How to awaken

Awakening is a weird topic, and it can be a bit fraught to talk about it.  It sounds a bit conceited to talk about having done it, and of course people differ on exactly what it is, which makes that harder.  But I think it's worth talking about.  It seems to be a real phenomenon; it's not clear how it happens, but it can be seen in functional MRI studies: people who are in awakened states activate different parts of the brain by default.

So someone asked how to awaken today, and whether it was worth it.   I felt moved to write this answer:

There are risks and benefits.   The risk is that if you do it too suddenly, you can find yourself in a pretty unpleasant place as all of your negative emotional baggage suddenly rises to the surface.   So if you think you might have a lot of negative emotional baggage, it's worth spending some time working on that first.

However, if you have a lot of baggage and you have an easy entry to awakening, it can be really amazing.   There's a stanza in the Tibetan scriptures that describes it as "laying down the heavy burden," and that really rang true for me.   I looked back at how things had been the day before, and it really felt as if I'd been carrying a hundred-pound weight on my back my whole life, and then suddenly I'd put it down and kept walking.

How do you do it?   There are a lot of techniques.   You need to practice one diligently, and it needs to be one that happens to be in sync with where you are mentally and emotionally.   If you do that, then at some point some kind of surrender happens, something shifts, and things change.   How they change is different for everybody, so don't get to stuck on some one person's story of what it's like.   But the shift tends to be characterized by a dropping of that burden, and a loss of the need to seek for something.   You might still be interested in the process, but you aren't trying to fill in some kind of inner void anymore.

But the key point is, don't find some practice that is the One True Practice and do that until you die.   Find a practice that looks good, do it for a while, see if it feels like you are getting traction or just standing still; if you feel like you are getting traction, keep at it or remember it for later; otherwise, find another practice and do the same thing with that.

Some commonalities that seem to help: practice not being an asshole.  Practice noticing kindness when it is offered to you, and offering it to others.  Be intentional—revisit what it is that you want to do on a regular basis.   If you have no idea what to do next, that's what you need to do next: figure out what to do next.   Don't ever do a practice where you don't actually know how to do the practice as it's taught, hoping that some day it will become clear.   Take responsibility for moving the process along.