Illness & Awakening
It seems much easier to make good “progress” on your path towards Awakening when you’re feeling healthy, energetic, and untroubled by financial or relational difficulties. It “seems” easier. Of course, this pre-supposes two things:
1) That your own efforts & steady practice can “brings about” your Awakening or enlightenment.
In truth, no personal plan, practice or effort on your part can bring you to full Awakening or enlightenment. It may be important for you to really want it (we must say “may be” because some people have woken up spontaneously without ever wanting it,) but any action you take (meditation, surrender, precisely following a method learned from a book, class or your Guru, or any other spiritual practice you might regularly perform) does not guarantee Full Awakening. If it did, Full Awakening would be experienced by millions of monks & spiritual practitioners who gave it their all, and never experienced permanent Awakening, and never be experienced spontaneously, by many who never engaged in any spiritual practices.
2) That those supposed “sidetracks” of ill health, poverty or relational breakdowns, and any subsequent missed practices, are not part of your path.
Remember, the Pure Awareness part of you is always already Awakened; there’s nothing to do to get Awakened, only to Realize it, to experience the fully-felt sense that you are Awakened, you are the Infinite. Experiencing that seems difficult when we are identified with our illusory egos and personal identities, and all the more difficult if illness, financial or relational breakdown are overwhelming us.
So it’s useful to remember that if your body-mind-ego is healthy, strong and steady in your practice, great…you are already There. And if you are “dying” in bed from 4th-stage cancer, mentally scattered, in tremendous pain and unable to meditate or make any effort towards becoming awake, yup, you too are already There. There’s only Now, you can only be Awake Now, not in some “future” after “x” years of steadfast practice. And if you have cancer or bankruptcy, you can only have them Now. So these challenges must be part of your path. Being Awake and being cancerous must be happening simultaneously. Indeed, even to question whether or not these challenges are a “sidetrack” from your path, or part of it, is an illusory question, because if you’re already there Now, everything you’re experiencing is just what Is. What Is, is precisely what Is. Realization of that is Awakening or Enlightenment. Resisting or judging what Is as some mistake or problem or detour from where you (ego) think you should be is asleep & endarkenment.
In my experience, nothing does a better job of moving us straight towards Awakening than being really ill, experiencing tragedy or relational breakdown, feeling your life has fallen apart and you are totally unable to put it back together. Anybody can feel blissful, peaceful and getting “closer” to enlightenment when things are going well in your body & lifestyle, and you just meditated, or chanted God’s names for three hours straight. It’s when the shit hits the fan and we feel like our whole body or identity is crumbling, that we get to see just how enlightened we truly are. And since being Fully Awakened means the Awakened, non-ego consciousness floods every moment of your experience, all the time, even in your sleeping bed, your sick bed and your “death-bed,” if your not Fully Awake in your darkest moments, well, your not Fully Awake. You can’t deny that “bad” stuff and go cruising into enlightenment on the glider of your smooth practices & good times. It’s all of It, or none of it.
Many Awakened masters have spoken about those times when their health, livelihood or families have come completely apart, as the turning point when they truly let go and Full Awakening flooded their beings. Adyashanti, Ram Dass & Richard Rose are just three of many examples. This is because our egos must give way to that flood of Oneness and allow It to become the captain of our ship, and the Lens through which we experience everything. Our unique, individual ego-minds need not “die;” they simply need to recede into the background (their appropriate place,) on call if we need to balance our checkbook or hold forth with our friends at a dinner party, but allowing Universal Awareness to take center stage in our consciousness whenever our minds are not needed for a worldly task at hand. In most people, the ego’s survival-control yearning is so tenacious & desperate, it simply will not allow Universal Awareness to take the helm and be your main experience, until something happens in your life to crumble it at its very foundation.
Losing a beloved family member, losing our home & identity in the community, having relationships fall apart, or experiencing an accident or serious illness that suddenly thrusts us into great pain, hospital procedures and protracted disability, all can render the ego shattered & terrified. If you get really sick and all you can do is lie in bed, watching your work, income & spiritual practice (and any “identity” you have with those) disappear, your ego-mind can feel totally lost at sea. That’s good. Because it forces you to experience just how limited is this thing you thought was your whole identity, how it never had the reins of control in the first place, how it was always scheduled to die and lose whatever temporal gains it amassed in this short lifetime. It’s a good thing, a precious gift, for our ego to see its limitations, to see that if that’s who we think we are, we’re going to be lost at sea many times in our lives, and then experience death as a terrifying endgame, rather than merely a beautiful transition into our next chapter of experience.
It is those times when our bodies, minds and egos are most “apart,” disassembled and scattered that we most have the chance to see if we might not be something more than, bigger than, this moody collection of thoughts, judgments, personal desires and fears. Laying there in bed, totally unable to jump back into the flow of our normal “ego life,” we may glimpse who we really are behind all that noise, worry and personal agenda. And who we are is the Pure Awareness that contains all these experiences while remaining Infinitely Still.
All the great masters say, welcome illness and debilitating life challenges when they come, use them as your spiritual path, to Awaken; don’t rail against God for putting some distracting, diverging obstacle in the way, that you can’t wait to end so you can get back “on-track,” back to your “real” spiritual path. As Eckhart Tolle has said:
“Life gives you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.”