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The (Fourth) Voice of Sovereignty

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Mystics, Philosophy, Shamanism, Spirituality, The Soul

Spiritual author Cynthia Bourgeault has written on a discernment process she has developed employing a conversation between what she calls the four voices, i.e. the four human identities of 1. ego/personality, 2. soul, 3. spirit, and 4. Heart. I follow the same basic four part scheme in my teaching, except that what Cynthia calls the Heart, I term The Sovereign (or Sovereignty). But essentially the perspective is the same.

I believe this fourfold teaching of the human being is a crucially important one for our time and age. I recommend reading Cynthia’s post in full (as well as this followup piece). There are a number of significant implications that develop from this basic fourfold scheme. Cynthia describes a very beautiful practice of letting each voice speak in turn in relationship to making a decision (aka discernment).

I want to extend this fourfold idea into some other domains.

The first and perhaps most important takeaway from this schema is that each of the four identities (or voices) has its own worldview. Each identity opens up a specific worldspace–it has a lens, a filter. Different phenomena arise depending on which identity is being accessed. In other words, different values, thoughts, feelings, and insights correspond with each of the four voices. Each identity brings its own world of experience. Each identity creates its own boundary of possible experience and understanding. Each identity is therefore a different world.

One of the extensions of this fourfold scheme that I’ve been working on is to think through essential teachings that derive from each of the four aspects of our being and learn a way to bring them together in a fundamental integrative human teaching. I’m going to explore this idea in greater detail below, but first we need to get a bit clearer on the four terms and to what identity each refers.

The ego or frontal personality is essentially a series of survival strategies. It’s not so much that the personality has various strategies. Rather the ego-personality is (for most people) those strategies. The ego/frontal personality is the aspect of us that we identify with it say at a party or business function. You meet someone for the first time you immediately introduce yourself by name. You both end up talking about where you grew up, what schools you went to, your job. Whether you’re married, divorce, single, have kids or not. The ego (or more simply the self) is the aspect of us that is born and will die. It also knows it will die. This aspect of us is highly conditioned. It has only a few go to moves and will always deploy them. Though even here we can grow into a deeper self maturity.

The soul (lowercase s) is the source of classic shamanic and animistic processes. The soul holds karmic and ancestral energies. The soul (lowercase s) is our connection to the psychic reality of Earth and the land. The soul is what carries forward lifetime to lifetime. The soul is the one who undertakes journeys to the otherworlds. The soul is what travels in our dreams and visions. The soul is the source of subtle energy, connections to angels, guides, deceased loved ones, saints, The Creator. It’s the realm of shadow work, exorcisms, and energy healings. It’s the domain of tarot readings, astrological connections, and the Akashic Records. Access your soul and these realities automatically start emerging. That is these realities exist in the worldspace the soul opens. They are not accessible, for example, by the ego (nor interestingly by spirit).

Spirit is our connection to the universal. Spirit is transpersonal. It is what is the same for all of us. Spiritual language is language of Unity, Oneness, Non-Separation. Spirit is the The One Without a Second. Spirit is Being Per Se. Spiritual teaching, spiritual enlightenment, and spiritual realization then all point us to the recognition of our spiritual nature and identity.

The Sovereign (or Sovereignty) is the aspect of us that integrates our self, our soul, and our spirit into one utterly singular unique expression. The Sovereign is the Flavor of our Incarnation. The Sovereign is a Master Weaver taking all of the aspects of our being, bringing them into our own manifestly distinct human being. The Sovereign weaves us each into an irreducible tapestry of being. The Sovereign is for each of us, the True Guide and Teacher of our being. The Sovereign is Infinity+1.

So with those four identities a bit more clarified, we can now turn to a way of simplifying and understanding the nature of various kinds of human practices. The basic premise here is that different practices are aimed at different voices/identities. For example, personal growth processes are aimed at the personality-ego. There are soul-based practices, e.g. shamanism. There are also teachings on the nature of spiritual awakening.

Each set of teachings is valid from within the bounds of the specific identity with which it works. Another way of saying that is that each set of teachings is true and yet partial. What true but partial means is that those teachings are not valid outside their area of legitimacy. For example it makes no sense to study personal growth techniques in order to about how to relate properly and lovingly to the souls of your ancestors. One is for the ego (personal development), the other is the work of the soul (the ancestors). Similarly it doesn’t help to study spiritual enlightenment in order to solve a psychological issue (that’s called spiritual bypassing).

In this way the four-identity or four-voice framework brings a great deal of clarity.

Working with a Tarot reading (soul) is not going to help optimize your email flow (personal growth/personality). An exquisite Tarot reading can however nurture your soul. Learning to meditate (spiritual teaching) doesn’t help your soul–in fact if you’re not careful it can actually teach you to bypass it. Optimizing your email flow also doesn’t teach you about the nature of your fundamental Consciousness. For that one you need spiritual teaching.

Knowing which identity a practice is oriented towards allows the practice to do what it does best and not be asked to do things it’s not designed to do. As Ken Wilber says practices and teachings are “freed up by being limited”.

An upshot of this meta-frame is that allows spiritual teaching to be relieved of the burden of having to solve all problems for all people all the time. It also restores the inherent value and proper place of soul work–which is often marginalized and/or outright denied in our day with its dominance of personal growth and spiritual teaching. This fourfold meta-perspective also creates a role for personal growth work in relationship to soul work and spiritual teaching that does not allow the personal growth side of things to co-opt soul and spiritual traditions as in much of the contemporary spiritual wellness lifestyle crossover scene (aka LOHAS).

That’s a first key piece coming out of this fourfold framework: seeing how to incorporate aspects from each of the three traditions in a harmonious, mutually supportive manner.

The second aspect is opening an entire new domain of practice and exploration: namely that of The Sovereign. I’m going to explore that rich topic in a later article.

But for now the key point is that when deploying this fourfold meta-frame, spiritual teaching ceases to be the end all be all. Personal growth ceases to be the highest value. Enacting your soul purpose (while crucially important) no longer takes priority of other aspects of being: like spiritual awakening or personal health.

The central learning is how to incorporate at least some of each of the three major traditions to create a basic integrative framework for human practice. By the principle of true but partial, each of these traditions is relativized (in the best sense). They are freed up by being limited.

In the ego-personality realm we have the traditions of psychotherapy, somatic bodywork, and personal growth.

In the soul realm we have energy healing traditions as well as shamanic practice, with all its multitudes of variations and diverse expression.

In the spiritual realm we have teachings of nondual awakening and realization.

We put all these traditions on a horizontal line. Therapy is not greater than nor lesser than spiritual enlightenment. Soul work is similarly neither greater than nor lesser than either psychotherapy nor spiritual awakening.

All need to work in harmony. Each has a specific piece of the puzzle that is unique to it: therapy, soul work, spiritual practice. No one of them can fill in the essential elements brought by the others. Spiritual teaching doesn’t help heal your ego. Working on healing your ego (in therapy) doesn’t teach how to realize your spiritual identity (as for example meditation teaches). Neither of those teaches you about the nature of you as a soul.

Ken Wilber writes that the problem is never partiality. The problem is always wholeness without partiality. When a spiritual teaching claims to be the final ultimate and only valuable teaching it’s preaching a wholeness without partiality, aka an ideology, a fundamentalism.

When however we recognize the partially true value of each of these streams we begin to ask how we can have them work together for the mutual benefit of all. We begin to ask the right set of questions: how do I begin to incorporate elements of ego-personality practice, soul work, and spiritual teaching into a cohesive, integrated process?

That question leads to a very fruitful line of inquiry to be lived. That question is the one I believe we need to be asking of ourselves and each other right now. How do we wisely include them all in their respective truths? That I believe is the one of the core benefits that an understanding of Sovereignty brings (the one that creates a big enough home for each.)

19 Apr 2017 no comments / READ MORE

Why Self-Worth Leads to Worthlessness

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Healing Arts, Shamanism, The Imaginal, The Soul

Energy healer and author Cyndi Dale argues that one of the core negative beliefs a human being can have is “I am unworthy”. She describes a number of such core negative beliefs: e.g. I am powerless, I am unlovable, I don’t belong, and I am undeserving. And for her, all those are variations on an arch-belief: “I am separate.”

I think she’s onto something. Maybe there are others that could be added but that’s a solid list. In my work with individuals, I’ve come to think that all of us have at least one of those core negative beliefs (if not more than one). Of that list, the strongest one for me, the one that has had the most negative impact in my life is: “I don’t belong.”

Knowing what the core belief (or beliefs) are is a very important first step but by itself is not sufficient to change the underlying dynamic for a person. I’ve known that I feel and believe myself to be an outsider pretty much my whole life. I was adopted so I felt like an outsider in my own family. I felt even more of an outsider in the wider world of school, other families, childhood peers, and later in my life with other people.

So knowing that is on one level affirming. Yes I struggle with that one. Knowing all of them more broadly has given me greater empathy–I have a particularly sensitivity obviously for folks, like, me, with the “I don’t belong” one, but learning this model has given me a much greater appreciation of the struggles and deep pains of other people.

The resolution to these core negative beliefs requires connecting to the energy that ought to be there instead. As an example, for I am unlovable that would of course be the experience/state of being of “I am lovable. I am loved. I am loving.” For I am powerless it would be, “I am, as I am, a being with the capability for power and choice.”

The core belief I see most commonly in my practice is “I am unworthy.” And I’ve noticed something interesting in working with this negative belief. Namely that the energy that resolves this belief is not–what would seem at first blush to be the obvious solution–“I am worthy.”

What I’ve discovered is that I am worthy as an energy, as a feeling-belief statement, as a state of being, is caught in the very same problem as I am worthless. I thought that “I am worthy” would be the obvious resolution to the belief of I am unworthy but to my surprise it’s not.

I’ve come to think unworthiness and worthiness like a chinese finger trap.

Chinese fingers traps were really popular as a kid where I grew up. We’d always win them at summer church festivals. If you’re not familiar with these the are deceptively ensnaring. You put your fingers in each end of the trap. Your instincts tell you to pull your fingers out of the trap but pulling them out is what causes the trap to be set and your fingers to bet stuck.

No matter how many times I played with the chinese finger trap, I’d fall for it again and again and again. Even when my brain was telling me not to get my fingers caught, even when I rationally knew how to avoid the trap, I’d still fall into it.

This is a perfect metaphor (I think) for the question of worth.

Worthiness and unworthiness are the two sides of the finger trap. As long as we play the game of either worthiness or unworthiness we’re trapped–we pull right (affirming our worthiness) and we are trapped. We pull left (into familiar unworthiness) and we’re still stuck.

What I’ve come to believe is even the statement “I am worthy” is very subtly denying the dignity of a person. It is still part of the trap around worth (even though it sounds so much more affirming than I am unworthy or I am worthless). Deep down I believe we all realize that saying we are worthy is a crock of you- know-what. There are people who can very forthrightly say they are worthy and so on–we see these people as having high self-esteem often enough. My experience, on the contrary, is that they are deeply bound, deeply needy, deeply dependent on their projected self-image. To live from a place of I am worthy is to force oneself into life. It’s a posture that make demands of life (that obviously must be met since after all I’m worthy of them). It’s falsely aggressive.

Worthiness and unworthiness, the energetic finger trap, are both products of a world without grace or redemption. The person who feels unworthy might believe there is so much deeper grace in the universe but they haven’t met the requirements. They are unworthy, they have not earned, such grace. Which goes against the very definition of grace, i.e. unearned, free gift.

Rather than having to gain the approval of others or even life itself (like their unworthy counterparts), the ones who feels worthy also do not believe in nor experience a life of grace. They don’t need the approval of life or others, rather others (and even life itself) exist to serve them. Other people must earn their approval. The worthy ones are, after all, already and forever worthy of the affections, desires, and affirmations of others. There is no grace there because grace, again, is free gift. It is unearned. The same pattern holds both positively (I am worthy) and negatively (I am unworthy).

Unworthiness and worthiness–the two sides of the finger trap.

The key to escape from a chinese finger trap is to counterintuitively push your fingers further into the middle of the trap. As a consequence the trapping mechanism lets loose of its own and the ends widen. At that point your fingers gently slide right out.

We need a similar kind of movement in relation to the energetic topic of worthiness.

The answer to the finger trap of energetic (un)worthiness is Dignity.

Beings are inherently dignified. Being itself, in its essence, is dignified.

Dignity is a quality of the Sovereign Soul. The Sovereign aspect of our being does’t need to earn worthiness, nor does it struggle with having lost worthiness (or never having gained it in the first place). The Sovereign simply swims in the waters of Dignity. Inherent, intrinsic Dignity. And when a person feels the deep inherent Dignity of their Sovereign Soul, then questions about worthiness or unworthiness just drop away. The hooking mechanism of the energetic finger trap has released and the fingers spontaneously free themselves.

