Mystical depth and Dostoevsky

One of the myriad things that happens in mystical darkness, the home of disintegration, is that some of the regular mental faculties get shut down, while others spring to life with a staggering genius. A person can go from being quite average and ordinary, to suddenly a kind of idiot savant, capable of unfathomable mystical processing power and expression. 

It can take a variety of forms. I’ve seen this in my own case, but quite dramatically in others as well. To give you a sense of the severity of the shut down, for a period of several months (while bedridden and unable to do anything but this inner work), I suddenly became unable to play Solitaire. Whatever basic faculties are required to line up cards in numerical order of alternating colors became completely unavailable to me.

Day after day, I would stare at the screen, terrified, unable to figure out which card is meant to go where. Solitaire was the clearest manifestation, there were many others, but as I’m sure you understand, not being able to play the card game wasn’t the issue. It’s that the mental functions became non-functional. I was able to recognize the sudden disability, but was unable to do anything about it, even by the application of significant effort.

When I say stuff gets shut down, I mean it. It literally blocks off various cognitive areas, presumably to converse energy and focus, but also to force the person into the experience of the loss, in order to wrestle with the attachments that loss illuminates. (In my case, the hyper-value and self-worth I placed on intelligence and logical reasoning, but also the polarized sense of independance, self-reliance, working/earning capacity, etc. that is threatened by such a severe disability.).

At the same time, other incredible functions open up, most notably perhaps changing thought, speech, and writing patterns – where there was a kind of mediocre expression before, with undisciplined or garbled logic and reasoning, suddenly clarity, wisdom, and a particular kind of profound thinking come pouring out. I want to clarify here, that it’s not that logic and reasoning become unimportant, (we aren’t throwing away the intellect), it’s that a very different kind of logic opens up, one that is not typically available in normal states of consciousness. And that mental energy is then directed entirely inward, exclusively towards the mystical work at hand.

Specifically, what comes online as part of this opening is an intense capacity to see inward at great depth, not in some ruminating navel-gazing way, but rather to discover the depth of one’s entire unconscious side, and a ferocious ability to digest trauma and pain. There is a kind of switch that needs to be turned on for this vision to become available, and when that happens, it also comes with tremendous cost. (You know, whoever wants to save his life will lose it and all that.).  

If the challenge is taken up, if the person takes ownership of the circumstance rather than sinking into hopeless despair, the experience closely resembles one of traveling from room to room in an infinite dark terrifying basement, clearing out all the contents. You know, with fire, and tears, and torments, and monsters, and terrible agony, but still, cleaning out the basement is the sort of large conceptual metaphorical bucket I’m going to use, because I’m not especially creative. 🙂 If the challenge is not taken up, these energies get misdirected, sending the person into a chronic chaotic and meaningless psychosis condition, which often cannot be treated externally.  

Anyway, I say all that as a preface for the excerpt below. A person who has been taken to this basement, who has at least some experience of the various rooms and their horrors, develops an ability to see deeply into others as well. To see past the surface layer of their expression, and to really hear what’s being said, or the intended outcome of what’s being said. It’s not a supernatural matter, but a kind of professional expertise. There is a skill and an art to it. There is a craft about it. It is really a mastery rather than some gift of psychic powers. 

Having cleared and excavated a seemingly endless array of self-deceptions, prides, guilts, fears, egoic desires, and the like, you develop a taste for expressions that are sincere versus those that come with nefarious or egoic motives. You can feel the intent of the other person. You develop a very keen sensitivity, and are able to hear the malice even in what appears innocuous (and conversely, you can hear at times, the innocence in what appears hostile or aggressive.). If you read my previous post, in don Gennaro’s language, you can discern the phantoms or the demons, and over time you come to understand what they are doing and why. 

In the excerpt below from The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky’s enigmatic Father Zosima gives us a little peek into that mystical depth and capacity. The context of this particular bit is that Father Zosima has stepped outside his cabin to greet the pilgrims who visit him regularly looking for guidance and healing. The woman speaking at the outset is one of the inhabitants of the nearby town, who brought her daughter to Zosima for healing.  

“You see, I shut my eyes and ask myself if everyone has faith, where did it come from? And then they do say that it all comes from terror at the menacing phenomena of nature, and that none of it’s real. And I say to myself, ‘What if I’ve been believing all my life, and when I come to die there’s nothing but the burdocks growing on my grave?’ as I read in some author. It’s awful! How—how can I get back my faith? But I only believed when I was a little child, mechanically, without thinking of anything. How, how is one to prove it? I have come now to lay my soul before you and to ask you about it. If I let this chance slip, no one all my life will answer me. How can I prove it? How can I convince myself? Oh, how unhappy I am! I stand and look about me and see that scarcely any one else cares; no one troubles his head about it, and I’m the only one who can’t stand it. It’s deadly—deadly!”

