Today's post is a personal journey. I haven't written in several weeks as I've been in a terrible state - lost, confused, despairing. Raw and vulnerable. Shattered. My only small comfort has been knowing this is a well-worn path. Many mystics have written about the Dark Night of the Soul, the narrow passage tread by those seeking freedom and union with the Divine.
I debated whether to write this post, questioning what value I could really offer from a place of such agony and confusion? Yet, some internal voice prodded me forward. Share the process, share the experience...
These last months have taken me into a depth of spiritual despair previously unimaginable. The experience has been a ruthless stripping away of my false, idealized sense of self. Having studied with a spiritual master for many years, this process is not new, of course...but it has never been this ruthless. This has taken me to ground zero - a massive deconstruction of the remaining image of who "I" am. It has mercilessly dissolved my most cherished beliefs, and shattered every assumption about what I thought was true.
The truth is, no matter how I attempt to project some virtuous image, the conflict of this world is a direct reflection of the qualities within me. One by one, in excruciating succession, these qualities have been paraded out of their safe hiding places -- during interactions with others, in discussions with my teacher, in meditations and dreams -- as if the doors to my inner shadow world have been blown open and all the demons released. I am judgmental and self-righteous. I am petty, jealous and angry. I am all these ugly qualities and many more. One by one, I have resisted, struggled, defended and finally confessed "Yes, I am That," reluctantly finding a place at the table for each of these haggard visitors. "Here you are, my dear, you are no longer excluded but invited as my beloved guest - please come home."
And while perhaps it sounds like a liberating process to face ones demons and invite them back into the heart, each step has been death. My idealized identity, the safe picture of "self" which has shielded me from these shameful aspects, is crumbling into nothingness. There is nothing to hold onto. There is no ground to stand upon. I am DYING. And it is terrifying.
Despite the pain and despair, I have tried to stay alert, watchful. I want to find out what this dying is. I have discovered an enormous burden of sorrow and suffering within me. I want to know if I can be free from this false self and from this sorrow.
As I have hurtled toward oblivion, it has felt like my skin is being pealed off, followed by muscle and tendon and bone until there is nothing left. Everything must die this inevitable death. What is Truth? How can one know the answer unless everything is stripped away? Every veil, every gauze of perception, every conditioned belief.
"Delete everything and start over," suggested a good friend. All my well worn beliefs? Piles of crap. Delete. Everything I thought I knew? Bullshit. Delete. My personality? A bunch of absurd story lines. I have slowly been deleting everything and starting over.
Well, nearly everything...everything except two of my most sacred attachments, my deepest heart longings -- seeking enlightenment (striving for some great liberation), and merging with God (transcending this mortal frame and experiencing union with the Divine). Since childhood these spiritual notions have been the bedrock of my belief. But now I see that, in my seeking, I can never arrive. In the Becoming, I can never Be. These beliefs must go too. My body, mind and soul are wracked with fear and grief. What will remain after my most cherished yearnings are cast away? My chest feels crushed with the pressure of a thousand boulders resting upon it. But in the completeness of my despair, I give up these too. I lay these most sacred treasures down and walk away from them.
Now I sit without God, without enlightenment. I feel dead inside. It is dark here. I wish I could say there is no pain left, but that would be a deception, a denial of What Is. What Is? A soft breeze. The sound of water running, and a helicopter thumping overhead. Warm mid-day sun on my skin. Lots of empty space inside -- a ravaged field with fertile ground, but nothing growing and no delusions about whether it should or ever will.
I am completely and utterly alone. Stripped naked. Raw. Seeing Reality, perhaps for the first time.
Oddly enough, I am reminded of the movie V for Vendetta, in which V tortures Edie mercilessly until she realizes that everything can be stripped away from her except her capacity to love. "Every inch of me will perish - every inch except one...it is small and it is fragile, but it is the only thing in the world worth having." In this realization, she becomes fearless and free.