It is the time of year when everyone begins sharing how wonderful they believe that the New Year will be. We hope for new beginnings, and plan how we will be different, and better, in the future.

We continually look for outer signs of possible inner change. Each moon cycle, astrological shift, menstrual cycle, divorce, marriage, death, birth, new jobs, move, political happening, and outer cultural shift we notice allows for us to believe in the capacity to change. At times we do use these cycles and events to authentically change and become more of who we are intended to be in this world.

But most of the time we are simply creating a “loop”, a belief and a pattern of behaving and experiencing reality that will quickly cycle through the rest of the loop– the trying of new behaviors, or a new way of being, and falling back into the same patterns (our ingrained “loops” or habitual patterns created out of personal and collective trauma).

So the real question is how to subvert this, how to break this loop to the extent that we actually change our reality, and our way of being in this world.

There are several answers to this.

The first is that we can use collective momentum for our own individual purposes. This is like riding a wave; if you are well aware that you are riding a wave, and that there will be an inevitable crashing of that wave on the shore, you can ride it for as long as it is of use to you.

When large amounts of people do something, such as New Year’s Resolutions, that creates momentum. It creates energy. It creates a massive wave. You as a small drop within that wave can use this momentum by being well aware of it as well as knowing that on January 5th (rough estimate), and then likely a few weeks later, large aspects of that wave will dissipate.

So when the bottom of this wave drops out, you can tell yourself what it is doing. You can also be aware of this loop and what is on the other side of it: typically beating oneself up for participating in this pattern of behaving (not sticking with resolutions and/or not changing to a better version of yourself that you know full well you are capable of) and then perhaps considering that in February, or come spring, you will try again.

If you have this perspective, and understand that there will be a fallout of energy because of this collective wave crashing (as in, many people will be giving up their resolutions and moving back to their old habits and ways of being again) you can also recognize that such a situation is temporary (the lulling of energy or crash on the shore and subsequent depression when people move back to old habits collectively).

When you realize in a few days that there will be a smaller wave of energy– the collective energies of people who will stick with their resolutions for a few weeks– you can ride that smaller wave as well. This will be a smaller crash to shore (less people creating this wave) but still the same “loop” of promising to be a better self––– planning to be a better self––– being a better self and changing habits for a small period of time––– not sustaining the habit and falling into depressive or old unhealed trauma patterns regarding self worth––– pinning hopes yet again on a future self breaking out of habits and living up to her (his/our) full potential.

Realizing all of this offers the perspective and distance to ride the waves and use their momentum for change, while realizing that there will be temporary lulls between the two waves.

Even beyond New Years’ our world is continually cycling through similar loops (patterns of behaving based off of beliefs created out of trauma) and if you can notice these, you can more clearly see how you take on that trauma individually (as someone who is in relationship with the world and perceiving how you individually take on or relate to collective loops), and to heal that.

So let’s talk a bit more pragmatically for a moment:

  • Habits take about three weeks to get sort of ingrained and to really begin to see the results of whatever you are planning for yourself.
  • It is typically better to do something every day if you are attempting to change something, even if it is for a short duration of time, to create a habit.
  • Don’t plan for drastic change. If you have been sitting on the couch for the last ten years, you are not going to jog 10 miles tomorrow, especially if you live where I do and it is -2 degrees Fahrenheit right now.
  • Discipline and creating new habits is always hard. Know that if you fall of the proverbial horse, you just need to get back on. Everyone falls off– it is just a question of who decides to get back on or not.

