A Gradual Awakening
Some believe that Enlightenment, Awakening or Liberation or whatever term you’d like to use, is some kind of sudden event. As if it’s a big bang out of nowhere that literally hits you after you work fairly diligently to “get there.”
After teaching many students over the years, this seems to be a common misconception of spirituality.
Walking on the spiritual path is a subtle and lifelong process. It’s not something that happens all in one fell swoop – it’s more gradual than that. For some, an awakening might come along suddenly but from my experience, those people are in the minority.
I believe we often have this misconception because we’ve been taught to believe that if we work hard for what we want in life, we will be rewarded. If we work our way “up the ladder,” we’ll get that promotion we’ve been hoping for with the title and salary that goes with it. If we have the better salary, then we’ll be able to purchase our dream home or buy the fancy car we’ve had our eyes on for some time.
In essence, we’ve been conditioned to think that our hard work will lead us to the fulfillment of our material desires.
Some approach spirituality in much that same way. It’s almost as if we believe if we study enough of the ancient texts and teachings, we’ll somehow have “earned” enlightenment. As if it is some sort of a Certificate of Completion or an award of some sort. Or perhaps, at a minimum, it’s some sort of an end result.
When we approach spirituality in this manner, it minimizes the journey and the path. And in so doing, instead of actually walking the spiritual path, we are actually strengthening our ego. There’s a term for this: spiritual materialism.
When I first heard this term, I can honestly admit, it had me baffled. What did spiritual materialism even mean? It took me a bit to look at it as if I was looking at basic materialism. I started to explore the idea that I could somehow “acquire” my spirituality almost like I’d acquire a new dress. As long as I had the cash or the wherewithal, I could “obtain” this tangible item of my choosing.
But real spirituality, at least from the Buddhist perspective, cannot readily be obtained just because we want it. Becoming awakened (or conscious) begins with our ability to understand our confusion and suffering and work toward unraveling the origin of that suffering. The Four Noble Truths outline this very path. According to this path, the spiritual path is the process of cutting through our confusion and in so doing, uncovering our awakened state that, until that point, has been hidden or obscured under all of it. This then would indicate that the spiritual path is not about creating an awakened state after reading up on all of the ancient teachings, meditating for hours, attending spiritual retreats and sitting with the spiritual masters of our day. Instead it is about snuffing out the confusions that obstruct our awakened state of being that’s already and always existing.
Buddhist teachings often use the example of clouds covering the sun and blue sky. They equate the clouds as our misperceptions, judgments, criticisms and the like as our sufferings. The sun and blue sky (or enlightenment) is always there. The clouds have simply obscured our ability to see it.
So, you might be wondering then how do we become enlightened/conscious/awakened? How do we go about clearing away the obstructions in the way of our enlightenment?
First, we need to recognize that we are suffering. By this I mean, recognize that the way we are currently doing some things in our lives may not be ideal.
But you might be thinking, how do we know if that is so?
There are several telltale signs, some might include the following:
We may feel stuck or paralyzed perhaps showing up as depression or disinterest
We may be questioning what our purpose is in life
We may be hypercritical of ourselves, judging ourselves harshly or without mercy
We may find that we are “on edge” and cranky a lot of the time, quick-tempered and ready to pounce.
We may be isolating ourselves from the people we love or from society at large (COVID notwithstanding)
We may have picked up an addiction like gambling, drinking, excessive video gaming, overeating or something similar,
We may not want to take responsibility for anyone or anything
Or, we may find our own clues to our suffering in any other number of other ways completely personal to us and our own circumstances.
But sometimes when we begin to recognize our habitual pattern of behavior, we like to write it off or deny it. Perhaps something begins to surface that we’ve buried for quite some time and don’t want to look at. Perhaps we begin to realize we’ve been operating in an unhealthy way and just aren’t ready to make any changes. Maybe we are afraid of what we might uncover if we really start digging. Or maybe we just don’t want to do the heavy lifting required to make the change.
This might be the very point at which we get trapped into the idea that if we just read a little more, meditate a little longer or go on another retreat, we will “feel better,” be more spiritual, feel more inspired.
But this kind of spirituality is simply a false spirituality. It’s fleeting and manufactured in a sense. It’s an imitation of spirituality. And in many ways, the frustration we feel because this doesn’t actually produce relief from whatever suffering we are undergoing, actually only adds to our overall suffering.
This might be the very moment at which we give up our desire to awaken, to live our lives differently and consciously.
But if we can step back for a moment and understand that we can’t experience (truly) what we are trying to imitate or fabricate.
True spirituality is an experiential path not an intellectual one.
True spirituality requires that we confront ourselves, our shortcomings, our habitual patterns of behavior. Most importantly, it requires that we confront our ego; that same ego that fights like hell to keep all of our misconceptions intact. That same ego that thinks even though we are unhappy, uninspired, anxiety-ridden and feeling stuck, we don’t have to give up some of our habitual patterns of thought and behavior to shift ourselves out of unconsciousness and into awareness.
Real spirituality requires hard work. But not the “hard work” like studying for a final exam at the end of a semester of grad school or the hard work of a full day in the hot sun framing a new house.
True spirituality is about the hard work of the heart and soul.
It is the hard work of coming out of denial, uncovering our habitual patterns of behavior and allowing them to be so we can become liberated.
The sane, awakened quality within each of us is only available to us in the absence of the struggle to hold on to our old ways of being and behaving.
This is where the very practice of meditation comes into play. The practice of meditation involves noticing and allowing the thoughts which arise and letting them be. (please refer to my past Blog post for more on this same topic). When we practice meditation, we notice the gaps between thoughts. It is in those gaps where we connect to our intuitive selves and are better able to acknowledge the storylines that keep us small. Only in noticing and allowing them can we begin to know them for what they are and work with their patterns.
The practice of meditation is not the only tool we can use but it can be an incredible foundation as you move along your path to awakening.
As a spiritual coach, mentor and meditation teacher, I am more than happy to provide support to you in any way that you might need it.
Please reach out to me directly at 858-248-0488 to begin your journey.
Visit https://satsanghouse.net for details and information on many of the classes offered to support you on your path.