The desire for spiritual opening and enlightenment isn’t anything new.
Holy writings dating back thousands of years document how people yearned to open themselves up to the Sacred and Divine, by whatever means they could. Some did so through intense fasting and meditation, others through shamanic journeying.
The psychedelic movement of the 60s and 70s revolved around people who used substances like magic mushrooms (psilocybin), LSD, and various other drugs to attain altered conscious states.
In fact, the entire point of psychedelia was to trigger this. People were aware that there was far more beyond their limited perceptions and they were eager to break free from these trappings and experience more.
Humanity’s search for greater awareness.
Homo sapiens have likely been using entheogenic* substances such as psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote, Salvia divinorum, and other hallucinogens to broaden their spiritual awareness since they were first able to stand upright.
*Note: “entheogenic” substances have psychoactive properties that are taken for spiritual journeying, rather than for fun. For example, Hindu Vedas written around 4,000 years ago refer to a plant-based substance called “soma” that was taken to activate spiritual awakening. (We’re still not certain what soma might have been made of, though some scholars believe it consisted of fly agaric mushrooms [Amanita muscaria] or cannabis.)
These passages are from the Rig Veda:
In my glory I have passed beyond earth and sky.
Have I been drinking Soma?
We have drunk Soma and become immortal;
we have attained the light: the Gods discovered.
How’s that for spiritual awakening?
While stories about the spiritual effects of different substances are great, recent studies are recording very tangible links between these substances and real spiritual growth.
For example, a 2006 study  on people who had never taken these substances before showed that just over half of them had a “complete mystical experience” after consuming controlled doses. Many of them described gleaning insight into the nature of reality, feeling a unity with all things in creation, and intense feelings of peace, joy, and love.
Furthermore, a follow-up study done in 2015 showed that these experiences changed these people’s lives long term. Their behavior, attitudes, personal perspectives, and overall well-being were all positively changed after their spiritual awakening. 
Scientific studies might prove that these substances actually do work for some people, but that’s not the main point here.
The point we’re getting at is that human beings have been attempting to connect with something higher, greater than themselves, by any means necessary, for a long time. And if you’re reading this article, chances are you’re either already going through that, or ready to do so.
Can a spiritual awakening be spontaneous? Or does it have to be intentionally activated?
It can be either, actually.
A spontaneous awakening can happen when you least expect it, bringing monumental change. Similarly, you can work toward opening your spirit up to growth and oneness with the divine through various means.
Neither of these experiences are greater or lesser than each other. They’ll cause the same physical, psychological, and spiritual symptoms, and the end result is life-changing enlightenment.
Signs Of A Spiritual Awakening
If you’re undergoing a spiritual awakening – either by choice or by accident – then you might be experiencing a whole lotta weirdness. Below are some of the most common signs that you’re awakening. Some are euphoric, while some might seem weird, but they’re all birthing pangs toward a greater, more enlightened self.
1. You might feel lost, or think you’re losing your mind.
This is usually one of the first signs that you’re experiencing a spiritual awakening
You may feel an odd sense of disassociation – as though you’re somewhat outside your body rather than fully in it. While this can sometimes happen to people who are experiencing traumas or mental instability, in this situation it’s more a case of suddenly being bigger than your corporeal vessel.
As you look around yourself, you may feel strangely detached from things and people. You might look at your partner and struggle to understand why you’re with them, or try to work at your job only to feel like what you’re doing is utterly pointless.
Some people feel like their life is “falling apart.” What’s actually happening is that all the illusions they’ve been clinging to in an attempt to make sense of their world are unravelling. They’re taking the wrappings off and seeing what’s beneath much more clearly.
2. “You’ve changed.”
People who have known you for a long time might inform you that you’ve changed recently. Maybe you’re exhibiting behaviors that are quite different from how you’ve been up until now, and they don’t feel like they really know you anymore.
Your views and opinions may have shifted and no longer align with theirs, and your appearance might even have changed a bit. You may be carrying yourself differently: maybe your posture is a bit straighter, or you’re moving with a bit more grace and intention.
Either way, you’ll be able to determine which of these people has your back by how they react to your changes. If they ask how they can help you and encourage you forward, you know these are the folks to keep close to you.
In contrast, if they berate you for changing and want their preferred version of you back, or even take actions to try to force you back into their idea of you, then it’s time to cut them loose.
3. Inexplicable fatigue and strange body aches/sensations.
You might literally be tired all the time, when you should feel rested. You’re getting enough sleep, you’re eating well, you don’t have a tapeworm, and there’s nothing physically “wrong” with you. Yet you wake up tired, you feel like your limbs are made of lead, and the most seemingly simple tasks completely exhaust you.
