(This article originally appeared on natashache.com.)
A bootcamp is an intense training experience. It breaks you down so it can build you back up. It’s supposed to challenge your grit, faith, sense of identity, capacity for growth.
That’s why I call the spiritual shift I’ve experienced in the past few years a “bootcamp”.
But the unique thing about a spiritual bootcamp is no one designed the curriculum for you. You are both the trainer and the trainee, while the curriculum writes itself. Besides, you never signed up for this bootcamp. Life volunteered you. Or—if you’re open to an alternative interpretation—your soul signed you up before you even arrived at Earth.
The goal of the spiritual bootcamp? Preparing you to become all that you can be—the big shining presence of light this planet so desperately needs.
I don’t tell stories for the sake of stories. I’m telling this for those having a similar experience, to keep you company on your journey, which I know can be lonely sometimes. I hope you pick up some tips from here. And no matter what happens, never, never lose faith in the perfect design of your life.
It all started five years ago when I had that weird dream. In the dream I was lying in a hospital bed. The doctor came to check on me.
“How’s Shiva doing?” He asked.
I promptly realized I was pregnant, and the baby’s name was Shiva. “He’s well,” I smiled. “Super active though.”
In case you didn’t know, Shiva is a badass Hindu deity, the God of Destruction and Creation.
I told my friend and mentor Rudy about the dream, who was, among other things, a yogi and a renowned scholar of Kashmir Shaivism. His face lit up, “Ah, that’s very auspicious! Good things are coming to you.”
If only I’d had a better idea of what good things meant on a spiritual journey.
I’d been an avid seeker throughout my twenties. I followed numerous gurus, teachers, shamans, and healers. I chased all sorts of personal growth fads. The spiritual circus was like a video game—there was always a next level and more points to earn. It kept me busy and helped me cope with the fact that I was deeply unhappy about my life.
On the outside I was doing well. I just started a well-paying job, bought a nice house, and was active in volunteering for my local community. But deep down, it always seemed I was living someone else’s life. I was going through the motions doing stuff normal humans were expected to do, yet didn’t give a dime to any of it. Like an alien being hiding in my human shell, I struggled to get with the program, but never felt I belonged in this world.
I somehow knew that life could be about so much more. Hence the seeking went on.
Not long after I had that Shiva dream, one ordinary morning as I sat at my computer in the office, reading a 100-page report, something strange happened. I realized I couldn’t read. Literally. Could. Not. Read. I’d look at a word, recognize the word, but as my eyes moved to the right, totally forget the word. It was as though someone had taken parts of my mind out. It was only later I realized how literally true that was.
At first, I thought I was just tired. I made myself concentrate more. But it seemed the more I forced concentration, the worse it got. Three hours later, I was still on page one and starting to panic.
I got nothing done that day. And the day after. And the day after that. All I did was sitting at my desk pretending to work, feeling frustrated with myself.
I started waking up in the morning totally exhausted, as though I hadn’t slept at all. I had the distinct sense that part of me was staying up all night doing heavy work, but had no memory about any of it.
I also started having mysterious mood swings. I could be at the grocery store or in a work meeting, and be suddenly overtaken by the most heart-wrenching sadness. Now exactly how you want to feel when doing a powerpoint presentation.
When nobody was around, I’d lie down on the floor and cry for hours, feeling inexplicably heavy. As though the abuse, treachery, abandonment, shame, and despair experienced by all humans across the entire space/time continuum had been dumped on me at once. And I could barely breathe under its weight.
When it got really bad, I’d call my dear friend Isabel, who was a gifted healer. “I feel so awful about myself! About anything and everything!”
She gently reminded me that I was simply releasing old energy imprints.
“I don’t care what it is!” I shouted, choking on tears. “I’m dying!”
In some sense that’s very true—I was dying. My energy body and mental/emotional construct were going to be rebuilt from ground up. And for that to happen, the old structure had to collapse first.
But at the time, although I intuitively knew what was going on, my conscious mind couldn’t grasp it. It led to much anxiety and frustration.
What made things a bit easier for me then was my spiritual mentor, Dr. Bill Bauman. Bill was the best life guide ever. He was the first person who patiently explained to me what I was experiencing. He also affirmed my own intuitions about the situation, which, up to that point, I was too afraid to acknowledge because my rational mind thought I was nuts.
Find your tribe—people who understand. It makes the load lighter and the journey less lonely.
