Few people really want to awaken. Much like physical sleep we don’t really want to wake up. Not when we’re in the middle of having a nice dream; when we’re cosy and comfy and not ready to face the day. Why would we? Why would we want to face the cold reality of day when we’re comfortably asleep?
Is being awake better than sleep? Really they’re just two different states aren’t they? So better or worse doesn’t come into it. If any spiritual guide or teacher tries to sell you on waking up that should arouse your suspicion. First thing to check is what they’re really selling. It might be a book or a study course or some online counselling, ‘For the bargain price of….’
So we have this natural conflict; a little turmoil in the flow of the river of life. The whole movement of the universe is towards awakening, but humans want to stay asleep. It’s actually become an industry. We’re used to seeing the diet industry, the fashion industry, the ‘healthcare’ industry, but there’s also a much bigger sleep industry. It’s worth countless billions.
Because our sleep really isn’t that cosy and comfortable. Life is hard. It’s brutal. It hurts us again and again and all of this naturally leads us towards awakening. So to stay asleep we have to invest a lot of time and effort into it. We can’t afford to stop and look at the pain and suffering, that’s too risky. We need a distraction. In fact we need lots of distractions. Games, apps, every form of social media, online and mainstream media, abuse of food or alcohol or drugs. And perhaps the worst of all, spiritual practices.
When the story of this life becomes so painful that even our most trusted distractions no longer work we turn to spirituality. We can’t take this story any more so we need a better one. How comforting it is to listen to the wise words and carefully modulated tones of an awakened teacher! We can really take refuge here can’t we? As long as we can listen to their wisdom it somehow all seems okay.
And what they say is great: we’re all one, it’s all love, peace is all around. All we have to do is turn away from our story and believe their story and we won’t have to engage with the pain of life. Perfect spiritual bypassing. I mean why go and sit on a beach and get drunk when you can sit at the feet of the guru and get blessed and blissed at the same time?
If only it was that easy. If only there was an escape. But no matter how hard we try, where we turn, what we take comfort in, the truth of This can’t be denied or ignored, permanently and indefinitely. Life will hurt you and kill you. You and everyone you’ve ever met. An inconvenient truth if ever there was one.
So it always comes back in the end to waking up. There never really was a choice. Waking up only ever happens one way. It doesn’t matter what your ‘path’ is, who your ‘teacher’ is or what your background or culture is, there is only one way: looking. Looking to see this with clarity. Just this. Right now.
Looking only happens when we’re mindfully aware in the moment. When we have the courage to accept all of it. When we’re prepared to shine the light into the darkest corners. When we’re relentless about it because after all, why pull the thorn out slowly?
Everyone who has ever seen; who has ever awoken, only did so through looking and seeing for themselves. Is it possible to tell who is going to awaken? Sometimes. Usually if they are then they aren’t happy about it. It’s not all fluffy unicorns and angel bliss and beings of light. Because we don’t really want to awaken, we do it because we have to. Sleep leads to suffering and when the suffering – whatever its cause – becomes too deep, then we start to awaken. The good news in all of this, is that we can.
Hence the Gurdjieffian ideas about choosing ‘conscious labour and intentional suffering’ as a way of waking or at least ‘remembering yourself’.
Suffering does have an awakening effect, it reminds us that this is a journey, it’s temporary. It gives us a lot to look at and provides an ‘in’ to see attachment and how that works. Nothing wrong with being attached, it’s not to be judged that way, but it is important to see it and how it works.
Nice one Andrew, as usual.
I think I keep hitting the snooze button! Could you clarify what you mean by ‘looking’? Thanks
Don’t worry about hitting snooze, we’ve all done that along the way. I could write another post just to answer your question, but keeping it brief there are four aspects to being mindfully present (bearing in mind this is just one ‘filter’, you could conceive others…). We tend to be best at mindfulness of and through the form. Using that start by looking at change – how everything changes in the present. It’s a fundamental practice, so easily overlooked because we’re conditioned to want more, want quantity, when we really need quality; we need depth. So go right into change. Ask yourself, ‘Is there such a thing as a noun?’ Try looking at this – and by looking we mean mindful focussed investigation (always keeping verbal inner dialogue to a minimum). Hope that helps.