During a sacred plant ceremony I found myself on the receiving end of a temporary gift of clairvoyance, ( “clear seeing”). I was in a room with twenty-five others, sitting with an open, clear mind, listening to the beautiful suffering. Strange as this latter phrase might sound, it’s an apt description of the experience of being in a place where everybody is doing their work to purify their minds and hearts. Some were weeping, some were vomiting, some were groaning—the sounds of integrity. .
This is the spiritual path of suffering what is yours to suffer. I mean the deep suffering of the original trauma, not the superficial suffering which is born of the refusal to do this work.
I was listening and feeling into all the suffering in the room, including my own. My attention focuses on each co-sojourner in the room. The words on my lips are a prayer to each person. I see that most of this suffering is caused when we are not allowed to just be ourselves. Feeling our suffering at not being allowed to be ourselves is the way back to our natural and original being. I whispered to each soul, “Be yourself”, “you are so beautiful as yourself”.
This was confirmed at a recent men’s circle which I was participating in. These brave and vulnerable souls were sharing core challenges. It struck me again with great clarity that it all seemed to boil down to each of these beautiful men trying to find the courage to be original, natural, spontaneous, and to express their soul’s calling in life.
It’s simple to see and to say the words, “just be yourself”, but it’s not so easy to realize. For one thing, most of us have had this original or natural sense of self scared out of us. We learned that it wasn’t okay to be ourselves. We had to be something else, someone else, for somebody else, in order to feel safe. We did and do what we need to do in order to survive. When we are shamed or traumatized (and by this I mean the failure of being loved unconditionally), we internalize that our spontaneous impulses, urges, and ways of acting are unacceptable. This is when we start to develop the “watcher“, the internal monitor of our every thought and gesture—which leads directly to the hell of the obsessive self-consciousness .
We go on automatic pilot: to impress; to be liked, to be entertaining; to be stronger; to be weaker; to be bigger; to be smaller; to be smarter; to be dumber; to be invisible; to make a big splash; to bully; to acquiesce; to be sensitive; to not care, etc…,etc. And what’s missing in all these automatic reactions is our natural and spontaneous expression of life coming through us.
Over time, we forget that we even have a natural way of being. We stop trusting our instincts and impulses. We stop trusting our bodies, and our senses, as a way of navigating our worlds. An embodied self, we learned, is a dangerous self. We become a copy of a self, a ghost of a self.
I was watching a film about British botanists searching the Amazon for a sacred plant that was said to have great healing properties. The guide was a local shaman whose people had been colonized by Europeans and the rubber barons. In the course of working with this British scientist, he is shown a photograph of himself. He realizes that it is merely an empty image of himself, a ghost, and that he was now a mere image of his former self, and had been wandering around aimlessly since the barbaric invasion of European culture. He had lost touch with his ancestors, stopped fighting for his people, and capitulated to their ways. Then begins his protest and recovery of a natural way of being.
If we’re lucky we awaken to the ghost we’ve become and begin the painful and courageous journey back to the living soul within the dead image. It’s not an easy path, because conventional culture has been virtually built by ghosts, for ghosts. So it feels right on a superficial level. This is a post-trauma culture, and our institutions and way of life reflects that trauma. To awaken to your original, spontaneous self is to awaken to eccentricity; your rhythms will be different from the surrounding culture. You’ll sleep when you are tired, work when you are inspired; speak true words; weep for the suffering you see, get bored by what seems to fascinate everybody else, make irrational (intuitive) choices, and be guided by a different GPS system.
Most religious institutions, including in my experience, “progressive” ones, cater to and elicit the ghost of a self, not the soul. They reinforce the colonization of the natural self by conventional values. The most common reason I heard for getting a child baptized over my 30 year career was to “expose” them to some Christian values. Well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I’d rather the church, for example, reveal the eccentric, radical, and spontaneous nature of its original founder (Jesus) and create a habitat in which the children could risk step into the field of consciousness, or the pattern, of Jesus’ life.
Here’s the tricky part. We can go away on a retreat and get in touch with all of this. But when we return we’ll enter into the relationship fields of others—spouses, partners, friends, co-workers, etc. The relational fields of those we regard as most important to us recapitulate our earliest relational field—with mother, then mother and father, then teachers, etc.
A mere look of disapproval, a subtle gesture of being ignored or dismissed— let alone overt expressions of disapproval—will cause us to distrust ourselves and to regress. Three minutes prior to the perceived insult, our soul dream was strong and realizable. Then it all gets derailed in the blink of an eye. It seems far-fetched, and we ask ourselves “who am I to bring this dream off”. What is happening is that your earliest relational fields, where you learned that you are not okay, are being reenacted.
This is the moment that is important to witness what is happening, make note of the power we are giving to these relational fields, call bullshit, and summon up some good old-fashioned courage. Your soul, and mine, incarnated to flower into the unique manifestation that is you. If we’re not allowing that flowering what are we doing? If we’re not summoning our spiritual warrior in defence of our natural self, then all of our other battles will be in vain. Does anything else really matter? You have a distinctive scent that is your offering to the world. That signature scent alone is what makes angels rejoice.