The cure for pain is in the pain.
In mainstream spirituality, I find that there is such a strong desire to attain goals of wellbeing that we skip the important stages of facing our own darkness. But those missed steps account for an important part of our experience that needs to be acknowledged. Not only are we obsessed with feeling good about ourselves, but we are also being told to focus on positive thinking and manifesting as being the indicators that “we’ve got it”. I do agree that spiritual awareness has the ultimate power to bring us to a state of love and bliss, but I also think that dealing with our demons is part of our homework in the physical world.
We could not physically see anything without contrast. If you think about it, there is nothing that we could perceive with our eyes were it not for the contrast of colors and hues. It is the same with any kind of perception, be it through our physical senses or our emotional and psychic processes.
In many of the self-help messages that we are bombarded with, there is a general view that going through hard stuff has the main benefit of allowing us to enjoy the good stuff more, or to be more grateful for them, once the dust has settled. But for me there is way more to extract from our experience than to be solely focused on obtaining positive results. The process, the person we become, is what this is all about.
When I go through a time of resistance, of pain, suffering, rage, or anything uncomfortable or harsh, I know there is something for me to learn. And the lessons will become perceivable only when I reflect on the contrast between both the dark and the bright states, not just in invoking gratitude for being out of the mud. There is a dynamism in that process, something that can empower us immensely, because it is the bedrock of our ability to grow. And growth requires conscious effort and work.
The incoherence of our actions
I’ll give you an example. I was recently attending a talk where the subject was “loving the self”. Affirmations were offered to invoke our inner and outer beauty and a whole bunch of women learned to say to themselves, in front of a mirror: “I am beautiful”. My point of observation was on the hostess, her breast implants and those of the majority of the attendants. Most of them indeed had implants and work done on their faces, and were encouraged to look at themselves in acceptance. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with that (or even in having implants), a question immediately arose in me: how many of those people were addressing all the complexity of the emotions and beliefs that had led them to mutilate their own bodies in the first place? Was that self-love? How much do we deceive ourselves, in the obsession to feel good about ourselves, no matter what?
Most of the women are also fierce animal lovers that often post photos of animal torture on their Facebook page. Moreover, they are usually keen advocate of organic lifestyles. When you think of the process of going through plastic surgery, from what I understand, it requires several visits to a doctor who will use a marker on you, to signal your flaws and then cut you open to reshape you into a new person that is not the one you were before -because you didn’t like it. How is that self-love in the first place? What is the difference between that violence on oneself and the one enacted upon a helpless animal? Why not post photos of their surgery? Are those implants organic?
I think that if we don’t address our incoherence first and the deep issues that underlie it, we are missing a step. But of course, we want to be positive and God forbid we should utter a negative word of any kind, lest we are frowned upon as unspiritual and carrying an aura of “bad energy”. But here is the thing: in the superficial spiritual circles there is such a focus on feeling good about ourselves that we forget that the whole point of our darkness is to awaken us to an awareness that we need in order to really grow. However what usually happens is that we will simply deal with our “shit” by attending yet another workshop to feel good. Again and again.
But you see, spiritual growth is not ABOUT feeling good, or feeling peace and love. Those are the natural byproducts of a process that requires awareness of the full spectrum of our inner and outer worlds.
Every aspect of our experience has a function
We identify feeling good with “right” and feeling bad with “wrong”. But both are necessary and in fact one couldn’t exist or be perceived without the other. Before getting to self-loving affirmations, it is imperative that we address our dark emotions, because in fact we are not aware of them until we go through major crisis in life. That’s what crisis is for, fundamentally. The darkness in us influences our behavior in ways that we never realize until we have the courage to face them. In the death process we will be faced with those things anyway –that I know from the OBEs that I have experienced.
To avoid the ugly with the argument that it’s low frequency or bad energy is what I call denying our experience. There is a distinction between creating a healing space with a specific purpose and denying our experience. What I want to convey is that we’re going to have to face those things eventually anyway. There is no way out of our shadow without confronting it –whether in this life, another, or in the death process.
The odd thing is that nobody has stopped to reflect on the irony that we have transferred the structure we rejected in the first place onto the spiritual journey. We started to awaken as we realized that the conventional social structures of status, money and beliefs not longer made sense to us. But now the spiritual path has become an obsessive quest for manifesting the perfect partner, bank account and social recognition as a spiritual self-help guru. Sounds familiar? Before we were told we had to have a specific kind of job to make money and marry within the socially accepted parameters. But now the goals are the same, albeit a few “OMs” along the way. Now we are all meditating in order to manifest “something”. Nobody wants to meditate to ask God to open their eyes. God forbid we should see the truth of our intentions!
In the delightful book 40 rules of love, Shams says about Rumi, before meeting him: “ Rumi’s words might be like a wild garden, full of teasels, herbs, spruces, and shrubs, but it is always up to the visitor to pick his fancy. While pretty flowers are instantly plucked, few people pay attention to plants with thorns and prickles. But the truth is, great medicines are often made from these.” Shams was the catalyzer of Rumi’s magnificent poetry. And it came about after Rumi’s own journey to the Truth.
Accepting the body is such a huge test in our life, especially for women. And it is a huge test in our spiritual evolution –a key one in fact. To attend to our wounds and insecurities and dig deep into them, to look inside of us and address the truth that we don’t accept ourselves can be so powerful, when you emerge on the other side. One way to become aware is to practice the mirrors in our lives. Every time we challenge ourselves to face the truth, our experience is broadened, our spirit is reinforced and our understanding is considerably deepened.
If we systematically disregard that part of our experience -of ourselves- we will be unconsciously under its power and hurt others in the same way we hurt ourselves –which we do unconsciously, as long as we deny it.
We have to know the pits of misery in order to experience enlightenment. We can’t see one without seeing the other. To run away from pain is to run away from the opportunities of the great encounters on the other side, as we emerge transformed, from victims who need to be comforted, to a soul set free to become our ally. And we won’t need fake boobs after that.
What we are really living for is the experience of life, both the pain and the pleasure. The world is a match for us. We are a match for the world.
Joseph Campbell – Reflections on the Art of Living
🙂 Marina CB – Be brave, be free