Spiritual awakening is when a person gains awareness that there is more to life than living on autopilot and satisfying the ego. There are deeper layers to be explored. This process prompts existential questions like “Why am I here?”. It can be unnerving and bring up angst and concern, but it can also be exciting. Spiritual awakening looks different for everyone, but seekers tend to fall into one of the following five stages of spiritual awakening. (Estimated reading time: 13 minutes)
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Spirituality is a way of life but is not always tied to religion. There are no specific rituals, deities or scriptures you must adhere to. Instead, spirituality is personal and has meaning to the one who walks their chosen path.
Embarking on a spiritual journey is a choice. Even if you grew up in a household that instilled spiritual or religious beliefs in you, you could always choose a different path. Life presents you with several choices that lead to new stages of development that will require you to go within, with or without a spiritual outlook.
The choices you make at these junctures require reflection and careful deliberation. A spiritually oriented person often has enough context to understand the significance of these choices. Because they have a higher perspective and can pick up on the symbology, they can make decisions that move them toward their values.
I knew I wanted to walk a spiritual path even before I knew what that meant. I was inspired by the fictional Disney character Pocahontas. Not only did she look like me — tan skin, long, raven-black hair, and brown almond-shaped eyes — she modeled qualities I wanted to emulate. She was noble, dignified, kind, courageous, and expressed wisdom beyond her years.
Throughout the movie, Pocahontas tries to understand a dream she keeps having about a spinning arrow. Her guide, Grandmother Willow, advises her to listen to her heart and the spirits around her. Pocahontas slips into a semi-trance, and after a few moments, she gets her first intuitive hit about where the spinning arrow is leading her.
The spinning arrow is a metaphor for her intuitive voice guiding her to new horizons, even if they appear formidable. For instance, when she hears the news that she is to marry Kocoum, she hops into her canoe and rows to the song “Just around the riverbend.”
At the end of the scene, the river parts to show two different paths. The river is calm and steady to the left; to the right, it is wild and full of waves. Pocahontas stops at the place where the two branches split and sings these lines that give me chills to this day:
Should I marry Kocoum?
Is all my dreaming at an end?
Or do you still wait for me, dream giver
Just around the riverbend?
She goes right, showing that she will stay true to her path of awakening. After her tribe captures John Smith and she once again goes to Grandmother Willow for comfort, her pet raccoon, Meeko, hands her John’s compass, and she realizes that the pointer is the arrow from her dream. It was both prophetic and profound.
Later, I discovered that Pocahontas is a product of her Native American roots and beliefs around animism. She appears to have shamanic powers that make it possible to talk to spirits, understand unknown languages, and commune with nature.
In looking back on your life, who has inspired your spiritual awakening? It could be a religious figure like Buddha or Jesus, but it could also be a fictional character, like Pocahontas, in my case.
Early exposure to role models who don’t glamorize spirituality and make it all about fancy crystals and incense sticks is important. They show us what real spirituality looks like: the evolution of our being and gaining insights that can help us ascend to higher ways of being.
This is not an easy path. It requires brutal self-honesty and facing hardships with grace and resilience. You’ll have to deal with your shadow and fault lines while also developing the insight to notice signs, synchronicities, and opportunities for your evolution and growth.
But if you say yes, you’ll wake up from a dream of everyday, material-level, mundane, and ego-based reality to a higher spirit-based consciousness. As you emerge from each of the five stages of spiritual awakening, you enter new dimensions of the splendors of life.
What is spiritual awakening?
The idea of spiritual awakening has been part of the cultural discourse for centuries. It can be seen in various religions worldwide, and it goes by different names, such as “enlightenment” or “nirvana.” No matter what it’s called, spiritual awakening describes the process of gaining awareness that there is more to life than living on auto-pilot and self-aggrandizing. There are deeper layers meant to be explored.
Spiritual awakening prompts us to ask existential questions like “Why am I here?” and “Who am I?” It can be unnerving and bring up angst and concern, but it can also elicit excitement and wonder, depending on the catalyst for the awakening. It gives us a new sense of being in the world, and there’s no going back to the old ways. It may even ask us to course-correct and make changes in our lives.
Types of spiritual awakenings
There are two types of spiritual awakening: the gradual ones that gently nudge us towards life changes and grand awakenings that are more sudden and intense.
