Sometimes during life the door to the Spirit World opens up and people experience revelations, epiphanies, visions and other spiritual phenomena. In the sixties psychedelic drugs were sometimes a medium for opening the “doors of perception”. Unfortunately those glimpses were fleeting and the doors often slammed shut again.
For thousands of years human beings have practiced ceremonies as a means of achieving Holy Communion, healing, dialogue with ancestors and deities and openness to experiencing the flow of divine energy. One of the dilemmas of any peak spiritual experience may be the awakening of traumatic or other disturbing material from the deep psyche. Emotional imprints recorded at an early age can be activated in such a way that the participant in ceremonial or other intensive spiritual practice begins to act out dramas from an earlier stage of life.
Return to the everyday world can be quite difficult for a person in the throes of such activation, as if a more primitive (developmentally earlier) sub-personality wants to run the personal show and get unfulfilled needs gratified. Some of the most powerful sub-personalities orient from the 2-3 year old stage of life. One way I refer to this phenomenon is as the abandoned two or three year old.
Sacred space is so beautiful, ecstatic and fulfilling that the desire to not let it go is totally understandable. At least temporarily spiritual experiences can fill all of our empty places inside. At its best ceremony is an experience of total immersion in the flow of Holy Spirit or God Energy. All desires are fulfilled. All troubles are soothed. Life is in perfect balance.
Then the ceremony ends, and we find ourselves dealing again with the conditions of our lives, and our awareness of what’s problematic or just not working may be acutely magnified. The clarity, purity and perceived perfection of ceremonial experience may serve to aggravate or intensify one’s feeling perception of past trauma and current imperfections. Thus arises the sometime dilemma of returning to the everyday world after the intensity, bliss, balance an/or sense of perfection experienced in ceremony. How does one carry the ceremonial experience, not lose it or allow it to slip into unconsciousness and also without being so caught up in the spiritual immersion of ceremony that one’s behavior is markedly out of sync with the everyday world?
There is no single definitive answer to this question, but it is the right question with regard to trying to maintain some balance. In some circumstances it may be totally appropriate to turn one’s life upside down. In another case it might be best to try to just sit contemplatively with all of the thoughts, feelings and experiences and petition Higher Power (in some form) for guidance.
Myths and folk tales are full of stories about the Return of the Hero. Sometimes s/he sinks into forgetfulness. Sometimes s/he is betrayed by those previously judged to be close friends or relatives. Sometimes the gifts from the Spirit World are misunderstood by loved ones and discarded or disregarded. Sometimes s/he simply collapses under the complex pressures of life in what feels like an unreal world. And sometimes s/he is able somehow to hold an appropriate balance “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” Guidance is good, and s/he steers a course between rocks and waves and reaches the other shore having lost very little of the gifts of Spirit s/he carries. Sometimes s/he has to bargain and compromise and prioritize in order to save that one thing or those few things that are really really important.
The Return is often the most dangerous and difficult time of the journey, which seems strange given the ordeals of some ceremonies. The Return can give a person the feeling of being caught between the two worlds, the Sacred and the profane, not being solidly connected with either one. Realities that seemed self-evident within the Sacred Circle are now uncertain. The realities experienced in Sacred Ceremony don’t translate directly into a world that feels out of focus, out of balance and out of sync. The fact of living in a society that doesn’t generally accept or even recognize the realities of the Sacred further complicates the dichotomy. There is a cognitive and emotional dissonance in trying to follow the guidelines of the Sacred in the profane world. The teachers of the Sacred may not be helpful with the struggles of memory, background and childhood trauma. I know people who were sent home from ashrams because the psychological crises that arose for them were beyond the abilities of the ashram staff to deal with.
So what’s the Hero to do, having returned home with a new vision of Self, when s/he gets treated like the same of person who existed pre-ceremony? What does she do with the healing, learning, Medicine Power and new visions of Self.? For each person there are possible approaches which may be helpful. The key questions to be asked over and over again are, “How do I live my vision as best I can in my everyday world?” and, “What changes do I absolutely have to make?” and, “What can I do on a daily basis to support and nurture my new sense of Self?”
My own answers inevitably point to meditation, prayer and the practice of simple, meaningful personal ceremonies that re-create and sustain connection with the Sacred. Whenever possible social interaction with others who have some understanding and harmony with the ceremonial and visionary process can be very helpful. Keep telling your story to yourself and to sympathetic others. During the process of integration the story evolves and adapts to inner and outer environment. It is still the flow of yin and yang into and out of each other. It is still the flow of the four directions into and out of each other. How can the Sacred co-exist with the profane? How do personal psychology and social interaction work harmoniously with newly awakened spiritual truths? For ceremony and vision to have validity we have to find how to make our spiritual gifts work for us in our everyday lives. Keep asking for further guidance with regard to how to accomplish this spiritual activation within the everyday world. We are only limited by our inability to overcome the impediments of our personal psychological makeup and lack of skill at dealing with the barriers presented by our external environments. The great ones in the modern world (Gandhi, Mandela, King, St. Teresa of Cabora, et. al.) figured it out. Each of us in our own realms can figure it out too.
