Why the f**k are we here? What is the meaning of our lives? Why am I alive as a human being, and not as a cat or a dog? My name is Olivier Bessaignet and it took me 48 years to even begin to answer such existential questions.
I come from an atheist family and believing in God was not an option in my childhood home. I learned from my parents at an early age that religions were a tool for mind control, created as a way for a small group of people in power to have long lasting control over a much larger group of people by keeping them ignorant and superstitious, a brainwashing machine to control the masses through shame and punishment. “If you do this or that, you’ll go to Hell. Even if you have this thought or that thought, you’re a sinner.”
It didn’t help that my grandmother was a very fervent Catholic, and she was not nice. She was raised with shame and abuse, and she raised me with shame and emotional abuse. She tried to shove the bible down my throat and it only raised the case that people use religion to rationalize their self-righteousness and to control the behavior of others, in the name of love.
So, I was a big skeptic about all things spiritual. I remember when I was 30, I was invited on a trip to Southern Chile and as we were driving down highway 5 from Santiago De Chile to Temuco in the South, my friend asked me “What do you think happens when we die?” “Nothing.” I replied. “The light goes off and our body becomes dust. The consciousness of ‘me’ just vanishes. What’s wrong with that? I’m perfectly comfortable with that. I don’t need some religion or superstitious belief to make me feel better. The dog and the fox and the deer don’t seem to have a problem with that, why would I?” That was me at 30.
Well… things have changed. I did not enter spiritual consciousness through dogma. But I have been very curious and attracted to shamanism, indigenous spirituality, and the practice of Tantra.
Now 18 years later my answer to the million-dollar question “Why the f**k are we here? What is the meaning of our life?” is very different.
After 18 years of practicing Tantra, shamanic journeys, trauma therapy, reading and inquiring, a new reality has unfolded to me. I’ve developed a sense of what feels true, and what doesn’t. It’s like all the pieces are coming together and they all add up perfectly. I feel joy and excitement about this new opening of consciousness. Things that didn’t make sense now do.
Before, I was seeing all the different religions and spiritual teachings as separate, different, even opposites. Now I see how they all point to the exact same thing. I can see the core truth behind the symbols they each use, as if the veil that separated them has been lifted.
Now I understand the words of Jesus and why he had to speak in metaphors so that the people of his time could even start grasping the reality or truth of what can’t be seen. The Buddhists and the Sufis make sense. The Hindu statues of Shiva, Shakti, Durga and Kali make full sense. I can feel their energy in my body and in my psyche, and I understand the symbolic meaning behind each representation. It’s not just some intellectual concept. It feels right. It feels true. It feels meaningful. Many soul-searchers have grasped this reality over the past centuries, and it’s now our turn to awaken to a much deeper and richer world. It’s what Jesus Christ calls “the good news” or “the revelation”. At least this is my own interpretation. My revelation happened on January 8th, 2019. Life is so exciting once you grasp that deep understanding.
So here it is…
The Universe is composed of 2 things:
All mystics and esoteric traditions point to the same thing: The Universe is consciousness. Even the most recent scientific discoveries of Quantum mechanics seem to validate this point of view.
We call it God, the Conscious of the Universe, Source, Oneness, The Great Ocean, the Organizing Intelligence, the Great Spirit, etc. The Tantric tradition represents this energy as Shiva, the Divine Masculine Principal.
The Advaita Vedanta practice is meant to enter this state of pure consciousness. People sit in meditation for hours and focus their attention away from the body into the void, towards what cannot be seen: pure consciousness, pure awareness.
In the Tantric tradition, the statue of Shiva represents the Masculine Energy: the container, structure, awareness. The purpose of consciousness is to be aware of itself. “I AM.”
Monks around the globe have practiced meditation for millennia to get as close as possible to that state of awareness. If I can dissolve my individual consciousness to merge again with the Great Ocean of consciousness, I won’t feel like a separate drop anymore and I will finally find the joy to feel one with Source. In my body I feel the pain of separation and I need to discipline my body in order to strengthen my focus so I can go back into oneness and feel the joy of been whole again.
Thousands of people have followed that path for centuries.
Yet it’s incomplete, because we live in Form.
This is where the Tantric tradition has a non-rejection world view. We are not intended to reject form in order to dissolve into the formless, because we are in human bodies- and our form is meant to be celebrated!
If Shiva is pure consciousness, Shakti is what we see. Shakti is the force that creates form.
