Monday, 26 January 2015

An Experience of the Desert of Aloneness

          I will once again make reference to "The Twelve Steps" of spiritual recovery because it was a powerful experience for me at a time when I was trying to deal with the effects of living with another person's alcoholism. It could have been any trauma I suspect, but mine was my obsession with another person's debilitating addiction. Although, in the beginning, my practical work followed the prescribed order of the "Twelve Steps", I see in hindsight that the process was far more complicated than it first appeared. Thus it was only through a thorough, in depth, working of the 4th. and 5th. Steps, (quoted in my previous post, "An Experience of Inner Baptism") that I began to understand the significance of the Steps 2 and 3. Let me quote them here:

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

          Immediately, the focus of my life, my sense of spirituality, was moved from my ego-self to what has been called my Higher Self. I had no real understanding of what this Power was, except that some people called it God, as they understood that word. I never did understand the word in any way that I could bring to consciousness. I only knew that I had experienced something, some persuasive force, that remains present today. That has always been enough for me because under its influence I have successfully reached the stage I am at today. Without it, I seemed to be sliding into an abyss of irrationality, illogic and a total loss of reason.
          To recognise an experience of something more worthy than my controlling ego was not enough. These Steps are part of a very practical programme of inner work, and I needed to make some kind of commitment. Let me put it another way if you will: I felt that I needed to respond to something occurring inside me, and that response, call it enlightened self-interest if you wish, was to "let go" of my desire and practice of trying to control both my inner world and my outer environment. I must say that at the time, my motives for making such a choice were perhaps less noble or "spiritual" than they might have appeared to be. In reality, I just wanted something/someone else to carry my burden for a while, until I could gather enough strength and will to carry on as before. Somewhere along the way I learned the futility of that goal; that I had discovered something, some purpose, to which I could offer my allegiance.
          Yet it was after the experience of the later Steps 4 and 5, that I began to experience something arising from the depths of the earlier two Steps. From being buoyed up by the joy of self-discovery, I was plunged into the depths of doubt and uncertainty. Had I really made the right choice? Was I being 'conned' by force of circumstances? I needed to get my intellect working on a problem that in reality didn't exist.
          There began a period of investigation, with all its doubts and second thoughts, not to mention the attendant temptations to let my ego once more take control. In the silence of my rooms, I came face to face with my doubts, my decisions, and even my honesty or perhaps lack of. I was alone, seemingly far away from others who might have boosted my strength and given me support (but not necessarily so). Such help was available, but not twenty-four hours a day, not seven days a week. That was in part my choice. That companionship of others was not what I needed. I needed to be alone, for it was in that desert of lost-ness, of total aloneness that I needed to take my stand. It was not too difficult a stand to make, but neither was it easy. I stood at the brink and became intensely aware of the reality of my own lacking of significant control, lacking of absolute certainty.
          I needed to understand in a new way the significance of the earlier steps I had taken, that I was required to find a point of balance where I did not veer towards ego-negativity, nor fix my eyes so exclusively on the positives of a Higher Self that I forgot the presence of the negatives. Balance was the key, a balance that also refused identification with either extreme. The paradox was that in taking that line I became closer to my positives, my Higher Self anyway. A deep change of my inner life was under way, that kind of change that was out of my control, that was the consequence of right choices being made. That is not to say that I always enjoyed and practised total detachment about my state. There were times when I was very far from that I fear. It was only that by struggling with my self/ego was I able eventually to see that a profound process was inevitably unfolding. Inevitable? Yes, because it happened without my conscious decision to effect that process. It happened, and continues to do so - when I remember to stop interfering - under the aegis of something much wiser than me.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

An Experience of Inner Baptism

          It has been said that we can do nothing to effect our own psycho-spiritual redemption;  that we are totally in the hands of some deity or other, possibly capricious, power. If this were the case, we could not really be said to be responsible for what we do, and could fall back on that comfort-cushion of "I'm only a human being." The truth is that we can do something about our inner lives, although it must be added that the outcomes may not be within our spiritual control.
          In my previous post I talked about the experience of taking an honest and searching inventory of myself, a process that was taken as deeply as I was able to go. That was a process that I was able to instigate, something for which I was able to take responsibility. Yet what I discovered was that two processes were put into effect, the second one being the natural outcome of the one for which I had assumed responsibility. A word had flittered into my head from time to time, and just as readily departed. I never really paid that word much attention, but in the end it was to underline what the whole process of inventory-taking had been about. That word was denial, more precisely the eradication of psychological denial. Without the removal of my denial, it would have been impossible to gain any perspective on truth.
          The more I thought about it, the more I realised that to become free from denial was perhaps the single, greatest step I could take towards spiritual healing. This "process of becoming", in which my inner world of denial, of laying bare the games, tricks and machinations of my ego, was revealed as a process of ever-increasing enlightenment which lay deeper than I could have voluntarily accessed. In short, my inner world had undergone a process of purification.
          With this thought in mind, I set about doing a pathworking (along the lines of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius) which involved experiencing the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth, with as much attention to detail as I could manage. Usually, I have no problems with this kind of exercise, but on this occasion another experience imposed itself on my consciousness. I will quote from my pathworking diaries as follows:-

