05/19/2014 03:48 pm ET Updated Jul 18, 2014

Being Mindful, Becoming Whole

A conversation with Connirae Andreas, developer of Core Transformation, about awakening, transformation & healing.

John Stanley: The emerging theme of this new century seems to be that humanity is facing a collective evolutionary crisis. Under these circumstances, the individual with a spiritual orientation may feel a strong pressure to evolve towards authentic, experiential self-realization. Someone with an environmental or activist orientation could be asking themselves how to deal with ecological loss or with burn-out. Knowing how powerful your earlier work has proved to be, I'd like to discuss the new method you have developed over the last decade. What is this Wholeness Process?

Connirae Andreas: The Wholeness Process is an original way of spiritual awakening and of transforming or healing our human problems. It addresses the evolutionary situation of individuals you are speaking of. It also aligns very naturally with practices like meditation, mindfulness, yoga and tai chi. What is new is that it provides a precise, learnable, step-by-step method that works with the twin aspects of awakening and transformation.

As I studied the great texts and descriptions of spiritual awakening, I kept wondering, "Is it possible to create a procedure for this, so that anybody can experience what these masters were talking about? When loss of the ego is talked about, what does that actually mean? When letting go of the small self and experiencing the great Self is talked about, what does this mean experientially? As I asked myself these questions, a method came to me. I explored this in depth and gained a lot of experience with it myself before I began using it with (psychotherapy) clients. Later I began teaching it in workshops. Now it's finally widely available.

JS: You describe it as a process and you are teaching it in steps. Is this a movement from spiritual practice to spiritual process?

CA: It's definitely a movement to specific process. Some spiritual teachers say awakening is a mystery. We can't understand it, so trying to create steps to "get there" is the wrong way to go about it. But perhaps spiritual awakening is like a sunrise. It's true that if we try to convey a sunrise to someone who has never experienced it, words or concepts will not get it across. But we could give anyone with sight a process--some specific steps to take to experience a sunrise themselves. "At this time, walk to such a place and face east." If those steps are correct, he or she will be able to experience a sunrise.

I recently taught the Wholeness Process to a large group as a one-day workshop at the Psychotherapy Networker symposium. Many attendees had a background in mindfulness or another form of Buddhist meditation, and their response was very positive. People were experiencing results right there in the training: "This gives me a much more precise way of doing what I have been trying to do with mindfulness", or "This is something I can even share with my friends & family members who aren't interested in spirituality." The Process is about direct experience--it doesn't need to include any belief system or religious terminology. It is an attempt to model and bring precision and specificity to spiritual teachings, but uses ordinary language that anyone can relate to.

Process and practice are not mutually exclusive. I really appreciate the emphasis on 'practice' in Buddhism and other traditions.It's usually when people use it as a "life practice" that the full transformative effect happens.

JS: A lot of people who have sincerely followed a classical spiritual path, Buddhist or otherwise, may reach a certain stage where they become blocked from further progress. They experience a lot of frustration when the practice ceases to deliver as it has previously done. Some may find themselves in a situation where they begin to question the religious belief system. Some experience a hunger for something more universal, relevant or communicable. There might be compartmentalization. One's meditation practice might have become a way of by-passing personal issues rather than processing them. All these states demand some kind of personal breakthrough.

CA: I've had quite a few people come to me who are in this position. They have a spiritual practice, but they recognize they're still emotionally off-balance--certain life issues haven't been dealt with. One woman who came to me had been practicing Buddhist meditation for years, but still had an eating disorder and relationship issues she wanted help with. One man was losing his temper a lot, and his meditation practice hadn't changed that. Another woman with a regular spiritual practice said she still had "leftovers" from mistreatment as a child. Although her husband treated her well, some simple misunderstanding between them would lead her to escalate conflict until she was ready to leave him. Many of us, even if we get a great deal out of our spiritual practice, recognize that some of our emotional issues are still intact.

The Wholeness Process is particularly effective because it gives us a way to "do" spiritual practice that naturally heals and transforms life issues. Our issues become a doorway to ever-increasing spiritual enfoldment. When I used the Process with each of the people above, they experienced a relatively immediate transformation of the issue itself. The woman who had been escalating with her husband said "Now it's no big deal. It's fine." The man with a temper reported that he could be more loving and present for people. This doesn't mean you get complete transformation in one session for everybody and every issue. It's usually an ongoing development. However the transformation of life issues becomes inevitable. The "juice" for spiritual development comes from the transformation of any remaining issues, rather than our separating ourselves from them.

