Brian Wilcox. 'Marigold Blossom'
I begin with some matters of clarification, to assist in understanding what follows.
1) I have chosen the word "awakening" for transitions in spiritual evolution, when one moves from one level, or aspect, of consciousness, or being, to a more developed, more inclusive, and more subtle one. Another term for "awakening" could be "breakthrough." I prefer "awakening," for it is more familiar in spiritual usage and speaks more directly to the passive, receptive nature of the experience. "Breakthrough," also, has a note of aggression not integral to consciousness transformations. Also, while an "awakening" is a transformation, "transformation" applies to the entire process of development. "Transformation" applies to the movement from - so between - one developmental stage to the next and the process of emergence itself.
2) Spiritual awakening is often a leap in consciousness, yet we cannot assume a person will have noticeable or marked awakenings. Some persons may seem to grow silently in spiritual evolution, the transformations being so subtle that even she may not notice it - the noticing would be, then, likely as one looks back from where she is to witness where she was. Thus wrote Howard Thurman, "Little by little, or vast area by vast area, my life must be transmuted in the life of God" ("I Surrender Myself to God." In Meditations of the Heart).
3) The study of progressive stages of development can tempt one to push for progress. This strain is antithetical to spiritual emergence. Sri Aurobindo, in Integral Yoga, writes of this exertion -
Pulling [down the higher consciousness] comes usually from a desire to get things for oneself - in aspiration there is a self-giving for the higher consciousness to descend and take possession - the more intense the call the greater the self-giving.
Hence, the passive posture of gentle effort invites the Sacred in response to the inner call, rather than the aggressiveness of what Sri Aurobindo refers to as "pulling." In spatial terms, higher consciousness descends downward to the extent one is postured to receive it and prepared to do so. Another image is the higher consciousness draws the lower upward. To use the popular metaphor of the Center, the Center pulls all inward to Itself. Regardless of the metaphor, the self straining to grow spiritually hinders the invitation to receive. This is likely a sign of the ego acting impatiently, grasping for, rather than humbly welcoming. When it is slavish to desire, the ego tries to get rather than posturing itself to receive. Also, the ego likes a conquest, rather than to become the captive; yet, progress on the Way means becoming increasingly the captive of, so captivated by, Life.
Jesus, in the Christian Scriptures, Revelations 3.20, depicts this receptivity to Grace's advance through the image of someone knocking at a door. The visitor does not barge into the home, as Spirit does not force Itself upon us. And the potential host does not go out or pull the guest in, again imaging the receptivity process in the Way.
Look! I stand at the door knocking. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal.
* * *
draws one to Spirit
and onward in love-with Spirit
the more one is Love-drawn
the more the surrender
not in servile servitude
for Love surrenders to Itself
to be loved and love
the "Yes" of God
invites the "Yes" of the human
Love surrenders you
as God-as-Love surrenders to you
for the One who woos you
is the One wooed within you
Love becomes Love
eternally, in holy union
this great Work
never happens in time
the Beloved's Wine
flows from realms beyond the mind
the Beloved's Voice
echoes from worlds unseen
now, close your eyes
and begin to see
* * *
In Secrets of Divine Love, A. Helwa tells of a decade long search for an authentic religious faith that fulfilled her inner longing. Like many of us, she had to make a pilgrimage in search of meaning, to return to her religious faith, but understanding and experiencing it differently - others may never return, finding another tradition that suits their need for spiritual fulfillment.
I was born Muslim, but growing up I was never taught how to love and be loved by God. Eventually, as a teenager, I gave up praying, and for the next decade I wandered in search of something that would fill the emptiness of my soul. I visited mosques around the world, lived in a monastery, had spiritual experiences meditating with Buddhist monks, studied Taoism and Kabbalah, but I still couldn't find the inner peace I was seeking.
I, like possibly you, relate with her search for "inner peace." This longing for peace was instrumental in my entering a vowed life 24 years ago this month and, afterward, leaving my native religious faith. Fortunately for Helwa, she did not stay with the faith as given her; she risked losing it to recover it in a manner that fit the need of her soul for peace and, yes, love.
