Awakening On A Slow Train North

Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

‘I take the responsibility of sustenance for the one who follows the religion of their own true nature. For such a one all that is required is supplied automatically.’ Krishna

I took the night train up to Edinburgh but traded the hard metal berth — my bed for the night — for a seat in the bar, a dawn view and a packet of crisps.

By the time I reached Inverness, it was still early, a wind gripped me in its icy embrace, the buildings, once blond or reddish seemed glazed in a sooty smog that must have drifted north. Before the Industrial Revolution, a pale tenderness complemented Scotland’s greenery, but here acidity had corroded the stone, just as it lays waste to the human body.

I wondered if everything, everyone, had become carcinogenic. The cancer of greed, the cancer of ambition, of personal gain at the expense of others, had already cast another, darker pall over the world.

It was only 1999 but it already felt too late.

Perhaps, I thought, this was just how things were, would always be. I was still in my thirties then and hadn’t realized that it was in the intrinsic nature of the separate self to be born, have experience and die — usually none the wiser.

I had though begun to see the physical world as a dreamed reality, knew I had experienced it many times before and was on a wheel in which experience endlessly repeats itself, the same stories played out, faces different but souls often the same.

Was it okay to be world-weary in your thirties when everyone else I knew — those my age at least — seemed fully satisfied with what life presented and ploughed full speed ahead? Surely, I should want it, but I didn’t.

The thought of a life seized upon only for security and success filled me with an incipient dread, as if I was choking and breathless at the path laid out before me. It would be some time before I would fully prise off the inner critic and the conditioning — generations of it — that drove it.

‘The path of love does not follow the ways of the world,’ says the Welsh Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, ‘nor is the lover even interested in salvation.’

‘We are awakened to a dimension of ourself that is not caught in the illusion of time, but founded upon Reality.’

I had a number of books I would return to when possessed by self doubt. His Love Is A Fire was one of them.

Freedom always comes at a price, yet it was one I was prepared to pay to sidestep the yawning predictability of fate. If you don’t deal with what is inside you, said Jung, it will appear in your outer world and you will call it fate.

But at that point I still didn’t know it wasn’t about me and that awakening isn’t personal.

Years later, working with clients, I would see the great leviathan of karma and ancestral wounding coalesce into an often crippling drama, but even then many would resist going within, holding on to the small ‘me’ that ultimately needs to go.

Even in my darkest hours, I would be led to or stumble across teachers and books that would feed the deep hunger that lay underneath my malaise.

Somewhere, there was a knowing that life as presented, the one we are all birthed in and told to suck up, wasn’t it, not for me at least and not in this lifetime, for I knew I had done it all before and it finally held no meaning.

Those still enthralled by it looked at me askance, scratching their heads in bewilderment at my seeming nonchalance, often furious at my refusal to adopt their values, not least my own family.

By the time I finally got to Findhorn, I had already lived in and sampled various communities, at first with the naïve apprehension that natives would have somehow transcended the madness of the mainstream.

But egos, whether mainstream or alternative, function in exactly the same manner, suits and company cars migrating into blouses, beads and beat-up automobiles. The arguments — or at least the nature of them — were no different.

The salvation I was seeking may have looked prettier but it was the same and still remained outside me in the world. I may have been told it was an inside job, but like my future clients, I still wasn’t ready to down tools and go there.

It wasn’t my fault, it isn’t anyone’s. I may have been armed with an O-level in Latin (unexpectedly) but I had been taught little about consciousness, in fact quite the reverse: education, it would become clear, is a conditioning process.

Experience Week was stage one of an entry passage to become a member of this most feted of communities, known for its renowned visiting teachers and gigantic vegetables grown, against all odds on the beach.

It turned out to be another dead end, its banality coming early on a visit to the lavatories.

Inside, was a wiry man up a stepladder painting the ceiling. As I zipped up ready to leave, he beckoned me back and whispered:

‘Be careful what you say here. Things are really bad these days, not like when I first came, now there’s a group of women in charge.’

He winked to underline his warning and proffer collusion as if I might be another recruit for the men’s team. It wasn’t long before the evidence of the age-old power struggle became evident, in whispered clusters and cliques, slicing through any sense of wholeness that may once have been.

