Last week I wrote about how adversity in my life brought me to awakening about three years ago, and not surprisingly, the article struck a chord with many. Most of us are rather too familiar with discontent.
I’ve been through many cycles of examining my life-situation, as I’m sure you have too. And of course during those times many of us feel worry, anxiety, fear, disappointment, hopelessness, defeat, and exhaustion. We want to be fitter, richer, more attractive, more effective, more energetic, younger, stronger, more respected, and more decisive. Maybe we want to save the world, Or just get past a little speed bump.
Sometimes we get inspired, maybe by religion, spirituality, self-improvement, positive thinking, motivational affirmations, the latest new age fad, the latest guru, the latest diet, the latest secretive secret on making money, having relationships, influencing others, getting over something…
Sometimes we succeed. But the success is always effortful, temporary and specific. Pretty soon we’ve forgotten or we’re back to the same old thing.
And after a time, we decide this is just the way it is. This is what it means to be human. This whole pattern repeats, for months, years, decades—even a lifetime.
This is the way it was for me.
Three years ago, for reasons that I don’t fathom, I was ready, and I had the simple insight that the entire problem is my deep identification with my mind.
The identification with the mind is a horrible burden, but since almost everyone carries this burden, we see it as normal. It doesn’t occur to us that it is entirely optional. The identification with the mind is why thought is so compulsive. It is also what creates a false sense of self—the ego, or the shadow self–which knows only fear. The incessant mind chatter prevents us seeing that we are Essence, Source, Stillness, free of fear and sadness. The mind is grasping—it grasps on to feeling, which otherwise would be just be short-lived intuitive messages—and builds them into something we have come to call emotions, which live on in the bodies for lifetimes. The mind is conditioning—always stale, automatic and uncreative. And it is this identification with the mind that keeps us trapped in the world of fear and sadness.
If you went to your doctor and told her you hear someone’s voice in your head, the doctor would be a little concerned. And yet, most of us go around with the voice of the ego in our heads. The voice in our heads is someone else’s voice; more accurately, it is something else’s voice. It is the voice of the false mind-made self we have created. We have come to believe it is our own voice.
This realization that ‘I am not thought’ is the beginning of the unravelling of the illusion. This is the beginning of awakening.
A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison.”
And what is awakening? Awakening is awakening out of the world of fear and sadness. It is waking up from the mind and ego and into a state of natural awareness. J. Krishnamurti says it’s the “Awakening of Intelligence.” Leonard Jacobson says, “To awaken simply means to awaken out of the world of the thinking mind into the world of the present moment.” Buddha said succinctly: Enlightenment is the end of suffering. It is re-discovering the joy of being. It is a fundamental shift in consciousness out from the delusions of the mind. It is broadening of perspective beyond the mind. It is the letting go of rubbish. It is flow.
The biggest barrier to awakening is the belief that it is something rare.
In many circles it’s fashionable to present awakening as a big-bang event—something very accomplished and spiritual. My experience with it is very different. It is not a firecracker that goes off once. It is a gradual thing. There is nothing at all accomplished, intellectual or selective about awakening. It is everyone’s birthright. Awakening is simply being as natural as we can be.
The Two Step Dance of Awakening – Awareness and Release
Enlightenment is, in the end, nothing more than the natural state of being.
First: Find a release technique which resonates with you. Try the beyond-karma Release technique, or the Sedona Method, or EFT. Releasing helps free us of depression, anxiety, the past, and limiting beliefs.
Second: Find an awareness technique which resonates. All awareness techniques lead to a gentle, unoccupied watchfulness. We can call this many things: Awareness Now, effortless meditation, natural being, being present, no-mind, zazen, dhyana, ch’an, Zen, and many other Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Kaballah, Sufi, Gnostic , and non-duality terms. Why complicate it? It is Awareness.
Release and Awareness. Awareness and Release.
The mind may accept or deny that you are awareness, but either way it can’t really understand. It cannot comprehend. Thought cannot comprehend what is beyond thought. – Adyashanti
Start listening to the voice in your head. This is “watching the thinker.”
Without getting involved in the story of thoughts, notice. Be there as a witnessing presence. Don’t judge or condemn or analyze. Just observe.
You will realize soon: there is a thought and there I am. Or there is the voice and here I am. I am witnessing the thought. This is “I am” realization is not the mind.
Observe thoughts, as a witness, without getting drawn into the stories, and soon there will be space between thoughts. The spaces will widen. Continue to observe, and thoughts will diminish.
The space between thought is awareness. This may take a little practice in the beginning, because we are conditioned to an autopilot thinking mode. But with a little practice, the effort goes away, and we can be in “effortless meditation” the whole time, aware of where attention is. Thoughts happen, and awareness is aware of thoughts coming and going. They are passing clouds against the sky. Emotions happen, and awareness is aware that an emotion is a body-senstation, a feeling-message, assocatied with a thought-story, and seen this way, awareness can easily let go of any emotion. It is a clear-seeing.
I like talking about Releasing.
