connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
answering questions about time and eternity
“If men care for gold, they must dig for it. Otherwise they must be content with straw.” ~ Heraclitus
“God instructs the heart, not by ideas but by pains and contradictions.” ~ de Caussade
“To pass by the truth, rather than inhabit reality seems to me to be a travesty, a tragedy, an unnecessary deprivation.” ~ Richard Harvey
My work is all about spirituality. It is about what is real. If you choose to use my teachings as an addition to other paths or follow my account of the psycho-spiritual process exclusively that is your choice. Just be careful of the mix-and-match approach, whereby you assemble bits and pieces of various methods and philosophies you like and discard the bits you don’t like.
My approach is not merely a psychological method it is not even merely concerned with the flowering of the individual and his or her happiness. It is concerned primarily and absolutely with truth, with reality.
What is real is a question which can drive you mad or liberate you. In fact everyone is either on a road to madness or a road to liberation. Since I was very young I experienced an unwavering confidence in… something. Before I had words or descriptions, I knew. This knowing also resembled un-knowing, because although I was confident about the inner world of intense conviction and confidence, I was not at all convinced about the outer world which seemed to me flimsy and somehow unreal. Everyone around me seemed to be convinced about this outer so-called reality but me. I held this conviction inside me for over twenty years without any support whatsoever.
In my twenties in the late 1970s I stumbled upon the Human Potential Movement, a melting-pot, a Pandora’s box, an extremely dangerous, exciting collection of new therapies, eastern meditation techniques, charismatic teachers and leaders, challenging and revolutionary models of how to live, how to feel, and how to respond to the gift of life.
This appearance of the teaching, the dharma, in my life turned everything upside down and inside out. This is a basic principle of the inner journey: when you embark on the psycho-spiritual path, don’t expect an easy ride. If you want an easy ride, stay home! Watch movies, have fun, get drunk, and go to parties. The psycho-spiritual inner journey is hard, harder than you imagine, excruciatingly hard, difficult, challenging beyond your wildest imaginings.
Your discipline, practice, and teacher will get you through. Actually you will get you through. But while you are not too sure about you, because you are not in your center yet, the teacher and your practice substitute for you. This is another basic principle of the inner journey: find a teacher and if you can’t then prepare for your teacher inwardly. When the teacher appears you are obviously ready, so don’t hesitate and certainly don’t miss the opportunity. You have everything you need now, your success is assured. You simply have to trust in yourself, the teacher, and the process.
No, you have everything you need. Need and want are different. You don’t even know what you truly want for some time. When you know what you want, which is largely what you are receiving, you are empowered to enquire more deeply into the nature of desire. You can ask the crucial questions like, Do I really want what I want? How is what I need different from what I want? How does desire support my sense of lack in myself?
But this does not mean that everything goes smoothly. No divine signs are necessarily given that you can have what you want—personal fulfillment, a loving partner, professional success, financial plenty, and so on.
What you do get is a baptism of fire. I have said before that the inner journey requires giving up everything for the only thing of value. This means that you give up your false self for your real being-ness, the True Self. You should be prepared for pain, for hard times, for very real challenges and intense emotions, despair, feelings of futility and grief, rage, and pain.
Everything is against you. Even your loyalty to yourself is compromised. Within you are saboteurs, duplicity, false magicians, misdirection and desire, double agents. The deception and the intrigue can be almost total.
Awareness is your central practice. You must be very present because when you are present you cannot worry, plan, or resort to fear and anger which supports your ego. Your ego is not the enemy but the defenses that surround it are. And those defenses are all products of the mind. So thinking is not very helpful. Anyway we all think far too much. What you must do is feel and to feel you must relax. Relaxing is not as clear and simple as you may think. Relaxation is not just your muscles and your physical body releasing tensions. You must relax your innermost being deeply and profoundly. This is done through meditation. When you have done that you can feel and experience. This may be the first time you have ever felt this deeply or you may not be able to remember when you last felt the world, as it was so long ago.
