For the last decade, Arjuna Ardagh has studied what he believes is a worldwide advance in human consciousness marked by what he calls “translucents”--people who've undergone a spiritual awakening that also allows them to remain involved in ordinary life.

In his new book The Translucent Revolution, Ardagh interviews such spiritual gurus as Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and Neale Donald Walsch--all people who say they have become "translucent." Recently, Beliefnet Senior Editor Deborah Caldwell interviewed Ardagh, who also led her through a meditation exercise for becoming "translucent."

Could you describe the experience of becoming translucent?

The shift that initiates you into the translucent life is an awakening that is beyond thinking and feeling, and changing experiences. Most of the time, most of us are glued to thoughts and feelings, belief, desires, fears. And all we know is the content of what’s in the mind at that time. So we say, I am a vegetarian, I am a Democrat, I am afraid, I am angry. But we don’t really know in that moment who we are. Because who we really are is experiencing beliefs, experiencing thoughts, experiencing objects moving, sounds being heard. When we wake up to the one who is experiencing this moment, people describe that as absolutely peaceful. Not just loving, but love itself.

My book documents 170 interviews with contemporary writers and teachers--13,000 surveys. And based upon those interviews, we believe there are three to four million people worldwide who have woken up to who they are beyond the mind. They realize that who they are is limitless consciousness beyond birth and death, absolutely free. Who they are is love itself.

Could you describe your moment of translucence?

I was a very dedicated spiritual seeker for a long time, for more than 20 years. I did everything you can imagine in the new age marketplace to try to become enlightened. And I found myself in India as part of this seeking. I went to visit a teacher there whose name is H.W.L. Poonjaji. And when I met him, instead of giving me another technique, or another meditation, he asked me a question: “Who is the one who considers himself to be not free and wants to become free?” And I had never really thought about it in that way.

Finally one morning I woke up in my hotel room with that question prominent in my head. I tried to find me. I reached back into myself to try and find this thing called me that needed to be transformed. And I couldn’t find anything there. When I really checked back into myself, there was just infinite empty space, space that went on forever that was light full of energy. And as soon as it lit upon anything, as soon as it became aware of anything, it was love. And that recognition was more of a realization: “Oh! That’s what I am, of course.” I’ve always been hearing sounds. I’ve always been seeing objects moving. I’ve always been thinking. But of course, these have all just been experiences. Experiences by whom? By this consciousness. So this was a realization, an awakening, to who I am. The realization that what I am is consciousness, that what I am has no form.

What’s it like to live translucently?

It’s very much like living normally. Except that now there is recognition that the personal life is not you. The personal life is being experienced by who you are. But it doesn’t define or limit who you are. And living translucently simply means that your life is handed over more and more from the habits of acquisition, desire, consumption, fear, separation, to this luminous consciousness, which is full, complete, free, and unafraid.

So your life is gradually transformed from one of trying to get something for me, to giving to the world from me. Because the me is now full, and the me becomes a source of blessings, a source of giving. So life is transformed from one of acquisition to one of blessing. And I wanted to emphasize one thing that really makes this translucent revolution a departure from the traditions of the past: the people I’ve interviewed don’t speak of the process of enlightenment that I’ve just referred to as an end point.

In other words, they’re not talking about the next life?

…or the next state. I think the most important thing about the translucent revolution is that most people I’ve interviewed have cancelled their subscription to the concept of enlightenment as a fixed state. Instead, life itself is an endless river of enlightening, where every moment there is the possibility to live with more love, creativity, humor, art, and generosity of spirit.

If you’re translucent, do you believe there is an afterlife?

I don’t know. What I can tell you is that I live my life in relationship to what I can recognize from direct experience. I don’t have much relationship to things I don’t have direct experience of. So I’m completely, totally, madly, passionately in love with the present moment. I don’t even have a relationship to tomorrow, let alone the afterlife.

Is being translucent a kind of freedom from your own mind?

Absolutely. It’s total freedom from the mind. The mind, of course, doesn’t really exist. There isn’t a thing called the mind. It’s a collective way of speaking about thoughts. And it’s not to say that thoughts stop. But now you know that they are thoughts.