The word dignity comes from an ancient root meaning “to take or accept.” It later has the sense of proper or fitting (e.g. proper rank), as well as honor or privilege. The Sovereign Soul has a proper, fitting dimension to its being. It “takes” or rather “accepts” its natural state. It properly fits into the wider realities of Life. The Sovereign Soul has its proper fit, its proper place or “rank” within the deep ordering of Life. There is a rightful sense of its honor, of “privilege” for oneself as well as the proper fit, honors, and privileges accorded other beings.

The word dignity did eventually come to mean worthy–as in “worthy of proper honor, privilege, or respect”. It’s closer to the energy of “taking” rather than “accepting”. Here I mean taking in the negative sense. And this is where the energy goes sideways as now we have to earn our place in life, i.e. our proper fit. A life where we have to earn and struggle for respect and honor. A world where whoever is on top–whoever has wealth or power or control—gets to decide who receives honor and respect and who does not.

This way of living automatically creates stress and tension. If we can earn worthiness than we can of course un-earn it. It is unstable. If one can “take” worthiness, then someone presumably can take it from us. If we are forced to “accept” worthiness, then that means someone else has control over us.

Hence all the elbowing, jockeying, fighting ways of being. All the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” contractual, obligatory relational patterns. All to preserve some semblance of worth.

But it all turns out to be a facade.

The entire arena of competition that runs so much of our world drops away at he level of the Sovereign Soul. Here is true Worth. Here we have true Honor and Respect.

When we connect with Dignity, Capital D, then all this world of posturing, avarice, and competitiveness, is like dead skin. It just flakes off. It doesn’t require a heroic effort to peel it all away, it just peels itself off. The trap has been released.

In this place each person is intrinsically Dignified. I am intrinsically Dignified. You are intrinsically Dignified. So however are all other beings and we begin to notice this obvious truth.

There is however no practice, no meditation, no affirmation, no healing technique, no process for one to gain Dignity. None. Absolutely positively none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. For if Dignity, capital D Dignity, could be gained through some kind of process than it could be lost. If it required some action in order to feel Dignified, in order to be Dignified, then it would have a beginning in time. All things that have beginnings must have endings.

If there is a beginning to Dignity then there was a time when you were not Dignified. And now we’re back to the finger trap. If you work hard and then feel worthy then you must have felt unworthy before and that means you could very easily fall back into feel unworthy. Which means you have to hold on like hell to the feeling of worthiness, which is anxiety producing.

Instead, realize your Sovereign Soul, aka realize your distinct flavor of incarnation. Each of us is a singular expression of the universal process. Each of us is a Personalized Expression of the Life Process. That dimension of your being, your Sovereignty, your Soul, is automatically in a state of Dignity. Dignity is an attribute or quality of The Sovereign Soul. And once there is Dignity, fundamental, intrinsic, inherent Dignity, then the whole game of worthiness and unworthiness simply ends. The finger trap is released and one is liberated from ever having to play such a game.

The chinese finger trap is after all a practical joke which as wikipedia helpfully states is meant to be played on “unsuspecting children or adults.” The worthiness-unworthiness is game is far more serious, far less humorous, than a practical joke. It ruins people’s lives. But so long as we are “unsuspecting” we leave ourselves open to being played.

The feeling of Dignity is an automatic effect of realizing, connecting with, and ultimately identifying with your Sovereign Soul. That’s the counterintuitive move here–like pushing your fingers into the trap. Once you bring your consciousness and inquire into worthiness and unworthiness then you are like the person pushing their fingers into the middle of the trap. You open space. Then you can connect with your Soul and its inherent attribute of Dignity. Then your the fingers of your Sovereignty are freed.

If the Sovereign Soul does not take up this crucial life area, then the self (the ego, the personality) ends up trying to do the work of Dignity. When the self takes control of this life area we don’t end up with Dignity (which as I’ve said is a Sovereign Soul energy) but rather we end up with the focus on self-worth on worthiness, which as we’ve seen, inevitably leads to its opposite energy of unworthiness.

The self, in other words, will never believe it is ultimately worthy. It will always be caught in the game of trying to prove it’s own worth, automatically thereby cultivating a shadow energy of unworthiness, of lack, of a sense of deficiency. There is no way out of that flaw from the ego. The ego runs on a closed loop. Asking the ego/self to do the work of Dignity is asking it to do a job it is not equipped to do. It is unfair for judging it as having failed to do something it is not capable of doing. That way leads to negative, dehumanizing, debilitating shame and a profound sense of worthlessness.

Focusing on building self-worth means the self is supposed to be in charge of the process. It’s right there in the name itself: self-worth. But the self is the very thing that feels and believes itself to be unworthy so how is it that it is going to do the work of creating self-worth? It will have to receive a message that it (the self) is, as it is, deeply flawed and is wrong and therefore needs to change, which of course will only fuel a greater sense of worthlessness. At this point the practice of self-worth which is supposed to create a greater feeling of self-worth is actually creating a deeper sense of worthlessness.

In contrast to that egoic reality, the Sovereign Soul offers an inherent, intrinsic sense of Dignity which cuts through any need to prove worth and thereby the fear being proven unworthy. Only the Sovereignty knows it’s Dignity. Be that one and the rest can start to figure itself out.

03 May 2016 2 comments / READ MORE

Fear Is Not The Opposite of Love: A Critique of A Course in Miracles

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Mystics, Philosophy, Shamanism, Spirituality, The Soul

“Fear is the opposite of Love.” –A Course in Miracles

A Course in Miracles is one of, if not the, most popular spiritual texts of The New Thought tradition. The back story of the writing of a the text is a bit complex and quite fascinating actually (see history here). Essentially A Course in Miracles is claimed to be the words of an inner voice, given to Helen Schucman. Schucman believed that voice to be the voice of Jesus. The text is often popularly shortened to The Course and I’ll use that shorthand throughout but important to remember the official title is A Course in Miracles (A, not The).

The Course or Course-inspired views of spiritual life have come into mainstream popularity, particularly through the writings of contemporary spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson. Those ideas have now extended to a new generation of spiritual teachers, particularly strong in what’s known as the spiritual but not religious community of seekers in North America. I encounter ideas who have their roots in The Course (and certain strands of New Thought theology more broadly) constantly in my private practice. Overall what I see are Course ideas and beliefs creating problems for practitioners. While it’s far too much to explore the entirety of the teaching of The Course, I do want to explore this quotation:

“Fear is the opposite of Love.”

This is the core claim of The Course. It’s also in my view misguided. In what follows, I want to explore why I believe that claim to be false, as well as what relationship, if any, fear and love should have to each other.

To explore this topic I’m going to use quotations from Marianne Williamson’s classic book Return to Love. Return to Love is a popular rendering of A Course in Miracles. Return to Love I think brilliantly portrays and clarifies the overall teaching of The Course. My disagreements are with elements of the teaching of The Course itself. But in order to understand what The Course is arguing for, Return to Love is, in my mind, the best entry point.

Here for example is a very important quotation from the beginning of Return to Love that lays out the overall vision of A Course in Miracles:

“A Course in Miracles calls itself a ‘mind training’ in the relinquishment of a thought system based on fear, and the acceptance instead of a thought system based on love.” (Return to Love p.20).

I want to be clear then about what my critique is because it’s a somewhat subtle point. I’m NOT arguing that The Course in Miracles fails to achieve what it sets out to do. I do see people who follow The Course moving from a thought system based on fear towards a thought system based in love. I do see The Course’s teaching fulfilling its stated mission. Of course no one ever completely follows that path in every moment of their lives, but as a teaching it does I believe succeed in its stated goal.

It’s that goal however that I believe is a problem. I think starting with the mind (‘a thought system’) is ultimately the wrong place to start spiritual teaching. The mind needs eventually to be incorporated into an overall integrated spiritual teaching yes, but I don’t believe it’s the place to begin. More importantly I don’t believe the ultimate aim or purpose of spiritual practice should be to move us from fear to love.

Not starting with the mind and not moving from fear to love. The two are related but distinct elements. The rest of this piece is an exploration of those intertwined critiques.

Now before diving fully into this topic, I realize I’m stepping into some tender territory here. I know plenty of people who have received enormous benefit from following The Course. For example, Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love is a testament to the grace The Course brought to her life. I acknowledge that I’m going to be touching some raw nerves.

It’s certainly true that people can (and do) receive benefit from following The Course. This isn’t an abstract proposition–I know people who fit this profile. They are friends, acquaintances, clients, and the like.

Nonetheless I still maintain that the benefits of The Course bring with them unforeseen shadows. It’s these shadows I want to explore. I believe it’s important to explore these shadows because they often go unspoken. Bringing the shadows to light allows us to retain the beauties of The Course while releasing it’s flaws (of which I think there are some significant ones).

So to the critiques….

A central reason I believe that the mind is a poor place to begin spiritual practice is that the mind inherently creates binaries: light versus dark, up versus down, truth versus falsehood, feminine versus masculine, the list of such binaries is endless.* This binary formulation is the very nature of the mind. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

In The Course the fundamental binary is between Fear and Love. Once that fundamental binary is set, then The Course becomes a mind training to move from fear to love. Very often when a binary is set up, one side will be seen as positive and one as negative. In the Course this is definitely the case. In the Course, Fear is wholly negative and Love is wholly positive. One is hell (fear) and one is heaven (love).

Since the teaching is sourcing itself in the mind and has created a binary, then the training has to focus on how to move out of one (fear) and into the other (love). If one views the world as divided between Fear and Love, with fear being evil and Love being holy, then obviously and rightly the next question to ask is:

“How do I move from the evil (fear) to the holy (love)?”

It’s in that context that we can understand The Course’s emphasis on the notion of “shifts in perception”. Perhaps the most quoted line of The Course is “a miracle is a shift in perception”. A shift that is from fear to love.

Having created the fundamental metaphysical binary between Fear and Love, The Course will then argue that fear is unreal. The illusory nature of fear is the key to moving from it to love. In the teaching of the Course, once we see that fear is not real and connect with what is real (Love), then fear melts away.

Unfortunately the human being is much more than simply a mind and fear is much more real than a thought. And here is where things begin to unravel.

The crux of the problem is this:

Fear is an emotion. It is also intimately related to the proper functioning of the human nervous system.

Love, on the other hand, is a choice.

Contrasting Fear with Love is contrasting an emotion with a choice. That’s not comparing apples to oranges. It’s more like comparing apples to 747s. Or apples to duplexes.

The Course teaches a way of mentally shifting from fear into the spiritual state of love. Unfortunately the shadow-side of that maneuver is that it bypasses human sensation and emotion.

Describing Fear as illusory may be true when looked at from the level of the mind, but it’s definitely NOT true when it comes to the level of the human body and emotional life.

Attempting to route around fear, rather than turning towards it, leaves the person subtly (or not so subtly) quite fearful and anxious. Paradoxically it is only when we turn towards and embrace our fears that fear stops controlling us.

But that is not what The Course teaches.

What The Course does is exploit a temporary short-circuiting mechanism of the human bodymind. That’s why it can and does work but only for so long and only in a partial way.

Williamson states:

“The Course teaches that fear is literally a bad dream. It is as though the mind has been split in two; one part stays in touch with love, and the other part veers into fear. Fear manufactures a kind of parallel universe where the unreal seems real, and the real seems unreal.” (p.23)

Fear is not a bad dream. At least it need not be. It’s no illusion. Fear is simply an aspect of human existence as a sensory, emotive, incarnate being. Realize this and the neat and tidy metaphysical system of strict separation between love and fear begins to blur and break down.

The Course is named a course for a reason. As a course, it uses imagery of training. There’s a method. Life is a school.

I’d submit that all these metaphors are a consequence of the fact that one is beginning the process at the point at which fear is most calcified, i.e. the mind. Fear begins as sensation, from which it takes on its emotional charge. When Fear is met at the level of our sensation and emotion then it can be worked with. Fear can be raw, even intense at times, or more garden variety. But fear in the sensory and emotional realms–when rightly worked with–is actually quite supple and fluid. It’s dream-like in its movement but it is literally not a bad dream. Fear is literally a sensation and emotion.

When we deny our fear such that it spreads from our nervous system through our emotional self into the mind, then we are too late. Fear in the mind is far too rigid. Therefore it takes the most forcefulness to undo it from that point. Hence a course, a training regimen.

Realistically there are only two options at the point at which fear has overrun the mind:

1. return back to the level of sensation and emotion and learn to work with fear (i.e. work on it where it originates)


2. deny its reality and try to route around it.

The Course chooses the second option. It therefore does not undo fear so much as skips over it.

The second option–the one the Course chooses–would be a solution if one could maintain that state of Love 24/7. That however is wildly unrealistic. Consequently as soon as one falls back from Love then the fear will return, likely with more power attached to it.

