Turning Points

I’m going to lead a discussion group on turning points tonight, which made me think of the importance of turning points that occur in life, perhaps through a chance meeting, a decision, a trauma or a loss, a career or relationship change. Turning points occur as well in a spiritual process. Even the choice or internal movement toward seeking Truth, or God, or freedom from suffering (however this impulse has arisen in you) is a turning point. From that moment every choice you make as a “seeker” turns you in a new direction.

Often an introduction to someone new or a friend handing you a book or video can initiate a turning point. When I was 24 a friend in the market telling me to read “Autobiography of a Yogi” became, unknown at the time, a major turning point in my life, shifting me from the training and disillusion of my Catholic upbringing into a vision of what else a spiritual journey might be, and leading me into eastern studies I never before imagined. I moved through the years that followed into becoming a student and a teacher of eastern spiritual perspectives.

For some a turning point is an introduction to new values and life changes that support compassion and greater peace. For some it is a determination to go off to India or some other “promised land” to sit with a teacher, guru, monk, or some other significant guide. Or it could be clarity about leaving such a place, even when it means breaking a commitment. This can plunge a “seeker” deeply into their own resources. For others it the simple beginning of a meditation or sitting class whether it be in Buddhist or yoga communities, or with someone who has touched your spirit like Eckart Tolle or Adyashanti, or a Christian contemplation class using centering prayer. These become inward-turning points, inviting you to a new stillness and a place you may come to call your center.

There are many turning points along the way to self-realization that may arise as your meditation practice and depth stabilizes. Here are a few possibilities.

You may choose to change your lifestyle, drop an old belief system, or find a career that more clearly reflects your values.

You may realize you need to branch out and explore another teaching or practice, open up the energy body through yoga or Qigong, find a teacher who speaks to you.

You may discover something within you has dropped away or changed so that you are more peaceful, more patient or more compassionate toward yourself and others.

You may suddenly activate energy or vibration that moves up from the base of the spine or the feet and begins to unsettle your old ways of being, bringing both challenges and bliss.

You may have a startling new revelation or movement of consciousness into a new perspective or even a sense of unity with the world or the cosmos.

You may realize it is time to align your lifestyle more with your new perceptions, and move out of toxic or dysfunctional patterns and relationship, or move toward a more genuine expression of yourself.

Spiritual awakening is not (as some people imagine) a glamorous tranformation making someone into an all-powerful mystic who can work miracles. It is not living on another plane of experience outside of your body. It is more like a shedding of everything within you that is blocking your access to clear and authentic expression of your true nature, which is essentially at peace and capable of seeing the radiance in the simple things of life. Awakening does not demand that you go forth and change the world — perhaps this was so for Jesus or Buddha, but fortunately it is not meant for everyone to become a famous prophet or found a religion. Awakening does not demand anything. Instead it presents opportunities to know where you might lean in, finding a way that is congruent for you, and go with a flow of energies that lead you to doing what you uniquely are meant to do. This may be much more simple than what your thoughts had in mind for you. Undoubtedly it will surprise you. It will be discovered once all your old drives have faded away. It too will be another turning point.

I wonder if it is possible to miss a turning point, to refuse to see it, meet it or move forward. Think about the significant moves in your life. They may have been choices, inspirations, or shoves from an unknown source. What did they bring forth in you? I think we can only keep our self open to turning points. We can’t dictate them, although the small inner voice asking for change may lead us to the passage into the next step of life. Every life offers turning points — it seems to be the way we humans change and grow into the fullness of our potential. Usually they are only seen in retrospect, and if we are lucky, with appreciation.