My Spiritual Journey — 11 — To Awaken or not to Awaken
Living through an awakening seems magical when you read about it in books. Everyone talks about this experience of bliss, serenity, peace, plenitude, a deep connection with All that is, an ecstatic feeling of joy, love etc. In short, the best experience in anyone’s life.
But in parallel to these tales, you also hear testimonies of “the morning after” the awakening, which is closer to a “spiritual hangover”: after the bliss, the depression, being dumped back into “life” as it is.
Of course, all the books warn us: a spiritual awakenings’ ultimate goal is to “live in the now”, to accept what is (the average, ordinary, boring life we have), to let go and accept the premise that “all is as it is meant to be”, that “all is perfect”.
So what is really an awakening and what is it for? Is it even important to have an awakening?
Here, I will draw on one of my favorite metaphors: that of the human body. Imagine if all of humanity was one huge living organism and each human being was like an individual cell inside that being’s body. What is an “awakening” from that standpoint? The testimonies talk about the feeling of the dissolution of the ego and of the self into the “All”, as if your individuality ceases to exist and you become everything and nothing at the same time, you become an ocean of pure still energy where each part is indistinguishable from the whole. You become the grass, the mountains, the rivers, the animals, etc.
Going back to the metaphor above, it is akin to realizing that you are a stem cell of the Universe, which has the potential to be anything and everything. Your body is just pure energy which is bathing in other pure energy, with no distinct barrier, and you could take any shape or form, be anything at all, and since there are no more barriers or artificial boundaries between “you” and the rest, you may as well be All of it. Indeed, if you think about it, we are all born from just one “stem cell” which has divided itself a countless number of times in our mother’s wombs! So when we have the impression that out of just “one” of us, we are the Universe as a whole, it’s not a metaphor, it’s a true feeling. Just like a women’s egg associated with a man’s semen contains the potential for an entire human being (composed of trillions and trillions of cells), a human being contains the potential for a whole Universe. You can think of the Universe as being a set of Russian dolls nested inside one another.
Coming back on topic: what is an “awakening” for, then? It is simply a way for us to realize where we come from, where we are meant to go, and where we will inevitably return to, and give us the confidence necessary to “play our part” at every single moment in the present.
The life of each of our individual cells is very much like our own human lives except for one thing: each cell knows exactly at each and every moment, what it is meant to do, what is it’s “life’s purpose”. It knows it’s directly connected to the whole and it fulfills it’s role flawlessly thanks to that knowledge. After all, every single cell in our body starts off as being a stem cell, which has the potential to be anything. But then it “specializes” and becomes just one sub-part: a skin cell, a stomach cell, a lung cell, a blood cell… You can think of each and every one of our cells as being a fully awaken Buddha, keeping us alive at every second of our lives.
Take the average life of a skin cell for instance: it’s not doing anything “miraculous”, it’s not a spiritual leader followed by it’s fellow “skin cell” worshipers, it’s just one skin cell among billions of other skin cells doing pretty much the same thing. No guru, no disciple, just Buddha everywhere doing what he is meant to do at each and every second. Now some skin cells die, others live, disasters happen, they suffer, they experience joy, pain, just like us. Whenever you cut yourself or get a bad sun burn, your skin cells die fulfilling their purpose only to be replaced by other faithful skin cells repeating the same.
An awakening isn’t supposed to last eternally, we are not meant to linger in that state, just like a cell doesn’t remain a stem cell for very long. It is meant to be a “push” in the right direction, to turn inward and find out the answers to the eternal questions: who am I, what am I supposed to do, what is my purpose, how can I find meaning? The answers you receive during an awakening don’t help all that much. Knowing that “we are all one” doesn’t help you pay your bills, treat your annoying neighbor in a decent manner or endure the pain of losing a loved one. Rather, it is supposed to encourage you to look inward to find out which “sub-cell” you are meant to be, and to accept your life’s purpose with more serenity and less resistance. Imagine if your white blood cells were pushed by their peers, parents, loved ones to be a lung cell, or a skin cell. And so those white blood cells struggle to balance that which they “feel”, deep inside, is their true purpose, their true calling, their true Self (being a bloody white blood cell) with pleasing all others, studying to be a lung cell, taking up a job at the closest “lung company” (and doing a shitty job out there), while setting up an unsuccessful consultancy for being a skin cell, and acting as a white blood cell only in their spare time as a hobby… Trust me, you, as you are reading these lines, would not stay alive for very long. The first cut in your body would get infected and you would die wreathing in pain. Another telling example: imagine you are a T lymphocyte, part of the immune system meant to defend the body against viruses and the likes. Now, your body is not under attack 24/7, it has some respite from time to time. But your body still nourishes and produces T cells just in case… Now if your blood cells acted like us humans presently, they would mount a political campaign to get rid of the “blood sucking” lazy ass T cells that are just sitting idle and dicking around in the body while blood cells are working 24/7 to distribute oxygen in the body. We see, once more, the value of having an “awakening”, and the meaning behind the esoteric principles like “do not judge” and “accept that everything is perfect as it is”.
