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One Step Up, Two Steps Down: A Semi-Poetic Response to Nonlinear Spiritual Development

Paradise Lost | Digital illustration + collage © 2020 Jacqueline Stuart for Dreams + Shadowlands
And how in the soft still hours of the morning you come to me in the silence of meditation. In these moments there is no separation. You envelop me in a hollow of soft bone and flesh so real that only the opening of my eyes can dispel your presence. In the hard light of day your absence is poignant. Why haven't I expanded? (Denton, 2005, p.753)

One step up, two steps down, a perpetual shift between spiritually transcending and falling into the abyss of the mundane—its endless demands that become a bricolage of should’ve, could’ve, would’ve—setting into motion the work that is to become a part of my process—embracing my inadequacies, turning shit into gold, rinse and repeat. One step up, two steps down.

Tonight, keenly aware of your absence, and my own claustral flesh, I wake frantic. Skin closes in on me. I cannot breathe. I am aware of being overcome by the hardness of bone (Denton, 2005, p.752).

Resistant to the call, disdainful and intolerant (Plante, 2016) of embarking on such a path, spirituality arrived like a sledgehammer. Only the paranormal could force me into this journey, fear tactics implemented by a ghost I’d come to know as Hans, jolting me into the arms of god.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Hans joked about the way he had behaved in the beginning, but as I surrendered, he eased his grip, escorting me to a space of acceptance—a life-changing experience. One for the books. Filling me with a sense of “purpose and meaning” in this “nonlinear” development, as if ascending a flight of stairs, often taking two steps down—to “reexamine things” (Mayseless & Russo-Netzer, 2017, p. 177).

My journey is a lot like this—a series of scintillating glimpses into the divine followed by a string of perfunctory “To-Do Lists” that aren’t entirely accomplished.

[Last night I dreamt I was the poster child of spiritual evolution, cohabitating with a ghost lover who quivers with delight whenever I sit for prayer.]

Instead, I keep confronting my blemished & imperfect self—seeing the endless stairs I must climb, the work that must be done, running into the same wall—a life lesson yet to be learned. One step up, two steps down. I travel down the unlit path, but I have an eagerness to see,

“And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep” (Frost, 1969).

I let you pass through me, like the wind…your warm breath sweeps through me. No one sees this caress. Fingers falling like rain, the whisper of skin breathing itself away (Denton, 2005, p.752).

Deep within there is a calling. Something has stirred awake, even as life gets in the way, obstructing my “capacity to listen attentively to [myself]…and to be at peace with [my] ‘authentic’ self’” (Mayseless & Russo-Netzer, 2017, p. 180). Finding spirituality is the easy part. It’s loving myself entirely that takes effort. Loving myself in spite of myself, peeling away the layers of resistance & fear—one step up, two steps down—rinse and repeat,

Until it’s time for me to sleep,

Until it’s time for me to sleep.


Denton, D. (2005). Toward a sacred discourse: Reconceptualizing the heart through metaphor. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(5), 752–770.

Frost, R. (1969). The poetry of Robert Frost. Henry Holt and Company.

Mayseless, O., & Russo-Netzer, P. (2017). A vision for the farther reaches of spirituality: A phenomenologically based model of spiritual development and growth. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 4(3), 176–192.

Plante, T. G. (2016). Principles of incorporating spirituality into professional clinical practice. Practice Innovations, 1(4), 276–281.

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