I’ve been challenged by Richard Rohr—and so have you. He has asked us to take a deeper look at ourselves and answer a simple question: “Am I awake?” Writing in The Naked Now: Learning to See at the Mystics See, the noted author and Franciscan friar isn’t talking about being awake in the traditional non-sleeping manner. He means “are you awake” in a spiritual sense?
Rohr anticipates that from his question, we may have several follow-up questions like: Does being spiritually awake mean thinking about things more? Does it mean being more grateful and appreciative or being more helpful? Does it mean reflecting regularly? But while these might be some of the benefits of being awake, Rohr tells us “they are not the essential insight. This is not what the great traditions mean by paying attention, being conscious or being awake.”
Rohr explains that being conscious or aware means more than just using our brains more. When you are truly awake:
- You drop to a level deeper than “the passing show,” the spectacle of contemporary life.
- You watch yourself compassionately but from a little distance.
- You dis-identify from your own emotional noise and no longer let it pull you here and there, up and down.
- You stop thinking about this or that and become the calm seer of the affairs and dramas of your life.
What’s the point of all this? It may be to get us to realize that our thinking, analytical mind, the “you” that resides up in your head, is not the real you. The real you is much broader than that and is your deepest and truest self. It’s the part of you that is “solid and unchanging.” The mind flits, the real you is solidly anchored in place. Rohr would like us to move past the ego-driven needs of the self to the core of our being.
When we get to the core, we realize we are not alone.
When we look within, we forget about our ego-driven self and find something much deeper. It’s what “most spiritual traditions call ‘the soul’ or the true self.” It is here that we may realize we are not alone and come to an “underlying revelation.” God is with us, too. With that realization, our world expands. Rohr writes:
When you honor the God within you, you also see God beyond you and see it in everybody else, too. You stop judging and start loving unconditionally and without asking whether someone or something is worthy or not. This realization deepens and takes on greater conviction over time.
In The Naked Now, Rohr calls himself “a man of one major idea: The immediate, unmeditated contact with the moment is the clearest path to divine union.” Think about that for a moment. The path to God does not exist in some external location. It is within us and to find it, all we need to do is be awake in this moment.
It is a part of Rohr’s call “to move from a belief-based religion to a practice-based religion.” The way to connect with God, and transform ourselves, is not by reading the Bible or attending church services (though these activities may be beneficial.) We connect with the Divine with our own powers and abilities. This is much like the mystics saw God, by “thinking without thinking.” We transform ourselves by learning “to see reality with a new eye and heart.”
To get to this place, you’ve got to go deep.
There are several ways to get there. For some, it may require meditation or centering prayer. For others, it means quieting the mind and is akin to flicking a switch. (In 2 weeks, I’ll provide some awareness exercises suggest by Rohr.) By shutting out the concerns and worries of the outside world, we can deepen our awareness of the present moment. It happens on what Rohr calls “a cellular level”—with our eyes, ears, heart, breath and even our touch. When this happens, Rohr reports:
You are no longer emotionally jerked around by things that do not matter. You are still utterly connected to everybody else in a compassionate and caring way, and absolutely free to be your own self. Your identity comes from within. You will want to love and serve others, but you do not use them or need them to define yourself either positively or negatively.
When we pay attention in this way and spiritually awaken ourselves, we “access the Source.” It’s something Rohr calls “contemplation and dwelling in the naked now.” And he reminds us “it is available always and everywhere, it is available to you, now.”
What’s it like to live with a spiritually awake mind?
Everything you have just read are mere words—ultimately meaningless, unless you find a way to put Rohr’s thinking into action. But it is possible. A few weeks ago, I received this note from a co-worker who is now working remotely out of state. To me, it defines what being spiritually awake is all about. Here’s a lightly edited excerpt:
Since I have moved to Florida full-time, I have to say that I am so grateful for all the beauty of nature here. I feel more grounded, connected to the ones I love, and amazed at the brilliance of the artistically painted sky on a daily basis.
I think it is age that reshuffles our minds to see more clearly the importance of love, beauty and nature. I think we’re all going to leave here sooner than we may want. But maybe we should share what moves us, like the symphony of the surrounding water and wildlife, or the peaceful feeling watching the river roll by as dolphin fins pierce the surface.
If we can pass on the joy of a spontaneous deep breath that results from a gorgeous sunset, or of the touch of my love’s hand on mine, then it can be just as real for those who remember us. We are not used to stillness as we plow through life chained to the day-to-day grind, often overlooking what we grow to realize are the important things that fills our spirit.
Are you realizing “the important things that fill your spirit”? Are you spiritually awake?