Many people believe that an awakening will make us blissful, joyful, and happy all the time. As if the state of awakening gives you these feelings permanently. They believe that if they follow a teaching just because it’s ancient or revered, it will produce the desired result.
But those feelings of happiness and joy are byproducts of awakening, not the actual awakening itself. The problem is, as long as we chase the byproducts of awakening, we might miss the real thing.
We can learn pranayama (breathing) techniques, meditations, mudras, and mantras, and indeed, certain positive experiences will fall from those practices. But sometimes we end up only with the byproduct, not the awakening itself.
Many people come to spiritual practice or learn meditation in an effort to induce positive emotional states or to at least minimize negative emotional states. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that to be sure. If that’s what you walk away with at the end of your practice, that’s a beautiful byproduct. But the path to awakening isn’t about positive emotions or “feeling better.” In reality, enlightenment may not be easy or positive at all, and in fact, enlightenment can be quite confronting and challenging.
Awakening from the “Me”
Fundamentally, the process of awakening is about awakening from the “Me.” It’s about awakening from the mistaken belief that we are separate from everything and everyone else.
We’ve been taught to believe we need to get on the competitive treadmill of life and somehow prove ourselves to feel ok. We work long hours, take minimal vacation time, compete with one another, all in the interest of feeling like we’ve somehow “made it.” In the end, though, we find ourselves feeling at best, only a little better than before. More often than not, feelings of well-being and happiness are fleeting. We may feel great for the time-being but soon those good feelings will dissipate and we’ll go back searching for another boost to our mood or emotions.
The process of awakening actually begins once we realize we are not separate from one another. Once we begin to see this, and truly feel this, we are no longer striving to just feel better. We abandon the striving, clinging and grasping to feel better all together, since there is no longer the need to prove ourselves. Our striving is replaced with letting go.
When we first begin our spiritual journey, many of us don’t really know what we’re signing up for. Some of us even think that putting ourselves on a spiritual path means that we will receive something. We don’t seem to realize that the process of enlightenment or spiritual awakening involves us having to let go of something. As we begin the process of letting go of our long-held illusions, we realize that only in this letting go, do we receive anything.
If we can actually begin to create an awareness of our behaviors and automatic reactions to daily events be they great or small, we are then actually really truly beginning to walk our personal spiritual journey.
It is in holding ourselves to account for these behaviors and looking deeply into the catalyst or impetus for the behaviors that we can actually truly “see” ourselves. In this seeing it is how we can then awaken to our true nature. And that true nature isn’t one of surviving our lives, it’s about thriving in them.
As both a meditation teacher and a spiritual life coach, I sense early on whether my students are interested in the real thing or if they are just striving to feel better.
Do you really want the truth?
For some of us on the path, our entire identity may have been wrapped up in being the seeker. Or maybe, as it was for me, I knew something needed to shift, but I wasn’t actually ready for the shift to occur. Maybe I was just scared of having to really take myself on, I don’t really know which.
Be gentle with yourself. Understand that any change is disruptive even if it’s a change for the better.
Freedom, peace, joy, liberation will all fall naturally out of your courage to dig deeply into what drives you to behave and react in certain ways. If you can create an awareness around those behaviors, you have a fighting chance of transforming them, and therefore yourself, and thereby awaken.
If you approach your path as a seeker with no intention of doing the heavy lifting required for transformation, you may very well still find some moments of happiness and peace but it’s unlikely to result in a permanent shift.
Understand that for any concrete and lasting change to occur, we have to be willing to change. Without this willingness, we may simply be seeking a change that doesn’t actually involve us!
I can say that for me, I felt pulled to change. I knew the way my life was going was not the way I wanted it to go, but I felt stuck. At the outset, I was in such a deep territory of not knowing where I was in life that I had no clue how to make a shift. Setting out on a path - any path - was the baby step I needed to take.
I needed to be in an environment where I felt safe and nurtured. I needed to hear something that resonated with my own personal experience at the time. I needed to hear something that made me feel less alone, less afraid, less separate. And it wasn’t until I did, that I felt ready to look at the truth.
