I have written about this before and thought I would revisit it.
I’ll look at why we would ask the question, some foundations, and then answer the question more directly.
Why would we ask the question?
It can be pragmatic. We are looking for a guide, and want to know roughly if that person is familiar with the terrain.
It can be that we want to learn about awakening itself – what it is and its complexities.
It can be about finding something or someone to idolize and project onto, and perhaps hope that this person can somehow save us.
It can be about putting the label on ourselves in order to feel special, better, and compensate for a sense of lack, and this comes from separation consciousness.
Both of the last two often rest on a series of assumptions about awakening. For instance, that it’s special, it makes us special, it makes us better than others, it will save us, it will bring us to a constant state of bliss, it will remove challenges and problems, and so on. All of these are misconceptions and if we have these ideas, it’s good to examine them through inquiry and get a reality check by talking with someone who has a grounded and pragmatic approach and personal familiarity with it.
Also, if we find ourselves idealizing it, we can use it to discover more about ourselves. We can use it to identify and find healing for emotional issues (often feeling not good enough as we are). We can identify and examine our stressful beliefs behind it. In this way, we use it to find healing and clarity.
What is awakening?
I tend to talk about awakening and not so much enlightenment, and I’ll say more about the distinction below.
Awakening has to do with noticing what we are. To notice that the world, as it appears to us, happens within and as what we are.
Said another way, we are capacity for the world. We are awake space for the world as it appears to us.
What we already are
Awakening is noticing what we are, and in terms of what we are, we are no different from each other.
We are awake capacity for our world.
This is the basics and the essence. Any noticing comes on top. It doesn’t change what we are.
Anyone can notice
Anyone can notice what they are, at least if we have some willingness and guidance.
We can be guided through the headless experiments, the Big Mind process, or similar forms of semi-structured forms of inquiry that helps us notice what we are.
It’s not something terribly mysterious or hidden or just for special people. It’s for all of us.
This noticing is what we are noticing what we are. It’s simple and natural.
Yes or no? It’s not that simple
The yes/no question comes from a slight misconception of awakening.
Awakening is a process.
We can have glimpses of what we are. We can notice.
We can notice in more and more situations in daily life.
We can live from this noticing. We can live from it in more situations in daily life.
We can invite the parts of us – our subpersonalities living from separation consciousness – to join in. We can recognize these as what we are. We can invite them to heal. We can invite them to realign within oneness.
And all of this is an ongoing process. Nothing happens once and for all. It seems that there are always more parts of us operating from separation consciousness that come to the surface to join in with the noticing.
The difference between awakening and enlightenment
I like to differentiate awakening and enlightenment.
For me, awakening is the awakening process – all the way from no interest to beginning interest, glimpses, noticing, living from it, deepening, and so on.
Enlightenment is a word I usually don’t use. When I do, I use it to refer to stable noticing + stable living from this noticing. It means that all our human parts – all subpersonalities, all parts of our psyche – are aligned with a conscious noticing of reality. They have shifted out of separation consciousness and are aligned with oneness.
This typically means that these parts of us are recognized as the divine, recognize themselves as the divine, are healed, and operate and are fully aligned with oneness.
This is an abstract ideal that can be misleading. It ignores that we cannot know if all parts of us are there or not, until they are triggered and we see them. It ignores that it’s a process of noticing, living from it, and inviting more parts of us to join in with the awakening. It’s certainly not where I am in my own process. And that’s why I usually don’t use the word.
I should mention that not everyone uses this distinction. I do since I find it useful.
No-one here to be enlightened
Finally, the “are you awake or not” question only makes sense if we are seen as primarily a separate being and a human in the world.
To ourselves, the question doesn’t make so much sense. We wake up out of the idea of being inherently or ultimately a separate being. It’s oneness that wakes up to itself. So there is no “I” here to be enlightened. There is just a human being that can live from it, imperfectly and more or less.
Answering the question honestly
If someone asks the question, it’s usually from sincerity and a genuine interest, so it’s worth taking the question seriously and answering it as well as can.
Saying there is no-one here to be enlightened is accurate enough, and it points to something important about awakening. And if we leave it there, it can feel like a dismissal of the question.
That’s why it can be helpful to explain the process and answer honestly where we are in the process.
And it’s also helpful to point out that many have a lot of misconceptions about awakening, that what it’s about is what we all already are, that there are ways to relatively easily notice what it is about. If it’s appropriate, we can also give some pointers about how we can work with the question to find some healing and clarity for ourselves.
What would I say?
How would I answer the question?
I would say that it’s relatively easy for me to notice what I am. That noticing is something in the background when I am focused on something that requires a lot of my attention, and sometimes more in the foreground.
At the same time, there are many parts of my human self that still operate from separation consciousness. These are parts of me that need healing and often surface to join in with the awakening. I am sometimes struggling with this process, and sometimes it’s a bit easier.
And I would say what I mentioned above, that what wakes up is not this human self. It’s what we all are to ourselves that wakes up to itself.
So am I awake? It depends on your definition. Anyone can notice what they are. It’s not terribly special or hidden or difficult to notice with the right guidance.
Living from it, and living from it in more and more situations, is what’s sometimes challenging.