From the Onion to the Red Rose: Spiraling Inward to the Open Heart
It is not uncommon for we spiritual seekers in the western world to want to leap to wholeness, transcendence or enlightenment (whatever one may call it) in one fell swoop. We want the spiritual highs of ecstasy, open heartedness, awesome visions, and lightness of being quickly and we want them to last forever. We hope that somehow by engaging in daily spiritual practice, we will leap over or finally get past the messy, conflicted and conflictual human condition. Another common belief is that once we have “dealt with” or fully “healed” some deep wound in ourselves, we will never have to return to that issue again–ever. Ever, ever.
Many, many years ago I was involved in a spiritual community filled with well-meaning people all seeking inner peace. After a while, it became apparent to me that there was a sort of competition for who was “more clear” and handling their lives in the most smooth and seemingly peaceful way. The idea was that if you were “doing your work”, you would have more happiness and ease. There was a lot of judgment of heavy mind states and life experiences veiled in words of enlightenment and compassion.
I myself was subject to the same illusions at one time. Why wouldn’t I be? Why wouldn’t anyone? When we are in pain, we want the pain to go away. When there is chaos and discord in our lives, we want it to go away–fast. And when we feel good, we want that wonderful state to last forever!
I am here to tell you that this is not the way of being truly human. Nor is this type of spiritual perfectionism and bypassing of our human messiness going to get us anywhere except into more suffering. We will fall into the trap of false pride, anger, self-hatred and frustration. We will also be perpetually disappointed with Mother Life, our loved ones, friends, fellow spiritual seekers, and most of all–ourselves.
Because, in truth, I guarantee that we will feel crappy and worse from time to time. Didn’t the Buddha himself say there will always be old age, disease and death?
But what does this mean for those of us who have worked so diligently to transform and transcend our hurt and pain from the past so it will no longer haunt us in the present? Many students and clients say to me, “I have worked on this issue from my childhood for so many years. Why is it coming up again? Why? Why? Why?!” I appreciate their frustration because I have asked the same question myself many times.
A common answer is that the healing and the spiritual journey are like peeling away the layers of an onion—we heal one layer and then a deeper layer is revealed. Eventually, after hard work and time, we come to the very center of the onion—the core of the wound or, alternatively, the center of the self.
The humble onion is in many regards an apt metaphor. The fact that it is a root needing to be dug up out of the ground mirrors the fact that the source of our deepest wounds are found in the dark, humus of the body of Mother Earth—our deep subconscious or inner world. In order to find and transform the source of our suffering, like digging up an onion, we must go into the subconscious to uproot the deepest roots of our pain–roots maybe reaching back to childhood, our ancestors and beyond. We then bring the onion up into the daylight and begin to peel away the layers–grieving, raging, crying, and understanding.
Eventually, after many years of peeling away the layers of the onion–or our wounds–we may find that heavy states do not last as long. Our relationships may improve and there is greater ease in our lives.
Here is where the onion analogy fails for me. Because once we get to the heart of the onion–the very last shiny, smooth and undivided layer–it is like we are done, finished. There’s nowhere else to go.
OK, so why if we are “done” with our wounds–why so maddeningly do we find ourselves once again in a great cyclone of chaos again? We bump up once again on those old demons and we feel like…”What the hell?!”
In my experience, there is an inherent wisdom in this process. Once we have gotten used to the whole, messy process of seeking healing for the stinkiest hurts and we are there at the center of the onion in touch with our innate strengths and looking back on what has been with greater peace and acceptance, there is yet another spiral which takes us upward and outward into greater and greater levels of beauty. We begin to understand that our healing is an integral part of the spiritual journey and the opening up of our hearts.
It doesn’t end with the onion, folks. The journey has only just begun.
The human journey on the Earth plane—a mythic tale of healing, heroism and courage—is beautiful and should be met with wonder. So, I harken to the beauty of the red rose for the complexity and richness of the spiral path of healing and spiritual discovery.
The red rose is often associated with love and the heart. When we pass by a rose, whether on a bush or in a vase, we are almost magnetically drawn in. We want to take in its beauty with all of our senses—sight, smell and touch. If we listen deeply enough, we can perhaps also hear the etheric song of the rose and allow it to penetrate our defended heart.
All healing asks us to come in closer to our most wounded and precious selves as we seek to open the heart. To do this, we must actually feel our pain–with all its messy, inconvenient and seemingly “unspiritual” dimensions. We must confront and release all the beliefs, stories and hurts which keep us closed off to authentic connection with ourselves and others. We must also find authentic sources of knowledge and wisdom about Mother Life and throw out the confusion, ignorance, and even lies poured into us and our ancestors by family and society. For most of us living in a world filled with violence, discord and misinformation, the path of healing is a gradual process requiring time, patience and gentleness with ourselves.
Herein lies the lesson of the red rose: before we awaken to the fact that there may be another way to live—a way out of a body of suffering—we are like a rosebud—tightly closed with a protective layer around the tender, still young outer petals. Inside is a mystery, veiled in darkness.
Gradually, as our body, mind and feelings are fed with the primal life force and unconditional love—the very essence of healing nourishment and nurturing exemplified in the raw energy of Mother Earth and Father Sun—a wish arises to express ourselves more authentically.
Like the rosebud, a slow and beautiful unfurling begins to occur. As more light pours into the darkness, we open gradually and tentatively. At certain points on the path, we may pause and rest so deeper layers within may ready themselves to receive more light and show themselves. As our outer experience adjusts to the inner reality of wholeness we are creating anew, we may find that the light is too much or that perhaps there is still not enough light. So, we may close up a bit to wait and protect what is growing so tenderly within us. The multiple layers of petals in a red rose—each one deeper within and smaller—are revealed as she unfurls until finally, every particle of the blossom is expanded into its fullest reach.
The spiral dance of this blossoming resonates with the multiple spirals found in nature—circles within circles within circles, like the concentric rings vibrating outwards into infinity on the surface of a pond after a single stone skips upon its surface. So, like the petals of a rose, we find within ourselves on the healing path stories within stories, beliefs layered within beliefs, and the potential within each circle of the spiral to open ourselves more and more joyfully to what is unseen.
As we open up and grow, we reveal more and more layers of beauty and truth from right in the center of our wounds until finally, we exist in a state of open-heartedness. The wound of betrayals and hurt have become rich and noble gifts. In this whole, healed state, like a fully open rose, we are eager to share our beauty with the world. The red rose teaches us that at the center of chaos, there is a deep peace borne of love. We drink in and give love unstintingly—even when we are facing challenges within and around us.
The red rose reminds us as well that the physical heart is itself deep red and, as it pumps blood, it contracts and expands over and over again. What great effort the heart puts out to give us life! What a great teaching the red rose of love gives us!
Nevertheless, I know from my own life that one thing is true: diligent effort and perseverance on the path will get us somewhere–and somewhere good, balanced and healthier than our