Awakening: Traps And Misconceptions
Updated: Feb 19
In this post I would like to talk about some possible traps and misconceptions that you might encounter along the path in becoming conscious of your true nature. The spiritual path can be seen as this amazing forest down in the picture. It looks (and it is) an awesome and appealing place to visit to walk its paths, but once inside watch out where you step because its ground is full of pitfalls! I advice you to read this post if you are seriously interested in this work. It might be easier for you to walk along this unstable ground.
"I have not failed. I have just found 10.000
ways that will not work"
- Thomas Edison -
Before starting, I would like to make sure you have clear what I mean when I use the word "awakening" and to point once again some profound realizations you can become conscious with this work.
As I have already mentioned in my post “Enlightenment: What It Is And What It Is Not”, awakening simply allows you to grasp what is the nature of whole reality by "looking" within you. As you can guess this is a huge accomplishment and it requires time, effort and humility to contemplate on something that was previously taken for granted.
As intellectual creatures, we tend to believe only to what we see and to what we can measure and quantify. Although this approach is both useful and necessary in the relative world, it represents a huge limitation in grasping what is absolutely true about the reality we live in and it is the number one reason that prevents most people in getting deeper than what perceptions can reveal to them. Once again awakening has no interest in making you believe anything you cannot verify by yourself. However, if you want to have profound realization, you need to accept that we are dealing with something that goes beyond the usage of perceptions, senses and measurements.
Awakening invites you to realize that anything experienced in reality is known and it can be pointed no matter how subtle the experience is. And you are that which is aware of this endless dance, that which cannot be pointed. An important step is grasping what is this “substance” in which you are immerse into. Then you need to realize that not only you are this "substance" but the whole universe is made out of you. This "substance" has no form, no feature, no shape, no objective quality and for this reason I like to use the word Nothingness to describe what cannot be described (check out my post "Before The Big Bang"). Other people refer to this "substance" as Consciousness. Nothingness is the ground that has no ground, the support of all manifested reality. It is the formless out of which all forms arise and are made out of. You as a human being seem to exists as a specific form distinct from others but you are nothing else than Nothingness.
Awakening means to wake up from this illusion ingeniously created by Nothingness to experience itself as a duality. This “substance” has no way to know and interact with Itself in Its pure nature and therefore It has decided to take any possible conformation such as rocks, stars, plants, animals, humans and so on to experience and get to know all possible infinite ways of Itself. By doing so, It had to apparently limit Itself by choosing to be a specific form. You, as a human, represent one of this infinite choice by which Nothingness is manifesting Itself.
In absolute terms, you are not a human being, you are simply Nothingness under the cover of a human appearance. You are Nothingness that forgot to be Itself.
This journey, for whoever is interested in, gives immense satisfactions to you as a human being. It is a priceless path. By awakening life will turn from being material and objective to something totally and utterly mystic. As I like to see it, Nothingness has worked hard to experience duality: with the risk of getting my PhD in Biology trashed in the bin, I personally now regard evolution not anymore as a process composed by random genetic mutations, natural selection and the survival of the strongest but as an intelligent creation of Nothingness to experience Itself in more and more complex ways, from atoms to humans. Evolution is creation (this statement deserves a distinct post to be explained). This is to say that Nothingness will not let you discover the illusion so easily and many traps and misconceptions have been created to make this path more interesting and valuable.
Needless to say that you or better, what you think to be, represent the biggest source of traps and misconceptions that are constantly created to keep this secret as such.
Let's have a closer look to what these misconceptions and traps are. There are many traps that might arise during the spiritual journey and it is fundamental to be aware of them. Here I will talk about only what I personally experience in my journey.
1) The endless chase
The first point I want to address is this endless chase to get enlightened. When I firstly started this path I was looking for something to happen. I was looking for an experience to be experienced, I was looking for a specific state that could get me enlightened. As long as you relate to this path as something external from you, you will never catch it. You are what you are looking for so you cannot be found as an object. Any state, no matter how beautiful is, it is going to fade away as everything else in reality. Here we are interesting in looking for the only "thing" that is ever present, you.
