Falling Off a Spiritual High
If there's one thing I've learned from over thirty years of spiritual seeking, it is the simplest truth - what goes up... must come down. Yes, I know, it's not groundbreaking mystical truth, but acknowledging the spiraling nature of spiritual growth is.
I remember one of the first stories my Chi Kung teacher has ever told me. It was about the youngest son of a Tai Chi grandmaster. Being that his father was a great teacher, having thousands of students, and having all of his brothers avid and enthusiastic Tai Chi practitioners, he truly hated it. His dad tried in every which way to convince him to join the practice, but he would always refuse.
The years passed, and the father grew older and eventually got ill and had to let go of his teaching and summon all of his sons for his final days. They all urged him to tell them what would be his final wish, how can they help him ease his last few days. He had but one request - that his younger son learn Tai Chi. Upon hearing this request, the youngest felt so sad, realizing that the only wish his dad had made was on his behalf. He approached his father and asked, "Whom would you like me to study with? Your oldest son? Or your senior disciples?"
"No". The master replied.
"With my own teacher, he has been waiting for you."
"That is impossible, Dad. You are almost a hundred years old; how can he still be alive?"
"He is, and he is waiting for you. Go now".
The son immediately left and was on his way to find this, by now, ancient teacher. As he approached the monastery, he was amazed to be greeted by an old man clapping his hands with delight. "Finally!" the old man exclaimed. "I was afraid you'd never show." After catching his breath, the son replied, "Teach me quick; I have to learn and show my dad that his request was fulfilled; please show me the way."
"It is too late for today," the old master replied, "let's rest and start tomorrow."
"You don't understand. My dad is about to die, I have to study quickly, and I have no time to waste. If we start now, how long do you think it will take, old man?"
"Hmm..." replied the old master, "in a steady and consistent pace, I can estimate at least fifteen years."
"What?!" gasped the young man, "You don't understand; I will put all my efforts into this, practice day and night; I will not sleep nor rest. If we start now, how long will it take?"
"Well... if you'll practice like that... at least thirty..."
Spiritual growth cannot be rushed. It is one of those things that happen organically. Naturally, from the inside out, like the growth of a tree. You can't pull the grass out of the soil. You can't increase the speed of your heart's development. If you pay attention, every time your heart expands one step further, it seems like something within your soul takes one step back.
It took me many years to realize how, after every breakthrough, there is an unsettling sense of silence. A creeping doubt, a sense of fear that something has actually gone awry. The mind tends to look at growth as a linear process. As a line on a graph, starting on the left and slowly making its way up there toward the top right. The Yogis teach us that the nature of the universe isn't a linear process of evolution but rather a spiraling process of expansion and contraction. That the nature of consciousness is not something that grows gradually and into infinite size, but rather an oscillating motion of in and out. It has a rhythm and a beating pulse. In order to expand, you have to contract, and right after your contraction, you'll expand once again. Learn to anticipate this behavior, says the Tao, and you'll find the eye of the storm.
It's hard to see and even admit, but when you have a deep heartbreak, what will follow, if you'd let it, is growth. It might not look the way you want it to, but it will allow you to feel more. If we look around, we can often see that the most successful people are those who have suffered more calamities and strife than most of us. These incredible giants are those who learned how to wait and grow from their contractions. Right after the darkest night of your soul, you'd experience the brightest dawning of your illuminated heart you have ever experienced.
When we experience spiritual growth, what is actually happening isn't the acquiring of more knowledge, another tier of filtering ideas between you and life; on the contrary, you peel off a layer of limiting beliefs, of censorship between you and the universe. Your heart becomes more "raw," vulnerable, not dense and impenetrable. In a way, it is like being brought out to light after having your eyes covered for an extended period of time. You feel the need to protect your vision and your eyes and wait for them to adjust to the new situation. In the same way, when your heart is raw, having been exposed to a more profound sense of truth and understanding, it requires care, gentleness, and kindness.
"Yerida Le-Tzorech Aliya" said the Rabbi Nachman of Berslov. To go up, one must go down. These "downfalls" of our moods and our openness happen right after we "go up," right after our hearts get exposed and stripped of their layers of protection. Instead of judging these moments and beating ourselves up, these are the exact moments we need to learn how to offer compassion to ourselves and our own sense of being.
When heading to a profoundly transformative experience, whether a profound ceremony or a weekend retreat or workshop, let yourself have at least a day or two for integration. Of calming your heart and adjusting to this new reality. When noticing profound shifts in your immediate reality, your career, relationships or bodily nourishment, your spirit will be raw and exposed. Let it "have its way," understand deeper cravings for comfort foods or situations, and try not to beat yourself up. Accept, love this and know it to be a part of the process. If you take that into account from the get-go, the process of transformation can take root and deepen within your willing, much more friendly mind.
More than seeing this process within our own psyche, remembering this in our relationships and connections with others is truly crucial. When someone close to us is having a deep transformation or life-changing experiences, don't ask them for perfection... offer compassion and understanding that they are much more sensitive than usual. Give their process and soul time to process and integrate, even if those extra few days might seem very intense to everyone around.
In learning to walk... one falls. Falling is a part of the process, and the more we allow and accept the totality of this phenomenon, the quicker we recover and learn how to fly. Looking back at my own life, I have fallen... hard and often. But without those incredible falls, I wouldn't be who and where I am today.