People talk about having a “spiritual awakening” and being a “conscious being,” but what does this really mean?
Awakening and consciousness are words that attempt to define the undefinable, so it’s only natural that there will be numerous definitions and descriptions of awakening and consciousness. Not only this, but the word means different things at different points along the spiritual path so not everyone is always talking about the same thing.
Some people use the term “awakening” to mean that I am awake and not being currently controlled by the ego. If I’m Present in the Now, I am awake, but this is only one stage in the process of awakening.
I actually use the word “awakening” to mean something very different. In my vocabulary, it is synonymous with “enlightenment.” It means to realize your true nature, not just intellectually, but to actually BE it. It is a radical shift of identity that involves the direct realization of the nonexistence of the “me” that I think I am. It is the direct experience of Oneness and Infinity/Nothingness as One’s actual Reality.
Let’s take a look at several different stages of awakening.
The following is not by any means an all-inclusive list, but it does highlight some of the common stages along the path to enlightenment.
At this level, a person is totally asleep. “I am the voice in my head. I am my body. My name, job, personality, beliefs, and opinions all define me. My mind runs incessantly, constantly talking about me, my life, and everything in my life that relates to me. I am like the star of my own show.”
They’re totally identified with their thoughts, but they don’t realize it at all. When the unruly mind gets especially chattery, we’ll hear this identification with thought reflected in their statement, “I’m driving myself crazy!” (I am the barrage of thoughts.)
The person often feels like they’re at odds against the world, struggling and fighting to make things happen the way they want. Life is a constant struggle to gain pleasure and avoid pain caused by external separate things.
Unconscious people are constantly looking to feel safe, to control life the way they want, and to gain the approval of others.
The unconscious person is an automatic stimulus/response junkie. Someone insults them and they must automatically fight back to defend their honor, get revenge, or whatever other justification they conjure up.
The problem is that an eye for an eye makes us all blind.
This is the dream world, being totally asleep. It’s just like dreaming when you’re asleep at night and you think the world you’re experiencing is actually real, independent of you.
Many traditions teach us that we are a three-part being composed of mind, body, and spirit or soul. The three of them interact somehow, on some level. The mind and body feel very real, but where’s this soul thing? Is it somewhere inside our body? Is the body the boundary of the soul and the temple of the soul? If so, we must then be disconnected from all other bodies and souls since I’m over here and you’re over there. Heck, we must be disconnected from God too! Oh no!!!
Hopefully when we die, our soul will reunite with God. Until then, we’re down here on earth bobbing along and hopefully being a good person to earn the right to “get back to” God up in Heaven. Please please please!
Eventually, and at the perfect time in the person’s evolution, the person learns about the existence of the ego. We are told that our thoughts are not who we are at all. We hear that we are some sort of mystical unseen consciousness or spirit or soul which we’ve likely heard about before, but now we’re being told that we’re made up more of “consciousness,” and less of “thought” and “physical body.”
Instead of feeling like a three-part being as before, we are now a spiritual being having a human experience. We are spirit/consciousness using the body and mind as tools, very much like how we use our cars as tools to interact with the road, but the cars are not actually us.
When we are fully in the present moment, aware of our own existence rather than being fully absorbed in the drama of the mind, we are being a conscious person. That is, we are not under the unconscious grip of the ego and thus have the ability to consciously respond to situations instead of automatically reacting to them.
Eventually, one way or another, consciousness itself awakens to its true nature and comes to realize that it truly is the One and the All. This beingness literally is the Infinite itself.
Instead of a “me” who has awareness, it is recognized that awareness itself simply is and there is no “me” who is aware. It is consciousness itself that is conscious. It is awareness itself that is aware. Awareness is not something that a “me” can turn on or off. Awareness has no bounds that can be limited by a “me” for it does not exist within a “me.”
When enlightenment “happens,” the enlightened being who was there the whole time may awaken all in one go the way Buddha under the bodhi tree, the way Eckhart Tolle did when his ego collapsed under its own weight overnight, or the way Ramana Maharshi did at the age of 16.
More commonly, however, it begins to happen in glimpses and spurts the way it’s happening with me starting at the age of 24 or the way it did with Adyashanti who began having his non-abiding awakenings at the age of 25.
Either way, rather than being an individual person who is aware of their own consciousness, they become consciousness itself, being. The true “I” is. I am. There is no real person there who is awakened and enlightened, despite the fact that that’s how it appears from an external perspective.
Awakened authors like Eckhart Tolle are becoming more prominent now and are helping the rest of the world awaken as well.
It’s one stage to awaken to the fact that you have an ego, to realize just how identified you’ve been with it, and to see how much control it’s had over you. From here you simply notice the ego, notice the fact that you’re conscious, and notice that this mind is something you’re witnessing rather than something you are.
It’s another thing entirely to truly awaken to your true nature and experience a “death” of the separate self entirely and “become” enlightened.
Both levels are fantastic and neither one is “better” than the other in any way, but they are different levels nonetheless.
It’s a wonderful time to be alive and be a part of this mass awakening of consciousness here on earth. What a glorious time in human history!
Are you ready to awaken to your true nature?