Still, it was almost always challenging. My mind would leave, and come back, and then leave again. I had unpredictable episodes of breakdown and whenever I came out of it, I was so physically sensitive like I had no skin to protect me. I’d experience an overflowing love for all beings and every little beauty in the world touched me to the core. But at the same time, I felt so vulnerable that I had to shut the door and stay in my own cocoon for extended periods. At times I couldn’t even look at people’s faces, the energy of which was too overwhelming.
However you feel, don’t blame, judge, or guilt-trip yourself. You feelings are always valid. Your interpretations are often not.
This went on for about two years, during which I had three car accidents. (It’s a miracle that I didn’t have more.) They all involved me either hitting the wall or hitting other cars. Because I was rather spaced out at times, and honestly, didn’t realize how spaced out I was until I hit something. Miraculously, I was never hurt. But please, please don’t try this at home. If you’re feeling “funny”, let someone else drive.
One Saturday evening I was standing on the metro platform waiting for the train, after seeing a baseball game with a friend. At that point, I avoided crowds as much I could. I was so sensitive to people’s energy that large crowds could make me sick and throw up. But I went to the game and that was fun. Yet as I stood on the platform, the world suddenly went blank. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground and concerned strangers were shouting in my face, “Wake up! Are you ok?”
They told me I had passed out and was inches away from falling off the platform. (That wouldn’t have been fun.) I was hoisted into an ambulance that dashed across town. The doctors ran a bunch of checks on me but in the end said everything seemed fine. Not able to find any problems, they released me five hours later.
In the months followed, I fainted some more. Once it was on an airplane, where the flight attendants almost called for an emergency landing because the only doctor onboard couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.
With all this drama going on, my rational mind naturally thought I was going crazy. Yet deep down there was a sweeping presence of calmness. And no matter how disoriented and I felt, there was an inner knowing that said, “All is well. Hang in there.”
Listen to your small, still voice inside. You already have all the wisdom you need.
I tried to hide these symptoms from the outside world as much as possible. One day my boss asked to “have a chat” with me and politely pointed out that I wasn’t performing. I told her I had some personal issues. But hey, they had since been resolved and I’d try to do better in the future. (I mean, how do you tell your manager with a straight face that your performance slid because you’re “energetically shifting”? What’s she supposed to write in her corporate document?)
But with people who knew me well, it was harder to hide. And things could be tricky when those people could neither understand nor accept what was happening. My mother, for example, visited me once a year. To her, this person who used to be her healthy daughter had somehow turned into an anti-social, sad and sick lunatic. I tried to tell her that I was simply being rewired so that I could hold higher vibrations and be a bigger presence on earth.
That would satisfy her for five minutes, and then she was back to her worrying-mother self. Our conversation always went like this—
“I’m worried about you. You need to do something!”
“I’m ok. I’m just shifting.”
“You always say that. But when is it going to end?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s not good enough. You should know! You’re not acting like yourself.”
“This is me now. Your idea of me needs updating!”
Neither of us had much patience with the other. I was frustrated with her, largely because I had the same doubts as her. When is it going to end? Is it ever going to end? What if I’m just really sick and delusional?
If you have total conviction about your own path, you won’t be so mad at people who don’t understand it. Your frustration with others is proportional to your own doubts about yourself.
I wish I could tell you I always had unwavering faith in the divine order. But that couldn’t be farther away from the truth. My mind was full of doubts and I hardly got through a day without wondering if there was any divine order at all. Maybe the world was complete randomness and I was just an irregular blip on the screen of creation. A broken blip that needed fixing.
My mother nagged me to go see a doctor. What she didn’t know was I had been to plenty of doctors already. My internist ordered me all the medical tests in the book that could possibly be related to my exhaustion, fainting, mood changes, and dizziness. But all tests reported I was perfectly healthy. She then sent me to a cardiologist, a gynecologist, and an endocrinologist. They ordered more tests, yet none of them could figure out what was wrong. I also tried acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbalism.
At that point my doctor probably realized she was wasting her time with me. She highlighted one line in my physical exam results and gave me an embarrassed smile, “Well, your vitamin D level is kind of low. Maybe that’s why?”
Yeah, eat your vitamin D, people! It’d solve all your problems.
And then there was emptiness, filling almost every waking hour when I wasn’t on an emotional rollercoaster. The silent void that was louder than a thunderstorm. The barren vacuum that made pain seem savory in comparison. Being always a doer and go-getter, this was the hardest part for me on this journey. The feeling—or rather, non-feeling— that nothing was happening often sent me into deep despair. It was very hard not to believe that I was stuck in time and would never move forward again.
