Are periods & phases of major personal transformation random? Or are spiritual awakenings, creative breakthroughs, and life-altering insights derived from sets of patterns we can identify and cultivate in our lives?
Perhaps, like many, your experience has been that personal transformation seems to happen randomly by the forces of nature (astrology. maybe?). I would like to propose that personal transformation is not random, that it absolutely follows certain, natural laws, and that you can understand it very precisely. I would also propose that there are certain steps of healthy transformation that you can cultivate to guarantee the maximum benefit. And not only that, that if you don’t, you will end up cycling through the same challenges over and over again in life.
By doing so, you are gifting yourself something incredibly valuable:
1. Guidance when feeling a deep internal need for transformation in some area.
2. Taking out the drama and guesswork of this process, which can often be challenging and subject to guesswork.
I experienced my largest round of personal transformation in 2013 when I went to India to do a 200-hour yoga teacher training course. During this 1-month intensive training, completely cut off from the outside world and guided by an enlightened yoga master, I went deep inside myself and watched the wheels of personal transformation churn. I began to see these patterns play out for the first time, and since have seen them happen over and over again in my life. I have also observed them in my closest friend’s lives and noticed that they do follow distinct patterns.
These, I believe, are the natural laws of healthy or “positive” personal transformation that lead to total life satisfaction. There are, of course, many types of transformation, but these are the ones that I feel continue leading you into deeper and deeper connection to life, rather than cycling through the same patterns over and over again.
1. The wake-up event
Inevitably, personal transformation is sparked by a jarring event that shakes you in your core. You lose a friend, your husband leaves you. You get fired. You are diagnosed with a disease. Your mom dies. Your fundamental world-views are called into question.
On the outset, going through a wake-up event can be difficult, intense and uncomfortable. However, viewed from the perspective here as the synthesis of transformation, the wake-up event is actually a gift. Without these uncomfortable events, our lives would never change. We would never be motivated to go out and seek new answers. I would propose that any wake-up event, regardless of what is, is an essential part of life and regular growth.
Years ago I was studying cancer patients who experienced “radical remission” or the spontaneous healing of a terminal cancer diagnosis in the absence of conventional medicine. After interviewing dozens of these survivors, I noticed every single one of them was grateful for their disease. They saw it as a wake-up call to change their life, and many saw afterwards that their lives were dull and lifeless beforehand. Cancer is a rather extreme example of something we can all attest to– life gets boring, plateaus are hit, and the events that shake us out of them are exactly what is necessary to move through them.
Without a wake-up event: Life can stay dull, and meaningless. You cycle through patterns over and over again and lose the child-like wonder of living.
2. The Journey
A wake-up event must be followed by a journey for the energy to move through you. Without embarking on the journey, the trauma of the wake-up event may not have the momentum to re-organize.
What does the journey look like? It’s always very different. A journey doesn’t necessarily mean travelling somewhere. In Tibet, it is said that what one gains from a journey is exactly proportional to the distance travelled. Being willing to travel a far distance reflects inner urgency, but that inner urgency may be directed towards going on a journey right where you stand.
For maximum effect, the journey must be lead by intuitive, irrationality even. Follow your deepest desire, is it to spend a year in Tuscany? Does something call you to be a beach bum in Hawaii? Have you always dreamed of being an artist? Something about these images in our head that call us exist for a reason, they are our souls calling to be healed and maximize their expression. When you start moving in the world in this way, driven purely by your deepest intuition, magical things begin to happen. Each event is meaningful, and become weaved together in a beautiful tapestry that is your life.
Without The journey: You can end up holding on to trauma from your wake-up event and never move through it. Your life can become consumed by your memories of it and it becomes difficult to live peacefully.
3. Finding Your Space of Peace
Your deepest intuition is actually driving you to find a space where you can feel comfort, ease and acceptance. There is a realization, once this space is found, that this is all you’ve been seeking. Many have found this is festivals like burning man, meditation retreats, yoga training, sweat lodges or ayahuasca ceremonies. Others find this deep in the seclusion of nature, where they can tap into the oblivion of wisdom.
On a physical level what is happening is:
1. Our sympathetic begins to shut off.
The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity and is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response. Most don’t realize this, but in today’s lifestyle, particularly if you are living in a city, our sympathetic nervous systems are almost always activated to some extent. When this is activated, it’s impossible for the body to perform detoxing tasks, and it holds onto toxicity throughout the body. Think of it evolutionarily, if you were being attacked by a bear, your body would not send signals to take a shit or rest. The body naturally begins detoxing when your parasympathetic nervous system becomes active. Have you ever wondered why you feel so refreshed after a long vacation?
