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Imagine You're Enlightened

To explore the process of embodying an awake personality, we can start with something noncontroversial, namely, awake compassion. (Strange as it may seem, you can actually use any personality in this exercise. They all work. We’ll come back to that later. For now, we’ll work with awake compassion.)

Awake Compassion

We all know what unawake compassion looks like: persistent caretaking that can cross over into tyranny; a compulsion to rescue or help that ignores appropriate boundaries; a pitying attitude that masks feelings of superiority; or a blind naivetŽ that fails to see what is helpful or harmful.

Instead, imagine being completely awake and present and, at the same time, embodying compassion. Imagine how you go about your day. How do you walk? How do you sit? When you see your spouse or children in the morning, how do you greet them? How do you prepare for the day? How do you drive to work? When you converse with people, how do you listen, how do you speak? What happens in you when you see another person being mean or unpleasant? What happens when you see them succeeding in their lives? What happens when you see someone in pain or struggling?

Reflect on these questions during your formal meditation sessions and during your day. What comes up for you? In this approach, it’s good to begin with the body reactions, the sensations that come up in your body when you consider being awake compassion. Then include emotional sensations. Only when you can rest in the physical and emotional sensations should you include all the stories and associations connected with being awake compassion.

As you work with these reflections, at first you may feel a release from family, social, or professional constraints and a clarity that allows you to connect with and help others openly and naturally. After the initial opening, the quality of attention often drops a level and you may become aware of other voices and other reactions. Does your body tense up? Do you feel contractions around your heart, in your stomach, in your jaw? Do you feel alone, exposed, or helpless, as if nothing can protect you from the pain of the world? Maybe you discover that you don’t really want to be present with another’s pain. Maybe you withdraw or adopt a posture of pity, feeling sorry for those who suffer, so that a subtle sense of superiority separates you from them. Maybe you feel that there are no boundaries. Maybe you feel a terrible loneliness because you have to help everyone and there is no one for you to turn to.

Just as in regular meditation, return to attention, return to being awake compassion. Remember, you are completely awake and you see everything through the eyes of compassion. Let this feeling permeate your body, your emotions, and your heart. You have infinite resources to open and respond to the pain of others. You know nothing of tiredness or fatigue. You see into the workings of the world. You don’t have to withdraw from pain or difficulty. You are clear, direct, sympathetic, insightful, wise, or responsive — whatever you need to be — in each and every situation you encounter. You do not fear the pain of the world. You don’t need to fix it or make it go away. You can be with the pain, no matter how bad or terrible it is.

As awake compassion, you experience no separation. You know that the apparent division of experience between “I” and “the world” is a misperception and that even the subtlest sense of superiority is a further delusion. Instead, you are present, and you let the pain in the world tell you where the imbalance is. You know the imbalance so deeply that you know what, if anything, needs to be done, and you know how to do it.

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