“Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the bright And darkened lands of the earth . . . .” (W.H. Auden, September 1,1939)
Plato described the transition from the old self to the authentic Self as moving from out of “the cave” of isolation, where life is observed as confused reflections on the walls of the cave, into the light of day where one is fully engaged as a liver of life rather than an observer only.
Crossing the Threshold
This passage of the soul from out of the dark cave and into the light of day is made much easier with the assistance of a “spiritual midwife,” or mentor. One need not go it alone these days with the many spiritual guides and personal transformation facilitators available.
One such spiritual midwife, and “guru” to many, is Dr. Joan Borysenko, clinical psychologist and medical scientist, who has done much work in body-mind healing and spiritual transformation. She offers some professional insight into this process of transformation in a tape series entitled, “The Power of the Mind to Heal.” With her permission, I would like to share with you now an excerpt from these tapes, primarily for the grounding in the work-a-day world her words provide, but also for the profound gift she brings into the healing field through her expression and her deep and compassionate understanding of humanity’s state of amnesia, out of which many today are awakening and struggling to make sense out of the events of a dawning new age which we are all seeing and experiencing in a new way.
From Dr. Borysenko’s tapes:
“The events that call us forth from Plato’s ‘Cave’ are different for each of us, and perhaps the best prayer in times of trouble is not to pray for the troubles to cease but to pray that our hearts and minds stay open to change so that we’ll emerge from our crisis transformed, wiser and more loving.
“Unfortunately we’ve lost our cultural understanding of the value of darkness. Suffering and pain are downright unpopular in a culture that’s addicted to ‘positive thinking.’ But a lot of what passes as ‘positive thinking’ isn’t positive at all . . . . A lot of us slap on a veneer of positivity and phony faith to hide a heart full of pain and fear.
“The psychologist Carl Jung put it very clearly when he said that we can’t find the light by imagining good things. The only way to the light is to go back out through the darkness. Then we can emerge transformed with truly changed minds.
“The mythologist, Joseph Campbell, said, ‘one thing that comes out in myths is at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.’”
This has certainly been true in my own experience of dark times. Another way this has been expressed is “The darkest hour is the one before the dawn.” Some of my best days have been after two or three days of internal void and mental cloudiness, passing through layers in the veil. We may be fortunate to have had someone represent the light of Being to us so vividly and powerfully that we are able to forge a path all the way to the most sacred and holy place within us and perhaps even fuse in rapturous union with the Beloved, losing ourselves to the world and entirely into the arms of Love. Sometimes, in such ecstatic experiences “in the light,” the path we forged with the help of another’s light closes up behind us and we lose our way back out into the world. We leave the world to ascend the mountain of spiritual attainment and enlightenment, where we stay for a season knowing that we must return to the world we left behind.
Often we have to find our way back out on our own through a heart cluttered with fears and doubts and a mind rigidly structured with beliefs and prejudices of sorts we never even imagined were there. This time, however, we have only our own light, which by now we have learned to shine, to light up the path leading out into the world of hard facts and experiences. For me, finding my way back out into the light of day where I could be of real value and service to others has been the greatest test of my spiritual awakening and transformation. The most difficult of tasks has been to learn how to reach out and to touch people where they are. I could not have done it without help, without someone to at least provide a sounding board for clarifying issues and validating my own gut perceptions and new-found sense of true self-worth. One way and the other, both in going in to find oneself and in coming out to reveal the wonderful one I discovered my Self to be, one has to traverse the darkness of the cave where the false, isolated self spent its entire life wandering around in a solitary way.
Dr. Borysenko describes this transitional period from her professional point of view as represented quite often by physical, mental and emotional symptoms of so-called “dysfunction.”
“Not only have we lost our appreciation of the value of darkness as an authentic path to the light, we’ve also lost the priesthood whose function it was to bring us through the transitions. All too often our religious priesthood is as out of touch with sources of wisdom as is our secular priesthood—therapists and psychiatrists [and I would include here health care physicians] who think more in terms of pathology than they do of growth and potential.
“We can learn a great deal about approaching these times of transition by observing how the priesthood of more primitive societies treats people in transition—whether the transition comes unbidden or whether it is set into motion by a special ritual or rite of passage.
“The anthropologist, Victor Turner, is well known for his study of the ritual process in different cultures. He defines a ritual as a ‘rite of passage,’ a transition between two distinct states of being, or stations in society. The traditional rite of passageway in primitive cultures consists of three distinct stages: the separation from one’s previous state of being; the liminal period during which you dwell between two worlds, not here and not there; and the reincorporation afterwards into some new role or status in the society.
