Short answer: A spiritual awakening is a profound realization or transformation in which individuals perceive the world and their place in it from a broader, more interconnected, and often more compassionate perspective.
Spiritual awakenings happen all the time all over the world to all kinds of people.
Some awakenings are dramatic and breathtaking, while others are slow and gradual.
They’re often misrepresented, exaggerated, or misunderstood.
We are going to take a deep dive on a quest to thoroughly understand what a spiritual awakening is, what triggers the awakening, and what happens after.
Degrees of spiritual awakening: Dramatic vs gradual
A dramatic spiritual awakening is often characterized by a profound and sudden shift in consciousness. It’s often described as a “Pure Consciousness Event”.
It is typically triggered by significant events or experiences, such as a near-death experience, a traumatic event, or a profound sense of loss.
This sudden awakening can lead to a complete transformation in one’s outlook on life, belief systems, and values. The individual might experience a radical sense of clarity, interconnectedness, or deep insight into the nature of reality and the self.
A perfect example would be Eckhart Tolle’s experience,
“I was so stunned by this strange realization that my mind stopped. I was fully conscious, but there were no more thoughts. Then I felt drawn into what seemed like a vortex of energy. It was a slow movement at first and then accelerated. I was gripped by an intense fear, and my body started to shake. I heard the words “resist nothing,” as if spoken inside my chest. I could feel myself being sucked into a void. It felt as if the void was inside myself rather than outside. Suddenly, there was no more fear, and I let myself fall into that void.” – Eckhart Tolle, from his book “The Power on Now.”
Waking up slow: On the other hand, some individuals travel their spiritual path in the slow lane. They might not have a defining “aha” moment. These people experience an incremental transformation over time.
Both degrees of spiritual awakening are valid and profound, each bringing about transformative changes in an individual’s life, values, and sense of self.
The path to awakening is incredibly personal and varies greatly from person to person.
The Difference between “Spiritual Awakening” and “Spiritual Enlightenment“
While often used interchangeably, “spiritual awakening” and “spiritual enlightenment” can have slightly different connotations in spiritual discourse.
A spiritual awakening is often the start of a spiritual journey, whereby the person’s status quo is no longer their status quo (if that makes any sense).
Spiritual enlightenment, on the other hand, refers to more of an end state. Now, this isn’t saying there is an end to spiritual growth – far from it. It’s always ongoing. But a person who finds enlightenment has reached a transformative high point. It represents a state of complete understanding, ultimate clarity, or union with the divine or ultimate reality.
Hermann Hesse’s example from his book entitled, “Siddhartha”.
“In this hour Siddhartha ceased struggling with his fate, ceased suffering. On his face blossomed the serenity of knowledge, which no will opposes any longer, knowing perfection, in agreement with the flow of events, with the stream of life, full of compassion, full of sympathy, abandoned to the flow, belonging to unity.”
The enlightened state is often described as a state of liberation from suffering, ignorance, and the cycle of rebirth (in traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism), or a state of profound wisdom and boundless love.
It’s the point of full “illumination” or “realization” of the spiritual truths the person glimpsed at the point of awakening.
What is a spiritual awakening (according to multiple sources)
Dictionary definitions of a spiritual awakening
Oxford Languages: “A shift in consciousness where an individual expands their self-awareness, resulting in a clearer understanding of the self and others, the world, and a deeper sense of spiritual truth.”
Cambridge Dictionary: “A process by which individuals become aware of a spiritual reality or a spiritual level of consciousness.”
Merriam-Webster: “A significant transformation in the psyche, marked by the realization of the spiritual dimension of being and the interconnectedness of all things.”
Collins Dictionary: “An experience or period of increased knowledge and understanding of spirituality, often involving a sense of connection with a higher reality.”
Macmillan Dictionary: “A profound shift in awareness that leads to a new understanding and appreciation of spiritual matters.”
Spiritual leaders: Different definitions of spiritual awakening
Eckhart Tolle: The author of “The Power of Now” describes spiritual awakening as a shift in consciousness where thinking and awareness separate. It’s an evolution from identifying with the ego mind to realizing a deeper, interconnected state of being.
Ram Dass: Known for his teachings on self-realization, Ram Dass described spiritual awakening as the process of “waking up” to the illusion of separateness and instead, understanding the divine essence within ourselves and all beings.
Deepak Chopra: He views spiritual awakening as an expansion of awareness, where one transcends the physical world to tap into a consciousness that unites all beings.
