Like so many things people send me from time to time, I am not entirely sure of the origins of the “12 Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening.”

The list that describes the characteristic behaviours or attitudes that are thought to follow waking up spiritually may originate at Whatever the origin, the list of “12 Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening” is worth reflecting upon.

I did not write “12 Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening”. But the reflections after each point are mine.

Caveat before embarking on the list: lists of qualities perceived to accrue to spiritual practice are a dangerous thing. The goal of the spiritual life is not to exert my efforts to produce in my life a list of behaviours, attitudes, feelings, or results of any kind.

If we turn any list into a check list of qualities and attributes we seek to attain, we will miss the purpose of the spiritual life. We do not aim at the list. This is a list of potential by-products of living a spiritual life. If we allow them to become our goal, our lives will become just one more tiresome and tiring self-help improvement project and we will end up trying to imitate what we think a spiritual life is supposed to look like instead of truly living in the Spirit.

When we turn a list of outcomes that may come from living the spiritual life into a to-do list, it quickly becomes a tool for judgment, guilt and shame. These qualities are not on the list of “12 Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening.”

The goal of the spiritual life is to be awake, to be conscious, and honest, open and authentic. We seek not to improve or even change ourselves, but to see clearly and live as much as possible in tune with the reality we see. We desire to live deeply from within, not because it makes us better people, but simply because it is true. We were created with a deep inner well-spring of life; we live more humanly when we live in touch with this reality. This is why the first item in this list, though challenging, is so important.

1. An increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.

This first “Symptom of Spiritual Awakening” is deeply upsetting to many people.  For centuries many spiritual traditions have been accused of seeking to make people into passive victims. In our activist, take-charge culture anything that seems to work against being pro-active and in control is commonly viewed as unhealthy.

But the “tendency to let things happen” is not about being a passive victim of the circumstances of life. It is about living responsively in tune with reality. To live responsively is to open to the reality of what is going on in the world around me and in my life and to act in response to these realities. This does not mean things will never happen; it does not mean I will never take action. But it does mean I will be less driven, less inclined to aggression. I will seek to cooperate with things as they are and not push so hard to “make them happen.”

Jesus said to busy pro-active Martha that her sister Mary who sat listening to Jesus’ teaching had, “chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42) When I start with “the better part” life will have a natural flow. Things will unfold but they will happen with a tone of gentleness and openness that enables life to thrive. I will discover that dimension of life that will never be “taken away” from me. This is the source of the peace, strength, wisdom, and compassion that are sure signs of a deepening spiritual awareness in my life.


nb: since I started posting these “12 Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening” I have been directed to their original source – please see: