Spiritual Awakening and Pain: The Torment of Internal Resistance

A metaphor for spiritual awakening and resisting the process. Picture from Becky Stiller.
The Spiritual Road Isn't As Cold As It May Seem
One of the most common experiences after a spiritual awakening is the arising of pain and discomfort. There's this very juvenile thought that spiritual awakening brings with it the end of all difficulty in life. It doesn't. It brings with it the opportunity to be released from ego suffering, which is very different.
The ego causes suffering because of its many beliefs and preferences. Since life will never comply with all of our demands, we endlessly suffer. Awakening illuminates the folly of this selfishness and reveals the truth. But along with the beauty awakening may show us, it will also show us the trash and debris with which we've filled our lives.

However, many people still will cling to their attachments, fears, desires, and needs after awakening. They want to have their cake and eat it too. And with the rush of awakened energy opened up inside, there is a powerful meeting of resistance and flow. Then the pain starts.

Before we go any further in this discussion, please, please, PLEASE consult a trained physician about any physical ailments you have. Ensuring that you are physically healthy is important. There are many physical ailments out there, and a clean bill of health is re-assurance that the pain that is arising is truly from awakening transformation and not something purely biological.

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The Bliss Subsides

For many people, spiritual awakening brings immense bliss and enjoyment…at first. It's like floating in this other world that you never knew could exist. You see the reality of life. You see the beauty in life. You may see the beauty in suffering as well as in pleasure, and you understand these truths.

But as these truths descend deeper into you, they most often hit resistance. The ego finds something a truth doesn’t like, and so it resists. The ego itself is also illuminated by the awakened space. The ego resists what it sees and doesn't like, and the moment you resist this energy--this flow of change and love--is the moment the bliss state begins to fade.

Many people experience bliss in a very naive way since they've never touched it before. They believe they can feel this way all the time and that this is THE spiritual experience to have. However, the more integrated experiences of bliss are much different. They aren't floating and surreal. Instead, they bring an intense clarity, presence, and groundedness to your life.

Lost in Bliss: Reclaiming Yourself from the Trap of Good Feelings

The Pain Builds and Intensifies

People love to blame things, situations, and other people, and so when something painful comes after awakening, they also blame spiritual awakening for their pain. It was all fun and games until something had to go a little deeper and get more serious. Suddenly, the light switch that went off in your inner world is showing you the leaking sewage in your basement, but you didn't want to see that. You just wanted to feel good all the time and focus on the beautiful things in your inner living room.

And so many people avoid this situation. They may try to forget about the spiritual path. They may run to a spiritual teacher, retreat center, meditation group, commune, or something else to try to make themselves feel better. They may constantly do kind acts for others thinking that they can over compensate for a “negative” issue or something. But still, the sewage leak continues in the basement until it is DIRECTLY addressed. This metaphor can represent a fear of being alone, fear of following your heart, anger at a past lover, family abuse, and so many more things that I won't even attempt to continue this list. All these past issues are still there if they weren’t properly addressed and embraced at the time they first occurred. All the unaddressed pain that you've experienced or inflicted on others is  inside of you. It doesn’t go away until it is faced, and your soul knows this. With the support of the awakened energy, now you’re being thrust into facing all of it.

Reacting in Fear to the Pain

Part of what makes the time after a spiritual awakening so painful is your reaction. The more fearful your reaction, the more pain you are likely to experience.

In general, there are usually a couple different types of pain going on for people after awakening. They include:

  • The pain of an emerging issue
  • The pain of transformation (Think of this like growing pains as a child—the child’s body is hurting from growth, not from there being a problem)
  • The pain of your reaction

The combination of these pains can be truly extraordinary. But it can get worse. The more powerful someone’s bodily stress response is and the more often the person triggers that response, the more the physical body gets strained. Some people with whom I have connected have caused serious problems to their digestive systems, nervous systems, and other parts of their bodies because of their stress responses. It’s why ideally someone has had preparation and a spiritual practice before an awakening. Spiritual preparation and practice go a long way to helping someone consciously navigate their spiritual transformation.

