from Living in the Light by Shakti Gawain.

Excerpted from Living in the Light by Shakti Gawain. Copyright © 1986 by Shakti Gawain. All rights reserved.

The Beginning of My Journey

I have always had a burning desire to understand how the universe works, what life is all about, and the meaning and purpose for which I am here. In retrospect, I can see that my entire life has been devoted to my search for truth and understanding.

I was brought up in a very intellectual, well-educated, non-religious family. My parents were essentially atheists, and very early on, I remember having the attitude that a belief in God was a human fabrication, a fantasy, a superstition created to help people feel better about the totally unexplained, and unexplainable, predicament we seem to find ourselves.

Human existence, or any other kind of existence, was simply an accident of nature and had no particularly fathomable meaning. I preferred to admit that I didnít know how we got here or why, rather than to adopt a simplistic explanation merely to gain a sense of security. I believed that truth was rational and anything that couldnít be proved scientifically didnít exist. I also felt somewhat condescending toward people who were weak enough to have to make up a god to believe in.

The positive side of this upbringing was that I didnít get a lot of the rigid dogma and deeply negative messages about right and wrong, heaven and hell, and sin that so many people receive in their early religious training. On the other hand, I had no conscious concept or experience of the spiritual dimension of life, and no answers for the questions I had about the meaning and purpose of my life.

My parents really wanted a child, and were very loving to me. Unfortunately they were unable to work out their own relationship and were divorced when I was two years old. Although I donít remember it clearly, I know this event had a major impact on my life and affected my later patterns in relationship. After the divorce, I lived with my mother who never remarried or had any other children. My father did remarry, and I often visited my father and his other family.

My mother developed a successful career as a city planner in the days when there were few women in that field. She dealt with the usual challenges of single parenting - trying to balance the needs of her child with the demands of her work. Being the only child of a working mother, I developed a strong sense of responsibility and self-sufficiency quite early.

My mother is a very adventurous person. She loves to try new things, and for me, she was a great role model of fearlessness and pioneer spirit. She had been one of the first educated American women in her generation to have natural childbirth. I was the first baby her doctor had ever delivered without an anesthetic. I was blessed with a very fortunate birth. (On September 30, 1948, at 9:10 p.m. in Trenton, New Jersey, for all you astrologers!)

My mother loves to explore new places and we traveled a lot when I was a child - all over the United States, to the West Indies, Mexico, Hawaii, Europe. We also moved frequently whenever my mother changed jobs. Until I was about fifteen, I had never lived in one place longer than two or three years.

My mother's family had been Quakers and we stiff used the "plain language" when speaking to my grandmother (saying "thee" rather than "you" for the Quakers is an acknowledgement of the god within each person). So, on a deep level, I absorbed the profound respect for spirit and concern for humanity that is woven into the fabric of the Quaker religion, which I feel had a strong influence on me later in my life.

When I was fourteen years old I went through an enormous emotional crisis. Triggered initially by the collapse of my first romance (with an "older" man of nineteen - I was sure no one would ever compare), it snowballed into a deep and long-lasting existential despair. I took a long hard look at life and recognized that there was really no point or meaning to it. I could see that all the things that were supposed to provide significance in life - education, success, relationships, money - were in themselves ephemeral, meaningless, and empty. There didnít seem to be any thing else to fill the void. I was deeply disillusioned and depressed and basically remained in that state for several years.

In retrospect, I can see that I was going through an experience that all of us must pass through at one time or another (or many times) - what mystics call the piercing of the veil of illusion. It's the point where we begin to recognize that our physical world is not the ultimate reality and we turn inward to discover the spiritual aspect of our existence. At these times, we usually feel, emotionally, that we are hitting bottom, but as we actually hit bottom itís as if we fall through a trap door into a new place - the inner realm of the soul, where we can begin to explore our connection to life in a whole new way. When we can face our fears and move through such a "dark night of the soul," we are greeted by the dawn of a profound new adventure.

New Experiences

Over the next few years, I began to have new experiences, openings, a growing awareness that did not fit into my former rational framework. In college, I studied psychology and got involved in some encounter groups and sensitivity training groups that, in addition to allowing me to release old emotional pain, led me to new feelings o love, joy, and oneness with all. I studied dance and discovered that when I was dancing, I would often have an exhilarating feeling, as if some higher force had taken over and was moving me in an abandoned and thrilling way.

I had always been interested in Eastern philosophy, so I read books about Buddhism and Hinduism. I practiced yoga and meditation and found that they helped me feel more centered, relaxed, and in tune with myself. After graduating from college I spent two years traveling around the world, living for several months in India, where I gained a deep awareness of the eastern mystical tradition. My travels were a powerful experience for me because with little money and no real plans, I lived by following my intuition. I had set off originally for a vacation in Italy and ended up making a two-year journey around the world. I learned that I could live happily with virtually no possessions and move safely into unknown places. This was one of my earliest experiences of the synergistic things that happen when we trust our inner guidance and follow the flow of our energy.

Getting Conscious

When I returned to the United States, I was hooked on some-thing called "consciousness." I couldnít have defined what it was but I knew that I wanted more of it and that for me, nothing else mattered as much as my process of personal growth. I felt that if I pursued external goals such as career, money, or relationships, they would ultimately feel empty, whereas if I devoted myself to my own development I would ultimately have the things that my heart desired such as loving relationships, meaningful work, and a sense of abundance, and that it would all come about in a more satisfying way.

I was motivated not only by my yearning to find greater fulfillment in my own life, but by a strong desire to make a contribution toward positive change in the world and in other people's healing and happiness.

I moved to the San Francisco Bay area, which I recognized as the forefront of the so-called "human potential movement," and plunged into the earnest pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, healing, and transformation. I took classes and workshops, avidly read new books, meditated, and talked constantly to others involved in the same process. After reading Handbook to Higher Consciousness by Ken Keyes, I went to live at his center in Berkeley where we worked on our growth intensely, day and night, for a year. After that, I continued to live communally for several years with others who were involved in an intensive I personal development process. During this time, I did whatever I could to make enough money to live on - housework, office work, odds and ends - while I focused on my real work.

Since that tine, over twenty-five years ago, my life has been dedicated to my growth and evolution as a conscious being. I gradually came to understand that becoming more conscious meant becoming more aware of all that was taking place within me and around me, how my inner world affected my outer world and vice versa. I realized that the more awareness I have, the more choice I have in how I create or respond to the circumstances of my life. When we are relatively unconscious, we simply do what we've always done, not realizing there is any other way. As we gradually become more aware, we begin to recognize that other options exist and we can make other choices in how we live.

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Living in the Light

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