Gradual awakening can show up as recurring challenges and behavioral patterns that cause self-sabotage. You may also see signs like repeating numbers or having a particular book recommended to you repeatedly.
Grand awakenings can be challenging, like a health diagnosis that demands you to adopt healthier habits. But it can also be pleasant, like meeting the love of your life and opening your heart to express love more fully and openly.
For others, spiritual awakening may not require a catalyst. A self-aware person who engages in activities that activate deeper consciousness can get upgrades in their consciousness on a more subtle level. Meditation, mindfulness, or other healing modalities can make this happen.
Awakenings can also bubble up when we’re immersed in a state of flow while engaging in activities that bring us joy – whether in the arts, sports, or caring and connecting with animals and plants.
What is the purpose of a spiritual awakening?
Understanding the purpose of a spiritual awakening can often be hard, especially when triggered by an adverse event that results in loss or heartbreak. No matter what happens, we become wiser, stronger, and more evolved. In the long term, it increases grace, joy, and love.
Spiritual awakenings break us open and move us from an ego-centric and shallow existence to one that’s meaningful and selfless. We develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and our connection to others and the Universe.
Some believe that the stages of spiritual awakening cleanse your energy and make way for the manifestation of good things in your life. For instance, when a downfall makes you shed your arrogance and develop humility, you’ll attract people who reflect those positive qualities.
Spiritual awakening can bring attention to what is not working for you – like a relationship that’s run its course or a soul-sapping job that drains your vitality. If you don’t make the changes, the Universe will. Forced changes are often sudden, like a cheating spouse or losing your job. It’s a wake-up call trying to awaken you to a better way of living.
The good news is that the process becomes easier as you ascend the stages of spiritual awakening. It’s not that you won’t face challenges anymore but that you understand their greater purpose in the grand scheme of things, making it easier to flow and adjust. You trust that a higher plan is at play and that you are a co-creator in its unfolding.
Signs of spiritual awakening
The stages of spiritual awakening look different for everyone, but there are some common tell-tale signs that you are going through one. You may feel one or several of these as you experience a shift and up-level in your consciousness.
- A heightened sense of intuition
- Having more vivid dreams
- Encountering more meaningful signs and synchronicities
- Increased empathy and feeling of a deeper connection to people, animals, and nature
- Heightened senses and more body awareness
- Feeling the need to examine and reevaluate your beliefs and perspectives
- Wanting to be more effective in contributing to and improving the lives of others
- Feeling drawn to spirituality and the esoteric arts
- Experiencing a sense of peace and groundedness, and feeling less triggered by things that usually bother you
- Having epiphanies that help you see situations and people more clearly
- Increased self-awareness that allows you to see patterns not serving you and make changes to shift them
- A willingness to let go of past attachments and live in the present moment
- A willingness to be yourself and be true to what you value without being bothered about the opinions of others
- Experiencing more moments of contentment and inner peace
- Investing more time in your personal growth and healing
- Letting go of grudges and forgiving those who have done you wrong
- Becoming less judgmental and open to other ways of living and being
- Being less tolerant of toxic people and seeking friends who nourish and support you
Spiritual awakening vs self-actualization
The concept of self-actualization is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that human needs could be ranked in a pyramid shape, with basic needs (food, water, shelter) at the bottom and higher needs such as love, belonging, and self-esteem at the top.
Maslow believed that a person could only meet the need for self-actualization, which is at the tip of the pyramid, after meeting their basic needs. The term self-actualization is a psychological term that Maslow described as the process of becoming “everything you are capable of becoming.” It’s when we fulfill our talent and potential and become the highest version of ourselves.
Self-actualization is similar if not the same as a spiritual awakening. Because a self-actualized person is returning to their original self, they naturally embody a higher consciousness, characteristic of a spiritually awakened person.
At this level, we go beyond living from a purely separate state of self, toward a broader sense of collective self because we’ve met all the other needs. If we bypass the egocentric influence of living in a materialistic society, we can self-reflect and go within to tap into our wisdom and empathy for others.
If you’ve ever been outside in nature and looked at the night sky, you may have experienced what it feels like to step outside the self. In those moments of contemplation, you get lost in the starry splendor and sense a connection with something much larger than the self.
Hinduism and Buddhism call this samadhi, meaning “total self-connectedness” in Sanskrit. Samadhi is the highest state of mental concentration, resulting in the highest reality people can attain while still being in the body.
