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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Suffering and Spiritual Awakening

"As long as we placed self-reliance first, a genuine reliance upon a Higher Power was out of the question. That basic ingredient of all humility, a desire to seek and do God's will, was missing."

"For us, the process of gaining a new perspective was unbelievably painful."

". . . In every case (however), pain (has) been the price of admission into a new life. But this admission price has purchased more than we expected. It brought a measure of humility, which we soon discovered to be a healer of pain. We began to fear pain less, and desire humility more than ever."

". . . We saw we needn't always be bludgeoned and beaten into humility. It  could come quite as much from our voluntary reaching for it as it could from unremitting suffering." (Emphasis added.)

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pages 72 & 76

Arctic explorer, Knud Rasmussen, (1879-1933), returned to Europe with stories of the suffering endured by Inuit shamans, the "medicine men" of the High Arctic, in their ritual initiations. One such shaman, Igjugarjuk, told Rasmussen how as a young adolescent he had been taken out on the ice-floes by an elder shaman. There, in the constant dark and cold of a polar winter, he had been left by himself in a snow shelter for forty days with minimal contact in order that he might meditate upon "the Great Spirit," and thereby attain a spiritual awakening.

"Sometimes I died a little," Igjugarjuk said. But, then, he told Rasmussen, "a helping spirit" arrived "in the form of a woman who seemed to hover in the air above (me)." After this, he was taken home by the elder shaman, there to diet and fast for an additional five months under the elder shaman's guidance. Such ordeals, he told Rasmussen, are "the best means of attaining a knowledge of hidden things."

"The only true wisdom," lgjugarjuk said, "lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and can be reached only through suffering. Privation and suffering alone open the mind of a man to all that is hidden to others."

Najagneq, circa 1922
Another shaman, Najagneq, told Rasmussen of his "venture into the silence," an ordeal in which he met the spirit he called Sila - a spirit, according to Najabneq, that "cannot be explained in so many words." "Sila," he told Rasmussen, is "a very strong spirit, the upholder of the universe, of the weather, in fact of all life on earth. (A spirit) so mighty that his speech to man comes not through ordinary words, but through storms, snowfall, rain showers, the tempests of the sea, all the forces that man fears, or through sunshine, calm seas, or small, innocent, playing children who understand nothing."

"When times are good," Najagneq told Rasmussen, "Sila has nothing to say to mankind. He has disappeared into his infinite nothingness and remains away as long as people do not abuse life but have respect for their daily food. No one has ever seen Sila," he said. "His place of sojourn is so mysterious that he is with us and infinitely far away at the same time."

"The inhabitant or soul of the universe," Najagneq said, "is never seen; its voice alone is heard. All we know is that it has a gentle voice, like a woman, a voice so fine and gentle that even children cannot become afraid. And what it says is: 'Sila ersinarsinivdluge,'" i.e., "There is nothing to be afraid of in the universe."
(From Schizophrenia: The Inward Journey, by Joseph Campbell)

The alcoholic addict, in recovery, knows much about suffering - both the untreated suffering of addiction, and the suffering that is frequently endured in sobriety as he or she awakens to to the spiritual power that resides "deep down in every man woman and child." (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 55.)

"Faith is a dark night for man," St. John of the Cross wrote in The Dark Night of the Soul, "but in this very way it gives him light. . . . Like a blind man he must lean on dark faith, accept it for his guide and light, and rest on nothing of what he understands, tastes, feels, or imagines. . . . To reach the supernatural bounds a person must depart from his natural bounds and leave self far off in respect to his interior and exterior limits in order to mount from a low state to the highest."

"When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or avoid," writes Bill W. (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 53), "we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else he is nothing. God either is, or He isn't. What was our choice to be?"

Painful as it may be, for every alcoholic addict has a lower or higher pride - be it pride of intellect, pride of independence, pride of person, pride of strength, or even pride of faith - each such person, on attaining true humility, will have passed his or her 'Dark Night of the Soul' and will have attained to a quiet consciousness of the Spirit, or God, that pervades their being and the world around them.


  1. ...Its interesting that the Artic Shamen seem to practice very similar(if not the same)techniques as the the Desert Fathers of early fascinated with the methods that seekers utilize to achieve God consciousness,Asceticism/Hesychasm/Quiestism..ect..ect ...In my own experience,i have seen a profound difference in myself simply by learning to be OK in/with complete and total silence,not even ambient noise(as far as possible)..this practice took time and did not come easy for me but the rewards,in terms of spiritual'expansion',have been phenominal.. The deterimental effects that noise has on our psyche cant be understated,..sadly,neither can it be understood by the uninitiated.....Thank you for this post

  2. If you are interested in the wide range of techniques that various traditions have used to expand consciousness, and how the expansion of consciousness is itself the hallmark of our continuing evolutionary progress,I would highly recommend the book, "Pain, Sex and Time" by Gerald Heard. (Heard, incidentally, was a close friend of Bill W., and was involved with Bill, Aldous Huxley, Huston Smith etc.. when Bill experimented in early LSD trials to see if there was, perhaps, a connection or methodology to spark the sudden variety of spiritual awakening he had experienced years earlier. Thank God that Dr. Bob was safely dead by then. LOL)

    I wrote about Heard in the following blog post:

    1. ..Thanks for the book lead,i'll check it out...and the article too.