Let’s talk a bit more esoterically now:

  • Our mind believes that any change is associated with death. Our mind does not really understand the difference between physical and metaphorical death. This creates a lot of fear. If you understand this, you can soothe yourself by basically stating that you are not, in fact, going to physically die, but that you are going through a metaphorical death.
  • The more momentum we create for ourselves, the more likely that we are to receive blowback. This is sort of like a pendulum swinging– if we make these huge plans about how we are suddenly going to be this different person and it all changes tomorrow, we are likely going to get an equal and opposing force in the other direction.
  • How you can move beyond this pendulum swinging is to understand it (that your resistance is going to come up and it will be harder to accomplish your resolutions with a large pendulum swing) and just tell yourself what is happening… but ideally you would create a plan/resolutions for yourself that are gradual, small, or give you the “felt sense” of being freer… not something that will create more restriction or pain for you.
  • We often feel so overloaded and restricted that another thing that will cause for us to feel “not free”– such as a resolution– causes for us subconsciously to rebel. We do not want more restrictions, we want to be freer. So thinking of ways that your resolutions can offer freedom, instead of more weight, is important. Consider adding things to your life instead of depriving yourself.

It is funny (or sometimes curious may be the correct word) what people say to me about spiritual awakenings some days. We have created a lot of confusion around the process, and as someone who has done considerable research (including reading any accounts of awakening I can find by yogis, mystics, and my favorite, heretics), has worked with hundreds of people experiencing various awakenings, and who has been going through the awakening process for some time, I am hoping to point people to some clarity here.

The purpose of a spiritual awakening is to be in the present moment.

It is to release and heal your past so that you are no longer reacting to trauma on multiple levels. It is moving from traumatized, frozen selves, locked in time because they never received something vital, into our adult, present, capacities.

It is a healing of the mind and a quieting of the mind to the extent that you are no longer immersed in creating possible futures for yourself. This has to do with being willing to look at the fear of physical death, as well as healing past issues regarding self-worth (and the need to prove oneself to the outer world). There are also some tools needed here– which is why meditation is pretty much required if you are on a spiritual path.

It is a moving beyond our basic, instinctive selfishness to clearly interact with ourselves, with other people, and with the world. It is an expansion process, where we move beyond the “I” to see that there are, in fact, other people in the world, and how our interactions with one another, our connections to one another, are what our souls are craving.

It is moving beyond feeling as if we are separate and alone to notice that we are a part of greater and greater things, and being able to commune in a greater capacity with our environment, other people, and the world/cosmos.

It is a process of becoming more and more authentically and vitally who we are. Our possibilities, what we can bring to the world. The awakening process can be described as moving beyond our selfishness, our taking what we can from the world and one another because of our deep, primal biological fear of never having enough, into actually bringing who we are, and our vital essence and potential clearly into the world.

None of us live up to our true potentials, we are too bogged down in trauma and the outer conditioning and “loops” of the world, to be. Awakening to your true potential is authentically terrifying, and is a process of acknowledging the masks that we wear and being willing to move beyond them.

If we are not being authentic with ourselves, even if we wear the mask of a spiritual person, the world and the people in it will on some level know. The world will reflect back what we feel about ourselves, what we know to be true. But even more important than that, you will know. Even if it is stuffed deep down in the furthest caves of our subconscious, our lives and our psyches will know that on some level it is a mask.

It is always a choice to look at what is illusory, what has been created out of trauma, what energies have been given to us that we have, as of yet, never questioned. Such a path of healing and authenticity often means wandering through a patch of thorns instead of a clear, sunny path.

But if we are willing to look at what is not working in our lives, where we feel small or disconnected, and how clearly we are interfacing with ourselves and reality, we can wander through that patch of thorns and have some small or large weight lift from us as we move closer to authentically realizing who we are, and who we always were, beneath all of the loops.

Spiritual awakening is not a process of disassociation. It is not spiritual competition or a way to feel superior due to inner emptiness and unresolved pain. It is a process of deeply facing the self, being willing to consider that there is always something to work on, to heal, to know, and to be.

It is a process that allows for someone to become larger, not smaller. To move beyond rules, not engage in restrictive dogmas and beliefs created because the universe cannot be contained or fathomed by our minds, and we are scrambling to feel safe and in control by enacting restrictive beliefs.

It is not a process about what is right or not to eat or what music to listen to. It is not a process that makes one smaller– that limits who you can talk to, or what you can be– or a process that disconnects you or separates you from the world, or the people in it. If you are truly expanding, you can talk to anyone, because you notice the part of them that resonates with an aspect of you. If you are becoming more conscious, you begin to understand people enough to feel compassion for them, even if you feel that they are misguided, wrong, or stupid.

