Awakening is an expression of the Universe that occurs through a human body. It is the process of connecting with more of our inner world and our outer world so that more of it can come to life.
We’re incredibly complicated systems, but a simplified version of what Awakening is biologically, could be described in the diagram below.
We are essentially trying to increase the amount of contexts that we are in the green ‘mode’ in, expanding the size of the green box over time, which changes the nature of how we relate to things in the orange and blue boxes.
It’s really important to recognise that a lot of awakening and meditation practices are actually creating more shadows than connection.
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, leading to blame and aggression
Our cultural perspective is incredibly individualistic, logical and patriarchal.
We are so 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 more aware is often considered to be purely about noticing physical bodily sensations or thoughts that we experience as individuals. Or becoming aware of how we perceive the world, rather than how we feel it or share in it.
It boils experience down to its parts and nullifies the effect of the whole. It is completely blind to huge aspects of interconnected, psychedelic, archetypal and karmic aspects of experience.
This individualistic practice can open up some aspects of non-duality and will allow people to connect more deeply 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.
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?
What exactly are we awakening if our bodies, the majority of our inners worlds and an understanding or acceptance of the way the world actually works remains asleep, denied or shut down?
For me, meditation practice and awakening is about being able to meet more of our experience in its fullness – whether that be mystical non-dual states or deeply personal aspects of ourselves. It’s about broadening the range of experience that we are able to be present with and aware of, instead of sleep-walking through life, sweeping things under the carpet, turning a blind eye, burying things in shame or projecting them onto people of lower status.
Part of this is the meta work of increasing the capacity of the heart and mind to hold more, and part of this is working directly with the content you find inside. Interdependent origination means that you can’t hold either as the single source of truth.
Doing this work can include connecting more deeply to the more 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 in the emotions and the body, rather than to run from it, turn it back out on the world or numb it out completely.
An example in the diagram above, all the words that we are cultivating 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 necessarily 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 present with the full range of experience. So that we can overcome challenges and face hard truths as a collective, to contribute to a better world rather than just try and win the rat race.
There is also lots of 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 and anxiety from our system and create ease in our experience.
Ultimately, it is creating understanding, acceptance, safety and welcoming of all experience, that is the route to awakening, whether that be in our individual experience or how we interact as communities.