Friday, 16 August 2013

Spiritual Journeying and Transformation – the Battle Within

In the great mystical Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, the main protagonist, Arjuna, is in the midst of a great war about to be waged.  But the battle is to be fought is against members of his own family.  His family members are divided down the middle, filled with nothing but anger for each other, the sound of conch horns all around.  His anguish over how he can move forward under such circumstances is what sparks his spiritual quest.  Some have said the battle is an allegory of dark and light forces within and the battles we all have to undergo.  This is something I can relate to. 
This last year has been incredible for me.  I’ve met Amma and been stunned at her presence.  I’ve had a 2 week silent retreat, and felt great solace in deep meditation.  But the most significant experience was to partake in an ayahuasca ceremony.  Every word that I say to try to encapsulate this experience seems to cheapen it and lead me away from it – a little like the first line of the Tao Te Ching ‘the tao that can be told is not the eternal tao’.  Some poems can touch upon it.  But no words can directly even touch the beauty of this. 

Every day there is more distance between me and the experience.  And yet.  My need to want to share this with others is still huge.  Because for years I had been reading about the idea that we are all one consciousness, that this individual ‘I’ is in part, illusory – we are all part of something far greater and something beautiful.  And ayahuasca took me there – it was a deeply awakening experience.  My ego consciousness dissolved, the little ‘I’ that makes that which I call ‘me’, was transcended.  The experience was both transcendent and imminent.  I was plunged into a deep sea of universal loving consciousness so vast, and so way beyond anything I have ever experienced, that I was just in floods of tears.  The love was unconditional.  I realised that beyond all our daily ego chatter, beyond everything we do or think important, this love awaits us all.  That daily experiences we term ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are all under the umbrella of this love. 

After that, I initially felt transformed.  But the experience is fleeting.  And once it leaves, the ego once more kicks back into place with all its chatter and dreams of self-importance.  I thought I was perhaps ready to leave the UK and go live in India in an ashram for a while.  And maybe I will.  Meantime, I’m drinking more alcohol, smoking like a trooper and involved in a relationship that plunges me back very much into the blood and guts of day-to-day existence, that I have been actively wanting to disengage from in order to pursue my spiritual dreams.  My family too, pull me back into daily life.  I don’t want to live in an ashram because I’m running away, however.  Spiritual experiences are our birthright.  We all need to know that we come from something that never dies.  That our bodies are temporary vehicles, housing us in lifetime after lifetime.  That at the heart of existence, there is great love.  And how much would our suffering lessen, if we knew this to be true on an experiential level.  How much more compassion we would be able to show others, and how much would we be able to drop some of our ridiculous ego posturing.  Perhaps by focusing on whether or not I make it to India, I'm missing the point -- there is always transformational work that needs to be done whatever continent I'm on.

But how do I reconcile what feel like irreconcilable forces within?  The force that draws me towards life, and the force that wants me to follow a more disengaged, renunciate, existence. And the battle against old habits which I know aren’t good for me.  There have been times when I’ve felt hugely torn, and like Arjuna, it can feel like a battle on an epic scale.  I can’t help but feel amazement – I’ve had the most amazing spiritual experience of my life and yet I’m still not kicking old habits to the kerb.  What is wrong with me?!  But I guess sometimes these things take time.  One idea is that we need to purify our thoughts.  Because where our thoughts go, action will follow, and where action follows, so habits begin, and then we are plunged deep in the dungeon of our karma, once again. 

Atheism has become popularised by the likes of Richard Dawkins, with his book, ‘The God Delusion’.  Some people believe that religions are no more than a comfort blanket, and a pretty skewed one at that.  But to jump on any kind of bandwagon without great investigation is to miss the point entirely, and to be a bit of a sheep.   We shouldn’t take anyone else’s word for what makes up this existence.  Life is too wonderful to allow ourselves to become blinkered and close-minded.  Because once you become an atheist, effectively you are shutting the lid on a pretty damn big set of questions, no?  How did we get here?  What is consciousness?  Could there be a God?  What is our purpose on this amazing planet?  Etc.  Until science can lay claim to 100% answers, then atheism is just a hypothesis.  And a comfort blanket in its own right.

These are questions everyone should think about – not just once and then dismiss.  We take so much for granted.  We worry about stupid little things of no importance, and our minds are full of clutter, some thoughts perhaps useful, some not.  We worry and get fraught when stuck in traffic.  We allow ourselves to freely rain down judgements upon others without examining ourselves first. We can become drawn into battles with desires, selfish goals.  Many people might believe their sole purpose in life is to become ‘successful’, because this is a notion our western society currently champions.  That to be rich, or famous, or respected, is what is important.  Is that true?  I believe it’s the journey that is important.  It’s all those in-betweens.  It’s the times when you were busy looking the other way.  To be successful or not is not the point.  To to find greater compassion and love for others, to live with our eyes and hearts wide open, is the point.  To be kind.  To follow our own true purpose, our individual callings – because we cannot lead the life another has proposed for us, only we can know what dwells deep in our hearts.  To allow ourselves a little joy that we are here at all.

Eventually, we will all get a call to deepen our awareness of something beyond our physical senses.  And the times of hardship in our lives are often the times when we seek answers the most.  Because at these times we realise the transient nature of everything, that nothing can be held onto forever.  It’s human nature to want to cling to our achievements, family and friends, whatever we think constitutes our ego identity.  But all of it will eventually slip away.  Religions try to cling onto their version of what God is – and some have distorted some very simple and beautiful truths.  Some people choose to follow a religion out of fear, or perhaps sheer exhaustion, life having given them a good kicking, they don’t want to think anymore, just follow meekly.  But they are not good reasons for becoming religious!  We should all do some work ourselves to find answers.  Humans have a natural herd mentality at times, we want to belong to a group (just look at the behaviour of some football fans!).  But we need to move beyond that, and do some investigative work ourselves to find the answers.  One reason I love the Baha’i faith is because it very logically says all religions point to the same God and that they all equally hold the same message.  Some people would say that this idea alone is blasphemy.  But we have to move beyond old, antiquated ways of thinking now and embrace truth, not fear-led superstition.  The times we live in urgently call for greater co-operation, not divisive behaviour.

Jesus said ‘love your enemy’.  Whether or not you believe in Jesus, what a powerful statement. Could he have been alluding to the fact that we are all one, all part of God, and therefore what we do to others we literally do to the self?  Either way, what a huge spiritual challenge, to ‘love your enemy’.  How many of us ever try?  Yet love is the most powerful healing force there is.  Carrying hate in your heart is self-poisoning.  In Buddhism, there is a meditation called the Metta Bhavana, the loving kindness meditation.  In this, you are encouraged to think kindly towards someone you struggle with – not hate, but have difficulty with.  The more often this is practised, the more you can begin to see the good beneath the flaws, perhaps even be able to see another’s reasons for behaving in a way you find difficult.  We are all odd creatures really.  We all see saw between feelings of compassion or annoyance, indifference and callousness and greater kindness.  We all have driving forces within we need to be aware of.  We always associate violence as being ‘out there’.  Yet the battle is very much inside.  We cannot transform another through violence, or hate, or anger, all these forces simply incite others to think or act in kind.

Love truly is the greatest transformational force there is.  We are already all on an incredible spiritual journey.  Just don’t take my word for that. 

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