Boiling an egg vs Spirituality
Posted on 07 August 2012, 7:57
I am boiling an egg… I am boiling an egg in Christchurch, in New Zealand, ...on Earth… I am boiling an egg in the Milky Way galaxy. Am I any the wiser if I do this in a galaxy?
I think that my mind is nothing but the dance of electrons in my brain… I think that our minds are part of the cosmic consciousness, and that we are all one. Am I then enlightened? I have become aware of a wider context, and that may be an improvement, but other things have to come into place before I could think of calling myself enlightened. And of course, if I were truly enlightened, would I boast about it?
Perhaps some of us have memories of belonging to a spiritual group where we held hands and wished peace, love, and harmony to all the world, smiled at each other, and remarked that we are all one. We have done that, and yet, sooner or later, in some way or another, our lives have fallen apart.
When we are in deep meditation we are in what Lawrence LeShan calls the “clairvoyant” or “holistic” mode of relating to reality. We feel one with the universe. Indeed, for our spiritual health we need to relate this way. But don’t try relating in this way when crossing a road, or we may become one with a bus, with fatal consequences. Learning to relate in LeShan’s “sensory-physical” mode is also crucial.
I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13.2-3: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Sadly, we learn the truth of this, feel guilt , lose heart, and can fall by the wayside.
The problem may not lie with the spiritual path we are following, but with our failure to be realistic about the challenges facing us in our ordinary lives. All of us have our defects: we may not be fully conscious of the emotional forces driving our behaviour; we may be overly assertive or submissive, we may lack empathy with other people, we may not be open and honest in our relationships with others. We may be burdened by the personality problems of others with whom we are in daily contact. All of us without exception have some such challenges to face. We need to have been making progress in meeting these challenges for any enlightenment to “stick.” We must build the foundations in this physical life before we can build a spiritual edifice that has any chance of enduring. No amount of deep meditation, no amount of forgiving everybody on the grounds that this world is illusory, will change the facts on the ground namely our difficulties in coming to terms with the challenges posed to us in our physical lives. Meditating on the infinite may give us respite, but it does little to alleviate pain received from an alcoholic spouse.
When I mention boiling an egg, I am making the point of course that whatever the context I am still boiling an egg. However advanced, or not advanced our personal spirituality may be, we still have to earn a living, look after a family, handle challenging personal relationships, handle our own mood swings, play our part in the community, deal with ill-health, continue with our personal education, look after aged parents, and so on. But I repeat myself.
I am impressed by a book published in 2010 by Robert Augustus Masters, (below) an Integral Psychotherapist, called Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters.
He begins, “Spiritual bypassing, a term first coined by psychologist John Wellwood in 1984, is using spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs… Part of the reason for this is that we tend not to have very much tolerance, either personally or collectively, for facing, entertaining, and working through our pain, strongly preferring pain numbing “solutions,” regardless of how much suffering such “remedies” may catalyse… Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgement about one’s negative or shadow side, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.” (pp.1-2).
With all the faults church, mosque or synagogue may have, they have one advantage that New Age and independent spiritualities do not have, and that is that they take full cognizance of the limitations and fallibilities of human nature, while still affirming our divine and spiritual nature. Yes, they are often overdo the sin bit, and against this people have rightly rebelled; but it is still not helpful to disregard human fallibility. Organized religion does also strongly emphasise forgiveness and moving on.
Let me give a few more quotations from Spiritual Bypassing. Even though you may not buy the book, you may perhaps find the quotes stimulate further thought:
From the chapter Let’s stop being negative about our negativity: “So the road to genuine forgiveness is often paved with hatred. Go to the heart of hate and you won’t find hate but rather great heart-wrenching grief, a broken-open depth of being that is both agonisingly and exquisitely painful, soberly spacious, and eventually liberating. It is through this fire that forgiveness becomes not just some paint-by-numbers spiritual bypassing activity but a tremendously powerful and empowering practice. Those of us caught up in the spiritual bypassing tend to slap the labels “positive” and “negative” onto the emotions as if such qualities were absolute givens. But the more we investigate the reality of our lives, the clearer it becomes that ascribing qualities like “negative” and “positive” to emotions is inevitably context-bound undertaking.(p.17)
The real concern isn’t whether or not to express our “negative” feelings but how we choose to express them. Repressed anger is implicated in various illnesses (weakening the immune system), but so too is over-expressed anger (think hostility). Beyond the polarities of holding our anger in and directly expressing our anger is a possibility of a truly healthy capacity for both containment and release of anger that is infused with compassion, clarity, and vitality. So turn toward your negativity. Stop mythologising it, stop relegating it to a lower status, stop keeping it in the dark. Go to it, open its doors and windows, take it by the hand. Meet its gaze. Feel it is woundedness, feel into it, feel for it….
Keep something in the dark long enough and will probably behave badly. Turn on the lights, slowly but surely. Your simple presence is enough. Let your heart soften. Breathe a little more deeply, bringing what you call your negativity closer to you opening at a fitting pace. No rush. Let it shift, however slowly, from a distant foreign object to a reclaimed part of your being. Let its pain and longing break your heart. Your ambition to transcend your negativity is now all gone, as you realise right to your core that your true work is to reclaim and re-embody it. Your ambition to transcend your negativity is now all but gone, as you realise right to your core that your true work is to reclaim and re-embody it.
You are with yourself more deeply, your initial aversion all but gone, and now hold what you previously determined your negativity in the way that loving parents hold their distressed child, bringing it into your heart, feeling a rising desire and power to protect that little one. No negativity now, just love, ease, recognition, presence, effortless wholeness. This is life in the raw, too real to be reduced to positive and negative, to live to be shut down.” (p.20)
These excerpts will give an idea of what Masters has to say, and will provoke thought about what it means to be enlightened.
I recommend the whole book.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.