It’s not about feeling better, but being better able to feel.
Spiritual teachers speak of awakening to the light, but how many speak of awakening to the darkness, to the grim, bleak, utter vile parts of us that shudder at the thought of being seen? It seems so simple to point skyward and say “Transcend!” It seems so clean to rise above it all, to just meditate, do your chants and say your prayers; to drink your green smoothies, say your affirmations, wear your crystals, and live the life of your dreams. It seems so wonderful to be spiritually correct, nice and nice, with a sanguine look on life.
But in my experience something far more raw and real is needed from us. Something much more gritty, messy, honest and courageous is required if we are to find the light.
I have found few, certainly mainstream teachers, who speak of this and do so without sugar coating. Many shamans point the way, as do certain spiritual teachers who have lived through the muck of human existence. But it seems a great deal of teachers give the impression that you can reach the light without going down into your anger, shame, the ugly, painful parts you have long run from and denied. To feel them in full, to scream, purge and shake them from your nervous system. So many teachers speak in such a glossy, new age, live-your-dreams sort of way as to infer that the dark underbelly of consciousness can be bypassed quickly and easily.
Not enough teachers paint an honest picture of how much pain we actually carry, of what we have endured and taken on unconsciously from our parents, their parents, and society at large. Not enough speak to how much our trauma clutters our senses and keeps the light faded from sight, and how inured we have become to this reality. And not enough teachers elucidate how much devastation one may experience in entering dark waters, and how much fear is used to avoid them.
“Make no mistake about it—enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the façade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.” ~ Adyashanti, from his book The End of Your World
An apropos book title for those who wish to feel into the well of their past and experience what becomes of their external world when their inner world falls apart.
It’s in the space between the fracturing pieces of what we thought was our life that we finally feel and allow light to find us.
Teaching pseudo spirituality
How many teachers have you heard say that you can “transform your life in less than 10 minutes”? They speak as if it is that easy, a snap of the fingers! (A quick way for them to make money off of you!) Many speak as though transformation is as simple as letting go of a few things, believing in yourself, setting some goals and honoring your values. Change may be, and that is all many people want. But I am speaking of transformation, of not just clipping weeds, but pulling them out by their roots; of not simply gathering belief, but of questioning it as well, of emptying, again and again. I’m speaking of something not found in ideals that simultaneously deny what it takes to experience what they stand for—the heartbreak, the loss, the isolation, the risk to leave the shores of comfort, the profound grieving, the destruction, using Adyashanti’s words, of what has always been.
Look for inspiration in the metamorphosis of caterpillar to butterfly. For the latter to emerge from its chrysalis into the light, the former must release all it’s known and fully dissolve into the dark soup.
Transformation is not about becoming a happier, more productive caterpillar! Light demands darkness.
Certain teachers may struggle to offer compassion and meet people in their anger, shame, guilt, and pain if they have not walked the long night of the soul, the 40 days and 40 nights that, for most, lasts years. The Indian sage, Jiddu Krishnamurti, was known for his lack of patience and understanding. Awakened at age four, in later years when establishing himself as a spiritual teacher he’d admonish his students for not getting what he was trying to convey. He spoke to them as if perplexed by their ignorance, partly because he had to travel little distance in his own.
I had the displeasure of witnessing a well-known spiritual teacher evangelize on the merits of leaving behind the “prison” we are trapped in. He oozed arrogance, speaking as if liberation were as simple as making a choice, and shared little compassion for the tendrils of trauma holding us back from feeling at choice. His blithe disregard for the searing pain held in the human heart along with his hubris fueled his need to berate those in the audience who could not digest what he was saying, who showed resistance, who needed more than make the choice.
This reminds me of new age folk who say that if you have a problem, just let it go, that’s all, much like if you have a hot stone in your hand, you drop it. Right, got it! For most, however, it’s not that simple. Letting go takes years of self-reflection, working with skilled and sensitive practitioners whom they feel safe with, learning to feel again, risking vulnerable conversations, and making difficult life decisions such as whether to leave their husband/wife/job, etc.
This is not easy in a culture that prioritizes thinking and accomplishment over feeling and healing; that would rather have you fit in than feel. For once we begin feeling, it’s harder to fit in.
Choice depends on awareness. Awareness depends on light. And light depends on darkness. Going through the darkness takes time. Like the seed that blooms into a flower, our rise from the darkness into the light is a tender, incremental journey.
Another teacher I did a workshop with is well known for his stance on environmentalism and deepening a sensuous relationship with nature. He has written a few celebrated books on how our perception of nature as a static backdrop versus a sentient and intelligent organism causes us to destroy it. I agree wholeheartedly. However, when I told him that our relationship with nature is dependent on refining our nervous system and opening the sensory gates blocked by trauma he quickly and arrogantly brushed my comments aside. He had little respect for therapeutic paths and how the traumas inflicted onto nature are a mirror for our inner trauma, our inner nature. He then told me how to live my life.
There’s always more
In the late 90’s, after six months of therapy and two personal growth courses where I bawled my eyes out and afterwards phoned my mother to tell her I loved her, I began to have awakening experiences. My sensory gates suddenly opened wide allowing me to experience and perceive life with such clarity and understanding, transforming me forever. However, these gates eventually closed after a few months, but not all the way, remaining more open than they had ever been. They remained open enough to remind me of what I longed for—a deeper connection with life—, but also of the work needed to keep opening myself further.
