I do not like these slowdowns, the periods of depression, the anxiety attacks, because they are uncomfortable. In the last year I have had many opportunities to observe things in myself that I would have preferred not to have seen. Our community's experience with studying the Enneagram taught me things about myself that I did not like. But I am beginning to learn that these are the times when real growth happens. Times of darkness are times when we are sifted, when our ego isn't giving us a false spin on reality and so we come face to face with the truth. This year I have been called to be honest even about my spiritual fantasies, especially the fantasy that living a spiritual life will do away with chaotic emotions and thoughts.
Unmasking the Illusions
Spiritual writers from both Eastern and Western traditions have recognized the value of honesty to the spiritual life. The unmasking and discarding of illusions about ourselves is found to be necessary on the spiritual path. The rejection of deluding comforts, even the comforts of religion, is essential if one is to see aright. Even the philosophic tradition of the West values this honesty. In his book on virtues, Andre Comte Sponville writes: "The point is to live and think truthfully, as much as possible, even at the cost of anguish, disillusionment, or misfortune. Fidelity to truth first; true sadness is better than false joy."
The wisdom books of Job and Ecclesiastes speak about encountering life with radical honesty. Job is willing to go deeply into his suffering. His friends, using the conventional words of religion, offer him restoration if he will only confess his sins. But Job will not settle for what is not true and so he boldly goes into his dark night and there experiences God. Qoheleth also prefers to enter the darkness and the utter emptiness of all that is not God. All is vanity, he claims, yet he too discovers God in the darkness.
The perennial wisdom tradition encourages us to look at our lives bravely and openly, satisfied with nothing but the truth and so open to God. This radical honesty is echoed in the writings of Andrew Cohen. His third tenet of enlightenment is called Face Everything and Avoid Nothing. He encourages us to be aware of the source of our real motivations and desires instead of what we want to believe about ourselves.
The Aid of a Mentor
The journey towards honesty is difficult and one is often aided by a mentor. Ken Wilber advises people to choose mentors who deeply offend their egos. We need this rudeness to wake us out of our egoic complacency and set us to thinking differently.
I'm grateful that I live in a community that values this kind of honesty. I have people around to call me to the truth, to model honesty, and to confront the dishonesty they see in me. There is always something healing about admitting the truth. Even when the truth is harsh and slays my ego I always feel better for accepting it, and often that feeling better evidences itself in my body; a depression lifts, a backache subsides.
When I think of honesty I see the shadow of the cross. I hear the call of Jesus to take up my cross and follow him. That image of the cross somehow says it all for me for it is in dying to the ego that we are born into our true selves.