I live in a culture where my reality is often seen as crazy. Where the things I think about, talk about and experience are perceived as useless, unintelligent or just plain ridiculous. At times finding like-minded people can be difficult when your perception of reality expands beyond the 3-dimensional material world. Finding a connection when you've chosen the way of the mystic can be difficult and lonely.
As a culture we have massacred spiritual awareness in favor of a materially based, scientifically validated universe. We are unwilling to admit that the materialistic mode of perception is just that, a mode of perception...one among many. In fact, many cultures see physical reality as the lowest and most limited level of reality that human beings can perceive. And while it is important it is not to be valued over the other, deeper and more meaningful levels of reality. So for all of the western world's material achievement we have failed in the realm of spirituality and Holism.
We have lost contact with our spirits. We've traded our third eye for 3rd generation tablets and the wisdom of introspection for the wisdom of buzzfeed. I get it, spirituality is lofty, whimsical, difficult to define and frequently subtle, but the abandonment of spirit comes at a high cost.
I've noticed lately with my students and in the media in general a rise in anxiety and panic (or a rise in the awareness of anxiety and panic). People are anxious, scared, fearful or in full fledged terror, often over things they are not aware of. On a cultural level it seems this panic is existential. A byproduct of a society that has overvalued mental development in lieu of development of the heart. A symptom of the growth of the collective western ego fed by immense technological advancement and extreme disillusionment with economic and social disparities.
We are beginning to see that the things we've been chasing aren't making us feel better. We are starting as a culture to see through the promise of materialism partly due to the very public collapse of the some of the foundations of Western life. There has been a decay of the visage of the material foundation, hence the rise in "decaying tropes" in American media (The Walking Dead anyone?) We love the show because it is a mirror for the existential fears of the culture.
We are are at a loss for something to believe in. Many organized religions have proven to be rife with dogma, rules, human misinterpretations and the potential for violence. On the other hand spirituality is undefined, untethered, wooly headed or seen as anti-intellectual. And still yet, science is both fascinating and terrifying as it appears to be growing faster than we can keep up with, leaving questions about the place for humanity in a digitized cultural landscape.
The problem however is not with spirituality itself but with the definition of spirituality as we have defined it in the West. Since the rise of the New Age in the 1980s and 1990s, fed by maturing hippies, spirituality was increasingly equated with collecting crystals, holotropic breath work and the channeling of totem animals.
The New Age movement co-opted many indigenous and traditional cultural spiritual traditions of subaltern Asians, Africans and Native Americans, commodified them and sold them to the highest bidder. There is nothing inherently wrong with many of these new age beliefs and practices but the meaning behind them has been lost because Americans in particular want the solution without the underlying meaning.
Meaning takes time to decode. It's not immediate and it requires patience. Therefore those who recognized the superficiality of the new age movement failed to recognize that the ancient and often profound wisdom some of those beliefs were based on can be highly transformative. Unfortunately, those cultures and their beliefs and rituals are marginalized, brutalized, or pacified via neocolonialism (which is the intellectual and cultural equivalent of Christopher Columbus).
Academics (of which I consider myself for better or worse to be a card carrying member of), and the intellectual elite reject spiritual understanding explicitly often due to its association with religion, denial of science, lack of evidence or too much reliance on anecdotal folklore. However for me this merely signifies the arrogance and fear of the collective western ego: arrogance in the belief of the "rightness" of scientific rationalism in the face of a multitude of other systems of thought, and fear over losing the basis of reality through which our economy and social structures have been built.
Without scientific rationalism we fear we will lose our competitive edge. The false bravado that our reliance on science and reason makes us better than those savage tribal people worshipping trees or talking to spirits. Why without science and reason we would be no better than those cultures we worked so hard to subordinate right?
Then there are those who accept the palatable aspects of spirituality, meaning sans metaphysics, esoterica or the "paranormal" in favor of what I sometimes call "spirituality light". You know this kind because you may be most comfortable with this kind: it's the yoga practicing, meditation dabbling, emotional naval gazing variety of spirituality. And don't get me wrong, it's absolutely important and is in fact a valid level of spiritual development but it tends to shy away from the "spooky", less readily explainable aspects of spiritual understanding.
In this version of spirituality you can claim the efficacy of meditation through validated research or practice emotional/psychological growth with the confidence of the discipline of psychology behind you, and be more readily accepted as a "reasonable" albeit slightly hippyish productive member of society.
Hell, a whole wellness industry has sprung up around this version of spirituality. In many cases it's repackaged Buddhism without the mysticism or ritual aspects. Nonetheless it does not tend to embrace the way of the mystic, which delves deeply into the mysteries of all levels of awareness to search for the divine, palatable to the masses or not.
This version of spiritual treads lightly on topics which could be off putting to the western rationalist, and with good reason. You have to ease a trepidatious person into spiritual understanding and meditation is much easier to explain than the importance of clearing the aura, cleansing the astral body or clearing karmic contracts on various planes of consciousness.
I suppose this post is for all the mystics out there, searching regardless of "validity" for all aspects of the divine. The modern mystic is willing to search through old traditions, explore new guidance and synthesize the wisdom of science and the esoteric to uncover what that marriage can tell us about ourselves and our relationship to the cosmos. The modern mystic fuses the truths of creation and evolution, the majesty of materialism with the fluidity of energetics, and seeks to uncover the interrelatedness of spirit and matter and everything in between.
Yes, I have experienced various energetic, paranormal and supernatural phenomena. No, I'm not uneducated, wooly headed, naive or crazy. I embrace and value the intelligence of the world's tribal and indigenous wisdom about nature as well as the great advancements in science and technology. I can allow that there are a number of things that happen in our world that we can see (and much that we cannot) and to me it is not "unexplainable" but rather unfathomable under the current paradigm which limits our perception and possible understanding. It was only 200 years ago that the X-Ray was discovered and before that the concept seemed like sheer madness.
I can at once read and relate to the great existential philosophers write about the finality of human life and the anxiety of a seemingly finite consciousness and revel in the ecstatic poetry of Rumi or Hafiz. I can accept without skepticism the experiences and divine personalities of Meher Baba, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Ammachi or Ramana Maharshi and at the same time respect and understand the brilliance and spiritual skepticism of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking.
The way of the mystic requires courage to challenge the accepted view of reality and make up your own mind. It demands a pulling back of the veil to see what's beyond the naked eye, and then a willingness to explore behind that veil. The path of the mystic is useless without a desire and openness to understand with both the mind and the heart.
But most of all it requires an unequivocal belief that by deepening our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to the universe we come that much closer to understanding (and by understanding I mean feeling-not mere intellectual understanding) the enormity and profundity of the divine.
So for all of you mystics, or potential mystics out there this is us waving to you on the path. Whatever path your on I promise we'll meet again somewhere and share the weird, wonderful and wild things we saw on our trips, and then laugh for an eternity that despite our apparent differences we were all seeing the same magnificence, expressed a million and one ways.
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