In Part 1 of this series, we suggested that there is a pattern to any form of personal transformation. The pattern looks like this:
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.
This week, we look at the next stage of the transformative process.
Asking for Help
This questing stage of the transformative journey requires help—not only the help of a teacher or counselor, but the help of grace. Our own effort is crucial; without it, we have no vessel for the shift or insight to take root. (The scientist's insight, for example, would be simply a passing intuition unless he had done the work necessary to apply it in practice.) But in the transformation process, it isn't enough to practice. We also need grace, which one of my teachers defined as "that which returns things to the Source." That, of course, is because true shifts of consciousness emerge from Being itself. The most direct way to ask for help from Being is, essentially petitionary prayer.
Some yogis dismiss prayer as wimpy, a confession that your practice is weak or that you lack self-reliance. They say that all you need to do is practice intensely and aspire passionately, and breakthrough will come on its own. That may be true for them. I've always found that most of my major breakthroughs have followed intense prayer. Depending on the mood of the moment, I pray to God, to the field of consciousness, to my own higher self. I believe that it's important to pray only for things that will be of benefit to others as well as ourselves. But I also know that any transformation in an individual's consciousness is beneficial to all, so I have few qualms about asking for help when I come across inner obstructions. Praying has also helped me let go of my pride of doership, because I've found the most effective form of prayer to be the kind where you start by saying, "I can't do this myself. Grace will have to help me." There's something about the conviction of essential helplessness that seems to attract grace.
Grace, Insight, and Awakening
Whether help comes as a result of prayer, as a natural consequence of your passionate longing for change, or for no apparent reason at all, you can always tell when grace has rushed in. For one thing, it's exhilarating and often actually miraculous. You read a book, and the exact words you need to hear leap out at you. You're drawn to a particular teacher, who gives you the insight that helps change your entire psychic structure. You hear yourself saying exactly the right thing to a friend, and know that 'you' didn't say it. Often at this stage, your life seems filled with synchronicities, meaningful coincidences, inspirations that carry you forward almost effortlessly.
"I'd be in the supermarket and I'd pick up a magazine and right on the cover would be the question I was asking," a friend said. "Or I'd start a conversation with my cousin whom I hadn't seen since we were ten, and find out that he was going through the same thing. I started meeting people who were interested in spiritual growth, something that had never happened before. It seemed that each meeting led to another one."
This part of the transformation cycle can be incredibly exciting, often because it feels as though you're learning how to open to the wisdom that comes from Being itself. Wisdom teacher Marc Gafni, who has himself experienced many cycles of transformation, says that true personal transformation requires rewriting our source code, the deep internal programming that determines the way we experience the situations in our lives. Since we don't know how to get to the source code on our own, that deep shifting has to come from insight, the intuitive awareness that comes from Being itself. One of the signs that we're truly experiencing that level of insight is the feeling that truths you've been reading and hearing about for years suddenly become actual realizations, not just useful teachings. You go, "Omigod, I'm really not my thoughts!" "Love is real!" "Wow, I can change my experience by changing my perception!" "If I press my head isometrically into my hands during Bridge Pose it will get rid of the pain in my spine!" Now everything is different, and you feel that the world will never be the same again.