Self-inflicted spiritual damage

As a teenager I found some books on mysticism, meditation, and spirituality and saw in them an answer to my problems.

But recently I’ve been reviewing them and recognising how, far from providing help, they set me further on a harmful path of emotional inhibition, withdrawal from life, and confusing alterations in consciousness.

Today I revisited a short book called Practical Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill. Here’s an excerpt from it:

First, the subject of your meditation begins, as you surrender to its influence, to exhibit unsuspected meaning, beauty, power.  A perpetual growth of significance keeps pace with the increase of attention which you bring to bear on it; that attention which is the one agent of all your apprehensions, physical and mental alike.  It ceases to be thin and abstract.  You sink as it were into the deeps of it, rest in it, “unite” with it; and learn, in this still, intent communion, something of its depth and breadth and height, as we learn by direct intercourse to know our friends.

Moreover, as your meditation becomes deeper it will defend you from the perpetual assaults of the outer world.  You will hear the busy hum of that world as a distant exterior melody, and know yourself to be in some sort withdrawn from it.  You have set a ring of silence between you and it; and behold! within that silence you are free.  You will look at the colored scene, and it will seem to you thin and papery: only one among countless possible images of a deeper life as yet beyond your reach. 

And gradually, you will come to be aware of an entity, a You, who can thus hold at arm’s length, be aware of, look at, an idea – a universe – other than itself.  By this voluntary painful act of concentration, this first step upon the ladder which goes – as the mystics would say – from “multiplicity to unity,” you have to some extent withdrawn yourself from that union with unrealities, with notions and concepts, which has hitherto contented you; and at once all the values of existence are changed.  “The road to a Yea lies through a Nay.”  You, in this preliminary movement of recollection, are saying your first deliberate No to the claim which the world of appearance makes to total possession of your consciousness: and are thus making possible some contact between that consciousness and the World of Reality.

Now turn this new purified and universalized gaze back upon yourself.  Observe your own being in a fresh relation with things, and surrender yourself willingly to the moods of astonishment, humility, joy – perhaps of deep shame or sudden love – which invade your heart as you look. 

So doing patiently, day after day, constantly recapturing the vagrant attention, ever renewing the struggle for simplicity of sight, you will at last discover that there is something within you – something behind the fractious, conflicting life of desire – which you can recollect, gather up, make effective for new life.  You will, in fact, know your own soul for the first time, and learn that there is a sense in which this real You is distinct from, an alien within, the world in which you find yourself, as an actor has another life when he is not on the stage. 

When you do not merely believe this but know it; when you have achieved this power of withdrawing yourself, of making this first crude distinction between appearance and reality, the initial stage of the contemplative life has been won.  It is not much more of an achievement than the first proud effort in which the baby stands upright for a moment and then relapses to the more natural and convenient crawl: but it holds within it the same earnest of future development.

Reading this now makes me feel ill. But back then it promised so much. Maybe it kept me going and gave me hope, but honestly I can make little sense of it now.

On the basis of this text and others like it I threw myself into mental contortions that became ingrained over time. I developed an attitude of depreciating “appearances” and longing for the vague “something within” that would supposedly become new life.

I feel angry at the harm this text did me. In hindsight I see it’s inadequacies and faults, though I surely wasn’t it’s intended audience.

I think it’s unfair to criticise it out of its own context, nonetheless it’s clear to me that the text itself is a grandiose and poetic attempt to take contemplative mysticism out of its context and exhort people everywhere to have a go.

Maybe the things she describes work for some people, but I think they are more likely an individual approach, and as we discovered with the mindfulness fad: spiritual methods are not “one size fits all”.

Using absorption and heightened self-consciousness to search for a more “significant” reality set me up for a form of dissociation that persisted on an habitual level for years.

I’ve since found it’s far better simply to find ways of feeling better, rather than using psychological tricks to change my perception of reality.

Practicing happiness 07

The answers come when you surpass them.

When you feel good, answers come without effort.

Last night I managed to feel better by letting go of my old internal struggle, and within minutes I discovered something remarkable.

If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know I’ve been obsessed with mysticism for more than twenty years, and in the past week or so I’ve been writing about disorganised attachment.

So imagine how I felt when I came across this study into mystical experiences among people with disorganised attachment.

