Spiritual Awakening Enlightenment Stages

A version of this article is published on Elephant Journal

Modern Spiritual Awakening Stages- 8 mile posts on your bumpy journey to blue collar enlightenment

The enlightenment road less traveled


I had this conversation with student a few weeks ago:


Awesome.  So what things have you

done in pursuit of awakening ?

Typical stuff I guess- lots of online you

tube videos, and some kindle  books.

Oh- and I went to a weekend workshop

with a teacher in Massachusetts.


I meditate – not consistently .

Try to be mindful.

Okay cool.  How was the workshop?

Get anything out of it?

Well- there was talking.  Lots of talking.

The teacher kept describing a lot of things

about nonduality and mind and thoughts

and stuff.

Right- did you get it?

I mean really -get it- while he

was talking?

She.  No I didn’t. I kept thinking I was

doing something or listening wrong or

 I was just too dense to get it.

Listening wrong …got it.  Like if you

could just –really-  finally listen correctly

and understand  what the teacher was

saying then in a flash of insight you’d

have it – Bam! Enlightenment –Right?

Yes…right !- but it didn’t happen.

Of course not – because 99% of the time

that’s not how it happens- Instant

enlightenment is utter and complete BS.

Okay, then how does it happen?

Well, for starters it’s not instant, neat, clean

or glamorous.  It’s grey- not black and white,

confusing, paradoxical, gradual and radical

-all wrapped up into one big messy spiritual


Oh shit.

Oh shit is right … Allow me to share with you the real

bumpy back road map to modern enlightenment …

I’m all ears


This post doesn’t go into a lot of HOW details but below is a free video course, several E-books, and a lot lot more that will get you well on your way.  Download it now while supplies last 😉


Before I share the bumpy back road with you, a few things first…

The subtitle of this article has the word “modern” in it.  That’s because I don’t know squat about historical, classical Buddhist or Hindu enlightenment.  I can only speak with authority about this modern enlightenment or “spiritual awakening” as it’s often called.

This new modern enlightenment has been made popular in the last two decades by teachers like Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti, Mooji, Gangaji, Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilbur. Many of these teachers are categorized as nondual teachers or neo-Advaita Vedanta teachers. I can speak with authority about them and the enlightenment they offer because I spent a good twenty years hanging out with a dozen or so of these teachers until my own messy, confusing and paradoxical awakening occurred.

Like the conversation above, there’s often a misconception gathered from these types of teachers that implies that listening just the right way will garner one, instant enlightenment.  While a small part of this may true, I found, in the course of my own experience that 99% of the time, what usually unfolds is something far more ordinary, down-to-earth and non-glamorous.

Please know that the following road map is an imperfect amalgamation of my own experience, the experience of other teachers I know, other friends I know who are awake and many of my own students. I call what I teach “blue collar enlightenment “ for a reason.

So here’s the bumpy back road map as I know it:  (As a metaphor I’ve made the total map distance 80 miles)

Milepost 0 to 10:
In this phase you start paying attention, listening and watching. Usually this is precipitated by a nagging feeling that something is missing or some aspect of your life has just turned upside down and you’re now ready for an alternative spiritual solution. It’s in this phase that confusion is common (and rampant) and you might meander from video to video or book to book looking for instant enlightenment.

Milepost 10 to 20:
In this phase you start to become more aware. Part of what the teacher is saying makes sense- at least in some primal visceral way. They seem to be speaking the truth, and even more so- embodying- the truth. You might begin meditating. You might begin venturing out to see a teacher in person. You might sign up for an online course or a weekend workshop. You’re basically becoming more serious and more self-aware.

Milepost 20 to 30:
In this phase you start to pick up on something that the teacher has been pointing to called self-inquiry or mindfulness. Mindfulness is the invitation to be completely self-aware during every waking moment, good or bad, of your life. The point of this exercise is to discover that there is a vastly undervalued part of you that has gone unnoticed and undiscovered. Self-inquiry or mindfulness is the art of noticing an ever present witness, watcher or observer and then benefitting from the gentle, peaceful clarity and openness that is generated by noticing it.

