mystic

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. 

 

Dark Night of the Soul: Purgation of Spirit

 

After months of darkness without any sense of guidance, I have finally come across a most comforting piece of mystical literature: Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. It shouldn’t be comforting; it’s rather horrifying reading. But I’m comforted to find it. (There’s also a tiny bit too much religious emphasis for my taste, but he is a Christian mystic, so naturally that will be his framework).

For all of this time I’ve been operating on faith and intuition alone; trusting the inner knowing that kept telling me it’s all ok. And just now, when I feel most exhausted (the last two days have been really difficult), I am synchronistically lead to this book.

It turns out that everything I’ve been going through is perfectly “normal,” as these things go on the mystic path. It is in fact a blessing, if one cares to see it that way.

Lots of spiritual seekers go through a Dark Night experience (sometimes multiple times). St. John distinguishes this common “purgation of the senses,” in all its permutations, from what I’m going through (which is a much rarer and more advanced stage of development) called “purgation of the spirit.” It can last for a long time, but it’s said to be the precursor to Divine union (the final stage of mystical development).

It is a small, but much needed, feeling of relief to find some ground and context for this process. Every time I find writing like this, which resonate so deeply, tears come flooding out from the depths of my soul.

Below are some of the excerpts from the book describing this Purgation of Spirit.

It’s probably important to note here that these thoughts and feelings arise from deep deep within. And no amount of will power or control has any effect on them. Meaning, you can’t just think happy thoughts and feel better. None of the spiritual or meditative practices work. Even witness or observer consciousness works only in short bursts. The weight of this is deeper and heavier than any form of depression I’ve ever experienced. It turns you inside out, and there’s nowhere to turn, and no way to make it stop.

The only way through it is with ever-deepening surrender, constant awareness/inquiry work, and wisdom (which are the healing techniques I mentioned a few posts ago). With the proper spiritual training, watching this unfold within, you can see its logic and design. There is a definite pattern and progression, and the results can be profoundly felt. There is a truly divinely magnificent intelligence at work.

It took me a while to stop freaking out and trust it. Then the deeper understanding emerged and I got the hang of it. Now it’s just a matter of getting through it.

 

  • THIS dark night is an inflowing of God into the soul, which purges it from its ignorances and imperfections, habitual natural and spiritual, and which is called by contemplatives infused contemplation, or mystical theology. Herein God secretly teaches the soul and instructs it in perfection of love without its doing anything, or understanding of what manner is this infused contemplation. Inasmuch as it is the loving wisdom of God, God produces striking effects in the soul for, by purging and illumining it, He prepares it for the union of love with God. Book 2 Chp. 5

 

  • [B]ecause the light and wisdom of this contemplation is most bright and pure, and the soul which it assails is dark and impure, it follows that the soul suffers great pain when it receives it in itself,… And when the soul suffers the direct assault of this Divine light, its pain, which results from its impurity, is immense; because, when this pure light assails the soul, in order to expel its impurity, the soul feels itself to be so impure and miserable that it believes God to be against it, and thinks that it has set itself up against God. This causes it sore grief and pain, because it now believes that God has cast it away… For, by means of this pure light, the soul now sees its impurity clearly (although darkly), and knows clearly that it is unworthy of God or of any creature. And what gives it most pain is that it thinks that it will never be worthy and that its good things are all over for it. This is caused by the profound immersion of its spirit in the knowledge and realization of its evils and miseries; for this Divine and dark light now reveals them all to the eye, that it may see clearly how in its own strength it can never have aught else. Book 2 Chp. 5

 

  • [Another] way in which the soul suffers pain is by reason of its weakness, natural, moral and spiritual; for, when this Divine contemplation assails the soul with a certain force, in order to strengthen it and subdue it, it suffers such pain in its weakness that it nearly swoons away. This is especially so at certain times when it is assailed with somewhat greater force; for sense and spirit, as if beneath some immense and dark load, are in such great pain and agony that the soul would find advantage and relief in death. Book 2 Chp. 5

 

  • Beneath the power of this oppression and weight the soul feels itself so far from being favoured that it thinks, and correctly so, that even that wherein it was wont to find some help has vanished with everything else, and that there is none who has pity upon it. Book 2 Chp. 5

 

  • THE third kind of suffering and pain that the soul endures in this state results from the fact that two other extremes meet here in one, namely, the Divine and the human. The Divine is this purgative contemplation, and the human is the subject—that is, the soul. The Divine assails the soul in order to renew it and thus to make it Divine; and, stripping it of the habitual affections and attachments of the old man, to which it is very closely united, knit together and conformed, destroys and consumes its spiritual substance, and absorbs it in deep and profound darkness. As a result of this, the soul feels itself to be perishing and melting away, in the presence and sight of its miseries, in a cruel spiritual death, even as if it had been swallowed by a beast and felt itself being devoured in the darkness of its belly, suffering such anguish as was endured by Jonas in the belly of that beast of the sea. For in this sepulchre of dark death it must needs abide until the spiritual resurrection which it hopes for. Book 2 Chp. 6

 

  • A description of this suffering and pain, although in truth it transcends all description, is given by David, when he says: ‘The lamentations of death compassed me about; the pains of hell surrounded me; I cried in my tribulation.’ But what the sorrowful soul feels most in this condition is its clear perception, as it thinks, that God has abandoned it, and, in His abhorrence of it, has flung it into darkness; it is a grave and piteous grief for it to believe that God has forsaken it… It feels, too, that all creatures have forsaken it, and that it is contemned by them, particularly by its friends. Book 2 Chp. 6

 

  • For indeed, when this purgative contemplation is most severe, the soul feels very keenly the shadow of death and the lamentations of death and the pains of hell, which consist in its feeling itself to be without God, and chastised and cast out, and unworthy of Him; and it feels that He is wroth with it. All this is felt by the soul in this condition—yea, and more, for it believes that it is so with it for ever. Book 2 Chp. 6

 

