The soul’s journey is one of grace. The universe guides us and nurtures us, much like a loving parent.
But that parent knows the value of tough love. Oftentimes it leads us into places that lead to suffering, where that suffering can deepen our wisdom. And it is perfectly willing to allow us to make foolish choices which can lead to painful outcomes.
I have come to know this from personal experience, and from witnessing the lives of others.
Not that long ago I personally experienced this yet again in my life. I attended a teacher-training course run by Cambridge University, the CELTA course. This programme for teachers of English as a second language is well known for being very, very tough.
In fact, it was far tougher than any training I have ever done. All teachers were required to undergo eight trainer-evaluated lessons and submit four written assignments within the space of twenty days, not including weekends.
I received the evaluation of “unsatisfactory” for my second and third lessons. For the third lesson my evaluator gave me an unsatisfactory grade for ten of the twenty assessed criteria! This must have been close to a company record.
As you might imagine, I did not feel good about this. In fact for a few hours after receiving my feedback I felt quite depressed, and beat myself up. The possibility that I would fail the entire course was looking a distinct possibility. I wondered whether I should give up. I was certainly tempted to do so. But within a few hours I remembered why I had entered the course in the first place: to receive critical evaluation of my teaching, and use the feedback to become a better teacher.
I felt despondent, but resolved to keep going. Most of all I stopped beating myself up. I stopped taking it personally.
That night as I lay down to sleep I received two pieces of spiritual guidance. Often I hear songs being played to me in this state between waking and sleeping. To be honest, I don’t really know where the melodies come from, but it seems likely they are either initiated by spiritual guides or my higher self.
The first line to come to me was very simple: “Teacher, keep on teaching.” These words are from a Stevie Wonder song, “Higher Ground”. I knew that the words were encouragement for me to keep going. To keep teaching. I knew that I was making the right decision to continue the programme.
The second song that came through to my inner ear were from an old Nick Lowe song, and contained these lines:
Cruel to be kind, in the right measure
Cruel to be kind it’s a very good sign
Cruel to be kind means that I love you, baby
You gotta be cruel to be kind
The lyrics told me that even though the feedback that I was getting from my teacher-trainers was very, very critical, it was actually in my best interests. It was, in a sense, an act of love.
I knew then that I need not take the evaluations personally, but should see them as a means to improve as a teacher.
I returned to my lesson-preparations the next day with renewed vigour. For my next lesson I received excellent evaluations, and I passed all remaining five lessons, all remaining assignments and ultimately the course itself.
Best of all, I learned an incredible amount about teaching. And learning.
The truth is that life – and God if you prefer to use this word – is often like my experience on the CELTA teaching programme. Things may sometimes seem cruel or unkind. But all things are an opportunity to learn. All things inner and outer an opportunity to awaken from the dream of mind; from the delusion that it is “all about me”.
Trusting the cruel queen
Please allow me to share something else a little personal.
In between the two failed CELTA lessons – which were taught about four days apart – I had the following dream. I transcribe it here exactly as I wrote it down in my dream journal.
Two other students from the (CELTA) course are getting some kind of reading from a female oracle. She towers before us like a giant statue, and seems to look somewhat like the virgin Mary, although her image in hazy. The oracle’s head has all the left side missing (her left), as if someone has taken a great knife and chopped the left side of her face off.
I am slightly frightened and overawed.
I think R. (another student on the course) is beside me to my right. He gets a reading first. There is a loaf of bread in front of him, and I know this represents the soul issue he is being shown.
Next, the oracle turns to me.
“You've been into the left-hand side of the sea.” She says to me. “If you are to ever have hope, you must deal with your anger.”
There is a loaf of bread in front of me, round and brown which seems to represent my anger. I say something like the issue old, but the oracle says, “No, it's fresh.” I look again, and sure enough the loaf seems fresh-baked.
“Have you ever lost a finger?” the giant oracle says as she he reaches down with a sharp, metal, serrated-edged knife and begins to slice into the long finger on my right hand, just to mid-right of the tip (hand facing me). I do not know whether to trust her, scared she will cut off the finger. She seems almost flippant, with a callous kind of humour.
There then comes the idea that one has to trust the goddess in these situations, so I present the hand. The blade cuts into my finger, but stops just a short way into the flesh.
I am relieved.
I wake up.
In this dream the symbolism is clear. Sometimes God (or goddess) will invite you into places that are frightening, which might be fearful or even trigger trauma and suffering. But there is an intention that through the experience you might be brought into deeper awareness of your soul issues, of the self-limiting beliefs and stories that you carry in your mind.
Although the meaning might not be apparent to you, for me the personal nature of the dream was clear. In this dream my anger and blame was towards the world. The belief was that no matter what I did, I would fail, that the world would push me down. This is a victim narrative.
I might add that it is one of the most common soul issues amongst people in the world today.
The reference to going into the left-hand side of the sea was an oblique reference to allowing myself to become too caught up “in the head”, and disconnecting with my body and my deeper emotional body.
The term “the left-hand side of the sea” was an indirect reference to the left-hand side of my brain – and my developing an unbalanced cognitive predisposition which left me ungrounded and disconnected from my emotional and intuitive body.
The important thing is that no matter what your life circumstances, no matter what set of cards life has dealt you, you are still responsible for your anger and projections. God does not grant excuses. No matter how downtrodden you are (including your “people”), there is an opportunity to see through the story of the mind and into the clarity of the present moment. There is an opportunity to heal.
You just have to be prepared to own your story, assume responsibility for whatever pain lies behind it, and then release it all to God.
Never believe the story that your mind is trying to sell you. Never believe the story that your people are pleading with you to take on – no matter how morally vindicated you believe they are.
For that story is what locks you into the world of the past, into the world of pain.
And into the world of karma.