On the Meaning of Life: How to Wake Up and Show Up
I’d like to talk about the meaning of life and tell you what that is from my perspective. First of all, I think we have to wake up. We have to remember; we have to know who and what we really are and wake up to our true identities, because before that we’re just wandering around in the dark and bumping into the furniture. I think all the great mystical and spiritual traditions from times past will confirm that the essential thing that we are here to do is recognize God, Buddha nature, true Self, essence. This has been stated a lot of ways in different languages, different cultures, and different levels of development at different times.
So, how do we wake up? There are some cases when it seems to happen by dumb luck—you get struck by lightning and then bing! You get it. But in most cases, it seems to be more of a temporary state (of consciousness) experience, like when somebody turns on the lights and then turns them back off again. And one of the characteristics of a state is that they come and they go. Like you’re really happy now, but you can be pretty sure that in a few hours, you’re not going to be feeling the same. You may feel just average, or you may feel really sad. So states come and go, like things that arise in the sky. At night, you’ll see stars, satellites, airplanes. In the daytime, you’ll see clouds, bugs, Frisbees, birds, and all kinds of things. Those are like our states of consciousness.
But in the ever-present reality, we are the sky, the spaciousness, the pure awareness that everything arises in. So as we begin to meditate, we begin to be able to identify more and more with the states and the content, and at the same time, with the spacious awareness that all arises in. We begin to step outside of our stories, our conditionings, and say, okay, I have a body, but I’m not my body right now. I’m observing this from the outside. I have thoughts, but I’m observing my thoughts from the outside. I have feelings, I have emotions, I have stories, I have a cultural identity, I have a spiritual identity, but I’m observing all of this from the outside. What does that tell you? Well, that’s the clue that maybe you’re bigger than everything you thought you were. As we begin to explore pure awareness, pure consciousness, we begin to find that it connects us to everything, and that everything emerges from pure, spacious, conscious awareness from moment to moment.
I remember one of my early breakthroughs in meditation years ago, even before I was using this technology, when I thought, I’m going to figure out where my thoughts come from. Why don’t I just look at them and trace them back? A really powerful meditation will do that. What I found out was that my thoughts just kind of poof! from nothingness, or from emptiness. There they are: bing! bing! bing! Wow! Thoughts come from emptiness. You go down to the very quantum, essential, most basic level of physical reality, where physical reality and non-physical reality seem to dance, and you’ll see the same thing happening; things morph in and out of existence from moment to moment. They call this the “quantum void.”
So, first we wake up to this. We go through our stuff, our agendas, our monkey minds, our thoughts, our desires, our stories, our self-hatred, our lusts and perversions, our hatreds, our addictions, our depressions, our despair, our essential isolation, our existential crisis, and keep going and going and going, blessing all of these things, because that’s how we get to our essential selves and remember: Oh, yeah! Now I remember. Now I get it.
When the lights go on like that, it’s not just an intellectual idea. If you’re a good scholar and read the history of transpersonal awareness, or William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience (published in 1902), you can intellectually understand what these people are talking about, or maybe you remember a similar experience you have had at one time or another. That’s good; there’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s not the kind of pure awareness that happens, it’s a wake up message. It’s very clear that the intellectual process is just a small part of this thing.
An awakening experience is a complete, all-body, all-spiritual, completely Integral, holistic awakening, when you remember, Oh, yes! That is who I am. Wow. The lights go on. You wake up. In the Hindu tradition, the ultimate realization is, “There is only God, and thou art that.” There is only one field, and thou art that.
Physicists are constantly trying to come up with a unified field theory—one equation that explains all the different physical forces in the universe—as if that would explain the universe. They’re leaving out consciousness! Hello?! The very thing that makes it possible for them to even think about these sorts of things. There has always been the human desire to understand who and what we are, and scientists take up that quest in quantum physics. But it’s hard to get a complete theory for everything if you leave out a huge chunk—awareness itself—which probably is foundational to the universe.
There is the koan, What was your original face before you were born? Or, in modern terms, What was your original face before the Big Bang? Well, you were the same thing that you always are at the deepest level—pure consciousness, awareness, emptiness—the great mystery that all the mystics have written about and that we are all pursuing.
