Room 101 was the chamber of personalized horrors described by George Orwell in his classic book 1984.
When Orwell wrote that book in 1949 the year 1984 seemed like the far distant future. When I first read it during my high school years in the 1960’s it also seemed that way.
I wondered what the world would be like in that far future. Would the world have degenerated into a dark totalitarian nightmare as described in the book? Would flying saucers be flying openly around our world? Would we be much more enlightened?
When 1984 actually came there were several major events that did rock my world. Top of mind were getting married, starting my acupuncture practice, the birth of my daughter Sonya and the Miami Dolphins going to the Super Bowl (and getting slammed by SF). But the world overall did not seem all that different.
Orwell’s book 1984 described a totalitarian world where there were only three countries with a constant state of war between them. Who was at war with whom kept changing. Britain was controlled by a repressive government whose front man was called Big Brother. The government communicated with the people in “doublespeak” – using opposite words to cloak reality. So the war office was called the Ministry of Peace and they called the place where they tortured political prisoners the Ministry of Love. The story is about a man named Winston Winston who tried to break away from the repression and thought control of the system. He met a lover named Julia who became his co-conspirator.
For the purpose of this post, the main point of interest in the book is that eventually Winston was betrayed by a man named O’Brian who had seemed like a confidant. He was incarcerated in the Ministry of Love, which was really the government’s place of imprisonment and torture. His captors were mainly concerned with breaking down his rebellious spirit, and so he endured a series of beatings, starvation and other forms of suffering. But the pinnacle of his torment came when he was brought to Room 101.
Room 101 contained “the worst thing in the world” for each individual brought there. The government bosses did extensive research on each political prisoner, and found out what their most severe phobia or area of fear was. That was what was put in Root 101. In Winston’s case his greatest phobia was of rats. So when he was brought to the chamber he was strapped down in a chair and a cage containing two chambers was strapped over his face. A huge starving rat from the sewers was in the cage, with only a screen separating the rat from Winston’s face. If that screen would be removed the rat would feast on his face. Here was Winston’s worst possible horror. Through that overwhelming imminent trauma his tormentors finally got him to betray his love Julia, who was the person of greatest importance to him. That finally broke his spirit and by the end of the book “he had won the victory over himself. He finally loved Big Brother”.
You may be wondering why I am writing about Room 101. It is because there is a parallel between it and the spiritual journey, and the real version of Room 101 is a major key to liberation.
Most people want to feel more happiness, love and fulfilment in their lives. In reality what we find more of are brief times of enjoyment mixed with lots of pain and disappointments. Most people respond to this strange brew through various “drugs of choice” such as drugs and alcohol, workaholism, on-line escapism, chronic searching for answers and good old denial. Sooner or later many people start waking up to how unfulfilling these “drugs” are and become ready to do some form of real inner work.
At that point they are likely to encounter a dizzying variety of paths and teachers who offer to help them feel more of that happiness, love and fulfilment by engaging in various studies and practices. Where I live in Marin County, California it seems that most people I meet tell me that they have been doing loads of spiritual practices for most of their lives, and are still working on themselves.
While on the 3D level of duality and multiplicity it appears that all these spiritual paths are very different, in essence all true paths share some common characteristics. Interestingly you will find most of vital aspects of all true spiritual paths in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous! These include the recognition that there is some kind of power higher than our personalities and ego self, and that we need to acknowledge our failings and turn to this power. Also that we need to wean ourselves from dependence on our drugs of choice and engage in more sincere open communication, serving others and practicing forgiveness to transform our small selves and increase our quality of life. I’m sure all of this sounds quite familiar to you. Now let’s talk about Room 101.
What is your greatest fear? What does your ego self try the hardest to avoid? I’m not talking about sensible things to avoid like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute or sticking your fingers into live 220 volt outlets. I am referring to dreaded experiences that you expend a great deal of thought and energy into avoiding. For some people it could be public speaking, for others giving up a secure but unfulfilling job and going for what they are really inspired by before it is clear how it will support them. For others it is to open their hearts and bodies again to take a chance on sharing intimacy with another person after past hurts. These are activities that push us up against what we fear and seem highly risky.
Each of these experiences is really just an outer reflection of inner core fear and pain. Our inner “pain body” is made up of all our painful past experiences, and that’s not all. The pain body is also tuned into the pain of loads of other people, so it is not all your own. More about this later.
It is common that this avoided “Room 101” pain body part of our self is quite insistent on getting our attention. The more we try to ignore it, medicate it, deny it or “heal” it, the more insistent its voice becomes. This can take the form of chronic pain, insomnia, depression, painful relationships, and a host of illnesses. It can also manifest as what seems like annoying setbacks and blockages in your cherished projects and plans!
