The Heart Unafraid and the Spiritual Path
The following essay was originally written as a commentary on the First Sunday after Epiphany (January 2016).
The Heart Unafraid is an oil painting by Leopold de Postels (1910-?) that was for many decades included in the Ninth Degree monographs of the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC). It is an interesting picture of a solitary figure at the end of a path that leads to the edge of a cliff being battered by the elements. Standing upright, our figure in white faces lightning as it flashes against the night sky. Rain and winds storm around him – or her. In many ways this picture is a wonderful representation of the Path between Hod and Tiphareth on the Tree of Life. A path sometimes requires a leap of faith to complete, total surrender and belief in the ideal, and total confidence in the outcome.
This painting is also a wonderfully good example of the adept, of the Bodhisattva of Buddhism. When we hear the word bodhicitta, the keynote of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist practices, we often hear that it means compassion, but it is much more than that. It more accurately means “the courageous heart-mind of enlightenment.” In many ancient and Eastern philosophies the heart is the center or home of human consciousness as well as the focus of inner strength and fortitude making it no surprise that the words for courage and heart are related through the same Latin root cor.
In this vein we see the difference between many ancient and modern practices, as well as some very general cultural differences between Oriental and Occidental views on spirituality. This traditional difference between East and West can be summed up in the following: Eastern philosophies support the idea that you should learn to accept what you have and seek to understand it; whereas, Western philosophies tend towards promoting the idea of changing your life to have what you want. This is simplistic but true, particularly in contemporary spirituality and esotericism.
It is very important that we take control of our lives and, with that, take responsibility. In a society that has a great deal of wealth, mobility and opportunity, change is much easier to come by. In a society where wealth is more concentrated and social status is more static, opportunities are fewer and therefore change is less common. So, then, what can we do? As our solitary wanderer at the end of the Path and at the edge of the cliff demonstrates, we must learn to live unafraid.
As Dion Fortune points out in her book, Mystical Meditations on the Collects, we are not led into the Wilderness to perish, but instead so that we may truly discover our Way – or as Louis Claude de St. Martin called it, “the Path of Return”. To do this we must first cease to ask God or anyone to fix our lives for us, to remove our burdens, or even simply to make our lives easier.
Before we can seek to change our lives we must seek to understand them; this is the basis of cause and effect, of karma. We must first pray to have the wisdom, strength, and courage to accept what is before us and to make the best of it. We must strive to not be concerned only with our limited role, but to find a means of service in the circumstances we are experiencing. Once we understand and accept our situation, we will then have the ability to change it. Otherwise, we risk furthering confusion in our life and the lives of those around us. Wisdom and acceptance come first, then courage and strength to endure and create positive change. In our daily and spiritual lives this means one of two things, and they are not that dissimilar.
We must, as Fortune points out, completely and confidently commit ourselves to God and trust in the Divine. This can be done in the abstract or, more personally, in the form of our Holy Guardian Angel. Israel Regardie suggests the same principle in the final chapter to his book, The One Year Manual, wherein he states that each of us must consider those methods whereby our needs are to be met so that Divine purpose may be fulfilled. To this end he continues:
“There are many ways, of course, to do this. One of these is the method described in… The Art of True Healing. It is a method of mobilizing the spiritual power of the cosmos through the agency of Will, color, imagination and sound in order to achieve that which is required. It is an extension of the Middle Pillar where divine energy is concentrated and directed for specific use. ….There is another approach which is possible only to that student who has persevered with his own disciplines so that he has become an avenue through which the Divine Will may operate. Its outstanding merit is that it is simple and direct. It is not dissimilar to the classical religious one of accepting Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior, and turning one’s life over to Him. This approach has it that we are eager to find Him when we come to realize that there is no source of power in ourselves, that we are wholly dependent on Him. We become eager to connect up with this Source of Life and Power when we know that it makes wisdom, power and love available for us. It is “the strait gate,” “the narrow way,” and “few there be that find it. ” … In this work…we use the term “The Holy Guardian Angel” as the term for our own Higher Self. He is an angel, mighty and powerful and is our own personal link with the universal God, and so it is to Him that we submit ourselves for the fulfillment of His Will, which at the same time and paradoxically, is our will.
