Jeffrey led the discussion so that we touched on the full range of topics in the book, such as psychology, spirituality, biology, quantum physics, and our every day experiences with life. We begin with the profound effect that “lenses of perception” have on our experiences. Lenses are not beliefs. They go much deeper. They are the ways that we see and understand everything, and they emerge unconsciously from our experiences.
Jeffrey says this about the interview on his YouTube page:
Doug Marman shares his insights concerning the role of first person, second person, and third person viewpoints as they pertain to scientific theories, philosophy of mind, personal relationships, and spiritual awareness. He suggests that the most neglected of these is second person, which is most closely related to interconnectedness and quantum entanglement.
Feel free to post questions or comments below. Thanks for the dialogue.
Lying on the bed late at night I watch the patterns of shadows weaving about the room. Paul Twitchell — The Flute of God
Living means experimenting. There is no way around it.
No way to avoid it.
So it came to my mind that it might be possible to do
some experimenting around the notions of happiness
and unhappiness. Most certainly, the
two options are always available. However, as some kind of a third and largely
unconscious option, you can be unhappy without noticing it, mainly because all
the other people around you are in an even worse condition and that still puts
you in a rather comfortable position.
The moment I became aware of the fact that—at least—during the last decade I had not had a single moment of overwhelming happiness, come to me during a week’s stay in Dublin, Ireland.
From the very first moment of disembarking at the airport, I was almost shocked by a sensation of brightness, rough wonder and adventure. All was light and full of tension. Did that have anything to do with Dublin? Or just with myself? Or somewhat fifty-fifty? Could this have occurred anywhere else, too? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? Who cares to know? I certainly don’t. It was just there and it was overwhelming and it was good. After all, your state of consciousness is your state of acceptance, they say. So I stretched my inner hands out and grabbed it. It was mine. I vaguely remembered that I had undergone those ecstatic states of consciousness during my childhood when I grew up in a 16th century house, a labyrinth in style, dusty & full of stories and hidden corners. So now, it was Dublin. My Dublin now.
Had it not been Oscar Wilde, who was born in Dublin, who stated that in the end everything always comes out fine, and if it doesn’t, well, it is not yet the end? It is generally good to have some literary backup (quotes and the likes) in life. Maybe I should have another try to read Ulysses by James Joyce? Or Finnegan’s Wake? I jumped at this inner, spiritual food realizing how hungry I had been unconsciously. I think I acted wisely, since, after all, Paul Twitchell said in one of his taped lectures (I forgot which one), that if Spirit puts out something for us,we should take it and keep it to ourselves because it is ours.
Full of high-tense expectancy, I firmly grabbed the
experience and held it close to myself. What would happen next?
I was soon to find out.
As the bus from the airport approached the city center, the excitement grew stronger. I could now see that Dublin was a town very much to my liking. There was a wild melancholy to it, clothed in an atmosphere that reminded me mainly of a more silent version of London, but also of the Netherlands.
During the next days I discovered the center, an incredibly huge and exciting book shop as well as a handful of antiquarian book shops, the Liberties quarter, Trinity College with its famous Book of Kells, old and somewhat dusty corners everywhere, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Spire, the strange and hidden back streets, the meal deals offered by supermarkets, the weaving shadows of this mysterious city.
I spent the nights in the maze of a Victorian Age
house that had been altered again and again in more that a century leaving
behind a labyrinth. It was not easy to find my room. There, I read a book of
Irish ghost stories every night before going to sleep filling my dreams with
banshees and lepracauns: Quite amusing, yes.
Then it happened. Three or four times during my stay,
at least once on Thomas Street (strangely funny, since my name in this
incarnation is Thomas), I was
overridden by some seconds of a sensation of pure joy. Joy I hadn’t experienced
for such a long time.
When I came back from my stay in Dublin, it took me some time to develop an idea that should have been obvious, but, after all, I have always been a slow learner. Why, I asked myself, don’t I try to go to Dublin using the out-of-the body-techniques of Soul Traveltaught by Paul Twitchell?
