The clamor of warfare

Image: The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa of Avila, photo by Tybo

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything new here. I have no excuse; I just haven’t really felt like it.

The last few months have been extremely hard and intense for me. As I continue shedding the remnants of this unbelievable and catastrophic darkness, I’ve been slowly (very slowly) returning back into the normal world. The inner clearing and healing work continues (albeit in new aspects and along new dimensions). It is still taking up the majority of the hours each day, demanding priority over all else. I’m told that’s temporary and will lessen over time.

Interacting with others, short conversations, and even running small errands are now becoming more and more manageable. It often feels like I’m a brand new person, with an entirely new personality, learning how to walk all over again – painful, awkward, scary, and with lots of ups and downs. (I figuratively fall on my ass a lot.)

Navigating all of this has been incredibly complicated and difficult. Without any rulebooks or external guidance, I’ve had to move through this, basically feeling my way through it, one terrifying step at a time. In the last few weeks in particular, the process turned outward, and I’ve been pushed into confronting some very real and serious external challenges, which have taken every ounce of strength, and faith, and courage to endure. They are all part of the healing and training process, but still they are extremely scary. It is only by the grace of God, and two exceptionally devoted friends, that I’ve managed to get through all of it. They say that if you have one really good friend you can get through just about anything. I am blessed with two such friends, for whom I am endlessly grateful. You know who you are!

Up until now it’s been too vulnerable for me to really share the details of these recent experiences, for a bunch of different reasons. Aside from fears and doubts, I didn’t quite have the words to convey the gravity or sanctity of what’s been happening to me. I still don’t. There are aspects of this that I can’t articulate, can’t conceptualize, and at times don’t fully understand. At first I found this to be intensely frustrating, but then resigned myself to the idea that not everything needs to be mentally understood or shared with others. (Shocking, I know. I’m kind of a blabber-mouth, so not sharing everything with everyone is weird for me. But I’m getting used to it.)

 

As fate would have it, just as I’d given up on sharing all of this, I met a very special person last week, who appears to have precisely the right words! Enter my new friend, Henry, the poet, from Cuba. A kindred spirit with a deeply intuitive heart, Henry magically appeared in my life in a rather unexpected way. Our seemingly random (and spiritually significant) encounter left us both a little shocked and reeling, I think. The magic and divine mystery that surrounds our lives is wondrous and truly extraordinary. No matter how many times I see it, no matter how many times I’m completed floored by the significance and intensity of it, my awe and surprise never seem to diminish. 

 

A few days later, Henry sent me a poem he’d written some time ago. Receiving it first left me speechless, and then completely overwhelmed with emotion. Each time I read it, I cry again and again; just as with some of the other works I’ve written about before. I’m not usually moved by poetry in this way, so it’s especially meaningful for me when that happens.

 

I think Henry’s poem speaks powerfully on its own; so it doesn’t need any introductory fanfare from me. The concepts are both deeply mystical and spiritually universal. The words carry an unmistakable energy, and can be interpreted as deeply as one wishes to go. To me, this piece rivals some of the best mystical poetry I’ve ever read. But more than that, personally, the words seem to answer a long-forgotten prayer from deep within me. It feels as though the words, arriving in perfect timing, served as a much needed validation of something that couldn’t otherwise be seen or confirmed in any other way. I am filled with immense gratitude for this incredibly meaningful meeting, for the message of this poem, and for Henry’s generous permission to share it with you here.

 

Before I share the poem itself, just a few short disclaimers of apology. The original is written in Spanish. I’ve taken the liberty of translating it very roughly into English (without any idea of how one is meant to translate poetry). I apologize to translators everywhere. Secondly, the spiritual energy and magic of the poem exist in the original alone. It is in reading it, in Spanish, that the effects can be felt somatically. I translated it for the sake of intellectual participation by non-Spanish speakers, trying to stay as true to the literal words and contextual meaning as I understand them. At the same time, I am trying not to compete with it, nor create a standalone piece of English poetry. I’m sure this is technically wrong, butchers the original, and is probably sacrilegious, so for this I beg the forgiveness of both Henry and poetry scholars everywhere. Thirdly, my Spanish isn’t great, but with the help of google and some other translation websites, I think I got the essence of it right. If I didn’t, apologies to my Spanish speaking friends; your suggestions/corrections are welcome. Finally, because I feel so deeply connected to this poem and so certain of this connection, I will endeavor to share the mystical significance of the words. For this only the saints can forgive me. So without further ado, I give you:

 

Clamor de guerra a la luz
By: Henry Pacheco

 

El alma vacío su llanto en la sed de las pupilas idolatradas;
Un montón de vidas maniatadas,
Destruyendo el decoro del universo.
He aquí un híbrido de la luz, la oscuridad, a veces bueno otras perverso.
Locura desenfrenada abre las puertas de los misterios.
Ángeles pecadores entrando al infierno;
desorden mundial, oscuridad, panico, miedo.
Diluvio bendito siente en las entrañas de la tierra,
la lava, el fuego, la luz, el viento.
Regeneración, resurrección al te quiero.
Príncipe de la luz, despoja a tu princesa de su hipócrita velo.
Hagase a la luz nuevamente.
Creador divino,
Muestrame tu camino.
Pájaro de amor,
Canta de alegría tu humilde trino.
Siembra rosas, girasoles en el patio de tu vecino
Luz a la vida, vida a la luz.
Guerrero de mil batallas,
Liberate de la cruz.
Sucio el mendigo, limpia tus harapos de esclavitud
Rompe el llanto, las cadenas, prende las velas, incendia el manto
Clamor de guerra a la luz.
Lloro, canto.

 

_____________________________________________

 

The clamor of warfare
By: Henry Pacheco (translated by me).

 

The soul emptied its weeping in the thirst of worshiping pupils;
Innumerable lifetimes bound up together,
Destroying the decorum of the universe.
Here a hybrid of light, darkness; at times good, at others evil.
Unbridled madness opening the portals to the mysteries.
Sinful angels entering into hell; world disorder, darkness, panic, fear.
A blessed flood felt in the bowels of the earth, the lava, the fire, the light, the wind.
Regeneration, resurrection at “I love you.”
Prince of light, strip your princess of her hypocritical veil.
Return yourself to the light once again.
Divine creator,
Show me your way.
Bird of love,
Sing of joy your humble trill.
Sow roses, sunflowers in your neighbor’s yard.
Light to life, life to light.
Warrior of a thousand battles,
Liberate yourself from the cross.
Filthy that beggar, clean your rags of serfdom.
Break the weeping, the shackles,
light the candles, torch the mantle.
The clamor of warfare into the light.
I cry, I sing.

 

____________________________________________

 

Amazing, yes?

 

This poem tracks the journey through the most arduous mystical darkness encountered on the road to enlightenment. Detailed in these words is a profound account of the divine purification process of a mystic (and ultimately, a saint).  

 

This particular experience is considered one of the most advanced stages in the spiritual process – the tail end of the purgation of spirit described by St. John of the Cross. Even among mystical writings, these descriptions are very very rare. Not every mystic attains this level of development and those that do often don’t write about it. (It’s a myth that enlightenment is some static uniform thing for everyone – it isn’t. Mystics vary; and mystical development has its own hierarchies and systems, directed and dictated from above.). In all of my research and work in this area, I’ve struggled to actually find accounts like this in the writings. Perhaps in the secret scrolls buried in monasteries around the world more detailed accounts exist to which I am not privy.

 

Captured only in these rare poetic glimpses, this experience is only really understood by those who themselves have encountered it. (I say that without any sort of pretense. For centuries mystics have complained and complained that no one understands them… it’s not weird that this experience, part of the larger framework, is even less well understood). Talking about these things, writing about them, trying to convey them or describe them leads only to confused silence at best, and attacks at worst. St. Teresa always took a rather careful and defensive tone writing about this subject, anticipating her harsh critics’ skeptical responses. I think most mystics would say that describing it to someone who hasn’t experienced it would reveal nothing to the listener, while only denigrating the experience for the speaker. (As I said before – some things are really not meant for sharing). Despite that, we continue (Because also as I said before – blabbermouth). 🙂 God forgive me. 

