Monday, August 9, 2010
Of the many crisis calls I've received, one in particular stands out. A good friend had awakened one morning to a note on her pillow: Her husband was leaving her for another woman. Though the marriage had been rocky at best, she was devastated. "Why did this happen to me?" she sobbed. "I just want to be married again!"
When things fall apart, as they did for my friend, it's tempting to try to piece them together as quickly as possible and get your old life back. Yet when you do that, you miss what a crisis can offer: an awakening to what's not working in your life, an opening to the potential for change.
It's human nature to avoid the emotional roadblocks that pepper the path to spiritual maturity, to seek instead the slow and steady pace of the ordinary traveler. Yet reaching higher spiritual ground requires an extraordinary traveler. It demands the kind of sea change that arrives at key junctures and can transport you to a higher level of spiritual functioning.
A spiritual initiation—an exceptionally difficult life passage that shakes your foundations and makes you question your purpose—is just this sort of sea change. It's an opportunity disguised as loss; a chance to strengthen the thread of awareness that connects the outer part of your being to the inner, to descend deeper into the soul.
Spiritual initiations are transitional; they leave you between worlds. Like a snake undergoing a brief period of blindness after shedding its skin, you're temporarily sightless: You're neither your old self nor a new one. This amorphous, transitional feeling can be challenging—and.. it can manifest itself in all areas of your life.
The feeling that your life is coming undone is the call to awakening that begins an initiation. The call can take many forms: illness or accident, betrayal by a spouse, the death of a loved one, an urge to enter psychotherapy or to begin a period of self-..examination, the recognition of an unhealthy situation or relationship. This is an opportunity to transcend the lament "Why is this happening to me?" and to seek a greater purpose behind the crisis. During this acute phase you'll most likely experience a klesha called asmita, which is a disruption of the ego, or sense of "I am," and a tendency to cling to old definitions of Self: the Provider, the Responsible One, the Caretaker, the Black Sheep, the Boss, the Martyr, and so on. When you answer the call to awakening, you leave behind, at least for a while, this familiar territory and may feel unmoored. [...]
The contraction and suffering experienced with the death of the ego can close your heart and make you feel dry, barren, and exiled. This may seem like a spiritual wasteland, but it's one of the richest and most verdant paths of your awakening. Although you might not yet see it, the seeds of your new self are sprouting beneath the soil of your awareness. This is often when the klesha avidya (ignorance or delusion) is stimulated: You can't see what you'll grow into. You may also have trouble recognizing the last stage of your transition for what it is—a passage through the birth canal. [...]
Finally, after all this waiting, you move through the birth canal and are reborn. This is when the klesha called raga (attachment to pleasure) gets stirred up. Now that you've moved away from suffering and death, you're loath to re-experience it. You may rush to form an attachment to your new identity. Yet if you're interested in spiritual development, you don't want to get too comfortable. If spiritual maturity is truly your priority, you must be ready to leave the comfort zone and begin again and again, as many times as it takes. Don't get distracted by the siren song of raga.
A spiritual initiation is like a carving knife—it cuts and pierces, but also refines and reshapes you. Initiations allow you to reinvent yourself completely, to give yourself over to something greater. They are windows through which you can glimpse who you really are and what's possible for you. They're not just an emotional necessity; they're a spiritual imperative....