I remember many decades ago when I first heard about the now ubiquitous "onion theory" -- how much sense it made to me. For those who are not familiar with it, it is as obvious as this: The self is like an onion -- the truest part lies deep in the center wrapped in layer upon layer of experience, attachment, and distortion. At the beginning of the process, our public persona is as rough as the outer peel. To get to the center, to uncover the image and likeness of God, well... start peeling. And as with an actual onion, expect to experience plenty of tears, over-exposure and new sensitivities that, up to this point, you may have spent a lifetime or two covering up.
Many physicians use the onion analogy to explain the healing process, as do mental health professionals and spiritual gurus. It is as apt a metaphor as we are likely to find for the journey inward. In order to find total wellbeing, we have to be willing to engage in a reverse process -- the process of undoing all the negative things we have been doing, as well as the negative things that have been done to us. This is the process of waking up and becoming conscious. It is not an easy one.
Although inarguably we all derive from the same Source, each life's journey is as unique as our physical DNA (and some would add spiritual DNA), so of course the process of awakening is equally unique. Even if I am experiencing the same illness as another person, I am most likely not experiencing it in the same way or for the same reasons. Even the consequences of that illness will not be the same. This is not only because we are sloughing off different layers of the onion (mine layer #3 perhaps; hers #8), but also because one person's layers cannot be compared to another's. Each layer on each onion is composed of different experiences, relationships, and belief systems. This is why, on a spiritual level, judgment of others is a meaningless waste of time. What may look to be one person's ill fate or even bad behavior, may actually be an awakening -- the important clearing of another layer of the onion. Likewise, what may look to be an awakening in someone else may be yet another, deeper journey into self-deceit.
How to tell the difference?
We can tell the difference between someone's awakening (including our own) and someone's continued, deepening hibernation, by that person's willingness to seek and effect change. It's that simple. Real awakening involves the willingness not just to look within, but to take action, i.e., to bring ourselves into congruity with Truth, whatever that involves.
An example: Let's say you have a husband whose chronic behavior is borderline abusive. One day you suddenly get through to him. On this one day you are able to shake him up enough to get his attention and declare the truth about how his unfair behavior affects you. And let's say this time he's really listening, so in that moment everything you say to him makes complete sense. A breakthrough! He swears it will never happen again, and you believe him. You are filled with hope.
The first time he commits to this behavioral reform, you may be satisfied, but with each subsequent abusive experience, you will no doubt become more and more suspicious of his claims, because... nothing changes. Although he clearly acknowledges his abusive behavior, he is in effect seeking no real truth whatsoever and therefore, changing nothing within or without. Instead of bringing himself into congruity with what he knows to be true, he nevertheless chooses to remain imprisoned by the familiar discomfort and distortion that has created his abusive behavior in the first place. Your husband (or son or daughter or mother or self) may have indeed seen a momentary light, been blinded by it, and even wanted or tried to respond. But then came the moment of choice. Awaken and face the light? Or remain in darkness? There is always a choice. Always. Rather than face the consequences of abusive actions and the tedious chore of reversing them -- most people burrow even more deeply into the slumber of unconsciousness.
An awake person knows that the power to change herself and therefore, the world, is the real miracle, if not the entire purpose of our material existence. It is not enough to simply notice something within us or outside of us and do nothing. Each of us is mightily empowered to effect personal and universal change every day of our lives. This opportunity more than anything else is what distinguishes us from other living things -- the power to acknowledge, transform and transcend. To change. It is what we are called upon to do for our own sake and for the sake of everyone else, because we are all one thing.
To awaken means to acknowledge our spiritual nature, to observe our behavior, and to bring ourselves into alignment with the Truth. This is a process involving many awarenesses, conversions, and painful confrontations. Hard work for sure, but in the end, nothing could be more valuable or worthwhile. By doing our life's work, we are making the best use of this very brief period of empowered sentient existence to advance the consciousness of ourselves and consequently, of all humankind.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.