QUESTION: I enjoyed your interview on the Very Ape Podcast and it resonated deeply. Thank you for clarifying some points that were escaping my conscious awareness. I have had some awakening experiences and it has been a rough ride. Besides the initial blissful oneness experiences, it has been a shit show of pain and disappointment in people, relationships, and work. I have pulled in some world-class a-holes all around me.

I have been practicing Buddhism for some time and do have understanding of the path (and its pitfalls, in your words), but man is this hard. I really resonated with your sharing of your rage, both in your talk and in your book, Shadows on the Path, and it gave me some solace. I feel less crazy, so thank you for that. There certainly is no room in my spiritual community for all my rage. I don’t have a specific question. Maybe just this: can you throw a brother a line?

ANSWER: This waking up business is not easy brother. It is hard, hard work initially, but stay with it and the fruit will be sweet. The initial experiences that you describe are just an invitation through having been given a taste. Most of us can and do confuse that taste with owning the kitchen, which of course we do not. And it can be quite a jolt to drop back into our lives from that deep space of unity.

Being gentle while taking an honest inventory of what stays and goes is a good start. I agree with you in that there is not enough talk about how brutal the integration process is for most of us. We are not always shown that we have to die while alive, that the evolution involves so much letting go of people, places, and things. We have to drop into the sewer of our psyche. We need to examine all its wounding and ensuing defense mechanisms and masks. We need to tend to this most unpleasant of tasks, and do it with all the love we can muster. Self-forgiveness for our unconsciousness is part and parcel of that healing. Some of us can handle this gracefully. Many of us will bloody ourselves and others on our way back into remembrance.

Buddha was a genius scientist who truly grasped the nature of this realm so clearly. Use all his wisdom and the wisdom of all the others that have come before us. But do not confuse their path with yours. They are nice pointers on the path, but start where you are at instead of where you want to be. It is not a “fake it ‘til you make it” deal. We have to sit with it, and the path will be revealed one step at a time. The path is different for each and every one of us, even though the destination is the same. There is a whole bunch of anxiety that needs to be tolerated in order to hear that spiritual GPS guiding us. Learning to make space in order to hear that quiet voice takes time.

Part of our awakening process involves unpacking our unconscious material. Be conscious of where you need to unpack your different bags: differentiate between the spiritual and the psychological. It is not the job of the spiritual path to help with the psychological nor the therapeutic path to help with the spiritual. Even though there is obvious criss-crossing between the two. This simple distinction can alleviate much heart and headache down the road. Remember that we are a deeply individuated culture. As such, the psychological has to be tended to alongside the spiritual. Your rage is your friend here. It is telling you that something is amiss, that it needs tending to; it needs your love and softness. Be merciful to your little boy who is suffering so deeply.

Protect yourself while you open up your heart and tend to it. The “a-holes” are not your concern. Examine why you have opened up yourself to them and what need you had to be in relationship with them. Not your job to sort them out, but also certainly not to judge. They are in enough pain, which is why they act like that. Keep to your own company, which is holy until you see more clearly. The quietude of that company is the healing line you are looking for. It is waiting for you patiently as you read this.