And thrown them out. “If you want to wake up,” Tom told me, “throw out the teachings.”
What exactly, then, is Waking Up? It both easy to understand and seemingly beyond comprehension. Because waking up happens when we learn not to identify with our minds. It is about not being caught up in the identity we have created for ourselves, the drama and the story that swirls around us. It is about being able to see it for what it is, detach from it, put it aside, and just Be.
Tom uses a metaphor about a movie and a screen to describe this state that I found helpful. In this metaphor, our pure awareness, the seer, that being who can just Be – is the screen – not the movie that is playing on it. When we are watching a movie we don’t pay attention to the screen, but the screen is always there. You can manipulate the movie, but the screen is always there. So that screen is pure awareness, which is what we need to get to in order to be conscious, awake. The movie is the stuff of our lives and our thoughts, “the play of consciousness.”
Meditation can help us put aside the play of consciousness for a while – or maybe just a moment, and get to the screen. Everything appears and disappears in this awareness. When we let go and stop manipulating consciousness (the movie), there’s a flip flop into pure awareness. That awareness does not have an identity as “me.” That is being Awake.
Another example Tom uses to understand this state is from Jackson Peterson, on a concept called “Ati” from the Dzogchen Buddhist teachings. This is a metaphor whereby a mirror takes the role of the screen in the previous metaphor:
“The example used is that of a mirror in which none of the reflections alter its crystal, reflective clarity. Because of its unchangingness, all experiences are equalized. Because all experiences are equally ineffective in influencing the “knowing” of the experience, there is no need to prefer any type of experience over another….To discover this quintessence of awareness within one’s own consciousness, just look around and observe whatever you see. Now this time while noticing what you observe, can you know with certainty, that you “know” that observing is taking place? If you can with certainty say that you do have the capacity to “know”, then you have identified the quintessence of Ati.”
Whilst we are busy identifying the quintessence of Ati, yoga is a good idea. And work. And love. And all the things that come with being human. But why should any of it matter, the stuff that is in our movie? This is what Tom describes as being “Life Positive,” and it is about living and caring and trying and loving even though it is all just a movie. It is about being a householder, rather than a monk. Acknowledging and embracing our humanity.
We choose to live in the world, which he calls “functioning in physical reality.” Some of us are better at it than others. Health is vitally important: we need to care for our bodies if we are going to make this journey. Tom sees Hatha yoga as a key pathway to health, with great value for the mind, body & spirit, for moving energy & preserving vitality and Prana.
Tom picked up a yoga book at his aunt’s house at age 15 and immediately took to it. It felt rational to him and he liked the description of yoga as an “inner science.” Tom was trained as a yoga teacher in 1971 by Swami Vishnu Devananda. However, Tom chafed at the cultural and religious trappings that were wrapped around the training of Hatha yoga. His scientific mind did not necessarily accept what others around him seemed to be accepting as true.
He still does not fully embrace the cultural affectations that come with yoga: “I love Ganesh like I love Harry Potter,” he quips. Tom is not a fan of institutional religion, dogma, or ritual, although paradoxically, he seems to have been immersed in these teachings for much of his life.
He has trained in depth with a number of exceptional teachers in enlightenment traditions of Non-Dual Tantra, the Yogic Pathways, Zen, Taoism, Maha Ati and Qigong. In 1982 Tom co-founded The Woodbury Yoga Center in Connecticut where he created and taught in-depth courses on Meditation, Kundalini, The Yoga of Death and Dying, The Supreme Doctrine, The Hara Training and other subjects. In 1990 he co-founded The Awakened Heart Center for Conscious Living in North Carolina where he continued to offer various courses and Intensives focusing on The Direct Path to Spiritual Awakening.
He also has extensive training and experience in several different therapeutic modalities including hypnotherapy, transactional analysis, energy psychology and HeartMath and worked for thirteen years as a mental health worker in psychiatry. “Sanity,” says Tom, “is an ongoing commitment to reality.”
Tom currently offers Satsang – a community gathering for discussion and meditation – at Yoga Garden PBO on Sunday mornings, as well as private counseling.
For any spiritual seeker, including those that come to him for advice, Tom counsels open-minded skepticism. As we function in this world that we are in, Tom urges skepticism, inquiry, and questioning at all turns. Discernment and what Tom calls “discriminating wisdom” are crucial on the path to enlightenment. Think, question, examine. Follow your intuition, and act when it tells you to act.
And then, accept what is.
“You do what you feel you have to do, then you love and accept what is.”