The metaphor of the body and cells has it’s limits of course. Our “life’s purpose” may very well be to stay versatile and do many different things rather than finding one passion and goal and follow it our entire lives. However, the principle of turning inward and asking oneself “who am I supposed to be, who am I” applies at all times.
Indeed, who are we to judge what a bum on the street, a single mother on child benefits, a drug addict or a garbage collector are “meant to be”!An awakening is meant for all of us to turn inward, find out what we are supposed to bring to the world, and just do it, without looking left and right at what others are doing, comparing ourselves to others etc. This does not mean that we should not make some progress in changing the overall political and economic system, as indeed, at present, it acts in a way to systematically suffocate certain “cells” and prevent them from seeking and realizing their true purpose. Universal basic income is one of those ideas which is a step towards behaving like one collective organism: granting each “human cell” a minimum of “oxygen” or energy to at least survive, for we are not at the stage where each of us is so “self aware” and awakened at all times to know exactly how much energy (money, support, training, food, etc) each of us needs based on what they are meant to do to reach 100% efficiency.
I call this principle of “non judgement”, everyone giving their best at all times, regardless of what that may be, the “J.K. Rowling Principle”. Some of you may know that J.K. Rowling, the famous author of the Harry Potter series, was a single mother on child and social benefits. Had she lived in a country which did not provide such financial assistance, she might have had to work two or more jobs (given her BA in French and classics is not the most sought after qualification by employers), being a waitress, or a cleaning lady, and would have never had the time to write the Harry Potter series. I think, all things considered, those few thousand pounds granted by the State were a pretty damn good investment, bringing joy and awe to millions of children around the world and even giving back to the community a million fold in the form of charity thanks to the fortune she made.
This example, of course, is a “one in a million” success story, but the principle extends to everyone. Who are we to know what the life purpose of each and every single individual is? Someone may seem to be, by all rational standards, completely “off course”, but his life’s purpose would lead him to be at the right time and the right place just once (just like a T cell killing off a deadly virus just once) and it would give his entire life meaning: for instance, saving your kid from being run over by a car, seemingly by “chance”… which is also what an awakening is meant to achieve, understand that there is no such thing as “chance”.
Finally, I would like to draw your attention to what the “end result” of an awakening should be, ideally speaking, and this has to do with “free will” and the scientific principle of “Least Action”.
Imagine that the entire story of your life was represented as individual slices inside a lightning bolt. The lightning bolt’s thickness represents all of the rational and plausible decisions you could have alternatively taken in addition to the one you took (in essence, your “free will”) and the center of that “tube” represents the choice which was the most “energy efficient”, or in other words, the action that is most aligned with “who you truly are”.
Just like a skin cell would waste a terrible amount of energy trying to be a blood cell, so too, we as humans, can waste an incredible amount of energy trying to be someone we are not. And the symptoms of that are varied: depression, fatigue, pain, physical symptoms (diseases, psychosomatic disorders), ageing etc. Making the connection with esoteric writings about “awakenings”, one can easily see that this is exactly how some individuals are claimed to obtain “immortality” or special powers allowing them to heal instantaneously, live off “Prana” (being able to live without eating) or carry out other miracles. Once you are on the path of “least action” (or “least resistance”, linked to the idea of “letting go”), and are aligned with who you truly are, you waste no more energy! While this makes it sound as if you should renounce your “free will”, nothing could be farther from the truth. Do you think the cells in your body have given up their “free will”? Nope. If you examine how the body works, it is not as if the body produces exactly the amount of white cells necessary to disinfect a wound. Rather, it produces enough white cells in excess of what is necessary, knowing full well that not all will do their job or not all will end up where they are supposed to. But overall, it checks out. And our human societies work the same way: the Universe, God, whatever you may call it, has it all covered. This is one of the reasons why inventions seem to appear near simultaneously at different parts of the globe. The “global organism” that is Humanity functions more and more like our body, with a “collective intelligence” which is greater than the sum of it’s parts.