You might have chronic headaches and feel sore all over for absolutely no apparent reason, or feel odd prickling sensations on your skin. If you’re able to rule out health concerns like lupus, brain tumors, or menopause, then this is likely spiritual in nature, rather than neurological.
4. Waves of energy rushing up your spine and into your head.
If this is happening to you, try not to panic; it’s a good thing. Yeah, you might become a bit anxious or uncomfortable with it because it’s so alien to your day-to-day experiences, but it’s profoundly sacred and important for your spiritual growth.
In the East, this is often referenced when it comes to Kundalini awakening.
It’s not limited to Eastern experience, however. Are you familiar with the Irish poet William Butler Yeats? He wrote a poem entitled “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” in which he described a sensation he called “fire in the head.” It referred to the crown chakra burning that’s often associated with visionary experiences.
5. Seeing auras, lights, or other types of energy.
Again, provided that you don’t have glaucoma and you’re not on an acid trip, seeing visual clues like these is a huge sign of spiritual awakening. Many high and holy people have talked about their ability to see people’s auras, or to see different types of energy around plants, animals, stones, etc. It means that your eyes are opening to energetic frequencies beyond the normal scope of ocular awareness.
You might see gauzy halos of white light, or you may see firefly-like specks flitting about. The lights you see may have different colors, and they will give you a sense of what’s going on with the being you’re looking at.
6. Sudden “gnosis.”
This is one of the most powerful, sometimes frightening, but absolutely amazing signs that you’re having a spiritual awakening. It’s possible that you’ll just “know” something without having studied it, being told it, or having had any exposure to it previously.
For example, you may take a walk through the woods and simply know that a plant you’re looking at will heal a particular ailment. Or you’ll avoid buying something at the grocery store because you get a gut feeling that it’s “iffy,” then read a news report the following week about a local salmonella outbreak.
7. Differences in cravings.
You may discover that many of your long-held preferences change drastically – even overnight. A lifetime coffee drinker might suddenly switch to herbal tea because they can’t stand the taste of the former anymore.
Devoted carnivores may go vegetarian (or vice versa), and they might find themselves craving foods that they’ve either never tried, or only had once and now can’t get enough of.
Those who loved the smell of a particular scent may now be repulsed by it, and music they once loved now seems void of meaning or simply annoying.
These differences can also extend to physical activity. A person who had been sedentary for most of their life might now have intense urges to walk, run, swim, or dance. Or in contrast, someone who’s been hyperactive and bouncing all over the place may suddenly wish to sit in silent stillness whenever possible.
8. Sensitivity to large groups of people/need to be alone more often.
In the past, you thrived in large boisterous crowds full of good friends and loud music, and now you may prefer smaller gatherings. You may find the sensory overload of numerous conversations and musical input overwhelming, even anxiety-inducing. Or you might just really enjoy your own company these days and rather be alone.
Furthermore, your priorities in terms of friendships may change significantly. This goes along with the “you’ve changed” sign we mentioned earlier. You might have been friends with someone for 30 years and suddenly realize you have nothing in common anymore. Or you may develop a newfound appreciation for an acquaintance you’ve only spent a bit of time with, but now want to know better.
When you’re in large groups, you may find yourself empathically feeling what they feel, even tapping into what they’re thinking. You might feel a sharp sense of sorrow from “somewhere” only to see someone crying across the room, or feel strong hostility from someone who’s pretending to be happy or friendly.
When and if this happens, try to move yourself to someplace where you can regroup without too much sensoria going on. Those who love you will be understanding and supportive. And those who aren’t, well… They’re speaking volumes about how they really feel about you.
9. Sensitivity to light, sound, and/or scent.
In addition to being hypersensitive to these types of sensory stimuli, you may find an immense new appreciation of color. Hues may seem brighter and more vibrant to you, and it may not be unusual for you to be brought to tears at the sight of a gorgeous sunset, or the intense colors on the back of a dragonfly’s carapace.
One of my teachers is a lovely Hindu Ayurvedic practitioner, midwife, and yogi, and she told me that color therapy is invaluable to her practice because of its association with spiritual growth. She said that she’s rarely seen people so happy as during the spring festival of Holi, where they decorate themselves with paints and throw colored powders on one another.
“Color is life,” she says, “and one of the greatest balms for the spirit.”
In contrast, you might also find everything a bit too bright, or loud, or strongly scented these days. You may turn down the brightness on your screens because you’re suddenly wincing when you look at them. Food that once smelled appealing suddenly makes you nauseous, and little sounds that you were formerly able to block out are now deafening.
