Originally published on November 27, 2012
I don’t remember when I first heard about “enlightenment” or “awakening,” but I know that a force bigger than my self brought me to the Awareness Institute four years ago. On the recommendation of a friend, I showed up to a one-day workshop on “Conscious Relating” hoping to resolve some of my blocks to intimacy. What I experienced was my own vulnerability in a way I’d never accessed before – and the beginning of a much deeper journey into the truth and heart of myself.
Over my four years of involvement with the Institute, I’ve participated in a number of weekend and day-long workshops, dream interpretation classes, astrology readings and completed two silent meditation retreats on Mt. Shasta – silent on a mountain, camping by myself for six nights. I remember that first retreat so vividly. Pushed to my edge and witnessing my mind like never before, the message I kept receiving was clear and simple: it’s underneath. Who I am is underneath. Underneath all the stories I so dearly cling to and underneath the identity that I call “me.”
The Institute asks a fundamental question: “Who are you?” Who are you really? Rumi calls this question “the pickaxe” that tears down the house that fear built and pries up the foundation of your false identity. The reward for “doing the demolition, the pick and shovel work” is the subtle but unmistakable glint of freedom – the pure, bright truth of who you are beneath the “restless ego-satisfactions” and desperate attempts to make the lie real.
The Awareness Institute is a place where anyone can go to directly explore and experience conscious awareness – not by listening to someone else lecture or by reading it in a book. We get to this experiential knowing of who we are by looking, seeing and owning what it is our mind makes up. And we use the words “make up” very intently. When I stopped and looked at what my mind was making up, I saw very clearly what was actually driving my experience: old conditioning mechanisms, projections about all the “others” “out there,” and so much fear (False Evidence Appearing Real) disguised as normal!
I remember my very first workshop, I was asked “How do you feel?” and I couldn’t even answer. I didn’t feel. I was numb. But in my mind I was good – so good and fine. I smile at that now. Ekhart Tolle has a chapter in A New Earth called “Happiness as a role vs. true happiness.” Boy, was that me – I wore happy like the latest fashion. But True happiness, authentic and empowered happiness, was a journey I had to step into. As John Ruskell, the founder of the Institute, teaches, I had to “turn around and face it.”
And who was I facing? What was I facing? As John says, “It’s all you, all the time.” If I wanted true happiness, not just the happiness role, I had to choose to look – consciously and honestly take a look at what I’m doing, what my mind is making up, the deep-rooted beliefs unconsciously running my life. I had to tell the truth. Who am I judging, and how can I see that the only person I’m ever really judging is me? What am I afraid of? Am I taking responsibility for my life, or am I hiding out in victim? How am I relating – am I guarded and self-protective, or am I open, receptive and vulnerable? Openness, I’ve learned, is not something you can fake…and the proof of a defended or open heart is written all over one’s life.
The Institute is a place that supports and facilitates the path toward happiness, but more accurately, toward freedom. How free are you, my friend? Commit to just one workshop and see what opens up. In my experience, what emerges is the truest and deepest love I have ever felt.
Annie is a team volunteer for the Awareness Institute.