The path of awakening is not about becoming who you are.
Rather, it is about unbecoming who you are not.
~ Albert Schweitzer
Crisis is too strong a word for what I’m currently experiencing, but I definitely feel like I’m going through yet another existential awakening. It’s a bit synchronistic that the topic I planned to write about this month—awakening—was planned in the fall of last year. All I know is that I’ve arrived at another uncomfortable, but eye-opening juncture in my evolution. More on this later…
“Awakening” is a sudden awareness of something that had previously been unknown to a person. It can arrive in many ways—through a chance meeting of someone new, an unexpected shift in a relationship, career, family constellation or friend group, the experience of a catastrophic event, a visit to a new place, or really any other event that might have caused a sudden shift in perspective or circumstances. Even something as simple as stubbing your toe can elicit a new way of looking at life.
The common denominator in all these experiences is our ability and willingness to see life in a new way. If we resist, these catalysts seem to grow in strength until we can no longer ignore them. It is purely in our awakening that we evolve and whether we like it or not, the human condition is designed to wake us up, mostly to the existence of our soul.
Jon Kabot Zinn, a well-known psychologist who writes about meditation and mindful living, notes that mindfulness is the awareness of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Although awareness is certainly the first key, I believe that what you do with the awareness is what makes the difference in embracing our evolution. There is nothing more “awakening” than discomfort and because our evolution is always accompanied by what unsettles our soul, it is imperative that we welcome each experience as an opportunity to grow—whether we want to or not.
As I mentioned in the greeting, I’m working on another book—one that is unfortunately timely due to the arrival of COVID-19. I’ve always wanted to take my Soul Health Model and extend it to specific areas of interest or need so others would have a blueprint to overcome life’s toughest challenges. Well, there’s no tougher challenge we’ve known as a global community than a devastating pandemic. I know that many people are deeply affected by what they are seeing and experiencing, and as a healthcare worker, my heart goes out to those who are working in the front line of caring for those directly impacted by the virus.
In talking to colleagues and mentors from my academic medicine part of life, I became even more aware of how the pandemic was affecting me as a practitioner. When I thought I’d be back to writing and speaking in early 2020, the immediate need to up my clinical hours to assist clients in coping and adjusting to a new way of life superseded the desires of my life plan. Over the last year, I’ve added about ten hours a week to an already full client schedule to accommodate the growing needs of clients. People are losing loved ones, jobs, and their own life balance to the pandemic and I felt called to assist in any way I can.
Those who know me also know that I do a ton to take care of myself—I practice what I preach so I can continue to give in the way I know I can to help others. However, I’ve reached an unexpected but eye-opening juncture that has shaken me to the core. I woke up this morning to the realization that I may not want to be who I thought I was, and I may not want to do certain things that had already been laid out on my path. I was reminded that just because I could do something—or am good at it—doesn’t mean I should or have to. I became more aware that time flies by and that if I’m not careful with what I do, I may have major regrets for what I’m doing—or not doing—later in life. I was also reminded that my life is my own—I have the right to create what I want and don’t want regardless of what others say. Another “aha” came when I realized it was time to let go of some old stories I had adopted early in life—ones that continued to pop up to create obstacles and painful reminders of what used to be.
When I look back, I realize that my entire life has been a series of awakenings. My dad’s accident when I was nine marked the first one, although I didn’t really know how to make sense of it until much later in life. This followed with challenges in high school, college, graduate school, relationships—marriage and divorce included, disappointments with places of employment, coming and going of friends, the deaths of my father, a sibling, then my mother, outgrowing old family dynamics, opening and closing my holistic health and wellness center and so much more. Last year offered an awakening to my own vulnerability and loss of my invincibility when I injured my knee not once, but twice—with the effects of the second one still lingering.
Every single thing we experience as humans can be seen as an awakening if we allow ourselves to see the meaning in each. The challenge is that it almost inevitably takes discomfort or inconvenience for us to pay attention.
Many books exist about spiritual awakening. Many romanticize the experience as something to be cherished and longed-for. But truth be told, awakening can be—and usually is—a messy process. We may want to keep our eyes closed to our lessons because we think it is easier not to learn. But if we learn to look to our discomfort as a path to higher ground the treacherous climb can become a much-welcomed journey.
Ironically, my theme and focal point for this year is “Elevate”, knowing that it would require me to refine and redefine my path to get me to my higher purpose. By now I should know that my world is shaken any time I need to get to the next level. My own comfort is taken away so that I can evaluate my life to become clearer and discerning in the path I will lead. In doing so, I’m realizing there are certain things I had planned to do that might not be in the cards for me. I’ve realized that there are parts of me that my soul is asking me to release—roles I thought I was supposed to lead because I “could” or thought I “had” to.
I’ve learned to listen closely when Spirit has me in a headlock. I’ve learned to recognize the familiarity of feeling like my body, mind, and soul is going through a wringer. When the wringer turns into a grinder, I really listen, which is what I had to do this weekend. I spent a great deal of time journaling, meditating, and listening to embrace the experience while extracting the messages embedded within the discomfort. Each time I understood something differently or more fully became an awakening and as the messages were revealed, I received more clarity for the path I would take in the next several months.
Many people see me as a wise woman—one lady even calls me her “Soul Mama”. But as humans, we are never done learning. We never stop awakening and our evolution is never complete. It is only when we finish the process of learning about and transcending our human condition that we reach the finish line.
I’ve jokingly (and not so jokingly…) said that I hope I continue to learn even up to my last breath if it means I’m learning how to die well. But in making this request, it also means that I’ve signed on for a lifetime of awakenings. I’m agreed to a series of experiences that will confirm and facilitate my growth. That’s a big ask… and one I hope I don’t regret. But to me, the sweetness of awakening is far juicier and more interesting than the staleness of staying the same. The lusciousness of learning will always be my sustenance, regardless of the discomfort it may bring.
I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve been jolted “awake”. But each awakening has built the bridge to the next level of awareness. Although our growth doesn’t always come through a clean or linear path, sometimes the messy and uncomfortable road is just part of the journey.
Evolution feeds my soul, whether it be my own or the honor of witnessing yours. May you become open to your endless awakenings and cherish the yummy nuggets of your own growth.
Spiritual awakening is becoming awake to the aliveness of the moment.
~ Eckhart Tolle