  • The fourth kind of pain is caused in the soul by another excellence of this dark contemplation, which is its majesty and greatness, from which arises in the soul a consciousness of the other extreme which is in itself—namely, that of the deepest poverty and wretchedness: this is one of the chiefest pains that it suffers in this purgation. For it feels within itself a profound emptiness and impoverishment of three kinds of good, which are ordained for the pleasure of the soul which are the temporal, the natural and the spiritual; and finds itself set in the midst of the evils contrary to these, namely, miseries of imperfection, aridity and emptiness of the apprehensions of the faculties and abandonment of the spirit in darkness. Inasmuch as God here purges the soul according to the substance of its sense and spirit, and according to the interior and exterior faculties, the soul must needs be in all its parts reduced to a state of emptiness, poverty and abandonment and must be left dry and empty and in darkness. For the sensual part is purified in aridity, the faculties are purified in the emptiness of their perceptions and the spirit is purified in thick darkness. All this God brings to pass by means of this dark contemplation; wherein the soul not only suffers this emptiness and the suspension of these natural supports and perceptions, which is a most afflictive suffering (as if a man were suspended or held in the air so that he could not breathe), but likewise He is purging the soul, annihilating it, emptying it or consuming in it (even as fire consumes the mouldiness and the rust of metal) all the affections and imperfect habits which it has contracted in its whole life. Since these are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul, it is wont to suffer great undoings and inward torment, besides the said poverty and emptiness, natural and spiritual… Book 2 Chp. 6

 

  • Wherefore, because the soul is purified in this furnace like gold in a crucible, as says the Wise Man, it is conscious of this complete undoing of itself in its very substance, together with the direst poverty, wherein it is, as it were, nearing its end, … Here God greatly humbles the soul in order that He may afterwards greatly exalt it; and if He ordained not that, when these feelings arise within the soul, they should speedily be stilled, it would die in a very short space; but there are only occasional periods when it is conscious of their greatest intensity. At times, however, they are so keen that the soul seems to be seeing hell and perdition opened. Of such are they that in truth go down alive into hell, being purged here on earth in the same manner as there, since this purgation is that which would have to be accomplished there. And thus the soul that passes through this either enters not that place at all, or tarries there but for a very short time; for one hour of purgation here is more profitable than are many there. Book 2 Chp. 6

 

I told you it was horrifying… It goes on like this for many more chapters, in case you’d like to read further. It’s available for free online here.

 

Mysticism and the higher self

 

I’m working my way through a new book – Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, by Evelyn Underhill. (It’s an old book, just newly discovered by me). It’s wonderful, and deserves a much more thorough treatment than a single quote (I’ll work on a larger post). In the meantime, I wanted to share this one excerpt, because it’s so close to my heart that I cried when I found it.

Thus St. Catherine of Siena spent three years in hermit-like seclusion in the little room which we still see in her house in the Via Benincasa, entirely cut off from the ordinary life of her family. “Within her own house,” says her legend, “she found the desert; and a solitude in the midst of people.” There Catherine endured many mortifications, was visited by ecstasies and visions: passed, in fact, through the states of Purgation and Illumination, which existed in her case side by side.

This life of solitude was brought to an abrupt end by the experience which is symbolized in the vision of the Mystic Marriage, and the Voice which then said to her, “Now will I wed thy soul, which shall ever be conjoined and united to Me!” Catherine, who had during her long retreat enjoyed illumination to a high degree, now entered upon the Unitive State, in which the whole of her public life was passed. Its effect was immediately noticeable. She abandoned her solitude, joined in the family life, went out into the city to serve the poor and sick, attracted and taught disciples, converted sinners, and began that career of varied and boundless activity which has made her name one of the greatest in the history of the fourteenth century.

Nor does this mean that she ceased to live the sort of life which is characteristic of mystical consciousness: to experience direct contact with the Transcendental World, to gaze into “the Abyss of Love Divine.” On the contrary, her practical genius for affairs, her immense power of ruling men, drew its strength from the long series of visions and ecstasies which accompanied and supported her labours in the world. She “descended into the valley of lilies to make herself more fruitful,” says her legend. The conscious vehicle of some “power not herself,” she spoke and acted with an authority which might have seemed strange enough in an uneducated daughter of the people, were it not justified by the fact that all who came into contact with her submitted to its influence.

That last sentence, the conscious vehicle of some power not herself, which commands authority with those who hear it, is precisely the experience of the higher self coming through… (I wrote about my own experience of this in the last post).

Here’s another story on this subject.

Some time ago, I was working closely with someone who had this happen to him as well; his consciousness opened to the expression of his higher self. It was a very brief experience, lasting just a few minutes, but it was intense and profound for both of us.

The person didn’t say or do anything of significance, but the energy of the room shifted so dramatically that it was impossible to mistake for anything else. I was standing with my back to him, about 20 feet between us, when it happened. Feeling something strange, I turned around and was almost knocked off my feet. A huge wave of energy came washing over me, engulfing me completely. Seemingly out of nowhere, I suddenly felt really really small, and in the presence of something vast and incredibly powerful. For those few minutes, this person’s entire demeanor shifted. It was like he became someone entirely different (all the same characteristics I wrote about last time – direct, stoic, very loving and kind, and yet extremely fierce).

The presence of the higher self in human expression produces a deep sense of reverence in the atmosphere of the room – not for the person, but for him as the conduit of this sacred force. It is unmistakably divine; in the sense that it produces those very same feelings of humility and insignificance that other experiences of divinity produce. It’s truly breathtaking when it happens. There is no doubt that those who encountered St. Catherine when that power moved through her would have been completely taken over by it.

As I wrote last time, there aren’t many clear descriptions of this experience in the writing of the mystics (or there are, and I just haven’t found them yet). So finding these tiny allusions in the histories brings about huge feelings of comfort and a sense of belonging within me. I’ll begin sharing them more when I find them.

 

Gone swimming; mysticism and schizophrenia

 

I read an account recently of a man diagnosed with schizophrenia. He described a sort of break with “reality,” that allowed him to see deeper truths. Sitting on a bus with a friend, he described it like a veil suddenly being pulled back to reveal his friend as evil. He described paranoid persecutory delusions and altered states of consciousness. He described seemingly terrifying physical sensations, and overwhelming emotional swings. He described being overtaken by an outside force (not voices, but the sensation that something else was in control). And while he was grateful for finally getting a diagnosis and medication, he said that it’s a daily struggle for him. He senses a constant presence of this other reality which he is working hard to fight against, so that he could be “normal.” It was heartbreaking to read. Not because of what’s happening to him, but because there is no one to guide, explain, or help him through it. What’s happening to him is not a mental illness, it’s a spiritual emergence. It is a sacred awakening. But rather than having someone to honor the experience and show him the proper way to manage it, he is being pathologized. The mental health professionals that are providing his care are trying to make him “normal.” They are trying to stop the symptoms, using all sorts of medications and therapies, to fight something they don’t understand. And the reason they don’t understand it is because they are unwilling to listen, unwilling to allow for the possibility that there is something western medical science cannot yet explain.

Joseph Campbell is quoted as saying this famous line: “The schizophrenic is drowning in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight.”

This statement is more profound than most people realize. The answer to many (not all, but many) schizophrenic cases is spiritual education. That is to say, self-awareness and the spiritual healing processes. This is what the mystic understands that the schizophrenic doesn’t.

The experiences of mystical openings and schizophrenia are really really similar. The difference between the mystic and the schizophrenic is context; spiritual context. The mystic understands that the mental/psychological disintegration is part of the healing process. He leans into it, and through spiritual work, moves through it. Or more accurately, allows it to move through him. He can observe it within him and work with it, without descending into terror. The mystic observes his thoughts and feelings, without acting on them, and curiously investigates them. He brings awareness, love, wisdom, and compassion into the depths of his being. He is delighted in the emotional upswells, because he knows that each one of them is an opportunity for further healing and discovery. It’s not always delightful (it is in fact extremely painful at times), but there is a logic to it. A divine pattern, if you will.

The schizophrenic on the other hand, without a sense of what’s happening to him, without love, support, and proper education or guidance, sinks. He doesn’t see the logic. He feels completely out of control. He believes his thoughts. He acts on his seemingly irrational feelings (which are completely rational in a spiritual perspective). He is told that he’s sick, and broken; he is medicated, and given up on; because our society doesn’t know where to begin to help him. Our mental health models don’t allow for the spiritual context.

But with spiritual context comes understanding, growth, acceptance, and healing. There is a way through it. There is a way to “heal” these symptoms. But it takes a different sort of therapy. It takes a radical shift away from what it currently being practiced.

The “evil” this man observed in his friend is in fact there; but it’s a mis-perception to call it evil. What this man saw in his friend on the bus is the friend’s egoic nature; which, to the lay-person, would certainly appear as evil. A mystic has this same capacity to see into people, and to observe their intense selfishness, their ego-driven words and actions masquerading as love, friendship, and normal relating. The mystic understands this; he understands why this is so, and accepts the reality of it. The schizophrenic is horrified by it. (It is rather horrifying to have this capacity to see inside of people… I’m still learning how to interact in a quasi-normal fashion despite what I can see).

Paranoid delusions, or persecutory delusions, the fear that “they are out to get you” is nothing more than a present day reflection of childhood fear. Sometimes it’s even past life issues that are being digested out. These episodes need to be properly attended to, not labelled and discounted. The person needs to be spiritually guided back to the source of these feelings, so that with awareness and wisdom and compassion these emotions can be properly released. If this is done properly the fear and paranoia subsides.

The experience of being overtaken by an invisible force from within would likely send anyone over the edge. But the mystic understands that this is the divine will moving through him. He becomes a channel for it, and feels relatively safe in surrendering to it. Those with awakened kundalini often report wondering if they’ve been possessed by something demonic. It can feel that way at times. Whether it’s kundalini, or spirit, or the emergence of the higher self (temporarily or permanently), it’s not a pleasant experience exactly. But spiritual forces never ever intend to harm. They are supremely loving (even if rather stoic or ruthlessly honest). (This is not the experience of hearing angry or hostile voices, or being instructed to carry out harmful acts – which also have a spiritual explanation and can be reckoned with and worked through.)

Similarly, altered states of consciousness can be terrifying. The mystic understands that what he sees in these states is a reflection of his own subconscious – his own wounding is being reflected for him to see and attend to. He knows how to navigate through these states because he gets the bigger picture. The schizophrenic is just terrified by it, and without proper names or descriptions or language to explain it, he becomes isolated in that terror. There aren’t words in existence that can describe the experience of higher states of consciousness. Lots of poets and ancient mystics have tried to use metaphors for what it feels like, but as far as I have read, none of them can convey the feeling of it to a person that’s never felt it. To the mystic it is a wondrous state. To the schizophrenic, sitting in a psychiatrist’s office trying to rationally explain what he feels, it’s devastating. To him, these states are an ever-present, uncontrollable, and very scary symptom of his illness.

There are countless examples here of the mistaken conceptualization and mistreatment of “schizophrenic” symptoms. I want to be clear – I’m not throwing the baby out with the bath water. I don’t discount that mental illness exists; it certainly does. I also don’t discount psychiatric treatments or the need for pharmaceutical intervention; sometimes it is necessary and helpful. But the current state of western mental health care categorically lumps everything together as disease and dysfunction. It doesn’t allow for the spiritual context (as the new DSM-V leaves out the spiritual emergence classification entirely). And as a result these people are not receiving the kind of care they desperately need.

There is a lot of wonderfully courageous work being done in the mental health arena to shed light and understanding into the darkness. Revolutionary psychiatrists, therapists, and spiritual teachers, as well as those with lived experience, are coming together to make the shift to more integrative and compassionate understanding. But there is still a lot to be done. I don’t know how to bridge the gap between the needs for large scale systematic care and the truths of what I see. I am one person, with an idiosyncratic perspective, without any formal credentialing in this area – no one is going to take me seriously. And yet, I am hopeful that over time, the more that people like me write, and speak, and share their experiences and understanding, the more our larger systems can take heed and evolve.

I’m cautiously hopeful…

 

A trip down memory lane

 

A couple of months ago a new energetic force arrived in my life.

