There’s a bright, shiny view of spiritual awakening that many self-help gurus will try to sell you.
Like the flip side of a doomsday preacher on the street corner telling you that you’ll go to Hell unless you follow his particular brand of religion, the cheery self-help guru will tell you that life’s all about realizing that negativity is an “illusion,” and that all your dreams will come true if you learn to “let go” and embrace pure positivity and inner tranquility.
You can find some version of this spiritual snake oil on the store of bookshelves or at dime-a-dozen seminars and corporate retreats.
The basic narrative is that we’re all on a process of inner development and treading a lovely path to a bliss-filled land of peace, harmony and endless fulfillment.
The basic narrative is that problems only exist in your head, not in reality.
Can’t you just smell the wildflowers and breathe in that paradisiacal mountain air? Everything is so perfect and no toxic emotions or negativity is allowed here in this sacred, pure place!
The truth is just a little bit different.
Spiritual awakening hurts.
Spiritual awakening will leave you feeling alone at times.
Spiritual awakening will test you to your limit.
Spiritual awakening will often break you before you can put yourself back together.
But spiritual awakening is worth it …
If it wasn’t, nobody would continue on the path to shattering their old illusions and embracing new paradigms and more authentic ways of living.
If becoming an aware, spiritually-attuned person was ultimately just a trend there would be no reason to work at it, to struggle with it or to truly commit to it.
If you pursue what’s easy or only accept the experiences and inner states that make you feel nice, you are very likely to undergo a false spiritual awakening and get stuck in a cycle of toxic positivity.
Many of those who’ve contributed immeasurable amounts to our world and collective consciousness from the Dalai Lama to Mother Theresa underwent spiritual awakenings that involved enormous pain and moments of crushing doubt.
True spiritual awakening has no room for lies.
There is no room for lies to yourself or lies to others.
And the truth is our society and our own minds are often full of misinformation, misdirection, repression, unhelpful narratives and energy black holes where we lose sight of our purpose and power.
Awakening to authenticity and leaving behind an egoistic, attachment-focused version of life is not easy. But it’s worth it, and it’s the inevitable next step of human evolution.
But first there are some hurdles to overcome. Understanding why and how these difficulties arise can help you work through your spiritual awakening and come out stronger on the other side.
Here’s why spiritual awakening is so painful.
1. Waking up isn’t easy
Have you ever heard your alarm go off and wanted nothing more than to roll over and go back to sleep?
I think we all have.
Spiritual awakening is similar.
You observe, feel and think about life, yourself and others in new and sometimes confronting ways and your first instinct may be to push these experiences down.
You want to “roll over” and go back to pleasant dreams of the past or fantasies about the future. Or you want to rededicate yourself to material happiness, or obtaining the objects and goals that you believe will fulfill that hole inside of you.
A spiritual awakening is a cleansing process and it requires us to let go of comforting illusions and ideas that we cling to in order to feel safe.
Our beliefs, justifications, constructed self-image and identity: these are all up for exploration and challenge when we begin to awaken spiritually.
From our first day in school we were likely told that career success would define us. Our families often place pressure on marriage and career as well, while society pushes a consumerist narrative that tells us that objects and commodified experiences will complete us and lead to fulfillment.
Many illusions that we believe we’ve overcome about who we are and our own power are deeply persistent and continue to lurk below the surface.
These can include narratives of guilt and shame and absorbing the pain of others and recycling it as our own or feelings of pride and egotism that we “deserve” certain experiences or outcomes in life.
These lies can include an underlying conviction that someone else will finally come along and “complete” us or rescue us from our own loneliness and misery.
The list of lies we tell ourselves is almost endless.
And the truth is not so much about “finding ourselves” and as about leaving behind all the illusions and misdirected ideas that never were us in the first place.
And this process can be difficult because it means leaving behind comforting ideas and illusions that gave us the feeling of security and a firm identity.
2. Breaking up is hard to do
Spiritual awakening is basically a break up.
It’s a break-up with the comforting illusions we’ve clung to. It’s a break up with old versions of ourselves and our identity that we believed defined us or kept us secure. It’s a breakup with ideologies, beliefs and narratives that make us feel good but ultimately keep us locked in a cycle of complacency.
