mystic

The truth is messy

I’ve written a bit before about the images we hold of mystics. I came across this short bit from Alan Watts, which seemed perfect to share here.


My vocation in life is to wonder about at the nature of the universe. This leads me into philosophy, psychology, religion, and mysticism, not only as subjects to be discussed but also as things to be experienced, and thus I make an at least tacit claim to be a philosopher and a mystic.

Some people, therefore, expect me to be their guru or messiah or exemplar, and are extremely disconcerted when they discover my “wayward spirit” or element of irreducible rascality, and say to their friends, “How could he possibly be a genuine mystic and be so addicted to nicotine and alcohol?” Or have occasional shudders of anxiety? Or be sexually interested in women? Or lack enthusiasm for physical exercise? Or have any need for money?

Such people have in mind an idealized vision of the mystic as a person wholly free from fear and attachment, who sees within and without, and on all sides, only the translucent forms of a single divine energy which is everlasting love and delight, as which and from which he effortlessly radiates peace, charity, and joy.

What an enviable situation! We, too, would like to be one of those, but as we start to meditate and look into ourselves we find mostly a quaking and palpitating mess of anxiety which lusts and loathes, needs love and attention, and lives in terror of death putting an end to its misery. So we despise that mess, and look for ways of controlling it and putting “how the true mystic feels” in its place, not realizing that this ambition is simply one of the lusts of the quaking mess, and that this, in turn, is a natural form of the universe like rain and frost, slugs and snails, flies and disease.

When the “true mystic” sees flies and disease as translucent forms of the divine, that does not abolish them. I—making no hard-and-fast distinction between inner and outer experience—see my quaking mess as a form of the divine, and that doesn’t abolish it either. But at least I can live with it…

For when you have really heard the sound of rain you can hear, and see and feel, everything else in the same way—as needing no translation, as being just that which it is, though it may be impossible to say what. I have tried for years, as a philosopher, but in words it comes out all wrong: in black and white with no color…

For every sentient being is God—omnipotent, omniscient, infinite, and eternal—pretending with the utmost sincerity and determination to be otherwise, to be a mere creature subject to failure, pain, death, temptation, hellfire, and ultimate tragedy.

I like his descriptions and his honesty, but it goes beyond this.

What he’s describing is the beginning – the admission that you can’t think or imagine yourself into some kind of fake mystic consciousness. Trying to do that is only another avoidance mechanism, another way to cope with pain, rather than deal with pain. He says that he lives with these messy aspects of himself, and that was of course his prerogative. But merely living with them and accepting them is a kind of stopping short of the work of transformation. (Many people opt for this version, because despite it all, they still don’t want to confront pain or healing work at depth. It’s too much and too scary. So they find their messy truths, accept them, and call it a day. But I’m one of the unfortunate people who had to go further than that, so I’m bringing you my bits of wisdom from beyond this place.).

Fundamentally, there is no transcending the experience of being human. You can’t do it. There would be no point to it anyway. It would be, spiritually, a devastating waste of time. Human incarnations are intended to be human – with and through pain. Teachings that push transcendence are false and highly misleading. It’s actually the other way around – the real mystic isn’t transcending anything; he is the epitome of human messiness and suffering. He is digesting and transforming that painful content. There has never been an authentic mystic who has not also suffered intense pains, poverty, destructions, etc. That’s what makes them real, and full of compassionate understanding, and worthy to be messengers of divine love.

In authentic practice, there can only be a digestion and transformation of the pain, terror, agony, trauma, and hellfire. It’s through all of those things. The journey has to run through darkness, and lust, and temptations, shame and pride, and addictions, and death, and everything else in between. (The seven deadly sins, as categories or sections of the ego, are way more significant than anyone can begin to imagine!).

It’s confronting and using all of those things, surrendering to it all, mastering and perfecting the human machine, but only once you admit and allow the mess. (This is also not achieved by force of will – that too is the wrong way. Nothing can be achieved by trying to dominate oneself into submission.)

We strive towards an ideal of “mystic perfection” – where there is no attachment and no fear – that’s the north star, but that comes at unimaginable cost through a path that terrifies most human beings. The mystic has to fall, all the way down, to the lowest of the low of human experience, in order to eradicate pride and the shame that creates it. And it’s not a one time thing, it is a protracted and terribly arduous period of time. The fall happens over the course of a few years, and there is no freedom to get back up, until all the work is completed.

And the result is not a translucent blind love, only seeing some phony goodness in everything. (God doesn’t love us blindly. God sees all our stuff – the good and the evil.) Real divine love also carries the height of awareness, and discernment, and wisdom with it. It includes the entire spectrum of existence. (Learning how to recognize evil, and also how to love it, really love it, without condoning it, is one of the greater challenges involved).

