“The cancer changed me. . . After my illness I am 10 percent less asshole.” My friend laughed. Something touched me about this mirthful comment. After decades of meditation, shadow work, and spiritual integration I thought “10 percent less asshole? I’d take that”
Why? Transformation is rare and oftentimes really difficult. A cancer diagnosis, the threat of physical disfigurement, significant hearing loss, potential loss of taste and smell due to months of chemo. That’s a pretty arduous path to transformation and for many people even that does little to change them.
For those on transformational paths be it spiritual, psychological or both, there often seems to be little change in their day-to-day personality. Are they doing something wrong? Are the tools and practices flawed? Not necessarily. The difficulty of transformation lies in the complexity of our psyche.
The human psyche and personality is organized around something very primal: Animal survival. Our habits, mannerisms, relationships, and vocations all echo back to this primitive drive to survive. Our smiles might hide feelings of anxiety, lust, repulsion, loneliness and emptiness. Of course we might just be happy or warm, but all too often we human beings have turmoil just a few inches below the surface.
That turmoil when brought to the surface in times of loss, illness, conflict and uncertainty is the fuel for our transformation. It cracks our shell so to speak. It sparks or fuels what some call the enlightenment drive, the desire to know what is deeper and more true within us, even to know what transcends death.
It is of course not enough to know this in some didactic or performative way as do so many frauds and charlatans. The true enlightenment drive will settle for nothing less than direct experience of something greater than ourselves. We become thirsty for the waters of deeper wells: peace, wisdom, compassion, courage, joy, clarity . . .
Transformation comes by drinking these waters. But as appealing as they sound, they are deadly to our sense of self our defenses and protections. They threaten our survival. So we turn away, or we take sips and then run back to safe ground, or we try to imitate the qualities in hopes of having them without having to pay. Since however it doesn’t work that way, we end up with some new language and maybe cooler clothes, but with little real change.
For true change we have to give something. Maybe it is giving up control, maybe the need to prove ourselves, or feel powerful. The list is long, but at the beginning, middle, and end is giving up being so fucking hard on ourselves. This means our self judgments and ridicule, our harsh expectations, and our comparisons with others.
After decades of my own work and working with others here is my message: no one is complete. If we are all pearls we all have flat spots, we are all bumpy in places, in others we do not shine. We grind, and polish and fill our craters, but we will never be that great singular ornament that shines with perfect luminescence.
The more we understand this, the more we let the great world spin, the more our shells soften and we become transparent to the luminous waters of the deep well. So while we as people are not complete, our deepest nature is completeness and drinking from that well of completeness brings more glimmer to our rough surfaces, shines up some of our uneven patches, and rounds out some of our flat spots. And if you are as lumpy and bumpy as myself you will deeply appreciate even 10 percent.