How to Wake Up

Caitlin Johnstone
Waking Times

I’ve been putting off writing this article all year, but readers keep asking for it, and since I’ve been writing about mass enlightenment a lot lately I figure I might as well slip it in now.

It is a well-documented fact that it is possible for the human organism to move into a far more healthy relationship with thought than the one which most people experience. This shift has been written about for as long as there has been written language, and scientists have been confirming its existence using modern studies now. Spiritual enlightenment is real, and it is possible. It is possible for thought to take on a role as a useful tool that one can pick up and use in a wholesome way when it’s needed and put down when it isn’t, rather than being the writer, director and star of the entire show as is typical in human experience. If this is possible for the individual, it is possible for the collective.

Our species is at an evolve-or-die crossroads. We will cease destroying our ecosystem and flirting with nuclear armageddon in the very near future, or we will go the way of the dinosaur. The reason we continue on our current trajectory is because a few sociopathic plutocrats have seized control of the dominant narratives we tell ourselves about what’s going on in the world by buying up the news media people use to keep themselves informed. The plutocrat-controlled media manipulate the ways we think and vote to ensure that we will continue supporting the ecocidal, omnicidal, Orwellian status quo upon which the oligarchs have built their empire, instead of rising up and demanding a system that prioritizes human thriving and peaceful coexistence with each other and our environment.

If enough of us can awaken from this narrative matrix in which the plutocrats have imprisoned us, this abusive dynamic will be unable to find any purchase. When your mental processes become enlightened (made conscious), belief in/identification with mental narrative falls away. This radically changes your perception of reality, since it turns out that concepts as fundamental as self, other, world and separateness are all made entirely of mental narrative. A deep and abiding peace comes to the forefront of experience, because almost all human suffering is caused by believed mental narrative. You gain the ability to decide what thought (if any) is useful to you in a given moment, and then let it go without attachment in the next instant. Obviously, thoughts which harm our species and benefit only the powerful are not useful to keep around, so the official authorized narratives of the elite class are swiftly dispensed with. As you become more conscious of your inner processes, you can move more and more gracefully in the world, in graceful alignment with what is in the world’s highest interest.

So we should all wake up. We can wake up, and we should.

said this already recently but let me repeat myself: I have exactly zero interest in ever being anyone’s spiritual teacher or guru or anything like that. What follows is not me trying to pivot into becoming some kind of bogan Eckhart Tolle or any gig that involves siphoning money off of spiritual seekers, and if anyone sees me touring the satsang circuit in the future I give you my fully informed consent to stab me with an ice pick. The following is nothing more than a very incomplete list of things that have benefitted me personally on my own very imperfect journey. Please trust your own gut while reading this, take whatever’s useful to you, and reject everything that isn’t. Your path home is as unique as your personality, and you’re the only one who knows the way back. So be playful and try stuff out but if it’s not for you, ditch it.

1. Get intensely curious about the nature of consciousness/experience.

Imagine if you’d been living your entire life in a strange sort of coma where you were cut off from senses and from thought, experiencing nothing other than your own empty consciousness. Imagine if you’d lived your entire life from birth until now in that state, and then you suddenly gained the ability to see, hear, touch, smell, taste, touch, think, form memories, and feel. How amazing would it be to have that field of experience suddenly explode into your awareness?

It’s really weird how there’s this nonstop explosion of sensory impressions, thoughts and feelings erupting onto our field of experience in each instant, yet we overlook it and take it for granted, and it almost never occurs to anyone to investigate its nature. When someone gets the itch to find the answer to Life’s Big Questions, they’ll typically read a bunch of books, they’ll look to religion, travel to India, search for answers within this field of experience instead of turning their attention to the field itself.

What is all this? How is this experience occurring? From where do these thoughts arise? To whom do they appear? What is it that this field of experience is arising to? What the hell am I, anyway?

If you follow this investigation all the way through, you’ll wake up. You will realize for yourself that you’ve been operating with some unquestioned assumptions about the nature of experience, and when those assumptions are seen through you’ll be able to experience life as it actually is, not as the mind says it is.

2. Get intensely curious about the nature of self.

This one is so closely related to #1 it only gets its own category due to difference in emphasis. When you investigate the nature of experience, it eventually becomes clear that you’re actually investigating the nature of the experiencer. You’re investigating the investigator. The appearances of sensory impressions, thoughts and feelings are clearly appearing, but what is it that they are appearing to? You can answer that question with a mental narrative (“I’m Alice and I was born in New Jersey and I’ve been divorced a couple times and that’s the me that they’re appearing to” or whatever), but if you try to find the self in your own non-conceptual experience, you can’t find anything solid to point to. There are thoughts, sensory impressions and feelings, but no tangible “me” to be found anywhere.

In spirituality there’s a lot of talk about losing the ego, killing the ego, transcending the ego, etc, but waking up actually brings the realization that there was never any hard, solid thing that could be called an ego to begin with. Some “I” narratives were imbued with the power of belief by the human organism in early childhood and held onto under the mistaken assumption that they would bring safety and security, and a bunch of mental habits were built on the back of those “I” narratives. This leads to the churning, babbling mental chatter that most people experience which causes them so much stress in their daily lives.

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g that could be called a self in your non-narrative experience, it’s the subject to which appearances appear. But what is that? It is the experiencer of experience, so it itself cannot be experienced anymore than an eyeball can twist around and see itself. Experience can’t touch it. Thought can’t touch it. Narrative can’t touch it. When it becomes clear that that’s your true self and not the mental “me” character around which all the churning mental babble revolves, the mental chatter no longer has anything to build on, since it has lost its frame of reference. Internal chaos and confusion subsides, and life is seen clearly.

3. Bring consciousness to your unconscious conditioning patterns.

Gaining clear and abiding insight into the nature of self and experience will bring great clarity and peace, but until you start bringing that awakened consciousness into the world of form it doesn’t do anyone else a damn bit of good. Since we’re talking about enlightening our way out of our path toward extinction here and not mere spiritual escapism, this is where the rubber meets the road.

Enlightenment simply means bringing the unconscious into consciousness. Most people who use that term in spiritual circles use it strictly to refer to becoming fully conscious of the nature of self, thought, and experience, but it’s a lot more useful and accurate to think of it as shining the light of consciousness on any part of your operating system. In this sense someone who goes to therapy and does some courageous inner work on early childhood trauma they’d previously suppressed (made unconscious) or does some cognitive behavioral work on unhelpful mental habits is enlightening their operating system in a very real way.

Anyone who’s been involved in enlightenment-oriented communities has heard of (and probably encountered) individuals who have undergone profound shifts in consciousness as a result of powerful insights into the nature of self and experience, but who still act out deeply unconscious conditioning patterns which harm themselves and those around them. They’ve turned on the lights in the rooms upstairs, but the whole bottom floor and basement are still left in the dark. Because our mental habits are formed throughout our lives from the very beginning and mostly formed under severe confusion about the true nature of self and experience, and because it is the nature of habit to go on repeating itself unconsciously, it’s very possible to have any number of mind-popping kensho experiences, kundalini fireworks and abiding shifts in consciousness while still retaining a bunch of unhelpful habits of thought, behavior and perception.

So the process of waking up, of enlightening, necessarily includes bringing those habitual processes into consciousness. Like points #1 and #2, this means getting curious about how those processes are happening and investigating them. Why do I keep repeating that same behavior? Why do I keep having those hateful thoughts about myself/others? Why am I so deeply triggered by those words/ideas? Feel your way around your experience of what’s coming up for you, talk about it, write about it, experiment with different ways of thinking and behaving to make the unconscious conditioning pattern pop out against the background, until you gain some insight into why you probably formed that mental habit over the course of your life and what purpose it’s intended for. Once it’s fully seen, and when the time is right, you can look at the mental habit from root to flower, thank it for doing the job you set it up to do, and let it go.

