The Path of Personal Mastery
Week Six reading
The Bumpy Road of Growth
First, I wanted to share the poem I read aloud at the end of class, about the hidden gifts that can be found when we are willing to feel the pain that gives rise to growth:
THE WELL OF GRIEF
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.
River Flow: New & Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press
Like last week, I want to share some thoughts and notes with you before we get to the Guides, a kind of mini-lecture from me on the topic of growth as it relates to the spiritual path. The first part are more general thoughts, and the second part has to do with the idea of the “core challenge” and how it might manifest in our lives.
THOUGHTS ON GROWTH:
- “Everything’s a problem and nothing’s wrong.” Growth as the goal of human life, and adversity as our primary teacher (though that shifts as we become more awake). Pleasure or “happiness” as a gift/ by-product, not the goal.
- Buddhism: “Life is suffering” or “Life is dissatisfaction.” A feeling of unease is normal, esp. to the extent that we are identified with our egos/small selves. We shift that feeling by shifting our relationship to it.
- Learning to view duality through the lens of unity. “Enlightenment is the ability to exist peacefully amid darkness and light.”
- “Mistakes,” hardships, and “failures” as opportunities for growth. 12-step metaphor of falling into the hole over and over again until we learn not to.
- Cultivating gratitude for those hardships as gifts as the highest possible response, though it may take a LOT of work to get there. When people say about a hardship they’ve suffered: “The best thing that ever happened to me,” “saved my life.”
- Emotional work, esp. grief, is key. It’s is a way to purify the lower self and make way for the Higher Self to be expressed. We can’t get to alignment with our Higher Selves except by accepting/embracing our human emotions and experiences.
- Going in and out of alignment is normal and to be expected.
- Emotional or physical “healing” crises are to be expected.
- Self-compassion and self-acceptance are critical along the way.
- We are not in control of the exact circumstances or timing in our lives, since the Universe has bigger plans for us than our small human plans for “success” or “ease”.
MORE ABOUT THE “CORE CHALLENGE”:
As the Guides suggest, we each have a “major”/area of struggle/maximum growth that our soul has chosen to focus on in this lifetime. That issue will come up again and again, through repeated patterns and experiences, giving us the opportunity to work through it over time and ultimately shift it on a soul level.
- Might look like: challenges attracting or keeping a partner or repeatedly attracting the same type of partner, not feeling a sense of power and voice in relationship, abusing power or being abused, over- or under-empathizing with others, issues with boundaries, self-worth, mutual respect, etc.
- Curriculum: difficult relationships/marriages, divorce, challenging family relationships, raising children.
- Might look like: issues of abundance or scarcity, the feeling that there’s never enough, issues with deservingness/entitlement, guilt, survival, or safety.
- Curriculum: not having enough money, having less or more than others, having enough money and not being satisfied by it, having a lot of money and then losing it, etc.
- Might look like: challenges identifying, finding, or keeping meaningful work, issues around power, voice, authority, self-worth, or abundance/scarcity.
- Curriculum: unfulfilling work, difficult work situations, career changes, search for more satisfying work, unemployment, ups and downs of work life.
- Might look like: challenges claiming one’s own truth or identity in the world, self-acceptance, self-love, fear of abandonment.
- Curriculum: individuating from family or society, being or feeling “different,” having to find new “tribe” or source of self-acceptance.
As a way of demonstrating the core challenge and the power of it to define a life and provide a powerful growth opportunity over time, I offer my mom’s story. She has given me her blessing to share this with you!
She was born in New York in 1940, to Irish Catholic, Depression-era parents. Her life, not coincidentally, coincided with the birth of the women’s movement in the U.S. Her challenge has been around relationship to men and finding her own truth/voice/power over time, not unlike many other women of her generation. (For those of you who are interested in such things, her life symbol Tarot card, numerologically, is The Lovers, which represents relationships but also a choice between two paths.)
Here’s how her story goes:
- Raised to be a “good girl,” seen and not heard, Catholic schools, lots of guilt and obedience from nuns and parents, go to college and get your “MRS” degree.
- Having an alcoholic father and anxious mother left her hungry for love/validation. (Our childhood circumstances can act as a template or trigger to activate our soul’s core challenge.)
- She married young, with a man who did not value or validate her.
- She did not know how to stand up for herself, tried to please him, relied on passive-aggression as a way to express her growing frustration with his inability to hear or validate her point of view.
- She felt very angry at him; drank to anesthetize herself.
- She raised 3 kids, took care of everyone else but resented it.
