This week I’m working on the content of a January retreat day I’m doing for the Marin Interfaith Council. It’s my pleasure to be co-leading the retreat with Marilyn Mandela Schlitz, president of the Institute of Noetic Science. We’ll be talking about transformation, a subject IONS has studied for 35 years. Interestingly, I’ve been exploring the topic for about the same number of years and IONS has been a wonderful resource for that exploration.
Key to the topic of transformation according to spiritual teachers ancient and modern is an awakening experience, something that literally wakes one up to the larger reality of life. Today I’ve been listening to a conversation between Larry Dossey and Ken Wilber about Larry’s new book, The Power of Premonitions: How Knowing the Future Can Shape Our Lives. They spoke of the fact that a large percentage of the population reports having had premonitions but often do not share their experiences with others. It struck me that the same could be said for awakening experiences for many of the same reasons including a lack of a framework of understanding and fear of being labeled crazy.
Awakening experiences come in many forms. Marilyn and her colleagues, Cassandra Vietan and Tina Amorok, have done extensive research on these experiences in their book Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life. According to their research experiences that awaken us, that begin the transformative journey include pain, direct knowing, intuitive insights, sudden revelations, moments of synthesis or synchronicity, breakthroughs of understanding, non-ordinary states (drug induced and natural), finding a teacher and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary like reading, being in nature, gardening and parenthood. (Pp. 34-63).
What’s obvious here is that virtually any experience has the potential to shift our sense of who we are. The skin encapsulated self expands to include a deep connection to Ultimate Reality and nothing is the same again. They can occur at any age and may be a gradual awakening or sudden. Granted, a transformative experience is simply the first step on a journey of transformation but it is a significant step and deserves to be honored rather than tucked away for fear of sounding crazy in our modernistic world.
I had two significant awakening experiences in my life. Perhaps one wasn’t enough to get my attention. As I think back, I filled with gratitude for the wise ones in my life who could explain and normalize the experiences for me. Understanding what was happening allowed me to step firmly and unapologetically on the transformative path that did indeed change my life in ways I never imagined.
Consider your own life. What experience(s), gradual or sudden, have shifted the way you place yourself in our vast universe? How have you made sense of it? Who have you told? What have you done to continue the journey?
I leave you with these words of wisdom from one of my favorite mystics, Thomas Merton, whose transformative journey led him to this conclusion:
We are already one.
But we imagine that
we are not. And what
we have to recover is our original unity.
What we have to be is what we are.