Spirit Recovery is a process that becomes a practice and finally settles into a way of life--being in your truth. It is a way of burrowing down through the misidentifications we have taken on to find real self. It’s an archeological dig to the core of our being.
Why is such an awesome and sometimes intimidating task necessary? I don’t know but it is. A particular poem, “Transcendental Etude” by Adrienne Rich jarred something free inside of me, and I began my journey of self-discovery.
“No one ever told us we had to study our lives,
make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history or music…”
Transcendental Etude by Adrienne Rich
These two lines and, indeed, the entire poem cracked the ice, cutting through layers of questions, many of which had not yet taken form. They existed as rumblings from the deep recesses of my unconscious, boiling up in dreams and as sensations—raw physical knowing that I wasn’t who I thought I was; who I had been told I was. This volcano threatening to explode sent me on a seven year journey of intense self exploration during which I chipped, stripped, and tossed away years of misidentifications, distortions, and just plain lies while all the while wondering, no, fearing that when I got there—got to my core, like Gertrude Stein once remarked about Oakland, there wouldn’t be any there, there.
Quotes from literature, lines from songs, something overheard at a party or even a conversation on the crosstown bus can be a wake up call, opening a doorway in consciousness. Mostly these bits and pieces of wisdom offer encouragement, give us permission to break silence, to dare to question our circumstances and more importantly, question ourselves. Sooner or later we have to come up with our own quotes, our own interpretations of who we are and what we think life is all about life—even our own idea of who or what we serve—be it the Big Guy or Great Mother, Higher Power, Sacred Mystery, or the Grand Nothing.
Becoming a Question Carrier
Everyone’s journey is different. Mine led me to the study of theology, where I discovered the women who, for the first time in modern history, were writing books about their interpretations of sacred mysteries. I expanded my mind beyond the traditional Judeo-Christian story to incorporate Native teaching, Buddhism. I traveled to Rome, Greece and Turkey to sit at the feet of the Goddess. I scoured literature, history, and the arts for more information about me as a woman and as a human being. All my exploration was valuable and I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything—but it hadn’t scratched the itch. I was still a walking question mark. As hungry and thirsty as the day I set sail for the new world.
It was then that my Lakota teacher gave me a piece of wisdom that changed my basic orientation to life and to my search for meaning; I learned that I am a question carrier. Confounding, as it may seem, I find meaning in the search for meaning.
I didn’t get the lesson immediately; it came gradually. Each time I asked him a question he would ask me to repeat it so everyone in the circle could hear it. He would praise my question and thank me for asking, and he would continue teaching what he was teaching. I wondered if he hadn’t understood what I was asking. I wondered if he would eventually answer it—and I listened more carefully and waited and wondered. Then one day I got it—he was teaching me the value of questioning by valuing my question. When we approach life with a question our mind is open—we are led to our answers by our own curiosity. If he answered my question, my curiosity might be stunted and I would miss that opportunity to find something very valuable—something of my own discovery. He would be disrespecting my question and thereby disrespecting my essence—my spirit. This is the wisdom path; this is Spirit Recovery.
Armed with a knapsack bulging with uncertainties growing heavier by the day, I emerged from my long dark night of the soul, sallied forth into the sunshine for a while and reestablished contact with family and friends. I say for a while because nothing lasts forever. While the balance between light and dark in my life has shifted astoundingly toward light, darkness remains a fact. Sometimes, as I place whatever current reading material I’m involved with on the nightstand and turn off the light darkness comes softly, bringing restoration and peace. Other times it threatens to take me down. The difference lies in understanding that darkness carries questions; mystery isn’t a bad thing and more shall be revealed.
Dancing With Butterflies
The reason many of us fear the dark and avoid the very questions that would lead us out of the cave into the meadow to dance with butterflies is the fear that there is no there, there. We have been taught to fear not knowing. We scramble to fill in the blanks with anything—just hurry and fill them in before we disappear into the abyss leaving behind nothing but the laces from our sneakers and our cell phone charger. Racing to fill the spaces blocks out the fear for a while, but teaches us nothing of what we long for—nothing about ourselves—our heart and soul.
Religion has come onto the scene as the great question answerer. It both assumes the questions and gives us the answers while warning against disbelieving. Eternity is a long time to roast in the fire. In its desire to keep the flock safe from the wolves, religion has bound up what it believes we need to know about God and done its best to give us the formula. It has not taught us to be question carriers.