To understand this in a simple way, I like the analogy author Thomas Campbell uses to describe spirit in form: imagine a bed sheet. It lies flat. It exists but nothing is happening. Then you place both hands under each side of the bedsheet and you form puppets with your hands. You use rubber bands to create constrain around your wrists, and now the 2 puppets can come alive and interact with each other. They can fight, they can snuggle, they can love each other, they can create agreements then argue about it, they can make art, they can elaborate a money system to regulate exchanges, etc… Your one mind controls both puppets, but you can give them different names and personalities: the one on the left likes to wear a uniform and a badge. And it just caught the one on the right with its hand in the cookie jar… Off they chase each other! That’s it! You got it! Consciousness creates us, as well as all the background: rocks, tree, clouds, sand, the sun, the moon, etc.
Shakti is your hands. It’s the force that creates everything we can feel and touch. It’s our life force.
That’s why in the Tantric tradition, everything is considered divine. Everything that we touch, smell and feel is sacred. “Namaste: I honor the Divine in you and I honor the Divine in me”. Consciousness cannot be separated from form. Shiva and Shakti are inseparable.
So that’s the paradox:
- Yes, we are one. We are not separate; the whole universe is vibration. Consciousness has created a virtual reality so it can witness and appreciate its own existence. Separation is an illusion- “maya” as the Hindus call it.
- And yes, we are also separate; I am very different than you in every way. I have different taste, opinions, aspirations, wants and desires. I have a different skin color, I speak a different language, I have a different body shape than you. My Soul is on a very different path and journey than yours. If I jump under a bus, I will go non-physical, and you will not. We are actually separate in this plane of existence we call “reality,” which while it is in some ways an illusion, it is also in other ways “real.”
I’m here to explore and assert how I’m completely unique and separate from all others. And yet I’m here to also feel how I’m connected to it all.
According to Sally Kempton in her book Awakening Shakti, all Tantra approaches have at least 3 points in common:
- “Tantra is uncompromising in its embrace of reality, in all its beauty and horror. A core feature of Tantra is the principal of non-rejection. In Tantra, nothing is considered to be outside of the divine tapestry. Shakti, the immanent aspect of “godness”, has become everything that exists. Therefore, everything is worthy of being worshiped as the goddess, or Shakti […] All bodies, all worlds, all ideas are made of Shakti, and are therefore divine in their essence.”
- “Physical and emotional pleasures can be doorways into the divine. […] The taste of food, the moment of sexual touch, the transporting joy felt when hearing beautiful music, the blissful experience of losing ourselves in movement or in the sight of beauty – any of those can open us to the divine ecstasy at the heart of life.”
- “The Tantric view sees the universal Shakti, the divine feminine power – the Goddess – as the source of power. This is a revolutionary idea, and when we get it, it changes our relationship to our own energy forever.”
“True power arises from an inner feminine source – from Shakti.” This is not to say that women are more powerful than men. We’re talking about Shakti, the Divine Feminine principal. It means that the sun draws its power from the Goddess. Sally continues, “This is true whether the power appears in the cosmos (as the big bang and the thrust of evolution) or in a human being – as our powers of thought, feeling, and action. In the West, we are used to associating power with masculinity and thinking of the feminine as purely passive, nurturing and receptive. Tantra tells us that it’s the other way around. From a Tantric perspective, the inner masculine – Shiva – is the source of consciousness, awareness. But in order to act, to stir, he must take energy from the inner feminine. […] In turn, the feminine is grounded and focused by the masculine quality of awareness.”
This means that men and women both have in them the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine. It means that if you’re either a man or a woman, you would honor the energy of the Divine Masculine if you want focus and awareness. And you would pray to the Goddess – the Energy of the Divine Feminine – if you want to call in more energy, more power, more actualization.
Shiva is the knowing light beyond form. Shakti is the power that becomes the world.
Sally Campton writes, “When the masculine wants power, it must draw it from the feminine, just as when the feminine wants to be conscious, to reflect, she must draw that capacity from her inner masculine source.”
How does Shakti look in the world? Usually the people who have access to a lot of Shakti are artists, rock stars, actors, politicians, public speakers, etc. People who have a lot of charisma, power, talent, and force of attraction. But Shakti without ground can get lost in chaos. This is the typical story of the rebellious and magnetic rock stars who dies young of overdose. Shakti can make you rich and famous, but it can drive you mad. That’s why the more Shakti we draw, the more Shiva discipline we need to develop in order to stay grounded.
I’m extremely excited about this cosmology and world view because it carries in its own essence a deep sense of non-rejection, balance and non-duality. It means that everything is sacred. I am born sacred, you are born sacred. In order to realize myself as the consciousness of spirit in a human form, I need to develop masculine principals just as equally as feminine principals. It’s a choice. And now that you know, you must make that choice for yourself.
