Recently I got an email from a Church of the Churchless visitor who said, “Still read your website. Looks like all those years of meditation are bearing fruit.” I wrote back, “I don’t know whether years of meditation are bearing fruit. I feel more and more barren. Could that be the prelude to bearing fruit? I can only hope.”
Then I received a wonderful response. My correspondent shared thoughts, experiences, and quotations about spiritual chaos, the breaking up of what is orderly and familiar so that fresh realizations are able to grow. I liked what she said so much, with her permission I’m sharing her message almost verbatim here.
Sometimes it wasn’t clear where her own words left off and a quote began. I may have made some mistakes with my quotation marks. But then, the source of a wise statement doesn’t really matter. Truth is truth, no matter from where it springs.
The first part of her message follows. To read the rest, click on the “continue reading” link.
As for your meditation bearing fruit . . .Well, from my viewpoint, it is obviously so. From my studies and personal experience, when a soul makes a breakthrough in awareness the “world” doesn’t usually break out in applause and encourage it to move forward.
The “world” usually tells you to shut the fuck up or says you are weird. “Hey, get back here where you belong.” Or, “you don’t fit in anymore.” And if you are not experiencing consolations within, which is apparently standard for this part of the journey, it can be lonely.
I don’t feel like I can explain my perception as well as I would like. But, for now, here’s just a few things that come to mind.
From Anthony De Mello’s The Heart of the Enlightened: Given the nature of the spiritual quest: “A man came upon a tall tower and stepped inside to find it all dark. As he groped around, he came upon a circular staircase. Curious to know where it led to, he began to climb, and as he climbed, he sensed a growing uneasiness in his heart. So he looked behind him and was horrified to see that each time he climbed a step, the previous one fell off and disappeared. Before him the stairs wound upward and he had no idea where they led; behind him yawned an enormous black emptiness.”
Various yoga or esoteric traditions describe the path of evolution as a spiral, going through complete cycles of seasons on each step. During some of the fall or winter seasons, there is the appearance or feeling you are going down, but the reality is you are still on the same step cycling through all the seasons of that stage. And the seasons are effecting changes in you.
And forces within you are drawing you onward and forward into the next season and cycle, and ultimately into the next step or stage. And even though you had been getting closing and closer to placing your foot on the next step, when it happens it seems like suddenly you are in a different place. And you look back, and like Jon Stewart, go “Whaaaaaaaa?” and rub your eyes. The step below has vanished.
So there is no going back because, like it or not, something within and without is driving you. It’s like birth. You may feel like you’re being squished to death – but out you go, like it or not. The point is, you are now entering into unknown, expanded territory, and it is difficult to integrate the new expanded territory with the old.
You may miss the security of being closer to what you thought was the ground and you may miss some of the comforts and familiarity of prior steps. You may no longer have the fringe benefit of a community supporting you for believing and acting like they do. When the going gets rough, nostalgia makes you long for past, simpler times, when you thought you had it all figured out. When the pressures and insecurity that go with the new territory become uncomfortable, you make some half-hearted attempts to go back down a rung, or even two, to recover that security.
But you discover that the lower rungs no longer provide the comfort you hoped for. The rung below has “disappeared” for you -- and there is nothing to go back to. You can only go forward into the new unknown. The familiar One is always and ever present and calling you closer, but it’s hard to believe in the chaos of this transition phase.
Here’s another excerpt from one of your favorite authors:
From Thomas Keating’s An Invitation to Love, Chapter 12, Anthony in the Tombs:
“Periods of struggle move us to new levels of integration, and then we have to translate our relationships to God, ourselves, and other people into this new perspective. This may take some years. After it has been accomplished, the spiritual food that nourishes us at that level eventually becomes insipid and no longer nourishes. We find ourselves once again in a crisis of faith, and, after another extended struggle, we take the leap to the next level of faith and love. This does not mean that we are immediately well established at the new level. Rather, we must go through another lengthy period of integrating all our relationships into the new perspective.”
From Jeff Volk’s article on Sound in Kindred Spirit, Autumn 2002:
“Dancing with disorder…despite our discomfort with discord and disharmony, chaos appears to play an essential role in the process of growth and evolution… The crucial role of chaos is demonstrated in one of Dr. Jenny’s cymatic experiments with such grace and elegance that it completely changes the way one views disorder, beckoning you to accept disintegration as an ally, instead of resisting or fearing it.”
