Spiritual Growth Spurts
This wasn’t a topic I was planning on starting on, but it is something that I’m currently experiencing so it’s fresh in my mind.
Spiritual awakening is a process that basically encompasses coming to the realization that there is more to life than what you understood before. It is the opening up to different understandings about the fullness of reality and dimensions of existence. Everyone who goes through this process has their own unique experience with it depending on where they were before and what they need to learn and how they needed to learn it in order to see beyond their previous perspective. There are some sources that will describe the process of spiritual awakening in distinct stages. These stages can be useful for framing some of the common experiences people have, but it can be misleading because it describes them linearly like a path that you go through to get to a destination and then never have to experience again. Really, the spiritual awakening process is similar to the process of learning. It is opening up to new information, having that information impact your life, adjusting to the impact, integrating the knowledge and then opening up to more learning. From this stance the metaphor of a dance or cycle might be a little more useful for framing aspects of this experience.
You could think of the process of spiritual growth as a kind of dance where the steps and beat have certain flow that you go through many times. The more familiar you become with the dance the easier it is to go through the basic motions and at some point, you can start taking some creative liberties that add more skill and finesse to the movement. The dance doesn’t actually stop—there is no final destination—but you move through the steps again and again getting more in sync with yourself and the world and then adapting to the colorful variations and creativity as you go.
You will hear different people describe the steps in this dance or stages in development in different ways, but generally it will go something like this:
1. You find yourself looping through a life that is no longer working for you. This loop can vary in level of disruption-- from extreme crisis where everything feels like it has fallen apart and you have nothing left to a dull, constant sense of disinterest and realization that nothing holds meaning. At this stage you start to question the purpose of existence overall. Wherever the experience you have falls on the level of intensity this step is the realization that things as they are no longer work for you. You start to realize that something is missing or needs to change. This stage is necessary because it will set you up to go out and look for what that missing piece is. It is what opens you up to new sources of information.
2. You look for new sources of information. The natural progression out of step one is to start looking for something to address the crisis. This is where you start seeking knowledge or guidance beyond your usual places. Seeking of information can take many different forms which including reaching out to mentors, trying new practices—such as having a tarot reading or session with an astrologer, or doing research into fields of alternative medicine or esoteric knowledge.
3. You grapple with the new information. Some of it will be easier for you to accept and acknowledge as valid, some of it will seem like it doesn’t fit. Most likely something will really harness your attention and you will feel a need to continue to pursue that knowledge. It might feel like a thirst that can’t be quenched and you’ll want to start surrounding yourself with more new information and/or practices related to what you are learning. Depending on how far you go during this stage you may start to feel like this new knowledge and way of thinking is the answer to everything and start to resent or turn away from people, places, and ideas identified with your previous perspective (this won’t typically last though). During this stage there is an excitement about all the new ideas and possibilities and you can see how things that seemed dull or inexplicable suddenly start to take on color.
4. You suddenly hit what feels like a wall. This part is often referred to as a dark night of the soul, it is similar to the experience in stage one except that since it has come after passionately following these new ideas and rejecting your older views it also comes with a feeling of betrayal. All the new guidance and insight and divine intervention suddenly feels like it disappears and you are left alone with neither the new or old to hold onto. This can feel really painful, but it allows you to sit with yourself and the new lessons you have learned and so that you can deconstruct what you are learning and why. It also forces you to come to terms with ideas like faith and trust, as well as self-confidence as you build your resilience in determining not just what you believe in but the reason for that belief and learn how to navigate deep questions of purpose and challenge without external pressure or guidance.
5. You resolve the deep questions (at least enough to no longer feel such strong incongruence), make decisions from deep within, and come out of the darkness with a better sense of self, balance, and harmony between the old and new. You now hold a widened understanding of what your life was like prior to these experiences and have more knowledge about the direction you want to take moving forward. This knowledge may take the form of a vague broad sense of where to go next or it can be a specific vision for the future, but it will generally be a little more grounded than the passionate pursuit of knowledge that came in stage 3. Often you will still be heading in the same direction as you were at that stage but in a calmer tone.
6. You develop patterns and practices for working towards these new goals and dreams or in alignment with your new knowledge and put them into practice. Your life starts to shift in this direction. The intensity of this shift will depend on your decisions and guidance. You are building a new life path and setting up a new foundation for yourself. This is the “doing the work” stage. Depending on what you are choosing to incorporate you build more consistent patterns into your routine such as workouts, meditation and/or prayer, coaching and/or studying, healing and/or artistic practices, etc.
7. You become more effective at these habits and practices but start to feel like it’s time to step up your game. This will usually take you back to a step that feels similar to step one (but is usually less intense because you’ve already experienced step one and are no longer shocked by it). Then you go through the steps again to varying degrees of change and intensity, incorporating new information and thoughts and making adjustments for each step up as you go so that you can continue to learn more and build layered foundations that become a platform for you to continue to grow.
