There is a lot of mumbo jumbo surrounding the term ‘spiritual awakening’. Let’s trash all the woo woo stuff and learn exactly what it is from a scientific perspective.
To start with, there is nothing spiritual about a spiritual awakening. It is one of the most natural states to be in. The reason why we are not in this state is because no one teaches us how to reach this state. And when we learn this on our own, it definitely feels like an awakening.
So what is spiritual awakening?
Simply put, spiritual awakening is becoming ‘aware’ of your ‘subconscious mind’ using your ‘conscious mind’. (It all starts from there.)
Your subconscious mind is a set of automated programs that literally run your life. All your habits, addictions, behavior patterns, beliefs and even your very identity (ego/self image) is stored in the sub-conscious mind.
This makes the subconscious mind exceptionally powerful.
Your conscious mind on the other hand is the seat of your attention or your awareness.
Sadly, for most humans, their conscious mind is fully identified with the subconscious mind.
What this means, is that most humans live their lives completely identified with the programs in their subconscious mind. They are completely identified with their habits, addictions, behaviors, belief systems and self image. They find it hard to think beyond these programs and hence they end up being controlled by these very programs. This is an un-awakened state.
In an awakened state, we use our conscious minds to become aware of these programs (thought patterns), and hence slowly start to gain power over them. Understanding these programs gives us the ability to reprogram limiting/destructive programs into positive ones.
For example, when someone says, I am American, or I am Indian, they are completely identified with the idea that they belong to a certain nationality. It becomes part of their self identify and they cannot think beyond it. Such unconscious identification can lead to many issues. Xenophobia for example is an outcome of such identification. When one becomes aware of this identification, they start looking at themselves more as a ‘human being’ and less as their nationality.
Understanding how the mind works
Before we get into the core of the article, here’s are some quick insights into how the subconscious and conscious minds are formed and how they function.
How the subconscious mind is formed
When a child is born, its mind is pretty much empty. The conscious mind is not developed yet, there is only the subconscious. In this stage, the child’s brain is trying to accumulate information so it can start making sense of things.
This initial information becomes the basis of the subconscious mind and later acts as a filter through which the mind perceives reality.
For example, as a newborn, when people around you repeatedly call you by a name, your subconscious mind starts identifying with it. It senses a pattern and creates a neural network (connection of neurons) that stores the related ‘auditory input’. The next time it gets the same ‘auditory input’, the corresponding neural network gets activated and sends message to the brain that someone is calling you.
Formation of the conscious mind
In the initial stages, the child does not have a conscious mind. In other words, it cannot think for itself and does not have an image of the self. The conscious mind begins to develop as the baby grows. It can take anywhere between 1 to a few years for this to happen.
This lack of the conscious mind in a baby can be proven by the mirror experiment.
If a newborn sees its reflection in a mirror, it will touch the mirror as if the reflection is of some other baby. But once the baby grows up and consciousness develops, the baby will touch its own skin knowing that the reflection is of its own body.
After about the age of 5, the conscious and the subconscious brain is fully developed.
A large part of the conscious brain is the baby’s awareness or attention. Using the conscious brain, the child can direct his/her attention to any sensation or activity. For example, a child can direct its attention to drawing a picture which obviously a newborn is incapable of.
The important point to note here is that, even though the baby has a conscious brain, the conscious brain is fully identified with the subconscious brain. They work as an inseparable unit. This is because the child is not ‘aware’ of its conscious brain.
This is why, the subconscious dictates the child’s life as it grows into an adult. The child’s attention is lost in the subconscious and the thoughts it generates in the mind.
Becoming conscious of your conscious brain is the first step in spiritual awakening. Neuroscience calls this ‘meta cognition’.
Once you become conscious of the conscious brain (in other words, your attention/awareness), you can use it to become aware of the subconscious brain. You can also use it to become aware of your body, emotions and your environment. This is called self awareness which forms the basis of spiritual awakening.
Understanding neural networks and the mind’s ability to learn
Simply put, a neural network is a connection of neurons that are created to remember patterns. These patterns can then be activated without the brain having to re-learn an entire process again.
