When I was in my 20s, I mixed and matched spiritual practices, thinking myself clever and wise. While I enjoyed the bliss of venturing on a new spiritual path, I had little staying power, especially when the thorns on the path started appearing. Ditto for any kind of therapy I ventured into. This quilt-like spirituality continued through my 30s, especially after I moved down the street from East West Books (new age shop) in Seattle.
For whatever naive reason, I felt that if I met enough spiritual teachers and immersed myself in workshops, that enlightenment would just rub off on me. And when you don’t know where you’re heading, it’s like Derek Rydall says, “every road will take you there.” Back then, I lived by the adage when the student is ready, the teacher appears. And they did, from Dr. Emoto with his experiments with water and music, to Dr. Zhi Gang Sha’s Soul Mind Medicine, to past life regression (why are all my past lives miserable?), to stuff that could only be listed as oddities.
However, while I avoided thorns in the path, quit a practice when I reached the threshold, and changed my philosophies once a month, I never expected a magic carpet ride over my problems. I never escaped into spirituality or ignored my responsibility to heal myself. I never expected a magic pill or an annointment by an enlightened being to propel me into nirvana.
Sadly, I didn’t believe half the stuff these spiritual teachers were telling me, nor did I “get” most of what they were teaching, with the exception of Dr. Sha, Lynn V. Andrews, and Margaret Ruby. I flirted with shamanism, thought of myself as a budding medicine woman, though from the wrong ethnic group, and I dabbled in anything metaphysical. I remember hanging out with witches one weekend before I headed off to England in 1991. We discussed healing herbs and played around with a Magic 8 Ball.
Once I reached my 40s and I felt deeply wounded by circumstances life had dealt me, I started delving into a spiritual practice. In 2008, I rediscovered Dr. Sha’s books, and threw myself into them. Earlier in 2005, when I recovered from a sprained ankle, which took 3 months to heal, I delved into astrology and before that, I threw myself into shamanism. And with each of these practices, there were good days and there were wretched days when stuff I thought I buried deep into myself, popped up leaving me feeling completely drained.
All spiritual paths involved a detox process or what I like to refer to as thorns on the path. If you think that Saint Francis just spent his days in bliss whistling to birds and reciting Christ’s gospel, think again. If you think Hildegard von Bingen didn’t pay a high price physically for all the work she channeled, think again. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross both experienced intense Dark Night of the Soul. We all experience those dark nights of the soul, but at least when you have spiritual tools, you can crawl your way out of your cave intact.
Every spiritual teacher and healer out there traveled through the terrain of despair, hopelessness, grief, physical and emotional suffering. How else would they have learned about compassion and how to heal others without having to find compassion for themselves? While many of the new age gurus give the impression that they are living metaphysical-fashionable lives, addressing large crowds wearing dazzling clothing and landing lucrative book deals, thorns paved the way to that success. You can’t get there without the thorns.
First, there’s the bliss of discovering something new and borrowing a healer or teacher’s energy. But once that energy wears off, the detox process begins. The path resembles a rollercoaster, high one moment, and in the abyss the next. Sanity is often tested. Anything that doesn’t serve you is jettisoned from your life, and this could involve a total restructuring of your life, including employment, marriage, and location. We saw this happen with millions of people worldwide in 2008 when the economy tanked. My own personal lowest point was the summer of 2011, when I lived with my parents. Second to that, I suffered greatly after losing my independent arts journalism gig in 2009, but I’m not going to whine about those situations since I am one of millions of others who experienced similar circumstances or worse.
This path reminds me of ripping off a band-aid from a wound. You can rip it off quickly or prolong the agony. When you skip from one spiritual belief or path to another, you prolong the agony. You do this by repeating unconscious patterns and giving away your power to teachers, healers, and spiritual authors. And in doing this, you’re not even acting authentic.
You cannot pass by your wounds repeatedly without feeling the crunch subconsciously. Everytime you do this, you add a nail to your coffin. You pile the weight onto your soul until you feel the pain in your body, usually in the form of an autoimmune disease or inflammation of one kind or another. You start suffering from depression and anxiety or just feel bitter that everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves.
So find a spiritual path that feels right to you, and stick with it. Find a support group or friend to give you the encouragement you need on this path, even a spiritual coach is good for this role. Find someone who will hold you accountable, ask the tough questions and keep you on the path. Own your shadows and projections, let your parents off the hook, and forgive everything that needs forgiving.
Obviously, you don’t have to do this overnight, but if you seek a more fulfilling life, then start dealing with your stuff today. And as you walk this path, you notice your life lighting up, and synchronicity finding you at every corner. Life grows magical even with growing pains. Life becomes more meaningful and you find your purpose.
Smell the roses, but also embrace the thorns.
Originally published on Bonjour Bellingham on Word Press
Photography and essay by Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved