Developing a Spiritual Practice, Part One: Spiritual Perverts and Other Problems of God
Fooled you again, boy!
Actually, there are few completely universal truths, but the news of the day continually reinforces the importance of avoiding Islam. Do that, and you can't deviate too far from the true path.
Let's say you've done that. You've spent 30 or 40 years avoiding Islam, staying completely non-halal, refraining from beating your wife, not blowing up any churches and works of art, contemptuously mocking CAIR, not being constantly angry and humiliated, not whining about your civl rights being threatened. What's the next step?
As I have mentioned before, I am a little uncomfortable putting myself out as a guru or spiritual teacher of some kind. I've gone back and forth debating with Petey about this, and he always ends up saying something cryptic--and I think a little insulting--like, "what is a bad man but a good man's teacher, anyway?"
There are at least a couple of issues here. First, people have such a genuine thirst for spiritual truth that it is a terrible sin to exploit that. Seriously, on the spiritual plane it's almost like child abuse, because the uncorrupted spiritual impulse is so pure and innocent. It spontaneously reaches out like a child for its father or mother, and it would be awful to use that to aggrandize oneself. Again, this is one of my main objections to frauds such as Deepak Chopra and the rest of the new age gang of narcissists, pneumapaths, and gnostic salesmen.
Have you ever been completely overwhelmed by choices, just wanting someone "in the know" to tell you what to do? In the past, friends of mine who know about my golden ears have asked for advice when purchasing stereo systems. I tell them that they have to audition different components and learn how to listen, and that their ears won't lie to them. There's no wrong choice--just don't purchase a stereo manufactured in the Muslim world. But they don't really want to hear that. "Just tell me which one is the best, and I'll buy it."
To extend the analogy, it is easy to recognize the bad choices in the hi fi world. Those would be most of the mass-market components found in your local big-box store. Purchase most anything above that level of quality, and you have taken a quantum leap toward sonic truth. After that, you can spend ridiculous sums of money, but there's a rapidly diminishing rate of return. In other words, you have to part with a great deal of cash to make increasingly infinitesimal improvements at the margins.
It's the same way with religion. Clearly, the typical reader of this blog will have to wander from the beaten path a bit in order to satisfy their discerning soul. In other words, if you are among the dwindling remnant of my readers who don't mind that I've stopped focussing so much on politics, then you will likely not be satisfied with simply joining your local church or synagogue, dragging yourself to services once a week, and leaving it at that. Obviously you want something more. You don't yet know what it is, but you can sense it.
That sense--assuming you have it--is a very important thing to cultivate. It is not something to be extinguished by the first religion to fall off the turnip truck. Like sexual desire, it needs to be tolerated, sublimated, and transformed. You can't just "act out" spiritually in order to extinguish the impulse.
Freud was partially correct in noting that human beings are driven by primitive instincts such as sex and aggression. What he did not address was the fact that we are also driven--or pulled, actually--by other factors that are equally important. Ignore those and you do violence to the integrity of the human person.
For example, human beings are inherently relationship-seeking. One of the most fruitful advances in psychoanalysis occurred when pioneers such as D.W. Winnicott and R.D. Fairbairn realized that human drives do not occur in a vacuum, but are inherently "object related." Freud largely focussed on the drive alone, as if human beings are simply hydraulic machines or "pressure cookers" that need to let off steam, whereas the modern view sees the drive more as a "link" that connects two persons or subjectivities.
A great deal of pernicious societal misunderstanding has resulted from the notion that our uncivilized drives are somehow more real than our civilized personalities, and that if we could only express them in a conflict-free (and conscience-free) way, then we would inhabit a sort of instinctual paradise. This immature view is at the foundation of a lot of leftist thought. It is thoroughly romantic, in the rotten sense of that word.
Later innovators such as W.R. Bion developed the idea that human beings are also epistemophilic--that our minds are driven to discover knowledge and truth. Freud thought of our desire to acquire knowledge as a sublimation of instinctual drives, but Bion thought of it as absolutely fundamental to our humanness. We are born to know. But, just as with religion, this inborn mechanism can go haywire, so that it can know many things that are patently untrue. Most of the things people have "known" down through the centuries have been of this nature.