“No doubt. But there’s no proving it, though you can be convinced of it.”


“By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbor, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain.”

“In active love? There’s another question—and such a question! You see, I so love humanity that—would you believe it?—I often dream of forsaking all that I have, leaving Lise, and becoming a sister of mercy. I close my eyes and think and dream, and at that moment I feel full of strength to overcome all obstacles. No wounds, no festering sores could at that moment frighten me. I would bind them up and wash them with my own hands. I would nurse the afflicted. I would be ready to kiss such wounds.”

“It is much, and well that your mind is full of such dreams and not others. Sometime, unawares, you may do a good deed in reality.”

“Yes. But could I endure such a life for long?” the lady went on fervently, almost frantically. “That’s the chief question—that’s my most agonizing question. I shut my eyes and ask myself, ‘Would you persevere long on that path? And if the patient whose wounds you are washing did not meet you with gratitude, but worried you with his whims, without valuing or remarking your charitable services, began abusing you and rudely commanding you, and complaining to the superior authorities of you (which often happens when people are in great suffering)—what then? Would you persevere in your love, or not?’ And do you know, I came with horror to the conclusion that, if anything could dissipate my love to humanity, it would be ingratitude. In short, I am a hired servant, I expect my payment at once—that is, praise, and the repayment of love with love. Otherwise I am incapable of loving any one.”

She was in a very paroxysm of self-castigation, and, concluding, she looked with defiant resolution at the elder.

“It’s just the same story as a doctor once told me,” observed the elder. “He was a man getting on in years, and undoubtedly clever. He spoke as frankly as you, though in jest, in bitter jest. ‘I love humanity,’ he said, ‘but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have faced crucifixion if it had been suddenly necessary; and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together, as I know by experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs my self-complacency and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner; another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.’ ”

“But what’s to be done? What can one do in such a case? Must one despair?”

“No. It is enough that you are distressed at it. Do what you can, and it will be reckoned unto you. Much is done already in you since you can so deeply and sincerely know yourself. If you have been talking to me so sincerely, simply to gain approbation for your frankness, as you did from me just now, then of course you will not attain to anything in the achievement of real love; it will all get no further than dreams, and your whole life will slip away like a phantom. In that case you will naturally cease to think of the future life too, and will of yourself grow calmer after a fashion in the end.”

“You have crushed me! Only now, as you speak, I understand that I was really only seeking your approbation for my sincerity when I told you I could not endure ingratitude. You have revealed me to myself. You have seen through me and explained me to myself!”

“Are you speaking the truth? Well, now, after such a confession, I believe that you are sincere and good at heart. If you do not attain happiness, always remember that you are on the right road, and try not to leave it. Above all, avoid falsehood, every kind of falsehood, especially falseness to yourself. Watch over your own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute. Avoid being scornful, both to others and to yourself. What seems to you bad within you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself. Avoid fear, too, though fear is only the consequence of every sort of falsehood. Never be frightened at your own faint-heartedness in attaining love. Don’t be frightened over much even at your evil actions. I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you, for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labor and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science. But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it—at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you. Forgive me for not being able to stay longer with you. They are waiting for me. Good-bye.”

You can probably spend hours picking apart the bones of just this one episode, it’s so loaded with truths from the basement – with mystical integrity, rather than dogma or theological posturings. It’s a real struggle with actual inner currents, rather than cold intellectualizing for dubious purposes. If you read it closely, Zosima errs on the side of confrontational rather than coddling, softening the blow just a little bit, but offering the woman a chance to see her true motives. She then takes it correctly, as reflection rather than reprimand, although her hysteria and sentimentality seem to undermine her sincerity. We hope that she took what he said on board, but one never knows… (On the deeper level, it’s more likely that the phantoms are ridiculing Zosima for his misplaced efforts, but that’s a subject for another time.).

This excerpt, along with lots of other moments, reveal Dostoyevsky’s astounding visionary understanding of psychology for his time. He had to have travelled really deeply inside his own basement to bring all of these things to light. The truths and reflections are piercing, and if you put yourself in the shoes of the characters receiving them, they are really harsh. The narrator’s mature cynical eye is also captured with perfect delicacy. There is a scene inside Zosima’s cabin, just preceding this excerpt, where Dostoyevsky gets right to the heart of the pathological narcissism of the senior Karamazov, with an insight and an expertise our modern day psychologists are only now struggling to attain. It’s really quite impressive.

