mysticism

Ch 35. Desire, as a guide


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

Desire is an illusory condition, created by wounding; desire is unconscious pain seeking resolution “out there.”

With depth of authentic awareness, the wounds which generate desires can be healed, eradicating their root causes.

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

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

Why? Because desire is the surface level indicator of unhealed wounds.

The pull of desire, the charge of temptation, is the conscious manifestation of wounds that are looking for healing and resolution. When desire is present, peace is not present. Desire pulls is, like a drug addiction, into the material world, hoping for satisfaction, but often finding disappointment and distraction instead.

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

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

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

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

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

This is the insatiable hamster wheel of desire; the endless cycle of samsara: re-creating the fantasy, pursuing the fantasy, even satisfying the fantasy, all of which does not eradicate the desire. It doesn’t heal the original wound, which continues to create emotional pain, clinging, attachments, and heartache.

The entire Sisyphean endeavor of the pursuit of desire, in the egoic direction, is futile.

Instead, life keeps bringing us people and circumstances that do in fact replay the scenarios symbolically, retriggering the same familiar pain, refusing us the egoic satisfaction. This is purposeful, so that in seeing the pain clearly, again and again, we may find the courage to face it and heal it. 

This is why all the major mystical and spiritual traditions focus on its eradication; when desire ceases arising you know that you have healed your wounds. (It’s a backwards top-down way of understanding the spiritual process, but so be it). 

Wounding creates subconscious fantasy which creates desire.

Heal the wounds, fantasies do not arise, and desire doesn’t either.

Then the emotional body can be at peace. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also detailed in Morin’s book, is something secular sex therapists call “sensate focus.” This sensate focus technique is the highest human expression of sexual connection, lacking any of the egoic objectification problems that plague most of sex. The natural course of mysticism steers many people away from their normal egoic sexual engagements, and towards techniques that are centered on this approach.

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

Ch 34. Mysticism vs philosophy


In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat dialectic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a diagram – impersonal and unattainable – the Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, and alive.

Evelyn Underhill

Most of modern academic philosophy, to its detriment, remains in the sphere of the mind. It is concerned with intellectual ideas, and then naturally, who has the better ones. It creates abstractions, disconnected from the real, and then wrestles with those abstractions as if they were real, based on logic and reason, arguing, debating, debunking, etc.

Mysticism is an entirely different endeavor. It looks like philosophy, because in order to share it we must use words and ideas to describe the things we find. But the nature of mysticism is a relationship, a real and complicated evolving relationship, with an intelligence that is beyond human grasp or comprehension. It is an internal/external engagement with a vast and complicated system, often resembling an obstacle course, other times deeply human. It is relational, as much as personal. It is tangible. It is transactional. It is more real and concrete than any material thing, and it manifests in and through the material.

The mystic goes swimming in an actual sea of truth that is unseen and unseeable by others, diving deeply to cultivate wisdom. His experiences and observations aren’t theoretical ideas, they are the very structures and currents and architectures that make up the depths. The concepts and teachings are the actual mechanical operations of various inner systems. His inner world and landscape are his personal laboratory and gym, in which he learns, tests, and derives depth of understanding, while training in courage, fortitude, and faith. He excavates and digests mountains of trauma. He confronts and navigates horrors and terrors through labyrinthian pathways. He untangles infinite knots of pain and attachment, and extinguishes the charge of temptations and desires, retracting their multitude of tentacles. And because the process is transformative and aimed at virtue and higher consciousness, the experiences and truths exist on the strangest and most distinct polarities. They are contradictory and paradoxical by their very nature, which ought to be understood correctly and patiently, (if one wishes to understand) rather than used as a basis of invalidation.

For the mystic, whose work is terrifying and often extremely painful, the neat and structured ideas of philosophers, their one-sidedness and lack of paradoxical dimension are silly. It’s not a matter of arrogance, only a matter of fact. There is nothing neat or structured or logically cohesive in the sphere of mystery (not by human standards, anyway). It is not reasoned theory, but a swiss cheese of experiences.