If someone can reduce or neutralize their stress response, then they won’t have their bodies break down from over-stressing it nor create real physical problems. It leaves them to only having to deal with the pain of the issue and the pain of transformation instead of potentially four or more types of pain.

Being Spiritually Ready Versus Prepared for Awakening

Returning to Presence Again and Again

The simplest and most effective way to neutralize a stress response is to return to awareness. Simply observe the feelings and body sensations you’re having. You’ll notice parts of you still react. That’s okay, but with practice at staying as the observer, those parts calm down. You gain greater clarity about what is going on once you’re no longer stirring up the waters. Just like a clear alpine lake, the less we flail in the waters, the more deeply we can see what’s going on down below. Then, it becomes far easier to figure out what issues are being drawn up so that you can effectively process them.

To be sure, this is easier said than done, but if you’re in the transformation that arises after awakening, there truly is no time like the present to practice this.

Dissolving Issues with Awareness

Feeling Pressures on Different Parts of the Body

But instead, people continue to react badly as well as avoid their issues. I certainly am not judgmental of this. It’s not like people have been trained since they were 7 years old to know how to handle inner pain the way many in the West are taught to understand math or how to write in their native language. Unfortunately, that lack of understanding creates the circumstances where people avoid and unconsciously react to pain, which makes a lot of body pain far more intense.

By the way, discovering pain within you doesn't mean you're a bad person. That's not how this situation works. You aren't being punished for your sins or forced to endure a terrible ordeal. You're being asked to open up to love and to release old pain. You are merely having to face yourself, and with that can come an immense amount of intensity.

Confronted by Wounds You Didn’t Know You Had

Many people feel like they don’t have any pain, and they’re confused by this whole addressing wounds process. Such is the nature of ignorance. Many people learn to forget, numb, and repress pain, but in the post-awakening time, those avoidance mechanisms go away. So the pain comes up. Additionally, there are many, many kinds of wounds that people hold onto from being emotionally bullied in school to having your mother scold you about needing to be prettier to feeling like a failure for never getting good grades and many more. These aren’t huge traumas like sexual abuse and being beaten, but they are wounds.

Furthermore, there are wounds that happen to people when nothing happens. The wound of emotional neglect is an easy one to point towards. Many people feel unloved, and yet their families never did anything directly to them. There is no physical or direct emotional abuse to point to, but the wound is real. Other silent wounds that need to be processed include things that we learn from others who are wounded. So mom may not tell you that you’re ugly, but she certainly pays a ton of attention to her looks. Or dad may not tell you that money is important, but he’s always worried about work and finances. Children learn these behaviors and become wounded themselves, and those wounds become central parts of their ego self.

Healing Silent Wounds

The Pain Intensifies and Overwhelms

People have so much resistance inside that they can debilitate themselves. It tends to be even worse when someone has deep trauma or pain, and if you stir in a really, really un-relenting ego, then you've got the recipe for someone who may suffer for some time. This person will hate the awakening, and s/he will very likely blame it for ruining her/his life. Jobs and doing pretty much anything may become impossible. This person may not even be able to move very much without feeling pain. This inner war of ego resistance versus awakened energetic flow has reached a dangerous point.

At this point, the wrong kind of breaking down can happen in heart, body, or mind. Severe depression would be a breakdown in the heart. Serious physical ailments from chronic fatigue or worse can arise. The mind can have serious mental health issues. All of these are signs that it is high past the time for getting external help.

Unfortunately, the egos that get to this point are so mired and dug in that the individual often won't go for help. If you are one of these people, I strongly encourage you to seek out help if pain has gotten so severe. There are those of us who do understand, but it will always have to come from you to ask for help and then do the work you need to do.

If you don’t, things can devolve into a dark night of the soul scenario where multiple things break down, and that’s a tough place to crawl out of it. It’s particularly difficult for someone who started with a blissful experience after awakening to fall so far.

