For true devotion must issue from the heart, and consist in the truth and substance alone of what is represented by spiritual things; all the rest is affection and attachment preceding from imperfection; and in order that one may pass to any kind of perfection it is necessary for such desires to be killed.
St. John of the Cross
As far as I can tell, there are two distinct meanings to these words, depending on the depth of spiritual work.
The first is the admonishment against attachment to ritual and sacred material objects, over the substance of those things. It is extremely easy to get lost in spiritual materialism as it distracts from the difficult and painful parts of the path. Those who become too focused on the symbols, as ends in and of themselves, end up reducing spirituality (and the quest for real liberation) to religion and indoctrination. Ritual can be helpful, to focus the mind and intention, to set aside dedicated time and space for the work, but perfecting rituals it is not the goal of the work.
The second meaning is significantly deeper. Given St. John’s writings about the second dark night, and the excruciating purgations of the spirit which take place there, these same words take on a deeper meaning. It is an instruction to the monastic-level practitioner, and echos quite a bit of the buddhist teachings on this subject as well.
It has to do with the internal separation from egoic investment in mystical experience – the substance of the experience is representative, a reflection, symbolic. It is not ultimate truth. It is personal truth, intended to further the discovery work.
Getting attached to the content of mystical experience, using the experiences themselves to feed self-worth or status, turning the content into vanity is also a distraction. We must utilize the content, understanding that it is purely personal, and then detach from the content. We must come to understand the mystical experiences as a visit to a house of mirrors – reflecting for us, in grand design, our own hidden selves, so that we might see ourselves more clearly. To mistake the symbol for the substance, to mistake the experience for the truth, is in fact an error.
Killing off the aspects of ego that cling and attach to mystical experience is part of the process of perfection and purification.
Last night I met with Rumi. I met him in that field he talked about, you know the one – that place that is beyond judgment and acceptance, beyond right and wrong.
The field came to me at night, and woke me from my sleep. Between waking and dreaming, I recognized it immediately, as I struggled to find my words.
This field transcends right and wrong. It is simultaneously higher than, and fully merged with, the human condition. It gives the impression that it is above, way above. But like different layers of a cake, it’s not separate; it’s all part of one thing. From the field, you can sort of look down and see everyone right there below.
Timeless and weightless, being in this field feels sort of like being suspended in honey. Visually it’s translucent, and kind of thick and gooey. These places always seem to have a slight yellow tinge to them.
In this place, the love is so strong, and the power so great, that it doesn’t waste time or energy on judgments. Judgments, labels, and the struggle to accept the unacceptable are silly here. Good and evil irrelevantly cancel each other out. It is love beyond those things; it has no concern for them. The love is so deep, so unconditional, so unilateral, that everything is perfect. Everyone is perfect. It doesn’t matter what they are. It doesn’t matter what they do, or fail to do. It loves wholly and completely, without question. It loves solidly, without a fluttering of doubt. It loves always, because it is one with everything there is.
I only got to stay for a moment. And as it was fading away, it left me with a single thought: “This is oneness.”
Back in the summer of 2015, I suddenly formed an unusual interest in prayer. Unusual because of my near-automatic rejection of all things remotely tied to religion. At first it was an intellectual sort of curiosity, (someone suggested that I take a look at it with my new spiritual eyes), and then shortly thereafter, it became a most incredible daily practice.
When I was in grade school, we had morning prayers every single day. If I remember correctly, it would go on for about half an hour, sometimes even longer. I had no interest in anything religious back then, and so I quickly learned how to go through all the motions, while splitting off the focus of my attention to other more interesting things. Forcing prayer on someone who doesn’t understand it and doesn’t want it is not only pointless, but offensive to the sanctity of prayer itself. (I am, however, still really good at this internal attention multi-tasking, although I’m not sure it’s especially helpful these days.)