On top of all the different energies surrounding my strange existence, this was something different. Uninvited and unannounced, it came into my life and took me on an extremely difficult and painful journey into the depths of darkness. It is both a sacred journey, and one I wouldn’t wish upon another living being. Ever.

You can call it an “ego trip,” but not in the usual sense. Slowly and methodically, following some invisible plan, this energy of darkness took me on a regressive ride back to childhood. Part healing, part training, it felt like my consciousness was aggressively yanked backwards, against my will, to revisit the entire formation of my ego.

A little bit of background first: There are a lot of misconceptions about what the “ego” is. In spiritual circles, it’s something bad that needs to be avoided, rejected, killed or transcended (depending on which tradition you follow). Lots of people mistakenly conflate the ego, with the entire personality or self, which creates a lot of confusion. And the entheogenic folks use the term “ego death” as a threshold marker for the mystical realms; also somewhat inaccurate. 

In my view, it’s relatively straightforward.

The ego is the false self. It is a solidified network of beliefs in the subconscious mind, which generates thoughts, feelings, reactions, and patterns of behavior into the conscious mind and personality. It’s not bad, per se. But left unattended it leads to a lot of suffering in life. In essence, it is a program (like in a computer) of coping mechanisms that we develop, for living in a world where being yourself is not acceptable. Ego is the mask we learn to wear, because we’re too afraid to be real and vulnerable. Ego is the person you believe you should be (or must be in order to be loved and accepted), rather than the person you actually are.

Ego takes shape in response to experiences during the formative childhood years, and hardens and reinforces itself over time. The more rejection you encounter, the more fear, judgement, criticism, shame, and trauma that is inflicted upon you, the bigger or stronger the ego becomes. Like an armor or a shield, it is meant to protect you against an emotionally dangerous world. It is made up of lots of defense mechanisms.

The real self, the personality you were born with, gets buried deeper and deeper until it’s completely repressed. Without awareness, most people have no inkling of their real self. They identify with the program running in their subconscious mind, believing that that’s just who they are. They wear a kind of false mask to face the world, and live out the dictates of this subconscious program. Most people live without conscious awareness of this program their entire lives.

(There is some philosophical debate about whether there is even a real authentic self at the core or not. The argument is that even the very process of birth effects the personality and conditions it in some way, so there is no absolute personality at all. My view of this is that there is very much a real self (small s); but it’s not consistent or definable. It’s a mutable feeling sense. It’s not something that can be conceptualized or described. It’s something you feel, not exactly something the mind understands. There is an authentic self, but there is no self concept attached to it. You can’t reduce the truth of the authentic self into words, because it’s too fluid in its expression. It doesn’t conform to anything consistent. The fact that it’s amorphous doesn’t make it non-existent, it only makes it indescribable.)

[There is a deeper aspect of ego, a set of drives, that aren’t inherently part of the false self. It has to do with how love is sourced – internally vs externally. That’s the top-level organizing logic of all the various inclinations. But that is a much more complicated area, and one I will write about at some point later because I haven’t thought it through well enough to articulate]. 

Anyway, for most people, all the real spiritual work is an undoing of this false ego self. Not because it’s bad, but because it stands in the way of authentic expression, joy, happiness, and satisfaction in life. Ego causes lots and lots of emotional suffering. With love and awareness (and the proper tools) the initial dismantling of the false self is not that difficult. Different spiritual traditions approach the dismantling differently, but at the core that’s what spirituality is really about – the shedding of the false self, so that the real self can be fully expressed and liberated. The entire methodology of the chakra energy system is built around this goal – getting a person into authentic alignment and expression. When he is in alignment with his real self, all the chakras are in proper balance. (It’s also the central goal of the kundalini process – shedding the false self so the authentic self can emerge and live freely. This is what true liberation is all about).

As I see it, if a person isn’t doing the inner discovery work to shed this false mask (by healing the wounds that created it), if he isn’t striving to live more authentically every day, with more self-love and acceptance, more in alignment with his true nature, then he isn’t spiritual at all. He doesn’t actually understand what spirituality is all about.

Despite what passes for spirituality in the mainstream these days, in my opinion, there are few people who understand this fully. Meditation is not enough. Mindfulness is not enough. Yoga is not enough. Talking about esoteric mysteries, and love and light are not enough. Ayahuasca ceremonies are not enough. And even having a fully active kundalini is not enough. It takes conscious effort and disciplined awareness practice (deep deep self discovery work) to really make a difference with actual results; actual transformations in consciousness that work from the inside out. Everything else, to me, is just pomp and circumstance. Pretty forms without any substance. 

I’ve gone off on a tangent again. Sorry. I’ll save the preaching for another post. Let me get back to my story…

So I’ve been practicing this form of contemplative inquiry for several years, which aims at discovery and shedding the false self, while building courage to express the authentic self properly. I’ve done a lot of discovery work, a lot of childhood stuff, and tons of healing over the last few years. And having reached particular milestones, (ego death, higher self, etc.) I felt confident in my own process, in my own healing work, and in my work with others. 

And then in November, without much warning, amidst a bunch of other strange experiences, this really dark energy took me over. It literally felt like darkness descended upon me. I couldn’t shake it. It was heavy and thick, and debilitating. It plunged me down into a special sort of hell; simultaneously torturous and sacred. I’ve dealt with tremendous pain before, but this… this was totally different.

This energy asked me to apply all of the tools, discipline, and strength I had, until there was nothing left. Day after day, in indescribable psychic pain, I was shown how my ego, my false self, was formed. I got to visit every single one of the places I was hurt, shamed, criticized, rejected, abandoned and unloved. All of the relevant crucial moments where my childhood self internalized the words and actions of others, believing herself to be deeply unacceptable as she was, and forming a more acceptable version of herself (my false self), in order to be loved, accepted, and safe; all of it came alive again before my eyes.