Then there is breath practice. Firmly locating yourself in your breath is a powerful practice for the life force. Follow the breath in at the nostrils (and occasionally the lips) and down, filling your lungs, lifting your diaphragm, distending your belly fully, and tracking the breath all the way down to the perineum. There experience a pause at the end of the in-breath, a pause of life force and relaxation of peace and vibrancy, then follow the breath up out of the body, through your abdomen, solar plexus, your lungs deflating and relieving themselves of air, and out through your nostrils (and occasionally your lips). Again experience a pause, allow a pause, and deepen into the experience of this gap between the out- and the in-breath. Then repeat the process, except breathing is never repetitive, never boring. The receiving of life is a celebration, a wondrous experience, a profound and deeply felt event. Even as you perform your breath practice, you are increasing in your sense of vibrant life, of excitation and enlightenment.
So we have breath, we have awareness, and next we have humor. Now when aspirants start the inner journey one of the common themes is that they consider ego a ghost in the machine and they profess to work seriously against it. This is all wrong. When you are in the beginning stages of inner work, please treat the ego appropriately—with humor. Do not take yourself so seriously. The benefits of not taking the ego and yourself too seriously and resisting too much philosophizing about the ego and its affects are enormous. I won’t go into those benefits here. Please just take this on trust: treat your ego lightly. You will have lots of time and opportunity to get serious about the ego at the appropriate time.
Next your chosen path comprises of three streams, three aspects. They are teacher, teaching, and group. Now these are not really three different things, more three aspects of the same thing and the predominant one is the teacher, because without the teacher the rest of it is like spokes on a wheel with no center.
In my life I have had more than one teacher. But my natural, and as it turns out most wise, tendency has been to intensify, absorb, and immerse myself in the teacher each time. So for example with my first teacher who was also my therapist, I would be fascinated, enchanted, and enthused to be with him. I and many others, because he had this affect on people, would enthuse about the latest event and the opportunity we would have to sit and watch and work directly with him. We watched his hand movements, listened to his words, and felt and experienced a rare atmosphere of presence around him. He emanated care and compassion, intuition and skill. I and the others sought to imbibe these qualities of his and more, we were absorbed in a relationship that increased and deepened our awareness every minute we were with him.
Many years later I happened upon Nisargadatta who I had somehow missed out on even though I had been in Bombay when he was still alive. I found Nisargadatta’s teachings exceptional. His words leapt off the page in a way that was indicative of the enlightened master. To immerse myself in his speech for even a few minutes was enough to deepen my clarity and transport me to a more expansive awareness and wisdom. When a friend of mine went to San Francisco I had him purchase all the books, not just some of them but all of them. There were about eight books that I didn’t have and I assembled them all together with a magazine piece I discovered I had in my possession and some printed material off the internet.
Then I immersed myself in the teachings—all the way. It seemed to me there were no other teachings, nothing comparable anyway and that Nisargadatta and I could be stranded on an asteroid in space and I would feel I had everything I needed with me.
Nothing at all dramatic. In fact I haven’t even read all the material, although when I do, I love it. I had this significant dream. I arrive at Ramana’s ashram, presumably Arunachala, although I don’t think I could even pronounce it at the time—this was the early 1990s I think. I arrive at Ramana’s ashram. I am carrying a suitcase and I am met by someone in a reception area who leads me in through a doorless entrance off to my left. And that’s all! Only the atmosphere and the feel of the dream were extraordinary. The whole dream took place in a vivid brightness that is simply not worldly, not of this earthly plane, and the softness and the feeling of beauty and rightness was most powerful. When I awoke from the dream I had this unwavering conviction that a part of me even in waking life was meditating in Ramana’s ashram; some part of me was permanently there… or permanently here.
