How to wake up to your inner life

With issues such as global warming and the massive inequality between rich and poor, humankind faces challenges on a level never seen before. Some say the only solution to such challenges is for humanity to “wake up” to a new level of consciousness. Only with this new consciousness will we be fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century.


Waking up

For some people it’s the first cup of coffee that does it; for others, it’s the morning shower. Some try to avoid the whole thing by repeatedly pressing the snooze button on their alarm. Waking up. We do it every day of our lives and yet it’s something that often seems to get harder with age.

Spiritual teachers use our daily struggle to wake from sleep as a metaphor for a deeper form of waking up. They explain that our usual level of awareness is actually like a half-asleep state. We need to go through a “waking up” process so we become more fully conscious. The process of waking into full consciousness, however, is a little more difficult than waking ourselves from sleep.


The evolution of human consciousness

The development of consciousness, or “waking up”, has been taking place gradually throughout human history. Researchers into human consciousness tell us history is not just the description of great events and famous people. While there was action going on in the outside world there were also great developments happening inside human beings. Our current capacity for self-awareness is only a relatively recent development. We might take it for granted, but humans have not always had this ability. The development of human consciousness can be divided into six major stages, as shown in the chart below:


Levels of consciousness

Level One: Nature awareness

Early humans were completely immersed in and connected with nature. There was no difference between inner experience and the outside world. (The innocent state of the Garden of Eden.)

Level Two: Body awareness

Awareness of being in a separate body developed. Humans used magic to try to manipulate the outside world, since they were no longer completely at one with it. (There was the belief in and appeasement of many gods.)

Level Three: Tribal awareness

Humans still didn’t have individual awareness but a tribal awareness developed whereby people felt they belonged to a particular group. Competition and war between groups arose. People wanted to believe God was on their side. This level of awareness still exists on the planet. (Belief in a single, external god.)

Level Four: Individual awareness

This is our present-day level of awareness. Humans have a sense of themselves as being separate individuals with their own interior experiences and needs. (Belief in God diminishes.)

Level Five: Planet awareness

This is the new consciousness arising. Individuals are completely self-expressed but in a way that complements, connects with and contributes to the rest of the planet. (Awareness of participating in something greater than the self.)

Level Six: Universal awareness

Individuals connect with a deeper spiritual presence that opens their consciousness even further. (Enlightenment, Samadhi and mystical experiences arise. There is the awareness of participating in an infinite sacred reality.)

The stages in the chart describe the gradual “waking up” of human consciousness from total connection with nature at Level One (asleep) to complete separation at Level Four (half awake) and then connection with the infinite at Level Six (awake).

At present, most people on the planet are at Level Four, which means they have an individual approach to life. This is actually a very dangerous stage in the development of consciousness because people look after their individual needs while ignoring the cost to the planet as a whole. Globally, we need to shift to Level Five because it brings with it a less self-centred approach to life. Some individuals are making the shift, but if more of us don’t, the wellbeing of the entire planet may be at risk.

The first step

So what would it mean to “wake up” from individual-centred consciousness and move into planet-centred consciousness? Individual-centred consciousness is all about ego: my needs, my desires, my choices. I have an eight-year-old nephew who, when adults make plans without consulting him, will respond with, “But what about my life?” I gather he has heard the phrase on television. We all break into chuckles when we hear this. Here is an eight-year-old capturing the narcissistic posturing of so many self-obsessed adults!

The first step towards waking up our own consciousness begins with the development of what is called an “observer consciousness”. This means we begin to observe our own self. A little piece of our own awareness splits off and steps outside of us to take a look at ourselves. It sounds a bit like split personality but it isn’t. It’s actually very healthy.

Many of us think we know who we are, but we can be quite deluded. If we were to ask our friends for feedback we might get a more realistic appraisal. This is what the “observer consciousness” is like: a friend looking in from the outside. It’s a way of getting an objective view of ourselves. We are way less at risk of self delusion if we do this observation on a regular basis.

