So, am I awake yet, or what?
I edit Awakening Clarity, a Nondual blog, and as a result of that I get emails from the four corners of the worlds. A fair number of them express confusion. The writer has had some sort of spiritual experience. And now they want to know where they are on the spiritual map. One response that arises here when someone asks me something along the line of, “Hey, am I awake, or what?” is exactly this:
“If you’re concerned about whether you’re awake or not, then you’re not–at least not right now.” Such a question simply would not occur to conscious awakeness. Generally, in fact, given the nature of the situation the person is writing in about, and their choice of language their letter contains convincing evidence that they are not awake right now–at least not in the way they are asking about. In truth, everyone is always equally awake, so all we are ever talking about is whether or not we are consciously awake, knowingly awake–right now. If we can get clear on this we can see that there’s no room left for higher or lower, better or worse, more spiritual or less. All of those things spring from beliefs, opinions, and positions (BOPs), which conscious awareness simply doesn’t have. The apparently separate being it’s working through will certainly have a broad array of BOPs–that’s essentially what a separate being is–but not the awakeness behind it. You will understand, of course, that language is failing us here; we do what we can.
Lest we now jump over to the other side and pull a quick and oh-so-typical Spiritual 180 (as I call them), let’s listen to a wise friend of mine. A couple of weeks ago, when I shared the fact that I thought I was going to write this article, he immediately shot me the following terrific advice:
[In referring to this article…] “It’s a good idea, but there is one important caveat that needs to be included. One should watch out for that desire going underground and manifesting as a certainty and confidence that I am awake. ‘Before, I was in doubt. Fred said that this doubt is a sign that I am not awake. Therefore I have seen through this, and no longer have the question.'”
Do you see how tricky all of this is? It’s unbelievable. You can hardly dance for stepping on your own feet! One thing to notice is how the mind loves to shift 180 degrees, from one half of the Tai Chi (yin yang) to the other. This is a guarantee that we are still operating in duality. Nonduality means not-two, which also means not-two-halves, not-two-180s. It means a single undivided thing, or no-thing, if you prefer. Once again language is betraying us.
Unless you entered this teaching with an extraordinarily light load of karma–which I most assuredly did not–there’s almost no way to weave through the apparent awakening process without making lots of foolish mistakes. I have been an absolute unholy fool in all of this for 30 years running. The under-appreciated Bonehead Way has clearly been my path, and often still is. It’s ugly, but it does seem to work. I’m willing to be wrong, and to be seen to be wrong–even here, publicly, in print–and to be corrected by higher authorities (ouch!) if it means I get to see my errors of thought and action, and thereby be given the chance to see through them. I will lead with my chin if it’s the only thing I have to lead with. History shows that most of the time this is the case!
Part of what I’m saying here is that it pays to want this thing a lot. Casual seekers beware. Or not. Anything can happen, I am sure, but I don’t know much of anything about any other kind of sureness. So I’m not saying that passion is required, but I am saying that it sure as hell helps. It also means you’re going to get ahead of yourself from time to time. My approach has been described as “unbridled passion”. I think that’s a fair assessment. I have the scars to prove it, and so do those closest to me.
Thus I’ve made embarrassing proclamations; made ugly errors in deed and word; I’ve too often unwittingly tortured those around me. In short, I’ve repeatedly made an ass out of myself, as in. “Hi, Bill. have you noticed that I’m basically the new, improved Ramana Maharshi? No? Well, it probably doesn’t show up for someone like you just yet. Others see it in me, I mean at least probably they do. They should. At the very least, I see it! Once you get a little clearer–if you ever do–you’ll easily be able to spot it in me, too! In the meantime, hang on my every word, okay?” I’ve made this example far-fetched in order to make my point humorously, but sadly enough, it’s not as far-fetched as I’d like it to be. Just because I don’t stink as bad as the next guy doesn’t mean I don’t stink.
Another response that arises here to meet our question of, “Am I awake yet, or what?” doesn’t attempt to answer the question at all, but rather raises another question, or series of questions: “Who’s this you who’s claiming to be awake? Who is this you that can’t seem to stay awake? Who woke up to begin with?” Gotcha.
I say that because when authentic being arises openly, the one common factor, regardless of background, is that the one who appears to be experiencing this dramatic unveiling is now known to be utterly nonexistent, at least in terms of autonomy. I know–from the standpoint of the mind, this is completely perplexing. However, from the absolute view, there’s nothing to figure out. It’s just the way things are.
From the point of initial seeing onward, meaning from the point where we have had an authentic glimpse of our true nature, the seeking game changes. We’re no longer trying to move ahead into clarity. We’re done with all that nonsense, for goodness sake. Now, by God, we’re busily trying to move back into clarity! A friend of mine dubs this “oscillation”. This seeking is even more fruitless and deadlier than what we were doing before, because we usually have more openness and humility before such an event than we do afterwards! Before, we knew we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Now we think we do know what we don’t know! It’s pretty stagnating. So how does all of this happen?
