I went through a stage in this journey without distance in which I sought to find the ‘right path’ for myself. It was like I was evaluating a major purchase. I was given some good advice at the time, which basically went like this:
It was the best advice I could have received, because nothing really gets started without commitment. In fact, without commitment, it is impossible to learn to see what is really happening along our journey.
At the time, I did not know about the Course in Miracles, but I did the one thing that needed to be done: I picked one. Within a year I was wallowing neck-deep in the most difficult darkness I’d ever known. I was seated alone in the woods on a fasting retreat of sorts anticipating a tap on the shoulder from God that never came- at least not on the channel I was monitoring. I had prepped for this experience for several months and had experienced headlong plunges into self doubt- moments in which my entire body seemed to be a sucking, panicky vacuum into which flooded a debilitating anxiety about being on the verge of imminent and permanent annihilation- that were intermixed with surges of indomitable power, and a grace that lifted me up to the clouds. In hindsight, those latter moments were the miracles.
Anyway, I figured at the time that if I committed wholly, and placed myself alone in the woods on this fasting retreat, that God would acknowledge my pleading and fill those vacuous holes inside of me with all the good things he surely knew about me. He would, in other words, meet me half way and reach into my heart, exchanging all the blackened filth, the residue of my despair, for His Presence. This faith carried me through the challenges to the appointed hour, where I arrived at the designated rendezvous location, and found instead that I hadn’t actually hit the bottom as far as the internal oceans of confusion and self doubt went.
My time in the woods, which I had envisioned would be a prolonged encounter with grace, felt instead like an extended session in a spiritual pressure cooker. I was plagued by fear, and racked with doubt. I contracted into a little ball of pain and anguish. Yes, it felt that bad. They were inescapable. (Such is the power of commitment, I tell you…) I returned to civilization utterly defeated, but carrying the seed of an idea around which I reorganized: somehow I had the feeling that during my retreat God had ‘cleared the block’ so to speak, and given me the incredible gift of offering a space wholly conducive to my being enabled to see just how pervasive all the muck inside of myself truly was.
It was, in hindsight, a profound and awesome gift that at the time threatened to propel me right off the path home as fast as my legs could carry me. Somehow I held it together. (Such is the power of commitment, I tell you…) At least the task at hand was squarely in front of me. That part seemed good. On the other hand, I was cuttingly aware of the fact that I really didn’t possess the tools to banish the particular breed of darkness that clung to my insides. I knew I really had no idea how to discern what was good for me from what was not, because in my heart of hearts I knew my commitment to the retreat had been founded upon a genuine heartfelt desire to know God, and on that basis could only have been a good thing. Yet it was a very painful ordeal, and generally speaking pain is a signal we humans generally treat as a wholly reliable signal to go ahead and do something different. Like run.
Within three months I was studying the Course. I happened to pick it up in a bookstore one day, and that was that. By that time I wasn’t interested in dabbling, or testing the waters. I had an urgent need to transform my suffering. I recognized almost instantly that I had found the compass I was looking for- a reliable method for discerning what was good and True from what was not, regardless of how I felt about something in a given moment. The rest is not history, but an increasingly expansive present.
I share this because I think it is really helpful for all of us to remember that the way home, the journey without distance, is not a walk in the park. There are real and wonderful gains to be had, and ultimately freedom awaits us all, but commitment is what fuels the journey. Jesus speaks in the Course about ‘a little willingness’. If you think about it, repeatedly digging deep to come up with another ounce of willingness in the face of a dream spiraling towards disaster, is commitment. Commitment is what we need to invite the experiences most needed to transform our inner darkness, rather than choosing the experiences we want. Commitment is what we need to learn to see them for what they are, rather than discounting them and fleeing to somewhere sunnier and warmer.
I would not be surprised if people generally think, as I did, that a spiritual path should feel like a coming home, like a hop and a skip along a well-lit trail, safe and easy, with all sorts of signs and wonders along the way to make the journey joyful- little teases of the Great Light that awaits at the end of the trail. I’m not saying it can’t be that, but it is unlikely it will be only that. The greatest bit of wisdom I ever learned was the realization that encountering pits of despair, flurries of rage, or bouts of fear that cause my entire being to contract and shrink into a hole, are not signs of genuine error on my part; rather, they are the way home. In fact, it is essential that I learn not to interpret these moments as failures… Commitment is vital in my opinion because it enables us to stay the course when we encounter these very real-seeming difficulties we have lurking around inside of us.
The ‘work’ of awakening is described consistently in Jesus’ many teachings to us. Speaking with Tom Carpenter in Dialogue on Awakening, Jesus says, “Resist no thought or feeling that comes to you. Resistance is based upon some past judgment you have made that something could be harmful or fearsome… These thoughts and feelings have come to offer an opportunity to choose again- an exchange program of sorts in which continued bondage is let go for freedom.” (DoA, 1996 ed., Chapter 10, pg 231)
This sentiment is echoed in the Course, “It takes great learning to understand that all things, events, encounters and circumstances are helpful.” (M.4, I.A.4:5)
It is also echoed in A Course of Love, “The purging of old beliefs frees space for the new… There is no quick route to this purging, as it is the most individual of accomplishments. As you learned your beliefs, you must unlearn your beliefs… If you do not remember that you are involved in a process of unlearning that will lead to the conviction you have so long sought, you will indeed feel tested and try to take control of the learning situation. Not taking control, however, is the key to unlearning.” (CoL, 23.22-26)
I think we get better at this as we learn… First, we discover we can live through it. We learn to recognize it for what it is, and as a result find ourselves overwhelmed with gratitude, even as we are wrestling with our inner demons. We learn this is a holy process. We learn we are never alone in it. We learn we are all doing this together, and that there is great support along the way.
Our lives become a slideshow of past errors whisking by to be reinterpreted, and for a while they still hurt and sting. Occasionally, they bring us to our knees again, but that is okay. It means nothing… Eventually we won’t buy the ball fake from our ego. He’ll put his finger on our shirt as if we have a smudge of dark chocolate smeared across our chest, and we’ll have zero inclination to look down. We’ll resist the bait at every level of our being, and be free. We’ll simply laugh.
We’ll all laugh together… (Such is the power of commitment, I tell you…)
A “panicky vacuum into which flooded a debilitating anxiety about being on the verge of imminent and permanent annihilation”— you succintly described what I was trying to put into words last week at our ACIM group. This has been me… and you were trying to tell me that this is, ultimately, a good thing– a purging of old beliefs. I’m beginning to “get it.” And beginning to see that I’m not alone… (thank GOD, both literally and figuratively). “Not taking control is the key to unlearning…” Ok… it’s beginning to sink in. Michael, thank you for this. Tracey
Tracey, it is always a relief for me, too, when I discover I am not alone. I find that all my darkness(es) contain a common theme- isolation, solitary embrittlement, a collapse of spacetime right on top of me. It feels as though its on me and me alone to turn the tide, which only adds to the daunting nature of the task. I find I don’t even want to be around others, don’t want to reach out, don’t want to dredge it up into the light of day. Then, when the light breaks through the clouds, and the moment of grace arrives, I am always reminded I was never alone, not for one second! Its like a wave of retro-active relief that goes back in time and transforms my perception of what the entire process was. Kind of crazy… I think you have shown great courage going through your process so openly with others, and it has been inspiring for me… Michael
You said, “It feels as though its on me and me alone to turn the tide, which only adds to the daunting nature of the task. I find I don’t even want to be around others, don’t want to reach out, don’t want to dredge it up into the light of day.” That’s where I am. I am not sure how to get the light to break out of the clouds… but I will remain confident that it will. Meanwhile, I’ll keep picturing myself with God, and praying to Him as well, in hopes that the light will break through. It feels like a hollowless place… very alone. The ironic thing is that I’m not alone, but I can’t quite get myself to *know* that. So perhaps I’m meant to go through this tough part in hopes that what I learn will really stick this time. I’m not sure. But I’m looking forward to that retro-active relief for certain! Thank you Michael.
