Continuing the chronicles of my spiritual journey…
Last August, I took a course that I absolutely loved. It was an introduction to a contemplative educational philosophy, and it required a lot of inner work and reflection. At the center of the philosophy, the core goal is vitality. According to this philosophy, connection to one’s own sense of core vitality (that transcendent feeling when we are plugged into a Life source that is in us and everything else) is the ultimate goal of life.
It’s a worthy goal, to be sure. And yet something in me felt unsettled. And so in class, when we are discussing what the ultimate goal for our children is, I proposed that my ultimate goal for Senya and Juniper is to truly know, believe, and experience that they are Loved. My instructor asked me why this is important, and I fumbled for something to say, but it was mumble jumble from what I recall.
And so, I started asking the Universe, “why is this important to me? Why do I get so sad if I think that Love isn’t that core vitality?” That made me want to crawl into bed and not get out, honestly. To think that our own experience is the end-all, be-all really bums me out. Why? I haven’t considered myself a Christian for quite some years now because I didn’t want to meet the qualifications (I wrote about this in my last post). But, yet, when asked to part with this idea of Love being the ultimate core goal of life (and Life itself) I couldn’t quite do it. Was I merely being sentimental? Or is this one of the remnants from my Christian faith that I truly believe and experientially know to be true?
And so, as is often the case, the Universe sent me a lovely lesson in why Love is so important. It came wrapped up in a package of someone coming into my life—my inner circle of friends— who was very difficult for me to love. What a lovely, gift! Ha.
Within months, I was convinced this person was unsafe emotionally, and I had a few diagonoses in mind for why they were so difficult. Certainly, it wasn’t my problem! I mean, just look around; everyone else likes me. When I see myself through that person’s eyes, or that person’s, I get to keep my likeable self-image. But when I see myself through this person’s eyes, I feel inadquate, unimportant, and unlikeable.
So, what I was experiencing was an ego problem, but I didn’t know that then.
A lot of people call the kind of work having to do with confronting and then letting go of our ego, shadow work. The thing about shadow work is that it is often embarrassing. It is the kind of inner work that requires one to come face to face with the ugliness, short comings, and flaws that we so often like to overlook.
This past year my heart went to an ugly place, but I didn’t recognize it as that for quite some time. I named the place of resentment, distrust, and blame “intuition, justice, and accountability.” If I had taken a step back long enough to objectively examine my life, I would have been able to recognize a few telling signs that I was living out of synch with my core vitality (aka, that sacred birthright connection to Love was experiencing some major interference).
When I’m connected to my core vitality, and I experience daily stressors (big feelings off-loaded by my children) or major life stressors (our house went back on the market which puts us in a tenuous state of housing insecurity), I cope by running in the mountains, writing out my thoughts, eating well and sleeping adequately, and making time for mediation or reflection.
When I’m disconnected from my core vitality, I cope with the daily and major stresses of life by drinking alcohol more frequently and as a means to relieve stress and eating less healthy foods as a means of instant gratification.
Now, the former types of stress-coping requires that I actually stay conscious. The latter is actually the opposite. It is an instant easy button to dull my consciousness so that I can take a mini vacation from my own self, basically.
The trouble is this latter form of stress coping catches up with me sooner or later. Because I’m not actually processing through anything on a physiological level (actually sweating out some of those stress hormones) or cognitively (thinking through things to gain some perspective) or emotionally (staying in the feelings long enough to actually move through them) or spiritually (connecting with a sense of Meaning greater than just me and finding guidance or meditating and noticing the intrusive thoughts and what their themes are), it’s all just festering– fermenting–if you will.
But I wasn’t willing or wanting to look objectively at my own flaws. Because, yuck. That feels bad. And unless you are SURE you are loved unconditionally, then it really feels threatening to the point of annihilation to look honestly into the face of our own ugliness.
So, I tried to explain and argue and logically justify all my ugliness. Blaming the other person and finding fault in them is so much easier because then we don’t have to admit that we have gone way off course. Then we can still stay confident that we are on the right path. And of course, my path is Love, so all this in the name of Love.
And that’s where I became stuck. Anger to the point of villainizing someone, resentment to the point of devaluing them, and distrust to the point of suspicion about their behvaior…that doesn’t sound like love. “Okay,” I’d argue with myself, “but maybe then it’s justice. I mean, just listen to this list of things this person did that hurt my feelings!” “Hmmm, justice without love, is that what you believe in? Let’s look throughout history and see what good ever came of that? Or how about right now in society? Justice without love is often the gateway to atrocities.” “UGHHHHHH. Take a hike, conscience.”
But once my conscience has spoken, however quietly amidst the louder voices of my ego, it’s not long before I have to listen if I want any peace at all. In my dreams, in my thoughts, it starts to leak into my psyche. That fermenting mass of emotion starts to bubble up into every bit of my mind. It seems all of life reminds me of this conflict, this situation, this problem. And I can’t find resolution. And I want to be present with my kids, but instead I’m 3 miles deep in a cave of unresolved ill will and negative feelings.
So, then, it’s time to face the mirror. The True Mirror. The one that when you close the door, close your eyes, and fold in half on the floor in absolute fatigue from constantly avoiding it…is reflecting you honestly. You see your flaws, you see your ugly thoughts and actions, you see your pathetic attempts at trying to defend your ego and appeal to moral high ground while sinking lower into the abyss of self pity and resentment. Ugh. Not pleasant.
But wait a minute, that is not the end of the story. There is something else here, reflecting back at me. There is Love. There is that mystery that I was wondering about 9 months prior—this is why Love is so important to me. It’s the beginning and the end, and it’s what saves me in the midst of my own ego. Exactly as I am, there is Love here for me. There was still Love for me even when I was avoiding this mirror, drinking and eating those potato chips at midnight for weeks on end. There is an overwhelming stream of love carrying me, reminding me that I’m one drop of water, and it’s time to rejoin the sea. And so I do.
And now, there is one more thing my conscience asks me to do, and that is to apologize to the person toward whom I’ve harbored so much ill will. Here is another reason that Love is so important to me; it guides me. And so I do, now not needing anything in return. Knowing that I’m responsible for my own feelings, actions, and self and that regaining that connection to Love is all I need to humble myself and admit that I went off course. I didn’t need to apologize to earn Love; Love is self existing in it’s own right. Love can not be earned and can not be lost. Our connection to Love, however, can sometimes experience some interference. And restoring that connection is always possible, but it sometimes requires action.
I go for a walk with a friend in the mountains one day after all this, and I tell her that my eating and drinking habits have sucked for the past few months. And she suggests that I get a mindless hobby and also limit drinking to weekends only. So, I take this advice, and buy a pair of roller skates and only drink on the weekends, start running again, and life started feeling even better than ever.
All of this is tied to our quest for a physical home, to be sure. And the revelation that I had in the midst of trying to relocate was that home begins within us. And I had to get that home repaired first and foremost.
Anyway, here’s the crux of what I learned:
Transcendent Love is something that can not be earned and can not be lost. When we genuinely accept that the core of our vitality, the right to belong, to be loved, to connect meaningfully with Life itself (here some would interchange Life with God) is our sacred birthright, then we can exhale. We can let down our defenses and move beyond the impulse to self-preserve.
Our connection to Love and Life can be badly obscured (there are plenty of examples in our own lives and society at large), but going three miles deep into a dark cave does not mean the sun itself is gone. It’s still shining outside, there for you when you emerge.