I will leave you to do further unpacking for yourself, if you wish.

(I want to just make a small note here about self-forgetfulness. This is a concept and a method of practice aimed at a particular stage of spiritual evolution which is considered outdated now. It was relevant to the condition of human consciousness two hundred years ago, but is no longer. We are moving in a new direction that does not abrogate the self in the same way. I point it out just for the sake of consistency, because I’m fighting a tidal wave of tradition on that front in other places. We are learning now how to honor the authentic self in loving another, rather than discarding the self or seeking some kind of perfect selflessness in love.)  

I’ve been slowly working my way through this book and others. I was blown away by what Dostoyevsky was able to bring out in The Idiot, and have added it to the reading list on this site. If you haven’t read that, I recommend it emphatically. The character portraits are honest and pristinely developed, their struggles real and personal, and taken together, their interactions give you a sense of the wholeness and complexity of a full liberated personality. 

The theater of spiritual warfare

Below is an excerpt from Journey to Ixtlan, by Carlos Castaneda.

It’s the last bit of the book, so I’m literally giving away the ending, but I’m not sure that that matters in this instance. It’s not exactly a suspense thriller, you know what I mean, where the ending is important, although the book is really thrilling in other ways. 

I don’t want to say all that much about it, because the picture it paints is breathtaking, both in honesty and in artistry. It brought me to tears when I found it. I don’t think I have anything to add that could enhance it. If you recognize this terrain, and you’re navigating it in the dark, I’m certain this will be comforting. I’ve read a lot of mystical stuff over the years, and I haven’t yet come across a description more accurate in tone or perspective than this one.

For those who don’t recognize it, what’s being described is the condition and landscape of actual spiritual warfare. Not the romanticized ego-inflating use of that concept, but the real thing. It is a very very rare thing, despite the common mis-appropriation. True to this description, the whole journey is completely solitary, except for one’s ever unfolding and complicated relationship with spirit. The warfare happens in precisely the atmosphere portrayed below, and it operates by rules almost entirely contrary to everything popular spirituality professes as ultimate truths. It is here, in this dimension of consciousness, that the real work of mysticism lives, and where the older monastic teachings start to reveal their original purpose, depth, and beauty.

There are lots of wonderful moments in the book, moments of deep validation, moments of real recognition. If you can hear what is being said below, you’ll love the rest of the book also I’m sure. Enjoy. 


“Now that Genaro almost laid an egg maybe he will tell you about his first encounter with his ally, ” don Juan insisted. “Maybe, ” don Genaro said, uninterested. I pleaded with him to tell me. Don Genaro stood up, stretched his arms and back. His bones made a cracking sound. Then he sat down again.

“I was young when I first tackled my ally, ” he finally said. “I remember that it was in the early afternoon. I had been in the fields since daybreak and I was returning to my house. Suddenly, from behind a bush, the ally came out and blocked my way. He had been waiting for me and was inviting me to wrestle him. I began to turn around in order to leave him alone but the thought came to my mind that I was strong enough to tackle him. I was afraid though. A chill ran up my spine and my neck became stiff as a board. By the way, that is always the sign that you’re ready, I mean, when your neck gets hard.”

He opened up his shirt and showed me his back. He stiffened the muscles of his neck, back, and arms. I noticed the superb quality of his musculature. It was as if the memory of the encounter had activated every muscle in his torso. “In such a situation, ” he continued, “you must always close your mouth.”

He turned to don Juan and said, “Isn’t that so?” “Yes,” don Juan said calmly. “The jolt that one gets from grabbing an ally is so great that one might bite off one’s tongue or knock one’s teeth out. One’s body must be straight and well-grounded, and the feet must grab the ground.”

“What happened when you grabbed your ally, don Genaro?” I asked. “It was a powerful jolt,” don Genaro said after a moment’s hesitation. He seemed to have been putting his thoughts in order.

“Never would I have imagined it was going to be like that,” he went on. “It was something, something, something . . . like nothing I can tell. After I grabbed it we began to spin. The ally made me twirl, but I didn’t let go. We spun through the air with such speed and force that I couldn’t see any more. Everything was foggy. The spinning went on, and on, and on. Suddenly I felt that I was standing on the ground again. I looked at myself.”

“The ally had not killed me. I was in one piece. I was myself! I knew then that I had succeeded. At long last I had an ally. I jumped up and down with delight. What a feeling! What a feeling it was!”