You also become increasingly more compassionate towards the parts of you that are misguided, wrong, and stupid.

That does not mean that you need to accept the views of anyone, or abuse, forgive or absolve someone who has caused you pain, or think that people are filled with and aware of their light or even that they know something about a subject. What it means is that you move beyond your own trauma enough to simply accept people as they are– which are a series of loops creating out of unhealed trauma causing specific patterns of being and relating– just as you are. You stop reacting to the world, and the people in it, out of blind, emotive pain and quit recreating your loops (and placing people as actors in those loops).

It is a process of contending with societal and cultural restrictions, and being conscious of them so that you are an actor in a play… perfectly capable of interfacing well with reality as need be… but able to discard them (well, most of them) beyond surface level pretensions.

Far from the romanticized version of awakening, becoming clearer with ourselves and moving beyond our minds means that rigid, severe truths, conspiracy theories, being “better than”, separate from, or even having to go “deeper than” all fade away. It is much easier to play the role of awakening than to be willing to contend with what lies within, and beyond. Illusion, romanticization, and imbalanced, rigid, and surface level understandings will always be more popular in this world, as our pain makes us actors. It has us put on masks. It makes us believe in a fairy-tale future or a self as king or god to divorce us from this world, and to create meaning from our pain.

It is typically for a very good reason that people step onto and actually walk a spiritual path. Far from my favorite teacher, but I was re-reading one of Trungpa’s books the other day, and he told an audience of seekers that if they were considering a spiritual path, that they should reconsider. Because the spiritual path is hard. Awakening is hard. It is much easier to create illusion than to truly contend with ourselves. At a certain point what happens is that it does get easier, you are no longer resistant and are more in a state of “flow”, and can see that each mask you remove, each restrictive belief you move away from, the more at peace you feel.

As you heal your “loops” you can more greatly connect to your body, to the world, to the people in it. Spiritual awakening is greatly revered for its “ascension” aspects, but the end result of a spiritual awakening is the descending of grace– the opening of the heart– and an anchoring into the world. It is an awakening of compassion, and a “seeing” through the heart.

When I mention the end, I will also dispel another illusion that one is ever complete. If we are unable to see that we are able to continually unfold– continually be more and feel more and know more– we prevent ourselves from doing so. We always have more to be conscious of, and there will always be someone out there who is smarter, faster, more conscious, and has shinier hair.

If we are able to see that person as motivation, rather than competition, we can move away from the spiritual competition “loop” and the tired cliches of gurus saying they are on the eighth level while everyone in history is on the seventh, or of announcing themselves as the prophet of the new aeon. Once you heal what is creating this loop, you no longer need to participate as either seeker or guru in it.

I mention all of this in a blog post on resolutions because ideally if we are going to shift something about ourselves, we would simply do it. A hard ideal to live up to, but an ever greater thought would be healing enough trauma and working with your mind enough that you can be in the present moment, and not need to or want to participate in the “loop” of resolutions, or not need to project a future reality in which somehow things will get better, or we will be better, or different than we are today. Accepting this means realizing that our imperfections are okay, and becoming increasingly compassionate towards ourselves, and yet being willing to clearly see what is not working, what is divided or not compassionate within us… and offering it connection and compassion.

That generally means in practice being willing to work with things as they come up, continually seeking clarity (including outer resources such as teachers and friends whose clarity you trust), and continually being willing to unmask ourselves so we can be more authentic, more conscious, more able to bring who we are to this world.

Our loops are created out of past trauma as well as imposed cultural and societal systems. Examining them, contending with them, and healing whatever we are able to in regards to them within the context of our fleeting, physical lives is a difficult thing to ask of anyone. By being willing to heal, to acknowledge, to awaken, in an authentic matter, bringing ourselves to the present moment, we can continually, and in the present moment, become more and more of who we are meant to be moment by moment.