You’re looking for a better understanding of what it is to be conscious. You want to know what Tony De Mello means when he says below, “wake up!” What is the verb of this “waking up?”
The reason that’s challenging for someone like me to explain is because as much as I love language, it is a very primitive tool for describing something as vast as the universe. Because of that, we need to go beyond words and get into the subtlety of feelings.
Part of the problem is that you’ve learned from the egos around you. So you stop moving through the world and you start moving through a world of symbols. As a child you saw a space—a room—openness. There were no desks or lights or right or wrong. If one light bulb is burned out, a child will notice the interruption in the pattern, but they won’t think that’s wrong. Because to think something’s wrong you have to assemble complex ideas in your head about what you’ve been taught is right, and you do that with words–the tools of ego.
If you want an idea of how to think of the difference of living through an illusory veil of symbols (like words), and being able to see things more clearly, just think of an ancient sailor and a modern one. Even if both possess identical skills, the ancient is better off because there is not the pause of translation as the idea is turned into language, before action. The only time we word-based people do that is in emergencies, when our instincts take over.
The ancient just sails. When the winds change he reacts with the knowledge of what to do, but that knowledge is stored more naturally, in a form that doesn’t reduce it to the clumsy simplicity of words. It’s like work by musicians who can play by feel being translated by players who play by rote. Something’s lost. One group has language in the midst of their performance and the other person is simply being musical.
So how do you get more conscious? Most people work really hard at trying to stop all of the words—and that’s great. But they often forget they can turn that around and be vacuums for experience instead.
Rather than being someone who’s listening to your own words, be someone who’s really paying attention to the thing in front of you, whether it’s a place or person or thing. Can you see the former is defensive by its nature? It constantly delivers a repetitive stream of words about the past and future, while the other is more like going and getting what you would really find fulfilling. It’s like reading about sailing instead of actually sailing.
If you want an exercise on how to see the world in a childlike, conscious way, simply do this: imagine that some God stood before you at dawn and told you you would be struck dead at the end of this day, and you thoroughly believed it—just imagine how awake you would be for that day.
You know it’s your last day on this Earth. Are you going to spend it arguing? Are you going to worry about money you lost? What about a broken heart from years ago? Or are you going to go look for that guy who betrayed you? Obviously those things would look like ridiculous ways to spend your final day. The question is, why are you sure you’re not currently experiencing your final days?
People aren’t often agonized when they die. They’re more resigned. They realize that they spent a lot of time thinking about specific things and concepts about those things (fairness, ownership, trust etc. etc.). And they realize that they spent their life juggling those symbols and concepts in their head while their lives sat there un-lived.
Don’t forgo your own life. Live it deeply and fully. Not by fighting against the words, but by scooping up feelings with the same energy. Say yes to life. You don’t have to rob banks or skydive. You can just start to dance the way you do in private, or sing in your car even if people are watching, or make a new friend. Do that and you’ll not only change yourself, you’ll change the world.
I love you. Enjoy your day. I promise there will be things to be grateful for in it.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.