Saturday, July 23, 2011

Paranoia and Bliss

The ego's road to enlightenment is at times not only a pathless path, but a switchback between hellish dark nights and heavenly raptures.  The best psychological account of the hellish realms I have read is Michael Washburn's The Ego And The Dynamic Ground.  In particular, Washburn describes the paranoia that besets the wee uncomprehending human ego when confronted by the looming, permeating Ground.

          Examples of such fears are the seemingly pathological apprehensions that one is going insane,
          that one is being possessed by an alien force or entity, that one is transparent to other people,
          and that one is being conspired against or manipulated by mysterious persons or powers (p. 194).

I can personally vouch for all of these.

With every step of growth, there is a moment of terror when all the underpinnings of identity are stripped.  We wonder, who am I if I'm not the person I thought I was?  In enlightenment we discover, in St. Catherine's words, "My Me is God, nor do I recognize any other Me except my God Himself."  This is pretty tough to get our minds around.  So we suffer.

But this same truth is also responsible for our bliss states.  When we know we are nothing but God's avatars, we -- our little selves -- are off the hook.  We cannot do God's job.  We are surrendered.  Our
life becomes unfathomably miraculous and we are joyfully absorbed by existence itself.

These swings between paranoia and bliss show up long before anybody is called to step on the road.  Think of the soul-crushing burden of imagining oneself responsible for every one's well being.  Think, on the other hand, of those moments of unselfconsciousness when it is enough just to be alive and to love.  At whatever level, we are never unaware of, or not relating to, the Ground.  We are either struggling with its Presence, relieved at its Sovereignty, or pretending It doesn't exist.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Not Getting Ahead

A common pitfall on the psychospiritual path is to try to be a little further along than you actually are -- a kind of mental lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps.  There can be wisdom in visualizing the form you are attempting to grow into, as in, for instance, the helpful maxim of A.A. to "fake it till you make it." But I am talking about a state of inauthenticity that is usually used as a defense.   This stance is often taken by someone trying to seem "together," or "evolved," or "spiritual."  It is a professional hazard of being a psychotherapist (or, I imagine, a spiritual teacher), one that I myself have tripped over 10,000 times.  More often than not, the urgency of this stance indicates something rumbling beneath the surface that is gritty, angry, ugly, painful and excruciatingly vulnerable.

The paradox in growth is that progress (if there is such a thing) is actually made when we relax and let all of the shameful stuff show up.  We cannot evolve ourselves.  Such a notion reveals the anxious agenda of the ego that wishes to avoid pain in any way possible.  Rather, the grace of evolution seems to move when we become as gloriously, fallibly human as we are made to be.  A paragon of ordinariness.  What is truly extraordinary about us, our divinity, can best shine through when we are unselfconscious.

Some years before her death, artist/writer Joyce Keener sent me a picture of her latest collage, titled, "Is it possible to become human in the time allotted?"  She and I had had many conversations about where development seemed to be taking humans, both individually and collectively.  We marveled how age seemed to make people more of who they uniquely are at the same time as they display all of those characteristics that I call generically human.  The specific, the special, concurrent with the abundantly ordinary seems to be Nature's hallmark.  Becoming human in the time allotted is a worthy goal, to my mind, but it is not something we can do.  It is something we can allow by loving everything about us that is human.