This reminds me of Karen Drucker’s song, “I am the heart, I am the hands, I am the voice of spirit on Earth. And who I am, and what I do, are a blessing to the world.”
So why? What is the point of all this cosmic circus?
The point is play. And the point is evolution.
Why do you enjoy music? Or dancing? Why fly an airplane or sail a boat? Why wear a beautiful dress and flirt with someone sexy? Because we can. It’s Play. Shakti might not have any other purpose than to enjoy her own creation. And Consciousness might not have any other agenda than know its own existence and witness itself.
So there is no pause button. There is no opting out. If you are Consciousness, and Consciousness cannot stop existing, than YOU cannot stop being. There is nowhere to go.
Let me tell you a short story about how I reached this intense revelation. Once I did a shamanic journey that started with fear. I had an existential panic of disappearing. I was not afraid of death. I was anxious to not exist. I was in a state of tiredness from overworking and emotional exhaustion, and I was craving a break. Can I please just push the pause button and take some vacation from being awake and alive? Well, the plant medicine started to kick in and I fell into an endless pit of darkness. I felt like my very consciousness was disappearing into the Big Void. I was falling fast through a canal of darkness, sweating and terrified.
And then something strange and unexpected happened. I found myself on the other side of the tunnel. I was not in my body anymore. I was floating in the cosmos. Then whooosh, I was close to a giant star. I could feel the intensity of its nuclear power. Then whooosh, I found myself under a rock on the other side of the galaxy. And then the revelation hit me: there is not such a thing as not being conscious. There is no pause button, there is no opting out. If my consciousness is not trapped in a human body, it will go somewhere else. I will still be conscious and awake, I will be a rock on the other side of the galaxy, I will be a super-nova, I will be consciousness somewhere in some universe. There is nowhere to go. Consciousness cannot die. It is. It must be.
So why not be a human being? We have received a lot of gifts. We have received the gift of air, of water. We have received the gift of having a heart, a liver, lungs. We have received the gift of emotions, like love, sadness, fear, anger, and the capacity for empathy. We have received the gift of skin, of blood, of smell, of taste. We have received the gift of choice and the power to create with our minds and with our hands. The point is not to opt out. It’s not even possible. The point is to find who we truly are.
The other reason to exist is Evolution.
For this part I’ll refer to Thomas Campbell’s book My Big TOE (which stands for Theory Of Everything). Thomas is a nuclear scientist who also has developed an extensive knowledge about consciousness by researching altered states of consciousness with Bob Monroe at the Monroe Institute in Virginia in the 1970s, and developing the technology of bi-neural beats. As a scientist, Thomas has a very rigorous pragmatic approach to his research on consciousness. If you’re an intellectual or a skeptic and your mind needs reassurance and practical explanations, Thomas is your guy. He does not speak in parables like the mystics. His metaphors are computer-age related.
According to Thomas Campbell, we live in a virtual reality. The computer processor is Consciousness and the world is like a screen made of pixels. On the screen you can see you and me, like on a computer screen you can see the Skype icon or a Word file icon. We identify form by their shape, but the icon on the screen is not the program. The program is run by the computer. So you might think, “hey, here’s Skype or here’s Olivier.” But they’re just pixels on a screen.
The mystics teach us that space does not actually exist. It’s all an illusion. To expand Thomas Campbell’s metaphor, the pixel on the far-left end of the screen might feel light years from the pixel that sits on the far-right side of the screen. The pixel on the left thinks, “I need to build a Star Trek ship in other to travel to the far-right end of the screen, and I calculate that the journey will take 4625 years. I will be dead by the time I get there. It’s impossible.” But wait. All pixels are rendered through the computer. There is no real distance. It’s all a projection on a screen. All pixels are generated from the very same source: the processor. The left-end pixel can access the information of the right-end pixel in a split second, if it can remember the truth. The way is not across. It is through.
Thomas Campbell explains that the purpose of this grand simulation is evolution. Consciousness’s purpose is to grow and evolve. But without any interaction, it cannot experiment and learn. That is why Consciousness has broken itself down in billions of Individual Units of Consciousness (sentient beings) and has placed them in a sort of virtual reality. Each interaction is an experiment. Each experiment has a result. Not good or bad. Just a result, which can lean towards evolution, or devolution. According to Thomas, there is no stagnation. We either evolve or devolve. And Consciousness’s purpose is to find its way to evolution through billions of interactions and experiments. If an experiment has found its limitation (think of the dinosaurs), it is wiped out or it evolves into a new experiment.
“There was a need to demand personal responsibility as a condition of existence and to provide strong immediate feedback to guide the learning process.”
