How to Survive Awakening.
Do you remember how it was at the beginning of your journey?
You had just started meditating a little, and had read some New Age authors, or perhaps you had read Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi? You were a little concerned that you could be alone on your journey because your family and friends didn’t understand your new interests. Your first meditations were like beautiful day-dreaming, or perhaps they were showing you some different realms — who knows?
As you became more committed to your journey, or perhaps more lucky, you met a spiritual teacher, a spiritual community, or perhaps — out of the blue — you awoke.
Perhaps this awakening was drastic and powerful, perhaps gentle, but it certainly wasn’t what you had thought it would be.
You did not become the embodiment of pure bliss — in fact, it felt like you were struck by a thunderbolt and, instead of instant clarity, you became more confused yet strangely sure that you were doing the right thing, that this was a part of the journey, and that somehow all of this turmoil is a gift — if sometimes too strange too bear.
Does this sound familiar?
In my case, after the initial blissfulness, I entered a state of great confusion. My new vision did not comply with my old desires. You see, until then I’d wanted to be a famous writer, and suddenly, a broader, more embracing vision was open to me where being famous was not a priority anymore.
Before the awakening, I had used to completely rely on my mind, while after the awakening, my emotions surfaced with great power and I had to learn how to feel instead of relying on being a sarcastic intellectual. For a while, it felt like walking in a dark room. At times, it felt like an unbearable turmoil, but this is what I needed to learn: feel and open to a higher mind (intuition).
There is this misconception about awakening: it instantly fixes everything and we happily be tiptoe on a bed of rose petals for the rest of our lives. The experience and testimonies of the great yogis and mystics say otherwise. Awakening requires internal work.
It is an internal re-working of our being; you have just woken from a limited reality and become awake to your full potential, even if you do not know what that is yet.
For a while, this can be confusing, as our whole system of beliefs, our whole view of the world, is re-wired in front of our lives. And as we are able to see more, it becomes more uncomfortable for us to accept what we took for granted before — whatever you believed your life to be will be questioned and possibly changed for a while at least. A total re-wiring of our being is a description that works best for me.
Once, a priest-professor at the University of Toronto told me the story of St Francis of Assisi — a story that encapsulates both personal awakening and its aftermath.
Young Francis was the son of a wealthy merchant in Florence. One evening, as he was parting with his friends on the streets of Florence, he had a spiritual awakening. Suddenly, he saw everything from a completely new perspective and, instead of following his friends, he intuitively began walking in the opposite direction.
I think this is the quintessential story of awakening — a vision takes you by surprise, and takes you in a different direction to where you thought you were supposed to go.
Imagine, until that moment, Francis’ life had been laid out for him by the expectations of his family and society. He was already gifted, wealthy and handsome, was destined to inherit his father’s wealth. Yet his vision took him elsewhere, and he became an iconic figure of compassion in Christianity, both Christ-like and Buddha-like.
His story is not different from that of many other great sages from all traditions, including the Buddha, who walked away (see the walking away theme) from what appeared to be his destiny — as a pampered prince sheltered from all the unpleasantness of life.
In more recent times, the American spiritual teacher Ram Dass, who became a Harvard professor in his 20s, had his own rather dramatic awakening which culminated in his going to India, finding his teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, and more or less starting the spiritual revolution in the US in the 1960s with his book Here and Now.
Even more recently, Byron Katie, an American spiritual teacher, after 10 years of depression, woke up one day established in the state of permanent joy.
Let me tell you, none of these stories were told lightheartedly by the protagonists, as they all required making tough decisions and commitment to follow their vision. And following their vision often meant letting go of what they had previously believed was their life.
Fortunately for us, we are not saints, but the same principle applies (a sigh of relief here). So how do we survive awakening? To start with, awakening asks us to re-vision our lives. It asks us to trust this new vision. Still more, it asks us to act on this vision, even if (and especially if) this is not what we had previously planned for ourselves.
But think about it: When you wanted to be a (fill in the blanks) you did not have a full picture or full vision of this. Now that your vision is more complete, isn’t it wise to re-vision your old view? We are often asked to work on ourselves as challenges arise. The best way to think about it is as a shedding of old layers that prevent us from evolving.
Toni Morrison, the American writer, said it for all of us: “If you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that is weighing you down!” Personally, I don’t know a better way than meditating, but do what works for you. Having a teacher helps, but a teacher can only take you so far and will eventually disappoint you. And you know what? That is part of the journey — the part where you are asked to walk with your Self.
I like what Joseph Campbell said about mystics and artists. He said they are essentially the same, except that the mystic allows him/herself to be carried away completely by the Inspiration/Energy/Divine/Grace/God, while the artist co-creates. So choose which you prefer to be, and act accordingly.
A mystic lives in a state of Grace and abandon so deep that they often lose interest in basic survival. For example, a great Indian woman-ecstatic Anandamayi needed to be fed as she would not remember to eat. Being a writer, I prefer what Elizabeth Gilbert said about being an artist: do your art and pay your own bills.
In a way, being an artist of your own life is more difficult (bloody bills) but you can create now with an expanded vision.
It will all make sense eventually, so be patient and trust the process. What you are going through is a necessary process. Often we have to work through many layers of inner blocks, conditioning, misconceptions, and even dreams that do not makes any sense to us anymore. This might present itself as a feeling of being stuck: the feeling that what had worked for us in the past does not satisfy us anymore.
Only now, things are starting to make sense and come together for me. People emerge from the past, and new people come my way with the same vision — and we help each other, all committed to the vision of oneness and compassion. Together the vision of oneness and compassion is one single thing truly needed in this world.
Indeed, awakening does not have to be of a religious kind. It often is an awakening to a more holistic view of the world, based on the idea that we are all in it together rather than what is there for me. It can manifest as some form of activism, volunteer work, or even a more reclusive and meditative life. Yet each time, it is there to transform your life — that is, if you let it.
Joanna Kujawa is the author of Jerusalem Diary (a spiritual travelogue) and many short stories, essays and academic pieces. She sees herself as a Spiritual Detective who asks difficult questions about spirituality, such as ‘Can spirituality and sexuality be experienced as one?’, ‘Eho was the real Mary Magdalene?’, ‘How can we include eco-spirituality in our belief systems?’ and ‘How can we bring back the Divine Feminine to create a more balanced and interconnected world?’ Her goal is to create and participate in the shift in consciousness about spirituality, our connection to nature, and our place in the Universe. She has PhD from Monash University, and MA and BA from the University of Toronto. She is immoderately passionate about her Goddess News blog. You could connect with her via her website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.