Spiritual Awakening, Growth, and Enlightenment/Growth, feeling strange.


Hello, I'm writing to you because I'm going through some changes lately. A lot has happened so far in my life, lots of difficult stuff. I've always tried to grow from it, to be able to survive things and become a better stronger person. I believe i have.
Lately there has been quite a shift. It's strange because before then it hadn't occurred to me that my perspective could change so completely. But it has and it is a good thing I feel. Not even huge but for me it is.
I have come to see that the world is quite sex obsessed and narsisistic. That's a no brainier I guess lol but I used to buy into the idea that if I wasn't sexy I wasn't worth much. Not even that direct thought but that's kind of the crux of it.
Now I look around and most people seem so blind and stupid! Why they always refer to sex and or wanting it, tv, radio, general conversation. Glances at strangers, their weird primative predatory vibe. Suddenly I feel alienated by all of it. It's really weird. And lonely because I can no longer relate to that mindset even though I understand it. It's just so silly to me now.

I hope this shift from the world of pretense and sex means that I am growing spiritually. Do you think so? I mean I never used to understand why monks and priests had to be sexless but I think I get it now. My mind is clearer without it, I understand more. Do you think that being sexual prohibits spiritual growth in any way?

I want to continue to grow and understand, to cope with life things that i find so confusing and sometimes depressing.

Is enlightenment something that has to evolve naturally over time or is there something I can do to help myself along?


Dear Lauren,

Thanks so much for your question. After giving it some thought, I fear I don't know near enough about you to answer it directly, but let me talk about some of the issues you raise.

For one thing, if indeed you used to think that if you were not sexy you were not worth much, then I am certain that moving beyond that limiting and unhealthy viewpoint is a growth move for you. However, there are many reasons why a person might want to move away from sex, and I cannot judge which might apply in your case.  I would have an easier time seeing this as a growth move if you are already a widowed grandmother, for example, than if you are of childbearing age, and have not yet had children.

I think it is common at a certain point on the spiritual path to want to withdraw somewhat from the lures presented by conventional society - whether that be money, sex, fame, etc. You can read more about this by looking up the "dark night of the soul." Neither money, nor sex nor fame are bad things in themselves, it is just that today's society seems to distort their importance in superficial and inauthentic ways. This results in some of us needing to withdraw from dominant societal messages in order to gain perspective.

But one need not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Surely, a certain amount of money is needed to live comfortably. Healthy sex with a loving partner not only leads to a fuller life, but is necessary to the continuation of the race. So these things are not inherently bad in themselves. But when a person puts too much importance on any one of these things, or tries to get them by dishonest or unethical ways, their life is likely to get out of balance. Much of this is very out of balance in the developed world today.

So someone wanting to withdraw from sex, as you say you seem to be, could be because they are indeed growing spiritually, and perhaps going through a dark night of the soul. BUT another possibility could be that instead they are withdrawing for less healthy reasons, like they had a bad experience, and just don't want to face the challenge anymore.

But the most spiritually healthy people do not withdraw from life experiences out of fear, disgust or the need for self-protection. After a dark night of the soul, a person will often emerge more ready than ever to face life's challenges. It is just they may interpret things differently. If money was their goal before, they may emerge ready to take actions that will allow more equitable distribution of money among those in need, whereas before they were just trying to get all they could for themselves. In the realm of sex, a person who used to want all the sex they could get may emerge with a more loving view of what they could do to please one partner.

Except in the case of some of the very most remote spiritual masters, I don't believe spiritual maturity calls everyday people to renounce sex or money or any other life pleasures, but rather to seek balance in all things, and especially to consider the impact our actions have on others. It may be that at the very height of spiritual mastery, after many, many years of meditation and other spiritual work a person may reach a point where a sex-free life enhances their experience in some way, but I believe that applies only to the smallest minority.

I am quite sure being in a healthy sexual relationship does not prohibit spiritual growth. In fact, I don't know much about this, but in some cultures sex is used to enhance spiritual experience. Look up tantric sex to learn more about this. But there are many ways of being sexual (promiscuity, for example, or using others as objects) that probably do prohibit spiritual growth.

As for enlightenment (or I might prefer the term spiritual maturity,) I believe it happens as a result of approaching life with a sense of personal responsibility, and a view of the impact our actions might have on others, being open to learning new things through our interactions with others, through personal experience, through reading and study, with the help of some type of disciplined spiritual practice (does it matter which one? They probably all work, I would just go with the one that you feel most comfortable with)

I hope something I said in this message has shed some light for you on your question. I suggest reading up on all these issues, and taking your time in considering which ones apply to you. Don't make any hasty decisions you might regret later. Meanwhile I wish you grace in following your spiritual path.

all best regards,

Spiritual Awakening, Growth, and Enlightenment

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Margaret Placentra Johnston


I am particularly interested in answering questions about the stages of spiritual growth, faith development, religious stages. The term spiritual growth or spiritual development can have many different interpretations. In some cases, it refers to the ability to have para-normal or mystical experiences. Others use it to describe the ability to communicate with beings that are not present here on earth with us at this time, such as dead people or our own prior lifetimes. This is not where my knowledge and expertise lie. The type of spiritual growth questions I can address concern here and now issues about religious belief versus non-belief, the stages of religious development and spiritual development where spirituality is defined as living deeper than the surface things of life, knowing there is more to life than the latest new car, questioning the deeper meanings of our existence.


For at least the past twenty years I have been a serious student of the various spiritual development theorists. The concept of spiritual growth occurring in stages throughout our lifetime is a vitally important factor that, if more widely known, could help decrease a lot of the religious intolerance and societal tensions we are putting up with today. My book of stories about real people growing beyond the need for traditional religion was published by Quest Books in October, 2012: Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind.

Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation(and many others unrelated to this topic.)

www.mpjauthor.com Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind.(Quest Books, October, 2012.) http://www.exploring-spiritual-development.com http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-placentra-johnston/

Four college degrees, including an undergraduate degree from the Catholic University of America where required theology and philosophy courses formed the equivalent of a college minor.

Awards and Honors
GOLD WINNER of the 2013 Nautilus Book Award in Religion/Spirituality.

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