Spiritual awakening is extremely practical, and it is for you if you want it. You can find liberation from the suffering caused by the unobserved mind. You can live with an uncaused joy, connected to others, and in the flow with life. Awakening is not an extraordinary state or a rare achievement; it is your true nature.
What is a spiritual awakening
Spiritual awakening merely is knowing reality rather than being lost in needless thought. Needless thought that causes a sense of separation within you is what causes your suffering and prevents you from experiencing life through the peace of your being. Awakening isn’t a destination; it’s a process. You could say that it is the way back home to who you are. As you start to let go of the different ways that the mind fights with life and live more in the presence of your being, your understanding and idea of experiencing life changes. Fear and confusion fall away, and you find an inner happiness that is not dependent on what happens.
Spirituality is Completely Practical
Spirituality is very practical. The word practical, of course, means having to do with practice, rather than theory. A useful spiritual tool is one that awakens you to what is real through direct experience.
The most direct question to ask yourself is: Do you experience yourself as primarily a body and a mind? You may have an immediate answer, but what is your experience? You experience the five senses through the so-called body and mind, but who is the “you” experiencing the body, thoughts/emotions, and the five senses? What is the experiencer of this moment that is always here while all experience arises and falls? It is the deeper you, which is ever-present, allows everything to be, and is always/already peaceful. You can call this spirit.
A Powerfully Effective Spiritual Practice
The more you bring yourself back to this beingness (the deeper you) that is already peaceful and already present, the more you are awake to reality. The mind weaves a story about “what is” that takes you out of the “suchness” of now. It is easy to see that ruminating over the past and future that doesn’t exist is the root of suffering. The more awake you are to the presence of your being, the less mental commentary or story, therefore, the more peace.
Ground yourself in you, and you will be grounded in the now. When the mind pulls you out of the present moment, remember who you are and what is real: Deeper than the body/mind, you are peaceful awareness, present here and now. When you identify with mind chatter, you are fighting what is, was, and what might happen.
Your task as a spiritual practitioner is to remember who you are and what is real. You are aware, and you are the present moment (which is the same). Ground yourself in that. When the mind causes suffering, your job is to be aware and witness the mind chatter and emotional reactions. Awareness, in essence, allows all to be. Usually, by allowing/observing, the old patterns go away without much work on your part.
The Four Phases of Awakening
1) The first practice is to separate yourself as awareness from thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. The direct experience through witnessing, mindfulness, and self-inquiry are that you are not what happens; you are the “knower” of what happens. Seeing all that arises is an excellent tool for this.
2) The next step, usually in due time, is to come to know that everything else that you have separated yourself from in phase one: thoughts, emotions, and what arises through the five senses consist of the same awareness. There are no separate “things”, everything comes and goes within you and there is no independent you in which all of this happens. It is all consciousness.
3) Embodying the awakening to who you are is doing the work necessary for consciousness to express itself free from the contractions and resisting thought patterns centered on the idea that “I am a separate self.” Life will show you where ego still inhabits your life through your confusions and challenges. Much suffering may have fallen away in steps one and two (awakening), this phase is about getting out of the state of transcendence and living in the “humanness” of your body. We wake up not just to find peace but to live it.
4) This step is to live more and more in touch with intuition and to express yourself in a way that suits your personality. To learn from your mistakes and continually grow as a person. This stage is about living with more purpose and flow. You often do this work through contemplation, self-analysis, and supportive friends/teachers.
The obstacle to awakening
What keeps you feeling separate and in fear is an over-emphasized sense of self that is often called ego. The ego is not a thing; it is a habit of mind activity based on self-centeredness. Self-centeredness isn’t bad; we need it for our survival. However, when this thinking is overactive (which it is for nearly all of us), we are continually trying to get and protect. We see the world as a threat, whether we are aware of it or not. The result is that we feel uncomfortable and act from fear.
The material view
The widely accepted model of reality is the material view. It is the conventional perspective that you are primarily a body and mind, and the brain creates that consciousness. It says that what you see and can measure, which is matter, is all that is real. The material model says that since you and everything else is matter only – you and all other forms are separate.