If however we sink to the level of our sensation and our emotions, then fear is simply another aspect of our human existence. Fear has wisdom to teach us. If we set up our spiritual system as moving from Fear to Love, then we will never learn from Fear. We will never gain the gifts of Fear because we are always running from it, rather than turning toward and (intelligently) facing it.

It’s not possible to turn towards and embrace our Fear from the place of our minds. The Course is right about this point, but wrong in its assumption that therefore fear is to be denied altogether.

It is however very much possible to turn towards, to become intimate with, and to embrace our fear. It becomes possible for fear to be transmuted. It is possible–indeed I would argue essential–that fear be transmuted and its hidden light released.

“Fear is to love as darkness is to light.” –Return to Love, p. 22

The view of The Course is that there is only Fear and Love, Darkness and Light and we embrace the Light and deny the Darkness. I argue instead we should become darkwalkers, we should critique the bias towards The Light (aka “High Vibrations”) and instead learn to find the Light hidden in the darkness.

In the perspective of The Course, fear is never redeemed. Fear is never transmuted or turned into Light. No part of fear is connected to the Light.

But all those views turn out to be wrong. I would take the wisdom of Fear any day of the week (and twice Sunday) over the foolishness of such seeming profundity.

Fear is actually a word commonly used for three related but distinct emotions: fear, anxiety, and terror/panic.

–Fear is an emotional response to perceived threats.
–Anxiety is an emotion that warns us that we’ve entered a place of some instability in our lives, like a boat rocking on choppy waves.
–Terror/Pain is the wisdom that comes forth under great duress to take the hit of trauma for us.

From the point of the view of the nervous system, fear is a process intricately related to our flight, fight, and freeze responses.

From the point of view of the soul (or our energy), fear is often a harbinger, a call to enter the cave and descend into the underworld, to become initiated–like Batman.

From the point of view of our emotions, fear is an invitation to connect to our animal nature, to sharpen our senses, and attune to our environment.

Different teachings exist to cultivate this intimate relationship with fear–emotionally, instinctually, and energetically. We can learn to regulate and work with our fear emotionally, bodily, and energetically.

All of those are ways of wisdom.

The Course however does not offer us such wisdom, wisdom we so desperately require in our world. The amount of fear, anxiety, and terror in our world continues to rise. The Course offers no solution to working with those emotions, only a way to try to flee from it. Except, in trying to run from fear, we are bringing unconscious fear with us. 

As Williamson states quoting directly from The Course itself:

“The ego is literally a fear based thought.”

No it’s not. The ego is literally not at all a fear based thought.

We see here the problem of defining the central aspect of humanity as our minds. The Course is locked into a worldview characteristic of the 17th and 18th centuries European thought, e.g. that of Rene Descartes. A worldview in which the human being is a disembodied mind only marginally attached to a material object it possesses called ‘it’s body.’ Our minds are only one aspect of our incarnation which include our physical, emotional, instinctual, energetic, and spiritual aspects. What The Course does is take one aspect of us (the mind) and separates out of the context of the entire range of our humanity and declares it the center around which everything else orbits. This decision is deeply confused and problematic.

Since The Course defines the mind as the central aspect of our humanity (as opposed to one important aspect of our humanity) it has to turn everything into a thought. It turns Fear, which is an emotion, into thought. It’s turns Love, which is an aspect of will, into thought. It turns the ego–which is a feeling mechanism of being a human organism–into a thought. It even turns our spiritual nature into a thought:

As Williamson states, “The altar to God is the human mind. To ‘desecrate the altar’ is to fill it with non-loving thoughts.” (p. 24)

In so doing, The Course denies our souls and spirits as transcendent of our minds, which all the great mystical traditions will most certainly tell you they are. Our souls and spirits include our minds yes but they transcend them as well.

The human mind is not the altar to God. Saying so ends up convincing people that thinking about being spiritual is the same as actual spiritual realization (which by definition transcends the mind).

By defining us simply as minds, The Course cuts out our nervous systems, our emotional lives, as well as the aspects of us that are beyond our minds. It’s represses both the “lower” range of our incarnation (sensation, emotion) as well as the “higher” range of our incarnation (souls, spirits), leaving us claustrophobically trapped in the middle range of our incarnation (the mind).

Which brings us back to the ego. The ego is not a fear-based thought. The ego is what it feels like to be a bodily human organism. The ego is the feeling of being an individual homo sapien sapien. The ego is the feeling of being a bodily human self-conscious organism.

The human body is a feeling mechanism. The human organism feels and senses moment to moment. It feels and senses the environment, other beings, and its own internal state(s). Sensation is how your nervous system feels. Emotions are how your heart feels. Thought is how your brain feels. And the ego is how the bodymind as a total, single organism feels.

When understood this way the ego is not the enemy, just as fear isn’t either. When however we don’t understand the ego in its proper depth as the total feeling response of the human bodymind organism, then we come to experience ourselves as an isolated egoic subject separate from the body. And such a being is inherently fearful (in the negative sense). The Course starts from that isolated fearful stance and then tries to correct it by shifting out of it into Love.

The result of doing that however is that The Course doesn’t understand the deeper feeling reality of the ego. It takes a very immature form of the ego and then defines the ego only as its immature form.

This is why a spiritual system based on the idea of a mental training course is precisely unhelpful. Learning a mental training system does not teach anyone how to feel. In particular The Course does not teach us how to feel with and through our fear.

“Our work is the work of casting fear from the world.” –Return to Love

I don’t believe this is true. Franklin Roosevelt said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I think he was wrong. The thing to fear is not knowing how to work with fear wisely. Not knowing how to transmute our fear is indeed a quite scary proposition. It’s one that rules our world.

But Fear as such is not our enemy. What we do with Fear–use it to abuse people, project it onto others, allow it to debilitate us–these must be cast out. What we do out of unconscious, negative, shadowed Fear that is negative.

Healthy conscious integrated fear however is the way to resolve those issues. It’s not Love that has an answer to negative, unconscious Fear. It’s only healthy awakened fear that can solve that problem. And we will never access awakened healthy fear if we have denied its very existence by labelling all fear as inherently illusory and destructive.

When we treat Fear as the enemy we make it into the scapegoat. We seek to purge it from ourselves and purify it from the world. That is a truly terrifying prospect (with terrible historical weight behind it).

Fear is very much real on the level of our nervous system and our emotions. To deny the reality of fear on the levels of our being on which it exists is a dangerous and ultimately foolish perspective. Any spiritual system like The Course that teaches that fear is not real is inevitably leading to anti-material spirituality, a spirituality that will deny body, flesh, and earth as the truly spiritual abode because fear is very much an intrinsic aspect of our bodily human existence. Fear is in our bellies, our hearts, our spleens, not just our brains.

Saying fear is the opposite of love and that we need to move from fear to love weirdly leaves fear forever unloved. The way fear is cast from the world is not by making it unreal, but rather by transforming it. It is Love, the choice to embrace Fear and transmute it in the heart, that alone can cast the negative expressions of Fear from this world. In the view of The Course there is no redemption, there is no transfiguration, no true liberation of physicality, materiality, earth, emotion, flesh, and blood. In the Course there is only a spiritual escape from it all, leaving fear further marginalized only to return in darker, more terrible forms. Fear needs to be transformed by being brought into the Heart of Love, not denying its reality.

Fear does not intrinsically lead to the dark side (contra Master Yoda). Fear can be our ally and it needs to be an ally in the struggle for goodness and love. This path we must walk.

* Though this isn’t my focus here, it is true that the mind can also do various forms of self or meta-reflection. In can work with binaries as dialectics. It can deconstruct the binaries. It can begin to integrate them in various complex ways. But no matter what it’s still within the basic whirl of the binary.

09 Oct 2015 3 comments / READ MORE

Bliss: The Most Dangerous Spiritual State of All?

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Mystics, Philosophy, Spirituality, The Soul

Awhile back I wrote a piece for the website Reality Sandwich entitled “Why Following Your Bliss is Bulls#@%.” I took a mostly (but not entirely) critical view of the now cliched saying to follow your bliss, originally from the great Joseph Campbell.

I’m not going to rehash that entire argument but there’s one section from that piece I want to expand on here. Namely what precisely is the spiritual state of bliss.

In the earlier piece I explored the confusion of Campbell’s understanding of bliss from the two most common meanings of the word, one emotional and one spiritual. Bliss being the English translation of the Sanskrit word ananda, as in Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being- Consciousness-Bliss). Both the emotional and the spiritual meaning of bliss are not what Campbell had in mind when he spoke of following your bliss. This difference in meaning has created a serious amount of confusion and misunderstanding.

When it comes to the emotional meaning of bliss, I wrote:

“Sometimes people will translate ananda into English as happiness, joy, or even elation. Joy, happiness, and elation are temporary emotional states (good ones no doubt!) but ananda they ain’t.* Ananda doesn’t come and go like happiness or joy. Happiness or joy exist in relation to other emotions like sadness, grief, fear, and anger. Ananda doesn’t have any such relations. There’s nothing to compare ananda to. Ananda is not like happiness which we know as different from sadness (and vice versa). Moreover, it’s possible to experience ananda while also experiencing an emotional state of joy or sadness, boredom or elation, fear or contentment.”

The problem then with advising people to follow their bliss is that if they understand bliss to be an emotional state, then they will be seeking an “emotional high.” They will become addicts in other words. This thinking massively pervades the personal growth and spirituality of much of North America (aka “bliss junkies”).

So having made clear that the emotional state of bliss is not something to be attached to, in this piece I want to explore the spiritual state of Bliss. I’ll explore why I think the spiritual state of bliss to be a very grace-filled experience but also a signicantly dangerous one. In fact it’s likely the most dangerous spiritual state known to humanity. I’m not being overly dramatic. In a very sober way, I mean it when I say bliss is very dangerous.

For reference: I’ll use Bliss capitalized to distinguish the spiritual state of Bliss from the more temporary emotional state of bliss (indicated by lowercase ‘b’ bliss).

Here’s what I wrote in my earlier piece about the spiritual meaning of Ananda (Bliss):

Ananda is the energetic state of awakening. It’s the energetic space that comes from the realization of pure release in the state of utter liberation.

Now these are just words. Without the experience of actual Bliss the words are by themselves meaningless. Even with the experience of Bliss those words are far from perfect but at least work I believe as a beginning entry point to make sense of Bliss.

I’m going to unpack this statement and show why Bliss is so powerful but also at its heart very ambiguous. I’ll conclude with some thoughts on how to set a proper context for the integration of Bliss as an element of an overall human spiritual life. An element, not the element. I want to stress that last point–Bliss should be a part of an overall spiritual life it should not become the final and most important part of a spiritual life.

Saying “Follow Your Bliss” and understanding Bliss as a spiritual state creates its own set of problems–namely the bias towards Bliss as the final, most important form of spiritual awakening. Bliss is very important. Bliss IS NOT however the final and most important spiritual realization.

I’m interested then in exploring Bliss and figuring out a balanced view of its truths and limitations and how best to approach it in order that we can receive the truths and graces of Bliss and not become enmeshed in its limitations and potential shadow sides.

The English language on this point is really unhelpful. I want to describe spiritual experiences and interpretations that are my own but by having to speak of ‘my experience’ it carries a strong sense of personal ownership that isn’t correct in this context. For in Bliss, the normal sense of “I” or “me” isn’t present such that “I” could claim to have interpretations or understandings of that experience. “I” wasn’t even there (I in the normal self-sense that is).

That being said, I don’t also want to give the impression that my experience and interpretation is the final and complete one for all time and places. So I do need to claim some personal responsibility for the interpretations without it becoming an avaricious ownership kind of thing, like Gollum with the Ring of Power. This isn’t my precious.

Still with all that being said, I also am NOT advocating a view of “everybody’s got their own experience, so to each their own.” I do think what I’m proposing, while not the final ultimate interpretation of Bliss, is nevertheless A right and valid interpretation of Bliss. My interpretation is not THE final right and valid interpretation of Bliss, but there are many other interpretations of Bliss that I find wrong or misguided. So I am drawing some clear lines here.

As we proceed, I hope it’s clear I’m trying to tightrope walk with this one.

The only other prefatory comment to add is that my experience of Bliss is, to use some technical language, endogenic. That means it’s an experience internally generated, i.e. through spiritual practice like meditation. In contrast, there are people who experience Bliss through exogenic means, for example by ingesting mushrooms or taking an acid trip. I don’t have any experience in that realm so I can’t speak to it.

With all those provisos, back then to my working definition of Bliss:

Ananda [Bliss] is the energetic state of awakening. It’s the energetic space that comes from the realization of pure release in the state of utter liberation.

Breaking down that definition there’s three component parts:

Energetic space/state
Pure Release
Utter Liberation

In the actual experience of Bliss those three can’t be separated from each other, but for the purposes of teasing out the experience, we can differentiate them, at least conceptually.

