Ramblings

Blame

I want to talk a little about blame, and by that I mean the apportioning of responsibility for pain. (I’m going to leave out the issue of intentionality here, which we can talk about later. It’s not so important to parse out in words.). 


Blame is one of those subjects which requires contradictory approaches at various levels of development. The instruction on what to do about blame will vary depending on where along the road the practitioner is standing. 

We have a nifty Chinese proverb that tells us so: “He who blames others has a long way to go on his journey. He who blames himself is halfway there. He who blames no one has arrived.


Indeed, there is some truth to this. People of very low emotional intelligence, beginners on the journey, blame everything and everyone else for their own misery and unhappiness quite often. If something has gone wrong, it’s someone else’s fault. They like making others responsible for their feelings, their mental states and moods, their emotional reactions, their triggers; it ensures that others will take great care of them, tiptoe around them, coddle them, and protect them from all the unpleasant things, which is how they exert indirect control over the world around them.


Most people recognize this as a very childish and immature mindset. And so the directions for someone at this stage are all about taking personal responsibility. It has to do with withholding blame and criticism of others, restraining immediate judgement and finger-pointing, regulating emotions and the need to lash out, and looking at one’s own actions and feelings, beliefs and insecurities, as the contributing cause of the negative event. This is all very common conventional wisdom.


As we proceed further along our proverb, we begin learning all about the workings of our own mind. We learn more nuanced things about how we make faulty assumptions and interpretations; we learn about projection and how we often disown things we don’t like about ourselves, pinning them on others; we learn about how we take things too personally sometimes, and how to stop taking things so personally… Thus, we come to blaming others less and less for our upsets.

We take ever-greater responsibility for our emotions, for our reactions, and we learn that when someone says something upsetting, even objectively upsetting, if we do our own inner work, we don’t even have to get upset about it.


And so there are all kinds of practices here, from cognitive behavior therapy to some of the depths of stoic philosophy, almost all of popular spirituality, everything in self-development circles, all the common wisdom teachings are all geared in this direction – blame others less.

So then, after much much walking, we arrive at the “blames himself” half way mark in our proverb. This place of personal emotional responsibility and awareness is really important, and a sign of emotional maturity.

“Blames himself” is a good place to be for mental and spiritual health. These are generally the humble accommodating types who are quick to apologize, quick to admit that they made a mistake, quick to take the blame even when it’s unwarranted, as it were. 

And so now this is where we get into a bunch of problems and confusion, and a lot of misdirection or even malicious gaslighting. 


When a person is at the “blames himself” place of development, and he begins to open up his traumatic Pandora’s box o’shit, the pain often comes roaring out, blaming someone else. Hard. Like the trauma erupts to the surface of consciousness, and it is viciously blame-y. All that other nice stuff we learned before goes out the window, and the pain is screaming victimhood and blame.

 
This is right and good. This is the nature of real pain. 

In order for this person to continue his healing work, he needs to identify deeply with this victimhood, with this pain, and allow it to blame the other completely, until the pain is fully digested out.

 
So the guidance here goes the opposite way – assign blame, vehemently, to your bad guy/abuser, until you digest all of your pain. Sounds logical, right?

 
But it turns out that this is really really hard to do. The mind of the “blames himself” person is so accustomed to blaming himself, or detaching from victimhood altogether, that he can’t get his mind fully in solidarity with his feelings. The feelings are roaring blame, while the mind is busy doing the opposite. This is a terribly unpleasant place to be. And all of those original “spiritual” and “emotionally intelligent” instructions backfire here. Because you have to go into the pain fully, and blame blame blame, and even transform the mind that is refusing to blame, altering the thought patterns that resist blaming.  

This is broadly the category of self-gaslighting, and I want to talk about it because it’s very important to healing. 

The feelings feel real pain and blame. Meanwhile, the thoughts in the mind are trying desperately to convince the feelings that they are wrong. This happens in a number of ways, so it’s important to be on the lookout for these inner quagmires. They stand in the way of healing and processing of pain.  


There is a phenomenon I call “compassion bypass,” (I don’t know if anyone else uses that term, but it’s convenient to mention here). This is where the mind will jump to compassionate excuses for the abuser, instead of taking a really strong blaming position. Sometimes it’s based in actual facts, sometimes we just make it up. “He didn’t mean it. He didn’t know what he was doing. He was under a lot of stress or dealing with his own pain. He has a traumatic past. He can’t control himself. He is a victim of blah blah blah.”

 
This compassionate understanding, or excuse making, for the abuser absolves him of responsibility, and forces our pain to go silent. It pushes our pain away, while we sympathize with the supposed painful condition of the abuser. 

It’s very hard to blame someone or be angry with someone, when you see them sympathetically. But remember that this is a trick of the mind. It’s intended to get us away from feeling or healing our pain, away from feeling or processing our anger and rage.

 
I read an account recently of a woman who was terribly angry at her deceased husband for committing suicide. Instead of letting herself feel that anger and process it through, because she was afraid of falling into an abyss of rage, she kept reminding herself to be compassionate about the pain he must have been in. Compassion for him is wonderful, but when it is being used to interfere with healing, as an avoidance of her own feelings, then it’s not wonderful and becomes maladaptive.  

Another problem we encounter in the mind, the one that prevents us from blaming strongly, can be a guilty conscience problem. It says “Well, I’m no angel. I’m not perfect. I’ve done bad things too. I’ve caused him/her harm too. I can’t take such a strong blaming position.” It feels possibly hypocritical or somehow morally wobbly to get so angry, or to be such a victim of real pain, when we might also be culpable. It feels as though we must be perfect victims, absolutely blameless victims, before we are allowed to blame others or get fully angry. This is obviously wrong, and also stands in the way of processing our pain fully.

   
The mind will sometimes invalidate the feelings, saying things like “this can’t be right, I must be feeling the wrong thing here,” when in fact, the feelings are real and true, but the mind can’t believe it. The mind can’t wrap itself around something like blaming the other. It feels wrong and completely unnatural to blame the other, or to blame them as harshly and uncompromisingly as the pain demands… 


I want to address a few different dynamics that train the mind to self-blame, which will be helpful to finding the root causes of the self-blame patterns. These develop in childhood, and then unconsciously hang around in the mental landscape until we make them conscious.


The first has to do with attempts to control situations that are beyond our control. Blaming ourselves is one way to cope with the realities of something we can’t control. Self-blame takes a huge problem, one we are powerless to change, and reduces it to something that is our fault, and thus within our capacity to fix and address. Take something like illness for instance. When faced with the illness of someone we care about, the mind will attempt to assign blame to itself, (this is my fault, I caused this) and then we will run around trying to fix the supposed cause or do something different, as a way to avoid dealing with the source of illness we cannot actually control. This is often how children learn to deal with big negative events like divorce or deaths – they blame themselves because it gives them a sense of control over a situation when they feel powerless.

  
The second has to do with taking the blame, blaming ourselves, as a way to protect someone we love. We see this theme as a trope in many of our crime dramas – the parent sitting in the interrogation room, confessing to a crime they didn’t commit, to keep their beloved child from facing the dire consequences. We do this a lot, we offer ourselves as martyrs, when we feel that we are stronger and better able to handle the punishment than our weaker beloveds. We don’t want to see our beloveds suffer. But as children in dysfunctional dynamics, this balance gets reversed. We become parentified by irresponsible adults, we lose faith in their strength, in their maturity, in their ability to protect us and keep us safe, so we become the parents, keeping them safe. Out of our love and solidarity with them, we take this same position of self-blame, self-sacrifice, “blame me, I can handle it,” as a way to protect the immature adults we love from harm.

  
The third has to do with something I touched on in the last post – about narcissistic parents. In this situation, the narcissistic parent is always the victim, and is never to blame. The parent never ever takes responsibility, never apologizes, and never allows the child to be anything but at fault for all the parent’s problems and feelings. The child is never allowed to be the victim, and is always to blame. So the child’s natural tendency to self-blame becomes magnified exponentially, by the overt and implied endless blame-shifting from the narcissist parent. 

(You might also see here how the enablers will use various demands of compassion for the narcissist to shift the child out of any attempts to express victimhood or pain… This is how he learns to do the compassion bypass thing, to get out of feeling negative feelings, which have never been allowed.)  

It’s important to remember here that this is temporary, even if the healing period lasts for a while. It’s ok to blame, to blame harshly, to blame fully, to feel the anger and rage completely, to allow all the pain to come through and get processed out.  

Ultimately, if we allow ourselves to blame the other fully, the pain will move through, and then the feelings stop roaring with blame. Slowly, over a long road, we arrive at forgiveness. And when we look back at the wound and the events and the pain, we see the scar, but the emotional charge is gone. 

At the mystical depth of forgiveness, we understand, of course, how and why the events were needed and beneficial for our soul’s growth. And we are even grateful to the other for the role they played in the trauma. We arrive at a kind of “there’s no one to blame” short-hand about it, because we needed to experience the pain for our growth, this other person was tasked with delivering the pain, and so blaming or some kind of desire for justice or vengeance is silly. We don’t feel blame, we feel gratitude for what they did, and even feel some compassion for the suffering they endured as a result. 

I want to make clear here that at the non-dual or mystical levels, trauma, and pain, and questions of right and wrong, are still very much relevant. They are the food that feeds and fuels the growth of the soul. Some misguided teachers like to dispense with all of this – discarding the self, discarding morality, discarding pain and healing, discarding most of wisdom and virtue, discarding all the very difficult complicated work, as if none of it matters in the spirit world. They jump to “there’s no one to blame” in a ignorant kind of bypass of human suffering.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

These issues, their careful resolution, the legitimate healing, the actual digestion of pain, matters enormously at the soul level. Trying to side-step it is stupid and a waste of precious time.

