awake it's your turn

Awake: It’s Your Turn by Angelo Dilullo (Book Summary)

Awakening is a great paradox. A topic that is both difficult to put into words and difficult not to speak on. We cannot say what awakening is but if no one spoke on it we may not know such a possibility exists. For thousands of years spiritual teachers have used words to point us towards something that is beyond conceptualization. One of the most skilled pointers in today’s world that I have come across is Angelo Dilullo. A physician by day and an awakening teacher by night, in paradoxical fashion I call him – the Anesthesiolgist who wakes people up. His book “Awake: It’s Your Turn” skillfully details the awakening process. In this post, I synthesize the top insights from his book. 

All sentences in quotations are direct quotes from the book and are fully credited to Angelo Dilullo.

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What is Awakening?

  • “Awakening could never be explained or described accurately, and that is particularly good news.”
  • “A practical way to describe what occurs during an awakening is to say that it’s a shift in identity.”
  • “Until awakening occurs, we continuously and without noticing it, take ourselves and our experience to be defined by thoughts and concepts.” 
  • “Any and every description we use to describe who and what we are is a thought!”
  • “The most salient feature of awakening is that it is self-validating. This self-validating nature is somewhat paradoxical. Before awakening, it is exceedingly hard to describe what I mean by self-validating, yet afterwards it becomes exquisitely clear. The awake nature itself is the most real thing there is. By the mere experience of it, one knows instinctually that it is far more real than the illusory world they had been living in before awakening.”
  • “Awakening and realization is ultimately about living your life in uninterrupted peace.”
  • “Peace is not the absence of anger, sadness, or discord. It is full acceptance of these and all other experiences with no resistance whatsoever.”
  • “Awakening means waking up from the imprisoning paradigm that some things are good, and some things are bad. That paradigm is rooted in the delusion of separation and causes a near-constant seeking of some experiences and a simultaneous rejection of other experiences.”
  • “There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with life. There is no you apart from everything. There is no separation anywhere. Nothing needs correction.”


What Awakening isn’t

  • “An awakening doesn’t suddenly occur the moment you’ve collected enough information and descriptions to finally understand what it is. It simply doesn’t work this way.”
  • “Awakening is not a new way of looking at life. Awakening is not adopting any belief system. Awakening is not a spiritual or religious practice. Awakening is not about someone else.”
  • “Awakening is not about getting everything you want. Awakening is not about changing your lifestyle. Awakening is not a way to get “one up” on anyone else. Awakening is not a way of avoiding emotions or escaping life. Awakening is not a way to get magical powers.”  
  • “Awakening seems like an event. It isn’t.”
  • “If we interpret progression to mean that awakening and realization are linear processes with a definite point of departure and a definite destination, then we are mistaken.”


Other Misconceptions about Awakening 

  • “It is a common perception that to wake up we would have to abandon life as usual and dedicate ourselves to decades of contemplation or meditation in a secluded environment such as a monastery or temple. This turns out not to be true at all.”
  • “The most deeply realized people I know are not monastics, priests, monks, or nuns. They are living among us with outwardly ordinary lives.” 
  • “Stressful environments and challenging interpersonal situations add the necessary texture to bring out deeply buried resistance patterns that can be quite hard to see in a life dedicated solely to quiet contemplation.” 


