In my early twenties I began to feel that something in the world had gone terribly wrong.
Because I knew people who were fighting in the Persian Gulf War, war had become personal to me. The threat of their death and the reality of human suffering disturbed me to my depths. Around the same time, mortality clasped my hand tightly through a near-fatal, crushing car accident and her imprint remains even two decades later. Physical suffering was introduced through the car accident, but emotional suffering had been stalking me for some time.
As long as I could, I ignored my contradictions and witlessly caused suffering in others’ lives. In hopes of quieting the niggling voices in my head, I withdrew to a tiny mountain village for seven years.
To my dismay, when all the distractions I had blamed were eliminated, the voices became cacophonous and the necessity for evolution grew into a compulsion.
The steadiness of my yoga and meditation practices anchored me while the uncertainties of life refined my self-concept. Challenging life experiences can confuse our beliefs about who we are and therefore affect our way of being in the world. Yet the ability to witness these challenges from an equitable distance opens our potential for awakening.
The term awakening gets bandied about in the spiritual community like a hockey puck yet what does it mean to awaken? In Upanishadic philosophy, the truth of humanity’s essential nature is concealed by maya, a projection of reality from the universe being ‘a play of illusion .
Our experience of suffering arises through confusing this projection with ultimate reality – an absolute, boundless ocean of consciousness, or Brahman. Goswami Kriyananda describes Brahman as:
the substratum of the universe…the essence of all things.
To awaken is to rouse from the trance of assumed reality and see the truth of one’s own nature relative to all that exists. The concept of awakening may seem anachronistic in the modern, material world, yet as the U.S. battles three wars, an imperative arises to feed the hunger for peace over the lust for property. Pema Chodron says,
Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that peace must be constructed.
Self-observation cannot be mistaken for an indulgence, but need be seen as a necessity to uncover the wars that are fomenting within us. Awareness, a timeless commodity, penetrates superficial perspective and escorts the grace of true seeing through our door. Yet how do we cultivate awareness to construct peace within us?
Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutras,
The vacillating waves of perceptions are stilled through earnest practice and dispassionate non-attachment…as everything and everyone is experienced as one’s own True Self.
Modern yoga practice in the West consists predominately of asana, or posture, and the practice can remain at a surface level indefinitely. Yet the fundamental purpose of yoga is to prepare the practitioner for transformation. Patanjali adds,
…thorough knowledge is preceded by resolute practice to completely cease identification with the contents of the mind. As a result, only subliminal impressions remain and their residue has no impact on the mind.
In Tantra Yoga philosophy, where polarities can coexist without friction, the energy of our suffering can be channeled for the expansion of awareness, yet awareness must first be engaged.
Two deceptively simple means for altering identification with fleeting thoughts are pranayama – breath work that both manages and increases life force – and dyana – meditation which seeds witness consciousness. While the relative simplicity of these practices can lead one to underestimate their efficacy, both ancient and modern science demonstrates how skilled and consistent practice increases a sense of well-being, decreases reactivity and develops the capacity for empathy. As we mitigate our individual suffering through increasing our health and our focus, we create the spaciousness to consider the suffering of others.
Awakening becomes possible when it is pursued incessantly, with reverence, for a long time  and can come in increments or as swift insight which sweeps away the old way of being forever.
 Fuerstein, Georg Ph.d., The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga
 Kriyananda, Goswami, A Yoga Dictionary of Basic Sanskrit Terms
 Patanjali, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as interpreted by Mukunda Stiles
Halli Bourne is a Spiritual Life Coach, a yoga and meditation teacher and owner of True Self Wellness. Told she may never walk again after a near-fatal car accident, Halli began an ongoing voyage for healing and insight. Her journey has led her into extensive studies of yoga and meditation, ancient and modern religions, spirituality, massage and energy work, creative movement and dance, psychology and esoteric sciences. She offers spiritual life coaching, yoga and meditation retreats and workshops worldwide. She is also a writer, a vocalist and songwriter, a visual artist and dancer.