The Dark Night of the Soul

The Magic of Letting Go

Hopefully one day, the individual makes a decision to let go. Sometimes this is a kind of giving up. This is when the individual finally realizes that s/he can't win by fighting. The person realizes they have to surrender. Some of the ego resistance can now release, and processing issues that are trying to emerge can begin. Until that outer layer of voluntary resistance goes, it’s very difficult to make head way with these deeper levels of pain and unconscious resistance. But once someone surrenders, the work can get a little more serious. The work can go deeper.

In doing the work, the person may find themselves renewed and relaxed at times, but those times are often fleeting in the initial years after awakening. There’s a lot of sloughing away that goes on to dissolve the ego. So one issue comes, and then the next comes soon after. Furthermore, even after a few years, it’s rare for a person to have totally surrendered their ego. That just doesn’t seem to be how it goes. If it does, that’s great. If it doesn’t, just honor where you are and breathe into the next spiritual lesson. Trust your process.

5 Practical Spiritual Awakening Strategies

The Renewal of Pain and More Inner Torment

Surrender really isn’t a one-time decision either. We end up surrendering multiple times as we come across multiple layers voluntary ego resistance. Again and again, we discover how many rules and beliefs we place on ourselves and on life. Those beliefs create resistance, and that resistance stops the flow within us and around us.

There are different types of resistance in the mind, heart, body, and energy field. Energy field resistance can be the most subtle to work with, and it helps a lot to have cleared the mind, heart, and body of resistances (both voluntary and involuntary) to be clear about what is going on in your energetic field. By and large, there is a lot more voluntary resistance than we realize, and getting to the truly stuck, involuntary pain inside us can take some time.

The numerous layers of issues that we both involuntarily hold onto and intentionally hold on to tend to shock a lot of people. The amount of inner work that is needed shocks those who have had relatively good, comfortable lives in particular. It’s hard for them to imagine how many ego layers are inside of them, and they are likely to rebel against these discoveries—as many people do.  As such, acceptance, dedication, and patience are key to engaging with each issue and peeling away these many painful egoic layers. In so doing, a lot of pain dissolves away.

Finding the Right Help at the Right Time

Different help is appropriate for different types of resistance. For stuff going on in the body, you do not usually get anywhere trying to journal about it. The body understands rest or conscious activity. Some issues require people to do less. Other issues need activities like yoga, walks in nature, breathwork, and other body-focused practices to work through an attachment. It’s different by the issue and the layer.

With the heart, releasing resistance takes us into emotions. It can include things like forgiving a loved one, asking for forgiveness of someone we hurt, grieving a lost loved one, grieving pain we’ve endured, and other things. There are a lot of messy emotions inside a human being, and every one of them must be embraced.

Healing the mind revolves around intellectual understanding. It often includes learn to accept the truth and giving up false beliefs. In general, beliefs must be held lightly on this path. It’s very easy for someone to create a spiritual ego with a whole bunch of new spiritual beliefs rather than to dissolve into the space of spiritual freedom, the space of being nobody.

Be Nobody

Finally, whatever resistance and pain you may feel during an awakening, it can be released. There are many tools, teachers, healers, and modalities out there to help facilitate it if you need the extra helping hand, and I encourage you to seek that help to find greater ease in dissolving these painful ego issues and discover new levels of love, truth, and freedom.

Next Steps to Address Awakening Pain

With all this said, if you need more help on your practice, here are a couple of next steps.

If you are ready to work with a teacher, you can reach out to me about having a session. Please follow the instructions on the contact page.

Reach out to Jim Tolles for Awakening Help

If you are brand new to the spiritual path, you may benefit from reading my ebook to help you get oriented to this new journey.

Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening

Finally, here are some other blog posts to help you understand more about dissolving the ego and how awakening moves you towards spiritual freedom:

How to Find Spiritual Freedom

The Process of Releasing Pain from your Energy Body

The Newness and Uncertainty After Releasing an Issue

Today's lovely photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.

(Updated 7/23/2018)

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