 
Given that we have all of these currents pulling us in various directions, working out the questions of blame for any given issue becomes really challenging. But we cannot heal fully, process our pain fully, nor forgive completely, without untangling these questions. We cannot be in alignment or integrity with our inner selves (the feelings and the mind in solidarity with one another) without doing this complicated work. Our authentic feelings know the truth, and they demand that we become conscious of the truth as well. They also then demand that we transform the mind into a proper unified servant of those feelings…

Learning how to apportion blame the right way, to take full responsibility for ourselves, and to assign blame to the other, when they have caused harm, is a very important part of the healing and maturation process.

I want to make a final note here about a common misconception that prevails about the end of the proverb. A highly evolved person, someone who has been walking this path for a long time and doing all of this work, develops a very keen discernment for evil, for negative intentions, for veiled motives and provocations, and relying on their feeling sense in the body, possesses “right moral vision,” which accurately gauges the morality of any given situation very quickly and intuitively. He possesses an unspoken sense of any given interaction. That means that he assigns proper blame swiftly and sometimes harshly to the wrong-doer, taking quite intense confrontational action when needed, and peaceful restorative action, when that’s appropriate. It is inaccurate to say that he walks around never blaming anyone, as if he can’t discern right from wrong, (although that is the portrait of the blind amoral master some people would prefer and project.). So the proverb is right in one sense, and helps us understand some of this process, but shapes the wrong perception of what spiritual evolution actually looks like at the tail end. 

Victimhood, pain, and politics

Below is some writing I shared on my personal FB page in the days following the outbreak of protests in response to the killing of George Floyd.

At the time, like many of us, I was unfamiliar with the social justice movement or its ideology. I had, in fact, been living under a rock for years, secluded from all kinds of news and political events, focusing entirely on my own inner work.

So, when I first heard about the movement and its purported aims, it seemed like a real emergence of pain, with a sincere intention to rectify that pain, from a therapeutic philosophical perspective. It looked like a tragic national outcry, and a real opportunity for healing and growth. In those initial days, I felt angry at our spiritual institutions for failing to grasp the depth of public pain, failing to respond to it adequately, and missing the mark on the moral leadership through that pain. (Prefering of course, as they always do, to gloss over the hard stuff.).

Then I got to reading more and more of the ideological material of the movement, and I got to know it and understand it on a deeper level. It turns out that I mistook the movement’s clever rhetoric for the good faith cries of people in pain.

It took some time, and learning, and interactions with activists, to recognize the bad faith, the falsehoods wrapped in the appearance of wisdom, the immature petty hatreds and contempt, the regressive emotionally unintelligent thinking, and the deeply pretextual nature of any stated desire for any kind of healing or reconciliation, or even for actual justice itself.

The emerging ideology doesn’t care about truth, or growth, or actual resolution of any real problems. And if you’ve read anything I’ve written here so far, you know that I care deeply about those things (even when truth is completely paradoxical and contradictory). I also care about actual healing. I also care about real pain, and courage, and justice, and morality. And I am very much opposed to hatred, bullying, false cries of victimhood, dishonesty, interpersonal domination, abdications of personal responsibility, and destruction for its own anarchistic sake.

I’m going to share what I wrote initially anyway. I wrote it from a sincere place of compassion and understanding for real victims of injustice, and some wisdom and depth for the bystanders. Perhaps those people who are really suffering and are seeking to heal, and those who are adjacent to the suffering and seeking to help, might benefit from some of the discussion below.

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I spent the last few days reading one carefully edited prepared statement after another, from our mainstream spiritual leaders and organizations, parroting the same nonsensical robotic language, paying lip-service to a problem they continue refusing to actually address, because no one wants to talk about real pain.

I am deeply deeply disappointed by the emotional and spiritual ignorance, stupidity, tone-deafness, platitudes and bypassing of all the difficult and painful stuff spirituality is meant to help us navigate. Statement after statement from people who claim to work with authenticity and truth, who wear the mantle of spiritual leadership (the steering of souls through human experiences of suffering), and not one real heartfelt word from any of them. It’s very upsetting.

(This is a good time to make the following note – if your spirituality does not have extensive doctrines or methods or teachings for dealing with the darkness of real pain, if it glosses over and avoids pain, if it whips out lofty ideas in response to real pain, if it seeks to quickly fix or dispense with victimhood and the messy ugly stuff of life, you are not dealing with an authentic spiritual tradition. Please beware and find a more authentic practice connected with the human experience.).

The same ol’ rhetoric of false unity and pleasant sounding abstract spiritual ideas aren’t going to cut it anymore. Victims do not want to be united to evil perpetrators in some phony peace-keeping way. It’s time to have some grown up conversations. And the field of professional spirituality, if it intends to remain relevant, will have to do a much better job of real wisdom guidance on matters of real life suffering.

“Vibrating higher,” or “meditation as a path to color-blindness,” or “remembering our oneness,” or discarding the “delusion of separation,” or “remembering that we are all God’s children,” or proclaiming phony love, or prayers, or identifying with our “spiritual radiant immortal unaffected” essence while discarding our human experience is not going to get us through this problem!

These things hurt real victims of pain and pummel souls already in torment. Only actual truth and real awareness work will get all of us through this. It is time to grow up, and it is time to have difficult real conversations, not crappy pain avoiding double-speak, masking ignorance, discomfort, and apathy.

We cannot merely read the stories of pain and injustice, and grow from them in any way, or empathically support our fellow humans in any helpful way, if our insides are not compassionately receptive or open to hearing stories of pain. Spoiler alert – they are not!!

And because we are not actually able to internalize or maturely handle the pain of others, all we can offer are objectifying mechanical responses, completely devoid of empathy and real solidarity, which hurt and isolate victims more than their original trauma.

So instead of sitting and criticizing and telling you what’s wrong with all the old approaches, buckle up, because I’m taking you on a little ride into the depths of consciousness.

I want to address some of the internal dynamics that are important to bring to awareness as we watch what’s happening around us, and feel a whole bunch of stuff in response.

What I’m going to say has to do with victimhood, and our own relationship to pain, but it’s a bit complicated, so bear with me. I am painting a contrasting picture, with very broad strokes, just to give you an initial sense of which way to go. This is a lens, not the only one. This is a fertile area of exploration, not the only one. There are plenty of other avenues to explore, but I offer this as a starting place for real work.

I offer this description of the dynamics for intellectual understanding and navigation, but the real stuff, the real transformative change, is in each person’s own self-discovery work and practice. Take this in, if it’s helpful, but still do your own exploratory work. Find your versions of this inside yourselves, so that you can begin healing it.

Part I – The healing of pain

I posted yesterday, and many times before, the general proposition that victimhood is something that needs to be healed. There is no question about that. Wisdom always ferociously demands that all kinds of pain be healed and worked through fully and properly, because unprocessed pain leads to tremendous suffering and unjust results for everyone. Forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness, even when you feel it’s unforgiveable and the injustice persists. I’m talking here about the real dirty work of it, real trauma healing, and not the phony forced versions.

This truth, this demand for healing, is generally felt as unfair by victims; they don’t want to forgive that which is unforgiveable, and they are right to feel this way for many reasons. Not only do victims have to endure the pain and injustice, but they must then also bear the responsibility of healing, all while the perpetrator typically gets off scot-free and none of the injustice changes. It’s tremendously unfair, always. But that’s how it works. That’s the ugly truth of it. That is the nature of human suffering and the relationship with evil. Victims must heal their pain, evil rarely if ever apologizes or acknowledges wrong-doing, and justice (even when it is possible) does very little to mollify pain on its own.

This seemingly unbalanced burden of forgiveness is repeated in every single spiritual tradition there is. There is a reason for it. It is part of what being human means, and suffering and healing are the path of spiritual growth for the soul. Blessed are those who suffer, who are persecuted, who are the victims of injustice. That is the way their souls have chosen to grow in this lifetime, by learning the lessons of pain, suffering, and injustice, and Spirit demands that they take responsibility for healing and processing their pain.

Part II – Bearing Witness to Pain

But it is not enough to tell victims to heal and leave it at that. We all have a much larger individual responsibility (beyond repairing and reforming the external structures). We must do the inner work of repairing our own internal structures, and taking responsibility for our emotional and psychological selves too. If we are all going to grow from these experiences and do better, we must learn what it means to support our fellow humans when they are in pain. That’s generally called bearing witness to pain or being present with pain.

To do this, we actually must allow the pain of others to affect us and transform us. It is hard, but that’s part of the bystander’s soul work and lessons to learn. The victim is not alone in her healing burden. All those around her must also do their own work and show up to support her correctly. This is often where we run into problems. Most people like to think of themselves as good listeners or compassionate supporters, but they aren’t. They are just unaware of how poorly they handle other people’s pain.

Being a “good” caring person does not automatically make you good at being present with pain. It is actually quite challenging and requires a significant amount of inner work to be able to do it properly and effectively, without adding your emotional stuff to the victim’s burden.

These are more subtle unconscious currents within us that require awareness. These currents inform a lot of our behavior, and how we handle and respond to victims. These same currents also stand in the way, blocking those who work for justice generally, which always involves dealing with legitimate victimhood. These currents create divisions and separations between us; they push us apart and away from one another, which prevents us from loving, connecting, engaging, feeling compassion for real victims, and standing together on the right side of morality, which always fights for justice.

Part 3 – Extreme Victimhood and its consequences

Now, I’m going to go to one extreme of the victimhood problem for a moment, which will be unpleasant but important to understand. Victimhood-as-a-persistent-identity, victims who completely refuse to heal and refuse to process their pain, perpetrate their own kind of evil. Wisdom does not support that, and Spirit is always unsentimentally harsh with those who claim this position.