In the first year or so after my initial awakening prayer seemed almost like a foreign concept. With my developing spiritual philosophy I didn’t see there being anything to pray for. All the stuff one might consider praying for are desires and attachments. Prayer is often used to request divine help in alleviating suffering. But in my view, to alleviate suffering is not the way of spirit. (I don’t love suffering, but the acceptance and understanding of suffering is a huge pillar of my work).
From that standpoint, it didn’t make any sense to me to use prayer as a request for something. Everything comes to us exactly as it should. Assuming that prayer-as-request would even work (I’m not convinced it would), why would I (with my ego mind) meddle in the beautifully orchestrated plan of my life? To me, that would be sort of like a child trying to instruct the teacher on her lesson plans. If the point is to surrender to the divine will, how is the assertion of my personal will a wise practice?
This is of course a matter of personal belief, and one of those things I keep revisiting and re-evaluating. I’m not entirely solid in this view. (I’m not entirely solid on any view these days…). My reasoning capacities are still a little fuzzy.
I did have one experience, a long time ago, where I was intuitively lead to pray for someone, who was in a great deal of pain. It wasn’t about words exactly; I don’t think I used words. It was just a feeling of pure intent, sent up, without any rational explanation. After I did it, I received an intuitive confirmation that my prayer was heard, or received, I suppose. I haven’t been able to make much sense of that experience, or to put it into any kind of context. I’m extremely skeptical of the view that some kind of intercession is necessary on anyone’s behalf. And it hasn’t happened to me since that one time, so the jury is still out on prayer-as-request.
So, if not to ask for something, if not to alter my condition, what then could be the point of prayer?
I turned this question around in my head a lot. Prayer and/or meditation is a core teaching in just about every spiritual and mystical tradition there is. Surely there must be a reason. What wasn’t I getting? I read a bunch of stuff that didn’t really resonate, and then I found a somewhat satisfactory answer – prayer quiets the mind, like meditation does, but it focuses the attention on the love of God; it’s not about asking for anything, but rather about communion with the divine. Hmmmm. This became interesting to me, as I considered setting aside time each day specifically to spend time with God.
After looking up a bunch of different types of prayer, I found an ancient form of devotional mantra chanting, set in a somewhat contemporary way to celestial harps, pianos, and guitars. I really liked it. It wasn’t the boring rote repetition of prayers from my childhood. Instead, it was an opportunity to sing along to something beautiful. I love love love singing! (I’m also tone deaf, so I really try never to inflict my singing on other people. Lots of apologies to my neighbors).
What I’ve learned about prayer is that you have to really find a form that speaks to you. There are so many different ways to pray, so many different traditions, but in order for it to “work,” you really have to find something you like. (Not something you like because it’s fancy or trendy or exotic sounding, but something you actually like. Something that makes you feel something in your gut.)
I really don’t remember what my mantras mean anymore, and that’s good, I think. I focus my attention entirely on God (or the Divine Mother) while making sounds that sort of resemble the mantras. It’s not a particularly serious effort on my part. It’s not supposed to be serious; it’s supposed to be fun. Well, in a sacred sort of way…
Prayer must not be done out of obligation, or duty, or sacrifice. It has to be something you really really enjoy, something that feels really good and makes you want to do it, rather than feeling like you should. It can take a little time to find the right “thing,” but once you do, it really can become something you love.
So, with all that out of the way, I set about praying on a regular basis.
And then things started to get strange…
First I went through a two month phase where every time I prayed it would induce a trance state. I would be taken away into mystical realms, and lose complete awareness of the room, or my surroundings, or time. (Each trance experience would show me different things or take me to different spiritual places).
Then that period ended and new things started to happen with prayer. It wasn’t every single time, I don’t think, but it would happen more often than not. As I’d start praying, at some point, without any specific intent on my part, I’d become instantly and wholly connected to divinity. There is no way for me to describe how this feels, except that it feels like being suddenly plugged into something. It just comes on out of nowhere. I can’t ever make it happen. It’s just a sudden flash, and this state of union would overtake me. What would fill me in those moments is such bliss and ecstatic feelings that tears of joy would start streaming down my face. Almost immediately my body would be moved to dance, and I would feel like I’m swimming in something amazing. Really gentle waves of joy would come washing over me more and more, and this incredible feeling of peace and perfection always accompanied it.
