The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening
This book describes how I came to learn that spiritual awakening is far from uncommon. It describes how I came to learn that it doesn’t just happen to Eastern sages but to seemingly ordinary people in all walks of life.
I began to detach the concept of awakening from religious and even spiritual traditions. I began to see it as a particular state of mind and being that could be interpreted in terms of spiritual traditions but didn’t necessarily belong to them.
Throughout history, the shift into wakefulness has often happened to people who were part of religious or spiritual traditions, and so it was usually interpreted in terms of those traditions.
Different spiritual traditions explain and interpret this shift in different ways, emphasizing different aspects. It’s as if they offer different views of the same landscape, magnifying, filtering and selecting certain features. But when the shift occurs outside spiritual traditions – that is, in people who don’t have a spiritual background and so don’t have a ready framework within which to interpret it – it’s as if we’re given a view of the landscape itself, in a more naked and unconstructed state.
There’s a great deal of confusion about enlightenment – partly because it has been interpreted in so many different ways . Many people have an impulse to wake up but, because of this general confusion, they aren’t completely sure where they’re heading or where they should go.
. . . the original state of human beings was one of natural wakefulness, in which people experienced the sacredness and aliveness of the world around them and felt a strong connection with nature and the whole cosmos.
However, beginning about six thousand years ago, a “Fall” occurred. This was a shift of being, the development of a new kind of human self, with an intensified sense of individuality and a new sense of separateness. For the first time, human beings experienced themselves as separate from nature, from their own communities, and even from their own bodies. For the first time, they experienced themselves as individual entities living within their own mental space, with the rest of reality “out there,” on the other side.
It caused a massive upsurge in brutality, conflict, and oppression. It gave rise to hierarchal societies and constant warfare between different groups. It led to the oppression of women and a new, repressive, guilt ridden attitude toward sex.
Our ancestors lost a sense of nature’s sacredness and aliveness, a sense of connection to the cosmos, and the awareness of the spirit-force pervading everything. We “fell” out of a natural state of harmony into a state of anxiety and discord.
Spiritual awakening is, in some ways, a reversal of this process. It means undoing the pathology of separateness and duality and regaining the sense of connection and harmony that earlier peoples experienced. However, at the same time, spiritual awakening entails a “leap” into a new state of being.
In many ways, awakened individuals experience a higher-functioning state that makes life more fulfilling, exhilarating, and meaningful than it may appear in a normal state of being. As a result of this internal shift, they often make major changes to their lives. They begin new careers, hobbies, and relationships. They feel a strong impulse to make a positive contribution to the world, to live in meaningful and purposeful ways, rather than trying to satisfy their own desires, enjoy themselves, or pass the time.
We examine the evidence that this collective Leap is already under way and suggest that what we know as wakefulness could be the next phase in the evolution of consciousness on our planet. In other words, awakened people may be prematurely experiencing a state that is latent in many other people – and in the whole human race collectively – and that will become more common as time goes by, and will one day become the norm.
Our own conscious efforts to awaken are important to intensify the shift that is already under way. Our own personal evolution will contribute to the evolution of our whole species.
Falling Asleep, Longing to Awaken
What we wake up from is essentially a state of sleep – a state of constricted, limited awareness, and of discord and suffering. This state is so familiar to us that we assume it’s natural and normal, and we take it for granted. But, in fact, this state is aberrational, even pathological. It’s a kind of madness that we confuse with sanity simply because we experience real sanity so rarely.
There are different degrees of sleep, just as there are different degrees of wakefulness. Some people are more asleep than others, just as some people are more awake than others.
The main aspect of this experience [being asleep] is our sense of separation and disconnection.
One of the strangest characteristics of our sleep state is the associational chatter – the endless stream of images, memories, anticipations, reflections, and snippets of information – that usually runs through our minds when we don’t occupy our attention with external things. It seems to be a quirk of our strongly developed ego. It also seems to be related to our sense of ego-isolation and the constrictedness of our sense of self, almost as if our thoughts become restless and agitated in response to the atmosphere of anxiety and lack of space.
. . . we spend much of our time in a state of abstraction. Rather than live in the world, we live in our minds. We perceive the world dimly, through the mist of our thought-chatter and filters of pre-existing concepts. Rather than live in a state of mindfulness, genuinely experiencing the reality of our sensations and perceptions, we live in a state of elsewhereness.
The internal mental atmosphere of the sleep state is a negative one. It’s a dark, dank, and oppressive place, the mental equivalent of a small room with no windows and hardly any light.
. . .our ego-separateness creates a sense of lack, of “something missing,” as well as a sense of isolation.
In our sleep state there is also fear. Our separateness creates a sense of vulnerability and insecurity, of being threatened by the world and by other people. There is also usually an underlying fear of death.
OK, I think those are enough quotes to give you a sense of this book. All the above excerpts were taken from the introduction through page 16!
Different types of awakening, the aftermath of awakening, what it means to be awake and collective awakening are explored in detail. Waking up is our gift to ourselves and to the world.