When You are Ready, Embrace Disillusion By Gurudev Singh
If you have lived long enough, it is almost a certainty that you have experienced the uncomfortable and painful emotions that arise when we become disillusioned or feel betrayed. I can attest to the intensity of experiencing disillusionment. It can be a very painful experience, and it can precipitate emotionally difficult periods in our lives in which we are forced to examine the very foundations of our identities, self-worth, relationships, beliefs, or life choices. Disillusion exposes the gap between our illusions (hopes, needs, and expectations) and reality. In this sense, disillusion involves experiencing grief because some deeply held belief dies inside of us. Naturally, we resist letting go because it feels to us that these beliefs are at the core of our sense of self, and we do so by denial, anger, ignoring it, bargaining with reality, or by wallowing in self-pity or self-doubt. Our minds have ways of coping with such losses. One of the best-known coping strategies is by denying or ignoring that the disillusion ever happened and reaffirm the illusion. The human mind has an amazing capacity to warp reality to serve to its immediate needs, like our need for security. Abused children, for example, often blame themselves for their predicament instead of the caregiver who abuses them. As adults, we are also vulnerable to denying reality in exchange for security and certainty. Denying or ignoring difficult realities, however, carries a high price. As children, its often the only coping mechanism available to us, but the pain will carry into our adult lives. As adults, if we deny or ignore reality, we deprive ourselves of learning to integrate the pain it carries with it and we simply postpone the reckoning we must do. Denial or ignorance of reality might seemingly protect us from anger, shame, guilt, or fear, but they stunt our personal growth and maturation. Disillusion plays an important role in our maturation as wholesome adults in less dramatic ways. When we are very young, we tend to think that our parents are perfect, but we inevitably are disillusioned by this notion as we grow older and come to understand that they too are imperfect humans. In this way, disillusion forces us to mature into the world of adulthood. We are constantly exposed to disillusionment throughout our life cycles, perhaps in our romantic, family, or financial lives, perhaps with our expectations and plans. So then, how to deal with disillusion? I think that as adults, we need two basic conditions to face it. The first is the willingness and the courage to recognize it. This is easier said than done because our minds tend to value the security and certainty of the illusion above the uncertainty of the disillusion, even if that means suffering. Buddha expressed it beautifully when he said that the greatest attachment that we have is the attachment to our own suffering. The second is that we need the maturity and wholesomeness of psyche to help us through the struggle of integrating the disillusion as to allow for the deep learning and uplifting that it can provide. In other words, we might need therapy to navigate through it successfully. Without these two conditions, the healing process cannot proceed. We can learn to cope with disillusion but stopping at coping would be a wasted opportunity. We must integrate it into the fiber of our own selves, and this involves work. In spiritual work, it is a force for deep spiritual growth and maturity. Many of us, for instance, seek a spiritual life precisely because we are disillusioned with the way things are in our life. It does not stop there, disillusion continues to play a central role in deep spiritual work, one that goes well beyond our initial motivations. The dictionary defines disillusion as a feeling of disappointment about someone or something we previously believed in. The roots of this word can be translated as "removal of illusion." Understood like this, we begin to discern what is the spiritual purpose of disillusion. The rishis, saints, and yogis discovered long ago that human suffering is borne out of "illusion" or "maya". In the Upanishads, maya is described as the power that the gods have to make humans believe in illusions. Later, maya came to be understood as ignorance (ajnana) of the nature of the self. In other words, the illusion is perceiving ego as the self. Reality, on the other hand, is identical to Brahman, that which never changes. Yoga teaches us that disillusion is at the core of our inner transformation because the journey is one that starts in the illusion of the individual self and is consummated when the illusion is removed and the reality of Brahman is experienced. Yoga is unequivocal, we must experience disillusion in our path to liberation. Disillusion comes like a storm that tries to uproot us from the ground. Instead of resisting the storm, we are better served by understanding that storms bring blessings too as they uproot trees and open the ground for new growth. Disillusion is the storm that awakens the forces in ourselves that are necessary for our self-transformation and growth, to mature in ways that otherwise would remain dormant. It gives us the energy to question assumptions about ourselves and our world in ways that otherwise would not be available to us. We can deny or suppress such forces, of course, but doing so will likely result in falling into another illusion and perpetuate the cycles of pain and karma. Let us burn the veil of our illusions, the untruths that we tell ourselves and believe, because they are the source of unreality and inauthentic living. Let us fully embrace disillusion and let it whisper its deepest secrets into our ear. It is not easy nor comfortable to do so, because it requires us to let go of things that we hold near and dear, stories that have helped us thrive or survive, beliefs that have held the unknown at bay for years, and the small and big lies that we tell ourselves to negotiate with reality. St. John of the Cross had a spiritual light that was too bright for some of his fellow priests, so they kidnapped him and imprisoned him in a tiny, dark, medieval cell where he could not even stand. He was tortured for nine months, not allowed to bathe, and forced to sleep on top of his own excrement. One night, in a moment of heartbreaking helplessness, he surrendered completely to God. In his prayer, he heard a duet in which God and he were singing to each other: He told God, "I am dying of love darling, what should I do? God replied, "Then die my sweetheart, just die. Die to all that is not us; what could be more beautiful?" I find this so deeply liberating, a moment in which one is so exhausted of carrying senseless feelings, deeply held beliefs, and mental games that serve us no more, that one simply surrenders it all, and in doing so we discover that the gap that we perceived with totality closes, duality disappears, and the heart is healed in a second. This is the beauty of disenchantment that it is easy to overlook. Let us accept and embrace disillusion unconditionally, for it will challenge the illusion and liberate us from its grip. This is deep spiritual work of the highest order. Guru Arjan writes, "Everything is within the home of our selves; there is nothing beyond. Whosoever searches outside will be deluded by doubt." Buddhists have a beautiful way of understanding this. They use the word, Nibbida, which can be translated from the Pali as disenchantment or disillusion. It is the first of 12 conditions for liberation from suffering that Buddha taught. Disillusion is embraced in Buddhism, to the point of encouraging disillusionment with Buddhist teachings themselves, because even that is a hindrance to self-realization. For me, spiritual disillusionment was a particularly difficult and painful experience, but one which eventually brought me some of the greatest gifts in life. Kundalini Yoga is the most powerful tool I know and practice every day, but I had to become disillusioned with it because it too is ultimately a hindrance. I trusted in my teacher, but that too I had to question because depending on an outward teacher was an illusion and another hindrance. The price I paid to understand this was high because I had to undertake a painful and dramatic struggle within myself that was only resolved when I surrendered everything to the Infinite. I was fortunate because at the end of this struggle I found the True Guru, that spark that showed me to only trust the impersonal and ever-present Oneness. I would like to close with the words of Guru Ram Das, "My mind has become disillusioned and renounced the world; it has obtained peace by receiving the blessing of the Guru's Grace." Today, I have another name for that fortune, I call it grace.