The other side of the coin: exploring common myths about awakening

Anything expressed – statements, ideas, guidelines, frameworks, insights – are relative truths. They each have limited, temporary and conditional validity, and the same is the case for each of their turnarounds.

Here are some common views related to awakening, how they may appear true, and their reversals.

I, I am

I am… something. There is an I placed on a segment of what is – my human self, my soul, myself as the seeing aspect of pure awareness.

As long as there is a belief in the idea of I, or of I am, everything gets filtered through this belief. The whole world will appear as I and Other, creating a sense of separation, alienation, something lacking, precariousness.

This is the big one, and some spiritual traditions seem to operate on this assumption. It allows for an awakening to deity mysticism and witness levels. If it goes further, into realized selflessness, it is more in spite of than aided by this assumption.

How it is true: When there is a belief in the idea of I, there certainly appears to be an I. It is the job of the mind to make our beliefs appear true, in any way possible. It is also true that there is this human self, and this awareness it happens within, but that does not mean there is an I anywhere there.

There is no I: Well, is there really an I anywhere in all of this? Where is it?

Is it anywhere within awareness, any content of awareness, any object of awareness? No, this is all seen, so I must be what is seeing it. I must be this clear awakeness that it arises within.

This still leaves a separation, an I as seeing and Other as seen. Where is the demarcation line between the two? Where does Other end and I begin? I cannot find that boundary. It now appears as the seen and the seeing is not separate. The seen does not seem different from the seeing. The content of awareness does not seem different from awareness itself.

In seeing this clearly, the whole sense of I falls away. There is no I to be found anywhere, not in the seeing and not in the seen.

I am a human being

This creates an appearance of I and Other where I am my human self, and everything else – including awareness, soul, God, Spirit, is Other.

How it is true: Well, there is certainly a human self here, and a functional connection to it with input and output. To that extent it is true, but is there an I anywhere in this human self?

I am not a human being: My human being is an object in awareness, it is a part of the content, not inherently different from any other part of the content – the sky, clouds, birds, cars. Content comes and goes, it is limited in time and space. But something does not come and go. Something is not limited in time and space. Something is free of any of the characteristics of content. What is that? Isn’t that more who I am?

It is difficult to awaken

Is it difficult to awaken? I guess it depends on how we look at it, but it seems that a sincere wish to awaken leads to (or at least precedes) awakening.

How it is true: Many people spend lots of time and energy trying to awaken, with little effect. That certainly appears to be true.

It is difficult to not awaken: Yes, it takes lots of energy and attention to believe in ideas and filter the world through them, creating and appearance of I and Other and everything else we are familiar with.

It takes work to awaken

How it is true: Sometimes a lot of practice seems to precede awakening, and we typically assign causality there, so it appears true in that way.

It takes work to not awaken: Yes, same as the previous one. It takes a lot of work to stay deluded, to believe ideas, to hold onto them, to prop them up, to find evidence for them, to reject contradictory ideas, to hold what is already real for us in immediate experience at bay, and so on.

Ego resists awakening

How it is true: Well, there certainly appears to be resistance to awakening, but this can also be seen as mere confusion and (apparently) not knowing the way out.

The ego does not resist awakening: That seems more true. There is just innocent habits and confusion there, and it may appear to resist awakening.

It is possible to be attached to objects

It is possible to be attached to objects – to material things, people, situations, and so on.

How it is true: Again, it appears true. It seems that lots of people are attached to objects. In fact, it seems to be the norm.

It is not possible to be attached objects: Exploring it a little more closely, this appears to be more true. I find that any attachment here is to ideas, and when I believe these ideas I may act as if I am attached to objects, but that is all. There is only the appearance of being attached to objects.

Thoughts are a problem

Thoughts are a problem. They make us all confused. They create suffering for us. It would be better without them.

How it is true: Thoughts appear to sometimes create problems for us. There is obsessive thinking, circular thinking, self-defeating thinking, and so on, and these thoughts themselves seem to be a problem.

Thoughts are not a problem: Again, this seems more true. It is only when there is an attachment to and belief in ideas that there is a problem, if then. Attaching to ideas, my view is stuck and narrow, and I am not receptive to the insights and truths in other – apparently opposing – views. I become inflexible. Whenever the world does not conform to my beliefs, there is stress.

The human self, or anything about the human self, is a problem

How it is true: Our human self certainly appear to be a burden sometimes. It is not the way I think it should be, and it is I or me, so I take it personally. My human self seem to be a problem.

This human self is not a problem: That seems more true. It is just living its own life. Everything about this human self, from its appearance to choices and behaviors, has infinite causes – reaching back to the beginnings of time and out to the extent of space. It is just innocently living its own life, living out what it has to due to these infinite causes. It is just a puppet with a million strings attached.

Something about the human self needs to change for awakening to occur

How it is true: Well, the human self has typically reorganized quite a bit, through various forms of practices, prior to an awakening. There appear to be causality there.

Nothing in this human self needs to change for awakening to occur: No, this human self is just content of awareness, and the awakening is in the context: from a sense of I to a realization of selflessness, of no I anywhere.

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