I think there is a need for this kind of approach now. Because the more integrated and whole we are, the more effective we're going to be in dealing with the global issues we're facing as a world community. If our spiritual practice is separate from how we live our life--how we speak to our spouse, to our children, to our neighbors--that incongruence will prevent us from contributing to our full capacity.

JS: Can you say more about "spiritual by-pass". How or why has this become such an issue?

CA: It can be tempting to just try to develop our "spiritual" experience by avoiding the more "human" experiences and in some sense "blissing out". This is often due to an unspoken fear that our issues would be too difficult and unpleasant to face--which could be the case if we don't know how to integrate them. The key feature of the Wholeness Process is that pain or suffering become transformed into greater aliveness. It's simpler, gentler and kinder than we might imagine. Plus we don't have to start with life issues. When we use the Process as a meditation practice, we start with our present experience. However, when issues do arise, the Process immediately takes us into a gentle transformation of pain, and the recovery of aliveness that had been trapped in the issue.

I'd like to mention that there are two kinds of spiritual by-passing that need to be addressed. One is by-passing our emotional responses and life issues. This is the kind people are beginning to talk about. A second and equally important kind can result from the common teaching that the self is 'just an illusion'. While true in one sense, this has resulted in "skirting around" something that needs to be noticed and addressed. Many spiritual practices involve going directly to and cultivating a state of presence or awareness. While there is nothing wrong with that, it's not the whole story, because at the unconscious level there does remain a sense of self that the person continues to live out of. The Wholeness Process provides a simple, direct way to identify our unconscious sense of self. Paradoxically it's only when we notice it (in the direct way taught in the Process) that it is actually released or dissolved. And when we do it this way, our experience of awareness or presence is effortlessly enriched. When we by-pass this unconsciously-held sense of ego, our experience of the vast self or awareness has a subtle incompleteness.

JS: In Buddhism we see a historical debate between proponents of gradual and sudden awakening. Are you describing a gradual, transformative approach?

CA: I'd say it's both. During the time I've spent in various spiritual communities, I noticed that when people spoke about sudden awakening, I could see that it wasn't 'finished'. Some teachers honestly acknowledge that--"I had this awakening experience, but that wasn't the whole deal. There was a gradual process that led up to it, and afterwards there was plenty left to be finished up." Dramatic awakenings can also mean unfinished business--life issues, emotional issues, coping mechanisms, defence strategies--all this humanness remaining to be dealt with.

With the Wholeness Process, people do sometimes say "Wow, that was a huge shift for me" and describe a profound experience. Yet the transformational shifts are often subtle and gradual. What matters is that the Process inevitably carries us towards wholeness. It evolves, and we find ourselves continually working with new layers. Whatever remains undone inevitably comes to encounter the transformative energy. Most of the time, this is 'extraordinarily ordinary'. Simplicity increases. We become more effectual in how we 'chop wood and carry water'. Increasingly we experience life as simple presence in the moment that notices what is happening, what needs in the world are calling to us, and where we have the capacity to answer them.

JS: So you have the emergence of a process of personal evolution that is also relevant to social and ecological evolution.

CA: Yes I think so. I'm seeing how it can resolve and integrate individual suffering, and I also believe in its potential positive impact for our communities. I put together a well-organized streaming video training, because just seeing clients or giving seminars can benefit only a small number of people. I would like to make it widely available now in a form that people can use to get results themselves. If you work through the eight hours of training, you watch and listen to demonstrations, explore exercises with step-by-step print-outs, and learn both the underlying principles and subtle aspects of the method. Then you can adapt it to your own experience.

JS: One can get a lot from video trainings since there is unconscious learning going on as well as conscious cognitive learning.

CA: Yes, I chose to present it first in video rather than the printed word, since there is so much you can get 'in person' that you can't with print--the indefinable part that comes through with voice tone, manner and tempo. The video training makes it much easier to follow along in experience.

I don't consider myself a spiritual teacher, but another person on the path, someone "in process." I continue to use this practice daily myself, because it is the most dependably transformative practice I know of. It's made a tremendous difference for me, and at the same time I know I'm in no sense "done."

I find that people with a spiritual background have an easy and natural connection to the Wholeness Process. Another group of people who connect with it are those leading stressed-out lives, who need an effective way to deal with stress, sleep and relationship issues. That's what they want, and the method does those things. Then, even if they weren't counting on it, it leads on into something unexpected. We could call that spiritual evolution.

JS: Or perhaps psycho-spiritual evolution.

CA: I think that would be more accurate. People get what they want and our communities are blessed too, because we emerge capable of living out of greater wisdom. The world benefits too.

John Stanley directs the Ecobuddhism Project. Connirae Andreas is a leading developer of NLP psychotherapy.