Life has thrown suffering your way and propelled you on a truth-seeking path. There's no turning back. If you're anything like me, you've meditated, gone to workshops, read books, listened to the masters. You've healed your past-life traumas and embraced your shadows. You've been feeling incrementally better, and theoretically wiser. Because you're almost a spiritual Wikipedia by now. You know every spiritual concept and healing modality and positive affirmation out there. What else can they teach you?
But just as you became almost content treading the sensible path of human improvement inch by inch, it started- the mysterious process of real transformation, which takes you by storm and throws all the spiritual rules you learned out of the window. It's chaotic, explosive, confusing, yet at the same time the most intelligent and elegant process ever. If you know what I'm talking about, good for you. If you suspect you know what I'm talking about because it is happening to you right now, then read on.
All the mystics who came before you, be it Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, or Snoopy, had periods of disappearance into the void- the empty spots on the timeline of their life when it seemed they had suddenly dropped off the edge of the planet. Nobody knew where they were and what they were doing. They went alone, they went within, relinquishing their old limited identity and becoming something more expanded, powerful, and closer to their true self. In a sense what you're experiencing is similar. Except that they had a desert or a cave to go to, instead of living in midtown Manhattan and riding the metro to work everyday. Now we don't have that many caves left to legally occupy. But that doesn't mean the archetypal process of spiritual transformation has changed in its essence.
Despite sounding benign, the kind of spiritual shift I'm talking about is most likely inconvenient to your daily life and worse, makes you question your own sanity. Because from an outside perspective, what you're experiencing...um...sucks. (A catholic monk once wrote a book about how much it sucked for him. You've likely heard of the book. It has a depressing name. But I feel the author is more than a bit masochistic. So, reader beware.) Maybe the most maddening part is that you don't know where it is going- you're certainly not the one in control. Many things can happen in the process, including...
1. Your mind is empty.
Sometimes it feels like your mind has been sent for service at the dealer shop. You may not even be aware of its absence-we take it for granted too much- until you need it for reading a newspaper or crunching some serious numbers. And then to your great horror, you realize you can't comprehend any written words and have lost the ability to count. I'm not even talking in metaphor. you don't feel like meditating anymore. In fact, you don't feel like doing anything much of the time, which makes you an extremely boring person to be around. Although you've been slacking on meditation and all of your other spiritual "practices", you have the strange feeling that you're actually meditating all the time, even when you're brushing your teeth or doing the laundry. It is true--you're meditating 24/7, mostly without your conscious awareness. Thoughts run through you faster than ever. One moment you have a lot of them. The next thing you know, they've all disappeared out of thin air and leave you totally empty. Sometimes your mind is so vacant that you want to puke, or punch someone in the face. Yet you notice an underlining stillness in you no matter where you go. Sound contradictory? Trust me, they're not.
2. You're cut off from the world and oddly, you feel OK about it.
You feel like you're living in the middle of a desert, alone. No matter how gregarious you used to be, by the middle of this you probably find yourself alarmingly isolated. All your social charms are gone. You don't even know how to talk properly (because your mind is on leave). Yet most of the time you feel just fine without company. Aloneness is rich and meditative and seldom lonely. You don't have much desire to connect with the world anyway. In fact, you've become so sensitive that if you go to over-crowded venues, after a while you feel dizzy and overwhelmed. You find yourself sort of withdrawn energetically even when you're interacting with others. And if your head is stuffed with spiritual doctrines, this would freak you out, because being spiritually advanced means you should be as open as possible, no? No. The alchemical change process needs space to happen. When the caterpillar is morphing, you don't cut the chrysalis and expose it to the open air. Similarly, things are happening in you that the eyes can't see. Listen to your body. And don't force yourself to be any other way than what every cell of you wants to be.
3. You're riding a roller coaster for no reason.
One day you feel sublime and free. The next day you're driven into the ground and you don't even know why. Nothing bad has happened, but you feel like a stinky sock soaked in the rain, miserable and heavy. You have nobody to complain to; others don't understand what you're complaining about. Not even your shrinks or your shamans. (They can't help with your case, because you're not sick; the most they can do is to not misdiagnose you. So go ahead and fire them already.) Besides, you don't have the language to describe your condition to others- too few people have experienced it; and those who experienced it never talked with each other enough to develop a consensus-based lingo. You are feeling this way because a new system is being constructed in you, while the heavy debris of your old structure is burning away. You're simply smothered by the ashes. Try not to engage with the dark thoughts accompanying the smoke. Know that they are not yours anymore. They're just saying goodbye.