This is a point that I want to be really clear for those who are interested in this path because there is a lot of confusion and misconception about the so called spiritual path. It is normal and necessary to start this path by reading books, listening hours of video of awoken people to find some direction to follow. I did it for several years and being a person that use a lot his mind I was always making sure I was not missing some important book or video where the truth might have been revealed. Once again, this process is necessary and I do invite you to read, meditate and listen other people that had this realization but do not expect to find who you are in a book.
What you have been looking for, it is what you have been overlooking. What you are, it cannot come to you as an experience, because it is you. A thought comes to you. An emotion comes to you. An insight comes to you. A perception comes to you. A bodily feeling comes to you. Who are you?
Many non-dual teachers claim that whoever we are, we are already enlightened and therefore there is nothing to do: our true nature never leaves us. Although this is true, I do not like this way of communication because it implies that there is no need for an active attitude towards the discovery of what is absolutely true. Claiming that we are already enlightened do not remove the state of ignorance in which most of people live and even worst, do not encourage human beings to shed some light on it. This journey for most of us requires an enormous amount of work to be done according to the degree of sleepiness in which we are. Our culture, family, educational system are likely to be in the same state of ignorance and it requires a huge effort, willingness and courage to go and find something that is not really acknowledged as a priority by our society.
What is needed to “become enlightened” is a sort of electrical shock, a thunder that unequivocally make you realize what you are and leaves no doubt about it. Although in absolute terms there is no one that becomes enlightened, the spiritual journey will purify the ignorance present in the mind by shedding some light on it. This is not what you should expect, I just love the movie "link".
2) Looking elsewhere
A second misconception about this work is that it is often associated with esoteric practices, far-fetched experiences and historical figures that discourage people in undertaking this path. As I said awakening does not entail experiencing something incredible: no mystical experience, Kundalini awakening, chakra opening, vision of spirits or entering in parallel realities are required to get to know yourself. These events, of which I have no doubt about their existence, are simply content within reality. They simply represent other experiences not different from your daily routine.
I want to stress this point because myself at the beginning of this journey I was looking for something, I was trying to reach a particular state as if the Truth was somewhere else. This is the activity of mind that misleads the spiritual path for something else than what it is here in this moment. There is literally no difference, in absolute term, between a mystical experience and you eating your sandwich for lunch. Both experience should be held with the same awe once you realize what is needed for such an experience to happen. Only from the point of view of mind one experience is better than an other. Mind simply gets used to specific experiences and keeps itself busy in the illusion that one day it will find the experience that will satisfy itself forever. This work has nothing to do with exploring the content of reality. Rather it is more focused to discover the nature of the content, what allows the content to exist. You might have several mystical experiences without being conscious of the nature of this experience.
3) Awakening set you free
The third misconception about this work is the idea that by awakening you will get rid of all your suffering at once. I had the idea that by awakening I will be right away more honest, more loving, more compassion about others and life in general. I had the idea that once awoken mind would just shut up and be finally free from all its monkey chat. I had the idea that awakening was the magic pill through which all my personal issues would be magically solved.
The truth is that enlightenment does not solve all your selfishness and dysfunctional behaviors at once as I have already said in my post "Meet Consciousness". Usually intentional suffering and commitment need to be undertaken to get some shit out of you as a human. All the previous years we have been acting unconsciously made us accumulating many dysfunctional behaviors and beliefs from our culture that will still run after being awoken because they represent our identity. They represent the way each of us relate and survive into this world. It was interesting to read that the Buddha after his awakening did want to teach to woman and only after he has accepted to do so. This is to say that even the Buddha, due to the cultural beliefs of that time, was somehow biased in his way of seeing reality.
This is important also for not falling into the trap of holding an enlightened people as an untouchable, as someone that has figured everything out. He or she might have figured out what reality is in his absolute terms but he or she might be a complete disaster in keeping a relationship, running a business or in other social activities. All these activities are part of the relative world and they need hard work, study and a lot of mistakes to be mastered. It is not uncommon to read that many gurus have taken advantages from their high spiritual position to get sex or money from their devotees. There is a Zen quotes that says "Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water, after enlightenment chop wood and carry water". My version of it is "If you were an asshole before enlightenment you will be an asshole after enlightenment".