“The ambiguous intermediate state of liminality is a kind of dwelling at the threshold of a new life. It’s often compared to being in the womb, in a state of darkness and invisibility, or ‘wandering in the wilderness.’ The Jews wandered in the wilderness for forty years when they left bondage in Egypt, a time of dwelling at the threshold before they were re-born to a new life in Palestine. Jesus, too, wandered for forty days in the wilderness when he died to his old self, the carpenter, and was reborn to his God Self.
“Each of us, in that very same movement from our separate ego to our God Self, has to do some wandering in exile and in this period we may feel confused, unhappy and like we have nothing left to hold onto. If our culture hadn’t gotten so out of touch with the meaning of ritual and myth, we would know that this ‘no-man’s land’, the ‘dark night of the soul’ between the death of our old self and the birth of our new Self was grace, not ‘mental illness’ or ‘PMS’.”
What a wonderful and empowering attitude to hold toward a health crisis, or a life crisis, that might come our way seemingly just about the time we thought everything was going so well in our lives. I know for a fact, just from my own personal experience with physical illness, that unresolved inner issues come up to be addressed when the physical body is undergoing a viral cleansing, for example. One is compelled to be thankful for such interruptions sent by life perhaps to get one’s attention. It is believed by some psychologists that our own sub-conscious minds create the symptoms of dis-ease in order to alert us to the need to address important issues in our lives. We can rest in assurance that all is well during times of crisis rather than tense up in fear of the unknown. Healing can come quickly as we listen to our inner voice for the very specific message that will open the door to us for transformation. It is there if we are quiet enough, and honest enough, to hear it. Joan continues:
“The collective hypnosis—our unconscious adherence to the familiar beliefs that guide our lives—is broken in the liminal period, in that time of exile, in exactly the same way our own uncelebrated life crises strip us of what we know, delivering us to the threshold of the unknown. In times of transition we awaken from the familiar terrain of life and find ourselves in alien territory. If we know that this frightening, unknown period was a necessary transition, like the transition period of labor, we could more easily ask for whatever help was needed, and more patiently hold on and wait for the birth. We could take comfort that the process was natural, not pathological. Each dark night and each little death peals away a layer of conditioning, restoring our sight so that we can see more clearly. What a difference it would make if a person in the throes of a life crisis were called an ‘initiate’ and then skillfully led to a rebirth. Instead, our psychological initiates are often labeled neurotic, psychotic, addictive or character disordered, labels that create helplessness and low self-esteem. These labels reinforce the fearful story that we are damaged and less than whole. Some of the power of the ‘Twelve-Step Recovery Program’ comes from the context in which addiction in placed. In anonymous programs, addictions are transitions between a life where the person was out of touch with a higher power and one in which the reality of that power becomes not only the force for recovery but also a renewal of the meaning of life. Addiction as a liminal experience, for those who are willing to see it in that light, creates excitement, empowerment and even gratitude for the addiction as a guide to a new, more self-aware and fulfilling life.”
It is one thing to admit that one’s physical body is addicted to a drug, such as alcohol, and to take the necessary steps toward sobriety and non-dependency. It is another thing entirely to take on the label of “alcoholic” as one’s identity. The statements “I am an alcoholic” or “I am a drug addict” can serve to dispel patterns of denial, but it isn’t the truth of who one is. Such firmly held fixations in consciousness could come to hide awareness of one’s real identity. This can set up a circular codependent relationship between condition and treatment in which one must continue being an “alcoholic” in order to participate in the process of treatment, and vice versa. Further, one might be prone to think that, without that identity, one would become as nothing.
In the health field, similar situations arise where one becomes identified with the “disease” for which one is being treated. To continue saying, for example, “I am a diabetic” fixes the condition of diabetes even more firmly in consciousness, which in turn creates the vibrational terrain that determines health and dis-ease in the body-mind continuum. What if one were to say instead, for example, “I am fine. My body, however, is having some difficulty handling sugar at this time, so I will withhold sugar from my diet until such time as I have corrected the reason(s) for the difficulty?” This, in my view, would be more accurate as well as the intelligent and cooperative first step to take toward a holistic approach to healing while engaging orthodox, traditional disciplines and therapeutic methodologies. (Excerpted from Sacred Anatomy)
I will continue with this theme in my next post. Thank you for sharing my meditations. I would love to share any thoughts you may have. Until my next post,
Be love. Be loved.