by Michael W. Taft
Sometimes when we talk about awakening, we are talking about an event in the past, with the implication that that awakening is permanent or still happening. “I got awakened two years ago, and now I am awake.” It’s as if you said, “Look at my cool tattoo, I got it two years ago.”
This is not at all how awakening works. You are either awake in this very moment, or not at all. There is no possibility of awakening being something that you have achieved, and now permanently possess. Awakening is not a possession, or a prize, or a thing you can point to. In that sense, all awakening vanishes the moment it appears.
But awakening is not imaginary or non-existent either. It is true that an awakening that occurred in the past is still informing your experience of self and others and world. It might even be true that a past awakening revolutionized your life completely, or deeply changed how your relate to other beings.
So awakening can be very significant, and will probably leave permanent traces in a person. However, what is left is just the effect (however significant) of that awakening, not the awakening itself or some permanently awakened state. You could reasonably say, “I had an awakening.”
There is no such thing as a permanently awakened state. As I said, you are either awake in this very moment, or not at all. Each moment has the possibility of being a moment of awakening. Each moment of awakening helps to make the occurrence further moments of awakening more likely. But you can’t hang onto awakening.
The thing you can ask yourself is, Am I awake right now? Here are some clues about how to answer that question:
- If it feels like there’s something happening to somebody called you, and that you are that person, then you’re not awake right now.
- If it seems like there are objects that are clearly defined including conceptual objects like love and peace, and/or practical objects like “you” and “me” and “the car” and that any of those objects will stay the same in some important way over time, then you’re not awake right now.
- If you’re checking if you’re awake right now, and there is somebody to who that question matters, or who feels invested in the outcome, and you are that somebody, then you’re not awake right now.
These are just a few examples. If the answer to these questions shows that you are in fact awake right now, great! Remember you can’t hang onto it—especially because there is no “you” and nothing to hang onto. As soon as something to hang onto arises, and somebody who’s doing the hanging on, you’ve lost it. However, a sense of openness remains.
Conversely, if you aren’t awake right now, great! Keep up the practice and forget the future or ideas of someday awakening. Just continue contacting the present moment with tremendous clarity and equanimity.
Note: as in all other places on this website, when I say “awakening,” I’m talking about spiritual awakening
photo by Takashi .M