The other day I asked my yoga students, “how many people are going through a change in your life right now?” The whole class raised their hand. Everyone was nodding their head up and down and connecting with each other through confirming eye glances. Then I asked, “how many people are going through a transformation in your life right now?” Half of the students raised their hands and then looked around, surprised that not everyone was raising their hand like before. What is the difference between change and transformation and how is that playing out right now in our human evolutionary journey of awakening?
Change is defined as “our ability to make something different than what it is, or different from what it would have been if left alone.” Change in your life might look like going to a different yoga class, mastering handstand, getting a new job, taking on a new name, dying your hair or buying some new clothes. Self initiated change is something we can control, manage, and manipulate. And in many cases, if we don’t like the change, we can change back, return the clothes, change our name back, etc.
We change doctors, we change who we’re married to, we change careers, we change where we live, we change who we are friends with, we change what types of books we read. Change can be beneficial and a necessary and healthy response to life. It helps us grow and evolve. But there’s also a shadow element to change, it can be used as a way to avoid some kind of pain and feel good no matter what “realities” must be distorted or avoided to do so. In this way, we can use change as a hamster wheel for avoiding a deeper emerging Transformation. Sometimes change is a strategy that the ego (our separate sense of self) uses to avoid feeling the discomfort of real transformation knocking at our door.
Transformation , is a process of change so deep that it changes the who you know yourself to be and how your process, experience, and live every moment of your life. Transformation is “a change so deep and profound that it cannot be reversed” — a type of profound metamorphosis, like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. It involves a mysterious decay of the OLD structures, patterns and forms that no longer serve us (see the dotted gold line above in the graph by Peter Merry’s book Evolutionary Leadership: Integral Leadership for an Increasingly Complex World). Transformation also includes a surprising emergence of new ways of being: new emotions coming online to be felt, new desire arising to be lived, and new capacities for connection, love, and trust.
When the old familiar ground is falling away in your own life it can be scarry. It can be very comfoting and relieving to recognize that it’s an initiation into the next stage of your evolutionary development. All embodied spiritual transformations include a “dark night of the soul.” It’s the feeling inside when the old structures fall away, the new way of bieng is not yet estableshed and it’s just plain uncomfortable. Transformation changes the form of an organism — there’s a deconstruction of the old form and an emergence of the new form. Unlike other changes in our life, it is not initiated, managed or guided through our conscious control. The “manager” “controller” “manipulator” and “judge” aspects of yourself are not in charge and that’s one of the reasons it can feel so scary. It’s not just a nother “self-improvement” project — in some way the destination is unknown to you right now, and yet some part of you may “intuit” where you are going, because you feel “called.” There may be an ache in your heat, a longing for more in life, a persistent ennui or feeling of dissatisfaction that won’t go away. Here’s the good news, the ache in your heart is not supposed to go away yet, it’s the urgent call of your own being to move into the next phase of your evolutionary awakening.
Like the caterpillar that gets a strange “call” to climb up the milk weed plant, many human beings — including yogis — are now feeling this call of their own soul longing for Spiritual Transformation. St. John of the Cross, one of the experts on the dark night experience, advised that when you are in a dark night, first do everything you can to get away. This might include doing more yoga, doing different yoga, eating new foods, adding cardio, seeing a therapist, going on antidepresents, seing a naturopath, getting your hormones adjusted, or a million other things that might relaly help you if it’s not a true dark night experience. His next words of advide were, “and when that doesn’t work, surrender.” He was inviting us into the process, to stop resisting and start cooperating with a sacred spiritual unfoldment of your being. His last piece of advice was “there will come a time where you won’t want to escape it anymore because you’ll realize there is something of value for you here.”
The Yoga Dark Night of the Soul is part of an evolutionary transformation of who you are, leaving behind the agony of living in separation and rediscovering a connection with yourself and all life. This is a spiritual transformation of 21st century awakening. You wake up to finally “know who you are” — the unchanginng infinite ground of Love, and you also wake up to know the fullness of your own humanity more deeply and intimately. This type of transformation often breaks your heart open to a deep compassion — a greater heart capacity to love “what is” — whether it’s despair or joy, irritation or peace, comfort or discomfort. The Dark Night is a sacred passageway — a birth canal into a new Life. And with any type of birthing process it can be challenging. It can be helpful to get guidance and support from someone who has gone through this awakening process and join with others who are also at this stage of their own evolutionary journey. If you’d like to learn more about the possiblities of support for your own spiritual awakening process, contact me for a free 30 minute discovery session. And remember to “be kind to yourself.” It’s not only a yoga precept, it’s the fastest way to get through the dark night and fall into the radical light of your own being.