"Lord Don't Move My Mountain, But Give Me the Strength to Climb"
I'm going to change the name -- let's call her Otis -- and some of the details to protect anonymity of this sin-drenched rascal. And don't even try to guess who it is, because you'll be wrong.
Otis begins by conceding that "I haven't read OneCosmos for a while, which happens to be a symptom of why I'm writing you now."
Ahem. I think we've identified the problem: insufficient bobtizement in the daily weird.
"For the past year or so I've been spiraling down the Rabbit Hole.... I feel like my mind is embroiled in a battle of psycho-spiritual attrition. I feel immobilized on every front -- spiritually, creatively, socially, financially... everything. Nearly every practical effort of my rational mind triggers a rabid, debilitating tantrum by counter-protesting, well organized mind-parasites (who might as well be funded by George Soros). And I mean every action. Something as benign as returning a phone call from a friend, mustering the energy to get to the gym, taking the basic steps to finding work."
Now first of all, raise your hand if you've been in this situation. One, two, three.... I see that many of you can relate. Naturally, the first question is to determine what plane this is arising from, broadly speaking: physical, bio-psychological, mental or spiritual. Naturally you want to first rule out any medical issues, anything from diet to allergies to an underactive thyroid. Usually it's not that, but still, you want to begin with a clean bill of health.
And before considering the question of mind parasites, you want to determine if this is more of a biochemical dysregulation issue as opposed to a purely psychological or spiritual one. Superficially this sounds like depression, but depressive symptoms are only the "final common pathway" of a host of possible causal factors, from the purely biological to the purely psychological to the existential to the spiritual, i.e., activated kundalini (although the psychological naturally causes chemical changes, and vice versa, so it's never completely clearcut). For the same outward symptoms, there are times that medication such as an SSRI can be a "magic bullet," other times that it will have no effect at all. (I should probably add the disclaimer that I am not attempting to diagnose or treat here, just offering up some general advice that would essentially apply to anyone.)
"Mind parasites" is essentially my colorful term for unconscious complexes. We all have them and can't avoid having them. It's just one of the prices of being human. The idea is to "contain" them, rather than them containing you. More on this later.
Ms. Otis continues:
"I'm in a constant state of stress and anxiety. Perhaps the worst part is that I can't even take the solace I once did in spiritual matters. It's as if I've exhausted my thirst for knowledge, since it seems the abstractions no longer digest. I don't want to say I know it all (if I did believe that I obviously wouldn't be writing this). However, I do feel that my rational mind has a good enough grasp of the abstract ways of the world. Still, all such 'knowledge' or 'understanding' is pretty worthless if I can't apply it to my own life. So this frustration has lead to a visceral aversion to deep spiritual writings (Sadly, this includes OneCosmos, The Bible, the other sacred texts). I think I'm become terrified of genuine knowledge (K). Perhaps the power and responsibility intimidates me."
It's difficult to give an opinion on this without some wider autobiographical context. In short, it's hard to say whether this is a deviation from the spiritual process, or a part of it. This is something I will get into in more detail later in the week, since Future Leader is now officially awake. But with regard to both psychological and spiritual growth, pain is involved. The question is whether it is productive pain (e.g., "burning off old karma") or useless pain.
I remember Dennis Prager once throwing out a similar question to his radio audience, essentially asking, "what do you do when God withdraws?" For him, this was one of the appeals of Judaism, since it consists of so many concrete actions that are intrinsic to the religion. Jewish religious paractice may be somewhat unique in emphasizing the primacy of doing over being: the being follows from the doing, rather than vice versa. I was just reading about this the other day in a passage by Steinsaltz.... Now that I'm looking for the passage, I see another relevant one, where he quotes an eminent rabbi, who wrote that "There is nothing more whole and complete than a broken heart," which obviously resonates with Christ's paradoxable about the poor in spirit inheriting the earth -- it is the cracks that allow the light in.
