Opening the Doorways of Transformative Experience

February 21, 2018
Andrea Livingston, Communications Team

Consciousness can be described as your internal reality and self-awareness. It includes your relationships to your environment and the people in your life, as well as your worldview — your model of reality. Simply put, your consciousness determines how you experience the world.

So what if we want to make changes in our experience? How does transformation begin? How can we seek out transformation that expresses itself deeply and sustainably in our lives and the world-at-large?

In our ten-year Transformation Research Project, IONS researchers learned that there are many doorways to the the process of transformation, and the spectrum of experiences can range from the painful to awe-filled. Some of the ways people reported being initiated into profound transformation include:

  1. Intense suffering or crises, such as the loss of a loved one, a mental or emotional breakdown, an injury, or loss of a job. These painful challenges can shatter defenses and dramatically shift the way we see the world.
  2. A deep realization that your life has diverged from your values or purpose can help people to recognize when their beliefs, priorities, and behaviors are inconsistent with who they want to be, and can create an impetus for change.
  3. Hitting rock bottom — though it seems paradoxical, sometimes giving up and letting go allows us to reconstruct our lives freshly.
  4. Noetic experiences of direct “inner knowing” are often described as mystical or transcendent. They can also simply be a sense of deeper connection to all of life, a profound sense of belonging in the universe, or even an awareness of deep love when gazing into the eyes of another. These experiences can carry with them an extraordinary quality of numinosity, divinity, or grace, transporting us out of our ordinary worldview.
  5. Non-ordinary states of consciousness (whether achieved spontaneously or by practices such as meditation, hypnosis, dance, prayer, etc.) allow us to gain new perspectives on ourselves and evolve definitions that have been formed by consensual reality. These kinds of transformative experiences can help us to understand that the self that we perceive in ordinary reality is but a small part of a much larger self.
  6. Meeting a teacher with whom you connect deeply is a tried and true way of opening yourself up to deep shifts in perception. Such forms of guidance offer support and wisdom from the perspective and experiences of another person.
  7. Peak experiences are rare, deeply moving, exhilarating and elevating moments (often understood to happen when participating in athletic, artistic, religious, or nature experiences), and generate an advanced form of perceiving reality have also been shown to be transformative. Being in nature can also provide a quiet, reflective space from which to open and listen to your inner “voice.”

Exploring Your Transformations

These are just some of the many experiences that can launch us into transformation. You may have had one or more of these in your life, and revisiting these events can inspire the inception of a new transformation. Such an inquiry gives you an opportunity to not only honor these experiences, but to also see patterns in your life that support or inhibit you, and to integrate insight from these important occurrences more fully.

If you’d like to explore your own transformations, choose a doorway above that resonates with a turning point you have had in your life, or select some other impactful experience. Give yourself some open-ended, unconstructed time to write your reflections about this experience. How did it come upon you? What did it feel like? How were others impacted? What did it open in your life? What did it close? You may wish to draw or paint about your experience, write a poem, create a song, or explore other imaginative ways to unfold the transformative event. You may also want to share your discoveries, reflections, and observations with trustworthy people who will listen with compassion and respect. If you do so, notice how the act of sharing can assist you in integrating your transformative experience.

You can return to this exercise again and again as you recall other transformative experiences that have occurred throughout your life. Each such exploration holds the promise of rich revelation and deep integration, and can set the stage for transformation in other areas of your life.

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