"Awakening" has become a very popular catch-word in recent years. Everybody seems to be talking about it. "Wake up!" is a more and more common mantra. But what is Awakening? and how can we know the difference between being awake and being "asleep", or being "in the dream." Here are but three of my humble reflections on a topic that fill many tomes written by many wise people and is spoken of in all world's great religions (some far more prominently than others).
1. Awakening does not mean coming around. In some ways its easier to speak of awakening in terms of what it is not. If two people are arguing and one party says: "Wake up! Can't you see what's going on? Can't you see the truth? (and the truth happens to be the way that person see things) you can be assured that this kind of awakening has little to nothing to do with enlightenment. If fact, it is the polar opposite of the experience of a spiritual awakening. Awakening persons care less and less about proving oneself right about anything, or needing to take a side, because that is exactly the kind of dualist thinking that is falling away (as opposed to being artificially pushed away). Though it is important to recognize that the temptation is always there; the tendency to cling to ideals and righteous opinions does not go away because the outside world has not stopped functioning dualistically, but gradually it becomes easier to observe and to make different choices, as one's inner landscape takes on a new shape.
2. Awakening provides choice. This is the single most important thing that one can say about awakening. Most of us spend the hours of our days being tossed about by the emotions of our brain chemistry and neurological pathways. The past replays as patterns of thought and behaviors and is generally, and almost completely unconscious. The primary practice for realizing the fullness of this reality is to cultivate the role of "I" as witness who observes, without judgment, "me." "I" (the one who is my true self) can then watch "me" (the false self, the egocentric story of everything everybody has ever told me about who I am) going about the business of living. "I" might observe and reflect to "I-self": There is "me," talking to a friend; there is "me" feeling defense and anxious. All the while, "I" is aware that "I" is not affected by this drama taking place on the stage of life, and therefore, the defensiveness and anxiety are not "I" but belong only to the character named, "me." Having the objectivity of the witness or observer allows for the question: Where have I felt defensive and anxiety before? This feels familiar. Then we begin to see thought and behavior patterns as they show up, previously hidden. "I" can then say, Oh, it's you, my old friend defensiveness and anxiety." Knowing the different between "me" and "I" is the first step in awakening. We awaken to our true self, and without judgment, begin to realize that "me" need not be a slave to the false self story, but can now begin to make choices; to let go of old patterns of behavior that no longer serve us well, and to allow the true self to emerge, the loving self, that only sees the Christ in all things and responds accordingly (to include loving toughly with necessary boundaries as needed as expressions of true kindness, as opposed to the false self who is "nice" and doesn't want to rock the boat because it is controlled by fear). Additionally, the observation of anxiety in "me," releases the anxiety in the body because "me" is no longer caught up in it. Once observed, it dissipates. Without the observer, all we have is the egoic self who operates from a place of reaction, cause and effect, ignorant that emotions are defenses of the false self, suffering needlessly as we are caught up in the dramas of every day life. This is one way of expressing what it means to acquire awareness. Having a choice to not react, but rather to respond in love from the authentic self is to free oneself of the ego's continual need to prove itself, to protect itself, and to maintain the facade of the false self. This is what it means to have life (to be born again, to die to self) and have it abundantly.
3. We do not awaken ourselves, we are awoken. It is not possible for us to force the experience of awakening upon ourselves. And most people do not experience awakening suddenly but rather as a process that unfolds over time and cannot be completed on this side of the pearly gates. Nor can the process of awakening be stopped or reversed. Once it begins, it continues. We cannot un-know what we now know. Once we know that "I" is not "me," we cannot not know that again. One cannot awaken by means of the intellect - it is not related to the brain - it is a heart-centered phenomenon. We cannot think our way into the kingdom, though that doesn't stop us from trying! I find much comfort in all the books and videos I read and watch relating to this subject. Somewhere along the line I moved from curious confusion to the feeling of being among old friends with whom I share something profound, though impossible to capture in words. One could know the Bible by heart and have never missed a Sunday worship service and yet have none of the self-awareness that is indicative of the process of awakening. While we cannot awaken ourselves, we can place ourselves in an open and inviting posture. The timeless spiritual practices of learning to be "the observer," the practice of meditation or Centering Prayer, repeated exposure to the work of the mystics, and the study of the teachers of awakening who proliferate the religious landscape and span the ages (including Jesus!), are four of the postures of invitation. We do not march willfully into the kingdom; we ask to be invited and the door opens.
Thank you for reading my blog and walking with me in the path of spiritual grace; for your willingness to spend this time with me, as together we learn how to see and be Christ in the world. Rowena +