On Waking Up

What have been your experiences on the path to waking up?

I’ve heard someone describing waking up as being akin to lightning bolts or sunrises. Lightening bolts hit you and knock you down. There’s no denying them, and your life is never the same again after you’ve had these insights. They rip the veil of illusion from before your eyes and you see things clearly. When this happens, what do you see? 

Two examples help to illustrate this:

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, talks about the moment when he experienced the thunderclap and lightning bolt of awareness hitting him right between the eyes. As he describes it, he had been living for thirty years in a state of almost continuous anxiety interspersed with periods of suicidal depression. One night he woke up with such an intense feeling of dread and self-loathing that he questioned why he should continue living with this burden of misery. As he contemplated how the deep longing for annihilating his life was becoming stronger than the desire to live itself, he had a breakthrough: he disassociated from the thoughts that had been causing him so much misery, realised that they were not him, and this brought such a stunning realisation that his mind stopped. There were no more thoughts. And in that space of nothingness, he began shaking and felt himself being drawn into a vortex, a void inside of himself. He let go, fell into that void…and awakened the following morning in a state of bliss so all-encompassing that he walked around London in utter amazement and peace for the next five months. The experience stayed with him and continues today.

Similarly, there are accounts (for example in Sallie Tisdale’s book “The Women of the Way”) describing enlightenment moments as seeing that all phenomena arise, abide and fall away. And seeing that the knowing of this also arises, abides and falls away. One of her book’s subjects, a Buddhist nun, describes the effect of this: 

‘Then she knew there was nothing more than this; no ground nothing to lean on…nothing to lean upon at all – and no one leaning. And she opened the clenched fist in her mind, and let go, and fell into the midst of everything.’

What a beautiful passage.

Lightning strikes, it seems, separate us from our thoughts and permanently liberate us from their grip. We lose the delusion that our thoughts are us. It is the ‘enlightenment’ experience that so many of us seek. Yet, for most of us, we get to experience sunrises instead, the gradual lightening shades of awakening, as we see ourselves more and more clearly as the old illusions of ourselves fall away.

We often ask the leaders we interview: What have been the key moments in your life of waking up, and what impact has that had for you?

Here’s Lorna Davis, who we interviewed for this post, talking about her sunrise experiences.

“I think everybody comes to this journey in a unique way. For me, I got everything that I thought I wanted. And then I discovered there wasn’t anything there. And for many years I thought I just had the details of the equation wrong. I thought I just needed this much money, I needed this kind of job, I needed this kind of man, I needed to be this size, I needed to live in this country, I needed this house, this car, whatever. And then I would get that something and I would think, oh, well, I don’t feel any better now. I must have got the thing wrong, so let’s just change the goal. And in my particular case, it got ridiculous. How much more? 

In retrospect, I was a big mover, a physical mover. I’ve moved internationally twelve times. I calculated the other day I’ve lived in 40 houses. And in retrospect, there was some wisdom in that because moving threw me off balance. I didn’t know how to do things my old way and so I was forced to open up and get curious about totally different ways of being.

That made me feel alive, made me feel fresh. 

But I misunderstood and I thought it was the moving that was needed. And so every time I started to feel dull, I would move again. Now I realised that freshness is available to me right here, right now, sitting on my couch in New York City. I don’t have to go anywhere. It’s about me and the universe, me and all of it.

It got to the point where it became apparent to me that the fundamentals of the equation that I had in my head, this puzzle that I was trying to work out as life, that I had it wrong, that there must be another way. I had always been searching alongside my corporate world: I’d been in various places, on various tracks, meditation, otherthings, but they were always subsidiary to what I considered to be the main game. 

And if you want a moment, there was definitely a moment that for me involved Michael Neill. A friend of mine sent me a podcast of Michael’s and it said something like:

‘If you’re not feeling good, all that means is that you’re on a train of thought that’s not taking you anywhere helpful, and that’s not a problem because you just get off that train and get on the platform and wait for another train because another thought will be along in a moment.’

And that struck me as true, with a capital T. I realised, oh my gosh, I take my thinking so seriously! I think that all of my thoughts are equally important, and frankly, they’re not. We all think around 70,000 thoughts a day, and 69,500 of them are low consciousness, BS thoughts. 

I know the difference because, when I’m thinking these thoughts, I’m not feeling good, my body’s uncomfortable, I feel separate, I feel isolated, I feel low. It all looks complicated to me. But when I’m thinking creative, interesting, let’s call them high frequency, high consciousness thoughts, anything’s possible. 

And so that’s a kind of technology, if you like. Once I understood how we work, everything changed. In retrospect, there was wisdom running my life all the time. Now I see all the ways in which I was supported and guided by something bigger than me and by other people. It’s like they say: the scales fall from your eyes, andit all just looks completely different.”

What have been your moments of waking up? Have you experienced lightning bolts or sunrises? We’d love to hear your views in the comments!

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