I met David in Brighton last November, he attended a weekend seminar I was teaching there. The South of England in November is always a rather depressing experience: I think it rained every single day of my six-day visit. People look down at the ground, hurrying on their way to the closest warm refuge. But David’s story was a particularly sad one.
At the beginning of the seminar I asked everyone to grab a partner and to tell their partner why they were there for the weekend: to set intentions. When they were all done I asked a few people to take the microphone and to share what they discovered with the rest of the room. Dave was one of those who volunteered.
“I’m new to all this,” he said, “Never been to no seminar in me life,” he went on in his London accent. His strong shoulders, simple innocent manner and rough hands told us that he was a working man.
“I came ‘ere coz me mate said it might ‘elp. I work in building, see, wiv’ concrete. Jus finishin’ a job right now on the new electric company plant, and then I ‘aint got no more work. Building work’s almost at a standstill in England… I dunno what to do,” Dave’s chin began to tremble with emotion. “Got me a fine wife at home. Luv ‘er her to bits, I do, and three great kids. But work’s been slow for several months now, and I’m desperate. Don’t even see ‘ow I can get me kids Christmas presents this year.” Now Dave was not just feeling emotional, he was actually crying. Somebody nearby passed him a tissue. He was clearly extremely embarrassed to have broken down in front of a group of strangers.
“How many people have had feelings similar to this lately?” I asked everyone else present. About 80% of the hands went up in the air. What happened next for Dave was something of a miracle. Both his sad story and what came out of it are signs of our times. All I did was ask him a few simple questions.
“I don’t know that there’s much I can do right here in this seminar to get you another job,” I said, “unless anyone here happens to be building a power plant?” This time no hands went up. “There’s probably not much we can do to shift the circumstances in this moment, but we can certainly shift the way you experience them.” Dave was sitting upright in his chair now, the desperation of his situation clearly made him ready and available. “So I want to ask you, Dave, what are you experiencing in this moment now?”
“Me ‘art is beating fast,” he said. “Feel a ton of tension down ‘ere,” he said, with a hand on his solar plexus. “There’s tension in me belly. Me throat’s dry. Feels like I wanna run or hide.”
“Great,” I said, “So that’s what is true in this moment. And I want to ask you, when you feel this tension in your belly, would you say that you are experiencing it?”
“Yeah,” he said, “Certainly am, mate.”
“Good. And would you say that you’re experiencing it intermittently or completely?”
“No, it’s really there.”
“Great,” I said. “So just say the phrase, ‘I’m experiencing tension in my belly’.” He repeated my words, now fully engaged. “Good. Now I simply want to ask you to shift the attention from the tension in the belly to whatever, or whoever, it is experiencing it. Just take the attention from the tension to the ‘I’ or the ‘me’ which feels it.”
Dave looked confused for a moment. His brow wrinkled, as most peoples’ do when they are asked such a question. “Dunno what you mean, guv.” he said.
“That’s okay, Dave,” I said to him. “The tension is being experienced, right?”
“Yeah,” he said, now more reflective.
“Generally our attention is fixated on to what we’re experiencing, but we completely overlook who it is that is experiencing it. So just now, let your attention shift from the what to the who. Dave looked into my eyes with the innocence of a child. I looked back into his, feeling an inspired certainty that his innocence as well as his desperation were the fertile ground for a breakthrough.
And then something extraordinary happened.
It was as though a light went on inside of Dave. His eyes completely changed from begging to being luminous. His face shifted from trembling anxiety to laughter and joy. “Oh, my…,” he said, “what’s ‘appning?”
“You tell me,” I asked him, “what is happening?”
“All the tension’s gone,” said Dave. “I feel this huge space. There’s, like, a whole lot of peace coming over me.”
“Yes, Dave,” I replied, “that spaciousness, that peace, that’s not just something you’re experiencing. That is who you are. Perhaps you just never had the need to go find yourself before.”
Dave looked around the room. “What do you see?” I asked him. He hesitated as though the answer would seem foolish. “Go on,” I said, “what do you see?”
“Myself,” he whispered.”
“That’s right, Dave. This isn’t poetry. You’re not going crazy. The packaging may be different, but just a little deeper, this is all the same spaciousness and peace looking back at you.” The other people in the room could feel it, too. The whole room had shifted. “If you take this home to the kids,” one of the women said to Dave, “it’s going to be the best Christmas present they ever got!”
What happened to Dave is commonly called an ‘awakening’. It went on deepening and deepening throughout the weekend, and we kept in touch afterwards as well. Dave’s whole life reorganized itself around this shift in consciousness. When he went back to work on Monday he couldn’t shake off the heightened energy and humor he felt. People loved to be around him. He found other work quite easily, but by this point it didn’t even matter so much, because he realized what that woman had said was true.Dave’s deeper presence, just one flight deeper than his usual procession of thoughts and feelings, is an infinitely greater gift to his children than anything he could ever buy in a toy store.
It’s become something of a cliché these days to say that we live in uncertain times. Everybody feels it. Economically, socially, politically, everything’s changing very fast. It’s easy to get caught in a sense of doom and gloom. If we’re attached to things the way they used to be, this could feel like a terrible time, like the world is falling apart. But something else is happening too, just under the radar, and Dave was a good example. Not everybody has a shift quite as dramatic as Dave’s. He was in dire straits, but millions and millions of people all over the world are experiencing shifts of consciousness into what we could call “awakening.”
This simply means that people just like you and me, ordinary people with jobs and children and relationships and mortgages, are coming into a recognition of who they are, and what life is, deeper than the stories that our minds keep telling us. A few years ago I interviewed almost two hundred of them, and surveyed 13,000 more, and wrote about it in my 2005 book “The Translucent Revolution.”
Awakening is not so much a matter of changing or improving the story of a ‘me’, but seeing beyond it. In this sense it is the next step beyond personal development. It means recognizing that while you and I do have personal lives, they are fleeting and changing. We can also recognize and drop into something much deeper, more peaceful, humorous and generous. And mysterious! And, more important, we can actually live our lives from this deeper dimension. Millions of people today are finding out how.
In a moment of awakening we move beyond fear. We move beyond ideas of how things could be or should be. We relax deeply into how things are, and in this capacity we discover our ability to respond to life in a fresh and innocent way. We discover a huge arena of possibilities and opportunities waiting to be met.
For more than thirty-five years this kind of shift in consciousness has been my passion. I studied with many great teachers for many years. And for almost twenty years I’ve been helping people, not only to drop into awakening in this way, but to discover how we can live our lives from this depth, even while remaining fully involved in the affairs of the world.
The great news is that these days it is really quite easy and simple to taste awakening in this way. In fact, the more challenging and unpredictable things get: economically, socially and politically, the easier it seems to be to break the trance of the mind and to wake up.
I am an Awakening Coach. That’s what I do. I help people to shift out of the feeling of imprisonment in the mind, and into the living of a much deeper potential. My commitment is to do this in ways that are simple, easy and graceful, which integrate smoothly into day-to-day life.