Is Awakening a Gradual Process or a Sudden, Spontaneous Shift?

For most people awakening is gradual. A very drastic and sudden transformation is rare, and usually occurs only in the face of extreme suffering—suffering that either comes from within or from a real-life situation such as serious illness, loss, or some other form of pain. Then there is the possibility for a sudden and radical shift.

But for most people it is a gradual awakening and a going back and forth, so to speak. There may be a falling back into unconscious patterns triggered by situations, then a coming out again into more presence. But on the whole there is a gradual increase in presence that then flows into more and more areas of your life.

There can also be a sudden burst in awareness triggered by some kind of event—usually one that would not be called “pleasant.” For example, I’ve met people who’ve been practicing for some time and have shown slow but wonderful growth in presence; and then suddenly a serious physical condition arises that brings about a very rapid intensification of awareness. In some people it brings about a reaction into deep fear, so they lose awareness; but in many others I have observed an intensification of awareness—especially if the possibility of mortality comes in. So there’s suddenly an enormous influx of presence—but that only occurred because they’ve already been practicing living in awareness, perhaps for several years.

There’s really no end to the deepening that’s possible. Be happy with what’s happening to you, and if anything else is needed, life will give it to you. On the whole, for those who voluntarily embrace the arising new consciousness the need for pain to serve the function of spiritual teacher or to break down the ego, diminishes greatly

Now for those who don’t open themselves to the emerging new consciousness, it’s as if there were an egoic shell around something within them that wants to grow but can’t; it’s pushing up against the shell, and that begins to become quite painful. In many people, this ego shell may also be experienced as a deep inner longing for something they cannot name.

And then what life tends to do is to break through the shell through some kind of event, whatever it may be—losing a job, your home, or your spouse. It could also be something physical; whatever it is, there’s a shock, a crack appears, and then the light can come through. At first the crack is, of course, painful and there’s some degree of suffering; then suddenly, “Ah!”—an intensification of aliveness.

I’ve met so many people over the years who have had some kind of blow dealt to them by life, the universe, fate—whatever you want to call it—and retrospectively they reported, “that was the best thing that could ever have happened to me.” So many people have told me, “I wouldn’t be here talking to you if that hadn’t happened to me.” And I’m sure there are people reading this who could say the same. I know that I could say the same! Without intense suffering, I wouldn’t be here.

There’s always grace hiding behind seemingly negative events. (And if you listen to the news there’s no shortage of extremely negative things that are happening.) But all these challenges are potentially awakening experiences. The ego demands security, saying things like, “wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have to worry about my job and I could really pursue awakening and presence.” But no, if that were the case you would most likely go to sleep. With 100% security, almost everybody would go to sleep, having everything mapped out as if nothing can go wrong.

Life isn’t like that anyway, so even if there were some security on the financial or professional level, you would, of course, still be faced with the insecurity of your physical vehicle—and the insecurity or unpredictability of the people around you!

So, to live with the insecurity or uncertainty of what’s going to happen to you—and to actually embrace it—is a wonderful thing. Rather than fearfully thinking, “oh, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me” and about the uncertainty of it all, surrender into that uncertainty or insecurity, because it is life. Life actually flows more powerfully when there is uncertainty.

The essence of every human journey is that it’s uncertain what’s going to happen tomorrow. Yet it’s there where transformation becomes possible. If you always deny uncertainty, thinking, “I want certainty,” then it’s like closing the valves through which life and the possibility of transformation enter.

That’s why the traditional idea of pilgrimage is universally important in all cultures. The real purpose behind it was never the arriving—it was the uncertainty of the journey itself, which has a transformational effect. People knew that, perhaps, intuitively, and they would become transformed by their pilgrimage.

To embrace the uncertainty of life, to live with it and begin to love it, has another interesting effect in terms of creativity. Creativity is stifled by excessive security. If you look at the lives of history’s great artists and writers, most of them didn’t have secure income; survival was uncertain. But that’s when creativity arises and when awakening becomes possible.

So, what the world calls “negative” is not necessarily negative. When you listen to the news, remember there’s always another side to everything. And the difficulties being experienced collectively these days are also potentially an opening into awakening.



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Author Information

Eckhart Tolle

Spiritual Teacher and author was born in Germany and educated at the Universities of London and Cambridge. At the age of twenty-nine a profound inner transformation radically changed the course of his life. The next few years were devoted to understanding, integrating and deepening that transformation, which marked the beginning of an intense inward journey.

Books from Eckhart Tolle

Oneness With All Life Cover image
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A New Earth Cover image
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The Power of Now Cover image
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