When I was young, there was something about me that didn’t fit the mold my parents and teachers were trying to stuff me into. I wanted real friends who I could connect with deeply, but I was incapable of deep connection myself, and that left me hungry and unfulfilled. I wanted to live in a safer and better world, but I didn’t know how to create safety for myself. I certainly didn’t know how to set boundaries to make myself safer. I learned much later that even as a child, I wanted to wake up and live in a world of conscious people, but that I was unconscious myself.
I have spent the last 25 years learning to wake up. I have found that many people I meet also want to awaken, but don’t know how; so let me share some of my own journey and what I have found that has helped me.
Waking up is the process of becoming conscious of the impact of my choices on myself and on others. My father’s impact on me taught me that men with power will hurt people. He also taught me the cost of being judgmental.
My father was a brilliant but deeply troubled man. He met my mother in a hospital during World War II. He was sent home on a psych discharge in 1944. Mom and Dad were married a week after she returned from the war in 1945. Big mistake. The next 27 years were pure hell. Dad was obsessive-compulsive and he was so judgmental that he pushed everybody around him away.
As a child, I heard and watched my parents fight and scream at each other. I saw Dad slap Mom many times and I took on the belief that men with power will hurt people. When my father died in 1979, he had only one friend left. He had alienated everyone else with his hyper-critical judgmentalism, and he had traumatized his entire family. As the eldest of five children, I took the brunt of his abuse.
The impact my father had on my life was profound. I have spent much of my life dealing with the self-limiting belief that I must give away my power. Yes, some powerful men will hurt people, but I don’t have to be one of them. I can make a different choice. As simple as this may appear, I also learned that judging others was really a way of not dealing with the judgments I have of myself. Judgment just pushes people away.
So why wake up?
As I progressed into a painful adulthood, I slowly realized that I was playing old tapes that no longer served me. In the immortal words of Pogo, I accepted that “I had met the enemy and he was me.” Ironically, Pogo was my father’s favorite comic strip, but he never connected the dots. He never woke up.
I could tell you so many other stories of my painful experiences, but I suspect that you know what I am talking about or you wouldn’t still be reading this article. So how do we learn to connect with each other at a deeper level? How do we learn to wake up?
Waking up is different for everyone. My awakening began when I met Jeannie on a bus coming back from a ski trip to Stowe Vermont. She was sweet and real in a way I had never encountered before. My connection with her led me to Ram Dass and a totally different perspective on life, but it was another 15 years before I realized that I was still asleep and made a clear commitment to wake up. That happened when I got fired for the third time and realized that the common element in all my problems was staring me in the mirror, and that the solution required me to make a conscious choice.
In 1990, I was recruited by Microsoft. I uprooted my family and moved us all from the warm and sunny climate of San Jose, California to the dark and dreary Pacific Northwest. It didn’t take long for my manager to realized that the team I was part of wasn’t gelling. He brought in a team builder and we all trooped off to a Seattle hotel for a weekend of navel gazing. By the end of the weekend, something profound had shifted in me.
After 25 years as a software developer, I realized that I had been living entirely in my head. The training helped me connect with a much smarter organ, my heart. It was as if I was now able to see in the richness of living color instead of the blandness of black and white. And I learned that waking up often requires a teacher who can whack me up side my head and help me realize and own my mistakes. I also learned that I needed a structured process that can help me wake up a step at a time. What is important here is that each of us needs to find our own way of learning and growing.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was having the beginnings of what many people would call a “Spiritual Awakening”. I grew up with Christian teaching that required a faith that made no sense to me. Discovering Ram Dass led me to realize that my religious training was a bridge to spirituality, but that there were many other bridges that led to the same awareness. And I learned that for me, the values that guide my life must ultimately come from deep inside me.
Defining Spiritual Awakening can be complicated and lead to a slippery slope, so I will address that more deeply in some other writings. For the moment, I will simply suggest that I was connecting to my own divine essence and beginning to see that same essence in everyone around me. I was becoming more conscious. Interestingly, seeing this essence in others requires that I not judge them.
In the many years since then, I have continued my awakening process. It has been a bumpy road and many times, I have gone through deep depressions; but the overall arc of my life has changed who I am as a man, as a husband and father and as a human being. It has been hard work, but the work itself has been a huge reward. And I believe that good teachers and well-structured teachings can radically accelerate this process.
So just what is a Spiritual Awakening? Because you are still reading this page, you may already be undergoing an awakening process. If you want to check that out, take the survey on this page.
So now what? Where do you go from here? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but if you would like to begin your own waking up process, here are some steps you can take:
- Seek beginner’s mind. In the expert’s mind, there are few possibilities, but in the beginner’s mind, there are many. Embrace the mystery.
- Notice your judgments of yourself and others and be willing to be curious about how those judgments serve you. Be especially curious about how you feel when you judge somebody else or are judged by someone else.
- Be courageous in your life. Adopt the principle that, “What I fear, I must face.”
- Seek to deepen your relationships with people who inspire and support you and make yourself available to inspire and support others.
- Cultivate compassion for yourself and others. You cannot be truly compassionate with others until you are honestly and authentically compassionate with yourself. This means accepting yourself exactly as you are, warts and all.
- Meditate instead of medicate. Learn to sit silently and look inward.
- Notice what is happening in the moment. Notice the small coincidences and synchronicities that cross your path. Hold them lightly, and be curious.
- Slow down and begin to smell the roses. They are all around you and take many forms.
- Focus more on substance and less on form. Become clear about the substance of what you want and let go of how it is wrapped.
- Cultivate acceptance. The gifts you receive may come in very unexpected packages.
If you are on the path of waking up, you have lots of company… and lots of opportunities to grow. Waking up is the first of three stages that I am going through myself. The next is Growing Up which is taking full responsibility for your life.