The other day I was on the phone with a regular reader and commenter to this blog. We live only a few hours apart during the summer, and we were trying to arrange to meet halfway in between for lunch. At one point she wondered aloud about the outcome of my inner work. Do I feel better? Wiser? Am I happier? More loving, balanced and spiritually connected than when I began?
My immediate response was, and is, “Yes!” But I’m not sure my explanation addressed this deeply sincere seeker’s question. Was she wondering if, as an introvert who has traveled my own way for the last 22 years with very little support from therapists, groups or spiritual guides other than books, I am satisfied with the results? Or was she wondering if determined inner work in general has resulted in my feeling somehow finished? Am I always wise and peaceful? Always emotionally open, balanced, loving and spiritually connected? Perhaps even… enlightened? If she meant the former, my answer is still, “Yes!” But if the latter, it would be an equally emphatic, “No!”
Sometimes I feel very stupid. Also anxious, emotionally closed, unbalanced, selfish, and judgmental. Certainly not whole or enlightened. Enlightenment is a term I first heard in reference to Eastern religions. Once, the idea drew me forward like a carrot dangling in front of a donkey’s face, but then I discovered Jungian psychology, turned around, and met my Shadow.
Essentially I find the meaning of my life in soul-making. This is a process, not a final product. Currently I’m reading “Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine” by Peggy Tabor Millen. If you’re a woman who writes, I highly recommend her books. Malaprop’s Book Store in Asheville, North Carolina has put us together for a joint presentation on Sept. 21st and I hope you’ll come if you’re in the area. Anyway, with her unique combination of Western and Eastern thought and practice, Millen strives to activate her creativity by balancing her masculine and feminine energies through writing and teaching. She calls this struggle to release her authentic creativity soul-making.
A typical Westerner, Carl Jung approached his soul-making work by strengthening his mind with logic and will-power until his ego-spirit mustered the courage to step aside. This allowed soul to move into consciousness, revealing disowned parts of his psyche. In the process, his unique creativity was released. The East historically begins its quest by quieting the mind and practicing physical austerities aimed at humbling and displacing the ego-spirit. But eventually the same thing happens. Letting go enables spirit to hear and express soul’s deep, compassionate voice.
For millennia these different approaches were separated by a divide that was geographical, philosophical, religious, spiritual, and psychological. Yet both have always aimed at uniting masculine spirit with feminine matter. As Millin says, the ideal is for both to participate in a cyclical yin/yang flow from one to the other which ensures that when balanced one never dominates, except temporarily.
Since the Dalai Lama made his home in the West, these perspectives have begun to merge and overlap. Each of us is discovering a new way to live in a never-ending process of moving first this way, then that, re-inventing ourselves anew every day in a middle way that encompasses both streams. The sacredness of this mandorla way speaks not to where we start or finish our journey, but to our willingness to release the creative flow in our natures with each step.
Has there been a payoff for my form of inner work? Yes indeed. But that says nothing about your form. Eventually, all paths to growth use the same process. The last thing that matters is how we got there.