How to Begin to Awaken
By Loch Kelly
From Shift Into Freedom
Once there was a fish who had heard tales of the Source of Life, which would bring whoever found it their heart’s desires.
The fish swam to every corner of the ocean, asking: “Where is the Source of Life? How can I find it?” She kept getting pointed toward different tasks and to more remote parts of the sea — farther, deeper, higher.
After many years of seeking, the fish arrived back at the place where she had first started. Entering her home waters, she encountered an older fish who asked, “What is going on with you, my friend? Why do you look so worried and dejected?”
“I’ve spent years looking for the Source of Life,” the fish explained.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how many things I’ve tried or the number of places I’ve searched — all in vain. I don’t suppose you know where
I could find it?”
The old fish smiled and said, “I’ve heard many names for the Source of Life in my day, but the simplest is ‘water.’”
Just like the fish, we have been searching for an amazing life source.
Although this essential source is beyond our ability to accurately describe in words, we have given it many names: Truth, God, Peace, Source, Love, True Nature, Enlightenment, Unity, or Spirit, but the simplest name is awareness. Like the fish, we may have looked high and low, inside and outside, for this source of life and freedom. But what if that which we seek is closer than our own breath? What if the source of life already surrounds and permeates us?
Meeting thousands of people from many cultures and all walks of life, I’ve found that most have tasted the “water of life.” Many have glimpsed the depth and essential quality of our being: an experience of peace and love, free from our limited mind. Like the fish, we long to find and live from that level of awareness, but because most of us have stumbled upon it unintentionally, we don’t know how to find it intentionally.
Awareness is the foundation of living a human life. We cannot know anything without it. Yet, although awareness is so essential, we know very little about it. Mostly we take it for granted and focus on content: things we are aware of rather than awareness itself.
The awareness we seek is right here, right now, and equally available to each of us. Similar to functions of the autonomic nervous system such as breathing, awake awareness is already happening by itself. However, awareness usually remains elusive because we don’t know how to recognize it. Awareness is not something we need to create or develop. We will need to find a way to discover, uncover, or recover this awareness. Discovering awareness involves as much unlearning as learning, but I’m convinced there is a way for each of us to shift into awareness, feel the freedom it offers, and learn to live from here. You can glimpse this freedom of awareness and shift into it as easily as you can now shift from being aware of reading to being aware of the sensations in your right hand.
Awareness Is Awake
When our basic awareness is revealed to be the foundation of both how we know and who we are, we can call it “awake awareness.” Discovering awake awareness is key to the transformation of consciousness called awakening that leads to our ability to live from freedom, well being, and loving connection. Awakening is a shift of our identity and also a shift of our way of knowing. Awake awareness is the essence of both our ground of Being and the source of our mind. This transformation is a simple shift of awake awareness from the background of our consciousness to the foreground.
Because we’re in the habit of focusing on fast-moving thoughts and strong emotions, and of seeking happiness outside ourselves, we don’t notice awake awareness. Our current constellation of consciousness restricts our perception of our wholeness. Awakening does not begin by changing our belief system or improving our external circumstances.
Awakening begins with shifting out of the way we organize our current mind and identity, which is creating ignorance and confusion.
We can learn how to shift out of our thought-based mind and into an awareness-based way of knowing. Then, from awareness-based knowing, we can embody, connect, and welcome all experience. The feeling of embodied, awareness-based knowing is similar to being in a flow state, being in the zone, being in love, doing selfless service, or laughing with close friends. It is being so fully alive in the now that you “forget yourself.” Living from awareness-based knowing gives us true freedom of choice.
Awake awareness is invisible, contentless, formless, boundless, and timeless, but it is the ground of our being. When you shift out of your conventional sense of self, there is a gap of not-knowing. Awake awareness is who we are prior to the personal conditioning we usually turn to for our identity. Rather than looking to our thoughts, memories, personality, or roles to identify ourselves, we learn to know awake awareness as the primary dimension of who we are, the ground of Being. Then, with unconditioned awake awareness as the foundation of identity, we can include our conditioned thoughts, emotions, and sensations as waves of the ocean of our life. When people feel awake awareness as their primary dimension of consciousness, they report
feeling an essential wellbeing that is free, loving, and safe. Awake awareness, as the ground of being, is the same in all of us, and our individuality arises out of it.
Awake awareness is sometimes called “pure awareness,” but it’s also inherent within all forms of our consciousness. At other times, the term “awakened awareness” is used, but awareness is always awake and
so has not awakened. Awake awareness is always already here, and it is only a matter of learning how to directly access it. One of the most important things to learn is how to separate awareness from thinking,
and then we can see that thoughts and emotions are not the center of who we are. We then discover that awareness is the source of mind that brings the peace that passes understanding. One student said, “This is
what it feels like to be open-minded.” It is our natural wisdom mind, both prior to and beyond conceptual thinking. Awake awareness can “know” something without referring overtly to thoughts, but it can also
use thought when needed.
When we discover the important ability to step back into awake awareness, we are no longer identified with our worried thoughts and fearful emotions. That which is aware of fear is not fearful. When awake awareness is next experienced as inherent within everything, we feel unity with all life. We begin to move from open-mindedness to open-hearted awareness, the expression of awake awareness that knows unconditional love and interconnectedness with all things. Recognition of awake awareness as the ground of Being is like “returning home” and resting as who you have always been.
Shifting into awake awareness is not like putting on rose-colored glasses; it’s more like taking away our blinders. In the open-hearted awareness approach, instead of trying to tame the wild horses of thoughts and emotions inside a too-small corral, we simply open the gates, discovering the larger field of awareness in which the thoughts can move freely. The most helpful way to be free of disturbing emotional states is not by attempting to “break” or get rid of them, but by realizing that these states are made of awareness itself. Awake awareness, as the primary source of how we know and who we are, can’t be harmed by any strong emotional state. You will discover that essential wellbeing is not found by calming our minds or by changing our
thoughts or attitudes, but actually by shifting out of our chattering minds and into a freedom that is already available.
The journey of awakening is a series of shifts and small glimpses.
Awake awareness can be glimpsed and directly experienced in an instant, bringing great relief. A man who helped me with my computer one day asked for an experiential pointer to awake awareness before he left. I showed him one similar to the “glimpse” practices at the end of this chapter. He emailed me back, saying, “When I came to see you, I had been anxious, overwhelmed, and stressed for weeks. All of that seemed to drop away in minutes and didn’t start up again. I probably had the best week of my life this week.” This is an example of why awake awareness is often called the “ultimate medicine.” The discovery and uncovering of awake awareness immediately opens us to natural qualities of peace, joy, love, and courage.