“Then I looked around to find out where I was. The surroundings were unknown to me. I thought that the ally must have taken me through the air and dumped me somewhere very far from the place where we started to spin. I oriented myself. I thought that my home must be towards the east, so I began to walk in that direction. It was still early. The encounter with the ally had not taken too long. Very soon I found a trail and then I saw a bunch of men and women coming towards me. They were Indians. I thought
they were Mazatec Indians. They surrounded me and asked me where I was going.

‘I’m going home to Ixtlan,’ I said to them.
‘Are you lost?’ someone asked.
‘I am,’ I said. ‘Why?'”
“‘Because Ixtlan is not that way. Ixtlan is in the opposite direction. We ourselves are going there,’ someone else said. ‘Join us!’ they all said. ‘We have food!'”

Don Genaro stopped talking and looked at me as if he were waiting for me to ask a question.
“Well, what happened?” I asked. “Did you join them?”
“No. I didn’t, ” he said. “Because they were not real. I knew it right away, the minute they came to me. There was something in their voices, in their friendliness that gave them away, especially when they asked me to join them. So I ran away. They called me and begged me to come back. Their pleas became haunting, but I kept on running away from them.”

“Who were they?” I asked.
“People,” don Genaro replied cuttingly. “Except that they were not real.”
“They were like apparitions,” don Juan explained. “Like phantoms.
“After walking for a while,” don Genaro went on, “I became more confident. I knew that Ixtlan was in the direction I was going. And then I saw two men coming down the trail towards me. They also seemed to be Mazatec Indians. They had a donkey loaded with firewood. They went by me and mumbled, ‘Good afternoon.’

“‘Good afternoon!’ I said and kept on walking. They did not pay any attention to me and went their way. I slowed down my gait and casually turned around to look at them. They were walking away unconcerned with me. They seemed to be real. I ran after them and yelled, ‘Wait, wait!’ “They held their donkey and stood on either side of the animal, as if they were protecting the load. “I am lost in these mountains,’ I said to them. ‘Which way is Ixtlan?’ They pointed in the direction they were going.

‘You’re very far,’ one of them said. ‘It is on the other side of those mountains. It’ll take you four or five days to get there.’ Then they turned around and kept on walking. I felt that those were real Indians and I begged them to let me join them.

“We walked together for a while and then one of them got his bundle of food and offered me some. I froze on the spot. There was something terribly strange in the way he offered me his food. My body felt frightened, so I jumped back and began to run away. They both said that I would die in the mountains if I did not go with them and tried to coax me to join them. Their pleas were also very haunting, but I ran away from them with all my might.”

“I kept on walking. I knew then that I was on the right way to Ixtlan and that those phantoms were trying to lure me out of my way. I encountered eight of them; they must have known that my determination was unshakable. They stood by the road and looked at me with pleading eyes. Most of them did not say a word; the women among them, however, were more daring and pleaded with me. Some of them even displayed food and other goods that they were supposed to be selling, like innocent merchants by the side of the road. I did not stop nor did I look at them.”

“By late afternoon I came to a valley that I seemed to recognize. It was somehow familiar. I thought I had been there before, but if that was so I was actually south of Ixtlan. I began to look for landmarks to properly orient myself and correct my route when I saw a little Indian boy tending some goats. He was perhaps seven years old and was dressed the way I had been when I was his age. In fact, he reminded me of myself tending my father’s two goats. I watched him for some time; the boy was talking to himself, the same way I used to, then he would talk to his goats. From what I knew about tending goats he was really good at it. He was thorough and careful. He didn’t pamper his goats, but he wasn’t cruel to them either.”

“I decided to call him. When I talked to him in a loud voice he jumped up and ran away to a ledge and peeked at me from behind some rocks. He seemed to be ready to run for his life. I liked him. He seemed to be afraid and yet he still found time to herd his goats out of my sight. I talked to him for a long time; I said that I was lost and that I did not know my way to Ixtlan. I asked the name of the place where we were and he said it was the place I had thought it was. That made me very happy. I realized I was no longer lost and pondered on the power that my ally had in order to transport my whole body that far in less time than it takes to bat an eyelash.”

“I thanked the boy and began to walk away. He casually came out of his hiding place and herded his goats into an almost unnoticeable trail. The trail seemed to lead down into the valley. I called the boy and he did not run away. I walked towards him and he jumped into the bushes when I came too close. I commended him on being so cautious and began
to ask him some questions.

‘”Where does this trail lead?’ I asked.
‘Down,’ he said.
‘Where do you live?’
‘Down there.’
‘Are there lots of houses down there?’
‘No, just one.’
‘Where are the other houses?’

The boy pointed towards the other side of the valley with indifference, the way boys his age do. Then he began to go down the trail with his goats.

