There are many stages and phases a person must pass through on the road to greater and greater spiritual awakening. The process is not always linear and straightforward; in fact, like the revolutions of the stars, is it cyclical – a spiral staircase, leading to ever greater attainment and levels of spiritual awakening.
There are many pitfalls along the way. How far one goes ultimately depends upon their devotion, fortitude, and refusal to be overcome by the obstacles they face.
The stages and levels of spiritual awakening we go through will not be the same for everyone. Nor do they follow a strict course.
However, for devoted spiritual aspirants, there are five stages you are guaranteed to go through, so listen closely!
This is the first stage of spiritual awakening, when we become dissatisfied with the false and selfish ways of the world. Usually after years of trying to find happiness in work, money, and relationships, we reach our breaking point, and tire of trying to find that bliss, which always seems to be just over the horizon. Many people spend their whole lives this way. But the more astute of us wise up. We realize that happiness cannot be found in material objects – only in the spirit. So we move away from those things that make us unhappy, and begin our quest to find something greater.
So, we begin to look at our lives, and ask ourselves: what things in my life contribute to my happiness? What only contributes to my unhappiness? If we are sensible, we give up those things that make us unhappy, and keep only those things which genuinely improve our lives. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Many of us are deeply attached to the things that hurt us the most: bad relationships, drugs, unhealthy foods, laziness, and much else. But the spiritual person is both economical and ruthless. They allow nothing into their life that would reduce or ruin it. Renunciation is an unending process. There are always more unnecessary things to be gotten rid of. Only through having nothing can we truly become everything.
And then it happens. We have that glorious moment when enlightenment strikes. It can often come at the most unexpected moments – sometimes in the face of great danger and tragedy. Other times it arises in an orderly manner, in response to hard work and dedicated spiritual practice. It is a joyous, mind-shattering occurrence in which we fully realize our immortal being, and the whole universe fits into place for the first time. Everything makes sense. We become aware that all of life and knowledge exists imperishably within us. And my – does it feel good! We may experience unimaginable sensations, or have visions of higher universes. The surrounding phenomena do not matter. Bliss is all there is.
The problem with that first taste of enlightenment, however, is that it doesn’t last. We have an awe-inspiring moment in which the whole of heaven seems to fit on the palm of our hand. And then, suddenly, we go back to being a human again, and feel just as clueless and confused as we did before. Only now, it’s worse, because we know the joy we’re missing! The fact is, it is not enough just to become spiritually awakened – one must practice spiritual awakening, and do so ceaselessly. Every single moment is an opportunity to strengthen the spirit, no matter how bland or unpleasant it may seem. We must take advantage of those opportunities whenever we can, or we will inevitably slide right back to the beginning again.
It may be useful to underscore this by giving you an example. Taoist scholars often compared spiritual awakening to an elixir – a magical fluid that could cure anyone of their suffering. The problem with this fluid is that it is incredibly volatile and difficult to obtain. Here one moment, gone the next. Tricky to control, and subject to rapid change at the slightest movement. We all know the feeling: enlightened and at peace with the world one week – miserable, and as confused as hell the next! Obviously, we can’t go on in this way. So, we practice as much as we can, meditate regularly, and use every moment to refine our consciousness. And, gradually, bit by bit, that wily fluid begins to harden, and turns into a crystal – an imperishable crystal, that will remain strong, constant, and reliable, whatever happens to us. That crystal is the crowning jewel of our spiritual awakening. And if we are wise, we will polish it constantly, and use it as the lens through which we seek the truth.
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