Blending Eastern Mysticism with Western practicality, involution is a word that represents the inner evolution of the heart, mind, and soul.
In essence, involution is not a dogma, creed or doctrine, but an experiential practice of life. You can observe it everywhere.
It is a philosophy of life.
Contrary to evolution which is externally focused (yet still necessary), involution is the transformation of the internal world through the inner work processes of self-awareness, self-discovery, self-understanding, self-love, self-transformation, and self-mastery.
Ultimately, it is involution that helps to transform and liberates us from suffering through the process of internal growth and spiritual awakening.
What is the Purpose of Involution?
Involution can help us overcome our pain, lessen our suffering, and live authentically again. It can help us to stop fragmenting our lives, providing us with passion, direction, and wholeness. Involution can also help us to transcend our repetitive routines, blinding beliefs, and stagnating ways of life.
All we need to do is to adopt the philosophy that transforming internally is just as important as progressing externally. (By the way, there are seven crucial facets of involution which I’ll explore a little later.)
For too long many of us have been stranded fighting, striving, and struggling to better our external lives. Better jobs, better clothes, better cars, better relationships, better social statuses, better financial situations … some part of us tends to believe that to nurture our external lives is to become better, smarter, and more whole people.
But it doesn’t.
Most of us feel wary, bitter, alone, and disillusioned at the end of the day. This is why involution, the evolution of our inner selves, is desperately needed.
Why Do We Need Involution (the New Approach to Life)?
Involution is needed because we are undergoing an unprecedented level of psychological, emotional, and spiritual suffering as a species – and it’s only getting worse.
We need an internal evolution because we are slaves to our bodies, slaves to our minds, and slaves to our emotions. We are also slaves to other people and slaves of the very society that conditions our minds with false, misleading, oppressive, and repressive beliefs and values.
Evolution has brought us to the necessary point of personal freedom and innovation in history where we can progress in new and exciting ways. However, this is a path that focuses solely on the external world: that of materialism.
But what about the soul? What about the heart? What about the transformation of our own consciousness?
These are the missing keys to the endless issues we face today of environmental destruction, social collapse, worldwide mental health crises, mass extinctions, famine, disease, and the slow decline of our planet into inner chaos.
Involution is the way forward because all true, deep, and long-lasting changes happen within. When our energy is focused exclusively on the external world, we are like ghosts, alienated from our inner wellspring of truth, living a shallow existence driven by futile, materialistic pursuits. And look where that has got us as a species.
Involution and Spiritual Awakening
Here’s an analogy that describes the painful process of ‘waking up’:
There is a large machine situated on a space of land. You were born as a cog in that machine, and since birth, you were taught that you were part of this machine. You had a few slim choices of what roles in the machine you wished to function as, but this was as far as your freedom reached.
There are some cogs which are more important than others for their functions in this machine. They are highly respected by the other cogs who aspire to be respected like them someday. However, in their free time, these cogs do all kinds of superfluous things to distract themselves from the truth of their situation: that they are trapped in a machine-prison. But one day, you eventually stop and re-evaluate how meaningless you feel in your functioning and begin to awaken to the desire that you want to be free from the machine. You suggest this idea to the other cogs, but they respond: “Free from what? We ARE this machine!”
All of those who have undergone a spiritual awakening process, a shift to involution, can relate to this above comparison.
The first two questions that come to you after realizing you’re not the machine and can be liberated from it are: “Who am I?” and “What is my true purpose?” This is the beginning of the immensely fulfilling process of involution – the beginning of the inner path of transformation, the journey of walking your authentic path.
However, this spiritual awakening process does not arise without some form of inner suffering; some degree of despair, anger, and loneliness. We’ll explore this next.
… a day will come when loneliness shall weary you, when your pride shall writhe and your courage gnash its teeth. In that day you shall cry: I am alone. A day will come when you shall see your high things no more, and your low things all too near; you shall fear your exaltation as if it were a phantom. In that day you will cry: All is false.– Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Seeing Too Deep and Too Much
There is a type of loneliness that transcends all others.
It isn’t born from lack of company and doesn’t share the joys of an inner rich world that comes with solitary introversion. Nor has it anything to do with depression, but rather, this kind of loneliness is a spiritual affliction.
This loneliness brings feelings of emptiness, of having nothing, and having an extraordinary uncertainty in everything. This feeling is a rare experience that comes to a person who has seen too deep and too much. Yet it is the beginning of the revolutionary process of involution.
