11 Simple Signs of Spiritual Progress to Look Out For

With a few caveats.

The spiritual path is not an easy one to follow. There are tons of pitfalls and biases that your ego creates for you to not realize your true potential.

Yet, as humans, this is our true destiny. Each one of us has emerged from the Ultimate and will merge back into the Ultimate. The only difference is that some are farther on the path than others.

Nevertheless, our goal is the same. That said, the spiritual path can be doubly dangerous and tricky because it’s difficult to measure progress and see if it’s working.

We can deceive ourselves into believing that it’s not working whereas it just might be. Or perhaps we convince ourselves of the opposite.

I’ve often had some doubts about this too. As a student of yoga, meditation, and spirituality, I often think about how far I’ve come.

Some metrics are obvious. For instance, when I began the journey, I couldn’t meditate for five minutes and now I can go up to two hours.

As another example, I’ve become more kind and compassionate towards others which have helped me love others more unconditionally.

But not all metrics are so obvious and even the obvious ones can be deceiving.

A Quick Caveat

Before we dive into the signs of spiritual progress or awakening, I’d like to mention that in a counterintuitive sense, you shouldn’t be reading this article.

Why? Because thinking about how you’re not where you should be or want to be can be a huge demotivator for some people.

Yes, some of us can take the feedback, suck it up, and work on our flaws. Yet, it is often natural to feel disheartened when you see a lack of progress after months or perhaps years of practice.

And so, first and foremost, every second you spend thinking ‘How far have I come?” can be better utilized in going further still.

Meaning, instead of thinking about how far you’ve come on the path, think about how you can move ahead.

Looking back on our progress in that sense is tricky. As a regular meditator, I often look down on other non-spiritual non-meditating people and can’t help but think I’m better than them. This is a form of spiritual materialism.

Looking back only makes you realize how better you are as compared to those who you think aren’t better than you. In the end, it makes you complacent and arrogant of your ability.

Thus, it’s always better to look ahead, to compare yourself with awakened beings, saints, and sages to draw yourself towards them rather than be drawn back to your own past.

We cannot even diagnose our own illnesses properly without the help of a thermometer. How difficult is it then to analyze our spiritual progress? The results and changes on the spiritual path appear often in a matter of months or years. Ergo, on a daily basis, it’s difficult to see if anything is changing.

Further, detachment from the results is the foremost quality one learns on the spiritual path. Sri Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, says that we can attain Him alone by renouncing the fruit of all actions — such is the power of detachment.

And so it is only wise to practice the attitude of detachment when thinking about your spiritual progress.

What Is Awakening and What Does Progress Look Like

The fact that I’m openly talking about spiritual awakening is itself a sign that the urban, global consciousness has risen.

Still, awakening lacks a clear definition. Deepak Chopra says that awakening happens when you are no longer living in a dream world where you filter everything through your ego and focusing on the future and the past. Instead, you have an almost simultaneous awareness of your individual self and the connection between that and everything else.

Now, this reminds me of a line in a chant by Paramahansa Yogananda that goes as follows — “I am the bubble, make me the sea.”

Also in his poem Samadhi, a poem about the state of superconsciousness, he writes, “Where I the Cosmic Sea, watch the little Ego float in me”

This is the same state that we refer to as Nirvana or Enlightenment. It’s a different state of consciousness where you’re totally aware of the existence of the Ego (the bubble or the wave in the ocean) yet, you’re also aware of the larger reality that you’re a part of (the ocean).

In simpler terms, you are both the ocean and the wave. And the ability to maintain that connection and separation simultaneously indicates another level of being.

There’s an interesting story that would indicate this. Yogananda often took his disciples to watch a movie. The disciples were usually quiet but as the movie progressed they, like all of us, would start to get engrossed in the movie. And just as they were completely absorbed in what was happening on the screen, Yogananda would tap them on the shoulder and point towards the light coming out of the operator’s window.

He meant to teach his disciples that this Cosmic movie show is delusion and it is being controlled by the Operator. When you’re immersed in the delusion, you believe everything is real. Yet, if you sit with the movie Operator, you realize it’s just a drama and reality is something else.

