Warning: Some adult language ahead!
My mind was once full of stories about spirituality.
But those concepts were rarely helpful.
In fact for years they kept me stuck, racing inside a hamster wheel of comparison and constantly feeling like a failure.
I thought “awakening” was a semi-linear process with a start and end point—a journey with a destination. I did a whole lot of very “spiritual” things, including spending weeks sitting in sacred caves in India. I kept a mental record of my progress and evaluated my achievements against fellow spiritual seekers, teachers and masters.
But all that time, I never measured up.
My “spiritual path” had become yet another aspect of life where I wasn’t good enough.
For a while, after I left Asia and came back to the west, I thought ‘enlightenment’ meant embodying my Soul and then (once I got there) staying completely aligned with my Soul’s voice in every moment. I decided that meant I must speak only the most profound truths I’d uncovered along the way. So when I started blogging a while ago, I wrote mostly about the mystical fireworks and spiritual revelations I’d experienced.
I wasn’t going to stoop to exploring anything more mundane, like how the hell we can keep our hearts open while navigating the world of work and household life and grappling with the horror movie that is the daily news. I certainly wasn’t going to talk about what I’d learned from corporate life. I’d walked away from that world and would never look back.
But eventually I saw that, while universal truths are important and useful to share, a part of me still wanted to hide. And that part had been using my sincere commitment to ‘expressing my Soul’s voice authentically’ as a way to justify marginalising myself to the spiritual fringes of the interweb. I’d managed to come up with yet another clever justification for not showing up and talking to a broader audience.
I saw this subtle hiding out in the way I’d been presenting different faces on my blog, and when spending time with old friends—using different language and dividing myself in a way I swore I wouldn’t do again.
I had a story about people who I’ve known for years not being ready for my Soul’s voice. And that story was based on another, more insidious myth—that my Soul’s voice speaks only of the highest and most holy things.
Of course, that story about what my Soul’s voice sounds like and what topics She wants to talk about was total bullshit. Because the moment I recognised the game She was all over me, flooding my mind and heart with impressions that translate to something like this:
“I never said we could only talk about that mystical stuff; you decided to put me in a spiritual box. I only want you to find joy in whatever it is you’re doing. And that means really doing it, in spite of the fears you feel. No more stories. No more hiding. No more pretending to be spiritually perfect. If you’re going to write, then do it. And use your stories to help other people recognise their own.”
She doesn’t actually speak to me in complete sentences like that. It’s more often a picture and/or a feeling that I wrap a bunch of words around afterwards. So when She gently spanked my ass, I got the message.
There was a moment of oh-shit-not-again-shame before I laughed sheepishly.
I saw—and this is embarrassing to admit—that those stories about how She sounds had begun to create pressure to seek out more and bigger spiritual revelations so that I could blog about them and create credibility for my transformation work.
I’d been feeling the beginnings of severe performance anxiety, because I was building yet another subtle identity on “spiritual” foundations. But this didn’t feel like a form of enlightenment that was grounded, integrated and sustainable; it definitely didn’t feel like freedom…and it didn’t feel real.
So what does getting real actually mean?
It means being honest about what we’ve learned in this life, including both the fun times and the difficult moments. It means owning our poor judgement and mistakes, because that’s where we learn the most valuable lessons (if we’re prepared to admit it). It means not always preaching to the choir.
It means getting out of a spiritualised comfort zone and getting deeper into the messy experience of being human. Which might look like paying less attention to the cosmic being who spoke to you in that session with the energy healer last week and more attention to what’s driving your subtle addiction to buying online personal development courses. Or noticing that it’s scary to admit you don’t know what the fuck your life purpose is because you think that means you don’t have your spiritual shit together.
Perhaps it means admitting that you actually spent more time in India sitting on soft cushions in hippy-chic cafes drinking chai with other Westerners than you spent sitting on the hard rock floor of the sacred cave where the saint once became enlightened, hoping some of his diligent effort would rub off on you. Or even recognising that you wore those $200 mala beads to the opening party for the new yoga studio in your neighbourhood because you hoped it would reinforce your spiritual credibility.
Sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a tiny bit.
I blushed too, because that list is all mine.
And I’m tired of getting judgemental with myself (or anyone else). Actually, I’m kinda tired of it all.
But that doesn’t mean we should give up on inner work; in fact, I believe the opposite. As “stuff” comes up, we’re wise to pay attention and clear it. Because when we find ourselves unexpectedly rear-ended emotionally and energetically, either by world events or something closer to us, we’ll be grateful we chose to do our “homework”.
By clearing the imprints that’ve held us back in the past, we cultivate a greater capacity to experience despair. And by continuing to clear what comes up as we move through life, we stop new imprints from forming.
I’ll go even further: unless we do some deep inner work and really grapple with our demons, they’ll always hold us hostage. Until we learn to love the dark parts we’d rather hide, we’ll always seek distraction from the pain we’re not yet willing to feel.
But let’s be clear: I’m not talking about going around your pain by chasing experiences that deliver love and light. I mean passing through it—not to establish our spiritual superiority, but in order to see what’s on the other side of suffering.
Because here’s the real reason to get honest and face our own pain: when we do, we’re more able to simply be with the beauty and the horror of our world. We can lean into the joy and the despair, without running towards or away from either. We can be more present to life. And then we can stop doing the inner work of feeling secretly terrified we’re still not good enough and start clearing out our old baggage simply because we know that lightening our individual load helps all of us rise.
How empowering could it be to declare that we’re done with compulsive self-improvement and the relentless searching for what else might be ‘wrong’ with us?
What if we were able to relax into this life, as it unfolds before us, instead of constantly trying so hard to ‘manifest’ a better one?
What would be possible if we stopped believing what we need is somewhere out there and started loving what’s going on in here?
Now that feels like freedom. Who wants to play?
Author: Belinda Noakes
Editor: Sarah Kolkka
Images: Author’s own & GiuseppeChirico/Flickr