"..........Before me stood a high pyramid of steps, a series of platforms of ever-decreasing size. At the top, on a level with the faces of the Lords of Karma, stood a lectern holding the closed Book of Life, and a high-backed chair. When I stood at the lectern and asked my question, 

"Have I made sufficient amends for the hurts I have caused, and if not what more can I do?"

the cover of the Book sprang open and the pages flipped over as if driven by a powerful wind. There were snatches of gold writing, but nothing that I could focus on, or understand. In seconds the Book had closed once more, so I sat and waited.
          After a while, blood began to seep from between the pages of the Book, running out onto the white-covered, altar-like table that the lectern had become. Then, what appeared to be a hazy cloud of golden stardust showered twinkling down on to the blood and absorbed it, leaving the table pristine clean once more.
          The pyramid of steps had disappeared, to be replaced by an invisible path still on the level of the Lords faces. As I hurried between them everything went dark. All that could be seen was a single old figure with a light shining down on him. I knelt before him and asked for forgiveness for all the hurt I had caused. He blessed me, and I left that place.........."

          In this pathworking, I needed to know about the follow-up to the taking of my personal inventory, namely whether I had made sufficient amends. I do not believe that life offers rewards or punishments for what I do. But there will always be consequences, and I needed to face those consequences. I think this pathworking is quite clear. Again, a purification process had taken place.
          When I review my experience which I have discussed in this, and in the previous, essay it seems to me that it is reasonable to conclude that I have undergone an inner baptism or purification. This "washing away" process has its counterpart in the baptism of Jesus as lived by the mythological Christ. Gradually it is becoming clear that the inner Christological life of the Nazarene can be seen as a blueprint for anyone choosing to follow a spiritual path. Of course, my life is not his, nor his life mine. Yet there are points of similarity that point to a common set of forms of inner experience which can be entered into by anyone, whether or not they claim to be agnostic, atheistic or religious. It is, I believe, this common form of inner experience that can be inclusive of everyone that could be the best counter to the divisiveness so prevalent in today's world.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

A Personal Inventory

  As part of my current exercise in taking stock of my spiritual life, I will open this essay by quoting Step 4 of the "Twelve Step Program of Spiritual Recovery."

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

At first sight this does not appear to hold many problems. Against the background of what I am trying to show, the depth of this inventory is very important. Looked at from a fundamentalist standpoint I believe it to be true that, indeed, this Step may not present too many problems.  The picture is very different from a eisegesic point of view, for then every part of one's life experience and its interpretation comes into play. And that can feel, and usually is felt, like spiritual, hopeless devastation. As one's inventory contains positive as well as negative personality traits, it is as well to deal first with the latter (the easier option anyway) rather than the former. Great benefits are gained by the writing down of the details of this inventory, rather than simply going over them in one's head, a method too easily used as a cop-out.
Whilst this process of inventory-taking requires a deep investigation of every possible character trait, it will not be part of my task to go into the actual details of this Step, but rather to treat the subject in such a way as to throw some light onto the background against which my experiences may be compared, namely the life as lived by the mythological Christ through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It will be recalled from my previous post, "Spiritual Awakening," that this is my chosen, pre-existing format with which to compare my own inner journey.
Following the Step 4 inventory comes the more difficult Step 5. This Step is important, not perhaps for what it is, as for what it is not. Let me quote:-

