Consciousness is like an iceberg – 90% of it is underwater,
invisible to the eye. Most of our behavior patterns, and the causes
of those behaviors, are automatic. The reasons for their occurrence
are below our conscious awareness (in the sub-conscious). Awakening
is the process of bringing what is below the conscious level up
into conscious awareness.
There are great benefits to awakening. When you
awaken from the sleep-like trance of automatic behaviors, you
feel more alive, you have more options at every moment, and you
can make new choices, enabling you to live the life you’ve
always wanted. You discover who you really are. You become free,
and can create your life more deliberately. Healing and love pour
into your life and your relationships. Life becomes a joy instead
of a struggle.
You can see your automaticity most easily when
you feel hurt, frustrated, abandoned or wronged. When these feelings
occur, most of us react with a sadness, anger, withdrawal, controlling
behavior, or a combination of these responses. These reactions
are sudden and automatic, as if they had been programmed. The
truth is, we have been programmed. Our strategies for dealing
with hurt or rejection are old patterns that were formed when
we were children. Most of them were determined by the time we
were five years old. As we grow up, we tend to continue to utilize
these same childhood patterns even though the circumstances have
changed. For example, when your spouse or love partner yells at
you, your first reaction will typically be the same behavior you
engaged in as a child when your mother or father yelled at you.
You may back away, shrink and withdraw, or you may lash out with
anger, get sullen, or become dismissive of their power over you.
Four major responses to being disempowered –
1) withdrawal, 2) rebellion, 3) manipulation, and 4) compliance.
These are examples of deeply set behavioral responses
that are triggered by the behavior of others. If you weren’t
busy reacting with automatic responses, you could choose from
a range of other options. When we react badly and blow up or withdraw,
we often feel guilty, knowing that we could have made a better
choice. We feel helpless because we “went on automatic.”
In order to free yourself from these patterns, what is required
is to look deeply into the pattern itself, bring it up to conscious
awareness, and take a series of steps that will free you to be
your best self – the person you know you can be.
Awakening is a multi-dimensional process, yet
there are seven distinct phases of the process. These phases often
Unconsciousness/ignorance/denial of automatic reactions and behavior
2) Recognition that something is wrong or missing; discovering
what it is.
3) Deciding that change is needed, and deciding to change (or
being forced to change)
4) Observation of the pattern; noticing the behaviors and seeing
5) Interception / Interruption of the automaticity of the behavior,
changing the reaction as it happens; beginning to achieve new
6) Understanding the underlying beliefs and triggers that cause
the behavior pattern; changing the beliefs; using the will to
stop and/or prevent it
7) Creating alternatives to choose from; achieving new life
An example of this progression was demonstrated
by one of my coaching clients. David was unhappy in his relationship.
His girlfriend Deborah was complaining constantly about his being
late for their dates. David was clear that it was Deborah’s
problem. Her standards for “being on time” were unrealistic.
Her constant complaints and criticism made him angry and caused
him to withdraw. He loved her, but he was fed up with her critical
nature. This was a good example of Phase 1 of the Awakening Process:
To initiate his process of awakening, I began
by asking David whether he had, in fact, made an agreement to
arrive for his date at a specific time. He said yes, and then
he began to tell me all the reasons why. I stopped him, and asked
whether he had, in fact, broken that agreement. Reluctantly, he
admitted that he had, but again justified his lateness with a
list of circumstances that often occurred, causing him to be later
than he intended. Traffic was bad. Errands took longer than expected.
Last minute requests at work delayed his leaving. He knew that
he held some responsibility for the problem, but he pointed to
his girlfriend, and to his circumstances, as cause in the matter.
I then asked David whether he had ever had the
experience of another person breaking a promise to him, or setting
his expectations and then disappointing him. He remembered many
such incidents with his father, who lived apart from the family.
His father would promise to pick David up at a specific time,
describing what they were going to do together on the weekend.
His father was usually late, and sometimes never showed up at
all. As he remembered these events, David’s sadness and
disappointment filled the room. He looked up and asked, “Is
this what I’m doing to my girlfriend? Am I making her feel
like this?” David had progressed to Phase 2: Recognition
that something was wrong, and needed changing.
To advance to each next stage, what is required
is more attention and awareness focused on the Self – both
the small self (or ego) which is the inner structure of our beliefs,
strategies, and behaviors constructed and set in motion during
our earliest years, and the larger Self which extends beyond the
ego and includes people around us, our environment, and the world
at large. Self-awareness begins with self-observation –
looking at our feelings and behaviors, and looking at the source
of those feelings and behaviors. This is like holding a flashlight
and directing it inward, to the core of ourselves, searching in
the darkness for lost treasures.
Most people believe that they are too busy for
self-observation, or that it would have no useful purpose. Their
attention is focused on the outer world, figuring out how to attract
attention, love, or the material goods they believe will make
them happy. And they are happy, for a moment or two, when those
things are gained. But dissatisfaction always seems to creep back
in. Maybe a new car will fix it, or a new boyfriend, or another
pair of shoes.
Self-awareness is hard work. It requires a measure
of both vulnerability and courage. Self-observation is a key element
in the process of awakening. A prisoner who doesn’t know
he is in prison can’t escape. A person who isn’t aware
that there is a problem can’t solve the problem.
David recognized that he was hurting Deborah’s
feelings. In that instant, he made the decision that he had to
change. He loved Deborah, and didn’t want to hurt her. Phase
3: Deciding to Change had been reached in only a few minutes of
conversation. I asked David to describe a typical “late”
situation in detail. This began Phase 4: Observation of the Pattern.