Victimhood is part of the ego’s identity and is very often used as a weapon – a tool of emotional control and manipulation – wielded by narcissistic bullies and other types of personality disorders. It is used as a justification for all sorts of things like domination and tyranny, interpersonal power grabs, abdication of responsibility, and refusal to admit mistakes, grow, or change. Sometimes victimhood is used to punish and silence, it is used to guilt and oppress, it is used to monopolize and win, it is used to compete, destabilize, and recast reality, very often hurting the real victims in the exchange.

Take the example of Trump here, and his endless claims of being a victim of unfair this or unfair that, while at the same time sadistically bullying and trying to dominate and exploit everyone he encounters. You see it rather clearly in his case. Victimhood is a running theme, a common psychological tactic, used by narcissists like him, to position themselves above others for exploitation and personal gain.

Victimhood is tied internally to specialness and superiority, and ultimate victimhood confers a false moral high-ground, ground upon which gradiosity is built. Trump’s claims of victimhood inoculate him from any sort of criticism or personal responsibility. Under his victimhood umbrella, he gets to do and say whatever he wants – lie, cheat, scheme, and get away with everything. Narcissistic victimhood always mischaracterizes what’s really going on, and invalidates actual truth and the real victims. You can see for yourself how dangerous and psychologically damaging it can be to all those around him.

And so anyone who has a narcissist in their lives (all of us, whether you know it or not), intuitively, through lots of experiences, comes to understand that not all claims of victimhood are real. They are sometimes the concocted fraudulent mental state of nefarious people, who masterfully use that position to guilt, blame, and demand all kinds of things on emotionally manipulative grounds, without ever having to take any personal responsibility.

This jaded and critical (some would say mature and experienced) relationship to victimhood develops quite naturally and unconsciously – we develop a kind of aversion to it, a kind of visceral rejection of victimhood wholesale, because having been trapped and fooled by it in the past, we fear the trap of the manipulator again. Anytime someone comes along with this victimhood identity, we roll our eyes and tune them out. Some people who are more naive, who haven’t been burned in the past, will placate, pity, coddle and sympathize with the narcissist’s victimhood, but those of us who have been to the rodeo before reject it immediately and without much conscious awareness of why.

This creates a very categorical approach to the victimhood of others, and while it does filter out all the phony manipulative victims, more or less, it doesn’t allow in any of the real ones. This is a form of armoring or self-protection, but in reality it is an overly numb and cynical position that doesn’t allow for real compassion to emerge when necessary. The heart and love become blocked off from real connection and authentic relating, and we can’t show up correctly for real victims who need our emotional support. It is as though our minds have made a mental formula: victim = manipulative liar, and we can’t then tell the difference when confronted by a real victim who deserves our help and support. We cannot feel real compassion when the circumstances morally require us to do so.

You see the problem here, I hope.

Part 4 – Denial of Victimhood and its consequences

Now, I’m going to go to the other extreme and will tell you about the complete denial of victimhood and what happens there. If you yourself have been a victim of narcissistic abuse, if you grew up with one of these people at home, then your own victimhood was always severely denied, negated, and dishonored, by the narcissist and his/her enablers, but worse yet, by you yourself.

Narcissistic parents or caregivers don’t ever allow the child to be a victim – to feel hurt, or express that hurt, or have that hurt repaired. Parental feelings and needs always overshadow the child’s, giving the parent a monopoly over suffering (they always have it worse), while at the same time immunity from any kind of responsibility (whatever happens, it’s never their fault).

The child learns never to talk about their hurt feelings, never to acknowledge them, and to always blame herself for having any kind of hurt feelings in the first place. She begins to hate her own feelings and her own pain, because that’s the psychologically safest thing to do in the vicinity of a narcissist. This is a form of self-abandonment and denial of the authentic self. We all experience this to various degrees, it’s just much more severe in the context of a narcissistic parent.

As children in narcissistic homes, we learn very quickly to deny our needs, our feelings, and especially the places we’ve been hurt by others. We deny our own victimhood, but even more than that, we learn to hate it. Our victimhood, our expression of pain and request for justice, for an acknowledgement and an apology, for a change in future behavior, represents a monumental threat to our narcissistic parent. Narcissists never ever react well when confronted with harm they’ve caused. Look at how Trump is reacting to people who are in pain – domination and punishment. That’s what narcissists always do.

So to express victimhood, to express pain, as a powerless child, would only induce more punishment and harm. But as feeling caring children who love their parents without question, it’s even more complicated than that. Expressing our victimhood would have caused our beloved parent pain, emotional turmoil, shame, and exposed us to their vicious retaliation. That creates both guilt and fear in us as children, fostering an internal emotional connection and loop between victimhood and extremely complicated negative unpleasant feelings. (Guilt and terror do not feel good in the body! Especially not for little children who are often isolated from the emotional support of wise adults.).

Therefore, taking psychological solidarity with our narcissistic parent against ourselves, (because that’s safest), we would come to hate the entire sphere of our feelings, pain, complaints, etc. We would learn to just get over everything, to accept the shittiness of the world as it is, and never try to do anything about it. We would have learned that fighting for something better, protesting or demanding change, goes absolutely nowhere with a narcissist. Protesting of any kind exposes you to further harm. So, the internal message is don’t even bother trying; just shut up and take it. The greater your capacity to tolerate abuse, the better person you are.

The enablers in the family would have reinforced this silence and denial of victimhood, pleading with you not to ever rock the boat. Themselves unable to control the narcissist’s destructiveness, their only way to keep the peace was to silence the victims. Children of narcissists learn that making any kinds of claims of victimhood, ever opening our mouths to say that we’ve been hurt, threatens the entire fabric of the family relationship, and usually ends with them attacking and destroying us further.

Adult victims of narcissistic abuse who claim their victimhood go through horrible treacherous family stuff as a result. As they begin their real healing journeys, they are routinely denied, disowned, scapegoated, and booted from the family for speaking their truths. All of this means that we have learned over and over to never ever allow ourselves to be the victim, even when we actually are.

We are never sure of our victimhood, of our feelings, or of our right to speak up about them. Our minds become programmed against allowing any of those feelings. And we become prideful about that. Many people have this very strong aversion to victimhood of any kind, most importantly their own, and they proudly proclaim that they are never victims, and they derive a sense of strength from that position.

But it also means that no one else around them is allowed to be a victim either…

You’re beginning to see the problem here too, I hope.

It takes a lot of work and therapy and healing to begin honoring our own victimhood, and even coming around to the idea that we’re allowed to be a victim, and that that is a morally right and safe position to occupy.

Narcissists try to gaslight you out of this position all the time!

Naturally, if you haven’t done any of this psychological heavy lifting, when you see others claiming their victimhood loudly, refusing to just get over it, and demanding change, it makes you react negatively to them. Your own negative association with victimhood becomes activated. You then want to give them the same instructions you give your own feelings – stop complaining, get over it, deal with it, nothing is going to change or get better, stop being so entitled about it, that’s the reality of life.

That then also pushes up all kinds of immediate criticisms directed at the victims, solidifying your rejection of them, instead of rejecting the evil they are protesting.

Sound familiar?

Do you get how this works out, and why victims then feel even more hurt, angry, and abandoned?

Part 5 – Conclusion

All of these inner experiences, wherever you happen to be between the extremes, unconsciously informs how we deal with the victimhood of others. We don’t have a conscious choice about it; our wounds, our unprocessed stuff, pushes up these mental attitudes and informs how we feel, and how we relate to others, and even how we vote. (Our politics are very much an expression of this very psychological landscape.).

And so we might know intellectually on a conscious-values level that it’s right to stand with victims, yet our feelings prevent us from doing that authentically, even if we wear a fake mask of solidarity.

We are being asked now to look closely at our unconscious material which keeps systemic racism and injustice in place. Use this time and crisis wisely. Take this opportunity to look honestly at what is actually arising within you in response to people vocally claiming their victimhood. Look at how your real feelings respond to that, despite how you behave socially.

As you do this work, get really still in order to hear what is actually arising within you in response to the protests. If you feel instantly critical about how the protests are being conducted, if you feel instantly distrustful of the voices that are complaining, if you feel a strong internal resistance about what’s happening, unable to offer your authentic love and compassion, (or forcing it, against how you really feel), I urge you to investigate some of the threads I’ve mentioned here.

It’s our own lack of awareness and healing that prevents solidarity with others. Most often, the unconscious material that informs our responses has nothing to do with skin color or race of the victim (it is an equal opportunity rejector), and instead has everything to do with our own pain, our own methods of dealing with life, and especially our relationship to victimhood. By doing this difficult work, we all have the opportunity to unblock our own hearts, allowing us to feel real authentic love, and with that, tenderness and compassion for all kinds of other people who are legitimately in pain. Then we can read the stories and hear the voices of victims and really show up authentically and correctly for them.

Cultivating authentic values

I’ve been sharing some of the rich content from the Pathwork Lectures over the last few months on the Wisdom of Sophia Facebook feed. I’m going to do a few posts on some of that material here also. But I want to share a word of caution about it, which I will repeat with each post.

It is extremely valuable and important to understand our internal depth dynamics intellectually – to make some kind of sense of the darkness. We need the intellect and reason to do all of this work properly. We need honest names and descriptions of the inner terrain. And having these concepts or currents laid out for verification and orientation is very important and helpful. Like one would have markers on a hiking path, I suppose. The Pathwork Lectures are incredibly valuable in this sense, they confirm and articulate conceptual matters in an otherwise dark and mushy place, where concepts are difficult to grasp or hold on to, and threads seem to dissolve as soon as you try to take hold of them. (Not to mention even that most of us are in a disintegrated state throughout much of our travels, and a disintegrated consciousness isn’t very good at conceptual organization). So having the material in the Lectures provide orientation and confirmation of the depths, something solid to hold on to that names the places we’re moving through, is crucial.

