Awakening: How to Stop Sleepwalking through Life


Sleepwalking Through Life

Did you ever feel like you were wandering around in a dream, like walking on a treadmill, or sleepwalking through life? There is a type of perpetual dissatisfaction that awakening addresses. By waking up, you actually become less detached, less spacey, less fearful and less alienated. Here is how I talk about this process of awakening in the beginning of my book, Shift Into Freedom: The Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness.

In many wisdom traditions, the term awakeningis often used because people report that their experience resembles waking from a dream. We are currently in an altered, dreamlike state, which creates suffering and confusion that disappear when we awaken. When we’re dreaming at night, we are fully identified with the dream world and experience it as real and complete. But as soon as we wake up, we know for sure: “Oh, that was only a dream!”

When we come out of a dream, the entire dream world disappears. When we wake up out of ego-identification, our fearful and craving thoughts and projections disappear, leaving the physical world simpler and clearer. When we wake from a dream, we realize that whoever we mistook ourselves to be in the dream isn’t who we really are.

Awakening from Our Limited Perspective

Our ego-identification’s dreamlike perception disappears, and we stop sleepwalking through our lives. When we awaken and are grounded in awareness, our ego-identification is no longer the center of who we are. We may feel as if there had been a dream figure with our name that was trying to live our life.

Upon waking-up out of ego-identification, we may be surprised to discover that our limited perspective is only a small part of a much vaster reality. Awakening is like coming out of a movie theater after an engrossing drama. What seemed to be a real danger to the “mini-me” of ego-identification before, we now see as a story.

As we awaken, we’re no longer worried and scared about imaginary situations that had once seemed so troubling. We realize that we are the vast consciousness that has been acting out a small part.

Most of us assume that our ego-identification is who we are, and so we live our lives from its viewpoint. We think that our best opportunity for a safe, sane life is to strengthen this ego-identity. Looking from the lens of ego-identification, the subtler dimensions of reality are blurry, and we feel distinctly separate from everything. Awakening is the shift into the direct experience of a fuller reality that had previously been obscured by ignorance and delusion.

Not Just Absence But Presence

If we just wake up by deconstructing or transcending the mini-me, we can end up in a gap that feels like negative emptiness. This can seem like a scary transition, and there can be a rebound effect that sends us back to the mini-me. There is naturally a magnetic pull of habit to have consciousness reconstitute by identifying with thought-based knowing.

Often, we may feel like our thinking mind is our home. For many of us, in fact, it’s the only home we know. We also may have learned to tell ourselves, “Don’t go out of your mind,” or, “Avoid the void.” As soon as we return to our thinking mind for a second opinion, we re-identify with our contracted sense of self. By immediately recognizing awake awareness, we discover a positive emptiness that is not just an absence but a living presence, an open mind, a safe space, our new ground of being.

We can only know who we truly are from awake awareness–based knowing. We can then welcome the fear of negative emptiness from our old operating system as a belief.

A Glimpse of Spacious Awareness

The glimpse practice below, “Mind, the Gap,” is about finding awake awareness in the gap between thoughts. You may know a meditation practice where you repeat a word or a sacred phrase, known as a mantra. Here, you’ll focus not on the word or its meaning but on the space — and awareness — between words. The intention is to give the thinking mind the simple task of repeating a word to occupy it while you become aware of the gap between your thoughts. As you explore the presence of awareness in space, you may begin to notice that the space between and around the words is the same continuous field of awareness that you are aware from.

GLIMPSE: Mind the Gap

  1. Start by silently and slowly repeating in your mind, “Blah,” with some space in between. “Blah . . . blah . . . blah.” Allow the word “blah” to float through the space of your mind like a feather. Don’t create any other thoughts or be interested in any thoughts that arise. Let “blah” occupy all the interest and activity of thinking.
  2. Begin to be aware of the thought-free space between the words, “blah” . . . space . . . “blah.”
  3. Next, become more interested in the quality of the space between the words. See if you notice that the space is not just a gap, but that the space itself is aware. “Blah” . . . aware space . . . “blah” . . . aware space . . . “blah” . . . aware space.
  4. Feel the spacious awareness in between the words and all around them as a field of awake awareness in which the word “blah” and other thoughts now appear. Feel your mind not as a solid thing but as clear, open, and aware.
  5. Be and feel awareness that is awake and alert without needing to go to thought for a second opinion. Be aware of the feeling of thought-free, alert clarity. Notice the ease and natural welcoming of all experiences that arise. While doing this practice, you may have noticed that there are two kinds of space. One is the physical space in the room — the absence of objects and content. The other space is presence that is aware and awake.

What you’ve just experienced shows that you can be aware, knowing, and intelligent — without relying on thinking. Whether there are thoughts or no thoughts on the screen of your mind, there is a background knowing that can move to the foreground and then become the ground of your Being. This silent, spacious awareness doesn’t use thought to look to other thoughts to confirm that you know what you know.

You can listen to this glimpse and others with my audio training guide, Shift into Freedom: A Training in the Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness »

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