I haven’t given up on the Pagan Experience Project. I thought perhaps I would but I’ve been thinking about that A/B prompt for, uh, two weeks now and figured if I can’t shake the curiosity over the project then perhaps its worth continuing. It also took me two weeks to decide what to write about.
Absence is definitely one of the most challenging feature of a life lived close to the gods and a frequent companion of people seeking Their attention. Typically, absence is an experience we seek to overcome; it’s an obstacle to the state of sacred communion that the devotee seeks to return to. Often, the experience of absence is taken as an indication that there’s something wrong. The practitioner’s affection is lacking, the practitioner has failed to fulfill some task that would bring on the feeling of connection, the practitioner is unworthy to experience the presence of the Divine, or the practitioner has failed to captivate the Beloved quite as much as the Beloved has captivated them. Absence is regarded as the indication that something is wrong and that the practitioner has failed in some way.
I’ve experienced lots of absences in my spiritual life and those vacant months piled up as evidence of my failure. Nothing in life had changed but there was no illuminating quality to anything. Though I later learned the regard absence as the opportunity to learn a kind of spiritual self-reliance, even after identifying a valuable outcome from the experience it wasn’t easy or pleasant. These absences taught me to inhabit a space of radical solitude. This solitude is not loneliness or isolation, it is a deep, deep comfort with one’s own company. Absence taught me to be OK with the sound of my own thoughts and the resonances of my own spirit. Absence taught me the sound of my own ego.
(To cast self-reliance as some kind of rugged individualism that resists the throughput of material, social, emotional, and mental support from other people and the systems we have built is short-sighted and rather unnecessarily isolationist. Spiritual self-reliance, to me, is not the fulfillment of one’s spiritual needs through one’s own efforts. It is instead the reliance upon – and requisite trust in – one’s spiritual self, including intuition, magickal ability, and esoteric skill. This reliance results as knowledge of the spiritual self is gained. This includes the recognition of one’s own egoic voice and desires. Ideally, this spiritual self-reliance is weighed against the guidance of the Powers and negotiation on equal footing can begin.)
Quite recently I came across a little passage of text that suggested that absence has a different and more esoteric dimension.
In Blue Lotuses Everywhere: Divine Love in Gaudiya Vaisnava and Catholic Mysticism (in Gaudiya Vaishnavism and ISKCon: An Anthology of Scholarly Perspectives ed. S J Rosen), author June McDaniel writes:
These states of separation and union in Catholic mysticism are associated with the sates of purgation and illumination, which lead towards the ultimate union of love. In this state of purgation, the devotee is without God, and life is dry and arid. […] For St. John of the Cross, the purgative period included both the dark night of the senses, and the dark night of the spirit. In the night of the senses, there is darkness, pain, a lack of joy or enthusiasm. It is a crisis of the senses which is given by God to develop a higher kind of love. […] Purgation leads to the development of the internal senses (especially imagination and memory) and encourages the transformation of sensual love into spiritual love, and natural into supernatural.
Emphasis mine. Emphasis possibly yours, too.
This assertion is accompanied by relevant selections from the Catholic context and then paralleled, contrasted, and augmented with information about the development of the spiritual body within a Gaudiya Vaishnava context. Though interesting, the topic wanders a bit from A is for Absence and more into B is for Body, Spiritual; a worthy topic but one for another day.
Basically, what we can take from this perspective is that absence can play a very important role in spiritual development, specifically in the transformation of our emotional nature into an aspect of self potently accessible to the divine. This spiritual emotional nature thereby becomes the interface that allows for more nuanced expressions of relationship and all the manifestations that emanate from those feelings.
This transformation can be characterized with the help of the solve et coagula formula if you’re so inclined; something emerges once something is pulled apart. It can be framed in the formula or rot and resurrection. It can be framed as refinement and the shedding of dross. It can be framed as the dedication of aspects of the self to a higher service. It can be framed as an alignment with the spirit world and the creation of the self as a conduit for Their manifestation. There are lots of ways to think about it. But perhaps these things aren’t super important to you right now.
Perhaps right now it’s more important to sit with the idea that the absence you’re experiencing isn’t indicative of your failure or or shortcomings or flawed character. Maybe the idea that this experience is a positive one will transform these days into something more refined, as well.