Achieving awareness is the perception that our purpose is to organize and control our lives. When we live through our achieving awareness, our foundational concern is, How can I get and keep what I want? This mode of awareness is useful—and often necessary. It gives us the focused attention and commitment necessary to attain goals and enables us to direct our attention and energy into a particular task—to study for an exam, complete a project, get someplace on time, practice a skill. It allows us the focused drive and undistracted execution we need to implement and achieve our goals. It’s a highly necessary and helpful form of perception. But when overused, or exclusively used, achieving awareness overrides and changes the structure of our brains, carving path ways of depression, anxiety, stress, and craving.
When out of balance, achieving awareness is narrowly focused, unguided by the bigger picture, obsessed with the same track or idea, never satisfied, and often lonely and isolated. And it doesn’t help us face undesirable outcomes. If we navigate life through our achieving awareness alone, we are often frustrated or distressed when things don’t turn out as we’d planned or hoped. And even when things appear to be working out for us, we perceive that it is up to us alone to make good things happen, or prevent bad things from happening. Life is an inert stage we act upon, trying to move everyone and everything toward our individual goals and desires. This can leave us isolated, stuck in rumination, or mired in a persistent feeling of dread, stress, or even emptiness.
When we live only through our achieving awareness, we develop a perceptual problem. We have a much inflated sense of control, even as we become disconnected from the heartbeat of everyone around us. This is a lonely, atomistic, and inherently empty way to be. Even having everything can feel like having nothing. This perception of emptiness just makes us want more and try harder — and so we’re trapped in the cycle of motivation and reward. Overblown, it becomes craving and addiction: we need a bigger and bigger dose to feel good—but no amount of control or success will extinguish the craving.
When we engage our awakened awareness, we make use of different parts of our brain, and we literally see more, integrating information from multiple sources of perception. Instead of see ing ourselves as independent makers of our path, we perceive ourselves as seekers of our path. We look across a vast landscape and ask, What is life showing me now? This awakened awareness allows us to perceive more choices and opportunities available to us, feel more connected with others, understand the relation ships between events in our lives, be more open to creative leaps and insights, and feel more in tune with our life’s purpose and meaning.
In awakened awareness, we don’t lose or forsake our goals. But we take off the blinders. We surrender our tight grip on a goal. We understand that life is a dynamic force that we can at tune to and interact with. It’s no longer me against the world, or me treading upon the world, but me hearing what life has to say, aware that life is meeting me where I am. I still have wishes and desires and goals, I still experience disappointment and hurt — but I lean into the flow of life, paying attention to where doors open and close.
As a result of this awakened awareness, our eyes move to meaningful events. In achieving awareness, the stranger who starts talking to us on the bus might be annoying or intrusive, or just invisible. In awakened awareness, we might hear what he says—and even see how it’s relevant to our own lives. Life is no longer inert, a platform on which we try to have our needs and desires met. It’s a living, conscious dialogue that includes some interesting surprises. When we engage our awakened awareness, the hard things in our lives don’t go away. But we have the capacity to perceive our sorrow and struggle in a new way. Knit into the fabric of life, there is a felt knowledge that we are never really alone.
Achieving awareness is necessary. It helps us move and chase the ball up and down the field. But to decide where the ball needs to go, to see the bigger field of play, to be aware of the other players, to understand the consequences and impact of our choices—and to perceive why we are playing the game in the first place—we need our awakened awareness. In other words, our most important decisions can’t be made from achieving awareness alone. We can only perceive reality accurately when we have both foundational modes of awareness on board. day we make thousands of choices, and we make better ones when we engage the perceptual capacity that gives us the widest, most valuable and illuminating view. We need what we learn from both modes of awareness to inform our actions. We had already seen that the spiritual brain is a healthier brain.
Now we could see why — we could see the neural ingredients of awakened awareness. And we could see that spiritual awakening is a choice we can make at every moment—a choice of how we perceive the world and ourselves.