I ran this story by someone who lives at Mount Arunachala a couple of years back and they corroborated the story. I think it’s not so unusual. Then recently I was asked if I had a special affinity with Ramana Maharshi, or perhaps it was if I was close to him, and, although I would usually think about questions like these, I simply said yes without hesitation. Whenever I see a picture of Ramana I experience a devotional pull.
The devotional feeling you have toward the spiritual teacher is a divine monogamy. Today people write to me and they say, I have been reading ACIM (A Course in Miracles), I have started some meditation practice or other, and I have been inspired by Papaji and Advaita. But they are falling into despair because they are more confused than ever. Of course they are! They have spiritual indigestion. The power of teachings like Nisargadatta’s or ACIM or Advaita Vedanta is such that without some separation, some loyalty, some spiritual monogamy, you will not be able to stomach them altogether in one meal. You will get spiritual indigestion.
Not only that it will also be counterproductive. Adding methods and philosophies does not necessarily work in spiritual endeavor. Let me give an example. It is an obvious one, but one that makes the point.
Two ancient spiritual methods or approaches are neti neti and the Mahavakya. In neti neti, which means “not this, not this,” you bring your awareness to the world of arising forms and negate each one until all that is left is the Divine. In the Mahavakya, which means roughly, I am the totality of existence, you incorporate everything in the universe, leaving nothing out until everything is Divine. The goal therefore is the same: to stand in witness consciousness and see that everything is Divine. The methods however are diametrically opposed. In one you negate everything and in the other you affirm everything. You arrive then at a state beyond mere relatedness where you are continuous in Consciousness with all arising phenomena and Divinity.
But you will not be able to practice neti neti and the Mahavakya at the same time. Clearly they will cancel each other out or you will become confused so you will reach stalemate.
Spiritual nourishment does not come from an indigestible smorgasbord of a mixed variety of dishes. We get heartburn, stomach ache, and an irritable bowel. If we persist it leads to vomiting, to regurgitation in an attempt to cleanse the system and purge ourselves.
Spiritual life is like ordinary life in this regard. In love relationships, for example, if we are disloyal to our partner, the partner feels betrayed and hurt. He or she may experience vengeance, anger, and the desire to punish. For months or years unless we sever our connection from our partner, we may feel this anger, this mistrust and vengeance, the uncertainty, the broken faith. In some cases the rift, the break in trust, can never be mended, the relationship deteriorates and ends.
An even deeper form of loyalty exists in our psyches. If we are not consistently loyal and true to our soul—another word for psyche or our inner muse, guide, or wisdom—we are in opposition to ourselves, self-destructive at the deepest level.
Yes, the deepest act of disloyalty is to your own soul or anima and the anima (or animus for women) will deal out terrible reprisals.
If spirituality is our most serious pursuit and our inner journey, our spiritual practice, our sadhana is the most important aspect of our lives—and it deserves to be—then our loyalty, consistency, and dedication to it should be examined minutely. Without a clear understanding of the commitment that is necessary, whatever method, guru, or discipline we embrace, however profound and transformative, it will not mean much to us or our lives unless we bring the right relationship and commitment to it.
But we have mistaken license for freedom, confused doing what we want to do for exercising our right to make our own decisions, mistaken our conditioning for free will. Today we have a great deal of choice, more than ever before, but we haven’t earned it. There are rituals of approach, ceremonies of initiation, vows to be made, expressing commitment and dedication and constancy. We are familiar with these rites in weddings, baptisms, Holy Communion, and so on. Even there they have lost much of their lasting significance. We are a long way from the reality of the binding word, the word as bond, the Word as God made flesh.
Our whole life is a ritual of sorts; some rituals are conscious but very often we automatically go through the motions. The rituals of spiritual approach are very clear and they comprise part of the sacred rites of humanity that are fast fading from our reality, out of our awareness in modern times.