I’m being extremely vague about all these steps or stages on purpose because they are individual and depending on where you are, where you are going, and the lessons you came here to learn and fulfill the way you experience each step and the duration of them can be dramatically different. Remember these steps are just a model for how progress through growth can look, they are not an absolute and the way they unfold can be very different for each person.
For some people who are very grounded and earth-centered changes in wellbeing can come in a physical sense in which guidance from new sources comes in small spurts and nudges such as an insight that springs out of what seems relatively mundane but leads to a profound, consistent change in their openness, perception, and actions. For other people these steps can feel like reality has completely shattered and the experiences can be filled with a sense of literal magic and include contact with divine and extraterrestrial beings, psychic development, and greatly increased sensitivity to energy. Greater connection to divine or unearthly beings, ESP, and energy sensitivity are likely to occur in either case as well as a change in physical habits and adjustments that lead to greater health—however—depending on how you relate to the universe and the way that you will learn and grow most effectively the form that these developments take and how you understand them might look different. Neither is bad or wrong or slower or faster, the universe/ God/ the divine/ your higher self is working with you to help you go from where you started to your greater sense of purpose and fulfillment and works in the way that is most effective for you personally. For this reason, the shade and drama of your experience might look very different but the result of ongoing growth, greater expansion, and more ability to find connection and fulfillment that deepens with each cycle can occur regardless of the form it takes at any given point.
This is just one very over-simplified model of what the spiritual awakening or spiritual growth process can like.
When I talk about spiritual growth spurts, I am specifically referring to the experiences that tend to occur between stages 3 and 4 and 6 and 7. In terms of discomfort, these are probably the most difficult parts of the process. The step between stage 3 and 4 can at times feel so uncomfortably challenging that is called the dark night of the soul and associated with a deeply painful crisis of faith. Symptoms associated with these stages can include: depression, anxiety, insomnia, and physical ailments and flu-like symptoms.
Calling these stages the dark night of the soul can resonate with the level of intensity that a person going through them feels—especially the first few times they go through the cycle. I remember feeling almost literally as though the ground beneath my feet had suddenly dissolved and I was falling through a cavern and slamming into a rock solid floor. I would cry and scream because the pain of it would hit me and I would suddenly become aware of how little I knew and how lost I was. It was extremely disorientating, and painful. At first the experience of this stage was made more painful because it was compounded by my belief that I had done something wrong in order to get there. I felt like I had messed up and done something horribly destructive and that I was and would continue to be punished for my stupidity. Applying the concept of dark night of the soul to the experience alleviated some of the pain because it implied that it was a natural step rather than a punishment and that it would come to an end eventually.
Even though the framework was helpful for a while, I don’t personally think of these steps as the dark night of the soul, anymore. This is partially because the intensity of the stages reduced as I got used to the process, and partially because I started to have a different understanding of the mechanisms which cause the stages to occur. From the dark night of the soul perspective these stages weren’t necessarily explained except to say that they occurred and would pass. I interpreted it as a time in which we were tested, it provided contrast and forced us to build resolve and hang on through the pain. This perspective has some positive encouragement but it also built a lot of pressure—as though there was something to prove.
I think of these steps like growth spurts now because I realized that they aren’t painful for a purpose. The pain that is experienced is more of by-product of the speed at which you are changing your vibration and re-evaluating your view of reality. Like physical growing pains, there can be an adjustment period when you start to outgrow older ways of being but haven’t fully rooted into a new type of existence. The pain that is experienced is the stretching of the self as you move into a new type of existence but haven’t fully let go of the older perspective and then it can morph into the pain of letting go of that old perspective and realizing on an emotional level that you and your life have just changed. Even if that change is necessary and positive there is a sense of loss that can come from releasing the old and a sensation of fear that comes with moving forward. These are not bad experiences; they are just by products of the changes you have started to make. They are you adapting to a new way of experiencing life—in the same way that muscle pain shows up when you start to implement a new exercise regime.
Instead of thinking of these steps as dark and painful or as tests or punishments it can help to look at them as evidence that you have learned enough to produce real and lasting change in your life. They are the less tangible experiences becoming solid. The best way I’ve found to move through these experiences is to rest and gently care for my needs—lots of rest, comfort, reassurance, and not too much harshness—while simultaneously allowing the confidence that comes from realizing that a real impact has already been made by the life I’ve been living. That impact will build momentum that will move me forward and ripple outward and even as I experience the growing pains I can smile because I know that I have and will continue to move towards the life that I really want to experience. When experienced in this way these stages seem less terrifying, less painful, and easier to recover from. I still lay down and cry sometimes, but even as I cry part of me is smiling because I know that feelings are part of life and this stage is a byproduct of growth and I am excited for the changes that are coming into being through it.