To me the term “waking up” means becoming aware of the sentience of the universe. It is happening to me in stages. It’s like the truth is being peeled back from a rosebud pedal by pedal until one day it will stand before me an open blossom. My first wakeup call was subtle and gradual. It happened when I transferred from Clemson University to George Washington University and met my friends Manny and Allegra. By virtue of the way Manny and Allegra spoke about the world, I began to see the subjugation of various peoples whose struggles had been invisible to me before. I’ll never forget hearing Allegra passionately denounce the death penalty. I’ll never forget Manny talking about the necessity for clinics that distributed clean needles to intravenous drug users. Before I heard these perspectives I was simply intolerant and unforgiving of anyone who would make such mistakes in the first place—a very entitled sort of opinion that could only originate in someone who had faced zero adversity or discrimination in her life. But I came to understand how insensitive, unrealistic and unhelpful this attitude was, especially in light of how weighted these issues were in racial and economic prejudice. Anyway, the wakeup call Manny and Allegra instigated in me involved not only the disillusion of my previous perception of reality, but also the stark realization that I knew very little about the world. I started to understand that reality was not fixed, and I threw myself into learning. So waking up involved both new insights, and the idea that reality, for me, depended on how much I knew.
My second wakeup call hit me in one sitting, and like a ton of bricks. It was the first time I ever took mushrooms. The best way I can describe the experience was that I saw God. That day, I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to pursuing the wisdom that possessed me in that moment. And from then on I started to see cause and affect everywhere. My faculty for perceiving patterns and purposefulness in nature birthed and grew. I became obsessed with consciousness, the nature of reality, and developed a tendency to dissect and observe phenomenon that I would have otherwise taken for granted. This was my first blast of “mindfulness.”
The third phase of waking up was when I met someone whom I call Maria in the post Reclaiming Sexual Agency. The reason this experience woke me up was because Maria was awake. She somehow made me see what it was like to see the world through awoken eyes—where everything was a profound gift. She regarded the most commonplace things as miraculous. She knelt down to talk to a homeless man. We passed out flowers to strangers to enrich their days. We bought dog treats to hand out to the feral dogs. As I tagged along with her through the Italian streets and listened to her regard things in wonder (the very things I had passed five times a day without a second thought,) I was forced to reevaluate everything. I saw everything in a brand new light. Oh, and what a beautiful light it was…
This begs the question, what does waking up mean? I think of it as this paradigm-shattering phenomenon where reality as one knows it is completely undermined. And when it shatters we are forced to get down on our hands and knees and collect the shards of glass and reassemble them according to our new insight. The sculpture of our reality keeps remodeling itself as we gain experience and perspective. These experiences that devastate our old worldviews are called “bardos” in Tibetan Buddhism. “The intermediate states between death and rebirth are junctures when the possibility of liberation, or enlightenment, is heightened” says Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Although mortal death is the major bardo in our lives, smaller-scale bardos are happening all the time in the form of: death of a belief, death of a habit, death of an aspect of our identity, etc. We find that death and rebirth are inseparable from one another like two sides of one sheet of paper. So in the destruction of one perception lies the potential for the birth of a new, more informed perception. Let it be known however, that enlightenment will only transpire if the subject lets the universe prove him wrong. If on the other hand, in spite of contradictory evidence, he clings to his old worldview because his ego has a big stake in it, he will gain no wisdom.
These devastations have another effect: They make us starkly aware of the realness of life… that life isn’t just a simulation we can sleepwalk through sedated and unconsciousness. These wakeup calls bring with them a sense of urgency to fulfill a purpose and to perpetuate the cycle of life. And from this realness flows a deep appreciation for life, and sense of awe.
