And do we know this is impossible ... that we must choose...?
What if the vast majority of our spiritual seeking isn't really spiritual, but egoic? Are we willing to look at this. I admit that I'm conflicted. Part of me is hungry for all truth ... and part of me wants to remain in what's familiar and comfortable ... preferring the pain I know, to the unknown.
Let's dive in together, and examine a few of the too-common reasons why folks embark on what they *think* is a spiritual journey. Again, I will be quoting from this article:
There is an ever-present sense that something is missing or wrong, that there must be something else, something better. Perhaps one has encountered some immediate difficulty, disappointment or loss and is looking for a way to fix the pain. We look to God as Santa Claus, some sort of fantasy father who will give us what we think we want, who will magically take away the pain without disturbing the fundamental cause. Or perhaps one encounters the profound loneliness of life on earth and attempts to assuage it through social contacts. This is probably the single biggest function of churches and religious or so-called spiritual groups of any kind -- a sort of extended family. While there is seeming good in this, these groups in fact can and do become an impediment to the awakening that they purport to seek. In this alienated modern world, we all feel more than ever the need for relationship, of relating to and being with people of "like minds." This, too, can become a block to real spiritual awareness. To gather together in a group to talk about Truth and argue or agree in order "to get along" (which really means to attempt to avoid the pangs of loneliness) may be no more than a distraction from the personal inner work necessary to come to real spiritual realization. In a social environment there is a tendency to suppress the radical and fundamental change which is necessary for real awakening. Simone Weil in Waiting for God points out,
"The trap of traps, the almost inevitable trap is the social one. Everywhere, always, in everything, the social feeling produces a perfect imitation of faith, that is to say perfectly deceptive. This imitation has the great advantage of saving every part of the soul. That which longs for good believes it is fed. That which is mediocre is not hurt by the light; it is quite at ease. Thus everyone is in agreement. The soul is at peace. But Christ said that he did not come to bring peace. He brought a sword [of discrimination], the sword that severs in two ...
That sword, I recall, severs soul (ego) from Spirit ... I must SEE how my ego is operating before I can relinquish it ...
Let's read on:
Most of the enlightened ones who have come to Truth have been rather solitary, non-conforming types. Some were married and had a career, but kept to a few close friends at most. Beware the social trap! Truth does not come by committee decision. If the goal is principally comfort, an escape from the inevitable misery and depression of this world, then any so-called relationship becomes just another of the many varied ways which we avoid and evade transformation. The group or church environment can give an impression of faith and experience which is comfortable, but that is the problem -- it is not real faith or real religious experience at all. We hug and socialize and think we are being spiritual. There is nothing wrong in that, but there is little or no Truth in it. Social closeness is not Oneness and it may be just another way to avoid Oneness.
I can so clearly see this in my own life's experience...! I can see how I've long settled for a poor substitute, and called it a "spiritual experience" ... requiring me, and those with me, to convince each other that the Emperor's new clothes were indeed fabulous. The pretending did a great deal of damage ... as I sacrificed my Spirit to my ego.
Most of the writings about religious experience speak of "bliss" or indescribable love. The seeker then sets out to find, not union with God, but bliss. Many self-hypnotic techniques, passing themselves off as "meditation," can lead to tremendous feelings of euphoria, even wondrous visions, and temporary distraction from the misery of the world. What is sought and sometimes found is merely another "high" that can be induced far more easily and quickly with drugs. Any self-induced experience is not authentic experience of God. This must be recognized. Thomas Merton, in speaking of what he calls authentic transcendent experience, says this,
"To attain this experience is to penetrate the reality of all that is, to grasp the meaning of one's own existence, to find one's true place in the scheme of things, to relate perfectly to all that is in a relation of identity and love.
"What this is not:
"It is not a regressive immersion in nature, the cosmos, or 'pure being,' in a narcissistic tranquility, a happy loss of identity in a warm, regressive, dark, oceanic swoon."
Are we willing to see that we are experience junkies, addicted to adrenalin, drama, stimulation, titillation and excitement? And that this seeking after experience alone is but another block to the awareness of love's presence.
