Many if not most spiritual teachers describe the spiritual path as one that places awakening as its ultimate aim. The word Buddha literally means “awakened one.” I don’t think this is the most accurate depiction of what actually happens when we travel the path. Why?
Before getting to that, let’s ask two central questions: What are we awakeningfrom? And what does that final, awakened state look like?
What is awakening?
Obviously, when we awaken, it’s from sleep. So what is the state of sleeping? We can quibble on the exact words to describe it, but let’s go with this: Sleeping is akin to our egoic minds ruling our lives and, in the process, drowning out our conscious, true selves. So awakening is when our mind chatter quiets and our consciousness shines through in our lives.
This is how this process plays out from a macro view. When we’re born, we’re awake. Fully conscious. We look around at the world and remain present.
This continues for several years until we start to “grow” up. Then the mind revs up its engines and starts to take over. We get a crush on a girl when we’re ten and she’s all we can think about all day long. And on and on. As the years go on, we fall further into a deep sleep.
Our practices wake us up
The spiritual path then becomes doing all the things we need to do — meditation, yoga, letting go, etc. — so that we can ultimately “wake up” from this sleep.
But is that the best way to describe the whole process? I don’t think so.
I think the one word/concept that best describes the spiritual path is this:
How so? Same as above, we’re born and we’re conscious. Then, as we mature and the world starts to take hold of us, our egoic selves develop in order that we can defend and protect ourselves.
To me, that is like a fog rolling in. What that fog is doing is obscuring our consciousness. That consciousness is still there; it’s always there. It’s just that it can’t be accessed because of the fog.
Our practices burn off the fog
So the spiritual path then becomes about doing the practices that help lift the fog. And what lifts fog? Sunlight. Warmth. That’s what our practices do. They beam light and warmth on our “fog.”
But fog doesn’t burn off all at once. It happens gradually. Little by little.
The same is true for spiritual growth. We meditate, we let go, we do all kinds of things as part of our sadhana, over a period of years. And we grow, gradually, as the fog burns off.
When I awaken from my sleep, I’m up. That’s it. Not much graduality involved.
The path in a sentence
That’s why I think fog best describes what we go through. Here’s my one sentence summary of the entire path:
We’re born, it’s sunny and clear, the fog rolls in, then we spend the rest of our adult lives doing the spiritual work that burns off the fog so that we can bask in the beautiful, healthy rays of the sun again.
You might be asking: Why the hell does this even matter? I find it helpful to have images and analogies that help contextualize what I’m working on. It helps to center me.
Best of luck to all of you in burning off the fog so that the light of consciousness can beam through you and into the world. It’s why we’re here.