In the desert
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter-bitter," he answered;
"But I like it Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."
- Stephen Crane
There is something so brutal, yet something so intimate and tender about what the poem is depicting.
Sometimes cast away in the vast chambers of my epic human confusion, I find myself like that beast, feasting on my heart, as if to desperately find the core of me and be with that crippled part of myself so intimately, like two compassionate hands cradling a beloved's face...
Sometimes tasting and witnessing my own suffering is overwhelming; the inner demons vehemently avoided in light and inspired moments clamp down on me like nobody's business.
But even in that bewildered state of utter confusion and despair, some other aspect of me which manages to escape from fully identifying with the suffering asks quietly: "Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?" This voice is a gentle helping hand directing my attention to what wants to be revealed as whole and sacred beyond the confinements of my ego-driven human drama.
But the suffering is very real, nevertheless.
The act is to simultaneously surrender to be fully claimed by the demons - demons are our obsessions and fears, feelings of insecurity, chronic illnesses, or common problems like depression, anxiety, and addiction* - and at the same time to gently step out of the ego-clinging identification into an equanimous witnessing-presence.
This is not an easy act as it seems to contain a counter-intuitive dichotomy: fire and ice, feminine and masculine, embodiment and renunciation...(It is Jedi yoga!) but essentially it is a process of letting of clinging to a false sense of self.
The sadhana here is to stay present as these life energies play out within my human container, like allowing the massive waves to crash on the shore, knowing that the great sea will come to rest...
For me it was the unmistakably erratic mind and unreasonable or unsubstantiated fears it generated that threw me into this wild sea recently, causing me to seek refuge in something more sane, nurturing and wholesome. Facing the fragility of this mind and visiting the edge of 'reason', instigated through fear, was quite revelatory and vulnerable, and really pushed the boundaries of my psyche and spiritual journey into the new territory.
I turned to prayer, Buddhist doctrine and poetry...whatever is available in hand during my unexpected mysterious journey in Nepal.
Oh dear heart,
container of the Universe
all jewels and demons of human realm
reside side by side
who makes them?
who makes me?
who makes it all?
is to stay
lay to rest
even a tiniest particle
that is not
When we are flung far into the unknown territory of our psyches through demons or trauma, one needs to establish some kind of footing before long and seek help if necessary. We have many helpers and guides in different forms, and the agency of summoning help is essential in these times. We are outside of our normalcy, routine, familiar and having been pushed off a cliff, looking for a landing niche. That niche, whether it's an elder's guidance, or our community's witnessing, or our psychotherapist's couch, or our spiritual practice, or seeking refuge in nature, is important.
However daunting the situation is, there's also a sense of life rushing through us, possibility of a thrilling adventure afoot, an invitation for inevitable transformation through experiencing ourselves fully, intimately in the harsh desert light. The question echoes in my ears: "Who am I?"
Perhaps it is a "stream that carries you through fruitful darkness to the brink of your current life plateau and then hurls you over the falls, dismantling the story you’ve been living as you plummet toward the alluring but dangerous mysteries of your mythopoetic identity, your one true place — not in human culture but in the greater Earth community." as Bill Plotkin describes it.
Perhaps, in falling apart and being torn in pieces, we are cultivating our innate human wholeness.
Perhaps, the demons that we're most afraid of are the guardians of our wellspring, calling us ever closer to tap into that source within.
When I am trembling with a certain life energy (I choose not to label "negative" or "positive") larger than my container can hold, I want to look and listen deeply into the human condition/suffering present - who is calling me?
And understand that this is a process of veils lifting clearing my sight and my container getting stronger, not necessarily in the ways I might imagine.
And ask myself again and again:
WHO AM I?
WHAT DO I CHOOSE NOW?
And if I find that I am a wretch in this moment, I remember that I might be closest to my inner warrior!
The word "wretch" is related to German word "recke" meaning renowned warrior, hero.
"Becoming a warrior and facing yourself is a question of honesty rather than condemning yourself. By looking at yourself, you may find that you’ve been a bad boy or girl, and you may feel terrible about yourself. Your existence may feel wretched, completely pitch black, like the black hole of Calcutta. Or you may see something good about yourself. The idea is simply to face the facts. Honesty plays a very important part. Just see the simple, straightforward truth about yourself. When you begin to be honest with yourself, you develop a genuine gut level of truth. That is not necessarily cutting yourself down. Simply discover what is there; simply see that, and then stop! So first, look at yourself, but don’t condemn yourself. It’s important to be matter-of-fact, on the spot. Just look, and when you see the situation in its fullest way, then you begin to be a warrior."
* definition from Feeding Your Demons practice developed by Tsultrim Allione. Feeding Your Demons is a practice to "meet, nurture and transform those elements of ourselves that we would normally disown and try to eliminate". It was inspired by Chöd practice developed by an eleventh-century female Tibetan Buddhist teacher named Machig Labdrön (1055–1145)