The burning-ground is a stage on the Path where you clearly see the difference between who you are as an ego and who you are as the silent Presence. This distinction becomes clearer as you are exposed to more spiritual light and realize there is a decision to be made.
This light is at first a purifying, and then later a consuming fire, which dissolves the impurities in your physical, emotional and mental bodies and makes you highly sensitive to your life experience. As you learn to value and choose God over all else, you increase this sensitivity, which brings you into the peace, silence and stillness of the Self.
While this can be described as an energetic process, from our human perspective at this stage we tend to register a greater sensitivity to both joy and suffering. As a disciple you realize that God allows this suffering to wake you up out of your mind-made dream.
These experiences of suffering are not punishment or cruel fate but the result of our exposure to the fiery Life that burns the dross of ignorance from our lives. Suffering refines your energy field, so that you can realize your identity with the Self. It helps develop discernment.
The burning ground provides those many moments in which you need to decide whether you want to continue to live in the past and future and keep abandoning the present moment, your real Life? Will you once again recommit to the deceptive story your ego loves to spin? In those moments you have the wonderful opportunity to choose what you value and your way of life.
Do you continue to identify with your ego and its pride, control, power struggles and judgement or do you instead, open to the path of love, acceptance and compassion offered by the inner Presence? It is really about choosing between the high road and the low road and the high road leads within to the soul.
When you stand upon the burning ground you are confronted with the need to surrender your emotional attachment to pleasure and pain, to people and things, ideas and opinions, goals and ambitions, the ego’s distorting preoccupation with the body-mind. It is about surrendering everything that you are not.
If you succeed in doing so, then you are left with what you are, the silent Presence – which has no form, no quality and no regret. Gradually identification with the body, mind and ego itself is released.
One of the most powerful experiences I have had of the burning ground occurred in my late twenties when I contracted adult chicken pox. I caught it while working on the desk of a GP practice and came down with an intense fever, aching body and sores on my face and body.
Frankly, I felt like a leper and perhaps it tapped into a previous life experience or simply exposed the lack of self-esteem that was already there. Either way, I was holed up in bed for some days, at times feeling so wretched that I felt like I was going to die.
The illness gradually passed, leaving me physically, emotionally and mentally debilitated. I remember going to see my yoga teacher after I recovered and he said, “Now that you have suffered you can teach (yoga).”
A more significant exchange happened with him some time later and came out of the resistance I had always felt towards him. My ego had never felt safe in his presence because he seemed to see right through me.
On this occasion he challenged my resistance in his typical direct way by asking, “John, why are you so rebellious?” Something in me recognized the truth in his words and so I found the courage to confess, “Because I am afraid of losing my identity!”
He looked at me and replied, “But you don’t have an identity to lose, you only have your love to give.” This comment blew me away and yanked the last vestige of security out from under my feet. At the same time, it intrigued me because he was saying that love is our only identity!
Looking back, I see now that absorbing this insight was only possible after the challenging experiences of the illness and the suffering of that phase. Even then it took me a long time to fully realize the meaning of what he had said. The ego dies hard!
We all have these fiery experiences, but if we can respond to them with acceptance, humility and courage then they will enlighten us. They have the potential to transform our experience into wisdom, our personal desire into love and our self-seeking into sacrifice. They can move us to surrender the ego’s defences to the loving will of God.
My mentor Edmund Harold used to say that the true initiate responds to suffering and confusion by saying, “Father Mother God, I accept the need for this experience, please show me how to resolve it.” He would often say to me that acceptance in the face of suffering is the true sign of the initiate.
If you can learn the lessons set by the soul’s curriculum, even if you initially respond to them with rage, hurt, self-pity or resentment, then they will seep into your bones as wisdom. That’s a more desirable outcome than leaving them as undigested inner conflict, which then converts into illnesses like cancer and even tougher lessons.
God invites us to wake up and will do whatever it takes to help us do so. The raw material used in these lessons is our own karma. We are meant to learn from our own past commitments to fear and desire and from the delusion that the world is substantial and real.
There are multiple phases of the burning ground that we experience over many lives and they bring ever greater initiations into higher consciousness. On one rung of the spiral it may involve failing in a goal or being rejected by a loved one. On another it may by a severe illness or the death of a spouse. On another it may be a failed marriage or the destruction of your public reputation. All of our attachments will be challenged.
None of these losses are real, though they may feel very real at the time. They are only designed to loosen your attachment to the non-self, the things that you are not. So the more immersed in Presence you can be, the less these distressing experiences will impact on you.
Ultimately, the biggest challenge is to accept the loss of your human identity and what you thought you were as a personality.
These losses on the burning-ground wake you up out of your limited, mind-made story to the recognition of a Life more wonderful than what the ego would have you believe is possible.
In identifying with Life you realize that you are Love, Light and Peace, the silent Presence. You can affirm “I AM” and merge with God. That Life is the One within whose Presence we live and move and have our being.
The burning ground allows you to realize that you are in fact a fiery Light, who can stand before that Greater Life and realize your Oneness with the eternal Now.