He described situations that are typical in our busy lives: he
promised to pick Deborah up at 7:00 pm, but there were emergencies
at the office. His suit needed to be picked up from the laundry.
Traffic was a mess, crawling along at 5 miles per hour. He finally
reached Deborah’s house, but was nearly an hour late. He
was flustered. He knew that she was already angry. And of course,
she was. Deborah was furious because she felt that he didn’t
care enough about her to be on time. She felt disrespected. Needless
to say, the dual emotional charge and their reactions put a severe
damper on their evening, which was supposed to be a time to be
together and enjoy each other’s company.
David could see that his behavior pattern was causing real damage
to their relationship.
We began to explore the underlying causes of the
pattern. We checked into his intentions and his motivations. Did
he really want to be on time? Was he trying to “get back”
at her, for some reason, or was he trying to re-assert control?
What was more important, his relationship or his work? Did he
really want the relationship to deepen, or to end? This inquiry
was valuable for David. Some of his answers came readily, because
he was certain about those things. But he had not consciously
considered some of the larger questions. Often, people are afraid
to ask the larger questions of life (Who am I? What am I doing
here? What is important to me?) because they can rock our world,
or de-stabilize our comfortable circumstances, but these are key
areas of exploration on the path to awakening.
Since every problem has both inner causes and
outer circumstances, we explored some workable options –
pragmatic changes that David could test to see whether it was
possible to shift his pattern of being late. The changes we came
up with included: 1) leaving work a little earlier, 2) getting
errands done during his lunch hour, and 3) setting more realistic
expectations by adjusting the time for the date, to a time he
could be counted on to make.
Old patterns continue to re-assert themselves,
especially in the face of a good intention to change them. Consequently,
it is important to strengthen the muscles of the will, just as
we exercise our muscles in the gym, one step at a time. David’s
good intentions were also his greatest weakness. He had difficulty
saying “No” to the hundred things that could distract
him from his goal – which in this case was to be on time.
This is the difficult and sometimes painful work of Phase 7: Interception
/ Interruption. It requires regular practice, and some failures,
and continual re-commitment to the goal.
I gave David a coaching assignment for the week
to come: “Continue to observe your own behavior, interrupting
the pattern whenever possible. Stay focused on your goal of being
on time, and don’t let distractions interfere with your
intention. Intercept the old pattern when you see it emerging,
and interrupt it by saying “No.” See what if feels
like to achieve a different result.”
The following week, David reported that he had
been successful at arriving on time three out of four evenings.
Deborah was thrilled with this change, and she told him that she
could now give him room to be late “every once in awhile.”
By becoming aware of his behavior pattern, he had given himself
new options. When a last minute workplace requests came across
his desk, he was able to sit back for a moment, take a breath,
and remember his intention. From that place, he was able to say
“No” when he normally would have said “Yes.”
He realized that a lot of his resentment at work was rooted in
his old pattern of saying “Yes” without considering
his own needs. David told me that he decided to stop checking
his email “one last time” before he left the office,
which enabled him to get out of the office on time. He decided
to pick up his laundry during lunchtime instead of waiting until
after work. He adjusted his drive time expectations by predicting
heavy traffic, rather than being surprised by it. David had moved
himself, with practice, through Phase 5. Through the exercise
of his will and expanding his awareness, he had changed that automatic
patterns, given himself new options, and restored his loving relationship
with Deborah. When a woman trusts her man, she can open more deeply
There were two more phases of the Awakening Process to go. In
our next coaching session, I asked David “What beliefs might
be underneath these behaviors?” He quickly identified the
belief he had learned from his father: “It’s not important
whether you keep your agreements about showing up.” I asked
a deeper question: “What is the belief at the center of
that, beneath that one?” He saw it clearly: “I’m
not important.” I then asked, “What did you decide
about the world from that painful place?” He responded,
“If I’m not important, than nobody else is, either.”
In a sudden epiphany, David saw that this childhood belief, and
the hurt at its core, were the root of many of the problems he
was experiencing in his life. This is Phase 6: Understanding –
the core of awakening process. He recognized that this old belief,
still operating below the surface, was destructive. Although it
was useful when he was a child, serving to protect him from pain,
it no longer served his life.
I asked David, “Would you like to keep that
belief, or trade it in on a new belief?” He chose to trade
it in. “What belief would serve you now? What belief would
be helpful to hold in its place?” David created the belief,
“I honor myself and others by keeping my agreements and
showing up on time.” When he took this in, he felt wonderful
– empowered and happy. This is true transformation. This
was Phase 7: Creating Alternatives and achieving new life.
David had become aware of the problem and the
pattern of automatic behavior that was causing it. He awoke to
the damage he had caused, and made the decision to change. Through
self-observation, he opened up new options, and learned that he
could shift his behavior. By getting to the root beliefs beneath
the surface, he was able to change the entire pattern in his life.
Through practice and continued self-observation, he will continue
to strengthen his will. He will make mistakes from time to time,
and may backslide once in awhile, but the Process of Awakening
is a one-way journey toward becoming more aware. Once the iceberg
has come out of the water, it’s hard to forget that it’s
If you know of a pattern of behavior that is causing damage in
your life, you can take yourself or others through these seven
phases. To achieve any goal, you must dedicate sufficient attention
to it. To change any automatic behavior pattern, you must dedicate
sufficient self-observation, bringing it to the conscious level.
This is the process of awakening – one step at a time.