There are many models that can be utilized to describe the awakening process. One of the ones that I have been sitting with for a period of time is the tri-brain model.
To be somewhat simplistic about this, the tri-brain model (or triune model) divides the brain into three parts– the cerebral cortex, limbic, and reptilian brain. This is an evolutionary model, basically describing how we came to develop as human beings with enhanced capacity towards rational (or “higher”) thought.
From our origins with a reptilian brain (or the lower aspect of this model) we then have the limbic and neocortex stacked on top. The original theory of the triune brain has been debunked, as during emotional responses (limbic) or reptilian (instinctive) responses more than that section of the brain “lights up” on imaging, but it is still a helpful model to describe the awakening process.
Illusory models of awakening describe awakening as an ascension process. This is largely keeping with superficial christianized sentiment, as well as is readily taken on by people who are looking to become elevated so as to be superior to their fellow man (I am in the twelfth dimension while you are only in the fifth. I am separate and thus superior to you), as well as is a logical myth that has emerged out of the pain of existence. The idea that we could come to some mythical state of not feeling, not experiencing, and not having to contend with our daily lives, is understandably appealing to the soul still immersed in an identity of considerable pain and illusion.
Someone who is “awake” still experiences hardship in their lives, they just don’t wrap their identity around it anymore, or understand that it is something impermanent and fleeting (rather than responding through blind emotion, projecting previous traumatized beliefs onto the experience and as evidence that those limiting/traumatized beliefs are valid and being immersed in the chaos of the experience).
Perhaps more simply put, in an unawakened state we get pulled along with the chaos of our lives, sort of like being at the mercy of the surface waves of an ocean. Any large wave will unnerve us, and we will actually look for waves to provide distraction from what is within to be pulled into. The state of much revered “emptiness” is not a state of not feeling, or not experiencing, but of simply not being hooked into the waves… of inhabiting deeper space within that ocean in which the various projections and waves are seen for what they are, and the nature of the mind can be seen for what it is. This is a state of clarity, of deep acceptance and compassion, not of emptiness like a void with nothing in it, and the notion of illusory superiority and separation gets absolutely annihilated in anything approaching this state.
A better way to describe the awakening process would be an expansion process, in which our individual bubbles (in which we only notice ourselves and our projections onto reality) expand until we can notice others clearly and we move gradually beyond self-obsession into greater and greater realization that the world, the universe, the people in it, (etc) are within ourselves. What is external is internal, at least in terms of our reactions and projections, and so the spiritual awakening process is an expansion of that bubble to see others, and the self, with increasing clarity, and with an attitude of acceptance for things (and people) being as they are, without desire to change them.
Another way, which on its surface seems dissimilar to the above, but really in fact allows for this expansion of the bubble, is the process of ketabasis, meaning a process of moving downward, a descent into the Underworld of the Self. A healing and resolution of trauma and conditioning so as to make room for light, for power, for consciousness.
Only by descending deeply within the self can we ever rise.
Only by descending into our own darkness can we become light.
These paradoxes are not things that can be understood intellectually, only deeply known and felt.
In the triune model, the cerebral cortex is the “superior” brain. Basically, it is on top. It is concerned with logic, with order, with the naming and labeling of things to create a known reality for us.
Once this reality is known, we tend to ignore everything else. If we are centered within the cerebral cortex we have intellectualization, one for one ratios/black and white thinking, and are immersed within and continually enacting primal drives (reptilian brain) without consciousness, as well as projecting and reacting based on unconscious and unreconciled emotions (limbic brain).
The most noticeable “loop” of the cerebral cortex is the superiority-inferiority loop, which is a continual need for feeling special, separate, and superior to one another.
When our bubbles are small and concerned only with ourselves and our own projections, we shut out the rest of reality. We surround ourselves only with people who think exactly like us (and loudly and at times viciously deny or at the very least quietly ignore) what does not fit into our constructed reality, and we believe that everything and everyone needs to fit into our ideologies.
People who are at this point of awakening will believe that everything and everyone needs to fit into their bubble, which is created out of traumatized projections onto reality and limiting beliefs.
This is black and white thinking, binary thinking, even if it has a “spiritual” label on it. Low back pain equals low self esteem. Spirits are either out to get us or are going to give us the keys to the Universe. It’s us vs. another, typically with the superiority-inferiority loop involved. This is ultimate victimhood, in which the wounded soul immersed in its limited ideologies and projected constructs onto reality will create villains out of anyone and anything that does not fit within its bubble.
It will require anyone and anything to fit into the specific parameters coming from said bubble to be approved, otherwise the person, belief, or reality will be deemed as unsafe. The cerebral cortex loves the known– it creates order and many limiting ideologies to keep us within our known. Even if we do not like our lives, our “known” there is safety in understanding the edges of our bubble.
