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Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Dangerous Life

All spiritual work is, by its very nature, dangerous.  This is because spirituality is not governed by empirical standards of measurement (i.e. you can't weigh someone's spirituality).  It is entirely subjective in its experience, and even the results can be questionable.  After all, there are plenty of people who think that Mother Theresa was a madwoman, that monks are deluded for wanting to pray all day (and night), and that people in AA who stay sober are tricking themselves into recovery by believing in God.  Even results are not enough to convince some people of the reality of the spiritual experience, let alone its degree.

In the previous post I discussed the 'safety model' of our society, and nowhere is this more obvious that in the rampant materialism that exists in this age.  If we reduce all of life to measurable standards, then all we are stuck with is the material.  But, if we are also going to govern people's actions and make life 'safe' for them, then we must also reduce life down to a more governable condition.

Ideas are hard to govern, since they are both powerful and fluid, and nowhere is there a more powerful idea than the idea of God.  This is why oppressive regimes always either have to take control of religion (theocracy) or deny it altogether (militant atheism).

When we begin to explore religion, it is usually through the material: be it the art, the liturgics, the 'look' of the people who practice it, etc.  While we may toy with its ideas, the decision to live out these ideas only comes when one makes contact with this material expression of the spirituality.  This material component gives us something to measure and to 'grasp.'

Once you get past that stage, then you must move into the danger zone.  You must begin to adjust your perceptions and become willing to honestly experience things you have not experienced before and make judgments about their relative goodness or badness based on fluid standards that are hard to quantify.  It becomes, to some degree, an entirely personal experience which cannot be shared with anyone else.

This dangerous place in the heart of man is filled with great joy and also profound pain.  Its secrets terrorize us, and we are often repulsed by what we find.  Yet, it is here in the deepest part of us that is where the work of sobriety, the spiritual work of recovery, must happen.

If we are not honest, then we will turn to falsehood rather than the truth, and the danger becomes a reality.  We can trick ourselves.  To avoid such self-delusion, most people stay out of their hearts and stick with the material: money, sex, food, substances, vanity... there's a long list here.

But, the 'safe world' of ignoring the heart really isn't safe at all.  It is an excuse to let the truth fester within is (if it is a bad truth).  What is worse, we often have many good truths within us that we ignore.  Even a profoundly selfish person is tormented by his guilt, but he doesn't know how to go within in order to deal with it.

We are more than the small, restricted space of the 'safe world.'  There is an inner yearning for that connection to the Profound that is missing when we cut ourselves off from our own hearts and ignore our inner lives.

That is not to say that all spiritual work must be done in isolation.  This is not so.  To avoid delusion while entering the heart, we must have a 'line out.'  It is our connection to other spiritual people, who hold the other end of the 'rope' as we explore ourselves, which is critical in avoiding delusion.  If we get into trouble, they can pull us out.

While spirituality is dangerous, we can build for ourselves a team: spiritual advisers, sponsors, counselors... others whom we trust and bear the fruits that we ourselves seek to bear.  One cannot get sober alone, and neither can one encounter God without help.  After all, the goal of all self-exploration is to prepare a place for Him to dwell within us and illumine us.  The inner exploration ends up being a cleaning party.

If we make room for the inner light, then we can truly experience Him.

The danger comes when excuse the presence of those things that prevent the light from entering.  If we refuse to let go of the debris that takes up space within us, then our explorations merely become fantasy.  We enter ourselves only to deny what we find.  We design rationalizations and live in denial.

Those on the other end of the rope can shout advice and instructions, but they cannot remove the clutter.  They cannot force us to abandon our fantasies and cleanse our hearts.  We must do that ourselves, with their coaching.

Thus we have the danger: the spiritual world requires us to use our own willingness to be healed and cleansed.  We cannot be forced to the way the 'safety model' forces us to do things a certain way.  We cannot be compelled to be healed or accept reality.  This is why, despite great advances in mental health medicine, our inner-city streets are crowded with the insane.

The danger is that we might choose to be insane, and no one can stop us.

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