“Prepare to feel surprised and disappointed at once. Disappointment is the pile of bricks stacked and never used. Surprise is when you knock them over. Nothing can be made without knocking over what’s old.” Julie Levitt
Recently while reading Living An Examined Life by eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis I came across these words. “There are only answers that make sense to you at this moment in your life and they will fail you tomorrow. What is seemingly true today will be outgrown when life or our Soul brings us a larger frame through which to view them.” It was as though he was preparing me for the seismic event I was currently undergoing.
For twenty-years I had been guided by what I considered to be a simple truth expounded by Catholic theologian and mystic Theillard de Jardin: “You are not a human being having a spiritual experience, you are a spiritual being having a human experience.”
This insight had been presented to me after I had a psychic love affair that shook the foundation of my worldview and led to me seek counselling to help me comprehend how two people could possibly connect mind to mind over time and space. (For more on that see “The Event That Rocked My World.”)
This belief that life was part of a much greater reality became the foundation initially in a quest for enlightenment but once I determined I was not an enlightenment kind of guy, it led to a twenty-year passion to search for meaning and to understand my psychology, theology and spirituality. This foundation eventually led to who I am today – a dream teacher and spiritual coach.
There had been a number of shifts on my journey but underlying it all was the conviction that I was a spiritual being having a human experience with an immortal Soul that would survive the body.
Suddenly this perspective did not fit anymore. It felt like a coat I had outgrown. In his chapter on achieving a mature spirituality Hollis suggests any belief must have personal resonance and mine no longer did.
This discomfort began during the reading of Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It is a deeply disturbing book about our evolution as a species from Africa 100,000 years ago. He describes the brutal, self-serving, competitive and relentless story of conquest and domination by humans over others. I found myself asking the question, “Where is the evidence of Soul on which I have based on my life? Can I really accept we are spiritual beings?”
As I write I am reminded of Carl Sagan’s words many years ago in Cosmos: “Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.”
Like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, my worldview no longer resonated. I felt troubled. Who was I without my belief? What was left once I surrendered my faith in a worldview that had been the catalyst for my personal journey of exploration for the past twenty-two years?
I took a long solitary walk asking myself the question, “what remains if I give up the belief in being a spiritual being with an eternal Soul?” To my surprise I felt an unexpected sense of reassurance; I still had my belief in the unconscious, also in a tutelary or guiding inner spirit, and I still felt committed to seeking meaning in this Mystery of which I am part.
Yet something had changed. Suddenly the focus on the preciousness of this one life seemed so much more important. If I am not eternal and nothing of me other than perhaps some released energy remains when I die then suddenly what I do while I am here is even more critical than ever.
I have noticed that in these times of polarization, political reversals, and the rise of fundamentalism I have found it easy to slip into a place of hopelessness wondering whether we shouldn’t just let this human experiment fail and collapse into the abyss. I am reminded of Nietzsche’s quote,“Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman–a rope over an abyss.” It may feel like we are on that rope but we need to reach the other side.
Recently I read President Obama’s inspiring speech at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual lecture. https://www.npr.org/2018/07/17/629862434/transcript-obamas-speech-at-the-2018-nelson-mandela-annual-lecture.
Despite being totally realistic about the negative forces at play in the world today he observes, “Things may go backwards for a while, but ultimately, right makes might, not the other way around”.
My commitment begins with sustaining hope and today this beautiful poem appeared in my mail; it seems a perfect affirmation.
Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you