So, what is the meaning of life? Well, first of all, it’s to wake up, because if you don’t remember or know who and what you are, how can you function with skillfulness, wisdom, and compassion? You think you’re just an isolated little entity that boop! came into existence, then you have a few years, and then boop!, you go out of existence, then that’s it. What do you do with that? When you finally wake up to your essential being that was never born, time disappears from the picture, and you are connected to everything—you are everything. So, that’s what you are.
And what do we do with the individual self—the little John Dupuy self, in my case? I am this essential, ever-present awareness that is the inner intelligence, the vibrant life, the threads that hold everything together from moment to moment, a world without end—but I’m also John Dupuy sitting here in June of 2014, just a moment in the historical, linear unfolding of our human culture. I have a body, a history, a genetic code, a story; I have relationships, ancestors, and education. We have to bring these two things together in a relationship.
In some traditions, it’s said that the little self is just an illusion that doesn’t exist—so let’s forget about it. In early Buddhism, the idea was to identify only with the essential self, the essential mystery, step off the wheel and blow off the incarnational, individual John Dupuy ego self as a waste of time and the cause of suffering. Well, that doesn’t work very well, and around 200 A.D., the great Buddhist sage, scholar, and mystic Nagarjuna expanded on the formulation that emptiness is form and form is emptiness, saying that both are the same, that form is none other than this pure awareness, mystery, spirit, God, energy—however you want to say that—in actual physical form. So, to disrespect the form is not to understand the form, because they are essentially the same thing. In other words, wefind out that we are that, and that our individual self is also that. It’s all God. It’s all that.
So the first step is to wakeup, and then we have to show up. Showing up involves stabilizing being awake, because if all you do is wake up… Well, imagine that you’re sleeping on and on, and then you wake up for a couple of minutes and then you go back to sleep, back to your dream world. Well, that’s not very useful. So, not only do we have to wake up, but we have to stay awake. Then we have to show up in such a way that the small, individual part that we are playing out as a singular human being has to be in integrity, or in alignment, with the bigger self.
How do we do that? How do we stay awake? And how do we show up and actually figure out what we are supposed to be doing in this little bit of allotted time that we have in our individual human body forms? Well, what we are finding out—and this does not negate all the wisdom that came before us—is that it takes practice. It takes work. If you’re looking for a guru to hit you on the head with a feather and do all the work for you, or for Jesus to die and do the work for you, or anybody else to do it for you, you’re just going to be wasting time.
We eventually get to the point where we have to take responsibility for our own awakening, and our own staying awake, and then our own showing up and doing the work that we are called to do, because the universe is directional; there are things going on that we are a part of. Just like the wave/particle paradox in quantum physics, where you look at the most basic entity one way, and it looks like a wave, like it’s connected to everything, and then you change your perspective, and it looks like an individual particle. That’s the kind of wave that we are from moment to moment—we are everything, and we are individualized.
As we begin to integrate in practice, over time, this becomes more stabilized, just like if we have a strobe light: If our strobe light flashes on once every ten years, and we briefly see the landscape and then it’s dark for ten more years, that’s not very good. As we increase our practice, the light comes on more and more often, and pretty soon, like with a really fast strobe light, we can actually see the darkness and the light—or the individuality and the connectedness. So back and forth it goes until it becomes pretty much no longer this or that, but includes both.
So, we have to have a practice. And what do we need to cover in that practice? First of all, we have to cover the physical body. We have to make sure that our organs, our brains, our neurochemical balance, all the genetic stuff that each of us has been given, is being played at the most optimal, skillful way. This is covered in the emerging field of epigenetics, which says that how you express your genes from moment to moment is actually much more significant than the cards you’ve been dealt. It’s like you have a piano with about 180-something thousand separate keys. The kind of symphony (or chaos) that you play is up to you. So in order to express the potential of our physical bodies, we need nutrition, exercise, and, of course, iAwake Technologies’ tracks, which actually help us to evolve the physical brain to function at a higher level.
