Of course, it is always possible to render awakening itself an outcome. Indeed, it is very hard not to do this, especially when we are working with language – writing or talking. If we are not awakened now and we want to be, then it seems logical enough that awakening must happen in the future.
This is true only in the limited sense that time is a learning tool: so long as we need it in order to remember our fundamental connection to God then it will be available to us (T-1.I.15:2-4). But it remains forever part of the illusion that we are separate from God. It is only when our focus shifts from separation to salvation – and we invoke the Holy Spirit’s aid – that time becomes constructive.
Thus, awakening only seems to be a future goal. In truth, it is simply a recognition of what is, outside of time and space altogether.
The journey to God is merely the reawakening of the knowledge of where you are always, and what you are forever. It is a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed (T-8.VI.9:6-7).
Often, we decide in advance – and on egoic terms – what awakening will look and feel like. This can be quite subtle but our minds are most powerful at that level. When I am awakened I will feel this, and the world will look like that, and people will treat me this way, and so on and so forth.
That is not openness to God’s continually offered grace but rather an effort to shoehorn God out so the egoic self can continue to run the show. Only grief can come from that effort.
We have to be vigilant then about that interior movement: away from acceptance and openness and towards a specific vision and a particular outcome. There really is no other way to remember God in an experiential way. If we bring language and images into it, however pure our intentions, we are obscuring Truth.
Truth can only be experienced. It cannot be described and it cannot be explained. I can make you aware of the conditions of truth, but the experience is of God. Together we can meet its conditions, but truth will dawn upon you of itself (T-8.VI.9:8-11).
In my late teens and early twenties I did a lot of drugs, many of them hallucinogenic. Most of those experiences were sad and stupid but every now and then there would be moments of real transcendence. Crows spoke to me, stars spelled the secret names of God and rivers flowed backwards to my feet.
I wanted awakening to be like that: dramatic and heroic: something out of Kerouac, reminiscent of Blake.
Unfortunately, notwithstanding my sincerity and devotion, that desire reflected a specific outcome and so by definition it pushed God out.
It was only when I began to accept that I did not know what awakening was – and thus could not predict nor even imagine it – that slowly, like the first light of the sun above the eastern hills when I walk with the dog – awakening began to dawn on me. We want to be experts but it is only when we accept that we are rank beginners that the real work begins.
In Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton acknowledged that nobody wants to be a beginner but when it came to sustained contact with God as the ground and source of being “let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners all our life!”
We resist this fact because we believe it sets us farther back on the journey home: we don’t want to start again. We don’t want to turn back. But this is the lovely and nurturing paradox of awakening: it is only when we see and accept the utter futility of our own efforts that God can begin to work in us, restoring to our minds the majesty and glory of the nature that we share with God. As Saint Paul noted in his second letter to the Corinthians, God’s power is perfected in our weakness.
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
We do not need to suffer like that: God is not asking us to be martyrs. Rather, we need merely see that of ourselves we can do nothing and so must allow God to work in and through us. It cannot happen without our consent, our willingness. There is nothing else to do – there is nothing else we can do.
Thus, surrender is not a sign of defeat but a stepping away from the field of battle altogether. We do not know where God will take us but we are ready to go. We offer up our hands: we become as little children: we follow.