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MAPS OF THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY BACK HOME
- A Western Perspective -
CAUTION! - "The map is not the territory"
God cannot be made to conform to our maps. Everyone's path is unique and some take the steps in different order and sometimes simultaneously and some appear to miss out some steps all together. Some experience visions, raptures, voices, ecstasy and other mystical and psychic experiences whilst the majority travel a less exuberant path but still reach the same destination - union with God and even beyond that union. We should not try to fit or force our experience into another's model or invalidate our discoveries because they do not conform to established models. Many of the challenges on the path return again and again in cyclic fashion until the journey is completed. What is required of us is to start out on an unknown journey with a faith that increases with experience. However, this warning aside, the advice of past trail blazers can at times be invaluable on our path home.
I have drawn on the following sources in compiling this map:
A Course in Miracles ®
The Path to No-Self by Bernadette Roberts
The Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross
Interior Castle (also known as The Mansions) by Saint Teresa of Avila
Invitation to Love by Thomas Keating
Putting on the Mind of Christ by Jim Marion
A Course in Miracles - 2 charts
The Four Nights the Soul
- a map of the contemplative path from St. John of the Cross -
we can do,
Passive means what only God can do.
1. Active Night of the Senses: detaching ourselves from imperfections and worldly distractions in order to attach ourselves to God instead. (Bernadette Roberts)
(observed by St. John of the Cross)
2. Passive Night of the Senses: periodically God seems to withdraw his presence and thus we feel spiritually empty, dry, or arid. This is actually the onset of infused contemplation or God's presence on a more profound level-which we have yet to appreciate. (Bernadette Roberts)
Freedom from the false self (ego)
Dismantling our selfish plans for happiness
Marks the end of consolations ("spiritual goodies") - end of the honeymoon with God. Will occur fairly soon on the spiritual path - upsets our plans for the journey.
The 3 signs that the Night of the Sense is present:
1 - Aridity (dryness, reduction in spiritual satisfaction) both in prayer and daily life.
Difficult to read scriptures, meditate, pray and serve others when once it gave happiness.
No compensation in worldly things.
2 - Fear of falling back on the path as God seems to have left them. Fear that we have offended God and now we are being punished. However, God is now offering a more intimate and mature relationship with Him. The baby is being weaned from 'spiritual goodies' and learning a more substantial faith.
3 - Inability to practice discursive (reflective) meditation
Inability to ponder the meaning of the teaching and example of enlightened teachers.
If all three signs are present it is normally a sign that the passive Dark Night of the Senses is present. If there are less than 3 signs it is possible there is another reason e.g. depression.
In this night the unhealed contents of the unconscious are starting to rise into the healing power of the light. Unconscious issues will also be mirrored in one's environment.
Trials that may arise:
Sexual temptations often as a reaction to aridity. The need to escape into pleasure, to feel something. Can also result in overeating or endless entertainment.
as a reaction to loss of control. Seeing all one's spiritual plans coming to nothing.
Desire to blame God
Confusion as a reaction to losing our sense of security. The spiritual journey is a movement into the unknown which we try and control. But God has other plans!
"The spiritual journey consists in doing God's thing" Thomas Keating
Fruits of the Night of the Sense
3. Active Night of the Spirit: detaching ourselves from spiritual goodies (consolations)
and the effort to be more passive to God's presence; the recognition that God's abiding presence is below or beyond all thought and feeling. (Bernadette Roberts)
A willingness to deepen our faith without reliance on receiving spiritual experiences.
4. Passive Night of the Spirit: a permanent and irreversible stroke of God which is the falling away of the self-center or ego, the encounter with a terrible void in ourselves-a black hole, darkness and nothingness. Where experiences of the second and third Night overlap, and first and fourth are clearly marked. (Bernadette Roberts)
For a time mystical experiences cease and the feeling of being connected with God ends.
This period is transition from human personality to the realisation of our immortality and divinity. A decline of the ego with its habitual distractions of mind, cultural conditioning and spiritual pride. However, the sense of self hood, the "I Am" still remains. An intensive course in humility and the purification of a secret satisfaction in being the recipient of God's favours. In Buddhism, the last fetter that has to be released before we are free of the cycle of birth and death is subtle spiritual pride.
"My brother, you are part of God and part of me. When you have at last looked at the ego's foundation without shrinking you will also have looked upon ours. I come to you from our Father to offer you everything again. Do not refuse it in order to keep a dark cornerstone hidden, for its protection will not save you. I give you the lamp and I will go with you. You will not take this journey alone. I will lead you to your true Father, Who hath need of you, as I have. Will you not answer the call of love with joy?"
