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…):
- Faith (Sraddha)
- Strength/Energy (Virya)
- Memory (Smrti)
- Concentration/Focus (Samadhi)
- 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?