One easy way to watch ourselves is to stop every so often and just ask, “What was I just thinking?” and “What was I just feeling?” It can be hard to catch at first because so much of our inner process goes on unnoticed underneath our own consciousness. When we begin to observe ourselves in detail we notice a whole lot of things we didn’t know were there. This may sound a little strange at first because we tend to take our “self” for granted. We don’t stop to look at it! It’s daunting when you think about it. What things might be under there that we don’t notice or know about?


Am I crazy?

I saw a client, Yolanda, a teacher who was quite surprised when she began this observing process: “I’ve found out I am actually fantasising all the time! I dream up these amazing scenarios where I am being successful or praised. None of it is real. And it’s so elaborate. I will start doing it then continue adding to it for a few days. Am I nuts?”

I assured Yolanda her experience was quite normal. Many people engage in regular fantasising. Like Yolanda, some people have success fantasies, while others have angry ones. A client, Jason, reported he regularly constructed imaginary conversations in which he was angrily defending himself against someone, often his parents, even though he was an adult now. At other times he would be righting some wrong with someone.

People also notice they spend huge amounts of time on useless thinking. There are two common sorts of thinking: some people dwell on the future, creating chronic low-level anxiety for themselves; others dwell on the past, generating emotions such as regret and self criticism or anger and resentment.

“This is dreadful,” complained a client, Clare. “I can’t stop thinking. It just goes on all the time. Now that I notice it’s there, it makes me think I’m nuts.”

It’s a common response as people wake up to their inner life that they begin to notice how crazy they are. It is a “normal” sort of crazy and goes unnoticed until we wake up, but it is actually bizarre that we spend so much time out of reality and in unreal fantasy or thinking. And how strange that it can go on without our noticing. This is part of what it means to wake up. We begin to be alert to things within us that were once unnoticed. It can be an uncomfortable time as we go through this initial waking up.

Facing our unconscious

As we wake up and continue self observation, we will then begin to notice feelings and emotions that have been buried for a long time. It’s as if we now go down to the basement inside us to open the trapdoor and take a look at what is down there. This is us stepping into our unconscious. Again, people are astounded by what they find.

“I had no idea I had buried this resentment and fury inside me,” said Clare, a corporate lawyer. Clare had been brought up by a strict and abusive father and a mother who did not protect her from his anger. She had buried all thoughts of such things by becoming a high achiever who was constantly busy. Clare had a challenging process ahead of her as she began to learn to accommodate the angry feelings. Other people may have things such as deep sorrow or great hurt to deal with. There may also be loneliness, despair, emptiness and fear. Dealing with these emotions can be a confronting time in the process of waking up.

Some people may ask why it’s necessary to face such difficult feelings. Why not just keep it all buried? The reason is that growing in consciousness means having access to all of our consciousness. This includes things that have previously been unconscious. Everything rises to the surface and becomes visible.

“I’m awake! I’m so awake! I’ve hardly slept in three nights. I’m noticing everything that’s going on inside me. This is amazing!” These were the words of a client, Gail, as she came rushing into the room one day. She had programmed her mobile phone to “beep” every hour as a reminder to stop and notice what was going on inside her at that time. After some weeks, the process was starting to show results. It takes energy to keep things hidden from ourselves. This is why Gail experienced so much more energy as she began to wake up.

As we learn to observe, tolerate and manage difficult feelings, we grow a consciousness that’s bigger than any of the feelings. We awake from our unconscious state. Our “self” is now bigger than it was before.

Another reason to face difficult emotions is that our small self loves to believe the good stuff about itself. But this keeps us deluded. Both Clare and Gail had to face up to things within themselves that they didn’t like. Clare had believed herself to be a calm and moderate person. Gail thought she was strong and invincible. To discover otherwise was a shock to them both. Other people have to face their own dark natures, too. They may find anger, jealousy, selfishness, meanness and insecurity; things that are generally kept hidden. Feelings of embarrassment, humiliation and shame may arise as a result of confronting this inner shadow.

Since the shadow self is so uncomfortable, it’s an incentive for people to grow “bigger” than these difficult emotions. While we are happy to identify as a self that is competent, generous or “together”, we are far less happy to identify as someone who is selfish or critical. If we focus only on the positive there is no incentive for the self to grow bigger — it’s quite happy in its deluded state. By looking at our darker side, we more happily choose to grow a bigger self. This new self can accommodate and see all of us — the good and the bad.


