Practical Work of Awakening

Awakening requires practical work. This means, first of all, learning to understand the difference between imagination and presence. We acquire this understanding by making regular efforts to be present. The Fellowship of Friends provides its members with many exercises and disciplines that help to initiate and prolong presence, as well as work against imagination. As a member’s understanding deepens, these exercises and disciplines acquire a more personal character, as he or she comes to understand the meaning of sleep and the necessity of awakening.

Our efforts to be present can acquire the objectivity of a scientific discipline, the accomplished skills of a craft, and the subtleties of an art form. Through trial and error, and through the vast experience available from other Fellowship members, we learn how to apply the right effort at the right time to help evoke and prolong presence.

Awakening is a science because exact techniques exist that one can use to be present. By using these techniques, it becomes clear whether one is present or not. If we are not present, then we did not make the appropriate effort. If we are present for a few moments, then we can learn to reintroduce and prolong presence.

Awakening is a skill because we must practice. No single effort ever awakened anyone, however large that single effort may have been. Each Fellowship member learns to work on himself and herself at all times and in all circumstances. And because many aspects of our life repeat themselves, we must again and again renew our efforts and oppose the habits of imagination that rise up whenever we are inattentive.

Awakening is an art first of all because we must be emotional and inspired about our efforts. It may come as a surprise to discover that one must be taught not only to awaken, but to want to awaken and to maintain the desire to make efforts. Awakening is also an art in that we must have a flexible attitude toward making effort. The same effort to be present will not work in all circumstances. Sometimes we must struggle internally with imagination, at other times we must try to sustain presence while performing a particularly difficult task. Our efforts must change as circumstances change, because the lower self would prefer that we repeat the same effort endlessly and imagine that we are being present. At the same time, the more efforts we make to be present, the more our Higher Self will enter our life and provide us with the inspiration and renewed desire to make new efforts.

There are many references in esoteric literature to the idea of “leaving the world” or “controlling the passions” or “becoming a recluse.” Real internal work does not involve a literal enactment of these representations. The inner meaning of this idea is to learn to separate from the host of thoughts and distractions that comprise the imaginary internal world of the lower self and to promote efforts to be present in any and all circumstances. This is where the real struggle takes place, in each unassuming second, and this is what the lower self will do anything and everything to avoid. When we understand the nature of this struggle, then we begin to understand the urgency of making regular efforts and of seeking guidance and support from others making similar efforts.

Over time we also learn the necessity of changing our attitudes about many things. What seemed an innocuous pastime now appears as an invitation to fall asleep; what we once considered a profound understanding takes its relative place alongside the experience of one’s Self; where we thought we had time, we realize how little time we have.

This growth of internal work in us is the part that becomes most connected to the teacher, to other members and to the Fellowship as a whole. From this place of effort and experience of being present, members recognize and encourage the work in each other. Common efforts have a sustaining power, as presence evokes presence.