The paper argues that people with disorganised attachment have a propensity for mystical experiences due to trait absorption.

I just found my deeply personal lifelong efforts to transcend the paradoxical injunction of disorganised attachment written up in a Swedish psychology paper.

The authors are at pains to say this doesn’t delegitimise mystical experiences, in fact they argue it may be a worthy therapeutic goal.

For me it validates my deeply felt need for transcendence, and at the same time it helps me release that need a little.

Once again I credit my persistent work at feeling better for this insight. I can enjoy the insight because I feel better, not the other way around.

Letting go 03: problem-minded

Manifestations cannot make us feel bad, only thoughts can. So what thoughts am I thinking that make me feel bad occasionally?

I asked for clarity and the answer I received is that my whole outlook is problem-minded. I look at life as a problem I have to solve, and everything hinges on how well I solve it.

That’s a really familiar theme for me: many important subjects have had this exact same feel of “gotta keep working on it!”

And with this in mind I remember when it began. As a teenager I was simultaneously depressed and looking for something that would give me meaning, happiness, and belonging. My friends and peers all seemed to be enjoying life in ways that didn’t appeal to me.

Then one day I found a mysterious book that claimed “enjoying life” was a distraction and folly; that real meaning and happiness and fulfilment lay in spiritual awakening, and the sooner we set out on that path the better.

Finding spiritual truth, enlightenment, and closeness to God became my private obsession, but I approached it as a problem to be solved, the problem to be solved if life is to have any value or meaning whatsoever.

Life became synonymous with this struggle.

But the only reason you want that…

As with any other desire, I can now agree that the only reason I wanted to solve the problem of life was that I thought I would feel better in solving it.

And as the Abraham-Hicks teachings have shown me, I can feel that good already. Because even “solving the problem of life” is a manifestation, and it’s not manifestations that make us feel good, it’s our thoughts.

In setting up life as a problem to solve, I made “uphill struggle” part of my core experience. I gave momentum to the thought that life has a hidden truth that must be discovered and only the diligent and unrelenting will find it.

I told myself I was virtuous for ignoring and devaluing material possessions and worldly experiences, when really I was severely depressed and probably not strongly inclined to such things by temperament.

Find the feeling place

What do I really want? Ultimately I want to feel good. That’s really important to me. It always has been, but I used to think feeling good had to be earned or justified somehow.

Spiritual enlightenment is just about feeling good, knowing how to feel good, and doing it consistently. People describe different paths and methods and practices but I think those are just each person’s “how I learned to feel good” story.

I don’t have to solve any problems. There are no problems to solve unless I make them. Accepting this, it’s possible for me to simply walk through that door to a good feeling place…no password, no key, no code to decipher to merit entry.

I’ve been banging on that door for twenty something years, but it was always open and always will be for us all.

God in all things

It’s such a beautiful day. It’s overcast, crisp and fresh. I’ve lit some incense on the front porch and come out to sit with my morning coffee and write.

The clouds are diffusing the morning light so it seems to come from everywhere. I feel like every physical object is slightly luminous, and maybe the air itself too.

Every day is beautiful. Every physical thing is glowing with a mysterious inner radiance.

That inner radiance is God’s light.

My greatest desire

I tried for many years to see all things in God and God in all things. I believed I could find enlightenment, be freed from ignorance and delusion, see reality the way it truly is.

But my approach was “all or nothing”. I hated my life and wanted something entirely new, transcendent, unobscured.

And isn’t hating life supposedly how you save it?

Well not in my case.

Letting go

I’ve learned so much and come so far these past two years. I’m no longer depressed, and I feel anxiety losing its hold as well.

The answer to depression was my focus on feeling better, then feeling good, then feeling good all day. It took time and practice, but not much of either, relative to my years of depression.

The answer to anxiety seems like trust and allowing and letting go of the oars. I’m slowly but steadily practicing trust, noticing the thoughts that build it and those that don’t.

Pure desire

As these negative emotions diminish, I’m no longer all or nothing. I’m not looking for one violent solution anymore.

And it suddenly struck me, as I learn about desire, happiness, and trust in God, that I still want to have that vision. I still want to see God in all things, not as the answer to a question or the solution to a problem or as freedom from suffering and struggles, but for the sheer joy of it.

It feels so good to see that divine light subtly radiating from every being, in me and around me. It feels so good to feel the whole world of my experience shining with that invisible presence.

