Why I am drawn to a psychological interpretation of awakening

There are benefits to both a big (spiritual) and small (psychological) interpretation of awakening.

Here, I’ll revisit some of the upsides and downsides of both, and say a few words about why I am more drawn to the small interpretation these days.

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

In a conventional sense and to others, I am this human self in the world. This is also what I may imagine myself to be if I take on what others tell me I am. This is not wrong, but it’s not what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience.

When I look in my own first-person experience, I may find something else. I find that my nature is capacity for the world as it appears to me. It’s what allows any and all experience. And I find I am what the world, to me, happens within and as.

Both are valid in their own way. One is who I am in the world. The other is what I am in my own first-person experience.

THE BIG AND SMALL INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

We can leave it there and that’s the small or psychological interpretation of awakening.

Logically, I find that to myself, I have to be consciousness. And the world, to me, happens within and as this consciousness. To me, the world happens within and as what I am.

And that’s also what I find when I look in my own experience. I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me, and what the world – to me – happens within and as.

We can also take this one step further, and that’s the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

We can say that the nature of existence and reality is the same as my nature. All of existence is consciousness AKA Spirit, God, Brahman, and so on.

Since the world, to me happens within and as what I am, it will inevitably appear to me as if the nature of existence is the same as my nature. It will appear as if the world IS consciousness. And we can take a leap and say that this appearance is how it is: The nature of all of existence and reality is the same as my nature and what we can call Spirit or God.

A FEW UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES TO EACH

Each of these two interpretations has upsides and downsides.

What are some of the upsides of the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening? It may be more inspiring. It’s often expressed in a more poetic way. In terms of language, it’s what we are more familiar with from the different spiritual traditions. Ultimately, it may also be closer to reality.

What are some of the downsides to the big or spiritual interpretation? Mainly, it tends to encourage misconceptions about awakening. It can make it sound special, distant, for just a few, and so on.

The small or psychological interpretation of awakening also has upsides and downsides. It generally takes a more grounded and sober approach to awakening and makes it closer and more ordinary. It may also make it sound a bit more dry and boring. (Which I, personally, see as a benefit. It counteracts some of the common misconceptions about awakening.)

WHY I PREFER THE SMALL INTERPRETATION THESE DAYS

For a few years following the initial awakening shift in my teens, I definitely used the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

After all, to me, all of existence clearly was consciousness and what I called Spirit and God.

And now, I am more drawn to exploring the small interpretation of awakening.

Why has this shifted for me?

It may be a natural shift from one end of this polarity to the other so I’ll get more familiar with both.

Another reason is that the big or spiritual interpretation is more mainstream. Spiritual traditions and mystics have typically used the big interpretation of awakenings, and the small one is a slightly less explored ground, both historically and for myself. And that makes it more interesting to me.

I also see many benefits to it, as I suggested above.

The big interpretation of awakening tends to come with misconceptions. We may think it’s special, distant from us, for just a few. We may assume it comes with special powers. We may assume it’s a state or that it will solve all our problems. We may get seduced and mislead by the many fanciful stories about awakening, or the wishful thinking we often see among those drawn to it. (The connection between the big interpretation and misconceptions is not inevitable.)

The small interpretation tends to be more grounded and sober. It shows us it’s about what we are which is already here and now. It shows us that it’s not about a state. It’s not about anything within content of experience. It won’t give us any special powers.

The small interpretation is more compatible with a range of worldviews. Here, awakening is about finding what we already are in our own first-person experience. It’s about finding and exploring how to live from noticing our nature. It doesn’t say anything about the nature of the rest of existence and reality.

The small interpretation makes awakening more available to more people, for some of the reasons mentioned above. It’s more logical. It doesn’t say anything about the nature of reality or existence as a whole. It’s more honest. It points to something we all can explore and find where and now, with some pointers and perhaps with the guidance of someone familiar with this terrain.

Since it talks about our own first-person experience, it can provide common ground – and a kind of smallest common denominator – for people exploring awakening from a range of different spiritual traditions and religions.

The small interpretation appears more logical. If we think about it logically, we see that to ourselves we have to be consciousness, and to us, the world has to appear within and as this consciousness. We can take this through a few steps: (1) There is conscusness here. (2) No matter who or what we are in a more objective sense, to ourselves we have to be this consciousness. (3) Any content of experience, including this human self and the wider world, has to happen within and as this consciousness. (4) To us, the world happens within and as what we are. (5) We are oneness and to us, the world happens withi and as this oneness. Again, this doesn’t say anything about the nature of the rest of existence. This is just about how it is to ourselves when we look more closely.

The small interpretation is more honest for me. It’s what I can say something about without leaps of faith. It’s more honest for me to differentiate between the small and big interpretation of awakening, and look at the upsides and limitations of both.

That said, I love that both the big and small interpretations exist and that there are variations of both. They both have their value and usefulness.

Note: Because of my health and brain fog, I have been out of the loop for more than a decade when it comes to what others say about these things. So I am not sure who else talks about this, although I assume there must be several. If you are reading this and know about others, please leave a comment 🙂


INITIAL OUTLINE

  • The benefits of a small interpretation of awakening 
    • what is awakening?
      • in the world, to others, human self in the world
      • to ourselves, more fundamentally something else
        • capacity, what the world happens within and as
    • what is small and big interpretation?
      • small, psychological – stays w. what we can check out / say something about
      • big, spiritual – makes more assumptions
      • both have upsides and downsides
        • small
          • more simple, grounded, independent of worldviews
        • big
          • more inspirational, more aligned with the traditions, may ultimately be more accurate
          • all is Spirit, God etc.
    • the benefits of the small interpretation
      • points to what’s here and now
        • can check out for ourselves  
        • Doesn’t make assumptions beyond what’s here 
        • is more honest
      • Makes it more ordinary and down to earth 
        • can be understood in a grounded and simple way
        • Invites more ordinary language, more free of jargon
      • Is more independent of worldviews
        • compatible with whatever worldview people may already have since is about our first-person experience, what we are in our own first-person experience, not about how reality or existence is  
      • Makes more logical sense 
        • to ourselves, we have to be consciousness and the world happens within and as this consciousness / what we are
        • From logic, is inevitable 
      • explains why the big interpretation came about, how it appears that way
        • since, to us, the world happens within and as what we are
        • will appear as if existence itself has the same nature as we do
        • as if existence itself is consciousness AKA Spirit, God
        • inevitable
      • … 

We can leave it there and that’s the small or psychological interpretation of awakening. Logically, I find I have to be consciousness and the world, to me, happens within and as consciousness. To me, it happens within and as what I am. And that’s also what I find when I look in my own experience.

For instance, the big or spiritual interpretation may be more inspiring, it’s what we are more familiar with from the different spiritual traditions, and it may ultimately be closer to reality. And it may also make awakening sound special, distant, and so on.

….

Since the world, to me happens within and as what I am, it will inevitably appear to me as if the nature of existence is the same as my nature. It will appear as if all of existence IS consciousness AKA Spirit or God. **

…..

We can also take this one step further, and that’s the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

We can say that the nature of existence and reality is the same as my nature. All of existence is consciousness AKA Spirit, God, Brahman, and so on.

…..

I’ll go into the benefits of a small interpretation in a little more detail.

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