It is a strange feature of spiritual seeking that once you’ve begun, the mind instantly begins putting up an endless stream of barriers to your success. Rather than call it a nuisance and throw our hands in the air in dismay, it’s possible to learn to literally outsmart the mind. The mind isn’t the enemy, after all. Even as we’re outsmarting it, we can do so gently and with respect for its essential role in leading us to the truth. We can do this, I have found, using simple practices that allow one to hone in on the present moment—the moment of all possibility—so that it reveals its spiritual magic.

Taking the 5 Steps
To make better sense of my own spiritual explorations, and so that they might be useful to others as well, I’ve outlined five steps to sacred awareness. As you do your own exploration, maybe you’ll discover there are fewer steps, and that your awareness arrives lickity-split. If so, that’s wonderful, and I’d love to hear how it happened. Or maybe you’ll uncover many more steps than five. But in my own inner travels, I’ve observed these 5 Steps opening the way to sacred awareness. Try them on, if you like, and see what happens.

This is the beginning. Maybe you have a dream, one you know has deep significance for your life and the way you will live it from now on. Maybe you’re sitting in a quiet place, feeling sad or joyful or grateful, and you have a vision. Maybe in a daydreaming moment, you stare off into space and suddenly feel that something significant is happening within you. Or maybe you experience a shock: someone dies suddenly or leaves you another way, or you feel stunned and hurt for some other reason. What all these moments of noticing have in common is a feeling of ah! Not a feeling of awe (though that may come later). There’s a moment of freshness, of something different, imminent, and important to you personally. It’s beckoning, inviting. Though it may not always feel pleasant, it’s definitely meant for you. And it’s this very sense of intimacy, of a personal connection about to occur, that creates the all-important opening. Something is afoot and you know it. (So many people stop before they notice. Or if they do notice, they stop and discount their noticing. If this happens, sacred awareness is short-circuited, the mind reasserts its patter, and the opportunity to explore the soul’s depths is lost.) So you can begin simply noticing—alert to the possibility of a waiting lesson, a hidden insight, a helpful vision just around the corner, a blessing poised to land in your life at any moment.

Shifting into Neutral
At this point in my experience of sacred awareness, there’s a kind of relaxing of tension. When I shift into neutral, it’s almost a blank feeling of knowing nothing. But it's all right. I feel open and simple, and a little bit stupid. I'm not doing anything at all, not waiting for anything at all. It is as though my eyes (the eye of the heart, the eye of the mind, the eye of the soul) open just a little wider onto the experience I'm having. And it's hard to tell whether I'm shifting further toward and deeper into the experience, or whether the experience is causing a shift to take place in me. In any case, there is a sense of turning toward something precious and somewhat fragile, the way a child looks at snow for the first time and wonders what could possibly be next. And this state of simplicity, or of blank stupidity (depending on your perspective), makes room for the next thing to happen.


At this point the mind is no longer blank but becomes engaged in looking. We’re not looking for anything in particular now; we’re only looking at the source of the feeling of ah! Once, when asked to describe what happened while he was absorbed in contemplation, St. Augustine said simply, “I look at God and God looks at me.” In my experience, the kind of watching that deepens sacred awareness has no emotional content. The mind is quiet, innocent. I’m alert to sounds, to the temperature of the room, to the heft and motion of the breath in the body. This period of watching may be experienced as a brief flicker or a long wait, with a feeling of longing, the kind where you’re waiting for someone you love, watching out the window for the car to drive up or standing in the airport anticipating the moment when that familiar face will emerge from the sea of strangers—but it hasn't happened yet. In a sense, your mind is on the edge of its seat. No longer blankly staring, you feel expectant. The sense of anticipation expands to fill the space you might call your soul, or your being, or your heart. And then It happens.