Sometimes it would only last for a few seconds, sometimes for longer. The moment I would divert my attention and focus on something else (like thinking, or forming words, or reflecting on what’s happening) the connection would break. It takes some training of the attention to be able to maintain it.
These mini-ecstasies used to happen almost every day. Sometimes they would happen multiple times a day. The intensity would vary, as would the time actually spent in prayer. I remember more than once walking the dog and listening to my chanting music when these ecstatic feelings would come, and I would cry and dance all the way home (without a single thought of concern about the judgey looks from the four lanes full of traffic).
Anyway, these experiences became sort of a regular thing for me, and I suppose I started to take them for granted. It was just my every day life, for probably over a year. Then I went through a phase where the ecstatic episodes tapered off a little, but were replaced with more significant shifts in consciousness (more intense magical things), and so I didn’t really miss them.
That all came to an abrupt end this past November, when my dark period began.
When the darkness arrived, there was nothing at all that could make me feel better. No matter how much I tried, no matter how long I prayed, nothing would happen. Suddenly prayer didn’t feel good anymore. It didn’t produce any ecstatic states. It felt empty, and I think made me feel even worse. So I stopped trying. Resigned to the fact that nothing was going to pull me out of my pain, I grieved the loss of my divine levels of happiness and focused on the day to day healing work. It’s one thing not to know the feeling of divine love. But to know it, to have it available to you anytime, and then to lose it, for no apparent reason, is devastating. It’s like the worst sort of heartbreak, multiplied by ten.
It’s been this way for months now. Dark. No God. No joy, save for the very very occasional blissful episode, lasting just long enough to motivate me to keep on going…
And just two days ago a minor miracle happened.
I was intuitively guided to try praying again. With great hesitation, and fear of disappointment, I put on my chanting music and tried. And OH MY GOD, literally. The ecstatic state had returned!
For the first time in what feels like an eternity of sadness and pain, my happiness came back. I felt the connection to God, the joy, the tears, the dancing… all of it. It only lasted for a short time (as my attention is all over the place these days), but it happened. And then yesterday morning, it happened again! And again I cried, first with joy and then with relief, and gratitude, and this feeling I know really well but don’t have a name for. I felt like God had returned to me. And that this awful purgation period is indeed coming to an end. Perhaps not fully, but the worst of it has passed.
And then of course, a few hours later, I open the very next chapter of St John’s book (which is becoming my favorite piece of writing ever), and it says this of the dark purgation phase:
BUT there is another thing here that afflicts and distresses the soul greatly, which is that, as this dark night has hindered its faculties and affections in this way, it is unable to raise its affection or its mind to God, neither can it pray to Him, thinking, as Jeremias thought concerning himself, that God has set a cloud before it through which its prayer cannot pass. For it is this that is meant by that which is said in the passage referred to, namely: ’ He hath shut and enclosed my paths with square stones.’ And if it sometimes prays it does so with such lack of strength and of sweetness that it thinks that God neither hears it nor pays heed to it, as this Prophet likewise declares in the same passage, saying: ‘When I cry and entreat, He hath shut out my prayer.’ In truth this is no time for the soul to speak with God; it should rather put its mouth in the dust, as Jeremias says, so that perchance there may come to it some present hope, and it may endure its purgation with patience. It is God Who is passively working here in the soul; wherefore the soul can do nothing.
Book 2, Ch 8, St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul
I had no idea that this was so. The inability to pray, or to access the divine connection, during the purgation period, is exactly as it’s supposed to be. Another beautiful confirmation. Thank you, St. John! I could have used this information in November, but keeping me in the dark (no pun intended) was part of the plan, I guess.