Most people, everyone who has even a modicum of self-awareness, will tell you that their childhood was painful and difficult. Subjectively, mine was as well. It’s a socially conditioned illusion that childhood is some idyllic wonderful carefree time. It’s not; not for anyone, regardless of circumstance. Even the children of the most loving and evolved parents will collect wounding, ego conditioning, and (subjectively) traumatic experiences of rejection. It’s unavoidable. It’s the very purpose of incarnating into human form – to accumulate pain, and then learn from that pain.

And so for the last two months, I have had a front row seat in my own life review. Every day, multiple times a day, I would receive the internal energetic signal that there was work to do. I’d sit down to investigate the arising thoughts and emotions (intense feelings of shame, fear, guilt, anger, despair, anxiety, depression), and each time I’d trace them all the way back to the moment of their creation. I would then fully re-live and emotionally re-feel the ancient experience, in its entirety. It felt as if I was holding my inner child in my arms, as she took me through everything she’d ever felt; every place that she learned she was unacceptable. There are no words to describe the pain of this. There are just no words… 

Sometimes I’d have to revisit the same memories multiple times, each time with a slightly different vantage point and perspective. This is what’s known as the spiral effect in healing. You go over the same thing again and again, each time at a deeper level of awareness and understanding. Kind of like a downward spiral. This was all happening to me; as if according to some divine schedule. It wasn’t something I was orchestrating or directing. Even after all of the magical things I’ve experienced so far, most days I couldn’t believe what was happening to me.

And as I’ve been shown over the last few years, resisting this work and these lessons only causes more pain. If ignored or resisted, Kundalini will ratchet up the pain with all kinds of physical symptoms until one comes into compliance. There is no way out of the pain, but through it. In this arena, the concept free will becomes something of a joke. Seeing all of this, and feeling all of it, you come to understand that you were never in control to begin with… 

During these months, it became physically painful to talk to other people (not that there are many people who could understand and accept what was happening to me). I became energetically sensitive in a devastating new way. I felt completely raw and exposed, like all my insides were now on the outside. I’ve had phases of this experience before, (being turned inside out) but never quite like this. If I wasn’t actively crying, then I was on the brink of tears all the time. In that kind of extreme vulnerability (with all the spiritual components) there is almost no one who has the capacity to offer the right kind of presence, compassion, or support. Other people’s well-meaning attempts to cheer me up, or offer me advice or opinions, felt like nails on a chalkboard; only making me withdraw further inward. And so I spent these months in almost complete isolation and seclusion. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t interact with anyone. I could barely make it off the couch to walk the dog.

Led by nothing but intuitive guidance and synchronistic signs, there were moments when I really didn’t know if I’d make it through this alive. My faith was severely tested. My sanity barely hanging by a thread. The psychological crisis points were so acute that words don’t convey the magnitude of it. It is an other-worldly sort of pain that I can’t explain. The only real solace was an inner knowing that this is okay and necessary. It’s part of the healing process. It was as if living through it, I was also observing it happen. There was an internal separation between the one experiencing this, and another awareness watching and learning.

Through this process I was offered a map of the darkness; like a guidebook (built on the foundation of all the prior spiritual processes I’ve developed). I was shown how absolutely every single thing we think and feel is childhood itself; being reflected for us like a mirror image, for our spiritual growth. It’s so divinely intelligent and intricately beautiful in its design, that it would leave you awed and speechless if you could see it in all its glory (without the pain, of course).

The healing protocol works like this: If you can stay with the emotional reaction long enough, investigate it fully with spiritual awareness, find the roots of what’s being reflected, apply love, compassion, and wisdom to that pain, and allow those old emotions to move through you – the wound heals itself. That’s it. It’s really rather simple. It’s also really really unpleasant. But there is a magical component to the healing that makes it all worth it. (Not that I have much of a say in the matter).

If this is done correctly, when you think back to that memory again there should be no emotional charge. You see the scars, but there is no internal movement in the emotional body. Sure enough, at some later point something in the external reality will come along to retrigger that wound (something that would have sent you into a strong reaction before), and internally nothing happens. That’s how you know the wound is healed.

Over time, with practice, you can heal all of the wounding in this way.

Over the last few days, it appears that my journey of this darkness is finally coming to an end. There have been significant shifts in consciousness that feel “back to normal.” (I use the word “normal” very loosely…). I’m not sure that I’m totally out of the dark just yet, but this phase appears to be coming to an end. The blissful mystical and transcendent experiences have returned. It feels very much like this darkness has been lifting, and I feel more and more stable and grounded again. Yesterday I could envision talking to other humans without a feeling of aversion. A good sign, I dare say.

Despite the pain, there is an incredible sense of reverence and gratitude for the experience. And there is a new really profound level of peace accompanying this re-emergence. The deeply buried fears and anxieties that I carried my entire life are gone. All the future planning, worrying, needing-to-know-and-control-things thoughts are gone. There are virtually no attachments to anything, even less than there were before. There are still some remnants of old stuff arising, but nowhere near the intensity of the last few months.

Mostly there is now a kind of surrendered repose in the present moment, and finally (finally!) a growing sense of excitement about what’s ahead. I am cautiously glad to be coming back to normal.

I wish I had some kind of graceful way to end this post, but I don’t. So be it.

Until next time…

Acceptance (Part 2)


Acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it brings something entirely new into this world. That peace, a subtle energy vibration, is consciousness.

Eckhart Tolle

 

I introduced the basic approach to acceptance (and a short example of how to do it) in my previous post. I want to stress here that this practice isn’t easy. You’re attempting to retrain your mind out of default patterns of thinking, which it’s been carrying out automatically for years. Think of it as well-trodden roads or pathways in the mind. Acceptance practice is actually creating new roads, new mental pathways, and it takes a little time to adjust.

This practice can be applied in every day modern life to enhance peacefulness and calm, and cultivate emotional intelligence and maturity. And it’s also part of a rigorous spiritual discipline designed to bring your entire ego into conscious awareness. (In the latter case, it’s seen more as a temporary tool that gets you to a particular level of spiritual development rather than as a permanent mode of being.). It’s only a question of how far you take it.

