Saturday, December 8, 2012

A spirituality of light… and of shadow

If what we really want is for love to pour though us and out into the world, we must continually be willing to see how we are using our spirituality to avoid that which is unresolved within us. This can be excruciating. For the most part, we’d rather continue on with our stories of enlightenment, fables of awakening, and fantasies about our specialness. It’s just much safer, much more compelling and, let’s be honest, much more fun. This is understandable. But I’m hearing from many of you that you’re being called to something deeper. The spiritualities of “me and my specialness” and “me and my amazing experiences” are no longer nourishing your hearts – and are crumbling in the wake of this love that is moving through you –calling you to something beyond. 

One of the most sacred revelations from the great wisdom traditions is that who we are is the Great Witness of whatever arises in our experience. Developing the capacity to witness our experience in an open and spacious way – whatever it happens to be – can lead to a profound sense of freedom, as many of you have discovered and reported. When we’re able to find a way to not overly identify with thought, feeling, and emotion, we can come to experience what we are as a vast field of awareness, freeing us from much internal conflict. At the same time, taking refuge in some sort of “witness” can quickly take us down the path of spiritual bypassing, where we’re using our practice not as a vehicle of freedom, but rather as a way to actually distance ourselves from the messiness of our unresolved wounds, challenging emotions, and painful feelings – all in the name of “staying with the witness.” The call here, the way I have come to see it, is toward a balance between staying very, very close with our experience – painfully close at times – in a very intimate way, while at the same time not so close that we unconsciously merge with the experience, identify with it, and become lost in it. When caught in this sort of identification, we then find ourselves looking to our thoughts, feelings, and emotions to tell us who we are and what this reality is in an absolute sense. We look into the field of the mind to reveal to us the nature of love. This is so understandable and in part just the way we're wired - yet there is a part of us that knows that we will never fully be satisfied with the conceptual revelations of the mind.  

So how can we be in relationship with our spiritual beliefs, ideas, concepts, experiences, and practices, where we can allow their gifts to pour through our lives, while not using them in a defensive way to avoid the wounds of the heart and all that which is unresolved within us? There are no rules here, of course, and none of this is ultimately resolvable in any way, in my experience. What we must do, it seems, is to be curious enough, to care enough, to open our tender hearts wide enough, to embrace whatever arises in our experience in a field of intimacy and kindness. The path here, at least the way I have come to see it, is staying intimately close to our experience, on the one hand, while not so close that we lose our identity as the capacity to be aware of whatever arises. We must somehow - through prayer, through grace, through caring enough – find a way to increase awareness as to when we are using our important practices such as mindfulness, yoga, devotion, meditation, inquiry, and so forth in a defensive way. This is a very difficult journey, demanding everything we have – and more – yet offering the most precious gifts that we could ever want. 

In the end, inside each thought, each feeling, each emotion, each sensation is a doorway into grace, leading to the discovery of that capacity of awareness that each of us is, and in that way has something very precious to show us about the nature of love.