Friday, July 15, 2011

A Spiritual "False Start" - Acting Too Soon

"There are two sides to the insight of integration, after all: both what is being integrated, and what it is being integrated into. Often we possess the former but not the latter. I may have a great insight into nothingness, for example, but if I think I'm integrating it into a real world, I'm still confused. Really getting emptiness (ayin, in Kabbalistic language) means really getting form (yesh) as well, seeing it as real, perhaps, but translucent, luminous, a dream in the mind of God. That is very different from 'I've had my experience of God and now I can bring it back to my everyday life.' Reading the best-selling Eat Pray Love, I had just this experience. Elizabeth Gilbert writes beautifully of her peak experiences in India, but seems to believe that the experiences are really 'once and for all' moments. That is, she gets it, she sees the Point, she's one with God -- and then she writes as if that insight will never fade. But all insights fade, and simply calling for integration is not enough. Peak experiences do change us permanently, at least in my own experience, and in what I've heard and read from others. But they don't flip a switch from off to on, and there's a lot of pressure to move back to the 'off' side of the sliding scale back in the conventional world. What's needed is not the threading of the peak experience into a pre-existing life pattern, but further work to create new and stronger threads that can then be woven in.

There are experiences, and then there are more experiences. The Kabbalists, the Hasidim, all schools of monastic Buddhism and Hinduism, Sufis, Christian mystics -- all of these emphasize that powerful experiences are but the entry point to even more powerful ones, and more crucially, the stage-changes that are so much more difficult than simple changes in mindstate. The point is not to get ever higher, like a dope fiend needing more and more junk to feel good. The point is to continue to burn away the illusion that you are a separate entity, to undermine the natural selfishness of the self through long and serious effort. Jumping too soon to 'integration,' which should come toward the end of the path, cuts one off from the possibility of these deeper experiences and changes in the self. It's like going to a high-end restaurant and leaving after the appetizer course. Pretty soon, you will get hungry, and will eat whatever's available."

- Jay Michaelson

Essay in its entirety:

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