Originally published Jan, 2022
“Spiritual awareness is an understanding of being imbedded in a larger whole, a cosmic whole, of belonging to the universe.” – Fritjof Capra
Every two or three weeks I get someone calling me, usually in a state of mild distress, and telling me the following story, with a few minor variations:
“ I feel I don’t know who I am any more… or where my life is going.
The things that used to be important —my career, self-image, earnings, social status—all feel increasingly empty and meaningless.
l‘ve grown apart from my friends. I used to love socialising at the weekends but now I prefer staying home and being quiet.
I’ve no-one to talk to about what’s happening inside me. It feels lonely… and not, if you know what I mean?
I also feel a growing sense of peace inside, a sense that all these things don’t really matter.
What’s going on? I feel I don’t know anything about anything any more.”
A Message from An Old Monk
When she said the last sentence, I thought of a conversation I’d had with an old monk many years ago, whilst on a meditation retreat.
He asked me, “How are you?” and I answered, “I’m not sure. I feel I have no idea about anything any more. I’ve no idea who I am or what’s going on.”
He smiled and said, “Neither do I. Isn’t it marvellous!”
I was fortunate to be in a supportive environment where recognising that you know nothing was seen as a positive thing.
In fact, as we’ll see later, it’s a necessary step in dissolving the old, solid sense of “I” that keeps us imprisoned in a limited sense of self.
To the average person however, having these experiences—often unwanted and unasked for (and without the guidance and reassurance of a teacher)— can seem anything but marvellous.
It can be downright unsettling and scary when you feel that everything you thought was familiar and reliable in your life, everything that gives you a solid sense of identity and security, is crumbling away and you’re moving further and further into uncharted territory, with nothing to hold onto.
As the old Zen quote says:
“The bad news: You’re falling off a cliff without a parachute. The good news: there’s no ground.”
Compared with the comfort and security of your old identity, this ‘knowing nothing landscape’ can be a challenging place to find yourself in. It can easily be seen as a curse rather than a blessing.
Like having to get up from a warm, comfortable bed, spiritual awakening can be uncomfortable and irritating.
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Spiritual Awareness — A Curse Or a Blessing?
I love the story about the father who knocks on his son’s door in the morning and shouts, “Get up, you have to go to school.”
The son says, “I don’t want to go to school.”
“Why not?” asks the father.
“Three reasons,” says the son. First, because it’s so dull; second, the kids tease me; and third, I hate school.
And the father says, “Well, I am going to give you three reasons why you must go to school. First, because it is your duty; second, because you are forty-five years old, and third, because you are the principal.”
Waking up is unpleasant. You are lying safely in bed, snug and warm.
Then Life comes along and knocks on your door to tell you it’s time to wake up.
Like the caterpillar, you’ve outgrown the limitations of the cocoon and it’s time to move on and find your wings.
I must say, from my own experience, and knowing what I know now, there’s no way I’d choose to go back to bed, even if it were possible.
Just like the caterpillar emerges from the warmth and safety of the cocoon in precisely the right moment, so the gift of spiritual awareness is bestowed upon on each of us exactly when the time is right.
If it’s meant for you, there’s no avoiding it.
And if it’s not meant to happen it won’t… and these words will be meaningless
There are 3 distinct stages of spiritual awareness.
The 3 Stages of Spiritual Awareness
The first stage is where the vast majority of the population find themselves.
This is the state of being spiritually asleep—characterised more by a lack of spiritual awareness.
In this state, the individual is cosily tucked up in the blanket of maya (ignorance) with little or no awareness of their true, unlimited Self.
Identification with the mind and body is strong. Security, seeking sensory pleasure and resisting unpleasant experiences are the main drivers.
Happiness is sought on the outside through the pursuit of happy experiences. Unhappy ones are seen as obstacles to overcome, rather than opportunities for spiritual growth.
At this stage, there is a strong sense of personal identity (or ego), a strong sense of “me” and the world.
Spiritual No Man’s Land
The second stage, which I call ‘spiritual no-man’s land’ is, in many ways, the most challenging and uncomfortable place to find yourself in.
On one hand, you’ve left the relative familiarity and security of the ‘old you’ behind but you’ve yet to experience the benefits of the new direction you’re heading in… the peace, contentment, ease and fulfilment of your true Self.
You start to feel different from the people around you. You lose interest in the things your friends do and talk about. You lose your worldly ambition, your desire to be ‘successful’.
Or maybe your definition of ‘successful’ changes? Contentment and peace become more important that getting the promotion or earning more money.
You’re not so bothered about being right any more…. or what people think.
Insights about your true nature start to hit you with increased frequency, epiphanies arise, synchronicities increase. Teachers appear. You start to live in the magic zone.
It can feel like one moment you are in the depths of despair and the next you are feeling euphoric and joyful. Your emotions are all over the place.
One of the most common features of this stage, however, is the recognition that everything you took yourself to be may not be the whole truth of who you are.
The belief that you know who you are, what you’re doing, where you’re going— that you have or ever had any idea about any of these things—can fall away.
This realisation can be hugely unsettling OR a source of great freedom and liberation… or both!!
The 3rd Stage Of Spiritual Awareness—Arriving
Before continuing, I must say that I’m not claiming for a moment to have arrived in this place—just the odd glimpse here and there.
But, having said that, I feel there are a few things I can share from my own experience.
As the sense of personal identity dissolves more and more, the sense of ‘knowing nothing’ becomes the default state. With this comes humility and compassion.
Through the 3 stages, there is a general movement towards living from the heart as opposed to the head.
I sometimes describe this as “living life in the passenger seat.”
Rather than using your mind to plan things, more and more you find yourself being intuitively moved by life itself. You just know what to do next without knowing why.
Above all, there arises from within a great sense of trust — a sense of ‘all being well’, and exactly as it’s meant to be. This knowingness greatly decreases the amount of inner resistance to life’s experiences, the main cause of our suffering.
If the words in this article resonate and you’d like to discuss your own situation and what the next steps might be for you, I’d be very happy to have a chat. Or maybe you’d just like to chat to someone about what you’re experiencing?
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