I’ve heard voices since I was a child. Sometimes they were in my head. At other times they came from the mirror in my bedroom or from the closet. There were two voices, one of which was Anastasia. The other was what I came to regard as her sister. Ekaterina* was strong, brave, defiant and tough. Anastasia was this wisp of beauty and light who could calm me with a touch. Ekaterina was an ass-kicker.
We’re attracted to ass-kickers. This is part of the nature of temptation.
We’re attracted to what we think are simple, clean solutions to messy problems. Kick some ass. Make it happen. Have it your way. If we see a simple and clean solution to a problem that is so much easier than the real solution, if we consider the real solution as being where we would go by following the path, there is great temptation to go with that solution. The man who raped your daughter, blow his fucking head off. Clean. Simple. Ends it.
Except, well, it doesn’t.
Temptation is a complicated thing. It is what leads us to make decisions that are primarily beneficial to ourselves. Sometimes it is coupled with a blatant disregard for the welfare or needs of others. Abandonment of the path of light is to cede to temptation, to walk away from the heart of the law to fulfill the determination of the word of your own law. Temptation can bring us power, riches and success on a variety of very temporary levels. It is like a drug, and that doesn’t make it a bad thing. It can be a very good thing, if we manage it well in balance with the true nature of our spirit, but when the spoils of temptation take hold of us and guide us away from the path, then we see the true destructive power of temptation. Whether it is hoarding riches to feed our vanity and desire for security or it is blowing up buildings to make a statement in connection with your own interpretations of your own law, these are the children of temptation.
What submission to the spoils of temptation means is that we are mortgaging our souls, adding weight to them as they take themselves through their eternal journey. The soul conduit, the physical form used by a soul to interact with others, picks up weight in the name of the soul and must carry that weight until they can learn how to unburden themselves of it. The man who kills his partner to take over a business and make millions might live a wonderful life of opulence, but he’s added a very heavy burden to his soul. His next frame of existence will likely be much more difficult as the soul works to drop weight. Purgatory is a way of unburdening souls. Those souls seeking to be unburdened would seek out a purgatory-like existence once the life that added those burdens has ended.
The deepest meaning of faith is that life is not taken completely at face value. This means that instead of only accepted what we can see, touch, feel and verify as truth we accept there are truths beyond the verifiable. This makes faith a personal experience rooted in personal mythology rather than in the collective. The collective is constructed of a combination of that which is verifiable and what is accepted widely as truth. The danger in the realm of faith is that certain interpretations of personal faith can become imposed upon the collective order. This transposes the collective and the personal in such a way as to dictate the nature of faith to others. Instead of allowing individuals to develop spiritually through the exploration of personal faith, a collectively endorsed interpretation of faith is taught and accepted as truth by certain elements within a collective.
Temptation is rooted in the desire for those things that glorify the self. Part of human nature is rooted in a survival instinct, the need to stay alive, avoid pain and suffering, and to have insurance against disaster. Survival glorifies the self in that it makes us do things we wouldn’t normally do in order to escape death. Survival also causes us to avoid pain and suffering, but can wrangle with pain and suffering to the point of integrating them into the equation.
Temptation and power are strongly entwined. The more power an individual has, by whatever interpretation of power you wish to use, the more temptation he or she faces, simply because the power held allows a greater ranges of choices in how to act and react to various situations. Power is the shield of corruption. It gives one the ability to twist and reinterpret collective truths and beliefs to suit one's own agenda. Once you do that you have fallen into the briars of temptation.
My personal experience with temptation is rooted within the voices that have always spoken to me. In my youth, when I was very insecure, frightened of everything and in a constant state of fear of failure, one voice tried to reassure me and give me strength. The other was about something else. Whenever Ekaterina would speak, it was usually at difficult times when I wasn't sure what to do or how to handle a situation and was gripped by a panic attack. She would reassure me and give me direction, but often that direction was suspect at best. As in the overview, her ideas and directions were more simple and clear cut than those of Anastasia. And yet even then I realized most of her directions were wrong. Sometimes I still followed those directions. Sometimes I still took the "easy way out."
Temptation is reactionary. It does not build anything, it simply responds to perceived threats and danger. When Ekaterina's voice, the voice of temptation, would address me, it would always speak to the essence of how to react to situations so I would either "come out on top" or escape any real damage to myself. It had a tendency to avoid truth and to avoid confession and admission of guilt.
A long time ago, my friend Bobby and I decided we were going to call the fire deparment to falsely report that a neighbor's house was on fire. We were young and bored that summer and we really wanted to see what would happen when the fire trucks arrived. And they did. Three of them, accompanied by police and ambulance support. They soon found out there wasn't any fire and knew someone had called in a false alarm. At that point, in the mid-1970s, they did not trace emergency calls. No one really knew who had called or where the call had come from. The thing was, we gave ourselves away because we hid in the house and watched through a window in the dark while everyone else in the neighborhood was out in the street trying to figure out what was going on.
That night I encountered a face in the mirror in my bedroom. For the first time, the voices I tried to dismiss as part of my vivid imagination took something of a physical form. There was a woman looking at me in the mirror. My reflection disappeared and was replaced by hers. I remember this very clearly as it quite literally made me shit my pants.
