Preface to the New Edition
A lot has changed since I published this book in 2007. I got divorced. I moved back to my home state of New Hampshire. I started eating meat again after being a strict (and very vocal!) vegetarian for 10 years. I was healed of my terrifying fear of money. I fell in love after swearing I’d never get into another relationship ever again. I paid off all my debt. This is all surface stuff. The most important change in the past 5 years is that I stopped seeking, stopped resisting and began to allow things to be exactly as they are without trying to change anything. It was like my eyes opened to what was always there, but I had been blind to it. Suddenly I saw how perfect life is, in all its ups and downs. Things change, but I remain forever the same: eternal and changeless. There is constancy in the way I see life now. I see God in everyone and everything, even in chaos. After years of fluctuation between light and darkness, there came a moment when there was only light and I knew I was changed forever and there was no going back.
This book is the story of my own spiritual awakening. It is very ordinary. Things happened slowly for me – there were no bells or whistles. No going into the light. I didn’t have a near-death experience. Instead, one by one, things that were no longer serving me dissolved and fell away – alcoholism, cigarette-smoking, fear, conflict, doubt. I found that as time went on, the ego-identity that I had built up over the years started to crumble, slowly, very slowly (at times painfully-slow!) and I found myself having almost no interest in the things I used be interested in.
This was a disorienting time for me – the old has fallen away and the new has not yet arrived - and I got through it because of the teachers in my life who told me to trust the empty space, that what I was experiencing – my life falling apart - was NORMAL.
So I share my story because of its simplicity and because it didn’t progress in a straight line. It didn’t happen all at once. It was messy and not at all graceful like some of the enlightenment stories I’ve heard. My moments of clarity didn’t stick. The ego continued to lurk around. I thought I must be the slowest learner on the planet. I’m glad I kept going. I’m thankful for all teachers in my life who have shared their own stories which encouraged me to keep trusting when I thought I was failing horribly.
I have heard thousands of stories of people awakening and no two stories are alike. There is no formula. There is no one right path. The end result is that you remember who you are. Some awakenings are dramatic and some happen so slowly that the person doesn’t realize it until one day they realize they are completely changed. Some people have spiritual awakening who weren’t even looking for one and who don’t believe in God, while others struggle and struggle for years on a spiritual path trying to reach enlightenment, reading every book and taking every workshop and nothing seems to happen. For other people, it’s one step forward, and then two steps back – an experience of light, followed by darkness and disorientation and confusion.
What does it mean to "awaken from the dream"? In my own experience, it is a shift in perception from fear to love. The fear-based self-constructed “I” (that worries, plans, plots, controls, lives in the past, lives in the future) dissolves and becomes the “I” that is Christ. This is the “I” that is used in the greeting “Namaste”: a salutation with hands pressed together as you greet another and bow slightly and means: I bow to you. That “I” is the Divine in me, honoring and bowing to the Divine in you. The gesture represents that there is a Divine spark in each of us that is located at the heart chakra, and it is an acknowledgment of the soul in one to the soul in another: I bow to you. I honor you. I see you.
So to be “awake” means to live from the perspective of Spirit, or God or Christ or whatever name you want to call your inner true self. It’s like shifting gears, and the false self dissolves. So when you say “I”, it’s the Divine speaking, and there is an understanding/acknowledgement that everything is part of you, one with you, Divine like you. There is no separation. You see the world and yourself entirely differently from before. People make a much bigger deal of it than it actually is, as if it’s some kind of nirvana and the whole world disappears. This is true in a sense, your whole world WILL disappear, but not in the way you might think. You discover who you really are. The best definition I know of enlightenment is from A Course in Miracles: “Enlightenment is but a recognition, not a change at all. Those who seek the light are merely covering their eyes. The light is in them now.”
For me, enlightenment was to stop seeking ways to improve myself. It was to recognize that my old way of being was not working. I needed to see myself differently, and not try to come up with a new improved identity. For most of my life (after the age of 6 or 7), everything I did was to avoid pain and please other people. I was caught up in striving, achieving, seeking – I was very goal oriented – and I rarely let myself just “be.” I did not love myself, so I came up with tactics to try to get other people to love me. My life was driven almost entirely by fear. I was never good enough in my own mind, and one day, I realized: this is just frigging crazy! Am I going to keep living my life this way? That’s enlightenment: the moment you snap to your senses and realize you’ve been sleeping. You’ve been working a job you hate or you’ve been staying in a relationship you know isn’t working or you haven’t been expressing what is true for you. You’ve been sludging along, going nowhere, and suddenly you realize it. That’s enlightenment to me: a Whoa! Moment. On that day, you start making new choices, not because you’re trying to get anywhere but because you want to live life authentically, in a way that brings you joy. Enlightenment showed me that it was time to start loving myself and loving my life because no one else was going to do it for me.
I think a lot of the difficulty people have with awakening is because of all the misconceptions of what they think it is, what it’s supposed to look like. There is an idea that once you wake up, your life will be one big bliss party with no problems and everyone’s happy, and that’s the biggest lie that will keep you seeking the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As everyone finds out, it’s not there. It’s an illusion.