Bliss is a spiritual state of Burning Fire. In Bliss it is as if the world melts into Liquid Brilliance. It is as if there is an electrical charge. There’s a dynamism, a vitality, an energetic “pow”.

Pure Release
Bliss is Aloneness. Bliss is solitude in a desert oasis at night illumined by fire.

Utter Liberation
In Bliss one is freed even from having to be free. One is freed from all constructs, including “good” ones like Truth, Freedom, Enlightenment, Goodness. It’s a Liberation from Liberation. In Bliss, stupidity as well as intelligence are Liberated. Confusion and Clarity are seen as two sides of one coin. Heaven and Hell, Nirvana and Samsara, are just forms of Bliss.

Bliss is an Undertow. It’s a Current. It pulls one out to sea. It’s an alluring pull. It’s as if Bliss opens up the pores on my skin. In the space of Bliss, everything else starts to melt away. I find myself simply taken away in the current. This current however has no destination. It’s just the experience of being pulled out to sea, Infinitely, Indefinitely, Eternally. No destination, no goal, no purpose, other than the ride itself.

In the space of Bliss, everything that arises is just gently poured in to the sea. It could be the most creative thought in the world, a most painful memory, a very pleasurable sensation, even seemingly fundamental aspects of my identity, it doesn’t matter. They all arise and simply get buried in the Sea of Bliss. Everything is left in the Desert Oasis of Bliss.

Put all three of these aspects together and you have the spiritual state of Bliss. Because Bliss so charged and because it takes out beyond all categories, all conceptions, all ways of splitting the world into right and wrong, it is very powerful. It is also however, for all the exact same reasons, potentially dangerous.

The Dark Sides of Bliss

Now there are significant dangers associated with each of those three elements. I hear spiritual teachers (or students) often extol the virtues of Bliss, but I hear less often an honest assessment of the dangers involved. I think it’s best to squarely face the dangers and bring them right out into the open.

Danger #1: Addictions, Trauma, and Psychological Shadow

The most obvious danger is the danger for all spiritual states–namely spiritual bypassing. Bliss can and is used as an escape for those suffering from addictions, traumas, mental illness, emotional disease, and/or soul ailments. As a spiritual state, Bliss is free from pain, terror, turmoil, confusion, or trauma. That is a gift of the state but also potentially a curse. Traumas, addictions, and nervous system disturbance are endemic within our culture. PTSD is not only for people who’ve been to war and addiction is not only for people going to 12 Step meetings for alcohol or drug abuse.

In that context, spirituality can then become a siren song, calling us wounded beings to an easy escape from dealing with our challenges on the level which they exist. For example, if you have an emotional problem, then you need to deal with it on the emotional level of your being. Having a spiritual realization will temporarily move you into a different space where the emotional problem doesn’t arise in the first place. That’s a great solution if you could hold that spiritual state for every moment for the rest of your life (which frankly is more or less the advice of classical spiritual teachers btw).

Assuming however you can’t hold that state in the entirely of your being for every waking moment of the rest of your existence (a good assumption btw!), then when the spiritual state recedes, the emotional problem will return. This return of the emotional problem can leave a sense of despair in the practitioner. They’ve struggled with something, then it goes away, now it’s back, so not surprisingly their initial response is to try to return immediately to the place where it doesn’t hurt. Worse still, the emotional problem (or addiction or trauma) can come back charged with spiritual energy. With Bliss this is doubly the case given how strongly energetic (in some cases even erotic) the experience is. A person with a trauma pattern can easily spin out from an injection of Bliss–i.e. they can experience a dissociative state. This isn’t per se a fault of Bliss but we live a pervasively traumatized society. The more we study about trauma the more we realize it’s not something relegated only to people in terribly violent accidents and the like. It’s a much more common experience. Consequently anyone teaching Bliss needs to be very aware of the risks involved and screen accordingly.

Danger #2 Beyond Good and Evil

This one is straightforward. Bliss is definitely beyond our human conceptions of good and evil. It is deeply freeing to be released from our subtle bindings of wanting to be good people. But when Bliss is idealized as the final summit of spiritual perfection (as it often is) then we have a serious issue on our hands. Bliss does not give any indication about ethical behavior one way or another. Bliss is not interested in such matters. Not at all. In the most extreme cases, this can led a human being to claim that they are beyond good and evil. Charlie Manson made just such a claim btw. A person who has experienced Bliss can (mis)interpret the experience to mean that they exist in what is known as a “state of exemption”–i.e. they don’t believe the rules of being a good human being apply to them. Abuse by spiritual teachers, cultism and the like all flow from this basic error.

Danger #3 No Purpose

This element is also quite clear. Not only does the spiritual state of Bliss have no orientation to right or wrong, it has no orientation to purpose. It has no point. It has no direction or aim. This can be radically destabilizing and disorienting for the realizer. Again, if Bliss is articulated as the final, ultimate point of spiritual realization (of a human life even), which in some cases it is, then the final point is pointless. With Bliss there’s the strong possibility of wanting to flee or abandon the world to its own demise and suffering, while one simply “Blisses Out.” Here again is the problem of uncritically advocating “Following Your Bliss.”

The spiritual state of Bliss is not “your” Bliss or “my” Bliss or “anyone’s” Bliss. Bliss SIMPLY IS. It cannot be owned. Further, it goes nowhere, hence it cannot be “followed”. Only something with direction, aim, or purpose can be followed. Bliss has no aim, purpose, or direction. The only way one could “follow” the spiritual state of Bliss is by becoming overly fixated or even addicted to the state. And this, like all addictions, is an unhealthy response to unhealed trauma.

The Solution

Given the severity of these dangers associated with Bliss maybe Bliss should be abandoned altogether? While I can sympathize with that idea, I don’t believe it’s the right choice. There is a reason the Indian tradition valued Bliss so highly by naming it as one of its triad of spiritual realization. Bliss has something to teach us about being human that nothing else can. Bliss has an utterly unique wisdom associated with it. If we deny Bliss altogether we lose access to that very important truth of our humanity. Bliss is part of us whether we acknowledge it or not. The only choice is whether we make Bliss a conscious, integrated aspect of our human existence or not. If we choose not, then we will suffer the consequences of not owning this aspect of ourselves. In that case, Bliss won’t go away it will simply express itself in unconscious, negative forms. Unconscious Bliss leads us forever seeking for some release elsewhere and forever suffering right where we are.

Therefore, the question we needing be asking is: how can we incorporate the beauty of Bliss without its dark sides taking over? 

The way to responsibly work with Bliss involves two main pieces.

1. Proper Preparation
Teachers should be open and honest with students about the dangers of bliss. Students should not be introduced to Bliss until they have some capacity to properly regulate their nervous system, understand their emotions and relate to them in a healthy fashion, as well as having learned how to work with their shadow. They will also have to be introduced to other (somewhat safer) spiritual states first, like Peacefulness, Presence, Awakened Heart and so on. Only then are they ready to be introduced to Bliss.

Placing Bliss Within The Soul

Of all the controversial statements I’ve made so far in this post, perhaps this is most controversial. This site is dedicated to The Soul. It’s my contention that it is our nature as Soul that is the proper container of a human incarnation. It is The Soul, in other words, that is the proper context for integration of our spiritual nature. (For a little more on soul versus spirit see here and here.)

In very very broad strokes, spiritual enlightenment teachings of all varieties almost always advocate that our spiritual nature is the proper context for us to live as awakened beings. Basically we should be and live from our spiritual nature all the time and that’s the “meta-solution” to all of our suffering.

I get the argument but just look at the term: spirit-ual teachings. The bias is right there in the name. So it’s not surprising spiritual teachings advocate being our spiritual nature. I define our spiritual nature as that which is universal and the same for all of us. Bliss is one expression, one state of our spiritual nature.

Spiritual teachings often divide the human up into simply two parts: the ego (bad) and the spirit (good). The path then is very simply to deny, crucify, transcend, or in some way annihilate the ego in order to be spiritually awake. When spiritual teaching is set up as one part bad (e.g. the ego) and one part good (spirit), then inevitably the whole of the teaching is about how to get out of the bad and into the good and once having gotten into the good how to stay in the good permanently.

I used to practice this way for years. I don’t agree any longer with that viewpoint. In that regard, I’m standing athwart much of spirituality yelling ‘Stop!’ (as William Buckley once famously said in an extremely different context).

I argue instead we should see our Soul–i.e. our singular, distinct manifestation and expression of The Universal–as the proper vessel or vehicle for living a fully human and fully divine life. What this means practically is that the spiritual aspects of us need to be incorporated into our Soul. Whereas in the history of spirituality most spirituality draws the biggest circle being Spirit and believing the Soul should fit inside Spirit. I’m advocating a reversal of the ordering (Spirit fits inside Soul).

Where spirituality would advocate No Boundaries, Soul-teaching advocates Sovereignty–the space where each Soul in an empowered way draws a sacred boundary around itself and incorporates and integrates all aspects of itself in a fully enfleshed manner. All aspects. Spiritual, psychological, emotional, etc.

So in other words, let’s imagine you experience the spiritual state of Bliss through meditation. Then you (I argue) should identify with your Soul. The Soul sets a proper container and context for Bliss to enter in and be welcomed. Bliss is not the final voice but simply now a Voice. Bliss is now “freed up by being limited” (in the words of Ken Wilber). Bliss is freed up to offer its wisdom without bringing in its wake all the baggage and dangers associated with it. These dangers largely occur when we look to Bliss to solve the problem of being human (which it doesn’t). When Bliss is not set up to solve a problem or be our salvation then it works quite well. It’s a profoundly amazing state and aspect of our being. But Bliss needs to held by the Soul–the aspect of us that does have a sense of purpose, of proper discernment (right/wrong), and doesn’t seek to route around or bypass any difficulties on any levels of our being.

What Joseph Campbell actually meant by Bliss was the Soul. So it turns out in the end he was right–we should Follow Our Bliss, i..e we should Follow the inherent impulses and charges of The Soul. But that is not what people hear when they hear the word Bliss. I think Campbell should have chosen a different word to describe the inherent drives and pull of The Soul than Bliss. What Campbell meant by bliss is neither a temporary emotional state of the personality nor is it the Bliss of our spiritual nature. I think we should leave Bliss to be what it is (a spiritual state of energetic awakening beyond all categories) and find a different word to describe the pull of our Soul.

Both are very important but they are very different and using the same term to describe both causes category errors and unnecessary pain and suffering for spiritual practitioners.

Coda: Special Note on Aurobindo

The great Indian realizer Sri Aurobindo gave an alternative interpretation to Ananda. He saw Ananda as the purposeful movement into incarnate reality of the spiritual. Aurobindo, as a consequence, was very critical of the classic Vedanta tradition of awakening represented by figures like Shankara or Ramana Maharshi. My experience of Bliss is much more in the Vedanta lineage. I do however believe Aurobindo was correct that there is a Creative or Incarnating Impulse. What some call an Evolutionary or Creative or God Impulse. For me this Evolutionary or Creative Impulse is actually a new revelation or insight. Where for Aurobindo the Incarnating Nature of Bliss was the original insight of the Indian lineage (he cited the ancient Indian texts the Vedas to support his claim).

I understand Aurobindo’s desire to ground his experience and teaching in his own lineage and his interpretation of the Vedas and the Upanishads is quite revolutionary in that regard. But I think he was actually talking about a new insight. There are some points of contact between his view and the ancient one–the connection is through the energetic pulsation of Bliss. But in the Aurobindian line that pulsation has desire to express and is existing within a frame of spiritual evolution, i.e. the Descent of Supermind, Supermind being the first expression of Sat-Chit-Ananda. In other words, I think Aurobindo (along with others) really discovered/co-constructed a 4th term to Being-Consciousness-Bliss. It would be for Aurobdino (as I see it) something more like:


In my understanding then there is room for both the Vedanta and the Aurobindian schools of realization and interpretation. The Vedanta tradition connecting more with the first three and the Aurobindian tradition the fourth.

* There is a way to speak of Joy in a spiritual sense as a deep underlying ease and sense of blessedness of simply being alive. Joy, in this understanding, is the Feeling of Being Herself. This view is totally valid but I still argue it is different from the state of Ananda, which is I think actually correctly translated into English as Bliss. The differentiation from Joy and Bliss is already there in the difference between Sat (Being) and Ananda (Bliss). Trying to translate Ananda into Joy conflates Sat and Ananda, which are intimately tied into one another but nevertheless are distinct.