Who am I?

“I’m not sure what’s going on here. I’m confused. I don’t know who I am,” said Clare at a later stage in the process. This was unsettling for her, but it was a good sign. She had been practising self observation for some time. She noticed when she was getting lost in some role, emotion, thought or attitude. The emotions or thoughts would dissolve more quickly in the face of her expanded “observer consciousness”.

This process is called “dis-identification”. Our old identity loosens as we realise this is not who we are. We are not our roles. We are not our emotions. We are not our personality. We are not who we think we are. As our identity loosens, there is space for something more. “So who am I then?” asked Clare.

I encouraged Clare not to rush in to redefine herself but to stay with the not knowing. It’s important not to grasp for a new self but just to wait. Clare had grown bigger than the contents of her consciousness. But at first an agitation may arise when there is empty space in our “self”. It’s an unfamiliar feeling and our instinct is to rush to fill the emptiness. It’s far wiser to stay still and just allow the process to unfold.

A new self

Once there is stillness inside, we may be able to perceive our underlying essence. It’s far more subtle than our everyday identity, hence the need for stillness. It shines. It is peaceful. It is love. A pure centre of awareness. It’s there all the time but is usually buried underneath the heaviness of our unconscious contents.

“I had no idea this was possible. Everything is just glowing. The world is alive. It’s all so beautiful!” This was Gail’s experience as her consciousness began to wake up. She felt wellbeing and joy and a sense of being connected to the world. This is the type of experience that’s possible when we wake up to our deeper nature. There may be peak states for a while, or a new intuitive capacity, a sensitivity to subtle energies or a new appreciation of beauty.

The intensity of such experiences may fade, but when we are awake we are left with the sense of an essential being-ness there in the background. The observer self is there watching, whatever the situation. These days, I can be feeling acute distress, but surrounding this emotion will be another presence that is at peace. It is loving. It is possible to feel both things at once: peace and distress, anger and love. Waking up doesn’t take away our smaller self; it just means we are never alone with it any more. It’s then safer and more manageable to feel our emotions.


A connected self

Some people find when they begin to wake up that they get very sensitive to what’s going on in the world. It starts to hurt. They come to me in tears about poverty or the destruction of the environment. They have a new capacity for empathy. At this stage, people look at the world and can see that it’s not OK and they naturally want to use their skills and passion to make a difference. Some may apply their talent in the workplace, some in the environment, some in voluntary service and some in their family. This desire to contribute just arises within them.

This is different from previous generations who were taught they could be good by striving to be good. Christian teachings told them to be “nice” and charitable. However, we don’t truly achieve a better self by trying to be good. We have to make space for and allow the goodness that is already there to arise. But there is no shortcut. We can’t go around trying to avoid the pain. If we rely on repression, the darker side will leak out. We need to learn how to face and deal with our darker side. Burying it doesn’t work.

As we wake up, our thinking and emotions are no longer solely in the service of our own self interest or greed. An asleep consciousness allows “dead” thinking. This is where our intellect is used in the service of our own gain, at the expense of others’. Corporations may use such thinking to give power to a select few, to the detriment of many. An example of this thinking is the seed company Monsanto, which creates seeds that are not capable of reproducing. Farmers have to keep buying new seeds every year. This is insane! An awakened consciousness could never dream up such an obscene idea. It does not serve the greater good and is devoid of humanity and compassion.


A wise self

I was describing the waking-up process to a client one day and they said it reminded them of something they had read in the ancient Indian spiritual texts known as the Upanishads. It was a great example of how timeless and impersonal this wisdom is. It does not belong to anyone. It’s there waiting for us to uncover it. It just arises when we are ready. We all come to similar versions as we continue waking up.

This waking up is an ongoing process as our consciousness continues to evolve. It shines through the lens of our own unique personalities. It brings meaning and excitement to life as we usher in and welcome the new consciousness; a democratic consciousness that allows us all to partake of its timeless wisdom and compassion.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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