The one who realizes this and lives life in accordance with this understanding is progressing on the spiritual path and is on his way to awakening.

Now that you know what awakening looks like, here are the signs that can tell you if you’re going forward or backward.

1. You Have a Higher Awareness

So much of our lives are lived on autopilot. Humans really are creatures of habit — both good and bad.

Often we go through life living like such zombies that we don’t take the time to notice our own destructive behaviors. All this happens due to the lack of awareness.

One of the main goals of meditation and all spiritual practices is to provide such awareness.

Once you have this awareness, you start to ask the right questions:

  • Why am I still at a job I hate?

  • Why am I endlessly running after money?

  • Why do I need all these things to live?

  • Why do I value material possessions?

  • What do I really want?

  • What would be my legacy?

  • Why are negative people attracted to me?

Questions like hold the key to your personal and spiritual growth. And if you take the time to answer them, they can change your life.

2. You Feel a Connection With a Higher Reality

When I say a higher reality, I don’t necessarily mean God. What I mean is a shared sense of humanity and the realization that we all are in fact One.

Here are some examples from my own life that I experienced after meditating for a year:

  • I took more interest in my community — spiritual and personal. I volunteered more, donated more, and helped people a lot more than I did earlier. Most of it is attributable to the realization that helping others is in fact helping me. I got over the limited mentality of ‘me’ and started giving freely to those around me.

  • I judged people less for their actions and realized that they too are going through their challenges instead of judging them for what they do.

  • I stopped eating meat, eggs, etc. Further, I took interest in altering my diet to include spiritually uplifting foods.

  • I stopped killing as many mosquitos with the electric racket. I also had a weird connection to animals like dogs which I once feared a lot.

3. You Develop an Attitude of Detachment

This has been the single-most beneficial attitude that I’ve taken. I’m not perfectly detached or else I’d be enlightened, but I’m moving along.

I’ve become less rigid in my clothing choices and find myself wearing the same clothes every day without much desire for new ones.

I try to abide by the needs of others in small matters just to make them happy.

For instance, my mother doesn’t like black shirts but I love them. This has always been a point of argument between the two of us. Yet, recently, I’ve detached myself from the color I’m wearing and try to not do it if it bothers her so much.

You may find similar examples in your life. Maybe you start caring less about the money, have fewer desires to acquire material possessions, and develop a distaste towards things that other people find really attractive.

It’s a natural part of the process and you don’t need to resist it.

4. Calmness Becomes Your Second Nature

Being calm means you no longer have emotional roller-coasters of emotions in your life. You don’t obsess over stupid things that bothered you earlier.

You live life with an even-minded attitude regardless of whether you succeed or fail. Trust me, this calmness is inexplainable and priceless.

This is not to say that you don’t experience the usual emotions of frustration, fear, anger, irritation, etc. But they’re fleeting. You don’t hold on to them and quickly get yourself back together.

To deepen this experience, it has been helpful for me to get away from the situation that causes such negative emotions and recollect myself to approach it again.

For instance, if I’m caught in an argument, I try to not speak anything, get out of it, center myself, and then approach the issue with love and respect for the other person.

The more your progress on the path, the shorter these emotional bursts would become until one day, you don’t have any.

5. You’re Able to Reduce the Fear of Death

Death is the most uncomfortable truth in our lives. It is almost a taboo subject to talk about and yet it’s the most important thing we should discuss with each other.

Everything works well when you’re aware of your own mortality. Steve Jobs said that death is the single greatest invention of life — because death gives everything its value.

Once you understand that you’ve come naked in this world and that you’ll leave naked, there’s nothing to fear.

When you progress on the spiritual path, you become detached from your own body. If you understand that consciousness and your soul will transcend the physical body, there’s really no reason to fear death.

This separation between the deathless soul and the mortal body is a crucial element of your spiritual understanding. And with this comes great courage, clarity, and humility.

6. You’ve Become More Authentic

The more you realize that there’s an inner world within you, the more you start to drop the expectations of others and the cultural norms around you.

You develop self-dependence and don’t look for validation from others. This attitude helps you transcend your worries, fears, and desires.

7. You’re Able to Detect Subtle Themes

So often we think that life is not in our control. While it is true to an extent, you may not understand how much control you have over your reality.