17 May 2015 2 comments / READ MORE

Why Forgiveness Will Always Be Necessary

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Philosophy, Spirituality, The Soul

I’ve seen a number of pieces and threads recently-mostly through my Facebook feed-where folks are advocating that we should move beyond forgiveness. I’ve noticed a number of different variations on this argument, but most I think come down to a version of some or all of the following points of view:

In forgiveness there is judgment and judgment is wrong.
In forgiveness we continue to hold onto being right and focus on who is wrong (usually not us).
Forgiveness assumes separation. Ultimately we are all one, so who really is there to forgive or be forgiven?
Everyone is on their own path and they’re simply learning their lessons and everything is perfect.

I’ve followed the Christian path my whole life and forgiveness is at the heart of that path. The gospels tell the story of a resurrected Jesus, still showing the marks of his torture and execution. His first words are to offer peace. (These words, it should be noted, are said to a number of friends who abandoned him during his time of need.)

When his disciples asked him how to pray, Jesus said they should pray this way:

Our Father in Heaven
Holy is your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial,
And deliver us from evil.

The logic of the prayer is clear. First we acknowledge the holiness of The Divine. Then we pray that the reality of heaven would be true of earth. And how would we recognize that heaven is true on earth? Well, according to Jesus, two things above all would reveal this heavenly kingdom on earth. One: Everyone would have enough to eat (“give us this day our daily bread”). Two: People would practice mutual forgiveness (“forgive us our sins as we we forgive those who sin against us”).

So hearing the idea that we need to move past forgiveness, is for me, the same as hearing that we should move beyond caring to feed hungry people (or for that matter that we should move beyond needing to eat!). I think Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness has something to say to all of us regardless of path or affiliation. I think it teaches us something crucial about our human condition.

In what follows then I’m going to share some personal stories that I hope will persuade you of the enduring necessity and value of forgiveness, rightly understood and practiced. A heads up to you dear reader: some of these stories are pretty rough.

The first story takes place when I was in 7th grade. That year a new student came to school. He and I were the two shortest boys in our class. He made friends with another student, previously a friend of mine, and together they began to bully me. The bullying was verbal and emotional (not physical) in nature. I realize now that he was simply applying basic prison rules: beat somebody up on the first day or become someone’s bitch. He choose the former. The two of them would humiliate me on a regular basis. I had every one of my classes with them and then when school was over we played on the same sports teams where the taunting and humiliation would continue.

Since we went to private school they knew they couldn’t physically assault me or they’d be expelled. The logic of the bullying was quite transparent: to keep pushing me to the point where I would break. They hoped I would snap and take a swing at one of them. The other kid (my erstwhile friend) was really skilled in martial arts. So if I ever had totally lost my cool and went after them, they would have scored a double victory. One, they would have most certainly beat the living shit out of me. And two, I would have been expelled from school.

Prior to the bullying I was a very lighthearted and easygoing boy. After the bullying I became more sullen and withdrawn. I tried to put on a good face and not show they were getting to me, but that wasn’t very successful. I just mostly tried to keep my head down, stay quiet, and hope the abuse would end.

Eventually we moved onto different schools and the bullying stopped and mercifully I was never bullied again. Sadly the effects of the bullying lasted much longer.

Somewhere during my late teens, I began to have recurring dreams involving my bullies. At first they were nightmares with my two persecutors tormenting me in the dreamworld. They’d be chasing me and I would wake in a cold sweat. After awhile I began to be able to turn around and face them down in the dream (something I didn’t feel equipped to do in waking life).

Eventually I found I could overpower them in the dream. And this where things take an even darker turn. I experimented in these dreams with returning evil for evil. I gave free rein to my feelings for revenge which were always just beneath the surface. I began to dream of hurting them like they hurt me. The darkest dreams were ones in which I would torture them, e.g. slowly cutting out their tongues (obviously symbolizing the desire to stop them from hurting me with their words). I would take real pleasure from inflicting cruel pain upon them. The most horrific versions involved me murdering them in front of their families.

Now I’m not sharing this to reveal that I’m secretly a psychopath or that I had actually worked out plans to kill my bullies in real life. I certainly didn’t. I share it because many years later, for more than a decade actually, I had these dreams on a sporadic basis.

I had to come to terms with a couple of facts. First, it was completely natural to feel the desire for revenge. It was a totally normal human response, entirely understandable given the circumstances. I wasn’t an evil person for having these feelings. Second, regardless of how normal such feelings were, they were eating up me from the inside. They were like an acid burning up parts of my soul.

I returned to the teachings of Jesus who said:

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.
If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

I realized I was quite literally retaining their sins. Their sin had left this desire for revenge within me and it was a poison. It was a lingering form of the bullying. It felt like they were still bullying me long after it had factually ceased, as if they had injected a virus within that was slowly crippling me.

I had worked to feel compassion for my bullies for some years. I could remember that their home lives weren’t the happiest. It was not hard to think that they didn’t fully understand the ramifications of their actions. “Kids can be cruel” as the saying goes. I could imagine that if I felt this badly, they must have been really hurting even more deeply on their insides.

These responses softened me for sure, but the poison was retained in Jesus’ words. I still wanted revenge.

It was then, following Jesus’ instruction, that I realized forgiveness was a liberating act. It was the only antidote to the poison of revenge. They didn’t ask for my forgiveness (fortunately I never had to interact with them again). I forgave them anyway.

And then the dreams stopped. The desire for revenge was gone. There’s still hurt to be sure and compassion towards them. What was done was and is still wrong. In a just world, the adults in this situation would have created a context which would have minimized bullying and when it did occur be dealt with in an appropriate manner. I don’t want my talk of forgiveness to be interpreted as support for kids (or adults) to be bullied or abused because, “Jesus accepted suffering and he forgave people, so you should too.” That would be a gross abuse of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness.

Forgiveness made sense in this case because I was out of the immediate harming environment. I’m not burdened any longer with the poison of revenge. Forgiveness was for me a grace.

The second story requires a little bit of personal background. I was adopted as a baby. I always knew I was adopted growing up. Since I’m white and my parents are white it wasn’t obvious to others that I was adopted. I could tell or not tell people as I pleased.

As is common with adoptees, in my early twenties I decided to do some searching and see if could learn more about my biological parents. My adoption was closed, which meant that the adoption agency was able to offer me a basic storyline of my birth, redacted of any potentially personally-identifying information. So at about 23 or so I learned the basic story of my birth.

My biological mother and father met in their first year of university. She became pregnant and he promptly ended the relationship, leaving her with me. She decided to complete the pregnancy but felt (probably rightly) that she was unready to be a mother, so she decided I should be adopted. My biological mother had left me a note that the adoption agency had kept for more than 20 years in case I ever asked to see my file. The note explained to me why she gave me up for adoption. While I felt a lot of sadness and grief, I never felt any hatred towards my biological mother. I figured she did the best that she could do under the circumstances. I tried to contact and meet her a few years later, which she declined to do. Again I was sad and deeply hurt by that decision, but I understood it, even if I didn’t agree.

But my biological father – that’s a very different story. I had never had any interest in contacting or meeting him. Honestly I really only ever felt loathing towards the man, sometimes more low-level, sometimes more intense. My dad (i.e. my adopted father) is a loving man who has taken great interest and appreciation in my sister and I. My dad’s always represented to me what fatherhood is really about–he’s who I model myself after as a new father. My biological father had always seemed to me the opposite of that–selfish and cowardly for abandoning a mother and child, for not owning up to his actions.

Only in the last year or so did I realize that I was yet again retaining the sin of another. I was holding a kind of sneering revulsion towards the man. I didn’t want revenge but I definitely didn’t wish him well. It was subtler than the bullying. I didn’t have dreams about hurting him. Still, it was similar in that it was eating away at some vital part of me.

As with the first case, I had previously practiced an empathic attempt to walk in his shoes. How would I have handled at 18 or 19 years old the news that I had impregnated a woman? My wife and I thought once we had gotten pregnant when we were both still in school. I was 26 or so at the time and I freaked the hell out. And I had seven or eight years on my biological father at the time. So yes I could most definitely feel compassion while at the same time recognizing that he could have and should have made better choices. There’s no excuse for what he did, however difficult a situation it must have clearly been for him.

Nevertheless I was holding an energy that was not wishing the best for him. I forgave him, even though he never asked for it, and again I felt a deep release.

The third story I want to share comes from my years of being a priest. In my time I heard many confessions. People came to me to share deep pains and to lay bare before another (confidentially) actions that haunt and shame them, hoping they would find mercy. (In my work now I also hear stories of deep pain and loss.Though not formally confessions the practical import is essentially the same).

I heard stories of true tragedy. And they weren’t the first I had heard either. Earlier in my studies to be a priest, I worked as a chaplain on the men’s maximum security wing of jail in Detroit. Needless to say I’ve heard truly God awful things–particularly the kinds of pain that drove many of these men to do destructive things.

I heard the horror of addiction and the cruelty of a society that responds neither compassionately nor wisely to such pain. Stealing money from a demented grandmother out of her nursing home to get a fix, missing the death and funeral of a parent because they were on a bender, victims who became the perpetrators and victimized others. On and on the litanies could go.

When the story was complete then I would tell these individuals that my deep and abiding belief is that God (or Spirit or Higher Power or The Universe or whatever term one might prefer) is unconditionally merciful. That God always forgives those who are sincerely sorry for what they have done and for what they have failed to do. I would say that God is not an angry tyrant ready to punish them for their evildoing. God, for me, is the Face of Infinite Love. Admittedly, it can be painful for the parts or us we don’t want to have loved or healed to be looked upon by Pure Love. Still Unconditional Love means exactly that–Uncondtional. No conditions, no strings attached.

And then I would see years of self-recrimination, punishment, and hatred begin to melt away. For many of these folks I wondered if any person in their lives had ever told them they were lovable, that they were beings of infinite dignity. I felt it was my role to simply witness to the truth I believe, namely that all of us are made in the image and likeness of The Divine. Our unloving choices may create a kind of layer of crud or dirt over our true nature but they can never completely destroy that nature. None of us, I believe, are ever beyond redemption. We are always offered the invitation to be forgiven and loved. (And yes I do believe even the Adolf Hitlers of the world are offered the possibility of forgiveness. Whether they accept it or not is a separate question which I don’t think we can ever know.)

I’m not in a position to speak on behalf of those whose stories I heard. I would just say from my position as the listener, I think the loss of forgiveness would be unspeakably detrimental.

The last piece I can only briefly mention is the role of forgiveness in social sin, i.e. social forms of violence and injustice. In Canada, where I live, the government created a policy of taking aboriginal children away from their families, placing them in residential schools in an attempt to assimilate them to Western culture. They were forced to cut their hair (short) like Westerners and only speak English. Children in these schools were physically, sexually, and emotionally abused, were experimented upon, and died of poor health. My own church, the Anglican Church of Canada, along with a number of other churches, ran a number of these schools for the government. They were actively complicit in the evil.

In the US context, we might think of the genocide of native peoples, as well as the history of slavery and Jim Crow and how those still create pain, division, and injustice to this day. How they affect every person living as part of this land, whether we want to admit the fact or not. In the world context, sadly fill in the blank of a local genocide, ethnic prejudice, imperialist oppression.

Twenty years ago, Archbishop Michael Peers offered a public apology to aboriginal leaders for the Anglican Church of Canada’s role in the systematic evil and injustice of the residential schools. You can read his apology here. It’s an incredibly moving statement. What’s more incredible is that those who heard it forgave him and those he apologized on behalf of. As Archbishop Peers correctly states in his apology, asking for forgiveness is a good and holy beginning but it will be an empty gesture if there are not corresponding actions to build a different future. Sadly, there’s plenty of work on that front still to do.

Well-meaning and self-identified nice, polite white Canadians by and large simply don’t know or don’t care to know about this history. If they really took it in, their image as more liberal and enlightened than their supposedly backward conservative American cousins south-of-the-border would crumble. They might learn that when South African whites in the early 20th century were doing some studies that eventually led to apartheid, a primary model was the Canadian Residential School System.

Speaking of South Africa….In post-apartheid South Africa, they formed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a model that’s been replicated elsewhere. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu emphasizes, it’s Truth and Reconciliation. Truth needs to be told, truth about what was done. Those who were hurt have to tell their stories. Those who either actively participated in the wrong, or turned a blind eye to it, and even those who did not commit any wrongdoing but benefit (say economically or culturally) from the wrong have to hear those stories. The second half of that dyad is Reconciliation. It’s not revenge that’s sought but rather to see each other, across ethnic or religious or economic or historical divides and pains, as members of the same human family, and together walking the path of healing and wholeness and build a better future.

No forgiveness without truth telling. No forgiveness means no hope of reconciliation, justice or peace. Though again by itself forgiveness is only a beginning step–questions of concrete and systematic restitution for the economic, social, and political losses endured by oppressed peoples remains (this is true of South Africa as well as essentially the entire globe). So while Forgiveness is always necessary, it is not by itself the final answer.

