Introduction to Issue 28
I come across something that has such a ring of truth, it brands itself into my brain. Some twenty years ago at a Berkeley poetry reading, a poet named Andy Clausen spoke one such eternal line:
"I feel your beauty in my chest."
Such a simple yet searing description of the universal experience of love!
A far more well-known poet, Allen Ginsberg, ended his poem, "Memory Gardens," with words I will never forget:
Well, while I'm here, I'll do the work --
and what's the Work?
To ease the pain of living.
Everything else, drunken dumbshow.
These lines have leapt out at me with new poignancy in recent weeks, as my personal suffering and that of people closest to me has been intense. My ongoing illnesses make each day a struggle, turning the need to alleviate pain for myself, and for my family and friends who are also having hardship, into a very literal priority. Prolonged adversity is a razor that cuts away everything nonessential. This is why many spiritual traditions use harsh purification practices like fasting, sweats, flagellation, long meditation sessions in postures that produce bodily discomfort, and so forth. Such self-imposed austerities mimic the stripping- away of the dross that naturally occurs with sickness and loss. I have reached a point of recognizing that even the most mystical peaks of spiritual awakening, no matter how awesome or ecstatic or spectacular, are no more important than anything else. In and of themselves, they are just more flash and fanfare, more "drunken dumbshow." As the implications of this set in, I questioned if any of my numinous experiences had any value beyond how much they impressed me when they happened. The answer which rose up through the rubble of my mind was one I could not refute: The only thing that matters is love. In his book, Shaking Out the Spirits, Dr. Bradford Keeney declares, "The meaning of one's spiritual life is found in the action it breeds." If our extraordinary experiences leave us with an intoxicating sense of specialness that does not lead to a more dedicated life of sensitivity and service to others, they are, as Keeney says, "a curse." This is no exaggeration. Look to the traditions and the warning is clear: All the psychic abilities and gifts of knowledge bestowed by Spirit can spell disaster if misused, and without love, the temptation to misuse is strong. Many New Age teachers are naive in this regard, and promote the use of sacred powers to enhance one's self-esteem or to manifest one's desires. The ego-driven mix of will and psychic ability is nothing less than sorcery; acting with good intentions and calling it "white magic" does not change this fact. Sorcery is spirituality gone awry. Usurping sacred gifts for personal gain is dangerous, not because our intent is evil (hopefully, it is not), but because it causes us to lose our humility in the face of the Great Mystery. Even if all we are doing is manifesting a good parking spot, too often we succumb to the illusion that we are powerful.
One cannot simultaneously seize power and be open to love. Sorry, Pop Therapy, but this is the real trade-off.
The alternative is not "giving away our power" and becoming doormats, but acknowledging that Power,
like Holiness, are not personal possessions but spiritual wonders that can work through us so long as we do not
claim them for our own. It is no coincidence that the most heartful saints were also incredibly humble. Genuine
humility, as Keeney says, "is not an exercise in being modest about our greatness, but it is a realization
of our being nothing." This does not mean that we are worthless, but transparent, freed from the clamorings
of ego. When we are rapt with love, self vanishes. Boundaries evaporate and separation ends. Your beauty fills
me: there are no longer two of us apart from one another, but two flowing together in joyous appreciation. It
is by loving each other that we become whole.
-- El Collie
© El Collie 1995