On Waking (John O’ Donohue)
I give thanks for arriving
Safely in a new dawn,
For the gift of eyes
To see the world,
The gift of mind
To feel at home
In my life.
The waves of possibility
Breaking on the shore of dawn,
The harvest of the past
That awaits my hunger,
And all the furtherings
This new day will bring.
If you frequent spiritual circles, yoga communities and the like, you have heard about the term “awakening” or “waking up“. But what does it really mean?
As my teacher Todd Norian puts it, we come from a universe of power. Indeed, the ancient tantric philosophic texts teach us that we are the embodiment of an endless source of power and will, but we have fallen asleep to it. Life is then about tapping into this source and remembering our true, divine nature by using our reality to awaken to our endless capacity for creation. The teachings say that our daily life, our jobs, family, relationships, the society, unexpected events, etc. are opportunities to wake up and realize that “there is more” behind the surface and what we often get lost into – routines, worries, etc.
I’ve always been fascinated by the transition between sleep and awake state in the morning. Already as a kid, I would pay attention to my dreams, try to remember them and take notes about them. A Belgian author, Amelie Nothomb, writes about the very short moment when we wake up and need a few (micro-)seconds to realize where we are. Obviously, we very quickly recall where we fell asleep, so we typically oversee this moment. Yet, by paying attention to those very few seconds in the morning, we can begin to experience how “awakening” feels like; a subtle, yet sudden shift in our awareness where we become open to the wide array of possibilities.
The qualities of waking up
In my classes this past week, we talked about awakening and some of the different qualities related to it. First, sensitivity and openness are essential. We need to stop, pause, take a step back, like taking a moment in the morning, so we can become receptive and curious. When I do that during my day, I am better able to see that there can be another perspective on the situation I am struggling with. Sensitivity also enables us to listen to our inner wisdom and thereby get clarity about the very next step, “the first, courageous step, the step you don’t want to take” (David Whyte), which we deep inside know will bring us closer to our true nature.
Second, because we live in a “real world” with responsibilities and roles, we need to take ownership of our power, our talent, our skills, live with conviction and integrity, and be truthful to our desires in order to wake up and live our “svadharma” or life purpose.
For example, many of us in spiritual circles and yoga communities (and beyond) have issues and mixed feelings about money and the capitalist world. As fond as I am about heart-felt discussions about our world and sharing about our views, I am also aware of how I/we can get stuck into a victim consciousness or a vision of life where we are separated from the world (us vs. them, or Mayiya Mala one of the three veils that keep us stuck in suffering, in yogic terms) if we stay in this discourse.
Another option is to choose the tantric perspective that “life happening for us, not to us” and that our life conditions always represent opportunities to wake up to our true nature. In this way, it is our choice to “wake up” to what is truly important to us, to our contribution to this world, and to start living in integrity with it. We can for instance start to relate to the current system with a desire to make it a better one and a true servant of the greater good – proposing alternatives (such as the Danish New Circle Movement) or fresh views on new possibilities (such as shared economy, local sourcing, organic and sustainability movement, etc.). There is only one person like you, and only you can make your special contribution to this world. Each time we make a healthy decision for ourselves, we own our power and wake up to our self-dependent will, own sovereignty, and ultimate freedom (svatantrya in Sanskrit).
To me, the combination of open-heartedness and sensitivity on the one hand, and the courage to live with conviction and integrity on the other hand, are two keys to a more awakened life.
The experience of waking up – Suggested practice
Each morning, I like to take a few minutes as I wake up, and rest on my back and sense into the somatic experience of waking up. I invite you to do the same. How does this in-between state feel in your body?
In addition, I invite you to set an intention for your day. What would you like to experience today? What quality would you like to cultivate or embody? I find that pretty powerful and helpful to live with more conviction, integrity, and direction. What got awakened in you today? What is emerging? How do you want to make a difference in the world?