These profound experiences of connectedness give you a glimpse into the ethereal and meaningful nature of being awakened and actualized – both of which require you to step out of your ego-self and into a higher plane of existence.
The five stages of spiritual awakening
Spiritual seekers on the path to enlightenment tend to fall into one of the five stages of spiritual awakening. It’s important to note that the spiritual awakening process differs for everyone. You can go through these levels in different orders because we all awaken at our own pace, in our own way.
Through these stages of spiritual awakening, your consciousness grows, often accompanied by the desire to transform yourself to create change in the world.
1. The Initiation/Waking up to the void
The journey of awakening begins with the initiation phase, often after a life-changing event. It causes you to look inward and become more self-aware. You may feel something is missing or feel lost and disconnected. You may question everything, including your role in the world. For example, finally acknowledging that your living situation is stagnant or your job no longer fulfills you.
As unpleasant as the emotions of this phase are, they are a sign that you are awakening and moving into a new cycle of spiritual growth. It often requires endings, which is the first blow to the ego and the early birth of the higher self.
This phase of awakening is often called the Dark Night of the Soul. It’s essential not to allow the heaviness of this melancholic phase to crumble your will to live. With perseverance and faith, you can move on to the following stages that offer solace.
2. The Query/Insight
Amid the dark night of the soul, you find the strength to keep going. You do this until, finally, you have a breakthrough. Whether it’s a flash of insight or an intuitive hit, you experience a shift in perception that makes you see things differently. It alters your perspective, allowing you to see magic in the mundane. This relieves you from the initial heaviness and disorientation of stage one.
You also open your eyes to parts of you that need healing by starting to question limiting beliefs and negative behavioral patterns that are not serving you. You might even examine the social, cultural, and religious groups you belong to and ask if they are helping you become the person you want to be.
3. The Quest/Knowledge-seeking
After having your lightbulb moment, you’ll find yourself hungry for knowledge. You don’t want to live on the surface anymore, and you’re called to a deep dive into an area you’re drawn to. You’ll want to read books, meet like-minded people, attend workshops and classes, travel to sacred places, and spend time on meaningful activities. And even if you don’t have all the questions answered yet, you will start to believe in the possibility of finding them.
In this explorer phase, you’re open to new ideas and pathways. As long as it moves you away from what you don’t want, you’re glad to look into opportunities that could better fit your personality and vision. This time tends to be an exciting and creative one where you expand and see that there is more to life than the limited paradigm in which you have lived.
4. Integration/Applying the knowledge you gained
As you seek wisdom and guidance, you gain a deeper understanding of wounds and programming fueling your ego-based identity and all its pain. At this stage, you seek support to clear out old patterns and develop a new way of being and perceiving. This may be done through therapy, coaching, healing modalities, and healthy lifestyle changes.
This stage should not be rushed, as healing and pattern-shifting is a gradual process that does not follow a linear path. Finding tools, rituals, and teachers that help you stay aligned with your chosen path can take days, months, or even years. What emerges is a more authentic and balanced part of you that can thrive and contribute to humanity.
5. Reintegration with the soul/Oneness with the universe
After you’ve spent time searching and doing the internal work, you’ll feel more peace, harmony, and balance. You’ve developed enough self-awareness to give up aspects of yourself that are not part of your true nature.
You may lose your ego identity or your subjective self and experience a sense of oneness with the Universe. The “ego-death” has been called moksha and bodhi (enlightenment) in Eastern traditions.
As you let go of anything that no longer aligns with your soul’s highest expression, you come home to your higher self – the part of you that defines your soul essence. You develop faith in the unknown and know you are co-creating your future with the Universe.
In Buddhism, the lotus flower represents spiritual awakening. The lotus grows from the muddy waters and can rise above it to bloom into a beautiful flower. It symbolizes how we can rise above challenges and emerge as a better version of ourselves.
The path of spiritual awakening will require you to endure muddy currents temporarily, but what grows from it is truth and a heroic call to your destiny.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Which of the five stages of spiritual awakening do you think you are in? What are the signs that prove that you are at this stage?
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I have honestly always been interested by this sort of thing. I’ve never really been religious but I do consider myself spiritual so being mindful and in touch is something that means a lot to me. I am glad you took time to share this with us and lay it all out like this. I am sure I will be something I will be reading and re-reading over again. Thanks!