When you start to meditate, you realize that a lot of what happens in your life stems from your own actions. Let me give you an example.

For a long time, I thought that people in my family were getting irritated without any fault of my own. The other person always seemed wrong.

After meditating, I started to catch this theme.

Through introspection, I realized it was me who was causing the chain of reactions. These reactions lead to the very situation that I despised. When I changed my own actions and attitudes, I immediately saw the outward change as well.

What are some themes in your life? Are you getting sick quite often? Is your car getting towed often? Do customers in your business complain a lot these days?

If you’re able to see such patterns without someone else pointing them out to you, then you’re doing good!

The next step is to figure out subtle beliefs or qualities that are causing these events. The seeds of every situation are in your own consciousness.

8. You’re Starting to Find Joy Inside

Real joy is inside. Outer things that give joy or pseudo-joy are often followed by a dip in happiness. Your general life satisfaction is indirectly related to how distracted you are.

Watching a movie gives you happiness but is followed by a sense of wasting time and procrastinating. Buying things gives you happiness but your needs never end, leaving you unsatisfied.

As you grow spiritually, you pull your energies away from all the pleasures that the world has to offer. Because you realize that they are transient.

The only persistent, ever-lasting joy that we all seek is inside. When you experience this, you’ll find yourself happier and sweeter in all aspects.

9. You Question the Nature of Reality

As you go far on the spiritual path, you uncover a whole new world inside. It seems as if the world is a stage and someone gave you entry to the backstage — the true reality.

At this point, you start to question the nature of reality itself. I certainly did.

The world is an illusion — Maya, as we call it in India. It is a world of ups and downs, delusion, and duality.

The knowledge of Maya is the root of deep peace. You’re able to see things in a different light. You realize that as long as you’re living in this world, there will be ups and downs. Where there is love, there will be fear and attachment. Where there’s happiness, there will be sadness.

The only place where everything merges into The Eternal Reality is inside you.

Thus you’re not affected by what happens around you (at least not as much as before). What could set you on fire before, means nothing to you now. The successes and obstacles are a part of life that will go on until death.

10. You’re Conscious Enough to Get Away From Things That Take Your Inner Peace

Once you experience the inner peace that comes through meditation. You wouldn’t like to be around people who rob you of it.

During the initial stages of spiritual growth, you’re not strong enough to resist the forces of delusion that pull you down. You are susceptible to negative influences that can take you off your path.

Mixing with negative, complaining, angry, irritated, or similar people will make you feel the same emotions.

You’ll likely resist such emotions since you know life can be much better.

11. You Have Fewer Desires. Preferences, Yes. Desires and Needs, Maybe Not So Much.

He who forsakes desires for lesser enjoyments, unattached to sense objects, devoid of the consciousness of ‘me and mine,’ receives the lasting joy of God-peace — Krishna, Bhagvad Gita

Desires keep our energy focused on delusion. By desiring something we say, “I’ll be happy when I have X.” Well if you’re not happy in the process, how are you going to get whatever you want? And even when you get there, you’ll find that the happiness gained is transient.

Then you’ll have another desire.

This cycle continues for lifetimes until we consciously break it.

When you meditate and find happiness within, then you’re less and less affected by the outcome of what happens without. Your desires reduce.

You may still have preferences. But you stop placing conditions on your happiness.

Unplugging yourself from those desires is what true freedom is about. You’re not really free until you untie the ropes from your desires to focus on what’s important.

Final Thought

“You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.” — Eckhart Tolle

The more you meditate, practice gratitude, and love everyone unconditionally, the faster you’ll move towards spiritual awakening.

And even though I’ve listed many signs, you may very well avoid this article completely if it robs you of your joy and makes you think you’re too far.

Don’t think little of yourself. Awakening doesn’t mean that one night thunder will fill the sky, and curtains will move aside to make way for angels to sing for you.

It’s in the small things. Are you becoming compassionate? Are you loving more deeply? Are you renouncing your egoic actions and desires? Are you joyful?

If the answer to even one of them is Yes, and you have the willingness to grow even further, then you must know that you’re on the right path.

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Written on November 8, 2020