 

During a particular stage in the process, following a clearing of the wounding of this lifetime, the soul begins to empty itself of all the lifetimes of pain it carries. The pain is digested emotionally and psychologically through the human body. What comes pouring out is lifetimes of human trauma – injustice, oppression, bondage, betrayal, grief. Unimaginable grief! Universal themes of suffering. Mind-numbing human pain. It is endless crying; every day, all the time, for months and months, until all of it gets digested out. It is all felt and lived through again and again, as if it were all happening now. Panic, fear, paranoia, persecution. The world turns upside down, and becomes a nightmare of hell that feels like it will never end. The truth is literally blinding and deafening. As the centers of perception open completely, and a raw impossible sensitivity takes hold, every experience is felt with such a magnitude that it feels like a continuous and persistent destruction of the very core of one’s being. Past life death scenes are encountered, one after another, experienced as if you are right there, remembering it, and re-living it again and again. At the same time, all aspects and varieties of fear are being processed out, triggered, digested, and healed. And courage and virtue, our default traits, arise to fill the empty spaces left behind. That too feels torturous, and very difficult to endure.

 

I’ve used the metaphor of a civil war in writing about this before – it is really experienced that way. This process tears a person apart completely, and the pain and the light (and the experiences of being burned by the elements) seem to come from above and from below. The fire feels as if it’s rising from the bowels of the earth itself. Wind and light and lava… all of it consuming parts of you at the same time. It is torture; psychologically, physically, emotionally. Were it not for the greater spiritual purpose, it would not be possible to bear. Even knowing the greater purpose at times doesn’t help to bear it. The descent into this hell is horrendous. And the ascension is very slow, very complicated, taxing and extremely painful.

 

The hell is a hybrid of both light and darkness because in this state dualistic morality collapses – and a truth is revealed that good and evil are not distinct things, but that they are intertwined together. Both inside the person, and abstractly so, in the world at large. It is one and the same. Nietzsche tried to explain this, somewhat unsuccessfully. It’s not really something that can be intellectually explained or understood. (You know me – I’m gonna try anyway). Essentially, the understanding of good and evil arises from the same emptiness – it’s all an illusion. There is a divine realization that human morality is ultimately meaningless, spiritually speaking. What we call moral rules are really only the rules of the game here. They are important for soul development at this level, but the spiritual planes operate by a different set of rules all-together. From the correct height of perspective earthly good and evil are equal – two ends of a spectrum, different only in degrees. The metaphor of a chess board seems appropriate here. Light and darkness exist in a kind of balance, each a necessary part of a singular whole. Seeing this and having the realization of it are the actual experiences of mystical oneness. But seeing this and realizing it in the midst of pain and suffering, in the depths of victimhood, is devastatingly painful.

 

A few words about the unbridled madness: The mysteries of the universe (small tiny fragments of them) come as revelations, often in the middle of the night. I think I’ve written about this before. It feels much like a spontaneous opening of some kind of portal that allows everything to suddenly come in. These openings are so massive that it’s not possible to grasp everything they reveal. It is like standing in a house of infinite mirrors, trying to grab hold of all the reflections at once. The mind is not capable of handling that kind of experience. It is a kind of ungrounded madness when that happens. 

 

I think the words here, of madness, echo a second and deeper meaning, which is that these experiences cannot be explained nor understood by any of the normal academic disciplines. It’s a philosophical Catch 22 – if you experience these things, then technically you are mad. But the only way to prove you are not mad, but rather completely sane, is for the other person to experience it himself too. It’s very annoying that way. These experiences do not conform to our world, and generally they never have. It is not in their nature to conform. They are unique, personal, and highly idiosyncratic. 

 

In truth, there is a powerful and divine intelligence at work directing and orchestrating this process. To see this, to experience it, to understand it is to then immediately be defined as mad. The things that mystics see pose such a fundamental challenge to so many philosophical underpinnings of “civilized” organized society, that calling it madness is the easiest and most expedient resolution to an otherwise overwhelming dilemma. (It’s not a modern faith versus science problem – it’s an ancient problem that not that’s ever going to change). 