Life hints us forward…
For most on the spiritual path this is the way it works. They get a waft of life’s eternality, but must do the work to imbibe it more fully, to open the gates further such that they perceive truer and truer expressions of life. That work is accomplished by both doing what brings us joy—chasing our dreams, attending ecstatic dance classes, spending time in nature, eating good food with friends—as well as entering the dark waters of our shadows and trauma, and refining our nervous system in the process. It is not one or the other, but both. Too much digging and we forget to live. Too much glossiness and we bypass the stark reality of our humanness. We become like so many light seekers—ungrounded, flakey and guru-chasing.
I’ve met people who claim to have had awakening experiences and then proudly claim to be awakened. They unreservedly go around telling people this, and then quickly create a business to help others become awakened. They have found the light, they say, yet forget that all children are naturally in this enlightened state, and people have awakening experiences all the time. It’s nothing special. But to the degree that they make it so, they tempt themselves into bypassing the dark and into confusing awakened with awakening. They then stop doing the groundwork. After all, they are “there”! It’s all here now, so what else is there to do?
You never get there, much like how you are never fully authentic. There’s always another layer. You are always authenticating yourself. (Verbs are better descriptors than adjectives in this ever-changing existence.) You continue the journey into the light by sinking into the darkness more and more. And just when you thought you could not uncover another layer, there is one more waiting for you.
Beyond the personal
The dark descent into the underworld of my trauma and grief has certainly been my journey. Through countless modalities of healing, from therapy, to osteopathy, acupuncture, plant medicine and much more, I have healed and opened, and continue to do so. I have grieved, vomited and shaken out ageless traumas. Far from pristine and happy, this journey has taken me into the disturbed places that could not have voice, the ones wanting to scream, “Fuck you!” and “I hate this! Stop it!” Locked up fear, anger and shame has over time been free to move. Twenty years on and I’ve only just recently found their darkest reaches, ones of my painful, abusive past not known of until recently, and ones far beyond my lifetime.
We’re not just talking about the trauma of our own lives, but the inherited inter-generational trauma carried forth from our lineage, the trauma our ancestry could not release given their challenges, the fact that they most likely did not have a therapist, shaman or healer to turn to. This was passed down to us, prenatally and postnatally, unconsciously and consciously, for us to un-earth from within, thus un-earthing it from the world.
This is our responsibility now, our sacred inheritance not to carry but to release for our own sake, that of our ancestors, and those beside and ahead of us. It is ours to dispose of for ourselves, and the world.
This then becomes world-work.
There is a point on our healing journey where we realize it is no longer personal. Our pain, the pain of our ancestry, is the pain of the world, and vice versa. Our healing is for humanity. We perceive the pain of the world clearer than ever, and feel it through our broken-heartedness. It can no longer be denied, and therefore we can no longer pretend that the pain of women in Saudi Arabia or the pain of children in Syria is not our own. It is a collective pain and we are part of that collective, the one body of humanity we are a part of. Healing then takes on a whole new purpose.
We all stand at the frontier of the accumulated inter-generational and world trauma, of what could not be healed and has been passed down through the ages. This compounded trauma is why the world is so troubled. It is much more trauma-formed than informed, more so than most know, inured we are by what we call “reality”. And we are reaching a boiling point where each of us must do the work of going within, questioning ourselves, feeling, grieving, releasing, and recreating ourselves, and the world, anew.
This is our real “job”—to courageously light up the world through our darkness, rather than continue to unconsciously impose our darkness onto each other and Mother Nature.
Making room for light and life
Having gone as deep into the dark as I have, I feel a depth of soul, sense of presence and clarity of purpose like nothing I have ever experienced before. I have created room for light and life to take residence in my body and guide my direction into service. It is a different way of relating to the world, of living, such that I follow more, listen more deeply, and trust as I move forward along untraveled roads to where I am being called. It is less about making my destiny, and more about receiving it.
By cleaning my inner house I love more because I have learned to love the unlovable within. I give more because I am less afraid to show and give from my true self. I invite people in more because I have less to hide. I feel more—joy, sadness, anger, fear, wonder—because of years of setting old stuck emotions free. I empathize more because I know, I feel, what it is like to live without money, with pain, in isolation, without direction, for years, taken by the dark night of the soul.
By cleaning my inner house I live because I almost died. I went right to the edge of my existence, and then beyond, again and again. I felt the crushing blows of what it means to be a human, broken-hearted, living with an unmendable heart, forever fractured, in touch with the painful fractured nature of the world, yet alive, bursting at the seams, as if light finally had found its way through my heart, through the darkness.
This is the enormous reclamation project of our times, reclaiming the light through the darkness of our soul, finding ourselves amongst the needed paradox, the fusing, mysterious dance of light and dark.
Therefore, seek your teachers wisely. Even the ones who only speak in platitudes of light make a contribution. But I suggest leaning more towards those who can dance in their own darkness as well, who have the courage to admit their own frailties and fears, who exude humility or grounded humaneness, and who have the kindness, patience and skill to sensitize to your own.
Remember, like a tree, you rise into the light only as far as your roots will take you, as far as you are willing to immerse yourself into the medicine of the dark, tear-soaked soil beneath your feet. Therefore seek those who have the capacity to honor your tears, to hold you in them, to deepen your immersion into cold chambers of yesterday, and to help you rise anew, fed from the light of truth found only in darkness.
* * *
Check out Vince’s book: Wild Empty Spaces ~ Poems for the Opening Heart