From the Gutter, the Stars Shine Brilliant

stars

Oscar Wilde wrote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

While literary critics have pondered the meaning of that provocative line, anyone pursuing spirituality in recovery knows immediately – and with great personal empathy – exactly what Wilde was saying: Even in the roughest storm of life, we can see the startling beauty of the heavens.

Despite his considerable literary talent, Wilde died an impoverished alcoholic at 46, in exile from England and mostly estranged from his family. He was imprisoned for two years for homosexuality, and for the rest of his life he was barred from seeing his two children from an earlier marriage.

In the darkness of the gutter, the stars can shine incredibly bright.

In a recent song by the metal band, Disturbed, they say, “Sometimes darkness can show you the light.”

The contrast between the dank despair of human decent and the eye-burning shine of spiritual revelation is shocking – sometimes it’s shock enough to lift us up to the world of the living. Other times, it’s merely the faint call of a promising world on the other side of death.

The light-filled world of connection and hope is a blink away. It’s right here in your breath. The path to this warm earthly home is visible through the stars that we see from the gutter. Even in the sour sink of fear, we are always strong enough to climb through. Yet many will die tonight for the lack of seeing that path. Their time will come again and again even so.

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When Spirit Awakes

The awakening is a wave traveling miles of ocean to reach your shore. It was born to greet you, long on the days of near despair. It comes to remind you that life is inexhaustible. A deep sigh that empties your lungs.

This is the beach where children collect sea glass and soft driftwood that toss in the sand and foam. This is your life now, surprised by how much is left. You thought the sand was running out, but it was brimming with colors that had not yet announced themselves.

This new land has turned its love to you. These are not the skies of your youth, with their bland promise and abrupt discouragement. These are not the streets that seemed to reject you in their very essence. You never thought your skin could be accepted by the world, so you hid your skin away.

Can this possibly be that same world? You see that it is now made of new substance, warm to the touch. You can taste it from a distance; you can taste it on your lips. It sings a sustained nourishment.

The awakening wave has moved back out to sea, but you have been touched by a love and cannot turn dark. Darkness has lost its grip and dissipated. Light now the fabric of your being.

When night comes, the sky goes purple and the woods come to life. You are welcome here finally, right in the middle of your life. Even your bones feel the deep hum. Stand tall into this new air. You are everything the world has hoped.

Fear Was the Problem

Fear was my biggest problem. I had no idea.

I didn’t know anger was fear. I thought my anger was justified. I didn’t like being angry, but I thought I couldn’t help it. It was a natural response to a broken world and its broken people.

I didn’t know anxiety was fear. I thought my circumstances warranted anxiety. I thought the solution was to change the circumstances. The circumstances were impossible to change.

I didn’t know resentment was fear. I thought my feelings of resentment were justified. My resentments extended back many years. They produced anger, sadness, and discomfort. I was stuck with them.

I didn’t know jealousy was fear. I thought my jealousy was caused by others.

I didn’t know sadness was fear. How could sadness be fear?

The negative feelings were with me for years. I thought they were a permanent part of me and intrinsic to all life. I prayed that the negative feelings would not manifest into illness. They felt like illness. They also produced negative behavior. I worked hard to separate my behavior from my feelings. I didn’t want to behave poorly just because I felt poorly. But I did.

I tried to be positive, but I worried I was simply putting a bright blanket of untruthfulness over the darkness. Wasn’t it better just to accept the negative? I didn’t want to be phony. I took pride in my ability to face the inky black void.

All the time, I was surrounded by light. I couldn’t see it. I thought this dark world around me was the entire world. But my dark world was a delusion. I was the problem. Remove that dark me, and the world goes light. So I removed the dark me.

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

When we have a spiritual awakening, it’s natural to ask the question: How do I live now? How does this change my life? Does the internal breakthrough come with external responsibilities?

The simple answer is no, nothing has changed.

The more complicated answer is yes, everything has changed.

The title of this blog comes from William Butler Yeats. In his own spiritual development, it became clear to him that great dreams come with responsibilities. Your response to the world will change as your view of the world evolves. This works both ways. Slip into a dark place, and you will see an unforgiving world that is hurtful. Your actions will follow: hurt people hurt people.

