Into my heart’s night
Along a narrow way
I groped; and lo! the light,
An infinite land of day.
It can be pretty challenging to be human right now. We’ve never been more aware of ourselves in such a global perspective. With this has come an intense awareness of what we’ve done by being, for the most part, a very unconscious species. The primary, present example is the destruction we’ve wreaked on the environment of planet Earth. It’s horrifying to consider in its entirety and as I spoke to a friend the other day about it, I shared that coming to this immense awareness can be like waking up and realizing we’re in hell. There’s even those of us who decry we need to ‘ascend’ to a higher dimension and escape from our present trials. That’s just how agonizing it is and one can’t fault those for feeling so helpless.
On the other hand, we’re also becoming intensely aware of what humanity is capable of when we are more conscious as a species. There’s legion examples of people and groups coming together to respond to this adversity with inspiring heroism, nobly giving their lives to rectifying what has been done by countless generations before who were unaware of the massive scope of their behaviours. I have compassion for those that came before. Many of them were doing the best they could and even if they weren’t, they were so wounded, physically and psychologically, by the horrors of history, that I can understand where their missteps originated.
So much of the work ahead, the good work of awakening and activating our heroic nature, is not so much in saving the world but, as a beautiful friend once wisely put it, letting the world save us. It’s a profound and ancient revelation that healing ultimately involves returning to a natural balance; that when we get out of the way, we open ourselves to a grand intelligence that suffuses and pervades us—the indomitable sagacity of nature and the universe itself. As we learn arts and skills that help us listen and connect more deeply and constantly to this nature which pulses within us and all life as its essence (such as meditation, reflection and contemplation), we resonate and return to the cycles and patterns of harmony which nature exudes.
Nature is man's teacher. She unfolds her treasures to his search, unseals his eye, illumes his mind, and purifies his heart; an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence.
-Alfred Bernhard Nobel
This is not easy work. Our modern culture interferes with this connection at every turn, attaching us to the illusory temptations of the external world; of the vain pursuits of a sole material existence. To go inward and touch the inner-radiance of nature within demands assiduous skill. And I for one am grateful for the challenge: it’s a heroic quest that calls on the best of ourselves to be tried and tested; an adventure of the quality that we all feel inspired by in epic films and books. Only we are the heroes.
For many of us, connecting to this inner-nature may appear wholly vague, because we’ve been conditioned to assert our ego or individuated self-sense as our primary mode of being, while the spiritual teachers assert it is merely an integral part, but not supreme. Moreover, our culture is incessantly materialistic—we are obsessed with matter and material things, and the subtleties of life (the spiritual) are not apprehended and undervalued, terribly so.
“Our duty is wakefulness, the fundamental condition of life itself. The unseen, the unheard, the untouchable is what weaves the fabric of our see-able universe together.”
― Robin Craig Clark, The Garden
I think of this greatly these days as I take significant strides in healing not the world outside myself but the world within me: the terrain of my psychology; engrossing in relationship to those aforementioned subtleties, even garnering a sense beyond ego to those other parts of my being that material culture does not really acknowledge, such as the soul--our my innermost identity.
What has become lucid to me of late is that, indeed we live in a time of great, if not greatest darkness, but which also means, through the law of contrast, that our Light is that much, more clear to us, perhaps more than it has ever been. This is why darkness can be extraordinarily useful. What else is relied on and desired when we find ourselves shrouded in dark but Light?
Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
However, getting lit up ain’t all roses, rainbows and rambunctious unicorns: as our inner-light (the radiance of our consciousness) grows, we actually become more aware of what’s lurking in the dark and often it ain’t pretty. We might even see if we become really aware just how far the invasion of unconscious insanity has gone while our awareness was not on guard. Think of Odysseus finally returning to his kingdom in Homer’s epic The Odyssey and discovering it overrun by ignoble wretches. Light-work is, ultimately, about darkness-discovery. That’s when we get the invitation for the dance in the mail slot in our heart. But this is no ordinary dance. In fact, it’s quite difficult music to learn to move to, one with chaotic rhythmic elements and erratic pitch changes that will require the most skillful training and extraordinary presence to keep up with the perpetual changes. Ultimately though, Light and Dark are dance partners who, somewhere along the way, were made into warring enemies. It’s up to us to listen again to the music of the universe and turn to our darkness with an inviting hand.
What this really boils down to is installing a constant and resilient offering of love unto oneself, especially the shadowy, dark parts that howl with pain. As Buddha asserted with eternal conviction: You more than anyone else in the universe deserves your love and affection. This is not sentimentalism but a skillful understanding of the politics of inner-work.
