Awakening Chooses You

If you had told me five years ago that one day I’d be writing a blog with a spiritual bent, I would’ve laughed in your face. I also wouldn’t have believed anyone who told me I’d soon have a spiritual awakening, lose my mind over it, and ultimately find my true self in the process. Actually, I probably would’ve listened, internally freaked out, and continued to push it all away. Nothing of the “spiritual” sort would’ve made it through my closed, unconscious mind because I was—well, closed and unconscious.

For a long time I fancied myself an atheist. I worshiped intellectual stuff and science and believed in only That Which Could be Measured. There are a lot of reasons I arrived at this mindset, and no small part of it was due to my Western upbringing.  Our culture values academia and mental knowledge to a fault.  Being “smart” gets you into the good careers (or, it used to), and so it was good that I was book-smart. Furthermore, doing well in school was a reliable way to receive validation from adults. So, the mind that was loaded up with information and well-thought out belief systems became sacred to me.

Today I see how limiting it is to look at life like this, because the most important parts of the human experience cannot be objectively examined. Things like love and joy and harmony and inner stillness cannot be objectively analyzed by any kind of study, and yet these are the emotions that propel the human spirit onward even in the bleakest circumstances. Sure, we can locate oxytocin and associate it with loving intimacy, but the feeling itself is immeasurable.

We must take it on faith that anyone else really feels it at all.

Back then, I also really disliked the word “spiritual.” It was the word people used when they were half-in and half-out of religious dogma. “Spirituality” was the mind’s way of convincing itself it could get to Heaven no matter what it did on Earth. Whether an oil executive or a non-violent activist, spiritual nonsense made Heaven available for everyone—at least within certain religions, there were rules: Don’t kill people, at the very least. This wishy-washy perspective could never change the world. The whole thing was way too soft, and I hated soft things because sharpness felt more comfortable to me. My heart was closed and hard and I did this to protect who I thought I was.

To me, “spirituality” was delusion without the willingness to commit to a particular faith. It was when people said, “well, I believe in something…” and that tepid statement did nothing more than allow the believer to stay asleep; to keep on living whatever way they’d been conditioned to live while The Machine™ ended all life on Earth.

Okay, I thought, so you’re a part of the machine and then you die and “something” happens.  What a weak conviction. Also, I was really angry, so everybody in the world who didn’t behave in ways I approved of was stupid and/or shitty. I had the trifecta going on that I see in a lot of educated, empathic young adults: Smart, angry, and lost.

In short, that I’m sitting here writing about spirituality is as surprising to me as it might be to anyone reading this who knows me personally.

To be sure, I’m definitely not saying that people who claim to be “spiritual” aren’t delusional. On the contrary, everything that used to annoy me about “spiritual people” is still there; it just doesn’t annoy me anymore. Delusion is ubiquitous and in every spiritual tradition, but delusion is also outside of every spiritual tradition as well: It’s in universities, laboratories, and workspaces around the world. The social structures of the world are founded on and made up of delusional individual minds. Even though this is true, we all experience short-term breaks from untruth. These breaks come about in the form of spontaneous joy, love, laughter, and a kind of whole-body peace many people don’t even know can exist.

One of my problems was that I had an inaccurate concept of what “spirituality” meant.  All I knew that none of it could be verified via reason or empirical evidence, and I favored these things because being intelligent (as measured by Western academic criteria) was a big part of my self-worth. Therefore, to entertain any notion that didn’t serve reason/science felt not only worthless, but like an attack on me and my value as a human. This is what the unconscious ego does, guys.

But after I lost (and recovered) my mind, I did a lot of reading and compared it to my experiences. Finally, it all lined up, and it was so simple: Oh, I’d had a spiritual awakening. Plain as day. There’s actually nothing wrong with my brain—and there might be nothing wrong with yours, either.

This is the way I learned how to interpret the word “spirituality:” It has nothing to do with archangels, poltergeists, crystals, horoscopes, or tarot cards.  It does not require joining a monastery. We may find these such things helpful on the path, but they’re no more or less spiritual than anything else.

The path is ultimately about one thing: Awakening to reality. On Earth there are at least as many realities as there are human beings. In a place that is only accessible through your own consciousness, there is but One ultimate reality. To wake up is to see this fully, and abide in that space of ultimate reality.

Awakening really doesn’t care if you consider yourself an atheist, agnostic, Christian or Jew, though the preconceived notions that go along with these labels may determine how the awakening is interpreted. And though many seekers spend their lives making themselves available to it, awakening actually chooses you. Whether it seems like a blessing or a curse at the time depends heavily on how much inner work you’ve done.

Sooner or later, denying that it has happened becomes ridiculous. I tried to do this for a while, to resist writing about spirituality, to resist God, to go back to drinking and beating myself up all the time. It didn’t work, and I’m glad for that now. If the moment comes and you didn’t ask for it, you have the choice to resist or to join the Universe in its flow.  Because of the power of conditioning, many of us run away—or at least we try to.

But without persistent, focused denial, awakenings cannot be stopped. They fundamentally (and quite literally) change the way the world appears and, eventually, how you appear to the world. To act like this enormous thing never really happened brings deep insecurity, not to mention a feeling of phoniness.

But as you become more grounded and come to know your true self, the masks just fall away.  You know something incredibly real and powerful has happened, and you can’t deny it to everyone because you’re worried about what they’ll think.

Soon I’ll be putting my name on this blog and writing more about my personal process from intense suffering (labeled as depression and bipolar disorder) to regular joy and bliss.  I also hope to examine how this process translates into the greater world, since the individual is a microcosm for the whole.

Mostly I wanted to post this to be clear, to myself and any readers: This is a spiritual blog. For some time, I was leaning towards philosophy or some combination of psychology and spirituality.  After a few conversations, it became clear that this can’t really be done.  There will likely be a lot of overlap, since the integration of awakening tends to get medicalized and outright denied the West, and that needs to be addressed.

Very quickly, the limits of logic are hit in these matters, and I have no interest in arguing. The things I choose to write about are not my “positions” or “beliefs;” they are what I know to be true via my direct experience.  I admit, freely and happily, that none of what I know in this regard can be verified by external measures, and encourage all people to deeply explore their own consciousness.

I am not seeking to “convince” anyone; I simply trust that what I write will resonate with those who need to read it.

– lish