For him, the process of transformation arose from the tension between the love and wisdom of pure Being that he experienced in retreat, and the real life habits of being and feeling that characterized his 'old' self. It's the experience of that tension that actually births change. For most of us, real transformation happens in recognizable stages, as the dance between Being and Becoming moves from one pole to another.

As a veteran of several major transformative cycles, I'd like to offer a personal map of the process, as I've experienced it. The stages I'll talk about are informed by the writings of several important modern writers, particularly Evelyn Underhill in her book Mysticism, and Joseph Campbell's description of the mythological hero's journey. Different writers give us different names to the stages of a spiritual transformation process. Here are mine: the Wake Up Call, Holding Uncertainty, Getting Help, the Descent of Grace, or the Honeymoon, Falling from Grace, Integration.

Wake-Up Call: You realize that something needs to change.

Sitting in Uncertainty: You look for methods of changing, explore teachings and avenues, all the while being willing to live with the insecurity of being in a process of identity-shifting.

Asking for Help: You approach teachers and mentors, but along with the human help you strongly appeal to the power of grace itself.

Grace, Insight, and Awakening: Grace opens the situation, creating a breakthrough, inner shift, or manifesting as new gifts or insights.

Honeymoon: Enjoying the new situation, living in the breakthrough. Like being in love.

The Fall: Losing touch with the new gifts, experiencing the consequences of over-confidence, sense of dryness, or loss of contact with your Source.

Integration: Bringing insight to bear on the contractions that have caused you to lose contact with grace, applying spiritual insights to the nitty-gritty actions of life, experiencing the ripening of your breakthroughs over time.


The Wake-Up Call

Every transformative process starts with a wake-up call. For some people, the wake up arrives like Doug's, as a sudden intuitive recognition, a message from Being. For others, it comes as an opening into the numinous, a glimpse of the larger truth of love, or a shift into Witness-consciousness.

Just as often, our wake up call may come through an external crisis. Francesco, a young actor, says that it began when a director fired him from a film, telling him that he didn't know how to express real emotion. For Dale, the triggering event was the early death of her husband. Andrew, a teacher of yoga and spirituality, heard the alarm bell when a student left him, saying that Andrew's life didn't reflect what he was teaching. Each event was literally heart-breaking -- not only did it shatter the external framework of these people's lives, it shattered their beliefs about themselves.

Evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris has written that stress is the only thing that creates evolution in natural systems. Plants grow through pruning. Human beings grow in the same way. Evolutionary stress arises when we're faced with a situation that we can't control or change from our current level of understanding and skill. The stress itself impels or forces us to question, seek, practice, and eventually to take a leap out of our box into a higher level of awareness.

Sitting in Uncertainty

In science as well as in spiritual life, important breakthrough discoveries are often preceded by a period of intense frustration or impasse. The scientist has assembled his data, performed innumerable experiments, but can't crack the problem. The answers aren't coming. The passion of his questing for answers, and his frustration about not receiving them builds to a white-hot intensity. In this impasse, often while the scientist is resting or taking a walk, the answer would emerge in his momentarily still mind. Often, it would take the form of an insight, like a download from the Source.

Spiritual breakthrough may follow a similar pattern. In the direct path of self-inquiry of teachers like Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj, the insight sought is the answer to the question, "Who am I really?" pursued with intense curiosity and intention. In the case of the great adept Ramakrishna, his longing was for a vision of the Divine Mother. For Doug, the question is "How should I live?"

So the period following a wake-up call often involves letting yourself live in the stress of unanswered questions, unsolved life problems. It's a time of longing for wisdom, for change, and of intense effort and practice. The stress of the questioning combined with the effort of practice create the heat of tapas, the alchemical cauldron in which we cook, refining our vessel and opening the psyche for revelation and insight.

Continued in Part 2 . . .