Once I heard a meditation master describe awakening using the metaphor of watching TV. He said awakening is like when you are watching a movie–you are aware of the room around you and you know that the movie you’re watching is just a movie and not real.
It’s like watching the drama of your life but knowing you are more than your drama. This type of detachment has been taught by meditation teachers throughout the ages. Detachment naturally offers a broader perspective and more space to make wise choices. And ironically the more detached you are from thoughts, the more connected you are to the reality of the moment.
To enjoy watching a movie we ‘suspend disbelief,’ identifying with the characters and losing ourselves in the drama of the story. We also enjoy the emotional responses of excitement, love and even fear from the safety of our lounge chairs.
I could never really enjoy watching horror movies with my dad because he would continuously point out that it’s not real–that’s tomato sauce not blood or he’d tell me that person didn’t really die, he is only an actor. I would plead with my dad–I know it’s not real but I’m trying to enjoy the movie.
Spiritual awakening is not for everyone. When I first heard this I thought it must be wrong but awakening can be challenging; it’s like when you’re rudely awakened by an alarm clock from a nice dream, sometimes you just want to go back to sleep and enjoy the dream. Or when you’re trying to enjoy a movie and an annoying person keeps reminding you it’s not real. It can be difficult coming to terms with spiritual truths about your life being just a dream or an illusion or empty of any inherent meaning. Most people, myself included, would like to think their life is important, special and has a deeper meaning, but how do you confront the reality of it all being a projection of your imagination onto the infinite play of existence?
However, what if reality was way more special than you could ever imagine or dream up? What if you are a part of a deeper mystery that is interconnected with all things? As meditation master Tenzin Palmo says:
Meditation is for you to realise that the deepest nature of your existence is beyond thoughts and emotions, that it is incredibly vast and interconnected with all other beings.
This is a common theme amongst the great meditation traditions–that reality lies beyond our normal thinking minds and is vast and actually one with everything. Since the universe is so incredibly enormous, where the Earth is like a sliver of a grain of sand in the ocean of infinity, it is no wonder that it’s impossible for us to imagine. I often think expecting humans to be able to conceptualise with their thinking minds the infinite nature of the universe is like expecting a fish to understand algebra–it’s just not possible with the equipment we are using.
In mindfulness therapy, they make the distinction between being fused with thoughts and being the observer of thoughts. Being fused with thoughts is characterised by confusion and no separation between your identity and your story. When you are fused with thoughts, you have suspended disbelief and are living the life of a movie character in your own movie, which can be fun as long as you know it’s not real and it’s just a movie. When you are the observer, you can choose to engage with the thought or to let it go and therefore you are in control instead of your thoughts.
Getting caught in thoughts during meditation and in life is like a watching movie–we engage in the drama so fully, it’s the only reality happening and it has control over our emotions. But if we can detach from our thoughts, notice there is more going on than just the thoughts and they are not real, we can have a chance of experiencing the spacious stillness of a broader perspective, which is always available but mostly overlooked, and awaken from a hypnotic trance. Like Eckhart Tolle says:
Spiritual awakening is awakening from the dream of thought.
Detachment is only the beginning of spiritual awakening and the first step on the path of meditation. In Zen, they have a saying that when you start meditating, mountains are not mountains anymore but then you fully awaken and mountains are just mountains again. Thoughts are nothing to fear or try to escape from, it’s just a matter of putting them into perspective and developing a new relationship with thoughts. When you are fully awakened you can both enjoy the movie and know it’s not real. You can enjoy life and create meaning, knowing it’s all just play.
But that’s all just the beginning. After you have awoken from the dream of believing in your mind’s limited perspective, you remove the blockages for such things as kundalini energy, psychic intuition, healing abilities, telepathy and more. These dimensions are literally beyond description but time and time again meditation masters have told us that beyond the small dream of human existence there is a deep reservoir of hidden dimensions. These dimensions contain bliss, non-conceptual or spontaneous wisdom and also incredible love and compassion for all that exists.
Awakening is waking up from the dream of thought into the vastness of a direct experience of the totality of the universe.
The ‘way of meditation’ is to integrate this awakening into every aspect of our lives. To follow our bliss instead of our stories, to put down the need to know things with the mind, to give space for the intuitive whispers over the noise of our conditioning and to flow with the spontaneous wisdom and compassion that is always there when we drop the last thought and enter into the river of infinity.