When I first set out on my spiritual journey, I began with the same motivation as everyone else.
I wanted to attain and retain the profound states of being that had upturned my life and sent me down this wondrous new path.
Of course, my early explorations looked a little different than most…
Rather than longing, or devotion, or a dedication to reach enlightenment, my journey began with a sharp blow to the head!
It wasn’t the most graceful or virtuous of initiations. But it did come with certain advantages…
While I had no formal practice to rely on—no wise teacher to advise me—I had something even more valuable.
I had the gift of hindsight.
I had already experienced what others spend years pursuing blindly. So I wasn’t guided by intuition or faith or imagination. I knew my destination. I just needed to find my way back again.
But no matter how often I regained my enlightenment—no matter how many times I became that embodiment of love and purpose and unity—I never could seem to retain it.
So I kept at it. I worked harder. I visualized. I tried to be more spiritual—more selfless and deserving.
Over and over again, I surrendered.
And you know what?
The more I repeated the right combination of practices, the more I was successful in reaching my destination.
But the more time I spent there, the more I began to question the traditional interpretations.
It wasn’t outright skepticism. (I wasn’t about to become a born-again materialist!)
It was more a case of hmmm, this seems inconsistent…
But once a spell is broken, there’s no going back…
The first few times we realize enlightenment, we are so taken with the experience that we don’t even question it.
It’s just so powerful—so apparent—that we accept it at face value.
Kind of like when the ancient astronomers observed the sun and stars revolving around the Earth…
Everyone who looked could see it—and the conclusion was so obvious that you had to be a fool to question it!
But sooner or later, we all ask foolish questions. Mine were just more foolish than most…
If I’m really “One” with everything, then why—and how!?—am I aware of some things but not others? What does it mean to reach enlightenment in a world where time is relative and consciousness is evolving? If formlessness is timelessness, then why is it always later when I come back?
…and countless other heresies that ultimately led me to Open Source Spirituality.
I also began thinking about all of the other states that I’d discovered…
Over the years, I had stumbled into many unusual experiences: formlessness, nonduality, lucid dreams, vision states, out of body experiences, and others I didn’t even have names for.
All were profound—all were mysterious—but they were also quite different.
Each brought unique gifts and singular revelations.
And looking back, I would never have given up any of them…
So why was I struggling so hard to attain and retain just one?
Sure, I may gain enduring access to an ecstatic state of being… but wasn’t I also closing myself off from all the others? Was any one state really so magnificent that it was worth sacrificing all the rest?
What exactly was I working towards?
Without even realizing, I began changing the nature of my spiritual practice.
I stopped repeating the same exercises over and over and started exploring other options…
I watched my consciousness flow from one seemingly unrelated state to another…
I quit trying to preserve the ecstatic oneness of nonduality, and observed its connection to other states of being…
I branched out from witnessing the ever-present nature of my awareness, and experimented by varying its clarity—carrying my attention into deep dreamless sleep, relinquishing it in increments, and then bringing it back again…
As I transitioned from state to state to state, I uncovered the relationships between them.
I saw their shapes and felt their contours.
It became clear which states were compatible, which were connected, and which were complimentary.
Like distant locations around the globe, I realized that no matter how different one state may be from another, there was always a path between them.
A road from A to B…
And with that one realization—that one innocuous insight—my life changed again forever.
I began to see that meditation wasn’t about enlightenment.
It wasn’t about formlessness.
It wasn’t about mindfulness or presence or selflessness, or the lack thereof, or about any other state of being.
States were just destinations—locations in the wilderness—some worth visiting, some worth frequenting, and others best left alone.
But meditation wasn’t about finding the correct destination and staying there.
It wasn’t about the destination at all.
I realized that it didn’t matter what state I was starting from, or where I was headed. The path from A to B could always be broken down to a handful of common constituent motions.
Once I learned these basic transitions—once I quit striving to attain and retain states—I discovered that I could move freely.
I could visit whatever destinations I chose.
And the result was what I was really seeking all along…
I didn’t want everlasting enlightenment.
I didn’t want to languish in spiritual ecstasy.
I wanted to live.
I wanted to move—without the confines of ritual and tradition.
And ten inconspicuous motions were the key.
The Motions of Consciousness brought the sacred experiences of every faith together like separate movements in a single symphony.