I decided this idea was just great and so I sat down to start with this journey
My plan was to imagine myself lying on my bed in the
Victorian Age house, getting up and going down toward the entrance in order to
step outside. Then I would follow Lord Edward Street (changing its name to Dame
Street) in order to arrive at Trinity College. Turning left I would be led to
O’Connell Bridge crossing the river Liffey. Then, it would only be necessary to
go along O’Connell Street passing by the famous General Post Office (GPO) that –
way back in 1916 – had been such a vital place for Ireland in finally becoming
an independent nation in 1922, and then turning left into Parnell Street, to finally
arrive at the huge bookshop.
That was my Soul Travel Map.
I thought, since I had very vivid images of Dublin in
my mind, it should be easy to get into the mood fueling the experience-to-come.
It worked quite well. I felt the same excitement as in
the physical Dublin where I had been a few months before. But still, I had this
nagging feeling: Is it real? Or is it
“just” my own imagination? On the other hand I did not consider it wise to
think too much about it because it might distract the focus of my attention
thus breaking the discipline involved in the act. But it came back again and
again. It was nice and fulfilling but was it true?
So I just went on. Carefully I stopped to have a look
at everything. The City Hall. The small street to the right leading to a place
with the Molly Malone monument, always careful not to be run over by a car, a
bus or by who-knows-what: The Irish drive on the left side! For a Continental
European this can be pretty dangerous.
When I turned left in front of Trinity College
approaching O’Connell Bridge, something started to go wrong. I could not put my
finger on it, what it was, but as this bridge drew closer my vision started to
get blurred. Everything went blank and I had to struggle to remain within the experience trying to regain
Then I was back again. Without taking too much notice
of my surroundings I stepped on the bridge – – – and ran into a huge pot with a
tree in it. I was utterly surprised, to say the least. Not only because such a
stupid thing, such a freak incidence could happen to me, but also by the instant knowingness: There are no pots with trees
on O’Connell Bridge! So how could I possibly stumble over one?
I looked around.
Then it dawned on me. I had not gone to O’Connell Bridge but had quickly—quickly as the wind—gone to Grattan Bridge!
I understood at once. The way over Grattan Bridge leading to Capel Street was a much better and shorter way to the bookshop in Parnell Street! I—Soul—the real ME, had quickly decided to change plans and had acted out this new option within the flick of a second. This is possible since Soul Travel is not dependent on time and space. It is just for the pure experience itself.
Here is the talk that I gave in Toronto at the end of September. It is titled: The Call of the Unknown. You can see a video of this talk below.
In this talk I approach one of the most important elements that distinguishes a spiritual search from a typical search for knowledge. This is hardly ever talked about.
When we search for knowledge, we usually set out with a plan of some kind to learn about something that we already have some idea about. For example, we look for a book that can give us a better understanding of some era in history, or added insights into some field of science, or some pointers on how to find a job, how to paint, or how to raise children.
A spiritual search, however, is a search to gain something that is beyond our understanding. We don’t even know what it is that moves us or calls us to this search. We might think that we have an idea of the information that we would like to find, but the farther we follow the call of the unknown, the more it changes us. And we soon realize that we knew nothing about the real meaning of the spiritual path when we started.
This “not knowing” turns out to be more important than we realize because the things that we think we know are generally obstacles on the spiritual path.
The true spiritual search requires a completely different approach because it is a quest for something beyond us. It is a search to find out the real meaning of the spiritual path. There is no one who can give us the answer to what this meaning is. It can only be understood through experience. It is the search itself that changes us. It is the search itself that is the path.
This talk was set up by Farzad Khalvati and Mitra Shafaei of Toronto, as part of an ongoing series called The Hidden Teachings of Rumi.
Just before the talk, Farzad came up with the idea of projecting spiritual art and photos of nature on the screen behind me when I was talking. The images change as I give my talk.
I wanted to mention this because one of the surprising outcomes, that a number of people asked about afterwards, was how well the changes of these images seem to be synchronized to my talk. Surprisingly, there is no direct connection. I could not see the images on the screen behind me or when they were changing, and the images switched by a simple timing mechanism.
Why did so many people experience a connection? I don’t know. Perhaps the images on the screen, when they changed, changed the audience, and I unconsciously sensed this and changed what I was saying. Or perhaps when we see a change in the background, it changes our perspective on what is being said at that time, and since I was talking about changes in perspective, it seemed to be connected.