4. Kinesiology

Another way to bring unconscious conditioning patterns into consciousness is with kinesiology. Muscles hold memories. You can access the unconscious traumatic memories that are the cause of pernicious mental habits through kinesiology practices such as body talk with a therapist, or using a pendulum or something similar on yourself, and although you won’t be able to recall the full story of what happened, you will be able to sense the trauma. If you feel safe enough, you’ll be able to release the suppressed emotions too.

Most of our defining traumas are from childhood. We are so small for so long, so even a seemingly insignificant event like a dog licking our face can have ongoing consequences into adulthood. In those moments, we forget that we are big grown adults and we act like a small child would, because we developed a coping mechanism in that traumatic moment and we’ve never thought to rethink it. It just happens. Often just feeling into the memory is enough to release the stuck emotions and bring our adult consciousness to the trauma, and then we no longer act out a pattern when that memory is triggered.

Kinesiology can also be a useful way of helping you to move gracefully in the world in a way that’s in alignment with the highest interest of humanity. Here’s an old video I made about my own practice for a Facebook group I was in a few years ago, if anyone’s curious:

5. Body Awareness

Eckhart Tolle talks a lot about “the energy body.” In his book A New Earth, he shows you how you can sense your energy body by closing your eyes, holding your hands out in front of you, and noticing how you can sense the energy of your hands even though they’re not touching anything. It’s a kind of buzzy, furry feeling that extends out a little way past the periphery of your hand.

He also says, and it’s quite true, that you can’t be sensing your body and caught up in your thoughts at the same time. Try it. Feel your feet on the floor right now while trying to keep your focus on your thoughts. It can’t be done.

In this way, spending time increasing awareness of your energy body is a handy meditation hack, because by simply finding your energy body fascinating, you can’t be transfixed by your mental chatter. I have spent many hours doing the same qi gong sequence over and over and over, enthralled by the subtle ways energy moves around my body. After some time, the mental chatter gives up altogether and everything gets very quiet.

Find a sequence of body movements that you find easy, one which moves your energy tangibly and efficiently, and after a while you’ll notice points of constriction that the energy has to flow around, like rocks in a river. You don’t have to do anything about that, just make it a practice to notice it, and eventually your body’s intelligence will help you dissolve it.

6. Energy expulsion

This one’s a weird one. When I first experienced this I went online to research it and couldn’t find anything, but I’ve noticed lately that it’s starting to spring up on forums and in blogs and so on, and therapists are noting the symptoms of it in their clients, so I think it’s worth mentioning. This unanticipated, scarcely mentioned ability which seems to be growing more common in our species is one of the many reasons I remain so hopeful about our ability to rise above our madness together.

After doing my body awareness meditation for a while, this thing started happening spontaneously. I would be noticing a contraction in my energy body, feeling around the edges of it, and I would start to feel queasy. I found that if I leaned in to the queasy feeling, I could expel the energy out through my mouth. If you know a little about qi gong, you’ll know that you tend to feel your energy go out through your feet and into the floor, but this was energy that wanted to come up. It comes up in a roar or dry heaves or a burp, a bit like the dude in the movie The Green Mile.

We constrict our animal bodies in various ways for social reasons, and it restricts our ability to process trauma at the time the trauma occurs. Often when something bad happens to a human, it’s not safe to curl up into a little ball and shake it off like any other animal would. These traumas stay in the energy field until they are released, but until then they cause problems, and not all of them can be found through examination of mental narratives. This expulsion practice bypasses narrative, and lets your body intelligence take out the trash.

We protect ourselves from revisiting trauma through hyper-vigilance, which can manifest as anything from an overreaction to a full-blown panic attack. Coming back in to the body and giving it permission to explore these old wounds can give you a lot of much needed relief in all aspects of your life. Most of us spend our days avoiding nonexistent trap doors and fighting invisible ghosts, and it’s exhausting. Giving ourselves the safety and time to heal even one of these wounds has multiple knock-on benefits which extend far beyond our own lives.

