Archive for the 'spiritual experiences' Category

Sword-swallowing

May 25, 2015

I was frustrated that T.M. Luhrmann’s column in today’s New York Times doesn’t have a comments section, so I thought I’d write what I might have written there here.

The column is called “How Places Let Us Feel the Past.”  The part that caught my attention was about the “Jerusalem syndrome,” which I don’t think I had ever heard of before.  I was aware of people thinking they are Jesus or on a mission, but I don’t think I had heard about it tied to having visited a holy place or even tied to a particular acute episode of some sort, as far as I understand the case histories I read about before eslewhere.  Professor Luhrmann writes about people visiting a holy place and becoming overwhelmed by a spiritual experience there and ending up in a psychotic state.

In the example Professor Luhrmann starts with, a rabbi advises a person who has gone through such an experience to, in effect, put it aside and keep studying.

It is my understanding that Judaism requires long study of the law before mysticism is attempted, and I take the rabbi’s advice as consonant with this and with my own sense that the problem described has to do with insufficient prior training and interior development:  if you’re going to engage in sword-swallowing, you really need, if you’re like most people, to have learned some technique first.

So with this Jerusalem syndrome, it seems to me it’s a result of people not having pared down their ego first;  so the holiness experience becomes about them, gets caught on their ego-self, instead of being something that passes through them cleanly, which they view from an outside perch.

In our culture, we don’t take mysticism seriously, I don’t think, so we don’t talk about what it entails.  Reminds me of not recognizing what stay-at-home moms do.  We may talk about God, or even angels and demons, but we have ruled off many other phenomena to the realm of pathology.  People didn’t used to believe that microorganisms existed, either, because they couldn’t see them.  Wind we cannot “see” but we see its effects.  If observing the Jerusalem syndrome is like observing the tree branches blowing or the devastation from a micro-burst, maybe we should rethink what we are willing and unwilling to discuss.

Crouching

November 29, 2014

This is a reaction to Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today.

The Meditation includes some instructions for how to have a spiritual experience.  One of the steps outlined involves crouching at one level of perception in order to produce another.

This assumes everybody (a) is going to understand how to implement the instruction, and (b) has adequate and sufficiently intact and undamaged “hardware” to do this safely.

Hello!  We can produce regression this way, a regression in which people get very stuck.  I’ve seen it in individuals, and I could argue that I see it reflected in Western culture more generally.

I wish people wouldn’t do this [that is, try to teach what this Meditation attempts to teach, especially from such a remove from those whom it is addressing].

I’m pretty sure I’ve expressed that before.

No one has to listen.

Letting it pass through you

June 22, 2014

Sometimes during an argument, the other person hurls an insult.  I don’t know how it is for biological parents, but adoptive parents sometimes get from their children during the heat of an argument, “You’re not even my real mother.”  And you take it for what it is, part clumsy expression of fact (that I am not their first mother), part expression of pain and frustration (maybe even powerlessness), part attempt to penetrate their opponent’s defenses.  And you let it pass through you.

The relationship, as I see it, between addiction and spiritual connection is that some people are open in some ways and not in others, and they prematurely encounter a spiritual equivalent to “You’re not even my real mother.”  It may well be that “boundaries, strong identity, impulse control, and deep God experience” were lacking (that’s from today’s Daily Meditation from Father Rohr), but I think those are secondary to the problem of encountering a difficult wave of spiritual energy while, on the one hand, not being simple and  innocent enough (to allow it to pass through naturally), and, on the other hand, not being spiritually (re-)developed enough (to allow it to pass through consciously), either.  I think the addiction comes from the dynamic of the energy encountered — it is an energy that offers a rush of pleasure but at a very high long-term cost.  Very innocent people I think never get caught up in the energy because they are oblivious to it, but people with a little less innocence may stop to take a look, to see what it is, maybe they even try to resist the energy or tussle with it, or maybe they become frightened by it.  In any case, they interact with it instead of letting it pass through them.  Without a really well developed capacity for removing the ego from that encounter, the person becomes sucked into a cycle of succumbing to short-term pleasure and long-term pain.  To get out of that dynamic, one has to remove one’s “hang-ups” and learn detachment, and those are helpful things in their own right.  That’s why in Al-Anon, the program for relatives and friends of alcoholics, one sometimes hears gratitude expressed for having gone on the journey of growth that the alcoholism of another has impelled them to go on — it can be a painful means to a very helpful result.