Adyashanti: Adyashanti, an American spiritual teacher, describes awakening as an “event” that disrupts our sense of personal self and ushers in a pervasive awareness of the unity of existence.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: The founder of the Art of Living Foundation, he describes spiritual awakening as the blossoming of the inner reality, a realization of the self beyond the physical and mental layers to the divine within.
Thich Nhat Hanh: The Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk describes spiritual awakening as the realization of interbeing, the interconnectedness of all things, leading to a life imbued with mindfulness, compassion, and understanding.
Dalai Lama: He sees spiritual awakening as developing a sense of universal responsibility, recognizing the interdependence of all life forms, and cultivating compassion and desire to relieve others from suffering.
Mooji: The spiritual teacher views spiritual awakening as the recognition of our true self, a realization of the unchanging, formless awareness that underlies our physical existence.
What can trigger a spiritual awakening?
Great personal loss, whether it’s the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a career, health, or a personal dream, can be an intense catalyst for a spiritual awakening.
Personal loss can create an opening for radical compassion and empathy, as suffering can make individuals more attuned to the suffering of others. This enhanced connection to others can be a crucial part of a spiritual awakening.
Mindful practices: Meditation / prayer
Mindful practices like meditation and prayer facilitate a state of presence and self-awareness.
They quiet the noise of everyday life, enabling individuals to delve deeper into their inner selves.
This introspective journey fosters an increased understanding of one’s thoughts, emotions, and deeper spiritual dimensions.
Over time, these practices can catalyze a spiritual awakening, as individuals become more attuned to their inner realities and interconnectedness with the universe.
Deep dissatisfaction / disillusionment
Deep dissatisfaction or disillusionment with life as it is, whether it stems from one’s personal circumstances, societal norms, or existential concerns, can be a powerful catalyst for spiritual awakening.
This feeling of discontent can provoke a profound questioning of one’s purpose, the meaning of life, and the nature of reality.
Collapse of the ego and mind due to trauma
Trauma can cause significant disruption to the ego and the mind’s functioning, leading to a breakdown of one’s usual sense of self and understanding of the world.
This collapse can create a state of heightened vulnerability and openness, where conventional beliefs and assumptions no longer hold. This intense inner grappling can trigger a spiritual awakening.
The use of mind altering chemicals
The use of mind-altering substances, such as psychedelics, can induce altered states of consciousness that potentially trigger spiritual awakenings.
These experiences often involve a dissolution of the ego, an altered perception of time and reality, and a profound sense of unity with the universe.
While not universally endorsed due to associated risks and ethical considerations, some individuals report these experiences as catalysts for spiritual growth. They can provoke deep introspection, empathy, and a renewed perspective on life.
However, it’s crucial to stress that these substances should only be used responsibly, within a legal context, and preferably under the guidance of a knowledgeable and experienced guide.
Near-death experiences (NDEs) can have a profound impact on a person’s consciousness and perception of reality.
These events often involve experiences that transcend our usual understanding of the physical world, such as a sensation of detachment from the body, moving through a tunnel, or communication with a higher power.
The profound nature of NDEs can lead to a complete re-evaluation of one’s life, beliefs, and values, instigating a spiritual awakening.
Signs and symptoms of spiritual awakening
Physical symptoms of a possible spiritual awakening
While spiritual awakenings are primarily associated with changes in consciousness and awareness, some individuals may report experiencing a range of physical symptoms and signs.
It’s important to note, however, that any persistent or troubling physical symptoms should always be checked out by a healthcare professional to rule out other underlying conditions.
Some of the outward physical symptoms and signs of spiritual awakening might include:
Energy Fluctuations: Periods of high energy, followed by times of fatigue and rest. This is sometimes described as feeling energy flowing, buzzing, or vibrating within the body.
Sleep Changes: Insomnia or sleeping more than usual. Some people may also report vivid or lucid dreaming.
Appetite Changes: Fluctuations in appetite, with periods of feeling very hungry followed by having no appetite at all. Some individuals might also start craving healthier foods or lose interest in foods they used to enjoy.
Sensitivity Changes: Heightened sensitivity to your environment, such as loud noises, strong smells, or intense lights. Some people may also experience a heightened sensitivity to the energy of the people or spaces around them.
Body Sensations: Unexplained physical sensations like tingling, heat, or cold in different parts of the body. Some people also report feeling pressure or sensation in the area of the “third eye” in the middle of the forehead.
