Can We Fall From Grace?
Last night I got a call from my dad. This is not an ordinary occurrence. While my father and I are close, we haven’t had the kind of relationship where we just regularly pick up the phone and call each other. I am grateful that this is changing. Since my dad began to pursue his dream of writing, I have witnessed a softening within him that has created openings in different areas of his life. My dad had just revisited his own private journal from thirty years ago – a document of his time with his spiritual teacher and mentor, the renowned mystical philosopher Franklin Merrell-Wolff. Reading his own entries brought back the lessons he was going through at the time, and helped him to integrate the pieces he is facing right now.
This link will take you to the page where you can download the Franklin Merrell-Wolff Fellowship’s newsletter (in .pdf format) that features an interview with my father Bill Stow, speaking on his time with Franklin Merrell-Wolff.
My love for my father is ridiculously deep. As a child, I used to think that one day I would grow up and marry him. He was my knight in shining armor. Like most of us who fall in love, we only see the best in our beloved – and it’s true that I saw him as sort of a demi-god that could do no wrong. Growing up, I watched my father wear his strengths proudly. I didn’t feel allowed to see his fears and weaknesses, though I craved to see this other side of him, as I knew this would bring us even closer. It wasn’t until entering adulthood that I began to see him as a full spectrum human. However, it wasn’t easy to see, as he wasn’t ready for me to see it. It made me re-evaluate how I see the whole of the world, and the frailties of humanity.
Hearing my dad’s voice last night brought deep levels of healing into my heart. He shared about his love for Franklin, and how privileged he felt to have seen all sides of his teacher. While my father’s main memories of Franklin are those of his greatness, he also remembers seeing a “scared little man” who’d lost his way for a period after his wife died. My father didn’t think less of Franklin when he saw his mentor’s other side. Quite the contrary, the experience opened his heart and made Franklin more real and accessible to him. As my father was sharing this with me, he began to open and share about his own vulnerabilities. His voice full of emotion, he revealed fears and regrets that just years before he kept hidden away in a secret place to which I had not been privy to. As he talked, he became extremely soft and full of love. I felt something shift inside my own heart as I received his truth. A wave of peace and acceptance ran through my body. As he forgave himself, he gave me permission to forgive myself, and the world around me, for our perceived weaknesses.
Why do we expect perfection from our teachers, our leaders, our role models? Is it because we expect perfection from ourselves? And what does this expectation bring into our lives? More love… or more fear? I have had the opportunity to spend time with great teachers, leaders and gurus. I have also had the vantage point of watching them “fall from grace” in the eyes of the world. But now I question the whole human concept of “falling from grace” (in contrast with God’s Grace, that cannot be earned and lost based on human judgments). The concept presupposes that grace is a particular “right” place in consciousness or a “right” place with God.
We are full-spectrum beings. Is it really “a fall from grace” – or are we expressing aspects of our consciousness that we have disowned, aspects that are seeking to integrate? And what would happen if we stood less in judgment of these facets and became more curious about them? What would be possible? I believe we would experience deeper levels of intimacy, connection and true authenticity. These deeper levels opened up for me and my father last night.
In my experience, we are not just the light. We are also shadow. This polarity births creativity and pushes us into new territory. When we make choices that push up against what we and others believe is “right”, we tend to feel guilty and seek to hide from the eyes and judgment of others. What would happen if we felt safe to expose these sides? Do children that are constantly ridiculed and punished by their parents for expressing their shadow grow into healthy happy adults in the way children who are consistently nurtured and loved unconditionally do? The answer is obviously… no. So why do we continue to place this burden on ourselves, and one another?
In my youth I had very strong opinions of what I believed was “right action”, and I held judgment against those who crossed those lines. In my attempt to live up to those ideals, I have indeed fallen far short – both in the eyes of others, and more importantly, in myself. Yet, in the midst of this, I believe that I am doing the best I can to live in accordance with my soul’s evolution; so I work hard to forgive myself. This extremely humbling journey has given me even more compassion for the struggles and sufferings of others. If I am unable to meet my own ideals, how can I begin to expect others to meet them? So I ask the question: do we meet our “shadow self” with fear – or do we shine love upon it, just as the sun shines unconditionally upon all creatures? Choosing love lifts my consciousness and the consciousness of those around me; so I choose to love myself and others full-spectrum, no matter what.
Sharing all that we are is essential to growth and healing. I am so thankful that my father felt safe enough to share his full-spectrum self. What would a rainbow be, without all its colors? Or the moon, without the dark of the night sky? Every seasoned artist knows that shading is necessary to bring a two-dimensional piece to life. Full-spectrum is who we are, whether we are ready to embrace that realization or not. It takes a lot of courage to embrace the aspects of ourselves and others that are less than “correct.”
The famous “hugging saint” Amma is known for hugging thousands (if not millions) of people each year. She is pure unconditional love. It is documented that she has healed lepers by licking their wounds. The thought of looking at wounds is hard enough for me to entertain, much less the idea of licking them! In her acts of unconditional love, Amma reminds us that every aspect of consciousness is worthy of our love.
I meditate on Christ ’s words, “Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Perhaps if we start seeing each other, and even more importantly ourselves, with these eyes of compassion… the world will begin to experience the healing that comes from unconditional love. The only thing required is to start from where we are – courageously willing to share from our highest truth, with one loved one at a time, just as my father did with me last night.