During this purification process, the soul is taken down into the depths of a living hell on purpose. It is denied anything that might bring comfort or emotional consolation. It is in that place, devoid of God, devoid of love, devoid of anything but pain, and shame, and turmoil, that the soul can be truly cleansed. It sounds really awful, and it is. (I told you this energy was ruthless). But I can see now why it had to be that way. I can see why it strips you entirely of everything to really show you the core of your being. It’s amazing the stuff that comes out at the bottom of a pit of the worst kind of despair. (I hope I got everything squeaky clean in there – I don’t ever want to have to do any of that again!)
Taking a small logical leap from St. John’s apropos explanation, the return of the ability to connect with God, and to pray, signals to me that perhaps this period is finally finally coming to a close! Yay. I had a feeling that this phase was indeed ending. I have been feeling much much better in the last week, nearly back to some form of normal.
They say that in order to become enlightened you have to be willing to lose your mind.
This is usually understood as a humorous double entendre. Because enlightenment is something that transcends the mind. The mind can’t grasp or rationally comprehend enlightenment experiences. And in order to get there you have to let go of the mind (or ego) – the mental landscape in your head. And also because enlightened people are kind of loopy, and their experiences are outside “normal” mental function. They are by definition crazy. Get it?
It’s not that funny…
Walking this path is very complicated and destabilizing. And talking about spiritual experiences is scary. Really really scary. Even today, in our seemingly progressive era, many who have profound experiences often keep them a secret. They don’t tell their friends or family. They don’t tell their boyfriends or girlfriends. They create fake profiles on facebook, and anonymously join support groups online, so no one in their real life finds out.
It can be extremely isolating, lonely, and stressful to live this way. These experiences become so fundamental to who you are as a person, that hiding them feels like hiding huge essential aspects of yourself.
The reason for all the secrecy is almost always the same – “They will think I’m crazy. They won’t believe me. They will leave me. They will divorce me. I’ll lose my job. They will lock me up in a mental hospital.” This sounds alarmist, but until you’ve actually experienced supernatural things, and tried to talk about them with those that haven’t, you don’t really understand the depth of this fear. It’s very real and quite paralyzing. It is not yet socially acceptable to talk about mystical experiences without being considered crazy. And that label, to most people, still carries tremendous stigma.
Yes. They will think you are crazy (until these experiences become more normalized). But so what?
What’s really being revealed deep inside the fear is something different. It sounds like this: “I’m afraid that if I tell them the truth I won’t be loved or accepted. I’m afraid that being crazy makes me unacceptable.” The root fear is rejection and abandonment. The root fear is “the people in my life only love me conditionally. They will only stick around if I fit their definition of what’s normal and acceptable. They will judge me, shame me, and leave me if I’m not normal; if I don’t fit the image of what they want me to be. I have to be what they all expect me to be, otherwise I’ll end up alone.”
This belief, this fear (which may bear out in reality; the people in your life may, in fact, only love you conditionally) forces genuine spiritual experiences underground. It forces people who have them to live a lie. To create a socially acceptable false mask, pretending to be “normal.” And to keep their experiences buried in secrecy.
With all the stuff available online, all the television shows. and all the mainstream spirituality, still, in their private lives, in their interpersonal relationships, these people are terrified. I know I was as well. It took me a long time to work through all of my fears, and to begin talking about what’s happening to me.
When I tell others that they have to be more honest, more forthright about what’s happening to them, they panic. They tell me that they aren’t strong enough. They don’t want to upset the apple cart. They don’t want to disturb the (illusion of) peace in their lives. “He’ll never accept this” or “she’ll never believe me.” Instead of taking a risk with the truth, they hide the truth. They don’t take ownership of what’s happening to them. They relegate it to some weird shameful thing that no one really needs to know about. They are embarrassed by it. They are afraid of being found out and labeled.
