A CAVEAT REGARDING SPIRITUAL OPENING
When the night pulled back the bedcovers
And I sat knees-up ashaking
Seeking a sign sublime
My mind looking for the time
My body athrob with an eternal rhyme
The windows did bulge with something unborn
Something I could not name
Something I could not contain
It is understatement in the extreme to say that spiritual opening is not necessarily a benign, nice, neat, or comfortable process.
Initially we may flirt with spiritual opening, doing some meditation practices, reading spiritual or metaphysical literature, trying out different teachers and teachings, perhaps hoping that our spiritual experiences will make us happier or more successful, but when we go, or are compelled to go, beyond spiritual dilettantism and cultism, reaching the point where we don’t give a damn about being spiritually correct and where spiritual opening is not an option but a fundamental need, we find that it is more of a sacrificial process than we bargained for, necessarily bringing us face to face with all that we have turned away from, risen above, or otherwise avoided in ourselves.
O When the night pulled back the bedcovers
And my breath was no longer mine
And I knew, knew the supreme design
And darkness stormed my room so blinding bright
And my spine was a stem so green and blazing white
I could not help but give the night my hand
Letting it lead me through every shadowland
The self that is gung-ho about getting spiritual, that seeks transformation, that makes spiritual real estate out of moments of light, that defines itself through meditative practice and association with spiritual heavyweights, sooner or later becomes not only an object of awareness, but also just more fuel for the fire of awakening — as eventually do all our apparent selves, all the “I’s” that together make us up.
This does not necessarily mean obliteration of our “I’s”, but rather enough of a ceasing to identify with them so that there is little or no everyday “I” — or convincingly separate self-sense — left to congratulate itself on having arrived spiritually. Spiritual awakening may seem like a very desirable bauble, a badge, a shining credential, for our egoity, but is actually its ultimate nightmare, its biggest bummer.
The fantasy “I” has about attending its own funeral is just narcissism stoned on spiritual greed.
But there are no Oscars for awakening; there is no drama starring enlightened egoity or other impossibilities. Instead, there is freedom, freedom from self-obsessed subjectivity, freedom from identifying with anything in particular, freedom from dreaming that we are not dreaming, freedom to be, freedom that is not limited by its limitations.
O When the night pulled back the bedcovers
And I arose from the ruins of my dreams
And inside and outside were lovers
And exhale was inhale
And I glimpsed a love that could not fail
A love that was both ocean and sail
I did cry out for having so much and for wanting more
And for having done all this before
We may like or romanticize the idea of waking up from all our dreaming, but when we begin to realize how much we have invested in our dreams, the possibility of waking up from them may lose much of its appeal. This, plus the fact that real spiritual practice cannot help but eventually bring up everything that we’d rather keep down or shut away, is why so few pursue the farther reaches of spirituality. A comfortable, well-furnished stay in prison may seem preferable to the discomfort, the stretching, the out-on-the-edge times, that are as much a part of mature spiritual practice as are joy and equanimity.
So being in the crucible of awakening’s alchemy is not necessarily comfortable or consoling — the fire gives light, yes, but it also burns, generating enough heat to vaporize our illusions, lies, and trappings, if we will let ourselves get close enough to it.
Such fire destroys, but only in order to create. And heal. In its flames, our authenticity emerges, minus the case of mistaken identity with which we have burdened and obscured it.
Until the fire is but light, we will have to endure burning. Spiritual stamina. Whatever lies unresolved or unforgiven in us, whatever in us lies ostracized or condemned in some corner of our psyche, whatever in us has been kept in the dark — all will start to surface as we open spiritually. Initially this may seem like bad news, but it is actually great news.
Sometimes working with the fire is easy, flowing, effortless, blissful, and sometimes it’s really hard work. There is no substitute for spending quality time in spiritual bootcamp. If we’re ready, we don’t have to sign up — circumstances set in motion by our actions and choices will enlist us, often seemingly against our will. If we really knew what we were getting into, not many of us would keep going in this direction.
