"For while he willingly puts himself under it, all the burden of tribulation is turned into confidence of divine comfort. And the more the flesh is wasted in affliction, the more the spirit is made strong by inward grace"- Kempis
The value of self-sacrifice; it's an oft talked about subject in the esoteric community, especially amongst alchemists and hermeticists. The notion of sacrificing the lower mundane material needs, the primal urges of the body and the ego so that one can rise to a higher, more spiritual state of grace and fulfillment sparks many debates. When one thinks about it, it is quite paradoxical. On one hand there is the notion that as a child of God, a spark of the Divine, one is worthy of consolation, fulfillment, and happiness even being blessed with having dominion over the land and animals of the earth. But at the same time, in order to have this in its truest form we must humble ourselves, thinking nothing of ourselves in order to rise up. This is difficult to not only imagine, but to practice.
We are so attached to our egos and lower natures that we immediately feel pain when we begin to withdraw from those things of which bring us comfort. Correspondingly the ego reacts beginning to question the point of pain and suffering...God is abundance why should we not live and enjoy this abundance? But here again is the paradox discussed in almost every major mystery and religious tradition, "to humble oneself is to be exalted", "the meek will inherit the earth."
We can look at this philosophically and easily see that in order to be truly one with God the Divine from the perspective of the direct knowledge of our consciousness we must overcome the small self (the Ruach, Nephesh, and Guf) so that we can transcend into the Unity consciousness of the big Self. But how does this translate into our practice and experience as spiritual people and magicians?
On its grossest level it begins with an understanding of its importance and a trust that self-sacrifice will bring us the fruits we seek. It is hard when we are young in the Work and so addicted to the world around us not to doubt its effectiveness and essential rightness as all we have ever known to be right has come in the security of things in our environment. But we seek now to move from beyond the security of eat, sleep, clothe, love, to a security of the spirit and in fact we will see as we travel along in our path that unhappiness comes from these terrestrial things as they are always transient and never lasting. Just like a jilted lover we endlessly seek to fill a hole when we see permanence in the impermanent nature of the lower plane. This is of course why we yearn for spiritual things, because our true nature is permanence and until we know it we always feel something is missing.
The next step is that of the rote habit of learning self-sacrifice. Anything that we can be successful in comes from doing it over and over again. At this stage in our development self-sacrifice is no exception, especially during the first stages when it is an action that must be taken rather than a state of consciousness (we will discuss this shortly). Not only does this require of us to physically give of ourselves, but to create a mental state within of being undeserving of the gifts we receive. It is usually not the former that causes great difficulty, but that latter notion amongst initiates. The problem does not come in the fact that we are or are not 'deserving' of a good life...our Father and Mother in heaven deeply desire for us to have absolute happiness. The problem comes in nurturing the belief that we are, because once we believe that we are, our egos become inflamed, and we deepen our attachment to those things which are fleeting and false. "Set yourself always in the lowest place and the highest shall be given to you, for the highest cannot stand without the lowest".
Now, during this time of habit-forming, one may begin to experience a sweet nectar, a small fruit of internal peace at times when renouncing the self. We have all experienced this while doing a "good deed" for someone. And although this is needed to feed us so that we may carry on when the tempest of our egos take hold, it is not the whole fruit that we are seeking. The reason I say this is that you will notice you are still functioning on a level of receiving. For example, when we go to the store and buy something that catches our eye, we relish in the feeling of receiving something pleasurable. The same thing applies here, we use self-sacrifice as a means to gain a pleasurable feeling, we may not realize it at first, but when being young in the work this is almost always the case, and when this is taken away many a spiritual student fall from the path. In "The Dark Night of the Soul this is referred to as God feeding one a mothers milk to help nourish him in the Work. But, at some point this must be taken away so that the young child of the spirit can learn to feed himself and walk on his own...the next step then is to overcome this attachment and this is when a real change in consciousness begins to take shape.
At this point you will begin to experience a shift in consciousness and will start to see the true nature of the material world. The things from which you previously sought comfort you will now see as empty for its transient nature. Why place your hope and trust in things which do not last. It is there for a short time and then we are off seeking to find it or something else to fill the space? Now you are beginning to find a disappointment in material things, yet a growing state of internal peace and happiness. Overcoming the material for the spiritual then begins to take over as the true priority, and this is when you will notice an influx of magical and spiritual powers because the essence of the true Self is descending upon its throne. The burden of tribulation is "turning into confidence of divine comfort" the mere act of thinking less of yourself, and doing more for your brother, or for God becomes a living life-force within rather than a mere trinket of pleasure. It becomes an essence feeding you, energizing you, fulfilling you...and its beyond measure; "and the more the flesh is wasted in affliction, the more the spirit is made strong by inward grace". Thus, now you have reached a point where self-sacrifice is not an act, but a state of consciousness, and when we read texts which speak of humbling the body, the mind, and the heart we will no longer feel repulsion or fear at the words, but hope, excitement and joy. Here you will find and endless fountain of grace, and you will know that your total connection with the Divine is just around the corner.
To experience true Grace in your life preform this exercise:
Pray daily that any spiritual gifts (or magical powers) you may be blessed to receive will instead go to another, perhaps a brother or sister in need, a cause, or a healing. Ask yourself if you are willing to sacrifice all your efforts in the Great Work so that the fruits you may attain can be given to another....