Spiritual Initiation and the Kleshas
This excerpt comes from a longer article by Bo Forbes entitled “The Awakening”
It’s human nature to avoid the emotional roadblocks that pepper the path to spiritual maturity, to seek instead the slow and steady pace of the ordinary traveller. Yet reaching higher spiritual ground requires an extraordinary traveller. It demands the kind of sea change that arrives at key junctures and can transport you to a higher level of spiritual functioning. A spiritual initiation—an exceptionally difficult life passage that shakes your foundations and makes you question your purpose—is just this sort of sea change. It’s an opportunity disguised as loss; a chance to strengthen the thread of awareness that connects the outer part of your being to the inner, to descend deeper into the soul. Spiritual initiations are transitional; they leave you between worlds. Like a snake undergoing a brief period of blindness after shedding its skin, you’re temporarily sightless: You’re neither your old self nor a new one. This amorphous, transitional feeling can be challenging—and it can manifest itself in all areas of your life. The mission during spiritual initiations is to slow down and look straight into your soul, and to root out the kleshas, the afflictions of spiritual ignorance that can block your progress. The feeling that your life is coming undone is the call to awakening that begins an initiation. The call can take many forms: illness or accident, the end of a relationship, the death of a loved one, an urge to enter therapy or to begin a period of self-examination, the recognition of an unhealthy situation or relationship. This is an opportunity to transcend the lament “Why is this happening to me?” and to seek a greater purpose behind the crisis. During this acute phase you’ll most likely experience the klesha asmita, disruption of the ego, or sense of “I am,” and a tendency to cling to old definitions of Self: the Provider, the Responsible One, the Caretaker, the Black Sheep, the Boss, the Martyr, and so on. When you answer the call to awakening, you leave behind, at least for a while, this familiar territory and may feel cast adrift.
You can counter this instability by centreing yourself with your breath, focusing on the inflow and outflow of your breath. Imagine that thread of awareness connecting your outer mind with your deepest inner Self; with each exhalation, descend further down that thread of awareness into the centre of your being. This growing connection to your deepest Self will help during the most difficult parts of your awakening. As you leave your unhealthy world behind, you may experience a profound sense of separation. This is where another klesha, dvesha the aversion to pain, comes into play. Your challenge now is to take a good look at the way you’ve been living and to weed out old habits and beliefs that once fortified your ego but no longer serve you: a lifeless relationship, an addiction, a history of powerlessness, overwork, the glare of self-hatred, for example. As you do this, you’re left to face the great canyon of emptiness that lies underneath. Facing this inner void clears the slate, making way for change and regeneration.
To renew and conserve energy, you can cultivate pratyahara the turning inward of the senses, the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga. Pratyahara helps you sit with pain without being consumed by it or overidentifying with it.
You will then be ready for an extraordinary pilgrimage into the depths of your own Underworld. Here, you simultaneously suffer the death of who you thought you were and encounter your shadow side: the parts you keep hidden, the qualities, behaviours, and motivations that may be difficult for you to acknowledge.
The tasks of facing the Underworld and your shadow provoke the klesha abhinivesha, which is a fear of death and the tendency to cling to life. Though painful, the death of the ego is essential so that, like the mythical phoenix, you can rise from the ashes and come to life again in a more mature form. Suffering and death break through the defensive structures that frame our personalities, so we can get closer to our souls.
To emerge intact from this stage, it’s helpful to explore samadhi, a total absorption with the Divine, or deepest Self. And this is where savasana comes into play, it creates a space for the blending of all eight limbs of yoga for the awakening of our deepest Self
The contraction and suffering experienced with the death of the ego can close your heart and make you feel dry, barren, and exiled. This may seem like a spiritual wasteland, but it’s one of the richest and most verdant paths of your awakening. Although you might not yet see it, the seeds of your new self are sprouting beneath the soil of your awareness. This is often when the klesha avidya ignorance or delusion is stimulated: You can’t see what you’ll grow into. You may also have trouble recognizing the last stage of your transition for what it is—rebirth.
Instead, avidya compels you to rush into your fledgling spiritual self, to restructure your life, to build a new ego and end this seemingly endless period of waiting. To contain the tension of waiting for your new form, call upon dhyana, meditation. Dhyana teaches patience, so you can sit with whatever is present and act in the context of mindfulness. It helps you tune in to the voice of the soul and let that voice guide you.
Finally, after all this waiting, you will be reborn, but the kleshas are still never far away…..the process of rebirth stirs up the klesha raga, attachment to pleasure. Now that you’ve moved away from suffering and death, you’re loath to re-experience it. You may rush to form an attachment to your new identity, but it may be wise not to get too comfortable. If spiritual maturity is truly your priority, you must be ready to leave the comfort zone and begin again and again, as many times as it takes. Don’t get distracted by the siren song of raga.
A spiritual initiation refines and reshapes you, allowing you to reinvent yourself completely, to give yourself over to something greater. They are windows through which you can glimpse who you really are and what’s possible for you.
As you learn to recognize and accept the extraordinary power of change and develop the art of surrender, you’ll be rewarded with an awakening to the natural alignment between body, mind, and spirit that already exists within you.