Awakenings Can Be Gentle


Coming into awareness, a shift in consciousness, appreciating previously unseen aspects of reality, enlightenment.


In our culture we have an enduring belief that awakenings, in order to be profound, must be hard won. That awakenings always tangle with struggle. That they will be dramatic, epiphanic, and arrive like a bolt of lightning. And while it’s true that struggle can lead to great revelation, there are as many paths to these big a-ha moments as mice trails in a large wood. Awakenings can also be subtle, incremental.

Awakenings can come quiet as a whale to the surface of the water, immense and gentle, breathing once before slipping back under the radar. Awakenings are not just the orchestral finale, where every trumpet comes on board. Awakenings can be an oboe floating on a single note. And they are happening, as sure as birdsong, within you every day.

Like many places in the country this year, we’ve had an odd spring. Pear trees blooming in February. Daffodils budding long before the winter coats were put away. The cherry trees, surprising me, with one early bloom at a time. Then, this past week, we got snow. An overnight dusting that curled the daffodils into themselves and quieted the rising tulips, dimming the newfound green. Every spring there is something in me that yearns for a more solid marker of winter’s completion. A fanfare in colors of quince and forsythia. Great banners like trumpets proclaiming, Spring is here! But the more I learn to pay attention, the more I see that spring’s awakening is ever subtle.



It is hard, and confusing, to see spring come and then, seemingly, go. But this is simply the nature of awakenings. They surface, they disappear, they are gentle in their coming. And when we learn how to relish these subtle awakenings, we open a gateway to understanding how revelation truly works.

I first heard the world “revelation” broken down by Bill Plotkin in his book Soulcraft. By definition, a revelation means to “re-veil” once more. It is a numinous moment glimpsed, an awakening (for an hour, a day, a week) that shoots lightning through our veins, and it is also the moment we slip back into somnolence once more. We all bemoan these moments of falling back into what was, because they can feel like such a step backwards. In the midst of a revelation we are so sure that this luminous state of knowing and inner-balance will surely last forever! But the truth is that these moments of re-veiling, falling back asleep, are the very essence of what makes a revelation a revelation.

With any true revelation the path will, at some point, be obscured once more.



In the morning sometimes I wake up briefly at dawn. Just long enough to see the sun streaming through my window to warm the hardwood floor. And then I fall back asleep. And, truth be told, it is the most precious part of my day. Because something happens in that brief moment that I have awakened, a subtle exchange. I receive something that will never be given back. And when I fall back into sleep I bring it with me, to puzzle, to wonder at, to explore. Insight streams in through the windows of my mind, in small wisps of dreams, one ray at a time. And I rest knowing I will awaken, subtly changed, in due time. The revelation was both the moment of awakening and the time spent slumbering, and both are transformational.

So embrace the idea this spring that your own awakening could come in such gentle tones. That it could be as subtle and humble as the tiny map of bittercress beneath one’s feet. Or as slow as the cup of a tulip opening to the sun. That it may be as incremental as the tiny centimeters of chickweed growing in infinitesimal stretches across the field. That maybe, you don’t have to do anything at all. But naturally awaken in moments of light, and instead of resenting it, relish the motion of falling back asleep once more.



Because you do not need to worry about awakenings. They are unstoppable. Sleep is a natural part of our cycles, we need it to keep being human, but we will always wake up. No matter how tired we are or how much comes in that seems to keep us under, we awaken. As Pablo Neruda writes, “you can cut all the flowers but you cannot stop spring from coming.”

So worry less. Relish the morning spent sleeping in. Trust that the revelation is burgeoning. And that you are in, fact, awakening right now. You are like this spring. Tiny buds blossoming before the eye can even tell. It is happening, it is coming. And it can be gentle.