“Wait, ‘ I said to the boy. ‘I’m very tired and hungry. Take me to your folks.”
“I have no folks,’ the little boy said and that jolted me. I don’t know why but his voice made me hesitate. The boy, noticing my hesitation, stopped and turned to me. ‘There’s nobody at my house,’ he said. ‘My uncle is gone and his wife went to the fields. There is plenty of food. Plenty. Come with me.’ 

“I almost felt sad. The boy was also a phantom. The tone of his voice and his eagerness had betrayed him. The phantoms were out there to get me but I wasn’t afraid. I was still numb from my encounter with the ally. I wanted to get mad at the ally or at the phantoms but somehow I couldn’t get angry like I used to, so I gave up trying. Then I wanted to get sad, because I had liked that little boy, but I couldn’t, so I gave up on that too.”

“Suddenly I realized that I had an ally and that there was nothing that the phantoms could do to me. I followed the boy down the trail. Other phantoms lurched out swiftly and tried to make me trip over the precipices, but my will was stronger than they were. They must have sensed that, because they stopped pestering me. After a while they simply stood by my path; from time to time some of them would leap towards me but I stopped them with my will. And then they quit bothering me altogether.”

Don Genaro remained quiet for a long time. Don Juan looked at me.
“What happened after that, don Genaro?” I asked.
“I kept on walking, ” he said factually.
It seemed that he had finished his tale and there was nothing he wanted to add. I asked him why was the fact that they offered him food a clue to their being phantoms. He did not answer. I probed further and asked whether it was a custom among Mazatec Indians to deny that they had any food, or to be heavily concerned with matters of food. He said that the tone of their voices, their eagerness to lure him out, and the manner in which the phantoms talked about food were the clues-and that he knew that because his ally was helping him. He asserted that by himself alone he would have never noticed those peculiarities. 

“Were those phantoms allies, don Genaro?” I asked.
“No. They were people.”
“People? But you said they were phantoms.”
“I said that they were no longer real. After my encounter with the ally nothing was real any more.”
We were quiet for a long time.
“What was the final outcome of that experience, don Genaro?” I asked.
“Final outcome?”
“I mean, when and how did you finally reach Ixtlan?”
Both of them broke into laughter at once. “So that’s the final outcome for you, ” don Juan remarked. “Let’s put it this way then. There was no final outcome to Genaro’s journey. There will never be any final outcome. Genaro is still on his way to Ixtlan!” Don Genaro glanced at me with piercing eyes and then turned his head to look into the distance, towards the south.

“I will never reach Ixtlan, ” he said. His voice was firm but soft, almost a murmur. “Yet in my feelings . . . in my feelings sometimes I think I’m just one step from reaching it. Yet I never will. In my journey I don’t even find the familiar landmarks I used to know. Nothing is any longer the same.”

Don Juan and don Genaro looked at each other. There was something so sad about their look. “In my journey I find only phantom travelers,” he said softly. I looked at don Juan. I had not understood what don Genaro had meant. “Everyone Genaro finds on his way to Ixtlan is only an ephemeral being, ” don Juan explained. 

“Take you, for instance. You are a phantom. Your feelings and your eagerness are those of people. That’s why he says that he encounters only phantom travelers on his journey to Ixtlan.”

I suddenly realized that don Genaro’s journey was a metaphor. “Your journey to Ixtlan is not real then,” I said. “It is real!” don Genaro interjected. “The travelers are not real.” He pointed to don Juan with a nod of his head and said emphatically, “This is the only one who is real. The world is real only when I am with this one.” 

Don Juan smiled. “Genaro was telling his story to you, ” don Juan said, “because yesterday you stopped the world, and he thinks that you also saw, but you are such a fool that you don’t know it yourself. I keep on telling him that you are weird, and that sooner or later you will see. At any rate, in your next meeting with the ally, if there is a next time for you, you will have to wrestle with it and tame it. If you survive the shock, which I’m sure you will, since you’re strong and have been living like a warrior, you will find yourself alive in an unknown land. Then, as is natural to all of us, the first thing you will want to do is to start on your way back to Los Angeles. But there is no way to go back to Los Angeles. What you left there is lost forever. By then, of course, you will be a sorcerer, but that’s no help; at a time like that what’s important to all of us is the fact that everything we love or hate or wish for has been left behind. Yet the feelings in a man do not die or change, and the sorcerer starts on his way back home knowing that he will never reach it, knowing that no power on earth, not even his death, will deliver him to the place, the things, the people he loved. That’s what Genaro told you.”

Don Juan’s explanation was like a catalyst; the full impact of don Genaro’s story hit me suddenly when I began to link the tale to my own life.

