mystical transformation

Saints and sinners


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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).

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.