Rather than trying to guess at the explanation, I just point it out so that you might enjoy the mystery of it, if you find yourself experiencing this same feeling that there is a connection.
One thing that I’ve learned is that the spiritual path seems to bring about more of these events of synchronicity as we become more deeply entangled with life at a deeper level. Explaining it in order to understand it with our mind is not nearly as important as experiencing it and how the experience of synchronicity seems to wake us up to an awe of life itself.
I’ve been invited back to Toronto, Canada, to give another talk about The Hidden Teachings of Rumi.
The talk will be held Sunday, September 30, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, EDT, at the Aurora Public Library, just north of Toronto. I hope to see you there.
Here is a quick description of what I will be talking about:
The spiritual path is not a path where we find answers that bring an end to our questions. It is a path that leads deeper and deeper into the unknown.
As the Sufi poet, Rumi, says, we have to continually give up everything we think we know to take the next step on the spiritual path. This means, over and over again, becoming a beginner, like a child who sees life as completely new. We need to keep starting over because our experience with life changes us as we grow spiritually. We are changed so deeply that we see the world through different eyes.
We like to reassure ourselves about how much we know and how much we have learned, especially as we grow older. It gives us the feeling that we are standing on firm ground and that we know who we are. However, this won’t do us much good if we are seeking what Rumi calls the real jewel of life—the treasures hidden in the unknown. To find the wisdom of the invisible worlds within us we must let go of the firm ground beneath our feet and who we think we are. We must risk everything. This is every bit a true adventure.
(This article is an excerpt from The Silent Questions, pages 129-131. It describes an inner experience I had many years ago.)
Bare outlines of a wooded scene filtered into view. My attention locked on and I found myself projecting into a most beautiful world. Trees of bright green, with leaves that flashed in the sun, lined a rushing river. The river filled me with energy and lightheartedness. It flowed with water of blue-green, the lightest hue, like none I had ever seen before. I wondered where it came from.
Then, looking up, I saw the white majestic walls of cliffs and mountains soaring high into the clouds. The rock face fell straight and smooth at least 1,000 feet. I instantly thought of the Hindu-Kush Mountains in Northern Tibet.
I flew upstream searching for some falls where the cold, fresh glacier water crashed from above. I seemed to remember where this might be. But I suddenly swerved right, traveling at a tremendous speed and only half catching images of the changing terrain.
Off in the distance, I saw a yellowy glow reflecting off the trees. As I approached, a campfire revealed itself. Yet, this was no ordinary fire. Its flames filled me with an expansive feeling, as if it could awaken all the secrets throughout the worlds. It was a mysterious light that drew me to it, and I knew exactly why the moth will fly into a scorching flame. I felt this same desire within me.
Like a magnet, it drew me on, and as I approached I noticed that no warmth came from this fire. It spread out only a feeling as vast as space itself. My vision became crystal clear from this energy and I knew that all things grew in harmony with this light. Its glow washed through me and eased all my tensions. There seemed to be a soft sound coming from the light, like a babbling brook, which brought relaxation and an increase in understanding. I reached out to touch it.
My hand felt something solid. I jumped back, startled, for the figure of a man stood now where the fire had been.
Bowing at the waist, he introduced himself. “Prajapati, at your service,” he said with a smile. A merry look that sparkled in his eyes set me laughing at his gesture.
Here was Prajapati, the great Master who guides animals. Watching him before me was like finding the answer to some great mystery I had always longed to know. He walked softly to a stone, placing his hand on the smooth surface as if in some communication. Then he took a seat, pulling his knees up within his arms. He looked off into the distance saying nothing.
After a long period of silence, he turned to me and spoke in a voice that was clear and soft.
“Freedom is the law of nature!
“Nature exists on the breeze, circulating and touching all atoms. It is the call of freedom and the world is soothed by its song. Such shame that man lives and dies for civilization. If he put his faith in nature, I would show him his true kingdom.
“Man is heir to the throne, but his world is paced too fast. Whirlwinds of energy, like invisible tornadoes, dizzy the minds of billions. Where do they all hurry to? I have no idea.
“Yet I marvel at Man. Look what he has done! Man brought the smile to Dolphin. He brought softness to Cat. Loyalty to Dog. He has the gift of God!