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

This would appear to be something in the nature of a confession, yet in reality it is far from that. Admitting to another person, and one needs to know that person can be absolutely trusted, all one's character traits, negative and positive, certainly focuses the mind onto reality as I had never known it before. And that goes to the heart of the process, the confrontation with a new reality. This, I believe, is where the Catholic ritual of confession falls short. I had discovered a new truth which up to that time I had not seen. Guilt did not come into the picture. Wrongs do not necessarily carry with them a sense of guilt, but of recognition. Guilt serves only one purpose, and that is to awaken awareness of one's state, for example submission to one's egos, and I had already been awakened to my ego. To have hung on to guilt would have been to maintain a self-piteous subservience to my false self, my ego. Guilt would then have acted as a counterweight or anchor, holding back the emergence into a higher, more spiritual life. And with guilt comes blame, the partner-in-crime, if I may name it as such, of judgementalism.
The recalling of what I experienced, as a litany of shortcomings, left me in a state of spiritual devastation. Thus was I totally unprepared for the joyous walking-on-clouds experience when I recalled my positive traits. This sense of experiencing a transfiguration is important and will be referred to in a future post. Sadly, in my experience, it is people who feel they live a highly moral, upright life, one of service to others, who often find this Step impossible to deal with. To have become as poor in spirit as I had become is something for which I am eternally grateful. I do not believe I could ever have made a more thorough inventory of myself. The necessary process, about which I learned so much later, was complete.
Of course, I have chosen to write this script from the standpoint of the "Twelve Steps" because that goes to the heart of my experience. However, this process is also referred to by St. John of the Cross in his dissertations on the "Dark Night of the Senses," and the "Dark Night of the Soul." These writings can be found in his collected works under, "The Ascent of Mount Carmel," and "The Dark Night."
For a very long time I was puzzled over Jesus' call to be 'perfect'. How could this be possible? Meister Eckhart in his sermons says that he is writing for those who have become 'perfects'. Out of my reading of St. John of the Cross, I conclude that perfection is that state achieved having gone through the process about which I have spoken above. Nothing else seems to make sense, and that kind of 'perfection' is something to be grateful for, a gift or grace received in humility.

At this point I will pause awhile. Physical restrictions, namely my recent eye surgery, requires that I take a break from writing. I have to say, however, that it has been a pleasure, a joy, to put virtual pen to paper, in short bursts, even if it has meant seeing the physical world through some strange, short-distance distortions.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Spiritual Awakening

          My initial thought about my method of spiritual stocktaking had been to trawl through my experiences to see what they might reveal about the present state of my spiritual journey. It quickly became obvious that there was too much information available, and that what I already had was being continually added to. I have, therefore, decided on a change of tack using a pre-existing spiritual format as a possible blueprint for my journey. All that is required is that the experiences broadly fit the format, or in other words that the empirical facts fit the theory, so to speak. The format that I have chosen is the life lived by the mythological Christ in and through the historical Jesus of Nazareth, as it is recorded in the synoptic gospels and the gospel of St. John. If I am successful in fitting facts to theory, then I will be able to see, with some confidence, where I am heading.
          If one cares to read the accounts of the life of Jesus, it quickly becomes obvious that certain events stand out very clearly. The first is his birth, the second his baptism followed by the temptations in the desert, and so on. Similarly, the various initiatory events celebrated in the Church also stand out very clearly. Yet in reality the spiritual life, at least in my experience, is rather different from this clearly cut format. There is no rigidity in the spiritual life that demands every part in the puzzle be in place in a specific order, although it must be said that there is a tendency to pass through major events in a particular order. Obviously, one doesn't get anywhere before a psycho-spiritual nativity, or spiritual awakening is experienced. But there are, even with this birthing, a number of preparatory steps that are required. The living of the spiritual life is rather like experiencing the flow of a river through a delta. Sometimes the river flows this way, sometimes that way; sometimes it seems to flow sluggishly, sometimes with great speed; sometimes it seems to swirl around in eddies getting nowhere. In the end, of course, the river will reach the open waters of the sea.
          It is sometimes assumed that an initiation or testing lifts one up to a new level. To achieve that new level seems to require the services of a spiritual mentor, or guru, who will inform one when the time has come to take this rite of passage. But this assumption is incorrect. Now I am not saying that help cannot be obtained from other people. To ignore the wisdom of others would be prideful in the extreme. What I do say is that a public initiation, which seems to me to be little more than theatre, is not necessary for progress to be made. In fact, like any other test or examination satisfactorily passed, all that occurs is a confirmation that a stage or standard has already been attained. That stage can only have been reached through internal work having been successfully undertaken. Progress cannot be achieved on the words or the backs of others. It can only come through one's own experiential awakening. Even the initial spiritual awakening must rely on one's own, inner experiences. As it was pointed out to me, during a pathworking on the journeyings of Jesus in Galilee, that Way was his:  it was not my Way. If I am to succeed in my spiritual task of growing ever deeper into truth and awareness, I cannot slavishly follow another. I cannot take on someone else's spiritual experience as if it were my own. I must travel my own journey. For this there is no substitute.  
          If I were asked to identify one common cause of a need for spiritual awakening, I would name psycho-spiritual trauma. That trauma may be induced, for example, by the physical loss or suffering of someone close to us, or severe injury perhaps. There can be all sorts of reasons, but it is at the level of the spirit that the need for change is felt. It is at that level, when faced with and enduring a traumatic period in our lives, that we come face to face with our essential powerlessness over life's events. If we have the time to attempt to reverse that situation and fail to understand and accept our powerlessness, the damage to the spirit progresses at an ever-increasing rate.
          There came a moment, many years ago now, when I had to acknowledge my own powerlessness over the events that were occurring in my life. Not only that, I had to see how my insane - it could hardly be described as anything less than that - losing battle against that state of powerlessness was destroying my inner life. At the end of that, what seemed at the time to be a gruelling and unnecessarily protracted, period of self examination, I was forced by my own reasoning to acknowledge the truth of my very human condition. Then came an unforgettable and overwhelming sense of release.
          At the time, of course, I did not see my changed state of awareness as a new birthing into the spirit, imaged much later as a divine nativity. I saw that change simply as my first step upwards out of the abyss into which I had fallen. And I could blame no-one but myself. I had also taken a first step towards taking appropriate responsibility for my actions, and towards dealing with the whole question of blame and guilt. That, however, was a task which still lay in the future.
          Admittedly, I have rather skimmed over the surface of the experience of my own spiritual awakening. It might have been the first of such experiences, but it was not to be the last. I doubt that more detail here would helped very much, so I will pass on to consider the next step on the mythological journey to wholeness, the possible passage through the experience of baptism.