I could see which practices worked, which didn’t, and why… How to get from one experience to another…
I could even create new experiences, like composing original melodies from individual notes. (And those were some of the most thrilling experiences of all!)
But this isn’t about my experiences…
Anyone can learn the motions.
You just have to change the way you look at your spiritual practice.
There are a million spiritual principles—a trillion different states—and an infinite number of experiences.
But a mere handful of motions can unlock them all.
The trick is not obsessing over the end result.
Think about it this way…
Every artistic expression of the human body can be broken down into the same constituent movements.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a dancer, a runner, or a professional cage fighter; the underlying body mechanics are the same.
But we don’t move our bodies by attempting to strike a series of individual poses.
Imagine trying to run by memorizing a hundred static positions and rehearsing them in succession… Or striving to attain the “best” stance, to perfect and hold forever…
The idea is ludicrous! That’s just not how it works!
And yet, we’ve spent thousands of years trying to do exactly that in our spiritual practices.
In reality, it’s all about the transitions.
Even though there are an infinite number of ways to move and express ourselves physically, the human body has a limited number of joints.
All of the variety and complexity emerges from a small number of underlying motions.
And the same is true of our awareness.
The feats of monks and mystics may appear tremendous and diverse, but their explorations can be broken down into the same elementary Motions of Consciousness.
Their movements may be more inspiring than most—like the performances of trained athletes.
But there is nothing to be found in their exploits that can’t be achieved by anyone willing to put in the time and practice.
Attaining altered states of awareness has nothing to do with being more evolved or spiritually advanced. We all use the Motions of Consciousness.
Most of us just don’t notice them because we don’t move very much.
It’s like spending our whole life in bed, marveling at the athletes on TV, and never realizing that the only things keeping us from joining in are lethargy and habit.
We don’t realize that we have the same capability.
You are using the motions too.
Every night when you fall asleep. Every morning when you wake up. And every moment in between.
You may not be using all the motions—or to the degree of the ancient mystics—but you are using them. Sometimes it just takes a little contrast to recognize the movements that you’re making…
Try this exercise:
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It won’t take long for you to discover all of the freedoms you’ve been neglecting—and to realize you have the power to choose the kinds of experiences you want to have.
Maybe you desire a state of inner peace… Maybe it’s greater clarity… Or maybe you want to explore something else entirely?
In any case, you’ll have the tools you need to get there.
And if you still feel like there’s one particular state of being that will make your journey complete—awakened, enlightened, ego-free, whatever—then go for it!
Don’t let anyone stop you. (Least of all, me!)
Maybe it will be everything you dreamt it would be, and maybe it won’t.
But there’s no way to know except to do it.
And you can always switch gears later if you change your mind.
That’s the great thing about having freedom in your spiritual practice—even if you do choose to attain and retain a preferred state, the Motions of Consciousness will get you there faster, and keep you there longer than any prepackaged meditation.
Because when you slip away from your chosen state unintentionally—and you will slip—you’ll know exactly where you went, and how to make it back again.
No matter what state you find yourself in—no matter where you’re headed—you always arrive through a series of innocuous little motions.
It’s as true of your consciousness as it is of your physical body.
Whether you’re on the couch, or on the beach, or on the floor beside the toilet—you didn’t just appear there.
You weren’t transported by faith, or karma, or the whim of fickle gods.
Simple motions brought you, and simple motions will carry you away.
It doesn’t seem like a momentous observation… but this one insight overturns millennia of ritual and conviction.
In the past, meditation was always rooted in tradition.
It was imperative to do things the right way—to find and follow the one true path.
But meditation itself has less to do with sacred states and spiritual principles, than with practical mobility.
And that invites a different set of standards.
From mindful self-reflection, to outward exploration, to the pursuit of the divine—meditation will always be the heart of contemplative practice.
That’s all about to change.
If you liked this post, please consider sharing, along with a brief comment of what you thought… It doesn’t sound like much. But these small gestures make a tremendous impact on building our community, and helping other wayward rebels find a perspective that they can resonate with.
And if it spoke to you, why not Join the Tribe? It's free.. And this is just one tiny piece of more than two decades of impassioned work...... And YOU probably belong here with the rest of us!!
In any case, thanks so much for stopping by! – \m/ – Z
About Zach Herbert
I teach people to do cool things with their consciousness, and break their brains with beautiful ideas.
Professional heretic. Unlikely mystic. Host to rebels, misfits and independent thinkers.
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