Saturday, July 25, 2015

The golden chain of spirituality

Like any activity, spiritual practice can be used as a means to unfold and illuminate the mysteries of the sacred world, and it can also be used to avoid emotional pain, to shield oneself from unresolved feelings, and as a way to stay safe from the unyielding realities of intimacy and vulnerability of all kinds. Ironically, engagement with spirituality can provide fertile ground from which we can escape (rather than move closer toward) the naked, groundless reality of our lives and our present, embodied experience.

This is not to suggest that you discard your most sacred spiritual beliefs and practices, but only to encourage you to engage in them with eyes wide open. There are an infinite number of ways that spiritual beliefs and practices can be used to secure ground for the ego, and endless, very subtle ways that ego can and does co-opt even the most sacred teachings and practices to fortify itself, in the attempt to make up for early developmental failure, chronic misattunement, and unresolved trauma. This is especially so for those practitioners who lacked a holding environment where their emotional world could be mirrored and empathically attuned to, and where their experience could unfold in a relational matrix of space and kindness.

In my experience (whether subtle or more overtly), quite a number of spiritually-oriented people dismiss the somatic-emotional world altogether, believing they are manifesting some sort of pure, transcendent, ‘awakened,’ and unconditioned reality, which is somehow free from their own unresolved wounding and psychological organization. As a result, what is then downloaded, through these practitioners (all in the name, of course, of ‘awakening’ and ‘enlightenment’) is simply more traumatic organization, and a realization that is anything but whole. As Ken Wilber shared with me once, absolute, always already enlightenment can never be properly transmitted through a broken relative vehicle.

It is not that difficult to look out into the contemporary spiritual landscape to see these dynamics in full force. The spiritual path has become a commodity, bought and sold on the open marketplace, with its endless fantastical promises and alluring siren songs of specialness, a life of permanent happy feelings, and an escape from the muddy realities of the body, intimate relationship, money, sexuality, family dynamics, and so on. The darkness has been removed which, unfortunately, jettisons the jewels that are found only in the shadowy soil.

It requires tremendous courage to look carefully at the subtleties of our relationship with spirituality as doing so often leads us directly into the end of our world, where a cosmic house of cards stands ready to crumble, taking down everything around us, including our most precious spiritual identities. In the wake of this revelation, many find themselves in profound disillusionment. But this is a most sacred disillusionment, none other than love breaking through, coming alive to restructure your reality with the light of awareness.

For many spiritual practitioners, to see the ways that the path has become yet another means by which to fortify a separate sense of self (all in the name of “having no self,” of course) is just well, not very fun, and is just not that interesting or entertaining; there are just too many ego-level needs being met to allow this in. It might be seen, however, as the most radical act of kindness – to yourself and to others – to get curious enough to take the risk to see how these dynamics may be operating in you (as well as in your gurus and teachers).

The path is endlessly seductive in the ways it can so easily (and unconsciously) support egoic process, as well as collude with practitioners in the abandoning of important developmental needs which were often thwarted in one’s early years. None of this is ‘bad,’ neurotic, or inherently problematic; nor is it something that needs to be judged or shamed, or something we need to become aggressive toward. Rather, it can be held and explored with compassion, care, and an open curiosity – fueled by the call to know what is true, what is real, more than *anything*.

Of course, what I’m suggesting here is not new. Many of the great siddhas, yogis, teachers, and clinicians have reported on this phenomenon for many years. I’ll leave you with the words of Chogyam Trungpa, from a few decades ago, guidance I believe worthy of frequent re-consideration, and in his ever-poetic style:

“As long as we follow a spiritual approach promising salvation, miracles, liberation, then we are bound by the ‘golden chain of spirituality.’ Such a chain might be beautiful to wear, with its inlaid jewels and intricate carvings, but nevertheless, it imprisons us. People think they can wear the golden chain for decoration without being imprisoned by it, but they are deceiving themselves. As long as one’s approach to spirituality is based upon enriching ego, then it is spiritual materialism, a suicidal process rather than a creative one.”