Questions stir the pot; they keep the contents from sticking to the pan and burning dry. In the name of protection, a lot of the teachings have stuck to the pan and have turned to ashes. This doesn’t imply that the teachings are wrong; just that they seldom address our questions. Particularly the most important question: who am I? That begins the journey into self-discovery. No one can give you the answers. Others can encourage you to question, they can point the way and light the path, they can share their story and even walk with you but the moment of discovery belongs to you when you dare to enter this uncharted territory. This is the way of Spirit Recovery.
Connection, Connection, Connection
The irony of the spiritual journey is that while it is a solitary search for meaning, it is not a lonely one. We used to think of spiritual life in the form of a wild-eyed, long-bearded hermit living in a cave on a distant hillside. This image defined the human quest for meaning for the mainstream for thousands of years. Gratefully it finally burned dry and we’ve pretty much thrown the pan out. The new model is one of spiritual imagination–vital engagement with life and with our creativity. It is quintessentially connection–to self, to others and to the world–however we imagine the source. It is internal as that is where we find our spiritual connection.
Spirituality happens as you sit with friends and talk about the hopes and dreams you hold in your heart as well as the things that you fear. It can happen as you experience the freedom of like and dislike regarding your critique on life without heavy-handed judgments and mandates—simply holding it all a little lighter. Spirituality is about figuring yourself out, making your own choices and taking responsibility for those choices. And, it’s about relationship with self and other—all of it, animal, vegetable, mineral and the numinous.
There’s an important difference between being judgmental and using good judgment. I’m not sure the difference can be clearly articulated, but you know it when you encounter it in yourself or in others. Good judgment makes sense and it feels right. Judgmental-ism often provokes anger or shuts you down. To be a spiritual seeker is to be a question carrier. That requires being in touch with your inner workings. The nudges and twinges eventually become the language of instinct and intuition. Learning this language requires being present in your body and paying attention to the signals. Meditation really helps sort this all out.
No one has adequately described what all goes on when you practice meditation on a regular basis, and more information is constantly being discovered. For one thing it gets easier to tell the difference between other people’s stuff in your head and what is your truth. Not a bad benefit even if it were the only one! But it’s just the beginning. Meditation is the best-known cure for depression and anxiety as well as other physical, emotional and spiritual conditions caused by imbalance in the system—too much other people’s reality and not enough of your own. It builds in a delay switch slowing down that lightening fast response that is hardly ever a good one; giving you time to gather yourself together. It is de facto Spirit Recovery!
Meditation opens space inside where the questions can surface and your answers can be discerned. While it is a solitary journey, it is best engaged in the presence of a good teacher–defined as one who has also practiced meditation with a good teacher—that’s the way wisdom is passed. The key element to meditation is non-judgment. You don’t always find peace in your inner world at first. You learn to not pay attention to the disagreeable stuff and eventually the inner screen clears up. You’re in the groove, present within yourself. You experience more peace than chaos. Soon you notice that you are disengaging from disagreeable external situations, as well. Voila (!) you are experiencing more peace in your life. Rather than boring, peace can be energetic, a fertile ground for creativity. Most people who meditate find meditating in a group creates a kind of synergy that further enhances the practice of self-inquiry. It’s what we are describing as Spirit Recovery.
Spirit Recovery Starter Kit
Here are a few questions from Spirit Recovery to be a catalyst for your own journey. More questions propelling you on your path can be found in The Spirit Recovery Medicine Bag: A Transformational Guide for Living Happy, Joyous and Free (McCormick and Faulkner, HCI, 2014).
11 Questions for Beginning the Process of Self Discovery
What are at least 3 and maybe 7 things I believe about myself?
What feelings go with those beliefs?
Where in my body do these feelings resonate?
Where did I learn these beliefs?
What would I like to believe about myself?
What would it feel like to believe those things about myself?
Where in my body do these feelings resonate?
Am I willing to give it a go?
What would giving it a go require of me?
What would not giving it a go feel like?
What would giving it a go feel like?
(Keep asking those last two questions until you can clearly feel the difference in your body. It may take a while before the words begin to resonate).
This practice may be hazardous to your status quo. You don’t have to act on your answers right now—remember the delay switch mentioned earlier? Discernment takes time. We recommend writing down your answers as a way of clarifying and valuing your discoveries. You can work alone, but it is often more enlightening to share the practice with a few trusted others—if there is a common understanding that it isn’t cool to trash anybody’s discoveries. All observations are to be respected. This is not about fuel for an argument but a process of gaining insight.
Rich, Adrienne, “Transcendental Etude,” from The Dream of a Common Language, W. W. Norton & Co.; First Edition/First Printing/Foxing edition (1 April 1978).
McCormick and Faulkner, Spirit Recovery Medicine Bag: A Transcendental Guide for Living Happy, Joyous and Free, Heath Communications, Inc., 2014