What is Awakening and what do we awaken to?

Everywhere we turn nowadays, we seem to come across the word “Awakening”. From a distance, it appears to be the next spiritual buzz word that will have its time in the limelight, and then fade away into the nothingness from where it seems to have come. There is a lot of mystery and misunderstanding around the concept, which can be rather confusing. So, what does it actually mean to “awaken”, and what is it that we are awakening to?

If we take a step back in time, we can see that the concept of Awakening is, in fact, not a new concept at all. It is merely the modernisation of language and the movement of spiritual traditions into mainstream Western civilization that has reignited curiosity around this concept in its latest incarnation. Throughout history, the Saints, Philosophers and Spiritual Teachers have referenced and explained the idea of Awakening in many ways and through varying forms. Ultimately, the Awakened state is a state of consciousness in which we recognise and accept our true Self and the fundamental reality of what we are experiencing in this very moment; without the distortion imposed by the stories we believe about ourselves and this moment. So, what does this mean? Let’s take a closer look.

As I sit here writing this article, I am aware of the music playing softly in the background. I can still taste the tea-soaked muesli rusk that I ate just a moment ago. I can feel the texture of the fabric that covers the chair I am sitting on. I can feel the laptop resting against my legs as I sit comfortably in the chair. When I take a moment to look up from the laptop, I can see the mountain peaks along the coastline, and the ocean moving peacefully and expansively below. I can hear the waves crashing on the beach and the slow movement of traffic, as well as someone drilling and hammering on a property nearby. I can feel the slight breeze gently enveloping me as it comes through the opening in the sliding door to my left. I can feel the presence of another person sitting behind me on the opposite side of the room. Her presence feels as peaceful as I feel within myself, and adds to my experience of this moment. The entirety of this sensory experience is my fundamental reality. I hold no beliefs or judgements of this moment. I do not have a story in mind that suggests how this moment should be any different. It purely is exactly as it is. I accept this moment and this experience as it presents itself. This is a blissful moment, even though there are elements of this moment that, to the unawakened eye, might appear to be less than ideal. It is easy to see the perfection of this moment, despite the minor disruptions and disturbances. But what about the moment’s that don’t appear to be so blissful and harmonious?

This is where the separation from our stories becomes critical. It is too easy to be pulled back into my head and into all the thoughts that threaten to invade and disturb my quiet experience of expansion, and my awareness of the present moment. There are many thoughts and feelings that could cause me to contract into my head and out of my sensory experience of reality. Thoughts and feelings, such as irritation at the drilling and hammering, that pierce the otherwise peaceful environment I am currently in. I could just as easily create more stress and anxiety for myself by going into the stories of how this lockdown has affected my ability to earn a living, or the uncertainty of when I will be allowed to see most of my loved ones again because we live in separate homes. I could go into thoughts of how devastating Covid-19 is and worry about the state of the world. I could lose myself in concern and fear for the future and what it holds once the virus has subsided, or in how we got to this point. These are stories. They are my interpretation of what is happening, in comparison to what I think should be happening, or how I want things to happen.

As soon as I allow myself to identify with, or believe, the thoughts and stories swirling around in my head, I lose the clarity with which I experience the fullness of this moment as it currently is. Eckhart Tolle defines stress as being “here”, but wanting to be “there”. It is the resistance to what is, and the desire for life to be different. (Eckhart Tolle Reveals the Hidden Source of All Stress, A New Earth, Oprah Winfrey Network. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WU8el6ZiGPg. Accessed on 12/05/2020). In other words, stress is the inability or unwillingness to accept that where you are is exactly where you are meant to be in this present moment. Most of us wish our lives away by wanting a different experience in our “now” moment. All we are effectively doing, however, is creating more stress and suffering for ourselves by focusing on the ways in which this moment is not fulfilling those hopes and wishes, rather than by focusing on, and seeing the beauty in, everything that is actually happening right now.  

When we are ready to release the stories and the suffering that have clouded our experience of reality up to this point, we awaken. When we allow ourselves to experience and accept the fundamental reality, as it is, without the distortion of our stories, we awaken. We awaken to what is; we surrender our pleas and demands of how we think everything should be, because we realise that those pleas and demands, and the beliefs and patterns that fuel them, are the very things that are creating our suffering in the first place. The majority of us spend our lives fighting what is because we believe it should be different. We believe we know how it should be. We believe we know how things should be playing out in our life, and in the lives of our loved ones, and we hold strong to the belief that it shouldn’t be what is currently happening. We have tried this same strategy over and over again, throughout our lives, hoping for a different result each time. This old cliché, as most people know it, is seen as the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. We need to have a certain level of awareness to be able to see these old patterns and programmes playing out, to see how they are running our lives. When we let go of “knowing”, and allow ourselves to be surprised by the unfolding of our fundamental reality, we awaken. We awaken to the unbiased and expanded experience of reality we find ourselves in, without any resistance.