7. Bring consciousness to unseen societal dynamics.

This is generally what people refer to when they talk about “getting woke”, and that’s entirely appropriate, because it isn’t in any way separate from the awakening process we’re talking about here. We’re inseparable from the society in which we live; it’s responsible for everything from the language we speak to the thoughts in our heads to the laws we must obey (both written and unwritten) to the living situation in which we find ourselves. Societal dynamics inform all aspects of our experience, but there are many aspects which people find psychologically uncomfortable to look at, so they ignore, deny, and compartmentalize away from them. I’ll probably get more than a few comments from people objecting to what I’m writing here in this section due to that very psychological discomfort.

So get curious:

  • In what ways do I avoid looking at the horrific things my government does in my name? At the horrors of war, outsourced slavery, brutalization of indigenous populations, prison for profit, and Orwellian police state oppression? How can I become more conscious of those things?
  • In what ways do I avoid looking at the ways I personally have benefitted from my race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, culture, and nationality? How can I become more conscious of those things?
  • In what ways do I avoid looking at how the dynamics of racial inequality, gender inequality, socioeconomic inequality, institutional white supremacy, institutional male supremacy, rape culture etc influence the society in which I live? How can I inform myself and become conscious of these dynamics?
  • In what ways have I been avoiding looking at the brutality of factory farming?
  • At the cruel destruction of our planet’s wildlife?
  • At any suffering or brutality in my community and my life?
  • At the ways my own actions or inactions hurt those around me?

One of the hallmarks of egoic thinking is its binary nature. The ego wants to be either victim or victor; it can’t accept that any one person is a mixture of both, and it will fight attempts to enquire into that. Getting humble with the ways I have personally benefited from my white skin and finding all the subtle ways I have enjoyed more privilege than most has been just as important as seeing clearly where my power is being stolen from me and where I am being duped out of my sovereign resources. Both those things have been happening at the same time, and being cognizant of those dynamics gives me a much clearer and more dynamic picture of the cultural landscape and how my presence affects and is affected by it.

Of course, this kind of enquiry brings up a lot of grief, guilt and shame, but that’s actually the point. Those feelings were always there, I was just unconsciously defensive of them, which resulted in harmful reactions and behavior. Better to become conscious of them and stop than to stuff them down and ignore them and unknowingly be the thing you want stopped in the world.

8. Be gentle with yourself.

I say this all the time to people, because it’s really so important. We’re so hard on ourselves, so hyper-critical, so self-punitive and so resistant to self-soothing. Take a moment. The world won’t cave in. Have a nap why don’t ya! Draw yourself a big ass bath and sink into it for as long as possible. Take care of yourself like you would take care of someone you really loved who had been going through a rough time lately. Give your heart a little pat and say, “There, there, you’re safe, it’s okay, I got you bro, I love you and I got you. You can relax now.

You can relax now. Feel how safe it is, right now, in this moment. It’s just you and me, the air filtering in and out of your lungs, the sounds of the room, the feeling of your skin connecting to whatever on this beautiful earth is currently bearing your body. Take all the time you need to feel in to how safe you are right now, how few bears are chasing you, how lacking your surroundings are in oncoming tsunamis or walls of flames. Nothing is going wrong right now. Put the future to one side for a blessed second and feel how safe and nourished by the world you are, everything working in concert to support your being, and decide for once that you want this, and you want to be here, and you choose life.

Okay so that’s enough of that from me, back to fighting oligarchs and making up mean names for empire loyalists. Love you.

About the Author

Caitlin Johnstone – Rogue journalist. Bogan socialist. Anarcho-psychonaut. Guerrilla poet. Utopia prepper.

The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff she publishes is to subscribe to the mailing list for her website, which will get you an email notification for everything. Her articles are entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking her on Facebook, following her antics on Twitter, checking out her podcast, throwing some money into her hat on Patreon or Paypal, or buying her book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.

**This article (How to Wake Up) was originally featured at and is reposted here with permission.

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