Physical Pain: Unexplained aches and pains, often in the neck, back, or head.
Eye Changes: Some people report their eyes looking brighter, clearer, or changing color slightly.
Inward signs and symptoms of a spiritual awakening
Inward signs and symptoms of a spiritual awakening are largely linked to shifts in perception, emotion, and cognition. They reflect deep internal changes and can profoundly impact an individual’s understanding of self and the world. Here are a few examples:
Heightened Intuition: An increased sense of knowing or perceiving things beyond the five senses. You may find yourself making decisions more confidently based on gut feelings or hunches.
Dissolution of Ego: There can be a sense of the self or ego dissolving, making way for a realization of being a part of something greater than the individual self.
Altered Time Perception: A sense that time is an illusion. You may feel detached from the past and future, experiencing life in the present moment.
Deep Inner Peace: Despite outer circumstances, you may experience an underlying peace and calm. This could be a newfound ability to deal with stress and challenges more effectively.
Unconditional Love: An overwhelming sense of love and compassion for all beings. This unconditional love extends beyond family and friends to strangers and even those who’ve caused harm.
Seeing the Divine in All: You may start perceiving the divine, or the essence of spirituality, in everything around you. This can manifest as a deep connection and reverence for all life.
Transcendent Experiences: Experiences of transcendence, unity, and oneness are common. You might feel deeply interconnected with all that exists.
New Worldview: A transformation of belief systems and worldview might occur, leading to a more holistic, inclusive, and spiritually oriented perspective.
Emotional Sensitivity: A heightened sensitivity to your own and others’ emotions. You might find yourself experiencing emotions more deeply and passionately.
Deep Sense of Purpose: A strong feeling of having a specific purpose or mission in life may emerge, often linked to service, healing, or contributing to a better world.
8 examples of people undergoing spiritual awakening
While it can be challenging to provide a definitive list of documented cases of spiritual awakenings, due to the highly personal and subjective nature of such experiences, there are many well-known individuals throughout history who have documented their profound spiritual experiences, which could be interpreted as spiritual awakenings.
Here are 8 examples:
Eckhart Tolle: The renowned spiritual teacher and author of “The Power of Now” described his own spiritual awakening in his early 30s. Tolle was suffering from severe depression when he underwent a profound inner transformation that drastically changed his life trajectory and led to his spiritual teachings.
Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha): Siddhartha Gautama, who later became known as Buddha, had a dramatic spiritual awakening under the Bodhi tree, where he reached a state of enlightenment and understood the causes of suffering and how to eliminate it.
St. Francis of Assisi: Known for his deep love for all of creation, St. Francis experienced a profound spiritual awakening following a period of illness and introspection, leading him to a life of poverty and devotion to God.
Pam Reynolds: A well-known case in the field of near-death experiences (NDEs), Pam Reynolds reported a profound spiritual awakening during surgery for a brain aneurysm, influencing her beliefs about life and death.
Byron Katie: Byron Katie, a spiritual teacher, and author, experienced a profound spiritual awakening in the early 1980s after a decade-long spiral into depression, agoraphobia, overeating, and addiction. Her awakening gave rise to a simple method of self-inquiry known as “The Work.”
Mooji: Anthony Paul Moo-Young, known as Mooji, is a spiritual teacher whose enlightenment experience started when he met his own master, H.W.L. Poonja. His teachings emphasize the recognition of the pure self or “I am” presence.
Ramana Maharshi: One of the most revered spiritual teachers from India, Ramana Maharshi had a profound spiritual awakening at the age of 16 that led him to develop the method of self-inquiry known as “Who am I?”
Rumi: The 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi had a spiritual transformation following his encounter with the wandering dervish, Shams Tabrizi. This marked a period of intense spiritual awakening reflected in his renowned poetry.
Possible stages of awakening
Although spiritual awakening varies greatly from person to person, there have been documented examples of people going through different stages before sensing their awakening.
How it begins: ego and mind begin dim
At the outset of awakening the person’s ego and mind begin to fade or dissolve.
In many spiritual traditions, the ego is seen as our perceived separateness from others and the world around us. The mind, deeply invested in its incessant stream of thoughts and preoccupations, reinforces the ego by continually drawing us into memories or future anxieties.
When the ego and mind begin to lose their grip, it can open a space for a spiritual awakening.
As the chatter of the mind subsides and the ego’s boundaries start to dissolve, an individual can start to experience a sense of interconnectedness with the world, a shift in perception and understanding, and a direct experience of their true, underlying nature.