Destiny and destinations


“The mystic is unfolding himself not because he is primarily aware of some specific goal, but because he is supremely happy in the joy of growing, and in the knowledge that he is fulfilling the destiny that was appointed to him at the beginning of all things.”

Manly P. Hall

The authentic call to mysticism (in the monastic variety) happens without any sense of direction or goal. It is something that happens to you, and it doesn’t come with any sort of instructional manual or map. 


All of the descriptions of the path “appearing as you walk it” are quite accurate. To me, it’s always been less of an upright walking, and more of a blind, awkward, clumsy, frustrated, fumbling crawl, feeling your way forward. There is an almost complete lack of control of the process, and the explanations and guidance are provided only on an enigmatic need-to-know basis, afterwards. Everything is veiled and concealed in symbols, which require an insane sort of deciphering ability. It’s validating and sometimes very funny after the fact, but generally, you’re on your own to figure it out. 

Most of the time, the mystic doesn’t know where she’s going, and she has no idea where any particular road leads. There really is no concern with the end result. It’s not for a specific aim at all. The work serves as it’s own intrinsic reward, kind of like strength training, only for the soul. 


It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s fascinating. Each day is like an amazing adventure of discovery. You learn all kinds of wild tools and practices, and then you get to implement them, trying and testing them in the coolest laboratory imaginable – your own self. The transformations are fast, and take on a miraculous awe-inspiring nature. Sometimes the changes are so dramatic that you lose the sense that you’re the one doing the doing, because it’s almost unseemly to take credit for such a thing. The work is very hard, but as you see what it achieves, it’s absolutely worth every minute of it. And sleeping, eating, and bathing even, naturally, all become quite secondary, and sometimes optional. It’s that level of intoxicating and intense (and contagious, I’m told), and that’s only the human-side experience of it. 

To be honest, I had no idea that there was even such a thing as a destination, when all of this began. It didn’t really occur to me to wonder about it. The results of the work were nearly immediate, and there was no time to think about anything else. I had no sense of sacrifice or hard-work-for-some-future-goal, because everything was immediately attainable each day. I could barely catch my breath most of the time. 


Later, when I discovered what the grand scale goals really are, what this path is really about, and the significance of this work outside the material world, I was beyond shocked. It took me a few months to process and internalize what all of it meant, and to figure out how to understand myself in that process. But that all came much much later. At the start, I had absolutely no sense of context or familiarity with any of it. And when the realization of the gravity of it all finally hit me, I felt more than a little naive and foolish at not having understood it sooner. My embarrassment aside, ultimately my ignorance and naivete confirmed for me that I was doing all of it with the right motivations. So, as the fool does, I marched, er crawled, on… 


For the first few years there is incredible joy in the process; before you hit the excruciating torments and destructions part, obviously. 


And there is an internal certainty, beyond all doubt, that you are doing exactly what you are meant to be doing (while you still have some sense of choice about it). Everyone thinks you’re crazy, or that you’ve lost your mind, but your soul literally rejoices every day. If you’ve never felt your soul rejoicing, I highly recommend it – it’s a wonderful thing! And everyone disapproving is also part of the process and the work; it’s quite normal, as these things go. The sound of one’s soul laughing drowns out everyone else’s grumblings. 


In the more mature stages, when the process engulfs you completely, it takes an incredibly ugly and scary turn into a devastating abyss. But even there, even in the throes of the most wretched sort of hell and despair, there is a kind of certainty that you’re doing whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. In that place, you don’t have a choice anymore, as you’re being propelled forward by something entirely foreign. But the deep certainty, sometimes, can make the pain and hardships a tiny tiny bit more bearable. 

Embodiment


“A considerable percentage of the people we meet on the street are people who are empty inside, that is, they are actually already dead. It is fortunate for us that we do not see and do not know it. If we knew what a number of people are actually dead and what a number of these dead people govern our lives, we should go mad with horror.”

G. I. Gurdjieff

They are “empty” because they are disconnected from themselves, from the feeling, authentic, loving part of themselves. They are numb, lacking empathy, lacking warmth, also lacking a moral center; if you really consider it, it becomes terrifying.

This is what the spiritual practice of embodiment – the practice of returning to one’s body – is meant to combat and overcome. It is a kind of soul retrieval process, which takes time and healing to accomplish.