So what we gain as we wake up are not only insights, but if we observe the process by which we awake, we gain an understanding for how consciousness works. We start to see that by throwing ourselves off the precipice of our comfort zone, we destroy our old perception of the world and of ourselves and simultaneously come into a new form. It is like a caterpillar coming through the bardo of the cocoon and into butterflyhood. There are some insights that are so devastating to our old worldviews, that we cannot unremember them. They elevate us to a higher level of consciousness and once we are there we cannot regress to earlier planes of ignorance. “ ‘Knowing’ is painful because after ‘it’ happens I can’t stay in the same place and be comfortable. I am no longer the same person I was before” (Gloria Anzaldua). It’s like a turtle that has outgrown its shell… when we have outgrown our surroundings, we must move to a new form to accommodate our new wisdom. This destruction of self and reinvention in the image of new insight is the trend of evolution. So when I say, “waking up” I am referring both to enlightened insights as well as an awareness of how consciousness works. In becoming aware of how consciousness works, we realize that we can control our consciousness, and thus our realities. And that realization carries with it great power, and great responsibility.
Another term for this understanding of how consciousness works is “mindfulness.” We might recognize this term if we’ve had any experience with meditation. Meditation is basically the dislodging of our consciousness from subjectivity, within which context our consciousness is at the mercy of our emotional reactions. So meditation trains us to observe our thoughts objectively and ask, “What are the nature of my thoughts?” Are they petty? Depressing? Angry? Obsessive? Are they self-deprecating…Rather than being absorbed and disabled by the deprecation we inflict upon ourselves. And this is important because it shifts us from the position of helpless passenger to empowered driver. We don’t have to be a victim to our emotional impulses. And when we have this balance of emotional nonreaction over our minds, we can see things as they really are, and we can gain wisdom. So for example, if someone comes in and starts insulting us, we can become very upset, or we can rationalize that this person is agitated and that they simply want us to suffer their agitation. But rather than spewing venom back at them (thus perpetuating the cycle of negativity,) we can chose to not react. This severs the chain-reaction of negativity and spares ourselves agitation, and spares others agitation to whom we would have passed it on. By practicing mindfulness we start to understand that we have control over how we cognize stimuli. We can decide how to interpret situations. And knowing this, we inherit a responsibility to use the interface of our minds to interpret situations in a way that is healthiest for ourselves and others. I believe that mindfulness is the single most liberating tool at our fingertips.
I have a friend who is very privy to the majesty of this earth, but who in a particular dark period of his life said he looked out the window and saw no beauty. It got me thinking about how there are some people who must see the world like that all the time: devoid of beauty. I was never entirely cut off from beauty, but there were years when I didn’t perceive a life behind the plants, the mountains, or the waters. So often now I encounter this dichotomy between people who are awake and people who are relatively asleep. “Blessed are those who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing” said Camille Pisarro. Two people can be looking at the exact same thing and the awoken one can be deeply moved and the sleeping one indifferent.
Seeing beauty as a product of mindfulness is inevitable. Why? Because in observing themselves, people see reoccurring cause and effect patterns. They see that their actions have certain kinds of consequences, depending on the kinds of actions. And once you start to observe this and get a feel for how karma works, then you know how to get out of misery. It’s like Harry Potter trying to get through the series of spells to find the Sorcerer’s stone. Once you understand how the game works-whether it’s how to make the three-headed dog fall back asleep, or how to loosen yourself from the Devil’s Snare, or how to play the game of chess, then you know how to get out of the trap. Likewise, if you understand how the mind works, then you know how to get out of its traps and get to liberation. This understanding inevitably yields an inclination of some higher intelligence. We see how ingeniously crafted our minds are, and reality is. As we see more and more patterns, everything becomes saturated with a purposefulness. We start to see how inter-connected we are, and that we are not independent of anything. As a result we gain a newfound respect for the plants with no voice and for inanimate objects that sustain us. This process of waking up is so beautiful I cannot do it justice in words . All I know is that it leaves me with the distinct sense that there is a force out there that is VERY intelligent, and that loves us VERY much. The more I observe how my consciousness works, the more I see what I can only term God pervading in everything. I heard that the odds of life on Earth being created by chance is like the odds of a gust of wind sweeping through a junkyard and composing a car. In fact, scientists have calculated that the odds that life on Earth formed by chance is 1 in 10 to the 40,000 power. http://www.scienceforums.net/topic/67884-what-are-the-odds-of-life-evolving-by-chance-alone/
