Steps to Human Spiritual Transformation
Let’s look at the major steps of human spiritual transformation. Before we do that, allow us to define what we mean by “transformation”.
The word “transformation” comes from two Latin root words, trans and forma. Trans = “across; beyond; on the far side” and forma = “a mold; form”. Thus, the etymological definition of transformation means to “move beyond form”.
If we look at the mechanism of the ego, it is a personality structure that is essentially a mold or a form that has been fixed upon us by our environment, our activities, our thought patterns, and the habitual self that we most commonly default to being. When the ego undergoes real transformation, there is an accompanying spiritual-psychological shift whereby the “form” or fixity of ideas that once were the norm, changes its shape to become something different. Pretty straightforward. We let go of the “mold” of our “personality” and, like a snake shedding its skin or a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, we emerge as a new self. This is how anything changes in our life. Unless and until we undergo an inner transformation, our outer environment remains “fixed” by the projections we place upon it, and the world continues to “prove” to us who we are, or who we think ourselves to be. This is because, according to Tantric cosmology, the world is not real. Not ultimately real, at least, in the absolute sense. We will look at this deeper later on, but to wrap our mind around it conceptually in the beginning can help us make sense of this great paradox.
So, for real transformation to occur, there must be an inner shift where we move from limited ego-consciousness to a less limited consciousness. Ultimately the path of Yoga is one that attempts to take us all the way to the Unlimited. When and if we experience the fruit of this path and we taste the sweet nectar of the Infinite, we see through the illusion of our own mind and our transformative process becomes more manageable. The point is that we dip into the well, at the Center beyond the center, and come into contact with that Infinite, Eternal, indwelling and indestructible Self. The practices of Yoga are designed to internalize our awareness and bring our circulating energies into balance so that this journey to the Center can be made possible. Obviously this is more difficult to put into practice, but this is the journey.
When we look at the steps to spiritual transformation retrospectively, we can study its different levels and the phenomenology of the process. According to Jungian psycho-analyst Robert Moore, who has spent decades studying the spiritually transformative process of many tribes and traditions, there are common & universal features which can be recognized across all of them. His theories suggest that there the process of spiritual transformation is a THREEFOLD process. Let us look at these three steps and identify where we are.
1. At the Threshold – Pre-Liminal Space
This is the beginning of all journeys. It is the moment where we accept that we’d like things to be different, and so from this contrast a desire is birthed. The desire motivates us to set out. Oftentimes this dimension, “at the threshold”, can be characterized by massive denial. Some people never move past this point, although deep down they know and feel like they’d like to change something. This is because at this moment, there needs to be an acknowledgement of what is wrong. There must be acceptance. We touch the sensitive and vulnerable truth that, maybe this isn’t all there is to it. Maybe there is something more for me. But what? If I can muster up enough courage to face this truth, I am standing at the threshold of transformation. I am ready and willing to leave behind the “known” world in search of something else….
2. Departure from the Known – Liminal Space
As soon as I make the step across the threshold, I’ve entered into what is known as “liminal space”. This is synonymous with the Great Unknown. The Mystery. I’ve plunged myself into the realm known as the Collective Unconscious, where spiritual energy is abundant. The ego has no perch in this place, for the space itself is what we might call “unstructured”. I’ve made a journey backwards in time to the origin point of consciousness, where all things are birthed. I’ve set aside my preconceptions and ideas and entered into a space of not knowing, not defining, not understanding. To the ego, this is terrifying, which is why having effective ritual technology and practices which can help us navigate this dimension is essential.
The deeper we go in, the more we may feel like we’re losing our grip on Reality. This is because that is exactly what is happening, and in fact needs to happen in order for a shift to occur. As we start to “lose it”, we begin letting go at deeper and deeper levels of our physiology where locked patterns and deeply rooted beliefs or ideas we have about ourselves are held. This is not a cognitive process but a psycho-somatic process. Cognition and rationality have no operational capacity in liminal space.
This is the realm of the shamans, and a skilled shamanic practitioner both understands this space and knows how to navigate it. This dimension is a bit like a dream-world, neither here nor there, and yet in it exists the pure raw potential to birth an entire universe. When we are on this journey of transformation, this is exactly what we are doing – birthing a new universe. The substance to the new world exists here, as when things become undone new things start to coalesce and take their space. Now we must get ourselves back…
3. The Return to the World – Structured Space
After we make the “descent into the underworld”, as it is depicted in traditional mythology, we must ascend back to waking life; back to the Reality that we left behind in search of a higher Truth. If we are successful in touching something Real in the Liminal Space, then we will have underwent a real change in our underlying psychic structures. Our ego will have gone through a death-rebirth process for it has had a real encounter with something greater than it. The “mold” we were in before has now “gone beyond” itself, in a way. This is the transcendence of the ego that is talked about in all spiritual traditions.
In psycho-analytic terms, we are talking about the integration of opposites. The descent into the underworld, practically speaking, is a descent into the sub- and unconscious material of the human psyche. The “shadow”, as it were, where hidden or repressed psychic material lies dormant and yet energetically polarized. When and wherever the “shadow” is hidden from us, because it is energetically polarized, it is influencing our conscious self, or ego. Unless and until these hidden bits of our psychology become integrated, due to their polarity, they exert a sort of magnetic pull on our behavior in the wakeful state. The integration of these parts of our unconscious psyche IS the journey to Wholeness, for we reclaim what has been lost or buried over centuries, generations of soul fragmentation. This illustrates the healing journey that we are all on, in one way or another. The challenge in Step Two was to actually enter into the shadowy, dark, unknown realms of our psyche, the “unstructured” space of spiritual energy and pure potential, to discover & reclaim what has been lost, and to bring it back to the surface.
Now, in Step Three, we must integrate this psychic energy into our wakeful state of being. It is, quite literally, “The Return to the World”, the place of structured space-time, of lineality, of ego-consciousness. Only now, having succeeded in your encounter of the Great Other and the death-rebirth of the ego, your ego is coming back “online” with a different perspective. As the world begins to re-form around you, a literal reformation has taken place. There has been a reformation in the psychological make up of your human bio-computer. A certain “pruning” has taken place in the mind, and new seeds are sprouting. You are now looking with fresh eyes at what once were unsolvable problems. You’ve touched pure possibility, made a real connection to it, faced the mortal fear of death, and emerged unscathed. As your psychology begins to re-assimilate in your return, your next steps are to bring to life the pure potential that has been accessed. This is how the Gods and Goddesses come into form. They operate through us.
The Creator – the very Act of Creation – manifests by this process. We are co-creative in this way WITH Life Itself. We’ve journeyed to the Center of the Universe, discovered something of supreme value, and are now bringing it to the “world out there”, which is to say: ourselves, our friends, our communities, and our planet.
This is the Threefold Process of Spiritual Transformation.