Well, I can relate and I’m sure many others can as well. Sometimes I find it helpful to stop butting my ahead against the wall, and I remind myself (or more likely am reminded) not to take all this illusory dark and stormy bit, or myself, too seriously. It’s not real, anyway. You’re There: surrounded, held, perfect in exactly this Moment, and Loved. Its a question of allowing yourself to know that, and the more we try to wrestle with and fix the feeling that says we’re not there, the more we reinforce the belief that we’re not there. Relax. Watch some Jack Black videos. Pretend you have a three-year old spiritual advisor inside your heart and ask her what to do. I’m not saying to run from the moment- just (hopefully) helping you place your attention on what is real, and what you do have, as opposed to what is unreal, and what you may think you do not have. The Knowing we seek sneaks up on us when we stop protesting that we don’t have it!
‘In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell of that wood, savage and harsh and dense, the though of which renews my fear! So bitter is that death is hardly more.” -Dante “Divine Comedy”
It all comes down to fear or love.
I think I remember reading somewhere that we only fully realize a hammer is a hammer when it breaks and stops working when hammering :).
Ha! Good one!
You’re right about it coming down to fear or love, but I sometimes shy away from boiling the nuance and vastness of the challenges we face into such simple terms. For me, at least, at the time that I lived this experience, such simple expressions were just useless to me, because they disguised the fact that sometimes the letting go, or the navigation of darkness, is a process. The slogans can mask the richness of the process of coming to be who we are. It isn’t the simple flip of a switch, and when we think it is, and we find ourselves mired in confusion, the notion that we should be able to just “flip a switch” can only compound the self-doubt when we fail to do so.
Once I was driving through the Rockies, just west of Denver, at night. After a while, I honestly couldn’t tell if I was going up an incline, or down an incline. My mind couldn’t make sense of our orientation through any visual cues available to it, and I almost got nauseous. This is kind of like my experience of being afraid, but wholly unable, through the resources immediately at my disposal, to navigate a straight path clear of it. Put simply: I needed help. Strong help.
Fear isn’t always a shaking, trembling thing. It dresses itself up well- disguises itself, accomplishes its function through subtle means. It can twist a good thought, a pure intention, into a hurdle. It can mire us in questions we can’t answer. It can make love into a concept. It presents a myriad of options- more options than we could imagine- none of which is authentic. Sometimes we need a guide to get out of this maze. I would say when we’re out, and we look back, we recognize the guide has always been in and with us, but while we’re moving out of it, there is a need to ignore the cues, ignore the temptations, ignore the emotions- and walk a straight line to freedom.
It is, I think, impossible to do this by oneself- especially when the starting point is an identity that isn’t true. And this is what I mean by doing this by oneself- to do this in the absence of knowing who we are. For that being, it is impossible. And yet that is the only being who experiences fear, so the very being who first encounters real, deep-seated fear, is the being least able to flip the switch.
Wonderful calling of attention to the subtly in details and how precious to be gifted such a personal share in response!
For me, fear is a natural part of unconditional love unfolding, but only is physically experienced as such when enough of it has been faced to burn away the illusion of it not being. Really, the boil down to two words is a shorthand to use while looking on a road map that only shows detail of the Western hemisphere, rather than one on a communication scale that will help you anticipate each coming twist and turn as we navigate say, Pikes Peak. 🙂 Different resolutions are needed at different times in our lives.
The last time I faced some pretty heavy duty fear was last year. It was a rather surreal experience. However, it was fun to find that the fear of death was no longer mine, but rather was gifted by the people around me. The electrical box caught fire on a wooden wall shared by our row house style 1910 building in New York while 5 1/2 feet of water was on our first floor and in the street… and my neighbor there does not swim.
When fear hits the physical feeling body, the waters of navigation grow murky and muddy. We are seeing the externalized surface, but with that shorthand of it all comes down to love or fear (first read as a title on a bookshelf while visiting the home of an old hippy 🙂 ), I learned the trick to remember immediately in the moment to ask the simple is it this or that question giving the illusion of control in knowing :). For me, this then immediately allowed the feeling of either to sink me without fighting it because the mind had a small “known” operational parameter to guide a panicking body with. Doing this for me automatically leads one into that needed deeper dive within. What appeared as fear, then is chemically played out under a different assigned meaning and can be experienced for what it always really is, and for me that is a sheep in the outfit of a wolf…initially perceived shark fins that turn out to be dolphins.
and when fear as terror paralyses…
So right you are to call for the deeper dive in commenting here. I forget so often that when we share our thoughts here, it really holds the potential to be seen by the whole world. I do not worry about stats or likes or followers related to my writing and blogging. I write with the intent that those who need to find these words will and Michael, you are right…you know the shorthand, but others who find themselves inspired to be reading here may not.
