Ask Abdi: Why Does Waking Up Feel like a Nightmare?

Question: I stumbled into my spiritual awakening by accident when I started questioning the sources of unhappiness in my life. It’s difficult to recall the timeline because everything happened so quickly but one day I began wondering what a kinder, more forgiving life would feel like and the next it seemed I was on a scavenger hunt designed by the universe to bring me back to my self. At first this was very exciting and uplifting. Fast forward a few months and I am fucking miserable. I’ve never felt more alone or exhausted. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

In the beginning I experienced many symptoms on the New Age “spiritual awakening” checklist. Of course, this spoke to my ego’s desire to feel special. I no longer enjoyed the same foods; my third eye started activating (and all that cool stuff); I was either overwhelmingly despondent or euphoric; I became aware of synchronicity. Of course, I constantly questioned my sanity but was reassured of it by a mental health professional. Overall, I felt alive for the very first time in my life.

The sheen on the New Age awakening has worn off and apparently I forgot to read the fine print: waking up fucking sucks.

My illusion-less reality is bleak and getting bleaker by the day. I’ve come to see that I feel most alone in the relationships that are supposed to be the most intimate, the most nourishing. My relationship with my parents has never been perfect but at least I used to see it with the rose colored glasses of the unconscious. Now, the ugliness is too visible. At this point, minimal contact is difficult. Equally as painful, I see how I’ve recreated my childhood wounds in all of my relationships- romantic and platonic. I just feel completely alone and lonely.

It seems that everyday I’m introduced to a harder truth to accept, a more jagged pill to swallow. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. I thought enlightenment was supposed to be zen and peaceful. For me, it is just realizing how much I fucking hate my life. It took a lot of hard work and self-examination to get this far, do I want to go further or will it just keep getting progressively worse? Is it possible to un-wake up? Am I being punished? Is this my karma? Please explain.

Answer: I cannot thank you enough for this question as it addresses so many crucial issues and misconceptions about the waking up process. For many of us (and in no small measure due to the New Age movement’s habit of peddling ego worship under the guise of spiritual growth) the awakening process is not what we expect. As the name suggests, we are waking up which means we were on some level sleep or unconscious prior to the start of the process. There is a perception that once we start awakening rainbows and unicorns appear and all is immediately well with us. As you have been experiencing, this could not be further from the truth. As we leave our slumber, we start to know what needs to stay in our life, what needs to go and what needs to enter. This is all further complicated by the fact that all those around us as well as our culture at large are pushing for us to go back to sleep: awakening is dangerous business to a culture and populace that is hell bent on staying asleep.

Before we dig deeper, let us be clear what we mean by awakening. We are not talking about enlightenment here, the full stepping beyond of duality, which is the ultimate wet dream of the ego (which would be decimated in the process…oh the irony). We are talking about the process where we start to realize that we are bigger than our personality and its incessant needs and desires. We feel there is something calling to us and guiding us. On one level it is foreign (since we have managed to miss its presence our whole life) and on another so familiar and trustworthy (since it is us but not the us we were trained to think we were).

Awakening can be quite jarring since we realize that we are not who we thought we were. It is as if we wake up one day in somebody else’s life and have to figure out what needs to stay and what needs to go. This can include relationships of all levels, habits, diet etc. This process used to be a more gradual but has intensified in the last several years. It feels like a communal and global alarm clock has started to chime for us to awaken. That is the kind way of stating it. Another way of saying it is that at this juncture our soul/core does not give a damn about our personality and is not going to live in a state of perpetual anesthesia. But we can continue to attempt ignore the call to wake up for quite sometime. We can never underestimate our total commitment to staying asleep. After all, we have set up our whole culture around ensuring perpetual communal slumber.

So we can tick off the boxes in your process of awakening as they are common. Let’s start by the feeling of being special. Many if not most of us hit this one on the way in. We might have some third eye/psychic activity, some larger perspective of the total connection of all that is, etc. Neat synchronicities can let us know that there is some order in the midst of our chaotic lives. It’s a nice break from everyday life and gives us a peak at the bigger possibilities of how things can be. We can get stuck here as it is a reprieve from the drone of a numbed out life and it can make us feel special. But with time the distance between these peak moments and the rest of our lives is too staggering to ignore.

Next there is that dichotomy as well as the bleakness you speak of: moments of feeling really alive (because we are now starting to connect with our center for the first time) and mostly feeling really uncomfortable and in pain (since our whole life, which was not based on our center, feels so damn oppressive). The old does not fit and the new has not been revealed yet. This is the “waking up fucking sucks” phase to use your language. We unwittingly have entered into ego rehab and detoxing is no picnic. I do not use that analogy lightly: any addict that has undergone withdrawal knows how brutal the process can be. One is edgy, raw, anxious, uncomfortable…add your chosen adjective of misery.

Mental understanding will not help the feelings but one must be aware that any withdrawal process is brutal. Nor can it be skipped on our way to sobriety. It is easy to feel like we are being punished or missing something at this stage (“is it my karma?” in your words) but this IS the work. Every thing and every one is up for examination. This is not to say that we cannot get stuck here and suffer needlessly. There is work to be done and we need to roll up our sleeves to do it. Many times this phase can involve the need for therapeutic work to help move things along. Psychotherapy, deep body work, some meditative practice all have their place in releasing the old and heralding in the new.

Take heed, I know this all sucks, I know it hurts and I know it’s scary. I got the T-shirt. But I assure you it’s the only game in town truly worth playing. These feeling will pass. Put one foot in front of another and tend to your life one day at a time. Keep paying attention to what needs to go, what can stay and what needs to come in. You cannot project into the future with these things, they will be revealed to you from moment to moment and only in the moment. Step away from the temptation to control as it is utterly useless. Peace will come to you but first you have to detox from the poison of separation and forgetfulness.

You are giving birth to your self. You are the mother, the midwife and the child. You can be trusted with your own birth. The planet at this time asks no less of you and has your back.