Why the material model causes suffering
When you know yourself as a body and mind only, you identify with the ego. When you as consciousness forget who you are by believing that you are a body and the mind alone, you look out at other separate forms and experience fear. Also, separation, by definition, gives you the sense that you lack something. So, we can easily see in our ordinary human condition that you (as ego) need to get things to make you feel ok and protect yourself psychologically. We can see how evolution has given us egos for survival, but we can also look at our world and see that this mind activity has taken over our lives. Our complete identification with the ego causes so much suffering from continually fighting with life by saying to ourselves, I want this, but I don’t want that. What you lose when living this way is awareness of your consciousness/spirit and the precious life that you can only find in the present moment.
How do I know what tradition or teacher/coach is right for me?
Life is your ultimate teacher. Whatever is happening in your life is giving you exactly what you need to wake up. You are always receiving an opportunity to be more present and let go of patterns within yourself that are resisting life. If you are suffering or struggling, it means that the ego is in charge during these moments. Emotional distress is a reminder to pay attention to the illusion created by the mind, witness what is happening, and wake up. Your inner guidance is what you always want to follow on your spiritual path. Your emotions are there to tell you what is bringing you to awakening and where there is confusion.
Just as it can be beneficial to have guidance from a coach when you want to become an accomplished piano player or golfer, similarly, it can be helpful to have a guide on your spiritual path. This mentor is someone who knows the territory and can help you to see yourself more clearly.
The main criteria for a spiritual mentor are that they must have found their way to where you want to go – which, if you are a spiritual seeker, is home to The Self. That person won’t be perfect, but they should walk their talk and embody presence while working with you. Part of a spiritual mentor’s job is to be what they are teaching. Most of the communication or transmission happens on a preverbal level.
When it comes to a mentor or a spiritual path, think of them as a map. No need to spend too much time studying the map; just follow it where it takes you. Also, as evident as it sounds, don’t forget that you are the person walking the path. The teacher or coach can help you to inquire into your being, but you have to be the one to look.
If, on your journey, at some point, you sense that you need another map, or you can find the rest of your way home yourself, trust that as well. Different things work for different people at different times.
Trust the awakened you.
Awakening is relinquishing thinking that is causing suffering and grounding yourself in the beingness of your true nature. Your true nature (awareness) is what is awakening through you and is the one that is attracted to the spiritual path in the first place. It wants to know itself more fully through you. As the saying goes, “The heart rejoices in what it already knows.” Follow pointers that resonate with your intuition – it will be more of a feeling and inner guidance than a long explanation. In the last analysis, trust what it is telling you.
How to gauge whether you are in spirit or ego
Emotionally – Are you at peace or suffering?
Intellectually – are your thoughts about what to do simple and quiet or loud and complicated?
In Relationships – Is there love and enjoyment or conflict and resentment.
In Action – Do You feel that your life is an effortless flow or a struggle?
When you are in ego, basic practices to do are:
- Witness/be present
- Let go of unnecessary fighting with life
- Question your thinking.
The irony of spiritual awakening
Your suffering comes because you have ignored, not just a part of your experience, but the experience itself. The wave has suffered because it thinks that it is separate – It awakens when it remembers that it is the ocean. The irony is that you don’t find self-realization by seeking it. You find self-realization when we stop asking and look within. In my particular case, I was so stubborn that I just gave up trying to seek something outside myself and found that it was me all along.
By all means, be a wave, celebrate the gift of human existence, but to live fully and find true happiness, you must remember that we are the ocean, expressing itself as a wave. Do this through being present and letting go of arguing with what already is.
Warning about spiritual awakening
We usually get into spirituality because we want to escape pain, which is quite understandable. It feels uncomfortable at best, horrible at worst, to be a separate entity. Most of us have tried many distractions or short-lived pleasures to numb the awkward and distressing feeling of separation. When we do, we are dependent on the activity, food, drug, etc. to make us feel good. In the end, we usually find that the sense of well-being is temporary, has grave consequences, or stops working altogether. We go to spirituality because it tells us that we can find happiness within, no matter what happens.
It Is true that when you realize who you are, you begin to find real peace, perhaps for the first time, but this is only a beginning. As you understand who we are, you find yourself dealing with the thoughts and emotions that remain in your psyche that are in a state of separation. You don’t just “realize” who you are, but you must embody it. Unfortunately, much of your old conditioning doesn’t just float away. So, you get into this spiritual undertaking to “transcend,” and then you find that to awaken, you must face what is blocking you from living your realization. It takes work, and it doesn’t always feel good. You have to deal with the old conditioning that doesn’t fall away.