10. Patterns and synchronicities start to appear around you.
You might notice that certain numbers or phrases keep coming up for you. For instance, the clock might always be at 1:11, 2:22, 3:33, and so on, when you glance at it. Or you’ll come across the same quote or song lyric several times over the course of a few days.
Similarly, you may experience intense déjà vu, to the point where you know exactly how things are going to unfold next. Then you can either flow along with it the same way you did before or do something to drastically change the outcome this time around.
Generally, when these synchronicities and coincidences happen, it means that something is trying to get your attention. Maybe it’s a heads up that you’re going exactly where you need to be, or it’ll be a wake-up call that you need to make some big changes.
11. Prophetic dreams or warnings.
On a similar note to the patterns mentioned above, things you dream about may end up coming true. You might dream that a friend of yours visited you only to have them show up unexpectedly the next day. Or you wake from a nightmare about something horrible happening, and then it unfolds exactly as you’d dreamed sometime later.
This is why it’s important to keep a dream journal close to your bed. Jot down what you can upon waking so you can refer back to your notes when and if things unfold that are familiar to you.
Some of these dreams might be warnings, while others might be epiphanies. For example, if you keep dreaming about suffering from a particular health issue, you might want to go and get that checked out. Alternatively, you might be visited by an awesome spirit guide who tells you the secret to baking the ultimate chocolate chip cookie.
Pay attention to what’s going on, and don’t brush anything off as insignificant. If it’s showing up now, it’s for a reason.
12. Purging the unnecessary and having real gratitude for what you love.
Becoming spiritually enlightened often involves paring down and having less in your life rather than having more. This is one of the reasons why so many holy people lead ascetic lives – stuff just clutters up a space. If it isn’t necessary, then it isn’t needed.
When you get rid of various bits of clutter – physical and emotional – that you’ve been accumulating for who knows how long, you start to really appreciate what you do have.
A person who only has a single ceramic bowl and one set of cutlery will treat them like the precious objects they are. They’ll see the beauty and craftsmanship in these items, and have sincere gratitude for being able to use them to eat nourishing, delicious food.
These items will be washed with gentle care, oiled or scrubbed, wrapped in cloth, and kept in a place of honor. A far cry from a drawer crammed with haphazard cutlery and a cupboard that’s spilling over with unused, unwanted dishware.
If you’re going through an enlightenment phase, you might feel an intense need to pack up and give away most (if not all) of your worldly possessions.
13. Sudden realization of lessons learned through experiences.
I went into more detail about this in my article on how to tell that you’re healing from trauma, but it’s definitely a sign of spiritual awakening as well.
When we go through difficult times, we often end up feeling traumatized afterward. We lament our fate and get angry or resentful toward those who could have helped us but didn’t. Some people might get bitter about things that happened, or be haunted by the memories of their difficulties for years to come.
If you’re experiencing a spiritual awakening, you might stop in your tracks to realize the invaluable lessons you learned from those experiences.
Without them, you wouldn’t have developed the compassion and empathy that you have now toward others going through similar difficulties.
Maybe you’re now able to see how a situation you thought you wanted would have been devastating to you in the long run; not getting it was a blessing rather than a punishment, even if it seemed like the world was ending at the time.
Or the difficulties you had to negotiate have given you the tools to navigate great hardships that make other people crumble.
14. The desire to be of greater service to others.
This goes along with the previous sign. Another major indicator of a spiritual growth spurt is the pressing desire to be of service to others. This can manifest in different ways, depending on the individual and their personal priorities. For example, one person might go vegan, while another one changes careers to work for humanitarian nonprofit organizations.
Realizing that everything you’ve gone through has been a valuable lesson for your forward momentum is a massive wake-up call.
You as an individual have a vast amount of goodness to share with the world, and only you can do it. You incarnated here for a reason, so how do you want to be of service during the time you have left?
How To Start A Spiritual Awakening
If you feel that you’re ready to get a spiritual awakening kickstarted, then there are a number of steps that you can take.
Examine your motivations.
First and foremost, ask yourself why you’re embarking upon this journey.
Why do you want this awakening? And why now?
Have you been drawn toward this for a while now and you’re finally in a place where you can dedicate time and effort toward your spiritual development? Or are you feeling a strong pull to do so?
Is this desire coming from a place of intense division and turmoil in which you’re pursuing what you think you want? Or have things unfolded in your life that are giving you huge clues that now is the right time to do this?
If you’re throwing yourself off the cliff of complacency and into the turmoil that a spiritual awakening can and will cause, make sure it’s for the right reasons.