2. Our brain waves begin to slow.
Most brains operate in the gamma or beta frequency (12-42 hertz). When you find a relaxed environment, your brain can begin moving into the alpha-theta range, which is a much lower frequency (3-10 hertz). It’s in these lower frequency where creativity and feelings of deep inner peace emerge. Drugs like weed and mushrooms feel pleasurable when they lower your brain frequency.
Without finding your space of peace: Your journey feels a little incomplete, and always feel a little unsatisfying. You may feel significantly better and freer, but you risk becoming addicted to the journey, moving into a phase of life where you are ungrounded, always searching intensely, and never able to fully rest.
4. The awakening
Naturally, when the body is relaxed for a long period of time, it begins to find a sense of ease and inspiration. It usually goes something like this:
You are sitting blissed out, doing nothing, without a care in the world. Your body relaxes in a way it hasn’t in a long, long time and your eyes are wide open, seeing and enjoying the simple presence of the world around you. You feel loved by the people around you. Suddenly, you feel a wave of inspiration flow over your body. You remember that this feeling is what life is all about.
The simple pleasures in life are rediscovered. Suddenly you begin to see that all the things you were working for were just to feel this way in your body. You see also that all the external factors you thought would make you feel that way are not actually necessary, and that there’s a more simple, direct way to get what you want. The depth of an awakening is limitless- there truly is no limit to how good you can feel in your body.
There are many spiritual practices that can help stimulate an awakening. I find these necessary, as some who find their space of comfort never leave and fall into a life of lethargy. In my experience, the yogic practices are some of the most powerful for awakening, as it works in a holistic sense on your body posture, your diet, your thoughts, and your relationship to source/spirit. It is certainly possible to find your own path of awakening, but in my experience, it definitely helps to be guided by a system that has worked for millions throughout the ages.
Without an Awakening: It’s easy to give into lethargy, and eventually, your inspiration will die out.
5. Sharing & Creating
Sharing what inspires you is a very natural part of the human condition. It’s only natural to want to share what you have realized with others. You see it over and over again. Think about it- what’s the first thing you want to do when something good happens to you? I bet it’s to call the people you love and share it with them. You want to include literally everyone you know in it.
Generally, I see others are over-zealous in sharing their experiences, which by their nature are very personal. It’s not impossible to share properly, but most people I see become impatient and want to find shortcuts for others to experience what they have, without going through all the steps above.
My first spiritual teacher, a Tibetan Llama in Honolulu named Llama Tempa, told me something that I will never forget. In the first month I knew him, he shared with me the introductory meditation practice from his lineage. I had felt a sense of limitless joy inside myself I had never felt before and I wanted to do more. I asked him to give me more meditations and that I wanted to begin sharing it with others. He said to me “Do this one practice for 2 years, then come back to me and I will give you one more practice. Share it with someone only if they ask you, twice. You will know then that they are serious about learning.”
When you care enough about what you are doing enough to be eternally patient with others, you will know you are ready to begin sharing.
Without Sharing: Your awakening will never be given purpose. You may have a feeling of inner peace that belongs to you, but that it can’t grow or be shared with others.
6. Practice & Refinement – The Path of Mastery
For a healthy personal transformation to be supported, it must be accompanied by regular practice, attention, and refinement. This is the path of mastery. This is why every yoga teacher in the world stressed consistent practice. Without this, the old patterns will begin to reemerge, and you’ll sink back to where you were before your journey began.
Feelings on the body are stored up like grains in a silo. Every day you add a new grain. If you never develop a daily practice of something, your silo will be empty, and it can be filled with anything.
I highly recommend George Leonard’s book “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfilment.” It’s a short read (less than 200 small pages) and details the process, pitfalls, and joys of the process of mastery beautifully from someone who has clearly done it himself. The true joy in life is in this process of consistent refinement, not in seeking variety. It’s in this process of mastery where all true value is built.
Without practice and refinement: What you have to share with the world will never truly grow and deepen. You may feel a bit ungrounded and lack confidence in how you share your creativity with the world. You may get lost in spreading yourself too thin, always trying to share yourself in too many ways.
7. Returning home
Eventually on the path of transformation — inspired by your journey, cultivated in your place of peace, supported by your process of mastery — perhaps when you least expect it you will sink into a deep sense of simple, meaningless joy. Similar to how you felt when you found your place of comfort, but even more profound knowing that you can bring yourself back into this space anywhere, anytime at your will. The events of the outside world cease to matter so much, knowing that you are in control of how you feel always. This is the final step of personal transformation, the realization that you are and always were in control of your experience. You see the patterns that lead you to get out of alignment in the first place, and they seem like distant memories.
Very, very few people I know reach this stage.
Without returning home: You will not regularly feel life’s highest emotions like gratitude and devotion. Your life will be very rewarding, but always a tad incomplete. All the work you’ve done in your life will not feel like it “set in,” where you actually can harvest the fruits of your labor and hard work.