A guest post by Maria Ede-Weaving…
Following Philip’s quote on his Facebook page regarding awakening, and whether the process of such was a choice, I have been pondering my recent sense of spiritual disconnection. After a period of three years of major personal change and transition that included, amongst other things, bereavement and divorce, I have, over the last few months felt a crippling sense of being lost and cut off from my spiritual resources. Thankfully, this state of alienation and sadness is beginning to shift, and as I emerge, Philip’s words got me thinking about the nature of spiritual awakening and spiritual sleep.
The notion of enlightenment can erroneously be perceived as a fixed state, something we aim for, and in time and with effort, achieve. But we all know that this is untrue. Like nature and the cycles of our own lives, our awakening is in fact a series of awakenings. We move through moments of spiritual opening and closing, experiencing both those wonderfully heightened moments of realisation and belonging, and those equally powerful times of spiritual numbness.
For many years I considered my default position as one of deep communion with Nature. My recent struggles have robbed me of this. My eyes were seeing the beauty of the ocean and sky, the woodlands and downs but my heart just wasn’t feeling it, as if the chord of connection between me and the world had been severed. It was distressing and left me feeling internalised and consumed by the grief and the many losses of these last three years. It was the opposite of awakening, a closing off and shutting down.
And yet, as I now feel my eyes re-opening and my body, mind and emotions re-engaging with the life around me, it occurs that the opposite of awakening is not just sleep but dreaming. Dreaming, allows us to process the events of the day. It’s an honest place, one in which all that we have been denying comes to the fore, sometimes in striking and alarming clarity. Our confusions are worked through, our fears acted out, our hopes and wishes lived. Anyone who has kept a dream journal for any length of time will recognise that our dreams are dialogues with our deeper selves and bring much knowledge. They are a world where our known boundaries, restrictions and limitations are broken down that we might glimpse another way; our false expectation and negative patterns make themselves known and we are given the opportunity to challenge them, if we can listen to the promptings of our unconscious. The dream world can be a wonderfully comforting place or a nightmare, depending on where we are with ourselves at any given time. All that we are, our constructs, the ego’s flimsy and incomplete understanding of our greater self, can dissolve in that amorphous place. This fact rings true in those times of waking sleep, when we are stuck in those psychological fogs that can blind us to who we are, where we are and any sense of meaning and belonging we might once have felt.
When we are suspended in that place of disconnection, it can be hard to believe that we were once so absorbed in our spiritual journey and practices; the meaning and purpose of these can simply disintegrate into a sense of pointlessness where nothing quite lifts us, or sparks within us. It can feel like the most crushing stasis but I think that, as a state of being, it is anything but static. These moments are potentially incubation periods – they are the darkness of soil engulfing the seed and no matter how relentlessly harsh the winter, there is a pulse beneath the earth; the quiet, patient ticking of life.
In periods of waxing, we take on a solid shape, psychologically speaking. We gather ideas, explore them, live by them, and this in itself moulds us emotionally. We become a different person, and for a while this new being is all we need to be; we inhabit its shape comfortably, resonate with its tones, its texture easy on the sensitive skin of our psyche.
It cannot last, and neither is it meant to. When our shapes become brittle with age, when their usefulness is outlived, something deep within us goes into action. Our lowest times are often a preparing of the way for something waiting to be born within us. To our egos, to our ‘small’ selves, this metamorphosis appears to manifest as a wrecking ball; the shaman’s initiatory vision of being flayed, de-fleshed and left a heap of bones is not a bad analogy for this transitional process – it can feel like a violent and painful intrusion upon our sense of self and well-being.
In this last year I have often felt like everything precious to me has been rendered a pile of rubble and yet, it also seems that deep down in those mysterious and hidden places, my psyche has been sifting and sorting, testing all that I have thought and known, to see what is of true value to the growth of my spirit. We can hang onto stuff far beyond usefulness out of fear, sentiment, or sheer bloody-mindedness! Our deep selves will never allow such resistance to change to take hold for too long. Sooner or later we realise such resistance is futile and, more importantly, not good for us.
Virginia Woolf once beautifully wrote,
Change was incessant, and change perhaps would never cease. High battlements of thought, habits that had seemed as durable as stone, went down like shadows at the touch of another mind and left a naked sky and fresh stars twinkling in it.’
We should welcome the wrecking ball as it makes its first strike at those ‘high battlements’ but we are human, and we so often curse their fall; we stare open-mouthed at the rubble at our feet and forget to look up at that magical, naked, bejewelled sky left in its wake.
In time we come to see, our eyes adjusting to the darkness and in that dreaming state, just prior to our awakening – in that cursed but blessed place of breaking down, of buckling to our knees – we eventually blink and squint through the settling dust and gaze heavenward. One by one the stars come out and we find ourselves tearfully grateful.
Spiritual sleeping and awakening are inseparable – they are locked in a dance of unfolding and blossoming, expansion and contraction, which our spirits depend upon.
And so wherever you find yourselves: in a place of tormented and restless sleep, or yawning blissfully awake into a new and inspiring phase of your life, you are in the place you are meant to be. Maybe the best way to look at it, in the darkest moments, is that all is well, that you are merely experiencing a spiritual snooze. We cannot live without sleep, and I feel we cannot live without those times of spiritual sleep either. So sleep well – your dreams are shaping you anew.