Awaken 101 Prologue

"All the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake."

- Pema Chödrön

This book is about awakening our minds and hearts so that we might discover and experience what it means to be fully human. Indeed, waking up is the biggest job, as well as the biggest opportunity, that we each face as human beings.

Beginnings—Christopher Uhl:

This struggle to make sense of my life was compounded by the policies and priorities of my country. For example, in tenth grade, it seemed crazy to me that the U.S. was spending tens of billions of dollars on a race to the moon when that money could have been used to save the lives of the millions of children, worldwide, who were dying of hunger and malnutrition.

A few years later, the craziness was focused directly on me when I was told that I had to register for the draft. This meant that my government now had the authority to order me to go to Vietnam to murder teen-age boys who, simultaneously, were being ordered by their government to kill the likes of me…

This existential dilemma served as a wake-up call, prompting me to begin to assume authorship of my life by questioning my country’s values. This meant summoning the courage to formulate counter-cultural questions like:
Why does our government believe that amassing weapons and waging war is a viable path for fostering peace among nations?
Why does our culture condition us to believe that spending our life energy working in the pursuit of more and more money will bring genuine meaning and purpose to our lives? · How is that we have come to equate perpetual economic growth, with its associated unbridled consumerism and environmental havoc, with progress?

The more that I sat with these, and related, questions, the more I came to realize that the answers that my culture offered failed to align with the answers arising from within me.

In my experience, AWAKENING becomes possible, as we summon the courage to ask uncomfortable questions. For example, I can trace this book’s origins to my teen years when I began to wrestle with coming-of-age questions like: Who am I? Why am I here? What’s my purpose? My high school teachers tended to frown on this sort of introspection, warning me that to be successful in life I needed to be practical. This meant playing it safe by going to college and picking a major that would guarantee me a well-paying job. But the mandate to “be practical” seemed like a prescription for a life centered on fear and conformity rather than one sparked by passion and purpose.  

Beginnings—Melissa DiJulio:

From before I was born, in the early 1990s, it was already an accepted fact by many in the scientific community that human beings were causing far-reaching and possibly irreparable damage to our planet Earth, as well as to each other. Growing up, the possibility of both human extinction and the total collapse of the biosphere was a palpable weight on me, especially as things continued to get worse instead of better.

Today, it appears that the responsibility to fix the mess we have created falls, primarily, to the younger generations—i.e., to those in their teens, twenties, thirties and forties. But how is positive change even possible when so many of us younger people are stuck in the belief that we are powerless to make a difference?  Meanwhile, the imperative to grow faster and faster and consume more and more continues unabated, further exacerbating the mess in which we find ourselves.

If it truly falls to the younger generations to address the crises now threatening our very survival as a species, then we will need set aside previously held mindsets and behaviors and pursue a new path, forged with new sensibilities and requiring a new consciousness.

But stepping beyond the status quo will not be easy. I have certainly struggled in my own life to leave behind the safety of pragmatism and embrace the greater aliveness that comes with authenticity, especially when my interests tended toward the, seemingly, impractical, like becoming a writer or pursuing a master’s degree in Transpersonal Eco-psychology. Still, to this day, I sometimes worry that my path is unrealistic and that I might even come to regret my choices. Yet, being practical often feels like it requires giving up essential parts of myself in order for me to fit into what my culture tells me I must do to become a “successful adult” and I refuse to do this.

I know that I am not alone. There are others today, both young and old, who are also refusing to conform to a system that is, too often, bereft of meaning and purpose. Together, we are seeking a path of authenticity, trusting that somewhere, deep inside of all of us, there is a soulful part that calls us to awaken and discover our destiny and the gift, no matter how humble, that is ours to give to the world. To heed this call is to begin to live in a way that is wakeful and deeply interconnected with the rest of life. In so doing, we shake ourselves loose from the comfortable, but ultimately deadening, status quo, so that we might become fully alive and fully human.

Stepping Stones Toward Awakening

In my (Christopher) role as a college professor for the past thirty years, I have been a daily witness to the anxiety, confusion, loneliness, and pain that young people experience, coming of age in these daunting times. Their emotional charge shows up in their eyes: sad eyes, frightened eyes, anxious eyes, expectant eyes, tired eyes. Eyes that plead: “Just tell me that I am OK, that I am enough. Tell me what I need to do, what I need to know, so I can find genuine fulfillment in life. Guide me toward what truly matters. Give me some stepping stones.”

'This book is an effort to offer such stepping stones. It challenges readers to experience their lives, not as spectators, but as reflective, courageous, and purposeful participants. Organized as a five-part journey, it explores, both cognitively and experientially, what it might mean to become fully alive and robustly human in these increasingly uncertain times. Here is a quick preview:

Part 1—Waking Up: We are all, to varying degrees, asleep. This is true for me, you, the store clerk, the college athlete, and the big shot CEO. Even our greatest wisdom teachers are perpetually in the process of waking up because there is always room for greater awareness, greater compassion, greater humility, greater love. Waking up is our main job, our shared calling in life. But how will we awaken if we don’t know that we're asleep? And what would it even mean to wake up? The six stepping stones in Part 1 provide the groundwork for beginning to live these questions.  

Part 2—Breakdown—Stepping into the Unknown: When our lives are no longer working—perhaps because we're stuck in a life-sapping routine or confused about our life’s purpose—we experience Breakdown. In so far as Breakdown heralds a crisis of identity, it can be frightening. At the same time, it can set the stage for self-discovery. The six stepping stones in Part 2—through stories, provocations, and case studies—will invite you to explore the catalytic role that Breakdown can play in personal awakening.

Part 3—A Curriculum for Waking Up: In today’s conventional school settings, the curriculum is mostly centered on providing the cognitive tools deemed necessary to meet the needs of our economy. Meanwhile, what often goes missing are the skills, attitudes, and dispositions that contribute to self-knowledge and human flourishing. The seven stepping stones in Part 3 address this void by offering perspectives essential for becoming open-minded, imaginative, playful, introspective, and soulful human beings.  

Part 4—Awakening in Action: It’s one thing to read about and reflect on awakening (as we invite you to do in Parts 1-3), but quite another to consider adopting lifestyle changes that have the potential to trigger awakening in your daily life. This is the challenge we offer through Part 4’s six stepping stones.    

Part 5—Personal and Cultural Transformation: Whether we choose to be aware of it or not, we have all been born into a culturally mediated narrative that shapes our understanding of our life’s meaning and purpose. Ideally, this story would call forth our best or highest selves; but today our dominant narrative often does just the opposite by engendering fear, greed, and alienation. This book’s final stepping stones demonstrate how those choosing to awaken can act as pioneers in giving birth to a new cultural story—one that showcases what it means to be in open-hearted relationship with Self, Other, and World—i.e., what it means to be fully human.

As you read this book, we invite you to have a notebook or journal by your side so that you can record your insights and awakenings as you engage with the book’s exercises, prompts, and provocations.

Now, if you are ready, please take three deep breaths: the first to notice and release any tension that you might be holding; the second to open your body and mind to what is to come; and the third to join this present moment.