Barriers to Awakening 

  • “It’s quite common that when we get a taste of unfiltered reality, or vivid presence, we get quite excited about it. We usually conclude, “Whatever I have to do to get some more of that, I’m going to do.” The logical next step is to find a path. So we start to read all the information we can find about awakening and enlightenment. We believe that if we can find the most efficient path, the best path, the highest path, we will surely accomplish our goal. We compare teachers. We compare systems and traditions. We compare descriptions written by enlightened people. We might even engage in ongoing discussions and arguments with others about which path is the right path, which map is the most accurate map, and so on. However, this preoccupation with information and data gathering about awakening that I’m referring to can go far beyond curiosity. It can become almost an obsession for the right person and in the right circumstances. When we’re engaged in this obsessive data gathering and analysis activity, we usually have ourselves convinced that this is the best way of waking up. “If I can just know more about this subject than anyone else, then I will surely wake up!””
  • “We as a society place tremendous value on knowledge. Of course, in and of itself, knowledge is a wonderful tool, yet it is still a tool. And when it comes to waking up, all the knowledge in the world will get us exactly nowhere.”
  • “When the mind-identification apparatus senses it is being probed and brought into the light, it can set defense mechanisms into motion to prevent further investigation.”
  • “These defense mechanisms can take several forms. A common one is an old magician’s trick: distraction and redirection.”
  • “Another common defense mechanism is to raise a strong cognitive objection. You might want to argue with the material or argue with me.”
  • “The third and probably most potent mechanism is the use of intense emotions. These intense emotions can come with or without a context. Sometimes fear can come out of nowhere. Sometimes anger will show up. You might suddenly find yourself afraid to read on, or angry at the content, or even angry at me. Alternatively, you might feel these raw emotions with no particular target of blame. 
  • “A further trick we play on ourselves is forgetting that it is a choice to be in the house of mirrors in the first place. We’ve become identified with the thought system itself, meaning we feel compelled to defend its integrity and thus walk deeper and deeper into the house of mirrors that is made up of thought and belief.”
  • “A thought can’t know reality directly because a thought is a reflection of reality. A thought is a master of misdirection. It is like a magician manipulating your attention.”
  • “The first trick is to get your attention. The thought has to make you believe it’s important. There are many ways this happens, but the salient point is that it always uses what works on you.”
  • “Our nervous systems are wired such that anything (including a thought) that causes a shift in our attention, especially accompanied by an emotional response, will be reinforced through strengthening of neural pathways. This means that thoughts that get our attention and cause emotional reactions will be repeated preferentially over thoughts that don’t. So the more attention we give a certain thought, the more likely that thought is to recur to get our attention!”
  • “The second trick the magician of the mind uses is to redirect your attention to the next thought. As we discussed, a single thought has no real internal substance, and seeing that clearly, we would lose interest pretty quickly. So our mind-magician uses the trick of redirection to redirect our attention to the next thought.”
  • “If the mind only had that one trick up its sleeve, then you would realize pretty quickly how uncomfortable it is to distance yourself from the enjoyment and immediacy of presence.”
  • “Is it possible to build an ego around career, position, and accomplishment that can make awakening more challenging? Sure.”
  • “I have met people who have serious aspirations of realizing their deepest truth, but they continually overfill and overmanage their lives to the point where they undermine their own drive for realization.”
  • “We can use the excuse of being overcommitted or generally busy to avoid feeling emotions in a natural and spontaneous way.”
  • “I will generally caution against trying to teach people about or facilitate awakening until that occurs. Deciding to teach or facilitate too early has much more potential to cause you distraction than it does to support your progress.”


Spiritual Materialism 

  • “It is more common to use spirituality as an excuse to run away from our responsibilities or to avoid acknowledging truths that we find to be inconvenient or uncomfortable. Everyone has this tendency to some degree, but for some people, this is a prominent distortion in their life. Without recognizing this misunderstanding, we can be derailed for many years without realizing it.”
  • “Zen stink is the belief that you are somehow superior to those “unenlightened people” who have not experienced, glimpsed, or realized what you have. This can occur at the conscious and/or the unconscious level. None of us wants to see ourselves as egocentric or having delusions of grandiosity, so this can be hard to detect in ourselves.”
  • “Without exception, we will all build a sort of “spiritual ego” as a byproduct of being engaged in the process of awakening. Depending on our personality, conditioning, and experiences, it might present itself in subtle ways or it might present itself in overt and overarching ways. On the extreme end of that spectrum are those that get a “taste” of realization and go on about the business of “saving the world” with a sort of messiah complex.”
  • “Regarding Mystical experiences…..Also, if you move in spiritual circles, watch that you don’t subtly or not so subtly use these experiences as spiritual currency with others.
  • “It is tempting and common to wear experiences as badges of honor, subtly competing with others or trying to impress others with our spiritual adeptness or accomplishment. This will not help you awaken. It is actually counter to the movement of awakening because it is really just reinforcing the false identity by spiritualizing it.”
  • “It is also possible to underemphasize the importance of progression and stages of realization. This can take a few different forms. One common form is mistaking a spiritual lifestyle for awakening. We might adopt a spiritual lifestyle that may include an individual spiritual identity, and/or an identity tied into a specific spiritual group or community. We then mistake that lifestyle for the drive to awaken.”
  • ”The other way we underemphasize the progression aspect of awakening is by spiritual bypassing. To directly explore this phenomenon, consider the following statements: “Enlightenment is life exactly as it is.” “There’s nowhere to go and nothing to attain.” “When there is no seeking, reality is naturally revealed.” “There’s no such thing as awakening; there is only life.” “Integration is what matters, not awakening.” “You should embrace your personal story, not abandon it.” “Trying to transcend anything is spiritual bypassing.””
  • “Any one of these statements, taken in the right context and by the right person, can purvey a lot of truth. It may be exactly what that person needs to hear in that moment. On the contrary, if you find yourself holding these types of beliefs, genuinely believing that a profound and fundamental transformation defined by a shift in identity doesn’t exist or that by orienting yourself to awakening you would be abandoning the immediate truth of your life, you are selling yourself a bill of goods.
  • “We can conveniently use teachings such as the ones listed above to convince ourselves that we don’t really have to face our willing unconsciousness and the fact that we perpetuate self-centeredness, greed, and ignorance at various levels. It’s a way of avoiding the discomfort, fear, and grief that is inherent in thoroughgoing realization.”
  • “This can manifest as a person building a “spiritual persona” consisting of spiritual beliefs, communication patterns, and interests. While the heart of this interest in spirituality may be genuine, there is an unconscious but persistent part of us that is using this persona to project a more peaceful version of ourselves that is less than authentic.”