 

Those that go through this particular darkness are “sinful angels entering hell,” because they are humans (naturally flawed) who are something like saints-in-training. Despite being good and decent people, and despite all of their spiritual cleansing work, they still remain flawed and imperfect. Heading into this hell, they still carry their sins (of ego), which is the stuff that is going to be purified. They enter this hell in order for the soul to be cleansed fully and completely – which appears to be possible only through the digestion of this pain in a human body. The Catholic tradition calls this the “way of perfection” for this very reason. And I think the basis of the Buddhist belief in reincarnation is grounded in this idea as well – that liberation can only be attained via the human experience. 

 

And the regeneration and resurrection (the healing, the emerging, the shedding of this hellish darkness) is only at the attainment of “i love you.” This is the love of God within. It is the unconditional forgiveness of God. The unconditional love He gives, despite the sins, and flaws, and human frailties. The resurrection happens only when we attain real self-acceptance and self-forgiveness completely; when we have healed and released all of our pain and shame; when we have truly forgiven ourselves in the depth of the ugly truths, rather than in the avoidance of denial. We are all innocent really, even when we are not. And God loves us that way, and asks us to love ourselves, and one another, humbly and honestly, that way too. These principles are true at the surface, and they are true in the depths of this hell. They are the keys to all the healing imaginable, and the foundations of all the spiritual ascensions as well. 

 

I could continue on about these subjects for pages and pages, but I’ll conclude with this final idea. It is understood (and believed) in many mystical traditions that the energy directing this purification process is the female aspect of God, Sophia. She appears to always be present in these dark night experiences, pulling all the levers behind the scenes. She lets her presence be known in myriad ways, but generally she stays veiled in the shadows. (This is intentional; part of the wrestling with doubt and the genuine cultivation of faith). It is Sophia’s wisdom, her intelligence, and her ruthless sort of love that guides the soul through this excruciating process.

 

Once cleansed of ego/sin/impurity, and re-calibrated to virtue, Sophia takes her expression through the human and unites with the Christ energy (that we know of in the Christian tradition as Jesus, the Prince of the light). This is the removal of the veil – the divine marriage – the ultimate unitive state or goal of the entire mystical process. After this spiritual inner war is over, the marriage takes place energetically. Union with God is attained as these two energies merge together. And all that remains on the outside is a humble human, wise and war-torn, full of love and compassion for others, often found crying and singing (perhaps dancing or whirling or writing poetry) in a state of ecstatic and pious bliss, dedicated to service of God.

 

I’m done with my pseudo-scholarly commentary for now. But back to the purpose of this post – Henry has managed to capture all of this (and much much more) in his few short incredible sentences. I continue to read his poem again and again, with awe and reverence and a great deal of excitement. I hope you love it as much as I do. 

 

PS. Bernini’s sculpture of St. Teresa of Avila, which is the image above, is derived from her description of an episode of this specific experience of mystical darkness. Here’s what she wrote about it: 

 

It pleased the Lord that I should see this angel in the following way. He was not tall, but short, and very beautiful, his face so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest types of angel who seem to be all afire. … In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God. It is not bodily pain, but spiritual, though the body has a share in it — indeed, a great share. So sweet are the colloquies of love which pass between the soul and God that if anyone thinks I am lying I beseech God, in His goodness, to give him the same experience. During the days that this continued, I went about as if in a stupor. I had no wish to see or speak with anyone, but only to hug my pain, which caused me greater bliss than any that can come from the whole of creation.

 

 

Fear, courage, and the contemplation of mortality

 

It’s been a while since my last post, so I figured I’d pop in to add some new (ancient) thoughts and discoveries.

I came across the quote below by the controversial genius G.K. Chesterton a few weeks ago. It’s from his book Orthodoxy, which serves as an attempt at explaining his relationship with the Christian faith. I haven’t had a chance yet to explore his work as fully as I’d like to. It’s on my to do list. (I did watch the entire Father Brown series on Netflix, which is based on one of Chesterton’s fictional characters. Unfortunately, I don’t think that counts as a serious look at his work.). 🙂

Anyway, what I have read of his work so far, and of him generally, reveals some deeply mystical understandings. He is known for his infinite capacity to savor the mundane in the present moment; an early twentieth century Power of Now type. He was a prolific writer, poet, theologian, journalist, and art critic. His later conversion to Catholicism and the wondrous belonging he finds there remind me a lot of my own explorations. (He was also vehemently anti-semitic, which is part of what makes him controversial. I’ve learned how to appreciate the good aspects of a person, while accepting that there are also less than desirable ones.).

