A lot of awakening and meditation practices are actually pointing us towards the blue rather than the green.
Someone, at some point, has decided the parts of experience that are acceptable in their definition of awakening or mindfulness and they train people to adopt those states and freeze out the ‘undesirable’ states.
One of the issues with this is that theses states don’t go away. They become a shadow. Shadows are invisible to us, we can’t see them within ourselves.
Depending on the social situation that the person finds themselves two things can happen with a shadow.
- If the person is lower status in the system or less powerful, they will turn the idea that there is something bad about them in on themselves, leading to depression and shame
- If the person is higher status in the system or more powerful, they will turn that bad behaviour out on the world and enact it, in order not to have to feel the wound in themselves
Another issue with this is that this process, of who gets to decide what counts as awakening, enforces these hierarchical systems.
Our cultural perspective is incredibly individualistic, logical and patriarchal.
We are incredibly far away from being connected to our interconnected nature, inner emotional experience and shared humanity.
Meditation and spiritual culture is no exception to this; becoming aware is often considered to be about noticing physical bodily sensations or thoughts that we experience as individuals. Or becoming aware of fixed ways of perceiving the nature of reality.
This individualistic practice can open up some aspects of non-duality and being more open and connected to certain parts of experience, but it tends to remain a very individualistic way of looking at the world and only one part of how we can experience a sense of non-duality or connection with the world.
There are huge swathes of experience that almost never get talked about or opened up during practice. And my question is who gets to decide that these don’t count as awakening?
How is that we have got to a point where someone who doesn’t even have a basic understanding of their own sexuality, boundaries, physicality, need for love or personal emotions can be described as awakened?
For me, meditation practice and awakening is about being able to meet our experience with integrity, or wholeness. This can include the beautiful aspects of experience but it also needs to include the harder parts of life.
In practice we want to learn to be able to go through the difficult things – to develop the maturity and capacity to be with the things that hurt. To sit with it, rather than to run from it, turn it back out on the world or numb it out completely.
In the diagram above, all the words in the green – groundedness, joy, compassion, mindful – sound like such calm, peaceful words. But it is when we are able to stay in touch with these ways of opening to the world, even when experience is stressful that we really increase our capacity for being awake and present in our lives.
Being mindful or compassionate towards a painful situation is not going to stop it being painful, but it is going to allow us to be with it, without running away from it or reacting to it in an unhealthy way.
There’s a lot of false advertising around this. People infer that if we are mindful or compassionate, we are more likely to feel positive. This isn’t true.
Any correlation between the two is more likely to be the other way around – it’s feeling good and being in healthy and happy situations that allow us to be mindful and compassionate more easily.
The real work with meditation is cultivating the capacity to be grounded, joyful, compassionate and mindful, even when experience is hard. Not to make those things go away, but so that we can show up to lives as mature adults who can be with the full range of experience.
There is also some healing that can happen here. Especially when we do this together. If we can take a part of us that we would normally react to or freeze out and bring it home by opening to the emotional part of us that is underneath, we can release a huge amount of stress from our system and create ease in our experience.
Creating a sense of acceptance, safety and welcoming of all experience, is the route to awakening, whether that be in our individual experience or how we interact as communities.