Insight and Sudden Change
November 11, 2010 by 2 Comments
Ah, insight. Sometimes you have to labor for it, through study and prayer. Sometimes you have to pursue it, through meditation and divination.
And sometimes out of nowhere it pours over you like a waterfall, washing away your fears and overflowing your soul with more wisdom than you can contain.
That’s what happened to me yesterday. I was stretching before going walking, mentally sketching out a blog post on walking as a spiritual discipline (which I will write before too long), when Monday’s question popped into my mind: how do you walk away from a comfortable situation to seek something deeper?
And then the insight came. Unlike an ineffable mystical experience that can’t be described because it’s beyond words, this was an information and sensation overload. I could “hear” it – it was as intellectual as it was spiritual, if it’s right to separate the two – but so much came so fast my brain couldn’t process it all.
Later – much later – I distilled it down to this: “nobody’s asking you to jump off a cliff.”
Of all the myths I was taught as a child in a fundamentalist church (and by “myths” I don’t mean made-up stories that some people read literally, I mean myths – orienting stories that give meaning to life), perhaps the one that has been hardest to abandon is the myth of St. Paul and the Damascus Road conversion. A flash of blinding light, a voice from the clouds, and your life makes a sudden and irreversible 180 degree shift. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.
Being a fairly attentive kid, I noticed at an early age that sudden, emotional conversions rarely lasted. But that’s what was preached over and over again, and I came to expect that I should have that kind of experience. And evidently, nine years of serious Pagan study and practice haven’t completely undone 18 years of reluctant church attendance.
Looking back on the big changes in my life, none of them came suddenly – even the ones that at first glance seem sudden. Perhaps my biggest change came when I left my home in Tennessee and moved 600 miles away to South Bend, Indiana. It was a sudden change in that it was precipitated by a plant closing – my job went away, and I had to find another one quickly. In September the closing announcement was made, in November I interviewed in Indiana, and in January we moved.
But the signs of a dying factory were everywhere – everyone had been talking about closing for at least a year before it happened. Even before that, I had been thinking of moving away to enter a PhD program somewhere – I had a US map with about a dozen pins stuck in it. I had been mentally and emotionally (and, I’m now convinced, magically) moving cross-country long before Cathy and I packed up the cat and headed north.
Likewise, while I like to talk about turning points on my spiritual journey, the truth is that it’s been a long, slow trip from the little boy in the Baptist church to the Druid in the UU church.
Sudden conversions are seductive. They promise a quick change, a clear path, and a certain outcome. And they almost always fail. The alcoholics who “found Jesus” were drunk again in a couple weeks because they hadn’t addressed the medical and psychological factors behind their alcoholism.
If I tried to turn myself into the Archdruid of Dallas overnight, I’d fail just as miserably.
The rather demanding battle goddess who’s been talking with me recently doesn’t want me to sell my house and go live in a cave. She wants me to take the next steps on my spiritual journey, deeper into practice, deeper into study, deeper into service. Where that path ultimately takes me, I don’t know.
I just know this – there are no shortcuts.