But when your spiritual life expands, you see more and you will begin to understand you are part of everything and everything is part of you. As the small and ever-pressuring self begins to break apart, you will see that your presence itself begins to have a healing effect on those around you.

Dark, constricted vision produces after itself. Light likewise, produces light. As you develop spiritually, you will automatically pull away from hurtful behavior as from a hot fire. You will gravitate toward healing behavior because it is nourishing and feels right.

Detachment from worldly pressures does not mean separation from others. Quite the opposite. It means freedom to do what is lovingly needed. In the dream of a greater, more spiritual existence, you will see where you can be helpful, and it will be your pleasure to serve.

You will see the thorn in the other’s palm, and you will remove it – not because you have new strength to take up this weighty task, but because you will see that it is so easy to do.

Scared of the Dark?

Fear is the last of our negative emotions to go as we deepen our spiritual connection. That’s because fear is at the heart of all negative emotions. Its roots are deep.

Marianne Williamson wrote that “Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts.” That’s pretty close to correct. Actually we’re born with one fear – loud noises. That fear, though, may be more of a startle reflex.

Over time, we develop other startle-like reflexes: fear of heights, fear of objects hurling toward us, fear of the dark. These are handy to keep the body intact, and they’re not usually the fears that darken our paths. The insidious and dark fears we learn are shame and the belief that we are not good enough. Those are the fears that need to be relieved so we can grow.

There are thousands of tiny fears that grow from these – fear of speaking in public and fear of standing up against the crowd for what’s right. Gandhi said “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.”

The fear of death is nearly a universal fear, but it can be overcome as we deepen spiritually. Anais Nin said, “People living deeply have no fear of death.”

The concern about the corrosive nature of fear goes back a few centuries. Lao Tzu said, “Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success.”

My favorite comment on fear comes from the Hindu Scripture Isa Upanishad:  “Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.”

The Lunatic Is in My Head

“There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”

This line is from the song “Brain Damage,” by Roger Waters. The song appears on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, released in 1973. In the song, a lunatic is approaching. First it’s on the grass, then in the hall, and finally, “The lunatic is in my head.”

Waters tells the story of seeing a “keep of the grass” sign on a beautiful patch of lawn, a place that was welcoming. He thought that was crazy.

The powerful song sends a simple message. Given time, and given the lack of a creative or spiritual force in your life, the messages and pressures of the world will grow near and ultimately become who you are. What seems crazy in this world is at first on the outside. We see it as teenagers and swear we will not become part of the craziness. Yet, unless we know how to outmaneuver it, the insanity moves to the inside. Few of us are given any instruction in how to outmaneuver the madness.

When I first heard the song as a young man, I felt it as a potent warning . I was at the stage where the lunatic had moved from the grass and into my hall. I felt very much in danger of losing the battle of the self to world. There is a passage in the children’s novel, A Wrinkle in Time, where a character faces a similar battle. Charles must maintain his identity in the face of life-threatening darkness.

In spite of my noble attempt to stay sane in this world, the lunatic did eventually enter my head and I succumbed to the darkness. For many years, there was someone in my head and it certainly wasn’t me. The world, of course, saw it as sanity. I tried to see it as sanity. I thought I had finally come around. But it was not sanity, and I suffered for succumbing to the world’s madness.

During the time when I was young and I felt so threatened by the world, there was something very important I didn’t understand. The light may go out in your head, but it hasn’t gone out in reality. The light surrounds us, and our failure to perceive it does not diminish its power.

Willingness was all I needed to step back into the light. The lunatic is still in my head. It comes with our DNA, it’s in the drinking water of our culture, and it gets passed from generation to generation like a virus. But now I’m aware that the lunatic is the lunatic and it’s not me. Likewise, it doesn’t have to make my decisions.

Yes, there’s someone in my head and it’s not me. That “someone” does a lot of thinking. It’s a whole committee. But I don’t have to believe the thoughts that rattle in my brain. There is also light in my head, and I can trust that light. The light doesn’t make me suffer, and it can actually untangle the darkness of the thinking brain.