“In days of old I walked openly with Man. Do you remember when we met in that glorious empire of Mu? That was the soft rolling land where all things grew without seed, for Life awoke spontaneously in the water and air. Cat was invited into Man’s temples there.
“I stood by the side of fishermen in Atlantis when they built that great bond with Dolphin. Then, in the Northern land of Europe, shepherds led Dog out of the woods to tend their flocks. Look, time has whisked by since then, but what has changed?
“Everything in your world is your kingdom. It is yours to uncover and awaken, for you can see its True Form. No others can see it for you. Forget not even the smallest one by your side, and even Rock and Stone will await your shadow when day’s work is done. Perception is your gift of creation!
“If you give freedom to all things, then you have the secret of nature. I can give you no more. Look to the Inner Master for all else!”
Prajapati stood up again and looked far away toward the horizon. His form gradually faded into a golden light, which grew and grew until there was no saying where it ended. This was truly his world!
When spirituality turns its gaze beyond this physical world, it becomes revolutionary. This is something that can’t be avoided, whether it is intended or not, which is why spirituality has brought about more changes to civilization, down through history, than any other force.
This thought struck me as I was walking through Independence Hall in Philadelphia, last week. I took the picture on the right while standing on the stairway of Independence Hall, as I thought about the amazing times of the American Revolution.
The US Declaration of Independence was first signed and read out publicly here, and it was in this building that the US Constitution was created after months of work behind closed doors and shuttered windows. These are changes that shook the world.
Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution show signs of the extraordinary spiritual spark that transformed the revolt into something more than just a struggle against oppression and unfair taxes. This spiritual upheaval began a hundred years earlier, when The Age of Enlightenment started emerging and openly examining the principles of religion and government. Then, in the early 1700’s, the Great Awakening of the American colonies sprang to life from such leaders as Jonathan Edwards. Thomas Paine and dozens of others followed later, writing that religion must not be controlled or contained. The human spirit needs to be free to pursue all of life. Religious belief is only meaningful when it comes from within us.
These principles were written into the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Never before had the inalienable right for spiritual self-discovery been incorporated into the founding documents of a government.
Yet, for some reason, this aspect of the revolution is often forgotten. The modern day image of religion now seems to be all about tradition. Religion, these days, seems to be perpetually trying to catch up with our changing world. It doesn’t seem to be leading, but following and even holding us back. When we hear about religious revolts, they are usually fundamentalists desperately trying to hang onto past times and ages.
There has always been a polarity between spirituality and religion, because organized religion focuses on the world and its place in the world, while spirituality is an individual experience. Therefore, the two have often been at odds. History books are filled with examples of Christian mystics in perpetual battles with the church. Yet those same mystics would later be canonized as saints. We can find just as many Sufis who were hounded by Muslim fundamentalists and sometimes martyred, yet their teachings have become the heart of Islamic belief today.
We find this in every religion: Spiritual revolution starting a new religion that then tries to stop the world from changing. It is strange. Every major religion sprang from leaders who were revolutionary in their vision and lives. Jesus Christ, for example, challenged Jewish practices as he pushed his people to follow a higher law. Buddha turned away from his world to find the true meaning of life and how to live. Mohammed moved Arabs from tribal feudalism that ruled the mid-east in his day, to a belief in one reality behind all realities.
In Karen Armstrong’s book, The Great Transformation, she shows that all of the major religious traditions were founded on dramatic new visions of life. They came from leaders who were focused on something beyond the world. They were moved by a spiritual purpose. They raised the sights of people beyond politics and power struggles.
Liberty Bell (photo by Doug Marman)
Yet, today, people see religion as useless. We’ve lost interest in spiritual revolution because life seems to have no ultimate meaning. Therefore, those who are moved by a reality beyond this world are indeed the outsiders of modern life.
Our secular age came from a thousand years of spiritual revolution, working to create a culture where each person would be treated as an individual and that their own beliefs would be seen as sacred. Charles Taylor shows this clearly in his recent book, A Secular Age. It was continuous spiritual striving and experimentation that led us to freedom of religion. But the modern view now says that all of this was created to shed religion and leave it behind, like a vestige of the past.
It is perhaps the strangest reversal of all times.
We are taught today to not believe. Religious beliefs are tolerated, but only fanatics adopt them. This world is all there is, and our physical life here is who we are and the only thing we have. Anyone who believes in more than this is a fool.
