Spiritual awakening is not a state, experience or goal to reach in the future. As the Buddha taught, it is not a superhuman achievement or attainment. You don’t have to travel to India to find it. It is not a special state of perfection reserved for enlightened beings, the lucky or the privileged few. It is not an out-of-body experience, and it does not involve living in a cave, detaching yourself from the realities of this world. It cannot be transmitted to you by a fancy guru, nor can it be taken away or lost. You do not have to become anyone’s disciple or follower. It is a constant and ancient invitation – throughout every moment of your life – to embrace yourself exactly as you are, in all your glorious imperfections. It is about being present, coming out of the epic story of past and future (“the story of my life”) and showing up for this precious moment, knowing that even your feelings of non-acceptance are accepted here. It is about radically opening up to this extraordinary gift of a life, embracing both the pain and the joy of it, the bliss and the sorrow, the ecstasy and the overwhelm. Knowing that you are life itself – vast, awake, alive, free – never separate from the Whole.
Here are 10 simple life changing principles of spiritual awakening:
1. THERE IS NO DESTINATION; THERE IS ONLY NOW
There is only THIS; the present scene of the movie of your life. Come out of the epic story of time and space, past and future, regret and anticipation, and the seeking of different states and experiences, even the search for spiritual enlightenment. Relax your habitual focus on ‘what’s gone’, ‘what’s not here yet’ – things you cannot possibly control from where you are. Come out of the story of ‘My Life’ and allow yourself to be fascinated by what is alive, here, right now. Be curious about this very alive dance of thoughts, sensations, feelings and impulses that is happening where you are. Remember, Now is the only place from which true answers can eventually emerge. The present moment is your true home, prior to time and space. It is all there is; the calm in the midst of the storm.
2. THINKING AND RESISTANCE CREATE SUFFERING
Pain is not the real problem; the real problem is our thinking about pain, our resistance to discomfort, our attempt to escape it all and reach an imagined future. The real problem begins when we start ruminating on our pain, our sadness, our fears, our anger; brooding over our discomforts, rewinding and fast-forwarding the movie of our lives! We chew on yesterday’s and tomorrow’s sorrows, rather than directly exploring and experiencing today’s experiences as they arrive. We add an unnecessary layer of rumination and resistance to life, and this creates suffering. The invitation? Come out of past and future, seeking and striving, and meet life in the raw, right now, without judgement, and without the expectation that ‘peace’, ‘relaxation’, ‘enlightenment’ or any kind of shift will result. Meet the moment on its own terms; see it all as a gift. Show up, for the pleasant and unpleasant, the pleasurable and the painful, without an agenda.
3. THOUGHTS AND SENSATIONS ARE NOT PERSONAL, AND NOT THE TRUTH
See thoughts and sensations as neutral and impersonal events in awareness. Just like sounds that we hear, thoughts and physical sensations arise and disappear spontaneously, like waves in the ocean of You. They cannot be controlled, deleted, or escaped. Cultivate the same gentle attitude towards thoughts and sensations as you already have towards sounds. Meet all thoughts and sensations with an attitude of kindness and curiosity. See them as welcome guests in your presence.
4. YOU ARE THE SPACE FOR THOUGHTS, NOT THE THINKER OF THEM
Thoughts are not you, and they are not reality; they are only suggestions, possibilities, rumours, propaganda, judgements, voices, images, rewinds and fast-forwards coming and going – clouds in the vast sky of you. Don’t try to still, silence or stop, drop, delete or control them. Be the space for them, even if they are very active right now! Remember, if you notice thoughts, if you are mindful of them, you are not trapped in them. They do not define you. You are the silent container, not the contained. Be what you are – thought’s unchanging embrace, the vastness in which thoughts can come and go as they please.
5. BREATHE INTO YOUR DISCOMFORT AND PAIN; HONOUR IT
Breathe into uncomfortable sensations; give them dignity. Honour them rather than closing off to them, starving them of warmth. On the in-breath, imagine or feel your breath moving into the neglected and tender area, infusing it with life and love. Fill the uncomfortable area in your body with oxygen, warmth and dignity. Don’t try to ‘heal’ the sensations, or even ‘let go’ of them. They want to be met, honoured, included in the present scene. Assume that even discomfort holds intelligence; that it’s not ‘against’ you. Know that true joy is not the absence or opposite of sadness or pain, but the willingness to embrace it all.
6. ACCEPTANCE IS NOT SOMETHING YOU ‘DO’, IT IS WHAT YOU ARE
Acceptance doesn’t mean that an unpleasant thought or feeling will go away; it may stay awhile. Don’t try to accept it (as this is often resistance in disguise) but acknowledge that it is ALREADY accepted, already here, already part of the scene. Treat it as if it perhaps will always be here! This removes the pressure of time (trying to make it go away, wondering why it’s “still here”). It IS here, now. Bow before THIS reality. Be curious. And allow any urges, any feelings of frustration, boredom, disappointment or even despair, to come up too and be included. They are all part of the present scene, not blocks. Even a feeling of blockage is part of the scene!
7. THERE IS NO ‘ALWAYS’ AND NO ‘NEVER’
In reality, there is no ‘always’ and no ‘never’. Be mindful of these words; they are lies, and can create a sense of urgency and powerlessness; they feed the story of seeking and lack. There is no ‘rest of my life’, no ‘for years’, no ‘all day long’. There is only Now, your only place of power. Sometimes even thinking about tomorrow is just too much work. Be here.