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Wednesday December 8, 2004: Spiritual Ladder: Part Two


          Sorry if I've procrastinated following through on this entry. I took time off to write the annual Christmas letter, then lost my initial enthusiasm in the subject. Worse, this subject never came together the way I wanted, and I felt stuck continuing. I meant to explore why people can act spiritual during good times, then fall back on destructive patterns when the first dark storm of controversy hits. Why don't ideas of compassion, tolerance and charity continue when one feels personally threatened?

          Powerful meditative experiences may be uplifting and leave one floating in higher realities for several days or even weeks. I've seen this often in various spiritual disciplines. Any single experience fades with time, though it usually leaves an incentive to go back and reach for new insights. A religious conversion is a transformational experience that is supposed to last a lifetime.  The initial enthusiasm seems to last about two years. Yes, you still feel this new truth will give purpose and direction; yet as the spiritual enthusiasm wears off, old habits and attitudes begin to creep back in. Why, after these transformational experiences, do people backslide into everyday reality, into the familiar patterns of their past? Why do they resort to the lowest elements of human nature when faced with difficult situations?

        I think of higher states of awareness as climbing several rungs up on the spiritual ladder. The view from higher up allows you to see further. At the same time, standing on a ladder rung leaves little room to maneuver. You stand at a higher level while clinging to vertical poles and balancing on a specific rung. One does not move horizontally in the everyday world (which you really need to do) while clinging to ladder rungs.

         On any spiritual path, there are laws or rules of attitude and behavior. Think of these as two-by-fours. Some arrange their two-by-fours on the ground next to the ladder; while it gives these people a sense of support, it changes little in the way they move through life, other than keeping their feet dry while muddy waters slosh along the ground. At its worst, I think of the peaceniks of the 70's who carried signs proclaiming "Make Love, Not War." Nice concept, but unfortunately when they were challenged or even questioned closely about details of their belief, their response tended to be volatile (anything but loving and tolerant of other views).

People who have actual experiences within the higher worlds can sometimes take the boards and shove them into the lower rungs to create an impression of a higher spiritual foundation. Situational ethics are best represented by this image, since one only needs to behave spiritually when it's convenient and one's behavior will be publicly judged. It looks great as long as one doesn't need to actually stand on the structure during times of crises.

         Building a true foundation at the higher level means taking the two-by-fours and carefully securing the boards together into an organized structure, like the first step in building a deck. If the two-by-fours are set as a basic foundational support, one can walk on a single two-inch edge or balance between boards. On the spiritual levels, it is conscious repetition of preferred behavior that builds such a foundation: "In this situation, behave this way."

             Throw in an unexpected or unusually strong crisis too early in the building process and some may end up clinging desperately to the strongest boards, focusing far more attention on holding onto the laws and rules than in effectively responding to the outside conditions. I see this when people cling so hard to words and rituals that they miss the reason why rules were put forth in the first place.  Most commonly, when people feel threatened or vulnerable, they return to a place of familiarity where they can maneuver on a more solid footing. They end up back at an earlier level of emotional behavior, where habit can take over for reasoned-out responses.

          To deal with unexpected challenges from an elevated spiritual awareness level, one must lay down a solid foundation, something which allows natural movement in any direction, during any situation.  Living a spiritual life is not just how often we have seen into the spiritual worlds or the depth of our spiritual insights. The solution is not in acting from a higher level but being at a higher level, integrating all the smaller facets of one's personality into that higher level.  The solution lies somewhere between turning the new insights into your life and turning your life into the new awareness.

           One may consciously and purposely direct one's outer actions until habit has added enough two-by-fours to fill in the gaps, or one can add floorboards on top of the two-by-fours by transforming the opinions, attitudes and defense systems that are part of a lower state of awareness.  In the end, one must never be content with a single spiritual insight. To climb the spiritual ladder may show a new reality, but it will require persistent effort before one can live the new reality.          

Posted on Wednesday, December 8, 2004 at 05:47AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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