My awakening, such as it was, turned out to be an awakening in every sense of the word. I had been in bed asleep. When I awoke, I immediately realized something was missing, which is not what you would expect. Usually you expect to find something when you have an awakening, as in finding enlightenment. But then it may be a bit of a misnomer even to say “I” had awakened, since the person who went to bed the night before was not the one who woke up. You can say I found myself in bed with a stranger, only in this case the stranger was me. The person I previously thought of as “me” was nowhere in evidence.
You might think I would be apprehensive to discover my self had gone missing, but I was actually glad to be rid of it. In any case, for the moment at least, there wasn’t anyone there to entertain fearful thoughts, even if I had a mind to be afraid. An old Dylan tune was now noodling away in the empty space formerly occupied by my self: “You’re invisible now, you ain’t got no secrets to conceal…” I was the Invisible Man in reverse: transparent on the inside but still plainly visible to everyone else.
What is it like to be awakened? Once I had rubbed the sleep from my eyes, literally and every other way, I realized everything I had ever heard about this experience presupposed there was a self to experience it. But in reality, the show was playing to an empty house -- and always had been. The self I formerly thought of as the bedrock of my being was discovered to be nothing more than a series of disconnected thoughts in the first-person singular. Where did those thoughts come from? Where did they go? I had been led to believe that I would somehow transcend thought, but my thoughts and feelings continued to come and go pretty much as they pleased. It’s just that I no longer had much sense of ownership.
Spiritual seekers are often spurred on by fantasies of achieving an enlightened state that will reveal the secret of life and resolve all its problems. In this respect, the quest for enlightenment is not far removed from fantasies about winning the lottery. However, the “jackpot” for spiritual seekers is both more and less than they imagine. The secret to life is that there is none, and problems never seem to go away. Some may be solved in time but are never entirely eradicated, the problem of suffering least of all. The pain of life is real, the sufferer is not. It’s true that the show plays to an empty house. But then, there's no need for an audience once you realize you are the whole show.