Now that you are awake, however, you will be doing the work from a clarity rather than confusion, so our task will usually be less arduous. You are more likely to cooperate with what is already happening rather than trying to make something happen.
Common paths to awakening
A conventional direct means to realize who you are is to practice reminding yourself what is real until you establish yourself in it. The knowing that you are the “it” is the awakening.
Another way is to give up the false idea of control that only your mind thinks that it has and to let The Universe do what it is already doing. “Let go” can be an act of love or an act of utter surrender to the truth of things. As a separate me, you are not the power that moves a star across the sky or that allows your legs to walk.
There are also many ways that the mind keeps you in separation by telling a story that puts you in opposition with life. The stories often make you a victim, superior/right, or less than others. Another useful practice is to question the validity and truth of the thoughts.
Warning about spiritual “superiority.”
Awakening is knowing who you are, which is the presence of your being and your unique personality without the unneeded ego-mind activity that is fighting with life. Waking up is no longer believing that you are a completely separate entity controlling all of life. So, when the wave knows that it is the ocean, is it a huge accomplishment? As a child, many of us have had the experience of being afraid because we thought there was a monster in our closet. When your mother turned on the light and showed you that there was nothing there, had you accomplished something special?
Staying awake means having the humility to know that although you may know who you are, you will never fully “arrive” because you are human. You will fall short in living your realization, but you have the humility to continue or learn and grow.
When you have had a glimpse or a full understanding of your true nature, try not to let your ego sneak back upon you. When there is deeper spiritual understanding, it has occurred because it is not “your” understanding.
Although there are many stories about famous “sages” who have become “enlightened” in one moment, this rarely happens. You may let go so deeply in a moment that there is a seeing of reality that cannot be unseen (a mystical experience). You might even have a shift of perception that permanently changes your way of experiencing life to some extent. I encourage you not to see yourself as reaching a final destination. You may experience some peaceful and liberating side effects from awakening, but it is advisable to see that this is only the beginning of the spiritual unfoldment. Living your realization and expressing it is what matters.
Don’t be fooled by the robes, the ancient rituals, and complicated texts. Spiritual awakening is not just for monks who have dedicated their lives to it. Finding an abiding peace and joy is for you, whoever you are. Don’t let anyone tell you that they have exclusive access to it because of a title, training, or something that allegedly happened in a past lifetime. Just like no fish has exclusive access to water, nobody can give you what you already are.
Try to avoid putting teachers on pedestals who are showing you the way. Feeling less than someone is ego, just like feeling better than someone is. You may feel a lot of gratitude, or love in the relationship with the spiritual guide, but remember that we are all waves, there is no special one. If your heart opens, keep it open, but don’t give up discernment to a person. As you become more awake, your intuition should be getting stronger. If it does not seem to be, check to see if you are giving authority to someone else. Remember that one of the main signs of higher consciousness is that you are in touch with your inner discernment and guidance. You don’t want to give this to someone else because it is counterproductive, but people can have egos with plans that are not in your best interest.
Is there an end or a goal to spiritual realization?
There are two things that you can fully realize: that you are formless spirit and that everything else is that same spirit. But learning how to express this awakening through your human, unique personality, is a never-ending learning process and adventure. Living your awakening (understanding of oneness) is how you find real fulfillment and make this world a better place. Life, of course, has no purpose unless you decide it does. Why not determine that the meaning of life is to find out who you are and to live from that place, so you can enjoy it to the fullest and be as useful as possible?
The simpler and more direct the pointers to self-realization, the quicker you are likely to get there. The mind wants to complicate things. Awakening is finding the always/already peaceful awareness deeper than the mind, seeing your obstacles to living that, and enjoying how consciousness wants to express through you. Waking up and living it, as I like to call it, is about finding both peace and purpose. Reconnect with the IAMness that you are at the deepest level as much as you can, allow whatever is to be, witness your suffering, and question insane thinking. These are the main pointers that work for nearly everyone. Expressing your awakeness in the world is unique for you and is a constant learning process.