Thursday, September 06, 2007

the journey

A humorous look at the snakes and ladders board of life...

Phase 1. There you are, trucking along, minding your own business, when wham! something happens to jolt you out of your complacency - maybe a contact with the numinous, or something that upsets or expands your current paradigm.

Phase 2. You try to ignore it, but it just comes back, louder and more insistent.

Phase 3. You give in to it and get involved. Suddenly all your prayers are answered (evangelical types), all your spells work (occult types)! "Woo-hoo", you think to yourself, "I've found the truth". "I must spread the word" (evangelical types); act all superior because "I know everything" (occult types); become a hermit (mystical types); or go on a pray-a-thon (CU types).

Phase 4. Your prayers (or your magic) stop working. Setback! "The God/Goddess doesn't love me any more / I've lost my super occult powers."

Phase 5. The pit of despair. Long dark teatime of the soul. Doubt. Assault by "demons" in the wilderness. Wrestling with angels.

Phase 6. You meet an inner guide, possibly an enlightened one. Possible responses to this:
  • Get massively involved in the tradition associated with the guide, assuming it is the Only Truth. As in the game of Snakes and Ladders (originally an Islamic analogy for the spiritual journey) go back to phase one.
  • Decide that all your journey prior to this point was worthless because you have now found the Truth, and previously you were deluded by the "powers of darkness". Go back to phase one.
  • Realise that all the guides that have ever appeared to humanity are messengers from the Divine Source. Proceed to phase seven.
Phase 7. Further up and further in. Acknowledge that all religions have the potential to facilitate contact with the Divine. Joyful embrace of the Divine Beloved. Find a tradition that resonates with your new inner reality.

Phase 8. Decide to both serve the world and enjoy its beauty. Share the blessing.

Observant readers may notice the similarity of this with Joseph Campbell's Hero Journey. I have seen facets of this journey in accounts of Christian mystics, the prayer lives of Christian bloggers, the spiritual journeys of Pagans and occultists. With variations, it seems quite widespread - perhaps even universal. Some people get stuck in one of the phases for a long time, in others they may last only a few days. And the journey may be a spiral around the mountain - we may revisit these phases several times in different ways.
"Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. And the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging to belief, of holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be." ~ Alan Watts


Jarred said...

Very interesting. And I can certainly identify with each of these phases.

I think it's important to note, however, that Phase 5 doesn't necessarily have to be the negative experience you describe or most people expect. By realizing that these periods and the doubts and questions that usually fill them are times of great growth. Indeed, it is by struggling with these doubts and questions that we usually come to meet the inner guide and gain the clarity that ushers in phase 6. Knowing this, I've found it's possible to find a certain amount of comfort and even enjoyment in phase 5.

I grant you, it was quite a few cycles through the whole process before I came to that point. ;)

Yvonne said...

Agreed, that's why I added that about wrestling with angels!

In Wicca, the long dark teatime of the soul is known as the period after second degree initiation; it is a time of descent into the underworld, of breaking down the old in order to enter into the new. It is associated with myths of deities who descend to the underworld and return in a new form.

The same occurs in the Ovate grade in Druidry, though I don't know what myths they associate with it. It is associated with healing work and trance work.

Mother Theresa apparently also went through a long dark doubt period, but I also saw a quote from her where she said prayer was about listening to God; when asked what God did, she said, 'He listens too.'

What I found interesting was noticing Christians who were going through the same phases - the phase of being jubilant that all their prayers were answered, only to be brought up short the first time a prayer wasn't answered.

Yvonne said...

You might enjoy my darkness poem, which is about the nurturing qualities of Yin, or darkness.

Yvonne said...

It's interesting to compare my hero-journey based model with that of the ten oxherding pictures in Zen: (1) one senses that something is missing, and aspiration is raised; (2) one searches for traces of the Truth showing that the
ox really exists; (3) one partially glimpses the ox in certain experiences; (4) there
is a fuller but still fragile experience of the ox that is hard to handle; (5) one begins to live the Truth in a more stable manner; (6) one practices Zen with less
effort and deeper sincerity; (7) one forgets any special notion of the True Self; (8) in a mature self-forgetfulness, nothing is clung to and freedom is attained;
(9) one sees all phenomena as manifestations of the True Self, and (10) overcoming the self-and-other distinction, the person lives true compassion.

Zen Mind/Christian Mind: Practice across Traditions
Susan Postal
Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 14. (1994), pp. 209-213.

Michael said...

Dear One,

A nice model.


Phase 8. Decide to both serve the world and enjoy its beauty. Share the blessing.

Reminds me of the sprial of growth described by Joyce and River Higginbotham in the early chapters of their book Pagan Spirituality: A Guide to Personal Transformation.


aka Walhydra

Yvonne said...

Interesting - shall check out that book, thank you. Glad you liked my model, thanks.