Is this movement happening now because we have enough science about the brain to understand what the brain is--and therefore what we are?

I don’t think that has been a very important factor. One of the things I think has precipitated this collective awakening is the fact that our physical life is becoming less secure. The fact that we have so many more people on the planet then we ever did, and we’re using up resources much faster than we ever did, and we’re impacting our environment so much more than we ever did, and we developed our technology for weapons of mass destruction, which are now in the hands of strange characters. This makes life less secure, less reliable, less predictable than it has been in the past. And this uncertainty about the future has been an important factor in precipitating collective awakening.

But you could also look at the idea of being translucent as avoidance. Because if you realize that everything is so overwhelming, which it is, then maybe the only way to deal with it is to go inward.

I don’t think it’s a question of avoidance, and I want to explain why. There are several things about the translucent revolution which taken together make it remarkable. One is that many people are having these awakenings. The awakenings are similar to what happened to Buddha, what happened to Jesus during the 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. Human beings have always had awakenings, just not in such large numbers as we see today. That’s one part of it.

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  • But there are other things that make the translucent revolution even more remarkable and unusual. And that is the way that the awakening is embodied. In the past, in most established traditions, awakening has been associated with renouncing the world--as you said, avoidance. So spiritual experience was a way to get free of this horrible realm, this dirty, messy realm of incarnation. That’s certainly characteristic of many oriental traditions, that you send the energy up the spine, as far away from the genitals as possible, up into the highest chakras and out into the cosmic void, where you don’t have to deal with human incarnation anymore. And that’s been how we’ve thought of spirituality.

    The translucent revolution is not a continuation of that tradition. In fact, it’s the opposite. The people who characterize this revolution, the people I’ve interviewed, the people I’ve surveyed, are very much participating in life. They are in relationships. Most are married. They are sexual. Many have children. They are very much involved in political and social action. They are involved in organized religion. They’re involved in business, often as the leaders of businesses. So these people don’t fit our old paradigm of somebody sitting in the cave absorbed in a realm. These people are wide awake, but fully participating.

    It’s an integration of the awakening that’s been associated with oriental traditions, and the dynamic capacity for action that’s been associated with the Western cultivation of the psyche.

    Why did you choose the word translucent?

    I borrowed that word from the physical universe. There are objects that are completely opaque, like the wall, or a brick, or a piece of wood. Light does not pass through opaque objects at all. And there are other objects which are completely transparent, like a clean sheet of glass. Light can pass through it as though the glass was not there. Then there are physical objects which are translucent, like a crystal, or a sculpture of frosted glass, or a piece of stained glass. A translucent object allows light to pass through, but diffusely. Which means that if you shine light on a translucent object, it appears to glow from within.

    Translucent people appear to glow from within. When you look at someone who has awoken in this way, they have a kind of glowing appearance. A translucent person is someone who has awoken deeply enough to who they really are that their personal agenda of desire and fear become semi-transparent. It’s no longer opaque.

    How do you become translucent?

    It’s a bit like the four-minute mile. The four-minute mile was considered impossible for human beings. It was a benchmark that it was thought was just beyond the capacity of any human being to achieve, until Roger Bannister managed to run the four-minute mile in 1953. And since then, the four-minute mile has become the standard benchmark for Olympic athletes. If you want to run in the Olympics, you’ve got to run a four-minute mile everytime you do a training session.

    In the same way, these kinds of awakening I’m describing were very unusual, even 20 years ago. In the mid-80s almost anybody interested in spirituality was a seeker. They were following a path, following a teacher, following a tradition. And usually they had somebody else projected outside who was the awakened one. But they themselves were a lesser being, still struggling with the difficulties of the ego and identification. But around 1990, there began to be a wave of people in Europe and America who were having these direct realizations. And it spread, continuously; it spread exponentially during the 90s and the first part of this decade.

    So that by now, when I travel to different parts of the world, whether it’s California or New York; or Stockholm, Sweden; Hamburg, Germany, and I speak to audiences of anywhere between 100 and 800 people, and I talk about awakening, I ask how many people already know what I am speaking of. And all the hands go up. Back in 1992 there would be perhaps one or two hands, or maybe none. And this is not just my experience. Most of the teachers that I’ve interviewed have told me that this has been increasing exponentially. So there is an epidemic of awakening happening.