We cannot make a vital contact with our Angel by goodness or obedience…Nor may we find him because of our good deeds. At best, our good deeds are only the evidence that we have found him…Nor do we find Him by a belief in any religious, metaphysical or occult doctrine. At best these are intellectual constructs for the expansion of our minds but later come to have profound meaning as useful constructs only after we have found Him. If we are willing to persevere, to be patient, and to work at self-discipline, to aspire and to invoke often, the Angel will enable us to do all of this. … We do not have to do violence to ourselves to force ourselves to believe in Him; there is no need for force. We do not have to will ourselves to believe. We need only to be willing, to make the necessary set of gestures, sincerely and honestly — and then work and invoke often! It entails trusting the Holy Guardian Angel with all areas of our lives. In this we must face our egotism to realize that of ourselves we can do nothing, and what we are able to do can only result in futility and frustration. It means trusting the Angel to renew our character; we cannot do it ourselves. We turn over to Him the entire psyche, with all its conscious and unconscious problems and complexes which we have become acquainted with through the agency of the former exercises— and perhaps through some psychotherapeutic work. But we leave it to Him to clean out the filth from the stables —when it ceases to be filth. Only He can do it; of ourselves we are impotent. It means allowing Him to dictate all our activities and keeping our hands and minds from meddling with His work, reserving them only as tools which He can use as He sees fit for our betterment and progress. We must not interfere with what He has to do. It means trusting Him as to our health and financial security. This does not mean that we become careless of our nutritional intake, our clothes or personal hygiene or that we drive the automobile with eyes closed. But it does mean that we stop worrying about what is going to become of us. We do the very best we can in any situation, knowing that He is guiding and guarding us — …It means laying aside all our petty ambitions and objectives and permitting Him to plan our life for us. It may not result in the fulfillment of every ambition and objective, but we learn to rely solely upon Him, knowing that we will be guided constantly and continuously whether we are aware of it or not. It means putting away all our nice little occult philosophies and systems where everything is put into a neat cubbyhole and neatly compartmentalized and letting Him lead us to the Truth. It is the joy of putting aside our human frailties, of allowing Him to sanctify us…
…This is the magical way, of letting the Angel do His work among the living, of having placed oneself under the aegis of the Angel after having worked and prayed and invoked. From now on, the responsibility for all one’s life in all its phases is taken from our petty egos with its limited vision and scope, and its wretched lust for results, and surrendered gladly to this higher agency which is Oneself Made Perfect….
These two paths can be defined as the Herculean or Heroic Path and the Path of Surrender. It would be too easy to classify them as the Path of Ritual or Transformation and the Path of Mysticism as they are more than that. In the Heroic Path we take full and complete control of our life through complete self-honesty, reflection, and awareness leading us to the full expression of our powers. In the Path of Surrender we take full and complete control of our life through taking responsibility for our daily life and being completely confident in the guiding and protecting influence of God or our Holy Guardian Angel in our life. Both require complete and utter confidence in our choice and, in turn, will make us open to the virtues of the other path. Both require vigilant attention to our own thoughts, words, and deeds and constant invocations and prayers to keep us on our chosen way. They also require that we relax, for relaxation is confidence, it is peace, it is certainty of our Way. Both are the expressions of the Path of Devotion, the path of love and confidence in our ideal, and it in us.”
On the Exoteric Level, courage is physical as well as ethical in how we treat others. We treat others well because it is the correct thing to do and we do not fear real or imagined losses nor grasp after real or imagined gains.
On the level of Religious Mysticism, it is moral in that it is focused on how we treat ourselves, for we can be kind to others, but horrible to ourselves. It also means surrender, or rather acceptance and confidence of the rulership of God in our life.
On the Initiatic Level, these ethical and moral practices are realized through the transformative powers of ritual, Theurgy, prayer, alchemy, and meditation. The acceptance of God is not an abstraction, but is increasingly and directly personal. We realize the omniscient power of cause and effect – we have courage because to have otherwise is to lack faith and confidence in ourselves. Herein the Gospel teaching “Know that ye are gods” becomes an increasing realization in our heart-mind.
On the Supreme or Ultimate Level, we realize that we are our Holy Guardian Angel, we are the self-expressing force of deity which is understood in the sacred words, “I am, that I am.”
Those wishing more on these paths will find it in the following IHS publications The Mind of Hermes – Visionary Experiences in Western Esotericism, The Inner Way – The Power of Prayer and Belief in Spiritual Practice, and Unfolding the Rose – Illumination and Western Esotericism, available through Amazon or your local bookseller.
Thank you for reading VOXHERMES, the blog of the Institute for Hermetic Studies, a registered 501c3 non-profit. We encourage you to subscribe to this blog to get all updates sent directly to your email in-box. You will also find information about our mission contained in the link below. Click on it and find out more about what IHS has to offer and how you can participate.