Science and experimentation began as a spiritual search for truth to better understand the incredible creation of life, but now is used to prove that we don’t need religion. The industrial revolution was seen as creating a new world where people could have leisure time to pursue spiritual goals. The leisure time arrived, but materialism has grown even faster.
A strange shallowness has spread across the masses. However, real individualism doesn’t come from stylish clothing or cool sunglasses. It comes from following the beat of our own inner drum, not what is popular. This is what transforms us. It must be something that grows out of our own understanding and only comes through individual spiritual search. It takes courage to step away from the path of popular belief to decide for ourselves what we know, and to understand what we don’t know, but this is where we find a true sense of purpose and meaning.
Those who live this way are true individuals. They are the ones who bring real changes to the world, because they are moved by forces from deep within. Their inspirations vitalize our culture.
Whether they realize it or not, they are revolutionaries.
Vampire myths have swept across the U.S. again. We seem to be visited by vampires at least once a generation. This time, the new Twilight series of books and movies, by Stephenie Meyer, are sparking the imagination.
The first book came to Stephenie from a dream. She woke one morning, having just seen an incredibly handsome, sparkly vampire falling in love with a girl, while the desire to drink her blood raged within him. He was torn between love and the instinctive drives of his body.
Her books stir up interesting spiritual discussions, especially for teenagers, whose bodies are going through their own transformations. Will this new animal nature coursing through their blood take over? Will they lose who they are?
Or can they overcome what is now changing their bodies? Will they rise above the urges for sex and the hunger for power over others? Can they sacrifice their own desires for the sake of love?
In other words, these stories deal with the age-old issues of living honestly, being who we are, and caring for all of life, not just ourselves. It just happens that these questions are important to teenagers because of their own transitions, where the power of their bodies and the emergence of new instincts are forcing them to make choices. They know that their lives are being shaped by the desires they choose to follow.
Every teenager has seen friends who rush after the new sensations of their bodies without once asking what they are losing in the process. Some are pulled down by these forces, like swimmers caught in the undertow of an ocean. They are changed by the taste for these new powers, the taste of blood you might say, and desires rule their lives.
Meyer’s books and vampire myths use the imagination to explore the greater potential for what we are. Most in society are just followers, unaware of what is possible. It takes self-confidence to break from the pack and to take a stand. It takes an inner strength to not allow ourselves to be limited or trapped by the subconscious desires of our own bodies.
We face similar dilemmas throughout our lives. It’s not just teenagers. For example, will we adopt the taste for competition in business, and what is it we are looking for when we do this? Will we be sucked in by the drive for success, fame, and power? Will the love for money and wealth change us? Will we become consumed by addictions? Will anger rage through us and take us over?
How do we give up the taste of blood once bitten? Once we have taken on a physical body, how do we overcome such powerful urges? We are all in the same situation. Our lives tell the same story.
It’s not easy for young people to talk about spiritual issues these days, even though these are some of the most important choices of their lives. So, even if vampires can’t be seen in mirrors, they become great mirrors for teenagers to see their own lives in.
A thousand years ago, a different kind of story spread across Europe and the Middle East. At first, it doesn’t seem similar at all to vampires, but the parallels are fascinating. In those days, tales of Chivalry suddenly became popular, especially amongst the youth. Tales were told by traveling troubadours, who sang and read poetry about sacrificing for love, and fighting for what was true and honorable. These were not just bed time stories. They changed the world.
This was when marriage for the sake of love established itself as the standard in our culture. Before then, people married by the choices of their families. People discovered a deeper happiness and sense of purpose with love, even if it meant the loss of wealth and power.
The practice of Chivalry lifted people’s imagination to live for noble purposes. People were willing to die for the sake of honor and doing what was right. This took place at a time when wars touched everyone, and there were real dangers in acts of Chivalry. It won so many people over that it became recognized as the supreme act of bravery. Those who practiced it discovered a power to overcome their fears and give them a taste of something immortal. This evolved into the search for the holy grail, the immortality gained by living the spiritual life.
Those are clearly religious images. Very different from the secular age we live in today, where open discussion about spiritually is taboo, especially amongst teenagers. Therefore, religious icons of sainthood are out, which means vampires fit right in. So, it is natural that vampires would become the modern day valiant knights fighting for nobility and love. They are the new spiritual icons.