The person who has seen too deep and too much has become aware of the unreality of their lives. To them, the ordinary structure of society loses its values as they realize the fictitious nature of this matrix, this same illusional matrix where they had been projecting all their hopes and desires. If what they thought was real in this life turns out to be false, then all the ambitions and aspirations they wanted to accomplish in it are lost immediately, leaving them with the questions: Who am I and what am I doing here?
These questions are the unconscious cause of that spiritual void we all carry and the deepest origin of the existential crisis.
As humans, we constantly escape such deep questions with all types of distractions: with movies, books, careers, social trivialities, sex, and recreational, religious or patriotic fanaticism. We’ll do anything but choose to be alone with ourselves and face these questions.
Asking the Deep Questions
Involution is something we grow into rather than inherit from our society. And it starts by asking the deep questions.
Questions such as “Where did this come from?” “Why does this happen?” “What is real vs. false here?” “What is my true path?” tend to awaken something deep within us.
These questions help us to realize that the society we live in is nothing more than a contrived illusion where we blindly create our own sufferings. That the notion of ‘countries’ is merely a creation of the mind. That there are no imaginary lines that separate the borders. That egotism/respect are false and relative identities. That your name, nationality, and beliefs aren’t you – you were simply taught them. That what we call love is less like unconditional love than it is a conditional neurotic dependency. And that money is nothing but a colorful symbolic piece of paper to motivate the social herds into labor, with the delusions of freedom. Most of us are driven by ambitions of achievement, and when all this is taken away upon realizing there’s nothing to achieve, we’re left with the Ecclesiastical dilemma: “Vanitatum Vanitas,” or, “Nothing is worth doing.”
In fact, a normal part of shifting our energy from the outside to inside is undergoing a Dark Night of the Soul where we feel totally lost and abandoned by life/God.
Thankfully, this experience doesn’t last forever, and eventually, we start to adapt to our new role: that of the outsider.
Being an Outsider
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.– J Krishnamurti (Think on These Things)
Those experiencing and living by the philosophy of involution will understand how important it is to focus our attention inside ourselves rather than externally onto the sickness of society. All true changes, after all, start deep inside each of us as individuals.
Naturally, the result of asking deep questions, having a total life-shattering perspective shift, or trying to seek truth means that we’ll become outsiders. We will become strange, off-beat, and “abnormal” to those in society very quickly.
However, if the people in our culture were truly normal, they would find the state of society untruthful, distasteful, and impossible to adjust to. If they were truly “normal” they would reject the toxic, sick, and backward beliefs and behaviors propagated to keep us enslaved, and rebel, becoming outsiders.
Rebelling Against the Typical
Perhaps the hardest thing about rebelling as an outsider is that we innately struggle to belong. We cannot find a home within typical “normal” society because it contradicts our very nature; our deepest discoveries, epiphanies, feelings, and values.
For instance, your typical job is a draining 50 years of work unrelated to your true passions. Your belief system isn’t fulfilling either, especially when deep down you know it creates a world replete with inequality. Furthermore, your typical health and eating habits are fundamentally unhealthy, not to mention the thousands of dollars of typical debt you have in your bank account. Even your typical marriage is statistically bound for failure, while your typical lack of self-exploration leads to a personally unfulfilled and emotionally reactive life.
Outsiders who walk the involution path have learned that society’s standards have nothing to do with their own. Does having higher standards mean they think they’re better than everyone else? No. It means everyone else is running below their capacity, and outsiders want to make up for the distance.
Many will argue that if we’re all so typical, how did we create such brilliant innovations in science, spirituality, technology, literature, and so forth? In fact, it was not our human species as a whole who delivered these incredible feats, but fierce outsider individuals who deviated from the comfortable “typical” (such as Socrates, Jesus, Galileo, Jung, Picasso), who were often received harshly by the “typicals” of the time.
The reality is that to be an outsider takes courage, to be typical takes conformity. The fear of sticking out and screwing up is too great for the typical person. The safest way is the old way, the proven way, the boring way, the typical way. This is why shifting from the external to the internal – the way of involution – is so revolutionary and takes so much heroism.
I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.– Robert Frost (The Road Not Taken)
The 7 Paths of Involution
Involution is the evolution of the heart, mind, and soul, and it exists as a variety of distinct, yet interconnected paths.
This is a process that we intentionally choose to go through to live wise, authentic, and whole lives. It consists of seven different facets:
All of us exist in each of these facets in differing degrees. The key is to discover which elements you exist in the most, and which elements you exist in the least. Discovering this will help you see what you need to work on the most.
Below, I’ll explore each involution path in a bit of detail:
Also called Self-Consciousness, Self-Awareness is the ability to observe the array of thoughts, feelings, and actions you carry out every day. A Self-Aware person is able to identify what they are feeling, but not necessarily why they are feeling that way. A lack of Self-Awareness is defined by animal-like behavior, or behaving without thinking – usually called reacting.