For example, when you start to learn how to ride a bicycle, initially, your subconscious mind records all the movements required to successfully keep the bike balanced and moving forward. It records all the muscles required to apply pressure on the paddle, put the brake etc. As you keep practicing, the neural networks associated with biking get stronger and stronger. After a few weeks of doing this, you can now ride the bike without any conscious thinking. You simply sit on the bike and your brain switches on the neural network that has the ‘bike riding program’ and you start biking.
In a similar way, your brain stores thousands of neural networks, each corresponding to a specific program. There is a neural network for the languages you speak, a network for your morning routine, a network for brushing your teeth, a network for using the restroom, so on and so forth.
In the same way, there are neural networks that dictate your self image and your self identity. This is what we call the ego.
If you saw the movie ‘The Matrix’, there is a scene in the movie wherein, programs are loaded directly into the mind. Like a program to learn kung-fu. The program of-course created a neural network for all kung-fu moves in the subconscious mind so Neo (the male lead) automatically became a Kung-Fu master without having to learn anything.
Now the important point to note here is that these neural networks are not set in stone. These networks were formed based on a specific set of environmental inputs and they can change based on a different set of environmental inputs.
For example, there are people who get converted from one religion to another. As a child, they might have identified themselves as Christian because they were born into a Christian household, but upon influence from a friend/media, they got converted into a different religion, say Jainism. Now the person identifies himself/herself as a Jain.
In this case, the brain disregards all neural networks related to the Christian identity, and creates new neural network for the Jain identity. This ability of the brain to reorganize old neural networks is known in neurology as ‘NeuroPlasticity’.
The good news is that we all have the ability of NeuroPlasticity. This means, we have the ability to identify and break destructive mind patterns and replace them with new ones.
Universal intelligence present at a DNA level
It is important to mention at this point that apart from the intelligence that exists within the brain (intelligence acquired through learning and experience), there is another intelligence that exists at a cellular level.
This is the intelligence that creates the body since conception. At the time of conception, there is one fertilized cell that starts to divide into multiple cells eventually resulting in a fully developed body. The cell in this case had all the intelligence (or blueprint) present in it to create a body. This is universal intelligence.
There are some humans who have an innate talent towards a certain activity, this talent comes at a DNA level. Similarly, many other factors like your physical appearance, sexuality etc. appear at a DNA level.
There are some traits that can exist both at a DNA as well as subconscious mind level. For example, a person might be only attracted to the opposite sex. This preference exists at a DNA level. But the type of activities or visuals that give him pleasure were probably gained at a subconscious level.
Another example can be for a behavioral trait like, introversion. A person can be born introverted from the DNA level or could have become introverted because of subconscious patterns. Or it could be a mixture of both.
Similarly, there is intelligence present within the body, in the heart, stomach, gut and few other areas. These are present at a DNA level too. What we refer to as a gut feeling or intuition, is this very intelligence trying to tell you something. Most of the times your subconscious mind overrides the feelings of the body. This is also the case when we are lost in the mind and not in touch with our bodies.
The DNA level intelligence is a direct result of years of evolution. So it definitely is an extremely rich source of information.
How to awaken?
Now that these basics are cleared, let’s get to the core of the article – how to awaken?
Becoming aware of your conscious mind (your attention)
Without your conscious witnessing, your attention is completely identified with your thoughts.
A spiritual awakening starts the moment we become conscious/aware of our attention (which is our conscious mind). It can be split into the following three processes:
- Becoming aware of our attention, or our conscious minds.
- Using our attention to bring awareness to our subconscious mind patterns.
- Using our attention to understand our bodies and emotions better.
For all humans, as we are born and grow into adulthood, our attention is lost within our mind. This is because, nobody teaches us how to become aware of our attention. Hence our attention controls us as opposed to we controlling our attention. Thoughts, feelings and external stimuli pull our attention in all directions.
But the moment you consciously realize where your attention is focused, you have started becoming aware.