My point is that I think addiction may actually be the result of a spiritual encounter that went awry, not because there was anything wrong with what was encountered, but because of the person’s state of mind.  In that respect, I agree with the Daily Meditation, it’s just that I think there is no surprise that people who fall into addiction have a keen spiritual sense — it’s what got them into the situation in the first place — it was keen but not keen enough.  I also don’t think it was “aimed in the wrong direction” so much as it was unable to process safely what it encountered.  I have the impression that the strand of belief that Jesus dealt with something spiritually on the behalf of others may arise out of some notion of protecting people from this pitfall.  But I think in the end we all need to develop all the tools, including those that would allow us to extricate ourselves on our own (with spiritual help) from this particular pitfall.  Trying to deal with how people do get seriously stuck in this pitfall should not be confused conceptually with roping off the pitfall and putting up permanent detour signs.  Otherwise we end up with the bogeyman under the bed, with the part of the map labeled “There be monsters here,” when in fact there is no bogeyman or monster, only an energy difficult to process.  And then we have the very real problem of having created the idea that there is a bogeyman.

Dualism about dualism

March 18, 2014

How can it be that it’s either dualistic thinking or non-dualistic thinking?  Isn’t that thinking dualistically to put it that way?

I think there are different varieties of connections we may have to Source, to God, to the universe, to the divinity within us.  Very young children have it in a different way from the way adult mystics have it, and people somewhere else on the continuum I think can have varying levels of conscious connection to the spiritual realm.  Adversity is a factor, I agree, and I think it is especially so in reestablishing the connection after we have developed our personal identity in this world, but different people, as they say, have different gifts — and I think there’s a nature/nurture aspect to how we experience the spiritual, too.  Some people will find their connection through music, some people will be able to translate a spiritual experience into pattern recognition of a different sort when they relate the experience to their worldly lives, as the result of both a predilection for that mode and some training in that direction.  Some people will not translate the experience very consciously — or self-consciously — at all, but live out the results, I think.

We need all the sections of the orchestra to play the symphony of collective life on earth.  Just because we’re not woodwinds doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Just because we know how to coach playing the brass instruments doesn’t mean there aren’t others who can coach the strings.  I am wary of trying to replace one exclusive way of looking at spirituality with another, and wary of ways that involve too much emphasis on the coach.  What I think is true is that some levels of connection to the spiritual realm seem to need the person who connects to have developed enough of an emotional or cognitive structure in the other parts of their mental processing in order to handle the spiritual experience safely as a human being — without such a developed structure, a person can have the spiritual equivalent of a “bad trip.”  But I think there are a multiplicity of roads — and air routes and water passages — that lead to Rome, and I think people may be having slightly different experiences of Rome depending on how they got there and how unimpeded their perceptual and processing equipment are.

Damage

March 6, 2014

I was reading Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation and its emphasis on how inadequate development of the self during the first half of life may undermine spiritual development later.

What I have seen as a problem undermining spiritual development later is unacknowledged damage to the self.  This  tends to lead to regression, rather than to progress, when people are faced with the challenges in their lives that might deepen and develop the spiritual aspects of themselves.  Some such damaged people “break” beyond what they can put back together themselves when confronted with the challenges that might expand them spiritually, other people survive the experience sufficiently intact but end up with only a partial spiritual awakening, or so it seems.  Some of this last group seems then not to want to get back up on the diving board to try again, in order to finish the job, but want to act as if they have finished the job sufficiently.   It can be that the damage has not been addressed because of reluctance to revisit the issue or discuss it with others.  Of course, the person may think their psyche is perfectly healthy — that may be part of the problem, that they have internalized a view that will not hold up in the throes of huge challenges, but they don’t realize that in advance.