He then goes on to describe an experiment with wave patterns created in water as it vibrates in response to pure tones.
“At a low frequency, a very stable looking pattern emerges. As long as the pitch is sustained and not altered, the pattern appears static. But as soon as the frequency changes, the stable structure dissolve into chaos…and as the frequency steadily increases, the water sample spontaneously reorganizes in a more intricately structure form…after a short chaotic phase, a new stable structure emerges which is more intricate and which also has a greater degree of interconnectedness between its elements. As the frequency increases, the same process recurs – chaos, and then reintegration – with a higher order of intricacy and harmonic coherency reflecting the higher vibration, or frequency.”
I find this kind of research fascinating, and of course, I believe it applies to consciousness as well as matter. I also enjoy the interesting insights of James Hollis, the Jungian psychologist. There are two books by him that I have kept -- Creating a Life: Finding Your Individual Path and Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places. You can “look inside” both books on Amazon. Some of it can be a tad heavy, but every once in a while I go back and scan through them and savor how he tells the story. Here are some of my favorites from Creating a Life:
“The more you are like the others, the more secure you will feel, yet the more your heart will ache, the more dreams will be troubled and the more your soul will slip off into silences.
“Hubris is found in our capacity to convince ourselves that we really know what is going on. It is found in our capacity for self-deception, in the notion that we can choose with impunity, that we are in control, that we have covered all possible angles. Such delusion is a form of magical thinking, whereby we seek to manage existential anxiety through the fantasy of control and domination.
“At the moment of greatest triumph, arrogance will activate the forces of the cosmos to bring you to your knees. How can one choose clearly, prudently, when the lens through which one sees the world is itself provisional and distorting? When we reflect on the nature of spiritual experience we recall that it is phenomenological in character, that is, experiential not conceptual . . .
“. . . Dogma to address the doubts of the mind, ritual which seeks the original connection by repetition of what was once phenomenologically spontaneous, and cultic practices which bring some comfort in the association of like-mindedness with one’s tribe. These artifacts of primal experience in time become institutions, and progressively more and more remote from the original encounter with the gods.
“We all know this is true. If these institutional forms really connected people with the gods, we could see the difference. The urgency to consensus, the hysteria of conformism, the slippage into totalitarian thinking, is the surest measure of doubt, disbelief and dissimilation. The person in a living experience does not have to define it, think about it, defend it, proselytize. Those who do have to proselytize are furiously at work defending against their own doubt and their dissociation from the primal encounter with the transcendent energy.
“The test of a psychologically mature person, and therefore spiritually mature, will be found in his or her capacity to handle what one might call the Triple A’s: anxiety, ambiguity, and ambivalence. The immature psyche especially suffers a tension and seeks to resolve it quickly by a shift right or left to a one-sided solution.
“The more mature psyche is able to sustain the tension of opposites and contain the conflict longer, thereby allowing the developmental and revelatory potential of the issue to emerge. Anxiety rises in the face of uncertainty, open-endedness. Ambiguity confounds the ego’s lust for security, to fix the world in a permanently knowable place. Ambivalence, the fact that the opposites are always present, visible or not, obliges one to deal with the capacity for dialogue with that other.
"This experience often obliges a confrontation with the shadow, where the values rejected by the ego are not unlike exiles plotting to return home surreptitiously. Authority externalized is personal responsibility avoided.
“The capacity to stay open to the dynamism of life, to grant autonomy to the gods, to allow enlargement through revelation, is to open to a more respectful relationship with the mystery that moves through all events. If we could define it, control it, it would not be the mystery. This is why awe and submission before the transcendent are the chief religious values, and the most difficult for the insecure.
“Our ego anxiously wishes to fence in the boundaries of the soul and seek control. What pretends to be logic is in fact the rationalized defense against anxiety.
“Jung: God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.
“When we elect the fearful path, we regress, we infantilize, we oversimplify, we cut ourselves off from development and enlargement
“A person with high self-esteem is often one with a narcissistic personality disorder whose whole persona is devoted to hiding from others his or her secret emptiness. Anyone with a modicum of consciousness and a mild dollop of integrity will be able to enumerate a very long list of screw-ups, shortcomings, betrayals, moments of cowardice and generalized incompetence. Anything less than a very long list suggests either an undeveloped awareness of an act of great self-deception.
“As powerful as the will is, as urgent and insistent as the élan vital, the imagination creates the world in which we live. The only question is: whose imagination, whose images, whose myths are we living in the course of that which we call our life?”