However, reading, absorbing, and internalizing this understanding isn’t enough. Our usual sense of education, the accumulation and regurgitation of information, doesn’t work here by itself. While some of this material may spark awareness or the desire for further contemplation, this material (to be effective in a tranformative mystical sense), must be found within and then wrestled with, worked on, digested, and transformed. Every person must do his/her own inner investigative work. These dynamics must be actually found substantively inside, again and again, discovered organically, verified internally, rather than overlaid as accepted truths. Without the independant contemplative self-search and personal discovery, knowing this material is of almost no value. If you don’t find it within, you can’t do anything about it. It adds nothing to consciousness to merely know it, or even worse to argue about it.

I trust that if you are here reading this, you will use this material properly, as it was intended…

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The excerpt below has to do with the shift from what I usually call egoic values, outward external-facing values, to inward or internal authentic values. Pathwork calls this “appearance values” versus “being values.” If you like Jung’s work, I think you’ll recognize the “appearance values” as most of what Jung called the Persona, the outward facing aspect of the personality. And the “being values” as the internal authentic self.

The process of making this shift inward is extremely difficult and involves significant work and the digestion of a lot of pain. The things that drive “appearance values” are deep wounds, not just faulty beliefs. Those wounds need to be healed, and the outward pulling desires extinguished, if the values are to actually be lived in integrity.

Here’s how Pathwork lays it out:

“Fundamentally, two value systems govern human beings. One system is that of being values and the other is that of appearance values…

Most human beings function on the level of appearance values. Only the most evolved, who have already gone through an extensive path of self-purification and transformation, function according to real values—for the sake of what is, and not for the sake of appearance in the eyes of others.

Here, too, as in so many other areas, it is not an either/or. There are degrees. A person can function in some areas of life with the true values and in other areas still be bound to the importance of appearance. Only gradually, in the course of this pathwork, will the former take over more and more where the latter had prevailed.

Before such an extensive path is undertaken, and for some time after it has begun, humanity functions in most areas with the appearance values. Now let us see the difference. Appearance values always aim to create an impression. Such false values may have crass manifestations, such as craving approval and selling out one’s truth to impress others or to be thought of in the highest terms. This tendency can be quite obvious and overt, but it can also be quite subtle and covert, not so easy to detect.

Inwardly, in many activities and directions you subtly focus on secret, semi-conscious expectations and concerns about “what will I be thought of.” The fear of negative reaction from others causes a tremendous amount of anxiety. Therefore the appearance value system is insidious and poisonous. It is much more harmful, my friends, than it may seem, for it truly disconnects you from your inner reality, from your higher self, from the truth of the situation and from the sincerity of your involvement and investment.

If you start observing yourself from this point of view, you will discover many areas that at first appear very subtly in your field of vision. Yet when you become more conscious of them, when you tune in to them, you find they are not so subtle. Actually the value system of appearance, as opposed to the value system of being, makes all the difference in the world.

Appearance values, no matter how strong and apparently loving or creative the effort and goal may be, always connote an insincerity. For what you do is done for effect: either directly through the activity or to attain power and money for the sole sake of proving your value. When you operate with being values you do what you do for the sake of the truth, for the sake of being. This may simply mean to do the best you can, regardless of others’ opinions, so that the activity fulfills its innate purpose. Or it may mean offering whatever you do up to God, contributing love, beauty, goodwill, comfort, something constructive to the world or to another person—again regardless of others’ opinions or even their noticing the effort and the effect. Whether you make an important humanitarian contribution, a work of art, a scientific project, or the smallest, most insignificant daily chore makes no difference. It is just as important to do every daily activity in the spirit of being, not appearance.

When you act for the sheer sake of what the act itself represents, rather than using your work and accomplishment to substitute for your sense of self-value, this always finally amounts to an act of love, to spiritual sincerity, to giving and enriching life. What you give to others, you give to yourself. Not giving to others deprives you even more than it deprives others. It makes you incapable of receiving what is available for you.

When you operate on the being level, some very drastic changes occur. These are byproducts of the integrity of your motive on the deepest level, though you may never make that connection. Let me give you an example: When you are attacked or judged or criticized or rejected, as long as you operate with the value system of appearance, you will feel totally devastated. How can it be different? If you attach your self-worth and your self-esteem to how you appear in the eyes of others, you must feel annihilated when anyone sees you in a bad light, however small the issue. You feel you lose your inner ground; you are no longer centered in yourself.

Of course, you are never really centered as long as you are governed by appearance values, but you are unaware of it when you are not being criticized. You seem centered when you receive praise and admiration because you feel gratified at the moment. You are unaware of the anxiety that eats you up, even in moments of success. As long as you receive your worth from others, you must constantly worry about your ability to maintain the uncentered state of receiving self-value from outside yourself. You have no real control over your sense of self-value.

Operating with being values, on the other hand, brings a deep inner security. This is not to say that you would not be hurt by hostile judgments, unfairness and the intent to put you down. But there is a world of difference between the kind of hurt that can never shake your foundation and the hurt that does shake your foundation.

If you operate with appearance values, your foundation is shaken and even seems to crumble when your appearance is negative. This does not happen when you operate in the deep security of being. Given your total integrity and knowledge of your real motives on the most hidden levels, the truth of your giving, the sincerity of your investment, the pursuit of your goal for its own sake without hidden thoughts and ulterior motives, your security in your own value will be so grounded in reality that no matter how you are judged and how it may hurt you, you experience the unshakable truth of your core.

Then your sense of self-value is not dependent on the opinion of others, on their knowing your assets and ignoring your liabilities. This creates a centeredness, a security, and an awareness of your eternal values that cannot be described in words.

When you operate with appearance values, you have no identity. You make your identity depend on the opinion of other people, on how you appear in their eyes. So when you are praised and honored, you derive a great momentary sense of gratification and confirmation of yourself—you might even feel a temporary exhilaration—but that is built on a shaky ground. When that admiration and approval is withheld, or perhaps even reversed, the ground shakes and you become lost; you cease to feel your identity. The false sense of your identity has been crushed and the real sense of it has not yet been established.

As long as appearance values hold sway underneath the surface, you constantly eat away at your self-esteem. Deep inside, you know you are not in truth when you put so much emphasis on the level of appearance. You cannot connect with your higher self. Since you know that you only appear to give, doing it for ulterior motives, for something you want to gain in a prideful way, you doubt yourself on a very deep level. So when others doubt you, distrust you, criticize you in any way, on the surface you may be very indignant, defensive and argumentative, but inwardly cannot find your center since you doubt your integrity about the way you operate generally, even if you do not lack integrity concerning the specific issue.

Your ability to perceive truth in others is a profound and important aspect of the value system you adopt. When you function in your giving mode in a deeply committed sincere spirit, then whatever you do is a wholehearted investment of your best faculties. But when this spirit is not there and appearance values reign, you can never really answer questions such as these: Am I right or wrong? Are others right or wrong? To what extent am I right or wrong, or are the others right or wrong? In what particular area am I right and in what area are the others right? In what particular area am I wrong and in what way are the others wrong?

All these questions plague you—although you may succeed in denying your awareness of them—as you unfortunately succeed in stifling awareness of how appearance values undermine your integrity. The denials are the very cause of confusion. They create a fog over such issues and questions when you would need clarity to know who you are. So you flounder, you grope, but not in a healthy way. You are truly confused and the struggle is painful because it is a struggle that covers up the inner lack of a security that can come only from the deep sincerity of commitment and giving. The lack of giving and commitment eats away at your psychic guts, if I may say so. It makes you doubtful of everything you do, of everything you think.”

This is a small excerpt from a much larger lecture and conversation on this subject. It begins to touch the subject of inner moral vision (“right vision”), the solid discernment of situational morality, which is what develops as we do this more and more. One can write entire treatises on the differences internally, and how it feels to live them, but again, I’m sharing this bit only for the sake of inner orientation and not with the intent to cover the subject intellectually.

As a last note, I’ve been thinking of how best to articulate egoic appearance values, how best to name them exactly, so that they might be seen clearly and discerned (and found within each of us, of course). There is an overwhelming manifestation of these egoic or appearance values in the behaviors of those who are severely narcissistic. On account of their huge egos, narcissists are a kind of walking embodiment of these appearance values, and so I started thinking about where one might find a narcissist’s playbook, so to speak.

Then I came across this video, which is an animation of Robert Greene’s book The 48 Laws of Power. These are the often unspoken motivations, aspirations, or ideals that underlie the egotistical behaviors, beliefs, and justifications we see in many of our narcissistic anti-social pals. I was nauseated by the content, but also excited that they have already been articulated all together in one place, which makes all of this much easier to illuminate. (The smug and glib tone of the narrator, as he arrogantly preaches ignorance, contempt, and nihilist manipulation makes me sick). But notice that these are considered “realistic;” he defends them as necessary protections against being hurt or abused by a harsh and cruel world, while the characters emulated are all schemers, manipulators, and charlatans. (They always see themselves as victims, justified in whatever harm they cause others…).

But their value system isn’t about being realistic, and defintely not about being vulnerably authentic; quite the opposite. This position of manipulative defendedness, of armoring, of power games in a cruel, zero sum, dog eat dog world, is foundationally contrary to everything we are doing here. It’s a morally corrupt view of the world, rooted in tremendous unconscious pain, which is very harmful to the soul. I understand how they come about, and why someone would adopt them, but they represent the height of egotism and lack of conscious awareness.

These values aren’t just antithetical to mystical truth and wisdom (which are often stark and difficult to stomach for entirely different reasons), but they are the polar opposite to the inner currents of the unarmored authentic self. They promote domination, manipulation, deception, and justify all kinds of destructiveness, which of course the soul is completely against.