And so one of the major critiques of acceptance (as it’s come into the West via the mindfulness movement) is that it will turn all of us into sheep. I heard this critique a lot in the corporate arena when mindfulness programs were suggested as part of employee enrichment. The crux of the argument is that if you teach people about acceptance, you are encouraging passivity and conformity, thereby potentially condoning and perpetuating abusive dynamics.

We are a culture of doers, fighters, changers, and carried out to its logical end, this practice would mean that you just accept everything, allow everything, never complain, never set limits, never hold people accountable, and never take any corrective action. If you just accept everything, you would basically become totally apathetic to the world around you. You would allow all kinds of bad things to happen, and you wouldn’t do anything about them. Something that doesn’t really jive with our “I’m gonna change the world. I’m gonna make a difference” mentality.

This is a valid concern. I worried about this too in the beginning.

It would seem this way – if you just allow everything, then you’d never do anything about anything. You’d lose all motivation to change anything or work towards anything. If you just allowed everything to be what it is, worked internally to come to peace and contentment, then nothing would ever get done. You would be complacent and unmoved. You would allow evil and injustice to reign. You would end up homeless, penniless, on the street with a shopping cart. Your life, and the world at large, would go quickly down the drain…

But, in practice, the result is actually quite shockingly different. (The critique comes from the outside, from people who aren’t regular practitioners, and so they don’t understand the nuance of what actually happens internally over time.)

I’ve taken this practice to the extreme over the last few years as part of my spiritual discipline. And what happens over time is that you come to a place of emotional equanimity about everything. You don’t have many emotional responses to things the way you did before. You are, in essence, undoing the source of your emotional triggers. And what you reach is a sort of peaceful, consistent state of contentment, without needing to apply any further effort. (You’re not repressing or denying any emotional responses – you actually cease having them.). What grows within you at the same time though is courage, emotional fortitude, and a sense of your own integrity and self-respect. The practice challenges and dissolves the egoic overlays, while strengthening the authentic self within. What results is a calmer emotional body, resting on strength of character. 

Emotional reactivity, whether it’s expressed or suppressed, wastes both physical and spiritual energy. It’s the reason that all spiritual traditions ask you to work on maintaining emotional equilibrium and stability.

While different traditions go about this in different ways, in my view, you can’t maintain emotional stability by force or control. You can’t dominate yourself into calm. You have to go to the roots of where the reaction comes from – the subconscious belief system – and do the work there. In effect, undoing the source of the trigger, addressing/healing that particular piece of your psyche, means that the next time you are confronted with that particular stimulus, you won’t have a reaction. (Or if it’s a large wound, then the reactions will lessen and lessen over time as you continue doing the healing work.). 

You’ll observe what’s happening, but you won’t feel an emotional response in the body. (This is huge when it first happens for people – they can’t believe the difference!). And as you have less and less reactions, you are actually conserving physical and spiritual energy. You are becoming stronger and more fortified.

Someone might say something disrespectful, and you may not like it or appreciate being spoken to that way, but your emotional body doesn’t respond. There is no racing heart, no fight or flight, no boiling blood, just a calm clarity that allows you to say “hey, I don’t like being spoken to that way, please stop it.” Which is an interpersonal skill most people are too uncomfortable to cultivate these days. 

Acceptance doesn’t turn you into a sheep; quite the opposite. It actually helps strengthen you sense of self, while your emotional body remains at rest most of the time. You will still like and dislike things. You will set boundaries with people (lots of them, more so than ever perhaps). You will still go to work, and pay your bills, and shop for groceries, you’ll just do all of it calmly and peacefully, without the emotional roller-coasters all the time.

The difference here is that when you do set limits or hold people accountable for stuff, you don’t do it in a frenzy of emotional reactivity. As Rudolf Steiner explains you do it with the same emotional tone as if you were advocating for someone else who has been hurt or offended, rationally and dispassionately.

You discuss your feelings with complete calm and clarity. It’s not a passionate dramatic fight, where you say all kinds of things that you later regret. You aren’t abusive or hurtful to the other person. You don’t escalate the conflict. You don’t lash out. There is no angry retort or sense of vengeance – you don’t want to “get him back” for what he said. Because you aren’t really affected by what this person has said.

You know that whatever they’re doing is their own stuff. You don’t take it personally – meaning you don’t interpret the words or actions of others as a reflection of your self-worth. You accept that this is what is being said to you in this moment, over which you have no control (try as you might, you really can’t control other people), and you have a peaceful, firm, yet compassionate response to the offending person. You can choose to respond, how to respond, or not to respond at all. This is emotional intelligence at work, in practice. 

With emotional equanimity comes actual freedom of choice, and self-control.

But what about the passionate action for change? What about making the world a better place? What about standing up to injustice?

Well, what I’ve been shown over the last few months is that those things don’t go away. You don’t become apathetic to the world. This kind of emotional equanimity allows you to move through life, and do lots and lots of things, without being depleted by the toxic nature of other people or the situations around you. It allows you to retain an internal stillness, that keeps you from wasting physical and spiritual energy in emotional reactivity. It allows you to take lots and lots of inspired action (for good), time and time again, without fear of risk or failure. It allows you to make peace, the right way. And it allows you to stand up to people (who are behaving badly) without fear. It gives you to courage to do whatever is in your integrity to do.

(Another important inquiry to do first though, is to look at what within you is motivating you to change the world. An honest look inward will surprise you. You will find that a lot of that is your own unhealed material projected outward. My facebook friend Lila Haris explains this beautifully here).

This doesn’t mean you never get angry or upset. There are certainly situations where you have an appropriate response, but it’s a lot less often, a lot less dramatic, and it lasts for a much shorter time. You may feel sad, or hurt, or upset if a situation calls for it, but with acceptance you’ve cut short a lot of the unnecessary suffering. And you’re one step closer to forgiveness. If you choose to use anger – it isn’t abusive. It’s not meant to hurt the other person. And you are not swept up in the emotions; you use it carefully, with control, like you would a fine instrument. The anger doesn’t control you, you control it.

