Beyond Luster

I’m enjoying this discussion from SwamiJ.com about what to do when your spiritual awakening begins to lose its luster. Frankly, getting to the point where my spirituality will feel like “old hat” sounds like a luxury! But as I’m listening and thinking this through, I’m finding myself relating these musing to what happens when a relationship loses its luster. The typical responses are ones I have succumbed to myself: to give up hope, or to chase new experiences, and I’m beginning to see that there is another alternative.

The first concept that strongly resonates with me is the advice to NOT try to go back and recreate that shiny new feeling, or rush out to find the next new thing whose shine I can attach to. The shiny newness (The “New Relationship Energy”) is a natural part of the process — as is the transition and opportunity to go into something deeper. I like the idea of embracing and being present with each step/level/phase of the romantic or spiritual evolution, rather than placing some sort of artificial higher value on any particular part. Of course, Hollywood does us an enormous disservice by focusing so many romantic stories on the beginning part, the part that is all discovery and excitement and angst. (If you haven’t seen the Krishna Das film, please do, and notice the last thing he says, coming from that beautiful post enlightenment truth that he is privy to.)

Instead of chasing, the advice that Swami Jnaneshvara recommends to the yogi who is no longer enamored of a particular mantra, book, teacher, or practice, is to go back to the source of that previously inspirational thing, and explore its context – what came before and after it. This can beautifully be applied to romance as well. We choose partners who have qualities we admire, and then as we are falling in love, we tend to project onto our new partner things that are actually hopes and dreams we hold for our self or our own life. These projections tell us who we want to be, and also, if we weren’t completely delusional in the beginning, about some of the best qualities in our partner. And the inverse is true – I have to acknowledge that my partner saw something in ME that is worth cultivating even after the adrenaline wears off. So, rather than pine for newness, can I learn to mine the original inspiration’s context to learn more about where I can and want to go? In fact Dan Savage recommends that we stay connected to the idealized version of who we fell in love with in the first place. Even after we fart in front of each other and know each other’s dark sides, the magic in a relationship happens when I envision you as the person you wanted to be when you first presented, and you do the same back for me, and then we are each sort of obligated to live up to that higher definition of self. I have certainly not mastered this practice yet.

The second part of this exploration that interests me is the reality that both the peaks and the valleys of our spiritual path are opportunities for awareness. The peaks, those ecstatic illuminated moments when we breathe into the truth of connection, oneness, goodness of self give me that deep gratitude for being alive, and are almost always accompanied by a deep drive to share this joy with others. But the valleys cultivate compassion and empathy and (if I am doing it right) healing, which are just as important elements of the path. With romance as well. By all means, we should celebrate, embrace and try not to hoard the opportunities to feel ecstasy. And then rather than fearing or trying to control the inevitable release from that heightened state, we can also celebrate and embrace the lows.

“Ha!” my ego says, “Celebrate the lows… what are we some kind of masochist?” It helps me to keep both the ego-driven attraction to ecstasy, and the ego-driven aversion to difficulty, in check when I stay grounded in this notion: the peaks are generally about where I am headed, and the valleys are about where I have come from. To quote:
“When there are breaks or breaches in that high discrimination, other impressions arise from the deep subconscious”
So, a little growth & strength, then in comes an old thought pattern or learned behavior, and an opportunity to use my new muscles to break that down. And I’m learning from my practices to notice, but not indulge, those old thought patterns. To cultivate tranquility and forbearance/tolerance during the “dark night of the soul” parts, in order to become free of misguided pressures to continue participating in thoughts or actions known to not be going in a “useful direction.” And this isn’t a one time practice, it is a lather, rinse, repeat kind of thing. It’s a wave.

So, luster goes. When that happens, and it certainly will, can I learn to take the next steps: embrace this new truth as just as worthy as the truth that is passing, go back to the source context, and keep practicing. Swami J instructs that these “dark night of the soul” periods can be seen as a blessing, especially when we continue adherence to practice even though the individual is “stripped of the experience of the spiritual ecstasy associated with acts of virtue.” So, if meditation got me to my first peak experience, the invitation is to keep meditating after the luster is gone and see what happens. Similarly (and I look forward to the chance to try this out some day) continue to practice making love, leaning in, listening with deep attentiveness to my lover even after the newness and mystery has resolved, and see what happens.

Finally, in this discussion, Swami J talks about self and ego in a way that I find extremely comforting. He actually encourages indulgence in ego as a part of the path. “You cannot transcend the ego until you have one,” he posits. The process is one of repairing the broken parts of our ego and past issues, to build up a sense of self that is strong enough to be released. In relationship, I have yet to accomplish this full process, but I get a sense of what it looks like… Indulge fully in the shiny newness. Go all the way in. Allow the shift to occur, where the bumps in the road, the egoic and past issue-driven challenges will certainly arise – and then indulge fully in their truth too. Then, from that deep place of strength and trust that has been co-created, let go.

Let go. Go deep…stay deep…let go. Not of the relationship itself, or even of the person with whom the relationship exists, but of the attachment to the illusion that happiness and strength and enlightenment and ecstasy (and even suffering) come FROM that person, or were done TO this person (me). Let go of that illusion, and instead allow acceptance of the knowledge that these gifts come from source and “we” just happen to be helping each other swim in them together.

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