This nature is often described as a state of pure consciousness or awareness, beyond the constructed identities and narratives of the ego.
It should be noted that a diminishing ego or “quieter mind” isn’t about losing self-esteem.
It’s about seeing through the illusions that cause suffering.
The transition point: the complete collapse of ego and mind
The complete dissolution of the ego and the quieting of the mind are often viewed as the “point of spiritual awakening”.
You’ve stepped through the portal so to speak.
When the ego collapses and the mind ceases to exert control, an “awakening” to our true nature beyond the limitations of personal identity and thoughts becomes possible.
The final stage: spiritual ascension
Spiritual ascension can be viewed as the pinnacle or final stage of a spiritual awakening.
While spiritual awakening involves the realization of a deeper, more interconnected reality beyond the confines of the ego and mind, spiritual ascension takes this process a step further, indicating a transcendent state where individuals not only recognize but also embody this interconnected consciousness in their everyday lives.
Spiritual ascension is often described as a process where one’s vibrational frequency or consciousness is elevated.
It’s not about leaving the physical world behind. It’s about fully integrating the spiritual and physical aspects of one’s existence.
This stage is marked by an enhanced understanding of the universe and one’s role within it. It’s as though individuals ascending have tuned in to a higher “frequency” of existence that allows them greater wisdom, compassion, and peace.
The impacts of a spiritual awakening
Overview of the impact of a spiritual awakening
A spiritual awakening is a profound internal shift, altering one’s perception of self, relationships, and the world. This change dissolves ties to past and future anxieties and forms an interconnected identity, grounding individuals in the present.
The resulting peace, joy, and freedom from mental noise redefine the personal experience.
Awakening also reshapes relationships, replacing separateness with empathy and love, fostering deeper connections. Awareness of the interconnectedness of life enhances appreciation for the natural world and fosters commitment to sustainable practices.
Simultaneously, spiritual awakening imbues life with purpose, often redirecting careers, hobbies, and lifestyles to align with spiritual values.
Despite its liberating beauty, awakening can be disorienting and challenging, particularly in the early stages. As old identities dissolve for new ways of being, support from spiritual communities or mentors can be crucial.
Ultimately, a spiritual awakening marks the beginning of a lifelong journey of self-discovery and spiritual growth.
Change in lifestyle, values, and perceptions
A spiritual awakening can lead to seeing beyond materialistic pursuits, recognizing the value of inner peace, connection, and purpose.
The impact on lifestyle can be dramatic. Individuals may find themselves drawn to a life that reflects their newfound values. This could involve changes in career towards more fulfilling work.
They may even up and quit their job and change their career path. Like the cliché awakened person who quits the corporate rat race and moves to a small shed somewhere in the woods of Montana…wait a minute, that’s a different story I’m thinking of (Ted K.). How did that pop into my mind?
A perfect example of how the mind can’t be trusted. Anyway, I digress.
The awakened person might end long-term relationships. They might adopt a completely different lifestyle.
Just like the cliché awakened person in a Hollywood production who sells the Hummer and starts riding a bicycle.
A spiritual awakening, as a profound shift in one’s consciousness, can potentially prompt substantial geographical changes. We hear about it and see it all the time.
The person suddenly sells their house, liquefies their assets, and moves from their lifelong home in the Bronx to Honolulu.
It also might just mean going on a long trip somewhere or taking pilgrimages to places of great spiritual significance. BUT…it can also mean dropping out of society altogether, such as Eckhart Tolle wandering the streets of London and sleeping on park benches.
Effects on existing relationships
A spiritual awakening can have a profound impact on all types of relationships – marriages, partnerships, parent-child relationships, and interactions with coworkers.
As the awakening process often leads to a deep shift in one’s values and perceptions, individuals may find themselves reassessing their relationships.
In a marriage or partnership, they might seek deeper levels of emotional and spiritual connection, moving beyond surface-level interactions.
This could strengthen the bond, fostering a relationship based on mutual growth and understanding. However, if the partner is not on the same path or open to these changes, it could also lead to conflicts or distancing.
Parent-child relationships can be transformed as well. Parents might emphasize spiritual values and mindfulness, promoting a nurturing and compassionate environment for their children’s growth.
Workplace relationships can shift too. Individuals may strive for more authentic, respectful interactions, and may even change their work environment to align with their new values.
Different outcomes for different people
Positive and negative outcomes
A spiritual awakening, being a deeply personal and transformative process, can have both positive and negative effects, depending largely on the individual and their circumstances.
