March 20, 2016

Embracing the Darkness: Overcoming Difficulties in Spiritual Progress.

thought reflection alone spiritual varanasi

Spiritual work is no easy matter.

The word Jihad is said to represent an inner battle as well as an external one. In my experience, I have noticed we are at odds with ourselves.

My biggest problem in expressing all of the love that is within me is myself. I keep it hidden, not by choice, but by subconscious constructions about life that are not in line with reality. The more I can hold truth, humbly accept it, and move myself steadfast in that direction, the more my heart breaks open and I feel as if I deserve to live and feel love, regardless of external circumstances.

I have walked a path of self study and found myself lost several times. I have made countless mistakes and errors which tripped me up. But these faults don’t have to be repeated.

Here are four of my most valued lessons that I have cultivated in my quest for freedom, love, truth, and satisfaction with life.

#1 Rejecting the chaos and negativity of life.

In life, there is sorrow, chaos, and pain and suffering so intense it shakes my core just imagining them. Things are not clear, we hurt those we love by accident, and we fall when using all of our love and energy to create harmonious union. To shut this out is to deny our own humanity, to deny our vices and mistakes, and to lie to ourselves.

When we lie and say life is not what is present, we create illusion. To confront the fear is to dispel the illusion. It is not always simple or easy, but accepting the horror and heartache of life gives me an inner peace because I know I can look upon the truth with an open mind, heart, and spirit. I would rather be in love and feel pain, then out of love and numb.

When we reject any aspect of life, we block ourselves from it and numb our senses to that area. Once again, this is a difficult task—we need to be easy on ourselves and remember that to achieve what we love is not pain-free, sad as that may be.

#2 Pretending I am different then I am.

When I tell myself that all is love, and all is light, I get filled with a sense of discontent. I have faith that life is built on love, and while I hope this is true, I must accept this just as a hope.

To actualize that, and to try and uncover whether or not we are made of love, we must first discover where we find ourselves now, and work to remove all that is untrue.

Now this is a tricky situation. What must come is an acceptance of what is, but not a grasping of what is. We must accept that we hurt people and cause pain, but realize that is not our entire being. I know, deep down in my heart, that love is where I belong. At this moment I don’t feel that, but I know from enough experience that I am always more content, satisfied, and joyous when I work to create love rather than hate, to choose good over evil. My practice is accepting the evil within me, and moving past it to a place of good.

“I understand evil as that which increases illusion, or paranoia, or separateness, or separates, or increases the multiplicity…good is that which unifies, awakes, brings to consciousness, and releases human suffering.” ~ Ram Dass

I have discovered inside of me there is the seed of evil. I have a desire to hurt because I feel empty of love. And a false idea comes into my head that tells me that another’s pain, or my own pain, will create more joy. Now it is a ridiculous thought, but our thoughts are not always presented so plainly. They come in hidden language and confusing, irrational emotions we believe are correct.

But this is not the whole story, this is but an aspect of myself that I must be aware of and work with. Chaos and destruction are tools that must be used in the proper context and environment to allow for positive, loving changes. How those are to be implemented is unique to each case. One example is that we must destroy our foundation if it is built on sand, and not rock. This is a holy destruction, removing what is impure to make way for divinity and truth.

#3 Forgetting love in the low points.

When in the dark times, with suffering ever present, chaos swirling by, and fear ravishing our minds, love is sometimes forgotten. In my experience, I often lose sight of my goal and forget that I am working toward a fullness and love in every moment. When that feeling of fullness and love has been gone for a long time, it seems hopeless and sometimes extremely difficult to remember how much love feeds the soul.

This is why daily practice is important, and why many religions fall into the category of bhakti yoga, or devotion to God. This is because God serves as a constant reminder of the satisfaction we get from love. God is the ultimate example of a being of love. In several religions, this is the key goal—to love God as much as he loves us. Sufism, Abrahamic religions, devotional yoga and many others revolve around this concept of remembering God and loving God as he loves us.

Now perhaps you are reading this and don’t subscribe to a belief in a God. What I want to offer is a meditation on love. Sit down in a comfortable place, free of outside distractions. Take a deep inhale and imagine your breath is a golden light, a light of goodness, of unity, and of peace. Send your breath toward your heart, feeling your heart expand and grow. Exhale, and visualize all of the hatred, fear, and judgement being released with your breath. Continue while deepening the breath, and imagine the light is growing stronger and more solid, ever surrounding. This helps me when I am lost, and I hope it will serve you too

#4 Self-destruction when lost.

I can openly admit I harm myself physically, emotionally and mentally when I am lost. I consciously turn my thoughts to aggression, and I knowingly take actions that cause more chaos and hatred. Why is this? Is it because I am pure evil and want to cause the destruction of the universe? Of course not! I feel terrible once those actions are done. So why is it I keep returning to them?

My answer is simple: a feeling of emptiness, a feeling of being unwholesome and broken. I believe I cannot fix myself and so I knowingly hurt myself with anger, sense pleasures, and acts of harm. I do this to fill my holes, and it never does.

Perhaps I gain a minuscule comfort, but in the long term, it’s just creating more chaos.

So how can we act to help ourselves when lost? In those moments, my most useful advice is to keep working on myself. And most times, this work is painful. It doesn’t always need to be, but in certain cases we must open a wound to heal it properly.

This is the fire that really burns. It is the heat of suffering that removes our impurities and cleanses illusion and fear from our hearts. It is painful, but the alchemy needed to transform brass into gold takes incredible amounts of heat.

Imagine yourself as a diamond covered in rock, dirt, and oil. All these substances are covering your deepest brilliance. By chipping away at all of the outside gunk, you can find the gem of beauty that lies beneath all forms. And keep striking—the diamond is powerful enough to withstand the harshest blows. We can use this analogy to point to truth, because truth is indestructible.

All of this comes from my own experience. I have no right to say this is ultimately true, but this advice has helped me before. I hope there is some wisdom in here for all of us to use on our path to becoming fulfilled, content, and finding peace in all moments. Namaste.


Author: Nicholas Goodman

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Sam Hawley/Flickr 

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