It’s hard to point out, in words, that we are identified with thought and limiting beliefs—it’s hard to see that, and even when we can intellectually admit to that, it’s difficult to convey what stillness feels like.
It’s so much easier to talk about release because releasing is immediate. It makes us feel better right away! Our egos are quite deft at chasing dead-end paths and they can have us believe all sorts of beliefs, but even the most conniving egos can admit they grasp onto unnecessary emotions and mental constructions.
Letting go is a good place to start.
It’s very natural. It’s easy because we have always known it. It’s just a matter of remembering how to let go. And when we remember, we see it is so natural that it actually takes effort to not let go.
Start with practicing letting go of hurtful emotions.
The release that works best for me:
Many “spiritual” teachings point to “acceptance/gratitude/forgiveness/non-attachment/surrender” as important, sometimes critical steps, and I agree, but in the mind sometimes it’s difficult to know how to apply these. I’ve come to see that Releasing naturally leads to acceptance, gratitude, non-attachment, forgiveness and surrender.
Forgiveness for example can become a superior sort of forgiving; gratitude can become an appeal for reward; acceptance can become a reluctant tolerance; non-attachment can become apathy or suppression of compassion; and surrender can become giving up.
Releasing–letting go of emotions, beliefs, and mental constructions–naturally lead to these, without the mind getting in the way.
Obstacles to Awakening
“All negativity is resistance. … Its only ‘useful’ function is that it strengthens the ego, and that is why the ego loves it. … You will then ignore, deny, or sabotage the positive in your life. This is a common phenomenon. It is also insane.” -Eckhart Tolle
So what is it that allows us to see that the greatest obstacle is the deep identification we have with our minds?
There’s an old story of a student who asks his master when he will get enlightenment, and the master takes the young student to bathe in the Ganges. He holds him under water until the student fights and struggles and trashes, and finally shoots up, gasping for air. The parable is to tell us that we must want awakening as badly as the drowning boy wanted air.
But it isn’t really true. What we want as much as the boy wants air is to continue clinging to the mind, to continue clinging beliefs and ideas and our version of reality—as desperately as the drowning boy wanted air. When we can loosen this clinging to thinking, we find the strong intention to awaken is already in us. It always was. We have a strong intention to be natural again because it’s the most natural thing in the world. We don’t need to cultivate an intention; what we need is a willingness to see that our deep identification with thinking may be the problem.
Awakening is waking up from all stories; but it can quickly become a story itself. It becomes the story of advancing the “me” and then we are concerned about how successful we are at awakening. It shows up as the need to understand more, as dismissal, as a ‘spiritualized’ ego, as intellectual analysis, as fixation with particular beliefs or techniques or traditions or spirituality.
Spiritual seekers look for self-realization or enlightenment in the future. To be a seeker implies that you need the future. If this is what you believe, it becomes true for you: you will need time until you realize that you don’t need time to be who you are.
– Eckhart Tolle
Many who come to awakening turn to spirituality. There is nothing right or wrong with spirituality of course, but it has little to do with awakening. Awakening is not about memorizing complicated concepts and theories of existence. If you want to take Buddhist vows or go to India and live in an ashram—do so, and have fun, but you don’t need to. Buddha does not want Buddhists; he wants a world full of Buddhas. Christ does not want Christians; he wants a world full of Christ-consciousness. There are fabulous pointers in all the long-standing volumes of Sanskrit literature, and in the massive loads of literature in all traditions of humanity, and, at the same time, attachment to a particular dogma is an obstacle. Awakening is not the story of the ego’s spiritual advancement.
Until you practice surrender, the spiritual dimension is something you read about, talk about, get excited about, write books about, think about, believe in – or not, as the case may be. It makes no difference.”
Seeking is about coming home. It is a longing to re-remember that what you are is beyond concepts and beliefs and thoughts. Seeking can perhaps play a part in remembering, but it is not remembering.
This is not a put-down of any belief system or spirituality. This is an invitation to see the possibility that when seeking falls away, something far clearer and simpler than spirituality is revealed.
Real meditation is not about mastering a technique; it’s about letting go of control. -Adyashanti
In the same way, if you want to meditate, do so, but it isn’t necessary to awaken. Meditation can indeed help quiet the mind. Meditation is also a valuable lesson—it helps us see how fearful the mind really is of the present moment. If you’ve never meditated, as an experiment, sit yourself down, quietly and alone, and you may be surprised at the rebellion of your own mind. Many people are afraid of meditation. Others feel meditation is a path. Some may even feel it’s the only path. A meditation practice can be valuable, and it can also be an obstacle. The ego loves the attaining of meditating and various stages of consciousness and advancement. Some even latch onto the woo-woo states that can happen in meditation, but these are just more mind-states. Meditate if you want to. You don’t have to.
