The grey zone of awakening

Awakening is sometimes presented as binary: either there is awakening or there is not.

In one sense, that’s accurate. And it’s also far from the whole picture.


Most of us were trained to take ourselves as this human self, as an object in the world. That’s not wrong, it’s just not what we most fundamentally are to ourselves.

Awakening refers to finding ourselves as capacity for the world, and what our experiences – of this human self and the wider world – happen within and as.

We wake out of the dream of most fundamentally being this human being, and instead find ourselves as what it all happens within and as.

This isn’t so mysterious as it can sound. In a dream, all our experiences happen within and as consciousness, and that’s how waking life is as well. To ourselves, we are consciousness, and all our experiences happen within and as consciousness, within and as what we are. (The “consciousness” label comes with some practical problems so I usually don’t use it, but it seemed appropriate here.)

In a sense, it is binary. We either notice or not, and we either recognize what we notice or not. And yet, that’s only a small part of the story and the reality of it is far more complex and rich.


We are this whether we notice or not. Our true nature is the same. We are still capacity for the world, and all our experiences still happen within and as what we are.

Our content of experience is the same whether we notice or not. Our senses still take in the same type of information. Our sense fields are filled with the same types of experiences. (There are some experiences that can come with awakening, but that’s for another article.)

And awakening isn’t inherently better or worse. It’s all life playing itself out.


All of us have moments – for instance in flow states – where we find what we are. We find ourselves as capacity for the world, and there is a softening or release of our ordinary identifications.

We may just not recognize it as that. We notice what we are, and don’t recognize it.


If we notice what we are, there is still a grey zone in several ways.

We may be guided to notice what we are, and not take it seriously. It can seem too simple, too ordinary, too unremarkable. So we don’t explore it further.

We may notice, and then get more focused on the memory of it than again noticing here and now.

We may notice in some situations, and not so much in other situations. We get caught up in our old separation consciousness ways of operating which temporarily distracts us from noticing.

Even if we notice what we are, we still have bubbles of separation consciousness in us. We can label these beliefs, hangups, emotional issues, or traumas. Whether these are triggered or not, they are still here and color our perception and life. And when they are triggered, we either get caught in them or we relate to them more intentionally. And when we relate to them more intentionally, we can hold the space for them to join in with the awakening and oneness, and find deep healing.


So awakening is not quite like an on-or-off switch.

Our true nature is the same whether we notice what we are or not. The content of our experience is mostly the same.

We all sometimes find what we are, for instance in flow states, and may not recognize it as that.

And even if we consciously notice what we are, there are still grey areas.

We may notice and not take it seriously.

We may notice sometimes and not other times.

We still have bubbles of separation consciousness in us, and these color our perception and life.

We sometimes, and in some areas of life, get caught up in these bubbles and live from separation consciousness.


There are several upsides to this grey zone, and several gifts in it.

Our true nature is the same, no matter what.

We are more familiar with what we are, and closer to noticing, than we may realize.

And when we notice, it’s the beginning of another adventure. It’s an ongoing noticing, it’s an ongoing exploration of how to live from it, and it’s an ongoing process of inviting more parts of our human self to join in with the awakening.


Why do some like to present awakening as binary?

Some may talk about the very specific way it is binary. We either notice or not, and we either recognize what we notice or not. This is accurate, but far from the whole picture.

Some traditions and teachers may present it as binary to the general public, in order to simplify, and use a more nuanced approach with their serious students.

And it may also be a dream from separation consciousness. When we are caught in separation consciousness, it can be comforting or enticing to assume it’s an on-off switch. In our fantasy, it becomes one shift that will take care of everything.

Note: This article is an expansion of a section from Is awakening inherently better than not being awake?

Two forms of completely ordinary insanity

Some forms of insanity are completely normal.


Two of these especially stand out to me.

One is separation consciousness. Most people function from separation consciousness, even if this is out of alignment with reality and comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about our identity. It’s normal and even considered healthy because it’s so common. And a clear understanding of this is typically ignored, and sometimes viewed with suspicion and as a fantasy or something unhealthy, since it’s less common and less understood.

The other is the bubbles of more obvious insanity most of us live with. These are bubbles in our psyche and system made up of stressful beliefs, hangups, emotional issues, and trauma. When these are triggered, and we go into them and perceive and live from them, we temporarily become insane. It’s often clear to others that we are, unless they too are caught up in something similar. And it’s often obvious to ourselves that we were, after the storm has passed.


