It will eventually be seen that literally every belief that we assume is true is, in fact, merely a conditioned belief. Our beliefs are not actually true. I am tempted here to make the previous sentence say: "Frequently our beliefs are not actually true." However, this rewrite is not an accurate representation of the truth. I have been aware of making overly broad generalizations at times. I'm sure this has happened throughout my life. It just seems to be a characteristic of my personal style of communicating. However, we are talking here of the most important issues, and it's important to get it right. Consequently, the original sentence will have to stand. All of our beliefs are the direct result of prior programming and conditioning. Ordinarily, we never question the beliefs and assumptions we are brought up to believe. To wake up to what is real, it is necessary to begin to question everything we hold near and dear. No one has ever awakened without going through this radical transformation in some manner. Let go of your beliefs. Set them free.
FORMING THE INTENT TO AWAKEN
Assuming that waking up is your goal, how do you begin? There are several simple but important steps that can help. First, it must be said that ultimately awakening to your true nature always happens through grace. It doesn't appear to me that any efforts I made could possibly have accounted for the blessing of awakening. Knowing this, we must, nevertheless, do everything we can to facilitate God's grace. This immediately propels us into the question of grace versus personal effort. Both are important.
There are contemporary awakened teachers who appear to have done very little if anything to wake up. Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and David Hawkins come to mind. In each of these cases, there had been a prolonged period of intense suffering but without any obvious spiritual practice before their profound shift occurred. Therefore, we can acknowledge that very rarely people have genuine awakenings that are profound and lasting without intense spiritual practice beforehand. The one commonality that might be identified in these three is a total giving up, an absolute surrender by the ego, which precipitated the internal change.
PRACTICE BEFORE AND AFTER AWAKENING
Practice before and after awakening is important. Any heartfelt spiritual practice will gradually wear down the ego. Essentially, both before and after awakening, it's important to work relentlessly at minimizing the attachment to the idea of me. Many people practice in a wholehearted manner for years without experiencing the realization that comes to others seemingly without effort. It's important to know that no effort is ever wasted. Ego-based beliefs continue after awakening for all but the most rare; i.e., Ramana Maharshi. The more effort that is directed to personal purification and release of ego-based delusions before awakening, the easier it will be to live in the ordinary world and function normally after awakening.
One fear that is often expressed by spiritual students is that they do not want to become totally dysfunctional after they experience the Truth. This is very understandable. I believe that deep commitment to a spiritual path especially one focused on awakening as well as working with an awakened teacher can make it infinitely easier after awakening to continue to carry out one's responsibilities. In fact, it becomes possible to clearly see what is actually necessary and what is not. Action in the world becomes much more skillful, effective, and impersonal. Enlightened activity in the world will be discussed later. Suffice it to say now that doing without a doer is one of the characteristic qualities of awakened beings. The quality of this activity is free, spontaneous, direct, unpredictable, and highly skillful. Whatever is needed happens spontaneously without any intervening person doing it.