- Once her kids were grown, she got cancer, and as a result of the diagnosis, realized that she was depressed (initially didn’t care if she lived or died), went to therapy, got sober and on anti-depressants.
- Realized how angry she was at my dad and in general—how much she had repressed. Tried to work it out with him but he was unwilling. Got a divorce.
- Lived alone, had her own life, got to know herself, joined AA, entered therapy, etc.
- Learned to love and validate herself.
- After many years of living on her own terms and developing powerful friendships, she reconnected with her college boyfriend, 3-star general in the Air Force.
- Similar to her ex-husband, he was domineering by nature and had been socialized to be “in charge.” You could see this moment as a “test” of all the growth she had been through on this issue.
- She fell in love with him, but at the same time, she retained her sense of self and freedom that she had worked so hard for. She did not give him power over her.
- She kept her own life, and her own truth. She did NOT move in with him or marry him because she knew she didn’t want to, although he wanted her to and proposed many times.
- At 78 years old, she is still in long-distance relationship with him, but happily doing her own thing, owning her own truth, speaking up for herself, and enjoying her freedom.
This, in my view, is a great example of someone who has worked through her core challenge and shifted the pattern over a lifetime. This is deep soul work! From the outside or from society’s viewpoint her life might look “messy”—an unhappy marriage, alcoholism, divorce, cancer, depression, etc.—but from the soul’s perspective, this is what growth looks like, and I see her as quite a hero.
To think about:
- If you had to pick your “perennial struggle” or “major,” what might it be?
- How does it help knowing that, or framing it that way?
From the Guides:
Excerpts from class, again:
Remember that life does not exist for our pleasure, but for our growth, for our healing and for the healing of our planet.
The goal of life is not to feel less pain. It is to feel, period. It is to allow life to work on you as only life can.
Be with your life, and be in your life, with all its ups and downs, and know it as “right.” Know it as yours, know it is exactly where you need to be.
Trust the circumstances of your life as the path that will take you, over time and without fail, to the place you need to go as a soul. That is assured.
That part of your life in which you are struggling is the place where your soul has decided to focus its efforts on behalf of your growth.
It is those who avoid pain who do the most damage to themselves and others in their refusal to grow.
More from the Guides:
Honor yourself in all your imperfections, in all your struggles, in all your worthy efforts on this difficult human plane. When you make that shift, everything changes. Your struggles become easier. Your heart becomes softer toward yourself and others. You begin to see yourself as we see you, as beautiful children of God on a worthy and difficult journey, worthy of great respect and gratitude.
Honor the hurt. Honor the disappointment. Honor the heartache and the heartbreak. Honoring those feelings is honoring yourself and your capacity to feel.
You wish it were easier. Why isn’t it?
It’s not because it’s not. In other words, it is What Is. This is the mystery of Being. The endless variation of circumstances. The mysterious Why. Faith means trusting What Is, even as your emotions may rail against it. It is What Is. It is What Is. It is What Is. We say this over and over again because it is so hard for you—all of you—to accept it, to take it in.
You don’t like it. But that doesn’t make it any less What Is. And that is your challenge. To accept what you do not like. To accept it as your path, for whatever reason. Not all of your path but part of your path, one that has a very distinct purpose which you may never know. As hard as that is, it is your Key.
Love yourself, above all. Love the yearning self that does not get all of what it wants. Bless its longings. Bless the heart of your heart. And then let it go.
Remember that the point, in every case, is learning. The person who is hurting you by withholding love is learning, too. As are you. There is no fault. There is only learning. Bless the learning, as painful as it is. Bless the Other, the nemesis, the “source” of the pain, for the way in which they are your Teacher and you are theirs. Remember that human relationships are not about “fulfillment,” though they do bring fulfillment, in many cases. They are, instead, about learning. Learning from each other. Hurting each other, helping each other, holding a mirror up to each other. All of it is sacred, although it doesn’t seem so. Remember this, and honor the sacredness, even in your most “broken” relationships.
There is no such thing as failure. The circumstances of your life are not a referendum on the state of your soul. Not a reflection of your “goodness” or your worthiness. Not always even a reflection of your efforts.
The circumstances of your life are merely a reflection, in a sense, of what you need to learn from a soul perspective. What you are working on, the larger You. What the You of your soul is working on together with the you of your personality.
So that part of your life in which you are struggling? That is your “major,” if you will.
That is the place where your soul has decided to focus its efforts on behalf of your personality and on behalf of your growth.
Does that mean something is “wrong with you?” Because you struggle, because there is a part of your life you can’t seem to “fix” or figure out no matter how hard you try? Absolutely not.