At this point something is revealed. This is a pivotal moment of realization, of understanding, of recognition, of learning. It is the greatest feeling of inspiration a human being can have, and it often brings tears of joy, or of mixed emotions. You may sob and sob without knowing why. You may feel something within you gripping your heart and pulling you up, up, and up, as though your very body were about to rise out of itself. Or you may have none of these feelings. Instead you may simply and suddenly know something that changes you forever. It is a moment rightly called revelation, and its impact is unmistakable. It awakens the soul to new possibilities, gives fresh insights as to who you are, what you are doing here, and why. Awakening brings with it a wonderful side effect: gratitude. There is no doubt in the heart at this moment that something great and sweet, precious and rare, has visited. Sometimes you cry for joy because it feels as if you have touched Heaven, or Perfect Peace, or Essential Knowledge. And then you may cry out of grief that it’s suddenly gone, having slipped back into the ether. At such moments I’m often driven to a blank page somewhere—my journal or any piece of paper that happens to be lying around—to record what I’ve realized or understood. I don't want to lose it, because this flash of awareness holds within it something even more valuable that is yet to be uncovered. I believe that this event, however momentary or fleeting, is meant to change me. I believe this moment holds within it the power to transform my heart and awaken my soul—if I so choose.

This is a truly transformative moment. It’s the shift that occurs after an experience of revelation bursts open the mind and heart all at once. Choosing is a kind of settling of that experience into the mind. No longer is the bright light blinding your soul's interior. The moment of sudden, sometimes piercing, insight is past. In this new moment is the call to action. I often begin by writing down the experience, trying to understand what has been revealed, examining it, going deeper in an effort to apply it to my life. This is no ordinary diary entry, however. It carries within it the energy, the juice of what I have just experienced, as well as my firm intention: I choose to claim what has happened, to look deeply into it, aware that both the claiming and the looking will help me make a change for the better. Choosing may affect the dailiness and the depth of my relationships, such as the day when, in a few moments of silence, I decided to write my mother a detailed letter of thanks for all she had given me over the years. It was a decision that began to heal our differences. Soon trusted each other again, and began again to feel the profound love that had always existed between us.

In choosing, having glimpsed the core of the spiritual Source, I move to make sense of the inner revelation as quickly as I can, paying close attention to any action I feel inspired to take in the process. So choosing often begins with writing. Choosing may mark the end of some dilemma I have struggled with for weeks, months, or even years. Choosing may take place as a sudden inspiration to go to the phone and call someone I haven’t spoken to in a while, to say “I'm sorry. Please forgive me,” or “I love you,” or simply “Thank you.” We choose in response to a visitation of the sacred, a natural response to our experience of intimacy with the Divine. Whatever your choice, the moment of choosing is worth its weight in gold. In this moment, I am touched by grace. The inner Lord has just scooped me up out of my ordinary attitudes and behaviors and set me down again into a deeper awareness of love or beauty or wisdom. In this moment, I choose because it would feel alien and bizarre to do otherwise. At this point there’s no turning back. I would now have to exert a Herculean effort to deny the sacred visitation, to avoid the growth I'm being called to embody in this moment of choosing. Like a snake shedding an old skin, I simply do whatever it takes to wriggle free, because now that the skin is loose and gray and cracking, it would be silly to keep dragging it around.

A Parting Suggestion

A journal can be a powerful ally in spiritual inquiry and contemplation, for the clarity it brings to what otherwise might remain only wispy recollections of important events. I invite you to treat yourself: choose a journal that feels good to you, and use it to record your experiences of the Divine Presence. You may also enjoy writing about your experiments with Outsmarting the Mind.

If something wonderful happens as a result of your practice—a great insight, a heart-opening dream, a soul-awakening conversation—you are warmly invited to write to to share the story of your sacred visitation.

Author's Bio: 

Ceci Miller is the author of Sacred Visitations: Gifts of Grace that Transform the Heart and Awaken the Soul, published by Five Wisdoms Press. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she owns an editorial and publishing consultancy, To learn about the interfaith online newsletter and community based on the book, Sacred Visitations, and for information about Ceci’s workshops on the 5 Steps to Sacred Awareness, please visit