Some people embark on journeys such as this as a type of escapism. Maybe they’re stuck in crappy life circumstances and every cell is aching for change, so they take a pilgrimage to Peru or India as a means of jumping the groove.
Others do so because they’re trying to fit in with a particular crowd. Maybe your new friends are really into “Burning Man” or “Coachella” and you want to be able to discuss chakras and pineal gland opening like you know what you’re talking about.
Look before you leap, and do some thorough soul-searching before embarking on this journey. Determine who you are and what you want out of this, and then make your plans accordingly.
Ask yourself what you’re prepared to face and what you are prepared to sacrifice.
Spiritual awakenings are not always pleasant things. For some people, they might have a gentle blip of awakening while grooving at a drum circle, which is probably the level that they’re ready for. This is rather like dipping a toe into the wading pool as opposed to being thrown into the deep end.
When and if you do have a spiritual awakening, that might involve turning your current life inside out. All of a sudden, your personal desires and priorities might become the complete opposite of what they were before.
For example, you may have a strong inclination toward celibacy and seclusion, which will not go over well if you’re in a romantic relationship. Your dietary choices may change, which might alienate those around you. You might even feel the pressing need to relocate to a different country, thus leaving friends and family members behind in order to live the authentic life that you’re awakening to.
Other people might come face to face with traumatic memories of past events that they’ve buried deeply because they weren’t able to face them before. It’s not uncommon for someone experiencing a spiritual awakening to have what appears to be a nervous breakdown.
All of a sudden, the world they thought they understood and fit into well simply crumbles to ash around them. Their eyes are opened to things they were blind to before, whether via obliviousness or intention. Now they’re in unfamiliar territory, walking on ground that seems to shift and change beneath them with every step.
State your intention, and be consistent.
One of the best ways to get a spiritual awakening started is to state your intention. What are you hoping to get out of this journey? And why are you being drawn to it?
Take plenty of alone time to work all of this out. Write it down if you want to, or paint something that represents the visions that spring to mind of where you want to go and what you want to accomplish.
Are you hoping to be more attuned to your interconnectedness with the universe? Do you want to be able to feel more love and compassion? Or work on your psychic abilities? What do you want here?
When you feel that you’re truly ready, set aside some quiet time to meditate or simply sit in nature for a little while. Then either say aloud or write down that you’re ready for the next stage in your spiritual development.
Thinking this is all well and good, but when you say it or write it down you make it tangible. It’s out there now, it’s made solid.
Then, make a point of dedicating a specific amount of time toward your spiritual growth.
This can of course be adapted to every individual’s capabilities and responsibilities. A person who doesn’t have a family to support can duck off to an ashram to meditate in silence for a year, but you might only be able to attend weekend Qigong classes or listen to whale music while journaling for 10 minutes a day.
Seek out films, music, and books that inspire you.
Many films have been made over the years that center around spiritual awakenings. Some of them are fictional while others are more like documentaries, but they all have interesting stories to tell.
Try watching several of them to determine what style resonates with you most. You might really be into the documentary series, while someone else might be more inspired by a fictional tale.
Some titles you may wish to explore include:
- The Fountain (a film that resonated deeply with both my partner and me)
- The Man from Earth
- The Spirit Molecule
- Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds
- Cloud Atlas
In addition to watching films and listening to music, consider delving into the writings of different spiritual traditions. Every religion and philosophy on the planet has gems of wisdom to share; puzzle pieces to the big picture, if you will. By learning about as many of them as possible, you’ll have more pieces to work with.
Furthermore, you may discover that there are beliefs and practices in some of these faiths that truly resonate with you. Rather than being incongruous, most faiths intertwine and overlap beautifully, rather like flower of life geometry.
Have a physical item to keep you on the path.
If you like, you can make or buy yourself a talisman of some sort that you can either wear or carry around with you as a symbol of your new journey. Having a physical item that you can see and touch on a constant basis can be immensely helpful for keeping you grounded and centered.
You know how some people wear “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets, or have spiritual symbols tattooed on their inner wrists? A physical item is a literal touchstone that serves as a reminder and friend as you move forward on your journey.
Engage in sacred movement.
Each culture has some type of movement that intertwines the physical and mental with the spiritual. Yoga, Tai Chi, Kum Nye, and sacred dance all honor these aspects, both to create balance between them and to offer greater spiritual awakening.
It’s not unusual for people to feel grief or elation in a deep yoga practice, or to have flashes of spiritual enlightenment while dancing. Sufi dervishes spin while praying and chanting. The effect for them is like stepping free from the constraints of time and space, allowing them to tap into the eternal spirit of divine love. Many have attained great spiritual revelations via this practice, including prophetic visions and ecstatic energetic experiences.