All in all, the list of these “laws of power” is a great reference for egoic appearance values which ought to be let go of and transformed.

Failure and the impossible goals of practice

“There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

A very interesting thing happens when you give an instruction like this.

One kind of student will come back and say “I did it! I washed the dishes, and I was completely present, and my mind was completely still, and it was a transcendent experience!” And then he will launch into some poetic blabbering about his breath, or the sun, or the gleam of the sun, through the window, off the bubbles onto his breath,… I don’t know. (I don’t have the ability to drum up nonsense like that, even for the purpose of making this point). In short, it’s nauseating, to everyone involved.

Another kind of student will come back and tell you that it’s nearly impossible. He will tell you what happened when he tried. And then he will tell you how he failed. He will tell you about his second and third attempts and how those also failed. He will tell you of his frustrations, and the obstacles he found standing in his way. He will tell you how he fears that it’s not possible to merely wash the dishes, and that when he saw all of the obstacles in the way he felt overwhelmed and dejected, like he will never get to the place where he can just merely wash the dishes. He will tell you that it made him want to quit the whole thing and just walk away. And then he will begin to tell you of the moment of recognition, the real moment of understanding of what this instruction really means, and what an incredible and powerful teaching this is. And then, as he is leaving, he will tell you how he can’t wait to fail at washing the dishes again.

The first kind of student is someone I call a phony, a person who doesn’t understand, doesn’t want to understand, and only uses spirituality and spiritual practices to feed his ego. To the first student, spirituality is about winning, achievements, and besting the practices (and everyone else he believes he’s in competition with). He collects these “winnings,” and believes that makes him superior to others. He climbs some kind of imaginary pyramid in his mind, thinking that at the top is a reward. And he foolishly lords his imagined winnings over other people, thinking that makes him more spirituality advanced. The truth is that he cannot bear to fail, but worse than that, he cannot face the truth or what the practice reveals, so he lies to himself about it. He is dishonest with himself, and with everyone else, about the work he imagines he’s doing. And because of that he can’t learn nor benefit from the practices.

This is usually an unalterable problem. A student who shows up this way, who approaches the work this way, cannot be recalibrated. His ego is too bloated, making him impenetrable even to the teacher’s attempts to correct him. To really see his mistakes, to see that there is no winning to be had, and that the path is really a series of failures revealing all of his flaws and weaknesses, signals a kind of annihilation to him, one he is unwilling to confront. (The kindest thing to do in this case is to suggest to him that he leave the field of spirituality altogether. Without the inner calling and capacity for real honest work, there is no reason to waste anyone’s time.).

On the other hand, the second kind of student is honest and sincere, but more importantly, he has the inner bandwidth to see himself truthfully, without the fear of annihilation. He wants to learn, to grow, to understand, so he engages with the practices authentically. And because he is willing to be honest with himself, he quickly reaps the benefits of his perceived failures. He understands how to use the instructions he is given – to make the attempt to implement them in order to illuminate the blocks. He understands that these blocks are the real substance of the work, and that the instructions given are meant to bring those blocks into focus. He lacks the arrogance and self-deception of imagining himself at a place he does not occupy, or conquering a practice that cannot be conquered, certainly not at the outset. He understands that growth requires lots and lots of falling down, and he’s willing to fall down without falling apart. This is the real humility, the threshold kind of humility that makes someone teachable, and a good fit for spiritual work.

Most spiritual practices, at their heart, function this same way. They are not given in order to be conquered or successfully completed. They are not designed like achievements to be collected. They are impossible ideals, impossible goals, which implemented correctly cause us to fail again and again. And with each consequetive failure, if we are honest, we are brought to greater and greater growth, healing, and clarity.

It is only in the failure to achieve the goals that the truths can be revealed.

Stillness of mind and contemplative inquiry

“Nothing is so bitter that a calm mind cannot find comfort in it.”

Seneca

Virtually all of our spiritual, esoteric, and philosophical traditions teach us one common lesson, that our attention is something like a muscle. They teach us that it is subject to our control, and it ought to be trained, exercised, and strengthened.

Through various forms of meditation, prayer, mantras, or other techniques of inner discpline, we can learn how to grab hold on the mind and increasingly direct our attention properly.

The ability to control and focus the attention consciously becomes of paramount importance when working with more advanced levels of spiritual work, namely with pain, trauma, and other types of psychic suffering. It is an indispensible foundation for all the other types of spiritual work. A mind that is not calm, not disciplined, needlessly magnifies and intensifies the experience of emotional suffering, frustrating much of the goals and efforts of spiritual practice.

When we learn to still the mind, to keep it from running amok, we then become able to focus into the experience of pain (without trying to avoid it, running from it, trying to make it stop, or otherwise spiralling out of control). That’s what allows us to untangle the falsehoods that cause needless suffering, and to let the authentic pain digest through; that is where Seneca’s comfort lies, and where healing, resilience, and wisdom grow.

This may seem like a counter-intuitive instruction; the confrontation of emotional pain is everyone’s least favorite activity. Why would anyone want to turn into the pain?

That’s a perfectly reasonable question; it’s part of our human makeup to want to avoid pain, pretty much at all costs. And yet all the mystics and alchemists have taught us for centuries that the cure for the pain is into and through the pain. Turning into pain, with a focused and calm mind, even when the emotional body is anything but calm, allows us to work through the arising pain, fear, panic, etc. and slowly transmute those things, by discovering the truth and allowing the authentic pain to move through the body.

This holds true in some of the worst experiences of darkness – in the throes of PTSD, persecutory delusions, panic attacks, grief, terrors, hallucinations, etc. Stilling the mind, turning into the experience, confronting the truth and the pain, allowing it to process through properly, is the key to all of healing work, regardless of the type of experience. It is of course momentarily more unpleasant, sometimes very unpleasant, but it is the proper way to address emotional suffering of all sorts.

Below is an excerpt from Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Tolstoy. If you’re wrestling with death, suffering, meaning, truth, deception, loneliness, surrender, toxic spouses, propriety, conformity, and expectations, Tolstoy’s got you covered! The book is honest and funny, and tragic and real, but what’s most profound is that one cannot write this experience, one cannot convey it, without having lived it… And so by writing it so beautifully and authentically, Tolstoy gives us a glimpse of his incredible depth and mysticism.

The excerpt below is specifically relevant to the subject of stillness of mind in the midst of great pain. Tolstoy writes this moment with perfect unsentimental precision, illustrating Seneca’s instructions in practice.

Throughout much of the book we watch Ivan dying a slow and agonizing death, drowning in sorrow, self-pity, despair, loneliness, and obviously the physical pain.

This is a climactic moment when Ivan finally becomes still. Keeping his mind from jumping from one horrific thought to the next, he becomes able to hear the right questions…

He removed his legs from Gerasim’s shoulders, turned sideways onto his arm, and felt sorry for himself.

He only waited till Gerasim had gone into the next room and then restrained himself no longer but wept like a child. He wept on account of his helplessness, his terrible loneliness, the cruelty of man, the cruelty of God, and the absence of God.

“Why hast Thou done all this? Why hast Thou brought me here? Why, why dost Thou torment me so terribly?”

He did not expect an answer and yet wept because there was no answer and could be none. The pain again grew more acute, but he did not stir and did not call.

He said to himself: “Go on! Strike me! But what is it for? What have I done to Thee? What is it for?”

Then he grew quiet and not only ceased weeping but even held his breath and became all attention. It was as though he were listening not to an audible voice but to the voice of his soul, to the current of thoughts arising within him.

“What is it you want?” was the first clear conception capable of expression in words, that he heard.

“What do you want? What do you want?” he repeated to himself.

“What do I want? To live and not to suffer,” he answered.

And again he listened with such concentrated attention that even his pain did not distract him.

“To live? How?” asked his inner voice.

“Why, to live as I used to—well and pleasantly.”

“As you lived before, well and pleasantly?” the voice repeated.

And in imagination he began to recall the best moments of his pleasant life. But strange to say none of those best moments of his pleasant life now seemed at all what they had then seemed—none of them except the first recollections of childhood. There, in childhood, there had been something really pleasant with which it would be possible to live if it could return. But the child who had experienced that happiness existed no longer, it was like a reminiscence of somebody else.

Getting still enough to hear the right questions (later learning how to ask ourselves those right questions), and engaging with those questions in earnest, offers illuminating liberation from the knots and attachments that create so much of the pain. This is the heart of contemplative inquiry, and the comfort Seneca points to.

That voice, the wise inner mystical inquisitor, is always there in the darkness, ready to help us navigate the experiences correctly. It doesn’t offer “comfort” in the usual tender sense – that voice is rarely compassionate or empathic, but it offers the most relevant questions that reveal the truth. That voice essentially calls out our lies and self-deceptions, which cause us so much unnecessary pain. If we are ready and willing to confront ourselves honestly, those questions pull us into the discovery of real truth (often hidden ugly truths) providing the medicine needed for the soul, and for the cessation of needless suffering.

Having found his false story, his false clinging to a lie, a life that doesn’t exist, Ivan moves through that grief and quickly into illumination, peaceful acceptance, and the revelation that the death he so feared isn’t the end of life.

That is the ultimate, some would say glorious, comfort to be found with a calm mind in the midst of pain.

