Many of us will reach a time in our life where we feel so divided, that we have no choice but to cross over the suffering threshold into a new way of being.
This often comes at a time when we’re asking questions like:
What is the purpose of my life?
Is this all there is?
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What is the reason for my suffering?
This threshold represents a turning point in our lives where we shift from living with no or minimal awareness to a willingness to begin to see our lives and explore what this suffering or inner restlessness is trying to teach us.
This is a crossroads where we either continue with the familiar or choose to begin the spiritual and psychological work of awakening.
Crossing this threshold is often difficult as we are being challenged to let go of the old ways of being that feel comfortable and familiar, to a new way of being that has yet to emerge.
It’s like a trapeze artist who knows they must let go of one bar so they can grab onto the next bar. The space in between feels risky and calls for a certain amount of faith. This time of transformation is often referred to as the dark night of the soul.
On this journey of awakening to the truth of who we are at our core, many of us get confused about how to toggle back and forth between living our lives as spiritual beings having a human experience.
We are being called to nurture and care for our conditioned small self, which may require psychological work, while still paying attention to our soul, which is fed by spiritual practices that involve silence, contemplation, and meditation.
The process of closing the gap between our small selves and our soul is what growing, evolving and transforming is all about.
John Welwood, a clinical psychologist who’s had a large impact on bridging Western psychology with meditation and mindfulness coined the term “spiritual bypassing.” In his book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformation, Welwood describes how he had noticed that many people on a spiritual path had a
“tendency to use spiritual practice to bypass or avoid dealing with certain personal or emotional ‘unfinished business’” (2000, p.11).”
I mention this because I believe it’s critical on the road to awakening that we are being called, as Welwood says, to both “grow up and wake up” (p. 231). This involves a commitment to address the ways in which our small self is limiting the expression of our souls.
My journey of awakening and transformation was the perfect example of my need to “grow up and wake up.”
The meditation and mindfulness practices opened the door for me to “wake up.” Without these tools, I wouldn’t have known where I needed to “grow up.” I couldn’t see what wasn’t working.
Through practices that enable us to increase our awareness, we begin to see and feel what is going on inside of us as well as in our outer life as expressed through our relationships, health, and vocation. We become aware of how our past conditioning and cultural beliefs are playing out in our lives.
As we increase our awareness through meditation and mindfulness, we may find that we need to pause the “waking up” process to do some “growing up.” This is when we move back and forth between psychological work and spiritual work.
When I began the awakening journey, I didn’t need psychological work as much as I needed to understand and feed my soul. I needed tools and practices to look inside myself for answers. With increasing awareness, I was then better able to zero in on what I needed to change to be a highly functioning adult. I would spend the majority of my energy on the work of “waking up” with infrequent visits to a counsellor to get a psychological tune-up in order to “grow up.”
Others may need more psychological work to sort through how they have been impacted by trauma or deep wounds as a child. In these situations, “growing up” and moving through deep-seated issues requires more psychological support with meditation and mindfulness sprinkled in to support the process.
Creating lasting and meaningful changes in our lives requires a commitment to both. The psychological work to shed what is no longer serving us, and the spiritual work to connect us with the deeper truths about who we are beyond our conditioning and who we’re meant to become.
(Excerpt adapted from the book Awakening a Woman’s Soul: The Power of Meditation and Mindfulness to Transform Your Life by Bev Janisch)