Helwa continues by pointing out to the reader the moment she was awakened spiritually and how this occurred -
In my early twenties, I was traveling through a small town in Turkey called Cappadocia, when the divine spark of faith reignited within me like lightning. All it took was my eyes to fall upon a woman who was drowned in her worship of God. I watched her pray in an old seventeenth-century animal barn, as if nothing in the world existed but her divine Lover.
She did not robotically repeat words of prayer like a formula; rather, every word she uttered came with a silent "I love you, my beloved Lord." Her words were like synchronized dancers swimming in unison in the ocean of love that poured out of her. She was the first person I had ever seen in my life that not only prayed but she herself became the prayer.
I knew instantly that she had everything my soul had been seeking, but I still had no idea exactly what it was or how I would reach it. I was perplexed as to how I could suddenly feel at home in a strange land I had never known. It was not until many years later that I came to understand that our real homes are not the houses we grow up in, but our real homes, the home of our souls are built from the brick and mortar of divine praise.
I know now that the beauty that I witnessed in Turkey was not just a woman in love with God, but God's unconditional love pouring upon her. It was the fragrance of this divine love that awakened the sleeping lion of faith within me.
* * *
My first spiritual awakening, when age 9, was like Helwa's - an awakening to Love. That first introduction to Supernal Peace occurred with me in a different setting - a small Baptist Church in Georgia, USA. There is much different about our two awakenings, but they are the same in essence.
While the content of spiritual awakenings may differ little or much, person to person, and we may speak of them in different words, the awakening itself does not differ in substance. The differences are surface, even as our personality differences are surface. Religions and subgroups in them are like personalities. There is no Buddhist awakening, no Christian awakening, and no Muslim awakening, any more than a Buddhist and Christian and Muslim person or soul.
There are many contextual traits of awakening, but only one awakening wearing these traits like adornments. And the closer one is drawn into the Sacred One, the more she begins to see awakenings like clear light appearing as many colors when refracted in a prism: the one Spirit manifests in varied contexts and diverse persons.
Let us take an example. A Buddhist might say, "I awakened to my Buddha Nature." A Christian might say, "I was born again." Are these essentially different experiences? Or, are these apparently different experiences? Persons living in the mind would likely say they are radically different. Why? They appear to be different, based on the meaning of words used in common parlance. Persons living in Spirit are likely to say the two awakenings are one awakening spoken of in two ways. Why? Persons in Spirit see unitively, for God is One. Likewise, that a Buddhist and Christian might think the two are different experiences does not make it so - they can misinterpret the same experience and in different ways based on attachment to prior understandings from their respective faith paths - often the terminology of a faith blinds adherents to the truth of their faith.
* * *
Awakenings may be from subtle to apparent. Also, awakenings may be many in a person's life. The assumption of one big awakening being the solely needed one is an assumption. If someone were to say, "I got enlightened," that would likely have been preceded by at least a few developmental transformations and be followed by others.
* * *
An awakening is an opening to a more subtle, spiritualized realm of the Divine Life. Yet, to live in, so stabilize in it, this is more a process. We awaken to a level of consciousness and presence, while we grow into that we were awakened to. Hence, the Work is both preparation for awakening and stabilization to the spiritual Aspect one was introduced to.
Likewise, the prior development is not negated, but integrated into the more inclusive Aspect, for the prior held within it the potential of the movement of development beyond itself. One, when learning geometry includes what she learned in basic mathematics, for example. Mathematics and geometry are of one whole, they are in each other.
A friend saw a van recently. This van displayed religious signage indicating a fundamentalist, evangelical religion. Yet, the signage indicated a potential. The universalist sage is embedded in the religious fundamentalist, even if the fundamentalism hinders the flowering of that innate and inclusive wisdom. If a fundamentalist evangelical were to become an inclusive sage, it would be due partly to the latter being in the former in nascent potency. See, the acorn is in the oak tree, and the oak tree is in the acorn.
