Remembering Our Inner Story

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Ever tell yourself a story, a story that in the process of the telling grows stronger? A story about the meaning of life–your life, life in general? As a small child, a story knotted itself within me without words. It guided me silently. But moment by hour, day by decade, I have learned its significance.

Unlike David Spangler, I didn’t have transcendent journeys and life-altering visions as a kid. But I did have this inner story. It’s only now, though, as an adult with the vantage point of having lived enough of the adventure to see some chapters and recurring themes, that I can appreciate that quiet companion of my early years.  It gave me something to hold onto, intangible and yet with considerate depth.

While reading about David’s life-altering vision at the age of seven, one passage in particular stood out to me:

For reasons I no longer remember, I had been thinking about the riddles of existence. Why was I here? Where did I come from? Who was I? As I looked up at the Nehi sign with the Arab women working below, I remember asking myself, “Who was I before I was David Spangler? Who am I who is looking at this sign?”

Reading these words, I remember thinking, How wizened seven year olds can be! I know adults that don’t have this depth of presence!

But it seems that’s a key part of the particularity of the human experience. As children we can attune to our origin story more easily. The trick, then, becomes to not forget it as the pressures of living in the world build and start to supplant our inner worlds with mechanisms contrary to that inborn understanding.

The key is remembrance.

I’m reminded of a passage from Dan Millman’s Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior about little girl Sachi:

Mama Chia put down her food and gazed past the clearing into the thick emerald forest:

“Nine years ago I helped bring Sachi into the world. When she was four, I also welcomed her little brother.

“Soon after her brother was born, little Sachi began to ask her parents to leave her alone with the new baby. They worried that like most four-year-olds, she might feel jealous and want to hit or shake him, so they said no. But she showed no signs of jealousy. She treated the baby with kindness and her pleas to be left alone with him became more urgent. They decided to allow it.
Elated, she went into the baby’s room and she shut the door, but it opened a crack-enough for her curious parents to peek in and listen. They saw little Sachi walk quietly up to her baby brother, put her face close to his and say quietly, “Baby, tell me what God feels like. I’m starting to forget.”
“She said that?” I asked, in awe.
“Yes.”
In my work with children over the years I can personally attest to the depth of insight and the richness of their inner worlds. I also cherish the memories of that companionable story from my own childhood. Then it was a quiet reflection I didn’t have the words to articulate. Now it has become the great adventure I call my life.
jalal ad-din rumi found on Pinterest via Jann Wingfield

The Story of Light

David Spangler’s childhood vision “on the road to Damascus” introduced him to the Source of Light and laid the foundation for his eventual understanding of the process of incarnation. Ten years later a second vision changed the course of David’s life and shaped the structure of what ultimately came to be known as Incarnational Spirituality.

David writes in Apprenticed to Spirit: The Education of a Soul:

There were no bells or whistles. There was no out-of-body flight or any sensations of entering an altered state of consciousness. There was nothing as dramatic as what had happened when I was seven. I only saw a human figure in front of me.

This was not a specific person but a generic individual, almost like a department store mannequin. It was not a being of Light as I was used to seeing, but seemed sculpted from light that glowed from within itself. It definitely appeared solid and physical, even though radiant with light.

It seemed bursting with meaning; so much so that if information were heat and light, it would seem that this individual was standing in front of a furnace. I felt overwhelmed by the insights this figure contained, and could not grasp them all. Almost fifty years later, I am still unpacking the information it had to offer.

But one thing stood out. This figure represented an incarnate person in physical embodiment. It was neither a spiritual nor a non-physical being. It was not an image of what a person might become if he or she left the physical plane or became some kind of ascended master. It was an image of the spiritual Light contained within and radiating from the act of individuation and personhood. It was the light of being a person.

As I watched, the figure changed into a chalice and then became a figure again. It did this three times altogether, as if emphasizing that this person also represented a quality of holding. Afterward, I thought of this figure as “the person who is also a chalice.”

At the same time this vision unfolded in front of me, I sensed the presence of a group of inner beings in the background, one of whom came to stand behind me. He said quite distinctly, “There is a new spirituality emerging, a spirituality of personhood and incarnation. It will represent a new way of being in the world.” And then he said, “Your work is to help this emergence.”

Then the vision faded.

*

My main purpose in sharing these visions is to establish this most basic framework, without which any study of Incarnational Spirituality may be largely incomplete or impeded; from the perspective of this emerging spirituality, the origin of the human being is an Order of Light.

Having said that, I don’t think that the old stories of creation need to be forgotten, ignored or even directly challenged. They are part of our cultural inheritances, our ways of coming to terms with living in the world, and need to be honored as such.

Yet I fully admit that it may take a great deal of courage for some of us to believe that human beings can be inherently more than weak, frail, fragile and sinful.  Or that our egos deserve the same place of distinction that our souls possess.

But at the beginning of my own personal exploration of Incarnational Spirituality, I felt this story of light needed to be shared.  Like the woman at the airport suggested, it’s part of a larger understanding of spirituality that could change everything!