If you are a Self-Aware person, you have:
- The ability to introspect.
- The ability to be aware of your thoughts, feelings, personality, and behavior.
See our Self-Awareness article for more guidance on developing this quality.
How little do we know that which we are! How less what we may be!– Lord Byron
Self-exploration, or the study of oneself, is the process of investigating and analyzing our inner thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and ideals. Once we become aware of our internal processes (thinking, feeling, reacting, and decision making), it is then beneficial to ask why we function the way we do. Self-exploration is often a complex process that involves a lot of introspection, observation, patient consideration, and research. It is important to realize that in order to discover who we are, we first need to study who we are.
If you are a Self-Exploring person, you:
- Explore how you feel, think, and behave
- Gain knowledge and understanding of yourself through a variety of means (books, workshops, films, tests, meditation, etc.)
In the process of Self-Exploration, we are developing the ability to divide our attention; to simultaneously be aware of both our inner selves and what we are outwardly considering.
How to Self-Explore:
- Practice Self-Observation – powerful techniques include meditation, mindfulness exercises, and entering altered states of awareness (e.g., through plant medicine like marijuana, self-hypnosis, and various other trance states)
- Practice Self-Analysis – two amazing ways of doing this include introspection (tip: combine this with journaling!) and psychoanalysis (or seeing a therapist who can help you gain an objective POV). Learn more about how to journal.
“Who am I?” This is the question you venture to answer when you begin your journey of Self-Exploration, or your search to know thyself.
Self-Discovery can be understood as the act or process of gaining knowledge or understanding of yourself. Self-Discovery is closely linked with Self-Exploration because without studying oneself, attaining a degree of Self-Discovery is impossible. People who live in this level tend to discover the underlying mechanisms and truths upholding many of their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors towards themselves and the people around them.
If you are a Self-Discovering person, you have:
- Attained insight into what, how and why you feel, think and behave the way you do
How to Self-Discover
So where do we begin? Books, workshops, meditation, online articles, tests, documentaries all offer ways to discover yourself more deeply. A lot of the content on this website, for example, is dedicated to helping you learn more about your inner dynamics.
Here are some resources to help get you started:
If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.– Aldous Huxley
Also called Self-Knowledge, Self-Understanding is the ability to know what, how, and why you do what you do. For this reason, Self-Understanding is closely linked to, and often overlaps with, Self-Discovery.
People who live in this level tend to have a well-rounded understanding of the origins and reasons behind many of their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
If you are a Self-Understanding person, you have:
- A thorough understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, beliefs, motives, defenses, and reactions
Self-Understanding is what happens when we learn so much about ourselves to such a deep extent (which began in the last stage), that it becomes assimilated knowledge. Assimilated knowledge becomes “knowing” when it is actively experienced through applied use.
How to Practice Self-Understanding
Self-Understanding is the result of integrating and actively applying all that we’ve dug up about ourselves through inner work. Therefore, it’s not a question of how to practice it, but rather how to continue living it.
Ways to continue living what you’ve learned might include:
- Reflection – examining and contemplating your thoughts, beliefs, goals, and motivations.
- Asking questions – the beauty of asking questions is that they are simple yet piercing and they often get to the root of the matter. Keep asking “why?” “what?” and “how?” on your involution journey and you will develop deeper and deeper self-understanding.
- Mindfully being around others – other people are our mirrors, and anything hidden or unresolved within us will be brought up in our relationships with those we are surrounded by. Value your connections as ideal places to develop more self-understanding: there could be no better place to develop Self-Understanding.
Self-Love comes as a result of achieving Self-Understanding and is defined by a compassionate acceptance of your strengths and weaknesses.
Individuals who practice self-love realize that they are imperfect in different ways, but cease to criticize and punish themselves for these imperfections. If you are a Self-Loving person, you:
- Accept yourself, “warts and all”
- Stop punishing yourself for your imperfections
- Develop self-esteem and self-forgiveness
- Show self-nurturing behaviors
- Respect your needs and desires
When we become Self-Aware, undertake Self-Exploration, and obtain Self-Discovery, Understanding and Love, it is then that we come to experience true inner transformation. Self-Transformation can be understood as the gradual transcendence of our previous limiting and destructive identities: our ego selves.
