Why Spiritual Breakthroughs Can Often Feel Like Breakdowns
How good we feel is not always a clear indication of how well we’re doing when it comes to spiritual growth
It can be confusing when, at times on our meditation journey, life seems to get harder rather than easier.
Sometimes it can feel as if instead of expanding, our state of consciousness is shrinking.
Have you had any of the following experiences since you learned to meditate?
- You are consumed by obsessive thinking, tormented by a particular thought or theme
- You feel more impatient and less tolerant than usual
- Your intuition feels clouded – you have less, rather than more mental clarity
- Your health deteriorates (eg your digestion becomes more sensitive)
- You feel less loving and more judgmental of your fellow humans
- Your self-esteem plummets
- You feel less, rather than more useful
If you answered yes to any of the above, I have good news for you. All these experiences are a normal part of the meditator’s journey – and of spiritual progress in general. Which begs the question – why? Why does spiritual growth seem to necessitate some sort of profound disturbance, at least at some point in the journey?
It is inherent in human nature that, up to a certain stage of growth at least, we are primarily motivated to evolve through encountering challenges.
Evolution does not plot a path through territory where everything stays the same and no new adjustments are required. Evolution moves in the direction of the new, the unknown. Movement into the unknown requires the letting go of things that have become irrelevant to our evolution (e.g. old ideas, relationships, self-identity, possessions, status, belief systems, activities, philosophies) to make room for new, higher truths.
When we cling onto things that are no longer serving us the feeling can become unbearable as Nature screams at us to let go and evolve.
Uncomfortable and confusing
The feeling of things becoming irrelevant is uncomfortable to the degree to which we resist letting them go. When we cling onto things that are no longer serving us the feeling can become unbearable as Nature screams at us to let go and evolve. Then once the thing in question has been surrendered there can be a period of grieving and insecurity in the transition to the new. All of this can feel extremely uncomfortable not to mention confusing as our spiritual approach seems to be making life harder.
Which all begs another question – why bother? If the path to spiritual growth is no guarantee of greater ease or happiness in any given period, why bother wasting the forty minutes a day?
Because evolution is inevitable. We can’t actually stop evolving, we can just slow the process down by resisting it. And this doesn’t feel good either. Nature makes sure that any attempts to ignore its prompts to evolve become increasingly uncomfortable.
Accept and let go
On a more encouraging note, as the journey progresses we become more adept at letting go and accepting the removal of things as they become irrelevant, so the process of evolution itself becomes easier. The more we evolve, the more we are able to experience ourselves primarily as consciousness rather than as our thoughts and feelings. It is only then that consistent deep ease and peace are not only attainable but actually become our baseline experience of life.
So, in summary, how good we feel is not always a clear indication of how well we’re doing. As strange as it may sound it is not always relevant to our evolution to feel good. Our state of consciousness is distinct from, and not always correlated in an obvious way with, our state of mind. Our state of mind fluctuates all the time. Our state of consciousness is actually stable and ever expanding (we never go backwards in terms of consciousness) but our ability to enjoy that state of consciousness varies depending on what experiences the body is going through.
For example, when we are under large amounts of stress and the body is filled with fight or flight chemistry, the animal mind dominates and it is harder to connect to Being and experience and respond to life from that place. So we feel less conscious.
Even the greats suffered
If you are still in any doubt about any of this, it is worth remembering that many of the great saints experienced breakdowns on their way to higher states.
Buddha felt like every bone in his body was being broken the night before he became enlightened. Jesus sweated blood at Gethsemane. Saint Francis of Assisi had a well-publicised mental collapse. Eckhart Tolle describes his own breakdown as the entry point to his self-realisation in the intro to The Power of Now.
So if you are finding the spiritual process challenging, you are in good company!