In the spiritual circles there’s lots of talk about the ways of seeking for truth, love, naturalness. In a climate of what I perceive as a lot of new age hype, coping mechanisms and manipulation I often wonder how open are we to sharing & bringing awareness to the challenges & darker side of Spiritual Seeking? You know the part where it’s not all rainbows and unicorns and where the beauty of life can easily get eaten up by the incessant clambering to be somewhere other than where we are. When it comes to more traditional spiritual paths people are quick to judge the ways new age spirituality can actually cause more damage than good – but I don’t hear so many talking about the damage that can be caused by the obsessive search for enlightenment.
Enlightenment for me is to simply shine light upon life. It’s not some mystical magical faraway destination to arrive at. But for many years I didn’t know that – I thought it was somewhere I had to work really hard to get to. In the interest of wanting to encourage, inspire and focus on what’s truly important I’ve not shared much about my experience on the darker side of spiritual seeking but as I’ve reflected on all the crazy shit I’ve done in the last 10 years in the name of ‘finding myself’ I thought it was time to share a little more.
I love life & make a real effort to focus on the beauty & grace but I have also suffered immensely over the years of seeking. There were the moments where life didn’t quite go to plan – divorce, death, projects ending, breakups & a gazillion other experiences that broke my heart. But these are a part of being human and suffering is optional. Where suffering really came to life for me was every time I thought I wasn’t where I should be spiritually, mentally, emotionally – when I watched the inner peace I longed for slip out of my reach. In these times I felt like a failure on my spiritual path – in my head I thought if I was doing it ‘right’ I wouldn’t be feeling the pain & discomfort of broken relationships, a hurt heart or the loss of a dream. I developed a wonderful habit of comparing myself against the textbooks, the spiritual teachers and the stories of my fellow seekers, finding all the ways I wasn’t quite ‘there’ yet – wherever there is!
But that was a misunderstanding on my part – a fairytale that developed somewhere along the lines that life would be nothing but pure bliss if I just did the ‘work’ I needed to do to transcend my human conditioning. What a load of crap! Life is pain and pleasure – both equal parts of our human experience – the yin and the yang – neither right nor wrong, better or worse – just simple parts of the duality of life.
It’s not the pain & discomfort of life that creates suffering – it’s the resistance to allowing the pain to be there. The second arrow as Tara Brach calls it. That arrow you shoot into your own heart – if it’s not bad enough that life didn’t pan out the way you’d hoped – now add to that the angst of self judgement, self loathing & self criticism for not being where you think you should be.
Can we experience pain & discomfort without suffering – absolutely – but only through acceptance rather than pushing, love rather than judgement. And I genuinely believe a commitment to gentleness, compassion & kindness needs to be the first thing we cultivate on our path. Otherwise the odds are really good that we’ll end up substituting suffering for suffering.
And this is where I want to get real and share more of my own journey – I transitioned from suffering in the stress & depression of my corporate & married life to suffering in my resistance of my so called failings on the spiritual path.
In 2012 I stumbled into spiritual enquiry a little by accident – fed up with superficial connections I craved for something but I didn’t know what it was. I started out super green, super curious, super open, super naive and super desperate for radical change after some post divorce fun but seemingly aimless travels.
I had my first real taste of freedom during a plant medicine journey & a silent meditation retreat. I felt like I was seeing life through fresh eyes & I wanted more. I spent years jumping from spiritual experience to spiritual experience – the intense out of the body kind. Everywhere I looked someone promised they had found the key to real healing & awakening to our truth. And I wanted to believe them, I really really wanted it to be true because I wanted my suffering to end. I was motivated and had money in my bank account so I tried everything on the smorgasbord of spirituality that resonated with me.
I attempted to transcend the ickyness of my human messiness so I could know freedom permanently. I experienced moments of blissful but elusive states of pure awareness & consciousness. I dabbled in all the things I could to alter my state – plant medicines, dark retreats, psychedelics, silent retreats, sacred sexuality, fasting, meditation & cult community living. Embracing the many dark nights of the soul that arose – purging, cleansing, letting go all the things I believed stopped me from being in a constant state of bliss.
