Thursday, March 24, 2016

An integrated spirituality

Like any activity, our engagement with spirituality can provide a very rich pathway into the unfolding and illumination of the sacred world, and into the unending depth of the human heart. It can also be used to avoid emotional pain, as a buffer against unresolved feelings, and as a way to stay safe from the very alive, out of control, untamed landscape of our embodied vulnerability.

This is not to suggest that we turn from our most precious beliefs and practices, but to engage in them with eyes wide open. There are an infinite number of ways that ego can co-opt even the most sacred teachings to fortify itself, in the attempt to remedy early developmental failure, attachment wounding, chronic misattunement, and unresolved trauma of all kinds. Believing we are becoming more intimate with our experience, we can find ourselves unconsciously distancing ourselves from the actual intimacy and aliveness we are longing for.

As spiritual practitioners, many of us can come to dismiss the relational and somatic worlds altogether, believing we are manifesting some sort of pure, transcendent, ‘awakened,’ and unconditioned reality, which is somehow free from our own unresolved wounding. In the rush to the transpersonal, the personal and interpersonal are trampled and abandoned.

As a result, what is then downloaded through us and to others (all in the name, of course, of ‘resting in the Self,’ ‘awakening’ and ‘enlightenment’) is simply more traumatic and unintegrated organization, and a realization that is anything but whole. As Ken Wilber reminded me in a conversation about this, “…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 intimacy, the body, money, sexuality, family dynamics, and so on. It’s much sexier (and less threatening) to focus on the bliss, the positive, and the high vibrations, and how I can wiggle myself into groovy (and safe) spiritual states. The chaotic, messy, unresolvable, organic darkness becomes covered over which, as many of us have seen, does not really end that well. By doing so, we bury and disavow those jewels that are only findable in the shadowy soil.

Making use of spirituality to avoid certain aspects of ourselves is not ‘bad,’ neurotic, pathological, or inherently problematic. Nor is it something that needs to be judged or shamed, or that we need to become aggressive toward. Like any defensive or avoidant activity, it is often serving a protective function and can be honored as such. And then from a clear, spacious, non-urgent seeing, it can be held and explored with compassion, care, and an open curiosity – fueled by the call to know what is true and what is real, more than *anything*. We can start to see what perceptions, emotions, sensations, and behaviors our practices may be helping us to avoid, and explore if we are ready to turn back toward them and provide a home for their metabolization and integration. No shame, no blame… just awareness, presence, and kindness.

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.”