Thursday, June 5, 2014

Who Looks Outside, Dreams; Who Looks Inside, Awakens

The title of this post is taken from a plaque I received as a Christmas present a couple of years ago from a good friend. When I tore the wrapping off and read it, I felt a shiver go down my spine as the truth of the words resonated. Since receiving it, I have pondered what the words "to Awaken" mean in practice.

The Buddha, when asked "Who are you?" said, "I am Awake." To be Awake means to break free of the bonds Maya, what the Buddhists call the world of illusion and delusion. To see reality as it really is, not as it appears to be, is to realize the unity behind the perceived separation. As Jung said all those years ago, to look outside is to never find the treasure that lies within. To look externally for what can only be found inside is the trap human consciousness falls into. Awakening is an inner process. External factors can aid in this process, but the ultimate Awakening is an awakening of inner consciousness that shifts the perception of the world and brings alive, insights, intuition and illumination.

To be Awake means to realize that our thoughts and feelings are not who we are. It means to experience an aspect that has nothing to do with thoughts and feelings: SOMETHING that remains constant when thoughts and feelings change, SOMETHING that remains stable and enduring when everything else is shifting and changing. To be Awake is to be in contact with this SOMETHING. To stand apart from the drama, not by being detached, but because of the realization that it is not real even though it appears to be very real. To be Awake is to be in contact with a higher level of consciousness, such that life flows and has a harmony and balance it didn't have before. Yet, life after awakening continues much as it did before, which is the paradox of the entire process. The difference is in the quality of that life and how events in life are dealt with. A Zen description of this says, "Before Awakening, chop wood, carry water; after Awakening....chop wood, carry water." Same actions, but the context within which the actions are being done shifts; the 'I' (subject) is no longer, there is simply the action of chopping wood and carrying water.

Prior to Kundalini awakening, I felt a need to control everything in my life. The result of this was generalized anxiety and loss of freedom. The realization of this need to control, deeply buried in my subconscious, came about not by reading a spiritual book, but by having a conversation with a coach who I had been doing some transformative self-development work with as the leader of a team.

She said, "It’s like having a five year old in charge of the team: you don’t listen and you make people wrong." When she said that to me, I felt like I had hit a wall, which I had — the wall of my own obsessive need to control. I couldn’t listen to people because I wouldn’t be in control. It was my way or the highway, and I realized that this way of being stemmed from a decision I had made when I was young: that life was scary and it had be controlled — hence the rigidity and inflexibility I showed when members of my team made suggestions about doing something differently than the way I wanted it done. Realizing this, I also realized the absolute absurdity of the decision. There is no way to control life or what happens and, in that moment of realization, I let go of my need to control. By hitting the wall, which is what happened, I got to see the impact that my controlling way of being was having on the members of my team. I gave it up, thus creating the possibility of freedom and I have to say the results have been nothing short of miraculous in terms of how I have been able to flow and respond to life.

As a result of this experience and insight, I am convinced that the ability to operate from an Awakened state of being is closely linked to the letting go of control. To accept what is and surrender to it. The funny thing is that I have often written about the importance of surrendering when on the spiritual path. I realize now that after surrendering so completely when Kundalini rose in 1999, I went right back to trying to control everything in my life and my environment. This is because the need to control was hidden from my view. Until it became shown to my consciousness, it had power over me. The rising of Kundalini set in motion the events that would result in my having to confront this decision and its impact.

Now, so many years later, I understand the full meaning and impact of control. I also see that nobody made me take the decision that I had to control life; it was me alone. This decision to control life is something most humans make. At some point, our environment fails us in that it doesn't behave the way we expect it to. In the face of this failure, it is natural to say, "I will control things from now on."

So like me, the child might become bossy and domineering — always demanding his own way. Or it might show itself in other ways, but being bossy is the gold standard of control. I smiled when I heard my four-year-old niece acting assertive and bossy. At four it's cute, but 40 years later it can result in a very narrow, limited life. However, it's a highly successful and lucrative strategy that motivates many to achieve, but it isn't for me. I am so grateful that I was given the grace to realize this and the choice of whether to give it up or not.