Many spiritual teachers and seekers talk about being "awake." Is the rest of the world asleep? In a sense, yes. When we talk about being "awake" in the spiritual sense, we mean becoming aware of the true nature of reality and what it means to live as a human being.
At the first stage of awakening, we are talking primarily about becoming aware of the ego -- the little voice in your head that likes to criticize, complain, put you down, put others down and generally create a lot of mischief. The first stage of "waking up" is to realize that you're not that little voice. You are much more than the ego. The ego isn't entirely bad -- it tries to help out and keep you safe, but it does a pretty bad job with that task and mostly ends up making you and others feel bad.
Many people wake up to this stage, and they become aware of all their little voices and their many, many beliefs about how the world ought to be. These beliefs are the things that the ego uses, like telling you that you're not good enough, or that you'll never make enough money, or that life is hard so of course you're never going to be successful. People who wake up to this aspect of the mind begin to realize how much they are driven by fear -- fear of looking bad, fear of failure, fear of judgment from others.
Many people stay at this stage, often for their entire lives, managing these aspects of the mind. And there is nothing wrong with that stage at all. It's a very powerful place to be -- to see the workings of your mind and recognize that little voice that tries to get in your way. Many people reach this stage of awakening through meditation because it allows them to become really aware of how much chatter this little voice makes. By meditating regularly, you can listen to your mind with less intensity and not get caught up in its lies and machinations.
If this first stage of awakening recognizes that you're not just your mind, the next stage of awakening recognizes that you are not just your physical body. You become aware of the energetic bodies that are also part of who you are. Sometimes that field is called an aura, and it is composed of various layers (which will be explored in a future blog post). You all have an awareness of your own energy field, and you can sometimes tap into other people's energy fields as well. Most people experience this when you're around someone who is angry or sad, and you begin to feel that emotion as well. As you continue to awaken, you become increasingly aware of your energy field and the energy fields of others; you learn to extend and retract your own field to avoid interacting with or blending with others' fields.
Being awake means becoming aware of the ways in which you are constantly putting out certain emotional energy to the rest of the world and coming into contact with other peoples' energy. The result is that sometimes we experience emotional energy that isn't directly our own, such as sadness or anger. We all know what it feels like when you're in a room where the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Or when people do not know each other and there's a chilly, nervous quality. If you are in a crowded subway and start to feel angry, it might be because a number of people are putting out that same energy.
These are just two initial stages of awakening to what it means to be human, but there are many more. But these first two stages--recognizing that you are more than your mind, and you are more than your body--are very powerful steps towards understanding what it really means to be a human being.
Stay tuned for future posts on different stages of awakening on the spiritual path.