Love for God


“Do not let the old get in the way of the new, but reveal what the old was saying all along”

Richard Rohr


Mocking and ridiculing the old, holding it in contempt, misunderstanding and misinterpreting its original meaning and value, is something of a modern past-time. Nefarious actors have been adopting and desecrating sacred teachings, practices, and philosophies forever. And our present era is no exception. It’s really easy these days to bash the hypocrits, advocate for the dismissal of faith entirely, and throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In spiritual circles, this often takes the form of bashing religion and shaming the entire arena of faith. And yet, in the sphere of mysticism, and for those who wander courageously into the wilderness of consciousness, it’s much more worthwhile to suspend the self-righteous bashing, and humbly explore what the old could have meant, and what secrets it might reveal for us today.

There is an unalterable truth in the old. Perhaps it’s misunderstood and misapplied, perhaps mistranslated or misrecorded, worse yet, perhaps used fraudulently and hypocritically for egotistical gains. But I’ve found that there is always a sacred value in it, to be honored and discovered rather than arrogantly discarded.

We are typically not any better than the people who came before us. And if we can set aside our various ideological filters and political agendas, we might be able to learn something of value.

This has been especially pertinent for me lately as I am moved into exploring the territory of love for God.

Many of us on the mystical path have experienced the big overwhelming love for everyone and everything. We tend to understand this as divine, cosmic, or universal love, which comes with a radical shift in consciousness. It feels like a condition that comes to us, overtaking us for some time, and then fading away, returning us to normal consciousness, leaving us grasping and longing for it to return. Some of us have also experienced God (or however you conceptualize God), and felt divine love coming to us from an external source.

These are of course rare mystical states, and they involve great, albeit temporary, shifts in consciousness. They are experiences of altered states, not the normal state of being. And we understand enlightenment often to mean a constant state of divine love, a permanent union with this love, both within and without.

The mystical writings however, all describe another aspect of this. They speak of loving God, not as something that overtakes us from outside, not as a mystical event, but as a practical doing – as something we must do. 

This has always felt weird to me. I can’t force myself to love anything, even God. How are you meant to practice a proactive loving?

So I’ve written a bit about my experiences of God before. At times, I have felt immense love; love that was coming from me for God, as part of the awe, reverence, and service feelings, part of the sense of total worship and allegiance. But those involve involuntary shifts in consciousness outside my control. They are not an active doing, and when they happen I am unable to feel any other way.

Those feelings can’t be recreated in normal states. It’s is not a feeling that is available to me on any regular basis. I can’t access it in any way. And even when prayer and divine connection was available to me regularly, that didn’t exactly bring love for God as a feeling.

So it didn’t make any sense to me to talk about the practice of loving God in any sincere way. I didn’t understand what the mystical instructions meant, and my mind wanted to dismiss it as “old;” as a relic of some kind of religious fervor, appropriate to the past but not relevant to me today. 

There are different levels of mystical maturity, and mystical writings are full of immature misdirections that are not always applicable. With discernment, it’s really easy to immediately gauge and dismiss misguided, misinterpreted, or mistranslated teachings, and that was my initial inclination here. But something about this instruction kept haunting me, and so I decided to delve deeper with it.

First I have to take you on a small tangent (but it’s relevant to this subject, I promise). 🙂

One of the big areas I’ve been working through for a few years now has to do with trust and betrayal. I’ve written a little bit about how trust wounds block faith in another post. But faith is a different feeling than love, right? In altered states, they come together at times, but faith, striclty speaking, isn’t love. It feels different.

So initially, my betrayal work centered on people – lovers, family, friends, all sorts of past life relationships with other people, where experiences of betrayal left wounds in my soul. I have been taken through an incredible array of human suffering, and betrayals are often part of those stories. I’ve been betrayed in every which way the human mind can imagine. So I had to relive each one of those stories, re-experience the emotional pain and trauma, and give it all a chance to come up and out so that it can heal. I cried, and cried, and cried, seemingly without end, healing and digesting all of those wounds. 

Then, when I had finished with human betrayals, I started to experience layers of betrayal by spirit. The experiences took a different turn, involving lies, false promises, false instructions and misdirections, by many different manifestations of spirit. This showed up in too many ways to describe, but generally involved investing my faith in spirit, following revelation or mystical manifestations, only to end up in worse suffering, realizing I had been duped. (This later turned out to be a normal, almost archetypal part of the purification work, but it still hurt a lot.).  

Betrayals by spirit, learning that spirit lies and tempts and misleads on purpose, really shake the mystical ground pretty hard. They create the sense that all of existence is untrustworthy, that life is fundamentally dangerous, that nothing and no one is safe, and they call the entire mystical process into deep question. All of that turns into a terrible ungrounded discomfort and existential crisis, which takes lots and lots of time and patience to digest all the way through back to solid ground. 

So then, past human betrayals, past betrayals by spirit, when those layers were reasonably clear of pain, and I was just starting to feel solid again, I hit something huge…

I hit betrayal by God. Specifically, being forsaken by God.

(Those are big big words I never imagined I’d be writing about, much less experiencing, but that’s exactly what I encountered.)

Feeling betrayed by God is the weirdest most complicated set of feelings yet. It’s kind of like I trusted God, I put my complete faith in him, I surrendered myself to him entirely, I invested everything in him, I gave up everything for him, and he betrayed me. He abandoned me, but this is far deeper than abandonment…

(In this particular experience God showed up internally as a “him.” I relay it that way here for the sake of integrity. In other experiences of God, there was no discernable gender, and some experiences of divinity with a distinctly female gender. The truth of this journey is all over the place, so please don’t assign any categorical meaning to that expression. Also, important to note here, I have cleared endless layers of projection onto God as well as pain stemming from those projections. This is a different experience entirely. Bringing understanding and tools for dealing with projections to bear here did not resolve the matter; meaning, this wasn’t a projection onto God, but an actual experience inside of which God was male.).

This wound, this being forsaken thing, was enormous. Enormous! And ancient; it echoed over and over, seemingly throughout time. It informed and colored every aspect of my mental landscape. I could now see and recognize its tentacles everywhere, penetrating every corner of my consciousness. It pushed up skepticism in almost every circumstance. It stood stubbornly in the way of any kind of solid faith. And as a result, the pain and defensive mechanisms left me feeling like a powerless mouse, pressed up against a corner of her cage, unable to trust anyone or anything again. There’s was lot of anger and fear and powerless rage inside that mess. 

And because I exist in God’s world, there’s nothing I can do about it. You cannot break up with nor walk away from God. Believe me, I tried. My rage, and anguish, and tears did nothing.

There is also another more complicated philosophical aspect to this wound, which has to do with trusting something that causes you harm (or allows serious unspeakable sort of destructions to happen to you). That is a different existential struggle and a different area of work. This particular area I’ve been describing is a separate and distinct experience.

So, here I was with this huge horrific wound. And I knew that if I intended to move forward it would have to be fully confronted and resolved. (The coercive pain and force holding my feet to the fire on this, literally, was of the same mindset…). There was no getting around it, and I got to work on this thing tirelessly, night and day, for weeks. I took it apart pieces by piece, digesting all the pain through fully, clearing all the layers of wounds. When I started to approach forgiveness and reconciliation, something amazing came into view, a new sliver of light. All of my pain subsided, revealing something I never imagined possible. This wasn’t a shift in consciousness, but a totally sober condition, which brought a feeling of conscious choice. I found a tiny tiny spark of the possibility of loving and trusting God again!! 

The choice was clear – if I opened my heart again, if I took a risk and trusted God again, if I let myself really really love God (as the mystics have instructed!!!), that love would absolutely overwhelm me. It would sweep me off my feet, like an all-encompassing infinite tidal wave. This love for God feels massive inside, and so naturally, very scary. It feels risky and terrifying. There’s lots of resistance, and wanting to hold on to an illusion of safety in the current darkness. There is a fear of that love, and a fear of annihilation by it, and of course, that familiar jumping-into-an-abyss feeling comes up. I’ve begun slowly unlocking that door. I’m not 100% ready to open it yet, but I’m getting there.

But most importantly, “love for God,” I get it now; I get the instruction about loving God, as a proactive doing. Like much of spiritual wisdom, it turns out that this is also a destination of healing.

It’s a thing we are meant to aim for, to hold as an ideal, and being unable to merely do it on the surface, it’s suppose to push us deeper and deeper into ourselves, to find all the blocks that stand in the way. And then, when those blocks are cleared, we are to courageously choose it, when it becomes an available choice. I get it now. I’m not totally there yet internally, but I get how it works and why it’s important. 

Many of the religious teachings that seem oh-so-silly at first are deeply deeply meaningful in exactly this way. They are misapplied, and dogmatically misunderstood by people who remain at the surface, and therefore can’t grasp the real meaning, but the essence of the teachings are right. I always feel really stupid when I arrive at the depth of meaning, and realize I’ve been arrogantly dismissing them when I should have been learning from them. (More lessons in humility for me.). 

So now, “love God with all your heart” has become a spiritual instruction for me, and a very complicated and painful journey of its own.

Authority, learning, and a bit of bread


The one who wishes to learn must first empty his cup.

I love bread baking. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I loooove bread baking. I got into it about ten years ago (with the no-knead trend, which made it sound deceptively easy), and I have slowly nurtured this hobby ever since. I’ve even shared some of my love of bread baking with others, and got them hooked on it too. Bread can be very infectious. There is something very satisfying and pleasurable about the texture of kneaded and freshly risen dough… It sparks lots and lots of joy in my kitchen.  

When time permits and I feel the inspiration, I will bake a few times a week (depending on how many people I’m feeding). During more busy periods when I’m immersed in my work, I won’t bake for months at a time. When I feel most “into it,” I get adventurous and I experiment with the variables – altering water temperature, salt content/type, types of flour, oven temp and time, baking containers, etc. I’ve even used whey from cheese-making experiments as a substitute for the water, which creates a really really rich and beautiful chewy crumb. I highly recommend it.