A Course in Miracles T-11.in.4.
Temptations that need purification: (Thomas Keating)
Glamorous self image e.g. the prophet, martyr, wonder worker, victim, enlightened teacher, charismatic leader. Service is the hallmark of a true teacher - not self interest or satisfaction.
"The spiritual journey is a series of diminutions of the self" (Thomas Keating)
"To be perfectly passive - to belong perfectly to God - is the most difficult of human accomplishments" (Bernadette Roberts)
The fruits of the Night of Spirit:
(from Thomas Keating)
(from Bernadette Roberts)
The 5 phases of Unitive Life (Transforming Union)
as experienced by Bernadette Roberts
"The Father and I are one" Jesus (John 10:30)
1 - Dark Night of Spirit (passive)
A sudden falling away of the ego and its self-control. Need to submit to a higher power. A powerful shattering of self-hood. A journey into the depths of nothingness to God.
The I of the ego is replaced with "I AM"
"I call attention to the fact that God does not communicate His will to us on a conceptual basis. If he did, His deepest union with man would be mental-a kind of union of intellects. But the center of our union is on a deeper level than mind or intellect. It is in the very center of existence, which I call the will-to-God. This will is a silent faculty; it does not think, speak, remember, or form images. It is a silent power that takes its power from God, and in this silence our will runs into His will, there to receive its life, strength-virtue. To know the will of God, we have only to remain silent, remain in the still center which, automatically, without a single thought, is the perfect acceptance of the present moment, and what we are at the moment. Thus, all the intellectual searching, including the often agonizing efforts to ascertain the will of God, is nothing more than the refusal to accept the present moment, and our present state. The secret of the unitive life is the graced ability to live in this passive silence of wills, a silence which is always here and now, and always one with God. The truest communication with God is absolute, total silence; there is not a single word in existence that can convey this communication. "
2 - Peace found.
The peace is initially dark and dry but also deep and restful. A welcome relief from the pain of phase 1. Eventually this peace becomes a gateway to God and joy. Work is required to retain this peace - to become passive to this still point, to bring all problems back to this inner peace where they dissolve.
3 - Continuous interior silence.
Reaching the top of the unitive mountain. Great strength, power, energy and love leading to selfless giving.
4 - Active phase - the way to Calvary
Continuous flow of exterior trials, tests, persecutions and suffering. Only refuge is God. Walks alone on the path with God. Cessation of judgement. Development of an open mind.
5 - Final end of self-hood or the "I Am" (ego has already ceased)
A falling away of the "I AM" or sense of self-hood. The self united with God ends. Perfect interior silence with cessation of self-awareness. No-self, non dual reality. No person left and therefore no personal God. God alone is.
Words cannot describe this non dual reality. "We say 'God is' and then we cease to speak, for in that knowledge words are meaningless" from A Course in Miracles ® Workbook p.3l5/p.323
The Path of the Mystic
- Saint Teresa of Avila -
Her 4 Stages of Prayer leading to deepening levels of absorption with God
1 - Infused Recollection
A mysterious awakening, a breathe of fresh air, God's grace - does not overpower but is like a sweet perfume. Indicates the end of the Night of Sense. Memory and imagination can still intrude and disturb.
2 - Prayer of Quiet
More absorbing than one with an accompanying desire to prolong the state. A state of interior silence in which the will is one with God.
3 - Prayer of Union
A deepening of level where memory and imagination are suspended. Self reflection (commentary) still present.
4 - Prayer of Full Union
Memory and imagination cease. The will is absorbed into God. No self reflection.
"As it happened, St. Teresa never shed any light on my interior life, but then, she was a mystic and I, a common contemplative. As I see it, one never knows where the mystic is going to be the next day; their path-if they have one-is difficult to pin down and certainly impossible to follow."(Bernadette Roberts - who experienced the two passive nights back to back. See caution about spiritual maps at start of this article)
Traditional Christian 3 Stage Map
- St. Dionysious 500 A.D.-
1 - Purgative - purification from the grossest forms of egotism and selfishness.
2 - Illuminative - the breaking in upon the person of greater spiritual insights and understandings
3 - Unitive - union with God
"Had I been the one to map the original contemplative path, I would never have thought of including an illuminative stage because, from beginning to end, the interior life is an ongoing illumination; as a discrete stage, I do not find it authentic or necessary." (Bernadette Roberts)
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