One of the most important dimensions of the human experience is spiritual. For many people, a formal religion such as Catholicism, Islam, or Hinduism meets their spiritual needs and leaves them feeling a sense of spiritual satisfaction. For others, New Age spiritual experiences feel the need for spirituality. Still others seem content to shrug off the great mystery as irrelevant.
Regardless of your preferences, anybody can experience a spiritual awakening at any point during their life. A spiritual awakening is an experience with the sublime that causes us to step back and embrace existence in a new light. Spiritual awakenings often come after grappling with deep-rooted issues of the human soul, contemplating deep questions: Why am I here? Who am I, and who do I want to be? Having an experience that causes you to think in these ways often results in a new outlook on one’s life, which is frequently described as a sensation of literally awakening to a new way of being.
So, what is a spiritual awakening? The best definition is that it’s an experience of the sublime. It’s a realization that the self and the surrounding world are essentially the same: a true, meaningful apprehension of the concept of oneness. When Buddha had his experience with nirvana or Joan D’arc spoke to the saints in her dreams, they experienced epiphanies, a sense of true purpose, and divine unity with all. When you have a spiritual awakening, you sense a true unity with God or a higher power.
After a mind-blowing event like a spiritual awakening, you probably have questions. How can I tell if this was a real spiritual awakening? Could I mistake this experience for something else? What are the signs and symptoms of a spiritual awakening?
Spiritual Awakening Symptoms
When you experience a spiritual awakening, your outlook on the world will have shifted in a new direction. You may feel a renewed sense of hope or purpose. How can you know that your experience was real and legitimate? What are some spiritual awakening symptoms that can help us determine what happened?
One of the first spiritual awakening symptoms to watch out for is a sense of disconnection from the world around you. After an experience with divinity, the real world will feel flat. You’ll likely feel disconnected and detached from the world after a spiritual awakening; knowing a deeper reality will make the surface feel irrelevant.
This feeling is often accompanied by a sensation of noticing things. Many of us are cruising through life without taking the time to ask any deep or meaningful questions. When we sense our place in the universe and rub elbows with the sublime, it puts our life into perspective and forces introspection. We begin to learn about ourselves and examine our behaviors in new ways. This often leads to self-reflection. Why do I feel inadequate? Why am I so angry with the kids? Why do I feel the need to do this or that? When we observe ourselves and begin asking these questions, we’re beginning a process of growth: we’re aware of ourselves in the moment and aware of how we could change in light of our new understanding of our place in the universe.
A New Reality
When we analyze what a spiritual awakening is, we might not expect the answer to involve a literal awakening to a new understanding of the nature of the universe. But that’s exactly what it is: a spiritual awakening will cause you to reevaluate your fundamental beliefs about reality. If you’ve been a passive worshiper who just goes through the motions, and you suddenly have a spiritual awakening where you see angels, you’re going to begin questioning some of your deep-rooted assumptions about what’s real. If you’re an atheist and you suddenly have a personal experience with God, you’re likely going to reconsider your spiritual beliefs.
Not only will you begin questioning your beliefs, but you’ll also likely begin to reorient your life to accommodate your spirituality. You might begin going to church or begin praying more. Many people who undergo a spiritual awakening may find themselves drawn to reading holy books or learning more about religious traditions in their faith. An experience of the divine will cause a reorientation to that which is perceived as holy.
One of the most significant spiritual awakening symptoms is letting go of attachments. This doesn’t necessarily mean physical attachments: you don’t need to give away your treasured new gadget or trinket just because you had a spiritual awakening. When someone has a spiritual awakening and lets go of their attachments, they’re letting go of conceptual attachments that conceal the true self. When we say “I’m a vegan” or “I’m a Baptist,” we’re identifying ourselves in the context of something else. Those identities obscure our true selves: letting go of attachments helps one become more authentic.
Authenticity is often associated with spiritual awakening. When you’ve seen yourself in the context of the divine, you lose the need to cling to cultural norms or outside pressures. You become driven by the essence of the divine that lives within you. When you begin following your inner self, you lose the need to please others or to avoid saying the wrong thing. This creates an aura of divine confidence that’s very attractive to others.
As you begin revealing your authentic self, you may find your social circle shifting. Your relationships with others may be affected by your spiritual awakening. Friends with contradictory religious views or worldviews may not be able to understand you. Family members may question your wellness or express concern at your changing persona. The best way to handle people who are worried about you is to listen to their concerns and then speak frankly and sincerely about your experience, reminding them that your personal experience may not be the same as theirs.
A sudden and keen awareness of the centrality of compassion is among the most important spiritual awakening symptoms. Compassion is at the core of every major religion because it is deeply intertwined with the behaviors promoted by the divine. Friendship, love, kindness, and service are all rooted in the concept of compassion. One can’t be friends in a true sense without having compassion for another. Likewise, no true love can exist without compassion. Kindness and service originate in a desire to improve the experience of living for another entity.