This is my greatest desire, and now I know it as a purely positive experience desired for its own sake and a source and a fulfilment of sheer delight.

To be aligned with your desire is to be aligned with God, and there is nothing closer to God than seeing Him in all things and all things in Him.

Except it will grow closer still, because this alignment and this intimacy with our own Source is infinite. The more we enjoy it, the stronger it gets, and the more we enjoy it, and the stronger it gets.

Kabir: seen without sight

I have had my Seat on the Self-poised One, 

I have drunk of the Cup of the Ineffable, 

I have found the Key of the Mystery, 

I have reached the Root of Union. 

Travelling by no track, I have come to the Sorrowless Land : very easily has the mercy of the great Lord come upon me. 

They have sung of Him as infinite and unattainable : but I in my meditations have seen Him without sight. 

That is indeed the sorrowless land, and none know the path that leads there : 

Only he who is on that path has surely transcended all sorrow.

– Kabir

Laozi: the usefulness of what is not

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;

But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.

We turn clay to make a vessel;

But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.

We pierce doors and windows to make a house;

And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.

Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.

Laozi

This chapter from the Dao De Jing takes on new meaning for me as I learn to trust and allow what, from my perspective of effort and control, “is not”. Faith is darkness to the intellect.

Hafiz: School of Truth

O fool, do something, so you won’t just stand there looking dumb.
If you are not traveling and on the road, how can you call yourself a guide?

In the School of Truth, one sits at the feet of the Master of Love.
So listen, son, so that one day you may be an old father, too!

All this eating and sleeping has made you ignorant and fat;
By denying yourself food and sleep, you may still have a chance.

Know this: If God should shine His lovelight on your heart,
I promise you’ll shine brighter than a dozen suns.

And I say: wash the tarnished copper of your life from your hands;
To be Love’s alchemist, you should be working with gold.

Don’t sit there thinking; go out and immerse yourself in God’s sea.
Having only one hair wet with water will not put knowledge in that head.

For those who see only God, their vision
Is pure, and not a doubt remains.

Even if our world is turned upside down and blown over by the wind,
If you are doubtless, you won’t lose a thing.

O Hafiz, if it is union with the Beloved that you seek,
Be the dust at the Wise One’s door, and speak!

Hafiz

Hafiz: I have learned so much

I

Have

Learned

So much from God

That I can no longer

Call

Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,

a Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself

With me

That I can no longer call myself

A man, a woman, an angel,

Or even a pure

Soul.

Love has

Befriended Hafiz so completely

It has turned to ash

And freed

Me

Of every concept and image

my mind has ever known

Hafiz

Hafiz: I know the way you can get

I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:

Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
And nose.

Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.

Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
The innocent
And into one’s self.

O I know the way you can get
If you have not been drinking Love:

You might rip apart
Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
Looking for hidden clauses.

You might weigh every word on a scale
Like a dead fish.

You might pull out a ruler to measure
From every angle in your darkness
The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once
Trusted.

I know the way you can get
If you have not had a drink from Love’s
Hands.

That is why all the Great Ones speak of
The vital need
To keep remembering God,
So you will come to know and see Him
As being so Playful
And Wanting,
Just Wanting to help.

That is why Hafiz says:
Bring your cup near me.
For all I care about
Is quenching your thirst for freedom!

All a Sane man can ever care about
Is giving Love!

Hafiz

Kabir: He Himself

He Himself is the tree,
the seed,
and the germ.

He Himself is the flower,
the fruit, 
and the shade.

He Himself is the sun,
the light,
and the lighted.

He Himself is Brahma,
creature,
and Maya.

He Himself is the manifold form,
the infinite space;

He is the breath,
the word,
and the meaning. 

He Himself is the limit
and the limit-less:
and beyond both
the limited 
and the limitless
is He, the Pure Being.

He is the Immanent Mind
in Brahma 
and in the creature. 

The Supreme Soul is seen
within the soul,

The Point is seen
within the Supreme Soul, 

And within the Point,
the reflection is seen again.

Kabir is blest because he has this 
supreme vision.

– Kabir

Kabir is writing about seeing Brahma, God, Pure Being, alive in his own soul. There is no separation, we are one with the Most High, and with this knowledge comes the joy, love, and bliss we seek.