‘The Psychology of a Spiritual Awakening’ by Dr Steve Taylor phD. Our experiences begin with our views, perceptions and ideas of the world, before we integrate our identities and our places within it.
Dr Steve did a masters in trans-personal psychology, which is about transcending the limited normal state – a field rooted in spiritual psychology and altered states of consciousness. His own awakening experiences lead to shifts in consciousness from the feeling of everything being sentient, to moments of ecstacy, depression, being in nature, as well as fading and connecting to a fuller reality.
In order to study his experiences further, Steve went on to do a phD but found it difficult to talk about with others. As of yet, there is no scientific evidence to show that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain and it remains poorly understood by the material mainstream. His research went on to demonstrate a variety of different states:
Feelings of Oneness: A deep sense of wellbeing where everything feels connected, giving meaning and wider dimensions to the world.
Low Intensity Experiences: As described by the Poet Wordsworth, these subtle experiences have a calming effect and the memory of them is soothing.
High Intensity Experiences: A sudden shift in reality and perspective that often creates a feeling of pulsating energy, oneness, the earth spinning and the understanding or knowing that everything is freshly created in every moment.
Duality and Separation in Waking Day: The in here (head) and out there (world) separation. In non-duality experiences the separation between the two fades away, the participant feels part of everything and senses that all is interconnected: each-other and the universe, stemming from the same consciousness.
Many people that wake up to such experiences are sadly given psychiatric medication. There are certain characteristics and similarities with psychosis which critically, the establishment does not distinguish against. This is especially the case when the experience is explosive such as during a Kundalini awakening. Even if the person themselves is sure they had a positive transformational experience, they are often sectioned. Steve states many theories ranging from the concept being poorly understood, to decades of propaganda, conspiracy and the difficulty in stemming the flow of synthetic drugs as the answer to everything.
Triggers: things that can illicit such an experience in sensitive people include nature, meditation and spiritual practices, watching or listening to an arts performance, psychological turmoil, reading literature, psychedelics and even sexual experiences. It’s often there in the background to tune into, but everything can be interpreted and conceptualised in different ways. In spiritual traditions you have: Sahaja Samadhi, Ming, Baqa and Theosis.
In his phD, Dr Steve noticed parallels with the childhood state, which he described as ‘enlightened beings and yet narcissistic monsters at same time.’
Perceptual Effects include a heightened sense of awareness and sense of presence.
Subjective, Inner Experiences involved less chatter and identification with thoughts, along with the transcendence of separateness.
Intersubjective Experiences: involve an increased connection to others and nature. Increased compassion and love.
Conceptual: The decreased need for a sense of belonging and identity, along with a less materialistic outlook.
The 3 means of permanence:
- Natural: not sudden, and no meditation involved. This is their normal state or it is not lost from childhood eg. Wordsworth, Walt Whitman and Monet.
- Gradual: spiritual practices and paths. Re-moulding of our psychological structures through a softening of the boundaries of the self. Following Buddhist paths, meditation and yoga, resulting in an increased presence.
- Sudden and dramatic awakening: bad experience involving stress or upset and turmoil. Which you feel that in the end made you a stronger and happier person, like ‘post traumatic growth’ – a well attested psychological concept which affects almost half the population, even if it takes years to reveal itself as people work though it. Post-traumatic transformation is an instant change from this.
An awakening can involve hitting rock bottom or encountering death. It’s not about making a bad experience a good one, but realising that there is something good to be born of every bad experience, no matter how long it takes to manifest. An example is Gill Hicks, a survivor of the 7/7 bombings who lost both her limbs. She promised herself to live a rich new life and never take anything for granted again, opting for simplicity, finding a new sense of purpose and moving to Australia to become a Politician.
Myths: The experiences are not unusual or esoteric. It’s not a question of awake or asleep, but a spectrum. It’s also not an easy process leading to a state of perfect bliss, Kundalini especially can be disruptive or explosive and cause problems. Memory and concentration may be affected causing sleeplessness, also known as a spiritual crisis. If this is happening to you, call an organisation known as the Spiritual Crisis Network. The journey never ends and is simply one of continuum.
Dr Steve ended his talk by stating that such experiences should offer the benefit of reversing a passive indifference to the world. He used Florence Nightingale as an example of someone who had a strong sense of mission to make the world a better place – one that is connected not fragmented. Society is a purely mental construct but we forget our sovereignty and often give our power over to the things outside of ourselves. There is strength and vision in numbers, we are all co-creators in this universe.