Ring the bells that still can ringAnthem by Leonard Cohen
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
‘Are you a Christian?’ he asked.
‘No, not really,’ I said, laughing from the shock of the question. In Australia people tend not to ask this kind of thing.
‘Spiritual not religious, right?’
We both laughed.
‘What drives you,’
Not missing a beat, I said, ‘To be a decent person? If fear of eternal damnation isn’t a factor? Ummm, I’d have to go with dissatisfaction.’
He laughed. I smiled but nodded and he stopped laughing. ‘Dissatisfaction about what?’ he pressed.
I’ve thought about this a bit so I had an answer ready, somewhere in the front of my mind. ‘Dissatisfaction drives us all forward to some extent, the whole human race. Not the desire for a bigger house or a new pair of shoes but the realisation that something is missing or that things could be better. Necessity is the mother of invention in more ways than one.’
It was his turn to nod and look serious. ‘Most people are dissatisfied but happy enough to keep plodding along. Why did you decide to change, to get into spiritual stuff?’
‘I got to rock bottom, for the second time. There was nowhere else to go,’ I said.
He shook his head. ‘Plenty of people get to rock bottom and stay there. Plenty more can’t take it, don’t have the resources, and opt out, you know?’ We had met because I was worried about a staff member, I was looking for some help. ‘And then there are the people using drugs and alcohol. It’s a shit show out there.’ We nodded in unison. He explained that in his work as a chaplain he sees the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity.
‘You need to break open,’ I said.
He was quiet for a minute. ‘I’m not really sure what you mean. In the church you repent and get baptised. It’s not so much breaking open as emptying yourself out and letting the Holy Spirit take over.’
‘I grew up in the church. That whole original sinner, repent thing never sat right with me. If God doesn’t make junk then why would it be useful to declare ourselves garbage? It’s a hangover from the medieval times, where the church controlled the people but Rumi said we are not a drop in the ocean, but the entire mighty ocean in a drop. We’re a spark of the divine. We’re already full, we just need to break the shell, open our hearts, stop identifying with our thoughts. Stop giving up our power to outside forces. So many people are waiting to be rescued. So much better to realise the cavalry isn’t coming, that it’s up to us to save ourselves. To evolve or repeat.’
He shook his head gently, a smile on his lips but his eyes were sad.
‘I know, it’s heresy. I was probably burned at the stake in more than a few lifetimes.’ I laughed and he stared at me as though hearing the idea of multiple lifetimes for the first time. ‘I’m only joking. Who knows… Are you a bit shocked?’ I asked.
‘A little. Do you believe in reincarnation?’
‘I don’t claim to know what happens to us once we leave this life. I just know that I have this life and I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to live my best life, as the cliche goes.’
‘How did you know you had to break open?’
I didn’t really, until it happened. I was lost and broken very young, I hit my first major dead-end at 22. I had to work out how to keep going, faced with ill-health, family trauma, and the loss of my first husband. It was a steep learning curve but I had to grow up a lot in the months and years after that.’
He made the usual sounds people make when told of a death like that.
‘I decided I had to live for both of us. He missed out on so much. But I also wanted to make sense of it. According to the church he wouldn’t qualify for heaven. He wasn’t ‘saved’ but he was a lovely person. One of the sweetest, kindest, funniest people. The church taught that a serial killer who ‘repents’ qualified for heaven but a kind, nice person didn’t because he died before he was ‘saved.’ It just made no sense to me.’
‘And the world has to make sense to you?’
‘Not the world, but religion? A human-devised code of ethics for us all to adhere to? Damn straight, it does. But I think as soon as someone starts telling you what God thinks, run a mile. None of us knows, we’re all just hoping we’ve got it right. My poor mum thinks I’m going to hell. the actual hell, not a figurative one. The one with eternal fires and red-hot pokers. When I realised this was a very real fear for her I stopped taunting her. I used to say I couldn’t go to church because I would burst into flames…’
He laughed. ‘Is that what still drives you? The loss of your husband all those years ago?’
‘Yes and no. I kind of fell off the wagon for a few years. Child-rearing and running a business, life… Life was pretty good so I dropped my practice. The trick is not to go back to sleep.’
For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.
From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.~ Rumi
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
‘Meditation. Yoga, especially. I’ve worked with some absolutely amazing teachers. And Study. Therapy. All that stuff.’
‘You went back to sleep?’
I nodded. ‘I did, and then a few years ago I had to break again. I hit a different rock bottom, lower maybe. It was an existential pain not caused by a great loss except maybe the loss of meaning. What was the point of life? I had to wake up again. Luckily I’ve done a little bit of growing up in the past 20-odd years. We can have these revelations, these moments of clarity, but without doing the work, the showing up and the cleaning up we’re just going to think we have all the answers. We’ve all heard of those spiritual gurus who are really enigmatic, know how to talk the talk, but have all the common sense and ethics of a pubescent dude…. By doing the work, the meditation and all that, you have your eyes open. When I had that first wake-up call, I thought I knew the score. I can see now that the more I learn the less I know… Does that make sense? The more I learn, the more I know that I don’t know, you know?’
‘Transformation doesn’t come cheap. Waking up to our true nature isn’t easy. It’s not enough to want life to be different, you have to see the dirt if you want to clean the house. I think Louise Hay said that first. Another saying is that none of us are getting out of here alive, so we might as well enjoy ourselves, get in and really live. One thing this virus has taught us is that we were never in control, it was only an illusion and now is a great time to level up, create something meaningful.’
I often have these kinds of conversations. I am always actively searching to #findtheothers and anyone interested in Integral Theory and the evolution of consciousness. If you are interested in these subjects hit me up.
Listen to this Spotify playlist while reading.