In a recent article I wrote about the notion of fierce compassion and how it was transmitted to me on a recent retreat with the masterful, Gabor Mate. Compassion was something I was aware of and vied to embody before but I must admit I was cynical of it; felt that it was some kind of naïve, peace sign adorned, tie-dyed painted escape pod that wouldn’t address the horrors of the present moment, whether that be the state of the external world, or my own internal sufferings at the hands of addictions and other unwholesome habits and soul-burning tendencies. I felt it was meeting Darth Vader with a nerf sword.
Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.
What I discovered was that there was a deeper energetic of compassion I hadn’t given credence to; that I’d actually dismissed the power of love in my cynicism and had not gone deep enough in understanding. Gabor took us into the revelation of just how wounded we all are and how it always begins when we are children and truly unable to defend against incoming traumatic experiences, which shape the way we behave for the rest of our lives. We are deeply impressionable as children and, moreover, we’re never given a context in our culture to heal and rectify what we experience. In our culture, it’s all forward movement, work-work-work, keep on truckin’, no time to feel-heal deeply, bills to pay, selfish ambitions to fulfill etc. Consider yourself as your own child, experiencing such adverse conditions of trauma, abuse and a culture of immense disconnect. What you would say to that child when they act out their pain?
Ironically, compassion for one’s self meets a speedbump along the way for those of us vying to be more spiritual in that spiritual people often believe they need to be somehow perfect, transcendent of these mortal coils and, one day, ultimately fully healed. This is a deception. The fact is if one is vying to be spiritual, you’re probably more aware of your darkness, your ‘shit’, your demons than another because the path of spirituality is about constantly growing your inner-light of conscious awareness. And guess what? Remember what I noted about growing Light? That’s right—that means you’re going to see what’s lurking in the darkness more than someone who is not engaged in Light-growth. This is where the work really is right now for our species: once we shine our Light brighter, how do we deal with what we find in our shadows?
“Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light.”
Norman B. Rice
If we recall the flow of childhood trauma, we will discover that as children we placed our wounds into dark places because we really didn’t have the tools to work with them. It was actually us who put the monsters under our beds and then had to deal with their perpetual hauntings, all in the noble aim of coping. Perhaps our soul was waiting for what happens in traditional cultures—initiation ceremonies and rites of passages, where such big healing takes place on the eve of adolescence, as we leave the paradise of our childhoods and are initiated through healing experiences to help us be consolidated beings to serve the greater good of our tribe, community and the world at large. And yet those never come. And worse, a sense of the greater good is vacuous in the modern context of vapid commercial-capitalist culture where the greater good seems to be set somewhere in the foggy midst of accumulating wealth and vain titles of merit, such as president of so-and-so.
“Initiation is a matter of dying to an outmoded Ego structure, so that a wiser one can be formed…” from The Magician Within (Robert Moore & Douglas Gillette)
Life in itself is always initiating us through trials. The key is that we need to discover and embody what once was done by the ritual elders—to be skillful in turning our wounds into wisdom. And it starts with compassion not for another but for ourselves.
One of the great skills of the spiritualist is presence and the exercises that build presence are many, notably, meditation, breathwork and inner-body awareness to name but a few. When we feel the ‘demons’ of our dark begin to writhe to possess our personality and use us to fulfill what seems like unwholesome tendencies that destroy our energy and virtue (the essence of Spirit) we perpetually shame them, resist them the best that we can to return to lofty, spiritual heights and, thus, end up creating massive inner-turmoil, epic battles, which leaves us consistently exhausted. Now, we are asked to go about things differently. When those tendencies pop up I do what Gabor so brilliantly counselled us to do: I get curious. I open up a dialogue with the ‘demons’ which are really the fragmented, wounded parts of myself and ask of them what are your true needs? What are you wanting to get by using my physical vessel, my mind, my soul? What pain are you in to want to do such unwholesome things that numb out feeling, that allow us to escape as coping mechanism rather than facing the suffering? You can tell me. I am here for you…
When it is dark enough
You can see the stars
We begin to realize that when our wounded nature comes to the surface we continually run to escape feeling the discomfort and also to soothe it through the multitude of escapisms our culture affords. This is the root of addiction. However, if we remain present in the discomfort, breathing deep, extending the hands of love from our heart to soothe not with an external substance but the radiant caress of our compassion, we begin to offer a new and consummate solution. Our presence, our attention, becomes actually the greatest act of generosity.
What happens when we remain with ourselves instead of betraying ourselves by skirting away is something important: we no longer create tension and resistance, which, ironically, makes us want to act out even more destructive, benumbing habits in order to escape the discomfort of inner-turmoil we’re creating. A sang-froid, a coolness over takes us. If we have the fortune to have time to contemplate and even reflect, these dialogues can become very intimate. We extend compassion and love to these fragmented parts that we hid under our beds. We invite them out into my light, to see them, honour them and, ultimately, love them. For these may appear as demons now but that’s possibly only because of years of living in the dark and becoming distorted. Think of plants without Light—they curl up, become ugly, dying.
