“A spiritual awakening gives us a glimpse behind the curtain of the ‘person’ to behold the splendour of what lies beyond— the true Self.” – Richard Paterson
Do the things you used to define yourself by— your career, self-image, earnings, social status etc., feel less important, less meaningful than they used to?
Do you feel you’ve grown apart from your old friends?
That you’d rather spend quiet time alone than to go out socialising?
Or maybe you feel that the old lens you’ve been seeing the world through has shifted?
These are all signs you may be experiencing a spiritual awakening.
What Is A Spiritual Awakening?
In our normal state of consciousness, we are completely identified with ‘me’, the person— this body, personal history, personality, and life situation.
Most people take this personal ‘me’ to be the totality of who they are.
During my time as a monk, we would spend countless hours meditating on the nature of the self.
And here’s what I discovered.
When you take a closer look, you discover that this apparently solid person you take yourself to be is anything but solid.
When you try to locate ‘me’, the person, all you find is a constantly fluctuating stream of thoughts, feelings, emotions, impressions and physical sensations that are in a constant state of flux.
There’s nothing solid about who we are. Even the physical body changes all the time.
There is no solid entity called the person—just as there’s no tangible object called the mind, which is just a bunch of constantly changing thoughts.
Beyond the fluctuations that make up the ‘person’, however, there is another dimension of our being-ness that goes unnoticed in most people.
It is your original, unconditioned nature—the timeless and unchanging aspect of Self you experienced as an infant, before you began to identify with the mind and body.
A spiritual awakening is a coming home to yourself, a return to your original nature.
In India, it is called Sat Chit Ananda—Truth, Consciousness, Bliss.
The Buddhists speak of Buddha nature.
The sage Nisargadatta speaks of, “waking up from the dream of the person.”
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The Nature of Spiritual Awakening
Spiritual awakening can happen to anyone at any time and can unfold in a multitude of ways.
It may be subtle or dramatic. It may be pleasant or unpleasant.
It may happen gradually, or suddenly as in the case of Eckhart Tolle, who spontaneously realised his true nature in the midst of a deep depression.
Or spiritual teacher, Tony Parsons, who was walking across a park, aged 20, when a tremendous change suddenly came over him.
“It was as if everything, including me, was enveloped in a deep and all-encompassing love, and in a strange way it seemed that what I saw was also somehow nothing special…it is the norm that is not usually perceived.
Though spiritual awakenings are often expansive and joyful experiences, they can also be traumatic and terrifying to the ego, which always likes to feel it’s in control.
I spent much of the 90s in the ashram of a well-known Guru in India and had an experience there which went on for several months. It felt like my sense of personal identity was slowly being stripped away—unravelling like a loose thread being pulled from a garment.
It was such an intense experience, that I was honestly fearful for my sanity at times but thankfully, I was later able to look back on it as a huge blessing.
What about you?.
Here are 8 signs that you may be having a spiritual awakening—some pleasant, some joyful, some scary.
1. A Sense of Coming Alive
You may feel that you’re looking at the world through a new lens—that the ‘Wow!’ factor has been cranked up a notch or two?
Colours are more vibrant. Everything looks more present and alive. Food tastes better. Simple things fill you with unreasonable joy.
Trees are amazing. Sunsets are spellbinding. Your appreciation of beauty is amplified. You feel a deep connection with nature and are filled with a sense of awe and wonder.
2. The Loss of Worldly Ambition
Spiritual awakenings are usually accompanied by a loss of ambition for worldly achievements. The things that were so important to the ego self — wealth, status, recognition, success — become shallow and much less attractive.
You know, on some level, that nothing on the outside is going to satisfy you—that the real game is inside you.
Exploring the depths of your inner being and discovering who you are becomes more compelling and rewarding than chasing after external pleasure and stimulation.
You may lose interest in bars, nightclubs and socialising, preferring instead to spend quiet time alone.
As you become less identified with the personal identity, you also care less about being recognised or understood. Neither do you feel the need to defend your position or be seen to be right.
3. Falling Through Air With Nothing To Hang Onto
“The bad news is you are falling through air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there is no ground.” — Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche
It can be pretty scary when the rug of personal identity is pulled from under your feet—when everything you believed yourself to be no longer feels solid or reliable.
You’re like the trapeze artist who has let go of the old bar, launched him/herself into the void and is suspended in mid-air, waiting for the next bar to appear.
There’s nothing to hold onto. All the old, familiar reference points have dissolved.
