Steve Taylor‘s book Extraordinary Awakenings: When Trauma Leads to Transformation documents a remarkable piece of research which takes a thorough look at the subject of spiritual awakening, which Steve describes:
“Spiritual awakening is simply a shift into a more intense and expansive state of awareness. In awakening, it’s as if the filters or boundaries that limit normal human awareness fall away. At the same time, awakening is a higher-functioning psychological state — a state of enhanced well-being and freedom from psychological discord, in which people live more authentically and creatively.”
Steve has explored the stories of many individuals who have gone through such awakenings driven by traumatic circumstances, in all of the following categories:
- on the Battlefield
- through Incarceration
- facing Death
- depression, stress, suicidal
Many examples are given, such as that of Sri Aurobindo, who was imprisoned for a year for political activism. When Aurobindo was released:
“His political colleagues expected him to continue to fight for their cause, but now he was a different person. Political issues no longer seemed important. It no longer seemed enough to help liberate his country. Now he wanted to serve the whole human race, to help liberate all human beings from psychological suffering. Most of all, he wanted to help manifest the next stage in the evolution of human consciousness. And he devoted the rest of his life to this goal.”
Steve quotes many examples across the above categories of ‘transformation through trauma’. The most important attitude to deal with them is acceptance. We often go into a mode of resistance, such as when we talk about fighting a disease or struggling to overcome obstacles. But doing so blocks transformation. When we shift to acceptance, surrendering to the situation, letting go, then transformation becomes possible.
It is important to recognise that we have a choice about is how to respond to suffering. This was one of the insights of psychologist Viktor Frankl, gained during his three years as an inmate of Nazi concentration camps. Frankl was one of the 10 percent of inmates who survived Auschwitz, and attributed his survival to his strong sense of purpose. He watched others give up hope, losing their sense of purpose, noticing that soon afterward they would fall ill and die. This sense of purpose is the freedom that circumstances cannot take away from us.
In the final part of the book, Steve outlines a Four-Step Process of Responding to Challenges, aimed to help this transformatory process along, and help individuals in their process of response. First, it is essential to acknowledge your predicament, second is to acknowledge your negative thoughts and feelings about the situation, third is to explore them and how they are affecting you, and fourth is acknowledgement of your predicament and accepting and letting go of your own resistance. You’ll just have to read the book if you want to better understand this.
Steve then moves on to consider how this knowledge can help those of us not currently suffering from stress and trauma. The key message he draws out is that we should embrace challenge and expansion, also contemplate death and the change and dissolution of the body, a process that becomes inevitable as we age…
And we should cultivate non-attachment, through techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, letting go. Attachment is of the ego, and the spiritual path enjoins us to transcend our attachments to a state of greater involvement in the whole of life.
Steve’s book gives us the encouraging perspective, that whatever stress and trauma may occur in our lives, we can use this experience as a springboard to personal transformation, becoming more conscious and better human beings.
Our spiritual potential has always been real, and presaged by many wise forerunners. It is only in the material forgetfulness of the modern world that many are in denial of this fact.