To exercise him in the Wilderness,
There he shall first lay down the rudiments
Of his great warfare, e're I send him forth
To conquer Sin and Death the two grand foes,
By Humiliation and strong Sufferance: [ 160 ]
- from Book One of John Milton’s PARADISE REGAINED
It was only about a couple weeks ago that I was a guest on a paranormal radio show where I discussed various pieces of my writing and documentary work, especially that which involved exploring certain aspects of the paranormal world. The show lasted about two hours, but the last half-hour of the program consisted of a discussion about past lives between the show's two hosts, a psychic medium named Lucy (name changed) and myself. It wasn't long into the discussion that Lucy started telling me that I had 23 past lives. I had already known about one life I had in Poland and another life I had in Hollywood, but Lucy said that another life I had was as a doctor and in another life I was actually part of a knighthood at a roundtable (whether this had anything to do with King Arthur's roundtable is unknown to me, as Lucy didn't elaborate).
Needless to say, it was pretty interesting to hear about these two additional past lives and I was especially excited to hear that I was once a knight. But my excitement quickly dissipated when the medium started telling me some other things about myself. She said that I was still sort of living with certain past-life traumas in my subconscious mind and – for whatever reason – they were making me very indecisive in my current life. When an opportunity came my way, I would have a very tough time deciding whether it was a good opportunity to take advantage of. I would carefully weigh the pros and cons of the opportunity, almost to an absurd point. This extreme indecisiveness consequently allowed a number of opportunities to pass me by, mainly because I waited too long to act on them. Lucy then started talking about how I had the potential to "go such great distances" in life but I "hold myself back", because I’m so indecisive and I don’t take advantage of enough opportunities.
Now, let me just say that this medium Lucy is somebody I completely respect. There is no question in my mind that this lady is very nice and warm and kind, skilled and legitimate. But I have to admit that this information was probably the worst thing that somebody like her could have said to me at that given point in my life. It COMPLETELY messed with my mind, awakening one of my worst fears: mainly, that I have let key opportunities pass me by and consequently haven't lived up to my full potential as a human being. Yes, some people fear death or heights or spiders or clowns, but, lately, my worst fear has been that I haven't been making the right decisions in life and seizing the right opportunities. So when I heard Lucy – a respectable medium – say what she said, my mind was thoroughly, pardon my French, FUCKED with.
And, yes, let me reiterate that Lucy is a respectable medium. I mean, I would be singing a different tune if some Joe-six-pack Schmo from off the street said these things to me, or even if a friend or a family member or a grandmother said them (which they have in the past). In fact, I've heard these words come out the mouths of all sorts of people in my life, but I never felt in my gut that what they were saying was true for me. My mind may have been screwed with a little bit, but, ultimately, I would just say, “who the hell are these people?” and remain confident about the path I had taken in life.
But then when a MEDIUM came along and said these kinds of things, it was a whole different ballgame. I know a lot of people out there don’t even believe in mediums, but - for whatever reason - I take mediums VERY seriously, almost as though they are a conduit from which God Himself speaks, and I know this is silly but I have to admit it’s pretty true for me. So when I heard a medium say that I was missing opportunities and holding myself back and not living up to my full potential etc., my mind was fully screwed with. For a good week or so after I spoke to Lucy on the radio show, I felt very angry and depressed...even doomed. I felt that I had missed crucial opportunities, “missed the boat” in life and that there wouldn't be another boat for a very long time or maybe forever. Yes, I felt like I was stranded on some desert island and a boat had come to save me, but I didn't get on it because I didn’t feel like it was the right one for me, and - if I hung in there just a bit longer - a better one would come along. But, shit, what if another one wasn’t going to come? What if I was doomed to roam this desert island forever?!
A whole week went by where I was filled - and I mean FILLED - with doubt about the general direction and atypical pathway I had taken in life. I prayed to God, hoping that I hadn't made any fatal errors when it came to making certain decisions about opportunities. I was cranky around people, had a snappy temper and was depressed. My nephews would come over to play and I had a tough time mustering up the ambition to play with them, because I couldn’t get my mind off the past. Yes, it was that damn "coulda, shoulda, woulda” mindset messing with me again (read more about this mindset in my previous blog). I was anywhere but in the moment, completely dwelling on past decisions. I was absolutely filled to the brim with doubt.