We had avoided confessing what we had done, even though our parents pretty much knew and insisted that we confess. The voice of Anastasia had told me I needed to confess and tell the truth and ask all those we had inconvenienced and whose lives we had thrown into temporary chaos to forgive us for our foolish, childhood prank. The face in the mirror was not Anastasia's. It was Ekaterina, and for years after that, I was scared to death of her. She scared me so much that as I grew into my teenage years, I sought every possible avenue for dismissing the existence of anything not physical and verifiable by scientific evidence.
"If you confess first, you can put the blame on Bobby. It was all his idea, wasn't it? You were just along for the ride. You are too much of a scared little shit to have masterminded this. Confess your part and give Bobby up before he gives you up."
Her words were something like that, although I can't remember them exactly. The thing was, it was all my idea and Bobby was just along for the ride. Not long before I had encouraged my brother to take a glass of water with a lot of furniture polish in it to the man who was cutting down a tree in our yard. I had very effectively made my brother take the blame and pay the price for my actions that day while escaping unscathed. This was the same kind of thing. There was a way for me to minimize the trouble I was in with my parents and possibly the authorities. That way was to sell Bobby out.
I got off clean. Bobby took the blame, just as my brother had. Ekaterina knew what she was talking about. She knew how to manipulate situations, people and emotions in order to get the desired result, keeping me from looking as bad as I really was and minimizing personal damage. For a while, with her help, I could do almost anything and get away with it. She convinced me, for a while, that I could walk on water.
The secret is to play to your strengths and to turn your weaknesses into strengths. As a shy and withdrawn boy, it was easy for me to act as if I was just being a follower and an innocent victim of events. I masterminded poisoning the tree cutter. I masterminded the false alarm fire. A few years later I masterminded a plot to burn down the "fort" that the bullies who picked on us at school had built in the woods. I masterminded plots to skip school, raid the liquor cabinets of various parents and water down the booze so it wouldn't look like any was missing. I always got away with it. Because adults had the impression that I was a scared and timid boy who bowed easily to peer pressure, I could play up that angle to escape blame and harm.
The thing was, I was almost always the mastermind, and for some reason, others were always willing to take the blame.
These are memories that escaped me for many years. I won't explain why they have returned. Apparently I was ready.
I was an extremely introverted child with a genius level IQ. Temptation was an easy and clear road out of Dodge City. I took the train quite often. The day I cashed in my chips on that front is also one I now remember. I was riding my bicycle through the neighborhood and saw a baby in a stroller. The mother had gone into a house or had otherwise left the child for a few moments. I saw the stroller and the baby and stopped. The voice of Ekaterina echoed in my head.
"How easy would it be to just grab that baby, ride with it down to the next sewer, and stuff it down into the sewer?"
Temptation had just turned stone cold evil. I had reached the point where I had to stop and say "no." In retrospect I don't think she actually expected me to do it. I don't think she wanted me to. She just wanted to see how far I could be led.
I may not have been led by my peers, but I was being led.
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
from The Lord's Prayer
Temptation is debt. It is submission in the name of power. Real strength comes from staring down temptation and rejecting what it offers. The more powerful its offering, the more spiritual strength comes from rejecting it.
Since my early struggles with Ekaterina and temptation, and the years in which I lived in anger, denying everything I had experienced as fantasy, Anastasia has taught me something I never expected her to teach me. You can negotiate with temptation. You can outwit temptation by sometimes accepting what it offers for different reasons than it wants you to accept. Spiritual wars have a completely different dynamic than the silly ones we fight here.
Ekaterina calls me "Anastasia's bitch" and constantly tells me that I could have fame, power and money if I used what I know and my newfound charisma to follow her path. I humor her and let her enhance my sex life, another story altogether, but all things have their place.
Avoiding temptation completely is a difficult thing. It means you must want nothing. In truth, I want pretty much close to nothing. I want far less in this life than anyone else I know, but somehow I simply have things fall into my lap without seeking them or putting any effort into them. These things I consider to be part of the path I follow, things to ease my soul as I continue along my way. What I work overtime to avoid is allowing myself to take shortcuts and be dishonest in my approach to things that tempt me.
Temptation during my journey in Florida took on a new dimension. I had come to find Tina, who appeared in my dreams and called me to her. I came to Orlando to find her and to understand why I was supposed to find her. Some time later, I became aware that another waitress at the same bar had read my story, heard what I had to say, and all she really wanted was to be the reason I was there. If I had come for her, she would have done anything for me. It was very tempting. Tammy was young, beautiful and devoted to me. I could not corrupt the experience. I could not submit to temptation, even though all it would have taken was for me to make some revisions in stories and claim she was the reason I was there. It would have been much easier than it sounds.
Everything has its place. Things cannot become what they are not. It is so tempting, but no, that path leads us into the weeds.
* Ekaterina did not have a name until I began trying to understand Anastasia by researching Russian history, absurdly believing she was Anastasia Romanov, because that made more sense than her being an angel. Her name is derived from where that Anastasia died. Unlike Anastasia, she never told me her name, so I gave her one. Since I named her, she has used it against me. And yes, I am quite insane.