Inner Light, Beginning Light: David Spangler’s “Awakening on the Road to Casablanca”

light-world-in-your-hands-public-domain

There’s a Catholic hymn I remember singing as a child during Mass, entitled “We Are The Light Of The World.” The song was essentially the Beatitudes set to music, but the refrain in particular stands out in my memory:

“We are the light of the world
May our light shine before all
That they may come to worship with us
And give glory to God.”

Light, such an empowering spiritual image. And there it is, buried in the middle of a song about being meek, humble, persecuted, poor in spirit.

“We are the light of the world.”

(Yet another reflection of “the inner light of sacred remembrance” that lies behind our stories of creation and also, paradoxically, redemption?)

Well, as a child I didn’t particularly feel full of light. If anything the complexities of duality were already swinging my existence from heights to depths. My personal path to an understanding of inner light took me down a rather long and somewhat strange road, all things considered.

This was not true for David Spangler. Not that his life wasn’t full of its own particular challenges, but even as a small child, David had already unlocked an inheritance of open-hearted sight into and clear engagement with the world that lies beyond this one. One of these engagements served as David’s awakening to the light within himself as an incarnated being.

In the following passage from David’s memoir Apprenticed To Spirit: The Education of a Soul, David shares this life-altering experience:

It was 1952, when I was seven, about a year after we had moved to Morocco. In the spring of that year, we moved to what became our permanent residence in a house on the Strategic Air Command air base of Nouasseur, about eighteen miles south of Casablanca. . .

One morning we were driving into Casablanca. I was in the tiny backseat of our car watching the scenery go by. Passing a tiny stream that flowed alongside the road in what was little more than a deep ditch at the foot of a small bluff, we saw a group of Arab women standing in the water, washing their clothes the way they had done since the days of Abraham by beating them against the rocks. As I watched them, I noticed a large billboard set into the bluff overhead and looked out the back window to see what it said. Is showed a glamorous blond woman’s smiling face next to a large bottle of Nehi, a popular orange soda.

For reasons I no longer remember, I had been thinking about the riddles of existence. Why was I here? Where did I come from? Who was I? As I looked up at the Nehi sign with the Arab women working below, I remember asking myself, “Who was I before I was David Spangler? Who am I who is looking at this sign?”

As if this question had been a key, I suddenly felt something open inside me. I felt myself swelling, as if I were a balloon and someone were pumping air into me. And I found myself floating like a balloon above our family car, looking down. Through the roof of the car I could see my parents in the front seat and my own body sitting in the back.

Then I was immersed in light, as if I had entered an illuminated cloud. I seemed to expand, taking more and more of this light into myself. I moved through layers that alternated between sensation and light. I would have moments of seeing: sometimes landscapes, sometimes just patterns of color or energy, to reenter a region of only light, which in turn gave way to different perspectives. As I went through these layers, I had an experience of expanding awareness and knowledge.

At one point I came out of the light to a place in which I was surrounded by a circle of figures, all of which were familiar to me as parts of myself. I had the impression I was seeing past and future lives. At that moment, I knew who I was as a soul and consciousness that existed before my life as David. I was filled with a sense of awakening and remembrance. I remember thinking, This is what an amnesiac experiences when he remembers who he is. This was accompanied by an intense feeling of relief and joy.

The movement returned to a layer of pure light. It felt as if I were rushing outward into an ever-larger space until the light parted, and I found myself looking out on the universe with a great spiral galaxy directly before me, pulsing with a gold light and vibrating with life and power. I felt I was not looking at stars but at a living organism, a cosmic body–a body of which I was a part. At that moment my sense of being a separate, human individual faded to a feeling of union with universal Presence.

The light closed in around me again, and I was aware of a reverse movement, of contracting and consolidating. I felt myself going through stages of becoming a particular individual again. I felt something calling me but not from somewhere outside of myself. It was coming from within me as a will and a desire that was focused upon the earth.

Again I burst out of the light and found myself looking down upon the earth from space as if from near orbit. It looked exactly as it does in pictures the astronauts have taken, all blue and white and exquisitely beautiful. I felt an outpouring of love for this planet and a sense of joy that I could become part of it. I felt a strong desire to dive into the world, as if being part of it was the most wonderful and exciting thing imaginable.

I heard someone call my name. “David Spangler!” I was filled with a will to be this unique, specific person, and in a burst of joy I leaped toward the world and found myself back in my body, looking out the rear window of our car at the billboard of the blond woman selling Nehi orange drink. In my body’s time, I had been “gone” for only a few seconds.

In some ways this was a classical mystical experience of unity with a larger state of being and an awakening to one’s eternal Self, the “I” that is within each of us. I felt I had returned to a place I had come from and then traced the process by which I came to be who I am as a physical individuality. Years later, the memory and details of this experience became the starting point from which I shaped my understanding of the process of Incarnation, an understanding that is at the heart of much of my current work.

David’s “awakening on the road to Casablanca” was the first of two significant visions that helped lay the foundation for the story of inner light that imbues Incarnational Spirituality.