Eternal Life in Three Easy Steps!
Before purification or metanoia take place, we live in a kind of horizontal freedom that is in reality a form of imprisonment. We are actually locked inside our own mind. To be perfectly accurate, a psychologically healthy person is not an entirely closed system, but is an open system with other minds. But still, the mind as such forms a closed system unless it is open to vertical energies that transcend its limitations. Purification is necessary because our purely mental conceptions interfere with the ability to see what transcends them. This is why it is said that the wisdom of God is folly to the Greeks--to the rational mind.
Richard Smoley, author of Inner Christianity, describes it thus: "In ordinary life, attention is directed outward, toward the world of sensations, thoughts and feelings. With a certain shift in attention, the mind is directed within, toward the center of being, beyond all thoughts and representations, where God meets the individual self. Such 'repentence' may indeed involve a change in one's way of life, but from an esoteric point of view, such changes are likely to develop organically out of an increase in consciousness. As you see and understand more of the inner worlds, love, kindness, and compassion become more spontaneous and natural." So technically, we can "repent" on the way to illumination, or repentance and the positive character changes that follow can flow naturally from a deepening of consciousness.
Contrary to what scientific materialists believe, with purification, one actually begins to see the world as it is. In other words, the world disclosed by science is fine as far as it goes, but we must never forget that it is an abstraction from the fullness of reality--it is not the thing itself, but an abstract representation of it. The Real Thing is so impossibly rich and multifaceted that it could never be "contained" by the linear categories of science.
There are many ways to practice purification--meditation, contemplation, prayer, ritual, certain types of reading (lectio divina), etc. If successful, you should be able to experience a bit of "levitation," as you are lifted from this plane and offered a glimpse of the adjacent World. You may not be able to fully inhabit that world, but you can certainly know of its existence, as it becomes increasingly clear, luminous and transparent. This is called "illumination," "awakening," or being "born again from above." It signifies the breakthrough of vertical energies, an awakening to higher truth, love and beauty. This may be confusing, because it doesn't mean to posit two entirely different worlds. Rather, it is to see another world within this world (actually, "around" this world; this world is contained within it).
In this regard it is somewhat similar to modern conceptions of the unconscious in psychoanalysis. In Freud's older model, the unconscious was literally thought of as a sort of separate realm, with a horizontal line between the ego--the conscious part of ourselves--and the unconscious "below." But now we understand that there is more or less of the unconscious in every conscious thought, emotion or act. It is more of a "holographic" model, in which various dimensions of the psyche are copresent and interpenetrating.
The same is true with respect to the logic of Divine presence. In one respect it is "above," in the sense that it is ontologically and developmentally higher. Nevertheless, it is an immanent, "embodied above" that interpenetrates the "below." That is why, as I said above, it is just a micron away--just a tiny shift in perception brings it out, like a small movement of a kaleidoscope brings a new pattern into view.
Illumination can be a lifelong process, since the realm of spirit is literally inexhaustible. We use language and other symbols to translate it into a local representation, but this is simply going to the river with a bucket. Don't confuse your little bucket with the boundless River of Light.
The promise of the final stage is union, known in Eastern Orthodox Christianity as "theosis," in Vedanta as "moksha" or "samadhi," or in Kabbalistic Judaism as "Yecidah" ("single one"). It's what happens when you die. Of course, if you arrange to die before you die, then you can experience it while you live. Or so we have heard from the Wise. But in any event, there's nothing to worry about. One way or another, you'll get there, either heart first or feet first.
In One Cosmos Under God, I tried to capture some of what we're talking about here in a more poetic and metaphysically humorous form, at the very end of the book. Here is some of it, rendered in verse instead of prose*:
If your powers of deception were cleansed
Then nothing would appear as it isn't.
No body crosses the phoenix line
Lest it be repossessed and amortized.
Some by fire, some by flood,
But all buy the farm & bury the form.
Eloha, that's a good bye
For the Love that removes the sin and other scars
*(If anyone can decipher all of the puns and literary allusions packed into this little snippet, I hereby grant you one indulgence for any past or future foible, peccadillo, or indiscretion.)