A Course in Miracles points out,
"To fulfill the Will of God perfectly is the only joy and peace that can be fully known, because it is the only function that can be fully experienced. When this is accomplished there is no other experience. Yet the wish for other experience will block its accomplishment."
Experience that comes from my ego is a counterfeit at best ... blocking me from the true experience of the Spirit, which I cannot manufacture.
This next one is like a kick in the gut for me...!
Here is a trap for many who have seemingly come very far "along the way." Beware the drive to be an enlightened being among unenlightened ones; this is a major deception. "I know and you don't" is clearly and obviously a position of separation. This "guru trip" is, however, a very seductive trap. There is tremendous power is having "followers" for whom one is the spiritual guide. There is possibly no greater power exchange in the world between two individuals than when one surrenders his life to the guidance of another. This is not to say that there are not true teachers, but among "gurus" there are few.
We must see the tendency to use even our spiritual path to reinforce the belief in "me". The man who consciously seeks to be spiritual, virtuous, pious, is not a man of Truth. He is seeking to be different, special, superior. He is seeking virtue for the "me". To be holier than thou, so to speak. And that...is murder! It is possibly the ultimate in self-deception. Most know the seven "deadly" sins. If you would like to know the deadliest form of them, put the word spiritual before them--spiritual pride, spiritual lust, etc. In whatever way we attempt to make ourselves better or more special than anyone else, we are moving directly away from Truth, from God, from true spirituality.
Ohhhhhh yes, my ego's latest clever disguise is that of "an enlightened one". I'm so very glad to have this pointed out! I would rather see and know it, than be blinded to it...!
For many who have encountered the actuality that "Life is suffering," religion or spiritual pursuits offer an escape from the seemingly never-ending onslaught of brutality in this world. One sees that the material world is corrupt and attempts to escape into some other structure or form, such as a monastery or religious community, which purports to lead one to God. All that is happening is throwing off one paradigm and substituting another. What is actually going on is merely the attempt to avoid dealing with the consequences of self-centered existence, to avoid the perception and experience of suffering and to evade the realization that there is no hope in this world. Thomas Merton exposes this deception when talking about Christian monastic life in the present,
"With the Desert Fathers, you have the characteristic of a clean break with a conventional, accepted social context in order to swim for one's life in an irrational void.
"Though I might be expected to claim that men like this could be found in some of our monasteries of contemplatives, I will not be so bold. With us it is often the case of men leaving the society of the 'world' in order to fit themselves into another kind of society.... The social 'norms' of the monastic family are also apt to be conventional, and to live by them does not involve a leap into the void -- only a radical change of customs and standards."
Yes ... that sums up how I experienced Christianity ... self-righteous escapism.
Let's read on ... to become more aware of the problem ...
In the event that any of these four reasons is the motivation for the spiritual search, one will not find true spirituality. In this type of seeking, one is merely attempting to strengthen or protect the narcissistic self-image which is the only cause of suffering (and seeking) in the first place. If it is not God or Heaven we truly seek, then we are not seeking at all but merely running away, seeking only escape or distraction from the awareness that nothing here is final or ultimate; refusing to face the unavoidable conclusion that without God, our lives are empty and meaningless as we march inexorably from birth to death.
Oscar Wilde once said that the Western mind, given the choice between going to Heaven and hearing a lecture about Heaven, would choose the lecture about. Another way of saying this is that most are much more interested in the so-called spiritual path than in actually arriving at the destination. All of this is but unwillingness to look at the problem AS IT IS. Is it any wonder that we live a contradictory existence filled with conflict? Perversely, we know, at our deepest level, what the problem is, but are unwilling to let it go. We want the solution while still holding on to the problem. At the bottom of all of this are but various forms of unwillingness. And, if one looks carefully, he sees then that the only thing which must be undone for salvation to be manifest is unwillingness. We must give up hope, hope of finding satisfaction and fulfillment here in this world, in the life of separated, self-centered existence. Unless the basic error is uncovered, there is no hope for a solution. Without the discovery of this fundamental error, the spiritual search is as doomed as all the others. In fact, it seems that the real spiritual search only emerges when the realization dawns that there is nothing final, pure or perfect here.
Sounds dismal and hopeless, no? But wait ... there's more ...!
Tune in tomorrow for the "Rest of the Story"...!