“In order to be effective truth must penetrate like an arrow—and that is likely to hurt.” ~Wei Wu Wei
The path toward true awakening is painful and bumpy. It’s not pretty. In fact, it can be downright ugly. There are egoic pitfalls. There are soul-snaring brambles. There are existential knots. The way is never clear, until it is. An even then, it usually turns out to be an illusion.
The path is not soft and sweet but jagged and elusive. It is not artificially blissful but authentically painful. The joy of discovery on the one side is deep and can be genuinely ecstatic, but the agony on the other side cuts to the soul and can be devastatingly dismal.
Real awakening is both a reckoning and a wrecking, both an expansion and an annihilation. It is not pretend reconciliation. Authentic awakening is painfully transcendent. It grips the soul by the throat and doesn’t let go. Infinity casts its hook, and you’re taken—hook, line, and sinker—into Growth.
The key is to remain flexible and circumspect. The secret is to somehow find comfort within the discomfort. Easier said than done, sure. But as Spinoza said, “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.”
Heartbreaking Cognitive dissonance:
“Make no mistake about it – enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.” ~Adyashanti
The Ugliness: psychological discomfort, ignorance, the pain of being wrong.
Cognitive dissonance is a humdinger of a psychosocial malady. It’s a counterintuitive glitch in the matrix, causing us to believe that belief is black and white. It’s not. Belief is relative to the observer. And when the “observer” is a fallible, imperfect, barely evolved, naked ape who’s prone to be mistaken about a great many things, belief can be downright blinding.
Cognitive dissonance is merely the discomfort experienced when two incongruent worldviews clash. It accounts for our hidden fears, our willful ignorance, and our tendency to cling to our comfort zone. It shines a spotlight on our utter inept ability to shine a spotlight. It’s the psychosocial irony of ironies. Indeed. It reveals that we are the fly in the ointment.
The Hidden beauty: clarity, clearness, curiosity, recalibration.
But if we can embrace our cognitive dissonance, if we can reconcile the discomfort of having been wrong, and if we can correct our incorrections, a deep clarity overcomes us. We’re suddenly able to reprogram outdated programming.
An overwhelming relation to Socrates quip “The only thing I know is that I know nothing,” grips us—balls to bones, ovaries to marrow. And our mind opens so wide that the only thing that can fit is everything.
Soulbreaking Mortal dread:
“What is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above.” ~Rene Daumal
The Ugliness: mortality, impermanence, soulbreak.
Existential Angst can be a soul-crippling thing. Death is a precipice; one in which we all share a natural fear of “heights.” Our mortality is a slap in the face to our immortal dreams. We wear our mortal coils like choke chains around our necks, gasping in sheer terror at the impermanence of all things.
But we ignore it at our own detriment. The more we repress our existential angst the uglier it gets. It festers within, eating away at our logic and reasoning. It becomes a blister of suppressed darkness that mercilessly sucks in love and light. It makes us ugly despite the beauty of life.
The Hidden beauty: honesty, adaptability, fearlessness, love.
Truly waking up to our mortality is allowing death to put life into perspective. This is a double-edged sword that cuts as it heals. It cuts with honesty and truth. It heals with the same, but a robustness comes from it, a resilience is born, tantamount to antifragility.
When we shine a light onto our mortal dread, we make an ally of our shadow. Absolute vulnerability trumps naïve invulnerability. Fear is transformed into fuel for the fire (fearlessness) of falling in love with our preciously short life.
Dark Night of the Soul:
“Undifferentiated consciousness, when differentiated, becomes the world.” ~Vedanta
The Ugliness: the existential black hole, ego death, choking on the red pill of truth.
Honestly facing our flaws, our wrongness, and our mortality creates a void. This void is the place where our ego goes to die. Where before, we naively clung to our beliefs and worldview through sheer ignorance, now, our innocence is burned away and the existential black hole opens wide before us, fierce and menacing, and threatening to consume all meaning.
Here, the egoic perspective is in deep crisis. The certainties of life fall apart. The puzzle becomes terribly more puzzling. We choke on the red pill. It gets lodged in our throat. We falsely imagine that all we need is the blue pill to wash it down. But as the ego dies, the soul is being born.
The Hidden beauty: transcendence, nonattachment, Soul initiation.
When we face our wrongness and our mortality with dignity and honor, with humor and honesty, with love and appreciation, we discover our ability to adapt and overcome. Our ego is baptized by the soul, becoming a workhorse for selflessness and growth as opposed to selfishness and comfort.
We transcend egocentric codependence through soulcentric interdependence. We learn how not to take ourselves too seriously. For we see how everything is transitory. All things are fleeting. The be-all-end-all is always beginning and always ending. We have learned the wisdom of practicing detachment as a way to remain connected to everything else.
“Only to the extent that we can expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” ~Pema Chodron
The Ugliness: deconstructed invulnerability, meaninglessness, Master’s Complex.
The higher we rise in our soulwork, the more meaningless the universe becomes. This is a crushing truth for a truth seeker. In our naivete and youthful ignorance, we imagined a universe full of meaning and purpose. We imagined a heavenly blueprint and a loving masterplan. But then we faced our cognitive dissonance and our mortal dread. We experienced ego-death, and it all came unraveled. The unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky, magical thinking center simply could not hold.
We were faced with a decision: remain stuck in comforting deception or discover the heartbreaking truth; remain blissfully ignorant or discover painful knowledge. We chose the latter, and it made all the difference. Nihilism, ennui, meaninglessness was the price we paid, but it was a whetstone we honed our souls against and now we are sharp enough to cut God.
The Hidden beauty: humor, absolute vulnerability, responsibility, meaning creation.
True awakening is a heartbreaking, soul shattering, meaning crushing experience. The wise develop a loving sense of humor regarding the cruelty of the cosmic joke. They smile though their heart is breaking. They laugh though their soul is trembling. They create meaning despite the collapse of meaning.
As Joseph Campbell profoundly stated, “Suddenly you’re ripped into being alive. And life is pain, and life is suffering, and life is horror, but my god you’re alive and it’s spectacular.” Indeed. And it is this spectacular experience that launches us into a state of reverence for the sharpening of suffering greatly.
Sharpness does not just come to a knife. Luster does not just come to a pearl. Crystallization does not just come to a diamond. The knife must be tested. The grit must be rubbed. The coal must be pressurized. Had we not been sharpened, had we not been rubbed, had we not been pressured by a cruel universe, then all we would have is grit, coal, and dullness. But we took the ugliness of our awakening and we transformed it into the beauty of living a life well-lived.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (The Ugliness (and Hidden Beauty) of Real Awakening) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.