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Going Downstairs

"Quezalcoatl" by Robert Althouse

"Quezalcoatl" by Robert Althouse

You can ascend too early on the spiritual path, seeking a fruit which is not yet ripened. This kind of spiritual-by-passing is not uncommon, but it's ungrounded and misleading. What is required first is that you descend. Major chunks of yourself have been disowned so it's necessary to go downstairs and visit the monsters in your basement. This takes courage because at first they will be quite large and scary. 

It's important to begin the spiritual path with a strong foundation of mindfulness meditation. And it's equally important to approach this practice of meditation, not as a technique you will master, but as an attunement to yourself that is kind and generous. It's important to acknowledges all aspects of your experience as valid. And of course, this includes the disowned energies which frighten and upset you. 

For some this journey will require psychological counseling. The wounds are just too deep to be healed by oneself. If you are fortunate to have a spiritual teacher or friend to encourage you, or a spiritual community that supports you, that will be helpful. But in the end, each of us descends those stairs into the dark basement, alone. You will need to spend some time down there making friends with your demons. So this is one way to think about meditation. It's a practice that allows you to visit the basement and hang out there. 

When you are faithful to this journey, the fruit will ripen in it's own time. It's an organic process. So eventually you come back up from the basement with more vitality and joy and a lighter heart. You find you have all the ingredients within yourself now to cook a good meal. And you can go forth into the world with more wisdom and love to help others find their way. 

This descent, transformation, and return is an old archetypal pattern, which Joseph Campbell wrote extensively about in "The Hero with a Thousand Faces". 

In Mesoamerican culture this archetype is celebrated as Quezalcoatl, the plummed serpent. The archetype integrates our nothic nature with our winged nature. Quezalcoatl was associated with the planet Venus. So when Venus did not appear in the night sky it was believed he was down in the underworld doing battle with demons. When Venus arose in the night sky, it was believed that was Quezalcoatl returning victorious from the underworld. 

Many before us have descended, found clarity and returned to tell the tale. I'll close with the wonderful, wise words of Joseph Campbell:

"We have not even to risk the adventure alone
for the heroes of all time have gone before us.
The labyrinth is thoroughly known . . . 
we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination
we shall find God.

And where we had thought to slay another
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards
we shall come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone
we shall be with all the world."

Roshi Robert Alhouse

 

 

 

Robert Althouse

Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, 38 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL, 60302