This Is What It Really Means To Be ‘Woke’


I made a new friend recently at a young adult meditation group at the Shambhala Center on 22nd Street. It took Sebastian and I four weeks of knowing each other to learn that our apartments are five minutes walking distance apart. After the gathering last night, we walked together to 6th Avenue Station and rode the L train to Ridgewood, deep in conversation.

He was telling me how cheese is made, the whole process. He explained that cows are manually impregnated with a test tube over and over for about twenty five years, or until they collapse of exhaustion, then they’re slaughtered for meat. He wasn’t trying to convert me to his veganism, just telling me the facts. I was really disturbed by what I heard, but not entirely surprised. I’ve watched Cowspiracy and Forks over Knives which have illuminated the dark reality behind where our food comes from. Every time I watch one of these documentaries I vow right then and there to change my ways, but I rarely end up doing so. I think it would take me actually visiting a farm–“slaughterhouse” is more accurate–in person to jolt me enough to change my lifestyle. I genuinely think (and hope) I will one day, but maybe I’m just telling myself that now to feel better about my actions.

I told Sebastian how overwhelming and frustrating it was that there’s so many problems in the world, and that sometimes I feel helpless.

“There’s only so much one person can do–not that I’m doing anything at all right now,” I admitted, with a laugh. “There’s the inhumane torture of animals, yes, but then there’s also global warming and the environment and conserving water and not leaving an impact–”

“All of these problems are connected,” Sebastian interjected. “The animal factories are mainly responsible for the environmental issues, so if we can eliminate that we solve two huge problems. If our food was grown on local farms we wouldn’t need trucks driving to ship and deliver it, reducing emissions that way, too.”

“Yeah, that’s definitely true. But there’s still other problems in the world. What about income inequality? The one percent? We have to deal with closing tax loopholes, and increasing inheritance tax.”

“I don’t give a fuck about the one percent. Let them do their thing. Do you think they’re happy? We may be broke, but we have heart. We have compassion. They only care about money and power.”

My initial thought was, Hey, buddy, who you callin’ broke?

My second was, Wow. What a beautiful, grand, accurate sentiment.

So many of us–myself included–put our priority on what we have or our status in life, versus what really matters: compassion,generosity, peace, presence. This misguided focus leads to fear-based living. We fear not having enough and therefore not being enough, and this informs our actions. This is the opposite of living consciously, because in truth, there is nothing to fear and nothing more we need.

A great example of fear-based living is the Koch brothers. They have vowed to throw $300,000,000 toward whomever ends up being the Republican nominee, in an effort to buy the election. They fear whatever potential fiscal loss could result from a liberal president so badly that they are willing to spend an exorbitant amount in an effort block one from being elected. If they were living in alignment with their higher consciousness–that is, with the realization that they not separate from the rest of us on this planet, that we are all one, that we all in this together–then perhaps they would spend their money more wisely. Perhaps compassion instead of fear would inform their actions, and they would use their fortune to fix the world’s problems. (And still remain billionaires.)

Right here and now, I have more than I need.

I could be happy for the rest of my life with my current circumstances.

Sure, I could dream of living in a bigger apartment, or having a membership at Equinox. But when does the longing for the next thing end? Every time we advance to the next level, another one is created. So why are we in a rat race? Why do we have to play out this scenario for ourselves to really get lesson? Why, even though we all know better, even though we are so aware of the pitfalls of the “Keeping Up With The Joneses” mentality, do we still fall into the trap?

I guess the better question is: Why do I?

* * *

Sebastian is out of the rat race one hundred percent. I’ve met only a handful of people like this in my life, so utterly unmotivated by money, power, or glory. Meanwhile, the rest of us all are to varying degrees. Not coincidentally, Sebastian is also genuinely one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. Not coincidentally, Sebastian is also genuinely one of the humblest people  I’ve ever met. Not coincidentally, Sebastian is also genuinely one of the most confident people I’ve ever met. His happiness, humility, confidence, and all-around aura of serenity comes from having an alternate mindset.

Basically: he’s woke as hell.

A lot of people today say they’re woke, but he is actually woke. He is walking the walk when it comes to woke.

He is conscious, not only in the sense that he’s mindful of what goes on within him and around him in the present moment, but on a global scale as well.

Society needs more people like Sebastian around.

Maybe they are, but they’re not that easy to find. Truly woke folks don’t have such active social media presences. They aren’t spotlighted in the media or celebrated by society, because their ideals exist outside of the norm. It’s trendy to call yourself woke, but not encouraged to put into practice what that actually means. We are more likely to buy shirts made in sweatshops that says “Give Peace A Chance,” than try to fully occupy a peaceful existence. Humility, modesty, and compassion have become subversive in 2016, a time where we’re encouraged to be like our divas; big, bold, empowered, flawless. Don’t get me wrong, most of our mainstream stars that are great artists and they do enhance our lives in positive ways. Many of them use their platforms to deliver important messages. It would just be nice if there were a balance. It would be nice if we also celebrated the true individuals who don’t turn their personhoods into brands, who don’t carefully curate their expressions to appease the mainstream.

I watched a documentary in Sociology class once called The Gods Must Be Crazy, about a tribe in Africa. They had literally nothing. No clothes whatsoever. No utensils. Not even shelter. And they were so happy. Unadulterated glee, like children playing at recess, at all times. The documentary cuts between a scene of them playing with dirt and laughing to the point of tears, and the hurried, angry frenzy of Wall Street on a Monday morning. The juxtaposition is mind-blowing. How could you accuse those people in Africa of not “living their best lives”? Yet we’re all over here, grasping at straws trying to “improve” ourselves through external means rather than internal. Kylie Jenner would never tell you this, but you aren’t going to be any more fulfilled once you buy her lip kit.

The good news is that we don’t need to burn down our homes and live in dirt to find enlightenment. We can share in the simple contentment of the tribe right here and now. Happiness is only ever a breath away. We constantly look for enlightenment from people who are only selling materialism masquerading as wisdom. But we don’t need to invest in anything other than our own present moment awareness. We don’t need gratitude journals. We don’t need essential oils. We don’t need any pop self-help accoutrement. All we need is each other.

Most of us won’t be as woke as Sebastian in this lifetime, but that’s okay. It’s not a political matter of who’s right or wrong. Wherever you are in your journey is where you’re meant to be. The opportunity for awakening is always available. When you realize deeply that nothing matters, you can allow yourself to be so much freer. Life is amazing, when you experience it properly. Besides our physical health, all of the problems we face are only ever in our minds. And we can transform that. Society may be flawed, but it isn’t this wicked institution we’re stuck in; it’s a community of complex human beings, each wonderfully diverse, with unique perspectives and experiences, all with the potential to grow and evolve. We have to accept others where they are in the journey, and show them the light through being the light. Eventually the day will come when we find that grasping for power or clinging to money is not actually serving us, and we can return to the root of our existence and live out what matters.