But the epistemophilic drive can also go awry in more subtle ways, in particular, the development of a defensive barrier in the form of a belief that one knows all there is to know. Such a person stops "asking why" at a certain arbitrary point, and then defends that point as being the last word. This is my objection to scientism, which takes the truths that are discoverable on the material plane studied by science and then elevates that plane to the status of all there is to know. Such a mind is functionally dead insofar as the epistemophilic drive is concerned. It will never discover higher truth. As Bion said, "the answer is the disease that kills curiosity."
This brings us back around to the main topic of this post, how to develop a spiritual practice. To our relationship-seeking and epistemophilic drives, I would add a pneumaphilic, or spirit-seeking drive. Is it not obvious that such a drive exists? No culture has ever been discovered that did not develop some collective means to channel this drive into various religious forms and practices. Here again, you could be like Freud and try to reduce the pneumaphilic drive to something more primitive, such as a desire for fusion with the primordial mother. But that is a false and partial view.
This is not to say that spiritual pathology does not exist. It most certainly does. Most any normal person can recognize that in much of contemporary Islam we are seeing florid pneumapathology of the first order. For just as the sex drive and the epistemophilic drive can become perverted, so too can the spiritual drive. The sex drive can become twisted in all sorts of ways--pedophilia, fetishism, radical feminism, etc. So too, the knowledge drive can crystalize into a perverse version of itself--deconstruction, Marxism, most forms of leftist thought, the designated hitter in the American League, etc.
In the same way, the spiritual drive can become a perverse fixation, both in its positive sense (i.e., cults) and in its negative sense (i.e., obligatory atheism, which is a kind of spiritual "color blindness"). One does not have to look far to see this phenomenon, both in its extremely dangerous forms that threaten mankind at large, but also in more subtle forms that harm only the person with the spiritual perversion. A lot of new age thought is of this variety. Just magical thinking, really.
Now back to your specific problem: what to do about a spiritual practice? I will get to that. I don't mean to ramble, but a few additional cautionary notes are in order. As I mentioned, I am reluctant to put myself across as some sort of spiritual teacher. In addition to the reason I cited, one can only advance along the path with an attitude of utter humility. Can you not see how this immediately disqualifies most of the arrogant and hubristic "teachers" claiming to be superior enlightened beings?
Another reason is that spiritual knowledge is not something to be treated lightly or disseminated to people who are not ready for it or will simply misunderstand or distort it. There are penalties for doing so. There has always been a recognition that one must make oneself a worthy receptacle of spiritual knowledge. This is why most traditions insist on a strong foundation of moral principles before one even starts--for example, the ten commandments in Judaism and Christianity, or the eightfold path in Buddhism.
Yet another problem has to do with the fact that each of us is, so to speak, a unique problem of God. This is something that applies equally to psychology. If you have a little psychological knowledge, you quickly recognize that people can be pretty easily pigeonholed into various categories. Obtain more knowledge, and you eventually recognize that it is almost as if a person of any depth is suffering from their own particular psychological syndrome that no one else suffers from. They can only cure this syndrome in their own way. What works for one person will not necessarily work for another.
It is the same way with a spiritual practice. Yes, there are universal truths. But they cannot really be transmitted per se. Rather, they have to be discovered by each individual. It is not like scientific knowledge, which, once discovered, stays that way, and can be passed from mind to mind like an object. Rather, real spiritual knowledge can only be subjectively acquired through personal experience. It must be discovered, not just once, but again and again.
I'm starting to run out of time here, so I'll be continuing with this topic for at least a couple more days. But look at something as simple as a belief in Christ. Dogma is important, as it provides the structure, or "bones" for a belief system. However, unless the dogma is illuminated by the light of personal experience, it will be like a blueprint with no building, bones with no flesh--much less a beating heart that circulates spirtually oxidized blood. It is fine to say that the Bible is the word of God, but one must hear, understand, metabolize, and be transformed by it. And no one--least of all me--can do that for you.
But I think I might be able to help. More tomorrow.