Ascent and Descent on the Spiritual Path

In that part of the spiritual path we can describe as ascent, of ‘waking up’, we dis-identify with the sheaths of personality: “I am not the body”, “I am not the emotions”, and “I am not the mind”. Ultimately we awaken to the Presence of the One that is the infinite consciousness, raw life-force and ecstatic love at the heart of these layers of selfhood and the essence of all Reality. It is revealed that Reality is selfless, and yet knows itself in its infinite sacredness as the One through everything.

In that part of the spiritual path we can describe as descent, we understand that in order for the true nature of our being to express in the world, it needs a vehicle to do so – our individual self-system. Those on this stretch of the way generally realise how disconnected so many of us have been taught to live from what is really going on inside us – in our feelings and bodies. To usher the relative self into a state of healthy integration, we go in the opposite direction to ascent. We descend, into the earth and the underworld of our own being.

While the personal self is not ontologically real – this is the central insight of the Eastern awakening traditions – it is still functionally crucial, being the locus of integration for what is experienced to be inside and outside the self, or the sense of ‘me’. That the self plays this function is a central insight of the Western psychological tradition.

On the path of descent, we reconnect with those parts of the personality that have been dissociated, disowned or repressed – perhaps certain judgements, perspectives, feelings, desires, boundaries, traumas, parts of the body or the body as a whole that have been pushed outside of the circle of ‘me’, and re-include them in the ‘I’. While on the path of ascent we dis-identify from our inner experience (Neti Neti in Vedanta or emptiness practice in Buddhism), on the path of descent we deliberately identify what has been dissociated to bring it back into healthy inclusion in our being. We connect to and own our feelings, thoughts and body once again. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable and are humbled by what it means to be human in this world, in this body.

Passing through the gate of ‘I’, these previously disowned parts can then find their right place in the wider house of our ‘self’ and become part of ‘me’ – something that I am not wholly identified with in any particular moment but that is still within the circle of the self rather than lurking, isolated and disconnected, outside of it, yet still producing effects in it (this is what we call shadow). The unconscious tension of repressing certain aspects of the self is released, we inhabit greater ease, we feel the innate joy of integration, and self-love becomes natural.

The being that makes these journeys is that spark of consciousness that you as a soul have poured forth into the heart of the personal self.

The path of ascent – the path of dis-identification – is traditionally the masculine path of transcendence. The path of descent – of conscious identification – is traditionally the feminine path of immanence.

On the path of transcendence, we open to our true nature that is totally invulnerable – indestructible, immovable, infinite and eternal. As we recognise that it is this presence that is the essence of everything in all creation, we see the truth of impermanence– that everything that arises will also fall, it’s true nature untouched, and we see the heart-breaking vulnerability of all forms.

On the path of immanence, we open to feel our feelings and the truth of our vulnerability, and as we open more and more deeply to integrate and include what is present in our bodies, our being enters the glove of our soma so fully that we discover that here, in this previously disowned land, there is a river of pure life-force present in our hearts, our sexuality and flowing from the reservoir of our base centre that is pregnant with the indestructible reality of our true nature – we discover kundalini.

Wholeness invites them both.