Updated: Jul 22
Within me it feels like there are two great rivers flowing side by side.
One river is the uncompromising commitment to evolve as a spiritual being to be of the greatest possible service of others, and to strengthen my capacity and wisdom to do so. To cultivate what they call bodhicitta – the longing to unveil ‘enlightenment’ for the benefit of others.
This longing is not a wish to escape or transcend, but a true calling to pour all my passion and energy into this one central flow with the guidance of mentors and the support of community who share a similar vision. Glimpses emerge. My confidence is strengthened. I keep going, although it is largely secret or hidden. But then self-doubt creeps in. Who am I to be so ridiculously audacious?
The other river, much more murky, is the sobering recognition of my limitations and the wounds I carry from early childhood, transmitted through generations and passed on through the conditioning of the collective. This is the river of raw honesty, or painful undoing, of knowing the relentless challenges that come up whenever the flow of the first river is diverted. The river of knowing that the most fertile place for undoing is around my partner, my parents, my most difficult patients. All the situations that seem to get in the way of the first river!
How can these two rivers ever converge and become one? They simply must, because there is only ever one reality, in which everything fits in all its totality.
True bodhicitta, I am learning, includes the utterly painful surrender of the goal of enlightenment, along with any rigid idea of a path to enlightenment and any expectation whatsoever of how my life may unfold or what I might achieve. It not only includes the courage and strength to be of true service to others, but the courage to dive into into my own shadow – and the shadow of the collective – and be with and heal those aspects of myself and others which I normally don’t want to know about. That lie hidden away behind a curtain, carrying burdens such as feeling they have failed, are unsupported, are powerless or utterly overwhelmed.
As Richard Schwartz so elegantly discovered in his creation of the Internal Family Systems (IFS) Model, we can learn to unveil the divine light within, which he simply calls Self, that can actively and courageously heal these fragmented aspects not only within ourselves, but within generations before us and all beings around us. The Kalachakra teachings call this Warrior Compassion, and speaks of this healing process as ‘purifying past karma’.
To give an example, recently I took a week off and discovered that when I was not in my usual role of supporting others, all kinds of strong emotions suddenly came to the surface. Then a flood of memories emerged around the theme of feeling unsupported, along with compelling insight as to how this affected my current experience – the entrenched drive to get things done right now and be responsible for everything all on my own.
Thankfully I wasn’t completely overwhelmed, and was able to witness the part of me that held these memories with love and compassion as they revealed how he had learnt to feel that way as a vulnerable little boy. I could then invite the little boy to imagine a new reality, in which the need for love, support and companionship were fully met. The Goddess Tara, with who I have a connection with, held my hand during this process, and helped my heart then reach out to others who I sensed carried similar burden to my own.
I realized in that moment that the two great rivers has become one – the spiritual journey to be of service to all beings and the deep dive into healing my own shadow were no longer two separate streams.
This one river was now much more alive, and tangible confidence, richness, depth and possibility were revealed.