Waking up into life


Waking up into life is liberating. It's how we stop the war with the way things are, and find a way to embrace life as it is, rather than how we'd prefer it to be. It is an attainable state; clarity is not reserved for monks and nuns alone.

When life becomes stressful, obligations and responsibilities weigh heavily, its tempting to resist the pressures by falling into dissociative diversions; escape fantasies, illusions of martyrdom, head trips, blame games and on. The path to stability and clarity becomes hard to find when we're at war with the fleeting experiences life has presents us. Peace begins when we give up the fight. 

Waking up doesn't mean fixing or solving all of life's challenges. Waking up can involve stepping back from the trance of busyness, to allow events to unfold on their own, creating space for new information to arrive in our awareness. We can can step out of the spiral of assigning fault in self or others by examining the expectations and intentions we brought to our encounters; have we forgotten to approach life with acceptance, appreciation and kindness? 

How do we stop resisting, and take in what's really happening? We can establish a state of ease and security in understanding the fleeting nature of circumstances. For example, during meditation, we can train the mind to explore the sensations and impressions available to us in each moment, while resting in quality of choiceness awareness, opening to what arises and passes, remaining fully alert without drifting away into ideas and fantasies. We hear sounds, feel body sensations, observe memories or thoughts without being shaken or stirred, remaining observant. When the car alarm goes off, we hear it, we may feel the frustration, but we don't add all the stories about the insensitivity of the human race, nor do we resist the sound. We soften the muscles that tense against the sound and welcome it. Eventually we focus less and less on the specific fleeting events—such as car alarms—and focus instead on appreciating the peace that arises from observing life without adding anything (what the Buddha called sankharas, or attractions, resistance, projections, stories, etc). 

We can resign from the battle by focusing on each set of bare sensations without immediately turning them into our routine, often negative perceptions. For example, upon noticing sensations of discomfort in the lower back—perhaps tingling or contracting, heat or throbbing—we investigate this development without adding the phrase “I'm in pain.” When we jump immediately to a routine, habitual, self-centered concepts (“pain”), we lose the actuality and uniqueness of each experience and turn it into something we simply try to resist. And resistance is futile, we've no doubt heard before.

Another way of ending the conflict with life lies in attending to events in terms of their subjectivity, allowing that our perceptions, views and opinions are born of mind's default “negativity bias,” what clinical psychologists and neuroscientists refer to as the brain's tendency to highlight frightening and deflating experiences. As the Buddha began the mighty Dhammapada: "The mind is the author of all things.” everything we experience is happening entirely in our mind. For example, we may look at the room around us, but when we close our eyes, the room disappears. The room hasn't vanished in reality, but it has in the mind, where we experience everything. The farthest star in the universe coexists with the sensations of the clothes touching the skin, in the mind. We recognize that everything we know about the world has arisen via the mind, and so the mind has placed its stamp on everything. But we can cultivate a heart that rests in a quality of understanding awareness. When we're out running around and busy in life, we live in a state of dualistic separation: You're out there, I'm in here. I forget that how I perceive you is filtered by my mind; if I cultivate appreciation (mudita) or compassion (karuna), I will experience you from an entirely different perspective.

Eventually we can find awakening in being aware of awareness itself. We experience how the mind can rest when it doesn't become hooked and snared by the perceptions, memories and thoughts that move through awareness. Being truly awake is, quite simply, a state of greeting life, rather than running from it.