What does it really mean to awaken? It is fair to say that awakening is a journey from limitation to freedom — from unconscious to conscious. Whether you intentionally choose to take this journey or an unexpected experience propels you onto the path, once you start, there is no turning back.
It is true that the journey might be quite arduous at times, but no matter how long or challenging, the extraordinary destination far exceeds any bumps and bruises along the way. The end result of full awakening is freedom from personal suffering, clarity of mind, boundless joy, inner peace and the ability to live an incredibly fulfilling life. The awakened state holds everything we have ever desired, and so much more.
Where Are You and What Comes Next?
There are 5 Stages of Awakening, and when you understand each stage, and where you are on the journey, you can recognize the sign posts along the way, and the possible pitfalls to avoid.
Please use the following guide as a way to navigate the stages of awakening, but keep in mind that everyone’s experience is different. There is no right or wrong way to wake up. Like art, it is all beautiful and perfect.
Stage 1 of Awakening: The Stage of the False-Self
Subtle awareness of “something more” begins to grow.
In Stage 1 of Awakening, we are most asleep, and we do not even know that we are asleep. We are entrenched in mass consciousness and going through the motions of life, generally following the rules of culture and laws of the land.
We don’t usually question reality or seek answers beyond what is necessary for survival and maintenance of a lifestyle.
Our identities define us and we live within the construct of religion, culture and/or society.
We may even play the part of victim or perpetrator.
Unconscious programming runs us, and, as a result, we see the world in black and white – good and bad. We likely process a rigid model of the world according to our specific programming.
Because there is a great desire to fit in and be accepted, in this stage, it is common to sacrifice our needs and compromise our values in order to receive approval and be included in our desired community, be that family, culture, business, religion, etc…
Self-worth is likely conditional and attached to identity or the roles we play, or there may be other means of proving that we are worthy.
Because the ego generally runs the show, we likely believe we are the ego, with little or no awareness that there is a greater part of us.
In stage one, happiness is based on externals, therefore, in order to feel happy, we try to control reality; other people, places and experiences.
Although we attempt to control our lives, for both happiness and security, it is more than likely that our emotions rule, and our actions and reactions are based on our moment to moment feelings.
We make no connection between our thoughts/beliefs and our experiences in reality, and, therefore, we have no direct ability to consciously create our reality.
Despite our unconscious nature, the first signs of awakening happen during this stage; a “flash feeling” that there is something more, or an inkling of doubt that makes us uncertain about life or reality.
Stage 2 of Awakening – The Stage of Questioning
The doubts experienced in stage one begin to turn into meaningful questions. The first signs of movement from unconscious to conscious are experienced.
In Stage 2 of Awakening, we experience a growing discomfort in our lives. There is a feeling that something is wrong or missing. We begin to question mass consciousness and the validity of rules, beliefs and laws. Things that used to bring us comfort like religion or traditions are no longer satisfying and the places that we once found answers no longer provide relief.
We question our identity but we still hold on to it because we must continue to prove our worth, and we don’t yet know ourselves outside of our human identity. As we question the roles we play, we may feel lost, and even betrayed by others or life in general.
We may even blame religion, family, culture, government or the world for our problems, or maybe we blame specific people for our dysfunctions. As we shift responsibility onto others, we feel powerless over our lives; not yet realizing that in order to take back our power, we must take responsibility. In this stage, we might move from victim to survivor, but we are likely still blaming others and feeling powerless.
We begin to ask, “Who am I? Why am I here?”
Although we are searching for answers, we still hold on to certain limiting beliefs that keep us enslaved in the reality we have known. When we attempt to challenge these beliefs, fear brings us back, keeping us asleep a little longer.
In our discomfort with reality, and our search for answers, we may experience a great deal of confusion, overwhelm, anxiety and even depression. We “keep up” with our lives but we are secretly just “going through the motions.”
As we experience a variety of challenges designed to help us wake up, tolerable discomfort turns into pain and suffering. As our disempowering beliefs are demonstrated in real life situations and relationships, we get our first glimpse of the unconscious programs running our lives, but our desire to fit in and be accepted is likely stronger than any desires to free ourselves. Although this is the beginning of our internal programs breaking down, we are still trying to prove our worth by demonstrating our importance and seeking approval for our efforts.
We begin to understand that happiness cannot be found in the outside world, but we are still playing the game — seeking happiness in other people, places and experiences.
In this stage, there can be a great deal of emotional triggers. We may even experience trauma or remember past trauma. Emotions are generally very strong, and we may feel most fragile or vulnerable. What we do not yet realize is that our issues are coming to the surface to be healed and released.
Even though we are beginning to see the world in a whole new light, we may still possess black and white thinking – maybe more than ever. We are not ready to take responsibility for our lives and, therefore, we make little or no connection between our thoughts and our experiences in reality.
As the outside world no longer satisfies our hunger, the journey inward is about to begin.