Just about every single person is capable of some type of spiritual movement. If you’re not able-bodied, work with your care provider to determine something that works for you. For example, if you can spend time floating in a local swimming pool or lake on a regular basis, the waves will help to move your body around.
Your body is an incredible tool for manifesting the sacred, in whatever form you’re in at this moment. Don’t be afraid to use it.
Consider whether a teacher or guru might be helpful to you.
You’re embarking on your own unique spiritual journey, and that’s amazing. Every single person is a craftsman in this regard and will forge the paths that are best suited to their needs. There are countless ways to get up a mountain, and the best way forward for you may not be ideal for anyone else.
That said, you’re also doing the spiritual equivalent of scaling Everest and you might want to have a sherpa point the way for you now and then.
This is especially true if the path you’re on is completely different from anything you’ve experienced so far. This is rather like spending years as an IT specialist and suddenly doing a course in whitewater rafting. It’ll be one heck of a ride, but you might have an easier, safer time of it if there’s an experienced rafter beside you.
Of course, not everyone wants a teacher. Some people like to find their own way up the mountain, even if it’s a struggle for them to get there. They might luck out and find an unused goat path that suits their needs, or they might have to take a machete and hack their way through the undergrowth.
Know yourself, honor your individual nature, and choose the option that best suits the way you like to do things.
If and when you do go looking for a teacher, trust your intuition. There are some great teachers and gurus out there, but there are even more who are disreputable. If you have the opportunity to do so, spend time getting to know potential spiritual teachers. For example, if you’re drawn toward a particular religious path or practice, aim for people who have been truly immersed in it for a long time.
Additionally, people who have long-term experience with spiritual awakening have techniques on how to negotiate the discomfort that arises with it. Sure, you can learn some great yoga moves from your guru Carl Smith, but he might not be able to help you if you suddenly find yourself communicating with higher powers.
A note about psychedelic substances.
Although we discussed the use of entheogenic substances to activate spiritual awakening, we don’t recommend going that route.
Sure, some studies have shown that these substances can have a beneficial effect, but those studies were done in controlled circumstances. The drugs were given to the participants in small doses, and they were monitored closely by medical professionals who could have intervened at any moment if things went south.
Entheogenic substances may help some people awaken spiritually, but they can also cause long-term damage such as psychosis and hallucinogen-persistent perception disorder. 
We’re aiming for healthy enlightenment here – not to be turned inside out by a bad trip that undermines all the work you’ve done so far.
Spiritual awakenings are as individual as seekers. As a result, no two people will experience the same things, nor is there a single tried-and-true technique to make these things happen. You may experience many of the signs on this list, or you may not. If you don’t, that doesn’t mean you aren’t awakening, it just means that your enlightenment is taking different forms.
Buddha attained enlightenment while sitting quietly beneath a bodhi tree. Hakim Sanai had his epiphanic moment after being mocked by a drunkard, and Moses received a talking to by a flaming shrub. Your spiritual awakening might occur as dawn breaks over the ocean, or you might get the soul-deep equivalent of a brick hurled in your direction. It could go either way, so be prepared for the unexpected!
Keep in mind that a spiritual awakening is not for the faint of heart. Some aspects can be beautiful and epiphanic of course, but it’s not all love and light and “good vibes only” scenarios. Nor can these awakenings be turned off and on like light switches so you can dabble in them when it suits you then shelve the experiences when you have other stuff to do.
It’s more like poking holes in a dam. There will just be trickles of water at first, but eventually that dam will burst and there will be no going back.
Your life WILL change as a result of this.
Many spiritual awakenings happen spontaneously, but as mentioned with our tips above, you can most definitely consciously choose to get yours started. As such, you need to be prepared to have your world turned upside down in ways you may not have ever imagined.
You may also like:
- 12 Signs That You Are Shifting To A Higher Level Of Consciousness
- 8 Spiritual Goals You Should Set Yourself Right Now
- How To Reach Nirvana By Walking The Noble Eightfold Path
- Your Spiritual Journey May Fail If You Don’t Pack These 25 Essential Items In Your Suitcase
- 5 Little Questions That Can Reawaken Your Spirit
- 8 Traits Of A Spiritually Mature Person
- 4 Buddhist Beliefs That Will Shift Your Understanding Of Life And Make You Happier
- What Is Spiritual Wellness? (+ 6 Tips To Boost Yours)
- The Basic Nature Of Zen Explained
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