This is the reason why we have so many spiritual books that all say the same thing, just with different author names on the back. We love to hear what is within our bubble repeated back to us. It gives us safety and assurance that our reality is correct, and casts a series of outer villains for us to scorn, deride, or hate to create division and deny anything outside of the consolidated bubble.
During the awakening process the individual can look towards the outer world to see their shadows– those they hate, those they cast as villains, those they ignore or deny, or even those whose joy and enthusiasm they seek to destroy, can be seen as unreconciled aspects of self– and can take back those projections to expand their consciousness/bubble and to heal on a deep level so they are more willing to see and accept reality as it is.
If we are willing to see our loops, our repeated behaviors, who we point to in the outer world again and again, we can see our projections, our inner limitations, and lack of healing. The Universe is continually showing us our inner nature– what we need to heal, as well as continually speaking and connecting to us in a way to show us how we can become more conscious, more connected.
It is sad that many spiritual paths simply consolidate this bubble, rather than expand it, but things are this way for a reason. With Western notions of individuality and the myth of progress, it is incredibly easy to spend decades (if not lifetimes) utilizing the spiritual path to create further self-obsession, further black-white thinking, the superiority-inferiority loop again and again and again.
Most people who believe they are awakening are not, they are consolidating their bubbles.
The idea that the spiritual path is one of letting go of belief, of self-examination to see how the mind works to expand beyond this brain, of moving into nuance and feeling and gnosis states that take someone far beyond mere intellectualism without the direct, felt experience of said states, only perpetuates the consolidation and dominance of this aspect of our minds.
I will say this simply and clearly, but anyone who believes that they are superior to anyone for their state of consciousness has not experienced the vastness of the Other (infinity), and has not moved beyond the dominance of their minds, specifically the cerebral cortex, which is very concerned with superiority, separation, labeling, and control. If there is anything of a red flag to look for in spiritual teachers, or simply people offering you advice, it is this.
There can be a recognition of where others are, but this occurs with the understanding that people emerge out of a complex series of webs that have created them. Basically, they cannot help but be who they are and believe what they believe, because personal and transpersonal trauma (ancestral, past life, etc) as well as historical (what time the person was born), where they were born, and social, religious, and cultural conditioning will create that person.
None of us are created out of a vacuum– we emerge into being through these influences, through these webs, and it really is incredibly rare for someone to move beyond being entrenched within the logical, materialist reality divisive mind into greater spiritual considerations, evolution, healing, and consciousness.
This is because of personal trauma and wounding, but primarily is a result of larger conditioning. If we live in a world that denies any form of magic, of direct gnosis, that web (religious or cultural conditioning) will seek what is known and illusory control just as we do. It will deny anything outside of itself. By looking towards the web, not towards the individual, we can see why there are so many hollow machinations of shamanism, of spiritual work, of magic, in this world… because to go beyond this web requires both substantial deconditioning work as well as personal preparedness to have a considerably different perspective and way of being than that of the rest of reality, to move beyond the culturally/societally approved model of what a correct existence is.
The fact that our cultural and societal consideration of normalcy is a deeply divided self, one schismed from the Other, from the natural world, from our bodies, from deep feeling, from gnosis and communion, and fitting into that model creates the deep sense of despair, pervasive loneliness, and lack of connection that is then anesthetized, medicated, and deemed pathological shows us that this approved model is a deeply unhealed web itself.
While it is easy to romanticize this sentiment, or to heap our substantial spiritual orphaning, feelings of disconnection that have emerged as a result of personal and collective trauma, or not meeting the approved societal/cultural models of conditioning that have resulted in us feeling “other” in so many ways onto the sentiment of having considerably different perspective or way of being, I will say that people who have awakened towards these considerations often have considerable difficulty reconciling them, as well as reconciling previous selves that were so immersed in selfishness. Those selves must be grieved, especially if there has been radical change.
It is easy for a vacuum of meaninglessness to develop until devotional and spiritual immersion– a giving over of the self to larger forces– is achieved, and the paradox of understanding and having deep compassion for the world yet no longer being immersed in the chaos, projections, and illusions that one once was so involved in occurs as a result of deep compassion and an opening of the spiritual heart (the heart chakra, physical heart, as well as the energetic and physical structures surrounding the heart).
The second layer of brain (the middle layer) is the limbic system. This is the system of nuance, of deep emotion, of deep excavation.
This is the purification process of awakening, the release of what is held within the system that is preventing self-realization – trauma, to be specific.
What is suffering and in pain and has created all of the beliefs and limitations that we have taken on is trauma– both personal and transpersonal. In the awakening process these traumas rise to the surface to be released from the system, resulting in the person changing considerably (despite symptomatology the thing to look for in awakenings is if the person has changed considerably over a period of time, whether it be two weeks or two years, they will not believe and inhabit their bodies in the same way as they did previously. It is somewhat easy to fake symptoms, to learn to say the right phrases, but this is what to look for and cannot be faked, or faked that easily).