It is true that anger and passion have fueled lots of beneficial social movements. It is undeniable that lots of rights and liberties have been fought for, and secured, through the emotional force of people who have been wronged. And their anger, and pain, and rage is then catalyzed into social action. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need all of that unruly passion to make a difference. (I would argue that that’s a dangerous way to go about seeking social justice – in actually, it means keeping people in anger, fear, and rage, in order to accomplish the goal, which feels very manipulative in my heart.).

Emotional energy that is rooted in ego – the one that burns hot and seeks vengeance, or seeks to stop injustice immediately and at all costs, isn’t just irrational; it’s also unjust, imprudent, and untrustworthy. It can lose control quickly, and cause even greater harm and injustice in its response. It is hypocritically, the very same evil it purports to combat. Once it’s triggered, it is impossible to satisfy that drive, and it leads to extremely unjust results. (This is why angry violent mobs are dangerous and scary – their egoic emotions are riled up and there is no satisfaction or de-escalation possible).

And as any activist knows, justice and sustainable change both take a lot of time and come slowly. They require calm, deliberate, patient and steadfast effort over time. Emotional energy is the wrong fuel to use for that effort. It burns out quickly, and when the results aren’t immediately forthcoming, despair sets in and demotivates the entire operation. Instead, using the practice of acceptance, coming to terms emotionally with what is, coming to peace in the emotional body, and then working long-term towards the goals is the much saner, healthier, and more effective approach. 

All of our greatest leaders taught us that, and you can see it now, in action, with the wise leadership at Standing Rock. To sustain the fight against injustice you need emotional resilience. You need calm cool resolve that doesn’t deplete you, physically or spiritually. Far from turning you into a sheep or a doormat, acceptance gives you the emotional resilience of a marathoner, rather than a sprinter, to fight the good fight (whatever that means for you).

Acceptance doesn’t lead to apathy, as the criticism suggests. You are still motivated to do things (often very motivated), but you do them with a different kind of energy – an energy that doesn’t burn out, and doesn’t burn you out. You stand up for what’s right, and you take action against injustice, but you do it with internal peace. A peace that doesn’t deplete you, so you have more energy to continue standing up and to continue taking action.

 

Acceptance

One of the basic universal teachings in almost all spiritual and esoteric traditions is learning the practice of acceptance. Acceptance is the allowing (and even celebrating) a person or situation precisely as it is, without trying to change them/it in any way. It’s quite a challenging practice when you actually begin applying it to people and situations that you find unacceptable.

But that’s precisely the point. It’s easy to accept good things. It’s not so easy to accept the stuff we don’t like.

Through the practice of acceptance, you are able to see all the places that you are not in acceptance. You try to be in acceptance, and you begin to notice that in lots and lots of situations, you’re not. You just can’t. (This is where the gold is!) In the contrast, in those places you cannot accept, you are able to see just how much you try to control or affect your surroundings and why. (Hint: it’s always fear).

It goes something like this. Imagine that you’ve run into someone you know, and don’t like. You notice yourself tense up within. You notice how you’re anticipating something unpleasant and bracing yourself for what’s about to happen. There’s dislike, but underneath the dislike is a vague sort of anxiety. And so this is the perfect opportunity to engage this practice. You acknowledge your feelings and then you go inward:

  • I don’t like this xyz quality about this person. (Do one quality at a time).
  • How come?
  • Why does it bother me so much?
  • Is this a quality that I have?
  • Can I think of at least one scenario where I’ve displayed this quality? At least once? (I promise you, it’s in there. If you’re honest, you’ll find it.)
  • Is this a quality that I’d never allow myself to have? Why not?
  • What is my relationship to this quality? Why?
  • Where did I develop this relationship to this quality?
  • Who else do I know that has this quality?

And you can go further and further inward with this line of inquiry… If you stay with this long enough, and are both curious enough and honest enough, you will unearth some really interesting things. What you find will lead to many many ah-ha moments.

The internal intention is to allow your existing beliefs and feelings space to grow and change in the discovery process. If we stubbornly stick to our existing beliefs, and make arguments that support our position in response to these questions, nothing will happen. We have to actually soften up a little bit and allow this discovery to show of different kinds of truths, different perspectives, and different parts of ourselves which we may not previously have seen. 

So in general, when you find yourself not in acceptance, you ask:

  • What is it, in this person, in this situation, in this moment that isn’t acceptable and why. And you go as far inward as you wish.

And then, after you’ve had about ten ah-ha moments with this, the next steps are learning how to allow the person, the situation, the moment to be exactly what it is, and to find why it’s good that it is so.

  • Why is this objectively bad thing, actually a good thing? Don’t silver line it, it’s not about finding a speck of good in something bad. It’s actually turning the whole thing into a good.

The mind really really hates this part of the practice. Every time I ask people to do this second part they tell me immediately that there is absolutely positively nothing good about this person/situation/moment.

I hear you (all of you!) but that’s the point.

This practice of acceptance is one of the tools of self-discovery and transformation of consciousness. Using this practice you come to find all the hidden judgments and beliefs that you’re carrying around in your subconscious. You can find a bunch of ego structures and a bunch of shadow elements. It’s really a very powerful tool. But you have to be willing to soften your position, and allow this process, in order to find those hidden things and to create more space within you. 

And as you bring those things up to awareness, you have the power to change how you feel about them, if you wish. If you choose to change and let them go, you become more and more loving and accepting in a way that you never imagined. By accepting things you thought were unacceptable, you become happier, more loving, more kind, and then more able to go about doing whatever needs to be done. (Note – acceptance does not mean passivity, but more on that later). 

The practice of acceptance is also a great tool for retraining the mind to a more allowing and less controlling pattern of thinking.

There is actually very little that is within our functional control in life. Wanting to control everything comes from fear – it’s a lack of trust and faith in the universe, rooted in trauma. It’s often a lot of bad experiences which form a mistrust of life. Then we begin clinging and controlling, trying to manage the unmanageable. 

It is also a misunderstanding of cosmic paradigms to believe that only good things should happen. If you believe this, then you put all your effort and energy into trying to control outcomes, and keeping the bad scary future things at bay. But life doesn’t actually work that way, on our terms, and so the whole endeavor is a waste of energy. If you live life trying to control everything, you suffer. (It’s actually resistance to what’s happening that is causing the most suffering). If instead you can learn to live in a more allowing and accepting state of mind, you suffer a lot less.

