Awakening to the truth is a deep realization of what you are as an experience. What is it that is feeling? What is it that is thinking or sensing? This is not about coming up with the right name for it, so don’t name it for a moment. It’s about just noticing, just experiencing. Feel it. Sense it. Welcome it. Spiritual awakening is realizing what occupies the space called “me.” When you listen innocently, you’ll see that there really is something more here than a me.
Your me is always experiencing this moment in relation to some other moment. Is this moment as good as it was two weeks ago? Will it be the same today as it was yesterday? The me worries about what it knows and whether or not it is good enough to get enlightened. Your me might call itself Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Advaitan, atheist, agnostic, believer, or nonbeliever, but no matter what your me is identified with, when you become very open and relaxed, you can suddenly be aware that something else is occupying your body-mind. Something else is looking out from your eyes, listening from your ears, and feeling your feelings. That something has no qualities. Realizing your true nature is realizing what is present without qualities. We can call it the emptiness of consciousness, the Self, or the No-Self. To directly experience this emptiness—the aliveness of it—is spiritual awakening. It is to realize yourself as beautiful nothingness, or more accurately, no-thing-ness. If we say it’s just “nothing,” we miss the point.
When your image of the me takes a break, you’ll find all you are doing at that moment is just being open. You feel quite relieved that you are not trying to get to another moment or a better experience. You feel yourself just being in a very relaxed, easy sense of peace. You haven’t gained anything at all—you’re not smarter, you don’t necessarily know more than anyone else, and you haven’t suddenly become holy. If you are resting as your own true nature, then you feel that there is really nowhere else to go.
At that moment, you feel as if your path has ended. It can be hard to end it when so much is invested in your path, but if you really want to be free, you must want to know the truth more than anything else. And when you do, you find that the truth is so damn empty. There is so much nothing to it. There is so much nobody there, just a very vivid awakeness.
But even then you can realize the truth and still not operate from it. You can have a very deep awakening experience and still not function from that awakening because the me is still convinced that a me is necessary. The me always brings you back into relationship with another—it can be the world and me, my job and me, the dog and me, whatever. Have you noticed how the way you relate to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations is often slightly adversarial? How it’s never quite the right moment? How it’s almost perfect, but not quite? The Buddha said, “All suffering originates from craving, from attachment, from desire.” This is the movement of the me who always wants a little more out of the moment.
The me is clumsy. As my mother used to say, “You’re like a bull in a china shop.” Did you ever hear that? If you let your mind imagine a bull getting loose in a china shop, that’s how the me is. It’s knocking things over, things like the most precious china. With a whisk of its tail, there goes . . . grandma’s four-generation-old antique china cups! Boom—they’re gone. When your me is operating, it’s like that bull. It tends to make a lot of noise because it’s always in a slightly adversarial relationship with its moment. It produces noisy thoughts, feelings, beliefs, or opinions. It also likes to search, moving its head around, scanning for the right emotion in the body, scanning through the mind for the right concept. It’s always in movement like a radar, looking for the right thing to happen.
As soon as you move your attention away from the radar scan, you start to notice something else. Inside, there is something that is not creating nearly as much noise as the me. This something else, this openness, this awakeness, is not searching for the next moment or scanning for the right emotion or experience. You can get the sense of it now. What does it feel like to simply be awake? Whether you think you are awake or not doesn’t matter—don’t worry about that for now. What does the awakeness itself feel like? What is the experience of that awakeness before you try to be more or less awake? Just with a willingness to open, you can start to feel it. How does this awakeness feel? How does this openness feel? Just by bringing your attention there, just by noticing without any effort, this formless or empty sense of being heightens itself as if to say, “Someone is finally paying attention.”
When this openness is present, you can recognize how it experiences your body. How does openness experience a feeling, emotion, or thought? How does it experience the movement called “me”? Allow yourself to get a real taste of this. This openness is in a completely different relationship with everything that exists, starting with you. It’s in a different relationship with the moment; it’s not going anywhere. Have you noticed? It’s not trying to achieve something else. It hasn’t elevated you or demeaned you. Start to sense the profound innocence of this openness. It’s not perceiving from the past—not from the last moment, much less from the accumulation of a lifetime. It’s perceiving only in this moment.
Openness has not accumulated anything, so it’s free. It has a profoundly innocent but wise relationship to everything. It is something primary, awake, and alive. You can sense how incredibly precious it is. When you look right into it, there is nothing there. Let yourself experience this openness, this nothingness. Let yourself see how it experiences your body and mind right now, in this moment. It’s so different from the experience of the me. This nothingness is the peace that surpasses all understanding, and it’s right here at your fingertips.
Awakeness is inherent in all things and all beings everywhere, all the time. This awakeness relates to every moment from innocence, from absolute honesty, from a state where you feel absolutely authentic. Only from this state do you realize that you never really wanted whatever you thought you wanted. You realize that behind all of your desires was a single desire: to experience each moment from your true nature. You find that simply walking outside and seeing a leaf in the breeze or seeing a street person on the corner is the most exquisite of experiences. You don’t need anything big; each moment has a beauty all its own. Even the very ugly moments have a beauty when experienced from this innocence, this beautifully disarming state of awakeness.
During any moment, you can ask yourself, “What is it like for emptiness to experience this moment? What is it like for awakeness?” Really listen, because openness is quiet and soft. You can’t insist upon it. You can’t grab for it, so don’t reach. Just open. Look for the openness, feel from the openness, and relate from the openness. It can freak you out if you’re not used to it. If you find yourself in a place that you don’t like, just ask how openness is experiencing this moment. A shift happens, and you find yourself saying, “I’ll be damned—it’s actually enjoying this!”
This relationship from your heart, from the truth of your being, from openness—is something that can’t be taught. I remember what it was like when I went as a Buddhist to undertake the precepts. You read through them, study them, and kind of take them inside. You do whatever the little me does with them, like deciding you are going to do a really good job of it—until you find out otherwise. You think you know what the precepts are, then you really awaken to your true nature and realize that this is how your true nature naturally sees things. It’s very simple. That’s it. Now you don’t need any precepts because your true nature sees that way all the time. You don’t need to be reminded of how your true nature sees. You only need to be reminded of what your true nature is.
So if you want to find out how openness relates to each moment, just go inside. Be that openness. Be that emptiness. All you can do is ask yourself, inquire for yourself. How is it relating to this thought in my head? To this person? To this moment? You can see this. Go directly to the source, to the only authority that is finally liberating: your own awakeness, your own emptiness perceiving this moment. It will teach you how to live.