Just like Orwell’s Room 101, what these feared and avoided things are is highly individual. For some people starting to dedicate themselves to a spiritual discipline pushes that edge. For others, doing LESS spiritual disciplines and living a more average life could be the terror they are avoiding! That one speaks to me- one of my greatest fears is being ordinary.
Georges Gurdjieff was a well-known spiritual master from Russia in the last century. When I was 19 I read a book called In Search of the Miraculous that was written by one of his foremost disciples named Ouspensky. In his book Ouspensky related a telling conversation he had with his master during a time when he was feeling particularly inspired. He said something like “Gee, the path of enlightenment is so wonderful, I can’t believe that everyone wouldn’t want to do it.” Gurdjieff replied “In reality, if people really knew what was involved in the path of enlightenment no one in their right mind would want to do it!. That is why the teacher must trick people into being on the path.”
Do you understand what Gurdjieff was talking about?
If this is still not clear to you I’ll quote another of my favorite books – A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K.LeGuin. This is a story about a very talented young wizard in training named Ged who was attending Wizarding school in a mythological world called Earthsea. Ged’s troubles started when he tried to impress his wizard classmates by overstepping his level of training. He opened a portal between the worlds while showing off his abilities. In so doing he allowed a hideous dark entity to come into his world. Ged was expelled from the Wizard school, and then the fearsome entity started pursuing him though out the lands. At the end of the book, the only way Ged could escape his tormentor was to face it – and actually pursue it. Eventually he faced the dark being head on and merged with it as a part of himself. After that he became the most powerful wizard in the world.
Let’s put all these allegories together. If people really knew what was required to be truly enlightened no one in their right mind would be willing to take the journey. It requires turning to face, and deeply love, that which we most fear – our own personal Room 101 that seems to contain the “worst thing in the world”. Have I scared you off yet? Should we just stay asleep, or as one author put it: “I have abandoned my search for truth and am now looking for a good fantasy”?
The saving grace are the words “seems to” from the previous paragraph. All this fear and terror stuff are about what seems to be, not what truly is. When Gurdjieff said that no one in his right mind would want to be enlightened, it was because “waking up is hard to do”. Our minds are literally addicted to our illusions and our small ego self would much rather stay with what is familiar and which it can control, at least to some limited extent. Awakening feels like annihilation to the ego self.
Some of the best known contemporary spiritual teachers have talked about this. Spiritual author and teacher Eckardt Tolle wrote about the black depression he went through prior to his awakening. I just heard a talk by spiritual teacher Matt Kahn who said “life smashed me down over and over again, and when it finally smashed me so hard I couldn’t get back up I awakened”. Jesus reached his greatest enlightenment through crucifixion. Sounds pretty grim right?
It’s actually a cosmic joke that it seems that way.
The process of awakening is all about loving ourselves – especially those parts of our psyche we fear, judge and want to avoid. You don’t need to be crucified or go through black depression to deepen your love. Those teachers who awakened before us have already done that to make it easier for us.
When I hear the Christian belief that Jesus died for our sins, I understand it in that way. I don’t really think it is about sin. Jesus went through his process to blaze a new trail and create a template, so to speak, that we can now use for our awakening, and in a much less painful way then he did.
I have told the stories in this writing as allegories to support your awakening. The path of awakening and fulfilling your magnificent life may not be easy, but it is very simple. Simply recognize what your Room 101 is and how you have tried so hard to avoid and anesthetize it. Understand that this core pain you have been carrying throughout your life and have been unable to fully heal is your greatest gift. Shift your attitude and be grateful for this gift. Know that your greatest love, greatest empowerment and greatest service you can bring to others will open for you as you stop running from your Room 101 and embrace it with love and gratitude.
There is another, bigger purpose to loving and transforming our Room 101. As mentioned above, your pain is not really just yours. We are all inter-connected through the collective consciousness of humanity. Much of what you feel and struggle with is not personal. Not only is it a gift of self-empowerment, it is also your greatest service to life. I like to think of my core neuroses and challenges as the honorable assignment given to me by the Divine. I have learned that being a mentor to others is not about the words I say or practices I teach. It is much more about my example as someone who has stopped running from myself, and am engaged in the process of transforming through love.
Let’s now revisit the 1984 book and see its message from a higher, 5th dimensional perspective. As Orwell described, Room 101 in the Ministry of Love was the place where people had to face what SEEMED TO BE “the worst thing in the world”. We can now choose to do this voluntarily, allowing higher Light to penetrate our deepest fears and reveal them as illusions. Thus we can awaken our souls from the totalitarian rule of our fear-based minds. By doing this we can start to bring our real ministry of love to the world, and flourish.
If this post speaks to you, or sparks your own experiences, please comment.