4. You need lots, and lots, and lots of rest.
Otherwise you are tired all the time. If you want to take a nap after breakfast, consider this your new normal (and go ahead and lie down). All the growth and reconfiguration in you takes enormous amount of energy. Think of your body as a computer changing operating system. In between systems the machine seems stunned and can hardly perform any function. If you don't expect your computer to be productive during those paradigm shifting time, be even more patient with your own inner computer. Respect your body's instinct. Keep it well rested and nourished. And stop scolding yourself for being "lazy".
5. You occupy your body differently.
There's more space in your body, like you're wearing a loose-fitting shirt. You have a more flexible relationship with the physical entity you occupy, instead of being imprisoned in it. That doesn't mean you're zoned out. No, you're not going anywhere else. But you're present in a way that feels like freedom. Yet too much freedom can be eerie in the beginning.
6. Sleep is always an adventure.
Sometimes you have such wild and vivid dreams that you know you'd get rich by turning them into best-selling novels, but you wake up not remembering a thing. Other times you're sure you didn't have any dreams. But you know the whole night you have been traveling, lifting weight, undergoing surgeries, intensely working on...something. You just wish you knew what that something was. No wonder you wake up feeling exhausted, like you haven't slept at all.
7. The outcomes of your worldly pursuits don't concern you as much.
Of course it'd be nice if you get this job or keep that relationship. But you're way less attached to them than you used to be. Because like it or not, the focus of your life has gone through some subtle shifts- it's now focused on giving birth to your own transformed self. Just like someone who's pregnant, your days implicitly revolve around the new life forming in you. You're busy with what's happening inside you and any other goals feel like distraction. However, none of this may be obvious to your conscious mind. You may start wondering if you've become too passive when it comes to pursuing the normal goals of life. Yet if you go against your own inner knowing and start your world-conquering missions now, you'd find that none of your actions yield much result. And you're doubly exhausted in the end. Thankfully, you care less and less about what others think of you. And you may find that people like to be around you, even though you haven't done anything to please them. The collective consciousness has a lighter grip on you. And your perception has grown that allows you to differentiate between thoughts and desires originated from your deeper self and those that are mere inheritance from the collective.
You are being trained to be a different kind of human. Ok, that's not exactly right. Because you're in fact the trainer, the trainee, and the spectator, all in one. You're learning to merge your identity with all there is, the powerful force that makes the earth turn and the stars shine, so that when you say the word "I", you'll mean so much more than the facade of your little human will, and the entire universe will be at your back.
But all these strange happenings are likely to upset your mind. Fear, guilt and shame may rush in. Sure, you're going through something. But how do you know this is not simply depression, or a flu, or some new genre of craziness that hasn't been properly labeled in the psychiatry textbooks? Your mind demands an answer. Well, that's why articles like this exist. This blog post is for your mind. Because the rest of you doesn't need anybody to tell it what's going on. It knows. In fact, your inner knowing is now stronger than ever. It just takes a while for your mind to catch up and start trusting it.
It's ok. Let your mind do its job. But try to listen to the deeper voice inside you. Get a medical check if it helps reassure your mind. Rest well and eat healthy. Be gentle on yourself. Be loving. Don't beat yourself up when you are not acting the way you "think" you should. This is the best time to practice self love. And better yet, If you can find mutual support from someone who's experiencing a similar process, high five!
What will happen when you finally come out of the dungeon? No, angels won't descend from heaven and there won't be any red carpet welcoming you to the fifth dimension. But you won't need them anyway. Because you will find that more than ever, you feel clear, free and at home just where you are. You may go out into the world and make a splash, or not, depending on what unique role you are called to play in the grand theater of the universe. But one thing for sure is that you will be a source of light and strength, in a much confused world. Indeed, it's a rare blessing to be you.
Natasha Che is a personal growth teacher and writer based in Washington DC. She writes about relationship, career, spirituality and creative process on natashache.com, where you can sign up to receive monthly inspiration. Natasha is working on a memoir titled Wizardry: One Woman's Quest for Meaning, Mission, and Magic.