After years and years of playing around with this, I am an amateur wanna-be baker, at best. Really. I have mostly learned what not to do, or what doesn’t work, from colossal disgusting failures. I can’t ever be sure that a particular loaf will come out right, or whether it will even be edible. Sometimes they come out magnificent, other times it’s a total nightmare. I get nervous every time I have to bake bread for others, and I warn them in advance that I may not be able to deliver. That’s how poor a baker I am, even after so many years and countless loaves, I can’t seem to figure out consistent reliable success.

It would be my dream, if life allowed, to apprentice with a real expert bread baker, to learn how to do it professionally, and finally finally feel some kind of confidence in my technique and skills. And I have silly fantasies of owning a bread-only bakery one day, some place where wild yeast wafts through open cottage windows…  

Anyway, I’m sharing all of this because never never never, not in my wildest dreams, would I approach a professional bread-baker and attempt to teach her about bread. That would be absurd, no? 

I would be so excited to talk to an actual bread expert (or more accurately to hear the expert talk about bread and impart her bread wisdom), that I would never dream of being arrogant, or rude, or insulting her, or diminishing her skills, or disrespecting her time and efforts at perfecting her craft and talent, pretending like we are equal in bread-baking ability, or demonstrating that I am somehow superior. 

We are obviously not equal in break baking, and that’s a really good thing. She is a professional and I am not. She has dedicated her life and work to her craft, and I have not. She is someone who can teach, and explain, and correct mistakes, and guide, and I cannot. Obviously, there is no shame in this, this is the reality of what is. 

Now, set aside the professional baker for a moment, and let me tell you about my friend Q. 

Q is way more diligent about her bread baking than I am. She has been consistently baking for years, specializing in sour dough. She doesn’t have any degrees or schooling in baking (as far as I know), but I can accurately gauge that her knowledge and expertise far outweigh mine. Her instagram photos make my mouth water every single time. Her crumb is so gorgeous, the air pockets so big, and crust so perfectly crisp, that I don’t even have the words to convey it. It’s just incredible, and consistently so. My best loaves never approach her level of perfection. 

I would love to learn from her what she knows and how she does it, and if I were to ask her to teach me, I would be cognizant of the difference in our skill level, and humbly respectfully open myself to learning from her.

To me, this is normal. It’s how one learns. It’s how one respects one’s teacher(s). It’s how one grows in his own skills, and demonstrates respect and gratitude for the time and effort others dedicate to teaching him. 

Further, if Q agrees to teach me, I do not then fall apart in her presence, nor obsequiously flatter her. I don’t heap endless useless compliments at her, devaluing myself to the size of an ant. I do not lay down on the ground and kiss her feet. I do not lose my value, or sense of identity, or self-respect because she knows more than I do. I am humbly (honestly) bringing what little I do know, and allowing her to take me further in my learning. Her expertise does not annihilate me as a person. I deeply value the fact that she knows more and can help me become better.

During our time together I would not be focused on telling her where she is right or wrong, how I agree or disagree with her various methods, how this or that thing wouldn’t work for me, how I know better, or how she shouldn’t be so confident in what she knows or achieves. All of those behaviors would be arrogant and rude.

On her end, she would treat me with care and respect, determining how much I know, and making decisions about what I need to learn next. She would balance her position of authority and expertise with my dignity as a person, never condescending nor talking down to me. She wouldn’t diminish me, or ridicule me, or make me feel small because I don’t know something. She wouldn’t use her situational authority to hurt me. 

She would support me and help me, by offering both her knowledge and her confidence in my ability to learn and succeed. She would empower me, rather than seeking to control me. And if she’s a really talented teacher, she would create the circumstances for my curiosity to blossom, and encourage me to explore on my own, rather than feeding me all the answers herself. And if I don’t understand something, she would make it safe for me to ask for clarification and additional help. That’s how a normal healthy teacher/student relationship works. 

And yet, this is somehow entirely lost on many many people. People go to a professional of one kind or another, under the guise of wanting to learn or retain that professional’s teaching service, and then they diminish that person’s expertise or authority, because it somehow threatens their sense of identity. Instead of learning, and listening, and watching, and asking questions, they shove their own ignorant poorly informed opinions at the teacher. They criticize and undermine the teacher. They ridicule and diminish the teacher. They reject the teacher’s authority. They ask questions, but don’t listen for the answers, or worse yet they use the answers to compete with the teacher. They do the psychological equivalent of kicking and screaming and throwing tantrums refusing to learn. This is how adult arrogance impedes the ability to learn. 

If I imagine that I’m some kind of master baker, superior to everyone else, and I attempt to shove my lame ass baking skills at a real professional, he would rightfully ask me to leave his kitchen. Since I am not open to learning, and am only there to be a pest, why would he waste a single moment trying to teach me? It’s not just disrespectful to him, it’s egotistical and delusional on my part to think that I came there to teach him, judge him, or critique that which I do not know. 

But this is what lots of people do. Something has gone terribly terribly wrong in our wholesale rejection of all kinds of authority. Certainly we each have inherent value, worth, and dignity as human beings; that is without question. But it is some kind of foolishness and idiocy to pretend that everyone is equally proficient or knowledgeable in all things, and that rightful professional authority (in each sphere or arena) is inherently bad, merely because it is an authority. 

Granted, there are lots of illegitimate or corrupt expressions of authority. There are bad people in positions of power who cause a great deal of harm. But that doesn’t mean that all authority is to be rejected. Without the proper ability to bend, and learn, and discerning legitimate authority to obey, we are left in chaos. 

Without proper respect for rightful authority and expertise and proficiency, and the ability to gauge who has what knowledge, skills, or ability, we have anarchy and ignorance – a veritable Lord of the Flies, where bullies rule by arbitrary and capricious violence and aggression, answerable to no one. And truth, justice, and decency (not to mention compassion) cease to mean anything. Sound familiar? 

This is especially specifically true in the spiritual arena, not just between human teachers and students, but in a mystic’s relationship to Spirit. The same defiance that hates and rejects human authority shows up in a mystic’s work with divine authority. In our language, we call it resistance, but the nature of that resistance is often made up of the same material wounds. It is obstinate spiteful defiance, for its own ultimately irrational sake. 

Throughout the process, in every mystic’s life, there are clear and ubiquitous requirements of surrender, reverence, obedience, and compliance. To some ears, those sound like dirty words. Our society unfortunately favors the rebels and troublemakers, even when the rebellion is meaningless and harmful. Rebels don’t like the idea of a God to whom they must surrender. They fight and fight, refusing to submit, rooted in and unconscious of their own trauma, which makes them feel as they do. Their wounds are so sore, and egoic defenses so strong, that they become unable to yield. 

And yet, the mystic who is unable to get with the program, so to speak, suffers, a lot. Unnecessarily so. The mystic is required to master both sides of the spectrum without issue. Mysticism teaches us that there is a balance to be found between obedience and disobedience. To attain that balance, we must be equally capable of both (without resistance and without fear, respectively), depending on the circumstances. That is the ultimate virtue. 

This side of the teaching is speaking to those who are resistant to obedience and authority. Undoing the trauma related to authority, learning how to trust, revere, respect, and learn, emptying one’s cup of the arrogance which prohibits learning and growth, is the threshold understanding of this teaching. 

Alone, in a house of mirrors

Every tradition or individual mystic has their own understanding of the architecture of the cosmos or spirit world. Although ultimately contained in a unified and reconcilable whole, their mystical accounts differ wildly. (Wildly!!)

What a mystic sees in his travels are not “the truths,” applicable necessarily to others, but are personal reflections, given to him to further his own work. They are completely personal to the seer, and to the extent that they sound similar to the truths of other mystics, it’s because the two individual humans share the same bit of inner landscape, reflected externally in similar ways.

This solitary mystical house of mirrors phenomenon goes on for years and years and years, until the mystic can reach a condition of consciousness that allows for authentic vision.

There is a steep and really really excruciatingly painful maturation process. Authentic vision is something that is earned, through unbelievable hardship, by dedicating oneself to mystical life entirely – breaking attachments, eradicating desire, confronting fear, digesting trauma, navigating the darkness, purgatory, and hellfire, and mastering the martyrdom of spiritual warfare.

At that point, anyone who’s touched into the Mystery will tell you, it’s not really possible to bring any of that down. The human mind can’t begin to transmit any of it, and because of the paradoxical nature of it, others wouldn’t be able to understand it anyway. It wouldn’t serve them to know it as knowledge or information. What is or can be brought down, are tiny bits of ultimate truth, minuscule aphorisms left like breadcrumbs for other mystics. No one is given the full Truth, and no one is capable of bringing even partial truths down here for others.

It would be a waste of time anyway – we don’t incarnate into human lives to discover the heavens. That’s focusing in the wrong direction. Human incarnations are for the purpose of discovering what it means to be human, to explore the rich depths of human experience, to learn how to love as a human, and gathering the attendant lessons available to us here. We can focus on discovering the heavens when we get there. For now, while we are here, let’s be here. There’s plenty of work to do.

For those who are in the business of disseminating their mystical visions to the world, making the humble distinction between what is ultimate truth, and what is personal reflections is of paramount importance. This is often neglected, and no one talks about it, likely because it would get in the way of selling books…

Here is a relevant experience of this from the final years in the life of St. Thomas Aquinas (source: wikipedia)

On 6 December 1273, another mystical experience took place. While he was celebrating Mass, he experienced an unusually long ecstasy. Because of what he saw, he abandoned his routine and refused to dictate to his socius Reginald of Piperno. When Reginald begged him to get back to work, Thomas replied: “Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me” (mihi videtur ut palea). As a result, the Summa Theologica would remain uncompleted. What exactly triggered Thomas’s change in behavior is believed by Catholics to have been some kind of supernatural experience of God.