“What about the people I love?” I asked don Juan. “What would happen to them?”
“They would all be left behind, ” he said.
“But is there no way I could retrieve them? Could I rescue them and take them with me?”
“No. Your ally will spin you, alone, into unknown worlds.”
“But I could go back to Los Angeles, couldn’t I? I could take the bus or a plane and go there. Los Angeles would still be there, wouldn’t it?”
“Sure, ” don Juan said, laughing. “And so will Manteca and Temecula and Tucson.”
“And Tecate, ” don Genaro added with great seriousness.
“And Piedras Negras and Tranquitas,” don Juan said, smiling.
Don Genaro added more names and so did don Juan; and they became involved in enumerating a series of the most hilarious and unbelievable names of cities and towns.

“Spinning with your ally will change your idea of the world, ” don Juan said. “That idea is everything; and when that changes, the world itself changes.”.


“In order to be a sorcerer a man must be passionate. A passionate man has earthly belongings and things dear to him -if nothing else, just the path where he walks. What Genaro told you in his story is precisely that. Genaro left his passion in Ixtlan: his home, his people, all the things he cared for. And now he wanders around in his feelings; and sometimes, as he says, he almost reaches Ixtlan. All of us have that in common. For Genaro it is Ixtlan; for you it will be Los Angeles; for me …” I did not want don Juan to tell me about himself. He paused as if he had read my mind. 

For an instant I sensed a wave of agony and an indescribable loneliness engulfing the three of us. I looked at don Genaro and I knew that, being a passionate man, he must have had so many ties of the heart, so many things he cared for and left behind. I had the clear sensation that at that moment the power of his recollection was about to landslide and that don Genaro was on the verge of weeping. I hurriedly moved my eyes away. Don Genaro’s passion, his supreme loneliness, made me cry.

I looked at don Juan. He was gazing at me. “Only as a warrior can one survive the path of knowledge, ” he said. “Because the art of a warrior is to balance the terror of being a man with the wonder of being a man.” I gazed at the two of them, each in turn. Their eyes were clear and peaceful. They had summoned a wave of overwhelming nostalgia, and when they seemed to be on the verge of exploding into passionate tears, they held back the tidal wave. For an instant I think I saw. I saw the loneliness of man as a gigantic wave which had been frozen in front of me, held back by the invisible wall of a metaphor.

My sadness was so overwhelming that I felt euphoric. I embraced them. Don Genaro smiled and stood up. Don Juan also stood up and gently put his hand on my shoulder.

“We are going to leave you here, ” he said. “Do what you think is proper. The ally will be waiting for you at the edge of that plain.” He pointed to a dark valley in the distance. “If you don’t feel that this is your time yet, don’t keep your appointment,” he went on. “Nothing is gained by forcing the issue. If you want to survive you must be crystal clear and deadly sure of yourself.” 

Don Juan walked away without looking at me, but don Genaro turned a couple of times and urged me with a wink and a movement of his head to go forward. I looked at them until they disappeared in the distance and then I walked to my car and drove away. I knew that it was not my time, yet.

First non-judgment, then discernment

I’ve been thinking about how to address this subject, which arises often in spiritual communities, most notably when some kind of harm has taken place. The problem of holding non-judgment as a value, while behaving in accordance with basic ethics and morality, and navigating real conflict with real consequences, presents lots of practical problems.

Most often, regretably, the arguments about this issue take place between people of mis-matched levels of spiritual maturity. Some are young and naive, die-hard ‘no judgment” types, while others are more experienced, have a nuanced understanding of how these concepts work together, and are on the road to developing “right vision,” which distinguishes matters with precision rather than blanketing or blurring moral questions with easy answers.

There is a lot of tension that arises when these two levels meet, especially if those who are immature in their practice lack the capacity to gauge the experience or proficiency of others, and more importantly, value it, learn from it, and defer to them. Anyway, I will leave the intricacies of the politics of spirituality for another time. Let me get back to my original subject here.

I want to try to untangle this a little bit, and to explain the usefulness and importance of both sides.

We are all taught initially, over and over, about non-judgment. It is an inner practice (and I say that to distinguish it from external behavioral norms), that is really crucial at the outset of the spiritual journey.

Through non-judgment and acceptance, we seek to create an inner environment that is safe from self-condemnation; essentially disempowering that awful inner critic, and interrupting the cycle of perfectionism via self-abuse. We discover and remove many of the false standards and beliefs against which we measure ourselves, creating a sense of relief from the normal operating of an unconscious system. We want to create an inner sanctuary, that allows all kinds of unpleasant inner truths to come to light, without justification or defense, and without fear of how bad the critic will make us feel to see such things. We also begin loosening the various self-concepts, to make them more malleable and flexible.