And to that other dear reader who may be reading this right now in the future, Michael could feel you coming with the potential of needing some expanded detail for clarity. He is amazing. Enjoy and devour every one of his wise words. You are not alone in your life out there. We feel you. We feel the fear, too. Welcome home :). -x.M
Thanks, M. There is nothing quite like a large and powerful weather event to reshape our perspective. Sometimes we discover in those moments something we didn’t realize was in there! Thanks for your beautiful sharing here. It is collaborative and expansive, and much appreciated.
“somehow I had the feeling that during my retreat God had ‘cleared the block’ so to speak, and given me the incredible gift of offering a space wholly conducive to my being enabled to see just how pervasive all the muck inside of myself truly was.”
This makes sense to me Michael.
When I hit an existential bottom, in my mid-thirties, I sought out a Jungian analyst, although I had been self-propelling for many years before that time. But I had a life-long personal issue revolving around identity that becamse an unbearable burden. In the course of being very attentive to my dreams, and living day-to-day in a very strange psychic landscape, I had a dream that in and of itself doesn’t seem very life-changing, but, upon awakening, I received one of those electric kundalini shocks shooting up my spine right into my head. I woke up feeling its intensity and not sure if I was about to die.
I knew something big had happened to me, I felt different, but it’s not that I had instant clarity over anything. I have never felt the same since though, not physically, not psychically. And over the course of the next few years, pieces of all of the puzzles I seemed to be working on, found their places. Clarity started to come over all ideas and situations, if I just stopped and pondered and gave my attention to things. I had no barriers to push thoughts away, and I stopped feeling personally attached to ideas and to the sense of myself.
The trend continues and it’s been about 20 years. There is a religious aspect to my healing, but I can’t pretend to fully understand it. I have never felt the specific presence of Jesus, or any other personification of God, but I do feel a presence. I have felt and heard a woman’s voice a couple of times when I briefly went through a spell of feeling attacked by something harmful. In fact, she told me that “he would never bother me again.” That was about 10 years ago, and I can only say that so far, it’s been true.
Having experienced healing and feeling that I have been given some kind of gift, I feel propelled to share, or at least be more available to people who share similar interests, but I know it’s a very tricky deal to decide what purpose the incidents in my life may have, especially for others. What my heart says is to keep on following the thread and feed my love of ideas desire to know God and the nature of reality, and to stay the course through living attentively, compassionately and lovingly. To the best of my ability anyway.
I started my blog in 2010 to practice writing specifically about what happened, the healing event and all. If I live long enough, God willing, I will write a book. In the meantime, I have found that blogging has brought me many gifts in terms of relationships with people who help me feel more related, something I don’t feel naturally inclined to do, but know that it has value.
Here is a post I wrote about the dream I had if you’re interested: http://ptero9.com/2010/10/25/jump-start-or-tow-me-away/
Okay, this is long…so I’ll stop for now. Thanks for pointing me to this post.
Debra, thank you for sharing this wonderful review of your experience and for the link to your post. Sometimes all of this is both mysterious and familiar at the same time.
I completely echo the sentiment expressed in this line: “What my heart says is to keep on following the thread and feed my love of ideas desire to know God and the nature of reality, and to stay the course through living attentively, compassionately and lovingly.” I’m with you on that one. I have no idea what it means or where it goes, but to focus on the ideals of the world “out there” inevitably leaves me feeling empty and meaningless.
It is interesting- although I write about Jesus, I can’t say as I’ve ever had a direct, obvious, outer manifestation of Him. I have never heard voices per se, or had any superluminal experiences. This was a problem for me at one time, a source of difficulty, a lack of validation of my inner desire to connect with the greater reality I sought, but I have grown some along the way and now have discovered a very strong inner knowing that does not require these displays. The “voice” I found in A Course in Miracles and then in A Course of Love was a voice I could feel inwardly, as if it knew me intimately and was familiar with my every feeling and desire, and which I experienced as a close presence, with a distinguishing power, compassion, and warmth, and that is what I equate to Jesus.
