Meditation is the gateway to spiritual awakening. This is because meditation helps you gain control of your conscious mind thereby helping you become more conscious.
The term ‘spiritual awakening’ may sound complex, supernatural or even woo-woo, but in reality, it is perhaps the most basic and natural thing you can pursue as a human being. This is because at the very core of it, spiritual awakening is nothing but a journey of self awareness.
In this article, let’s understand the true meaning of spiritual awakening and then find out how you can use meditation to begin your journey of awakening.
What is spiritual awakening?
To put it simply, spiritual awakening is a journey of self awareness which is to become aware of your mind, body, thoughts, beliefs, feelings, perceptions and the nature of reality.
The terms awakening, awareness, consciousness and enlightenment all mean the same thing.
Spiritual awakening happens as you begin to gain control of your conscious mind and use it to bring into your consciousness, that which is hidden or unconscious. This can include your belief systems, thought processes, feelings, perceptions, conditioning, so on and so forth.
When you are not spiritually awakened you are pretty much one with your mind and hence you are controlled by your mind. But as you begin to awaken there is a space that is created (figuratively speaking) between the conscious and subconscious mind. This gives you the ability to witness or observe the mind as a third person. You start to see the mind for what it is. And when that happens, the mind starts to lose control over you and in turn you start to gain control over your mind.
If you are confused, the following analogy will clear things up.
Imagine playing a video game. You have a controller (or joystick) in your hand using which you control your character in the game. But at some point during gameplay you forget that you are the player and get completely identified with the character in the game. There is no separation between you and the character. This is the default (unconscious) mode of existence when you are fully lost in your mind, your beliefs, thoughts, ideas and ideologies. Your conscious and subconscious act as one.
Now, imagine realizing all of a sudden that you are separate from the character of the game. In-fact, you are the one who controls the character. Imagine what a deep sense of liberation it would be to realize that. And that’s exactly what spiritual enlightenment is.
It is when you become aware of your conscious mind and realize that there is a gap between you and your mind. You are no longer one with your thoughts, instead, you become an observer and develop the ability to observe your thoughts (and your mind). This is the beginning of self awareness also known as awakening or enlightenment.
Can meditation help you reach spiritual enlightenment?
The answer to this question is a resounding YES. In-fact, meditation is the only way to reach spiritual enlightenment. This is because, when you meditate, you begin to engage your conscious mind. And as you continue to practice it, you become more and more conscious of your conscious mind and hence gain better control of your conscious mind.
And once you gain better control of your conscious mind, you can use it to become conscious about other aspects of your mind – namely, everything that happens in the background or in your subconscious (or unconscious) mind.
You can also use your conscious mind to get in touch with your body helping you tap the immense intelligence that lies within your body. Similarly, you can use your conscious mind to perceive the world in unique ways as opposed to perceiving the world through the lens of your conditioned mind.
And this is precisely what spiritual enlightenment is. It’s a continuous journey of self awareness.
If you noted, I have used the word ‘continuous’. This is because the journey never ends. At no point can you say that you are fully awakened or that you have reached the ultimate state of knowing. Anyone who claims this is bluffing because enlightenment or awakening is an on-going process. You keep learning, unlearning and relearning and the journey continues.
How does meditation help you reach spiritual enlightenment?
As we discussed earlier, meditation helps you gain better control of your conscious mind. This is because meditation involves working with your attention.
There are two types of meditation that can help you expand your conscious mind. These are:
- Focused meditation.
- Open focus meditation (also known as mindfulness).
In focused meditation, you focus your attention on a single object for a length of time. It can be any object, for instance, you can focus your attention on your breathing or a mantra. In order to keep your attention focused, you need to stay aware (alert) of your attention. If not, after a few seconds you will get distracted and your attention will get pulled in by your thoughts.
By staying aware of your attention, you can keep your attention focused on the object for a relatively longer duration. And when your attention gets pulled in by your thoughts (which is bound to happen at some point), you realize it (as you become aware again), acknowledge that your attention slipped and that it’s okay and gently bring it back to your object of focus.
This process of catching your attention and bringing it back to your breath again and again begins to strengthen your focus muscle. And as you gain more control over your focus muscle, you gain more control over your conscious mind.
