The idea of a spiritual crisis, which is expounded especially by Stan & Christina Grof, is crucial for the kind of development we assist in bringing forth. To put this in context, here’s quote from a longer, excellent article by Conny Jasper:
In such a crisis, the person is barraged with many inner changes. Their old beliefs and behaviors are challenged, as their relationship with reality rapidly shifts. They suddenly do not feel comfortable in the once familiar world, and may have problems meeting the demands of daily life. They may find it difficult to distinguish between their inner visionary world and the external world of everyday reality. Within their bodies they may feel forceful energies causing uncontrollable tremors
(Grof & Grof, 1986, p. 35).
I’m sure it goes without saying that “spiritual” and “church / religion ” have nothing to do with each other. It may be more comfortable to say “crisis of meaning” because spirituality is so tightly connected, in most minds, with “church.”
Lets look at what may or may not be emerging in the world – a new, dynamic perspective regarding human potential. Before we go there, however, we need to look at the dangers of exploring this path.
The Problems of the Avoid – Dance
As far as spirituality goes, I believe that all people are given the opportunity to, as Ken Wilber puts it, “transcend and include” – to move past stuck places while one gains new insight. In this way one moves further along their individual path of meaning and purpose. (We transcend and include all the time as we learn, for example, to ride a bike, or walk.)
I suspect these opportunities are ongoing and repetitive, and that we re-visit old patterns as we move along.
What I see a lot of, and here is the danger, are people who,
- a) are experiencing a crisis of meaning, which always requires a radical shift in the way they deal with themselves and others, and
- b) rather than do the work, they want to sneak around the pain that comes with profoundly changing one’s way of seeing and being. They only focus on some nebulous goal. They do not realize that the pain is the path.
- Tightness of body and mind
- Lack of sleep
- Inability to focus, muddle-headedness, confusion
- Lack of purpose.
- to keep jobs that kill their souls,
- to cling to dysfunctional relationships,
- to distract themselves with “the view from on high,” in a vain attempt to ignore the symptoms.
- If you have not successfully formed, and then let go of, (the transcend part) your relationship to your mother / father, you will find yourself relating to a partner as if (s)he is your mommy /daddy. This is going to be a disaster.
- Now, assuming that you did figure out “mom,” the “include” part is this: as you grew up, you (theoretically) learned how to relate to your parents, and then to friends. You (theoretically) became an adult, and discovered that learning to relate to a life partner/sexual partner is another kettle of fish altogether. You have some learned some relational basics, but need to move past them, while including them at the next level.
Many are the folk who play the avoidance game – they resist feedback, are reluctant and uncooperative clients, and remain stuck in a sanctimonious posture regarding their own level of enlightenment.
It is extremely painful to strip away the pretences, the blaming and the stuckness. This pain is unavoidable, unless one plays the game of refusing to enter into it.
The first transition is letting go of one’s
ego posturing and defensiveness,
while entering into the pain of transformation.
Seeds of the Problem
Part of the problem comes from the western attraction to being better than or “one up” on others. In our example, this gets played out through the belief that one is “further along the path.”
Matthew Fox, the radical “Xtian” theologian, talked about this in his book, “A Spirituality Named Compassion”. He compares Jacob’s Ladder to Sarah’s circle.
Fox suggests that western thought is built upon the idea of getting ahead by by-passing (crushing) others. He illustrates this by describing the dream Jacob had, of angels climbing to and from heaven. He indicates that in the west, “higher, more advanced, on top, better than…” is the chief path.
So, people who play the, “Well, I may be jammed up, but at least I am better (farther up the ladder) than so and so..” are stuck on the ladder.
Fox compares “climbing the ladder” to the playful nature of a circle or group of dancers. There is no comparison or competition. There are, as the lyric of a song goes, “the dancers, and the dance.” This cooperative picture is mirrored in the dance between therapist and client, Master and student. There is a gap in terms of the skill of the “dancer,” but not a hierarchical “ladder.”
Why does this matter?
Well, the physical symptoms of a crisis of meaning are quite common these days.
The hierarchical model begs people to hang on to the ladder’s rungs –
It is so very easy to see what is “up” for others, and so hard to see what’s up for ourselves.
Finding another approach – the dance of exploration
Thus the Master – student dance. It’s the only way out. As with ballroom dancing, someone has to lead. And that requires letting go of the ladder – it requires surrender – and in all spiritual traditions, that surrender, only initially, is to another person.
A teacher / therapist can help us to see our stuck places and help us to pry our fingers loose, but in the end the walk is ours and ours “alone.”
