Spiritual awakening doesn’t happen because you master some spiritual technique. There are lots of skillful meditators who are not awake. Awakening happens when you stop bullshitting yourself into continual nonawakening. It’s very easy to use disciplines to avoid reality rather than to encounter it. A true spirituality will have you continually facing your illusions and all the ways you avoid reality. Spiritual practice may be an important means of confronting yourself, or it may be a means of avoiding yourself; it all depends on your attitude and intention. -Adyashanti
Three years ago I had a shift of consciousness. It was not a sudden opening and it didn’t really feel like a big deal at that time. All that really happened is that I read Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now, and it made complete sense to me, whereas on previous readings it had not.
With the shift, I started exploring, mostly through reading. I went through a period of high-energy and ecstasy. Life was eventful, fun and easy. Just to be and breathe was delicious. Decisions came to me pre-made. Life was living itself, experiencing, in peaceful flow. I traveled. I wrote. I was engaged with family and friends and living.
I was also dealing with feelings of deep longing for someone. This was a little bizarre, because I had ended the relationship two years before. I was surprised that there were feelings that I had not been conscious of, and was really surprised at the intensity of the feelings.
After about a year and half, life slowed down. The ecstasy waned. Agony waxed.
The feelings of longing and what I had thought was unrequited love continued, and even intensified, to the point where I sometimes felt it was unhealthily obsessive.
There was anxiety, and this was a shocking disappointment. How could I feel anxiety, when I thought I had awakened out of depression and anxiety and the rest of the mess?
Even with this releasing though, what remained was not fun. For a long period I felt apathetic and detached and alone. There was no zest to life.
This depression is different from clinical depression. In depressive episodes in the past, I had felt a deep sense of nihilistic futility and unhappiness. This spiritual depression was not unhappy or nihilistic. It was apathetic and inactive and indecisive.
I’ve heard this described as spiritual depression or the “dark night of the soul.”
Consciousness is more conscious but embodied patterns continue.
The mind loves to run through its grooves of conditioning. My conditioning includes patterns of depression and withdrawal. For me the dark night shows up as ennui. It may be different for you. Old patterns die hard.
The agony of awakening is often exacerbated by expectation. We have certain ideas of awakening, usually very romantic ones. We’ve heard about oneness and bliss. The ego wants in on this, and it creates ideas of an enlightened future where we’ll be super-spiritual, super-effective, super-happy—essentially super-human.
So when old-habits re-emerge, it’s quite a let-down.
I think many people are even reluctant to talk about it, since they have set the expectation in themselves and others that they had permanently shifted to some sort of a blissed-out dimension.
We may feel that we are not fitting in. We feel inadequate and alienated. We’re in the middle stages somewhere with this awakening thing, and we may feel that there are people who seem be able to completely embrace awakening. Their lives, seemingly, are flowing and easy and directed, and yet here we are, somewhat opened up, and yet dragging the heavy burdens of old tendencies, unable to let go.
And the old drivers are no longer helpful. In the past, we may have been able to “power through”, by setting goals, and by positive thinking, and with self-discipline and effort. We now have the intuition that this sort of self-forcing cannot be sustained.
Friends and family may be concerned, and may try to help, but at this point we realize that nobody can really help us. It has to all come from inside.
We may find that our concepts are no longer of much help. We’ve probably at this stage left behind the need to intellectually dissect and understand. We find though that even spiritual concepts are of no help. We read about karma and compassion and acceptance and letting go, and yet these concepts no longer help in any real way. There is a continual checking back—what is it that I don’t know, what is it that I’m not doing, what is it that I’m doing wrong? Where is the damned flow that people love to talk about? Where is the freaking joy and peace that everyone vehemently shouts about?
And these times seem never-ending. Will I really see the light? Is there really a light to see? Or is this all some complicated play of the emperor’s clothes, illusions within illusions within illusions?
We can’t even go back to our old pretend-lives. We can’t muster up the old pretenses and drivers and make ourselves a conventional life in the sleepy auto-pilot mode, giving only bare attention to what’s going on inside us. Once there has been a willingness to see, there is no turning back.
Nothing seems to help. Certainly no thought or emotion or belief can help us for long. We don’t want to pretend any more. We don’t want the temporary solutions of discipline and re-arranging beliefs. Where do we turn? What do we do?
What to do
Well, I don’t have an earth-shattering answer.
This was not a satisfying article to write. I have presented a case for spiritual depression. I don’t know that everyone who is awakening goes through it, but there are enough references out there to suggest that many of us do.
Adyashanti talks about it here. What was striking to me here was the voice of the questioner. Her despair and uncertainty come right through.
Whatever agony is showing up in us has always existed in us. It’s nothing new. It’s showing up now, a little differently and more acutely, because we are waking up. At some point, we recognize this, and we stop resisting. At some point, we realize that the only problem there ever is, is resistance.
And this may be it. The purpose of these agonizing states may be the opportunity to surrender. The answer may be in the very problem. The answer is in the questions we ask ourselves: where do we turn, what do we do.
It is not what we do. It is what we stop doing. We stop resisting.
In the next few articles I will consider this further.
Have you experienced this ebb and flow? What do you do about it?