In my work, I use the term broadly. Awakening can be psychological or spiritual. It can be short-lived experience or a permanent state. It can be gradual or sudden. One of the best descriptions of this process comes from the book Out of the Darkness by Steve Taylor:
“A shift occurs inside you. Something gives way; an old self dies and a new one is born. Suddenly you feel a sense of lightness and freedom, as if ties have been cut and weights have been lifted. The world seems a different place, with a new sense of meaning, harmony and beauty. Past and future no longer have any meaning and the worries which filled your mind before no longer matter. All that does matter is the shining ‘is-ness’ you can see around you and the glorious present that you’re living through.
“And this isn’t just a temporary change. The initial intensity of the experience may fade after a few days but you’re never the same again. You’re filled with a permanent sense of well-being and a new appreciation for life. You never take anything for granted ever again–you’re permanently aware of the value of life itself, of your friends and family, of the beauty of the world, of your health and freedom. You find yourself no longer trying as hard to make things happen; instead you’re content to relax and let events unfold. Your mind is permanently free of worry and anxiety, and rather than spending your life chasing after status, success and wealth, you spend your time trying to help other people or to further your own spiritual development.”
Awakening Experiences from Trauma
Perhaps one of the best ways to understand what awakening is, is to hear it directly from normal people. Steve Taylor, in his book Out of the Darkness, has numerous examples of ordinary people undergoing extraordinary awakenings after trauma and turmoil. He has given me permission to quote from his book and below are a few examples of some awakening experiences. The point here is to recognize that life can awaken us “out of the blue” without a long regimen of meditation practice. While it is not something we may consciously choose, when it comes we may choose to open to all it has to offer.
“If, at the very moment when terror engulfs us and our inner resistance collapses,
we can somehow submit and accept…we are suddenly calm, our fears are instantly forgotten,
and we have the certainty that there is something in us that death and destruction cannot touch.”
– Karlfried Durckheim
Slowing Down from an Illness (Cheryl Brown)
“It’s as if the universe hits you on the back of the head and tells you to stop. I was on a treadmill rushing around, doing a dozen projects at once, and I had to stop.
“Since my illness, I’ve become aware of something common to all religions, something fundamental, related to goodness and intelligence. It’s the universe which we are part of working for the good and the feeling that this illness did happen for a reason. I feel I’m just beginning on this path and I’ll let the universe take me at its own pace.
“I’ve come to this realization that striving is not productive—that the more you try to force things, the more damage you do I actually want my recovery to take longer—I feel as if I’m not quite ready yet.”
Massive Change After Feeling Completely Broken (Carrie Mitchell)
“I’ve had a weird but wonderful journey hitting rock bottom and going back up again. It’s quite amazing how things have turned around It’s been very liberating, and led to a massive change in my values and my ambitions. I feel as if I’ve woken up to something.
“Now I live very much in the present. When you have a realization of what really matters, it stops you getting lost in negative thoughts. Whatever happens is going to happen, so there’s no point worrying about it. You just have to accept it. Even if the worst happens I know I will get through it.
“If this is what having all these traumas has led to, then I guess I’m very lucky”
Transformation After a Long Period of Turmoil (Stephanie)
“Everything just began unraveling. My messy, insignificant life seemed perfect. It couldn’t be any other way. Then the floodgates opened, the water broke. It went on for three days. On the third day I was filled with pure light, ‘the peace that passeth all understanding’. I entered a state of bliss that lasted several months I guess I can say I gave birth to myself or to ‘the self’. To sum it up as a scientist, I experienced a frequency change. To sum it up in spiritual terms, it was an initiation.
“I pretty much live in the present moment now. My mind is clear; when I meditate it’s silent. The most profound change has bee the disappearance of egoic consciousness. There’s no little voice in the head. I don’t have the ego’s constant prompting and fixation on regret and fear. Thinking is not something I do very much anymore. This is the most remarkable side effect of the transformation—the lack of internal noise…and judgment.
“I view love in a completely different way now. Love is a state of grace. It just is. What an amazing gift it is to experience love as a state of being rather than as a conditional ‘feeling’ that comes and goes.”
Deep Bereavement to Earth-Shattering Breakthrough (Glyn Hood)
“It was as though I had shutters around my brain and they were being pulled up one by one. And knowledge was flooding through. I was expanding. And it was all coming at once, flooding through, as if my ego was crashing down.
“And suddenly I’m aware of everything there is. There’s still a physical me, but there’s also a real me. Everything’s perfect. There’s a white spirit in everything in us, a superior mind, far greater than anything I could have dreamed of. I’m euphoric, joined with God, seeing everything from a much higher perspective.
“I know that there’s nothing bad or wrong. Everything is perfect. It’s all how God experiences itself. Everything balances itself; opposites have to be there for it all to work. We are eternal. The way it feels is that I’ve permanently broken through to another state. I’ve moved up to another level of awareness, which I know is going to stay with me. One day a shift occurs and a different picture suddenly emerges, showing you who you really are—an eternal being, far more powerful and amazing than you ever thought possible.
“I knew without a doubt that I’d witnessed the absolute truth and having experienced it with such clarity, there’s no going back. It’s like the transformation a caterpillar goes through during the chrysalis stage before emerging as a butterfly.”
Losing Everything and Everything Becoming a Miracle (Michael Hutchison)
“After months of frustration, it began to hit me. The voice in my head said, ‘Let go, man, let go. Look at how you’re holding on. What do you think life is telling you? All these near-death experiences—what do you think that’s about? Dying, that’s what. I realized my ego was holding on, trying to keep control. I knew it was time to let go.
“It was as if my entire being had been clenched in a tight fist and suddenly the fist opened up and let go completely. Everything dropped away. I began seeing and experiencing a kind of upwellig or emanation inside me. It was in front of my eyes, but also inside my eyes and inside my body, and it started flowing upward. It was emptiness, the void, but it was luminous. It was just a current of bliss.
“I feel oneness all the time. I first felt this radiant bliss like a vibration all over inside myself. But the more I got into it, the more I realized that it extended everywhere and connected everything together—all of the planets, all of the cosmos, everything in the universe. No thoughts, no ideas, no images, nothing. That’s what it all comes down to, to be nothing. I learned to be nothing. And that’s the bliss.”
Continual Anxiety, Resisting Nothing, Permanent Awakening (Eckhart Tolle)
“There was a sense of great fear of life but not wanting to fully face that meaninglessness and find out what underlay it. The feeling was especially severe at night, a sense of complete separateness from one’s surroundings, of great aloneness.
“In retrospect, the unhappiness arose from an inner state of disconnectedness. As long as things are going well around you, without any major breakdown, there’s a slight sense of fear, of anxiety, which people cover-up. But when things start breaking down, the cover-up no longer works.
“Most people need the unreality of the sense of self. It’s so strongly established that they need to be hit by suffering for it to be broken. Sometimes even that is not enough. But even if the suffering just causes a crack in the rigid shell of the self, then suddenly you become open to spiritual teachings. It may not bring about a complete awakening, but it accelerates the inner transformation.
“Suffering is not always a guarantee of inner transformation. Often it is resisted so fiercely that the ego actually grows and people become embittered and angry with themselves or with the world. Suffering is always an opportunity, but often it’s not taken.”
(Quotes taken with permission from Steve Taylor’s book Out of the Darkness: From Turmoil to Transformation)