Sony Mervin, a writer who lives in the foothills of the Himalayas, wrote me the other day asking if I’d like to be included in his forthcoming book, The Big Book of Living Gurus: Satsang with 108 Spiritual Teachers from Around the World. I told him sure, and sent him a little package. One of the things he asked for was my single most memorable Q&A with a student. I’m printing here what I sent him.
Q: What is the most important quality for a seeker to have in order to really wake up—to move into abiding, embodied awakeness?
A: Without a doubt it’s earnestness. That’s what Nisargadatta said, and I’m in complete agreement with him.
Regardless of what shows up in the absolute view on the “other side” of a so-called awakening event regarding “all that nonsense” about individuals and effort, I notice that most of the time, most of the people who come to know their true nature do so after a long, earnest attempt to do it. There are exceptions to that rule, but this teaching works with the Law of Large Numbers, not the exceptions.
Even if we begin our spiritual journey from what looks like egoic intent—and I don’t know anyone whodidn’t start from that—do we have the continuing humility, willingness, and fortitude to keep going, to keep asking questions in the face of the countless, ready answers we find in the spiritual marketplace? Are we willing to ask, over and over and over again, “Is this true? Is this true for me?” in the face of so many attractive, tantalizing answers? We want so badly to belong, and we barely begin the journey before we want it to be over.
We come to spirituality in order to answer our questions, but we move into authentic spirituality when we begin to question our answers.
Once there has been an initial awakening, the standard movement is to breathe a sigh of relief that all the “seeking and stuff” is finally over. That was my initial reaction, and it’s a fair one. But we don’t then get to rest. Seeking may be over, but awakening is not! Not hardly. We graduate seeking via the awakening event only to enter the new school of the awakening process.
Or we don’t. We may simply decide to rest on our laurels instead. Think twice. There is no resting on our laurels. We are moving forward, or we are moving backward, but we are always moving. Resting may be comfortable, but it is the death of clarity.
Scores of people have woken up while they were talking with me, or shortly thereafter. Far fewer have continued to move from that place on toward abiding, embodied awakeness. While we as individuals can never completely unsee what’s been seen by awakeness, we can totally forget its keen and highly relevant significance in regard to planetary plight and suffering. By doing so we relegate our awakening to nothing more than a cool experience I had for me, and which I would very much like to have again. Or perhaps we purposefully cross it off our Life List of Things to See and Do, and move onto climbing Everest, jumping from an airplane, or reading the Greek classics in sequential order. Many will do exactly that, in fact.
My recommendation for the earnest seeker—and awakening cannot be denied to an earnest seeker—is that upon awakening you catch your breath and then immediately take the next step. Opening never ends unless we end it.