Solstice Contemplations – Maps for the Spiritual Journey
“Your spiritual path isn’t always just something you find, you started it the moment you took your first breath…” – Martin R. Lemieux
Solstices are powerful times for spiritual practice and reflection. Their energy peaks provide doorways, an opportunity to stop and shift into new levels of awareness. Their cyclical nature reminds us of the passage of time, offering us a chance to take stock, gain perspective, reset, and reprioritize. Often it’s best to just travel our path without analyzing it too much – we are on it all of the time anyway – but I think Solstices are a great time to contemplate where we are in our journey.
Mystics across the traditions have come up with many different ways of depicting the spiritual journey, and many different metaphors for representing its phases. For this Solstice, I offer up some of these symbols, in the hopes that it may help you pull back, take the ‘big view’, and think about where you are at, and where you are going.
Ascending is one of the most common representations of the spiritual path. Ascending from earth to heaven, matter to spirit, ego to soul, separation to unity. In the book of Genesis, Jacob has a dream of a staircase to heaven upon which angels travel up and down. This dream has been interpreted many different ways by different traditions, and is an important part of Kabbalah’s teachings on the Tree of Life. When you look back over the last year (or more), do you have a sense of both ascension and descension at points along your way?
Jacob’s ladder is often seen by Eastern mystics as a metaphor for the kundalini rising. Once we initiate our conscious spiritual journey, the kundalini rises through the nadis – or spiritual channels – into our chakras in cycles, releasing blocks and activating lessons at each level. Each chakra represents a different type of subtle body energy, a different part of our psyche, and a different aspect of the awakening process. Sometimes we can feel as if we are working on the same lesson or energy for months or even years at a time, stuck in one chakra, and yet concurrent to this, on another level, we are shifting energy through them all. What chakra(s) do you think you have been moving through this year? What shifts have you experienced?
Teresa of Avila had her own dream about the spiritual process, envisioning the soul “like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places” (Interior Castle 1.1.1). She described the spiritual journey as the soul’s movement through a series of 7 rooms, beginning in the first room with prayer. Through gradually more esoteric practices and service, the soul moves through each of the other rooms, until full union with God is reached. A key part of Teresa’s model of ascension is that it is fueled by grace and thus not entirely within our control – although we can devote ourselves to practice, there is a mystery to the process and the call that can’t be fully understood. Perhaps you have felt yourself touched by this grace this year?
The spiritual journey as a process of ascending has bloomed fully into the modern New Age concept of Ascension – a mass movement of souls through the spiritual process at a fast pace. There are varying ideas on the number of people affected by this, and how it can be triggered and processed, but the main feeling is one of being pulled into the light, towards a new level of being, not entirely beyond one’s control, but also not entirely within it (and thus somewhat similar to Teresa’s feeling of grace.) Many believe this process is quickening at this time in history. Have you felt this quickening?
Of course sometimes our journey feels less like ascension and more like Sisyphus’s efforts to push a boulder uphill – each time he neared the top, the boulder rolled back down again. We may feel like we have been trying so hard, and nothing has gone our way, or that one challenge after another has arisen in our life. Or perhaps we just feel stagnant or stuck. Have you felt this way this year? What is the key to moving through these dark nights?
Often retreat is key, in whatever way we can. In true retreat – whether for a day or years – we are liberated from the weight of our usual responsibilities and, more importantly, our self-perceptions, and thus are able to see in a new way. Sometimes we can only access the insight, and gather the personal power, needed to make a shift after a period of retreat. Is this what you are in need of now?
Then we have those wonderful periods of breakthrough. After a period of struggle, after a bout of confusion or despair, something happens to part the clouds, and we see the light once again. Have you experienced breakthrough? Do you feel on the verge?
Or perhaps you feel you are at a crossroads. You can see clearly the paths before you, but are not yet sure which way to go. There’s no better expression of this than Robert Frost’s The Road Less Taken – here’s the final stanza:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Personally I think there has never been a better representation of a spiritual crossroads than the one portrayed in The Matrix, in the famous ‘Red Pill, Blue Pill’ scene. It’s definitely worth another watch if you haven’t seen it in awhile. Is there a part of you hankering to go back to a simpler, less aware state? Are you worn out from the suffering of the world that you see, or the complexity of your insights, and wish you could simply be blind once again? We all feel that way sometimes. Becoming aware of this wish is the first step to moving through it.
Another great metaphor for some phases of our path, and one I used at the last Winter Solstice, is that of a butterfly emerging from its chrysallis. Transformation is a struggle, it often takes time and patience. Are you preparing to cocoon? Ready to emerge? Somewhere in between?
In contrast to the linear representations of ascension, we also have the spiral model of spirituality. Sometimes this is considered the feminine path, although I don’t really think it has anything to do with gender. In truth, the ascending model is not so linear, as we move up and down all of the time. What the spiral metaphor captures so well though is the sense that we return over and over to the same place, but it is never exactly the same. We circle the same themes, the same experiences in our life, over and over, but each time is different, because we are different. Have you returned somewhere this year?
Related to the spiral is the labyrinth. With a labyrinth though, there is a definite center, and we move in and out of this center through the same physical path, though it can feel dramatically different each way. The challenge is taking each step knowing we are moving towards the center without being so fixated on that destination that we miss the step we are on. Are you enjoying the journey, are you present for it, or are you trapped in the future, anticipating the center yet to come?
Wherever you are this Solstice, I wish you much light and joy! Feel free to share where you are in your own journey, or any other metaphors or symbols of the spiritual journey that resonate for you.
P.S. Please note that I’m doing a free teleseminar through The Breathe Network on June 27th about Trauma-Sensitive Meditation, and that I’ve continued my 12 Chakra meditation series at Meditate Like a Girl with the Eighth Chakra. Namaste-