Awakening

When I started thinking spiritually around 15 years ago, going to meditation centres and reading spiritual texts, the word ‘awakening’ did not come up much. Now it seems to be everywhere in spiritual circles. Anyone who has entered the realm of spirituality will have come across the idea of spiritual awakening. There are two layers of meaning here, and the second layer goes pretty deep into a place that’s hard to even explain, a non-place, if you will.

The first aspect of spiritual awakening has been popularised by the work of Eckhart Tolle, which has reached millions of us across the planet. The Power of Now emphasises again and again the immense importance of living in the present moment, mentally. This means not dwelling in the psychological aspects of past and future, but being in the moment without mental commentary. Another writer that drew attention to this in the West is Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now. The awakening spoken of here is mainly to wake up from mental ‘unreality’ into the reality of the present moment. The whole art of Buddhist mindfulness meditations focus on this.

But there is a second layer to awakening. This one takes us down the rabbit hole, and it is the waking up from our perceived identities. This act of questioning or knowing who we are starts in the present moment but takes us beyond into the realm of timelessness. Time is understood as an illusion by those who can live in the present moment (neither past nor future can be experienced except in the present moment as memory or imagination). But those who take awakening to the next level of questioning their own identity (the process which Sri Ramana Maharishi called atma-vichara), enter a level of awareness in which even the manifestation of the present moment loses its objective qualities: they no longer experience a world outside of themselves, but rather experience themselves as the consciousness in which the world is appearing. This is why the world, in Vedanta and Buddhism, is referred to as illusion. It is not a magic trick but rather that our concepts, superimposed onto it, have made it unreal to us. The fact that we hear the word ‘awakening’ so much now is evidence of the fact that our shared consciousness is waking up from the illusion, albeit in faltering steps…

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