“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
It’s ironic that my journey of healing and my search for deeper meaning brought me to interfaith seminary school. I wouldn’t say I was a born skeptic, but my outrage born of complex trauma certainly contributed to my spurning notions of a mystical being. Much of my life I railed at vague notions of God, in search of a Divine apology.
Indeed, should I meet my maker when I leave this life I have lots of questions to ask about humankind and this plane of existence. My first query would probably be along the lines of why an omniscient, omnipotent being of Love would allow this world to be a lonely, painful, frightening place for so many.
Some things will just never make sense to me.
Nevertheless I tell myself, where there is faith there is doubt. Darkness has its place in the vast scheme of things.
To my chagrin, this proved true even in seminary. It was there that I discovered that the self inflation and righteous posturing that often accompanies religiosity is its own unique brand of lunacy.
Religious scholar Andrew Harvey wrote about this in terms of our neurotically driven addiction to ‘the light’. Likewise, Spiritual materialism, a term coined by Tibetan meditation teacher Chögyam Trungpa describes the phenomenon of magically assuaging suffering through hedonistic pursuits disguised as sanctifying thought systems, rituals and ideologies.
In spite of my disillusionment my faith is firmly rooted in humanity’s capacity to align with a higher will to transcend our lower nature. I ascribe to the belief that a collaborative relationship between the sensorial world of the body, the ego self, and the metaphysical world of the spiritual self can come together for the essential purpose of actualizing the capacity to love. Albeit, this is not easily attainable.
Although I choose to conceptualize God as love, for much of my life it was the dearth of love that kept me in a state of separation from the Source. Although the Kaddish prayers and Shabbat blessings recited by my orthodox grandma brought me comfort as a child it was my father’s skepticism of anything remotely sacred that I chose to emulate. His anger at the world swayed me to renounce, as he did, any notion of faith in a Divine force.
The rallying cry of ‘kill or be killed’ took precedence over my place in a vast benevolent Universe. If as Gandhi suggests, bread is God to a starving man, then for me God took the form of anything that offered respite from brutal emptiness and overwhelming symptoms of hyper-arousal due to emotional flooding and episodic dissociation.
Where there’s emptiness there’s hunger. Passionate hunger fuels a need for connection and completion. We are innately driven to fill emptiness in a self-transcendent way through whatever we can attach to that offers us the promise of fulfillment. Hence, in my desperation, the longing for wholeness, cohesion, connection, power, and love compelled me to compulsively latch onto any drug, thing or person that might offer a momentary illusion of wholeness.
Drugs, music, nightclubs and those who endorsed my misfit lifestyle allowed for a temporary sense of cohesion. They were my saviors.
Ultimately when my reckless pursuit of ‘spiritual deliverance’ left me empty handed and lost, my ongoing search led to therapy and healthier pursuits such as creative expression, academia and travel. My quest also continued to be interspersed with a smorgasbord of new age workshops, mystical healers, magical thinking and deified narcissists. Old habits die hard.
On the heels of a devastating betrayal I entered seminary. Fantasies of forgiveness and transcending the blight of my fury were deemed the panacea. Indeed a remedy was received, but it was the antithesis of what I imagined. Rather than being hurled into the ‘light’, darkness and rage consumed me.
Discovering that seminary was steeped in virtue signalers and grandstanding channelers who denounced darkness while touting a direct line to God, catapulted me further into marginalization. As it turned out this was what I needed to be guided through darkness as never before. Through the discipline of reading sacred texts and a daily spiritual practice, I exhumed all that was buried, and found liberation.
I learned that the fullest agony of betrayal is found within our most intimate bonds, and it is when we are catapulted into the abyss of the dark unknown that we give way to complexity and consciousness. It is then that God enters.
Only by confronting the hate I denied, was I able to cultivate discernment, discrimination and formidable authority.
I faced my vices and defects and was regenerated by the descent into my lower nature.
This process taught me that honoring the role suffering plays throughout life is integral to Self and God realization.
Discerning meaning from darkness requires reinforcement from sundry sources of inspiration, as choosing and remaining on this path is often fraught with conflict and disillusionment.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl gives testimony to the existential belief that life is filled with suffering and that the only way to survive is to find meaning in it. In spite of the pain and torture endured in Aushwitz and Dachau, Frankl refused to relinquish his humanity, his love, his hope, his courage. He chose, as Dostoyevsky had written, “to be worthy of suffering”.
Dostoyevsky believed that man’s road to salvation must be through suffering. In his writings he presented suffering as always lighted by the spark of God. In his story “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man,” the protagonist exclaims,
“We can only love with suffering and through suffering. We cannot love otherwise, and we know of no other sort of love. I want suffering in order to love. I long, I thirst, this very instant, to kiss with tears the earth that I have left, and I don’t want, I won’t accept life on any other!”
The emphasis on suffering as being requisite to love is also expressed in the myth of the Goddess Persephone. Born as Kore, she was the proverbial maiden, who though rape and descent into the Underworld became the archetypal Queen of Darkness, Persephone. Her name means light-bearer and she brings light to the dead.
Persephone resides in darkness, only emerging in spring and summer to uniter with her mother Demeter. She always returns to her home beneath where her compassion and light reaches those who like herself, are all too familiar with death and one’s shadow nature.
When I was ordained in 2006 I vowed, like Persephone to commit to visiting those interior places most feared, so as to be a witness and source of comfort for those challenged to do the same. As a trauma therapist I vowed to bring to consciousness the soul’s perennial struggle to dismantle obstacles, patterns and illusions that obscure the expression of Divine love.
Coming full circle my spiritual journey makes it clear to me that we all seek to discern a deeper meaning in our human existence by connecting with a higher sense of life. This arouses in me the inclination to give creative and spiritual expression to universal human struggles, and the individual and collective journeys we undertake through darkness and light.
When I find myself floundering I turn within and to the writings of the mystics. This Rumi poem resonates with the thirst of my soul’s desire to surrender to the will of God. It also speaks of my personal challenge to break free through prisons of doubt and separateness by returning to the fertile ground of my spiritual nature and my connection to what is sacred.
Who looks out with my eyes?
What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord,
and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have
to take me home.