Awakening does not conform people into something specific, at the contrary. It simply gives the infinite emptiness to create whatever way you want to be as a human. Although awakening will make you more open and loving by realizing that literally there is no difference between you, a rock, a table, and your worst enemy, the personal transformation that leads you to behave in line with this realization requires a lot of work. Awakening simply defines the new ground of play, a new perspective from which you as a human being can move. And it is up to you how you want to move.
As I said before mind does not like what we are doing right now because we are talking about topics that are detrimental for its survival. Mind is what most of people identify with. It represents the entire set of personal, family and cultural assumptions that we have being swallowing for decades without questioning and that became literally our reality.
Maybe the most common and diffuse belief rooted in most people is that we are a physical body living in an external objective world. When this belief is realized to be an illusion by discovering the “witness presence or the transcendent you”, mind will do anything in its power to take again the control of the situation. Before this realization, mind makes the illusion of being a body an objective indisputable reality in order to survive and get anything it wants. Mind plays the card of mortality to keep you well rooted in this belief. Mind knows that without the body it would not stay alive. Mind knows that if the body gets ill or it is not being taken care of, its own existence is threaten. The realization that you are neither the body nor the mind represent its death.
When you realize to be neither the body nor the mind but that which is aware of them, the witnessing presence, mind gets scared and operates in order to survive. Mind sneakily will identify itself not anymore with the material and physical body but with this more ethereal entity, the witness. Even though you have just realized that any identification cannot be you, somehow mind is able to make you belief that this ethereal entity is your new identity, the transcendental one.
1) Transcendent is better!
The first trap you might fall into is to neglect everything that is human and earthly-related since everything is an illusion. If you listen some non-dual teachers they will claim that existence is purposeless or meaningless. What teachers really mean with the term purposeless and meaningless is that life has no meaning and purpose in the absolute way, that you as a human can create your own purpose in life. Meaningless is not meant to have a negative connotation but simply indicates the absence of a specific meaning, either positive or negative. However, these concepts are misinterpreted by mind and are used against the body. Since mind has to sustain its new identity, it will make you believe that nothing is worth to be pursued in life. As a consequence you might stop achieving any project you were focusing on, stop relationship, stop taking care of your body, get depressed and so on.
An incomplete understanding of what awakening is and what it entails might push you to move in the wrong direction. Realizing that you are not a physical body but a "presence that witnesses" the world might lead to neglect and discard the world of manifestation. You might refuse the normal world, you might become disconnected with what is being witnessed, where life is happening.
It is normal to be disoriented on the journey because a totally new way of perceiving life comes to exist. There is a new context from which to move. But remember that reality has no objective orientations or directions. Only you as a human is responsible in creating your reality. Changing perspective in such a radical way implies encountering many different obstacles and your previous reality will crumble under your feet. Your family, friends or other close people might not understand what you are doing and you need to be strong to follow your intuition regardless everything else.
In my experience this trap was the most difficult one because you are likely to be alone in the path: not many people are interested in talking about these stuffs and able to relate to what you are experiencing. It is a hard time to experience but it is necessary to move to a higher stage of understanding.
2) You know shit!
The second trap that you might encounter is a sense of arrogance and superiority towards others. Again, this is due to the mind taking ownership on this new identity. You might feel superior because you think to have achieved something that only the greatest sages have achieved. You might start judging others to be sleepy about their condition and blaming them not to take action. You might fall into the trap of talking about spirituality to early. You might start arguing with other “enlightened” people about which is the best way or technique to achieve enlightenment. Basically, you start doing what you were doing as a human body, that is judging and blaming, but from a “superior” place. I have personally hesitated for long time before starting this blog because for long time I caught myself being cocky about this topic.
That's it. I hope I could give you an idea of what this journey might represent both in its bright and dark side. It is a beautiful journey and I encourage you to invest time on it. It is priceless.
Thanks for reading.