The first type of insanity is cured by noticing what we are. Especially when we come into the habit of noticing this and keep exploring how to live from it.

The second type of insanity is cured by whatever way we find helpful to heal emotional wounds and hangups. This may be inquiry or cognitive psychology, dialog with a wise person or with these parts of us, somatic or energy work, and so on.

The two are also connected. The second makes it easier for us to notice and live from noticing what we are in more situations. It helps with embodiment. And the first can help these bubbles to align with reality and oneness when they surface, especially if we have that intention. In a very real sense, these bubbles then join in with the awakening, and that allows for deeper healing.

Bubbles of confusion

This is something many talk and write about these days:

There may be an initial awakening or opening (as it was for me in my mid-teens). There is a shift into Big Mind/Heart. Spirit notices itself as everything and everyone, without exception. The world (Spirit, God, Brahman) is revealed as a seamless whole. The boundary between inner and outer is revealed as just coming from an image overlaid on perception. The images of me and I are recognized as only images, and identification with them may be released at a conscious level, and may or may not release at an emotional level.

During this time, there may still be wounds and beliefs at the human level. And they may not be noticed much, for a while, since attention is released out of these wounds and beliefs. The brilliant light of Spirit is so strong that these – in contrast – minor hangups are barely noticed.

At some point, these wounds and beliefs surface again. They want to be included in the light. They want to align with reality. Emotions that were stuffed as they initially surfaced, often prior to the awakening, surface now to have their life, to be felt, to move through, and release. Beliefs created earlier in life, and still held at an emotional and sometimes conscious level, surface to be inquired into, so the thought can be released from being taken as true.

This may happen within Spirit noticing itself. There may not be any “need” for Spirit to re-identify as a me and/or I. The surfacing and moving through of stuffed emotions, and the surfacing and inquiry into beliefs, may happen within Spirit remaining aware of itself as all of it. This happened for me, to some extent, during the initial illumination phase.

Another option is that Spirit may temporarily re-identify as the me and/or I. One way of looking at this is that certain crucial images and thoughts have not been seen through thoroughly. Another is that this temporary re-identification allows emotions and beliefs to surface without being eclipsed by the brilliance of Spirit recognizing itself. This may be a darker dark night, and for me, this is what happened following the illumination phase. And even then, it shifted to some extent between the two options.

This is all about our human self, allowing it to reorganize and realign with reality more thoroughly, at more levels, in more areas of life, in relation to more of the possible thoughts that come up in us. It can bring clarity and insights into more areas of life, and it allows Spirit noticing itself to live with more kindness through this human life.

Spirit may well notice itself, as described initially, and yet be hindered in it’s expressed by remaining wounds and beliefs at a human level. The more clarity there is on the variety of thoughts surfacing, the more stuffed emotions are released, the more there is a deep healing and maturing at a human level, the more free Spirit is in it’s expression and it’s life through and as this human self in the world.

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Reversals, bubbles and identification


Some relationships between reversals, bubbles of confusion, and identification.

Any experience – any state, any content of experience – shifts into it’s reversals. There is clarity, then confusion. Bliss then neutrality. Joy then sadness. Insights then lack of insights. Energy then tiredness. A human self here, then no human self here. And so on. This is an invitation to notice what happens when there thoughts about this – I need bliss, joy is better than sadness – are taken as true, and explore what may be more true. It’s also an invitation to notice what already allows and is it all. And it’s an invitation to ask myself if I am content of this experience, or that which it all happens within and as.

Bubbles of confusion surface. They were or are formed within confusion, and surface to be seen, felt, loved and digested and learned from. They are universally human, so this is an invitation to see what happens if I open my heart to them as they surface here or in others. There is also an invitation to notice what happens when they are resisted, and what happens when they are met – with some kindness and wisdom – as a suffering being, as I would meet any suffering being. Another invitation is to notice the fears and beliefs behind the resistance, meet those with kindness, and ask is the story true?

It’s all a process of love and manifestations of love.

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Surface to find clarity

When a bubble of confusion surface (wound, belief, reactive emotion, unease) it does so to find clarity. In a quite real sense, it is a being that wish clarity and liberation from it’s suffering.

So how would it be to meet these beings as a friend? To meet them with some clarity, wisdom and kindness?

Here are some ways to meet them:

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