Seven Myths About Spiritual Awakening
Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors
Seven Myths About Spiritual AwakeningSteve Taylor Sorts Fact From Fiction
Steve Taylor More by this author
One of the aims of my book The Leap is to clarify exactly what it means to be spiritually awakened. Through my years of research into spiritual awakening, I’ve become aware of many common ideas and assumptions about the state — some of which I used to hold myself — that simply aren’t true. In what follows, I’ll highlight seven common myths about wakefulness and then explain why I believe they’re false.
No. 1: Wakefulness is unusual
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about wakefulness — and one that I used to believe myself. When I first began my research, I was amazed at how easy it was to find cases of people who had woken up. And that’s still true. I’m continually surprised at the large number of examples I come across — the awakened individuals I meet by chance or synchronicity and the people who write to me or come up to me after talks to tell me that they’ve read one of my articles and have been through (or are going through) the same experience.
In most cases, they’re people who don’t have backgrounds in spiritual traditions and know very little about them. They’re often ordinary people searching for an understanding of the remarkable shift they’ve been through. As a result, I’m certain there are thousands of other people out there who have experienced this shift (mostly triggered by intense psychological turmoil) and have yet to make sense of it — or even tell anyone about it, for fear of being misunderstood.
No. 2: Wakefulness is extraordinary
People who experience wakefulness are often surprised by how ordinary it seems, how natural and easy and right it appears. It feels utterly familiar, even if we have no recollection of experiencing it before. In fact, when we wake up, it’s our normal sleep state that seems peculiar and unnatural. Sleep seems aberrational in its discord, constrictedness, and shadowy, limited vision of reality. When we wake up there’s a sense of returning home to the place where we were meant to be all along.
No. 3: Wakefulness makes us passive and inactive
Don’t awakened people just sit and meditate all day, immersed in their own blissfulness?
It’s true that awakened individuals greatly enjoy being rather doing, and may spend a lot more time “doing nothing” than other people, they may also be extremely active.
Increased activity usually expresses itself through creativity or altruism — sometimes both. Awakened individuals who are artists tend to be extremely prolific. Awakened authors such as D.H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman and William Wordsworth all wrote thousands of poems, with almost inexhaustible creative energy. This prolific creativity is possible because there’s little interference between the awakened artist’s own mind and the transcendent source of creativity. There are also many examples of awakened individuals who have pursued altruistic endeavors with incredible energy and determination.
One of the best examples is Florence Nightingale, who effectively created the profession of modern nursing, founding many hospitals and training tens of thousands of nurses. She also initiated many other social reforms, completely revolutionizing approaches to health care and sanitation. A prolific writer too, she was famous for her endless energy, which became known as “Nightingale power.” But what is less well known about her is that she was a deeply spiritual person who wrote several books on Christian mysticism.
No. 4: Wakefulness reveals the world to be an illusion
In wakefulness, the world actually becomes more real, partly in the sense that it becomes more tangibly real and alive, more vivid and powerfully there, but also in the sense that it becomes infused with spirit. In wakefulness, we realize that there’s no duality, no matter or spirit, no matter or mind. We realize that the physical world and the spiritual world are one, with no distinction. The world is gloriously infused with spirit and gloriously real.
No. 5: Wakefulness reveals the self to be an illusion
One metaphor that can be used to describe the awakening process is that of the wave and the ocean. In our sleep state, we see ourselves as individual waves, separate to the whole ocean. But when we wake up, we realize our oneness with the ocean, that we are the ocean, that we’ve emerged from it and are always part of it.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we lose our identity as a wave. We can have an identity as a wave at the same time as being part of the ocean — at the same time as being the ocean. We can still function as individuals, with some degree of autonomy and identity, at the same time as being one with the whole universe. You could say that awakening doesn’t mean no-self so much as new self.
No. 6 : Wakefulness happens spontaneously. You can’t make an effort to wake up
According to this viewpoint, spiritual practices and paths aren’t effective because to follow them implies making an effort to awaken and working toward a goal. After all, effort is egoic in nature. It means striving and so strengthens the ego, which means takes you further away from wakefulness. To seek enlightenment is futile and self-defeating.
However, not all spiritual seeking is egoic in this way. There’s a much more deep-rooted and organic impulse to awaken, which doesn’t stem from the ego but from the deepest part of our being. This impulse for growth and expansion completely transcends us as individuals; it’s an evolutionary impulse that is actually hundreds of millions of years old.
The urge that so many millions of people feel to explore spiritual teachings and follow spiritual practices and paths is, in most cases, an expression of the same dynamic impulse that has impelled living beings to become more complex and conscious ever since the beginnings of life on Earth. It’s an impulse to expand and intensify consciousness, and progress to a higher-functioning, more integrated state, which is exactly what has been to happening to life forms for millions of years before us through the process of evolution.
No. 7: Wakefulness is the end point of our development. We reach the culmination of our development
Wakefulness is sometimes depicted as the end of our journey, a destination and culmination. When we attain enlightenment we’re surely safely home, on the other side of the river. We’ve reached a state of complete fulfillment and there’s surely nowhere left go. Why would we want go anywhere else?
But in reality, awakening isn’t the end of the journey but the beginning of a different one. It’s not the end of the road but rather a switch to a different road. Awakened people continue to develop. They continue to find new resources inside themselves, uncover new potentials and energies, and evolve new aspects and depths of their relationships with themselves, with other human beings, and with the world in general.