Early on in her book Wild Mercy, Mirabai Starr suggests, “Perhaps you, like I, have associated spirituality with rising above the human condition rather than with consciously embodying it”. ‘Hmm,’ I think as I pause to highlight the thought. I find myself coming back to it several times until I finally decide to explore the idea through writing.
‘Absolutely’, I pen. ‘Yes of course’. I’ve been faithfully sitting in one form of meditation or another for many decades––initially and purposefully to transcend the mundane, to be free from the pain.
In my late teens, the goal setting off on this spiritual pilgrimage was enlightenment, or nirvana as the literature I was devouring promised. I imagined once arriving there I’d experience a state free from the despair, the emptiness, the agony, and the haunting doubts––you know, all the crummy feelings we are prone to being in a body walking on this earth.
Two decades down the road I came across these perspectives––before enlightenment chop wood carry water. After enlightenment chop wood carry water. And, depressed before enlightenment? Well, still depressed after.
‘Okay’, I mutter. ‘I get it; but, I’m carrying on with this disciplined practice because…? ‘Can someone explain to me for what then?’ I could grasp the point intellectually, and even took it as something I could give lip service to, like ‘now I know something new’. Yet, the notion didn’t really linger as a bite of chocolate might. Furthermore, no significant or eye-opening insight changed my internal experience or external behavior.
In retrospect I can say at that phase I had become more aware of the river of thoughts. That recognition, combined with an understanding of cognitive therapy, gave me manageable agency over my feelings kinda, sorta, sometimes. One result brought resounding clarity to the dialogic war within. And to the resistance!
Feeling lousy would often trigger an angry tiger furtively pacing within leaving me in the lurch. An impulsive outburst would turn on the incriminating inner judge of the nth degree. What I didn’t understand at the time was the interior skirmish being waged, and that I as witness could have a say in the matter. Differing or disagreeing factions lashed out flagellating, abnegating and leaving me with a persistent disgraced, ashamed and bruised sense of self. What sort of God could love such a person?
Now 5 decades into this journey what I am beginning to savor is the hospitable greeting to whatever presents itself with each step on the path. Somewhere along the way somehow, like water that drip by drip by drip wears away the stone, mental structures fixed like icebergs have melted giving view to a fresh new conversation. No longer am I praying for the unfettered freedom from the suffering that arises by just being present as a witness to life on this planet. My heart and mind and body and soul have learned to hold the tension that exists in that place where dark is merging into light and light fades into the dark. Mirabai’s statement brought this all to mind.