Next, we also need to work on our cognitive understanding, our intellectual understanding. A big, important part of this, I think, at this level of our history as human beings, is the Integral map, because when we understand that—when we kind of download that particular operating system, that program—it really shows us how the inner and outer aspects of reality of our lives, our relational aspects, and our relation to the world are all essential. If we neglect any of these, it’s going to be to our own detriment, and our awakening will not be full or healthy—we’ll probably just go back to sleep.
There are different lines of intelligence and there are different levels of development all going on at the same time on the planet right now. So we have a whole bunch of human beings that have shown up, and we’re all at different stages where we value different things. Most of us think that our particular level of development is the ultimate one and that everybody else is wrong, so we have religious wars, tribal wars, political wars, cultural wars… all really problematic.
How do we work through that? Well, we get to the second tier, or the Integral levels, where we understand that all these perspectives are always present and that they have their negative aspects and their healthy aspects. We need to speak to people in a language they can understand, and we need to strengthen our own inner architecture, our own developmental levels. So, we work on our intellectual understanding so that we can function skillfully and understand what needs to be accomplished at all these different levels.
The next thing we need to do is ego, emotional, shadow, and trauma work, because who we think we are and where we act from is largely controlled, in most of us, by unconscious conditioning and painful things that have happened to us in the past. If we do not have a practice that gets us in touch with that, where we can take this stuff out of the unconscious, bring it to life, shake it around, and transform it, transmute it, and release it, we’re going to be controlled largely by unconscious processes, all the while thinking we’re totally free andcalling the shots. We need a deep, emotional practice that will help us not only deal with the stuff that’s happened in the past, even our collective past, but the stuff that happens from moment to moment—“stuff happens,” as a wise man said.
The last part of the practice—we’ve covered the body, the intellect, and the emotional life—is the spiritual life, which concerns the big, existential human questions, such as, what is the nature of reality? Who am I? Is there life after death? Is the universe intelligent? Is it sentient? Is it just a random accident? How did this thing happen? And, what is my place in it? These are deep, spiritual questions that all of us have to confront eventually along the path.
So, having said all of this, what do we do? Well, thank God we have iAwake Technologies. This technology itself is really a meta-practice, because it helps in all of these four essential dimensions that need to be cultivated in order to wake up, stay awake, show up, and actually be able to function at a super high level. Basically, we have to do the meditation and we have to do it dedicatedly. It’s not addictive; it’s a practice. It takes discipline.
In the beginning, it’s harder to establish a practice. All sorts of resistance arises: No, I don’t want to do this. I can’t do this for an hour. I need to be doing something. I’m too busy. Take responsibility for your own self-care, your own inner health, and your own outer health, and you will find that you can actually work on all of your other responsibilities—what you’re called to do, your karmic debts, the stuff that you’re working on in this lifetime.
If you think that you don’t have time to wake up, you don’t have time to work on yourself, you don’t have time to maintain your health at the highest level, you’re missing the boat. Your life is just not going to be what it could be. The real tragedy is living in a state of conditioned functioning, in which we think we’re awake and calling the shots, but we’re really not. We’re in egoic trances, and we never really figure out who we are and what we’re here to do.
If I can summarize all of this, the meaning of life is to wake up and realize who we are in the largest and smallest aspects of reality—as I sit here in my chair, who am I in relationship to the trees, the animals, and the life in my little piece of the world? Who am I in relationship to the whole universe? How do I stay awake? How do I make my individual ego, body, self the most functional, capable vehicle to hold that understanding? And what is my individual mission as a person who has woken up and taken care of himself? What am I here to do? What instrument am I to play in the great symphony of the unfolding, evolving universe, and how do I play it beautifully, skillfully, and compassionately?
Big thanks to Scotty Mitchell, plein air pastel artist, Boulder, Utah, for sharing her lovely artwork. See more at www.scottymitchell.com.
Adapted from iAwake Technologies’ free, weekly teleconference call on June 18, 2014.
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John Dupuy is the CEO of iAwake Technologies and the founder of Integral Recovery, a holistic addiction treatment approach inspired by Ken Wilber’s Integral Model. He is also the author of Integral Recovery: A Revolutionary Approach to Alcoholism and Addiction, recently published by SUNY Press. As a pioneer in the use of brainwave entrainment in therapy and personal development, John has dedicated his life to helping others deepen their spiritual practice and transform their lives.
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