In my view, this runs counter to all spiritual mandates. Spirit doesn’t support hiding your truth. You came into this life to be exactly what you are (with all your weirdness). Pretending to be something else, to be normal, to be acceptable isn’t in alignment. You can’t claim to be evolved or spiritual when you are afraid to live your truth; when you don’t act in your integrity. When you are afraid that the truth will hurt others. Or that you won’t be accepted for it. You can’t be in service if you are living a lie. You can’t be the full expression of your beautiful talents and gifts, if fear and self-judgment keep you from being authentic.
I advise people that they ought to try telling the truth, and let the chips fall where they may. (This doesn’t mean you need to come out guns blazing; you can find a careful gentle way to deliver the truth). But relationships built on conditional love have to be challenged with the truth. That’s the point. The truth comes to burn things away; to reveal that which is not sustainable or in the highest alignment. By keeping the truth a secret, you interfere with the spiritual lessons you are being asked to learn. Safety, security, and peace cannot exist when there is deep seated fear.
Take a risk, tell the truth, and then see what stays and what goes.
I spoke to a woman not too long ago who has been experiencing various kundalini symptoms for over a year.* Her awakening so far has been relatively mild, and not specifically destructive to her way of life. She is able to continue working and socializing without much interruption.
She told me about her boyfriend, whom she’s been seeing for several years. They were thinking about moving in together, and she wasn’t sure if she should tell him about what’s been happening to her, or her growing spiritual life. When I asked her why she hadn’t told him right away, she said that he is an atheist, deeply skeptical and very committed to his beliefs. He’d never accept what was happening to her. She was afraid to lose him, by telling him the truth. “We’re so great together. We’re such good friends, and our relationship is so full of love. I don’t want to lose that.”
Then she mentioned that she tried once to bring it up, to tell him what’s happening to her, but “we were having such a lovely relaxing time together, I didn’t want to ruin it.”
But the appearance of a relaxing time, in reality, was not relaxing at all. She wasn’t relaxed. She was internally in discomfort – going back and forth in her mind over all the various scary consequences. Thinking about what would happen to their relationship in the future when she wouldn’t be able to hide her symptoms anymore. It only appears to be relaxing on the surface, but when your mind is not at rest you can’t feel relaxed.
What I’m going to say next may sound callous, but it’s the essential truth.
If someone doesn’t know the real you; they can’t possibly love you. If they don’t know the truth, then what they love is the person you are pretending to be. If the truth of what’s going on in your life is kept a secret, then the person you’re with never has a chance to love you. They don’t know you. And you aren’t giving them an opportunity to decide whether they really accept you or not. If you tell them the truth and they don’t accept it, then they don’t love you. Without acceptance there is no love, there are only attachments and transactions. In a relationship without acceptance there is only conflict and warfare, anxieties and power-plays for control.
In reality, if the people in your life don’t support you, don’t believe in you, don’t accept you as you really are, then do they deserve to be in your life at all? You have to ask yourself “what am I really holding on to here?” Do you have to pretend to be someone you’re not, in order to continue receiving love and approval? Or are you free to be your full and complete self, with all the weird stuff, knowing that the people in your life adore you just as you are? Wouldn’t you rather live your life around people that respect and admire the very things that you fear might be weird and shameful?
It begins with you. If you don’t take a risk to accept yourself fully and live your own truth, you’ll never know. Find the courage to let what is built on ego and conditions fall away. And let those that love and accept you unconditionally demonstrate that to you.
Keeping secrets create disconnection and separation from those you love. Allow the truth to bring you closer together. It may be scary in the moment, but there is so much love available on the other side. Allow those that really love you to be there for you. If you neutralize your own fears (by working thru them), it will not be such a terrifying situation. Then you can talk to the people in your life in a peaceful and confident way.
It is ignorance that creates fear, so use this opportunity to educate the people in your life. Show them that there is nothing crazy about spiritual experiences. Part of the reason that it’s viewed as crazy is that the people that came before were also too afraid to talk about it. They kept their experiences a secret. They stayed in the shadows because they too were afraid.