No matter what cover you put over it, the story is the same. In every age, we just change the names. Will we let social pressures or our physical bodies control our imagination? We have all tasted blood, because it runs through our veins. Yet, we are something more than this.
The scope of our spirit has no limits, except the limits we put upon ourselves. Edward, the vampire, chose to overcome the taste of blood for the sake of love and discovered something even more powerful than immortality: Freedom of spirit and the power of a noble life.
With new years, it is a custom to think back over the last twelve months and to set down new goals for the future. Time for reflection and resolutions. However, there is another opportunity that is often overlooked.
Look closely at the transitions of time and you can see that with every start there is an ending. Yet, we tend to miss the end of things in our modern age, and in the process we overlook something more important than we realize.
Our whole culture seems to be focused on youth, the outflow of life, and the birth of new creations in the world. We avoid death. We don’t like final moments. This comes from a common misunderstanding about the flow of life. We think it is continuous, but it is not. Gaze deeply and you will see that each moment is separated from the next by an instant.
Hidden in the flow of life are continuous endings, beginnings, and instantaneous rest points between them.
Most people are not conscious of the space between moments, yet this is where we can change life. This is where the little choices we make become far more powerful than the big plans we try to accomplish.
Understanding how to end things is the key to giving us what we need to move forward. If we cannot close the loop, we cannot let go, and all of our energies become tied up in things that no longer exist.
Some of the strangest ideas of our modern world revolve around the end of life. If you were an alien visiting this planet, you would find it bizarre. We hide almost all signs of death from public eyes. We become obsessed about safety. We restrain ourselves and others from living fully, to push off death.
Therefore, when dying hits us, the experience of it is generally shocking and disturbing. The idea that it could be the end, with nothing beyond, truly frightens people to their core.
In previous eras, we cared for the sick and dying in our homes. We raised and killed the animals we needed for food. We faced death every day and understood the meaning of it better than we do today.
Most primitive cultures treated the killing of animals as a sacred act. Food was accepted with thanks, knowing that another creature gave up their life for them to live. They were involved in such sacrifices every day and it gave them a meaning to life that we have forgotten.
In our modern world, we put off thinking about our death for as long as we can. The unknown is scary. Our imaginations run away with us and we picture the worst. We are like juvenile delinquents when it comes to preparing for our death. We don’t want to plan for that. We don’t want to even think about it.
I think this is why we spend our lives focusing on what we have and hope to have, and we ignore our endings.
It is interesting to see the changes in people who have had near death experiences. There are thousands of such cases reported every year. We hear a consistent statement from most of them: They lose their fear of death.
It is as if they dramatically experienced that space between moments and it changes everything for them.
They come back saying how valuable life is. They are far more capable of living every second because they know that death is an incredibly beautiful ending and transition into another world.
In other words, experiencing the instant of death awakens them to a deeper relationship with life. What is it that empowers them? It is the freeing up of the energies they had left behind. They were able to fully withdraw, let go and seal up their past. This brings the full freshness of life into the moment.
It is interesting to see how Christianity displays the image of Jesus on the cross. It has come to represent a symbol of how he suffered and died for our sins to offer us protection. This is almost the complete opposite to how early Christians saw it. In the first few centuries, this image became a powerful symbol showing Jesus’ fearlessness towards death. This was the higher reality he lived by that let him accept the end of this worldly life in order to begin a greater one.
His fearlessness unleashed the Christian movement, and it grew so large it eventually threatened the Roman Empire. The only power that Rome had over others was the threat of death. But once thousands of people were willing to die for a higher reality, the greatest government in the world was helpless against them. This is how early Christians discovered how to make their death a gift for the sake of life. This was what the icon of the cross stands for. It took them out from under the rule of physical forces and put them into the hands of a greater existence.
This same power comes when we give up our moments to life.
Therefore, we should not just think ahead about the new things we want to accomplish as we begin a new year. We should also think about all the endings we are leaving behind. We can give them up and let them go as if they are gifts we are giving away. We can willingly release them as our sacrifice. This honors them and gives thanks for what they gave, offering them a beautiful passing.