* * *
Is an awakening any opening to the Spirit? No. Here I will refer to the Quakers use of "opening." In Quakerism, an opening is to the presence and message given one arising from the Light, often when in Meeting - the gathering for group worship. The opening is a communication of and from the Light, not an introduction to a deeper aspect of Spirit one is to grow into. At any level of Spirit manifestation, from gross to subtle, one can receive an opening. However, the likelihood of doing so is based on a number of factors, including preparedness to receive it. Openings are evidence of Spirit's presence, not necessarily where one is in her spiritual emergence or her readiness to transform to a more inclusive inner posture.
* * *
The most essential awakening is the initial, when one inwardly receives such an impression of Grace that her heart is turned in devotion to and conviction of the Divine Presence. This conversion of heart can be a powerful introduction to Grace, one beyond the teachings and practices of her faith or any faith she has been prior aware of. This awakening feels like an intrusion, subtle or pronounced - a calm breeze or a torrid windstorm - into the self.
In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus uses the image of rebirth for awakening. His use "born again" can mean "born again" or "born from above," but likely connotes both. "Again" refers to the need for a second birth, not physical. "From above" implies the need for a spiritual birth arising from Divine Grace. The self needing the renewal of birth can participate in, but not perform, the birthing - this is true of all subsequent awakenings.
Gospel of John 3.6 -
That born from the flesh is flesh (first birth), that born of the Spirit is spirit (second birth).
This rebirth is a way of referring to the initial, or introductory, awakening. Indeed, how can one grow in intimacy with anyone apart from the point of introduction to that someone? All entailed potential in that first encounter - of moving from acquaintance to oneness - begins at some point of initiation to each other's being.
Awakening is a powerful - even if subtle -, energetic introduction to the Beloved - whether this Supreme One is related to in personal, including theistic, ways or abstract, including nontheistic, terms. This diversity in expression applies, for, again, there is only awakening, only one Reality to be introduced to and grow in love with - Love.
* * *
An awakening, whether the initial or subsequent, is a new beginning entailing increased accountability. We are the stewards to cooperate with Grace to fulfill the potentials inherent in the awakening. The degree of accountability increases with the degree of development in Spirit.
Gospel of Luke 12.48 -
Much is expected from one to whom much is given; much more is expected from one to whom much more is given.
And awakening, then, can lead to awakening, as grace to grace. Hence, this stewardship entails renewal daily. Even as we have a plan to renew ourselves physically and mentally daily, we need a plan to be true to nurturing the life-within daily, cultivating the Aspect of Grace that we have been drawn into. The soul has been initiated into a subtler aspect of the Supreme, and this becomes the environment for the Work, inner and outer -
II Corinthians 4.16 -
... though the outer self is dying more each day, the inner self is being renewed each day.
Philippians 2.12 refers to this stewardship as to "work out." This working out means "to complete, fulfill." The opening rebirth, or awakening, called in Philippians "salvation," is the seed of a beginning to guard and care for as a good hostess of Life.
* * *
Finally, while the original rebrith is known in Christianity as arising through Divine Grace, that same Grace marks the whole Journey.
Gospel of John 1.17 -
Out of his fullness [Jesus], we have all received grace (or, gift, blessing) following grace (or, gift, blessing).
In light of this, the early Christian apostle Paul asked a church, in Galatians 3.3 -
Are you so deluded! having begun by the Spirit's agency, you now think you can grow toward wholeness by natural, self-effort (lit., the flesh)?
Hence, with each awakening comes a fuller reliance on Grace's agency and, so, loving surrender to the One. The beginning is the beginning of beginnings, and the same principles that apply with the introduction to Life mark the path with and in Life.
How can I not glory in surrendering to You
for the more I surrender myself
the more room in me
for the Love You wait
to pour into me?
And to say "the Love"
is to say "You pour Yourself"
Hence, I will welcome
the grace to surrender myself more,
for what can I give you, My Love,
other than myself?
* * *
*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020