No matter what version we read, Mara does not go away. There is no state of enlightened retirement, no experience of awakening that places us outside the truth of change. Everything breathes and turns in its cycles. -- Jack Kornfield*
"I've been here before." I've been saying that to myself a lot lately. I know I am a slow learner. I know that it takes me awhile to sometimes "get" what God is trying to tell me. I had thought, however, that once I "got it," it would stick. But no.
I forget, and have to be reminded again. Or the setting changes slightly, and the lesson has to be learned as if for the first time. For example, I learn to value unity in diversity, and then want to find a place where everyone thinks like I do -- again. I learn to value my unique gifts, and then think God must have called the wrong person -- again. I learn that I need to get my ego out of the picture, and then don't listen to someone because I think I know more than they do. Seriously. I could go on. It's a bit depressing.
My journey of faith has not been very straight-forward. It has not been like a long, cross-country walk, exploring one new path, or seeing one new vista, after another. I've been thinking lately that it's more like a spiral. I seem to be always traversing the same areas, just from a slightly different point of view. I have consoled myself with the thought that, well, if it's a spiral then maybe I'm getting closer to something. Closer to God? I don't think that's it. I am as close to God as I want to be, now. I know God is with me -- that, at least, is one lesson I haven't forgotten. (Yet.) So what am I spiraling toward?
My sister-in-law sent me Jack Kornfield's book, "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry," for my birthday. She's good at picking books for me as this was a book that I bought a long time ago for myself! At first I thought about taking it to the used bookstore since I already have a copy, but then I wondered if I should actually read it instead -- you never know when God is trying to tell you something. I'm glad I did because this book is shedding a lot of light on my journey.
Kornfield fills his book with examples of spiritual seekers of all faiths who find integrating spiritual lessons into daily life very challenging. In a chapter titled "The Fires of Initiation," he writes, "Some experience it as a slow spiral, a steady and repetitive remaking of inner being. The heart gradually deepens in knowing, compassion, and trust through the hundred thousand repeated practices and heartfelt sincerity of a regular spiritual discipline. ...learning the same teachings over and over again.... This is the slow way of initiation, putting yourself over and over into the condition of attention and respect, baking yourself in the oven repeatedly until your whole being is cooked, matured, transformed."( pg. 39) Somehow, I find this comforting. Perhaps, it's knowing that I'm not the only one. And that there is a purpose to it, after all.
Kornfield writes, "When the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich says she knows of no lover of God who is kept safe from falling, she is voicing the understanding that to descend is also God's will. Whether we understand this or not, Mara does return. The fall, the descent, and its subsequent humility can be seen as another form of blessing." (pg. 131). Mara represents temptation, but it is a kind that forces us to learn something essential.
I found confirmed in this book something that I was just beginning to suspect: that much of my difficulty is caused by ingrained habits of mind: fear, jealousy, pride, sloth, -- those Seven Deadly Sins as they have sometimes been called. It's not that I'm in the wrong place, or that I'm the wrong person, and I need to leave. It's simply that these problematic habits of mind have got to go. My hope is that the more I learn to let go of these habits, the more open my heart will be to simply following God's will.
In this respect, Mara can be viewed as a friend, instead of an
enemy. For she shows us what needs to be addressed to attain greater freedom for ourselves. And so, instead of beating myself up for again traversing the same territory, I need to recognize that I still have something new to learn about myself. And, maybe, the first thing I need to learn is to be more gentle towards myself on this journey.
I am reminded of the book I am writing about my journey of faith. It is about the lessons I started learning ten years ago. Each lesson is paired with a walk, an actual walk that I took, that works as an analogy for that lesson. I had thought that each walk would represent a specific lesson, but now I think that my journey of faith is composed of repeated walks along specific paths, perhaps even favorite paths, on which I always learn something new.
May your journey, too, be filled with new insights all along the way, and ...
May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you
from "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path," by Jack Kornfield (Bantam Books, 2000), pg. 124