More than the reality we find ourselves in, we also awaken to who we really are. From birth, we have been labelled and defined over and over again, in many ways, and in many layers, by the environment that surrounds us – our family, friends, peers and teachers at school, coaches and instructors, as well as society at large. We have been formed, and moulded, and shaped into the being we present to the world today. We have become weighed down by all the roles and identities we carry, and have to conform to, in order to be accepted. We subconsciously take on patterns and programmes from our parents, and unknowingly continue to play those unskilful patterns and programmes out in our own lives, and then we wonder why we repeatedly find ourselves in similar situations, with similar struggles and challenges. We might even begin to see the patterns and understand the programmes, but it is not until we start to see that we are so much more than the limiting roles and identities we carry, that we awaken. When we see and accept that we are not just our minds or the thoughts trapped within it, we are not the emotions we experience, and we are not just the body we inhabit, but that our true Self is far beyond all of that, we awaken. We awaken to the expanded experience of consciousness that we are. We awaken to the essence of who we are. We become aware of the aliveness within us and around us. Ultimately, and most welcomed, we experience freedom from our self-imposed limitations and boundaries, and from the patterns and programmes that we have inherited along our journey up to this point. Alan Watts captured the essence of the true Self when he said, “The real you is not a puppet which life pushes around. The real, deep down ‘you’ is the whole universe.” (The Real You – Alan Watts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMRrCYPxD0I. Accessed on 08/05/2020)

In order to awaken to the real you, to your essential nature, it is necessary to reach a point of acceptance of everything you have experienced in your life up to now. The reason for this is because it’s the entirety of your prior experiences that has brought you to this moment, where you can see the positive and negative, skilful and unskilful, ways in which you have been living your life. The German Philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, coined the term “amor fati” in 1882 which aptly explains this concept of acceptance of your past. “Amor fati” translates from Latin to mean “a love of one’s fate”, or “a resolute, enthusiastic acceptance of everything that has happened in one’s life.” Nietzsche wrote, “My formula for greatness in a human being is Amor Fati.” (Nietzsche On: Amor Fati. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Xzh1BjCA5Q. Accessed on 08/05/2020). This philosophy implies that greatness requires an awareness of all the “good” and “bad”, “light” and “shadow” sides of who you have projected yourself as, to the world around you.

Being able to accept your history, and to be at peace with your life and everything that has happened up to this moment, is a positive movement towards awakening because you come to realise that everything that has happened needed to happen in order for you to reach this point and for you to experience this new level of awareness, this heightened state of consciousness. In this context, the use of the word “consciousness” refers to the expanded awareness from where we observe the movements of our mind, emotions and body, and of everything happening around us. It is the constant and unwavering presence which can be felt when our minds and emotions become still. “Consciousness” is the vast and all-embracing stillness. It is the perspective we experience life from when we awaken. Consciousness is who we truly are. [Eckhart Tolle – Being Yourself (Excerpt from The Flowering of Human Consciousness). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j42cTkiGdXY. Accessed on 12/05/2020]

With all of this in mind, we circle back to the definition of Awakening that we discussed at the beginning of this article. The Awakened state is a state of consciousness in which we recognise and accept our true Self and the fundamental reality of what we are experiencing in this very moment; without the distortion imposed by the stories we believe about ourselves and this moment. With a greater understanding, we can now see that “Awakening” is the arising of a higher level of Consciousness, an expansion of experience beyond our thoughts, emotions and body. It is the perspective, the dimension, from which we experience and live. What we awaken to is our true Self, our essential nature, and the fundamental reality of our lives. Living in the Awakened state allows us to free ourselves from our history, from our roles and identities, from the programmes and patterns we have been unconsciously repeating throughout our lives. It emancipates us from the cycle of suffering we have experienced for as long as we can remember. It opens us up to a renewed experience of the world, and it confirms that we are capable of transformations beyond our wildest dreams.

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Awakening: Teenage girl with praying arms in sunny nature.
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