How to Have a Spiritual Meltdown: MELT

March 22, 2011

“A saint’s heart melts like butter.  No, it melts even more than butter.  Butter only melts when you put it near the fire, but a saint’s heart melts when anyone else’s heart comes near the fire.” –  Neem Karoli Baba

Okay, so you know how I’m always inviting you to sit in the fire of grief and allow it to transfigure you.  How I dare to suggest that it is only by yielding to our shattering that the cup of our hearts can be filled with divine love.  That the feeling that we are dying when someone we love very much has died is accurate: who we used to be is annihilated by the power of loss, so that a new, broken-open self might gradually emerge from the ashes.  That by being stripped naked it is possible to have a direct encounter with the sacred.

I did not come up with this.  Mystical teachings of all flavors have been offering this paradoxical guidance forever.  I simply dipped deep into that well when my own most significant loss brought me, desperate, to its lip.

Recently I have had the good fortune to hang out with some professional religious leaders and explore the wisdom of St. John of the Cross’ dark night of the soul and St. Teresa of Avila’s beautiful wound.  It is a privilege beyond measure to bear witness when people who are in charge of the spiritual lives of others feel safe enough to admit that their own faith is undergoing (or has undergone) seismic shifts, opening up vast and terrifying new regions.  The groups did not seem to flinch when I suggested that these spiritual meltdowns were a cause for celebration.  According to the mystics, they are evidence of the weaning of the soul from dependency on the divine breast – signs that the Holy One feels we are ready to stand on our own two spiritual feet.

In the onset of the dark nights of our souls, according to John of the Cross, we find our sensory attachments drying up and dropping into emptiness.  The way we been accustomed to feeling the presence of God begins to shift, and the change tastes strange and bitter to our undeveloped spiritual palette.  If we can rest in that emptiness, we might progress to the next stage: conceptual unraveling.  In this night, all our ideas about God and the spiritual path come undone.  We can no longer think our way to the Divine.  Religious concepts become meaningless, even offensive.  This is our opportunity for the radical surrender the mystics say is a prerequisite for meeting the Holy One face-to-face.  It is the unutterable radiance that our undeveloped eyes mistake for darkness.

When we finally do let ourselves down into the arms of unknowing, according to Teresa of Avila, we access a powerful longing that has been hidden in our hearts, obscured by the previously reliable yet ultimately erroneous feelings and ideas we had used as props to hold up the Mystery.  Once these constructs are dismantled, we are reconnected with our true selves, who want only one thing: union with the Divine.  We come to experience this yearning as an exquisite thing, a beautiful wound.  By fully showing up for the experience of spiritual suffering, our emptiness is filled with the answering response of love…. which intensifies the burning.  Our buttery hearts soften and their boundaries dissolve.

Who wouldn’t want a taste of that?

It fills me with hope to see religious leaders not only willing but eager to explore the places where they do not know, where they are not in charge, where they loosen their grip on the dogmas and practices they were taught – and on which they have relied for guiding the souls of others – and invite the mystery to change them from the inside.

These transformational dark nights are not limited to professional religious, of course.  All seekers of truth find themselves at the brink of the holy abyss at different times along the journey.  It may be an experience of dramatic loss that brings us to this place, or it may be an inner crisis of faith, invisible to anyone else.  Either way, our task is to become as still and quiet as we can and let the Holy One take over.

So, my response to the question of what to do in the face of a spiritual meltdown is this: melt.  In melting, we may yet merge with the object of our heart’s deepest desire.

 

 

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23 Responses to “How to Have a Spiritual Meltdown: MELT”

  1. I’m melting….and it’s good. So grateful to spirit this morning for the reminder from you.

  2. Amanda Griffin said

    Mirabai, you get to the very heart of things… thank you, soul balm

  3. very beautiful, Mirabai… will re-post at soundstrue and elsewhere… love to u, matt licata

  4. Rachel said

    Mirabai, this helps me find peace within, to melt into the pain of loss and let it transform into another level of love. Muchos abrazos de espíritu

  5. Gaye Prior said

    This is not so easy to live. In the heat of the moment the butter often burns and spatters. Intellectually this might make sense but I find that often emotionally it doesn’t. Rather than melting I am shredded and scattered by the wind.