Stage 3 of Awakening – The Stage of Introspection
Immense personal/spiritual growth and the start of conscious evolution through self-discovery.
In Stage 3 of Awakening, we begin a journey of introspection. In Stage 2, we rebelled against the external world with little or no success in relieving our pain, suffering or discomfort, so now we retreat as we begin to seek answers inside ourselves.
We start to disentangle from mass consciousness, releasing many limiting beliefs that were programmed into us by asleep parents, teachers, culture, society, religion and media. As we release these beliefs, we may experience both grief and relief. If we spent a life time imprisoned in beliefs that caused emotional suffering, physical hardship and lost happiness, we may grieve for the life we never had, and at the same time, we may feel great relief as we break free from limitation.
As we recognize how asleep we have been, we can clearly see that most people we know are still asleep. We try to wake them up, but our attempts are seen as judgmental and, therefore, met with deaf ears.
Not surprisingly, with our eyes wide open, it is common to experience greater judgment of other people (friends and strangers alike), society and the world. Others may feel our judgment and defensively respond with their own judgment of us. We are seen as different, weird and maybe even crazy. Sooner or later, we decide to keep our growing awareness to ourselves; maybe rationalizing that it’s better to be silent than bejudged. At this point, we don’t have a lot of hope that others will wake up.
We are still focused on everything that is wrong in our lives, and in the world, but, at the same time, we have resistance to letting go. The process of letting go is often “the work” in this stage, and, as we learn to let go, Stage 3 is where we may leave unsatisfying jobs, intimate relationships, families, friendships, religions, organizations and any disempowering ways of life. We may disentangle from roles we played, reject our past identity, and there may even be a total withdrawal from society.
Our former model of the world is failing and we no longer see the world in black and white or good and bad. There may be a growing sense that we are all connected, but at the same time we may feel completely disconnected from every other human being. In many ways, we are faced with the dichotomy of life and existence.
The most common attribute of stage three is loneliness. In a sea of billions of people, you may feel like you are the only one awake; no one understands you, and there is no one with whom to connect. At this point, you might begin to question “the questioning” – why did you ever begin this journey? What’s the point of waking up, if you must be alone and lonely? After all, you might have been unhappy when you were asleep but at least you had friends, family and people who cared about you. Now, there is no one. You consider “going back.” You wish you could forget about everything you now know just so you can be part of a family or community. You yearn for “normalcy” in order to fit in with others, but you also know that it is too late. You cannot forget what you have remembered, and despite your loneliness and your desire to fit in, you wouldn’t go back or undo your path even if you could.
Issues of worthiness often surface in this stage, because the ways, in which, we once proved worth no longer work or are no longer available because we left the job or situation that once made us feel worthy. We may still try to seek approval, acceptance or appreciation or get other emotional needs met by those still in our lives, but it doesn’t fulfill us, as it once did, and we are left feeling empty – forced to deal with feelings of unworthiness on our own.
Our desire to fit in and be accepted is slowly being drowned out by our desire to be free and awake.
In the quest for answers and relief from emotional pain, we may embark on some sort of spiritual practice such as meditation, yoga or mindfulness. If we are not using the practice to avoid something, its purpose is likely to get us somewhere, accomplish something or wake up.
In stage three, we may experience the first real sense of power, but, if the ego claims this power, we may have challenging and humbling experiences.
By now, we may be able to see the connection between our thoughts/beliefs and the creation of our reality, and, as a result, we try to control our thoughts, but it is a difficult process because old programs are still running.
We no longer look outside ourselves for happiness, but maybe we don’t yet know how to find it within. Peace and freedom may also take precedence over happiness.
Stage three is often the longest stage and almost always the most challenging, but it is also the most important in terms of awakening.
This stage is marked by the swing between resistance and letting go, with moments of clarity and enlightenment, but they don’t last. It is very common to have multiple experiences of awakening in this stage and even to believe that each one is the final awakening; only to find yourself back in “reality”, hours, days or weeks later. With each experience of awakening, the sense of your higher self grows stronger. You are unknowingly making room for this real self to emerge in your consciousness and integrate in your life.
In stage three, it is common to experience a fear of losing oneself, and you may struggle to maintain a sense of self, but ultimately, toward the end of this stage, an ego-death is inevitable. When the ego loses hold, there is often a realization that there is no point or purpose to life. This can be liberating, like a breath of fresh air, or it can be devastating, resulting in hopelessness and despair. Without point or purpose, we no longer know how to live our lives, and nothing is ever the same.
There is a foreboding sense that awakening will cost you everything, yet, at the same time, there is a greater sense that something inside you is waking up.
Stage 4 of Awakening – The Stage of Resolution
Spiritual awakening is effortlessly experienced in everyday life.
Stage 4 of Awakening is the stage of resolution where your true self has finally overshadowed your false self or ego self. The struggle that you experienced in the first three stages is over and you experience a deep peace and knowing of who you really are, and you are no longer seeking answers. This is fondly known as the Eckhart Tolle Stage.