This state of not knowing can be really uncomfortable for the ego, which likes to be in control. At some point you may realise that you never knew anything anyway, you just thought you did!
I remember saying to my teacher once:
“I don’t know anything about anything any more.” He replied, “Yes, me neither. Isn’t it wonderful!”
4. Heightened Intuition and Synchronicity
During spiritual awakenings, it is common to experience a heightened sense of intuition.
When there is no person in the way, life itself takes over the steering wheel.
You begin to operate more from a place of inner knowing than from the mind. You begin to rely more on your inner compass of what feels right. And it is often confirmed by heightened synchronicity.
Last year, my partner Susanne and I rented out our house and went travelling for a few months. One day, we were sitting in the foyer our guesthouse in the Sacred Valley in Peru, discussing where to go when we get back to Europe.
The two possibilities we were discussing were Malaga, Spain and Freiburg, Germany.
As we were speaking, a couple checked in at reception. The guy was a real estate agent from Malaga and gave me his calling card!
Literally five minutes later, another guest arrived and guess where he was from?
Freiburg , of course. He gave us his details and told us to get in touch if we ever needed help.
I’ve experienced so much of this type of synchronicity that it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest any more. Handing your life over to Life is the simplest and most joyful way to live.
Synchronicity and heightened intuition are signs you’re in the flow and being taken care of
5. Emotional Rollercoaster
You may experience a lot of emotional highs and lows during a spiritual awakening.
You may feel you don’t recognise yourself any more (and you actually don’t). Identification with the old, familiar you is beginning to fall apart.
Some traditions call this the dark night of the soul because it can be quite challenging.
As your personality begins to thin out, more of the light of your true nature begins to shine through. As your vibrational frequency increases, any old unresolved emotions are pushed to the surface to be felt and released, which can be overwhelming if you don’t know what’s going on. They can’t survive in your new vibration.
I went through a period where I would feel immense sadness welling up inside and would be in tears for no apparent reason, sometimes for hours.
And then, just as suddenly, the inner sun would come out I would feel joy like I’d never felt before.
It felt like the volume on all my feelings, pleasant and unpleasant alike, had been cranked up to 11!
A tree can only grow as high as the roots grow deep. And it’s the same with our emotions. The deeper you go into your pain, the greater your capacity for joy becomes.
What a blessing!
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6. Increased Desire To Be Authentic
The pull to be more authentic and true to yourself is a natural consequence of spiritual awakening.
The more aligned you become with your true Self, the more painful and contrasting it becomes to make compromises or to go against what you know to be true.
You become more honest, more direct, more transparent—with less personal agenda. Being honest and authentic can can sometimes get you in trouble (as we’ve seen with certain historical figures).
You desire to live a simple, moral life.
In the Indian spiritual tradition, they speak of the Purushartas, the four stages of human evolution. Most people are ruled by the first two: security and pleasure seeking.
The third, Dharma, means living from a place of doing what’s right, regardless of personal preference— serving the whole as opposed to the personal self.
Spiritual awakening is always accompanied by an increased desire to serve others.
7. Compassion For the Human Condition
I love this quote from Ram Dass, one of my favourite teachers:
“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.
The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”
Another sign of spiritual awakening is the growing sense of compassion towards others. You understand that being a human is a tough gig and that people are stressed out and trying their best. You develop empathy for the shared human condition.
The more you come into contact with your own inner light, the more you are able to look beyond the surface imperfections in others to see the light within them.
This is the meaning of the Indian greeting Namaste: “the light in me bows to the light in you.”
8. The Oneness of All of Life
At its core, all life is One.
The life force that moves your body and makes you speak is the very same essence that animates the tree, the dog, and the rest of creation.
When we awaken from the dream of the person this truth becomes self-evident—not as a concept but as a felt knowingness.
With this, comes a deep sense of reverence towards the sacredness of all life, and a deep feeling of gratitude and appreciation for being alive.
On the level of the person, no matter what you achieve, no matter how successful you become, it will never be enough.
What we are all seeking, knowingly or unknowingly is to discover the truth of who we are.
Spiritual awakening can be compared to the butterfly breaking free from the confinement of its cocoon. It is the direction that all humans are going in and a natural part of our evolution.
Some say it’s the purpose of human life.
While the cocoon may feel safe and warm, we all reach a point where it becomes too constricting and we are ready to break free and find our wings.
Just as nature determines the exact moment the butterfly emerges from the cocoon, so it will also determine the moment that each of us wakes up to our true nature.
A spiritual awakening is nature’s way of helping us achieve our full potential.
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