Adyashanti on Awakening
Please enjoy this interview excerpt with spiritual teacher Adyashanti and Sounds True producer Mitchell Clute about The 30-Day Wake Up Challenge and some common misconceptions about awakening . . .
Mitchell Clute: The 30-Day Wake Up Challenge is a bold title for this new journey you’ve created with Sounds True. Can we choose to wake up? And how do the practices in this journey support the awakening process?
Adyashanti: The whole idea of The Wake Up Challenge is really the outcome of 24 years of teaching. Early on, I saw that the first thing I needed to establish was the idea that awakening is possible. If people think, “Awakening is rare. It’s for very unusual beings and maybe I’ll get there in 10 lifetimes if I’m lucky,” they’ll tend to manifest that thought pattern in their experience and it will seem to be true, whatever meditation or inquiry or other practices they’re doing. But as soon as people begin to challenge that idea, it just makes so much possible. The biggest challenge is often opening our minds to the possibility.
Through all my years of teaching, I’ve seen that awakening is readily available to everybody. I’ve seen it in people who really have their act together, people who have good lives and relatively well-adjusted egos. I’ve seen it in people whose lives seem to be a mess, whose egos are really struggling. They can awaken. People come to me with very difficult backgrounds, with terrible traumas very early in life, and they can awaken. And I haven’t actually seen that any one of these groups has a greater advantage in terms of awakening to their true nature.
I used the word “challenge” because I really wanted to challenge people. When I made this program, I took the best pointing-out instructions that I’ve developed over the years to induce insight. It’s not a program about processing your emotions, or about healing, or even about your spiritual path—though all those are an important part of life. It’s really narrowly focused on awakening to one’s true nature.
I’ve been interested in making this program for over a decade now, and one day I thought, “I’ve thought about this long enough. I’d better just sit down and do it.” It was one of the most enjoyable—and challenging—things I’ve ever recorded.
MC: One of the misperceptions it seems people have about awakening is, “If I just awaken, life will be good.” We believe that somehow, in light of that experience, clarity will automatically come to our relationships, our work, and our own journey.
A: That’s an important point, because a lot of people hold this misperception. It’s a little disappointing to hear that awakening doesn’t instantly fix everything, but the truth is always more freeing than whatever our fantasy about the truth may be. Awakening is always one of the most seminal, transformative experiences we can have in life. And it does have a bleed-over effect into other dimensions of our life—the make-up of our healthy ego structure, our relating, our healing. But each of these areas of life—including emotional development, relational IQ, and personal healing work—[is] each a separate line of human development. They all interact together. But I’ve never met anybody who had an awakening and suddenly had an A+ ability to relate when they didn’t before, or suddenly healed everything that needed to be healed. It doesn’t happen that way; it didn’t happen that way for me.
Awakening seems to have a different effect on different people. For some people, it transfers to their lives to a great degree, but we all have parts of our lives that need attention, that aren’t instantly clarified even with the deepest awakening. That’s just part of human life. But I think we can approach all those areas of life from a more benign position if we’ve had some taste of our true nature. Then, even if we have to do some healing work or emotional maturity work, we know through our own experience that we’re not coming from a place of lack, because we’ve really touched upon our unconditioned nature—that which is always and already complete.
So, awakening is always one of the most transformative moments in a person’s life, and can become a foundation from which to address other issues from a state of wholeness and with less fear or existential dread. But it’s not a magic cure-all for everything.
MC: In Zen there’s the idea of “always being, always becoming”—of attending to both our humanness and our essential nature. But many students, and even some nondual teachers, seem to put all the emphasis on the being, our eternal nature, and almost nothing on the becoming.
A: I think that’s something within human nature; we all want our securities. We’d all like to live in a world of absolutes, feeling if we could just find those absolutes we’d be safe and not be subject to the challenges of being and existing.
Every dimension of consciousness has its own delusions. One of the delusions that is almost always inherent in awakening or the revelation of our true nature is a sense of confidence. We think, “Oh, this is it,” because we’re touching upon what is always and already complete. This confidence can tie right into our unconscious desire for fixed, final conclusions, because they provide a sense of security.
Also, most people come to spirituality through some degree of suffering and difficulty. There’s a big motivation to want to have an experience that will put all that suffering behind you. Psychologically, we’re caught living in denial. We think, I’m done, I’m finished, I’ve realized an absolute truth and now I’m not subject to all these other aspects of being a human being. These delusions are inherent in the revelation of true nature, because any time we touch upon a facet of our true nature it feels whole and complete.
But in the end, we realize we’re embracing a paradox. That which is always whole and complete is also always in a state of becoming. To me, this is the real nonduality. It’s not going back and forth from one side of duality to the other—from “I’m a human being” to “I’m spirit or consciousness.” Reality embraces this paradox of both sides. Always being, always becoming. A human being and pure spirit. It’s the nature of a more mature realization that we can not only see but begin to embody these paradoxes.
MC: The 30-Day Wake Up Challenge has four parts. There are sections on the three types of awakening—the mind, the heart, and the ground of being—and a final section on how to put these insights into practice in our lives. Why did you present them in that order, and what do we need to bring to make the most of these teachings?
A: I offered the teachings in the order they’re generally easiest to approach. As you know, I talk about awakening on the level of mind, heart, and gut or ground of being, and mind is usually the easiest one. They often unfold in something like that order, but not always.
In my case, my first awakening was to the ground of being. Since I grew up dyslexic, my whole spiritual unfolding was dyslexic! It was backwards. But the reason I arranged the journey this way is simply that for many people it happens that way.
The power of our own honesty with ourselves plays such an important role. We can have revelatory and amazingly transformative experiences, but at the end of the day, our honesty about our own experience is going to tell us, “Oh, this seems to need more work,” or “I’m actually suffering in this area of my life,” or “Relationships seems to be an incredible mystery to me, and my awakening didn’t seem to give me great relational intelligence.” If we’re honest, we’ll see it, we’ll identify it, and we’ll focus on that for awhile.
If there’s still healing work to be done, we can live in denial. It’s common in spirituality. People think that if they keep going back to the transformational experience over and over, it’s going to make everything else go away. But if we remain honest and don’t use that experience as a place to hide, then our awakening can give us real clarity, so that it becomes clear what we need to work on.
And it’s hard for human beings to do—to simply be honest with ourselves. It sounds easy, but it’s not easy. But our experience tells us what needs attention. When we have an emotional or psychological or spiritual “ouch” that’s the way our system gives us feedback. It’s not mysterious. It’s not hidden from us.
So there’s work to do after awakening. But we can also indefinitely postpone awakening by believing that we need to be some sort of semi-perfect being before it can ever happen, and that’s simply not true.
Continue your awakening with our brand-new journey with Adyashanti, The 30-Day Wake Up Challenge. We begin Thursday, August 15.