In different religious traditions there are different Stages of Spiritual Awakening. Spiritual awakening is a process and not a one off event. It is a radical and transformational process. This is why it has been referred to as The Hero’s Journey.
As a writer on spiritual awakening I share various maps that invite such an awakening. Each of these maps have various stages and steps along the way. This is not a linear process but moves forward and spirals back.
It is much like the path walked in a labyrinth. As you move forward you find yourself coming close to the centre. Some little time later having travelled some distance you are much further away. Such is the experience of walking the path of spiritual awakening.
These maps include:-
What is Spiritual Awakening?
Whatever spiritual path you walk there is essentially the inward journey to the centre and the return to the periphery. Many people never take the journey. Many others do not move through all the various stages. At least not within this lifetime.
This is the meaning of the parable of the sower of the seeds.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.
But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.
Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred,sixty or thirty times what was sown.
Whoever has ears, let them hear. – Matthew 13
Spiritual awakening to the full meaning and purpose of life is more likely to happen after the age of 40 plus. This is not to say that at any point along the way that you won’t be given a glimpse of what life is like for someone who has awakened to their true sense of Self.
Such a glimpse can and does happen much earlier. It happened in my own life around the age of twenty four. In this article I outline this journey of spiritual awakening as a five stage journey that includes:-
- The Call.
- The Search.
- The Struggle.
- The Breakthrough.
- The Return.
In other maps of the stages of spiritual awakening there are other sub-stages such as the refusal of the call. In other maps various stages have other names. In the map called The Hero’s Journey the stage of The Struggle is called The Road of Trials.
Spiritual Awakening – Stage 1 – The Call
The first stage of spiritual awakening is referred to as The Call. The call can come at any time. This call I refer to as The Messenger of Love.
This is the call to discover the full potential you are here to have revealed through you.
The Bright Field by R. S. Thomas
I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it.
But that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had treasure in it. I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it.
Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past.
It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
The call to experience the eternity that awaits you comes many times.
Most of the time we refuse the call to adventure. It came to me when I was seventeen and I refused it then. It came more powerfully when I was twenty four. As a consequence of this experience tI took up the second stage of the spiritual journey. I travelled to India were I lived for a year visiting various ashrams and being guided by various gurus.
Spiritual Awakening – Stage 2 – The Search
The second stage of spiritual awakening is called The Search.
I began my search in earnest in my late twenties. I knew what I was looking for because I had been given a glimpse of the breakthrough experience (Stage Four). For many the search is simply an intellectual search. There is the joining of various groups and adherence to a set of given beliefs.
This gives a certain degree of comfort until the later Stages of Life when for many belief is not enough. We see the search intensify in what has been called the mid-life crises. This is when the call of the soul manifests to a more powerful degree and will not let the individual rest until they begin to acknowledge that dimension within them that is beyond the personal.
This demands that you go beyond belief and journey into faith. The poet Rumi invites this when he says, “Give up logic for bewilderment.”
This is the stage of the spiritual journey where you leave the life you know to adventure into the unknown.
Sometimes a Man Stands Up
Sometimes a man stands up during supper and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking, because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.
And another man, who remains inside his own house, dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses, so that his children have to go far out into the world toward that same church, which he forgot.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Spiritual Awakening – Stage 3 – The Struggle
The Message of Love that is the meaning and purpose of the spiritual journey is a refined message. You are required to become resonant with it. This requires that you enter a dark wood where, in the words of the poet Dante “The true way was lost.”
In this third stage of spiritual awakening you become a magician and an alchemist. You learn the lesson of turning lead into gold. The struggle is to turn the lead of those those unloved aspects of yourself into the golden light of the presence within.
This leaden aspect of yourself is very often a repressed spirituality. Like anything that is repressed or denied the light it becomes dangerous and even demonic. I was graced to meet with an alchemist called George Frankl writer of The Failure of the Sexual Revolution.
He was the cousin Victor Frankl who wrote the world renown book Man’s Search for Meaning. Each of these men had walked the road of trials that was the experience of living life in a Nazi concentration camp. Such a struggle takes you through various initiations. These include:-
- The Dark Night of the Senses.
- The Dark Night of the Soul.
- The Crucifixion Initiation.
Spiritual Awakening – Stage 4 – The Breakthrough
The fourth stage of spiritual awakening is the Breakthrough Experience. This breakthrough is termed Stream Entry in Buddhism. In essence it is a glimpse of the enlightened state.
