What is Awakening

Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 14/02/2022

Everyone has experienced some sort of suffering in their life regardless of the background, religious belief, or spiritual orientation. Waking up to your true nature to find freedom, unbroken peace, and a life free of suffering is the dream of every living being. Being a human is not easy, dealing with sickness, separation and death but also trying to be happy, trying to fit in with all the demands and expectations of the society, family, and your own dream. Can you get out of that mental prison and the suffering to achieve peace? There is no doubt that it is possible, and it can be a reality. It is not about believing in a religion, a God but about believing in yourself. Do you want to investigate and ultimately live the deepest truth of what you are and understand about the fundamental nature of reality?

It is a common perception that to achieve awakening, you must abandon your normal life to dedicate yourselves in a life of a secluded environment such as in a monastery or a temple. The busy life is the perfect environment for awakening to occur, as stressful environments and challenging interpersonal situations will bring out the deeply buried resistance patterns that are hidden and cannot be seen in a secluded life. Awakening can come naturally during a stressful time or when life is in crisis or in mundane, boring moments in life like standing in line in a supermarket or stuck in traffic or in emotional situations. Uncomfortable situations are as just valuable as having peaceful experiences during meditation or if you practice mindfulness in the present moment. Your busy life gives you countless opportunities to encounter your undivided nature. 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy- Martin Luther King Jr. 

Mind- identification and the Ego

The human nervous system is complex, and thoughts begin to form at a young age and develop in complexity as we mature and form the basis of a complex thought-based identity.

Ego is deeply paradoxical in nature as you will never find an ego or directly perceive it. 

According to Dr Angelo Dilullo, if mind-identification is the mental prison that prevent us from realizing our unbound, undivided nature, then referential thoughts are the prison bars, and the ego is the warden. The ego is there to assure we don’t find our way out of prison, but also make sure we keep constructing new walls (identities).

The ego mechanisms are somewhat like software that runs inside the hardware of the human mind. They have self-protective instincts and survival mechanisms. It knows how to convince you to argue and even fight for your right to make you suffer. The ego does the thinking for you. Ego always speaks in the first person and you believe, you are the one speaking. Out of nowhere a thought says, I’m really disappointed in myself, and you usually do not recognize that you have the choice to decide whether this thought is true or not. If someone else said “you’re really disappointed in yourself”, this is completely different. The moment you choose to stop and become the watcher of those thoughts, then it’s not you who are creating them. 

When we are remembering an event in our lives, it really looks like we are there, and our physiological stress responses and our attention is fixed onto these imaginary spaces. We start to pay more attention to them than our actual senses at the present moment.

The feeling of isolation among humans are rooted in the misperception that we are apart from everything- that we are small, discrete and short-lived. The ego reinforces the sense that we are a subject, endlessly seeking or avoiding internal or external objects and circumstances. The ego tells us to take pride in and identify with being the empowered one, the one who can make anything happen, the one who is always in control.


A thought can’t know reality directly as it only reflects reality. Thoughts that get our attention and cause emotional reactions will be repeated preferentially over thoughts that don’t. A thought has two jobs; to get your attention and to redirect your attention to the next thought. It happens all day long and you are led by the thoughts, and they keep your mind away from presence, from ourselves and from life.

Thinking is the disease of the human mind.


What is awakening?

According to Dr Angelo Dilullo in his book “Awake: It’s Your Turn” he described his experience about awakening. 

Awakening could never be explained or described accurately as it is a purely individual experience as how can one describes the taste of chocolate to someone who never tasted it. Our identity is built up by our thoughts and beliefs, by the history of our past and the future that we imagine it to be. Our thoughts and beliefs are the products of our consciousness. Consciousness refers to awareness and wakefulness such as being aware of objects in the environment, of our thoughts, feelings, moods and of our identity. Our beliefs about ourselves and the world as it relates to us, are lack of consistency and integrity as we tend to align ourselves with those with the same beliefs. Sometimes if the previous beliefs were uncomfortable, we may abandon one set of beliefs to adopt another set of beliefs. At some point, we might start to question that we have been living in a sort of false reality. When we realize that it is unsatisfactory, we may question if instead of clinging to various thoughts and concepts and struggling ourselves in life, we may want to find an entirely different way to solve this problem. When we realize our identity is not made up by the multitude ever changing thoughts and concepts, we will try to find our magnificent wholeness of pure consciousness. Our consciousness is like an ocean, whereas thoughts and concepts are only ripples or waves on the ocean. Once we realize clearly that we are the reflective nature of consciousness, and that consciousness is the source of all possible thoughts, we experience ourselves and all of life in a clear and integrated way. This experience is not conceptual, but it is instinctual and real. If you had been living in a small room all your life, how could you know that small room was nested inside a much larger space. Well, you could not until you opened the door and walked out of that tiny space. Awakening is like walking out of that small room into a vast and mysterious reality that is far more natural (Dr Angelo Dilullo). A big part of the relief is that once you walk out of that small room, you realize the exhaustion was caused by expanding your energy struggling to stay inside that little room. What a welcome relief to let go of all that struggle.