If you really want to be of service to humanity, start within your own life. Find the courage to live your own truths. Life has a way of surprising you. And when you approach something with the right energy within, people you thought would never accept it, somehow manage to surprise you as well. It won’t be as bad as you think.
I leave you with this quote from John Irving
“If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.”
Growing up, I had what could only be called a pseudo-religious mish mash of an upbringing.
In my home environment, Judaism and Jewish tradition appeared to be much more a sense of identity, than a religion. At best, you could say that collectively my family saw Judaism as only a cultural, or ancestral mandate. Hailing from the former communist Soviet Union, where religion was prohibited and Jews persecuted, my family members seemed deeply conflicted about their relationship with God, and what it meant to be Jewish. They held on to a few very sporadic rituals, in a strange, arbitrary, sometimes dogmatic, way, professing their undying pride about their Jewishness. But then, at the same time, they took great pleasure in ridiculing Jewish doctrines, customs, and beliefs in the foundational concepts that make up the mystical heart of the religion. I can’t recall anyone talking about God in any serious way, ever. But then going to the synagogue on Yom Kippur was an absolute must. I don’t know how to work those things out or understand them. Maybe this is just what happens when religion is disallowed and ethnic/religious identity persecuted – it results in a perverted sort of clinging to whatever fragments of rituals can be salvaged, but also an internalized sense of shame? I’m not sure.
As if that wasn’t enough, my family also believed and strictly enforced insane superstitions, purchased and wore evil eye amulets, and occasionally visited psychics and witches, bringing home all kinds of protective paraphernalia to keep everyone safe.
Basically, we were your average normal Russian immigrant family. Preferring to remain secure within a closely knit immigrant community, my family didn’t assimilate much into mainstream American life. So home life was spent with other immigrant families, all just like mine.
On the other hand, I was sent to school everyday at a conservative yeshiva for most of my childhood. Things there were markedly different than at home. The school day was split in two. The first half was dedicated to religious studies, conducted primarily in Hebrew. We had mandatory prayer, mandatory Torah study (in the original Aramaic), mandatory study of secondary ancient texts like the Talmud, and extensive review of various rabbinical commentaries… you get the idea. The second half of the school day was dedicated to the less-important subjects, things like math, english, history, science, etc. Non-essential subjects and critical thinking were pretty much off-limits, for the most part. Frankly, I was so disengaged most of the time, that I remember almost nothing from all those years of schooling. (That’s not entirely true. I remember quite a lot. What I don’t seem to recall is the religious content they tried so hard to inculcate. I have a lot of repressed memories.)
As far as I can tell, in retrospect, the school community was bizarrely exclusionary. Their approach to education was to keep the “chosen” children completely ignorant and sheltered from the bad, scary world of anti-semitic gentiles, lurking behind every corner, naturally. Thinking about it from here, it had to be informed by some kind of post-traumatic Holocaust-survivor response to the world. Which is understandable, I guess. But in their eyes, worse than the gentiles though, were Jews like me and my family, who weren’t observant, or conservative, or Sephardic enough to meet their rigorous standards. So I was allowed to go to the school, because someone knew someone who got me in, but I wasn’t allowed to belong. The unsupervised bullying and general contempt were a fairly constant thing. A fun-filled combination for a kid.
The idea of “fitting in” was a challenge for me pretty much everywhere.
When high school approached, I broke free of all of it, and joined the rest of secular society. The transition wasn’t easy, but I was thrilled to be unburdened and released into the real world. High school brought its own set of challenges, as it always does, but fitting into a very diverse community was a lot easier for me. The one thing that stayed with me for years afterwards, was that I wanted nothing to do with religion ever again. I didn’t pray. I didn’t believe in God. I didn’t celebrate Jewish holidays (much to my family’s dismay). And I haven’t visited a synagogue in probably twenty five years. If I had to label me back then, I’d call me an agnostic, I suppose. I believed in fragments of metaphysical things, but rejected everything to do with religion, viscerally so with Judaism, I’m sure you understand why.