How does evolution work?
Thomas Campbell explains that a computer based virtual reality is programmed. When you switch it on, it appears already set, ready to play. But the Consciousness based virtual reality we call the Universe is evolving continuously. It evolved from the Big Bang to the Universe we know today. The measure of evolution is the measure of its “entropy.” Entropy is a measure of disorder. A high entropy number means there is a lot of randomness and chaos. A lower entropy number means there’s more structure and order. When smaller parts come together to create a more complex, more elaborate entity, entropy decreases and the entity has more functionality, more capacity to hold a more concentrated amount of consciousness. Particles come together and gas becomes liquid. Liquid becomes solids. The big clouds of gas of the Big Bang evolve into stars, planets, rocks, minerals, water and air. Then carbon particles come together and create the first amoeba. Living cells come together and transform into plants, fishes, reptiles, then mammals walking the earth. By lowering their entropy, more complex and sophisticated systems can perform more complex functions and host a larger amount of consciousness. That’s how consciousness evolves.
“Our apparent space-time reality is virtual, a ‘learning lab’ that the Larger Consciousness evolved for us to improve the quality of our consciousness. By having individuated consciousnesses evolve, the Larger Consciousness can itself evolve at a faster rate. “
A disembodied spirit cannot smell or touch or feel. That’s why life in this dimension is such a unique and rich experience. Soul growth happens here at a very accelerated rate.
Think of it: choice over instinct. Humans have choice. Because of the concentration of consciousness that calls itself YOU, you have free will. You can choose to distract yourself with media, addictions or busyness all of your life. But honestly that doesn’t feel satisfying or fulfilling. It’s like constantly eating desert without a main course. You can choose to behave reactively, doing your little song and dance every time someone or something pushes your buttons, as if you’re a victim at the mercy of a random, hostile universe. Or you can prioritize healing your traumas so you become free to be in choice when you get triggered. Focusing on growth can be hard, but it’s also liberating, and the feeling of this kind of freedom makes it all worth it.
Consciousness yearns to evolve, and we’re part of its strategy for evolving.
The Soul versus the Ego?
A lot of spiritual traditions tend to demonize the ego, teaching that we need to cut down our ego, get rid of it, destroy it. But if I buy into the Tantric principle of non-rejection, honoring both the formless (Shiva) and the form (Shakti,) I cannot accept this concept. If everything is sacred, then the ego is sacred too, with all of its precious emotions, conditioning, wounding, and beliefs. If it’s part of us, then the ego must also be divine, serving a precious purpose, worthy of worshipping as part of the whole.
As a generalization, Advaita Vedanta teachings promote killing the Ego. Nondual practitioners see the Ego as a baby to love.
Is the ego a uniquely human characteristic? Animals have personalities, but they don’t seem to have what we call an ego. What other qualities do humans have that other animals don’t? Self-awareness, yes. What about choice? Animals are bound to their instinct. In order to survive, they rely on their instinct. Their programming tells them what to do. Human beings on the other hand are way less bound to their instinct. If they have done enough healing of life’s inevitable traumas, they have the power of choice. What if the function of our ego is to be a substitute for instinct? Indeed, our ego is a sharp survival tool. It has kept us safe for millennia.
The ego gives us an extra edge. It allows us to know how different we are from others. A fox in America does not behave radically differently from another fox, say in Europe or in Asia. They don’t create radically different political systems, languages or weapons. Yet humans do. We have the power to be very different from others who live in other countries. It’s our priceless cultural diversity. We even have the choice and the power to be different from our parents and our tribe of origin. Therein lies the power to be me, to be you, to be different.
Yet when disconnected from our spiritual roots, the power to be different can lead to extreme separation. It can lead to sociopathic behaviors, and we experience Hitler. It’s “me” first. It’s “me versus them.”
But what is the ego? What is it made of? According to Richard Schwartz, PhD, the creator of the Internal Family System (or IFS) model, the ego is the sum of all our parts that are trying to get our needs met. It’s the family of voices in our head that tell us what to do. They all have their own -often polarized- opinions. “You should take that well paid job to be a good provider for your family” says the achiever part. “No, you cannot sell oil, you’ll be contributing to the killing of the planet!” says the ethical part. “But my dad will finally approve of me…” says the little one tenderly.
Through the practice of IFS meditation, it is possible to reassure and heal our inner polarized parts and voices, so that they’re not hijacking our decision-making process. When our parts start to relax and to trust us, we discover that there’s a deep presence inside of us that is powerful and grounded. Richard calls it the Self. Lissa Rankin, MD calls it the Inner Pilot Light. Others have called it the Soul, or the Holy Spirit.