We may like to think we know what the optimal conditions are for our awakening, but the odds are that we don’t know (and that we want it not to ask all that much of us). But Life “knows” and thus provides such conditions for us, for which we are, understandably, rarely grateful at the time.
And still I await the great night shining wild
The great night so vastly ripe with child
An undreaming love inviting me to shed my fear
Inviting me to give the night my hand
Until I cannot help but look through the eyes
Of every face no matter how dark the place
Spiritual openness may allow — or even invite — seemingly crazy or nonordinary phenomena to surface. If this gets out of control, as in what is termed a “spiritual emergency” (or in spirit-possession situations, as epitomized by Haitian and Balinese cathartic trances), it is not necessarily a problem, but may actually be an entirely fitting and profoundly healing process. Unfortunately, the more disruptive, disturbing, or painful difficulties associated with spiritual opening are often misconstrued as psychological disorders by health professionals.
Being out of control may actually be needed at a certain point, to break down unseen or unacknowledged repressive or dysfunctional structures that are not about to surface otherwise. Being out of control may propel us into the obviously spiritual, and also may shatter the subtle ossification that can occur when spirituality gets too “spiritual” for its own good. At the same time, however, it is important that we be able to — or be ably supported to — back off or put the brakes on when things get too crazy or scary.
Doing in-depth psychoemotional work is very helpful prior to, during, and after spiritual opening. It’s not enough to transcend our “I’s” — we must know, intimately know, our psychological make-up, or its shadow elements will contaminate and skew our spiritual efforts. Many have set sail with high hopes, only to get shipwrecked on the reefs of spiritual ambition and greed. Premature immersion in the transpersonal guarantees reentry — more often than not on our hands and knees — into the personal (and interpersonal), to at last get into what we were trying to avoid through our so-called spirituality. A foolproof process. No one gets through the Holy Gates who is not ready.
O Surrounded by fiery womb was I
The doors gone, the walls immensely aquiver
My mind no longer looking for the time
My body athrob with an eternal rhyme
New growth running wild through my room
The windows, the windows a shattering of light
And my whole being did shiver and quake
Until my frame of mind did break
And I was in body what I was in spirit
The great night shining wild
Forever full of child
The nonconceptual realization of our actual condition is spiritual dynamite. Even a taste of it can blow open doors we didn’t even know existed.
And through those doors, in an edgeless clearing, is is-ness in the radical raw, beyond our wildest, craziest dreams, far beyond what “beyond” signifies. It’s the ultimate Pandora’s Box. Here we play peekaboo with unmasked reality, cramming our glimpses of it in bottles destined to gather plenty of dust before they are uncorked. Too much light blinds. Each bare glimpse holds reality-unlocking implications before which our humanness trembles.
The only way to directly face God — God being That Which when realized liberates absolutely — is to lose face completely. When we face God we face far more than the far reaches of our humanness. What we actually are is more, infinitely more, than we can imagine.
And yet we are also this human being-ness, this sentient struggling exquisitely fragile fleshiness, each of us uniquely personalized, as we reach for our meditation cushion or the remote control or the saliva-inspiring square of chocolate that we had in mind before getting our teeth into this essay. In the midst of it all, however sublime or mundane, here we are, at once unfathomably vast and minute, at once deathless and dying, our universality and particularity inseparable, our shared heart having room for all.
We don’t just have room for all; we are room for all, even as we simultaneously are the all for which we have room. Opening to this, feeling it right to our core, stops the mind in its tracks. Truth is what is intuited when ontological paradox makes unexplainable yet total sense. A poem struggles to tear its way out of its birthsac. Its nails keep dissolving. It has so much to say that it says nothing. My train of thought is derailed. I don’t mind.
And my words, our words, the words, shatter, shatter like starlight upon rippling seas, so that the gap between them and what they describe narrows to nothing, leaving me speechless — at least for a few minutes — in the ever-fresh familiarity of the Real, returned to what I never left but only dreamt I did.