In his treatise Atheism, Sir Francis Bacon writes “a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.” I just found this quote a few weeks ago. It was wonderfully exciting for me, because that’s precisely what happened next…
The majority of my work over the last few years has had very little to do with the metaphysical or esoteric. You can call most of it secular self-awareness training. In the very beginning, and for the first few months, I was practically clueless. I felt called to it, compelled to do it, but I didn’t know why. I had no idea that my inner quest for self-discovery, awareness, and truth was even called “spirituality.”
And so for the next several years, living as something of an introverted hermit, I spent my time in deep personal contemplation and inquiry, without any sense of religion or God. As I worked with my teacher, listened to other teachers, and read an entire library of books, I would occasionally come across the mention of God. The writings weren’t religious or about faith exactly, but there was a kind of tone of humility. I didn’t pay much attention to it, and it didn’t register as something I cared to explore. I didn’t go very far into cosmology or the esoteric teachings either. I didn’t care about spirituality, per se. I was much more interested in the grounded, practical tools for transformation. I really just wanted to be happy. I didn’t care about enlightenment. I wasn’t on any kind of path or quest. I just wanted to be free of the emotional suffering I had endured for years. And the tools and practices I was learning about and discovering were helping me to heal, and feel better each and every day, and so I just kept going without giving it much larger thought.
After a while, I started to notice that at every real mention of God, or Lord, or Creator, or anything like that, internally, I would kind of cringe a little. Ugh. No. Not God. Please no. I know all about God. I’ve had enough of God through many torturous childhood years; enough indoctrination to last me a lifetime… The last thing I wanted was to go back to rules, and dogma, and judgment, and us versus them. So I kept my agnostic skeptical hat firmly in place, as I dove deeper and deeper into myself.
That’s when things started to get really weird. I began having experiences, some physical, some energetic, that I could not explain nor contextualize in any rational way. I’ve written about some of the stronger more intense experiences here, but they actually started slowly, subtly long before the full awakening began. They are almost impossible to reduce coherently or meaningfully into words.
I began having psychic visions, intuitive downloads of wisdom and insight, brilliant moments of clarity and connectedness, experiences of pure bliss and love and humility and service, incredible synchronicities (sometimes many of them a day), physical sensations inside and outside (!) the confines of my body… I could write several books on all of what I’ve experienced in the last few years.
Then, one day I was standing by the window in my apartment just watching the clouds. A fierce powerful wind was coming in, and I could feel a kind of electrical charge coming from it. Like it was alive and interacting with me somehow. Something strange, and ominous, and powerful was happening, but I didn’t know what.
And as I backed away from the window, God appeared to me. With my mind’s eye, I suddenly saw a vast dark smokey shadow before me, seemingly all over my living room. I didn’t see anything with my physical eyes. It was appearing to me some other way, and the substance of it was alive, it was charged with something, almost like it was burning. I don’t know how I knew that it was God, I just knew. It took me over, and shifted my consciousness to another state, where it was letting me know of itself. I felt instantly dwarfed, like I was absolutely tiny, ant-size, in relation to it. It was so immense and powerful, that the only thing I could do was fall to my knees in reverence and cry. I felt an immense love and devotion to it, but couldn’t say anything. I didn’t need to say anything. I had almost no thoughts about it, and I just remained sobbing on the floor for a long time.
This force is infinite beyond words. An intelligence greater than anything our human minds can understand. My mind kept trying to grasp its magnitude, to find its edges, but I couldn’t. There were no edges to it. There were no forms or shapes. This shadow stayed for a short time, and then disappeared. It didn’t say anything to me, but the message was clear – God is everything and everywhere, have no doubt.
After a short time my consciousness returned to a normal grounded place, but that day changed the course of everything. Needless to say, it took a long long time to process what had happened. Given my background, my childhood experiences, my feelings about God, I didn’t even quite know where to begin to untangle the mess of feelings within me.
