Have you had a spiritually transformative experience (STE)? I just returned from presenting at a conference held in Palm Desert by ACISTE, focused on people who have had such events in their life — ranging from near-death experiences (NDE), kundalini activation, powerful dream sequences, shamanic openings and alien encounters. The ACISTE brochure reports a 2004 survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago indicating 35.7% of the adult US population has had at least one religious or spiritual experience that “changed their life”. Such changes alter how people look at themselves and the world, triggering both positive and negative reactions. Whatever the cause or source you cannot comfortably retreat to an old pattern of being when you have had such an awakening. You must move forward.
In my experience with “experiencers” I believe the most important factors in this transformation are the ability to share their stories without the listener pathologizing them, the opportunity to frame the event as a positive shift or expansion in understanding of the collective Self and personal sense of self, the acceptance of an invitation to awaken the inner spirit and live from a new perspective, and the willingness to nurture Oneself. The Mother, who worked with Aurobindo to establish Integral Yoga and expand the understanding of consciousness in the world, once said that the heartfelt release of fear is the most important step on the spiritual path. Fear creates contraction and contraction blocks the free flow of physical and psychic energy, confuses thinking, and can even make us ill if it is prolonged.
Awakening is an encounter with a new perception and as our perceptions change and broaden we become transformed. If you have awakened energy in these processes, it is your own life force moving through the subtle body to clear out the cobwebs of old beliefs and patterns that are no longer useful. One is literally shaken out of complacency! Anyone who has sincerely engaged in a lengthy therapeutic or growth process, or pursued a spiritual practice or energy therapy, can look back and discover a before and after in their way of living. These process bring us into gradual change and transformation. STE’s are life’s way of suddenly and irrevocably plunging you into change, bringing you to encounters with previously unknown aspects and potentials of human consciousness. How you interpret them and how you live them forward significantly impacts every aspect of your life.
As a non-dual teacher I have seen many experiences of “no-self” — moments in meditation or unexpected awakenings of consciousness to its own expansive and unbounded nature. No-self is the experience of One Self or the realization of the ground of our being. Many of the dramatic transformative experiences that come unbidden are showing us the vastness of the creative expression that arises from this ground, demanding we find a new center that can encompass more of creation, and learn to search for Truth in new ways.
Transformational change that reaches through the entire psyche and physical structure, depleting the identification with the separate self, is seldom recognized by therapists, who much prefer step-by-step integration. Transformation is challenging and sometimes messy. But it is time for therapists to listen with curiosity instead of hurrying to a psychiatric diagnosis of such movements, and offer support, creating approaches that encourage flexibility, grounding and inner strength to those who encounter them. It is time to recognize that these kinds of awakenings happen to much of the population, and can lead to a more rich and radiant life, rather than one reduced by a mistaken diagnosis.
My books “The Awakening Guide” and “The Kundalini Guide” (on amazon.com) address many of the issues of transformative experiences, and I am happy to say I am about to sign a contract for a new book that will explore the many ways I have seen spiritual awakening arise and transform lives over 30 years of listening to the stories of those who live this experience. I am hopeful that through conferences like ACISTE, SAND and many others, along with many new books and neuroscience research, we will as a culture begin to recognize and truly value the power of awakening to change the quality both of individual lives and the collective understanding of consciousness