It means you are learning. It means you are ready to learn, you are worthy of learning, of proceeding, through your trials, to the next level, to a place where you will struggle less with this particular thing. Eventually.
And in that way, purify your soul, bit by bit, until that day, this lifetime or the next, when you will be ready to drop the body altogether, to leave the human realm behind and move on to the next level of learning, of Being. A glorious transition to a place of much more Beauty and Love that is allowed here, because of duality.
Living in duality as you do means there will always be problems. There will always be struggles. Do not judge yourself by your struggles. Do not imagine a life in which you have none, at least not on this plane—not if such imaginings make you feel small or inadequate, make you feel you are doing something wrong.
You. Are. Doing. Nothing. Wrong.
Banish the words right and wrong for your vocabulary. And I don’t mean the obvious right and wrong of basic ethical behavior. Of course you don’t kill, cheat, steal, lie. If you are reading this, you are beyond the need for such moral instruction. You have learned through many lifetimes that conducting yourself in an ethical way brings you peace and well being, and so you are not tempted, beyond tiny temptations, to do unethical things.
I am talking about the kind of “right” and “wrong” you can use to torture yourselves. Is this the right job? Is he the right one? Is this the right move/house/course of action? Will this decision lead me to the life I want, or will it lead me farther away?
As if you are supposed to know. As if you are supposed to tell the future and get yourself there, to the “right” place, by taking the “right” steps. By not making any mistakes.
There. Are. No. Mistakes.
This is so hard for you human beings to get through your (sweet) heads. And we suffer over this on your behalf. There are no mistakes. There are no mistakes. There are no mistakes. We promise you this!
But what, you say, about the time I did X, and I wish I hadn’t, because it turned out badly, and I wasted my time or lost my money or it broke my heart or caused so much suffering that could have been avoided. Wasn’t that a mistake?
And we say, unequivocally, as emphatically as we can muster: No, no, no.
Not at all. Not in the least. Not a bit. What that was, my friends, is a little something we call an experience.
A life experience. A growth experience. Which can be much more valuable in the long run that everything working out the way you planned.
And not just because it teaches you what not to do. Because that may not even be the point. It may be that you wouldn’t have wanted or been able to do anything different, even if you could do it over again.
Ask anyone what they would change about their lives. Most people will say they wouldn’t change a thing. Even though they have “regrets,” or so they claim. Why is that?
The fact is, it is the hardest moments of our lives, the lowest moments, the moments of confusion, the moments of loss, the moments of grief, the so-called “missteps,” that are our greatest teachers. A life without hardship is a life without growth. That is true.
And—we say again as we have many times—the point of human life is not pleasure. (Though pleasure is nice.) The point of human life is growth. Emotional growth. Spiritual growth. Soul growth.
The growth and purification of the soul so that it—and You—may ultimately leave this plane of duality and join us and so many others on the next plane, the plane of Light. Where the journey does not end, but continues in a much more enlightened way, free of so much suffering and sorrow and pain.
Love without its opposite.
Light without its opposite.
Joy without its opposite.
Hard to imagine on this plane where none of these things exist without their opposite, their negative image.
Which brings us back to the need for life experiences. What you might call “failures” or “mistakes.” Or things not working out the way you planned. These are your greatest teachers. You grow from them in ways you probably don’t even understand, only that you know you are somehow stronger, somehow more compassionate, somehow wiser. Somehow closer to the mind of God, although you would never put it that way.
What about, you might ask, those who seem to suffer so little?
Whose lives seem charmed?
Who seem to get everything they ever wanted, without trying?
First of all, do not judge. You do not know, you will never know, what it feels like to live in the life of another. “Getting it all,” or the illusion of such, can itself be a kind of burden that a person who is struggling cannot imagine. There are pressures there, or emptiness, or guilt or confusion or any number of struggles that may be masked by a façade of great abundance, or great good fortune.
Of course there are those who manage to juggle the gifts of good fortune with unusual grace, and they can be teachers for us of how to accept “riches,” how to receive joy.
More often, however, those who seem to “have it all” are struggling under a burden of invisible suffering, one they do not feel free to share lest they offend those who “have less,” or lest they seem ungrateful. Theirs is a particular brand of loneliness, or can be, and rather than envy, they deserve our compassion.
A word on envy:
There is nothing wrong with seeming what another has and wanting that thing in one’s own life. There is nothing wrong with that pang of desire, that grasping sense, that pinch of lack. A strong relationship, a beautiful house, a sense of abundance, whatever it is you see and you desire, go ahead and desire it. Go ahead and embrace it in your heart.
I want that thing!
Yes, you do. And so it is.
