Historically the exclusive purview of contemplative religious paths, awakening into nonduality was considered the pinnacle of human attainment, even if, in some traditions, it proved to be the threshold to even more sublime states. Awakening was traditionally available only to dedicated elite seekers, usually renunciates who practiced for years in monastic communities, their progress directed by the authorities of their lineage. Today technologies for creating the electroencephalographic signatures of advanced meditators are available for purchase, and esoteric religious practices like Zen meditation and asana yoga have been secularized as stress-reduction techniques and physical exercise, respectively. Increased numbers of teachers of nonduality not aligned with any religious lineage and requiring no religious belief are in the business of helping people awaken, i.e., achieve a discrete shift in awareness, in which the consensual, apparently manifest reality of normal waking, adult sensory experience is perceived to derive from a singular unmanifest source in a seamless whole. This study investigated whether people who awakened with the help of nonaligned teachers, usually after working with lineage teachers, considered their awakening to be a spiritual experience, and why? This qualitative study examined the awakening experiences of 26 adults of varying religious backgrounds to see how they interpreted them. Findings suggest that spiritual experiences involve non- or extraordinary features, in contrast to awakening and ongoing nonduality, considered to be the essence of ordinariness despite their being unlike consensual sensory reality. Awakening was not always easy or smooth, and the ramifications of its secularization outside a spiritual context are many.

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