It intrigues me that we use the term “waking up” and “asleep” to refer to these states of relative consciousness or unconsciousness. I think of actual sleep, that we undergo every 24-hour cycle. And this metaphor keeps visiting me of sleep personified as a temptress. If we’ve ever seen Oh Brother, Where art Thou? or read Homer’s The Odyssey we know about Sirens that sing men to sleep. The beauty of the femme fatales and the narcotic effect of their song are so alluring that despite forewarning, the men cannot resist. No matter how hard they fight to stay awake, they can’t help but finally give way to sleep’s seduction. This is the battle we wage everyday in waking life. Everyday we fight to sustain lucidity above the viscous waters of unconsciousness. All we want to do when we get home from a day of work is “check out:” kick back in the Lazy Boy, turn on the TV, have a couple of drinks, gorge on pizza, and pass out. And if our work schedule isn’t enough to run us into the ground, we are surrounded by pathos on billboards and on TV screens temping our mindless impulses. And we find that if we indulge… if we look at the TV for JUST A SECOND, these temptations towards mindless indulgence have such a hypnotic effect. And if we let them conduct us, they have such a lethargic effect… Eat a Big Mac and all you’ll have the energy to do is whack off and pass out. Watch one episode of the Kardashians and you’ll forget how to think completely! These instant gratifiers that anesthetize our brains tempt us, but we must not surrender! No matter how heavy they weigh on us, let us not give in to blissful unconsciousness. Because that is when we no longer have the steering wheels to ourselves. When we let ourselves be so emotionally captivated, we are no longer observing our minds objectively. Without this observation we stop seeing cause and effect and we lose our ability to decode the trap… as was the case with Harry Potter. We lose our ability to navigate our way out of misery. Unconsciousness, or being “asleep,” is the root of all misery.
We can see our tuned-in-ness reflected by our dreams. Are we, when we dream, “passed out” in the sense that we let thoughts regurgitate through us and we just accept them blindly without questioning them? Do we wake up without remembering our dreams because we place no importance on them? This is what most of us do in waking life. We take things for face value and fail to question them. But if we are hyper-observant in waking life, this awareness carries through to our sleeping life, and in a dream we can notice an inconsistency (our reflection in the mirror is blurry, the text in a book is moving) and we can realize we are dreaming, and become lucid. Thus we tear a hole in the fabric of dream-space through which we can slip. At that point we are no longer mindless passengers, but can use the dream to decode things about our subconscious. This will help us gain wisdom we can carry through to waking life. Likewise in waking life, if rather than take for face value the beliefs that culture indoctrinates us into, we can observe ourselves and our surroundings closely, we can find glitches in the facade. We can realize that culture casts an idea of reality that isn’t necessary true, and we can free ourselves from the emotional captivity it has us in. So that we can live closer to the Truth, which is by nature, empowering to us.
So there are two aspects to “waking up.” One is gaining insight, and one is gaining an understanding of how consciousness works. For the sake of upcoming posts, I want you to focus more on the aspect of becoming aware of how consciousness works. I am about to publish a series of posts about taking personal responsibility. But that train of thought flows from first understanding this phenomenon of “waking up.”
The more boundary-dissolving experiences I have by way of taking psychedelics… the more disillusionment of cultural ideologies I instigate by way of asking critical questions…the more I contradict my intellectual perception of reality by putting myself into first-hand experiences outside my comfort zone… the closer I get to Truth. The more I see God. Whether or not you believe in God makes no difference. What I’m saying is that these wakeup calls have revealed to me a sacred order, a purposefulness. The more I observe my consciousness objectively, the more I see how to operate it. The more responsibility I take over my consciousness, the more I can ensure my own wellbeing and that I pass on only positivity unto the universe. This is what I wish for you as well. That is why I share it here.
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