All of this discussion of the Return brings me around to my personal and immediate dilemma and the interface between the spiritual and psychological. While guiding my last quest in Ukraine, I had an experience which felt like total immersion in spiritual/divine love. This experience was progressively intense over several days and culminated in sharing an all-night vigil with a young Ukrainian woman. We had previously talked at length about our intentions, boundaries and guidelines. We agreed that we were not seeking a physical/sexual or romantic relationship with each other. We did recognize an amazing amount of energy flow between us. We decided to explore within our agreed-upon principles and parameters. We both recognized the potential for this energy to go in sexual or romantic directions. At one level, energy is just energy. We had decided to explore in the context of Sacred Space our own ability to experience a kind of spiritual love and sustain that expression without dropping our focus to some other manifestation of the energy.
We seemed to implicitly and mutually know exactly where the boundaries of physical contact were. In a sense they were exactly where they would be with a dear family member of the opposite sex–father-daughter, brother-sister, or mother-son. When there was doubt about whether a particular physical contact was within the parameters, we would talk about it. By holding ourselves within these agreed-upon limits, we were able to create and sustain an intense and immense experience of communion, well beyond anything I had previously experienced. It was not an in-love experience, which I have previously experienced with a great deal of intensity. There was a third presence in the tipi with us, a spiritual presence which suffused this Sacred Space we had defined. It was love, but the kind of love that Jesus/Morning Star/Quetzalcoatl represents, manifests and teahces. Was there sometimes temptation to move this energy to more familiar ground of sexual or romantic expressions. Of course there was. But both of us exerted a degree of discipline to stay on the Spiritual Path, in large part because the rewards of staying on this spiritual plane were so satisfying that the temptation to relate in any other way decreased over time. As one spiritual teacher said, “Why play in a puddle, when you can swim in the ocean?”
So where’s the dilemma? My best understanding at this point is that this immense experience of Communion stimulated very old material from deep in my psyche. When the questers returned from their solo time, this young woman, who was my translator, and I had to go to work. There were threshold ceremonies to welcome the questers back to the community and then there were their stories to be heard, translated and mirrored. She and I were still in communion as we worked, but there was little if any time to talk with each other, to integrate the experiences we had shared. When I was finally out of her presence, I was shocked to find myself feeling very young and panicky. I felt like an abandoned three year old, desperate to find my mommy. I went from the most fulfilling spiritual and multi-level experience of my life to feeling bereft and all alone and very, very young. Sitting under the stars, breathing, praying, smoking tobacco, and repeating certain phrases such as “Let go, let God!” finally calmed me down enough to sleep restfully that first night.
In my inner work I had previously identified a chronic and recurrent feeling of deep loneliness underneath the depression that I had experienced in my life. At a mindfulness conference one of the presenters had talked about this deep loneliness as a part of the human condition that Buddha referred to as “suffering” in the Four Noble Truths. Our suffering is primarily separation anxiety resulting from loss of connection with primary loved ones, something that virtually everyone who is not indigenous experiences to some degree. The exceptions may be cultures who practice some form of community-wide ceremonial communion on a regular basis, so that the sense of interconnectedness between the people and between the people and Spirit is never really lost. This experience of the abandoned three year old felt even deeper and more primal than these Buddhist teachings. It was more than yearning for something lost; it was panic, and I don’t have panic attacks. So the most profound and total immersion spiritual experience of my life led to an equally profound re-experiencing of early childhood emotional trauma. I had experienced having it all, everything that humans yearn for, a deeply satisfying experience of loving and being loved by another human being and both of us being loved by this sublime Spiritual Energy, for a time completing a circle of light and love. It was the Garden of Eden before the Fall. It was the original Spirit-Being-Humans before fear and greed began the downward spiral out of paradise. It was life in complete harmony with Spirit, Nature, and Inner Voice. It was flying with the angels. It was connection with ancient ancestors who were still living by the Original Instructions. Separation anxiety had not been invented. Deep interconnectedness was a primary fact of existence.
From ancient spiritual bliss and beauty to modern jagged and ragged material existence, but for the most part the group ceremonies sustained us for the ensuing three days even though there was only a little time for personal communion. Then came the day of separation, and our journeys continued without any physical presence, touch, encouragement, support or personal understanding. With pledges such as, “I carry you in my heart,” and “What we have experienced together lives in me forever”, we parted company to walk our individual paths. Since that time my roller-coaster ride continues to pass through lovely landscapes of Spiritual Love and Oneness, but also desperate wastelands of abandonment, loneliness, and disconnection. The Spiritual Self and the Psychological Self are dancing some hybrid of hip-hop and slow-motion martial arts. The intensity diminishes only slightly over time.
Am I grateful for what happened? Absolutely! We were given a gift of Holy Communion that I had yearned for, but had little sense of what it was like or how to get there. And I was given some clues about my ongoing psychological healing that went deeper than anything previously experienced. The psychological work continues. And the spiritual work continues. My studies and participation in ceremony with indigenous teachers have given me clues about how human beings have sustained a sense of communion and interconnectedness during the whole span of human history. Teachings I had previously only grasped with my mind begin to have analogues in my soul. My understanding that Jesus/Morning Star/Quetzalcoatl is more than anything a sublime Spiritual Energy now has an experiential base. May all beings be liberated! May all beings walk in Beauty!