This is extremely easy. At this very moment, when you are reading this article, part of your attention is focused on this article, part of it is focused in your mind interpreting the article, yet another part is probably focused on what you need to do after reading this article.
One of the best practices to increase your awareness of your attention is – Focused Meditation. You simply focus your attention onto something (like your breath) and keep it focused for prolonged periods of time. The more you practice focusing, the better control you develop over your attention.
Practicing staying in the present moment is another powerful way to gain control over your attention.
Using the conscious mind to bring awareness to your subconscious mind patterns
Once you become aware of your attention, you can then use this attention to bring awareness to your subconscious processes.
All you need to do is this: begin to watch all your thoughts without getting engaged. Become aware of the kind of thoughts that predominantly run in your mind. What kind of belief systems do you hold? What kind of self image do you hold? etc.
Once you start becoming aware of the subconscious mind, all these programs running in the background start coming to the foreground.
You start to realize that all your thoughts, beliefs, ideologies, self image, behavior patterns are all part of the subconscious mind and hence they are temporary. These beliefs do not make you; you are larger than the beliefs. You also start to realize that you can actually alter these belief systems.
Imagine finding out that all that you took to be you, is actually fluid. It can be changed. In other words, you can shed the old you and create a new you!
Naturally, when you realize this, your sense of self (ego) comes crashing down. Your entire perspective of the world changes. Nothing is set in stone anymore, everything is fluid.
You can change your habits, you can change your nature, you can change anything that you wish to change about yourself.
You can even change negative patterns stored at a DNA level with enough practice of awareness.
Using the conscious mind to get in touch with your body
As we grow up, our attention gets localized within the mind. Hence, we lose touch with our bodies.
When we awaken we can use our conscious mind to divert attention to our body through consciously feeling the body and its emotive states.
By consciously feeling your emotions, you can slowly start to release stuck emotions. At the same time, you also start to gain a level of control over your emotions and thoughts that create such emotions.
For example, when you experience anxiety, the brain releases a stress chemical that evokes an emotional response from the body. The emotional response in turn creates more anxiety in the brain and the cycle can lead to panic attacks or other similar issues. By consciously feeling the emotion of anxiety, you help the body release these emotions, thereby breaking the cycle. You also develop a knowledge of the kind of thoughts that generate specific emotions, so you are in better control the next time such a thought arises.
Getting in touch with your body also helps you tune into your intuition.
What spiritual awakening is not
Contrary to popular notions, spiritual awakening does not entail getting rid of the ego. It only requires you to stay aware of your ego. In-fact, the ego is your sense of self that is stored in the subconscious mind. It can never be destroyed, only replaced.
The mind requires a sense of self (reference point) through which it can perceive reality. You can alter your sense of self, but you cannot operate without one.
For example, some spiritual people say that they are egoless. But even when you get rid of the ego, it gets replaced by a different ego. This ego now believes that it does not have an ego. Hence the sense of self and self image still exists.
The odd thing is that once you become aware of your ego, you are no longer controlled by the ego, cause you are no longer fully identified with it.
Spiritual awakening simply entails growing in awareness – you become aware of your conscious mind (your attention), your subconscious mind (ego/thought patterns), your emotions (associated with thoughts) and your environment.
The more awareness you have, the more control you have over your internal states. You are no longer controlled by thoughts or emotions. You learn to alter limiting beliefs. Your perspective of life broadens.
You do not become selfless, all loving and full of compassion. These are mental constructs too. You simply become aware of your mental constructs (belief systems), that’s all.
You develop a mind-body connection and hence start understanding your emotions and associated thoughts. You start to release stuck emotions, by consciously feeling them.
You don’t need to get rid of your ego, you simply become aware of your ego construct.
You automatically become curious and start to question everything as you are no longer living in the default mode.
Awakening is a continuous process, there is no end to it cause the mind keeps forming new patterns and hence it is important to stay aware so you can discard negative patterns and keep the positive ones.
True intelligence is intelligence of your self. True intelligence is defined by the quality of your awareness.