    It seems much of the phenomenon springs from the ubiquitousness of media. We’re just much more connected now. So people can know about it and then have the experience.

    That could well be a part of it. But the first thing I want to say is that the gates of the temple are wide open these days. It’s so much easier than ever before to have this kind of awakening. When we do workshops, we take care of the awakening bit in the first hour. Then we move on to the much more interesting work of living it, of embodying it, of being able to move around and speak to people while that awakening remains fresh and vibrant. Anywhere we go in the world, we don’t move on in the workshop until everyone’s had that awakening. And that usually is no longer than an hour.

    The only kind of prerequisite to awakening is a sincere interest in reality. To really want to know who you are in this moment, deeper than thoughts.

    You write that some people believe work is the primary place where translucence can manifest itself. Why?

    It’s where we spend most of our time. If you love your work, you probably love life. So of course, work is the primary arena where you can explore your translucence. When business is dominated by the old paradigm, it's about trying to get something. Because everything in the old paradigm is about lack. So the old mind, the hypnotized mind, is convinced there is something missing, there is a problem, and fixates on how to fulfill that lack. Consequently business becomes about profit. And that’s what, in the old paradigm, is what’s called the bottom line. The bottom line of business is how to make more profit.

    Translucent business, of which there are many now, have multiple bottom lines. And the most common combination of bottom lines is called “people-planet-profit.” The primary motive for a business is people, to serve the people within the business, to serve the customers. A good example of a translucent business like this, maybe surprisingly to some people, would be Men’s Wearhouse, which was founded by George Zimmer. Very translucent man, very awake man. His business is run dedicated to the people in the business, and the customers, and the people in the local community.

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  • The second bottom line is the planet. And that is where a business dedicates itself to leaving the planet a healthier environment than the one it found. So the business gives more to the planet than it takes. For example, re-planting trees would be a translucent practice. Recently both BP and Shell, two oil giants, underwent a huge shift toward translucence. They’ve become much more translucent at the end of the last decade. In 2000, BP changed its name officially from British Petroleum to simply BP.

    Their logo is green now.

    Their logo is Beyond Petroleum. And their dedication, their motivation, is to find sustainable alternatives to oil by 2032. And they’re on their way to that, they’re working a lot with solar panels, with fuel cells. They’re exploring all kinds of clean alternatives to oil. Shell is the same. Those are two businesses that have become much more translucent.

    The third bottom line is profit. You can’t run a business without making money. But if a business only dedicates itself to profit, nothing else, which many corporations do, you’ve rather missed the point of being alive.

    And there is a fourth bottom line, which is the workplace as a temple of spiritual practice. Where the workplace is not only about People-Planet-Profit, but it’s also about human beings having a place where they can shine. Where their true nature can shine and give its gifts most luminously. And there are some businesses like that where they recognize everybody in the company is an embodiment of spirit. The company exists to give those people the opportunity to completely manifest their divine nature.

    Can you have a translucent life within organized religion?

    In every religion there is a spectrum. One end is fundamentalism. At the other end of the spectrum, within every religion, there are the more translucent expressions of that religion. Which is when religion becomes what it’s intended to be.

    It’s easy to find translucence in Buddhism and Hinduism, and Sikhism. There’s Kabbalah in Judaism. There’s Sufism in Islam. Where is it in Christianity?

    Oh, all over the place. Christianity has a very strong tradition of mysticism.

    But is it alive now?

    Oh yeah.

    I haven’t found a lot of evidence of that.

    Start with the New Thought Churches, like Unity Churches. I teach at a lot of Unity Churches and they are primarily Christian. The only thing that’s different is that they recognize the unity of all religions. But they are primarily Christian.