More often than not, this freshly exposed, non-existent self quickly appropriates this new information, adds it to its wealth of treasures that are designed to keep it special and separate, and then plows right on, as deluded as ever, even though it knows better. So far as I know, there’s no chance of actually unseeing what’s been seen. There’s no unringing that bell. Yet side-by-side with that knowing there can and usually does exist denial of, and resistance to that very same knowing. To know That is to lose me, which is a damn tough call until it’s not. Thus we have the paradox from hell that runs until it doesn’t. As close to the truth as words will allow is to say that the hoax itself perpetuates the hoax. Sometimes this hoaxness even goes on to teach other people that they can be autonomous non-existent beings too! Who said spirituality was pretty?
What I am speaking about is ego appropriating a spiritual experience and then using it to enhance itself. You may think it can’t or won’t happen to you, but I can tell you that it happened to me–more than once. And it may again, who knows? I have enough respect for this trick that I have come to name my ego Lazarus, because it won’t die for more than three days at a time!
Let’s talk about language for a moment. When I ask, “Who’s this you?” and all that sort of thing, I’m not advocating staying away from personal pronouns; that’s tiresome and patently ridiculous. We can and do still use language provisionally. I love language, hence the writerness you are currently witnessing. We can actually use words just the same as we did prior to coming to Nonduality, prior to some experience of seeing-being, but with the tacit understanding that these words are now inherently untrue. What I’m saying is that due to the nature and context of the question that was given me (“Am I awake or not?”), in that specific case I have sensed an underlying cloudiness in the questioner. It just shows, like a petticoat shining below a woman’s skirt line. The reason I can see it is not because I’m some sort of Cool Nondual. I can see it because I ignorantly and innocently bloodied my nose in exactly that same way against exactly the same mirror–over and over again. For years.
Let me go on to suggest that if we find ourselves “tip-toeing through the language fields,” that is, afraid to say, “I need an aspirin,” or “I need to go to the bathroom,” then we might want to check ourselves and make sure that this careful tip-toeing is not a cover-up for our own unsureness, or else a move to impress everyone with the implied proclamation, which is, “Look at me! I am enlightened! There’s NO ONE here, I say!” I know all about this. I’m guilty of having performed entire ballets of such figurative tip-toeing. So what? It’s common and it’s okay; it’s all part of the charade and there’s no particular shame in it. Yet the death of spiritual progress lies in believing these BOPs and remaining caught in them. It’s easier than you want to think. Believing our own positions, including the sweet lie that we have no positions, happens most often when we are going it alone, as I did for a long, long time. I didn’t want help from anyone who might tell me I wasn’t already awake! Which means I was caught in an endless loop. I was going to my own ego for “outside” advice. And then taking it! Oops.
Any good teacher–and there are a lot of them out there–will easily point out our error, and help us remedy it by showing us the flaws in our thinking and then sending us back to the way of experiencing. They help us climb down out of our heads and plant our feet back firmly onto terra firma. I’m confident we can even catch this thing on our own if we’re both willing and capable of being absolutely honest with ourselves. That’s no easy trick. I couldn’t do it, but if you can, my hat is off and I wish you well.
Let’s look at another common angle of confusion. All of these angles are related, by the way, because following an apparent experience of truth there’s just one mistake left to be made: immediate incorrect identification. We may have seen-been something mind-blowing yesterday, but what’s our experience at this moment? Identification is an all or nothing game. So what I’m saying is that sometimes Fredness is 100% here, and sometimes Fredness is 100% not here. But there’s never any 50/50 proposition; not unless Fredness is 100% here, but is lying to itself and declaring that it’s not here. Dance step, foot mash, dance step.
To give a clearer, more general pointing, let’s stick with talking about profound misidentification; there are sharper lines to be seen. Say we have what appears to be a real seeing “event”. We know in our hearts it’s authentic; it was genuinely self-confirming. That’s a tip-off. If it’s real, there’s never any doubt at the time. In the aftermath we are almost surely grokking things that we’ve never understood before. Books that were thick muck are now joyful reading, all that sort of thing. Mysterious things our teachers have told are now understood. I’ve often laughed when such a thing bubbles up from long ago, and I see, “Damn, they were sharing obvious truth with me way back then.” We have really and truly “seen the monkey” ourselves as I sometimes put it. We get it. Everything is swell. Until suddenly it’s not. The apparent seeing event may have lasted a few seconds or a few days, but however long it lasts, at some point we begin to notice that it’s worn thin. Rather than living via experiencing, we’re back caught in thought. We’re now referencing our former experiencing through memory. We’re back to living in interpretation instead of reality.