It seems that we all hold inside of us a spark of the Great Flame, or a drop from of the Great Ocean. And when we listen carefully to that voice, it can provide powerful guidance. We can access information directly from the Organizing Intelligence. We can “know” the truth. We call that voice “my guidance”, “my guides”, “my inner truth”, “the voice from Source.”
The Self -or the Soul- is a drop of God inside of you. And it is your connection to Oneness. And it is the separate distinct expression of the Great Consciousness. It is what animates the bedsheet hand puppets. The Soul has its own set of distinct preferences. It likes yellow better than blue. It likes hiking better than swimming. It likes to know its differences and its preferences, and it has a direct connection to the Great Consciousness. The Self -or the Soul- is the separate manifestation of God, so that God can interact with itself, know itself, play and evolve. The whole purpose of embodiment is to experience the pure joy of feeling separate. And from that place, we can enjoy the ecstatic pleasure of feeling One again. And every nuance in between. That is true non-duality. Perhaps the secret of life is to remember that you are One, and then keep this awareness to yourself as a hilarious little secret, pretending to be separate, knowing all the while that are you not, and resting in that paradox.
Embodying Shiva and Shakti
The sweet spot for feeling fully alive, with full consciousness and awareness, is the inner sacred marriage of Shiva and Shakti. The practice of Tantra is to explore the energy of the Divine Masculine: awareness, focus, consciousness, and fully embody that. Then explore the energy of the Divine Feminine: creativity, juiciness, sexiness, charisma, playfulness, and fully embody that. Then you can bring them together inside. Usually when you get to that place, people look at you differently. You emanate an unmistakable deep presence that commands respect. They might say, “You feel really present.” Or “I feel attracted to you, and at the same time I safe and relaxed with you. I feel I can be myself around you.”
The Power of Emotions
Our Western society promotes achievement through the mind. Our culture glorifies the use of our will- “Just do it.” It links all productivity to effort- “No pain, no gain.” If you want something strongly enough, our culture teaches us that you can get it, if only you put your mind to it and work hard enough. In America, people are molded to become super-achievers- in sports, in business, in media. Yet that’s a very narrow path. Even the winners find themselves unhappy when they finally “get” what they thought they wanted. It looks like they have it all, yet something is missing, deep inside. They keep trying to feed the hungry ghost with more money, more power, more fame, more sex, more achievement. But it never results in lasting fulfillment because they’ve been creating their reality with the strength of their conscious mind, as well as their unconscious emotions.
In truth, we create our reality with our emotions. At an early age, we’re taught what makes us feel worthy or unworthy. Then we unconsciously create and anchor beliefs that claim they’ll help us discern what situation makes us feel valuable or worthless. “As a woman, my main value is my body and my sex appeal.” Ouch! “I have no value when I just dance or make art for fun. I have value when I obtain a degree and I bring home a fat paycheck.” Ouch, again!
Willfulness can be a powerful fuel for ambition and accomplishment. The mind is good at solving problems and shaping form, but it’s only one tool in our creation toolbox. When we know intimately our emotions and learn to trust them, we can paint freely on the canvas of form.
One powerful emotion is shame. Richard Schwartz says that shame attacks directly our sense of self-worth. And for human beings, self-worth is linked to survival. Therefore when we feel worthless, we feel like we’re going to die. We want to disappear, to not exist. To feel worthy, you need to feel your own personal power. You need your sovereignty, your separate autonomy. Separation is not a wound; it’s a necessity. Yet you also need to feel that you belong, that you’re part of something bigger than you. Your family, your tribe, your country. To feel that the universe makes sense, you need to feel that you belong to this world, to the earth, to the cosmos, to love itself.
This is the paradox of our lives. We’re here to dance between Shiva and Shakti, and hopefully unify their balanced marriage inside of us.
This description of the Tantric world view was food for your cognitive mind. Understanding is important. But it will only become your reality when you feel it- in your flesh and bones.
In Star Wars Episode I, master Qui-Gon Jinn says to young Anakin Skywalker: “Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” If your focus is filtered by trauma, reality will give you the ongoing feedback that reality is traumatic. Trauma will inform your beliefs, your beliefs will crystallize into character traits, and those character traits will become your very personality. If your focus is to feel awe and appreciation for the divine, that’s how reality will show up for you- as something worthy of awe and appreciation.
We define our reality though embodied experiences. I know what is true for me from my own personal experience. What we learn through our body we know as true. If you practice your connection with God (Shiva and Shakti), then your reality will be to experience the world through the lenses of the expression of the divine.