Red Ice Membership

The Only Way Out is Through the Bottom
2005 11 21

By Michael Goodspeed |

"The tears of those repenting are the wine of angels."
St. Bernard, French theologian and reformer

"The Dark Night of the Soul" by Robert Joseph Donaghey
Children are taught that sadness and grief are emotions to be avoided.

Tears bring admonitions from parents who instruct their kids to stiffen their lips and wear a happy face. Many children carry this conditioning into adulthood. Men in particular view crying as a sign of weakness and even femininity; some men go their entire adult lives without shedding a single tear. Emotions -- both "positive" and "negative" -- are deadened with anesthetizing distractions: alcohol, sex, sports, ambitions, and a plethora of "entertainments."

But tears are an essential ingredient to good emotional health. Some medical doctors speculate that men have shorter life spans than women due to their emotional constipation. Without the release of pent up anguish that comes with a good cry, our physical and psychic valves inevitably become clogged.

Unfortunately, in the United States of America, crying around others is thought to be in poor etiquette. Tears are the sole right of widows and orphans and people with terminal illnesses. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Constitutional right that Americans most value is the right to "pursue happiness." Everywhere one looks, people engage in this pursuit with fervor. Some are driven by ambition to achieve "success," believing it is the key to obtaining happiness sometime in the future.

Others drift through life in an endless pursuit of random pleasures -- sex, drugs, gambling, etc. Still others crave action and stimulation, parachuting out of planes and diving off of cliffs, literally risking their lives in the hope that "happiness" can be found in a blast of adrenaline.

To seek happiness is the most natural impulse a human being can have.

And to seek it in material things and physical pleasures is natural as well. But the conditions we place on "happiness" guarantee that it will remain unobtainable. We say to ourselves, "I will be happy in the future when I have everything I want" -- more money, stature, physical beauty, a romantic relationship, etc. But the future never arrives; it remains an elusive prize always over the next horizon. And if we do obtain the things we think we want, they do not provide the perfect bliss we had always envisioned. Upon close examination, our treasured "pursuit of happiness" tends to be an endlessly running treadmill that never leads to anywhere.

So why do we exhaust ourselves pursuing something that we consistently fail to find? Because in reality, we are not running TOWARD anything.

Rather, we are fleeing in terror from a part of ourselves that we find too painful to confront. To stop running even for a moment would be to risk annihilation.

The scary "boogeyman" from which we run is the gaping black hole that lies at the core of every person's soul. This is sadness, loneliness, guilt, trauma, and above all else, the universal desire to simply go home. It is separateness from God, from our brothers and sisters, from our own true nature. For much of humanity, this blackness is so all-encompassing that to be touched by a spark of light feels identical to pain. Why else would humans weep when they catch a glimpse of Truth and beauty?

This blackness may seem like a terrifying specter, but to run from it only serves to make it stronger; it feeds on denial like cancer on tissue. It can only be defeated by allowing oneself, for a single moment, to be swallowed by it completely. We've all heard how alcoholics can't begin on the path of recovery until they "hit bottom."

This is achieved through the act of surrender, which means simply to stop fighting, to recognize the futility of denial and accept what is.

The ego persuades you not to surrender, because it exists solely through your resistance. It considers your internal emptiness its best ally, because as long as you are empty inside, you will remain in a perpetual state of SEEKING. It knows that if you are truly happy in the here and now, its function and purpose will be lost. So it denies you the Light of God that can only be found in the present moment, dangling "happiness" before your eyes like a Golden Carrot that always remains just out of reach.

The awakening mind inevitably begins to see through the ego's deception. When this occurs, it feels as if a part of oneself is dying, and in a sense, this is true. The identity that one mistook as himself begins to dissolve, and all that seems to remain is a vast and infinite void. What follows for many is a rapid and terrifying descent to "the bottom."

Saint John of the Cross
But make no mistake, "hitting bottom" is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Can you imagine a more horrific fate than to "live" your life in a state of unending nothingness -- forever anticipating happiness, but never quite obtaining it? You are dooming yourself to this if you maintain your allegiance to the "pursuit of happiness" (i.e., the ego) and its empty promises of future rewards. The "bottom" is nothing to be afraid of; it is the last place you must visit before you can begin the first steps toward an authentic life. This is the process of "purification" prior to "enlightenment" or passage into Heaven described in many religious traditions. The 16th century mystic St. John of the Cross gave a name to this process for human beings, called "the dark night of the soul." This is less an "atonement for sin" than a stripping away of a destructive thought system that blinds us to the Truth. It is the death of the ego, and the re-awakening of your true Self.

Our culture has a thousand remedies for "bad feelings," but this is no better than numbing a grievous wound with an anesthetic. And in reality, you have no reason to feel bad about feeling bad. The life you are living -- separate, fearful, angst-ridden, and numb -- is not even the poorest imitation of the life God intended for you. Take a moment and recognize the abject horror of this from a position of surrender.

If you do this, you'll find that something amazing happens. Your sadness will intensify until your heart seems ready to explode. Tears -- as warm and purifying as the water in a Baptism -- will begin flowing in rivulets down your cheeks. Your entire being will scream in outrage that any human should have to endure such grief. And just when the pain seems more than you can endure, the light of Truth will begin to dawn on you. You might feel this as a warm, electric hand gently stroking your head, as your mother did when she tucked you in as a child. This electric touch will envelop your crown, your spine, and send painless currents radiating throughout your body. A thousand remembrances of happier times might flood your consciousness -- Christmas morning when you were six years old, the faces of old friends long forgotten, a beautiful melody that played while you danced with your high school sweetheart. And finally, after you have vomited all the tears and blackness that festered uselessly in your soul for a lifetime, you will no longer be crying. You will be LAUGHING. You will laugh at yourself for having forgotten the "obvious" truth -- that you are loved and have always been loved.

The experience I describe above is a fundamental shift of awareness. One no longer perceives himself as a fragmented, separate being in a hostile universe, but as the One who is connected by love to all of Creation. This experience is not reserved for mystics or saints. It is common for many humans who are forced to cope with tragedy and inescapable heartache. They confront their sadness head-on because they have no choice; the alternative is to die, or go insane. After this confrontation, they may not be re-born as perfect people, but they have changed inalterably, and always for the better.

The good news is, you need not wait for ruination before you can "hit bottom." If you are human, you are very nearly there already. Why spend your life dwelling in semi-purgatory when you can take the road out of hell in a single act of "desperate courage"? Do this, and you'll learn that you do not enter Heaven by chariot or angels wings, but on the raging tide of your own tears.

Article from Michael Goodspeed |

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