Something shifted for me recently around the concept of awakening. I don’t mean getting up in the morning, but awakened consciousness.  

I used to think awakening was unattainable for me. Or else, it was such a distant possibility, something a few other lucky people could have. I thought awakening required an insane commitment to spiritual practice. Or you needed a magical lightning bolt to strike you. Then you would suddenly see through all illusions and be completely free inside.

Still, I try to awaken, as much as possible. I meditate and pray and do other spiritual and inner growth practices and retreats. I do these things because they help me enjoy my life more and be a better person.

But the hope for some deep awakening—some people call it enlightenment, but that feels grand, even silly—did not seem possible for me.

I know awakening is a process, gradual, for most people. I have awakened or grown happier, freer, more at peace markedly over the years. So much so I hardly recognize myself or my life from how it was and I was twenty years ago. I’ve deepened in wisdom, presence and inner skills that are profound. This change has happened in sometimes magical ways, but also through an incredible amount of deep work and painful challenges.

I also know I am lost in dull habits of mind and body much of the time, moving through my day in a kind of semi-stupor, falling into negativity, fear, doubt, false beliefs, old patterns, judging self and others, triggered and reactive, longing for what I don’t have. What passes for meditation for me is often a whole lot of busy mind chatter. Frustrating.

Then, a few weeks ago we were driving in the car, listening to a CD by Inlakesh. A voice on the recording said, “Awaken fully in this lifetime for the benefit of all sentient beings.” “Yes,” I said aloud to my sweetheart, “I try to.” But still I was feeling like it was pretty much hopeless.

A little while later, the voice repeated the line, and it went through me like a shot. Maybe it was because we had been camping for five nights by the ocean, spending time in the redwoods, and by the fire every night and morning. But those words struck me as being vitally important, urgent, and also possible in some way.

Since then, I keep hearing those words in my head. Instead of feeling bad about them or myself or hopeless, I feel inspired and also calm. I take them as an invitation to awaken moment by moment, to keep waking up in each moment that I remember, to simply be more present to my thoughts, my words, my actions, my being. To be less numb, more alive. Less reactive and habitual, more spontaneous and at choice.

And I feel that this moment to moment practice, this choosing of presence over habit, when I remember, as I remember, is awakening. It doesn’t look or feel dramatic. I don’t need to change my outer circumstances or my personality. I do need to shift some habits, gradually, one choice at a time.

It isn’t huge and grand. But it is wonderful and feels good.

I’ll probably start forgetting to do this again tomorrow. I tend to get excited about new things and many of them fall by the wayside. Likely, it will fade until the next reminder comes from somewhere. Because one thing I do know is that life keeps handing us opportunities to wake up and be free.

And for now, there’s something beautiful and freeing in this discovery. Something inspiring and exhilarating. Awakening is possible. It’s vital. It’s the just about the most important thing I can do with my life. And I can do it, one moment at a time.

Awaken fully in this lifetime for the benefit of all sentient beings, I tell myself. When I remember, I actually practice it, here and now, which is the only moment that matters.