The Awakening Human Being
Interview with Barbara Berger by Tim Ray
(This article appeared in the Danish lifestyle magazine “Liv & Sjæl” in December 2009)
Barbara Berger’s new book “The Awakening Human Being – a Guide to the Power of Mind” presents the essence of her lifelong exploration of the nature of mind and consciousness. What does it mean to be awake? How do you wake up? And why should anyone want to be awake? And what is the connection between “The Awakening Human Being” and Barbara’s previous books like her bestseller “The Road to Power – Fast Food for the Soul” which is now published in 30 languages? These are some of the questions I asked Barbara one sunny afternoon in Copenhagen.
Question: What do you mean by “being awake”?
“Well it’s really very simple – and yet it seems to be the most difficult thing in the world for most of us to do. By waking up I mean, seeing reality as it actually is instead of getting lost in our stories about what life should or could be. When we wake up, we wake up to reality. We wake up to what actually is. When we wake up, we actually see and experience what is right in front of our noses – we experience this – with no filter.
“Unfortunately most of us never actually do this. Most of us are living in a dream world – a world that is 100% imaginary – a world that is made up of our thoughts. And of course you can say – so what? What’s wrong with that? And well there’s nothing wrong with this unless your stories are making you unhappy.
“Because of course here’s the crux of the matter. Reality, this moment, what is, just is what it is. Always perfect whole and complete and always exactly as it should be. How do I know that reality is exactly as it should be? Because it is…! We don’t have a choice here.
“We only have problems when our thoughts and stories are so different from reality that we are actually resisting what is. When we resist what is, we suffer. The moment we resist this moment, we feel bad. This is the only suffering. If you didn’t resist this moment (whatever is happening) you would feel fine. And this is always true, even though for most of us, this is a pretty radical concept. (In fact, this is so radical that it is something most of us can meditate on for the rest of our lives!)
“So this is one of the things you find out when you start to wake up to reality. You start to see that yes – there is what is – and then there are your stories about what’s going on. You might have major resistance to what’s going on – or just a little resistance. But if you look closely, you will probably discover (unless you are enlightened) that yes, there’s usually a pretty big difference between reality (what’s actually going on) and your thoughts and stories. And this difference – this resistance to what is – is what makes us miserable – not reality. Why is this so? Because we can only experience our thoughts – that’s the way life works. We only experience our thinking (whatever our thinking is) – we never experience reality directly. Until of course we wake up!
“When you discover this, when you actually begin to “see” and understand this mechanism, you are starting to wake up. And that’s what my new book is about. The book is about this process of waking up – and about what happens when we start to see that yes there probably is a big difference between our thinking and reality… Because the ramifications of this discovery are quite big – quite far-reaching. And when you see this, you also understand that up until now you’ve been living in a dream. That you were not really present, here and now.
“And that’s how it all starts. You get glimpses of reality from your sleep state. At least that’s my experience. And you start to see how seldom you are really present in this now moment. It’s really quite amazing. And then sometimes you really are present in this now moment – and that too is amazing.”
“To sum it all up, I present the following five basic observations in the book:
1) The nature of mind is that thoughts arise and disappear.
2) There is often a difference between reality and our thinking.
3) There is a cause-and-effect relationship between our thinking and our experience. Thought is cause, experience is effect.
4) Unhappiness and suffering arise when our thinking is out of harmony with reality. In other words, we suffer when our thinking (thoughts) and reality do not match.
5) We can end our unhappiness and suffering (and experience more peace and happiness) by bringing our thinking back into harmony with reality.
Question: When you start to see that there’s a difference between reality (what actually is) and your thinking, what can you do when you discover that your thinking doesn’t match reality?
“If your thinking makes you happy, well then there’s no problem right? Just enjoy the movie right! But if your thinking makes you unhappy, afraid or worried, there are several things you can do. In my new book, I offer a wide range of tools you can use to bring your focus and your thinking more into harmony with reality. But basically there are 3 main options (all of which are discussed in detail in the book).
1) Witness: You can just witness your thoughts and stories. You can just step back and watch the thoughts come and go and realize since you are the one who is watching and witnessing these thoughts (or stories), you can’t be the thoughts or the story. Meditation is a good way to do this. Meditation helps us see the illusory nature of all our thoughts.
2) Question: You can question the thoughts or stories. You can ask yourself – is this true? Is this story true? Or is it just some fairy tale about a future I can know nothing about? In other words, when you are having thoughts that make you afraid or unhappy, you can ask yourself if what you are thinking is true. A good way to do this is to first write the stressful thoughts down on a piece of paper and then question them using the Work of Byron Katie. I find her method extremely effective when it comes to dealing with our catastrophic thinking.
3) Change your focus: Since we get to experience whatever we are thinking about and since whatever we focus our attention on grows in our experience, we can deal with stressful thinking by changing our focus. In other words, you can change your experience by substituting another thought or thoughts for the ones that are bothering you. Prayer is a good way to do this – or reading a spiritual text, for example something from the Bhagavad Gita or a chapter from Emmet Fox. And then spend some time thinking deeply about what you have just read. And finally, if you are too freaked out to do this, you can go for a run, or go for a cold swim, or watch a movie or do something to completely change the flow of your thinking. But whatever you do, don’t dwell on the thoughts that are bothering you. (Because whatever you focus your attention on grows!)
“In the book, I go into detail about how to use these various techniques to help you take control of your stressful thinking so you can wake up to reality, so you can wake up and be present now – and actually enjoy the wonders of this moment.”
Question: Are you awake?
“Sometimes”. And then she adds, “I guess you could say I’m awake except when I’m not.”
Question: The book ends with some really funny dialogues between you and a creature that you call “Bollum”? Who’s Bollum?
“Bollum represents the unawakened part of me – the part of me that is still confused – the part of me who is always whispering into my ear about the dangers of waking up to reality! I call this part of myself Bollum because the conversations we have inside my head remind me of the dialogues in the Lord of the Rings between Gollum and Smeagol…”
Bollum talks to Barbara – about being productive
Bollum: You really should get up off your sofa Barbara and get to work. You’ve got books to write and things to do.
Barbara: But lying here is so blissful.
Bollum: Blissful? Who needs blissful, you’ve got to work! Be productive, make money, achieve! You can’t do that lying on your sofa!
Barbara: But lying here is so blissful! Isn’t that what the Spiritual Pathway is about anyway? Being present in the moment?
Bollum: Well you can do that when you get old.
Barbara: But I am old!
Bollum: Well not old enough.
Barbara: Well if I keep on waiting, I’ll be dead by the time I have time to enjoy the bliss of being here now.
Bollum: Oh come on girl. Pull yourself together. You don’t deserve to live unless you are productive.
Barbara: Really? You’re making me nervous.
Bollum: You should be with your work ethic! If everyone was like you the whole world would go under.
Barbara: Is that true?
Bollum: Sure it’s true. How will you ever get a big house on the beach?
Barbara: What do I need a big house on the beach for?
Bollum: Well it’s a sign of success and happiness.
Barbara: Is that true? What does a big house have to do with happiness? I’m feeling perfectly happy right now lying on my sofa.
Bollum: You’re hopeless. You’ll never be a success.