Awakening, Part 1

Awakening, Part 1

What Is Awakening?

On this website there are references to awakening, transcending ego identity, and unity. These are common ideas within many spiritual and philosophical traditions, yet they are sometimes misunderstood. For those who are not familiar with these concepts, and to resolve some basic misconceptions for those who are, I’d like to expand on these terms here.

Types of awakenings

To start, there are many kinds of awakenings. The first and most obvious kind is the biological awakening we have every morning as we transition out of sleep. Then there are momentary epiphanies, specific realizations, or “aha” moments, which could be similarly classified as awakenings. There are also psychological awakenings, where we come to a profound understanding of some mental or emotional aspect of our being. Or a sexual awakening, in which an individual feels the freedom and power of their sexual energy for the first time. Even spiritual awakenings form a class of their own – running the gamut from the initial inklings that there may be some deeper mystery to life, to finding a teaching, to the revelation of a near-death experience. All of these are awakenings.

Awakening to our true nature

The “awakening” to which I mainly refer is the realization of our true nature as awareness.

Many of us don’t ever take the time to examine who we are. Without much self-inquiry, we go through life getting swept up by the waves of change and uncertainty that batter us daily. Operating on autopilot, we may feel consumed by every emotion that arises in the body and believe every thought that enters the mind, both of which cause suffering. In this state of relative unconsciousness, we assume that we are a body-mind – a bundle of nerves, bones, and muscles with its own unique thoughts, emotions, and desires.

In short, we imagine ourselves as egos. We may think that our sentience is the result of chemical and electrical combinations, identify with a particular life story and a vast array of likes and dislikes, or feel separate from others and the world. But when we turn inward and earnestly inspect our experience, we realize that in fact we are not separate, nor are we egos.

One of the fundamental principles of life is impermanence; everything in this world is continuously changing. No matter how much we resist this, the truth is that change is an inevitable part of life. This is most apparent when observing the material world, yet even our thoughts, emotions, and sensations come and go. There is no object or phenomenon in existence, internal or external, that remains permanently the same.

There is one thing, however, that defies change: our aware being. Thoughts and emotions come and go, the breath expands and contracts, bodies grow and decay, identities transform, and the world keeps turning. But our core of awareness remains the same despite these passing states. The unchanging “I” of our existence has always been here experiencing it all. This is what we are.

Awakening to our real nature answers the question: “Who/what am I?” It means discovering that we are not the mind, nor the body. We are not our emotions, nor our memories. We are not our family or material possessions. We are not our roles or career. We are not the world out there or the world in here. We experience all these things, we witness them, but we are not them. In truth, we are raw subjectivity. We are conscious awareness – pure, luminous, unlimited, undisturbed knowingness – the screen on which every experience takes place. Said another way, we are That timeless presence which exists prior to all things, gives rise to all things, is common to all things, and never changes. Therefore, while our true being has no form, paradoxically it is also all forms.

Awakening means letting go of who we think we are to realize who we really are. To step into our true Self, we must step out of the false belief that we are an ego identified with a body-mind attached to a personal narrative. We must emerge from our temporary cocoon as a separate self to grasp our true being as universal spirit. We must wake up to the fact that we are not a wave in the ocean, but the ocean itself.

Awakening by any other name

Awakening has many synonyms, each a variation on a theme. Words like Self-Realization, Enlightenment, God-Realization, Nirvana, Moksha, and Liberation are just a few of the most common ones. Some terms carry a religious tone and others don’t, but all point to the same essential meaning. Virtually every culture in the world expresses this eternal Truth in its own manner, whether through religion, mythology, philosophy, or by the lived examples of spiritual luminaries throughout history.

When discussing this, I generally prefer the word “awakening” due to its benign connotation. It doesn’t carry much baggage and the metaphor of “waking up” from a dream is an apt descriptor of what it feels like to awaken. It’s important to point to it somehow, even though no words can truly capture it.

The awakened perspective

Realizing one’s intrinsic nature as the ground of being brings a sense of unity. Internal and external distinctions dissolve into a single contextual field of Love. We experience our wholeness and interconnectedness with life. Perception through the physical senses does not change after awakening, but intuitively there arises a direct, transparent knowing that everything is One. From this vantage point, life is simple, wondrous, and joyful.

Being awake means there is no confusion about who we are, why we’re here, or where we stand in the grand scheme of things. We see at once that we are both nothing and everything. We understand that no event in our lives can add to or take away from us. We are at ease, at peace with however life unfolds. This is the end of suffering, since we no longer resist What Is or identify with the part of us that can and does suffer. It is the end of psychological fear because we no longer believe that we are a limited ego that is separate from others and the world. Importantly, this way of seeing is not simply another belief system. Instead, it is one’s direct experience when all belief systems have been transcended.

When we are awake, we are fully present in the moment rather than mentally stuck in the past or fixated on the future. Generally without thought, actions arise spontaneously from a loving center and are in sync with what is called for in each moment. Life takes on a seamless dynamic flow.

…continued in Part 2…

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.
~ Jedi Master Yoda