    Marianne Williamson talks about the teachings of Jesus. And she talks about Jesus as the great example, rather than the great exception. But let me also share with you something from much more conventional Christianity, another of the people I interviewed, the retired Bishop of Edinburgh Cathedral. You have to understand Edinburgh Cathedral in Scotland is a stronghold of the Anglican Church. This is one of the most conservative strongholds of established religion in the Anglican tradition. And Richard Holloway was the Bishop at Edinburgh Cathedral. This guy is wide awake. Absolutely knows himself to be one with God. He recognizes the living Christ is who he is and who everybody else is.

    Some people call the idea the “Christ Path” to distinguish it from traditional Christianity.

    He said some Christians were very offended by his view because they were committed to the idea of humanity’s being fallen, and Jesus being the son of God who is going to save us. But many other people breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Richard, thank you so much for coming out and talking in this way. Because I’ve been experiencing this for years; I just didn’t want to tell anybody.”

    If you think about it, if people are very dedicated to a genuine religious path, like Christianity, and very much in love with Jesus, and they pray a lot, and they think about God a lot. Of course many of them will wake up and live a translucent life. Because look where they are focusing their attention. It’s only not going to happen if you’re completely, fanatically, and rigidly glued to the word of the Bible, because you’ve fallen in love with words that have been translated and handed down. And that’s where it becomes rigid and eventually violent.

    Could you mention concrete examples of what you call “radical positive change” that the world is going through?

    We’re going through a transition. Which means we’re going to see symptoms of the death of the old order. And we’re going to see symptoms of the rebirth of the new paradigm. And so if you look at things in terms of what we’re used to, you’re going to see a lot of bad news. The economic structure we have is entirely based in the idea of something missing. Advertising only works with people who feel their life is missing something. And so you can persuade them that they can feel better if they just buy your latest gizmo.

    Our economic structure favors tremendous economic disparity. Can you believe that on the same planet there could be somebody manufacturing goods that are going to be sold in Wal-Mart, somebody could be manufacturing goods in a third world country earning one dollar a day? Whereas Sam Walton, the late owner of Wal-Mart, was making $220 million year. If this were a member of your family, it would be unbelievable. This kind of economic system might well collapse in the next decade. Because its support is the old kind of mind. If you’re concerned about maintaining the value of your stock market portfolio, if you’re concerned about maintaining your job under any circumstances, you can continue to buy stuff, and things might get a little rocky. But if we look at the number of people experiencing their lives as blessing, experiencing this moment as alive, as free, if you notice people dedicating their lives to tremendous service and creativity--then there is a lot of good news. I think that most important evidence is the fact that there are so many people experiencing this shift of consciousness themselves.

    Why do you think that 3 to 4 million translucent people in the world is a lot, when there are six billion people globally?

    When we study the way that social systems change, evolution is initiated through a small percentage of population reaching what is called a tipping point. And this has most recently been explained by Malcolm Gladwell and his book The Tipping Point. He demonstrated, for example, the shift from music being sold from tapes to being sold on CD’s, didn’t go one percent, two percent, and three percent. Like every month another percent. It went, .1 percent, .2 percent, up to .9 percent, 1 percent, 92 percent. And that seems to be how shift happens. Another fascinating parallel was what happened just before the Renaissance. A few decades before the Renaissance, Copernicus was a theoretical astronomer who suggested that rather than the planets going around the Earth, they in fact went around the Sun. Copernicus suggested that in fact, we were all going around the Sun, which would make everything make sense. He died in 1540 with his books still unpublished, so nobody knew about his theories. And it took Galileo, with the world’s first telescope,and other people, to test Copernicus’ theories. And to discover they were accurate. By 1600 we were headlong into the Renaissance. And by 1600 everybody recognized that we were all going around the Sun. That discovery precipitated an avalanche of creativity, music, architecture, literature. Because we shifted from feeling that we were in a universe governed by an eccentric deity, to a universe that makes sense.

    It only took the more intelligent, educated people, probably less than one percent, to recognize what was true for the whole culture to change. We see that many times when humanity has gone through a leap. One percent of the world’s population today would be 60 million people, and many people have suggested that it’s going to be about 60 million people who need to shift in this way to see a new kind of collective consciousness on this planet.

    Meanwhile, what’s important to you and me is that we wake up and live translucently. And encourage other people to do so. And then we’ll find out what the tipping point is.

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