While some in dogmatic religious spaces prefer to utilize judgment, compassion is the more divine practice. When one judges, one is assuming many things about another person and imposing a decision on their worthiness. This is obviously not holy behavior: when one has had a spiritual awakening, they realize that other people have feelings too and that most people are trying their best in an unforgiving world.
Compassion doesn’t stop at others. A spiritual awakening can often lead one to a sense of self-compassion. Self-compassion is the act of treating yourself as you’d treat others. If a loved one was discouraged about themselves, you’d try to talk to them about their positive aspects and what makes them a wonderful person. However, when we feel discouraged about ourselves, we often self-criticize. Self-compassion is the process of being kind to yourself.
After experiencing a spiritual awakening, one is likely to feel called to service. Jesus Christ was what we might consider a servant leader: he led his flock by serving others out of a deep-rooted love for all of humanity. Jesus cared for the sick, fed the hungry, and he tended to his flock. John 13:15 describes Jesus telling his disciples to follow his example and serve others as he has. In the Qu’ran, it’s said that “you are the best people ever raised for the good of mankind because you have been raised to serve others.”
Part of a spiritual awakening is the sense that all living things have worth and value. As you begin to internalize and fully accept this idea, you may begin picking up on the conditions around you: the world is full of injustice, suffering, cruelty, and pain. Rather than the indifference or willful ignorance with which most of us treat these things, the spiritually awakened will want to find a way to help. Mr. Rogers told us to look for the helper; the spiritually awakened usually are the helpers.
Part of a spiritual awakening is inner peace. Inner peace is a state of internal psychological and spiritual calmness. This calmness is difficult to break: the enlightened, spiritually awakened person will enjoy a sense of calm and peacefulness even in the face of external stresses. Inner peace is not the act of ignoring or denying stress: it’s the mental state of being unbothered by stressors. Unwelcome emotions like greed, anxiety and hate are released, leaving the enlightened in a state of deep tranquility.
What is a spiritual awakening in the context of inner peace? After a spiritual awakening, one becomes attuned to a deeper level of reality, a more fundamental version of the universe than the world we perceive. When one is aware of the big picture, minor details don’t really matter as much. Traffic may be bad, but in the greater context of our existence, does that really matter? Not really, no. Accepting the answer and letting go of your attachment to the notion that you should be moving faster leads one to inner peace.
What Causes a Spiritual Awakening?
Spiritual awakenings seem like overwhelmingly positive experiences. Enlightened people get a peek into the workings of the universe, a brush with divinity, an answer to the deepest questions of our existence. Why is it that some people get to have these experiences? What causes a spiritual awakening?
What is a spiritual awakening? We learned that spiritual awakenings often follow experiences where one is forced to think deeply about existential questions. However, some spiritual awakenings happen completely out of the blue. You might be sitting in your cubicle slurping on a cup of stale coffee and suddenly hear angels singing. You might be praying in church and feel a new sensation, a new connection with God. Or you might be hiking in the woods, enjoying creation, when a flash of the divine strikes deep within your soul. Triggers for spiritual awakenings can be very mundane.
More frequently, spiritual awakenings stem from life-changing events that stir deep reflection and contemplation. Examples include having a traumatic accident, moving, or experiencing a major loss. Mid-life crises, divorce, global issues like the ongoing pandemic or war, and other traumatizing or distressing events seem to be precipitating factors in many spiritual awakenings.
Spiritual Focus, Spiritual Results
The first step to having an awakening is to begin contemplating spiritual matters. One of the best ways to contemplate the spiritual is through deliberate meditation. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and just let your mind wander. Sit back and let your thoughts go without being critical about them. This simple exercise can help remove emotional clutter from your mind, making it easier for you to connect to yourself. Taking five minutes a day to turn off our endless stream of distractions and sit with your thoughts is a simple and easy way to begin your journey to spiritual awakening.
You should also take a critical look at your beliefs and interrogate them. Ask yourself: do I really believe this? Does this belief help me on the path to spiritual growth? Taking the time to think critically about your own beliefs will help you develop a more authentic spirituality and to believe in a more intentional, reasoned, and meaningful way. In a delightful example of praxis, one of the best ways to lead yourself down the path to spiritual enlightenment is to learn to let go. When you impose outside expectations on something, when you enter an experience with a preconceived notion of what will happen, you’re less able to enjoy and engage in the experience. Letting go of your notions of what a spiritual awakening looks like is, ironically, an excellent step on the path to spiritual awakening. To begin your spiritual awakening, put some of your mental energy into your spirituality, and watch it blossom. You won’t regret it.