In my own spiritual awakening, the decisions, beliefs, attitudes and actions of my ego were causing active harm to my life and those around me.
My relationships suffered, my finances suffered, I got fired from my job, got evicted from my apartment, etc, etc. Some of you already already know my background.
Little by little, I started to have an awakening.
How? I slowly but slowly was letting go of my self.
Luckily, I had a highly spiritual background. I was raised in a Christian home, and was taught to have a relationship with the Divine ever since I was kid.
In all my grasping, I forgot how to forget myself.
When my egoic, selfish self started failing me again in my early 20’s, I intuitively remembered how to seek the Divine.
Now, it took me years to understand what the hell happened to me in my own awakening. I wouldn’t have called it that at the time. I would’ve called it “salvation”, or “rededicating my life to Christ”.
But over a decade later, through much study, experimentation, and practice, I have sought to “reverse engineer” my own awakening.
How does spiritual awakening work? Through my journey of studying Christian theology and contemplative practices, Hindu Vedanta and Yoga, Buddhist Dzogchen, Zen and Vipassana (insight) traditions, Qigong, and more, I have come to a deep understanding of what awakening actually is and how to achieve it.
Spiritual awakening is available to you, today, right now. It doesn’t matter what religion (or non-religion) you came from. It doesn’t matter what failures, anxiety, depression, confusion, conflict, and broken relationships you’ve experience. You can move past your egoic self, and achieve a direct connection with the Divine.
If you don’t get dramatic results in your personal peace, joy, awareness, success, and relationships through this article, then I haven’t done my job.
What is Spiritual Awakening?
“Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretence. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”Adyashanti
Spiritual awakening is the movement past our selfish ego, and into Higher Awareness.
This movement from ego to awareness is at the core of every spiritual tradition. It’s the key to becoming a better human for ourselves and those around us.
“All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not.”Richard Rohr
Spiritual awakening happens through ego death, when we realize that the beliefs, thoughts and feelings we identify with, are actually the cause of our suffering.
We cannot have an awakening until we understand what the ego is.
So what is the ego, exactly? Here’s a list of egoic behaviors, inspired by the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle:
- Identity (Losing yourself in an object, thought, or relationship)
- Identification and separation (enlarge the I at the expense of the other)
- Unease, restlessness, boredom, anxiety, dissatisfaction
- Ownership of facts to serve self (taking credit for facts)
- Enoughness / Not Enoughness
- That which benefits us
- That which gives us importance
- Strengthens our image of who we want to be or think we are, or how we want to be seen
- To stand out, be special, attention
- Protect, enhance or conform to an identity or role
At its core, the ego is our identity, or what we choose to identity with. We often form this egoic identity in order to protect ourselves. Evolutionarily speaking, we needed this ego to help protect ourselves. And it evolved to do its job.
But unfortunately, the human ego tends to overprotect itself, or identify with things that may serve us in the moment. But long term, they sabotage us.
This includes overidentifying with short-term pleasure at the expense of our long-term health, identifying as indequate so we get offended by any perceived slight by others, or putting others down in order to feel better about ourselves.
We all want to be seen, heard, safe, protected, and feel like our presence has meaning. This is the function of the ego. But we cause damage to ourselves and others if we let the ego be in control of our lives.
How Do We Move Past the Ego and Gain Spiritual Awakening?
“Awakening is a shift in consciousness, in which thinking and awareness separate.”Eckhart Tolle
The solution to our egoic nature is to recognize we are not the thoughts of the ego, we are the awareness behind our ego.
What do I mean by this? What is “awareness”?
There are two fundamental states of being in life: 1. Our egoic thoughts, desires, feelings and sensations, and 2. The awareness behind those thoughts.
An example of this would be any time a friend, coworker, or whoever, makes a comment toward us. Our egoic mind interprets that comment as an insult. So then our ego creates this interpretation of what they said like “they think I’m not good enough”, “they think I’m lazy”, “they don’t respect me”, etc. We start to identify with those thoughts, and assume they are true.
