Remember Rip Van Winkle? Those of us in the American English speaking part of the world who passed our high school years in the 1950s to 1970s do remember him. He was the man who slept for 20 years in a hollow in New York. We knew him in our English Literature class.
For the younger generation who know nothing about Rip Van Winkle, here is a very brief summary. He was the principal character in Washington Irving’s story “Rip Van Winkle.” He was a Dutch American who did not want to work for a fee. He just wanted to play. One day he was lost in the mountains of New York as it was then before the American Revolution and got into the company of the ghosts of Henry Hudson and his crew. He drank their drink and fell asleep. He woke up only after 20 years, with a long beard and an aged man. He goes back to his village only to discover it was no longer the same as he left it. America was now independent from Great Britain. After some searching he discovered his family.
The reason why I started with the story of Rip Van Winkle is because he illustrates the person who sleeps for many years, who is awakened only after sleeping those many years, that is, in his body, the physical life.
In the spiritual life, like Rip Van Winkle most people are asleep and unless somebody wakes them up they will continue on sleeping spiritually, perhaps for the rest of their life. Some of them will wake up only in eternity.
Here are 3 ways to know you’ve had a spiritual awakening. If you have not gone through these 3 ways, this means that you are still asleep, that is, spiritually, like Rip Van Winkle physically, and it’s time for you to wake up.
And that is the difference between spiritual awakening and physical awakening. You cannot know that you are physically awake if you are asleep. You cannot know that you are awake while you are still sleeping. But you can know that you have not yet awakened spiritually. How? By reflecting on your life, whether any of these ways are present in your life. If they are not yet present, then it means that you have not yet awakened spiritually. Knowing this you can now desire to awaken spiritually. And desiring to awaken spiritually is the step before actually awakening spiritually.
Fortunately, the ways to know we’ve had a spiritual awakening are similar to the ways to know we’ve had a physical awakening.
The first way to know that you are physically awake is by being aware of your surrounding, at first indistinctly, then little by little, more distinctly.
Even before you open your eyes you can know that you are already awake, that you are still in bed, that it is late in the night or early in the morning, etc.
Even so in spiritual awakening you are aware of the spiritual realities around you. You are aware that you are in a world of spiritual as well as physical realities. Again, as in physical awakening, this awareness is at first indistinct, but as time goes on and as you proceed in our spiritual journey this awareness becomes clearer and clearer.
This awareness of spiritual realities around you may result as a consequence of a dissatisfaction with your present job, of a failure in business, of a loss of a loved one, of a joyful encounter with a beloved. Whatever it is that triggers this awareness, you are made aware that not only physical, visible things surround you but also spiritual, non-visible things, like love or fear, inner peace or turmoil, joy or confusion.
Have you had this experience? If you have, then you have begun to awaken spiritually.
In physical awakening, after being aware of your surrounding the natural thing to do is to open your eyes and you see things around: the fading darkness or the onrush of sunlight, the furniture around the room, the light switch, the door, etc.
So also in spiritual awakening you open your spiritual eyes and perceive the spiritual realities around you: the strivings of human beings to improve their lives and seek ultimate happiness, the crimes committed in the search for some kind of satisfaction, the exultation and joys of those who succeed in their endeavors, the struggle between good and evil occurring before your very eyes.
Do you perceive these spiritual realities around you? Beneath the stories of sordid crimes and wars, of natural and man-made calamities, do you see the mighty spiritual forces claiming for your attention? Do you see the ever increasing hordes of human beings who are digging deeper into poverty and homelessness? Do you see the few elite masters of this planet earth who continue to acquire resources beyond their consumption and just waste them away? And do you see these events as part of a spiritual battle between the invisible good and evil forces of the universe, beyond psychological, sociological, economic and political factors? Do you see the forces behind our world leaders which push them to dominate peoples and exploit them? If you do, you’ve had a spiritual awakening.
Thirdly, in physical awakening after you are aware of your surrounding and after you open your eyes, you act. You get out of bed, go to the wash room, etc., preparing yourself for the work of the day.