At some point, however, I had a revelation. I realized that I was worse off now than I had been before. I mean, I was actually feeling kind of happy and confident up until Lucy started telling me these things about myself. I know she was trying to help, but she paradoxically just made me feel worse. So what was even the purpose of telling me such things if it was only making me feel bad? It didn’t really make any sense to me. But then came the epiphanal moment. It suddenly hit me that Lucy may – just may – have been messing with me, but not intentionally. What I mean is that Lucy was unintentionally playing the role of devil’s advocate (so to speak) for the purpose of testing my confidence in my self. And when I say ‘unintentionally’ messing with me, I really mean it; again, Lucy is an extremely skilled medium and a very nice, warm, well-intentioned person. However, I believe that - to at least some degree - the voice that channeled through her in this particular instance came through as misguided judgment, all for the purpose of testing my faith and strengthening trust in my self.
In fact, this idea of trusting the self amidst a sea of voices that say things contradictory to your inner feelings has been a very big theme in my life, for several years now. And I have always perceived these 'outside voices' as collectively comprising the voice of the devil. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “The devil!? Have you lost your friggin’ mind, Matt? You sound like a crazy person!” I realize that I sound crazy and weird and extreme but allow me to further explain what I mean:
If you are at all familiar with the story of Jesus, then you know that - immediately following his baptism by John the Baptist at the Jordan River - the Son of God subsequently spends forty days and forty nights roaming the desert and being tempted by the devil. John Milton's PARADISE REGAINED (the sequel to PARADISE LOST) does the best job portraying this time in Jesus' life. Where the Bible just talks about turning stones into loaves of bread and throwing yourself off cliffs so angels will lift you up, Milton's poem goes into much greater detail about the very complex and clever methods the devil uses in order to wrest Jesus off the unique, seemingly-pathless-pathway he was taking in life.
Late into Jesus' time in the desert, the devil gets very desperate. His temptations don’t seem to be working very well so he essentially starts trying to mess with Jesus' mind, awaken his fears, and fill him with all sorts of doubt:
These God-like Vertues wherefore dost thou hide?
Affecting private life, or more obscure
In savage Wilderness, wherefore deprive
All Earth her wonder at thy acts, thy self
The fame and glory, glory the reward [ 25 ]
That sole excites to high attempts the flame
Of most erected Spirits, most temper'd pure
Æthereal, who all pleasures else despise,
All treasures and all gain esteem as dross,
And dignities and powers, all but the highest? [ 30 ]
Thy years are ripe, and over-ripe, the Son
Of Macedonian Philip had e're these
Won Asia and the Throne of Cyrus held
At his dispose, young Scipio had brought down
The Carthaginian pride, young Pompey quell'd [ 35 ]
The Pontic king and in triumph had rode.
Yet years, and to ripe years judgment mature,
Quench not the thirst of glory, but augment.
Great Julius, whom now all the world admires
The more he grew in years, the more inflam'd [ 40 ]
With glory, wept that he had liv'd so long
Inglorious: but thou yet art not too late.
- from Book Three of PARADISE REGAINED
In layman’s terms, Satan is essentially saying, “What are you doing out here in the desert anyway? You're just wasting your time out here, letting life pass you by when there is important work to be done. Most of the world’s noble and great leaders accomplished so much more when they were much younger than you are. Here you are, 30-years-old, you're letting life pass you by and you're not getting any younger. Leave this pathless desert path now and go DO something!”
