What is Awakening? (Part 1)

Over the last eight years I have noticed that the word “Awakening” has become a more prominent subject in books, on You Tube, as well as in the field of business and personal workshops and trainings. I am fairly certain that the word has different meanings to the various teachers and participants of these events, and since I am involved in leading workshops on the experience of consciousness, I would like to offer my understanding of what “Awakening” means. When discussing these terms, I find it helpful to use metaphors, one of which concerns a caterpillar’s / butterfly’s life.

Before a caterpillar enters the cocoon, its entire existence is focused on satisfying its needs for survival. In other words, the caterpillar does its best to continue being a caterpillar, and has no experience of any other kind of life. Although not precisely the same, human beings are similar to the caterpillar in that our life experience revolves around identifying with the physical appearance (i.e. believing that “I am this body,”) and maintaining and supporting our human lives. Thus we are constantly coping with the limitations of our humanness.


The difference between us and that many-legged insect is that many of us have an intuitive sense that we are capable of experiences that are beyond those limitations, sometimes getting glimpses into the possibility that we may be more than simply human. We even have numerous spiritual and intellectual philosophies that were designed to help us understand our true nature and potential. If a caterpillar had such books, the subject would probably be concerned with teaching the insect how to grow wings and fly. As humans, we might read books about how to reach enlightenment, or how to get to heaven. These materials often include guidance about improving ourselves so we may be more deserving of those transcendent experiences.

Once the caterpillar enters the cocoon stage, its physical form is completely destroyed and reduced to a formless mass. From that mushy goo the butterfly’s body begins to take form.

The human equivalent of this process is what I call “waking up”.  Although your physical body is not destroyed, your personal beliefs about yourself, the world, and all the animate and inanimate creations in it, begin to dissolve as you come to see more and more clearly that no belief is true. It’s sort of like when a young boy or girl is told that there is no Santa Claus. There may be a slight disappointment, but usually the young person feels a serene sense of satisfaction that what they knew in their heart was confirmed to be true.

Without belief, you turn to experiences in consciousness that seem to expand your awareness beyond your mind and senses. You begin to ‘see’ beyond your beliefs where before you could only look at the impenetrable wall of those beliefs. Your self-concept also begins to dissolve, and you experience the presence of the “non-self”, which is what you really are.

Awakening is different from the stage called ‘enlightenment’ which, in the terms of this metaphor, is like the butterfly breaking free from the cocoon and flying where it will. In the Awakening stage, you undergo the natural dissolution of beliefs, while experiencing the hold those beliefs still have on you, and you are awed by the amazing effectiveness of the illusion to continuously fool you into thinking it’s real. Another metaphor I use here is that of waking up within a dream. Like many people, perhaps you have had the experience of being sound asleep and involved in some dream, when suddenly you, the being in the dream, realize that you are dreaming. Still physically asleep, you have a sense of liberation and you begin to explore more consciously the laws and landscapes of the dream state, while also feeling that you are not necessarily bound by those laws. You don’t wake up from the dream, but rather wake up in the dream.

In the awakening stage, you will often experience spontaneous states of consciousness. Time and space disappear, as awareness seems to expand, breaking away from the limitation of the senses, the mind and your habitual way of seeing the world. Your primary experiences in the awakening state are those of conscious acceptance, awareness and appreciation (which is a feeling of love + awe + gratitude).

These spontaneous occurrences do not come about because of some discipline you are practicing, or because of whatever spiritual merits you believe you have earned. The caterpillar did not have to follow any special disciplines or philosophies in order to enter the cocoon. The cocoon is its natural destination, if it’s fortunate to stay alive long enough to get there! Human beings think that there must be a specific method or path to follow, that they must earn the awakening experience, but this is just another belief that spontaneously dissolves in the “human cocoon”.

(Part 2 – Next week)