‘The man, who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it. Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring.’
Karlfried Graf von Durkheim
It is interesting how when we start our journey we have completely the wrong idea – that somehow by magic we will wind up in some blissful nirvana. Instead we find the path narrows, gets more painful as well as more joyful, and there are fewer and fewer true companions.
Opening the heart is devastating as we feel everything more acutely. It seems there is no anaesthetic if you want to become one with life, only a singular commitment to being all of it, to incorporating more and more until the conscious life reflects the wholeness of the Self.
In moving into a loving relationship recently, I am being tested to the core of my being and everything that is not love is crawling (and sometimes shooting) to the surface of my consciousness. Loving is hard, painstaking work. No wonder many of us renege on it before we get more than a few steps down its dusty road.
The Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee recites a meeting with an aspirant who when asked if she was prepared to spend the next few years peering into her own shadowy darkness said a flat ‘no!’
Bully for her for at least she possessed the honesty of foresight and a degree of self awareness that seems to completely bypass many New Agers bent on their next manifestation, which will presumably acquit them of the sludge of self discovery.
This mistaken awareness that suddenly we should be feeling good all the time once we are ‘awake’ can lead to a very rude awakening of an entirely different sort. After all, true peace is freedom from the need to feel good all the time. That is simply the tyranny of the ego which, as ever, wants life its own way.
Certainty is a curious thing. How often do we give our power to those who appear sure of themselves and seem to offer the safety of certainty and with it direction? Yet power almost always lies in the hands of the ‘wrong’ people because those who are power driven are most often at the beginning of an evolutionary cycle where the developmental task is to build a strong ego.
At that early stage there is only a tiny amount of light in the soul and it is this inability to see the full spectrum of life in all its varying shades which lends the power of certainty. Tyrants and despots everywhere do their worst under such limited insight.
In ‘spiritual’ circles we can observe the same phenomenon: the need for egoic power masquerading as ‘love and light’. Give me teachers of human frailty, compassion and self doubt any day; someone who is willing to be vulnerable and say ‘I don’t know’ when necessary and someone who has seen enough of life to know their own failings. That involves moving around the wheel of life, experiencing many different facets of one’s humanity, making mistakes, and being authentic rather than perfect.
In reality, whoever we are, sometimes the floor keeps opening and we just keep on falling through it to yet another rock bottom. Along the way, we pass through those feelings we spent a lifetime or more avoiding, until we reach the core of the conditioned mind – worthlessness and self hatred – only to finally discover that within us lies an invincible summer.
Courage is required not to circumvent this process, and faith. If you just want ‘love and light’ in your life don’t even begin, keep holding on to what makes the ego feel safe. But it seems to me, that for all of us, there comes a point when the only thing we can do is to let go and live our own peculiar passage through time until we land in eternity.
And it is precisely that journey that has called me in recent months and some days I have zero confidence in my ability to make it and withstand its searing test. Yet in truth I know the hero’s journey is the only game in town and, however I may complain, it is a burning of the heart that I want.
We so often think love is soft and warm, but it takes time and maturity to learn that love has a hard, cold edge too that is ruthless about Truth or Reality and exists only in Freedom. Love is a laser beam that cuts through to the heart of things, discarding all that fails to serve its interests.
The Sufis say that love’s apparent absence experienced as emptiness and longing is just as important as the heat of its sun. If we really love another, it seems we also have to be prepared to let them go if being with us is not in their own best interests.
Love’s agenda is different to the self-serving needs we impose upon it and sloughs us off like some bucking bronco when we try to bend it to our will. The conditioning of our co-dependent culture can make it hard to be clear in the mind yet that is what we owe one another. We must never compromise our complexity for a false peace.
Give me someone who can talk about their in between places, not their successes, achievements and ambitions. Someone who has done the work of traversing the wild current of their own innards, their dark history; someone who has travelled and understood what appears to be the most insignificant cul-de-sac of their deepest being.
I am not interested in those who can bang a drum, perform a ritual and look good. I am interested in the person who will tell it how it is, talk straight, disappoint me to support themselves, understand the simple value of kindness over spiritual trickery, clear with me by making an amend when wrong while looking me in the eye and speaking from the heart.
Those people are few and far between in my experience yet I would take one of those, the person whose heart is true, over any number of do-gooders, shamanic pretenders or weekend warriors. It is interesting how deep psychotherapy has gone out of vogue, the slow pain-staking work of true self enquiry in favour of quick fixes and sudden shifts.
I want you slow cooked or not at all, I wrote a while back. For it seems to me that unlike the day world or ego, the soul likes to meander and take its time and seeks to root out even our smallest transgression or quirk, all that we had long forgotten and never wanted to see again. How many are truly up for the underworld journey?
Some people like to think they will be immune from pain the more they mature in consciousness. But that is simply a ploy by a mind still burdened by the fantasy of its own power. The more conscious we become, it seems the more sensitive we are, not less. Shams, the poet Rumi’s master, moved away, in pain, from those whose unconsciousness assaulted his depth of awareness and Love. Isolation is, ultimately, preferable to a long bath in idiocy.
It is a great unwisdom to always be trying to escape our vulnerability, be positive at every moment, always to be on the up and on the make. For as the poet David Whyte points out, there is no escape from it, we are our vulnerability. So the question is more about how we become one with it without letting it consume us, rather than trying to outrun it, control it, and allow pride to throw a veil over our humanness.
The current idea that we must heal or fix everything is based, I believe, on a flawed concept of what it is to be a human being. Rather than always thinking of being better, we could simply keep opening to those pockets of unconsciousness we all carry, allowing their gifts to come forth. We are not static entities, but life unfolding, awareness awakening slowly, over time so we can integrate at all levels. There is no rush. We will all end on a breath.
As for relationships, I know that infatuation is a potent impostor, an ersatz love, a sugar-hit for the soul, that simulates the real thing, a near miss that is a million light years away. It is the mind’s version of what love looks like when it has had a failed, often devastating, experience of the real thing. It is so beset by desire, fear and projection it has little hope of peering out of the fog of its imaginings to see clearly.
And yet somewhere, hidden in its dark and desperate recesses is the grain of something finer. There is no wanting in love and to arrive at this place, where the only desire is for the beloved’s happiness, will excoriate the ego.
To transform infatuation into love is one of life’s true rarities, yet holds the seeds of greatest potential for true love and freedom. Yet it means a complete transformation in outlook and attitude with the ego no longer dominated by consciousness but sinking roots deep into the unconscious where all its repressed memory of failed love lives.
And so my love, I am still here, stretching toward you as you stretch toward me and I am reminded of the words on love from the first spiritual book I read, Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled: ‘Love is the willingness to extend oneself for your own or another’s spiritual growth.’
Amen to that.