True transformation is a change in being, a change in who we recognize ourselves to be. It is not an experience that passes but stays with us. A spiritual journey is typically filled with a series of greater and lesser transformations. There is a wide range in how transformation shows up but there are typical experiences that occur at specific stages of transformation.
Our reactivity is a good marker. If we’re caught up in dramas about life, we’re attached. If we’re allowing life to unfold as it is, we’re unattached. Now, unattached doesn’t mean unfeeling. We’ll still have the full range of emotions wash over us from time to time. Only they’ll simply wash over and leave. They won’t stick around. And we won’t cycle them through our awareness, pumping them up. Only the bliss and love underlying all experience remain.
Attachments (or karma) bring with them a blind spot so we don’t see the attachment and feel fully justified in our response at the time. Afterward, we may build a further story and justification for our actions, usually by blaming another. People of strong faith may ascribe it to God, in effect blaming God.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes how we detach from our identifications. Sometimes, it is very distinct and complete, but often it comes in stages of stepping back, of letting go. We can summarize this as after, during, as arising, and none.
For after, as we begin to become less attached, we begin to notice we failed to meet our own standards after the fact. We’re then less inclined to justify but may get caught in self-blame instead. I should have known better! Doh!
As we deepen the observer, we begin to catch ourselves in the midst of reaction. This may give us a new point of choice, a place where can put on the brakes or take a breather. Or it may not. But we’re now aware enough to see it in action.
When we’re detached enough, we’re conscious of the first impulse of reactivity arising. We then have true choice – to allow our reaction to continue or make another choice or let it go.
Of course, our clarity varies from moment to moment and some things we’re more caught by than others. So our success may vary a little until the witness is firmly established.
However, the impulse to react remains. What has changed here is our conscious awareness of it. So the other side of the coin is winding down or letting go of the cause of the energetic impulses in the first place. This requires allowing the impulse to finally resolve.
This entire process can be illustrated by a well know poem.
“Chapter One of My Life. I walk down the street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter Two. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place! But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter Three. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in. It’s a habit! My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
Chapter Four. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
Chapter Five. I walk down a different street.”
— Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery
The poem also illustrates the role of habit. Even when we let go, habit can bring the same response back again. But the core issue is in healing emotionally and energetically so the inappropriate impulse to react is resolved. Then even habit won’t revive attachment.
For many people, there is a lot of letting go after they awaken. But if we do some energy work and emotional healing as part of our spiritual practice, there will be much less of this later.
When we have intense experiences, it’s natural to put aside part of the trauma for processing later. And when we’re attacked energetically, it’s natural to put up energetic walls to protect ourselves. But in our culture, we’re encouraged to keep those walls up to stay safe. Not to mention that we’re surrounded by people caught in their dramas and unconsciously spewing energetically.
However, walls are only useful short term. If we keep our walls up long term, we end up keeping our own pain within and we block the flow of happiness and love in our experience. Energy isn’t resolved with walls. It is resolved by release, by freedom.
The culturing of awareness that leads to the witness plus the healing of the heart are together keys for a life lived in fullness beyond any measure.