Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself. It is healing to know all the ways that you’re sneaky, all the ways you hide out, all the ways that you shut down, deny, close off, criticise people, all your weird little ways… by knowing yourself you’re coming to know humanness altogether. Pema Chodron
It’s been a while since I posted on here. Actually WordPress tells me it’s been three months – I’ve had dry spells, but never that long before. There’s many reasons for that.
I suppose I’ve been having some sort of spiritual identity crisis, which is nothing new, I know, it’s pretty much the stuff of which this blog is made. And yet, I didn’t feel like writing about it, or more to the point I felt I had nothing to say. Or anything I did say would seem false and obsolete within days of writing it down. The sands were shifting beneath me, I couldn’t find a solid base to stand upon.
The only thing I was sure of was my complete and utter doubt.
This crisis has been less of a exploration, as I have tended towards in the past, and more of an excavation. It has been a removal of certainties and matters of faith, an emptying out. A spiritual curette, of sorts, and no less painful.
I felt myself being invaded through and through, I crumbled, disintegrated, and only emptiness remained. Stanisław Lem
I found myself at odds with almost everything I read or heard about spiritual matters. Having subscribed to many e-lists and Facebook pages over the years, which in the past used to fill me with a sense of community and belonging, I now found myself feeling more and more alienated from ideas that once served and inspired me.
There was no particular reason for my alienation, aside from a complete incomprehension of the degree of certainty expressed by so many of my peers in their spiritual identity. It was a little like being at a party that everyone else was enjoying, but to which I couldn’t connect at all. I’m standing there in the midst of all this euphoria and love and I just don’t get it. Did someone forget to put something in my kool-aid?
Knowing that there’s no way out of a spiritual crisis but through it, I hunkered down with some great mystical writers and waited it out.
Then, reading my friend’s doctoral exegesis, a statement jumped out at me,
It is interesting to note that if identity, like persona, is something we attach to the inner self, and spirit is, by its very nature thought to be free, detached, and undefinable, how can we form a construct such as spiritual identity? I would argue that by definition they cancel each other out. Margi Gibb
Reading this seemed to articulate my angst. Isn’t that exactly what I have been doing all along? Searching for a spiritual identity? Am I a twelve stepper? A tantrika? A shaman? A Druid? A mystic without a monastery? A witch? A pagan? A Hindu? A Christian…
What I keep coming back to is that in the whole ‘spiritual but not religious’ movement, which I have subscribed to for many years, there is a lack of the very structures that support effective spiritual growth. It seems to me that real spiritual progress comes from discipline, practice, and mentoring. More so than religious feelings and experiences.
While I agree that many established religions have veered from this simple path of guiding the initiate on their own path, the elements of a spiritual community should be able to provide the initiate with a basic practice, an accountability to be disciplined in this personal practice, and access to others further along the path of this practice, to assist with the crumbling sense of self and inevitable dark nights of the soul, that arise as the ego tries to resist the change.
To be alive to be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to always be in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. Pema Chodron
The path of the spiritual person outside of a religious community is one that is almost necessarily hampered by the ego. Take me for example, I wonder if I have been using various spiritual practices to create adjustments in my attitude to manage stress and to process uncomfortable emotions. In short, as a form of self- improvement.
In this way my spiritual practice has been very much about eliminating the undesirable and enhancing the desirable elements of my life. While there has undoubtedly been growth along the way, it has still be very much dictated by the ego. There has been a degree of control and desire over the outcomes that has been the polar opposite of a true surrender. There has also been the focus on abundance, on manifesting the good stuff, as a by-product of spirituality.
When life has been disappointing – which it invariably has – I have taken it very hard, and very much to heart. Almost as if the universe itself was reaching down and slapping my hand like a naughty child.
The very things we wish to avoid, neglect, and flee from turn out to be the ‘prima materia’ from which all real growth comes. Andrew Harvey
In the past few months I have really had to sit and process these feelings of disappointment. Being spiritual actually doesn’t get you anything. It doesn’t get you love, or a thriving business, or a trip to Bali. It doesn’t even get you world peace.
And I think I thought I had already accepted that fact, but like Pema Chodron says, those sneaky, weird little ways of mine had tricked me into thinking I had let go of something that I really hadn’t. So when disappointment came I was like a child who cried “But I was being so good, this is so unfair!”
Being spiritual, it seems to me at this moment, is more about letting go of all of those needs, of every need, no matter how noble, as attachments of the ego. It is about emptying out entirely.