Your awakening experience sounds wonderful- gentle even. I think as I learn more about other’s experiences, that we come to this in unique ways, ways as individual as we are. Comparison has been a big problem for me in the past, in a self-defeating sort of way. As I mentioned above, seeking a particular form of experience, I ended up continually comparing my experiences to those of others, and this presence of Jesus, through the works I mentioned, (along with my commitment to the path offered me), has boiled most all of that dross away. Despite the fact that our road to discovery is wholly unique, I think that what we discover is ultimately deep connection.
I’m glad you are still blogging! It does wonders to connect and share, to become known and to come to know. I look forward to trading books!
I can relate to having a sense that there should be a guide who is obviously someone in particular. The vagueness of feeling presences is perhaps one more step along the way.
However, not having the sense of a personal guide does not seem to diminish what comes through. But then again…
It feels though, as if an opening has been created and a heightened sensitivity along with the expansion of personal identity, allows for an experience of a frequent transpersonal perspective.
I’d like to think that everyone is capable of expanding their sense of identity, but that without something or someone to give us a little cosmic push, we’ll limp along protecting the perimeters without the knowledge that we have perimeters. 🙂
Anyway, yes, it’s one thing to have experienced life in expansive ways you never dreamed possible, but to be able to converse like this is rare and in that sense a very beautiful thing. Thank you!
I would love to trade books!
Peace and Blessings my friend!
I don’t think relating the experience to a particular guide or not is the thing. In the pathways through which I have connected with this felt presence called “Jesus”, he most commonly refers to himself as a brother, or a companion. I really like that. We are equal in potential, equal in reality, colleagues in the eternal, but he has accepted perhaps more than I have as of this particular slice in time. He has released all desire for anything to be contrary to what it is. And in full acceptance, he couldn’t help but accept the Truth for all of us. This has nothing to do with the stories about death as compensation for the debt of wrongdoing. This is about the inescapable Truth that to accept who one is, is to recognize and join with “who” all of us are. So in his acceptance, he holds the place for us that we are now in the process of accepting ourselves. He holds it, because he is it. He has accepted it, and taken on the mantle. We are it also. We are coming to accept this. No one is not it. No one can avoid acceptance indefinitely, e.g. forever.
But “it” is not Jesus… 🙂
It is the reality we share, something we cannot describe, a presence that has no single name or identity, a feeling that makes us want to write to friends, to move to another city, to transform a relationship, to be at peace with the life in front of us, to cry because we found out it’s all really, really good.
Jesus is a good friend. A reliable friend. A friend who will come and find me in the deepest darkness and tell me a soft story as we walk home through the night. But I would never say “should”… I would never say one cannot get home by any of a million routes. It is good to have a friend. That is all. It is quite possible I think, to simply accept the reality of who we are without a specific, personal presence. In doing so, I still think one finds that everyone is “in the reality” with them.
You’re right I think about limping along our perimeters. I think pain and suffering are the inevitable result, perhaps, of trying to “accept” an identity with perimeters… That pain initiates the desire to expand.
Thank you for the wheel-turning impetus.
“He has released all desire for anything to be contrary to what it is.”
Yes, this is so hard for many to accept. I so wish, when I see or hear of someone’s suffering that they could open themselves to consider this essential insight.
Acceptance for how things are, and also that we are in something. In, as in being located and locating ourselves, in relation to the body, to others, to history, to culture, family and to the whole big cosmic play, that is an expansion of identity.
I think “should” comes up from feeling the presence and not having named It. The sufis have this idea that the Source, Whole, God, or whatever name we wish to use to point to the undividedness, is mediated to us through angelic reflections of our truer self.
Ultimately, I understand that both in language and in thought, any schema or persona that comes through to us, refers to the whole and in that sense is mediated. So, yes it is the understanding we immerse ourselves in, through continued “wheel-turning” impetus that waters the flowers of the soul.
And yes, I so agree with you – it is all really, really good, even in dark times.