“The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgment. On the emotional level, it is some form of negativity. … The more you are identified with your mind, the more you suffer.” Eckhart Tolle
It can help to understand the mind, particularly the ego. If we know a bit about the ego, we can notice its tricks, and lovingly laugh with it. In spiritual circles, the ego is often pictured as a diabolical villain. Well, okay, it can be, but your ego is not a separate entity from you. It is the voice in your head. It is a bunch of thoughts, which represents itself as a wise and trustworthy guide—often we realize it’s not wise or trustworthy, but this doesn’t diminish our compulsion to follow it. We condition ourselves to closely identify with the ego. We believe the thoughts that rise from the ego, even when they argue against reality. Following the ego is following a rascaly guide, but the illusion is strong and tricky. When we realize we have an ego, sometimes we fight it, resist it, and get angry at it. But this is a diabolical trick: this is the ego discovering itself. Getting angry with the ego or going to battle with it or resisting it, doesn’t do much good. It’s better just to notice it, with a smile. The whole thing is rather mysterious—as much trouble as the ego causes, it is also true that it is the ego that notices the illusion and it is the ego which decides to awaken—though it can’t. So, in the end, it is the villain which starts the journey from darkness to light.
When driven by the ego, life is lived through a constructed identity. The ego is separates us from all that is. The personality takes on a hard definition with hard boundaries—as ‘someone’ who is defined by their body and mind and past. Experience is dualistic—left and right, up and down, good and bad, desirable and undesirable. The external world is constantly sliced up, labeled and rearranged to suit the ego’s stories. This plays out consciously and subconsciously, in nested feedback loops so life swings between fear and desire, pleasure and pain, and joy is completely conditional on external circumstances.
A cohort of the ego is what Eckhart Tolle calls the “pain-body.” It is Samskara and Karma, or conditioining, and the actions which rise from conditioning. The pain-body works in close conjunction with the ego to cast judgment and repeating cycles of pain and misery. Frequently, it seems we take a peculiar pleasure in engaging the ego-painbody. This is just habit; it’s easier for the mind to follow conditioned grooves, until we see that it’s even easier not to. And again, noticing this transmutes it.
All you have to do to suss out obstacles is to notice them. Don’t think about them; don’t analyze them; don’t block—all of that is just more thinking. Perhaps this is why the Buddha warned not to believe anything anyone says, until it is experience.
A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison.” -Einstein
If you start this you will discover many things on your own. This is where reading about others’ experiences can help recognize shifts and insights, such as:
- We all want joy in our lives. We want sorrowless joy because we know it is possible to have permanent sorrowless joy. Joy can only be found inside. Nothing external will make you happy or unhappy for long.
- The biggest obstacle to Truth is the deep identification we have with the mind. The beginning of awakening is the insight that “I am not thought.”
- Awareness: the question is: who am I?
- “Letting go” is very natural for us. It’s just a matter of remembering what we have always known. Many “spiritual” concepts such as acceptance, gratitude, non-attachment, forgiveness, and surrender are really about letting go.
- Many of the things we consider good, like intelligence, creativity, joy, positivity, and compassion do not come from the thinking mind.
- In the end, all “practices” also must be surrendered. Practice is the mind’s doing. It is all the ways the mind devises, plans, learns, teaches, expounds, spiritualizes, and philosophizes about how to let go of burden. It’s a much simpler trick to just let go of the burden.
- I know there is Awareness. I know all experience is in Now. I know I exist. I know Truth is not the way the mind sees it. Beyond that, what else can I possibly know?
- Effort is required in the beginning but once we get into the flow of awakening, there is no effort. Awakening flows on its own, and it works much better when the ‘me’ out of the way. When we can let go of effort, with glorious relief, we find that Awareness does the job of awakening all by itself.
- I have gone through emotional turmoil while awakening. The external world changes with the internal world. I’ve turned my life upside down in the last three years, traveling, giving up a career, writing and so on. It’s not always comfortable to lose the familiar world and mind. Old stuff comes up. I’ve experienced swings in energy, mood, apathy and involvement, isolation and engagement, confusion and clarity, peace and anxiety, good health and bad, swings in weight, swings in the material success and loss, purity and recidivism. There are periods of doubt and sometimes feelings of self-indulgence come up. There are swings between certainty and uncertainty. However, there is absolutely no anxiety about the apparent lack of direction—at this point it’s all rather fascinating and mysterious. Releasing heals whatever comes up. It helps to remember that courage shows up as needed. We never have to go beyond the edge of fear.
- Awakening does not promise success in the way the ego defines success.
- Awakening can wax and wan. A strange thing that’s happened several times to me is that there are times I’ve felt very confident in the flow of awakening, and then life throws something at me to remind me that I’m not quite as aware as I thought. There is still work to do.
- It is important to rely only on direct experience, and not on what I read or hear, even if it is from a favorite “spiritual” guide. Lester Levenson said it best when he said “take it for the checking.” Don’t deny, don’t follow. Don’t take anything seriously until you ‘check’ it with experience.
Summing up the Two-step Dance
- Find a release technique which resonates with you
- Find an Awareness technique which resonates with you
- An essential question is: Is there joy, openness and lightness in your life? It takes a gentle honesty to answer this from the heart.
- “Do not seek Truth; only cease to cherish opinion.”
- It can help to understand the mind. A bare understanding of thought, emotions, the ego, beliefs, and conditioning, can help us notice these movements in stillness.