Moving away from spirituality ‘old style’

The seminar in Olomouc was very nice, indeed – though we started a bit late due to ‘Czech timing’ as I’ve come to call the rather loose view of schedules here, and because my lap-top (home of all my musicfiles which are pretty important in most of my seminars) spontaneously forgot an important systems file… it did remember it when I used it the last time. So I was happy to have brought my back-up system (a iRiver 20 GB player, also playing the great OGG format). I’m writing this post on the Community computer which usually is always occupied…

In the group it was clear that more and more I am moving away from spirituality as it is regarded by many of my contemporaries. As I’ve said a few days ago (on the MP3s in the post “Awakening to Mutuality”) the traditional or “old style” spiritual ways adhere to the viewpoint that there are superior perspectives (for instance, the enlightened) and inferior ones (the endarkened or the ignorant, unenlightend). Yet it seems to me that cherishing one perspective over another takes away much from what can unfold between us… and also it incapacitates persons taking “superior” perspectives from what can transpire in an open meeting where no such preferences are setting the stage. For, a meeting in which we put each other in a box might be informative and even give us good feelings but it is never an open meeting, and I don’t think it deserves to be called spiritual. An open meeting where we can explore together whatever might be real between us is much richer and more revealing than one in which I have a higher (more informed, superior, more enlightened, wiser etc.) position than the other person.

Spirituality “old style” has a map of reality – which I do not have an opinion about other than to say that I myself have been using it for a very long time – in which there is a progression towards ever higher and superior states or levels which the aspirant or seeker realizes; from egotistic to altruistic to cosmic centered, from disconnected to connected; or as in Ken Wilbers beautiful integral map, from preconventional to conventional to post-conventional to ultimatly “One Taste” – a beautiful map, I say, based on the “perennial philosophy” that has a great value as far as placing states, levels, types, etc. on a hierarchically useful map goes. This doesn’t mean, though, that I’m opposed to maps and hierarchical structures as I feel that these play a major role in intelligent communication and in interpreting experience well. And the more embracing and detailed these maps are the better – an ‘integral map’, for instance, allows for much more helpful interpretations of an experience and life in general than, say, a christian fundamentalist one. But from what I gather from the practise of Ken Wilber fans it is quite clear what’s the trouble as well: these beautiful people (and others using this and similar maps) often are very much concerned about “Where am I on the map, and what do I have to do to sufficiently transform so that I can move to the next rung on this ladder… to finally get there, and realize THAT. (Whatever THAT stands for in the terms of that map.).)”

Spirituality “new style” – if I may be so bold as to claim that label – is based on an altogether different realisation or understanding. One is, as best I can put it right now, “Reality – as accessible to human beings – is composed of perspectives.” The other is, “All perspectives are equally real (or “right”).”

It seems important here to clarify what I mean, because you might think that I believe that the child-molester’s perspective is of equal value as that of Mother Theresa. But I mean this a different way: Reality as seen with the eyes of a murderer is equally real as the one that a righteous judge sees. So the reality of a murderer is appropriate to him and his view, and thus it is right. And by that I do not make a moral or ethical statement (as in: It is wrong to kill someone.)

Spirituality “new style” goes beyond such value hierarchies however important they may be in a conventional world. It doesn’t deny spiritual value-hierarchies (from egotism to non-dual consciousness, for instance) but presupposes it as part of the person practicing this ‘new style spirituality’. This person comes from the insight that, “if I position myself above another’s perspective, regarding mine as superior to it, I cannot truly meet with the other nor exlore reality with him or her. So I have to concede this person’s perspective equal reality to truly meet. Only if I meet on eye to eye level, honoring him and her perspective, a meeting and inquiry into reality is possible.”

Let’s say, that I am in a state of “heightened awareness”, feeling compassion for the persons in my vicinity, feeling very much at home in my self, having a sense of utter equanimity etc. Now here is a person in another state, let’s say she is worried about being a good mother, asking me to help her. Now in spirituality “old style” I would in the best possible way communicate that it is quite normal to sometimes hate the little tyrant as all mothers I’ve ever met do have such feelings. In spirituality “new style” I ask her what she thinks herself – never for positioning myself to be in a higher or other state to her. We explore together what she feels “being a good mother” means, and if what she is feeling and doing runs counter to her belief of how she should be. We will maybe also want to look at how what she wants and how she goes about getting it fit together, and so on.

Or let’s take a spiritual seeker – like the person in the Olomouc seminar asking me, “What is the meaning of life?” A very serious, and time-honored question; which is, what I actually said. Then we went on – after a little sideline in which I told him about my realisation many years ago that life (in my eyes) doesn’t have a meaning – to look at what he believes, “Does life need a meaning?” And, “How would you feel if life had no meaning; what would change?” Exploring these questions together we found that there was another matter that bothered him much more than what the meaning of life might or might not be: “I’m afraid of the unknown,” he said. And now I asked him if wanted to explore that, “not verbally, but in action?” And he wanted, so I created an unknown situation for all of us – including me (in which, by the way, some participants did have some extraordinary insights into the meaning of their life).

Spirituality “old style” has a map of Reality in which there is a way “up” – and sometimes, if these maps are more encompassing there is also a way “down”, an ascending and decending current. Body, matter, the world are seen as lower order, spirit, soul, nirvana/heaven/One Taste are of a higher order; there is the Relative and the Absolute, and only the latter is to be aspired (even in Tantra, which is a way to ‘sanctify’ ordinary pleasures like eating, sex etc.). This is, of course, a dualistic view. Yet, even when we take Advaita whose “ultimate realisation” is the non-dual, then still in practise it is a dualistic teaching as it shows that, “you haven’t got it but through enlighhtenment can get it.” Or if they see the difficulty of this statement they say, “You’ve got it – as everyone has already got it – but you’re simply not yet conscious of it,” or some such. Whatever is the teaching, it is a teaching of an ascending order towards a greater, better, superior state. (No wonder that 99 percent of it’s main proponents/teachers are male…)

Spirituality “new style” has no quarrel with these maps of Reality. It simply chooses to explore a very different way in which “Reality is just as it appears to be this very moment… and this moment as well – as it appears within the framework of my perspective. And I can never disentangle what appears from my perspective (even if truthfully it isn’t even my perspective). What appears might be a function of my perspective, or my perspective might be a function of what appears, or both or neither or all kinds of mixtures of these. There is no way to know, as I cannot not come from a perspective. And as much as I have a perspective so does everybody else, and possibly even every thing else. So the best I can do is meet it and explore Reality as it appears between us (in conjunction, communion, communication, even opposition, struggle and trial for annihilation). And the richest way I can do this – at present – is by being open, equal and true to any other I meet.”


All of this is still quite sketchy, so I do appreciate all comments you have…

One Reply to “Moving away from spirituality ‘old style’”

  1. after a rather interesting critique I received from a friend I have edited this post somewhat, adding a clarification about my perspective on ‘old style’ spiritual maps and their usefulness.


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