In Christian terminology it is called conversion. Conversion is not to be confused with the weekend high that might be achieved at a retreat or mission when one returns and claims that one is born again.
You are only born again through the grace of the dark night of the soul and the radical transformation of the sense of personal self. The breakthrough is where in the words of St. Paul,
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
St. Paul is stating that he has experienced the crucifixion initiation. This doesn’t mean that he was physically crucified. It means is that the separate sense of self has been put to death in that fairly terrifying experience called The Dark Night of the Soul.
So this initiation has to do with letting go and practicing sacrifice. It has to do with learning that what might be perceived as loss is really only the lower self holding onto things that the Higher Self recognizes the initiate does not really want or need.
So, in reality, nothing is lost but instead something incredible is gained! What is perceived as loss is nothing but lower-self desire, but what is won is desire for the Higher Self and God.
It is not possible to take one’s ascension and become an Integrated Ascended Master without having a true desire and longing for God!
Salvation, Satori, The Inner Light are experiences of radical transformation. They change your world view. They make you a new man or woman. You no longer experience yourself as separate from Love’s Message.
You have disappeared into the Ocean of Love. On the outside nothing much changes. However, your sense of yourself and your relationship to the world has been transformed. You have transcended separateness.
You know that you are eternal life living the limitation of form and you know beyond belief that you are informed by Love. You live as the image of God.
Spiritual Awakening – Stage 5 – The Return
The final stage of spiritual awakening is referred to as The Return. The return always involves service. This is serving the purpose of Love as it is now graced to be expressed through you.
This return is driven by compassion, Love and justice. You return from the centre to the periphery that is this world of form. You cannot stay at the centre otherwise you would never return.
This is what some spiritual seekers are seeking. They wish to live their life blissed out. This is a form of spiritual materialism.
This is why in the Buddhist Tradition we have the individual called the Bodhisattva. This is someone who takes a vow to return to the world in order to alleviate suffering. This return to the world as a living presence of the Message of Love in form really is the sign that one has, in Christian terms, been saved.
It is not any part of the idea that this world can go to hell in a hand basket while the chosen few, usually of a particular religious persuasion live a life of rapture. This kind of thinking is a form of spiritual materialism and a form of ego delusion.
You are created not in order to transcend the world but to bring the radiance of Love into matter. This is the meaning of the invocation, “They will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
There is, however, that stage that includes the Refusal of the Return.
This happened to Buddha following his enlightenment. He doubted that he could convey the realisation he had been graced. When the prophet Mohammed received the breakthrough experience he though it came from demons and that he was going mad.
The return does not mean that you will necessarily transform the world.
Your work is to serve the purpose of Love in all the little ways that you are invited to do so. This grace that you are given in the breakthrough experience is not for yourself but for everyone.
You are not apart from the One Life. Your joy comes from learning to expand the Message of Love that has been graced you for the highest good of all.
Spiritual awakening is a process and not simply a one off event. It is a radical and transformational journey. This is why it has been called The Hero’s Journey.
In this journey there are recognised stages. Like the experience of walking a labyrinth there will be times you find yourself close to the centre of this awakening and more often than not further away.
The journey of spiritual awakening is a walk of faith. Faith is not to be confused with a set of religious dogmas. Faith is a feeling experience of trust that you follow. It isn’t something you already know otherwise faith would not be required.
Learning to trust — that is the great thing. You realize that you do have to do your work, you have to provide what you can, but also you have to learn to believe that Providence is going to provide all that you really need. One learns to trust like that, day by day.
Of course, it does not mean that you just sit down and wait for things to happen. You have to do something, and you do what you need to do, in the belief that Providence is working in and through you, not that you alone are responsible.
— Bede Griffiths in A Human Search edited by John Swindells
Spiritual awakening is an awakening to the knowing that you are the presence of Love in form. This radical transformation is into the allowing of Love’s Message to be expressed through you.
When you are given that message as a living revelation you will know one thing for certain. You could never earn what it gives you. You could never become worthy enough to receive it.
This is not a judgement and certainly not an invitation to feel in any sense unworthy. It is simply what is. You awaken to the reality that you really are made in the image of the God of Love.
Love is who you are and are forever becoming. This knowing this awakening is the pearl of great price that you have within you. Why not claim the treasure you are.
Take the great adventure you are given to live within this time and space dimension. Have you been called to take the journey into the presence and purpose of Love? How has the Message of Love called to you to express the fullness of who you are here to become?
What Stage of the Spiritual Journey do you think you are at?
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