I will leave you here with a tiny bit of Jung on this subject.

There are so many brilliant moments in Jung’s work. It’s hard to highlight one without mentioning at least ten others. But I came across this specific quote yesterday, which encapsulates so many important ideas.

We can get in touch with another person only by an attitude of unprejudiced objectivity. This may sound like a scientific precept, and may be confused with a purely intellectual and detached attitude of mind. But what I mean to convey is something quite different. It is a human quality – a kind of deep respect for facts and events and for the person who suffers from them – a respect for the secret of such a human life. The truly religious person has this attitude. He knows that God has brought all sorts of strange and inconceivable things to pass, and seeks in the most curious way to enter a man’s heart. He therefore senses in everything the unseen presence of the divine will. This is what I mean by “unprejudiced objectivity.” It is a moral achievement on the part of the doctor, who ought not to let himself be repelled by illness and corruption. We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow-sufferer. I do not in the least mean to say that we must never pass judgment in the case of persons whom we desire to help and improve. But if the doctor wishes to help a human being he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is.

The quote is from a talk he gave, which was later published as Modern Man in Search of a Soul. (Or vice versa, I can’t be sure which came first).

The work of acceptance (first of self, and then of the other) is the only path. It’s not a matter of preference. Acceptance is the very heart of love. It is the highest of mystical truths. It is the pillar upon which peace, freedom, empathy, compassion, dignity, respect, and humility rest.

It is also the only way to heal…

On becoming a mystic…

I have something to tell you. It’s not going to be easy, but I will do my best.

Since the end of last year, I’ve been undergoing a profound (mostly unbelievable) spiritual and psychological transformation. It is something that spontaneously began happening to me, not something I chose or initiated. I’ve been keeping the details of this process private; only sharing discretely with close friends and family. Talking about this intensely personal and sacred experience publicly feels very vulnerable for me. I come from a community of skeptics, atheists, and people who cringe and ridicule anything that’s even remotely “woo woo.” I used to be one of them. In my estimation, openly disclosing this opens me to judgment, concern, criticism, and fervent disbelief. Despite all of that, the time has come for me to begin owning this aspect of my life in a public forum. It’s hard. 

I’ve been undergoing something known in spiritual circles as a kundalini awakening. The closest concept we have for someone experiencing this phenomenon is a mystic. That’s what appears to be happening to me. Kundalini (a term derived from ancient Indian scriptures) is understood as life force spiritual energy. We all have it – it’s what makes us, and all other sentient beings, alive. In some circumstances, this energy can begin to “awaken.” From a conceptual perspective, once it awakens, its main purpose is to burn through all aspects of ego and conditioning, eradicating the false self, bringing the person into complete authenticity and spiritual alignment, theoretically culminating in enlightenment. It is, for the most part, a life-long process, at times slow moving, at times extremely intense, and often a powerful combination of bliss and pain.

The symptoms of this experience vary tremendously from person to person. For me, it began with spontaneous trance states, psychic phenomenon, very high states of consciousness, physical pain and contortions (known as “kriyas”), intense surges of spiritual energy, tremendous psychological and emotional upheavals, states of divine love and bliss, insights into universal wisdom, and interactions with divinity. The symptoms were most intense at the outset, but still continue today, fluctuating each day from very subtle to extremely challenging.

For the first few months I was very nervous. The symptoms were debilitating, and left me unable to function at all. I spent several weeks on my living room floor, unable to walk, eat, sleep, or interact with other people. I didn’t have the words to describe any of what was happening to me or why, and I became fairly certain that I was losing my mind. On one hand, it was clear to me that what was happening was a mystical thing, all of the substance fit into the spiritual frameworks I understood, on the other, it could just as well be the onset of schizophrenic psychosis. I didn’t know anything about mysticism, I had no background or education in it academically, and I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined it could be so earth-shattering. It literally shakes you apart, breaking you open, entirely. The only comfort was a quiet intuitive knowing inside, asking me to trust this process, and to allow it to unfold. The energy is extremely intelligent and communicates in unusual ways. It demands different forms of surrender (physical, psychological, emotional) which is, at times, difficult to comprehend or access. Once it awakens, there is generally no way to stop it or reverse it; it takes you over, and will run its own course, however long is necessary. 

There is, historically, a lot of secrecy and mystery surrounding these rare awakenings. It is believed that these events are so sacred, so deeply personal, so impossible to convey or comprehend, that they must not be talked about. There are no social or cultural reference points for this particular experience. The mystical traditions of most religions (kabbalah, sufism, gnosticism, etc.) offer theoretical guidance and descriptions of this phenomenon, there are volumes of mystical poetry describing these states, but for our present social consciousness, there isn’t much applicable practical instruction on what to do once the energy awakens. I consider myself very lucky that up till now my awakening came on in relatively shorts bursts of intensity. For others, this energy has wreaked consistent unrelenting havoc, and caused years of incredible suffering.

After fruitlessly searching for teachers or gurus that could provide support, I found a small group (on facebook, of all places) of people all over the world going through different stages of a similar awakening. It was a great relief for me to find comfort and belonging among them; and to know that I’m not crazy (or if I am crazy, then at least I’m in good loving company). Among this group of people I met a wonderful man, who has become my best friend and partner. The energy joined us in an unexpected spiritual union, pushing us to explore and navigate parts of this process together. We are being taught about true unconditional love, acceptance, healing, the incredible complexities of romantic attachment, sacred sexuality, and spiritual growth. 

I will continue to share details, experiences, knowledge, and wisdom as this process continues to unfold for me. I welcome any questions in the comments or through private messages. Please understand that I hold these experiences as sacred; it is incredibly difficult to discuss these things publicly. I don’t need any pats on the back for my courage, just compassion on your part, if you wish to engage with me on this subject. While I’m happy to answer any questions I can, I reserve the right not to respond to any messages that are negative in tone or intention.

Sending you all lots of love and gratitude. Thank you for reading.