I shared a lot in my early posts about acceptance work, which is vital to creating this safe inner space, and all of the material that is illuminated when we try not to judge. When you take an objectively bad thing, like war, or murder for instance, and you try not to judge it, beginning to inquire into what you judge about it exactly, the mind will show you all of your false and silly beliefs and hidden pains and projections wrapped up around those subjects. That’s one side of discovery.

On another side of discovery, we do something of the opposite, we bring all of our judgments freely to the surface, without trying to undo them, or stop them, and we use those to discover a whole series of projections and images we overlay on others. Looking at our own judgments, from a base of non-judgment, helps us to reflect on our own unconscious material and shadow aspects.

In all of these early phases of work and self-discovery, non-judgment is the rule of the game. Whatever arises, whatever we experience, we allow it and do the work of accepting it. Whatever others do or say, we allow it and accept it, bringing awareness most especially to those situations where it feels impossible to accept. It’s very very important to see all of what reacts in resistance and why.

(If this non-judgment is taken to the extreme, it leads to a complete submission and passivity, which enables all kinds of harm to self and other, and becomes highly immoral. Some will then use this non-judgment as an excuse to remain passive, and avoid the growth process and facing all kinds of mature adult responsibilities of life. I won’t go into a discussion of that particular thread here.)

Then, over time, as our spiritual work develops in maturity, we take a step further inward, deeper, where greater ugliness lives. And while we still maintain a safe inner space, a different kind of perspective is brought to bear here, in order to continue the work in a fruitful way.

At this deeper level, we have to start judging again. There is an emerging sense of right and wrong again, just along a different axis, calculated by a different set of criteria.

We call this kind of judgment “discernment,” because it lacks any of the punitive qualities an inner critic might have. We aren’t trying to berate ourselves to become better – that’s not the point, and never works. Instead, to engage in purification work in earnest, we must recognize what is “impure,” and in need of transformation.

The perspective required here is that we look honestly, and recognize truthfully, deeper and deeper, all of our various destructive egotistical drives, fears, pains, desires, vanities, prides, self-deceptions, and we have to make the assessment (the discernment), that those things are harmful, self-destructive, and not to be condoned. They need to be worked on, healed, and transformed. The source pain that creates them needs to be brought out to awareness, expressed, and digested through, so that the surface level expressions and feelings can shift organically into a balanced condition.

This level of work then is what starts to form a new basis for morality, unrelated to what we’ve been taught, but rather guided from within. It becomes something of an essential morality, that is almost entirely focused on motivations and inner currents, rather than external behaviors or expressions. That which is rooted in pain, and seeks external alleviations of that pain, becomes obviously a wrong that needs to be worked through. That which is extreme and out of balance, also because of fear or pain, becomes non-virtuous and in need of work. It is this personal journey of purification, cultivating things like courage, resilience and fortitude, emotional peace, integrity and authenticity, that are the heart of mature spiritual life.

This is complicated to explain in words on a page, because it’s paradoxical, because we don’t have a proper language for the inner landscape, and because it’s entirely relative to where you, the reader, happen to be in your work. If you are relatively new to spiritual practice, don’t worry about any of this, and keep going with the non-judgment view. If you are a seasoned practioner naturally approaching this cusp and wondering what the heck is going on, I’m sure you’ll find the bit below somewhat validating and helpful in your own philosophical sorting.

I came across a piece of a Pathwork Lecture that captures this well. It’s part of a larger discussion of finding real guilt at depth within. And the transition from non-judgment to discernment as the proper inner perspective to take. I’m pasting it below.

(A word of warning – touching into this guilt, the real guilt the lecture is talking about, is catastrophically devastating. It’s noxious core stuff, sitting at the very base of the personality, and will cause all kinds of psychological ungrounding and severe physical symptoms when disturbed. Please exercise significant caution when approaching it.).

In my last lecture we discussed real guilt. Quite a long time ago I explained the difference between real guilt and false guilt, but at that time it was not possible to go into the subject in more detail, because you were not ready then, my friends. Many areas of your psychic life had to be explored and understood before it was possible to face and come to terms with the real guilt that always lies behind the false one.

However, not all of my old friends will immediately be able to go into this phase of the pathwork. Sooner or later you will come to this point, provided you proceed in your sincere endeavors. Once you have groped your way through the maze of your various images and misconceptions, you will be able to come face to face with your real guilt.

In all the time we have spent together, we have essentially worked through two major phases in which, of course, there are some subdivisions. When we first started I told you about the importance of self-purification. I said that this, indeed, is the real meaning of life and the way of self-fulfillment. Then came the next phase, in which we quite deliberately shied away from even using such a word as purification; we were concerned with looking at the self without the thought of “right” or “wrong.”  There was a good reason for this.

The most difficult thing for a human being is to face the lower self, and it is in connection with the lower self that real guilt exists. You go to any length to avoid facing the lower self. Perhaps you are capable and willing to face parts of it, yet certain other parts you are absolutely unwilling to accept. You are so frightened by the possible implications, and so eager to be better than you can possibly be at the moment, that you would rather produce much worse false guilt, than accept the tiniest real guilt belonging to the area of the lower self that you are unwilling to tolerate. This condition is quite general and very important to recognize. It is still vastly underestimated.

In order to become capable of facing your lower self in its entirety, you must first learn to accept and to forgive yourself. For that very reason we remained for a considerable time in what we might term the second major phase on our path together. Accepting and forgiving means to recognize and then stop the tendency to moralize with oneself, to understand the harm of perfectionism. This may seem quite paradoxical. For, on the one hand I invite you to face your lower self, your real guilts, to make restitution for them and to purify yourself, while, on the other hand, I emphasize how dangerous perfectionism, self-condemnation, moralizing, and false guilt feelings are.

You see, my dearest friends, to the degree that perfectionism and self-condemnation exist, to that degree you cannot accept your lower self. For in that perfectionism, as I said many times before, you will drive yourself into a false perfection that is superimposed and therefore destructive. Only when you have the courage and humility to be what you are, to calmly accept yourself as you are, will you have the resiliency to accept the lower self as it actually is. Only then can you accept the real guilt and make up for it. Accepting the real guilt makes it possible to accept your real values, even to become profoundly aware of them. This is why it is so important — for as long as one deals with these personality levels — to shy away from any implications of sinfulness, indeed from anything that might even remotely appear as condemnation, so as not to encourage the tendency of perfectionism in yourself.

On the whole, you are ready now to proceed a step further. Some people may be very near the phase in which they become organically ready to face their real guilt, while others may still be struggling to recognize their false guilt. They are still hindered by self-condemnation, by weaknesses and the paralysis of their faculties, by false impressions and concepts, and even by the opposite of self-condemnation, namely, self-justification. They are caught in their accusations of others, or in a kind of weakness that allows others to exploit and take advantage of them. Such inability to assert one’s self by standing up for one’s rights may appear to be the very opposite of evil. Even if you have recognized that such submissiveness is unhealthy, emotionally you cannot yet experience the strong connection of this paralysis with unrecognized facets of the lower self, about which you feel real guilt. Those friends who are not quite ready to come to this deeper core will get there too, if only they persevere. But to force the facing of real guilt before the readiness manifests naturally in your private work, would either find you completely closed up, or else it might crush you.

Resiliency in accepting all the aspects of your lower self can be cultivated even before your personal pathwork leads you to them. It is not as difficult to achieve as my earlier words may indicate. Self-exploration and facing lesser “evils” make the psyche strong enough to face very unflattering truths. Such strength can be cultivated by the right kind of meditation and thought process, and the proper observation of your reaction whenever you come close to this phase. When you observe your oversensitivity and see how easily hurt you are, and how you give in to the temptation to pamper yourself by the very strong reaction of hurt you produce, then you have an indication of how you, too, shy away from fully facing your lower self.

Question yourself:  “Do I wish to pamper myself?  Do I wish to be in self-pity?  Or can I just calmly look at myself with the negative tendencies that exist side by side with the constructive ones?”  If you cultivate your wish for self-knowledge daily and mean it sincerely, your extreme reaction to certain destructive tendencies, which you have so far only vaguely sensed, will yield to a calm observation of yourself. This very attitude is the prerequisite to creating the resiliency needed to face yourself in utter truthfulness. It requires you to maintain a sense of proportion, or even better, the honest acknowledgement that you do tend to lose your sense of proportion.

When you approach certain trends you are not ready to accept in yourself, you produce, almost artificially, an overreaction of despair, hurt, self-abasement, or a feeling of injustice. You forget, at least emotionally, that it is very possible for one to be a decent and good person and simultaneously the opposite in some respects. You fluctuate between the extremes of either being good or bad, rather than seeing both the good and the bad. It is this “and” instead of the “or” that you have to keep in mind. If you thus continue facing areas of yourself you have never faced before, the experience will not be a crushing one at all. You need to come to that, my friends, if you really want to become healthy and strong.


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.


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…


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.”


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.