From that faulty, narrow interpretation, we create suffering for ourselves in 2 ways:
- Causing suffering to ourselves by Identifying (attaching) to those negative thoughts.
- Causing suffering to others by how we react to those egoic thoughts.
Spiritual awakening happens when we stop identifying with the egoic thoughts that are causing us and others suffering.
In classical Buddhist and Hindu spirituality, this is called impermanence. We start to recognize the impermanent energy of our egoic thoughts, desires, and feelings. And our thoughts are exactly that: Energy. A thought of any kind is a burst of mental energy, that eventually falls away – Nothing more. Shinzen Young eloquently writes about this in his book, The Science of Enlightenment.
“Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment.”Chögyam Trungpa
Cool, now we know what the ego is, how to recognize it. That’s Step 1.
Step 2 is moving from ego to awareness.
What is Awareness?
And here we get to the juicy, meaty core of literally ALL spiritual traditions: Awareness.
Jesus, the Buddha, Krishna, the Dalai Lama, Lao Tzu, Eckhart Tolle, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rumi, and many more, all point to this spiritual state when talking about spiritual transformation.
Awareness is merely a state of mind behind our ego and thoughts. And you actually have already experienced this higher spiritual state.
Don’t believe me? If you have ever dropped all of your thoughts and desires to enjoy a hot shower, bask in a beautiful sunrise, or fully savor a delicious meal, you have experienced awareness.
That in itself is enlightenment.
Awareness is what the Zen master D.T. Suzuki calls Big Mind or Zen Mind. It is when your narrow thoughts and desires transcend into a larger orb of awareness where you simply observe. You start to see the bigger picture and notice what arises in the moment.
Thich Nhat Hahn and other masters compare this to observing the clouds in the sky. The clouds come and go, and you just watch them go by, without judgment or analysis. That is awareness.
From that state of awareness, we can observe our thoughts, recognize how temporary they are, how false they often are, and how they often don’t help us. Then we can work to change them and get better results in our life. That is spiritual awakening.
This realization is so simple that many people don’t realize that they are awakened. It’s such a tiny shift from thought to awareness behind the thought, that they think nothing special has happened.
But it has.
“The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture is, itself, enlightenment.”Shunryu Suzuki
“You may have expected that enlightenment would come Zap! instantaneous and permanent. This is unlikely. After the first ‘ah ha’ experience, it can be thought of as the thinning of a layer of clouds.”Ram Dass
Anything done to let go of our thoughts and ego, and choose observational awareness instead, is spiritual awakening.
The easiest way to access this higher awareness? As Rupert Spira teaches, simply ask yourself, “Am I aware”? The answer is your answer.
The Joy of Letting Go
“If you want to become full,Lao Tzu
Let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
Let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
Give everything up.”
Enlightenment is simply learning to let go, and savoring it.
Spiritual joy is attained when we are able to let go at will, and savor what arises in Higher Awareness. This is done through meditation, mindfulness and contemplative prayer practices. The more you practice accessing awareness, the better you’ll get at it.
It’s just like a muscle, your “letting go” muscle gets stronger with time.
This state has been called nirvana, satori, enlightenment, salvation, liberation, awakening, boundless awareness, the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, Yoga (literally meaning yoked to the Divine), Zen, and more.
Many religions and traditions have called it different things, but it all points to the same psychological experience (as current findings of contemplative neuroscience and neurotheology have found out).
If you simmer in this state of awareness and enjoy this “blissful nothingness” at length, you will deepen your growth and awakening. You will experience more joy, love, peace, compassion for others, professional success, healthier relationships, and have a positive impact on the world around you.
Not a bad deal, right?
Your initial spiritual awakening is just the beginning of your journey. There is much more to learn to become a better human for yourself and others. Congratulations on taking the first step in living toward your higher potential.