Now I suppose it could be argued that I’ve stacked the deck in this piece. Abandonment by a father, bullying, colonialism, addictions–isn’t that all rather extreme? Haven’t I been rather heavy handed in my critique of the current forgiveness-questioning? My response to that would be to ask are these examples really all that extreme? Either you or someone close to you has been sexually or physically or mentally or emotionally violated (or all of them). Either you or someone you love is struggling with a serious addiction issue. All of us are feeling the deep effects of the history and contemporary reality of human injustice and our cruelty towards each other and our disconnection from the earth. I contend these are not extreme examples but rather common examples that we go to extreme measures to try to avoid.

For these and many others, we will always need forgiveness. Forgiveness is by no means a panacea. It is however one process we will always require and any spiritual teaching that suggests otherwise needs to seriously consider these and similar such stories. Any spiritual teaching that suggests we need to transcend forgiveness is not offering transcendence but the disease of spiritual bypassing.

In that light, I’d like to bring us back to that list of criticisms of forgiveness and re-examine them in light of these stories.

In forgiveness there is judgment and judgment is wrong.
In forgiveness we continue to hold onto being right and focus on who is wrong (usually not us).
Forgiveness assumes separation. Ultimately we are all one, so who really is there to forgive or be forgiven?
Everyone is on their own path and they’re simply learning their lessons and everything is perfect.

Response to #1:

Yes, forgiveness does involve judgment. But no, judgment isn’t always wrong. There’s healthy judgment and unhealthy judgment. The judgment here is about actions and choices, not about humans. It’s about which ways of living are life-giving and which are death-dealing. In fact, I argue we should be more judgmental, not less. Being more judgmental goes with being more forgiving and vice versa.

Response to #2

When we properly follow through with forgiveness, this idea that we’ll be stuck in who’s right and who’s wrong isn’t my experience either personally or working with others going through a forgiveness process. In my experience forgiveness asks us to be able to enter and sit with the pain, anger, hurt, sorrow, grief, and remorse that underlie our brokenness and fragility as human beings. It calls a deep tenderness and vulnerability forth.

Response to #3

Two responses to this one. First, yes it’s true that we’re all one. Therefore we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and to treat others in return the same way. When respect and dignity are denied, then the Oneness that we share is also being fundamentally denied. Second, we’re all One precisely in and through being diverse expressions of The One. We’re all One and we’re all distinct. Proper practice of forgiveness recognizes and validates both sides of that paradox, whereas sayings about how we’re (only) all one do not.

Response to #4

Yes, we’re all on our own paths. We are again united in our diversity. Our paths intersect at many points and forgiveness upholds the everlasting value of ethics–of making sure those intersections are loving, just, and affirming ones. Yes, we are all learning (hopefully). Making right choices is not always easy. We live in a very grey world and there’s a deep ambivalence to all our ethical choices. No one is in a place of supreme righteousness. We’re all prone to errors and choices that cause ourselves and others pain. For me, that’s precisely why we have forgiveness. It’s an empowering act. It connects us to the Unconditional Love and Mercy of The Divine.

But what about teachings that speak of the perfection of each and every moment? Doesn’t forgiveness undercut that teaching?

Here again I would say that I believe the teaching of Jesus serves us well. Sometimes Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth) as already present. Other times he referred to the Kingdom as yet to come (re-read the Our Father prayer where both ways of speaking occur). Christian theologians summarize Jesus’ teaching as saying: The Kingdom is Already but Not Yet.

In other words, in its essence, in its fundamental nature, everything and everyone is perfect (already). However in its expression, its manifestation, things are not perfect (but not yet). In fact they are far from perfect. In truth, the world we live in is an utter shitstorm of pain, degradation, and appalling, unconscionable violence, cruelty, and injustice. There’s always beauty, goodness, and kindness in the midst of that truth, but any spiritual teaching worth anything has to make us more aware, not less.

Forgiveness, done properly, is an act that unites both the already but the not yet. It partakes of the Eternity of Perfection while recognizing that Perfection needs to be not only the essential nature of all but its concrete expression as well. It heals the tears that come from Perfection not being upheld.

Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.

16 Apr 2015 no comments / READ MORE

The Law of Attraction for Socialists: Part I

Soul work is classically defined as having two major components: healing and manifestation. Another term for manifestation would be creativity or creative expression.

Healing at the level of the soul involves a release of negative soul conditioning (often called karma). There are patterns that lie at the level of our energy. These patterns have been cut into deep grooves and from there shape our lives in ways we are often only dimly conscious of. Soul healing purifies personal karma, ancestral karma, even at times our own participation in collective human karma. Soul healing requires coming to face and embrace and love our shadow–to find the light always hidden with the darkness and to release that light.

Soul healing calls forth a posture of welcome. Soul healing demands we welcome the full range of our human emotions and grasping the wisdom of each, even emotions like shame and fear. Soul healing is an affirmation of the nature of our soul, i.e. our unique personal expression of The Divine. It is a healing act to learn and to feel validated at the deepest personal level of our existence, to learn the kinds of energies that fundamentally drive our being, the inherent gifts as well as challenges of being who each soul is. In soul healing we come to realize the fundamental truth of our singular expression and identity.

Manifestation work, however, is aligning with the soul’s deepest desires and works to make those desires concrete. Manifestation is following the creative process to its fulfillment–in some concrete, material expression. For example studying to be a counsellor and then developing an actual practice with real live clients. Creating a work of art.

I freely admit I’ve had a bias towards healing. Soul healing seemed real, mature, and sane whereas manifestation can seem very ungrounded, excessively fake, and too happy. (I’m after all the guy whose on record as being against high vibrations!). It’s also true that the healing side of the soul dyad has always come easier to me. I have more natural gifting for it than manifestation work. So to be fair, it’s been safer for me.

It’s clear however that both personally and in my ongoing work with individuals that manifestation is calling to me. Creative expression is finally starting to burn deeply in my gut. While I haven’t been denying that creative impulse, I haven’t known really what to do with it either. In some ways I still don’t, at least not fully. I figure I’ll take one step at a time and learn along the road.

But I am starting to think about what manifestation really means. As I do, one question keeps gnawing at me as I contemplate this possibility:

What is the proper context for teaching on manifestation?

I think this is a hugely under asked question.

One reason why it’s an under-explored question is that very many spiritually inclined traditions simply don’t address the question of creativity and manifestation. They are typically much more interested in spiritual awakening and therefore the question doesn’t really arise in the first place. The question of purpose or vocation or creative expression comes from the soul not the spirit. Therefore spiritual teachings that bypass the soul usually leave out this dimension of being human. Consequently the question of creativity has deeper roots in the worlds of art, drama, sport, and music than spiritual practice.

In the Western spiritual tradition manifestation work has predominantly come through the New Thought and New Age traditions. For better and for worse, it’s to these we’ll need to look for guidance. These teachings have set the context for the majority of folk exploring the topic of manifestation.

The issue is the context and background set of assumptions from those traditions is highly problematic in my estimation.

I don’t normally break out the old four quadrant map from integral theory anymore, but this is a good moment to do so–it reveals a really important point about why the context of manifestation teachings is often so confused and problematic.


In this map you see there is individual inner experience (Upper Left), individual outer physical form and behavior (Upper Right), external collective structure or social reality (Lower Right), and interior cultural reality (Lower Left). The map states that each moment in time is all four these dimensions of existence–no quadrant is superior or more primary than another. An integrated pattern therefore is one that takes into account all four dimensions. Anything less than all four is by definition less than integrated.

Why this schema matters is because manifestation teachings of The New Thought/New Age variety emphasize inner individual experience (Upper Left), outer action and spiritual laws (Upper Right). They also spend a good deal of time discussing how to relate to the social networks of the day (Lower Right).

What that leaves out is culture or what is known as the intersubjective (Lower Left). The intersubjective space is the source of our ethics, cultural narratives, and worldviews. The intersubjective points to the truth that all of us always arise in relationships, from specific languages, cultures, nationalities, and histories. These aspects of our being-in-the-world inevitably influence and effect the ways in which we see the world.

To paraphrase the philosopher Wittgenstein, if your language does not have a word for something it doesn’t exist in your world. It’s a thought you can’t think.

That’s the intersubjective. And that is the one that’s missing in most, if not all, manifestation teachings. For the record the cultural-intersubjective is basically missing in all personal growth or spiritual practice of any variety. These cultural factors often are held as deep unconscious biases within spiritual communities and The New Thought/New Age manifestation traditions are no different in that regard.

When the intersubjective goes unacknowledged it simply goes underground. It’s influence is still present, the influence however has become unconscious. What that means in this case is that manifestation teachings unconsciously continue to replicate the cultural biases of 19th and 20th century America (the historical context that gave birth to New Thought and New Age teaching).

In other words, almost all manifestation teachings unconsciously assume a very modernist, North American culture. That culture has its roots in what Max Weber called The Protestant Work Ethic. The Protestant Work Ethic is the belief that if one was healthy and prosperous it was a sign of blessing from God. Therefore a strong value is placed on thrift, hard work, efficiency, and rugged individualism–because those values will help accrue wealth and therefore retroactively prove blessing from God. In the United States particularly The Protestant Work Ethic became fused with the American mythology of being a land of total freedom where everyone could succeed if they were simply hard working enough.

The dark side of such a view is that if one is poor or suffering it’s one’s own fault. Such a person is lazy or stupid or consistently making bad choices. This view undergirds most conservative US political philosophy and leads to criticisms of the welfare state as a form of “handouts” to the “takers”.

And the key point here is that manifestation teachings from the New Thought tradition (and later New Age) have essentially replicated this ideology. It’s no longer that being rich is a sign of blessing from God per se although that is still explicitly the case in some such teachings like the prosperity gospel movement. Rather in most New Thought/New Age traditions health and wealth are signs of being fully actualized in one’s true self. It’s a sign of holding true abundance consciousness and not therefore poverty consciousness.

Consequently if one doesn’t have material wealth, physical health, fulfilling work, and emotionally satisfying intimate relationship then one has clearly not manifested properly. Just as with the Protestant Work Ethic there is a real dark side in this teaching, namely that failure to manifest one’s dreams is one’s own fault.

Looking at the integral map we see that the context (Lower Left) of a teaching, its practice (Upper Right), and its social vision (Lower Right) is as important as its inner experience (Upper Left). It’s only North American European-descended culture that describes itself as having no culture–as being a place of individuals. It’s a culture of individualism. It’s a culture which is unconscious of its own cultural influence.

And up until now manifestation teachings have been almost, if not, entirely unaware of that gigantic blind spot. Modernist Western philosophy recognized the validity of the Upper Left, the Upper Right, and the Lower Right quadrants but didn’t recognize the Lower Left (the cultural or intersubjective). Manifestation teachings all arose during the modernist era, hence they are typically ignorant of the intersubjective realm. Consequently, the assumed cultural norms under which they were born are simply passed on.

This flaw is true of all the big name manifestation texts–The Course in Miracles, The Secret, you name it–as well as a host of lesser-known ones.

There’s a dark underbelly of personal shaming, spiritual bypassing, and problematic political and social views in this world. For nearly 200 years, manifestation teachings have essentially been fused with the dominant North American individualist lifestyle. Again consider titles like “Think And Grow Rich”, “The Power of Positive Thinking”, and so on.

Now someone might well say, ‘what’s wrong with healthy relationships, financial stability, personal health and creative meaningful work?’

Nothing obviously. Those are good things. But why is it that manifestation teachings focus on those? Well in truth it’s basically because for middle and upper class North Americans those are essentially the only things they have in their life–along with, for some, a desire for some kind of spiritual life however they define and practice it. Oh and nowadays a very reeved up sexual existence.

Most manifestation teachings assume the culture of North American individualist consumerism. They then try, within the bounds of such a culture, to help people make the best of their lives.

But what if the cultural pattern itself is sick? What if individually adjusting well to a maladjusted reality isn’t really health?

It’s worth saying that it would definitely be easy to dismiss that entire tradition of manifestation work. There’s no lack of room for criticism of positive thinking and the damage it can do to people (especially ones with low self-esteem). It has no real understanding about what would be a just distribution of goods creatively manifested. It basically assumes the dominant capitalistic model of North American society with its so-called free-market bias. The winners have earned their spoils and deserve them. And so on and so forth.

Now while it would be easy to simply stop there, the reason these teachings continue to persist is that, in their best moments, they are actually onto something. They are (partially) right. That partial right-ness however is wedded to a series of very problematic elements. From within the world of such manifestation teachings, the problematic elements are rarely, if ever, exposed and critiqued. From outside that world, the problematic elements are criticized, but the partial truth is then ignored or denied (goodbye baby with bathwater).

What I’m interested in is the possibility of incorporating the valid aspects of these teachings but placing them within a very different cultural, political, economic, and social framework. (Or at least for now imagining how that could be achieved).

To get to the partial truth though we need to proceed by a process of elimination–getting rid of the problematic elements.