If we practice this each year and learn to treat each moment this way, eventually we will outgrow our juvenile behavior and even one day prepare for our own death. We can picture our own dying as a gift to life. It is after all the greatest thing we can give up. Why not spend some thoughts toward making it a great and beautiful ending, so that we have prepared for it, when the time comes?
Sound like a strange idea?
I believe that time only belongs to those who give it away. It rules everyone else, which is why they never find enough time to live.
“The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come,” says Joseph Campbell, the famous teacher of mythology, referring to the ancient symbol of snakes shedding their skin as a metaphor for inner growth. “If you want resurrection, you must have crucifixion…We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”1
However, it is easy to overlook how difficult this process actually is. We must die and let go of what we are before we can enter into our next stage of growth. It is a rebirth. But, who would ever want to go through the death of everything they know? This is not something that comes because we are seeking it. It erupts upon us. We have no choice but to shed our old skin or die.
Medicine Grizzly Bear, an American Indian shaman, once described his struggles to me, about how much suffering he went through until he accepted the changes he needed to make. He felt as if he was at the brink of death, before he broke through.
He grew up a typical American boy. He went through school, received a degree and was teaching in college, when he suddenly began getting sick with one illness after another.
He would recover, only to find himself with some strange new problem that was even more debilitating. At the same time his dreams began to scare him with images of dying, mingled with scenes from Indian teaching stories he had grown up with. The problems got worse, until he wondered if he was going insane.
He had forgotten the religious teachings he had been raised on. However, once he realized that medical doctors couldn’t understand what he was going through, and that he desperately had to do something, he decided to call on a medicine man to see if they could help.
They immediately recognized what he was going through: He was being called to become a medicine man, himself. He was told that he had no choice. If he didn’t listen he would probably die or go crazy. The moment he began accepting this possibility, his whole situation changed and he began recovering immediately.
Shamans have called themselves the Wounded Ones, because they were forced to go through grave difficulties before they could recognize that life could not be the same for them as everyone else. They had no choice. They had to shed their old skin to enter into the life that was calling them. It was their only means of survival.
We don’t hear much about the spiritual call these days, but experiences like these are just as common today. However, the challenge is often more difficult in our modern culture, because most people have nothing to help or explain what is happening. Only those who have gone through such transformations understand the meaning of it.
Photo by Michael & Christa Richert
A young lady recently found herself in tears over the mental anguish she was going through. She could not stop her mind and the fearful thoughts it was imagining. She was scared and finally broke down to tell a friend. Was she going crazy, she asked? Her friend was visibly shaken and said, yes, it sounded that way to her. But as soon as she met someone who realized what she was experiencing, and she accepted that this was happening because she was being called to the spiritual path, everything turned around.
The immediate healing itself left little doubt, but once she felt better, she still tried to go back to her old life, caring little about pursuing spirituality. This is human nature to want to return to our old ways. The mental problems returned, until she accepted that she had no choice and began taking up contemplation.
A young man I spoke with not long ago had been heading toward a life of social success, just as his father had hoped. But after suffering a concussion, when he was tackled on the football field while playing quarterback in college, his whole life changed. For months he couldn’t cope. He couldn’t remember things and couldn’t hold a job. His life took a sudden nose dive, until he began to step back from the path he had been on and rethink what life was about.
That’s when he realized why the accident happened in the first place: He needed to abandon the whole life he had been trying to live. Suddenly, understanding the spiritual purpose of life became a compulsion – something he had to find out. His wounding let him shed his old self. Now, he realizes the great gift his injury has been, since he had been heading in the wrong direction.
It often takes a serious accident or illness, because who else would make such a difficult change?
A young lady with a newborn baby found herself isolated from other girls her age by the new responsibilities of being a mother. She loved her child and would never trade her baby boy for anything, but her whole life was changed.
She asked me if I could interpret a dream she had, and once I explained to her the spiritual meaning I sensed in the dream, she suddenly opened up and began talking with me about things she had never told anyone before. Her whole demeanor changed. It was like watching this huge weight being lifted off of her. She began to glow with a light that filled the room.
She had long suspected that there was something different about her. For example, why did she know how to heal herself through dreams? No one she knew could understand what she was going through; until I confirmed for her what she was experiencing.