But I wonder how to do that outside of a discipline? It just seems like a recipe for madness to empty out with no idea of how to manage the inevitable ego backlash that will surely come at the crossroads of any spiritual evolutionary process. Besides how could I trust myself? How would I know I was really emptying out and that I wasn’t being seduced by yet another sneaky ruse of my ego self?
For the first time in my life I feel ready to follow a disciplined path, teacher and all. If only I knew which one.
Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible within us be found. Pema Chodron
Andrew Harvey says that what we are really asking for, when we pray to embody peace and love, is the death of the little self, the ego self. It is a sacrifice to the greater whole. And like most sacrifices, feeling good is not high on the list of its qualities.
Emptying out self in this way is painful. And tedious. It really just goes on and on, and as the ego fights for supremacy it constantly throws up new and ever more subtle and seductive ways of reasserting itself.
Surrender is beautiful, the process of emptying out to a point where surrender can happen however, is often quite traumatic. Especially when we cling to a sense of identity that bolsters our ego, whilst simultaneously trying to detach from our ego. For anyone who has experienced the excruciating highs and lows of an on-again/off-again relationship, it’s a lot like having one of those with your various aspects of self.
‘This time I know better!’ We cry, only to find ourselves in the same bind all over again.
Just let go. Let go of how you thought life should be, and embrace the life that is trying to work its way into your consciousness. Caroline Myss
I think freedom of belief is a wonderful concept. As is ‘spiritual but not religious’ and ‘mystics without monasteries,’ I just wonder if it’s truly practical. I was listening to a New Age speaker the other day, talking about how we all need to make up new labels for ourselves, because we all have unique healing gifts to share and I though ‘jeez…’ That’s a lovely sentiment but how does that actually benefit anyone?
Where’s the wisdom and experience in us all pretending to be gurus? Shouldn’t we at least all pretend to be novices to start with if we are going down that path?
It just starts to feel like our spirituality is a naming and branding exercise for our Facebook healing pages. And yes, I am fully aware of the obvious hypocrisy here, as I do have a business running dance meditation classes and a Facebook page. And no, I don’t think it’s more spiritual to ask for a $35 exchange as a opposed to a $35 payment. To my mind, that’s just window dressing.
I’m not trying to antagonise people here, or be all preachy or self-righteous, I mean I’m not saying it’s wrong to say or do that, to talk of money as ‘energy exchanges’ and such, as long as we don’t mistake it as something deeply spiritual. As long as we don’t get caught up in semiotics and identity issues, believing that in itself is how we define our spiritual path.
And I guess that’s what I’m seeing, a whole lot of window dressing. Every one is a healer, every thing is spiritual, and I although on one level I actually think that’s true, just not in the way we are generally doing it.
Facing personal truths and purging yourself of addictions or manipulative habits requires strength, courage, humility, faith, and other qualities of a soul with stamina, because you are not just changing yourself, you are changing your universe. Your soul is a compass. Change one coordinate in your spiritual compass and you change your whole life direction. Caroline Myss
I think it’s true in the sense that we all have the potential to use our consciousness in the way the great spiritual masters speak of, but I don’t think it has anything to do with marketing ourselves, or manifesting material wealth, or how many likes we have on Facebook.
It seems to me the true spiritual message is often very unpopular. Because it demands discipline, autonomy, and accountability, loneliness, and a large amount of existential pain.
And for me, like many others I see, at the first sign of pain we are scrambling around trying to get a healing, do a journey, finding the astrological explanation, anything to distract ourselves from actually sitting with what is happening and learning something about ourselves and the way we operate. The embarrassing, the uncomfortable, the shifty, and undesirable aspects of ourselves. The emptiness.
Emptiness which is conceptually liable to be mistaken for sheer nothingness is in fact the reservoir of infinite possibilities. D.T. Suzuki
There is no impetus to growth and evolution in complete security and certainty. All my life I’ve been afraid of being empty and uncertain. I look around and see many attempts by well-intentioned people to ‘fill up’ on the good stuff, be it love, light, healing, or the like. Not to mention all the not-so-good stuff we escape into, addictive, compulsive, and obsessive behaviours.
And I understand the fear, Caroline Myss asserts that we all go a bit mad on the spiritual path. Losing our connection with our sense of certainty, which provides a state of mental balance, ensures that.
But we sell ourselves short by avoiding the uncomfortable, the uncertain, the empty void within, because that’s where the power is. That’s where the resilience and strength comes from, the places that scare you.
I just wonder if we should go there unaided and alone. Or if the time has come to resurrect the wisdom teachings and spiritual communities of the past to support us on our paths.
Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to require the most from you. Do you really want to look back on your life and see how wonderful it could have been had you not been afraid to live it? Caroline Myss
Artwork by Christian Schloe