How Awakening Changes Identity 

  • “Once identity shifts from thoughts to the source of thoughts, a dramatic transformation in the way you relate to reality has taken place.”
  • “After awakening, we have little ability or desire to define ourselves. This is because we feel the natural fluidity and interconnection of all of life.”
  • “The sense of isolation and feeling of needing to defend ourselves is considerably diminished.
  • “We come to this strange and marvelous place where we are finally truly settled about the problem of who we are and how we fit into life, and yet we can’t say a darn thing about it.”


Pre-Awakening (Mystical States VS Awakening) 

  • “A foretaste is like that initial glimpse on steroids. These occurrences can be so remarkable and all-encompassing experientially, that you think you’re enlightened for a few hours. You could say that they are as close as you can get to awakening without any transformation of identity.”
  • “Foretastes vary considerably in their quality and duration. There is also a wide variation in how people interpret them. Many people consider them sacred or mystical experiences. Others consider them odd or unexplainable happenings.”
  • “Second, a foretaste should never be interpreted as awakening itself. I have met many people who refer to an event they call their “awakening,” and after talking with them for a few moments, it’s pretty clear they are referring to a foretaste or another type of experience. Some foretastes can be quite extraordinary, including visions, states of ecstasy, and mystical union experiences. They are all valid in their own right. However, interpreting them as awakenings can lead to a lot of misunderstanding and even become a roadblock if one gives these events too much attention.” 
  • “So, what should we do about foretastes if and when they occur? First of all, remind yourself that they are a good sign that transformation is at hand. Even if they seem confusing or out of place, nothing has gone wrong. Also remember you don’t need them for awakening to happen, nor should you go looking for them as a sign of progress. For some they are obvious, for others they aren’t.”
  • “When you start to open yourself to deeper truths, you will inevitably touch into experiences of interconnectedness or expansive mystical states. This is not yet awakening; however, you will instinctually know that you have come upon something more foundational and real than anything you had previously encountered in your life.”
  • “Mistaking a spiritual or mystical experience for awakening can be used to reinforce a false identity, rather than allowing a shift to occur, which breaks us free of our false identities.”
  • “So then, how should you think about or view these pre-awakening experiences? Well, the simplest and most practical advice is this: If they do occur, don’t make a big deal about them.”
  • “While having a deeply moving experience, such as falling in love, observing powerful art, having sex, experiencing the sublimity of nature, or even taking a hallucinogenic drug, there is an experience of expansion or unity. After “coming down” from that experience, not only is that indescribably pleasant experience gone, it has been replaced by a sense of isolation, grief, or anxiety.”


How Awakening Happens (The work)