Thanks, Debra. Every comment of yours is full of access points to deeper questions. I wonder if you are saying that our every experience of undividedness is a mediated one? I’m not sure how I think about that- how it relates to the whole, ineffable feeling of sitting with a sun set.
On the other hand, I think Creation is a means for experiencing undividedness, and that without this little simulation we are in there would be no depth of field for undividedness to comprehend itself. In that sense, I would agree that it is our relationship with a finite extension of the whole that reveals the whole, and so our relationships with everything are revelations of All, and in that sense, our glimpses into undividedness are mediated.
Mediated by undividedness. 🙂
“I wonder if you are saying that our every experience of undividedness is a mediated one? ”
I am speculating with the Sufi understanding that the Undivided Whole in a certain sense must be mediated or we would be the Whole itself.
The Sufi idea (and I’m entertaining theses notions, not defending them as an exclusive truth) of Modes of Being suggests that the Divine Wholeness can only be experienced by us through the Modes that are closer to the Whole, meaning the Angelic realm. The Angelic realm is a mode of being where Angels mediate the Undivided Whole to us through Active Imagination, meditation and Prayer .
As I ponder that idea, I realize that all attempts to concretize or turn reality into a system can never capture the Whole. But I think the Sufis know that. Their modes of being are a way of describing an experience that they have. The experience itself is immediate, or unmediated, but they do not believe that Allah, God, the Undivided whole can ever be directly known in all it glory and fullness.
I like to imagine the modes of being as filters somewhat like how space, time and our atmosphere filter sunlight down to us to make it useful in our realm of existence.
Yes, mediated by undividedness! I like that.
And yes, the whole, the source of creation seeks and finds knowing through all that is created.
The language, however close it comes, still seems to never completely capture this big cosmic idea, but perhaps language can and does its part by conveying to us a sense of the whole.
Which leads me to the next thread; how, or in what way, does experiencing the divine, manifest in the physical realm, to what if any is its aim?
This is tricky, because speculating that leads to pretending to know, may only expose our prejudices, yes?
But, I ask this question because so many people are and have been compelled to share these ideas and usually to serve the whole. I often think that a small taste of this nectar is enough to jumpstart a broken heart in people who are wounded or lost.
So, is the drive to share and help others possibly God wanting to know Himself, and what ultimate aim could it serve?
That’s too big a question for me, but it does come up when I feel my own compulsion to share with others the experience of the whole that I have.
I feel our commentary spiraling outwards and I like it. It pulls in new, connected thoughts and openings. I didn’t read your comment until I got my post up today, and it strikes me there is some synchronicity between your note here and the thoughts that were passing through me. It was a really lovely experience to hit the Publish button and then see your note.
I don’t have any hard and fast answers on this mediation business, and I am aware I am prejudiced by my current reading. In A Course of Love, Jesus talks about the world entering the Time of Christ, which he describes as a time when we no longer need mediation. We no longer need to- or perhaps are no longer “choosing to” is a better way of saying it- experience the reality-relationship called “God” through intermediaries. We may, in fact, lose all grip intellectually and conceptually on what “God” is or means. In the text, in a passage very similar to Buddhist thinking about the self I think, Jesus says that concepts of God are simply not necessary, and often do not help us.
I really like the Sufi descriptions you are entertaining, and wouldn’t say there is any right or wrong in this. I am at sea adrift in waves of recognition. I do like the idea that Creation is on the move, that what our forebears experienced and etched onto paper or stone was True, but that we are deepening our connection to the Source they felt. We are wading out into the deep end. It is also hard, as we’ve told one another, to use language. We are not all of the Whole. We glimpse it, and through whatever mechanism or mediation I don’t think matters. The Sufi description of means is something akin to how I feel about the modern use of science: it is a possible way of revelation, of giving a Mystery a means of unfolding the mind can grasp and become comfortable with. But I would say in the context of needing to glimpse the Whole through modes of being closer to the whole, I think it is possible we are becoming such a mode. This is perhaps, the fulfillment of purpose you wrote about in the second half of your note.
I’d like to come back to the second part, the question of purpose, but want to sit with it before responding. It merits some reflection!
Peace to you on this day.
Thank you Michael!