All your beliefs have been overhauled in the past two stages, and the beliefs that remain support harmony and balance. You have mastered the art of letting go, and surrendering to a higher power. You also experience and have access to the inner power you possess, without ego control.
Doubt has been replaced with faith and trust. You are able to see and understand your life in such a way that your past and present all makes sense. You have forgiven everyone for everything, including yourself.
Unconscious programming has been replaced with consciousness, and there are no emotional or mental prisons holding you captive.
You take responsibility for your entire life, no longer blaming anyone for anything. As you have freed yourself, you have freed all the people who have ever been effected by your judgment and expectations.
You are no longer trying to prove your worth. You now know and own your intrinsic worth, and, as a result, you experience unconditional self-love.
Although you might still be alone on your journey, you experience a deep and profound connection to all of life and the sense of loneliness has likely faded into all oneness. The need and desire for the old paradigm of relationships has shifted and you no longer yearn to fit in or be “normal.” You allow yourself to be exactly who you are, without needing approval or acceptance from anyone. You no longer have a need to change anyone or help those you love wake up, and you are pleasantly surprised that some people you know are actually awakening. All your relationships improve, and the new people who come into your life are better aligned with who you are.
In this stage, you integrate your insights and develop greater understanding for the journey you have been on. You may teach, mentor or share, but not because you feel you have to, or because you need to, but only because it brings you joy, and you are guided to do so. You may have a compelling desire to support others on their journey or you may have no inclination whatsoever. If you take the role of teacher, mentor, healer or coach, you do not take responsibility for others, but rather you empower them to empower themselves. You don’t take anything personally, and another’s behavior has little, or no, effect on you.
During stage four, it is common to have some sort of spiritual practice, such as meditation, yoga or mindfulness, but not because you are trying to get somewhere or accomplish something (as in the previous stage), but rather because it feels good to you, and it is a natural expression of your life.
You may also experience increased intuition and the ability to access infinite intelligence, as if, you have a direct line to unlimited information.
This stage is marked by living in the moment.
You have made peace with the realization that there is no purpose or point to life, and, as a result, it is effortless to live in the present moment. Your love for life and all living beings overflows unconditionally with gratitude and appreciation as a common state of being.
The concepts of good and bad have dissolved, and, yet, you have the full knowing that inside everyone and everything is love.
You take stock of yourself, realizing that you are still you. You are free from ego-control, and no “authentic parts” have been lost in the journey to awakening. Your personality may be quite the same, but you are likely more easy-going and light-hearted.
Either you have found a livelihood that is aligned with who you are, or you have made peace with your present day livelihood.
There is really no thought of happiness because you no longer need anything to make you happy. You have realized that the secret to happiness is living in the moment and it is now easy to be present at all times.
You have learned how to master your thoughts and beliefs, but, surprisingly, you may have no desire to change anything in your life.
Although you likely experience a full range of emotions, emotions no longer rule you or control your choices or relationships.
Your higher self has integrated in your body, and you live your life as this real self.
You are finally conscious and awake, and grateful that your past “asleep-self” had the courage and tenacity to make this journey. It was worth it – a million times over.
Stage 5 of Awakening – The Stage of Conscious Creation
The ability to consciously create one’s life from the awake state.
Many people arrive at stage four and mistakenly believe it is the final stage of awakening, but it is actually a bridge to an even greater experience of awakening.
In Stage 5 of awakening, you experience, and deepen, all the attributes of stage four, but you also step into your power as conscious creator.
Although there is no pre-ordained point or purpose to life, you now understand that the point and purpose of life can be anything that you choose, and you integrate this understanding by consciously choosing the purpose of your life, because that is the point. Work and play merge into one, and you experience peace and fulfillment equally in both.
You no longer do anything out of obligation or need, but, instead, you are guided through inspiration and pure desire.
You experience a direct connection to all of life, and you are inspired to create in a whole new manner. Through intuitive connection with Infinite Intelligence, you might develop new paradigms of community building, teaching or leadership.
At this stage, you have the ability to attract relationships and form communities that support the betterment of humanity. Since you have mastered your thoughts and beliefs, you can now consciously create the life you desire; living in the moment, while also creating for the future.
In pure connection with Prime Creator, you are channel of expression in all you do.
Whatever stage you might now be experiencing, you cannot get it wrong and there are no tests to pass. Awakening is simply a natural process, just like the caterpillar that awakens as the butterfly.
A common question is, how long does each stage take? The time we spend in each stage is not predetermined, but we can move through a stage quicker and easier when we utilize a mindfulness practice of letting go. Letting go is truly the secret of awakening.
As more and more people awaken, a threshold of awakening will be experienced, and the masses will awaken in a much a different paradigm than those of us who have already awakened or who are awakening now. The stages of awakening will be less defined and maybe even disappear altogether.
No matter where you are on your journey to awakening, you are exactly where you need to be.