On the positive side, a spiritual awakening can lead to profound personal growth, increased peace, a sense of interconnectedness, and an enriched sense of purpose and meaning in life.
It can cause an individual to lead a more authentic life, aligned with their deepest values. There can be a deep sense of liberation as they let go of societal conditioning and embrace their true self.
On the flip side, the awakening process can be disorienting and challenging. It often involves the dissolution of previous identities and beliefs, which can lead to feelings of loss, confusion, or even depression.
The contrast between one’s inner transformations and the external world might cause feelings of alienation or misunderstanding. Furthermore, as individuals become more aware and sensitive, they may also become more susceptible to the suffering in the world, which can be overwhelming.
It’s important to note that these negative aspects are often temporary stages in the awakening process, and with proper support and guidance, can lead to significant personal growth and transformation.
Nonetheless, the experience is deeply individual and varies greatly from person to person.
Pilgrimages to the scene of spiritual awakening
A spiritual awakening can be a profoundly transformative experience that elicits feelings of deep peace, interconnectedness, and bliss. These experiences, while profound, are often not constant states but rather moments of intense spiritual connection.
Post-awakening, individuals may find themselves yearning to re-experience those moments of intense bliss and spiritual connection.
One way people might attempt to recapture this is by returning to the location where their awakening occurred, especially if it was tied to a specific place.
These locations, often charged with personal significance, can evoke powerful memories and feelings associated with the awakening. The individual may believe that by revisiting this sacred place, they could rekindle the spiritual energy and feelings of bliss experienced during the awakening.
Possible discontinuation of spiritual practices
Some individuals may feel so transformed and consistently connected to this spiritual state of awareness that they might choose to discontinue formal spiritual practices.
The idea here is that their inner transformation has been so deep and pervasive that spiritual awareness is no longer something to be achieved or maintained through specific practices, but rather a continuous state of being.
They may feel they’re living their lives with one foot in the physical world and one in the spiritual realm, maintaining a consistent sense of spiritual connectedness in their everyday life.
This was and is my personal experience which I will be explaining in great detail at another time.
Spiritual awakenings: different spiritual traditions
The nature of a spiritual awakening can vary greatly depending on a person’s spiritual or religious tradition.
These traditions provide different conceptual frameworks, practices, and cultural contexts that shape the process and interpretation of a spiritual awakening.
Buddhism: In many forms of Buddhism, a spiritual awakening (also called enlightenment or satori in Zen tradition) might be experienced as a deep understanding of the Four Noble Truths, the realization of the impermanence of all things, or the experience of non-self (anatta). Mindfulness and meditation are key practices leading to awakening.
Christianity: A Christian might interpret spiritual awakening as a deeper, personal connection with God or Jesus Christ, often characterized by feelings of love, forgiveness, or acceptance. It could involve a powerful experience of conversion or being “born again”, or a quieter, ongoing process of deepening faith.
Hinduism: In Hindu traditions, spiritual awakening (moksha) might involve a realization of the Atman, the inner self, and its unity with Brahman, the ultimate reality. This often involves practices such as yoga, meditation, and devotion to deities.
Islam: For a Muslim, spiritual awakening might be tied to a deeper understanding and application of the principles of the Quran, a more intimate relationship with Allah, or an experience of spiritual enlightenment (tajdid) through Sufism, a mystical tradition within Islam.
Indigenous or Shamanic traditions: A spiritual awakening in these traditions might involve a deep connection with nature, spirits, or ancestors, often facilitated through rituals, journeying, or the use of sacred plants.
Secular or Non-Religious paths: Even those who don’t follow a particular religious path can have spiritual awakenings, often described as a deeper sense of connection to all life, the universe, or the mystery of existence itself. This might be facilitated by practices like mindfulness, psychotherapy, or experiences in nature.
Even within a single tradition, spiritual awakenings can be very diverse.
They can be sudden or gradual, gentle or disruptive, ecstatic or terrifying.
The interpretation and integration of these experiences often depend on individual belief systems, personal history, cultural context, and psychological makeup.
It’s also important to note that many people find value and meaning in their spiritual or religious paths without having a dramatic or distinct “awakening” experience.
A spiritual awakening can arise for many different reasons, in different ways, and with many different outcomes.
One thing that most all human beings will contest (if they’ve experienced a genuine spiritual awakening) is that they will never be quite the same.
Almost always in a good way.