The Self-Transforming person:
- Experiences changes in the way they live life, as well as perceive themselves and other people
- Experiences increased harmony with the world, other people, and themselves
- Experiences a death of the old and a birth of the new within themselves
- May undergo numerous mystical experiences and major life shifts
The main transformative change we begin to experience as we become more aware of ourselves is the belief that salvation of any form comes from the external world. To commit to our Self-Transformation is, in a sense, to lose our life – not our real life, but the false life of dreams and illusions, the life that we have been conditioned with, and taught to believe in, by the world.
The moment you grow and release yourself from the enslavement of cultural values, along with unconscious desires of stimulation, possessions, and socially acceptable lifestyles; you begin to feel an enveloping sense of isolation, you begin to experience your own apocalypse. Gradually we find that our friends and family find us less interesting, more out-of-this-world, more humorless. Gradually we find that we don’t care much for what we use to.
It is at this point that we start undergoing our own process of spiritual alchemy: a time of Self-Transformation that involves the death of the old and the birth of the new.
As this Self-Transformation grows within us, we may undergo mystical experiences, profound ego deaths, and other major internal shifts that cause us to grow in true wisdom, compassion, and internal freedom.
How to Achieve Self-Transformation
Self-Transformation is the result of an accumulation of all previous involution stages (awareness, exploration, discovery, understanding, self-love). It cannot necessarily be ‘achieved’ as a static goal, but it is something active that is ongoing and spontaneous.
However, Self-Transformation is often initiated when we are willing to face the truth about ourselves. And perhaps the best method for this is shadow work.
The final goal of the involution process is Self-Mastery. Self-Mastery occurs when a person shifts from the false and limited ego-self to the expansive and unlimited True Self. This experience is often referred to as moksha, self-realization, atman, enlightenment, nirvana, kingdom of heaven, promised land, Allah, cosmic unity, unio mystica, mysterium tremendum, cosmic consciousness, union with God, oneness, divinity, non-duality, no-mind, samadhi, satori, harmony of the spheres and so on.
In this new shift in awareness, the person moves beyond the limited ego, and in this sense, becomes a ‘master’ of it as the ego is no longer in the main driving seat.
Self-Mastery is rare and includes:
- The ability to see and experience the illusion of the ego
- The ability to simply observe feelings and emotions without identifying with them
- The ability to realize that we are not our thoughts and emotions
- The ability to stop reacting out of hatred, anger, embarrassment, jealousy, and other harmful emotions
- The ability to live life with peace and wisdom
Examples of Self-Masters: Gautama Buddha, Zoroaster, George Gurdjieff, Lao Tzu, Gangaji, Socrates, Diogenes, Mahavira, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Unmani, Sri Ramakrishna, Jesus of Nazareth.
“But why not just start off with striving for Self-Mastery?” you might wonder.
In order for Self-Mastery to occur, there often first needs to be a thorough exploration of the individual sense of self. This exploration involves loosening old limiting beliefs, undoing dense core wounds, and generally relaxing the ego structure. Think of this as preparing a garden: in order to plant a seed, you must first have clean, fertile soil. But when that soil is full of weeds and rocks, it’s very difficult for that seed to sow.
The same can be said for us: the heavier and more contracted we are, the less likely the light of Consciousness will shine through us. We need to clear away the blockages and barriers in order to experience illumination and Self-Mastery.
This is a curious paradox, but a separation must occur before you can create wholeness within. In other words; in order to become a master of yourself, there must first be a false self to master. Or spoken in another way, in order to transcend the ego, you must first have an ego.
To achieve freedom from your thoughts and erroneous perceptions that taint reality is the ultimate liberation. This is awakening, and this is true Mastery. True Mastery is not based on active control, as eventually we see that there is no “Master” that is in control. True Mastery is, in fact, a passive awareness, a freedom from the false self we carry and a merging back into Oneness: our true home.
If you would like more guidance surrounding the topic of Self-Mastery, see the following resources:
- What is Spiritual Oneness?
- The 9 Stages of Spiritual Self-Realization (this article approaches the involution paths from a new angle)
- 6 of the Most Powerful Questions to Ask for the Awakening Soul
To summarize the involution journey:
Self-Awareness is the moment where we build up enough courage to start facing the truth by shining awareness on that which we have been trying to escape (within ourselves and society). Soon, we begin to Self-Explore and Self-Discover, and with enough intensity of awareness, we finally begin to Self-Understand and grow in Self-Love. During this whole process, Self-Transformation begins to occur, and with enough awareness and grace, this results in the loosening of the false self and the experience of Self-Mastery.
Now that you’ve reached the end, take a moment to reflect. What path are you most eager to explore? Where are you on this involution journey? It’s good to remember that involution is composed of distinct, yet interconnected paths – in other words, each is dependent on the other to achieve the rest. Share with me below your thoughts and experiences!