Have you ever asked yourself “Who am I”, you will describe yourself with memories of your past and refer to the imagination of your future. You might find that you actually have no idea of who or what you are now, with no facts, thoughts, or references attached to it. You find yourself in a space with no past and future and yet you are here, alert, awake and aware of the senses. There is no story, no past, no future, no substance of what you always thought of as you. Although the timeline has stopped, you will feel free from subjugation to thought with a massive relief of tension and doubt. You instinctively know what you are but cannot define it. It is a pure sense of oceanic Being. There may be thoughts, but they are of no concern. They are mere waves on the infinite ocean of your cosmic Self. There is no struggle, only effortless flow, simply the nature of what you always were.

Awakening is beyond experience. It is clear there is a fundamental shift into a way of being that is not subject to time. It is a shift to unbound being that is clearly seen and felt to be more real than what you had experienced before the shift occurred. When you have pre-awakening experiences, do not make a big deal about them. Be alert for the tendency to daydream and try to recreate them. It is also tempting to impress others with your spiritual accomplishment. This will not help you to awaken as it is just reinforcing the false identity by spiritualizing it. 

Awakening and realization is ultimately about living your life in uninterrupted peace. It is a realization of nature of life as it is. Peace is not the absence of anger, sadness, or discord. It is full acceptance of these with no resistance and do not suppress and distort their natural expression. This can lead to destructive behaviour. It is normal and healthy response to grief or to letting go. When anger gets suppressed, it eventually surfaces as violence. When sadness is suppressed, it surfaces as depression and/or anxiety. Resistance causes interrupted peace, whereas acceptance leads to freedom to know uninterrupted peace. You need to be fully honest to yourself. Because life is authentic and it is simply what it is. 

According to Dr Angelo Dilullo, awakening is not: 


There is a biphasic phenomenon that often occurs when we get a taste of unfiltered reality. The experience will often be followed by a period of dysphoria with or without intense emotion. This appears to be universal in early stages of awakening.

After a pre-taste of awakening after a meditation retreat, you feel unusual free, relaxed, and intimate with life like never have been before. This lasts for a few hours or for a couple of days, then suddenly you find yourself more awful than you ever had before. This thing happens when consciousness contracts down and you are suddenly faced with resistance patterns and challenging emotions.

It is helpful to recognize that these contracted experiences consist of repressed emotions (doubt, fear, confusion) as well as resistance patterns are temporary like every other experience. They don’t last forever as your fearful thoughts often say they will.

The emergence of these painful emotion states does not mean that the awakening process caused those emotions. You have been carrying them around with you, locked away inside you.

These repressed emotion states coming to the surface are truly a gift as they have the potential to cause you to act in unconscious ways if they remain repressed. It may be uncomfortable but the mere act of sitting with it, even for a few minutes, proves that you have the capacity to handle it. Sometimes, you feel easier to avoid looking at the repressed emotions, but they are there with life energy and will express themselves one way or another.

The biggest paradox is there is absolutely nothing wrong with you and nothing wrong with life. There is no you apart from everything. Ultimately, you realize that suffering ends when you stop trying to end suffering.

An intention to wake up to the deepest truths of reality means you will be stripped of all identities, spiritual and otherwise, to bring about awakening. 

Awakening is life exactly as it is, and there is no where to go and nothing to attain. Where there is no seeking, reality is naturally revealed. 

With the lifelong pursuit to understand and realize the truth of you and how you fit in to everything and you will see there was never an issue in the first place as it was a misconception based on the illusion of separation and a view of a “self” that never actually was. So, with true enjoyment and spontaneity, you investigate the nature of reality itself. 

With quantum physics, photons and electrons can be in many places at the same time until they are observed as they can behave as either particles or waves. You could say this quantum fluctuation between nothingness and somethingness is the fabric or the most fundamental identity of reality itself. The nature of all phenomena is emptiness. There is no self, and there is no other. There is no distance, knowing, understanding, or doing. There is an awareness that is intrinsic to radiant phenomena. There is no desire and no aversion. There is no longer any need to wake up nor any perception of an unenlightened state. There is no suffering here and no avoidance of suffering. Nothing can be lost so nothing can be gained. 

Life can play perfectly naturally with its ups and downs, heartbreaks and accomplishments, twists, and turns but none of this disturbs the underlying peace with the empty nature of experience/reality.

This is infinite freedom. 


Practices and Techniques

To practice is to undo the habitual mental patterns that cause us to suffer, and undo unconscious habits that lead us to see things as they are not.

Realization does not need to be cultivated, learned, attained, or achieved. This is about seeing and feeling things as they are without the distortions of preference and expectation.

There are many types of practices that are all based on practicing mindfulness and meditation.

Attention is an innate capacity to investigate the deepest truths of ourselves and of reality. It is the fundamental capacity that allows us to focus, meditate, inquire and investigate the nature of presence. 

You can practice placing your attention to your five senses such as visual objects, sounds, smell, taste or sensations on your body and on your thoughts.

 Observing thoughts in real time. If you did nothing but apply this technique with sincerity and willingness to see the truth of your immediate experience, it alone could take you all the way to liberation. You can apply this practice any time, during meditation or throughout the day. 




“Awake: It’s Your Turn” by Dr Angelo Dilullo , MD