When I first ventured into the world of spirituality I found myself in a group whose core teaching was all about self purification. The walls of the centre were adorned with prints of renaissance paintings, such as Saint George slaying the dragon, to inspire and motivate us students to become spiritual warriors engaged in the ‘inner’ struggle of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’. And the goal of this holy war on oneself? To reach the promised land, to become totally pure, to live in eternal peace, eternal happiness, to be unconditionally loving.
And as the holy war breaks out it’s not a pretty sight. We find a whole army of evil phantoms marching in our thoughts. They tell us we’re no good, a talentless waste of space, an unlovable bum, but as soon as we reach for our trusty sword of truth they change tact, persuading us that we need them desperately, to appear intelligent and exciting, to be loved and admired, that they are the ones who protect us and make us the best that we can be. This is a powerful riposte and we feel a little dazed, but it’s early days and our determination is strong and we’re soon leading the charge once more. A thought pops up out of nowhere ‘how can it be that I am so defiled with sin?’ We start to blame our parents, our teachers, our culture, blame, blame, blame argh! there’s the fiend again, then we feel guilt for all the blaming, guilt, guilt, guilt argh! and again! We reach for our sword once more but the enemy is a cunning master of disguise and suddenly switches sides, becoming all conciliatory, even offering to help draw up a list of all the offending evil thoughts in need of extermination, and would we like the list in alphabetical order? And so it goes on and on, thoughts attacking in packs with whole multi layered stories of how we’ve been wronged and abused or how we’ve been negligent and irresponsible; feelings of anxiety, fear and desire all raining down with thoughts judging thoughts judging thoughts. Exhausted and feeling utterly besieged we leave the battlefield for another day. But our supposed enemy doesn’t leave us. They hide in our lazy, comfy sofa and our cup of tea, offering a little gossip over just a little extra slither of chocolate cake, they whisper in our ear as we are dozing off to sleep and crawl into our dreams to continue their taunting and teasing!
Sooner or later we realise that this kind of inner conflict is a joyless and endless cycle of self recrimination. The cruel reality is that no matter how devotional we are to the cause we can never reach that longed for promised land, for it’s the utter conviction that we are a separate someone in need of purification that creates the very longing we are trying to resolve.
So what if we turn this whole fruitless quest on its head? What if this already is the promised land? What if it includes our fear, desire, anxiety and guilt and all those wayward thoughts that we try so unsuccessfully to repel?
Can we be open to these thoughts and feelings without being ashamed of them, without trying to eliminate them as being bad, unwanted or unspiritual, without accusing oneself of being faulty or no good? Can we see them all as simply the energy of life arising and dissolving, expressing however it expresses? And if we can’t, and the cycle self recriminations kick in, what if that’s ok too?!
In falling into the arms of our own kindness, in the unconditional embrace of all that is, there is healing for this deep cut in the body of life, which seemingly separates ‘me’ from ‘you’ from the ‘world’. For in that absence of conflict, that gentle easing and softening, the conceptual edges melt away and we finally taste the unity for which we truly seek, the wholeness of being. Here is where true peace lies, for being never moves; here is where true happiness lives, for being wants for nothing; here is where true love flows, for being knows no bounds.
As this show of duality plays on we are never just one side of the coin, or indeed both sides, but the very metal in which both sides are pressed. And what an astonishing, unfolding mystery that show delivers: the beauty and the torment, the harmony and the discord, the celebration and the humiliation. This precarious, delicate human nature yields such depth of feeling, such raw intensity, such deep caring, and yet is gone in a flash, in an instant, impossible to hold onto, making this heart break open a thousand times over.
And here I AM, shining, fresh and alive, giving life to all: to this breath, to this thought, to this utterly indescribable moment we call ‘the present’.