The question on the minds of almost every seeker is, “how do I wake up?” But this is a meaningless question based on a myth. And that myth is that there is something called “being awake”.
At what point did you become an adult? Is there such a thing? We have, for the sake of convenience, created these clear cut stages in a person’s life. You’re an adult at 21. But are you? I know 15 years olds who are more mature than some 50 year olds. Of course, the 50 year olds have adult bodies and the 15 year olds don’t. But in their minds, in their emotional development, in the well-roundedness of their personalities and in the balance of perspective the difference is not so clear cut.
Thinking of conscious experience in such black or white terms as “asleep” or “awake” is binary thinking. It is limited and lacks maturity. Because nothing in life is binary. Everything exists on a continuum. And this includes consciousness and self.
So, anyone who is communicating to you that they are “awake” is fooling both you and themselves. That is like saying “I am wholly an adult”. You are not. You are a composite sketch of various stages of development – some further along than others; some unusually evolved and others stunted. And life is a series of experiences in which we circle back over and over and are made to face and resolve those parts of us still in need of development.
One might say, “well, I can say I am awake because I no longer feel a sense of being a separate self.”
This is baloney. The ultimate self-deception. Because the sense of being a separate self is just an evolutionary mechanism our brains have developed in order to survive and evolve as a species. You can no more short circuit that function than you can annihilate your memory. EVERYONE functions with a sense of a separate self to one degree or another. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
One might say, “well, my sense of separate self is only intermittent. There are moments where no such separation is felt.”
This is nothing to write home about. In fact, this is what ordinary consciousness looks like. EVERYBODY experiences moments where no such separation is felt. It’s just that they are not so hyper focused on them. Any moment in which one is absorbed in work or sport or music, such separation disappears. Any moment in which one zones out and stares into space, such separation disappears. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
One might say, “well, it’s more than that. I don’t get lost in thoughts and stories about myself like most other people do. My default is to be inwardly silent thus not feeling a separation.”
Quietude of mind is certainly a therapeutic way to be, but this again is not so unusual. Plenty of people live this way, they’re just not talking about it. The vocal ones are the ones suffering the most. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
One might say, “ Well, I no longer harbour beliefs about myself or the world or society. I don’t hold religious beliefs, nor beliefs about the nature of reality or the self. I am willing to live in the space of “I don’t know”. I am comfortable with uncertainty.”
Well, this just means you are an intelligent and rational person who doesn’t need to modify their view of the world in order to make it a more conducive place in which to live. There are plenty of intelligent and rational people in the world although they tend to be a rarer breed. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
One might say, “well, I no longer think in terms of good or evil. I see the seed of evil in the good and the seed of good in the evil.”
This just means you are someone with a mature perspective who doesn’t see people and events in isolation but is able to grasp a big picture view of things. There are many such people with mature vision in the world.
One might say, “I no longer identify with my name, my gender, my upbringing, my race, my ethnicity and so on. I don’t categorize myself. I just am.”
This just means you are comfortable with being a fluid entity. It means you are more likely to just go with the flow of things. There are many people who similarly go with the flow of things. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
One might say, “well, I have had an awakening experience in which I saw how everything is connected. My sense of separation completely disappeared. I saw that everything was of a single existence, a single being.”
This just means you have had a powerful epiphany. Many people of all kinds of religious and non-religious backgrounds have had such experiences. And they explain it in terms of the language that is relevant to the culture from which they have emerged. You call it “awakening” someone else of Christian faith may call it being “born again”. Having such an epiphany, no matter how life altering, doesn’t mean you are awake.
One might say, “I feel a natural outpouring of love for everyone I meet. Each person is another version of myself. I feel a tremendous sense of connection with nature.”
This just means you are a highly empathetic person. Your mirror neurons are firing more rapidly than the average person. Still, there are many who live this way. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
No matter what you say to qualify your own state of being “awake”, there is someone experiencing ordinary consciousness who experiences the same thing.
So, what does it mean then, to be “awake”?
It means nothing at all.
There are no “awake” people and “asleep” people. There is only a continuum of conscious experience where each person will find they land. And even your position on that continuum is not something static. You are moving up and down that spectrum constantly from one moment to the next.
So “asleep” and “awake”, if we must use those terms, are not two binary positions in which awareness exists: like “on” and “off”. Rather they form the two extreme ends of this continuum of conscious experience. Nobody exists at either extreme. In other words, nobody is wholly asleep or wholly awake. We are all continuously moving between the two with certain individuals tending more towards one extreme than the other.
And it may so happen, that over a lifetime, an individual who tended more towards the “asleep” end of conscious experiences ends up tending more towards the “awake” end of conscious experiences. In other words, before they may have had overall more acute feelings of separation, more consuming thoughts and emotions, strongly held beliefs, a lot of negative mind momentum and so on. But now they GENERALLY tend to feel muted feelings of separation, internal quietude, loosely held beliefs and a mellow degree of negativity in the mind.
This still doesn’t mean they are “awake”. It just means they have grown into wise and well-balanced adults.
Yet, because this transition over a lifetime from the lower sections of the spectrum to the higher sections feels like such a “hero’s journey”, we want to encapsulate it in a simple-to-understand metaphor. So, we say, “I once was asleep, but now I am awake.” Yet, a METAPHOR is all it is.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.”
It’s romantic to think of our journey in this binary way and to communicate it to others similarly. But it is not truthful. Because no such “flip” has happened. All there has been, is a natural evolution of perspective and awareness that still continues as we speak.
Spiritual teachings that promote notions of people as being “asleep” or “awake” are no different than the ones of the past that judged us as being “good” or “bad”, “sinners” or “saved”. They are over simplifications meant for simpleton minds. Minds that naturally only operate in black and white thinking modes.
But when presented to a mind that sees in many dimensions and hues, such a teaching does great disservice and causes great turmoil. Promising a bag full of goodies or a lump of coal as the only options one has.