Turn and Face

"Seek the wisdom that will untie your knot. Seek the path that demands your whole being.”


The wisdom teachers of every tradition encourage us to become whole human beings. As I have written about before, the spiritual purpose of life it to grow into our fullness—to burn away all that is false, inauthentic or too small for us, and to distill ourselves down to that which is true, beautiful and boundless in us. It is by finding the spark of our true spiritual light, and living from that life empowering source of wisdom and love, that we are able to experience and express the authenticity, joy, beauty and grace of our divine nature and build lives that are connected, integrated, whole and life-giving.

But Rumi reminds us that as humans we will find ourselves tied up in knots and walking the wrong paths. This isn’t just a possibility, rather, it is part of the developmental process of life and part of the spiritual journey to wholeness. As humans we learn by trial and error; by experiencing life in all its forms and making choices along the way that lead us to more experiences and more choices, in an endless cycle of learning through living. When we live life as a spiritual journey, every experience offers us the opportunity to discover who we really are, and every challenge gives us the opportunity to choose whether we will stretch and grow or shrink and hide.

Most of us spend the first half of life living in the lower triangle of our spiritual operating system, where the small self is running the show. The small self is like an inner dictator who operates on the pain or pleasure principle and narcissistically focuses on the external world. Anyone who has watched a toddler engage in a raging temper tantrum has had a glimpse of how our small self operates. With age and experience, it gets better at meeting its needs through more socially acceptable and manipulative means, but in many ways our small self is essentially a frustrated toddler. It thinks it is in charge of the ride and it uses every experience of life to get what it wants. Its job is to avoid discomfort or exposure and to protect itself at any cost from pain and suffering. It records and stores every experience of life, and then makes up operational stories from those experiences to maximize safety and pleasure and to minimize disruption and pain. It restrains our more authentic impulses and controls our deeper yearnings, because the risk analysis of following these truer paths reveals outcomes that are unknown and uncertain, and therefore unsafe. In the process of managing for maximum safety, it ties us up in knots and steers us down the wrong roads in reactive and unconscious patterns born of our more difficult or challenging life experiences, and steals away our richer and fuller possibilities as humans.