Mystics go authentically to the source of what philosophy holds as its aim – the love of wisdom via the search for truth. Mystics risk and sacrifice everything. They lose everything. They pay the highest price for their discoveries and experiences. It’s something most academic philosophers can’t begin to understand…

Ch 31. 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 (which is really scary and painful), but because there is no one to guide, explain, or help him through it. What’s happening to him is not a mental illness, though it does render him ill and debilitated. But it’s not a dysfunction nor pathological. What’s actually happening is a spiritual emergence, a mystical entrance into the darkness. It is a sacred awakening. But rather than having someone to honor the experience and show him the proper way to manage it, as a mystic would, 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 and then naturally, what one does with that 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 hopelessness. 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. At times, he is delighted in the emotional upswells, because he knows that each one of them is an opportunity for further healing and discovery. But 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. And with that context and education, the mystic is not victimized by the process, but warrior-fully takes on the challenge. (I don’t know if warrior-fully is a word, but give me a pass on that one.). 

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 and delusions (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. 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, their unconscious malicious intent 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… It is discernment on steriods. I’m still learning how to interact in a quasi-normal fashion despite what I can see. It’s not easy.).

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 work of spirit or the divine will moving through him. He becomes a channel for it, and feels relatively safe in surrendering to it. He forms an enduring evolving relationship with that force, as it both guides and steers him through the work. Those with awakened kundalini often report wondering if they’ve been possessed by something demonic. It can feel that way at times. It can also feel like mind control, because your entire thought stream can be captured and overtaken. (It’s not the government, or aliens, or any kind of conspiracy, but it’s not weird to believe that and seek a metaphorical tin hat to make it stop). Whether it’s kundalini, or spirit, or the emergence of the higher self (temporarily or permanently), it’s not a pleasant experience. But spiritual forces never ever intend to harm. They are supremely loving (even if rather stoic or ruthlessly honest). (This is not the same experience as 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. They too are carrying out a mystical purpose, just indirectly.)

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 incurable illness.

There are countless examples 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…

Ch 28. Love for God


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

Richard Rohr


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ch 24. 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 part of themselves. They are numb, lacking empathy, lacking warmth, lacking humanity, and probably most significantly lacking a moral center (what is sometimes called a conscience*); if you really consider it, it becomes terrifying.

*Here conscience refers to the feeling self that is averse to the suffering of others. This term is sometimes used also to refer to the inner critic, which is an entirely separate mechanism.

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, focusing their experience of life entirely in their head/mind. It is as though their soul seems to hover 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. And because the soul is not fully present, either are warmth, love, compassion, tenderness, integrity, or concern for the suffering of others.

Reversing this situation 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 bearable, or even pleasurable. Being embodied and feeling authentic feelings are an indispensable part of the 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 manipulative sadistic 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 entirely from their feeling selves, capable of unimaginable remorseless cruelty.).

I want to mention here that there are various ancient lineages of mystical ascetic thought and doctrine, which teach and promote the rejection of the body, the rejection of the feelings, a complete discarding of everything material, presumably for the sake of transcending or escaping everything that is corporeal, in favor of everything that is non-material spirit form.

Some of those teachings are psychopathic in origin – they were promulgated by what are loosely called false prophets (narcissistic teachers who sought to glorify their own disordered mental states). Some of the teachings are misinterpretations, conflating gross dissociative annihilation of the self (which is wrong and damaging), with a much more subtle extinguishing process (which is right and healing). These are well-meaning teachers who don’t know what they’re talking about, and will often read in a narcissistic annihilation fantasy into text that does not actually mean that. If you go back to the original text of the actual practicing mystic, typically the discussions are of a much different and nuanced nature. Finally, there are some indications that the spirit/body connection was different in antiquity, and therefore wholesale rejections of the bodily processes were needed in order to access the mystical parts. There is no way to know if this latter idea is true. I mention all of these things here to bring them to awareness, so that we carefully steer clear of them in their present day manifestations. I am not especially interested in scholarship on this issue, only in being careful to avoid damaging mis-directions.

As a general rule, any practices or concepts that take a person away from his feelings, away from his experiencing sentient self in his body, are the wrong direction. For instance, extreme sports or fitness, extreme cold or heat, any kind of physical strain that forces dissociation to tolerate the pain is the wrong way. It’s abusive to the body, and exacerbates the disconnection. Those who are disembodied and numb love these kind of physical challenges, while those who feel their bodies do not. Those who can feel do not inflict physical pain onto the body for egotistical or vanity sake. The real virtuous challenges are rather ones of developing emotional resilience in the body, training and developing the capacities that can endure psychic pain and digest it, which is of real mystical value. It is only through the body, through the feelings, developing deeper and deeper sensitivities, deeper care for the body, that we can actually transform consciousness.