For many people, being in their bodies, feeling their feelings, experiencing the somatic reality of existence, is extremely painful and unpleasant. As a result of childhood trauma (even if that trauma is unacknowledged or unconscious), they learned a form of dissociation, which allows them to remain disconnected from their physical body, and focus their experience of life entirely in their head/mind. It is as though their soul hovers around the body, but refuses to actually get grounded in the experience of being human. The egoic conditions are so unfavorable, so inhospitably hostile to the values and principles of love, that the soul cannot bear to remain inside.

This work requires a processing out of pain, clearing out enough trauma, and learning some new patterns of internal relating, in order to make embodiment feel good and pleasurable. It is a huge indispensable part of the evolutionary transformation process. Without this kind of work, there is no authentic joy, love, or compassion, there is also no integrity, no morality, and no limit to egotistical impulses and behavior.

Sadly, this is how lots of people walk around in Gurdjieff’s “empty” state. (If you doubt this, take a look around at your local narcissists and sociopaths – they are walking egos, disconnected from their feeling loving selves, capable of unimaginable remorseless cruelty.).

Transformation


You seek too much information and not enough transformation.

Sai Baba

When faced with the prospect of having to feel difficult feelings, of processing pain, grief, or shame, naturally we all prefer avoidance. It’s understandable and perfectly human to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Some of us go to great lengths to avoid dealing with negative feelings all-together. With the right numbing mechanisms and mindset, one can spend his entire life trying to outrun the pain.

But spirituality is oriented in the opposite direction – it is fundamentally about turning towards the feelings, confronting the negative difficult material, and working through pain and suffering in order to heal.

During that process, the pain is transmuted into wisdom, leading to maturity, soul growth, and evolution of consciousness. The practice, at its heart, is one of profound transformation.

One would think that on the spiritual path avoidance wouldn’t happen. And yet, one of the most common traps is avoidance by a certain kind of intellectualism, by that I mean the seeking and collecting of knowledge and information pertaining to spiritual matters, without the actual implementation of them. It is an academic approach, which remains entirely in the mind, and refuses any sort of authentic transformation.

Having the appearance of spiritual work and seriousness, this is a form of distraction at best, and an ego-feeding mechanism at worst. Spiritual work is about real tangible transformation, from the inside out. Too much information, too much intellectual spinning around abstract concepts, becomes a hindrance to the real inner work, not an asset.

Justice and empathy


The just man is not the product of a day, but of a long brooding and a painful birth. To become a power for peace, a man must first pass through experiences which lead him to see things in their different aspects: it is necessary that he have a wide horizon, and breathe various atmospheres–in a word, from crossing, one after another, paths and points of view the most diverse, and sometimes the most contradictory, he must acquire the faculty of putting himself in the place of others and appreciating them.

Charles Wagner

We must be careful not to confuse spirituality with political ideology. They are not the same thing. Being “awakened” does not necessarily mean alignment with progressive political ideals. Truth and justice (and moral governance) lie across the political spectrum.

Strong political alignments represent merely an external expression of internal psychological experience.

A proper spiritual journey will take a person across political landscapes, so that he or she may experience life from various internal points of view.

With deep inner work the psychological landscape changes, and with it the conscious belief system and its political affiliations will find themselves shifting as well. Sometimes these shifts will be shocking, causing tremendous internal upheaval. The practitioner’s political views will necessarily swing wildly, first one way, then back, again and again like a pendulum, until a balance point is reached.

The authentic practitioner must experience this shifting from within, to genuinely know and understand various views, positions, and dogmas. They must be able to actually feel and understand other points of view, rather than guess and intellectually condescend to them.

This experience of expansion of mind allows for the inclusion of all viewpoints, with real compassionate understanding, without resistance or rejection. This is the path towards a genuine non-duality, which is inclusive of all that is.

The real victory

He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.

Sun Tzu

The primary focus of spiritual work and the purification of consciousness has to do with the eradication of fear, which underlies all the false egoic tendencies we call desire. The practice of this eradication involves determining internally which actions/responses are being driven by fear at their core, and working to dissolve those barriers. The more barriers we dissolve, the more we liberate our authentic selves to freedom.

The external actions we take are not especially relevant, as they are really only a byproduct of the internal process. It is one’s own inner work that is of primary importance, not how one appears externally to others. (For this reason, it is nearly impossible to evaluate another’s spiritual progress by merely observing their conduct or behavior.).

External peace between people is a beautiful thing. But real external peace cannot exist if there is internal turmoil and fear. Discontent can be suppressed and silenced, or negotiated or compromised away, but that is a false facade of peace, not authentic peace. In this sense, external peace becomes a kind of utopian ideal towards which we strive, but rarely achieve. Those who do achieve the virtuous ideal become spiritual masters and titans of humanity.

