A New Self: Affective Characteristics
When we experience spiritual awakenings, one common sign is that our inner life changes. There’s a shift in how we feel inside, in our psychological experience. This shift changes us so profoundly that, in a general sense, we feel as if we have a new identity, as if we have been reborn.
We do take on a new identity as the wakeful self-system emerges and replaces the old self-system of sleep. In cases of gradual spiritual awakening, this identity shift happens very slowly, as the old self-system is gradually remolded into a different form. It may not even be a noticeable symptom or sign of spiritual awakening, except in retrospect. In sudden spiritual awakening experiences the shift is so abrupt and dramatic that many people can pinpoint the exact moment it occurs.
In this section we’ll examine the inner changes and signs of spiritual awakening that contribute to this overall sense of becoming a completely different person.
5. Inner Quietness
With spiritual awakening and enlightenment comes a dramatic reduction of the inner noise of our thought-chatter. In our normal state, this streams through our mind almost constantly — a whirl of associations and images, worries and daydreams that only usually stops when our attention is absorbed in external things. This thought-chatter is such a normal part of our experience that many of us take it for granted. We’re so immersed in it — and so identified with it — that we don’t even realize it’s there, and we certainly don’t realize how powerfully it affects us. It disturbs our inner world, giving rise to negative thoughts and emotions. It disconnects us from the essence of our being, constantly reinforces our ego-identity, and strengthens our sense of separateness.
Almost all of the awakened individuals I spoke to described similar spiritual awakening symptoms, although with variations. Some people — a small proportion — reported that their minds had become completely quiet, with a complete cessation of thought-chatter. More typically, though, people reported that there was still some thought activity in their minds but much less than before.
Others reported that while thought-chatter was still there (although not as much as before), they felt less identified with it. They were able to stand back, observe their thoughts, and let them flow by without becoming immersed in or overly affected by them.
6. Transcendence of Separation / Sense of Connection
In spiritual awakening and enlightenment, the sense of otherness between us and the world fades away. We no longer feel that we’re “in here” looking out at a world that seems to be “out there.” We no longer observe from a distance — we’re part of the flow of the world’s unfolding is-ness. Separation dissolves into connection. In the same way that we sense that all things are connected to each other, we feel that we’re connected to all things. We’re part of the oneness of all things.
This sense of connection manifests itself in different ways and at different degrees of intensity as one of the signs of spiritual awakening. At the most basic level, a person may feel strongly connected to other human beings, other living beings in general, or to the whole natural world. A sense of connection to the spiritual force that pervades the whole universe and that forms the essence of our being may occur at higher intensities of wakefulness and is one of the main signs of spiritual awakening. In other words, we may not just be aware of this spiritual force but also feel connected to it.
At a still higher intensity of spiritual wakefulness, a sense of connection may intensify into a sense of oneness. With this symptom of spiritual awakening, a person may feel that they exist in a state of unity with all things — even that they are all things. They may not just feel that they are one with the world but also that they actually are the world. Their sense of separation may dissolve away to the extent that there’s no distinction at all between them and what they perceive.
7. Empathy and Compassion
This sense of connection is closely linked to the high levels of empathy and compassionassociated with spiritual awakening. When we’re connected to other beings — animals and the natural world as well as human beings — we’re able to sense what they’re experiencing, to feel what they’re feeling. If they’re suffering, we sense it and feel the impulse to comfort them or try to alleviate their pain. We’re touched by other people’s pain because there’s no separation between our being and theirs.
Empathy, in its deepest sense, is the ability to “feel with” other people by experiencing a shared sense of being with them. This ability to “feel with” other beings gives rise to compassion and love. Love stems from a sense of connection and oneness, a sense that you are another person — or other people — and so you belong to them and share their experience.