What is Spiritual Awakening?

This post is in dedication to my friend Teshe, who slipped me a note this past week with the following question scrawled on it:

What is spiritual awakening?

I contemplated the question, and further contemplated it after my Friday night philosophy session for yoga teacher training. I don’t have a certain answer for you, Teshe, nor have I become “spiritually awakened,” so I cannot speak from experience. What I can say is that I am inching towards spiritual awakening, bit by bit, with my yoga practice. The ultimate goal of yoga practice is Self-Realization; so very few people actually achieve Self-Realization and, from what I have learned thus far, it would be a great hinderance to practice yoga with an attachment to the outcome. Simply practicing to practice, to better know the Self, to learn and experience, to find peace, to free oneself from suffering…that is the journey. And, while I imagine Self-Realization is a state of bliss unimaginable by the average practitioner, the journey of one’s yoga practice is a beautiful gift, even if one stops with Abhyasa and Vairagya (practicing non-attachment) and practices them for the rest of their days. I mean, isn’t life about the journey rather than the destination anyway?

So, that being said, I believe spiritual awakening is attained by deep, dedicated, consistent contemplation and study of the mind. I look forward to how my perception of this will morph, over the years, as my practice evolves. I am fascinated by the process. I have had glimpses of spiritual awakening, moments that were filled with divine understanding of my Self, intoxicating clarity and peace. My teacher calls these “tastes” or “teasers.” She used the analogy last night in philosophy of trying to get a radio station to come in clear when driving down the 5! Is that not the best analogy?! Static, mostly, oh so much static; but then, just for a moment, oh there’s something…oh it’s so clear…and then it’s gone, back to static. Self-Realization is the clearest station of them all, I imagine, one that becomes unaffected by the existence of static. Static will always exist, but a Self-Realized mind learns to tune it out. The practice that we dedicate ourselves to day in and day out works to tune out the static.

Those “tastes,” if you will, are what fuel us. They fuel our practice. They stimulate Smrti, or memory, which is a huge component of the yoga practice. Remembering to practice, remembering the keys of the practice, remembering that you want to practice, that you love to practice…these tastes stay with us, it is what keeps us at it, practicing diligently everyday. It’s what keeps us observing the mind, meditating, contemplating, practicing asana, studying…

This is the path that leads to spiritual awakening and I don’t believe spiritual awakening is the destination, but rather the journey. 

So, Teshe, I suppose my answer is that spiritual awakening can be attained through several modes. Devotion to a higher being, as depicted in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.23, is one means. The divine yoga practice is another. If “keen and intent,” as depicted in Sutra 1.21, samadhi can be attained. Samadhi, sustained attention to some object or focus, can be attained through the diligent practice of these 5 Core Orientations (now I’m copying straight from my Teacher Training notes…):

  1. Faith (Sraddha)
  2. Strength/Energy (Virya)
  3. Memory (Smrti)
  4. Concentration/Focus (Samadhi)
  5. Discernment (Prajna)

There is a lot to be said on these five practices recommended for yogis seeking spiritual awakening, but in a sense they are fairly self-explanatory. Rather than going on, I will leave the list as it is and let you ponder, on your own, the depth of each practice. Please feel free to comment in the comment section with thoughts, I’d love to open this up to discussion.

What is spiritual awakening in your opinion?




7 thoughts on “What is Spiritual Awakening?

  1. I’ve gotten some “teasers” as you say as well. I love that analogy about the radio station! The list of 5 at the bottom is eye opening as well. I don’t break things down that like very often. Usually I am thinking about the idea as a whole. For me, I would say,at least for now, that spiritual awakening would be very self aware. In tune with myself and my surroundings. Being able to listen, see, taste, touch, smell presently. More often than not. I also agree, it’s a journey. As long as we keep moving along,it shouldn’t be too bad.

    • Aren’t those tastes DIVINE? The list of 5 is straight from the Sutras, you’d love reading them I’m sure…staying present is definitely a key part of my practice too. Thanks for the comment, love, xoxoxoxoxo

  2. Love the radio station analogy, as well, it’s perfect. To me, spiritual awakening is the point at which you are alive and present in each moment of life, without judgement, and with an abundance of love for everything and everyone you encounter. After years of practice, I find it’s easy to reach this state post-meditation and contemplation. The trick is to keep it going throughout the day, even when faced with distractions and conflict. I think this gets easier with time, but there is always the process of tuning back in when the static arrives; static, tune-in, static, tune-in. Thanks for the post, I enjoy your writing. ~Tom

  3. This is a great post. I also love the radio station analogy and I think the 5 core orientations are good ideals, but when you say “spiritual awakening is attained,” I am inclined to disagree. It might seem like a trivial thing, but I think it is important to make the distinction between something that is ‘attained’ and something that is yours to begin with.

    In my understanding and experience, awakening is like the Christian idea of grace. It is not something you can get by virtue of some accomplishment or practice. It is something that you were destined to receive before your journey even began. The grace pre-dates the accomplishment. It was with you all along. The practice is just to get the static out of your head so you can hear it clearly.

  4. Sraddha is an undisturbed, undistracted state of intentionality and hence comprehension (not the intention). We say – listen in sraddha. Focus is comprehension in India not a separate individual state. But to aim an arrow, we do not say – aim in sraddha – because this focus is different from comprehension by attention.

    Virya is virility – a capacity for fertility, that which has a seed for regeneration. Strength is bala which is more overt and physical. Energy is sakthi which is more abstract and underlying. For example Hanuman symbolises bala where as Kali symbolises sakthi. We say sthree sakhti to mean feminine energy or sometimes as woman’s power. Sometimes it depends on the context.

    Smriti is remembrance of something that was “genuine and real” When you lose your present conditioning what remains is Smriti. You cannot actively remember it. It comes into focus when you lose your present conditioned mental states. Some of the Indian scriptures are given by the divine to the seer. Some others are remembered by the seers. They are called the Smritis.

    Samadhi is a state of equanimity. Nothing moves. Nothing has the power over you to disturb. All physical states cease. In yoga you can achieve that. It’s main asana is savasana.
    Maha Samadhi is entering the non existence which is without the cycle of birth and death.

    Prajna denotes skill and discernment combined together.

    Like Andrew says, all of these states are your natural inheritance, waiting for your return by giving up contrived efforts. In fact even the original breath is not your doing and only when you stop trying to learn breathing, will you notice the pure breath which is there all the while inside your being.

    Thanks for a beautiful blog.

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