I was a hopeful spiritual seeker and found the exotic and colorful, Tibetan Buddhism when I was 19. I recall when I started on this Buddhist path and went to Naropa, a Buddhist inspired university, they gave me all types of warnings, saying “think twice before you embark upon this path.” They said it was powerful, transformative and even dangerous. I went over and lived in Nepal and studied with a very powerful yogic master and one of my other teachers said “well the further into it you get the more committed to it you’ll have to be.” I didn’t really pay attention or understand what he meant at the time.
I must admit I was kind of mesmerized because we have different levels and different teachings that are considered advanced and secret, and the moment I heard the word secret I had the feeling that just I had to have *all* of the teachings. 25 years later, I actually had the good fortune (or burden) of going pretty deep and collecting almost the entire wide breadth of the Tibetan Buddhist Tantric path. Indeed I had now, a one way ticket to blissful enlightenment, or so I thought.
Some of the fundamental teachings say that ‘Life is Suffering’ but we could, if we meditated and implement these practices, actually find a way out of suffering. What they don’t tell you however when you come through the doors and you start meditating and having all the warm fuzzy feeling of a blessed environment and friends, is that you’re ready to embark upon a path that’s going to go deeper and overturn and break you like you’ve never known before.
The Dharma centers never really put that type of “warning” information of what’s really going happen to you on the advertising brochures. So for many years, I did simple sitting meditation and then compassion practices and then some pretty fruitional powerful yogic practices. I remember doing my preliminary practices, you have to basically throw your body to the ground hundred thousand times like a reverent squat thrust in namaste.
I would often find myself crying and I didn’t quite understand why. I think doing these practices shook up dormant grief and while it was happening, it was painful but then after the practice session, I would always feel really cleansed and bright. The Buddhist saints of old, that created these Buddhist foundational practices have perfected a mind-transformation technology that knows how to cultivate us, so that we become open conduits for more wisdom and evolution.
The further into this path I got, it sometimes feels like it’s like two steps forward and one step back. Last year I did a month long meditation retreat and I was feeling super joyous and positive. Every morning waking up, roasted coffee and doing yoga with sunshine, silence in a lovely retreat home. I was actually a little bit spiritually prideful and smug, feeling that I had really achieved the state of complete peace where all of my anxiety, desire and deep-seated fears had now, completely subsided.
Then… something happened where I had a strange confluence of meeting someone, a catalyst “twin flame” type, that triggered the deepest and darkest stuff that I had no idea was still within me. I went from feeling completely enlightened, on a crystalline rainbow cloud, to some of the darkest night of the soul sludge, you could possibly imagine. I’ve spent the last year crying about stuff that I don’t even have a name for. Things like early memories of being neglected in the crib, child abuse, regret for my mistakes and hurting people, looking at moments where I feel that I am not lovable or good. I was having really deep self reflections about whatever obstacles prevent me from having self-love, self forgiveness and loving others with real compassion and clarity. OMFG.
I’ve had to spend a good part of the year going inward and journaling and seeking tons of professional grief counseling and meditating and mostly just crying pretty much sometimes one or more hours per day. My family has looked at me and wondered “what is happening to her how can she be so incredibly heartbroken what is going on?” Was she abused, hormones, no one and nothing could help me, but me. However I know myself, there were a few deep healing crises before, and I trusted that this is a just giant karmic chunk arising and with sufficient time and care and patience, I could see it all clearing and dissipating.
I’m actually so grateful to have this dark stuff come up, it’s like the healing crisis of Ebenezer Scrooge in the book A Christmas Carol, where at some point you really have to face your own patterns, karma, personality, your own obstacles and your own blocks and make a decision about who you want to be at a crossroads in your life. I’ve now reevaluated what feels false in me, in my life, in my marriage and in my career; pretty much every single thing I’m reflecting on now. So this is been an excruciatingly painful, deep healing insight, going into the muck of tears and fears, and plunging out gnarly, dark stuff that I was previously unwilling to look at.
It’s not yoga mats, candles, bells and phurbas… our most powerful spiritual implement:
Some of my new age friends have judged me for not being “love and lighty” enough and even some dharma friends for seeming stuck or “dramatic” (?(*&*%!!), but I know that the way out is through. I must endure facing whatever karmic baggage that I’ve been carrying around for this or many lifetimes. Some of these friends in both the city and country, sadly, are clearly suppressing and bypassing and only acting “spiritual,” you can see and feel that they haven’t done this deep soul work yet. So with the painful confluence of meeting this dear Dharma catalyst friend that caused this whole healing crisis to be set into motion, I’m really grateful for this process because now I have a chance to really grow up spiritually.
One of the greatest solaces is that I have found some strength to be able to go deep into the dark shadow and know that whatever we experience will pass. If you’re crying out great amounts of grief or anxiety you can always tell yourself this, “how I’m feeling right now is just a temporary state,” so therefore you can experience it fully without any type of blocks or resistance. Just let all of the stuff that’s there come up and out, like purging venom from a bite. It’s really a privilege to have the time and space to go deeply in this life. A lot of us have to work full time and rarely get any retreat time and healing time or time for grief that really needs to be processed. So, I invite all of us as much as we can, even take a whole weekend, take time with yourself and give a voice and space to whatever is there- sadness anxiety, personality shortcomings and really self reflect. This is the very essence of the genuine spiritual path and it’s not at all calm and peaceful, it’s more akin to acute anguish, consternation at times, until these deep blocks clear. My teacher Tenzin Wangyal always says:
“The way to find the light within you is to face the darkness”
May all of us really take the time needed, to uncover the powerful and radiant light that already exists within us.
Written By Dawn Boiani-Sandberg
Owner of Buddhistmala.com