Is Awakened Action Always Natural?

There was an exploration that occurred in a meeting of the Awakened Life Project men’s group recently that got me thinking about the nature of awakened action. I had encouraged one man to put more effort into publicizing his evolutionary ventures when another man expressed his preference that we should let things happen “naturally” and not try to “make something happen”. I responded by asking, “what does “natural” mean in this context? I used Gandhi as an example asking if he let everything happen “naturally” or was he making things happen “unnaturally”?

That got me thinking about the way we use this word “natural”. The dictionary definition is “existing in or caused by nature, not made or caused by humankind”. So we could say that when we use the word “natural” in relationship to human action we mean action that is alignment with the “natural order” of Life or the Universe. This is something that we understandably value very highly especially in post-modern alternative culture. When action is “unnatural”, it is deemed to be unbalanced at best and dangerous at worst. “Unnatural” implies the kind of human arrogance and insensitive imposition of force that is so endemic to the modern worldview and the cause of so much needless suffering and wanton destruction of nature.

When this value/idea of “natural” gets carried into the arena of spiritual life it usually implies that the journey should unfold spontaneously “like a fruit on a branch, ripening without will or effort”. And, of course, much of the spiritual journey is experienced that way because it is, at its heart, an organic process. Like a sprout breaking forth from a seed seeking the light, our True Nature springs up from within as we let go of our identification with the illusory sense of being a separate self.

But the process of spiritual development is not always effortless. Even those who have had very powerful spontaneous awakenings almost always put a lot of effort into spiritual practice and inquiry before the “natural” breakthrough occurred. And even a big spontaneous breakthrough into a radically new perspective of freedom here and now might only be the beginning of a further evolutionary journey. Indeed, when we get serious, not only about waking up, but growing up spiritually, meaning reconfiguring and realigning our whole human incarnation to be a reflection of what we have most deeply seen and experienced, we will soon inevitably come up against the RC factor. What does that mean? Resistance to Change!

So what is the “Natural” response to that? Effort or no effort? Hmmm. If we are attached to the notion of “natural” equals “no effort” then the result may be that we habitually avoid that resistance and the people and situations that evoke it. We might keep the discomfort at bay by reminding ourselves “everything (including us!) is perfect as it is”. We may experience a relative sense of peace due to our acceptance of our self and life as it is, but inevitably our now spiritualized ego finds a comfortable self-created refuge from which to run the show. We might even think we have reached (or almost reached) the top of the spiritual mountain (if indeed there is a top!), when in fact we are safely ensconced on a bench with a tranquil view halfway up.

This is a very common trap, which many spiritual seekers get stuck in usually without even realizing it. This notion of spiritual awakening being a “natural” process also goes in tandem with the popular approach of “integrating” one’s spiritual path and awakening into the life one is already living. In my experience the true spiritual life only began when I realized it was the other way around—that I had to let go of control over “my” life so that Spirit could have its way. There is a quotation I heard recently from the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, which says “Those who are free because of gnosis become slaves because of love”. It struck me as so simple and so powerful because it points to a surrender in which one has let go of the reins, in which one is no longer weighing and measuring anymore whether there is effort or no effort.

Most of us in the West who pursue spiritual awakening are products of the alternative postmodern culture of narcissism, by which I mean that we put great emphasis and importance on how we feel. This unconscious narcissistic orientation dilutes the (r)evolutionary potency of genuine Enlightenment teachings, because when the call of impersonal love begins to emerge in consciousness it doesn’t always feel good. In fact it may make us feel profoundly uncomfortable and even terrified. Why? Because impersonal love demands that we not only know our Self but that we show our Self! And that call for transformation is going to put evolutionary pressure on any area in our psyche or life where we are still consciously or unconsciously holding on to control or some kind of self-image as a refuge.

For example, many Western spiritual teachers espouse ultimate truths such as there is "no-doer" in a context that often fosters self-acceptance and even nihilism rather than radical transformation. Their takeaway from the realization that they are “already free” is that “everything is perfect as it is”, “nothing really matters” and there is “nothing to do”. And of course this kind of message is very popular with those who want to “get enlightened” but don’t want to change (most of us!). And best of all, it feels so “natural”. But maybe it only feels natural because it doesn’t really challenge the ego much at all.

This is the trap of getting stuck in the absolute view. Of course when we realize that there is only one consciousness and that is who we are, that is the simple, radically liberating truth that frees us, to whatever degree, from the burden of separation and the deep conviction that there was something inherently wrong. But if we allow that revelation of liberation to infuse the relative dimension of our human individuality, world and universe as the equally real, created expression of that one consciousness, then the takeaway is very different. Why? Because we see that we exist, and have always existed, not only as the whole, but also as a part of the whole in which our individuated self is absolutely interrelated with all things.

Just as a pebble thrown into a pond sends waves across the water, we recognize that every action has an effect on the totality of existence. The reality of our identity as an expression of this absolute interdependence acts as a moral imperative. If we are pure of heart it leaves us with no option but endeavor to act in accordance with this “natural” order which reveals the extraordinary significance inherent in the consequences of all choices we make and all the actions we take.

Then we live in and with the great paradox: “nothing really matters” and yet, at the same time, “everything matters”, there is “nothing to do” and yet there is “so much to do”, “it is all perfect and yet it could be so much better”, “There is no doer” and yet “I am absolutely responsible for the consequences of my actions”. When we discover the big-heartedness to live with this great paradox the whole question of what is “natural” opens up to embrace effort and non-effort, “letting everything happen” and “making things happen”.

We may find ourselves acting with effortless freedom and spontaneity and at times we may find ourselves flooded by the passionate urgency of an impersonal love that literally commands us to “make something happen”. And then we may feel moved to expend great effort if necessary to transcend conditioned obstacles both internally and externally so as to bring something into manifestation that is a reflection of the screaming unity and goodness that we have realized.

So in the end Awakened Action transcends effort vs no effort, it only has to do with motive. It only has to do with where we are coming from. If there is purity of motive then we can say that it is “Natural” in the deepest sense of acting in alignment with the natural order of all things…even if it doesn’t always feel like it!

Read details about the next Evolution of Consciousness Course here.