Addiction to Spiritual Experience

Whilst we can celebrate freely and richly the wondrous art and music of western culture, the instant gratification tendency in the west leaves a lot to be desired – pun definitely intended.

A few years ago I went to a Tai Chi and Chi Gung school in China. I arrived at the school full of the expectation that teacher would be most impressed with my Tai Chi, after all, in my previous school I had dedicated six hours a day, six days a week to the task. However, to my dismay she was underwhelmed by my attention to detail and my ability to actually be fully present in my body. For two solid weeks she had me practise one movement and one movement only – grounding my Tan Tien into the earth, sinking the roots of my feet deeply into its core and allowing the upwelling of pure positive Chi to fill me from the bottom up. After a couple of days of what seemed like monotonous torture I complained and asked her why she was holding me back when so many other students seemed to be progressing towards ballet like graceful skills. She looked at me and told me the following story.

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‘Long ago a Tai Chi master was travelling across the country on a long journey when he stopped at a village for some rest. The men of the village on learning that he was a Tai Chi master begged him to teach them the secrets of Chi and the Tao. He taught them the first movement, grounding into the earth and did so for more than a month. One morning the men of the village noticed that that the Master was gathering his belongings as if to leave the village. ‘Where are you going’ they cried. ‘I must be on my way, I have a long way to go’ he replied. The village men were dismayed and said to him ‘How can you leave? You have not yet taught us the other movements? The Master replied ‘Did I say that I wouldn’t teach you the other movements? For surely I will. I shall be back in a year or two to check on your progress with the first movement’.
It was a defining moment. Not only was I humbled by the story but also touched by the care with which it was told. I realised that I had fallen foul of the Westerner’s disease: ‘I want it now, I want it all’. I continued for another week with the first movement and it was in that movement that magic began to happen. Intense life force energies began coursing through my body, my spine becoming hot and tingly and my pelvis becoming alive with sensations that were akin to sexual orgasm.

Today we can become Yoga Teachers in a matter of 200 or 300 hours, instead of after decades of absolute dedication and we can spend a weekend with a Latin American Shaman, down a concoction of herbs and reach for a spiritual experience. I hasten to add that none of what I’ve said above is a blanket statement against all of those activities. Like anything, who is the teacher? Who is the student? Sometimes, we just don’t know what we don’t know.

In my healing practice I am often confronted with individuals who after seeking a spiritual high arrive on my doorstep with either a burnt out nervous system, too much energy in their upper chakras, visible signs of trauma and terror, entities in their auric field – in other words, they’re a total mess after doing a Breathwork intensive, Kundalini Yoga intensive or an Ayahuasca weekend.

In our hunger for spiritual experience, to know of our own existence with and through God, it seems we are able to place our discernment to one side and justify any action, no matter how insane, and make it sound good as it is ‘spiritual’. Not so. It isn’t true, and here is why: when we avoid our foundational wounding we can only visit the abode of God. Our foundation wounding acts like a gravity, that will eventually suck us back into the reality of our fearful and self hatred driven lives until we have the courage to face the ‘big bad wolf’ of our core wounding. Carl Jung said ‘People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid their own souls’.

Many people argue that they’ve learnt so much from all of these spiritual experiences and I want to make it clear that I am not dismissing the experiences but simply asking the question: has your learning been lived or is it still conceptual? Did it merely transform your view of the world or did it transform you in a real, authentically grounded way? There are those who argue that we live in ‘new times’ and with the ‘new energies’ present we can simply reach for a higher vibration. Whilst there is an element of truth in that, it is mostly far from the truth. All of this reaching simply takes us into our upper chakras. When we live from our upper chakras we live in the world of our idealised projections and cannot see who is really in front of us. Indeed, we can live from a place that lacks compassion as we dismiss anything that does not conform to our idealised view of the world. We have discomfort with ‘negativity’; we can’t tolerate other people’s weaknesses or illness and can impose our world view of ‘oneness’, ‘love’ and what is truly ‘spiritual’ upon others – giving rise to new dogmas that lack as much love and compassion as the old dogmas.

The deeper question here, which is an invitation, would you not rather live in the Abode of God instead of just being the occasional visitor that needs to be assisted to get there? There is a Sufi saying ‘I searched for God and found only myself, I searched for myself and found only God’. When we face who we fear we are, we start to discover who we truly are. We can only enter the Abode of God through the heart as the heart is the core and centre of our being, attempting to enter it in any other way is bypassing. For us to enter the heart we must face everything that stands in its way and the first illusion that is to be shattered is the notion that an awakened heart does not feel pain. An awakened heart is free from long term suffering, but it does feel pain.

In our quest to meet our own heart for what it truly is we must be prepared to challenge the tyranny that so is so much part of the denizens of positive thinking and bliss chasers. We must be prepared to challenge both our old and newly adopted images of what it is to be ‘good’ and ‘spiritual’. Hidden behind the chasing of spiritual experience is a vast shadow that is testimony to the self hatred and the tyranny it enacts with projections of what is good or bad. Without deep personal process and authentic self enquiry, spiritual experiences that have been induced through breath or plant substances can deepen the split between what we fear we are and the projected ideal of what it is to be good. As we chase our ideal, we leave the best part of us behind, hidden under the layers of early childhood wounding and we wind up just as separate, lonely and disillusioned as we were before – if not more so.

In life, there are no shortcuts. Yes, miracles do happen, and when they happen they arise out of nothing, we cannot induce them. When we face what we fear ourselves to be, that is the true liberation we are seeking – freedom from self hatred, freedom form self loathing, freedom from loneliness. When the shadows are authentically faced, the light is revealed, and once that light is revealed, it remains a part of who we are. When we chase and grasp at the light, it simply slips through our fingers and we need to invest a lot of energy in keeping our illusions and projections alive. The constant invitation is to discover what is here, right now, in this present moment, not what we want it to be, not what we think it should be, but what is really here, right now. The heart contains all of the higher and lower aspects of who we are – without masks and pretences. That is the invitation.

– Shavasti

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