With spirituality, like most other areas of interest, we want to jump straight in to the game! Be involved quickly, get somewhere rapidly, make progress now. We want results, something back, something tangible. We want to improve ourselves and our lot in life, our life circumstances, even if it’s to be a better person, a kinder person, a less selfish person, we have a stake in our personal development. This is pertinent in personal growth of course. It is what personal growth, personal development, psychotherapy, and counseling are all about, or have been about. But when you cross into the spiritual realms you leave all that behind. Spiritual psychotherapy was originally named Transpersonal Psychotherapy (by Stan Grof). It denoted beyond the personal, beyond and past personal concern or identification. We now have another term—psycho-spiritual psychotherapy. This level of inner work is essentially impersonal, which is not an attractive proposition for people who are interested in personal concerns, personal attainment, and individual investment. They may not even understand what is truly meant by impersonal in this context.
Furthermore the path and the process demand a great deal of tolerance, patience, steadfastness, earnestness. These kinds of words sound old-fashioned, but they are really the right words. You have to be humble and self-effacing. And you need to be courageous enough to take selfishness a long way—a long way because only when the fire of selfishness is extinguished is selflessness a reality, an inner potential that can be fulfilled.
There really is no shortcut, no way round this one. Desire to be selfless as much as you like, but that goal is unattainable without your resilience, your commitment, and your courage to follow the path of selfishness until it withers in you.
Yes and a very necessary one. Under the influence of societal mores and exoteric religion we are exhorted to be selfless far, far too soon, long before we are capable of it. Therefore selflessness is misunderstood and mostly false.
Currently I am giving a series of nine lectures in a live online course. The series is entitled “The Novena Teachings” and the subtitle is “Nine Jewels of Sacred Approach.” The themes are subjects like surrender, awareness, and devotion. You see these and other disciplines are necessary ways in which we prepare our approach to the Divine and protect ourselves while making our spiritual practice effective at the same time.
The sacred approach to the Divinity has long been lost in our consciousness. So I am trying to revive it because there really is no substitute and without it we are truly lost. Humanity will not recover spiritually, humanly, existentially, and probably not even psychologically and physically from the destruction caused by the loss.
The Word has been made flesh in many different individuals who have transcended their personality. It all depends on the socio-political situation as well as the individual’s destiny and role in the impersonal realm of the spiritual. Some give rise to a religion, others sink into obscurity. Simply because Jesus and Buddha, for example, gave birth to a system of thought and practice that became world religions don’t suppose them to be the only human beings to have shed their personality and realized their unity with the Godhead, Brahma, or the Father. They are of course hugely influential on the world stage, sociologically, religiously, morally, and so on. But are they the most significant spiritual figures simply because they are the most well-known? Spiritually Shankara, Patanjali, Hui-Neng, Chuang Tzu, Bhai Sahib, Sri Ramakrishna may be at least as significant, though less well-known.
Esoteric spirituality has no direct connection with the social, political culture of society, of collective humanity. It is purely concerned with the inner journey to the impersonal realms of the Self. Now how this attainment, how this deep wisdom and truth, is percolated down or indeed if it needs to be, or even can be, percolated down to life in the relative realms is a matter for debate and discussion. One thing is for sure though and that is that we see things today in terms of materialism solely. It means that when we start talking of spirituality in spiritual terms, i.e. as an inner deepening state of profound being, it has little value to the worldly mind and heart that wants to see some action, some difference made in the world, some impact following the investment of time and effort.
Spirituality must be understood, acknowledged, and recognized as a sane and necessary human endeavor and field of concern and influence in itself with no application whatsoever. This is the most crucial and significant act of (re)instatement of the sacred in the modern era. Spirituality is not an activity to get involved in for something you can get out of it. It is the activity or non-activity of being entirely merged with the Source of Life itself, of Wisdom itself, of Love itself. As such it need offer no further incentive, no fringe benefit, no material profit or inducement of any kind.