  • “What this really comes down to is recognizing and reversing the ways in which we habitually reject life at various levels through perceptual distortion.”
  • “Open to the possibility of making space for “doing nothing” in your life.”
  • “At first, just begin to recognize when a moment presents itself to sit and relax and let attention come into the direct experience of what is happening.” 
  • “There will be some discomfort that goes along with this undertaking. There is no getting around this. It will never be unbearable, but at times your thoughts might tell you it is.”
  • “Over time you will start to recognize that you have an innate capacity to relax into whatever the body is feeling in the moment. With this relaxation, you may notice an alchemical process. The restlessness and discomfort will begin to transform into an experience of presence and wholeness.”
  • “An intuitive realization might dawn—the discomfort itself was not what was making us distractible, restless, and irritable. These were only side effects of the habitual activity of running from our emotions.”
  • “Transmission is a term for inducing a direct insight into something that could never be conveyed through information.”
  • “This can happen in a few different ways. One is that it can take place relationally. This means that hearing and vibing with someone’s description of going through this process can induce and encourage similar processes in you.”
  • “A second way this transmission can occur is through direct pointing. This is a way of using language very purposefully to induce experiential insight in you.”
  • “The third method of transmission is the most important. That is, you can learn various strategies and inquiries to investigate directly for yourself.
  • “The starting place is always where you are when you are being fully honest with yourself. Why? Because life is authentic. Life is simply what it is, and it makes no excuses for that. It is not embarrassed about any part of itself. Life never holds back. Life doesn’t second-guess itself.”
  • “Be patient. Simply wanting to feel peace won’t get you there. That’s just more thought-stuff. Wanting is about not allowing.”
  • “The more authentic, present, and willing to feel uncomfortable emotions someone is, the faster they wake up.” 
  • “Having an uncomfortable or distressing experience after having a direct taste of reality doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for awakening or that you’ve made a mistake. It means that the process is working.”
  • “When we come into contact with living truth, there is often an expansion of consciousness and a momentary dissolving of the sense of being a discrete, separate, isolated being. I’ll call this the “expansion” phase.” 
  • “The next thing that usually happens (but doesn’t have to) is that consciousness contracts back down and we are suddenly faced with resistance patterns and challenging emotions.”
  • “If I were to give the expansion movement a voice, it would say something like, “This is how unfiltered reality actually is.” Then the contraction movement would say “And this is what’s preventing you from experiencing unfiltered reality on an ongoing basis.” 
  • “Much of the awakening process is about letting go. Of course, stated in the usual way it sounds like letting go is an entirely voluntary process. It isn’t. The more we let go of what we think we want, the more we have access to what we really want.” 
  • “The more we let go of seemingly “positive” beliefs about ourselves, the more we find that we don’t suffer cognitive dissonance when we find that we don’t always live up to our own ideals.”
  • “As we work at investigating our true nature, it can feel as if we are trying to overcome some flaw or correct some error. This is not the case.”
  • “Ultimately, we realize that suffering ends when we stop trying to end suffering.” 
  • “Interaction with liberated teachers will dramatically accelerate the process of awakening.”
  • “Ultimately, the process of awakening and deepening realization is about dissolving beliefs. There are no rules to how this occurs. Some people take up investigating beliefs as their central practice. Others primarily use meditation, contemplation, self-inquiry, or devotional practices, and the dissolution of beliefs occurs naturally.”


Effort Vs Non-Effort 

  • “Investigating our deepest truths will require some effort on our part.
  • “A common belief that often goes unexamined is the belief that we must work insanely hard and/or with machine-like consistency to wake up.”
  • “There will be times when you had planned to meditate or practice, and then it doesn’t happen for one reason or another. There will be times when you feel disciplined and practice seems to just flow along blissfully. There will be times when you feel hopelessly unfocused and distracted. There is no need to make a judgement about yourself due to any of these conditions. Just recognize that everything in nature is in flux and that this is all quite natural.”
  • “When it feels like you have to exert quite a bit of effort. This is okay. There will be times when you feel like relinquishment is the only thing that feels natural for you to do. In these moments, it will feel as if all practice, effort, and desire has become fruitless and exhausting. This is also okay. These fluctuations are all part of the natural process”.
  • “At some point you will start to recognize there is a magical place where effort and effortlessness meet. In this place it will be clear that in certain moments, applying effort is where true effortlessness can be found.”


Questions to ask yourself on the path towards Awakening  

  • “What are you when you don’t think about yourself, or your past, or your future?”
  • ”What is more important to me: being right and knowing everything about awakening or actually waking up? If I could only have one or the other, which would I choose?”
  • “If I could wake up but awakening meant that no one would ever know that it had happened to me, and I couldn’t relate it to anyone, would I still want it?”
  • “Would I prefer a life where I knew everything about awakening, and people thought I was enlightened and smart, but I never actually experienced true awakening?”
  • “What do I think it will provide me to know the best strategies, maps, and teachings about enlightenment?“
  • “What do I fear will happen if I stop collecting data about awakening and realization?” 
  • “What would it feel like to let go of all of my accumulated knowledge about spirituality and awakening?”
  •  “How would I be perceived if I didn’t know anything about awakening or spirituality by those who know a lot about it?” “How would that feel?”
  • “What is reality like when the paradigm of identity that interfaces with reality has completely disappeared?”
  • “What is actually here when we don’t take reference from reflective consciousness as to how reality is experienced?” 
  • What happens in my experience right now when I recognize that this time-based story is one single thought occurring right now?”
  • What is a thought? If someone who had never experienced a thought asked you this question, how would you respond if you were trying to be as accurate as possible?
  • How much freedom would there be if you were to release yourself from the apparent need to defend your beliefs, views, and positions?