To become human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.’ David Whyte
The woman before me is 64, awash with grief, holding on to a husband she has wanted to leave for 30 years. She stayed for her son, laid herself upon the altar of his becoming and watched him disappear down the tunnel of the life she had hoped for him.
She sits revving up courage like a teenager on her first motorbike and, of course, she keeps stalling. First gear seems a canyon away, and she draws back, tears welling, down the years that disappeared, scarcely daring to look as if even in looking she will fall into the dead dark void that should have been her life.
Shame and years of persecution stop her seeing the depth of her love, her kindness, her loyalty and I realise that platitudes about loving herself, putting herself first now the boy is a man, grown and gone, would infer her sacrifice meaningless when, in this life, it was her one true offering.
Sometimes, when a person has been deeply wounded, encouraging initiatory leaps is both dishonouring and dangerous. At others, it is what a person needs the most, and occasionally, it is just hard to know. But the hidden dilemma for every person, it seems, is the same: what I both long for and fear most is the dissolution of ‘me’.
Synthesis cannot happen without conflict. What is true in a relationship or a culture is equally true for the individual. Struggle and stuckness are always the prelude to new life, even a leap to the next level of consciousness. And so when she came for a second visit and told me she had found a friend to stay with, I smiled, knowing she was on her way.
We all come at initiation differently. My own tendency has been to build up a head of steam and leap into the flames. It seems I got burned so badly so young this has just been the way I do it. For some of us, the longing for union, to be fully who we are, is a primordial force that will lay waste to all barriers:
‘I lost my world, my fame, my mind. The Sun appeared and all the shadows ran. I ran after them, but vanished as I ran. Light ran after me and hunted me down.’ Rumi
Pragmatism also plays its part. Once you know the light is hunting you, once you know your dissolution is inevitable, once you click the joy you seek has eluded you in the world precisely because it only lives in one place (and then you discover it lives in every place), then why not rush to meet it like the long-lost lover it is?
Like all of us at the outset, my American friend had no living mystical experience to call her forward. The Fool stands at the edge of his longing, naïve, not knowing the road, but willing to face what is unknown, unseen and, until this point, asleep in the soul. He has answered the call.
However we do it, the call is always to embrace the unity of selves, unify the masculine and feminine aspects of the psyche at the throne of consciousness, having raised more and more of the unconscious above ground until the wholeness of the Self reflects our God-like nature. Once joy is known within what more need is there to look without?
As I realised in the worst dark night of my life only recently, it is our very emergence from the Self in the first place that caused all the misery there is! As it says in A Course In Miracles, we chose the one tiny mad idea of separation and uncovered universes of unwanted consequences. Our fall is the spiritual equivalent of not wearing a condom!
The soul, however, has other plans, different to the ones we make, painfully pulling us back into line and purpose. My tearful friend didn’t know any of this, but she was being called out into a new life:
‘The human being has to be born twice, once from his or her mother, and then out of his or her own body and of his own existence. This body is like an egg, the essence of man must become in this egg a bird, thanks to the heat of love. And then he will escape this body, into the eternal world of the soul, beyond space.’
That was Rumi’s son, who had either undergone the experience himself or had seen his father’s utter devastation amid the birth pains that would release a poetry of incomparable fragrance into the world. Attar, another Sufi mystic, said there are only three roads on the path to Love: tears, blood, and fire.
It is little wonder that we resist, dancing back and forth over our decision to step out, envisaging nightmares of ruin: financial, relational, emotional. But when all is said and done, when all steps danced, Samsara is destined and designed to break you. But it’s the you that can never be found, the you that does not exist, the one that lives in the mind and is as changeable as a winter wind.
Once upon a time, transformative rituals were planned and purposeful. For most of us now, they are sudden and incomprehensible. There is no tribe or community to hold most of us, no understanding of the sacredness of person making, yet the soul will have its way with us, ready or not.
I understood my friend’s dilemma. I had lived it and although impelled by trauma rather than choice, I knew the value of being a fool and stepping into the unknown. The disasters of life are the genius of the unconscious. They invoke longing and longing carries us home.
If we refuse to take the journey, if we refuse to face our brokenness or allow ourselves to be broken up so the butterfly of consciousness can be freed, it is perilous to think we will get away with it for we never do.
Life always exacts a tribute and the stakes can be high, fatal even. I once had to tell a client that if we keep circling the same issue refusing to budge, on occasion the soul just gives up and leaves the body. His transformation was fairly rapid there on in!
Yet initially the tribute demanded is more mundane: inertia turning to depression, obsession turning towards addiction, lethargy, hopelessness. What we think of now as standard human fare, and we put up with it. Yes, if we are obsessed with anything, that is life exacting a tribute and telling us we need to look closely within.
Disease and illness then enters the picture. Those who are really walled off at the core, those people who are so fragile and defended they have become personality disordered, will most likely not make the required leap further into life, into their essence, as they are too busy defending against it.
Penetration of the shell around the heart is what is needed and sadly, for some, such a thing seems impossible.
What is required is a true sense of sovereignty, a knowing in the soul and by the soul that you are worth it; not only worth it but both royal and noble, knowing with certainty that a secret self lies hidden in the heart. As the great mythologist Michael Meade says, ‘The people who are destined to become royal are at first hidden or abandoned.’
The divine awakens our heart with the memory of union (our royalty). We then, must make this conscious, embody it, and take it to others struggling in the chrysalis of their lives with the story of our own battle and victory over the forces that wish to keep us small, ignoble and forever impoverished at heart.
We are all pilgrims in this life and I look forward to walking the road to Santiago de Compostella with my daughter in May, for there is always more, and some days I am not yet home.