What Is Awakening?

This is an excerpt from my book Better than Sex.


Come down with me now to the basement. Watch your head on the beam there. A few friends are down here, watching a movie together. I know, it smells a little musty down here. It got flooded during a storm a few years back and we never managed to get rid of the smell of the mold. Is it bothering you? I hope not. The TV down here is very old. The picture flickers a little bit, and perhaps you can also hear the low buzzing sound it makes.

See that man sitting on the sofa there, who looks a little like Matthew McConaughey? A few days’ beard growth, faded jeans, with the very nice shoes? His name is Mark Thornton. The very beautiful woman sitting next to him is his wife, Charlotte. She is an actress from Sweden. Let me introduce you. Back in 1999, Mark was the Chief Operating Officer of J. P. Morgan Private Bank in London. Back then it was one of the biggest private banks in the world. He was earning a huge salary doing what investment bankers do: moving money around. One day, his life completely changed.

Here Mark, put that movie on pause for a moment; tell them the story yourself.

“Sure, Arjuna. I was living in London. It was six-thirty in the morning in the summertime. I was standing on the subway platform heading to work. They call it ‘the Tube’ in London. I was standing there in my shirt and tie with my briefcase, preoccupied as always with all the usual stresses and worries and concerns and mild panics of being the COO of an international bank.

And then, on that subway platform, there was a moment out of time. Suddenly, I was completely drawn out of all the thinking, the processing, the analyzing. I was in a state of openness and expansion that was completely and radically different from the identification with my own story and my very narrow to-do list for that day. It was such a completely unknown and unexpected shift that it was shocking, in a way. There was something in that moment that was so profoundly refreshing, so incredibly nurturing, and yet very simple, very direct.

Throughout the day the same thing kept happening. A door to something vast had opened, and I found I could return to it just by paying attention to it. I had heard about people having shifts in their state of consciousness. I had believed the popular myth that these shifts only happen to people who live in India, who have robes and white beards and dedicate their entire lives to spiritual seeking. And here I was, just an ordinary guy, standing on a subway platform, holding his briefcase. I was really intrigued.

Later that day, I was chairing a meeting of the Board of Directors of the bank. This is, as you can imagine, usually a fairly formal affair. I introduced the first speaker. And there was another pause. I found myself stepping back, away from my normal kind of contraction. I was back in the same incredible openness: an irrational sense of oneness with all the people in the room. Not only had my own sense of limitation dropped away completely, but I could feel everyone else there free of their personal contractions as well, in their natural innocence. My heart just exploded. There I was, sitting at the table with my meeting notes, chairing a meeting at a bank, and feeling an indescribable sense of connection, and humor, and play.

My life since that day has been devoted to exploring ways to live this same openness and freedom, so that my everyday life can actually support that awakening rather than close it down. I wanted to find out how my ordinary human life can be a real opportunity for this kind of awakening to start to spread, to flow, to influence the words I speak, to shift my energy and how I spend each day.”

Thanks, Mark. My friend is describing a moment of awakening. In the last couple of decades the same kind of shift has happened for millions of people. Limits drop away, and you find yourself returning to your natural state of consciousness, without the usual sense of separation, and without stress. I first met Mark in 1999, soon after his first moment of awakening. He resigned from his job at the bank in 2001, and soon after that he took the training to become an Awakening Coach. Since then, he has been coaching bankers and executives in how to bring awakening into the workplace. 

Awakening is the simplest thing we could possibly think about or talk about. If we prefer it to be complex, that can also be arranged quite easily. We can put many esoteric theories around it, we can twirl chakras, we can battle through barriers of karma and dogma, and past lives and loves, and, hey presto, we have made it complicated. But the essence of awakening is incredibly simple.


From Better than Sex by Arjuna Ardagh. You can order a paperback copy or Kindle edition on Amazon here

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