It is all too easy in our world for someone to move past the first fold of differentiated reality and consider themselves complete, but still be immersed within the cerebral cortex. This means a casting of self as martyr, a seeing of all others as below them, a continual pointing and casting out of shadows into the outer world of anything unreconciled within, and the black and white thinking that has no place within the limbic system.
The state of deep feeling that comes with true spiritual experience, with gnosis, the currents that ride through someone from the activation and reconciliation of the reptilian brain, the looking at things with nuance, or on a continuum. The massive change that is created in personality, beliefs, and way of being through substantial interface with the Other.
The seeing of outer hate and recognizing the casting of villains, the realization that those souls have simply emerged from a matrix that has created them, and that such damaged souls want to be hated, want that sort of energy, because it allows for their wounds to be seen and heard, just in a destructive way (perhaps similar to a small child breaking something in the kitchen or smearing paint on the walls to get your attention). It allows the divisions and separation within the self, and within the outer world, to continue.
In our pain and trauma we seek isolation, we seek disconnection, because it is the only way to perpetuate the beliefs that have emerged out of trauma. We prove to what is outer (and traumatized) and what is inner (and traumatized) that our hatred is valid, that someone or something is separate. In doing so we perpetuate the trauma, we don’t heal it.
We so easily and readily move towards perpetuating and consolidating our limited beliefs and wounding patterns, rather than recognizing them in their separation and disconnection as trauma, and taking action to heal them.
The reptilian brain is our biological conditioning, our primal selves. This is where our power is, where it emerges from. The root chakra, the caveman self, the emergence of the primal power of kundalini/creation energy. The aspect of ourselves that is wild and powerful and free. Our deep connections to the natural world, direct connection to the Other, gnosis.
We so seek with our human (cerebral cortex) based minds to deny this power, to decry it. We have become so distanced from both the considerations of the limbic and the reptilian brain that we no longer know what connecting to this force within us is like. We only see the wounded results of lack of connection to this source– puritanical ideologies, the dislike of anything deemed “dark”, denial of our bodies, the violence and masochism and slick marketing of a world so disconnected from itself and greater reality that in its separation, in its division, it has not only deemed such connection as wrong, but that in our complete separation from it we have created myth upon myth about what this connection is like.
If we no longer have interface with something, if we live in a society and culture that no longer has connected to something for a period of time, we not only forget how to connect, but our ideas about what it is like to connect come from disconnection, not authentic interface.
It is understandable, for example, for a generation of modern, disconnected people who have been deeply wounded in the unfortunate way that this world provides far too often to reach for the archetypal figure of the Shaman– a figure of power and connectedness that inhabits liminal space.
But there is little recognition that such a figure is deeply connected, not disconnected. That the inhabiting of liminal space occurs as a result of being deeply grounded and aware of many worlds, of much more of the continuum than simply materialist reality. That such a figure is deeply rooted in the natural world, the atavistic self, as the source of their power.
There is an aching for connection at this deep level to the reptilian self/brain, to the wild, atavistic power that the shaman embodies. But without any type of adequate model in modern society of what this might look like (as in, working with cultures and people who live in animist societies in which there is not this schism translating to our modern Westernized culture cannot be fully reconciled, and often results in it becoming powerless to meet social conditioning) there is the romanticism and vacuous surface level machinations of what a shaman might do.
But there is also the considerable social and cultural conditioning that has created a generation of said figures (“modern shamans” and so forth) who serve to uphold the cultural and societal ideals that there is no such thing as magic, no such thing as spiritual power, no such thing as the Other in their taking on of such a role. It used to surprise me, for example, that so many spiritual workers and practitioners had no immersion in the Other, and who did not believe in the spiritual realms or in spirits.
I am compassionate towards this hunger, this desire, but recognize that unless people truly take that deep dive within the self, casting off layers of cultural and social conditioning as well as doing considerable personal healing work to heal spiritual orphaning, that the conditioning of the modern world renders the figure of the shaman, the spiritual worker, the witch, inert, powerless, and without magic. A mask, a role, without embodiment.
In this model of the spiritual path, we must venture beyond the cerebral cortex that seeks to maintain control and order of our reality to deeply feel, to heal the considerable emotions and traumas and memories that emerge from the limbic brain. After that, reconciliation of considerable conditioning can occur to allow the person to inhabit and activate the considerable spiritual power (the reptilian brain) that lies dormant within most of us.
Access to all three brains, a deep descent through them, allows for spiritual power (consciousness, kundalini) to allow for us to expand our bubbles, to become light, to evolve beyond our limitations into greater considerations and awakening.