And here are a few quotations from Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places:
“There is a thought, a recurrent fantasy perhaps, that the purpose of life is to achieve happiness… but Jungian psychology, and the disciplined practice of personal growth it promotes, offers another perspective based on the assumption that the goal of life is not happiness, but meaning.
“As far back as 2500 years ago Aeschylus observed that the gods have ordained a solemn decree, that through suffering we come to wisdom. Without the suffering, which seems the epiphenomenal requisite for psychological and spiritual maturation, one would remain unconscious, infantile, and dependent. Many of our addictions, ideological attachments and neuroses are flights from suffering.
“One in four North Americans identify with the fundamentalist’s belief systems, seeking therein to unburden their journey with simplistic, black and white values, subordinating spiritual ambiguity to the certainty of a leader and the ready opportunity to project life’s ambivalence onto their neighbors.
“It is in the swamplands where soul is fashioned and forged, where we encounter not only the gravitas of life, but its purpose, its dignity and its deepest meaning…the hardest fantasy to relinquish is the thought that there is someone out there who is going to fix us, take care of us—spare us the intimidating journey to which we have been summoned.
“While ego would like to encapsulate such depth in dogmatic certainties and quantifiable predictions, motivated by a desire for security, the mystery of which we are a fragmentary part is not only far beyond our capacity to engineer but beyond even our power to comprehend.
“While we may seek it through ego-driven venues, ranging from theology to music to romantic love, we are more frequently pulled down into the swamplands where we least want to sojourn. Such descents are proof of the ubiquity, autonomy and essential mystery of the soul.
“To be a person of value rather than an emotional chameleon, choices perforce must be made and pleasing others cannot be at the top of the agenda. The capacity to forgive is ... implicit recognition of our own capacity to betray.
“In each of the swampland states there is a developmental task… we have to ask what task is implicit in each of these dismal places. In every case it is some variant of gaining permission, leaving a dependency or finding the courage to stand vulnerably and responsibly before the universe. In every case we are challenged to grow up, to take on the journey with greater consciousness. While such enlargement is often terrifying, it is also freeing and brings dignity and meaning to our lives.
“One only attacks what one fears. Doubt is the necessary fuel for change, and therefore for growth…the problem is not doubt; the problem is fear of change. All concepts, whether dogmas or operative beliefs, are husks which once held the energy but which can also serve as a prison.
“The god which can be named is not God. Whether it is our beliefs that must suffer doubt in order to grow, or our certainties about ourselves that must be shattered, doubt is the agency of change and renewal.”
The obstacles on the journey appear to be universal. I have DVDs of Joseph Campbells’ interviews with Bill Moyers. I liked them the first time I heard them. I like them even more now. Campbell was very gifted in being able to integrate his knowledge of all the various religions and spiritual teachings and stages of the journey and describe how they all point to the same Reality. I also have found the biographies of spiritual and otherwise remarkable folks to be helpful, inspiring, and sobering.
It appears some folks can integrate everything and make progress within the confines of, or in spite of, the institution. But my observation and reading of the biographies of some “saints” – even Sant Mat saints – indicates that the journey more often involves a great deal of searching, perhaps some wandering hither and thither, some inner realizations, flying in the face of institutions, rites, and rigid dogmas and castes – and letting go of fear.
And when The Teacher of all teachers appears, the would-be saints are not necessarily in the presence of The Teacher for all that long. Hmmm. And sometimes the “saint” goes on to study with even more teachers. And usually they are thrust out in the world or back into the institution in various capacities, and reaching the heights of spiritual maturity after long years on their own, sometimes having functioned as a “teacher” with little or perhaps no contact with The Teacher.
And the Divine within and without manifests the journey, apparently exactly as it needs to unfold. And the journey entails many, many trials and twists and turns. Up the spiral staircase, step by step, ever toward the embrace of the Beloved, as the staircase below disappears into nothingness.
And what was a trial ten years ago hardly seems worth mentioning now.
Your meditation is bearing fruit, but there is the universal reluctance and fear of letting go. And the process is messy. Hmmm. I think that was one of Hollis’s chapters in “Creating a Life – The Necessary Mess of Things.” Ah, yes. Stages of greater awareness and realization punctuated by messy chaos.
With mossy logs and the like appearing, hopefully with greater frequency, as portals into the Greater Reality. That’s my observation, for what it’s worth.