Partial spiritual awakenings I think are sometimes less dangerous to the partially awake person than they are to others around them.  Other times partial spiritual awakenings result in severe distress to the person themselves, a sort of spiritual emergency.

I sometimes think that maybe we are all like Persian rugs, with a necessary flaw in ourselves which keeps us embedded in the material world.  I think it helps if that flaw is not of such a kind that it incapacitates us either spiritually or socially (or physically).

Transforming another

January 13, 2014

“Transformed people transform people.”  That’s in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation today (which for some reason arrived in my spam folder).

In my humble experience, with my deceased friend Martin, you become transformed by a transformed person (only) when (1) you have rid yourself of enough ego attributes that you can receive the flow unimpeded, and (2) you give of yourself completely, unstintingly, no holding back, thorough-going willingness — and not willingness for union, but rather, to do that which serves the greatest good.  Then that union happens.  (And for me, we remained distinct persons throughout, and it felt as though I were experiencing “his” joy at the union, in case there are any reporters in the audience taking notes.)

You have to get yourself sufficiently out of the way, but that must be done through a process that accomplishes that indirectly, in a sense.  You can’t want the union, you instead have to be willing in a general way, and I think it actually helps not to be too aware of the possibility of union — that, at least for me, would make me too self-conscious to be sufficiently out of the way — for me, it was easier to stumble into union.

As I write this, sunlight is streaming in on the Standing Buddha statue in my foyer.  The sunlight is coming in from the dining room,  through an angled window there, and it’s especially bathing the Buddha’s legs.

Staying awake

December 8, 2013

I was surprised by this Daily Meditation, because, for me, the experience of hearing the call to “stay awake” was not a call to general consciousness, it was a call to be in relationship, as Father Rohr I think might put it;  it sounded like someone asking me to maintain a connection with them.  And through that connection came, eventually, spiritual union and increased consciousness, among other things.

Thought forms and not thought forms

October 15, 2013

Since there is no comments section, at least as yet, to a piece in the NYTimes about thought forms, I thought I’d just speak my piece here and point out that there are things that are thought forms and things that are not thought forms.  Conflating the two categories is not helpful.

Hawk’s gotta eat

October 3, 2013

So there was a smallish hawk in the tree above my compost heap this morning.  I think it was squawking, it might have been a juvenile, it didn’t have a very broadly developed tail.

There were small birds flying around near it, maybe trying to get it to leave or distract it from a nest?  Then I saw a small critter up in the tree, it looked black in the early morning light, and it seemed confused.  It tried climbing different ways in the tree.  I think its movement may have attracted the hawk’s attention, and the hawk went after it and, I think, got it.  I went inside, reminding myself that hawks have to eat.

I also found myself thinking about the Ralph McTell song “Heron Song,” in which he sings about wishing he had the heron’s wings, as a suggestion for how to rewrite the story I linked to in my post last night.  I think the girl needed to grow her own “spiritual wings” in order to get down safely from where she had inadvertently ended up in a spiritual quest gone awry.

Versions of a story

October 3, 2013

I knew a story about a girl who couldn’t “get down” from a spiritual experience, couldn’t return to consensus reality, that is.  I’m not sure how or when I became aware of the story, but I even had dreams about it years ago.  In one particularly vivid version, the girl had had a way down, but she inadvertently “kicked it away” while she was coming out of her experience, distracted by a man chattering to her from behind her left ear.

Today I was looking online for an explanation of hawks in Incan mythology, because I had seen a picture yesterday suggesting that they had some sort of role. I came across this (non-Incan but Native American) story:  “The Girl Who Climbed to the Sky.”  It even contains elements I thought were from other, separate stories — marriage to an ugly and controlling husband and virtual servitude, and an issue with roots and not digging them up.

When I saw all these elements combined in one story, and one that I am not conscious of ever having heard before, I couldn’t help but wonder what that means.