A personal awakening can be looked upon as a powerful shift in thinking that occurs at points throughout our lives, in which motivations or talents we didn’t know we had surface and point us in new directions.
An awakening sometimes takes the form of a traumatic event, in which one manages to move past fear or grief to suddenly gain a powerful sense of purpose. Consider the example of John Walsh, spokesperson for America’s Most Wanted, and lately, The Hunt, who gained a powerful sense of purpose in the aftermath of the horrific abduction and murder of his son Adam.
An awakening can also result from a positive event in one’s life, such as meeting someone who helps you look at the world in a different way. It could be a mentor at work, or it could be a brush with an inspirational person. A 16-year-old Bill Clinton’s brief handshake with President John F. Kennedy, for example, propelled him to pursue a career in public service and politics.
The good news is that we don’t need to meet a powerful leader or endure a horrific tragedy to experience an awakening that resets the course of our life. In fact, it may be the most ordinary, everyday occurrences – and sometimes no occurrence at all – that sets one on the path to a richer and more purposeful existence.
I recall how as a teenager, I was confused and aimless about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was also shy and tongue-tied when it came to communicating with members of the opposite sex.
Then in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, while riding my bicycle, something clicked for me (I was at a loss at the time to explain what it was) and I decided to pursue journalism in college. At the same time, I came to the realization that females weren’t as scary as I was making them out to be, and I took to chatting with them just as I would with male friends.
I have had other times in my life where something subconsciously shifted for me, setting me off on a more positive direction.
This more mundane and quiet awakening was explored by Michael Linenberger in a new book, Simple Awakening: The Power of Inner Silence (New Academy Publishers, 2016).
In his book Linenberger tells of a personal awakening that came out of an “inner silence” which he had been gradually cultivating. Linenberger, you see, was a stressed-out consultant. His life was hectic, ruled by the clock, rush, rush, rush. But one Thanksgiving, about four years ago, something clicked in his mind.
“I had a group of friends over for the meal,” he relates in the book. “I cooked and carved the turkey, and we were all seated at the table with the meal spread before us.
“Someone suggested we take a moment of silent grace, and I closed my eyes with inward attention to do that. It turns out this was the first time in many years that I had closed my eyes with inner alert attention….
“As soon as my eyes closed, to my surprise pure silence came pouring in, in a very profound and delightful way…. It’s as if I’m floating in the middle of a perfectly calm lake on a dark moonless night.”
This sense of peacefulness resulted from a brief meditation taken over a carved turkey. Linenberger reports that since his Thanksgiving awakening, he has continued to experience this sense of peace and it has changed the course of his life. He feels more peaceful and relaxed, which improved his outlook on life and, paradoxically, made him better and more focused at his career pursuits.
The beauty of this kind of awakening is its simplicity. In his book, Linenberger stresses how simple moving toward a life’s awakening can be:
- You don’t have to adopt some ancient tradition. Linenberger attributes awakenings of this kind to taking time, on a daily basis if possible, to partake in a brief period of silence. Transcendental meditation is one route to this, but it can be something much simpler and less structured. “Sometimes it’s called stillness, sometimes pure awareness, and sometimes emptiness,” he relates.
- You don’t have to “live the life of a saint to awaken.” No, you don’t have to become a monk living in a monetary on a high hill surrounded by vineyards, the author says. Just be yourself and carry on. Enjoy what you enjoy in life. You don’t have be striving for some “state of constant perfection.”
- You don’t have to wait for a “grand-finale awakening.” Like most things in life, an awakening doesn’t happen all at once and then you live happily ever after. It’s more of a gradually climb toward the things you need and want, with a lot of ups and downs.
- You don’t have to always be living “in the now.” There’s power in living in the present, but there’s no need to torture your brain into focusing on “now” thoughts. In fact, doing so is counterproductive to awakening.
Linenberger’s message is that happiness – unconditional happiness – is there, waiting for you, just underneath the surface, regardless of your circumstances or station in life.
“Most people are desperately striving,” he observes. “They’re still chasing happiness in an intense and frantic way.”
Give up the chase, he says. The happiness has been within, all along.