Trying to follow a spiritual path can be confusing. Even though we realise there’s one Truth that’s being pointed to, it’s sometimes hard to reconcile the advice, views and pointers offered by different teachers.
The English language isn’t well equipped to handle some of the nondual teachings on offer and so we have no common agreed terminology to help us out. Even if we did, it’s apparent that some teachers are basing their reflections within a system or philosophy or theology that’s been handed down to them, be that from Buddhism, Advaita or their own teacher.
As paradoxical as it sounds, it’s really helpful to bear in mind that we need to take full ownership of our own inquiry. Remember, no one can give you awakening; this realisation must be seen individually (so to speak), it can’t be shared as information. A teacher or guide can talk about Truth but they can never talk Truth, any more than you can talk a sunset. Talking about it won’t share it, it can only reference it.
Because of these challenges and also some individual preferences and ideas that get tagged on along the way, there are some common myths about what leads to spiritual awakening and the ‘requirements’ one needs in order to awaken. Before launching into a few of the more common ones I think it’s worth sharing one brief reflection that might save a lot of confusion. It’s much easier to get this if you think about a spectrum of awakening or unfolding. Along this spectrum, which we’re all on, the point at which the sense-of-self, the belief in a personal ‘me’ dissolves can come at the start, the middle or much further along. In other words ‘awakening’ isn’t an event (although we often think of it that way). This seeing through of the illusion of self might be, but awakening isn’t, it’s a process that begins before this and continues long, long after. Okay, here we go:
Myth 1: ‘You need to have silenced the mind and be able to stop thoughts at will’. Not as common as it once was, this myth still persists and gets reprinted in the works of some authors. Let me say clearly this is NOT a requirement for awakening. Even after awakening, it might or might not happen. The basis for it is most often a change in our relationship to thought, which we come to see as a trivial commentary and not worthy of attention. Attention doesn’t linger on thought, so it’s not noticed. But we don’t need this to happen for the sense of self to be seen through.
Myth 2: ‘You must have perfect mindfulness’. Mindfulness is an essential asset there’s no doubt. How can we see this moment clearly if we’re not attentive to it? But perfect mindfulness? No. Like all skills, with practice it’s something we’ll get better at but setting a target for perfection is a sure fire way to set yourself up for frustration and disappointment, usually reinforcing the sense of a me: ‘I’m no good at this, I’ll never get it!’
Myth 3: ‘Awakening takes lifetimes of dedicated practice’. This is one of my favourite myths. It’s often perpetuated to keep the seeker in a state of permanent discipleship through putting awakening on a pedestal they feel unworthy of ever reaching. Awakening is awakening to this moment, in this moment. Is there any point in trying to locate that in a far off future time?
Myth 4: ‘You need a special teacher to awaken’. Hmmm, so all of those people who didn’t have one, they somehow don’t count? I won’t name names here but I bet I could come up with a fair few who didn’t have a teacher (and neither did I for what it’s worth). I’m not saying a teacher is a bad thing but it’s back to the expectation that someone can give you this. They can’t. You have to inquire, look, realise. It’s that simple, and nowhere you can go and no one you meet will change that fact. Teachers provide pointers, and maybe even inspiration but they can’t provide awakening.
Myth 5: ‘I can’t awaken now, I have too much going on in my life’. So, you really think that for everyone who awakened life somehow paused and allowed them a period of gentle grace to find Truth? Catch yourself on! Life goes on and it doesn’t stop. This goes back to the ‘future awakening’ myth. Awakening is a here and now thing, whatever the content of your life. There are literally no circumstances that can stop it if you’re looking and you don’t need to stop anything to look.
I’m sure there are other myths you’ve come across and if so feel free to share them in the comments below. If anything I’ve said has left you more confused than you were before then please ask, I’d love to hear about it.