The men skulked in the shadows, the matriarchy, seemingly oblivious to its own shadow, posed a threat little different to the patriarchy they despised. It was all out of whack.

The atmosphere smelt as foul as the methane-inducing vegetarian diet which, like much else, had long ago relinquished any love or imagination and was — so to speak — simply going through the motions.

Our small group took the minibus one day to a magical glade where it was said the worlds collide and if you were blessed you just might make it through the paper-thin portal to a different reality.

If only. But it didn’t happen and I imagined with a smirk that the sprites and fairies who opened the doorway, on seeing us had packed up and sealed the entrance for good.

It seemed that time living in community was coming to an end, what I wanted wasn’t there after all. I had already spent nine months in a retreat centre in rural Dorset, skipped off to Skyros and spent a summer as a Woofer on a Devon farm.

I was running out of road, which first filled me with dread, later relief. Freedom — although I didn’t know it — was in sight and every doorway had to be closed for me to see it.

There were several sentences that stuck with me: ‘Spiritual life begins when seeking fails,’ glared at me from one book. I would read and reread it, puzzling, trying to wrap my head round it, not realizing that it was my head that was standing in the way.

It was a decade later before it finally clicked, before enough of me was out of my own way to see the truth, and began with a depression that saw me abandon both the reality and concept of personal growth.

And it was utterly simple. I just let go. I let go of the books, the workshops and all thought of self improvement or change. For six months, I went to work, came home and watched TV.

That was it.

It was nothing anyone would recommend for healing, yet surrender did it. I gave up. I accepted myself as I was. I had found the Holy Grail in the ordinary.

‘Each man’s soul demands that he be, and that he live, every great archetypal role in the collective unconscious: the betrayer and the betrayed, the lover and the beloved, the oppressor and the victim, the noble and the ignoble, the conqueror and the conquered, the warrior and the priest, the man of sorrows and the self reborn.’ Robert A Johnson

About a year later I began meditating in earnest, which began chipping away at my glorious but sincere self obsession. Gratitude became important, others more so. I still had my moments of selfishness but something was opening up.

‘Disappointment is the great gift of the Beloved,’ wrote the English advaita teacher Tony Parsons. I grasped a lifetime of disappointment, hugged it to me and began to see it was all perfect.

Everything had conspired to bring me to my knees, time and time again, but I finally saw that ‘I’ was present in all experience. Consciousness, the awareness I Am, had always been there, amid all the tragedies and joys it had been my unwavering companion.

‘Find the one who is with you at your birth and who will be with you at your death,’ exhorts the Indian Nisargadatta.

Through steady and persistent meditation, there was the development of a clear seeing, a shift in the locus of the ‘I’, and a sense of freedom that is continually expanding, if intermittently.

Of course, I get snagged still by my humanness, old patterns rising up, but I let them go more speedily. One insight that really struck me — and one many healers will struggle with — is that everything within the time-space universe isn’t it and that includes all our wonderful and loving healing modalities. They are also part of Saturn’s illusion, part of his seduction and need to be held lightly. In the end, they too are just another snare to get hooked on, a persuasive, seductive self-image; a subtler reason for pride.

As the sale signs proclaim, it all has to go.

The freedom I wanted is at hand, although paradoxically, it is the dimunition and eventual ending of the ‘I’ itself which reveals it. For, like the sun behind cloud, it was always there, present yet unseen.

Jung describes it as a synthesis, a rising above polarities: good and bad, right and wrong, masculine and feminine.

Tony Parsons put it like this: ‘Because it is all that is no-one can lay claim to it. It needs not to be argued, proven or embellished, for it stands alone simply as it is, and can only be recognized and rejected, or realized and lived.’

When people want to scrap with me on the internet, I either step away or point out it is old paradigm behaviour and to just take what you want, and leave the rest of what I write for those who are interested.

I have no need to be bound nor any interest in living on planet Earth again. A dream is called a dream because it is. There comes a time when Reality, ever permanent and self-shining, is the only game in town.

© Simon Heathcote



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Simon Heathcote

Simon Heathcote

Psychotherapist writing on the human journey for some; irreverently for others; and poetry for myself; former newspaper editor.