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, as if some epiphany of sorts. But those feelings of happiness and joy are byproducts of awakening, not the actual awakening itself. As long as we continue to chase the byproducts of awakening, we might actually miss the real thing. Often times, awakening requires striving and seeking.
We can learn meditation, pranayama (breathing) techniques, yoga, mudras and mantras. Without a doubt, positive experiences will fall from those practices. But sometimes we end up only with the byproduct, the temporary feeling of well-being yet not the awakening itself.
Many people come to spiritual practice or learn meditation in an effort to induce positive emotional states or minimize negative emotional states. There’s certainly nothing wrong with walking away with that at the end of your practice. Know, though, the path to awakening isn’t about positive emotions or “feeling better.” Enlightenment may not be easy or positive at all. In fact, it 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 that to feel okay, we need to get on the competitive treadmill of life and somehow prove ourselves to the world. We work long hours, take minimal vacation time and compete with one another — all in the interest of feeling like we’ve somehow “made it.” In the end though, we can find ourselves feeling only a little better than before. More often than not, feelings of wellbeing and happiness are fleeting. We may feel great for a moment, but those feelings will soon dissipate, and we’ll go searching for another boost to our mood or emotions.
The process of awakening begins once we realize we are not separate from one another. Once we begin to truly see and feel this, we will no longer strive 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 begin to create an awareness of our behaviors and automatic reactions to daily events — be they great or small — then we are 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 of the behaviors that we can actually truly “see” ourselves. In this striving and seeking, 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’re 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’m not convinced that at the time, I was actually ready for the shift to occur for a multitude of reasons.
Be gentle with yourself. Understand that any change is disruptive, even if it’s a change for the better. Striving and seeking takes work, but it is worth it.
Freedom, peace, joy and 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 and without the intention of doing the heavy lifting required for transformation, you may still find 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 to practice striving and seeking, 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 and less separate. And it wasn’t until I did, that I felt ready to look at the truth.