The Metaphor of the Spiral Staircase
The reason things seem stuck and challenging, by the bye, is contained in yet another metaphor – the spiral staircase.
If you can let go of the western idea of higher=better, what you see is that, on a ‘spiral staircase,’ the path returns upon itself. You’ll quickly see that the path of meaning means “same issues, different perspective.”
Add in Wilber’s “transcend / include,” and you see that, with each circuit, you bring along (include) what came before, while at the same time, you approach the issue from a more “enlightened” and therefore transcended perspective. (“both / and” vs. “either /or”)
In other words, your issues are your issues are your issues, until you die.
How you deal with them is entirely optional.
A New Way of Seeing
In order to begin conquering the stressors connected with personal development, you have to let go of the western idea that there is a “good, better, best” hierarchy when approaching your own growth. You must move past the notion that “up” is somehow better than “down.”
Please, tell me I don’t have to list all of the judgements and dichotomies within the language,
(i.e. higher/lower, right/wrong, good/bad, etc. )
My point is that black/white, dichotomy thinking is deadly. If you can’t let go of judging yourself on the basis of whom you are “better” than,you are well and truly doomed.
I tell clients that they have only one or two issues – and that these issues re-occur with different “faces” – i.e. a relationship issue with parents will re-play with a lover/spouse, and will replay with teachers, and ultimately with our relationship with the Ground of our Being.
Thus, the wise person confronts their issue each time the issue arises, (no matter what the guise or “level,” as opposed to whining about it showing up again.
This is the point of the spiral staircase analogy. Stuff re-occurs. What may change is my perspective.
Let me add this into the mix: Many moons ago, I wrote a series of articles on the Chakras as they applied to psychotherapy issues. I’m not saying that Chakras (or anything else) are the be all and end all for understanding life. I am saying that they make a pretty good metaphor.
Let’s imagine standing above a spiral staircase, and looking down. Looking down, one sees the following points or issues. I’ve described them as the growth issues of each Chakra. Start at the outside, and move inward.
I’m assuming you can also imagine “flipping” this spiral upright, so it looks like the first illustration.
While it may seem like I’m beating a dead horse and you “get” what I’m saying, let me repeat:
Until you die, you will endlessly re-visit the various “points” on the spiral.
All that changes is the focus of the engagement.
(How far along the staircase you are,
without “far along ” meaning better.)
To reiterate by using the 2nd Chakra, which is the home to basic relationship issues: the very first relationship I have to figure out is my relationship with my mother (and to a lesser extent, dad). If I can’t figure this one out, I am dead. So, I learn the rudiments of relating at my mother’s breast, so to speak.
Another form (level, depth) of relationship comes when I begin to experiment with relating to a partner. Now, clearly, the basis of this more advanced form of relationship includes what I learned as a child. I transcend what I learned by shifting from childish attachment to a meeting of equals.
Most client issues re. relationships is exactly and precisely this – one is acting like a child to the other’s mom or dad – in other words, they are trying to resolve the old issues in the new relationship, and can’t, so they end up re-enacting the past.
The “transcend and include” piece of this puzzle should be pretty clear. If I have not resolved AND included my relationship with my parents, I cannot have a healthy relationship with my partner. And if I have not integrated my relationship with my partner, I cannot have an authentic relationship with the Ground of Being.
Most spiritual/vocational crisis comes from exactly this lack of integration.
The basis of a healthy relationship is full, engaged, intimate dialogue, with no games, manipulation or blame. It is the engagement of two equal, self-responsible people.
The Vocational Piece
If you have not learned to have this kind of relationship, 24/7, with at least one person, it is impossible to do it with the source of one’s vocation.
I know. I’m getting all airy fairy here. I do believe, however, that we are all called into a particular (general) area of service, and in order to accomplish this, I have to be willing to surrender both to myself and into a servant relationship with the Source of this vocation.
In other words, I have to get over myself, grow up, stop being a whiny, blaming kid, and accept a co-creative, service role. This requires a single minded focus on the walk and path, while at the same time remaining fully engaged with the world and with those I “serve” through my vocation.
If I haven’t figured out how to have an authentic relationship with an equal partner, how, how, how will I ever be able to do this from a place of service?
Ask yourself: what are you distracting yourself with – how are you keeping yourself from full engagement with your calling? Money? Time? Family responsibilities? What are your excuses? Who are you in relationship with, and how is that going? Who is your mentor? What are you afraid of?
And most important: what can you do next to facilitate your walk?