By the way, this completely reverses the famous saying “with great power comes great responsibility”. It’s the opposite: with great responsibility comes great power. That is: it is only once that you have aligned with who you truly are that you can harness all the “power” that you have to carry out miracles. The Universe is brilliantly designed in this way: true power will only be available to those who act in a responsible way (aka, like the cells inside our bodies who perform miracles to keep us alive every single second!)
Think about it this way: imagine if each human action at every single point in time represents a complex “puzzle”, like the “ball in a circular maze” puzzle.
Except each maze is connected like a gear to other mazes (each human is connected to other humans). Now, what makes humans waste energy? Trying to “solve” your maze, your puzzle by forcefully manipulating the maze to tilt it so that the ball inside your maze drops to the next layer, regardless of what happens to the balls inside other people’s mazes. The end result is that everyone is tugging and pulling for their ball to “drop”, and you end up with wasted (collective) energy and winners and losers with suboptimal results (from the perspective of a “higher being” or organism which is composed of all of us humans). Now imagine if there was an optimal solution to this huge puzzle. That solution would be akin to the way each of our body cells act at every single point in time. Some cells “willingly” and gladly die for the “higher purpose” of keeping our body alive, each and every cell takes exactly the amount of energy it needs, no more no less, and does exactly what it is meant to do at all times. Failure to do so results in cancer (degenerate cells taking in more energy and reproducing faster than necessary, like today’s “ultra rich” sucking in too much of the world’s wealth) or an auto-immune disease (where some cells of your body attack other cells, like any wars or conflicts) and so on.
So to answer the question of the title of this article: “to awaken or not to awaken”. It doesn’t really matter. The experience of living through an awakening is simply an “accelerated” way to find your life’s meaning and purpose, a path for those that need to “see to believe”. But millions of people are already acting as if they had lived an awakening, as there are no pre-conditions necessary for simply being who you are meant to be! You do not need to live through a spiritual enlightenment to be the “body cell” you are supposed to be. It is as simple as the cliché saying, “follow your heart”, that you find in any random novel or pop song. We all “feel” that we are more drawn towards some job, action or cause then another, instinctively, without the need to experience “nirvana” first. The experience of a spiritual awakening is now becoming more and more available simply because we all need to align ourselves with who we truly are, given the crucial moments and challenges that our “collective human organism” is going through: facing climate change, the threat of nuclear war, a meltdown of the financial and economic system, political tensions, racism, fascism and populism on the rise…
In essence, my message is: you don’t necessarily have to go live for 10 years in a Buddhist Zen temple, meditating 12 hours a day in order to reach higher states of consciousness before you can reintegrate society and be who you were meant to be. You can do it now, by exercising some very simple basic principles, as those developed in this article: non judgement, turning inwards to see what you have to offer (during short moments of meditation), and sharing the best of who you are with the world.
Keep in mind, however, that there are no “rights and wrongs” here. If you feel like the right path for you is to spend 10 years in a Buddhist Zen temple, then do it. What is most mind boggling, and I’ll have to write an entire article about that, is that ultimately, if “everything is perfect as is”, we cannot fail. Remember my metaphor of using someone’s life as a lightning bolt? The lightning bolt will always arrive to it’s destination. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have “free will”, it just means that it is confined within the determined trajectory of the lightning bolt. But the “thickness” of the lightning bolt’s path is so vast that it feels like “free will” to us. This means that regardless of whether we take the “aligned” path or the “living life as I go oblivious to anything”, we will arrive at the same end point. Ultimately, the only difference, is that we will have suffered and endured more pain by taking the detour. It’s like a level inside an “open world” video game: you have “free will”, you can dick around, get lost and take forever to fulfill the quests, but “level 2” exists regardless of what you do, and the “end” of level 1 also exists and is only waiting for you to be willing to go towards it.