Here at MindOwl, we are determined to present meditation and mindfulness as dogma-free, non-esoteric practises that anyone can participate in; when it comes to discussions surrounding spiritual awakening that intention becomes pretty difficult to maintain. You may have heard the term ‘spiritual awakening’ used before when discussing the practice of meditation. It is often used interchangeably with ‘enlightenment (which is an even more common term) and can be used to describe the state of mind that is an end goal of meditation, and holds the key to clarity and inner peace. Although those of us living in the modern world might be practising meditation far more than we ever have before, there is still a disconnect between the language used to describe meditative practices and what we are looking for out of our experience. Terms like ‘spiritual awakening’ can come across as sounding strange and far-fetched, or like they are meant for monks and heavyweight meditators living in isolation, rather than the modern meditator. We are in need of a more secular and modern approach to meditation so more people feel comfortable taking part. What’s more, terminology like ‘spiritual awakening’ needs to be demystified so the average person can truly commit to their meditation practice, rather than holding back for fear of feeling silly.
In this article we’ll introduce you to the belief that spiritual awakening is actually just the next stage in our development of identity as human beings. This theory tracks the changing perception of our identities throughout our lives and proposes that awakening is the next step. Looking inward in any capacity, whether that is through therapy, yoga or meditation is no longer seen as a fringe activity in society, and so there is more and more evidence, both researched and empirical to back up this claim that mindful exploration of the Self allows us to see ourselves and the world in a whole new dimension. We will also explain what spiritual awakening actually is, and delve into discussing the ego and the part it plays in our development of Self.
It may surprise you to find out that many of us will have already experienced one of these moments of spiritual awakening in our lives. It could have been a moment in your childhood, a time in nature or any number of experiences where you felt a deep sense of calm, and a detachment from your inner narrator. These moments are always, and have always been available to us – meditation is just a tool to train our brains out of their usual critical and judgemental rhetoric to give way to a steady sense of awareness.
Psychologist Steve Taylor led an investigation into what he refers to as, ‘awakening moments’. These are exactly what we have just described as spiritual awakening and are an area of psychology Taylor believes to be neglected. In his research he identified the three main triggers of an awakening moment, these are: moments of loss or extreme stress and depression, experiences in nature and spiritual practises. This last trigger is where meditation sits, and is the trigger that can bring about awakening in a more purposeful way.
To move past the term, ‘spiritual awakening’ for a moment we are going to isolate the idea of just ‘awakening’. If these are moments of awakening, it logically draws us to the conclusion that we were previously asleep. Of course this is not a reference to sleep in the traditional sense, rather Steve Taylor goes as far as to propose that our waking moments are spend in a sort of sleep where our awareness is seriously limited. When we experience a moment of spiritual awakening we are waking up from this way of viewing the world around us, and gaining an insight into a whole new dimension of life. These moments can be experienced to differing degrees. If you have previously experienced a fairly intense moment of awakening the effects might still be reverberating through your life to this day, whereas a lower level moment of awakening would have made a profound effect on you and you would still have a vivid memory of it, but it might not have changed your mindset in the long-term.
The ego, in psychological terms, is the lens through which we view the world the majority of the time. The mental structures of the ego are highly critical; it is always planning, problem-solving, analysing and judging. This structure of our minds can never be restful. When meditators and non-meditators have experienced moments of spiritual awakening it is because they have retired the ego, and are instead viewing the world through an awareness-based mindset. This means they are living only in the current moment, and there is no voice in their heads telling them to prepare for the worst, or comparing their experience against the experience of others. And so, spiritual awakening does not need to be considered as esoteric, that is meant for only the select few who dedicate their entire lives in it’s pursuit. Rather it can offer a way of revisiting old techniques to lift our minds out of the ego and into a more clear and aware sense of being that will ultimately equip us to deal with the mental struggles of modern life.
4 Stages of development
Douglas Harding proposed a way a thinking about our developing sense of self in a way that will be useful to us now when discussing why spiritual awakening can be seen as the next step for human beings. He believed our sense of self goes through four major stages of development: the baby, the child, the adult and the awakened mind. As we move though each stage in our lives, our perception of ourselves changes. Our perception also moves between a private view of ourselves and a public view. Our private view is constantly changing and is representative of how we view ourselves in the current moment. The public view however is built around how others perceive us, and results in us viewing ourselves as objects or concepts. The older we get the more we abandon our private perception of ourselves and live more by our public perception. Let’s move on to discuss what these perceptions mean at each stage.
When we are babies we don’t have any awareness of our external appearance, or a sense of our public identity. We have not developed any understanding of rules or concepts of ourselves, instead we observe the world only from our own point of view from moment to moment. This is long before we learn how to view ourselves as a concept, that is to say through the eyes of others.
In the second stage we are children, and we are beginning to develop a sense of our public identities. We can now identify ourselves by our given names and by what we see in the mirror. This is a time were we will start taking responsibility for ourselves as individuals in wider society. However, we do begin to lose a bit of the private perception we held of ourselves. This is only minor however, as we can still become lost in what we are doing for significant periods of time.
When we grow up to be adults we identify strongly with our public identity. We will see ourselves as others see us, and cling strongly onto the concepts of ‘I’ and ‘me’, that we believe define who we are. Although there are many positive points to living with a strong public identity – for example, we will understand our effects on others and can contribute effectively to the society around us, however we have now become almost entirely isolated from our private self. We become trapped within concepts and rules, and lose the ability to see the world for what it actually is out with this narrow perception. This is why as adults we might feel a deep sense of loss for the freedom of our childhood years.
The Awakened Mind
The stage of the adult is not where our developing sense of self has to end. As we grow older we can turn our focus back to our private perception and learn to balance that in harmony with the public concept of ourselves. We can then live out with the limits of the concepts of ‘I’ or ‘me’, and still have the ability to contribute meaningfully to society as an individual.
In this stage we can live free of restrictive concepts of ourselves, and explore who the Self is out with these. In short, we can experience an awakening.
The final stage
This final stage of awakening might sound daunting. You could be worried that by moving on to this way of being that you will lose yourself. The truth is we have been changing and developing all of our lives. We all understand that when we age from a baby to a child, and from a child to an adult there will be significant changes in who we are and how we think. This next step is no different. And with all of our gathered experience up until this point, we are able to fully view who we are, both as part of wider society, and as our unique and boundless Self.
Considering spiritual awakening in these terms will hopefully have demystified the concept and allow you to commit to your meditation with this experience in mind. It doesn’t need to be an end goal for your practice, but being aware of your ability to develop and grow will certainly encourage moments of clarity and inward reflection on who you are, and what that means in terms of your sense of self.
At MindOwl, we run a course called the Real Happiness course that explores this concept in more detail. By participating in the course you can also learn techniques that will help you to bring your mind closer to awakening. If you’re interested visit our sales page here, https://mindowl.org/real-happiness to learn more.
MindOwl Founder – My own struggles in life have led me to this path of understanding the human condition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.