“You must go deeper still.” Those were oft-repeated and frightening words spoken by Chuck as I went through my three-year long recapitulation. Each time he said them I shuttered. I knew what it would entail to go deeper still.
As Chuck writes about in his blog earlier this week, taking the journey within means going into the inferno within, similar to the Inferno of Dante’s Divine Comedy. And just as Dante’s pilgrim had a guide, I recommend that the deeper journey within be taken with a seasoned guide as well. That being said, the journey can only be taken, fully experienced and its gold excavated, by you—the brave pilgrim.
A note of warning is in order. This may not be the lifetime to take this journey, and that’s okay, but if you dare to venture deeper within, to take the journey through the fires of the inner self: Be careful! It is a dark and treacherous journey. You must have a mature adult self firmly established as your main stabilizing partner, even as your child self often leads the way.
If you decide that it’s time to take such a journey, you will encounter all that you fear, but you will also encounter all that you need. You will receive the most profound of insights even as you walk through the fires and encounter the demons that reside deeper within. You will be granted those “calm and illuminating moments” that Chuck mentions in his blog, glimpses of greater insight and brighter life to come, even as you struggle for footing along your treacherous path. The journey within is the most profound of journeys. When you are ready to take it, in this life or another, know that you will be able to face what lies deeper within.
I am now in the last month of editing my next book, On the Edge of the Abyss, the second year of my recapitulation journey. As Chuck was writing his blog earlier this week I was in the midst of editing some passages from my book that struck me as quite apropos, examples of what it’s like to take that journey, to encounter the deeper darkness within, as well as the light at the end of the tunnel. Here are a few excerpts.
On June 1, 2003, when I was deep within, I wrote the following: When night finally comes I fall exhausted into bed and right into a dream. I’m in a new house where everything is empty, clean, and very white. The house is unfurnished and I know I’ll only be here for a little while. I’ve driven down narrow, crowded streets to get here. Children ran up to me as I drove, their faces alive with excitement, but as soon as they caught sight of my face they stopped just short of stepping off the curb. Their exuberance quelled into silence, as they somberly watched me drive past. I’m inside the house for a short while when I realize that someone else is here. I see that a sliding glass door has been left open and someone has tracked snow onto the carpet, the big footprints of a man. When I look out the door I see footprints in the snow outside as well, circling the house. Suddenly fearful, I’m certain that someone else is in the house with me and I no longer feel safe. I search all over for the man I am certain is hiding somewhere in the house. I can’t find him, but I also see that there’s really no place for him to hide. The house is empty; there are no possessions and no furniture to hide behind. I’m also aware that this is only a temporary place of fear, intense and real though it appears.
Jolted awake by this dream, I see by the clock that I’ve only slept a few minutes, but I know immediately what this dream symbolizes. As long I insist on keeping in what my psyche is pushing me to release then, yes, I must suffer. The children in the dream seem to be eagerly awaiting me—my inner children waiting all day for me to turn to them—for they rush up expectantly, calling out, “Here she comes! Here she comes!” They are stunned that I won’t receive them. They are perhaps expecting me to be different in dreamland, but I coldly drive by. Their enthusiasm dies as soon as they see me. They stand silently, with serious faces, and watch me drive past, my dour expression revealing that I’m not ready yet, that I’m on a different mission, still entangled in the trappings of fear. But it’s as if I’ve conjured up the fears, for although I see the footsteps of a man, there is really no man in the house, and thus nothing to really fear. I understand that if I fail to release my old fears, they will continue to haunt me. My dream makes it pretty clear that this is temporary housing, a transitional stage. And I get it—choosing to conjure up fear is of my own doing!
A few days later, on June 3rd, I wrote the following as I was challenged with going deeper still: I am mostly in the grips of fear at the moment, the fear of letting go, and the vast nothingness that I anticipate awaits the moment of letting go. I envision that letting go and leaping off the edge of the precipice, into the darkness of the abyss, means encountering an even deeper underworld filled with more fear, with more shame and more guilt. And I envision having to encounter all that once led to that pile of shame and guilt to begin with. Disgust lies down there at the bottom of the abyss too, disgust that I have needs and desires.
A few days later, on June 6th I confronted some inner truths, what Chuck wrote about: being human and a deeper understanding of just what that means, one of those calm and illuminating moments that show up in the midst of deep work to encourage us to keep going. Here is what I wrote in my journal on that day:
The yoga studio I’ve been attending for several years now will be closing at the end of the month. I’m sad that one of my safe places will be gone. In the meantime, I’ll practice on my own, as I’ve done for most of my life, though I’ll miss the regular practice that I’ve anchored so deeply in and my fine teacher. I have to take care of myself and learn to give to myself, not only learn how to do it, but learn that it’s allowed. Giving and wanting love are so basic. I’m also slowly learning that I’m allowed to have feelings, that they are human qualities and needs. I must accept that I’m human, though my experiences of being human have been far from delightful. That’s why it’s so important to keep going deeply into the devastation inside and acknowledge it, not only accept the truth of it, but really allow myself to understand that I have indeed been devastated by it, by the lack of affection in my upbringing and by the sexual abuse, and every other abusive situation I’ve landed in. The choices I’d made in order to survive as a child, and all the choices since, have gotten me to the point I’m at today, and excavating and understanding the dynamic behind them is the solution to changing how I react and live my continuing journey.
Though I understand now that I was desperately needy as a child, I mostly recall the bubble of numbness where most of my childhood was spent, my needs dulled and untapped. I realize that I needed love and affection then and I need it now; and although those needs were rarely acknowledged, I’m learning that in order to become a full-fledged human being I must wake them up. I must learn to give to myself, but I also need to learn to accept from others. I deserve, just as every human being deserves, the experiences of being human. We all deserve access to our highest potential. I deserve the praise, the thanks, and the well-meaning gestures of recognition, so that I may fully access the meaning of my own life. I must accept that it’s okay to be happy with my accomplishments, and that it’s okay to FEEL. All of these things are part of making me real.
My second book ends as I go deeper still and tussle with the demon energies of fear, and the demon voices of negativity and control that had dominated me my whole life. It ends on a glorious note, but I had to go even deeper still. The journey would not be over for another year. There were many more moments of pain and fear to be encountered and there were, increasingly, moments of illuminating insight as well. I gained balance as the two—fear and illumination—accompanied me deeper still. I gained a greater understanding of my abusive childhood, what it meant to me as a human being and a spiritual being. I understood why I had to take the deeper journey within. I began to see the greater meaning of all life, understanding that I would have to take the same painful journey repeatedly unless I was willing to put a stop to the endless cycles of living and dying. Like Dante’s pilgrim I had to pass through my own nine circles of hell and see my life for what it really is—realized without ego and without shame, for they were burned in the fires too—a journey of the utmost importance.
I believe that at some point we are all ready to take the deeper journey within, into our darkness, and that we will be ready then to encounter all that lies waiting for us there. It will be frightening, and we will have to “abandon all hope” as Dante writes, in order to truly be open to what will eventually bring us new life. Only in burning off all that I once thought was meaningful and important was I able to discover what was truly meaningful and important: accepting that my human self is taking a most meaningful journey through life itself, within and without.
I emerged after my three-year long journey, like Dante’s pilgrim, to be greeted by a star-studded sky, released from all that had once pained and frightened me. Cleansed by the fires of my own inferno, I rose like the phoenix from the ashes a new human being, my spirit reignited. I had been reborn into this human life.
And the journey continues,