking that step, but your personal liberation is merely a by-product of finally embracing the awe-inspiring burden of the Universe Project, which in truth has been yours all along.

The greatest challenge for a mortal human being is to realize and take responsibility for the fact that who you are right now, in all your imperfection, is that One without a second, and that One is endeavoring to develop and become more conscious as you. God has fallen out of the sky, but now he, she or it is beginning to emerge as the creative impulse, which is your own Authentic Self, and is longing to consciously evolve, in and through and as you. So you have to ask yourself: Do I have that much guts, that audacity of intention, that boldness of spirit; is there enough love in my heart to be willing to be the One? The answer to that question is really the answer to every important question. Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? All of these questions are answered in the deepest possible way when you point the finger at yourself, and say, “Yes.”

Andrew Cohen