Now, I know how all of this sounds. I know exactly how it sounds. I see the looks on people’s faces when I tell them this story. It’s so outlandish, so outside the realm of possibility, that they scrunch up their faces, and shrug their shoulders not knowing what to make of any of it. Am I crazy? Do I need psychiatric treatment? Did I hallucinate this? No one can begin to fathom the possibility that I’m telling the truth; or that what’s happened to me is real. (Side note: I’ve experienced hallucinations before, they happen with the physical eyes. Something appears to be there, to be seen with the eyes, which isn’t actually there. This was different. Hallucinations don’t shift your consciousness at all. While they can cause emotional reactions of course, they don’t transport you to another place like this experience did to me.)
But truth be told, I barely believed it all myself for a long time too. Doubt, I did. A lot.
What’s interesting is that no one asks the seemingly obvious follow up questions: “What was it like? How did it feel? Has it happened since? What does it mean?” Not one single person asks me this. They all find polite ways to steer the conversation to something else. It is as if I told them that I went to Paris for a vacation, and instead of asking me “How was it?” they say something like “Well, if you believe you went to Paris… I suppose I’m happy for you.”
Patronizing invalidation, at it’s finest. It’s okay. I don’t blame them, nor do I look to them for validation. I understand why they respond to me that way. I wouldn’t believe me either, if I was in their shoes. I would probably jump to the simplest skeptical reduction: she’s having a psychiatric episode. It’s completely understandable. It is the simplest way to avoid dealing with the bigger questions that arise. Nevertheless, it’s what actually happened to me. (And it’s happened again since that time).
But I’m not alone or unique in these experiences. Forget all the historical mystics and biblical figures. I know other people, living, psychologically stable humans, going through a similar spiritual development, who also have experiences of God. They aren’t prophets, and they aren’t schizophrenics. They aren’t religious people, and they didn’t come to these experiences through faith or devotion or religious ecstatic rituals.
The more accurate explanation is closer to what Sir Bacon wrote. Few people really understand this, but the quest for truth, the seeking of wisdom, the living of life in a heart-centered way, is what all the ancient schools of philosophy were actually about. The famous philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome (too numerous to list here) were conveying to their students not abstract concepts, nor meaningless rhetorical debate. They were conveying a philosophical system of living in the world from within. A way of being. A way of understanding life, people, relationships, work, art, purpose, and most importantly, love – all through the internal work of self-discovery. Naturally, the deeper you go inward, the closer you get to the mystical; a connection and tradition we are all sorely sorely missing in our lives today.
With the right tools and the right contemplative practices, the deeper you go inward, the deeper levels of self-awareness you attain, the closer you get to the mystical, divine, essential truths and experiences. It doesn’t matter if you call it God, or cosmic consciousness, or Shiva, or any other name you wish. You are free to make up your own name for it. But there is no doubt something Divine, something vastly, unimaginably, unfathomably greater than our human existence.
Ironically, it doesn’t require faith. It doesn’t require adherence to anything. It is quite the opposite – it is about liberation. True liberation of the soul – the authentic self from the confines of the ego. It’s an undoing. An unlearning. A de-conditioning of the mind. That’s what spirituality is all about. It turns out that that is precisely what monasticism is all about too. I didn’t get that or understand it until I arrived there organically on my own. (I like to do things the hard way…).
These direct experiences of divinity, of love and of spiritual bliss, are available to any serious spiritual seeker, in a variety of traditions. I am not special; nor am I chosen; nor are any of the people who share my experiences. It is available within all of us. We all have this capacity. It is available to anyone committed to going inward and really seeking discovery of him/herself. (And sometimes these experiences can happen spontaneously to people with absolutely no spiritual education, interest, or background. A wake up call from the soul, in my view).
Take it from someone who had zero faith and a vehement rejection of God and religion; the deeper you go within your own self, the closer you get to the Divine.