This is the beginning of my book, The Love of Devotion. It describes two pivotal spiritual experiences at ages 22 and 26, covering three different countries – Australia, America, and England.
Chapter 1: Solutions are Spiritual
Breath of God
The fruits of serious spiritual devotion have an unmistakable flavour, sometimes, even more so in retrospect. It had been a challenging few years. I was twenty-six. I had been progressing through an existential crisis, an involuntary falling apart of life’s meaning. I felt a deep human aloneness and with all my praying I failed to feel the love of God in any way which could help my state of being. Other than the care and protection of my two little children and my spiritual studies, I had no interest in anything. Everything seemed trite to me; meaningless and often painfully intolerable. I had lost faith in everything human to give solace to my soul. It was not intentional. It is just what happened over the space of a few years. I was at the bottom of the valley – all things lost but nothing yet gained.
What else could I do but pray? Only God could rescue me. I did not doubt that God would do so but, first, it seemed that all would be taken away so that new ground would be available for working with. One morning during the earlier years of this struggle, I was walking along a path at a quiet beach near where we lived. I had my toddler in a stroller and my baby in a tie-on carrier. It was a beautiful suburb in seaside Sydney and all the more beautiful for the glorious day. However, try as I did, none of this had any ability to lift my spirits.
The preceding few days had been particularly difficult. Even the tiny bit of hope I was given after prayer seemed to have disappeared. Tears of grief and despair were my increasingly constant companion, though I knew not what I grieved for. Much later, I realised it was the necessary grieving that accompanies the loosening of the hold that the ego has over our consciousness. It is the inevitable struggle of being born human and, yet, the soul seeks release from the bondage of thought that constantly revolves around the precious one – ourselves. We grow up trying to develop enough of an ego to be able to survive and thrive in the world. That, in itself, is a mighty effort. Even before we have it mastered, the deeper Self starts speaking to us, whispering in our ear that this life is not enough. Then we, almost without noticing, begin the quest of pulling apart the ego that we, so courageously, tried to build.
Having no other option but to go forward, I was walking along the beach boardwalk with my little ones hoping that the natural beauty would, even marginally, rescue me. After a while, I must have forgotten about myself. I was looking out to sea and the grandness of it all caught my attention. I simply forgot, for a moment, to feel so bad. That was the chance. And given the chance, It came rushing in. It was so brief that it was over before I even noticed it. But there it was, nevertheless, unmistakable. It came like an invisible breeze brushing past me, coming from the sea, returning beyond, into the Infinite. It wasn’t a breeze. It was the breath of God. As soon as it went, I called internally, “No, stop! Come back. I have been trying to find you. Stay with me. I need you.” I knew it was the Divine by the lightness it brought. It was a sweet presence, softening the mind. It was a very welcome breath of fresh air. It could not stay, at that time, but it would later return and become a progressively more comfortable friend. The veil was beginning to part.
The Dark Night of the Soul
It is, often, in the utter despair of humanness that we become willing to consider deeply spiritual answers. The door and the guide will be different for people but once the door is open, we are all in the same territory. Spiritual truth irretrievably alters our way of seeing reality and our ability to heal both ourselves and other people. Most spiritual awakening is due to a total disappointment in the human condition to provide any sense of substantial happiness. It is a blessing in disguise. Our greatest need is for the love and assurance that spiritual understanding brings. If it were not for the common experience of human lovelessness and limitation then we would not be driven to seek a higher love.
My initial contact with my first spiritual teacher was through a book that was given to me. Not long after reading the book, I was able to travel to America to attend the annual conference of the group. I was twenty-two at the time and my teacher was seventy. His presence radiated peace, assurance, love, and power. He was, in fact, the only person I had ever met who had the quality of being that I was looking for. He instantly became my teacher, without reservation, and with deep longing for growth and spiritual progress.
Some days, back in Australia, I would simply repeat many times, “God loves me. That is enough.” I read the books daily, listened to the class tapes that were sent to me, and prayed all the time. I spoke frequently with my teacher on the phone; both from Australia and for several years from England, often, in the middle of the night because of the time difference. Once, my teacher told me that it was the dark night of the soul. He assured me that it would lift and I would be surprised at how happy I would be. Everything he told me, I soaked in desperately. This period was the crucible which was to be of vital and foundational importance in the development of my spiritual understanding. In all the conversations I had with my teacher, the most often repeated and important concept was this, “Donna, you have to understand that you are not here to get love. You are here to manifest non-conditional goodness for God’s sake. You are here for God and if you are devoted to that idea you will not be disturbed by what other people believe. You will never feel unloved if you know that that’s not what you are here for. We are all here for God and we are to manifest benevolence with no strings attached. Love is its own reward. You don’t have to worry about what you are getting or not getting. You are here for God. That’s the bottom line. Once you learn to live that way, you will never be vulnerable to other people.”
To understand this is to understand the love of being loving. It radically changes us. People, in and of themselves, cannot give us happiness. Activities, in and of themselves, cannot give us happiness. At a certain stage of development, one releases all the attachments to both people and activities as a source of happiness. In so doing, one finds a more subtle way of being present in the world. One becomes a loving presence, a centre for Divine grace. Once again, people and activities are enjoyed. In fact, much more so. However, there is no craving or desire to get something, no expectation that the person or activity can fulfil us. One brings something – the love of God.
During this whole period of suffering and mental and spiritual struggling, my teacher let me both suffer and struggle. He, at no point, tried to alleviate my suffering by human means – by sympathy, affection or human advice. He knew that if I just kept going, the understanding of divine Love would come. Happily, it did. The darkness grew less and the light came filtering in to remain a growing presence.