How Spirituality Found Me (a former skeptic)
I've contemplated writing about my spiritual awakening experience for a while now, but it has never quite felt like the right time. Words aren't always adequate to capture an experience that's both deeply personal and is best understood as a felt, embodied sense rather than something that can be described and analyzed. But I am going to try my best because it feels important to begin sharing how my own path has included twists and turns for those who may have had their own interesting, unexplainable experiences.
I grew up within the Catholic religion, experiencing all the prescribed milestones throughout my childhood: Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation. I even had the opportunity to visit the Vatican and see the pope from afar in my teens. While I always appreciated the rich tradition that Catholicism provided, beautiful religious art and architecture especially, as I grew into my late teens and early 20's I began to look at religion as a cultural signpost, a representation of my heritage, rather than as a spiritual tradition. I recognized that religion did provide spiritual support for many and good moral foundations, but it had never fully connected the dots for me and the dogma didn't seem to fit my developing sense of self-autonomy. And so I left it at that....without the drive to explore further, I labeled myself as agnostic in my young adulthood and visited Church only on holidays.
Science and research became another "religion" of sorts for me in my late 20's as I entered graduate school for psychology. It seemed to provide solidity in a way that was comforting, in a way that I could get behind. There was a prescribed sequence of inquiry, analysis, and data that research provided. My analytical left brain found satisfaction and excitement in finding new ways to explore the world of human nature through reading, citing, and conducting research. I felt like I had a greater understanding of the world, a foundation from which to base my decisions, actions, and worldview. And I did....but little did I know, as I entered my final year of graduate school, that things were about to get a whole lot less linear.
In the summer of 2013 before the final year of my doctorate degree, I came across the work of psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, most well-known for her work on death and dying. As I began to get deeper into her work and even her autobiography, I discovered that much of her work also focused on life after death, studied in a methodical, though anecdotal way, through first-hand reports of near-death experiences. She described people across the world as having very similar, almost identical reports of these experiences (seeing white light, meeting deceased loved ones, and having a life review). As imaginable, this part of her work was received with much less enthusiasm and acceptance from colleagues in her field. But it captured my attention in a deep way. At the same time that I was opening up to the possibility of a broader view on life and death, my long-term relationship of nine years began to fall apart.
As I began my fifth-year doctoral internship and traveled through a divorce that fall, I moved into an apartment on my own for the first time in my adult life. I had emotions to process, and I began finding time for meditation in my day, inspired by the mindfulness trend popping up in psychology. Interestingly, around this time, I also began to see repeating numbers wherever I went, 11:11 seemed to always show up on clocks; 222, 444, 555 etc. showed themselves on license plates and buildings at every turn. Perhaps my attention was more attuned to these things, and I noticed them more. But by then, I was beginning to open to the idea that "coincidences" may carry more meaning than we think and that sometimes life starts to flood you with synchronicites that illuminate where you are heading. Books and documentaries I came across, which seemed to pop out of nowhere, started to broaden my view of things like the power of thought, manifestation and unity consciousness. But nothing quite prepared me for what I experienced in the New Year of 2014...
As I sat in my living room on New Years Day about to listen to a guided meditation that I had recorded on my phone, I was still somewhat skeptical of spirituality as a whole. But I was curious, and I remember having come across a website the day before which had described the dual aspects of divinity: the masculine and the feminine energy. This concept of both a divine father and mother essence, equal in their height, seemed foreign to me, having only had access to a masculine conceptualization of "God" in my childhood. It struck a cord though, akin to finding a missing piece of the puzzle.
Something had cracked open and the waters began to seep through that day as I sat down to meditation. As my own voice guided me through a meditation focused on the energy centers along my central channel (spine), the description of the divine feminine essence replayed in my brain: nurturing, expansive, and inviting surrender. As the word "surrender" hit my synapses, it's like I heard it for the first time. Understood it for the first time. Something was triggered in my body by that word...
My arms held themselves out before me, palms up. Strong waves of vibrations started up through my legs, shaking and bursting through my torso and then out through my hands. In a mix of excitement, disbelief, and fear, tears began streaming down my face. Air seemed to enter my windpipe from an unseen source; my head tilted up and mouth opened to receive it, causing near hyperventilation. At the same time that a beam of visual light seemed to emanate from the sky and anchor into my body, I had the experience of a bolt of lighting going up from the base of my spine, orgasmic in its intensity. A message popped up in my mind and repeated itself, lest I forget, "Become the Light you seek within. Touch all you come in contact with," over and over. It was exhilarating and strangely familiar yet terrifying at the same time. Out of sheer exhaustion, I eventually asked and then begged for it stop, somehow understanding I wasn't the one in control.
After this experience a number of things began to unfold, but most notably that day, lest my skeptic-prone brain step into the driver's seat again, my energetically charged hands blew out four lightbulbs in my apartment and turned on one small appliance without having to flip the on-switch.
I was dumbfounded.
From that day on, my world changed. I couldn't go back to my previous understanding of life. If this was possible, what else had I neglected to "see," or where else had prescribed cultural expectations kept me in a tight box of my own making?
This event initiated a process of spiritual exploration in earnest, a path that I am still on and will likely be on for the rest of my life. It's like once the tiny crack of light gets shown, one begins to see just how much we as humans pretend to understand (how smug I was!) without true humility for the vast expanse of unknown beyond our physical senses. I gained a framework for my experience through the term, "kundalini awakening," a Sanskrit word for an energetic coil found at the base of one's spine, often awakened through long spiritual and yogic practice, though sometimes unleashed spontaneously. It opens one's spiritual senses and can often wreak havoc on the emotional system as it clears out old, stuck emotions, especially when left ungrounded in the body. Unfortunately, our Western medical system, without foundations in these sort of awakenings, can sometimes label these experiences as symptoms of a budding mental illness.
Emotionally and energetically I did have to travel through ups and down to get a handle on what was happening to me. Expansive visionary experiences of "oneness" and pure peace mixed themselves with bursts of anger, sadness, and fear during those first few months. My intuition and emotional sensitivity to others was greatly heightened. Out of part necessity and part newfound openness, I began to include things in my life that I had previously viewed as "b.s.," like reiki, shamanism, and energy healing.
The adventure that this awakening experience has brought into my life is one of new possibility, new people, and ever-expanding exploration, and it has shifted many of my belief systems and uncovered layers of personal healing previously unseen by me. It shook up my whole world and continues to, as I feel guided, almost as an imperative, to blend my psychological background with alternative forms of energetic healing.
There are more events and signposts along this journey that continue to deepen my understanding of myself and inform my healing work, but there's not enough space to unlock that all in one post. For now, what I want to leave you with is that these experiences can and do happen, and more and more people that I meet are having or have had their own types of awakenings or changing worldviews in the past several years. It's time we begin sharing, stepping out the closet (hello, it's taken me nearly 4 years to write this), and supporting the growth of these sorts of awakenings. It's important that we release the view of these sorts of unexplained phenomena as strange, "woo-woo," or push them into narrow societal, religious or psychiatric boxes. It's time we allow them to breathe and flourish into the unhindered expressions of unique personal and collective transformation that they represent.
For more information on my energy healing work, vist the energy psychology page.
"It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we're alive - to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are."