And now, finally, and against my usual style of blogging, may I add these three words:-

                           JE  SUIS  CHARLIE

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Game Is Afoot

         I imagine there will always come a time in the psycho-spiritual life when one feels the urge to take stock, to ask the question about where one is on one's chosen Path. There may well be various reasons advanced for wishing to take stock, some of which may be less that appropriate. It has been said that spiritual teachers will tell their followers or students not to bother, to rely on the teacher. My only teacher dwells inside me, and is not open to the passing of an opinion on the matter, although it must be admitted that this urge may be the only way my inner teacher can pass an opinion. Therefore, I will make the decision to go ahead with my personal inventory.
         It seems to me that there are two possible reasons that stand out as most likely candidates for the stocktaking exercise. The first one is to gaze admiringly on one's progress, and show off to the world what a fine 'spiritual' person one has become. Such a reason clearly shows up the fact that one has not acquired the desired 'spiritual' status at all, having fallen foul of the demon called hubris. (Tut! tut!) The second reason is the one which causes me some concern because I have no desire to continually reinvent  the spiritual wheel. (Beg pardon for the split infinitive!) All too often one sees difficulty where none such exists, one of the problems inherent, for example, in studying a subject to an academic level well beyond that at which one will be examined.
         It is to be hoped that over the coming weeks, or even months, by a careful examination of past work in my chosen field of study, I will be able to gain a clear view of where I am, which in turn may provide me with a map of where I go next. One thing is for certain, I have no desire to relive certain past stages of my journey just for the hell of it. Pain can lead to gain if the facing of that pain is appropriate, but masochism was never a well-developed trait in my personality. And I do not intend to indulge in that trait now.
         When I look over what I have written these many weeks I begin to see that the stocktake has already begun. On a number of occasions I have referred to that single event in my inner life that has had such a profound effect on me. That event has been the Divine Nativity, or spiritual awakening, that has been my joy (and on occasion my fear) to experience in my inner life. Being influenced by the "Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius" naturally means that my psycho-spiritual experiences are going to have, in all probability, a decidedly Christian flavour. Now, no matter how ambivalent or even antipathetic I may feel about organised religion, I cannot allow that feeling to get in the way of gaining new insights by ignoring what possible truths I may acquire from Holy Writ. Everything is grist for the spiritual mill.
         In both the physical and the spiritual lives birth, or the awakening into a new dimension of existence, is the first initiation through which we must pass. That event may only be seen in all its meaning after it has taken place. Only through experience can we truly understand. Indeed, it may only be seen after the event that initiation was a necessary requirement for further development. Without that initiation and by inference further initiatory experiences, we could do no more than, like the unharvested grape, wither on the vine.

So, "Come, Watson my readers, come! The game is afoot. Not another word! Into your clothes and come!"