Over the course of a life, some individuals may experience the emergence of a new form of awareness. We may call this awareness ‘Self-reflective awareness’. This type of awareness is essential to spiritual awakening.
Self-reflective awareness may emerge as a response to some normal experience associated with the life course, such as mid-life or the death of a loved one. In such times we are more likely to turn inward, to mourn. If we are mindful in the process, such life transitions may encourage self-reflection, as a we think about our self or what it means to be a self.
For some, turning inward is coincident with as a sense of vague dissatisfaction with the material world. Aspects of material life that once seemed important have lost meaning and significance. The desires one once had for seeking and acquiring ‘things’ now seems rather empty and meaningless.
In some people, a lack of satisfaction with the world of objects may be a sign of spiritual awakening. According to Upanishads, our desire for material objects arise from avidya. Avidya is ignorance of the Self, leading to a state of egoic awareness that is oriented toward the object world.
The Upanishads say that dissatisfaction with the world of objects is a sign of awakening to the eternal truth of the Self (see Katha Upanishad). The Upanishads make a distinction between the temporal and the eternal, the finite and the infinite. One realizes that the is continually emerging and falling away. The world of objects, called Maya, has no inherent existence in itself. Seeking satisfaction in that which is ephemeral will lead to dissatisfaction, as the object always fades.
Christian theologian Søren Kierkegaard (1849) understood that the between eternal and temporal, the finite and the infinite. He says:
“Man is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short it is a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two factors. So regarded, man is not yet a self.”
If we want to find a deeper sense of satisfaction then we must seek that which is beyond the ephemeral world of objects. The Vedas say that name and form fade, yet the Self remains. Kierkegaard understood that finite and temporal fade, yet the eternal remains.
In the Upanishads it is said that contact with the eternal truth of the Self brings about an experience of Sat, Chit, Ananda: “being, consciousness, bliss”. Psychologist Roberto Assagioli, understands that encounter with the eternal “gives to those who have it a sense of greatness and internal expansion… the conviction of participating in some way in the divine nature”. Some individuals experience exalted states of consciousness, including mystical states of union or estasy.
For many these exalted states will last only for limited periods of time, and they return to temporarily and rhythm of daily life that is so natural to human consciousness. While the eternal is experienced as wonderful, individuals often resist the constricting sense of temporarily, and they become attached to the delightful new state of being.
Yet as Kierkegaard reminds us: “Man is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short it is a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two factors. So regarded, man is not yet a self.” Seeking only after the eternal is bound to lead to dissatisfaction, as “man is a synthesis” and thus bound to experience both the eternal and temporal, the infinite and the finite.
In practicing mindfulness, we simply take notice of the alternations of the eternal and the temporal. Through mindfulness we can draw upon our capacity for self-reflective awareness, noticing the both the emergence of the eternal and the fading away of the temporal. There is no need to cling or seek, only to increase our capacity to notice the Self which gives rise to the experience of emerging and fading away.
Mindfulness of these underlying states of awareness may give rise to a gentle sense of ebb and flow. By working with these movements, and keeping a focus on the eternal ground of the Self, we can move toward greater and greater spiritual integration. Neither seeking nor avoiding, Self-reflection opens our awareness to the simplicity of what is occurring in the moment, accepting our experience of being a Self. Carl Jung made this realization the heart of his psychology:
“I have called this wholeness that transcends consciousness the ‘self.’ The goal of the individuation process is the synthesis of the self. …the symbols of wholeness frequently occur at the beginning of the individuation process.” (CW 9i, para. 278)
Carl Jung felt that the Self was a synthesis of the eternal and temporal dimensions. Spiritual awakening entails working with and integrating more and more of the eternal truth of the Self, thus leading to a sense of wholeness and integration.
Jung believed that the process of integration of eternal and temporal reveals itself in symbolic life. Symbols and archetypes affect the development of consciousness, offering a means of integrating duality. ‘Symbols of wholeness’ emerge spontaneously within dreams and imagination, increasing one’s capacity for spiritual awareness, as well as guiding the process of individuation.
Working with symbolic life increases our capacity for Self-reflective awareness. By working with symbols of the Self as they appear in art, myth, dreams, and imagination we steady our movement toward the eternal truths of the Self. The unconscious continuously presents consciousness with the wealth of sacred images and forms. Mindfulness of internal images forms the forward horizon of our spiritual development as we work toward greater and greater acceptance of the totality of being. Neither resisting not clinging, simply noticing symbolic life as it presents itself is at the heart of spiritual integration.
- Psychosynthesis: a collection of basic writings by Roberto Assagioli
- The Sickness Unto Death by Søren Kierkegaard
- The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)