It can also literally be part of a break up with a partner who we are no longer on the same path or wavelength as anymore.
As the author Steve Leascock puts it, “the world has become a playground filled with mental and materialistic superficiality. And, there are many things that we enjoy. This encourages us to continue on and want more. Still, deep within we already know that more will never be enough.”
Spiritual awakening means breaking the routine. It means letting go of the rope of security and riding out sometimes stormy waves instead of only clinging to the safe harbor of what we’re used to and what we always formerly thought.
The truth is that spiritual awakening is not really some plateau, nor is it some certificate you get handed by a man in a shiny white robe.
It’s an ongoing process of becoming who you are.
It’s an often painful process – physically, mentally, emotionally.
Spiritual awakening is a deal you enter into without the promise of a pay-off. You don’t do it to “get” some state or end goal. You do it because your inner self can no longer be satisfied by old beliefs or stale routines.
You do it because it is the next, inevitable stage of growth.
3. Spiritual awakening requires fully facing yourself
The road to spiritual enlightenment requires fully facing yourself.
You won’t face any enemy so challenging, insidious and persistent as yourself and your own comforting illusions and desire for ego safety.
The programming which has been applied to you and which you’ve applied to yourself is powerful and it’s stuck to you with spiritual super glue. Finding out that even some of the basic starting assumptions of your life and existence may have been mistaken is not reassuring.
Discovering that the person you always thought you were is more of a comforting construction than a reality can be bewildering, scary and upsetting.
In a spiritual awakening you have to face the fact that many of your decisions, actions, beliefs and relationships may be running on autopilot, linked to past traumas and patterns or be part of wish fulfillment and egoistic, self-placating tactics.
You will have to face the person you have become – or are pretending to be – and square that with the journey you are on.
This may require leaving behind friendships, relationships, ideologies, outer definitions and even your physical home.
It may involve travel, cultural learning, reimagining the horizon that you always thought you knew so well and seeing that it actually stretches so much farther than you ever realized.
You will have to face the old version of yourself beckoning you back to safety, back to illusion and back to routine.
Sometimes you may double back and try to sink back into the soporific dream. But eventually that part of you spurring you on to spiritual awakening will force you to look back at the old shell of yourself tempting you back to complacency and you will have to say “not anymore.”
4. Awakening can leave you feeling stranded
Not many people talk honestly about how lonely spiritual awakening and the inner journey can be.
But at times it will leave you feeling alone in the universe. At times you will see it as the loneliest journey you ever set out on …
That’s because you are leaving past illusions and comforting lies behind. You are following truth and authenticity where it leads, and these are often new roads, new people, new experiences and new ways of living.
As Donna Goddard writes, “it is, often, in the utter despair of humanness that we become willing to consider deeply spiritual answers. Although the door and the guide will be different for people, once the door is open, we are all in the same territory. Spiritual truth irretrievably alters our way of seeing reality and our ability to heal both ourselves and other people.
Most spiritual awakening is due to a total disappointment in the human condition to provide any sense of substantial happiness. It is a blessing in disguise. Our greatest need is for the love and assurance that spiritual understanding brings. If it were not for the common experience of human lovelessness and limitation then we would not be driven to seek a higher love.”
In other words, you have to unplug from the Matrix before you can start to really experience life, love and fulfillment in any real way.
And sometimes disillusionment with the Matrix isn’t a mental illness or a personal failing or “lack of positivity,” it’s your inner knowing that there’s more to things than this.
That you need to set off on your own if necessary to seek out the heart of life and spiritual truth.
It can be lonely. But in the end there are many of us who have been down the same road and we are all right here with you.
5. Awakening brings empathy and pain
Spiritual awakening is about waking up from an illusory life and entering a real one. A major and inevitable part of that is realizing the pain and suffering that’s all around you and becoming more attuned to the struggles and lives of others.
When we realize the illusions and traps we’ve been living in it becomes much more obvious the way others are too.
