One of the the basic concepts in Living Meditation is the concept of pulsation – a living pulse in the practice. This means both the importance of having life in the sitting meditation practice, like a vibrancy and enjoyment and some variety in the things that you’re practicing, but it also means a pulsation in the sense of allowing for ups and downs. If we cannot accept the boring moments of meditation or the distracted moments, if we cannot ride through the times when it’s difficult to practice, chances are our practice won’t make it. This is one of the main reasons most people – including most “yoga people” – don’t meditate. They may start in a sweet pulsation, but when that sweet pulsation goes dry, or becomes hard, or starts to be too challenging, they quit. If they stay, they will find that the pulsation goes back to sweetness and depth. But they have to be there for the pulsation to go back that way.
Over time, you will come to learn that the tiny battles we face in our formal meditation practice are good preparations – almost like workouts – for our wider relationship with Spirit. There is no doubt about the ups and downs, sweet spots and dry patches, warm hugs and ass whippings that sincere seekers encounter on that path.
Baba Muktananda used to often talk about a wrestler-in-training and how he needed to be knocked down and beaten many times before he could learn to win. In the most simple terms, resurrection means to “rise again “. In the most simple terms for what we’re talking about, you can think of resurrection as a kind of perseverance, or a kind of grit that allows us to move through difficult moments without being thwarted from our purpose. It’s about falling off the horse and getting back on again, and again, and again, and again. Like working with a particular meditation technique and working with it and staying with it, even if it isn’t your favorite one at first. Every time you reapply your effort you make a mini resurrection.
But there is a bigger concept that I want to put out to you. Along with these mini resurrections that happen all the time, there is a bigger resurrection that happens for many people on the spiritual path. But to talk about this resurrection we have to talk about spiritual death, we have to talk about ego death, we have to talk about the concept of katabasis.
Katabasis means “going down”. I think of it as a sort of a downward spiraling motion. I know this word from Robert Bly’s Iron John. Bly uses it to talk about the psychic fall, the downgoing into the darkness of our soul, sometimes the “dark night of the soul”. From Bly’s point of view, and from the point of view of many great soul workers, there is a down-going that we have to do on the spiritual path. Before we can rise to real wisdom and transcendence, we first have to go down. In AA, people do not get sober until they have “reached bottom”.
There is a beautiful symbolism in the religious gesture of bowing are getting on ones and knees to pray. We get down. We go down to connect with God. If you think about this, it’s kind of funny. Many of the traditions that pray on their knees think of God being “up above” in heaven. It could make sense for people to climb up on a ladder and pray there. But we don’t. We get down on our knees. In the Buddhist and Hindu tradition, people will actually stretch all the way out on their belly, face-down to offer “prostrations” to God. If you have never done this, you should try. It’s a very deep gesture and mind-body experience. We humble ourselves and we meet Spirit “down there”.
These prostrations are the ones we do on purpose in our meditation room or in a temple. But if you’re a sincere seeker and have spent even a little time on the path, you know that God is very capable of using life to put our “dick in the dirt”. These moments can happen when things fall apart, relationships dissolve, jobs change, health declines, or old patterns ripen and show themselves ready to fall away. Sometimes these moments happen when big failures and fuck-ups and disasters happen. We are brought face-to-face with something humbling and sometimes humiliating. We’re crucified. We fall, or we fail, or we surrender, by choice or by God’s mandate. We go down.
If we are seekers, if we have a spiritual practice or see our lives as a spiritual journey, we seize this moment. We don’t just collapse. We ask for help. We learn, we work on ourselves, we adjust.
And we rise.
As seekers, our rising, and the way we rise, is what makes the katabasis worth it. We can take every stumble, every fall as an opportunity to learn SO MUCH. We learn about the whole process: what brought us down, what the down-going was like, what we found “down there”, what the surrendering process was like, and what brought us back to our feet again. This is really important, this process of self-inquiry and self-awareness. It can be brutal. And we should be brutally honest with ourselves (without beating up on ourselves or getting into self-shame or self blame or self hatred). But looking at the fall and looking at the “bottom” is just a step. It’s just the end of the out-breath. We must breathe in.
We must rise.
We must remember wisdom and remember our path and remember what is most important to us and get up and start walking that path again when it’s time.
And if you think about it, imagine what it would be like to die and come back to life. Recently I had the privilege of leading meditation sessions at the Innocence Project’s annual conference. There were about 200 people there who had been wrongly convicted of crimes and sent to prison. Many of them spent decades behind bars. Then, through the work of the project, they were exonerated and released. One can only imagine.
For the resurrected, there is a preciousness to life, a preciousness to time. The key, as is the key for the exonerees, is to not be too burned by the down-fall. In their case, they were often totally innocent victims. In the down-going we’re talking about in spiritual life, in human life, there is rarely a victim thing. We can almost always get a huge dose of humility because as yogis we can always find some nugget of wisdom as we see our part, our shortcomings, and our growth edge, and work on it. We wake up, we get up, and we MOVE, and move differently.
In our resurrected life we have a new mission, and hopefully, in the process of dying, of going through the katabasis, we have let some weight go, we have put some things down, some old habits, some old energies.We walk anew. Christ risen.
So here’s a little food for thought on this Easter Sunday:
How have you been knocked down, put down, crucified? How have you “gone down”? And what does your resurrection look like? Is there something that is calling for you to get down on your knees? Is there something that is calling for you to surrender? Are you stuck in the down-phase? Is there something calling for you to FINALLY get up again? Let us know. And blessings to you on your downward and upward journeys.