Let's continue with the letter, in which Otis discusses practical steps he has already taken: "I've tried many times to develop a routine practice, based on insights shared by you and others. Meditation has been a struggle. Following all sorts of advice on breathing exercises, yoga, mind games, visualization, creative immersion, and onward. I suppose I've always looked for/expected revelation from everything -- books, films, conversation, travels -- and now I'm waking up to the blunt truth that knowledge alone will not save me. It's going to take more commitment, responsibility, intuitive, maturity, and a strong will to break through. But I'm, ultimately, still a child. And that stubborn child isn't willing to give up it's hope for an easy way, a short cut."
Yes, superficially this sounds like a bit of a cafeteria approach, when for most people, the best way is to immerse yourself in a single tradition. One of the reasons for this is the grace such a tradition affords -- not to mention the "spiritual protection" -- again, more on which later.
Interestingly, there are hints that Otis is in the twilit realm between one world and another, between death and rebirth:
"Still, my escapes and crutches are all cut off. Spending time with friends, losing myself in casual conversation, music, film, following sports or politics, just sitting back and enjoying a fine day. Over the years my body has gradually come to reject all of my old vices. Drugs are a bust, mere alcohol no longer moves me at all, eating is now mostly utilitarian. I have difficulty relating to people. "
This can be a difficult and disorienting phase, for the simple reason that we rely upon what gives pleasure to provide us with a sort of instantaneous meaning and orientation. To the extent that previously pleasurable activities fail us, we can feel adrift, with nothing yet to replace those old reliable "pointers."
"I'm not living up to my commitments.... One of my concerns in looking for work is that while I can always sell myself -- I make a powerful first impression -- I'm not confident that I'll live up to my potential.... Of course I can -- but my track-record shows that I don't, no matter how good my intentions. What makes this so frustrating and confusing is that this aversion is not limited to droll obligations like getting a job or paying rent. It extends to taking advantage of opportunities that are wholly positive..."
This sounds more personal/psychological to me; however the "in between" phase can lead to a sense that reality is completely absurd, so that nothing is really worth the effort. Reminds me of this essay by Van der Leun the other day. Sometimes the realization that I just can't do it anymore is the most honest thing you can say about your present life.
"I've lost my fire, my passion, my will. I'm a stove clicking, waiting on a match. Again, I know I need to suck it up and do what must be done. But when the time comes I get dizzy, disoriented, and overcome with anxiety.... As my various delusions of stumbling into some road to Damascus moment melt away, I'm left wondering how one develops The Will to overcome these forces. Is this a normal phase of spiritual development? Are there simple methods to ease into a practice? My mind is too cluttered to activate my imagination, or, perhaps I've become too frightened to let go and connect with the vertical or non-local. Still, through it all I've been blessed beyond reason; repeatedly, often inexplicably, rescued from dire circumstances of my own doing. In a way this increases my frustration, since my squandering of such gifts can only be seen as a slap in the face to God."
I really haven't had time to address the writer's concerns in much depth, but before I do so, I would be very curious to know what others think. Again, these are generally universal issues, and to a certain extent, the way you deal with them depends upon the tradition you're in. For example, in Volume III of Sri Aurobindo's Letters to disciples, he has a whole section dedicated to Difficulties of the Path, and a related one entitled Opposition of the Hostile Forces.
The former chapter begins with a letter that reads, "All who enter the spiritual path have to face the difficulties and ordeals of the path, those which rise from their own nature and those which come in from the outside. The difficulties in the nature always rise again and again till you overcome them; they must be faced with strength and patience. But the vital [emotional] part is prone to depression when ordeals and difficulties rise. This is not particular to you, but comes to all sadhaks [practitioners of yoga]."
In another letter he speaks of "the resistance of the Universal Nature which does not want the being to escape from the Ignorance into the Light. This may take the form of a vehement insistence in the continuation of the old movements, waves of them thrown on the mind and vital and body so that old ideas, impulses, desires, feelings, responses continue even after they are thrown out and rejected, and can return like an invading army from the outside..." (By the way, one encounters the same sort of "internal saboteurs" in psychotherapy, only from a different level.)
Anyway, let's hear some honest and creative responses to this dilemma, and perhaps some testimonials as to how you made it through your own Time of Darkness. Feel free to post anonymously if it's too personal.