Pure spiritual practice without ego-engagement or at least without the intention of ego-engagement, and without rejection of or involvement in the world is the aim of one of the projects I am initiating: the Arhat community project.
Yes, very much so. The devaluing of the arts in many ways in society is an indication that all is already not at all well with our relationship to the inner world. Art in its pure form connects the inner and outer worlds. For many, art provides unconscious access to the numinous.
For us today there is a convergence of multiple streams of religious and spiritual thought, methods, maps, and structures of belief and practice. The spiritual aspirant is right to be fascinated and intrigued, curious and enthused by these systems, myths, and scriptures, inspirational lives, and great sayings. But as time goes on and you deepen in your inner pilgrimage, your appetite for these outward expressions of spirituality is replaced by your reliance on inner truth and wisdom.
However this is reflected inwardly in your commitment to your spiritual teacher. In other words your exclusive attention to the outward guru, his devotion to your journey, his attending to your soul and spirit with guidance and love, are the outward manifestations of an inward event.
You now begin to cease searching even in subtle minor ways and eventually your search begins to grind to a halt. Seeking may have been dropped already but in ever subtler ways you have become aware that you continue to do it in fantasy and thought. Now however you let go of even the smallest trace of seeking as you profoundly arrive in your sacred and eternal reality.
So not being apparently interested in spiritual ways and means in this context and stage is a sign of greater spiritual maturity and wisdom.
It is possible if in your real nature you are inclined toward scriptures, writing, and scholarliness and if the ego now is steadily and fully in service to the higher powers in you that you read and study, write and produce, but your relationship to outward ways and means is nonetheless qualitatively transformed.
Of the many ways and means to the sacred-spiritual Adavaita Vedanta is an extraordinarily high teaching. So high in fact that many get in major difficulties when they approach this method before they are prepared and ready. It is one of the tenets of my Three Stages of Awakening that healing the psychological or the child heart is crucial and necessary preparation for the deeper levels of human development. Since this preparation is rare, the ready availability of Advaita teachings in the contemporary world is very often counterproductive and even damaging to the human psyche.
We have missed out on the fact that powerful spiritual teachings were traditionally received following a period of preparation and cultivating readiness. No one was expected to jump straight into Advaita Vedanta. It is like being expected to perform a parachute jump without prior instruction.
The instruction period is necessary, not optional, and this instruction is given lovingly and profoundly, impersonally and individually, by the spiritual teacher of course. Thus once again the relationship with the teacher is central, otherwise “understanding” will be premature and without foundation.
Here for example is a question sent to me by a modern day seeker struggling to understand Advaita Vedanta, non-dual teachings:
I have begun to “understand” that the physical world we see is not real, but more to be understood as a dream. We are dreaming that we live in the physical world and that dream lasts for a lifetime. We are not the body and birth-life-death is all illusion and part of the dream. I “understand” more and more that this human being is not my real Self, but that the one who witnesses it is the real eternal Self. So if I were able to stay all day in the witness position I would be awake. Do I “understand” it correctly?
Now as usual understanding something is one thing, but then going and putting it in practice and living it is another thing. If our true Self is not that human being walking around with a name, then it does not matter what another “human being with a name” says to me, because the “human being” is the appearance, the illusion, not real ... and so if one says, “I love you” or “you are… whatever....” it is one illusion talking to another illusion. But if one awaken TRUE Self would talk to another awaken TRUE Self could there be anything else than love? Two awakened beings, two true Selves, talking to each other, is anything else other than divine love and compassion possible?
Delightful though these ruminations are from a human point of view, they are filled with spiritual inaccuracies. A careful reading show that the “understanding” referred to here is premature. For example, the real Self is impersonal, the ego-I does not participate in Reality or co-exist in any way, shape, or form with the Eternal Self, and an awakened being is impersonal Consciousness. In my next book, Your Sacred Calling, I have devoted a whole section to the Advaita problem.
