Let’s say we want to ‘wake up’, ‘discover the meaning of it all’, or ‘find our inner joy’. How do we do this?
To our dualistic minds, the answer is simple. We explore different methods, and eventually find a method that will allow us to affect the necessary change.
Change. That’s the key, whether we want to improve our financial life, find emotional balance, or discover our connection with ‘God’ or ‘The Universe’. To our dualistic minds this makes perfect sense – if I want to become emotionally balanced, for instance, I need to find ways to change my emotions so that I can discover emotional peace.
This is the idea of improvement, and we’re all quite familiar with it. Indeed, it makes so much sense to us and seems so intrinsic to life that we seldom stop to question it. We spend our entire lives in an effort to improve our life situation, working and working at it until we finally grow old and die.
When it comes to Awakening, it’s no different. If you are on a quest to discover Awakening, look carefully at your mind’s activity regarding the quest.
First, we create some idea of what awakening is. If we’ve just learned about awakening, this idea may be fairly superficial (no negative emotions, a continual feeling of bliss or peace). As we explore awakening further, we create more subtle ideas about what awakening is (an indescribable interconnectedness with all creation, or a direct sensation of Emptiness).
Once we have our idea, we set about finding a way to achieve it. If we observe ourselves closely, this idea of achievement will almost always involve some idea of self-improvement or self-modification. In this way our quest for Awakening will instead turn into a quest to change ourselves in some way.
These methods are not fruitless. By changing our financial strategies, we can indeed have more money in our lives. By exploring our emotions, we can find more emotional balance. But these things have little to do with Awakening. In the end, we’ll likely discover that money does not bring us lasting joy, and that experiencing a constant state of emotional happiness isn’t really all that fun.
So if we can’t Awaken by trying to awaken, how do we get there?
Let’s Get Cancer
For an imperfect analogy, allow me to use something that most people would consider a negative example. Let’s imagine that you have just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Imagine the emotional changes that sweep over you. Over the next few months, as you develop a relationship with your cancer, you continue to move through profound changes. And then, on month four, some of the treatments you have been going through affect an almost miraculous recovery, and your cancer goes into complete remission. Imagine the changes which move through you now.
At the end of the four months, you have gone through incredible and life-changing growth and evolution. You’ve developed a new perspective on life, have new ideas of what’s important, and approach life completely differently.
Now, what if you never had cancer, but you decided that you wanted to get to the same place that you would be four months after the imaginary diagnosis we outlined above? Suppose you had made a decision to pay more attention to those you love, to set different priorities, to be nice to people even if they were mean to you, and to develop a total acceptance of whatever was happening in your life.
You could spend years and years trying to cultivate these qualities. You might make some progress, but you’d probably never get to the place where your experience with cancer brought you in only four months.
The key here is to notice that in a manner of thinking, the cancer creates these changes in you. The cancer comes, and initiates changes more powerfully and effectively than if you had made a willful decision to create those same changes.
Awakening is much like this. You may indeed experience some remarkable changes as you awaken, but these changes are a sort of ‘byproduct’ of your awakening. And oddly, those changes that you felt were so important before (emotional balance, feelings of peace, etc.) are seen to be totally unimportant. They are a fruit growing on your tree, but they’re no longer seen as being more important or special than the leaves, the bark, the sunlight or the soil.
Let’s Get Angry!
Anger is a great example to see how this process works. Many of us feel that anger is a bad thing, and we try to reduce or eradicate anger from our beings. As we try to suppress our anger, we create great tension inside ourselves – anger emerges, we try to push it aside, and then we get even more angry with ourselves for being unable to control our anger.
But what happens when we don’t resist our anger? When we don’t resist it, anger has nowhere to go. It emerges, looks around, and evaporates. It’s not until we apply resistance that it emerges as the emotion we know as ‘anger’.
Awakening, then, is more like a process of allowing rather than becoming. It’s not about changing ourselves so that we’re more balanced, reserved, compassionate, or observant. It’s about ceasing to apply effort toward becoming something else.
We’re Just Fine
This idea doesn’t accord with anything we’ve learned. We’ve all learned that we’re flawed, and in need of improvement. One look at ourselves in the mirror and we confirm this belief. Ask yourself if you think that you could use improvement on some level – financial, emotional, physical, intellectual, or spiritual. When we answer ‘yes’ to this, we discover how deeply held this belief is, and are able to get in touch with some actual examples of places where we apply this belief in our lives. If we look carefully enough, we’ll find that this belief guides almost 100% of our life actions.
How can we give this up? Again, it’s not about giving it up. You can try for decades to renounce your desire for improvement, but it won’t go away. At best, you’ll be able to suppress it for a few months or years, but it will still retain its power over your life.
So How Do We Do It?
The key is simply to let our natural awareness be aware. In doing so, this belief that we need to change evaporates, and all the problems it causes evaporate with it.
Of course, our dualistic mind-set jumps right in and thinks – ‘Okay, so if my effort is getting in the way, then all I need to do is wait and Awakening will happen’. But our waiting is laced with effort – what is it we’re waiting for, and why are we waiting?
Awareness is all we need. For now, it’s fine to apply that awareness by an effort of will. Take the time to pay some attention to how your mind works. Meditate, or use a method to remind you to pay attention to what thoughts are going through your head. If we apply this attention regularly, we’ll begin to see that our minds are in a state of constant striving.
Observing, you’ll experience your desires, and see how your daily actions and thoughts revolve around attempting to secure those desires (and oddly, in many cases, how your actions actually act to thwart them). When you fulfill one of your desires, you’ll see how it quickly evolves into a new desire, leaving you forever unfulfilled. The cycle continues until we die or finally see this effort for what it is.
When our attention delves deeply enough into these patterns, it will see that awareness – pure, unbounded and unwilled awareness – is always operating in our lives. We’ll see that our efforts are all in an attempt to bury this awareness under the ‘sensible’ things which we’ve been taught. In this way we operate on the level of hope, of fulfilling desires, and of making constant attempts to improve our lives. We never notice that our life right now is the only life we’ll ever be living, and that the only important thing is to be able to experience life. Everything else is just a constant effort that only creates a continuing cycle of desire.
Don’t Give Up!
Often on this site I’ve described the necessary process toward enlightenment as a sort of ‘giving up’. But don’t mistake this for our regular notion of giving up. Our regular notion is simply a collapse into more subtle brands of effort, and it leaves us feeling tired, hopeless, and full of despair.
Your time is now. Don’t worry about where in your idea of linear time ‘now’ will arrive. Just start paying some attention to your mind’s activity. Trust in your inner intelligence. Put your faith in no teacher, no words. You are wiser than any words. But your wisdom doesn’t lie in your thinking, in your teaching, or in your learning.
Your wisdom lies in your simple, present awareness.