The ultimate challenge and the core aim of the Wisdom Texts of many cultures in all their diversity, including The Magnum Opus of alchemy, the Great Work on the Self, is that of the sacrifice of the Self to the All. Eliphas Levi described it thus: “The Great Work is, before all things, the creation of man by himself, that is to say, the full and entire conquest of his faculties and his future; it is especially the perfect emancipation of his will”.
The sacrifice of the Self is both painful and liberating each time we are presented with a situation that affects us passionately by arousing intense feelings. Our human nature, with its emotions and feelings (feelings are the end product of emotions) has a will of its own; it is our individuality. We need this individuality in order to learn. If we surrendered our individuality completely, we would be like The Borg from Star Trek, a fictional race who existed for thousands of years in a state they describe as being “flawed and weak” like humans, but have now become a partially synthetic species in their attempts at achieving perfection. However, the “flawed and weak” nature of humanity is actually what serves us most. We suffer, we learn from suffering, and we can also learn to put an end to suffering by learning to differentiate between our individual egocentric will, and a selfless will of unconditional love.
A perfect analogy for this dilemma is the ancient text of the agony in the garden.
When you love unconditionally, you are giving love freely. You are accepting the complexity of individuals, allowing them to fulfil their own potential and to pursue their own destiny, and you are removing your individual desires from any outcome, and becoming nothing and everything. From the story of the agony in the garden we learn about the torment of the individual will at this stage, of facing the death of the Self. It is the ultimate step; the most difficult step, one we want to avoid if there is any way possible. It takes the greatest effort to reach, or remain in, or return to the state of Being without suffering, without wanting, and where everything ‘just is’.
It is an unavoidable step if we are to know unconditional love, and end suffering – our own and that of others, whatever the outcome – and as Eliphus Levi stated, emancipate our will. But the passions of our own individual nature rise up. We don’t want to sacrifice our own will, or self interest. “If it is possible, let this cup pass me by”.
I’ve always thought this song by Prince is among the most gnostic of lyrics! To be unclothed, in gnostic literature, means to be in that state of pure Being – naked without being ashamed, in a state of pure love. To have made the inside and the outside as one, no ulterior motives and ultimately, no fear. But we are humans, with flaws and weaknesses, and it’s no easy road.
“Once upon a time in the land of Sinaplenty
There lived a king who didn’t deserve 2 be
He knew not where he came from
Nor where he was going
He never once said thank U, never please
Now this king he had a subject named Electra
Who loved him with a passion, uncontested
4 him each day she had a smile
But it didn’t matter
The king was looking 4 the ladder
Everybody’s looking 4 the ladder
Everybody wants salvation of the soul
The steps U take are no easy road
But the reward is great
4 those who want 2 go
A feeling of self-worth will caress U
The size of the whole wide world will decrease
The love of God’s creation will undress U
And time spent alone my friend, will cease
Everybody’s looking 4 the answers
How the story started and how it will end
What’s the use in half a story, half a dream
U have 2 climb all of the steps in between”