It’s Good Friday, or, as we former Christians like to call it up here in Greater Toronto, the long weekend.
My uncle Andy, fellow McMaster alumnus in the Engineering program and de facto spiritual guru who basically knows everything about the groovy dimension, introduced me to Gnostic mysticism. Now, my memory’s hazy and I’m too lazy to Google, but I remember one interesting takeaway from my own sniffing around, and it was this: part of Gnostic belief was that Jesus’ example was that ordinary people could also learn to perform the miracles that Christ himself accomplished, that Jesus’ real intent was not to create a “following”, but to show that we were all divine creatures with equal potential power. Because of this aspect of empowering the masses, the argument goes, the early Catholic elders suppressed this knowledge and executed anyone preaching Gnostic philosophy.
Something else on my mind lately: this idea of what Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert called “ruin [as] a gift”, as “the road to transformation”. Seems that many, though not all, of the most extraordinary people on Earth have had something bad happen to them, incidents and setbacks that have killed others facing the same circumstances.
In one of my favourite sci-fi shows, Babylon 5, it’s revealed that some of the first sentient races in the galaxy spent a lot of their time going to the younger worlds to start wars and spread destruction for the sole purpose of seeing if the younger race would come back from disaster stronger. The sheer resilience of life to survive isn’t necessarily a given: sometimes it needs the stimulation of deliberate destruction.
More recently, Whitley Strieber’s non-fiction book “The Key” about a conversation he had with a man possessed of hidden knowledge yielded the following (taken out of context to underline my point):
“Until you take your place, you will remain trapped. The threats that have been delivered…are a test. To pass it, you must defy them. Your place will not be given you. You must be strong enough to take it.”.
Religious holidays, though beautiful and fulfilling for those who do believe, remind me of many of the reasons I stopped believing in the first place. One of them is this idea of absolute purity and perfection, the attainment of a state of grace in which there is no longer darkness, or scars, or sin, or imperfections at all. That used to appeal to me once upon a time, mostly during childhood, but not now for one simple reason: it seems as uninteresting as fuck.
Moreover, getting to that state of grace seems to involve sacrificing way too many enjoyable experiences out of life: don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t sleep around, don’t take chances, don’t get bruised, or at the extreme, don’t listen to music, don’t make engraved images, don’t dance (don’t dance?).
As common as it is in organized religion, I’m seeing it more and more in personal development, and that’s turning me off to a large degree. I won’t repeat the theme of my last few entries here, but I’ll say this much: I didn’t sign up to be bland, or to be told that my ability to “succeed” and self-actualize involved me giving up much of my physical and emotional experience of life. I didn’t leave one system of thought that invalidated my humanity just to replace it with another.
In the past three months, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, largely involving certain individuals who have taught me more about my more visceral strengths and limitations than even my “official” coaches and mentors. I’ve been broken wide open and devastated, challenged and forced to explore my dark side. I’ve fallen into Hell and had to fight my way back. I’ve experienced great moments of ecstasy in the dark, and tasted of the bittersweet beauty of human imperfection.
I’ve been a witness to and participant in the exposure of the underlying rot of some of the most treasured values and images that our society aspires to, says is the way to go. I’ve seen the other side of sin, and regret nothing. In fact, I now believe that we need to re-examine our definition of what true “sin” really is, because the one we have now, lends itself to non-functionality and too much suffering. And I’ve been able to do it all without losing myself in the process.
All of the spiritual teachings that have inspired me to figure myself out speak about not being able to truly appreciate the Light without the existence of the Dark, and yet precious few of the spiritual teachers I know are willing to train us how to successfully descend into Hell and come back stronger. I suppose the reason for that is that there are enough people experiencing hardship and darkness and that the only work most coaches and spiritual teachers do is in getting them to move upwards.
But Christ, wouldn’t that be a kickass advanced level personal development course? The conscious and deliberate exploration of sin, of vice, of the things that are too salty or too fatty or too sweet, dropping into Hell for the sake of making allies out of your demons? Not so much Defence Against the Dark Arts as endurance training for the soul? Battle scars on the heart, because we can take it.
The Gnostics say that Christ’s example was that we could all learn to feed hundreds from one basket, that we could all turn water into wine, walk on the sea, and rise after physical death. Was it required of us to attain that state of grace in their construction? Most likely, and that’s where they might be wrong. I no longer see this idea of personal growth as an either-or dialectic between eliminating all one’s vices and restraining oneself from negativity and succeeding versus indulging them and staying put.
As the cliché goes, the way I see it, we’re all going to die anyway, and when that happens, we’re headed straight back into Light anyway.
I don’t actually believe in Hell as a separate place so much as a state of feeling: I’ve seen people in the worst physical situations in near total joy; recently, I’ve seen people in the white picket fence idyll contemplating suicide just to stop the suffering they’re feeling. Don’t let the nicely mowed lawns and air conditioning fool you.
We’re here to experience the Light, and that requires an understanding of the Dark, not its daily suppression and censorship to satisfy someone else’s moral code established thousands of years ago or ten years ago on the motivational circuit. What is suppressed will surface, because it is part of you, too.
Because we’re all worthy. All of us. Another bumper sticker: every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. Human imperfection gives us character, gives us stories and adventures, gives us the unstoppable crimson of righteous anger and the rusty flavour of wounded hearts, the blazing flame of bodily climax, and the cold blue of sadness in the night.
In “The Key”, Strieber’s Master defines sin as “the denial to thrive”. Maybe that’s the new definition we need to embrace, we creatures of light and dark. Maybe teasing the Darkness is precisely the resistance exercise we need to have to train to our goodness, our inner Light.
Then again, maybe that’s just me.