I took my path as spiritual seeker seriously and I went hard at it for 7 years. Full time non stop – this was my job, hobby, relationship & purpose for life. I spent every cent I had (in excess of $150,000!) because once I tasted freedom the suffering that came when I was caught in lower states was excruciating – my desperation for freedom grew and my search became habitual. I became addicted to the experience – experience junkie as a teacher once put it. In hindsight I now understand my nervous system was so completely fried from all the experiences I hadn’t integrated that I was in an almost constant state of overwhelm and just doing whatever I could to try and feel safe again.
A kidney infection in Guatemala & appendix removal in India slowed me down a little but even once I staggered home to Perth the intensity continued. Searching for somewhere I could unravel completely I knew I needed to rest, I knew I needed to stop but that was no longer something I knew how to do. The only thing that seemed natural to me was to keep searching, so I found myself inside a community that poked and prodded every day at the edges of wounds and unconsciousness. So desperate for a place to belong and to feel safe I stayed even though it was the furthest from resting I could possibly have found. I resisted every step of the way never able to fully surrender or trust the teacher – in my heart I knew this wasn’t the path for me but the promise of community and freedom had me stay for 9 months, short in comparison to some of the other residents who had been there for 10+ years but long enough for me to reach a new low point in my life.
Physically unwell, emotionally unstable and financially beyond broke I was miserable and I’d isolated myself from anything outside of the community including all the people and things in life I loved and that were important to me. I started to see the way trauma in others was being pushed to it’s edges in the name of healing and how counter it was to my belief in the feminine way of healing. I realised I was actually traumatising myself on this quest to purify my human messiness (more in my next post on this!). I was making myself sick pushing, poking, prodding every day of my life – and putting myself in situations where others also pushed & poked & prodded all of my apparent wounds so I could ‘transcend’ them and be of greater service.
Where was the self compassion, the gentleness, the kindness? Where was the patience & trust that life would unfold in her own time & that if I had wounds that needed to heal they would unravel & heal in the their own time. It was time for the shadow hunting, ego destroying, encountering, judging & shaming to stop. And I walked away from the community, a little shell shocked and unsure of where to go but blessed to be held by gentle loving hearts.
A willingness came to slow things down & feel how over frazzled my nervous system was & an understanding landed that I had been practicing the very opposite of self love – letting shame, unworthiness and my inner critic run amok. I had failed to acknowledge how sensitive I was and that the last thing I needed was to be opened up energetically – what I really needed was to ground, draw awareness back in and land back in my body. From this point on compassion, kindness & self love took on new meaning and a new resolve to not force change or give my power away to anyone who told me they would heal me, save me, fix me or knew what I needed better than me. In essence this was the moment where I genuinely began to slow down and trust myself.
I stopped the incessant workshop, retreat & spiritual teacher merry-go round I’d been on and began listening more to my intuition. I listened to the wisdom of my heart & it’s sensitivity, gentleness and craving for slowness and I began to focus on my strengths instead of just pulling apart perceived weaknesses.
I’m grateful for the lessons & I deeply value the tools I’ve accumulated over the years but holy shit I’m very clear it’s not necessary to walk such an intense path to live a life of love and connection – which is really all I’ve ever wanted. And as a highly sensitive person the constant out of body or intense energetic experiences did nothing but destabilise my sensitive nervous system – making it harder for me to ground and be present in the here and now.
So if you have ever attended an event or circle with me & wonder why we take things so slowly & gently & why I’m not encouraging big cathartic releases or out of body experiences this is it. I encourage you to stay in your body, here and now because I think what many of us more sensitive folk need more than anything is to learn to arrive here, land in our bodies and love every piece of ourselves exactly as we are – embracing life as it is – this is unconditional love 💛
I believe the greatest gift we can give ourselves & each other is acceptance of where we are. If you are a seeker and you love the out of body experiences & intense journeying please know I mean no judgement on the path you walk. I speak only for my own path as a highly sensitive person who has now spent 2 years unravelling layers of re-traumatised trauma – contentedly embracing gentleness, slowness & self compassion.
Photo: Antigua, Guatemala 2012, fresh out of my first silent retreat.
#gentleness #spiritualseeker #trauma #innercritic #healing #wisdom #highlysensitiveperson #unconditionallove #compassion #innocence