This is precisely what happens after authentic visions – the Mystery cannot be brought down, and the things that can be articulated feel empty and pointless. They don’t serve others in any useful way.

Some mystics historically have been much more eager to write, and publish, and establish schools and followings, and set themselves up as experts, than to remain dedicated to their own work, as it were. It’s unfortunate, but true. Temptations can be very strong, and mystics are not any more immune than anyone else.

Their reports about the spirit world, about planes of consciousness, or any of it, are not trustworthy as ultimate truth; by design, they just aren’t. It is irresponsible to pass them off as truth applicable to anyone else.

Spirit lies, a lot, on purpose… The illusory conditions of human vision are repeated in mystical vision. An honest devoted mystic knows that, and is very very careful about reporting what she sees. Her world is a fluid one – what is true today is not true tomorrow. The visions are not for others, and she knows that.

Matters of cosmology or architecture of the spirit world have no place in spiritual work anyway; they are completely unnecessary and a hindrance. As soon as we are asked to believe something we don’t see or feel, that we can’t experience ourselves, that we can’t test internally, we have left spirituality and mysticism for religious dogma. (That’s where all the fights begin…). Even assuming that one mystic is more clear than another, it becomes a matter of “whom do you believe?” which is again a question of religion, not of spirituality.

Spirituality is concerned only with individual personal experience, and teachings/instructions that don’t require one to believe something one cannot personally feel, try, or discover for himself.

Spirituality and mysticism are intended to meet a person exactly where he/she is, in real life, in actual hardship and pain, in the turmoil of emotional storms and traumas, (or in the mystical experiences), and to help guide them through their actual real life stuff to healing and integration. It is working with all of those things, often in darkness, and transmuting them into lessons of wisdom.

There is nothing to be gained and nothing to be earned that feeds the ego, that’s why the real work of it is not sexy or poetic, but rather ugly, scary, and off-putting for most.

Desire, as a guide


It is in the very nature of desire that lasting satisfaction cannot be attained.

Desire is an illusory condition created by wounding – the driving force beneath insatiable quests for fulfillment is unconscious pain seeking resolution.

A depth of authentic awareness heals the wounds which generate desire, eradicating its root cause.

When desire ceases arising, abiding peace and contentment can be maintained.

One of the overarching philosophical goals, one of the grand themes, of the mystical process is the eradication of desire (not just in the sexual understanding, but in many spheres of the ego). 

Why? Because desire is the surface level indicator of unhealed wounds. It is the conscious manifestation of wounds that are looking for healing and resolution. 

All the soul-level wounds we carry within express themselves on the surface of our consciousness as desire. Sex happens to be the clearest demonstration of how this process operates, but the same mechanism operates in all the various aspects of the personality. 

The interplays of wounding and desire show up in extraordinary ways – the ego is infinitely, one might say miraculously, creative and crafty. 

While the wounds are always seeking resolution, they don’t know how to heal themselves without our awareness, participation, and wisdom instruction. Without conscious awareness and direction, the ego (though ultimately interested in healing and peace) moves us consistently in the wrong directions.

The wounds create all manner of fantasies (sexual and not), which the ego believes will resolve the pain. The ego, in its faulty thinking, wants to recreate the painful scenario and change the ending. It believes that a replay with a better, non-painful ending, will heal its pain. 

The problem is that the ego is operating under a false assumption, a kind of naivete. Because even when we replay the scenario and change the ending to a happy one, seemingly satisfying the fantasy entirely, the wound still doesn’t heal and doesn’t go away. Nothing at the soul-level is attained by satisfying the desire. And the more experience we have with satisfaction, the more we see the discontent and futility inherent in it. 

This is the insatiable hamster wheel of desire; the endless cycle of samsara: re-creating the fantasy, pursuing the fantasy, even satisfying the fantasy, all of which does not eradicate the desire. It doesn’t heal the original wound, which continues to create emotional pain, clinging, etc. The entire endeavor of the pursuit of desire, in the egoic direction, is futile.

Instead, life keeps bringing us people and circumstances that do in fact replay the scenarios symbolically, retriggering the same familiar pain, refusing us the egoic satisfaction. This is purposeful, so that in seeing the pain clearly, again and again, we may find the courage to face it and heal it. This is why all the major mystical and spiritual traditions focus on its eradication; when desire ceases arising you know that you have healed your wounds. (It’s a backwards top-down way of understanding the spiritual process, but so be it). 

Wounding is what creates fantasy which creates desire. Heal the wounds, fantasies do not arise, and desire doesn’t either. Then the emotional body can be at peace. 

The schools of mysticism go about this process in two different ways – one is by abstention, the other is by exposure and immersion with really deep awareness. The first is what we call asceticism – a very strict abstaining from and self denial of all things we desire. The second is the arena of tantra (the philosophy, not the sexual arts).

I am, and I believe authentic mysticism is, of this second school of thought. There is no need for wholesale abstention, there is only a need for awareness, with the intent to heal whatever is underneath the desire. (In my view, abstention does absolutely nothing to extinguish desire, sometimes exacerbating it by making something forbidden and thus even more unnecessarily desirable.). 

Going deeply into the desire, and trying to quench that desire, reveals the wound that is asking to be healed. If we attend to the wound, we heal that particular thing, then the desire stops arising in the mind and body. I’m simplifying things here obviously, because this is a blog post not a treatise, but I think you get the idea.

The Tao has it in these words: “Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets; But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations.”

What this means, now in the sexual realm, is that we must understand how sexual desire works, what it is trying to achieve, and then we begin the slow process of ever-deepening awareness in our sexual activity. (It doesn’t end with celibacy, that’s not the goal, but celibacy happens at some point naturally along the way, for a period of time.). In my experience, the entire composition of a person’s ego expresses itself in his/her sexual world – like a micro expression of their ego structure. It’s terribly fascinating and can lead to some incredible discovery.

If you are interested in this area of exploration – I highly highly recommend “The Erotic Mind” by Dr. Jack Morin. His book, coming from a depth of grounding in principles of conscious awareness, explains and illustrates many many many of the drives, patterns, and internal mechanisms hiding within our sexualities. By beginning to understand what desire is doing, what the fantasies are really seeking, we become more and more attuned to the wounding underneath. (It’s really really cool!)

Also detailed in Morin’s book, is something secular sex therapists call “sensate focus.” This sensate focus technique is the highest human expression of sexual connection, lacking any of the egoic objectification problems that plague most of sex. 

I have it on pretty good authority that mysticism steers many people away from their normal egoic sexual engagements, and towards techniques that are centered on this approach.

There is obviously a great deal of avenues here to explore, entire industries of sacred sexuality are growing as we speak, but in our corner of the world, I think beginning with education and understanding is key. Finding Morin’s book was like finding a treasure chest full of answers. I hope you find it helpful as well.

Saints and sinners


The irony is that only the realized saint is capable of seeing and understanding the depths of his own flaws and evils. The rest of humanity lives in ignorance of itself, believing that it is good.

I’ve been on a strangely unfolding journey about the subject of saints for quite some time. I’ve shared with you here some of my thoughts along the way, and now I think I’m getting closer to the right understanding.

The thing that makes a saint a saint, aside from the canonizing process, is not his or her goodness. That’s something we overlay onto them; an idealization, a pedestal we put them on, so that we may worship them and reach for some ideal of perfection. (It’s the way religions typically operate, using certain mystics as preferred role models.).

In reality, it’s something vastly different. Those mystics who attained the conditions of stable union with divinity (the advanced authentic mystics) all typically say the same things: “I am not good. Don’t call me good.” Because the thing that makes them capable of union with divine consciousness isn’t “goodness.” It is rather their capacity of consciousness to see the depths of their own evil, and to process, digest, and heal the conditions that make it so.

Part of the mystical ascension process is an ego-destroying descent into the truth of oneself. In there, there is nothing but the reflections of one’s own evil, one’s own selfishness, one’s own wretchedness – guilt and shame soup as far as the eye can see. That’s all that’s down there. (It also usually involves tons and tons of terror, like absolute blinding terror, but that’s a different part of the process).

And the work of the real mystic involves enduring that darkness, purging and processing all of that out, and coming into peace and forgiveness of it; allowing oneself to “be evil” at the core of one’s being, which is a thing others, who aren’t called to mystical life, don’t have the capacity to do. (The normal human ego structure is too rigid and fragile to see itself as anything but good, even if slightly flawed.). It is a seeing, an acknowledging, and then an excavation of the roots of it, so that the egoic desires cease arising entirely.

The pain of this process is excruciating, but that’s precisely what transforms the consciousness, making it “pure” enough to receive the energy of divine love. We must see the horrifying ugly depths of truth, feel the shame all the way through, and then let it go.

It is a mistake to call this process or the results goodness. The person going through this process, or coming out of it, doesn’t exactly conform to notions of goodness. Tender, loving, prudent and temperate is one side of them; their depth of compassion and tenderness for suffering is unmatched. But on the other side, they can be harsh, ruthless, impatient with liars and falsehood, lacking in sentimentality or tolerance for concocted emotional displays, vicious with evil and those who promote it.

It’s rather the path of virtue, which isn’t about goodness, but about balance, wholeness, and integration. The mystic who emerges from the purification process is virtuous, meaning that his emotional body is completely at rest, free from wrong reactivity, free of all manner of passions. His egoic motives, rooted in wounding, have been healed and no longer operate. And he is capable of moving with great courage, great fearlessness, and great peaceful detachment in whatever direction the divine will instructs. He is able to express himself completely – with authentic joy, authentic grief, authentic anger, within the bounds of wisdom, compassion, and justice, all without the fears and limits of the ego.

Our concepts of goodness would often be too limited to properly understand the depth of complexities of this sort of virtue. In practice, we would find these people very strange, unsure of how to understand them.