Manifestation teachings always begin with the notion that Consciousness or Mind or Intelligence is the primary reality and materiality is only a secondary outflow of Consciousness. (It’s biased towards the upper left hand quadrant in integral terms). In other words, material reality has no agency of its own–it’s simply the result of consciousness, particularly thought. Hence New Thought.

Given that bias, these teachings have no real understanding of the material, structural reality of money. For manifestation teachings money, like any material reality, is simply the inevitable outcome of thought and consciousness. Money is often described (in manifestation works) as simply a neutral energy. In and of itself it is neither positive nor negative. It is what we do (or don’t do) with this energy of money that is positive or negative.

Money however isn’t entirely or even predominantly neutral. And it’s not simply an energy. There is no room within the teaching itself to view money from its actual historical, structural history. How it was created, how it functions, how it replicates itself (hint: it’s not by people meditating on the energy of money and imagining more of it coming into existence).

Consequently, these teachings are, for example, radically naive about the ways in which our current dominant money system creates debt–not as a bug but as a feature. They can’t point to the work of say a Thomas Piketty who has shown that absent a collective political will installed in the legal system, investments and financial instruments always increase at a higher rate of return than income, leading inevitably to massive wealth inequality and social injustice in capitalist societies.

That occurs not because a bunch of people lack abundance consciousness but as a consequence of the social structure of money within a capitalist system (Lower Right Quadrant).

Again, I’m not saying these teachings have nothing to offer. It’s just that they are missing hugely important elements.

Money consciousness teachings of whatever variety place the emphasis on connecting to the consciousness or money through individual meditation. They deal with individual beliefs around money. They emphasize individual behavioral practices, e.g. paying oneself first, paying down debt. They suggest ways of functionally adapting and fitting within the existing structural channels of moneymaking (e.g. internet marketing, online courses, global trade, etc.).

What I guarantee they never do is show you the history of currencies. It won’t cover the history of state domination or colonialism. It won’t bring up the realm of ethics or norms. To do so would upset the apple cart.

The advice in such works is simply and always to charge for your services what the market will bear, never asking if that is a just thing. Recent economic research has shown that markets aren’t inherently always so intelligent and all-knowing as they were made out to be in modern Western economics (i.e. the so-called invisible hand.)

But nobody seems to want to focus on that. That’s seems so mental and judgmental and spirituality is all supposed to be about how I feel inside (again a modernist value). When we deny the intersubjective, we deny the fact that we have responsibility to one another. We deny that we are alive through what Thich Naht Hanh calls inter-being. We inter-are.

Culture and society is not simply what happens when we add up all the individuals. Culture (Lower Left) and Society (Lower Right) are intrinsic aspects of being-in-the-world.

The key wisdom of the intersubjective is profoundly missing from the manifestation world which is simply a reflection of the larger cultural problem of our contemporary age.

Manifestation teachings typically spend a great deal of time focused on what an individual’s authentic desires truly are. It turns out that framing the search as one for authentic personal individual meaning is a cultural trope. I’m not saying it’s inherently wrong as a cultural form but it is a cultural form. It’s a cultural form that’s not recognizing itself as a cultural form. That’s the problem.

As a result a bunch of individuals think they are simply meditating and connecting into their individual personal inner space and finding their truest most authentic desires and wants. And those authentic desires and wants, it turns out, look pretty similar to everyone else’s. Because after all it’s an unconscious cultural pattern.

Just a reminder I’m not saying all manifestation teachings are bunk. Or that the practices in those teachings aren’t valid. It’s just that they need to become conscious of their cultural setting.

Once we highlight the Lower Left, the cultural intersubjective sphere, then we can start to inquire into what kind of culture we want to participate in creating. Without making the intersubjective conscious we have (collectively) no choice nor responsibility. When we do make it conscious, we make such conscious creativity and responsibility possible.

In sum, then before we even get into the manifestation teachings themselves we need to first acknowledge major foundational flaws intrinsic to them. These holes I believe can be patched up leading to the possibility of their wisdom becoming more readily available in a much healthier form. Nevertheless that change isn’t possible until first there’s an honest recognition of the flaws.

17 Feb 2015 1 comment / READ MORE

Money, Ethics, and Healing: An Ambivalent Brew

Introduction: Money and Healing Arts

Recently I was asked to speak on energy healing at a bookstore here in Vancouver. In the discussion period a gentleman asked me about my sense of how money relates to energy healing (or healing modalities in general). He wanted to know what were my ethics around energy healing–do I charge? If so, how do I decide what is a just exchange?

It’s an important question, one that too often is either not asked or dismissed altogether. It’s a complex topic to be sure, yet I find myself frustrated when it comes to this topic by what I perceive to be two dominant extremes.

One extreme basically equates being wealthy with higher consciousness (so-called abundance consciousness in a lot of New Age spirituality). In that camp, one should charge whatever others will pay. Anything less is to somehow be infected with the dreaded virus of “poverty consciousness”. I interact with folks advocating some version of this view very frequently. While there are more sophisticated and more gross versions of this one, the same basic philosophy underlies them all, i.e. the philosophy of capitalism. Namely individuals acting in their own perceived highest self-interest intrinsically leads to the best outcome for the common good. Unfortunately history has shown this view does not lead to the creation of just societies. There’s a great deal of shaming that goes into this approach since all the responsibility is directly laid at each individual’s feet. In other words, if you’re poor, it’s your own fault. This spiritualist view also holds a deep misunderstanding of the structure of capitalism as well as how money operates as a debt instrument within capitalism. It too easily denies the reality of material causality in favor of the notion that everything is about consciousness first and materiality is just simply the outward expression of intentionality and consciousness. As a consequence it’s views on politics, economics, and history are naive at best, oppressive at worst.

As but one example of how multifaceted a topic this is, consider the case of spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson. She recently ran for a seat in the US House of Representatives. One of her key criticisms was of the corrupting influence of unchecked corporate money in the US political process (she’s totally on target with that critique btw). At the same time however she published a book on Money, Work, and Consciousness that is oblivious to the similarly corrupting influence of excessive unchecked wealth in the North American consumerist spiritual scene. She failed to articulate (or perhaps see) how the spirituality of money she articulates in her book can easily co-exist with and even give support to the political and economic ideologies that create the destructive political and social situation she so rightly criticizes. (On the other hand she did take the piss out of some rich techies).

So the uncritical view of wealth = abundance consciousness really needs to be critiqued.

The other extreme, however, is to see all forms of specifically monetary exchange as inherently corrupted. This is not really the helpful critique it may look like at first. (These are the kinds of people the first camp always points to as a way to justify their own position). I encounter these folks from time to time in my work–they either explicitly or usually more implicitly criticize me (or others) for charging money for my work. Doesn’t matter the amount–it’s the belief that all healing or spiritual work should be free. In the worst of all cases, this is really just a spiritual rationalization for the fact that they don’t want to properly acknowledge and pay for the skilled work of another. They feel entitled to receive for free without any requisite reciprocity (i.e. they are being deeply unjust). Lot of self-righteousness in this camp in my experience, though a very different kind than the first one.

Fortunately my sense of the man asking me the question was he was sincerely asking. I felt like I had some space to explore this question. The honest truth is I haven’t yet found a way of being in this process that feels completely aligned for me. It may be that I never will reach that place. Perhaps at best I’m angling closer and closer to that mark.

Hell, there may not even be such a place. I think it’s a question those of us creating our own work and businesses in the world in the realm of spirituality, energy healing, coaching, personal development, etc. need to continually be asking. My experience is most folks actually fall somewhere along a spectrum, often an uneasy fluid space, realizing however implicitly, that both extremes are deeply flawed but not entirely sure what other options are available.

Over the course of the last year I’ve developed a diverse set of models that I deploy throughout this work. My hope in so doing is that I’m creating a practice that is balanced in terms of exchange and overall is a just one. Though as I said, it’s definitely a work in progress and I would never claim I’ve solved this conundrum (the more I delve into, the less convinced I am that there is a perfect solution).

Here are the different models I use. But more than anything if this serves any purpose, hopefully it will encourage dialogue on this important topic among practitioners.


Set Energetic Exchange
This form is the most common one I employ. In other worlds it would be considered a fee or the price. I prefer the term exchange. There is a just reciprocity between one who offer gifts with their talents to another and that other then giving back proportionally in response. In this version that exchange comes through money. (Though as you’ll see I do include other forms of exchange in my work). Over the course of the last year I’ve increased the rate of energetic (i.e. monetary) exchange a number of times. I purposefully set the rate initially on the low side in order to gain a sense of facility with the process I was developing. Now that I’ve worked through that process for nearly two years and feel very confident in its beneficial effects, I feel it’s appropriate to set the scale of exchange at a different rate.

Pay What You Can
I’m experimenting with this model in terms of small group work. I learned about this model through a few articles on restaurants where customers can pay whatever they can (or in some versions what they feel the meal is worth). There may be a suggested rate but no one is turned away. Clients with more material means are encouraged (assuming they enjoy the service and meal) to consider giving a larger amount than the suggested rate, knowing that in so doing they are covering for others who can’t afford the suggested rate, thereby allowing the restaurant to pay its staff properly and to maintain itself as a business.

Donation (aka dana)
This one’s straightforward. From the Latin donatio (gift), donation is a pure free-will offering (sometimes with a suggested donation) but ultimately each person makes up his/her mind and makes a monetary offering (or none at all). When I worked in churches this was the dominant form of exchange. In my work now I incorporate donation typically for evening lectures, one off events, or open gatherings.

I seek to give out gifts from time to time. I don’t take applications for this one. I simply make a choice depending on the situation or as I desire. The concept derives from the Latin word for grace (gratia, like gratis meaning free of charge), which has its roots in pleasing, favoring, good will. I find it a helpful experience to remind me of the feeling of giving on its own terms.

Barter is typically in my world called a trade. Trading one’s skill set and sessions for another’s–usually another practitioner of a different healing modality. I have related in that way in the past. I’ve also found alternative forms of trade, e.g. individuals cooking me meals (only really good chefs though quality for this category though!).

Service Tithe
This one is sometimes referred to as the sliding scale, though I don’t agree with that term. What it means in practice is I’ve set a certain number of spots in my work that are available for the right clients who have challenging circumstances around paying the full exchange. Someone very motivated who would connect well with the work but for whom that level of financial contribution is simply not feasible. Those spots only open when one of the individuals currently going through the process under this provision finishes.


I deeply value the notions of commerce, artistry, production, creation, exchange, currency. I even love the word economics, It was a word used in Christian theology to describe God’s saving relationship to creation. It’s root meaning is the system of fair and equitable distribution of food in an ancient household system (called an oikos). In fact many economic terms have their roots in theology (or alternatively, much of theology has its roots in economics). Words like redemption, which only remains in English in terms of redeeming coupons, originally meant buying the freedom of a slave.

Even the word business itself. Etymologically, it refers to one’s care. It connotes a sense of diligence, occupation. It has a historical meaning of ‘what one is about at the moment’, i.e. one’s business.

I’ve created a business as a means to enact this work in the world. I chose this path over my previous ways–employment in the non-profit sector and my earlier years as a monk with vows of poverty, living in a setting of communal property ownership. The business I’m creating and the revenue it is designed to generate is a means to facilitate the work I want to do as well as the way I am able to provide for the needs of myself and my family. The various models are simply various strategies of trying to balance a sense of personal well being, proper energetic exchange, and justice in an unjust society.

Sadly all of these processes–commerce, trade, exchange, production, artistry–have become funnelled through a very distorted and distorting reality known as capitalism (and money as a debt instrument within capitalism). In its globalized form, capitalism (on the large scale) it seems to me is increasingly driven to a vision of plutocracy–to the desires of simply generating more capital itself. Under the ruling economic ideology (neoliberalism), humanity is choosing to take off the restrictions on capitalism. Capitalism however has no mechanism within itself for the just distribution of the wealth it generates. The evidence is clear that without a contravening process (e.g. high taxation and strong social safety net) capital inevitably becomes massively concentrated by a minuscule percentage of human beings. That this massively unjust distribution and inequality occurs is not primarily due to the fact that the ultra-wealthy have higher consciousness than everyone else and that the masses are unenlightened in their poverty consciousness. Contrary to the New Age ideology, money is not a neutral energy. Everything is not simply a product of your thoughts and actions creating your reality.

It’s taken me a long time to separate out the business, commercial, production, and exchange side from the mechanism of the exchange (namely capitalism). Doing so has allowed me to redeem (there’s that economic/theological word again) a sense of business. But it does mean I do so with full recognition that my business and my service exist within a wider network of injustice.

So while it would be easy for me to rail against them out there, whoever they are, the truth is is that I’m implicated in what I criticize as well. I’m not immune from it. I have seen the enemy and he is me. (At least in part).

