Often, sudden spiritual awakening can be followed by a profound lack of motivation and the feeling that life is meaningless. How do we navigate this?
I’ve been having an interesting exchange with a reader of MA who has expressed something I’ve heard many times from different people who have experienced sudden enlightenment. When the belief in the personality-self dissolves and we uncover the inherent emptiness within all things, this can cause serious disorientation, a kind of vertigo. Suddenly, nothing in life seems to have a meaning. You might start to wonder what the point is to this, to life. Without the meanings you ascribed to the various aspects of life—work, relationships, goals and aspirations, even spiritual seeking—you may find you no longer feel motivated to do much of anything. When you are used to being a seeker, you get really good at embodying that perspective. But once you are a finder, the whole universe shifts, and instead of using the skills and acquisitive reflex you employed as a seeker, you have to use a whole new approach and skill set, which is all about integration, expansion and stability. It’s different, and for a while, you may really suck at it. Not to worry!
I’ve experienced a profound lack of motivation, and it still seems to arise and subside. Sometimes it’s gone for years and then suddenly it’s back. I have to admit that I’ve never wondered why it comes and goes. Months have passed and I hardly seem to notice. I have no goals, not even modest ones. I have few responsibilities. This is partly because for ten years I’ve just not taken on new ones. When I was first awakened, I had lots and lots of responsibilities, and dealt with those until they were resolved and I engaged in no new or further commitments.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sitting here covered in a layer of moss or something. It’s not as though I don’t clean the house or brush my teeth anymore…but I don’t apparently “accomplish” anything for long stretches of time. It’s weird, but not unpleasant. And then something changes and my focus is called into some external in-the-world adventure or endeavor.
This lack of motivation and the disorientation can lead one to real, physical depression. It doesn’t have to, and doesn’t for all people, but many have wandered into this bleak territory. It is one thing to know that there is no point, but it’s entirely a different experience when a thousand pounds of pointlessness pins you down and sits on your chest. Frankly, it sucks.
I really don’t know how a person can know if they are depressed or not. I don’t really know what depression is. We use this word so much, and people seem to use it to describe a variety of unpleasant mind states. My feeling is that some people can get lost in the pointlessness and then they will get depressed. Others feel the pointlessness, but keep moving through it.
All I can offer is my own experience. Let’s say I’m being crushed by Pointlessness. I stay curious about it, feel it, feel the dead center of it, the edges of it, all of it. I investigate it. It’s not physical pain, it’s not like having your arm cut off or stomach cramps or even being homeless and having to sleep rough in some cold place. Pointlessness is purely a mental construct. Your mind is suffering from it. Your mind is feeling disoriented from it. Here are some things I do:
First, I don’t try to get rid of it. It is what it is.
I ask: So What? This seems so simple, but often I find that I can’t really come up with a reason why it’s even important. What if life is pointless? So what? You see the pointlessness, and there it is. The sun comes up, I water my garden, my cat needs to be fed. Even if all these things are pointless, does that change anything?
What if there is a point or purpose, but you just can’t grasp what it is at this time?
What if you are sensing that the machinations of human society are pointless (graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, 401k, dinner parties, networking, blah blah)…which they are. But does that mean that all life is pointless?
And…what if life is pointless? Does that mean it has no value? Do things only have a value if they have a point or purpose?
Just feel around and see who is feeling the horrible weight of this pointlessness and meaninglessness. Is it on a soul level? And maybe that is not a good term to use, because what is a soul after all? But I think you know what I mean. Is it the mind feeling painfully disoriented or is it from your core being?
When you realize viscerally in every moment that every meaning you’ve ever ascribed to your life and all its contents has evaporated or been seen to be false or empty, that can be extremely disorienting. In that disorientation, you can then hyper focus on the feeling of pointlessness or grasp onto it and then, oddly, give the pointlessness a meaning or value, even if it is negative. You feel that life has no meaning, and now you’ve ascribed a meaning (negative) to the lack of meaning!
Weird but true: life goes on without a purpose perceived by you. So obviously the whole of life does not hinge on whether you can divine a purpose or meaning in it. We believe that meaning and purpose are important or even crucial, but if you look around, Life doesn’t seem to share that opinion. Meaning and purpose do not appear to be the foundation upon which Life is built, so maybe it’s just the mind that believes them to be so crucial.
Awakening can be pretty freaky at times, but I promise you that the end of it is not supposed to be you staring out the window for hours on end, unable to rouse yourself to engage with this world in some way. It can feel like being lobotomized at times, but it is not that. Can you imagine a life in which you get through the disorientation and arise to meet the world as it comes to you, fully…even though it is pointless? Can you imagine expressing your ever-evolving true nature moment by moment, not merely acting out the tired empty pantomime of the persona? Can you imagine doing whatever it is you will be doing and feeling whatever you will be feeling, being fully alive and awake…even though there is no point?
I got up before dawn this morning and fed the birds and chipmunks, I fed my cat, I made some tea. I split some firewood, which was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I did a bunch of admin stuff that needed doing, I cleaned the house and paid some bills and fed the cat again. Even though it is pointless. So what? Even though I can’t find a point or purpose to any of it, I am still fully engaged in doing all these things. You can hear my voice speaking through these written words, alive, real and present. That’s because, even though I can find no point, I’m no longer looking for a point. If I’m not in thrall to the purpose or non purpose, I can just be and do and express and experience freely. Got Purpose? No? So what?
It’s an awkward phase. But as with any phase, you can get stuck in it and retard your understanding, your mastery. I know the mind is always after answers, but I also know that this morning, before the sun was up, I saw the moon and morning stars and they were amazing. Looking at them, I became them for a moment. I was amazed. And I could feel that full, even though my mind is pretty much empty of answers. Certainly empty of purpose or meaning. You can get there too. Keep moving through this phase and don’t let yourself get too fascinated with the problem of not being able to find meaning or purpose.
And if you are getting depressed, however you measure that, then all the normal remedies still apply: eat for mental health, keep regular sleep hours, get enough vitamin D and Bs, get out in nature, take a break from your phone/computer/tv, be physical and get your heart rate up every day, don’t take mind altering drugs like alcohol or excessive sugar, do something that inspires you to feel good or joyful that does not need a purpose, like watching a sunset or going to the beach or playing with your dog…there are so many things that are just awesome whether you ascribe a meaning to them or not. I’ve been in a similar place to where you are now and it is not easy. I know. But it’s just a phase, so long as you don’t get trapped in it. The mind loves thought loops.
I use the word disorientation a lot. The word seems mild and benign, and perhaps it is the understatement of all time to apply it to the experiences we are talking about. Oh, your entire universe is turned inside out? Don’t worry, you’re just disoriented! But disorientation is serious and feels horrendous and overwhelming. A signal goes off that says, “PANIC!” Alarms ring. I also speak of navigation, and how we need to navigate this awakening.
Pilots and sailors will tell you how important it is to stay correctly oriented. The ability to know where you are in relation to the horizon or sun or constellations is a matter of life or death. Having certain anchors, like the aforementioned horizon, are not mere trifles. It’s life or death. So when you find your anchors in life are gone or you no longer understand your relation to them, you can see how you will be totally unable to navigate by the usual means. A good part of the whole post-awakening life is finding new ways to understand an unfamiliar or vastly changed terrain and learn once again to navigate.
image: taken in Dijon, France
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