You’re never stuck. That’s a given. Things are always happening in you and for you that the eyes can’t see.
What was also difficult was to let go of so many things I identified with. When I had that pregnant-with-Shiva dream, I saw myself as a “spiritual” person. I had daily practices of rituals and meditations that I loved. I had done lots of healing work. I had systems of concepts and beliefs around spirituality, God, purpose of life, etc, which I’ve seen dissolving bit by bit in front of my eyes, to the point where I felt like I didn’t know anything anymore. I stopped all my spiritual practices as they no longer resonated. I had the strange realization that all my spiritual seeking in the last ten years had pretty much been a waste of time. I hadn’t learned a thing. All I learned were a bunch of self-imposed concepts and structures that didn’t lead to true freedom, while making my ego feel like I was wise and superior. That realization was hard to stomach. Still, I told myself to stop holding onto the old and start leaning into the emptiness. It was scary and confusing. Yet I tried my best not to run away.
The end of the ego begins with you accepting that you know nothing. That’s where freedom starts.
I felt like I was falling into a bottomless black hole deeper and deeper, with no sign in sight that things would get better. One night I had to work late. And when I got home it was almost 10 pm. I was alone, starving, and too exhausted to cook. So I microwaved some frozen pasta from Trader Joe’s. As I sat at the kitchen counter by myself, staring at that sad plate of slimy spaggatties, tears welled up and I couldn’t swallow a single bite. Is this what life is about? I asked myself. I was working at a job that drained me, had zero social life as I felt too sensitive to be near most people. I used to have dreams and aspirations, but now I hid myself from the world. And where I used to find meaning there was only emptiness. What is this all for?
That was a rock bottom moment for me. And I wish I could tell you that was only the rock bottom moment. I wish I could tell you that from then on things had only gone upwards, just like in a Hollywood movie. But reality is more complicated. Any story, including the one I’m telling you right now, is a simplified, archetypal version of reality.
A story follows a linear line of progression. But reality is anything but linear. Reality is chaotic, circular, two steps forward and one step back. Sometimes you walk a thousand miles to go back where you started. Sometimes you can’t walk at all.
If your growth journey looks nothing like any inspirational stories you’ve heard, you’re doing it right.
But things started to change before I took notice. In between the episodes of emotional/energetic whirlwinds, I started to sense something that was never there before— joy. It wasn’t the kid-getting-a-new-toy kind of joy. It is a joy that requires no cause and expands itself to infinity. The joy said to me, “I’m the floorboard of your life. I’m ever present. I ask nothing from you and give everything. You couldn’t see me because I was covered up by the thick smoke from your past that blinded you.”
That was my first hint that perhaps the smoke was starting to clear up in me. Slowly, my other symptoms alleviated. But it was so gradual and almost imperceptible at the beginning.
Two years ago I wrote an article describing the signs of spiritual shift based on experiences of my own and other people I knew. At the time I was just starting to come out of the crucible. I expected six people to read the piece, as it was such a “niche” topic. Surely not that many people would care. To my surprise, the response I got was overwhelming. The article has since been shared hundreds of times. It helped me and a whole community discover each other, for which I’m eternally grateful.
Looking back, I realized that the spiritual bootcamp was indeed an experience of destruction and new creation. From the ashes of my old self emerged something new that was lighter, freer, more audacious. The center of my being had shifted. This shift is rather difficult to put in words, but I’ll try anyway (note: for these words to really benefit you, don’t read them as letters on a page. Feel into them and try them on for size):
Whew, that was a lot of typing!
I don’t want you to get the impression that it’s all happily ever after for me from then on—that only happens in stories, not in reality. The big illusion many of us have is that if you do the right things (or suffer enough), some day you’ll finally “arrive” and can retire from the game of growth forever.
The truth is no matter how far you’ve come, you can always go farther. You can experience multiple death and rebirth during a lifetime, each of them pushing you towards more light and expansion. And before you know it, you’ll be in a totally different bootcamp for other trainings. (That’s literally true for me, as I’ll be in an intense software engineering bootcamp for the next three months. Will update you on that later.)
There is no enlightenment. There is only ever deepening unity with your true self.
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Natasha Che is a personal growth teacher and writer living in Washington DC. She writes about relationships, work, spirituality and creative process on natashache.com, where you can sign up to receive monthly inspirations.