Last week, in Part 2 of this column on the process of transformation, we introduced that stage of the journey that is often called "The Fall." The fall is an inevitable part of any transformation process. It's the moment when you come off the high of your first experiences of what it is like to live in a new state of being. You might have been flying in the euphoria of spiritual realizations, or enjoying the gifts of a creative breakthrough. Then you crash. Sometimes the crash is the result of a head-on collision with the laws of physical reality—a sickness, a divorce, a professional mistake. Often, though, it's a reminder that your new state hasn't been fully integrated, and that more inner work, or inner digging, is needed.
Here's an example. Years ago, a friend of mine attended a meditation retreat with a prominent Eastern teacher. During one of the meditation sessions, she saw inside herself a beautiful golden light, and realized that many of her beliefs about herself—her feelings of guilt, of unworthiness, her feeling of lack—were completely unreal. "I saw that inside I am a beautiful being," she said. The experience left her in a state of almost operatic bliss, accompanied by a new gift of psychic insight that convinced her that she was being guided from within.
Following both the bliss and the guidance, she left her professional career to go off to the teacher's ashram. She began to practice with great discipline and precision. One of her disciplines was following exactly the intuitive 'hits' that came from inside. She used to say, with unmistakable pride, "I'm so fortunate: I never have to worry about what to do because I always have this internal knowing."
After a while, she began getting inner hits before meals about what she 'should' be eating. More often than not, the guidance would tell her to eat little, often less than a handful of food at any given meal. She began losing weight. Her teacher told her she was too thin, and strongly warned her to eat more. But since her inner guidance was telling her otherwise, she kept on eating less and less. It was only when this 5'10" woman weighed in at 95 pounds that we realized that she was exhibiting all the symptoms of anorexia, and that she clearly had some psychological issues that needed attention. She left India, got a job and a therapist, cured her eating disorder and came back to practice on a much firmer footing. But for a long time she believed that she had failed on the spiritual path, fallen from grace, been counted out of the game. In fact, what she had needed to do was come to some sort of balance in her body and psychological world before she could move forward in her inner life.
This is an extreme example, for sure, but it illustrates one of the laws of the inner life. Even when we're given a glimpse—sometimes a long glimpse—of who we can be, it usually takes work to bring the separate strands of our being into alignment with the awakening vision. Some of this is basically fine-tuning, but some of it can be quite radical. During this part of the process, we may feel the kind of confusion that Doug reported, as we oscillate between the 'new' self and the old.
However, the Fall is actually an important part of the journey, not only because it is humbling, but because it both underscores the need for integration and initiates the integrative process.
The Integration phase of transformation usually includes serious practice, often deep practice undertaken to polish the mind and heart. But it also includes personal reflection, recapitulation, a conscious revisiting of past actions and beliefs in order to transform them through insight. True integration can only happen when we take the insights or inner experiences of our awakenings and radically apply them to our lives, allowing the experiences that come from the transpersonal level of reality to percolate within us and change the way we express ourselves in our actions and relationships.
It's one thing, for instance, to have a recognition in yoga class that you are one with the earth. It's quite another to begin trying to alter your life to bring it in line with the recognition; this may involve shifts in your diet, changes in the way you use your body, your consumption use of goods and services, as well as your inner attitudes. The integration process is what grounds our transformative experiences, making them actual, lived ways of moving in the world.
Of necessity, integration happens in layers. In fact, a big life transforming process includes many small transformative cycles. Over and over again, we'll have a wake-up call, a period of questing and asking for help, then a grace-filled breakthrough, a big recognition, a releasing of inner contraction. We'll move to a deeper level of experience or effective action. The breakthrough is usually followed by a period of peace and exaltation—a honeymoon. Inevitably, there is a reaction, a 'fall', which as we move forward may be nothing more than a recognizable dip in energy, or a feeling of inner contraction.