Rethinking Spiritual Transformation

This post was triggered by an incident a friend of mine told me. (*Please see the note at the end of this post.)  She had a sense of foreboding and ill fortune, and visited an astrologer. She found out that the transit going on was Pluto opposition Sun, and the astrologer told her, Don’t worry, you’re just having a spiritual transformation.

It turns out that “spiritual transformation” was a diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer.

The point I wish to make here is that the astrologer was correct in what my friend ended up experiencing, and completely false and misleading in the statement she was trying to make.

What the astrologer meant was something like – oh, don’t worry, nothing bad is going to happen to you, this is just a Spiritual Experience.

She meant Spiritual as opposed to something real or physical. No threat there.

That astrologer was trying to tell my friend to ignore the inner wisdom that was telling her something was wrong, and just pretend everything was going to turn out just fine – you know, Positively.

That astrologer was telling my friend to ignore the living voice of Spirit awake within her in that feeling of foreboding.

We need to revisit that phrase, Spiritual Transformation. We need to put the guts back into it. We need to say the phrase with fear and trembling, knowing it may very well mean that we are traversing hell – that we are in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and may perhaps pass through the shadow.

The phrase spiritual transformation the way that astrologer used it is so damned sanitary; it smacks of holiness in the negative sense. She was implying that something spiritual is refined, far away from us, and has very little effect on our concrete physical lives. In that implied worldview the physical life is central and real, and the spiritual is something peripheral – maybe something we aspire to, but not anything having a real effect on our day to day lives. This is Spirit as something you do every Sunday morning for about an hour.

The exact opposite should be the case.

At its core the word Spirit means to point to something in us that is absolutely central, essential, primal – the very core of our being, from which all of the rest of our life radiates outward. Spirit is our source, the Center.

Ponder that thought – if our entire life radiates outward from that spiritual center, then any kind of spiritual experience will necessarily affect every aspect of our lives – our bodies, our feelings, our thoughts, our circumstances.

Really profound experiences of change manifest on every possible level; they are multi-dimensional experiences.

And, very often, a move towards a new state means that old parts of our lives that have outlived their usefulness need to be ripped out, shattered, destroyed and discarded, like ripping your way through a suit of clothes that you have outgrown. The cloth stretches, the seams creak and tear, and suddenly there is this drastic rip.

Spiritual transformation is a change of awareness that takes place in response to a change in circumstances. It is a change in consciousness, and often it takes some pretty horrendous experiences to shake up our worlds enough that we are open to a major shift in how we view the world.

Take Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn – he experienced his “spiritual transformation” in the hell of a Russian gulag, a forced labor camp.

Take Viktor Frankl, whose experience in a Nazi prison camp gave birth to the psychological work he describes in his classic book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”.

Spiritual transformation means a major change of consciousness, and very often – not always, but very often – that means going through some kind of Hell.

In the world of astrology this is like when we use the word Transformation to speak of the Eighth House. The word somehow sounds safer than saying Death. Actually the word is meant to hop over death and all its terror, and jump straight into some kind of new beginning. It is like going directly from caterpillar to butterfly without having to go through the death-like chrysalis phase followed by the struggle for emergence and new identity.

That is going from life to transition to new life, without coming to terms with the fact that the transition often involves some kind of death.

We can’t take on a new form without shedding an old form, and shedding forms is painful, unfamiliar, disorienting, scary. Plastering on the words Transformation or Spiritual doesn’t make it any less raw or painful, and can be misleading, soporific. It can be an excuse for not descending into the depths of the experience and dealing with it on a deep and real emotional level.

I think this gets to the very core of the issue.

Often when we think of something Spiritual we mean it as opposed to emotional or physical. Spirit is something you do by transcending your body.

It is the other way around. It is only by descending into the depths of our emotions, and opening ourselves up to the depths of our body wisdom, that we really get in touch with the core of our being, our Spiritual selves.

I know this one from experience.

As readers of this journal know, I started waking up when I watched my wife die of cancer.

So please – next time you use the word Spiritual, or the word Transformation, please stop and consider the depths of what you are referring to.

Tremble, and take your shoes off; you are on holy ground.

*Note: I showed this post to my astrologer friend, the woman I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. She responded by writing the following lovely meditation on her blog – On Being Seen.


Rethinking Spiritual Transformation — 4 Comments

  1. Her reading was perfect. Her sharing with you was perfect. You got angry. Now you know there is something in you that needs healing. Perfect. All. Always.

  2. Well said Charles. Aging is another aspect of the process of transformation, in my experience, where one’s role in the outside world or perceptions of those activities shift, along with physical illness, pain, loss of capability, or just realization mentally of how the world as we know it reflects our inner beliefs. There are many paths – some more difficult that others. We are all blessed by transformation, and we don’t fully know where we are going so we must surrender to that which our inner guidance brings.

    • Rebecca,

      Thank you for your comment. I completely agree with you about aging and transformation. I think is has been a huge loss to our culture that we have no real way to honor or tap into the wisdom of age. We’ve lost the Wise Woman and Wise Man archetypes.

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