People with a keening desire for god and transformative spiritual experiences have always made me a little wary. There is a general ignorance regarding how much suffering this relationship can entail. In an article about mysticism, published in the Fall 2013 issue of Parabola, Mirabai Starr writes:

“The year I turned forty, the day my first book came out, a translation of Dark Night of the Soul by the sixteenth-century Spanish saint John of the Cross, my fourteen-year-old daughter, Jenny, was killed in a car crash.

“Suddenly, the sacred fire I had been chasing all my life engulfed me. I was plunged into the abyss, instantaneously dropped into the vast stillness and pulsing silence at which all my favorite mystics hint. So shattered I could not see my own hand in front of my face, I was suspended in the invisible arms of a Love I had only dreamed of. Immolated, I found myself resting in fire. Drowing, I surrendered, and discovered I could breathe under water.

“So this was the state of profound suchness I had been searching for during all those years of contemplative practice. This was the holy longing the saints had been talking about in poems that had broken my heart again and again. This was the sacred emptiness that put that small smile on the faces of the great sages. And I hated it. I didn’t want vastness of being. I wanted my baby back.”

Christ_of_Saint_John_of_the_Cross

If you believe in the goodness of god, do you really know what you are talking about? Because life is more complex and contingent than the pat pseudo-spiritual phrases modern, secular culture enjoys trafficking in. Everything happens for a reason. Why don’t you tell that to the mother whose child has just died?

I cannot think of a deeply ethical person who has not known great suffering. But I have also spent a great deal of time with those who never get past their suffering. Trauma can expand your being, but first, it severely diminishes one’s being, a state that sometimes becomes permanent. I’ve seen this many times. When the ego is through with receiving, with being annihilated. It is done.

St. John of the Cross writes, “In order to possess what you do not possess, you must go by way of dispossession.”

Be grateful for what you have. Don’t envy others for their transformative experiences. Be careful what you wish for.

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