Is enlightenment an experiential or energetic shift?

hills and pool

Often enlightenment is taught as being some kind of experiential shift. But is this true? This post will attempt to explain and illustrate how it all works. So is enlightenment an experiential shift? Yes and no. The essential factor that changes occurs in the mind. Fundamentally the experience doesn’t change. What changes is the way experience is understood. Understanding is the key.

Let me illustrate this with an example:

eg. If you realise that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, and that he never existed, it will dramatically change the way you experience Christmas: the days before Christmas will feel different, it will feel different going to bed on Christmas eve, and it will be a different experience seeing your presents in the morning under the Christmas tree.

Now, is this an experiential shift?

Well it may seem that way, but actually what has happened is that a belief/thought that was once taken to be true is now seen to be false, and that understanding in turn has changed the way we experience the same set of events.

I italicise ‘same set of events’, as the raw sensory experience of life remains unchanged both before and after enlightenment. All that changes is understanding, and that change is at the level of the mind/thought. Understanding is the key.

To put it more simply perhaps, the experiential shift, if it occurs at all (it may not), is a symptom of right understanding, which is the essential underlying cause.

How this affects teaching enlightenment

Now, if a teacher who is genuinely enlightened does not understand what has happened to them, then they may teach that enlightenment is some kind of experiential shift. Because that’s how it can feel. This may happen if if they have not come to this realisation through a teaching such as Buddhism or Vedanta, both of which explicitly emphasise understanding on the level of the mind as being central, or if the teacher has not sufficiently analysed their experience well enough in order to teach it effectively. When the latter happens, the results is often a very vague teaching which is imprecise and difficult to understand. This reduces the effectiveness of the teaching.

This brings me to another point: just because someone is enlightened, doesn’t mean they can teach effectively. A comparable example is just because you can speak English, doesn’t mean you understand the grammar, syntax and other rules and techniques that are often very useful in teaching someone else English. This understanding of grammar, for example, greatly increases the efficiency of the teaching.

The same goes for enlightenment, the end of suffering: there are many beautiful techniques and lovely teachings that mean that the teaching works much more effectively at sharing this wonderful Understanding.

9 thoughts on “Is enlightenment an experiential or energetic shift?

  1. Hi Tom,
    When you say understanding is the key, do you mean an intellectual understanding or an experiential understanding?


  2. Hi Tom,

    The understanding that Father Christmas does not exist is merely intellectual. Is the understanding that the separate self is an illusion also of the same nature ? Consider the case of someone like Eckhart Tolle. He almost spontaneously slipped into freedom with no previous grounding in any philosophical/spiritual tradition. It took years for him to find a framework to express what he had found. So the experiential shift seems to have come before the understanding. Similar things have happened with others – Kenneth Madden comes to mind.

    Your thoughts ?



    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great question and thanks for creating the opportunity for me to elaborate. To be more accurate what happens is that the belief in being a separate doer is no longer active in the enlightened mind. This may occur consciously or without knowing what has happened. If you read my story what happened to me was that one day I realised I had not been suffering for quite a while. I actually became enlightened without realising it! I don’t even know when exactly it all happened. It took me a long time to figure out exactly what had happened and develop a way of effectively sharing it.

      For more see

  3. Thanks for the clarification. I also suppose that you weren’t suffering that much before the “shift”, so the contrast between the “normal” state and the “awakened” state did not become immediately obvious, unlike say someone like Tolle who was suicidal and could therefore recognize the quality of freedom as something noticeably different.

    On a different note, I wonder if you are familiar with the writings of Jed McKenna. Would like to know your thoughts.



    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. I have come across those books some years ago. If you have any specific questions about the teachings within them I’d be happy to respond.


  4. Well there are two points in particular on which I would appreciate your views:

    1. McKenna recommends what he calls “spiritual autolysis” as a method of enlightenment. To me it seems like journalling on steroids and I really fail to see its merits. My view is that the “biographical self” – that is the life story of “me” with all its complexities – is a bottomless pit; certain aspects of our personality and the dysfunction therein may be clarified through reflective writing, but then what?

    2 Rather uniquely among spiritual teachers, McKenna introduces the concept of Human Adulthood – a halfway house of sorts between delusion and awakening. More interestingly, he regards this state – characterized by abiding peace, synchronicity, psychic powers etc – as being even more desirable than the bland and pointless state of enlightenment. What’s your take on the issue ?

    I would pick your brain on other implications of his teaching as well, but these two would suffice for now 🙂




  5. Hi Amit

    1) I would say journalling/writing things down can be a real help. Untangling the ‘story of me’ is often a big precursor to enlightenment. The less entangled the psyche, the more space there is for the essential pointers to be seen. And even if the pointers are not seen, life becomes much more pleasant on the relative level. In fact I;ve noticed that a large percentage of people who have ‘got this’ through my teachings have spent sometime prior to realisation sorting out their emotional and psychological stuff first.

    2) It depends what you are looking for. I would say that most people are actually looking to end suffering, either consciously or unconsciously. If that is the case, then enlightenment is what you are looking for, nothing more, nothing less. Who cares if it is bland? (It isn’t btw…) However, this is not to diminish various life skills which can make life more comfortable and pleasant, such as developing relationship skills, workplace skills, etc, and psychic abilities may fall into this category.

    Please feel free to ask any further questions/clarifications



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