These sudden changes in our lenses of perception allow us to see a new world that was invisible to us before. Once we shed our old skin, we can never go back. That’s the indication of real spiritual growth.
1 From: “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion,” by Diane K. Osbon
How often do we see people running away from awareness? They don’t want to know.
Many take up drinking for this reason, or drugs. Some get lost in religious fanaticism, become groupies of movie stars, or addicted to TV and entertainment. These are ways of escaping.
When people turn to religion, they often want God to take care of them, or they want to believe in something absolutely true, so that they won’t have to think about the questions of life.
One of the most unfortunate things that can happen with a spiritual search is when it deteriorates into asceticism — when seekers believe that suffering is needed to be saved. It is a desperate attempt at freeing themselves from the bondage of materialism, but they are going about it the wrong way. It is just another form of running away from awareness.
People who have had bad relationships will often avoid getting close to others. Love seems too difficult and painful. They can’t face another heart crushing experience, so they shun intimacy.
Lots of people think they are pursuing freedom, when they are really running away from the responsibility of consciousness. Aren’t these all forms of the death wish? The desire to fall asleep?
I sometimes call this “The Burden of Consciousness.”
After all, we didn’t choose to be conscious, did we? It is as if people want to give this gift back to God and say, “I don’t want this.”
Life says, “Trust me. It grows on you.”
If we think in terms of symbols, most people are like downward facing triangles, focusing on all the issues and problems of the material world. They agonize over how others see them, whether they are succeeding or failing in the eyes of the world. They worry about all the forces of life that seem to be flooding in upon them. They feel trapped and helpless against the pressures of energies flowing down on them that are too powerful to control.
Not understanding their true innate nature, that Soul of itself is free and can be happy under any conditions, they suffer and run away from their own awareness. Not seeing how the troubles of life all bring gifts, and not realizing how to move with the flow of life to learn from it, their lives become filled with stress. If only they could turn that triangle face up.
In other words, there is a lesson in the desire to escape. Dying can help us let go and move on. We can’t escape our creations, but we can give up our attachment to them. Should our happiness rise and fall based on how the world accepts our creations? Isn’t the whole point of this death wish an inner desire to give up all our worries and to turn our triangle face up?
I think the true underlying need within us is the desire to become more aware and this is why it is important to listen, to understand these messages. Our subconscious raises such dire images of disaster and suffering because it wants our attention. This is how the Shadow often works in our lives. It does things to upset us, like a child does, to get attention. This is just its way of saying that it needs our consideration and love.
Some parents set aside time for their children, where they encourage them to put on shows and plays. It is time for them to watch and give their children care and attention. We can do the same thing with our Shadow, which is our subconscious.
Facing our shadow
For example, if the death wish arises, we can take time to ask our Shadow to show and display its best death scenario. How would it go? Would there be weeping and crying afterwards? Would the Shadow like to be there to see its own funeral? Is this the kind of attention it is looking for? Is this the only way it knows if it is really loved — by seeing the sadness of others after it has left this world? But once we escape all the troubles of love and life, what happens next?
Go through this with your Shadow — feel what it feels because you care about it — and you will transform it. It will move from the darkness into light and it will change from something that tries to embarrass you into something that guides and helps you. Once we truly start listening to our subconscious, to the feelings that lurk below our own awareness, we find that it possesses wisdom beyond our expectations. It is not asking us to face the burden of consciousness because of our failures, but to surrender to life because we trust it, and to find once again our natural lightness of being.
Only we can transform the Shadow. Only we can move it into the daylight and make it our friend. It can be a traumatic experience going through this at first, because it means learning to love the very things we have shunned and criticized. But in the end, we realize how much more important truth is for us. We need truth to thrive.
The story of the Shadow is like the old Gothic novels where an unwanted child has been locked away in a dungeon, until it breaks out one day. We too, lock away the Shadow, which is a part of ourselves that we don’t want others to see.
Sooner or later we need to accept this child as our own, to love it as a part of ourselves. Then we discover that even the ugliest and most disfigured children can return more love than we ever imagined. This shows us how wrong we were about what is truly important. And before our eyes our inner child becomes beautiful.
This is how the Shadow changes us, through the gift it gives us. It brings a fulfillment and completeness that makes all burdens worthwhile.