(By the way, it’s common for doubts about an awakening-type experience to arise later. “Did that really happen? Maybe they’re right, and I am crazy?” We sometimes deny the truth as surely as Jesus’ disciples denied him in the Garden of Gethsemane. We deny Self in favor of self. Oh well, we’re only human. Aren’t we?)
Our blissful event, like any event, has passed, leaving us stranded as ordinary people in an ordinary world. What a drag! We liked the specialness better! If this has happened to you–as it did me–then I would say go take another look at my first two responses, because we’re essentially left with asking the same question. True conscious awareness is perfectly content with the extraordinary ordinary. Every story is seen to be equally unique and equally empty. In my opinion, any experiencing that runs contrary to this is not coming from conscious awakeness. That doesn’t mean we adopt the absolute view as some philosophical view. The absolute view doesn’t work as a philosophical view. It’ll just make you cold as hell and stupid as a stone. We don’t want to tell a friend who’s mate has just died that it’s all hunky-dory, because their loved one was never with us in the first place. That’s not wisdom, that’s cruelty. Following an apparent seeing event, the attempted transference of absolute-level views to the relative, or relative-level views to the absolute, is the cause of most of our confusion. And pain. They just don’t mix. That’s why they call all of this a paradox.
Whether we’re awake or not is really not all that confusing. The truth is, when we’re not functioning from awakeness we simply don’t want to see that we’re not. That’s what happens with me, even now. I never fluctuate mentally any more. I know who I am 100% of the time–including when I’m not acting from it. There is no mental oscillation, and thus there is no longer any classic seeking. But I don’t know who I am 100% of the time in regard to how I feel, on the deepest gut level. As a result, there is still subtle seeking. There is sometimes still some false sense of containership here, “within which” it feels like consciousness is functioning, versus all the functioning happening within (and as) consciousness. Many of my more recognizable negative behavior patterns are at last falling into line with my understanding. But among other things, I still reach for a book, click on Google News, do a chore “ahead of time”, or go to the computer to work on my site or my book in order to break mundane boredom and keep the mind rolling…toward a future that simply doesn’t exist. That boredom notion will tell the tale. There is no mundane boredom in conscious awareness, because there is no mundane to be found.
I can and do operate with clarity, understanding, and kindness. Most of the time. But I can certainly still operate in denial and resistance, which are just two more names for unconsciousness. But through it all, I will continue to share what I have from exactly where I am. I carry that “what I have,” for good or ill, into the world when I go grocery shopping. I shout it daily in how I treat my wife and pets. And of course it goes into my writing, where I am honor bound to tell the truth as I know it at that moment–to both of us. What a wonderful warm bath this can be. It can also be a cold shower, when truth and my perception are seen to be different. It happens. It passes.
For this moment, I’m willing to be who I am, which includes accepting who I have been at every step in this amazing life, whether on a seemingly pious spiritual path or a decidedly wicked one. Only from this place of honesty, candor and surrender is Who I Really Am likely to come out of hiding and consciously, knowingly, stay out of hiding. Until it doesn’t.
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© 2012, Fred Davis
Fred Davis is an antiquarian and technical bookseller who’s been studying Eastern wisdom for almost thirty years. He is the editor of the Nondual website, Awakening Clarity, and author of Absolute Recovery, which Non-Duality Press will publish this December. He is very happily married, loves cats, and lives as a chiefly ignored hermit deep in the heart of the American South.
Awakening Clarity is about Self-realization; discovering and living as who we really are. Whether this comes as event or process, sudden or slow, requires spiritual practices, or transcends them, has been argued for thousands of years. Here we are not arguing. It unfolds as it unfolds. We initially begin spirituality to answer our questions, but here we are questioning our answers. We are certainly for something, but we are against nothing. Surrender, not resistance, is our movement here.
Guest Teachings Series
- BENTINHO MASSARO: Recognize Awareness
- CHRIS HEBARD: Soundbites Never Liberate You
- DENNIS WAITE: Advaita Made Easy (II)
- DENNIS WAITE: Realization and Desire (I)
- FRANCIS LUCILLE: Flowers of the Tree of Life
- GINA LAKE: The Ego’s Many Guises
- GREG GOODE: Standing As Awareness (I)
- GREG GOODE: The Direct Path, User Guide (II)
- ILIE CIOARA: The Wondrous Journey
- JAMES BRAHA: Living Reality
- JERRY KATZ: The Sparks Before the Explosion
- LOUIS BRAWLEY: The Invisible Man
- NIRMALA: Meeting the Mystery
- PETER DZIUBAN: Consciousness Is All
- RICHARD LANG: The Headless Way
- RICK LINCHITZ: No You and No Me
- RUPERT SPIRA: The Light of Knowing
- SAILOR BOB ADAMSON: Are You the Mind?
- SCOTT KILOBY: Living Realization
- STEPHAN BODIAN: Wake Up Now
- SUZANNE FOXTON: Stop Seeking and Relish It
- VICKI WOODYARD: Life With A Hole In It
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