There are a lot of myths about awakening in our culture, and perhaps other cultures too. I suspect most of them come from wishful thinking. They are what we – when there is less clarity – wish for and dream for. They are a “dream of the ego”.
Of course, many have done what they can to dispel these myths, and it seems that these days, most teachers do. In all of us, there is something that value what’s real and practical more than dreams and fantasies.
First, a brief description of what awakening is, in my experience:
What we are – that which our whole field of experience happens within and as – recognizes itself, independent of any content of experience. And this may be described as presence, awareness, love. (A presence, awareness, love, which recognizes itself as this content of experience, as it is here now.)
An awakening can happen easily and quickly. It’s what we are recognizing itself. The awakening process can be longer and ongoing. It’s a clarifying and stabilizing of this recognition, and a reorganization and realigning of our human self within this new context.
Awakening can be used in three different ways. (Sorry.) (a) It means an initial awakening or opening. An initial recognition of what we are of itself, as all there is. (b) It also means the ongoing awakening process, which includes an ongoing clarification and more stable recognition, and an ongoing reorganization of our human self. (c) It can also refer to how we are when the awakening process is a bit more mature, and there is more clarity and stable recognition, and our human self is more aligned with it. (I usually don’t use it in this sense, since this part for me is also ongoing. There isn’t an end point for this, at least not until we die.)
The myths about awakening seem to fall into two general categories:
What it is.
What it means for our human self.
And here are some more specific myths, and what seems more real to me:
What it is.
Not already here. Is it true that what I am seeking is not already here? Is it true the peace is not already here? The love? (Even if it seems very faint?)
A state. It’s not a state of experience, where our content of experience somehow is fixed. It’s more of a state of recognition. What we are – that which our whole field of experience happens within and as – recognizes itself, independent of any content of experience. There is a recognition of the peace, love, and joy that’s always here, even if it’s more faint, and the rest of our field of experience shifts and changes are before, including sometimes going through the full range of emotions, pain, and more.
Either/or. It’s not so much a binary shift, although it can certainly be experienced that way – especially in the beginning. What we are is always here, and we do often notice it, often without recognizing its significance. And even when the recognition is more clear and stable, there may be times when attention is absorbed into thought (or when there is identification with a thought and a viewpoint) and that recognition goes in the background or is temporarily “forgotten”. There is a big middle zone here, in my experience. And I suspect that there will often be some shifts, even if the recognition is much more established.
An end point. It’s an “end point” in the sense that what we are recognizes itself. It’s not an end point, since what we are keeps revealing itself to itself. It’s also certainly not an end point in how we live from it, or how our human self can transform within this recognition in terms of healing, maturing, and more. Life keeps on going.
Difficult. It’s not really that difficult for what we are to recognize itself. It can happen quite simply and quickly through following pointers, for instance from the headless experiments, the Big Mind process, the Living Inquiries, and more. It may indeed take time for this recognition to clarify and stabilize, and for the rest of us – our human self – to reorganize and align with this. That seems to be an ongoing process. And parts of this process may be experienced as quite challenging.
Pleasant. An awakening and awakening process can be relatively simple and easy. And it can also involve a lot of struggle, pain, and even suffering. It seems very individual, and each phase can also be quite different. For me, the initial phase was somewhat challenging although not hugely. The second phase was generally quite pleasant. And the third phase, the dark night of the soul, has been very challenging and at times painful.
What it means for our human self.
No problems. The “dream of the ego” is that awakening means no more problems. Reality is often different. The awakening process itself can be quite challenging, and bring up a lot of previously unloved and unquestioned trauma, wounds, pain, and more. (As our human self reorganizes and realigns.) And our human life will tend to have the universal human challenges, including what comes up in relationships, work, money, health, and more. We continue to live very human, and sometimes messy, lives. Just look at what happened to Jesus, and any number of other saints and teachers. Their lives were often not easy.
Perfect health. This is another “dream of the ego”. When we are less clear, perfect health seems like an ideal and a dream. Most of us will naturally have that preference which is perfectly fine and even healthy. And yet, illness and physical problems is part of being an ordinary human, and an awakening very much means being an ordinary human being. For some, or perhaps all, of us, illness in in our human experience. It helps remind us we are very human, just like anyone else. It can even be a part of an awakening process. For instance, a kundalini process will sometimes include periods of poor health and physical problems. And just being human means illness sometimes comes our way. The difference is that we see it’s OK. If it’s here, we may even find the gifts in it.
Perfect wisdom, love, insight, teachings etc. This is very similar to what I mentioned above. We are still very much human. We have our preferences, wounds, hangups, blind spots, perhaps even trauma. What we are is, in a way, perfect love and wisdom, and this gets “filtered” through our human self, with all its idiosyncrasies and shortcomings. (I don’t like that way of talking about it since it sets up a duality that isn’t really there. I think I wrote it more because it’s similar to what I have heard others say. And that’s a good example of a very human shortcoming!)
No pain, sadness, anger, grief etc. Again, as above. As humans, we will have the full range of emotions. These may come up during the awakening process, as a reaction to what’s happening, or as part of the reorganization of our human self. And they come up just because we are human. There is nothing wrong in this. And most of us, if we are honest, wouldn’t have it any other way. What’s different is that when there is some recognition of what we are, these experiences can flow through with less resistance, and we may even recognize them as what we are – as presence, love – and be perfectly OK with them as they are here. They are honored guests.
And an additional one:
Living in the present. This is often misunderstood. Awakening does indeed mean to “live in the present”. And that’s because we recognize that “the present” is all there is for us. Everything happens here, including any thoughts and feelings about the past or future. (It doesn’t at all mean to try to avoid or suppress any thoughts about past or present. That would be stupidity, to put it bluntly.)