Many of us are conditioned from childhood to remain silent, or to refuse to engage in a provocation with an aggressor, in order to keep the external calm and social order. This serves to maintain a necessary social cohesion and quell unrest and chaos, without which there would be anarchy, but it is not peace. The authentic ideal requires a much more arduous and complicated journey.

When we embark on the spiritual path, we are initially taught not to engage in interpersonal combat, and to remain silent in the face of provocation. That is a wise initial teaching. By not engaging and refraining from combat, we have the space to turn the focus inward, and work through all of the triggered feelings and beliefs that the provocation activates. This work happens in layers and takes years and years to complete. As our competency in this area matures, we come to see the incredible value of this teaching. By refraining from engagement and using the provocations (so plentiful in our world) to fuel the work, we are able to travel to great internal depth and really discover ourselves fully. A seasoned practitioner of this process will actually arrive at gratitude towards his aggressors, because the attacks illuminated the wounding that was in need of awareness. That is how provocations (and evil at large) serve us, and that is why we ought to “turn the other cheek” in our usual practice.

There comes another stage of spiritual work and purification that asks us to externally work through our fears. Here we are called to a different sort of activity. In this area, having healed all of our primary wounds, we must now work on developing courage. The approach to provocations here is different, taking on a combative nature. This is the other side of the spectrum, which involves bringing increasing awareness to our self-oppression and self-silencing in order to “keep the peace” and “avoid rocking the boat,” because those things aren’t “nice.” We must recognize the places where we remain silent and refuse engagement out of fear of confrontation and avoidance. Then we must reconcile the fears, and find our voice, our anger, and learn how to utilize those tools effectively. They are vital parts of our humanness, and through proper expression they must be brought into balance within.

In some spiritual communities speaking up, engaging when provoked, standing up for oneself or against injustice, or using appropriate expressions of anger are shunned and shamed as “not spiritual.” This is a mistake. Those communities remain stuck in the initial beginner level teachings, rather than advancing to the more mature stages of spiritual growth. They impose “peace” and “calm,” which often becomes abusive and oppressive to the members, especially when malevolent actors are at the helm.

In this more spiritually mature arena, in order to claim that we are consciously choosing to remain silent and forbear when attacked, there must be a valid and viable alternative. That means that responding, or not responding, must be equally available paths of actions. Then it can be said that there is a legitimate choice being made between two paths. If responding to the provocation is not an available path, it is because fear is standing in the way, and then the decision not to respond is not a choice, but an avoidance. We can even call it a cowardice, succumbing to fear, rather than acting on our authentic feelings.

In this part of the work, we must choose very carefully when to respond or not respond, and how precisely to respond to the correct degree, determined mostly by which path scares us most. The responses must never come from a place of vengeance or the pursuit of power or domination. They must always be underpinned by justice and ethical decision-making. By recognizing the fear that blocks us, working through it, and then moving forward in that direction conquering the fear, we will win. That is what is really meant by this piece of wisdom. The one who masters this process wins.

The winning does not have to anything to do with what happens externally. The practitioner doesn’t necessary win against his opponent in physical reality. His external opponent and the external outcome of the fight do not matter. What matters is if he is internally making the right, courageous, wise choice – utilizing the provocation in the best way possible, pushing himself further and further towards the conquest of fear, and responding in just the right way. If this is carried out correctly, he will win, and the victory will be of the most important kind.

The mystic way

Go inward. Go deeply.

Let your emotional reactions lead the way.

Inquire and inquire, and just when you think you’re done, inquire again.

Ask the simple but important questions.

Then, by listening and feeling, you will be given the sacred answers.

When you hit the impenetrable wall, seek for the wisdom that will take you further.

It will be offered to you in the most unexpected places.

Pay attention.

Savor these unearthly moments of realization.

Bask in the magic that manifests the lessons into physical form.

Let this be your motivation, and serve as your guide.

Recognize when you come across the knots of misalignment.

When you find these knots, let childlike curiosity be your guide.

Turn them around and around until you find the way in.

Be patient and gentle, but persistent and resourceful.

Set your intention and allow Grace to guide your hands.

You will untangle them, and the knots will come undone.

And when they do, let the river of tears they were damming flow unencumbered.

And when the tears run dry, let all of it go.

Allow the now-empty space to fill with love and forgiveness.

The healing will happen naturally; it always does.

The most important thing to remember is this –

Meet everything you find with unconditional love.

Meet everything with tenderness, acceptance, and compassion.

You will encounter some monsters on your path.

Some really ugly things.

Things you’ll wish you’d never seen, because once you do, you can’t unsee them.

Look upon all of them with eyes of love.

And listen to them with the ears of love, as a mother would upon her wounded child.