The truth involves letting go of those long-held perceptions that keep us imprisoned in patterns of behavior and ways of being which prevent us from living a life of freedom, peace, and joy. Letting go of those beliefs involves looking at ourselves deeply.
The process of realizing the truth about ourselves isn’t always one that makes us feel better! Often, when we look at things honestly, sincerely, and truthfully, we find it’s not an easy thing to do.
I remember part of this process in my own spiritual awakening. It was NOT fun and it wasn’t easy. In fact, it was quite painful and involved a tremendous amount of long-repressed emotions and perceptions. The process was fraught with many tears, lots of late night conversations with spiritual teachers and good friends, and more than just a few sleepless nights.
But I distinctly remember getting to a place in my life where I felt called to uncover my own “stuff” so that I could stop some of my repetitive behaviors. I wasn’t happy, in fact, I was pretty miserable. I like to say, though, that at least I had an inkling that the change I needed to make would come from within me.
Many of us believe the answer to our happiness is somewhere “out there.” Maybe if we just have the fancy car, the master's degree, the pretty girlfriend, the bigger house, everything will finally fall into place. We’ve bought into society’s sales pitch that we need more, different, or better to be at peace. Once we achieve that “thing,” all will be well.
That’s simply a delusion.
So the first step in awakening is literally to feel and answer the call within that knows better -- the little voice that says, something has to shift and the shift has to come from within.
Something within us has to shift.
Something inside begins to nudge us into realizing that the truth is better than just a momentary reprieve from striving, grasping, craving, and clinging. Something is telling us that it’s time to break free from the delusion to try to feel better in the moment. If we’re aware, we begin to realize something deep inside us wants the truth more than it wants to feel good.
And for most on the spiritual path, it’s the uncomfortable stuff from our pasts and our suffering that is actually the catalyst to our awakening.
I remember this moment in my life. It was a deep realization that the only thing that needed changing was me.
We can’t awaken or achieve enlightenment on the edges of an enlightened teacher. That would be like thinking if I just read enough, go to enough retreats, or study enough, I’ll awaken on my own as if it’s a linear educational experience.
That nudge inside to awaken is actually what gives us the courage to start to unravel and examine all the ways in which we delude ourselves.
It’s this nudge which calls us to begin to take full responsibility for our lives. Taking full responsibility for our lives means uncovering the lies we tell ourselves. It means really looking deeply at what makes us tick.
The lies we tell ourselves
What are my limiting beliefs, and where in fact, did they originate? In this inquiry, we begin to discover that life is not about any of these limiting beliefs. They are just a bunch of stories we have told ourselves (or someone else has) over and over again until we stopped questioning their veracity.
I have been blessed to marry my meditation practice with my spiritual life coaching practice for exactly this purpose. There is nothing more exciting than to be in the presence of someone who is being nudged to follow their path to awakening while understanding that doing so means they must give something of themselves up in the process.
Many of us feel that nudge. We feel called to take some kind of action to elicit a change or an awakening. If we’re truly listening, we’ll reach out for assistance with the process.
If you’re feeling that pull to make a lasting and permanent shift in your life, listen. Take action. Put yourself on the path toward awakening by beginning to investigate some of your old patterns of behavior.
Ask yourself honestly what you are unhappy with and why. Listen to yourself and the answers your own soul brings to the surface.
A great way to begin hearing that voice it to develop a personal meditation practice. The practice of meditation serves to build the muscle of stillness in your mind. When your mind is still, you can hear your spirit talking.
When your mind is still, you can hear your spirit talking.
Walk the spiritual path with eyes wide open to your part in the process.
Join me for meditation instruction at the stunning Satsang House or come for a complimentary 60-minute Spiritual Life Coaching session.
Let’s begin the process of rediscovering the vision you have for your future. Let’s start to uncover, discover, and discard some of the limiting beliefs which have you stuck in old patterns of behavior and unable to break free.
Listen to Maggie’s latest podcast on Life Illuminated, as she shares more about the distinction between being a true spiritual seeker and being someone who is striving to feel better.