As one Gnostic teacher once attested, as we hold these ‘demonic’ elements in the Light of our consciousness, they will initially writhe in the pain of being seen. Their anger will be on full display because it’s actually a defensive show, and originates truly in the pain of knowing they were shoved away, unloved, and feel, at their essence, something is horrible about them. Their monstrous display is actually an attempt to shoo us away from working with them. This makes sense—imagine that they were once small, childish aspects of ourselves that we pushed away because we were understandably not skillful enough to handle their wound-wisdom. It will take time to convince those aspects to trust us, that we won’t unlove them again. This teacher elaborated that if we stay constant with the shining of the light of our awareness (which is love) and are not manipulated by their displays of anger to go into fear, close our shining and withhold loving connection that their anger will eventually be exhausted and give way to the sorrow beneath. If they appear monstrous, they will gradually begin to shrink and lose their wretchedness, until they are eventually a small and beautiful babe of luminosity—essentially a lost pearl of our consciousness that we are invited then to gather and re-integrate. Think of the Wicked Witch of the West melting away. Only there’s a glow after the melt. And that glow is our lost soul parts.
We are called to do this work perpetually and, over time, with success, we will be so encouraged that we will actually start to turn the tables and hunt our ‘demons’, our pain body, chasing them down with shining Hearts, fierce to embrace, nurture their pain, heal their sorrow, gather them into our Love. An enthusiasm suffuses us as we understand this essential soul work and grow confidence in fulfilling the deepest healing of our very soul. We become mothers and fathers, ultimately, to ourselves. And this is the pinnacle skill of initiation: we become true adults by growing the confidence that no matter what befalls us, we have the skills to take care of it. Moreover, by transcending our personal turmoil, we are then more liberated to serve and uphold the greater good. And we don’t do it alone. In fact, the other significant portion of the work is the need for constant prayers and calls for aid from the divine and our community. Remember, the divine isn’t always out there, it’s often in here (pointing at the chest).
I’ll leave us with this final, profound reflection: know that the woundedness we carry is also not all our own. It may be bestowed on us by our ancestors or even be a healing of the collective consciousness of humanity. This is when things get really magnificent and bolsters our compassion for self even further to realize the mystery of self as a spiritual continuum, where karma is passed on from ancestral hands to each incarnate, asking of them to do the great alchemical work of turning it into dharma; transforming wounds into wisdom. For our greatest lessons come in these healings—we learn why we’ve acted so unconsciously our whole lives and those truths set our consciousness free. Moreover, by understanding our own healing, we understand the healing of the human condition itself, for we are all dealing with the same dynamics, though the details may appear different. We begin to understand ultimate aspects of reality and get in touch with what the yogis called the atman, the ultimate selfhood we all share. We’re all Light-liberators and dark dancers.
What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”
None of this writing will necessarily make the inner-work easier. In fact, it may make it harder, as I alluded to before: as our Light shines brighter, we will see more of what is happening in the darkness. And as we heal, we may even find more ancestral wounds coming forward. This is actually a confirmation that the ancestral realm trusts our capacity to take it on. And this is where the path turns to that of the spiritual warrior: the more powerful we become, the more responsibility we are asked to carry.
I think humourously of many ancient tales of samurai and Oriental warriors whose teachers, after their students achieved a certain success, would then quickly unload on them a much more humbling task. Concurrently, their students would unleash callow, reactive frustrations, confused why they were rewarded not with accolades but with what they deemed more burden. The teacher would always respond simply with knowing laughter.
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
In time, however, the student realizes this is not a burden but the gift itself—the teacher is expressing their increasing belief in them to carry the load. Eventually, the student’s ego and vanity is whittled down enough that they expect the responsibility to increase after each victory. They begin to understand this work never ends, that it may take lifetimes. They are not dismayed by this but increasingly content, knowing they have finally discovered how to participate in the great work of uplifting and evolving consciousness, Light. They feel more useful and relevant than they ever have before because they are participating finally, resolutely in the deepest work of existence. And that sense of purpose will be with them the entire length of their mortal life, bestowing on them unshakable conviction in the power they truly are and all is. Their most essential drive becomes a giving to life and all that that represents the best of themselves for as many moments as they can muster. This is the how we truly honour.
Take Heart. This is most challenging work. And the adversity of our times is because we are great enough to deal with it. Think of the sheer knowledge in our reach now in the spiritual and healing arts fomenting to aid us. Think of the coalescing of communities and millions in acts of civil protest and assertion of the love of freedom and truth. We are being offered a big burden to carry but not out of punishment but because we are acknowledged as powerful enough to do this good work. We are the heroes. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!