    Sometimes now, looking back I can trace the outline of melting, the vague shape of a new and wondrous thing, but mostly I am blind, and in the dark and lost in the fog.

    • Mirabai said

      Well said, Gaye. It is often only much later that we can see our dark nights as having been fruitful. In fact, by definition, for these spiritual crises to be truly transformational, we seem to be required to know nothing, maybe feel nothing, and certainly not be able to identify the state as one of blessing! There is this delicate dance between referring to these mystical teachings as touchstones along the journey, and over-thinking the human experience by trying to attribute certain concepts to what is a radically non-conceptual experience. I live in this creative tension….

  6. Margaret Jewell said

    Dear Soul Mirabai

    After years of reading Teresa, and truly wanting to understand but always being disappointed, last week I read your translation of “The Book of My Life.” Lovely prose; something clicked, I finally “got” Teresa’s thoughts and her struggles by reading her anew in modern English. Without your translation I would not even have a whiff of her elusive appeal. Thank you

    • What a beautiful message, Margaret! It always makes me so happy to hear that I have helped unlock the treasure chest of the Spanish mystics. May you continue to revel in the goodies you find there.

  7. Noreen said

    Gorgeous post Mirabai!

  8. Johanna Maaghul said

    What a beautiful piece, Maribai – I look forward to reading more of your work~ ❤

  9. sally catalana said

    Very Beautiful Maribai, I can feel this so very much
    thank you I look forward to reading more

  10. Thank you for this beautiful and true piece of writing. It was sent to me by a friend, and it resonates very deeply with my own experience of walking the pediatric cancer journey with our daughter, and of grieving after her passing. I believe you have tapped into a vein of Truth, and have been able to tell us exactly what you find there. Thank you for your generosity. I look forward to reading more of your blog. Mine is http://www.karengberger.blogspot.com . (If you check the sidebar, you will find links that tell you about the journey.)

  11. […] As Mirabai Starr speaks of grief, “..who we used to be is annihilated by the power of loss, so that a new, broken-open self might gradually emerge from the ashes.  That by being stripped naked it is possible to have a direct encounter with the sacred…Once these constructs are dismantled, we are reconnected with our true selves, who want only one thing: union with the Divine.  We come to experience this yearning as an exquisite thing, a beautiful wound.” […]

  12. Mary Campbell said

    Really appreciate this. Very timely for me. And so true as well. Mysticial language is the only one that makes sense so much of the time today

    • I find it almost impossible to read “spiritual books” (I know, that’s what I write…). They can be so dry. Especially self-help books. But that exalted mystical writing doesn’t talk ABOUT spirit – it send us flying into her arms.

  13. Mary Campbell said

    Yes indeed – I too find it hard to read the “self help” books or some of the spiritual books. I feel that the world and the language of the mystics is what we need today esp, to deepen our journey in and with Spirit. She draws us to herself in this way, and reading the great writings both inspires and helps us to chart a clear path. In many cases, esp in the West, the great mystical writings are not being spoken of or used with “ordinary” people in the rank and file of churches etc. And many feel they have no right to them, or they do not speak to them. On the contrary, of course – so thank you for your work and continued blessings on it.

  14. […] As Mirabai Starr speaks of grief, “..who we used to be is annihilated by the power of loss, so that a new, broken-open self might gradually emerge from the ashes.  That by being stripped naked it is possible to have a direct encounter with the sacred…Once these constructs are dismantled, we are reconnected with our true selves, who want only one thing: union with the Divine.  We come to experience this yearning as an exquisite thing, a beautiful wound.” […]

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