Embrace the desire. Embrace the vision of you having that thing, that state in your life. Let your desire be a sign to you of your worthiness, an openness to receive that abundance in your own life.
Do not feed the sense of lack. Do not turn your desire against the other person in the form of resentment or jealousy.
Bless that person and bless yourself.
Bless their abundance and bless your own.
Note with gratitude all that you have and give thanks in advance for all you will receive.
Bless those who have more than you and those who have less.
Bless your life exactly as it is, and bless it as you wish for it to be.
Bless your struggles.
Bless your failures.
Bless your abundance and bless your “lack.”
For the life you are living is the “right” one, just as it is, and it does not preclude you from living your way into something else.
Both are true.
The “rightness” of your life and the “rightness” of your desires.
The struggle and the vision.
The desire and the “lack” of fulfillment of the desire.
The abundance and the lack, the success and the failure, the light and the dark.
The duality that is our lives on this plane, our rightful place, our schoolroom on this earth.
There will never be a lack of desire. There will never be “perfect” fulfillment. Not while we are here. And that is OK.
That is part of the beauty of human life. Its mixed-ness.
Its both/and nature.
The way that it demands that we come to peace with both light and dark.
That we learn to live in the ever-shifting waves of light and dark, joy and sorrow, what we can and can’t control, without losing our center, losing our balance.
Some of us have more to juggle.
Some have less—or so it appears.
But every human being is engaged in a struggle to learn to balance these opposite poles on a plane of duality. No one is free from this essential struggle, nor should they be.
So be at peace. Do not judge, and do not compare.
Be with your life, and be in your life, with all its ups and downs, and know it is “right,” know it is yours, know it is exactly where you need to be, what your soul has chosen, for your growth.
“Knowing that certain areas of our lives are more difficult, are what you call “our majors” in terms of what we are learning on a soul level, how can we best work with that difficulty in order to progress more quickly through it?”
First of all, accept it. Accept the difficulty. Have patience with it. Say to yourself, “There is a reason, on a soul level, why this area of life is difficult for me and I have respect for that. I will not berate myself for it. I will not denigrate myself for it. I will honor that difficulty as a sign that there is real and legitimate and potentially soul-shifting work to be done here.” Do not assume that you can breeze right through it. That would be cavalier. Likewise, do not let yourself be bested by the difficulty. Do not give up or make excuses. Do not accept defeat, in the sense of letting yourself be defeated.
Instead, think of yourself as a mighty soul warrior who stands up to the difficulty presented to you with courage and fortitude. Whether it’s money or relationship or health or career or destructive inner patterns, whatever it is, honor the challenge and rise to it, knowing yourself capable of meeting it and making progress. Not “beating” it. Not setting it up as your enemy. But standing up with strength and courage, ready to face the truth about yourself, the truth about your fears, your history, your weaknesses, your distorted thinking, whatever it is in you that needs your attention and demands your growth.
Avoid blaming others for your difficulties. This is paramount. While other people may indeed behave badly toward you, ask yourself what it is in yourself that allows them to, or allows you to remain in a situation where such behavior is tolerable. You have a choice. Even when you believe you don’t. Even when the situation seems out of your control, you have a choice in terms of how you view yourself, what you allow, what you emanate and thus what you attract.
We are not saying that you have perfect control over any situation based on your perspective or your thinking (see the chapter that follows for more on this), but you do have the ability and the responsibility to respond to what’s happening in the highest and best way you can. To see your situation from the highest vantage point possible. To see, as best you can, through the eyes of the Divine, in which you are not a victim or a hapless player, but a powerful Being who is on a meaningful path in which every choice matters, from a soul level.
We do not say this in a punitive way, but a hopeful one. Every moment is an opportunity to make a choice that honors your Divinity and the value of your path from a soul perspective. That choice could be seeing differently, or acting differently, or speaking to yourself differently, it doesn’t matter. It could mean forgiving others, or forgiving yourself, or giving thanks for what is before you as a learning opportunity, or giving thanks for another for what they have brought to your life, good or bad.
Above all, it means trusting the circumstances of your life as meaningful and appropriate—however difficult—and fully engaging with them as your right path, the path that will take you, over time and without fail, to the place you need to go as a soul. This is assured.
That means no more blame. No more self-flagellation. But self-respect, honoring your self in all your imperfections, in all your struggles, in all your worthy efforts on this difficult human plane. When you make that shift, everything changes. Your struggles become easier. Your heart becomes softer both toward yourself and others. You begin to see yourself as we see you, as beautiful children of God on a worthy and difficult journey, worthy of great respect and gratitude.