That’s a very interesting question. In my book Tao’s Gift, there is a great passage in Chuang Tzu’s story “Keng’s Disciple.” It goes like this:
Keng San replied: ‘I have nothing more
Bantams do not hatch goose eggs…
It is not so much a difference of nature
As a difference of capacity.
My capacity is too slight
To transform you.
Why not go south
And see Lao Tzu?’
The disciple who is an archetype—he is you and I in our pupil-hood—has reached a wall and he is in despair. Keng, who is an archetype again, this time of the spiritual teacher, has offered him all he has to offer and the disciple is unchanged but more importantly unequipped to proceed because he cannot receive Keng’s teaching (hold your center and don’t be disturbed by your mind). Now Keng’s advice to see Lao Tzu demonstrates Keng’s greatness. He does not try to hold on to the disciple, neither does he drive him away. He merely gives the option: Why not go south and see Lao Tzu? This is the attitude of the spiritual teacher. You accept whoever comes to you, but you never try to hold on to them. You simply accept them and that’s all.
He or she may be, but it is not necessarily the case. You may have a therapist and then move on to your spiritual teacher. Or he or she may be the same person. Ultimately the guru, the inner teacher, is inside you. The reflection of this person, this embodiment of wisdom, should however be honored and related to just like in a dream when you become conscious of what is going on and understand what is appropriate, how to behave, and how to be.
Mouna, the ultimate teaching, is in silence. The transmission of spiritual truth in no way depends on words, the senses, or physical and psychological relatedness:
Silence is the resonant void, the place of all potential, of all creation; the place where you awake from a dream of death, laughing out loud, because you know that death and life are the same. There is nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing but ‘what is.’ Silence is the perfect teaching, the purest expression of the absolute nature of being. Finally we are at one with the True Self and know that we were never separated. We are never without the celestial sound of the ‘silent music.’
My encouragement is this: don’t focus on enlightenment experiences, don’t follow your desire for them. The paradox is that the True Self already is enlightened, the Self existed before you were born and will continue to exist after you die, because the Self is eternal. Therefore, it should be obvious that focusing on what is already happening is clearly counterproductive sabotage! Much more worthy of our ongoing attention is the consistent application and resilience to apply ourselves time and time again to our spiritual practice—awareness, breath, devotion, presence, mindfulness—without deviating or becoming distracted.
Much has been made of these enlightening experiences in populist psychology and spiritual literature. Sadly I don’t have much to contribute to the pantheon! Although I have had transcendent and enlightening experiences of sorts and I have recounted them in my writings, my self-understanding is that my task is to find a way to communicate the truth I was born with.
Enlightenment experiences, like a loving relationship or any other desire, are most effectively approached through surrender—completely let go of the desire, then it comes to you.
We must understand time in eternity. We need to understand that we are basically spiritual and in a way that we cannot forsake—spiritual beings. The brief sojourn here in the body on earth in this single lifetime is beguiling and fascinating, full of passion and love and attachments but it is not who we are. All our striving is for one goal whether we are aware of it or not and that goal is freedom.
The spiritual path or the path of return or the path of liberation is not progressive or based in a methodology, whether prayer, renunciation, meditation, contemplation, mantra, mudra, yantra. All these may be a routine of ritual and a demonstration of dedication and devotion and commitment but any action, practice, or method is not in and of itself a way to Divinity.
I have been expressing this intensively in my writings and workshops and lectures for some years now. You are Consciousness, you must awaken to what you are and live it if you want to be fulfilled in this lifetime.
This opportunity to awaken, to become liberated, and to realize the Self in our lifetime, is a jewel of great price, a priceless gem. Nothing is even close in value to it, so dedicate yourself to the spiritual endeavor, the spiritual and sacred life. You do not have to withdraw from the world. You can live an ordinary life grounded here in the world, but your spiritual self is the most important aspect of the human life because it is eternal, whereas the rest of it will fade and end.