Now, do Satan’s words sound familiar at all? Yes, he’s basically saying to Jesus that he's letting key opportunities pass him by while he’s in the desert hardly doing anything. He’s holding himself back being out there in that godforsaken place. He’s not living up to his full potential…
Of course, when I draw a parallel between Jesus' struggle and my own struggle I don’t mean to put myself on the same level as Jesus, nor am I implying that I’m Jesus-like in any way. In fact, I’ve always viewed much of Jesus’ life (especially his time in the desert) as a metaphor for a very universal spiritual struggle most people go through at least at some point in their lifetime. The “time in the desert” is a story about taking a leap of faith, trusting in your self and ignoring the outside voices that give you bad advice and misguide you. It's also a story about doing something that - on the surface - looks foolish and stupid, even like a waste of time, but below the surface is very important and in your own personal best interest to accomplish. I mean, you would think the Son of God should be out doing big things - living up to his full potential, seizing big opportunities - instead of just hanging out in some deserted wasteland. But even though he’s not doing “great things” that appear to others as great and will garner him honor and nobility from his fellow man, on a spiritual level he is doing very important things, developing his faith and strengthening his trust, becoming more confident with what his inner self is telling him to do while ignoring outside voices that are so brilliantly personified in this story as the devil.
So, yes, the story about Jesus and his time in the desert gives me strength and inspiration, but I must admit that I could be very, very wrong when I compare my situation with his. When Lucy told me that I'm missing opportunities and not living up to my full potential in life and that I'm "holding myself back”, she could have been absolutely right. Once again, this lady is a very skilled medium and a very nice, warm person (I can't reiterate this enough). It may be absolutely absurd for me to label her voice as one of many outside voices that collectively comprise the voice of "the devil". So, yes, I still have my doubts about everything.
However, I have to admit that my inner self is telling me that, yes, this is your "time in the desert", a time to develop your faith and your trust, and don't let these outside voices bother you, because all they’re doing is creating conflict with your inner feelings and filling you with doubt. And doubt is bad; in fact, I would go so far as to call doubt evil. And if there's an outside voice telling you something that’s filling you with extreme doubt, then you can't really do anything else except ignore that voice. What ELSE are you going to do? Keep letting it bother you and drive you insane? No, letting it mess with your mind will only bring you down and make your life worse off.
So, yes, right now I'm identifying the voice of Lucy, the medium, as, perhaps, one last desperate attempt by "the devil" to wrest me off the path I have taken in life, a path that I feel is in my personal highest and best interest to be going down. And, again, I need to stress that when I say "the devil", I'm speaking metaphorically. I don't mean that an actual demon named Satan is messing with me. Like I said before, the devil is a personification of the misguiding outside voices; he is the anti-self, embodying everything opposite from what you personally feel inside your soul to be right and true.
I also want to reiterate that my "time in the desert" is NOT unique to me or – at least in my opinion - Jesus. Certainly Jesus was a unique individual, but his story that took place in the desert was a universally relatable struggle. EVERYBODY has their time in the desert at some point in their lives, going down a path in life that you feel is right but that outside voices say is foolish or dumb. This path may seem pathless (hence the desert metaphor) and at certain points you may feel forsaken. You don't know how long you'll be on it or where it leads. The devil will pull out all the stops to try and mess with you and knock you off the course that you are on. His temptations will come in many shapes or forms. He will show you an easier, well-defined path, where there is better money, more security, good-looking women or men. Maybe he'll drain your finances, take your car away or other material items. Then he'll take away your respect and your honor and your prestige in the eyes of men, make you out to be the fool or maybe even make you feel like a fool. But when all that doesn't work, he'll simply just try and mess with your mind. The "outside voices" will begin to assault you with their thoughts and judgments and opinions. He'll probably start out with people like friends and family, all of which will tell you that you should be going down a different path. Then when that doesn’t work he'll take on the form of people you respect a lot more. In my case, it was a medium. In your case, it could be a teacher or mentor or grandmother you have great respect for; or maybe a priest, minister or rabbi. They'll tell you that you're missing opportunities in life and you're holding yourself back, not living up to your full potential and, heck, you're just wasting your time out here on this godforsaken desert path. You can listen to these voices and take some time to assess their value, but ultimately you have to honor the voice that is inside yourself, because it’s this voice that is God speaking to you.
All in all, your time in the desert will be a blind leap of faith, but - sooner or later - you will reach a point where you will be rescued. In PARADISE REGAINED, Jesus eventually gets saved from the desert (after Satan pulls out every last trick) and a group of angels feed him a delicious banquet as reward for keeping his faith. I highly believe this banquet is out there for everyone. It's the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the moment you realize you were right all along. You just have to have faith, trust in your self and filter out those devilish outside voices that will only distance you from the INNER voice that is God.