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.
WHAT IS AWAKENING?
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.
WHAT’S HERE INDEPENDENT OF NOTICING
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.
NOTICE WITHOUT RECOGNIZE
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.
WHEN WE NOTICE
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.
THE GREY ZONE
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.
THE UPSIDE OF THE GREY ZONE
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 PRESENT AWAKENING AS BINARY?
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?