The subject of this quote, the experiential cultivation of courage, like so many other virtues, is intensely interesting. This quote captures some of the complexity and subtlety of the process, and the difficulty of articulating it in such a way that it fits into a contextual framework. (True virtue has this sort of you-know-it-because-you-live-it-and-feel-it quality that defies explanations.).

“Take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if we will risk it on the precipice.

He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying.”

Courage, like all virtues, is the natural default spiritual state. It is the inherent nature of all humans liberated from ego. It’s not something to be positively acquired. It’s not something you collect or build up, like muscles. Rather, like love, compassion, trust or integrity, it’s something that emerges when the barriers to it are removed. Namely, fear.

In truth, to really cultivate courage, one must focus on the undoing of fear. Then courage emerges on its own, without any effort or doing.

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The Divine Will

 

Below are the exquisite lyrics to one of my favorite songs – Going Home, by Leonard Cohen. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Divine Will over the last few days, and this song came to mind. (It was also published as a poem in the New Yorker magazine). I first heard it a few years ago, and have been obsessed with it ever since.

Right from the start, from the very first time I heard it, I felt an intense connection with its message. Somewhere deep within was the immediate recognition of a resonant experience, some shared knowing, which I didn’t really remember having. Kind of like when you are suddenly reminded of a really important dream, that you understand and appreciate inside your mind, but you can’t really convey it in words. I couldn’t pinpoint how I knew it, or where I knew it from, I just knew… I felt thrilled and moved in a way that music had never done to me before.

In my naive zeal, I couldn’t wait to share it with others. I made everyone I know listen to it with me, hoping they would hear what I was hearing. Hoping that they too would get what I got. But, of course, they didn’t. They couldn’t… To them it was just a strange and eerie song, which made them vaguely uncomfortable. Not only did they not get its significance, but they couldn’t understand why I was so taken with it. And at the time, frankly, I couldn’t either. I could explain the song’s meaning, but I couldn’t explain how I understood it, or why it was so important. I didn’t know the momentous gravity that the message of this song would come to have in my life. Looking back now, I understand it as a real-life moment of foreshadowing. 

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A little bit of Jung

 

There are so many brilliant moments in Jung’s work. It’s hard to highlight one without mentioning at least ten others. But I came across this specific quote yesterday, which encapsulates so many important ideas.

We can get in touch with another person only by an attitude of unprejudiced objectivity. This may sound like a scientific precept, and may be confused with a purely intellectual and detached attitude of mind. But what I mean to convey is something quite different. It is a human quality – a kind of deep respect for facts and events and for the person who suffers from them – a respect for the secret of such a human life. The truly religious person has this attitude. He knows that God has brought all sorts of strange and inconceivable things to pass, and seeks in the most curious way to enter a man’s heart. He therefore senses in everything the unseen presence of the divine will. This is what I mean by “unprejudiced objectivity.” It is a moral achievement on the part of the doctor, who ought not to let himself be repelled by illness and corruption. We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow-sufferer. I do not in the least mean to say that we must never pass judgment in the case of persons whom we desire to help and improve. But if the doctor wishes to help a human being he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is.

The quote is from a talk he gave, which was later published as Modern Man in Search of a Soul. (Or vice versa, I can’t be sure which came first).

The work of acceptance (first of self, and then of the other) is the only path. It’s not a matter of preference. Acceptance is the very heart of love. It is the highest of mystical truths. It is the pillar upon which peace, freedom, empathy, compassion, dignity, respect, and humility rest.

It is also the only way to heal…

 

The illusion of evil

 

Evil never sees itself thusly.

It lacks such a capacity.

It abides by darkness alone.

In its own eyes, it is always good, and right; a precious victim of the wickedness of others.

In this sense, evil resides within each one of us, in every hidden unforgiven pain.

It is only honest reflection upon the nature of our own evil, that marks the beginning of our virtue.