"This is the true joy in life; the being used for a purpose recognized by you as a mighty one. The being a force of nature, instead of a selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making me happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community and the more I give the more I live. I am no brief candle; I want to be a splendid torch held up for the whole world to see. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die."
George Bernard Shaw
This blog is called Awakening Consciousness.
Awakening, awakening, awakening.
This word has been my companion for almost a decade now. It caught my attention at the beginning of a long walk into myself and my soul. A walk that is ongoing and will, I now realize, be the journey of the rest of my life. This realization, that the walk is the life, is a recent one for me. For a long time, I believed there was a destination: the elusive awakening that I was after. It is an ephemeral thing this awakening, the more I thought I was walking towards it, the more it seemed to morph into a heat shimmer, just a bit further along.
When my attention was grabbed by some inward movement those years ago, ‘awakening’ and ‘mindfulness’ were only just starting to appear in the mainstream. Now of course, we hear these words everywhere. There are books, forums, websites, courses, films, YouTube channels and profitable companies dedicated to awakening in some form or another.
Am I present?
I have spent many years endlessly asking myself various versions of 'am I present’ or ‘am I awake'. I have used impossible to meet criteria as yardsticks for judging myself by and when I deemed myself to have fallen short (always) picked up the yardstick and beat myself soundly with it - metaphorically of course although had someone advertised a 'beat yourself up to awakening with this yardstick' seminar I probably would have signed up.
Slowly and quietly over the years, during the silences of the walk, my fundamental misunderstanding has revealed itself to me. Awakening is not an end-game, it is not a prize awarded to the spiritually fittest. Rather it’s the process of a fully lived life. One that integrates every aspect of what it is to be alive. Awakening is not a concept that can be grasped by the mind, it is a state of experience.
This state does not settle in the noise of the incessant 'doing' in the quest for spiritual success. It might, as it did for me on occasion, reveal itself briefly in those moments of profound connection to the living moment, but it was a visitor. That state could not stay when I was so busy struggling to grasp what it might mean and then contorting myself into the version of myself that might fit that deduced meaning. Usually, I translated its meaning into some posture or projection of personality; some version of myself with only the ‘good’ bits selected and the rest carefully hidden from my view, stashed in the ‘awakened beings would never think/do/feel that’ chamber of my over exercised mind. I did not want all aspects of my fully lived life to be included because I judged so much of it as falling short of the ‘awakening yardstick’.
Knowledge, understanding, being
There is a saying in the ancient wisdom that the process of spiritual development goes: knowledge, understanding, being. I heard this and promptly misunderstood it, as I was supposed to do - the secret heart of things stays beautifully hidden in plain sight until we are ready. I thought it applied to awakening itself as if that were one discreet achievement that would one day bestow itself on me after years of arduous ‘doing’. I had not considered that it applied to every single part that makes up the sum of a lived life. Neither had I considered that the conversion of knowledge and understanding into being requires the assistance or grace of something beyond ourselves.
My other misunderstanding was that the process of awakening or ‘knowledge, understanding, being’ was somehow a private affair to be conducted in the secrecy of my own mind and heart, aided obviously by the constant 'doing' of spiritual gymnastics. But no one of us can do very much of anything alone, and certainly, any hope I had was tiring at best.
One day, last year my father died very suddenly, very unexpectedly and all of my carefully acquired knowledge and understanding was like dust. When the shock subsided and I could view the wreckage of my shattered heart I knew that I had been shocked awake, not out of the sleep of a mechanical life, but out of the sleep of an opinion of what it was to be awake. Shocked out of the eternal questing and into the living moment exactly as it is. I was floored by this, because I could ‘do’ nothing. All spiritual busyness was redundant and I finally surrendered to the only truth I really know, and that is that I cannot know, understand or be without the help of something higher.
I prayed for help, acknowledging finally that I do not know how to do any of the things I was so certain about: I don’t know how to keep my aching heart open, I don’t know how to navigate my fear, I don’t know how to really let go of my anger, so I was left with no option to ask the higher to do it through me. I must stress that I had become pretty adept at seeming like I knew how to do these things in the privacy of my own mind. I had absolutely fooled myself. I thought I didn’t need or even deserve help. Well……..I did and I do.
That higher help comes to us, sometimes through a direct grace – those magical moments of clarity and connection that you will have felt if you are reading this – but mostly through other people as conduits of that grace. The shock of my beloved father’s sudden exit showed me, with a savage beauty, that it is only when I have gone beyond myself and my small world of me, myself and I, that I have experienced that clarity of awareness and an expansion of consciousness that is a wakeful state. It settles in precisely because I have stopped with the delusion that I can awaken, on my own, by my spiritual practice. Finally my walk has become the ultimate sponsored walk – I’m doing it for something bigger than me. Note though, that there is a requirement for this knowledge and understanding to become being, for us to attract that transforming grace.
The requirement is action. Insight without action gives you an insight, which you may or may not remember on your walk. Insight coupled with action gives you being, you live your insight into existence. I have been planting some lettuce this morning and each seed is like an insight into the potential of the lettuce, what it could bloom and taste and look like. To make that insight real, to call it into existence, I have to plant it, water it and it must grow into its potential. If we ask for higher help we can’t then just sit at home watching Netflix thinking ‘job done’ – we must act to give it life.
In the acting, it is not as we did previously, by giving life to the will of our spiritual ego by the choices we make, but instead by giving life to the higher will by the choices we make. It still feels like I am ‘doing’ but what has changed is that I am no longer stressed and exhausted by the doing because I trust that when I ask, the higher is working through me to speak each word, to think each thought, to do each deed. It knows better than I ever could what the highest right is.
Now, recognizing that life is measured in our individual breaths and heartbeats and we don’t know how many there actually will be, I am no longer concerned with my awakening. I am, however, concerned with our awakening, our expanding consciousness, our transformation into the living grace of each other. I choose participating by devoting myself to the community and the world – however that may be – rather than expecting the world to devote itself to my spiritual fulfillment. I contribute to this by choosing to play the play gifted to me in its entirety: I really do want to be thoroughly used up when I die – why not, what else am I saving myself for?