My beloved spiritual teacher told me a couple of weeks ago that I’m experiencing a classic dark night of the soul. It wasn’t news to me, but in an odd way it was comforting to hear her say it.
Despite the fact that I’m a preacher-chick with a pretty good understanding of the path and its peaks and valleys, like many spiritual travelers I’ve met I tell myself the ridiculous story about how if I were more spiritual I wouldn’t feel the way I do, wouldn’t be struggling, blah blah blah. It’s a lie, of course. I remind myself of these terms: spiritual journey; the path; a closer walk with thee. It’s not like one is supposed to find some level of understanding and faith and then build a house there. No, the point is to deepen, evolve, be on the journey. Anything else is known by another name: rut.
Anyhow, my teacher and I were attending the Circle of Love Gathering at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. (If your path is New Thought with an emphasis on the heart-way, this retreat is exquisite. You can find out about it here.) I spent a good bit of time in contemplation of my surroundings — a spaciousness the high desert conveys to my soul — and another good bit of time focused inwardly, on the cycle or wheel of the breath.
And that’s when it came together, became very real and intimate for me in the metaphor of the breath: The in-breath is not fully possible without the out-breath. The in-breath is that time of filling and newness that leads to fullness, and it’s beautiful and life-giving. But it can only happen after the exhale — that time of emptying that rids us of what is stale and fetid and no longer serves.
I’m breathing now. I’m allowing the breath to remind me of how important this dark night, this time of emptying, is. I know that what awaits me once I’ve fully surrendered to this part of the process will be the embracing of a fuller, deeper, more grounded version of myself. For now, I’m in the exhale.
I have been ill for a week. Flu. Awful. Now that I’m recovering I join countless numbers of folks around the world in being sick, heartsick. How can a human being as alive, as vital as Prince be gone from this planet?
With not much more to do than follow the public grieving over the loss of Prince Edward Nelson, I have been moved at the widespread tributes to the man and his music. Countless landmarks, municipal buildings, and public works have been turned purple in his honor. Social media feeds are filled with tributes, video clips, and personal sharing from people acknowledging how much his music touched them. In response to this public outpouring of grief there is, as always, the public scoffing. You know, those people who say things like, “Jeez, you didn’t even know the guy. Enough already.” Clueless, they are.
I’ve asked myself what it is about the loss of Prince that has affected so many, so deeply. Here’s three reasons that come to the fore.
His music was, for many, the soundtrack of some part of their lives, and losing him is like losing a person who was there, in the moment and in the flesh. Crazy high school rides in dad’s convertible, top down and music blaring. Prince. Salty, sultry sexual encounters. Prince. Dance parties featuring soaring air guitar solos. Prince.
Personal and artistic integrity. The guy definitely brought forth the unique shape of his soul and it was fully reflected in a presence that defied categorization. It seemed he was so true to his individuality that we didn’t even question it, and that is an uncommon clarity of consciousness. How rare is that, especially in a world that seems bent on calling out the freaks among us and shaming them (us) into conformity? I suspect we’ll hear more and more over the coming months about Prince’s quiet activism and generosity, which will further illuminate how the man stayed true to his own values and causes, his own call.
Finally, although most of us did not personally know Prince, his loss has profoundly affected us because, well, he helped us to know ourselves. He revealed our longings, our sensuality, our courage, our joy. And he did it all by embracing and embodying his own and then putting it on display. In other words, he showed up in all his glory and mirrored ours for us.
In the long run the ultimate testament to Prince’s life will not be all the beautiful purple lights, the words we say about him, or even the tears we cry. The ultimate testament will be whether we embrace and reveal our fullness to the world. I think we should try. Good night, Sweet Prince. I know you’ll give the afterlife a good jolt of your purple reign.
I talk for a living and that’s a good thing. I love to talk. It’s something I can’t not do. Writing? Not so much. See, something happens when I write that doesn’t happen when I talk. When I talk, the words just sort of fly out of me — poof, they’re out there — and there is no time for me to ‘erase’ them or judge them or edit them (and yes, this is sometimes an issue). But when I write, that small lapse of time between the thought forming and the reproduction of that thought onto paper is just enough time for the infernal, internal critic to make her presence known. I could tell you all the things she says, but really, I’m sure you have your own version of her and one is definitely enough. The currency of the critic is fear, and man is she rich.
All that being said, this whole blogging thing… I’ve managed to put it off for three years now. Three is a nice number, a number representing wholeness, so I’m declaring that I am wholly finished putting this off and that I shall, dammit, I shall blog regularly, happily, and truthfully. I’d be pleased if someone actually reads this. But here’s what’s true: It is a spiritual practice for me to actually do something that I’m afraid to do, and the joy is in the overcoming of the fear, not in anyone’s recognition of it.
One more thing about doing something that you may be afraid to do. A brilliant teacher of mine once told me, on an occasion of great personal fear, that I should celebrate that fear. I thought she was nuts but had just enough respect for her to listen to her reasoning. She went on explain to my doubting mind that fear is a sign that we’re out of our comfort zone, and so when we feel it, we’re growing. It made sense then and it still does.
In a mostly outdated evolutionary sense, fear meant “Stop! Danger ahead,” and it served us by keeping us out of harm’s way, keeping us physically safe. But something has gone haywire, and our brains still tell us there’s danger even when there’s not. Actually, the real danger most of the time is that fear will keep us stuck and miserable, and the very mechanism that was meant to keep us safe now keeps us unnaturally frozen.
There. I’ve done it scared. I’m growing, and my spirit is a bit more free than it was thirty minutes ago. I hope you’ll try it; the freedom is worth it, and so are you.