See them truthfully, for what they are, and with understanding of how they came to be.

Be brutally honest and just as brutally loving.

The journey, the exploration, and the bringing of love and light into that darkness will heal you and transform you.

It will transform the very essence of your soul.

Then turn all of that love and compassion out into the world.

Find the courage to live authentically and vulnerably.

Listen closely, taking only those actions that feel good and right in the very center of your being.

The truth and love, inside and outside, will set you free.

Spiritualism and a bit of free will

 

Leaving occultism behind, let’s talk about spiritualism.

Spiritualism is the belief that the spirits of the dead have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living. The afterlife, or the “spirit world“, is seen by spiritualists, not as a static place, but as one in which spirits continue to evolve. These two beliefs: that contact with spirits is possible, and that spirits are more advanced than humans, lead spiritualists to a third belief, that spirits are capable of providing useful knowledge about moral and ethical issues, as well as about the nature of God. (Wikipedia)

Spiritualists reject the rituals and ceremonial magic central to occult practice, in favor of much more practical (albeit supernatural) healing methods. Their practices involve the communication with spirits (both discarnate entities, as well as masters and guides) through the work of mediumship. They don’t travel into the unseen worlds, nor engage in any manipulations thereof.

I feel a lot more resonance with these approaches to healing work, although I don’t have any mediumship abilities.

In this book, prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Wickland, and his wife Anna (a trance medium), describe their decades of work, treating and healing mental illness, by removing destructive earthbound discarnate spirits (who don’t know they are dead) from the auras of the psychically sensitive patients. Dr. Wickland seems to coax the spirits out of the patients through the application of some kind of statically charged electrical device. Then, through a form of meditation and I suppose trance induction, one at a time, the spirits temporarily enter the body of his wife; where Dr. Wickland speaks with them, explaining to them that they are dead, and convincing them to leave the earth plane for the spirit world (leaving the patient peacefully healed of her symptoms).

Lest you think this is all mumbo jumbo, there is a lot of work being done currently in spiritualist psychiatric facilities in Latin America, Brazil in particular, following a specific branch of this model (known as “spiritism” developed by Allan Kardec). This book, and Dr. Wickland’s amazing work in general, are considered an authoritative guide on these destructive entities.

What I find most interesting about this work is it suggests that what you believe, here in human form, determines what happens to you after you die. Not in the religious sense, but in the core belief sense – the belief framework in your subconscious mind. It’s not that you must believe one thing over another, but rather that you must be open-minded enough to accept what’s happening to you. It appears that one has to have a flexible (non-dogmatic) belief system to realize that his body has died, and that he has passed into the spirit form. Strong attachments to egoic drives, or to relationships, or to fundamentalist religious ideas stand in the way of a soul’s progress to the spirit realms. Those that continue holding on to their beliefs end up hanging out on our earth planes, feeling lost, confused, or asleep. Some become attracted to the light of a human’s aura; sometimes getting stuck in there, (wreaking havoc on the human) until they become willing to let go of their beliefs and accept greater truths. This suggests an element of self-determination or freedom to resist the truth for a period of time.

These are not new ideas, of course. It’s just exciting to watch them play out in these seemingly mechanical ways. The entire premise of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (which guides and teaches the newly dead soul what to do) is built on this foundation. (If you’re interested, there’s a good, somewhat haunting, documentary about it, narrated by Leonard Cohen, available here).

The releasing of attachments, the acceptance of the transformation into spirit form, and the awareness that thoughts and beliefs create the soul’s projected “reality,” are all needed to keep the soul on track, so to speak. Similar to our current spiritual understandings, what the soul experiences after death is a projection of its own beliefs. I suppose they play out before him in order to be processed and digested out – not unlike what’s been happening to me for the last few months. (In the language of the Christian mystics, which I’ve become so fond of lately, this is the nature of purgatory – the purging of that which is not in alignment with love).

In my experience (I had one encounter with the energy of death a few months ago), it is simultaneously subtle and powerful, but there’s nothing inherently scary about it. It’s a really peaceful sensation. The fear arises only from the resistance to it (the human attachments), not from death itself. It came to show me where I was still holding attachments, and what needed to be worked on and released.

I don’t specifically believe that one can get “off track” after death, but that’s just my personal view. There are some interesting examples in Wickland’s book that demonstrate how stubborn and reticent souls, those that refuse to give up attachments or refuse to accept their condition, are given lots of time to come around to the truth. Spirit, which is outside the bounds of time, is infinitely patient. This suggests that souls have a tiny hint of self-determination, or free-will, in this sense. They can choose to reject the truth until such time as they come to accept it.

I’ve been turning the idea of free-will around in my mind for a while. I’m still not convinced that we have it. The ego loves to believe that it has control. And what I’ve been shown again and again is that it doesn’t; even over itself. It’s a trick of the mind, necessary for the human experience. You have to believe you have free-will in order to have a sense of ownership over your life and choices. And you have to believe that others have free-will in order to hold them responsible for their lives and choices. This sense of ownership is what generates all the suffering we come here to experience (fear, self-judgment, shame, regret, blame, etc.). If you really knew and fully believed that you and everyone else were just floating along on an energetic current, everything pre-destined and chosen for you (by another aspect of yourself before you were born), all of the inner emotional stuff would become moot and the spiritual lessons would be lost. You need to believe you have free-will in order to experience being human. But there is a reality beyond that which we experience. And as a matter of ultimate truth, I’m not sure we have any free-will at all.

At the moment, I think there is a little bit of wiggle room to resist the truth, or resist the lessons, but not much. Spirit has a way of directing what is needed, with either a carrot or a stick, or sometimes both. Ultimately the human, or the soul, will capitulate, believing it itself has made the choice to accept truth. It can’t see or acknowledge that its own change of heart is influenced by something outside itself. Rudolph Steiner talked about this in his books – how releasing oneself of the hegemony of the ego will show you just how much you are being controlled by spiritual forces outside yourself. It’s really trippy and destabilizing when you first experience it.

And if there’s no real alternative to that which Spirit directs, then there is only the illusion of free-will.

Like everything else these days, this is a work in progress.

 

 

Metaphysics and the occult

While I’m not generally interested in the occult, I came across a truly fascinating book a few months ago: Psychic Self-Defense: The Classic Instruction Manual for Protecting Yourself Against Paranormal Attack by Dion Fortune. (The title sounds sort of campy, but the book is not that way at all).

A 20th century British psychologist, occultist, Christian kabbalist, and author, Fortune (1890-1946) is considered one of the most significant and respected authorities in this field. She is actually quite erudite, articulate, and seems to possess an impressively proper disposition and temperament for someone doing genuine work in this area. You get the sense that she’s really coming from a place of integrity within (as much as can be expected from an occultist, I suppose).

My spiritual orientation is all about the inward focus; the inner journey to healing and self-realization. Occult work, on the other hand, whether white (good intentioned) or black (bad intentioned), is very outward focused. It seems to involve all sorts of manipulation of the unseen world and energies, in order to affect three dimensional reality (for good or bad). 

I’ve had enough first hand experience to believe that these things are real. I don’t doubt their veracity. I just don’t personally subscribe to these activities. Some people are born with a natural opening into these realms, and that’s their passion and life purpose. It’s not my intention to diminish what they do. It’s just that in my view, there is nothing spiritual (in my definition of that word) about the development of these skills or practices. And I’m not sure about the higher ethics of this kind of work (even for those who claim to be on the right-hand path, with a purely beneficent motivation).

There is lots of overlap here with shamanism and other healing modalities, so I hesitate to take any hard line positions. But to the extent that the practitioner is powerful enough to be effective, it’s a very slippery slope messing with these things, regardless of conscious intention. Life is designed a particular way for a reason. When you begin manipulating reality, you interfere with greater spiritual lessons and purpose. 

All spiritual traditions have dire warnings for those at advanced stages about getting caught up in the metaphysical powers that spiritual evolution brings. These powers are traps on the path; not something to be sought after or cultivated. From my vantage point, I can’t imagine the level of purity of consciousness one would need to have, in order to practice these things in an ethical way (without the practitioner’s unconscious motives getting in the way).

For a practitioner, the accumulation of metaphysical power, no matter how you go about it, only serves to feed his ego. It’s no different than the accumulation of power in normal reality; except that it’s hidden and mysterious, which makes it sort of sexy and intriguing. It doesn’t elevate the consciousness of the practitioner. And it doesn’t heal his targets in any spiritual way. It may alleviate a topical problem, but it doesn’t get to the root of it, nor is any fundamental healing happening (which leaves the person susceptible to a relapse of whatever the infirmity was to begin with).

It’s akin to pouring draino into a clogged toilet drain, but not addressing the fact that paper towels continue being deposited into the toilet. You see what I’m saying? Topical solutions may be helpful and necessary at times. And there is probably a proper place and circumstance for occult solutions. I’m just more interested in core level transformational work.

Here’s is a wonderful quote from the book that sort of demonstrates this issue. (You’ll have to forgive the political incorrectness; the book was written before that became a thing).

“There are certain types of insanity in which the lunatic believes himself to be the victim of an attack by invisible beings, who threaten and abuse him and offer base or dangerous insinuations. He will describe his tormentors, or point to their position in the room. A psychic who investigates such a case can very often see the alleged entities just where the lunatic says they are. Nevertheless, the psychologist can come forward and prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the so-called “hallucinations” are due to repressed instincts giving rise to dissociated complexes of ideas in the patient’s own subconscious mind. Does this mean that the psychic is mistaken in thinking he perceives an astral entity? In my opinion both psychic and psychologist are right, and their findings are mutually explanatory. What the psychic sees is the dissociated complex extruded from the aura as a thought-form. A great deal of relief can be given to lunatics by breaking up the thought-forms that are surrounding them, but unfortunately the relief is short-lived; for unless the cause of the illness can be dealt with, a fresh batch of thought-forms is built up as soon as the original ones are destroyed.”

As far as I can tell, the “cause of the illness” here is going to be fear, self-judgment, shame, and unprocessed emotional material. It sounds like an oversimplification, but in my view it’s actually quite straightforward. (The work of transformation is not simple, but the root cause always appears to be the same). A psychically sensitive person with a negatively oriented consciousness will see the energetic entities that exist on that vibrational plane (including the ones he himself generates). In order to “heal” the illness, and elevate him out of seeing those negative entities, the consciousness needs to be transformed and elevated to a higher level.

Theoretically, this checks out across the board among different spiritual traditions, but my research is still in its early stages. 

Nevertheless, these things are interesting to explore and read about. The book is brilliantly written, fascinating, and I think it arrives at some profound truths from a very unusual perspective. (You can access it for free online).

The journey of the mystic

 

As promised, here’s some more on Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill.

The book is a very ambitious effort, which is executed brilliantly and beautifully. Referencing the accounts, writings, and legends of famous Christian mystics, Underhill tries to bring some logical or orderly sense to the mystical process. There is a sort of lyrical quality to her writing, and a humble genius in her reasoning and exposition. The subject matter isn’t really something that lends itself to any definite or rigid bounds. The expression “the herding of cats” comes to mind. But Underhill displays incredible artistry and mastery in assembling these ill-fitting puzzle pieces. 

Originally published in 1911, it is considered by many to be a classic in its field.

She opens the book with the following:

The most highly developed branches of the human family have in common one peculiar characteristic. They tend to produce—sporadically it is true, and often in the teeth of adverse external circumstances—a curious and definite type of personality; a type which refuses to be satisfied with that which other men call experience, and is inclined, in the words of its enemies, to “deny the world in order that it may find reality.” We meet these persons in the east and the west; in the ancient, mediaeval, and modern worlds. Their one passion appears to be the prosecution of a certain spiritual and intangible quest: the finding of a “way out” or a “way back” to some desirable state in which alone they can satisfy their craving for absolute truth. This quest, for them, has constituted the whole meaning of life. They have made for it without effort sacrifices which have appeared enormous to other men: and it is an indirect testimony to its objective actuality, that whatever the place or period in which they have arisen, their aims, doctrines and methods have been substantially the same. Their experience, therefore, forms a body of evidence, curiously self-consistent and often mutually explanatory, which must be taken into account…

Hence, they should claim from us the same attention that we give to other explorers of countries in which we are not competent to adventure ourselves; for the mystics are the pioneers of the spiritual world, and we have no right to deny validity to their discoveries, merely because we lack the opportunity or the courage necessary to those who would prosecute such explorations for themselves.

Then after some explorations of the intersections of mysticism, philosophy, psychology, and theology, we get to the good stuff. Underhill sets out five general stages, or markers, that frame the mystical journey. A lot of these (the first three primarily) will be familiar to modern day spiritual travelers.

(1) The awakening of the Self to consciousness of Divine Reality. This experience, usually abrupt and well-marked, is accompanied by intense feelings of joy and exaltation.

 

(2) The Self, aware for the first time of Divine Beauty, realizes by contrast its own finiteness and imperfection, the manifold illusions in which it is immersed, the immense distance which separates it from the One. Its attempts to eliminate by discipline and mortification all that stands in the way of its progress towards union with God constitute Purgation: a state of pain and effort.

 

(3) When by Purgation the Self has become detached from the “things of sense,” and acquired those virtues which are the “ornaments of the spiritual marriage,” its joyful consciousness of the Transcendent Order returns in an enhanced form. Like the prisoners in Plato’s “Cave of Illusion,” it has awakened to knowledge of Reality, has struggled up the harsh and difficult path to the mouth of the cave. Now it looks upon the sun. This is Illumination: a state which includes in itself many of the stages of contemplation, “degrees of orison,” visions and adventures of the soul described by St. Teresa and other mystical writers. These form, as it were, a way within the Way: a moyen de parvenir, a training devised by experts which will strengthen and assist the mounting soul. They stand, so to speak, for education; whilst the Way proper represents organic growth. Illumination is the “contemplative state” par excellence. It forms, with the two preceding states, the “first mystic life.” Many mystics never go beyond it; and, on the other hand, many seers and artists not usually classed amongst them, have shared, to some extent, the experiences of the illuminated state. Illumination brings a certain apprehension of the Absolute, a sense of the Divine Presence: but not true union with it. It is a state of happiness.

 

(4) In the development of the great and strenuous seekers after God, this is followed—or sometimes intermittently accompanied—by the most terrible of all the experiences of the Mystic Way: the final and complete purification of the Self, which is called by some contemplatives the “mystic pain” or “mystic death,” by others the Purification of the Spirit or Dark Night of the Soul. The consciousness which had, in Illumination, sunned itself in the sense of the Divine Presence, now suffers under an equally intense sense of the Divine Absence: learning to dissociate the personal satisfaction of mystical vision from the reality of mystical life. As in Purgation the senses were cleansed and humbled, and the energies and interests of the Self were concentrated upon transcendental things: so now the purifying process is extended to the very centre of I-hood, the will. The human instinct for personal happiness must be killed. This is the “spiritual crucifixion” so often described by the mystics: the great desolation in which the soul seems abandoned by the Divine. The Self now surrenders itself, its individuality, and its will, completely. It desires nothing, asks nothing, is utterly passive, and is thus prepared for

 

(5) Union: the true goal of the mystic quest. In this state the Absolute Life is not merely perceived and enjoyed by the Self, as in Illumination: but is one with it. This is the end towards which all the previous oscillations of consciousness have tended. It is a state of equilibrium, of purely spiritual life; characterized by peaceful joy, by enhanced powers, by intense certitude. To call this state, as some authorities do, by the name of Ecstasy, is inaccurate and confusing: since the term Ecstasy has long been used both by psychologists and ascetic writers to define that short and rapturous trance—a state with well-marked physical and psychical accompaniments—in which the contemplative, losing all consciousness of the phenomenal world, is caught up to a brief and immediate enjoyment of the Divine Vision. Ecstasies of this kind are often experienced by the mystic in Illumination, or even on his first conversion. They cannot therefore be regarded as exclusively characteristic of the Unitive Way. In some of the greatest mystics—St. Teresa is an example—the ecstatic trance seems to diminish rather than increase in frequency after the state of union has been attained: whilst others achieve the heights by a path which leaves on one side all abnormal phenomena.

Because each individual person is unique, so too are the mystical experiences and openings.

They are very heavily influenced by the individual person’s subconscious belief system, and his egoic patterns (his level of discipline and ability to self-motivate, his relationship to emotional pain and suffering, his resilience, courage and fortitude, his capacity for surrender vs resistance, and how he relates to authority, etc). Underlying religious beliefs also play a huge role in what a mystic will see or experience. (This is why the purgation of the spirit, the subject of my last post, step four in Underhill’s outline, is so important. Until all of these things are cleared out fully, one can’t be sure if he’s really seeing ultimate reality, or just a projection of his own mind.)

The journeys don’t necessarily follow any specific sequence. Some stages occur simultaneously, some go back and forth. The length, depth, and severity of the different stages varies enormously. One of the most often cited determining factors is each individual soul’s life plan – it is either destined for specific levels or it’s not. They either come by Grace, or they don’t. It’s not really negotiable. 

It’s also really really hard to pin things down and label them. Often because the experiences can’t be articulated with words (they happen in a section of consciousness that doesn’t involve language), and the descriptions are so subjective, that being one and the same, two different accounts don’t seem to resemble each other at all. It takes a certain level of experience to understand what you’re seeing and to assemble these things together.

It’s human nature to want to know where one is on the path; to judge himself, or to know if he’s succeeding or failing. But it’s the nature of the spiritual path to be extremely murky without any solid roadmaps. It’s about getting comfortable with being lost. The entire point is to learn how to walk, one step at a time, without a plan, and without judging the progress. It is a development of faith and trust in intuitive guidance, moment by moment, while learning to let go and surrender in the present. This is a lot harder than it sounds. It took me several years to really develop this ability, and I still struggle with it on occasion. 

The rest of the book then goes on to expound on these different stages. (I’m still only about half way through it – it’s too dense to get through quickly). If there’s any more stuff worth sharing later I’ll do another post.

 

For further reading, the book is available here for free.