Milepost 30 to 40
You soon discover that being mindful isn’t easy and you frequently tumble back into unchecked and unaware mind and emotion. Even worse, your life seems to be crumbling and undergoing a revolution. This is the messy, rough and tumble part of the enlightenment process (sometimes called dark night of the soul) and it usually continues all the way to final awakening. What happens in this phase, and it’s a necessary part of the process, is that the “you” or “I” begins to dismantle and is steadily replaced by the witnessing watching observing awareness.

Milepost 40 to 50
In this phase (if you’re wise) you pretty much surrender to the process and accept it for what it is- a tough loving bitch. You mediate more. You sit with teachers more. You read more books. You attend more workshops and courses. You become more vulnerable, open hearted and at ease with all your flaws and imperfections. You laugh, cry, fail, win, have insights and brief moments of non-abiding awakening and then, fail again.

Milepost 50 to 60
In this phase the road gets rockier and bumpier and begins to swerve all over the place. The highs are high and the lows are low. You attend a week long workshop or an online course and are left feeling blissful for days after until- bang!- you’re dropped back down into the suffering of your life again. It’s a maddening process that leaves you with only one option- surrender, accept and hold on tight.

Milepost 60 to 70
You’re now wondering if this shit will ever end. You can now recite verbatim every talk ever given by every nondual / neo-Advaita teacher on the market place. You get it. You no longer need their words. Instead, now just the mysterious energy or presence of the teacher or teaching feeds your soul. You start to spontaneously contain this blissful presence yourself- without help. It’s surprising, delightful and an achievement to be lauded. But- oddly enough, something is still missing. There’s still a slight sense of suffering or separation; a slight sense of incompleteness.

Milepost 70 to 80
Things quiet down. You’re pretty much done with teachers and teachings. You’ve passed through crisis, revolution, fear and anxiety. You’ve touched unity, bliss and temporary states of complete undifferentiated awareness. You’re apple is very ripe and you rest, simply waiting for that one gentle breeze to blow you to the ground. And lo’ and behold-one day- it happens. And it happens in a way that is so subtle, that oddly enough, you barely notice it. But something amazing and radical occurs to you- you no longer feel that something is missing. You no longer feel separate. You’re no longer feel depressed. You realize who you are- finally and forever. It’s a flawed and imperfect type of enlightenment and definitely not what you expected. But it’s good enough and for that, gratitude, laughter and love pour out of you, at the speed of light, ‘til the end of your days.

That’s the bumpy back road map to modern enlightenment or spiritual awakening. I won’t say that instant enlightenment is impossible, but I also won’t say that you’re going to be rich because you bought a power-ball lottery ticket at Seven-Eleven. I hope this article has given you a little realistic awakening / enlightenment insight, inspiration and direction. Best of luck friend.

Please leave a comment!  Have you experienced any of these mile posts??

Final suggestion: 

Grab the Spiritual Awakening First Aide Kit below and begin driving your own awesome awakened life.  Best,- J. Stewart

About J. Stewart Dixon www.bluecollarenlightenment.com 

J. Stewart Dixon is an unorthodox nondual-advaita-zen spiritual awakening teacher and founder of Blue Collar Enlightenment. Born in 1969 J. Stewart began his spiritual search at the age of eighteen, urged on by a general sense of unhappiness, depression and an impulse that something was missing from his life. He passionately and actively continued searching (via numerous paths and dozens of teachers) until the age of forty-one, when while reading a nondual awakening article online, he fell into what is commonly reported as awakening and his search ended. Shortly thereafter he began writing and teaching.


Polite Comments Welcome...



  1. An excellent description of the journey, at least in my own case.

  2. Oh my God. He just described my life! Such a brilliant article.

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