Open focus meditation
In open focus meditation, you don’t try to focus your attention on anything, but simply stay aware of it. As you are meditating, stay aware of the thoughts your attention is focused on, or the sounds around you or the feelings within your body. In other words, you don’t focus your attention anywhere but allow it to roam free while staying aware of it.
You can also practice mindfulness meditation at different intervals during the day. This involves simply staying mindful/aware of the tasks you are doing, your thoughts and your sensations. For instance, being conscious of the food you are eating or taking a mindful walk. Stay mindful of activities you are doing, how your body is feeling, the thoughts in your mind, etc. Even a few seconds of mindfulness every now and then is good enough.
As you practice both these types of meditations, your conscious mind will develop and you will gain more and more control of your conscious mind.
What is the best type of meditation for spiritual enlightenment?
Both the types of meditation discussed above are the best types of meditation for spiritual enlightenment.
In-fact, you can do both these types of meditation in one sitting. You can do focused meditation for sometime and then relax yourself by doing an open focus meditation and then return to focused meditation. This is also the best way to meditate.
How often should I meditate for awakening?
Meditation is a very personal activity. So do not look at meditation as a chore that needs to be done everyday. Meditation is also not a means to an end. As mentioned earlier, it’s a way of life.
So the question, how often you should meditate is irrelevant. You can meditate whenever and as often or as little as you feel like. Some days, you might want to spend long hours meditating, some other days, you don’t feel like meditating. Some days as you meditate it will be difficult for you to calm down your thoughts and some other days, the thoughts settle down naturally. So listen to your body and meditate accordingly.
Do not set goals with your meditation, let it be a natural and organic process. You can meditate in the mornings, in the night or even for small intervals throughout the day.
How long should I meditate?
Again, the answer to this question is the same as above. The duration does not matter. Even focusing your attention on your breath for two to three breaths can be really effective. If you feel like meditating for long, do it, but if you are feeling uncomfortable and frustrated, give yourself a break.
The seven stages of awakening according to Buddhism
Buddhism has a seven step process of reaching enlightenment (or awakening) and it would be useful to take a look at these in this article. These are as follows.
- Awareness of your mind, body, feelings and thoughts.
- Awareness of reality.
- Awareness of energy.
- Experience stays of joy (prīti).
- Experience states of deep relaxation or tranquility.
- Concentration, a calm, still and one-pointed state of mind.
- State of equanimity and balance where you accept the reality as-it-is without craving or aversion.
As you can see, everything starts with awareness.
But one thing needs to be mentioned here. It’s best not to strive to reach these states. Firstly you never know what stage you are in and secondly, you might start to pretend in order to convince yourself that you have reached some sort of a permanent state. For instance, you might force yourself to become all loving and accepting or try to be happy all the time which can lead to pretense and unauthentic living.
So the best way is to not follow a structure or worry about the steps. In other words, don’t make enlightment your end goal. Make your goal as the pursuance of self awareness and realize that it’s a life long goal. It’s a way of life.
What happens once you start becoming awakened?
As you awaken, you simply become more and more self aware and that in-turn helps you keep living life in an authentic way. Enlightenment does not mean that you become passive and stop engaging with life (unless that’s what you want to do or if you feel like taking a break), it just means that you live life in a more conscious manner.
And as mentioned earlier, there’s no end goal when it comes to enlightenment. This is not a race with a destination to reach. It is just a way of life.
You have decided to live life more consciously as opposed to living unconsciously. You have decided to gain some control over your mind instead of letting your mind control you. You have decided to realize that your beliefs are not you instead of unconsciously identifying with your beliefs and letting your beliefs control you.
Enlightenment is simply a journey of self reflection, self awareness and self improvement.
That is the only difference it makes. This is also the first step you can take toward making this world a better place.
Will I become free from the ego once I become awakened?
Your ego is your sense of I. It contains everything from your core beliefs to your identity that shape your world view.
The fact remains that you cannot function in this world without having an ego. So your ego is not going anywhere. The only thing that will happen is that your awareness of your ego will increase. This means you will not be influenced/controlled by it as much and that can be very liberating.