I received an email today with the topic Awake in the World. The email was from a Buddhist magazine and it invited people to submit their perspective on what it means to be Awake in the World.
My first reaction was “What does this mean?”. Where does this question of what it means to be awake in the world come from? Who would ask this question and in what conditions? On the surface it is easy to relate to. It sounds like a wonderful goal to be more awake amidst the difficulties of life. But on this level, what kind of an answer would I be looking for? Most likely I would want advice. Someone wise should tell me how I can accomplish this goal. Or perhaps I would rummage through my store of experiences and give advice to others. On this level I would want someone to outline some steps, so I can make gradual progress, or I would want someone to show me how to practice the skills of being awake in the world. Or at the very least I would want someone to encourage me that it’s possible.
The kind of answer that I would want on this surface level does not seem deeply satisfying to me. Advice, encouragement, practicing skills, seem to only scratch the surface. They may have some immediate benefit but it is not long lasting. So I am asking again what is really beneath this question about how to be awake in the world. What would bring up such a concern in myself or in another person?
One thing that might bring up this concern would be if I reflect on my life and find it to be full of muddle, confusion, mistakes, misunderstandings, uncertainty, having my feelings hurt and hurting the feelings of others, and so on. Reflecting on this means that memory is activated, doesn’t it? Stored memory traces of our past experience are activated, woken up, and they reveal their content, which is full of sadness, pain, wanting, and more. Maybe there is some joy in the memory but memory seems to predominantly like to store unfinished business and seems preoccupied with what is difficult and painful.
So something activates this sorrow-self of memory. Is there an immediate reaction to do something about it? To resolve to live better in the future? To plan to be a “better” person, a more awake person? This seems to be part of the memory structure as well – to plan a way to avoid future pain by analyzing what caused pain in the past and by creatively planning a strategy to avoid that “cause” in the future. When the perceived source of pain is the memory structure itself, memory becomes extremely creative in figuring out plans for being “liberated.”
If this sorrow-self becomes activated and is felt throughout the whole being, is it not possible for it to simply express itself, with all of the bodily sensations and emotional sensations that are part of it, without the automatic process taking hold of escaping from it into lofty spiritual plans?
Sitting here, deep sorrow just barely under the surface, an experiential understanding of the difficulty of the human condition, the palpable feeling of sadness pressing down on the diaphragm, the hum of the refrigerator, warm air pressing on the eyelids, this itself is the world in its fullness. The world itself is awake in this moment. Sorrow is not separate from it, from the flow of blood, the movement of air, the stillness. To say “awake in the world” seems to divide this single, simple energy of presence into someone that wants to be prepared for difficult events versus the events themselves.
What is the world at this very moment? What is it that wants to be awake? Are these two separate questions? Just listening in open space. Does it matter at all what particular feelings, emotions, sensations, states of mind or body or environmental influences take place? Nothing left to evaluate whether there is awakeness or not. Nothing left to label anything as the world. Is it clear that the world of concern about the past and the future is a dream, a fog? That when this dream too opens to the wide world, there is just this moment, full and complete in itself. What is it this moment?