And not only other people, spiritual awakening will often include real feelings of pain about the way the nature world is being despoiled and abused, about the way that spiritual systems are being used to manipulate people, about how unhealthy relationships towards money are enslaving people.
As you become more intensely aware and even a co-participant in the world and creation unfolding around you, your empathy will naturally increase.
This heightened empathy will open you up to new dimensions of solidarity and compassion.
But it can also hurt a hell of a lot.
You will no longer be able to separate yourself off from the pain of others and dismiss it as not your problem.
The injustice and suffering of another innocent person is all of our problem, and you will no longer have the option to put up mental and emotional walls that convince you that you’re able to live life however you want without concern for others.
And that can be surprisingly hard to come to terms with, especially in a status-driven, selfish culture that prizes individualism above all else.
6. Awakening can be terrifying
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
– Carl Jung
Choosing to follow spiritual awakening where it leads is like leading a charge in battle while the bullets are flying.
There’s no deal to be made or rationalization to change reality. You’re in the breach and have to surrender control and do your best.
If you turn back you’re just as likely to be mowed down or lie in fright for the rest of the battle and feel even worse afterwards.
This metaphor may be a little dramatic – or even be taken as disrespectful to veterans and those who’ve been in real-life combat – but it’s not intended that way and there are definitely experiences in life that can completely overwhelm us.
Spiritual awakening can leave you feeling like the rug’s been pulled out from under your feet and you just realized you’ve been standing on lava the whole time in a computer simulation.
You look at your own face in the mirror and feel like you’re on a bad drug trip of epic proportions. Because the reality you always thought was safe and “real” has turned out to be anything but that.
When we are forced to question the very foundations of what we’ve always depended on it’s not fear like hearing a loud noise or facing a steep hill on a bicycle.
It’s existential fear.
We grasp for new points of reference to cling on to, but in the end the only option is to begin to fully accept the dynamic and powerful nature of life and its ever-changing movement.
As Frank Herbert writes in Dune, “fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
7. Awakening is rated ‘R’ for nudity
Awakening doesn’t leave you with any clothes or outer layers to rely on.
All the outer labels you once leaned on and offered to others – and yourself – as a reassurance and reference point just lose their puissance.
It’s no longer enough. Because you’ve committed to truth and found out that the inner monologue and voice in your head was never really you, nor was it really meaningful in the first place.
The real you is the you that observes these swimming thoughts and chooses consciously what to do in life.
The real you is not a victim or a savior, not a sinner or a saint. The real you is part of this dynamic process of life and on a journey to true love and intimacy.
All the stories you created about who you are and what life is have to fall away inevitably in the spiritual journey. Your “clothes” of illusion are something you have to shed naturally …
The spiritual awakening process isn’t easy. It was never meant to be, and growth is never a breeze.
From physical to mental and emotional growth there is struggle in the process of survival and flourishing.
As you move along the road to authentic experience and identity you will have to give up the comfort blankets society and your own mind has offered you.
Your consciousness will begin to inhabit its natural place linked up to what is around you and the existence which we are all part of.
Your ego’s grip on your decision-making and emotions will begin to loosen and lose its convincing power to lead us astray. You will no longer run so quickly towards the quick-fix junk food that used to spark your interest and desire.
You will increasingly want more and want to go deeper.
And that process won’t always be easy. It requires letting go of your illusion of control and false reality.
At the end of the day, talk is cheap.
The spiritual awakening is personal yet also collective. It’s hard, yet it’s also the most worthwhile trip you can ever set out on.
Nobody else can do it for you.
And even one million words could never summarize everything you’ll experience on the journey to authenticity and connection.
If you are going through a spiritual awakening and adjusting to a changing inner landscape that can seem overwhelming at times it can help immensely to know that you’re not alone.
Others have gone through these intense experiences and suffered and felt alone the way you do. You will emerge on the other side of this as a stronger, more compassionate, more empowered person.
If you’re interested in self-knowledge and living a more fulfilled life, check out Ideapod Academy. It’s our new online education platform where we offer free masterclasses, comprehensive workshops and eBooks to help you embrace your personal power.