How to live with that dual recognition of the inherent goodness of what I seek to offer in this world and the natural reciprocal process of occupation that enables it (also good) along with the intrinsically destructive platform by which and through which it occurs?

Because the honest truth is that I’m not interested in these challenges slowing me down to a place of inaction. I do want to make a significant impact. But I do carry a grief within me–one that I think all of us do if we become sensitized to the injustices of the world. If we don’t cut ourselves off from our natural empathy and horror in the face of such wanton historical and present-time cruelty and brutality. At this point the New Age traditions would advocate that I shouldn’t go down this road because I’m attracting bad things into my life by thinking negative thoughts. But I’m not interested in a spiritual version of anesthesia, to numb out economic, political, and social reality.

So for now this concatenation of models is the best I know how to do. I will continue to seek to evolve those processes and move (hopefully) to a place where the business itself generates new forms of creative expression that instantiate the values I hold dear and reveal a different mode of being, one more aligned to the wisdom of life than our out of alignment and distorted reality known as capitalism.

08 Feb 2015 no comments / READ MORE

Dissolving Pain: Or Spiritual Practice in Tattoo Chair

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Healing Arts, Philosophy


Last week I got a tattoo (my second tat, pictured above). This one is much larger and more intricate than my first so consequently I was in the chair much longer. All told it was about 3 1/2 hours for this one (in one sitting).

I mention this because it gave me a great opportunity to practice experiencing sensation. The tattoo artist repeatedly told me I was “taking it like a champ”. And while it is true I do have a high threshold for pain—I spent a lot of my youth getting pocked and prodded with needles as well as various painful medical procedures–I wasn’t just grinning and bearing it.

What allowed me to work through the experience was something more than just a high threshold or tolerance for pain. It’s one of the fruits of a kind of conscious bodily practice.

What do I mean by conscious bodily practice?

In order to answer that let’s start with clarifying a couple of terms: suffering and pain. For this context I would define suffering as what we do to avoid pain. It is what we add onto pain itself. (This isn’t always true but in this case I think this definition holds and it holds in many many other contexts as well). In this understanding suffering is more optional whereas pain is inevitable. In other words, one can experience pain without necessarily suffering.

This is a good first start but it’s not the final step because pain as it turns out isn’t as simple as pain.

Pain is itself (in many cases) an interpretation. What I mean is that it’s possible to get underneath pain–to befriend pain as my friend Irene Lyon would say. Pain can be broken down into constituent micro-sensations.

And this is what I did while being tattooed.

Pain is a word we have for a series of various sensations, mostly unpleasant sensations. If a person senses into the experience itself and takes off the interpretive filter of pain then it is possible for the pain to shift into other sensations.

So while I’m sitting being tattooed there were times where it was painful. There were plenty of other times where it was not.

Sometimes I would simply acknowledge I was experiencing pain and that was about that. I could still be talking to the tattooist, the other guys in the shop, listen to the music that was playing, or be working through something in my mind. A bit of pain but nothing overwhelming or particularly concerning.

Other times I wanted to explore the sensations I was calling pain. In those moments I felt into the sensations and then they stopped being pain.

When I really focused and felt and became curious about the sensations I found that what I otherwise reflexively call pain ended up being a much richer series of experiences and sensations.

I would simply become curious and name each sensation as it was occurring, Internally it would go like:
“oozing” (blood)

Then there was sensations I would describe as:

I kept going:

When there would be temporary breaks in the process I would even feel:

At the most intense experiences during which I focused most deeply into the process, I even began to feel blissful. Blissful in what others would label pain.

I became so intensely focused at points that I actually forgot I was being tattooed (no joke!). I had my eyes closed and became so drawn into the sensations I really for a time lost the world around me or what was going on.

I opened my eyes up and was for a second was pretty startled until I remembered, “Oh yeah I’m getting a tattoo.”

Throughout the 3+ hours in the chair I would never once describe my experience as suffering. I never got caught in a mental whirl about how painful this all was and when would it be over and how much longer and oh god this is terrible and I can’t escape and I’m feeling trapped and please make it stop.

Didn’t happen.

I never suffered. I did experience plenty of pain but without much resistance to the pain itself. A few winches that was it. The most painful place was in the soft tissue on my curving towards my armpit. The second most tender place was along the ridge of my shoulder, where we touched some bone.

At those points especially I went into the pain and pain dissolved into other sensations–plenty of which were uncomfortable and unpleasant in various ways but intriguing and fascinating. Not in a masochistic kind of way but in a clarifying way.

Of course you don’t have to get tattooed to experience pain or more accurately unpleasant sensation. It’s part of our daily lives. Though if you are getting tattooed this is the way to do it trust me.

The good news here is that it’s very simple to reduce our suffering and enter our pain. By welcoming and entering our pain we can find our pain isn’t as simple as pain.

As I was walking home after the tattoo I could tell there were some blocked parts in my arm. Parts that felt as if they had been zapped or poked and had quickly contracted. All completely normal at the time no doubt.

The experience however was over yet these places felt as if they hadn’t relaxed from their contracted state. Like in grade school when kids would fake punching each other in the gut, the stomach naturally caves in as protection. But it was as if part of my arm was still caved in long after I realized the kid was only faking a punch. Or in this case actually sticking a needle into my flesh.

On the walk home, I let my arm start to gently move. It wanted to do this kind of almost popping up motion, with my shoulder raising and then lowering. As I did I began to feel energy and sensation moving and releasing, like electrical charges firing off.

Peter Levine says that pain is trapped sensation. It’s unfinished sensation, a kind of unfinished movement. By allowing the sensations to finish, allowing them to move as they wished–both during the tattooing and afterwards–my healing process has gone very smoothly. Little bits of residual soreness and tightness in some spots (to be expected) but overall doing wonderfully.

Anyone can learn this natural yet powerful way of relating to the sensations we describe as pain. Whether those are chronic types of pain or temporary periods of specific localized pain.

We release suffering by entering the pain (wisely) and the pain then itself dissolves into component sensations. We then learn to follow the impulses of those sensations bodily–flowing, rocking, swaying, loosening, as needed.

Healing results.

* Tattoo courtesy the awesome dudes at Sanitary Electric Tattoo here in Vancouver.

24 Jan 2015 no comments / READ MORE

Male Pain and Male Voice: Part II

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Healing Arts, The Soul

[Author’s Introduction]

On Monday I published Part I of this series. It looked at the case of Jian Ghomeshi and the media response to it. In that piece I argued there was a missing element of the pain of men. From there I laid out a vision I hold for a discourse of and (largely) by men that work with in solidarity with many movements, most notably feminism.

The piece generated a firestorm of controversy on my FB page. I’m not interested in re-hasing that entire debate as it was multi-layered. There were a number of criticism of my piece; I thought some of those criticisms were valid and others definitely not. At the bottom of Part I there’s an updated section where I acknowledge the criticisms.

The primary takeaway for me was that I wanted to talk about what I see as a great degree of male pain (that is what this article is focused on) and that the Ghomeshi overlay brought in a very volatile mix of debate around feminism, patriarchy, gender profiling, true solidarity and justice work, men’s rights activism, and so on. I stand by what I wrote in that piece but I also don’t want to needlessly reignite that controversy.

So in light of the response I’ve decided to take out the Ghomeshi backdrop for this piece. What I say here are things I’ve been thinking of for awhile now. The Ghomeshi case and in particular the response to it online helped coalesce some of those thoughts and gave me an impulse with which to explore them (for better and for worse it might be said). But my argument here is in no way dependent upon that case (or more the very complex question of abuse and violence).

Hopefully this will allow the discussion concerning this piece to be simply what it is. I don’t claim that this approach is a magical cure all for a whole series of interrelated (entangled?) topics and issues. I simply want to put forward one element I see missing. I think it’s an important one but by no means the only or final one.

So here in Part II what I want to explore is what I see needing to be understood and later communicated by men about their experience. This introduction I’ve written this evening (Wed). The main body of the piece below was written before the response to Part I (in fact before publication of Part I). I’ve mostly left it as is but have made some adjustments.

I’ll be using the term men fairly broadly and by nature stereotypically in this account but please note the specifications given in Part I. I’m also not speaking from a scientific survey or report frame of reference so it will be more anecdotal and general in nature. I’m not claiming to be a social science research authority on the subject.

I see a twin void in the heart of most men in our culture. These twin wounds are deep and pervasive. I call them twin because they are technically separable, especially conceptually, though in practice they tend to overlap and flow into one another.

The first major wounding is shame. Men in our society carry enormous unspoken, unacknowledged, unloved, unreceived, and unappreciated shame. My sense is that many men will not admit this to themselves, much less to anyone else. Part of the reason for this closeted shame is that some men are honest about their shame and share it with others–both to men and to women. They often find their shame cruelly denounced. From there they only go to push the shame down further into some dark corner of their being, there to fester and express itself later in unhealthy (and potentially destructive) ways.

I’ve written before on the existence of healthy shame–a voice of wisdom within us that acknowledges that we are radically free and empowered beings while simultaneously (all of us) being incredibly ill-equipped for life. Forever and profoundly incomplete. Healthy shame is being fundamentally at ease with our inherent weaknesses as human beings.

This is hard enough for anyone. It’s especially hard and especially not allowable for men in our society.

The shame residing in men however is not the healthy kind. It’s the profoundly debilitating variety. Toxic shame as it’s often called. Unacknowledged (or worse suppressed) shame goes rogue in our being. It becomes perverted and leaks out in all manner of harmful ways.

This male shame runs so deeply that even well-meaning attempts to respond to it can often end up unintentionally reinforcing it. I’m thinking of a piece like this one by Thomas Fiffer entitled 6 Things Men Don’t Need to Be Ashamed Of. The intent of the piece of is clear enough–for men to take pride in aspects of their being. Except I would argue this doesn’t work and only drives the shame further down by being told we shouldn’t feel the shame. The shame is there. Telling someone not to feel that way is not going to deal with the feeling. It will only drive it further down.

Healthy shame is the feeling of being exposed, having all aspects of one’s being be seen. More men are going to have to take the courageous stance of saying they are ashamed and hurting not as a plea for someone else to fix their pain or their brokenness or as a legitimation of problematic behavior but as a radical act of strength by revealing the deep wounds.

Shame often is accompanied by grief. Basically no one in our society knows how to grieve and this is most especially true for men.

When I hear people (usually but not always women) in the circles I tend to run in wonder or even complain about men not having access to their emotions I typically respond by saying men’s emotional lives are not safe. The first emotions most men will encounter if they dare dive into their souls are grief and shame. Those are two of the toughest emotions to learn to navigate consciously. These men have been given essentially no tools for acknowledging and working with their emotions generally much less shame and grief particularly. As far as I can tell the only emotion that is generally socially accepted for men is anger which is a beautiful emotion but one with a clearly defined (and limited!) role. Constructive anger is the capacity to (re)establish healthy emotional boundaries when lines have been crossed by another person.

But when anger is set up to be doing the work of grief, fear, sadness, shame, and remorse, as it is for many men, then we have a very serious problem–a problem of rage and self-loathing. (Self-loathing being another way to talk about unhealthy or toxic shame–the belief, the feeling that one is inherently bad, broken, and unredeemable.  Rage is a very complex emotion energetically–in its healthy aspect (very hard to access for the record) rage is a primordial

When I work with healthy rage and when I am able to access it (not always possible in my case)  I feel as if I’m the eye of a hurricane. I become utterly, almost preternaturally, still. I burn blue or white hot. The fire is so intense it’s almost as if it is no longer a fire.

The paradoxical gift of healthy shame is pure liberation. The paradoxical gift of healthy rage is a sense of total (almost newborn) innocence.

But these emotions are very challenging to deal with and probably are best dealt with after learning to deal with sadness, grief, anger, fear, remorse, etc.

Perhaps now we can see why it’s safer to distract oneself with video games, porn, alcohol, loveless sexual encounters, or workoholism rather than try to navigate all that emotionally dicey terrain. Diving into those emotional waters without proper guidance and training is actually not safe at all. Grief and shame are very powerful characters in our psyche (as are shame and rage) and if they are not dealt with wisely then can cause significant damage–though dealt with properly they are sources of incredible insight.

So contrary to how these things are often viewed, I see these stereotypical distractions and addictions as imbued with a certain intelligence (if ultimately limited and self-defeating).

As an example of what I mean, take the rise of the so-called man cave phenomenon. I find it a fascinating social expression, full of all kinds of hidden meaning. The first thing I think it tells us is that the home does not feel a safe place for many men (the men have to create a separate space in the garage or basement for their maleness). They do not see themselves as actually in a sense being partners in the home.

Second thing that’s interesting is that caves are traditionally where men and boys (and sometimes women and girls) were sent to go through cultural and spiritual initiation rituals. One went into the cave and partook in the initial and then returned to the tribe changed in some fundamental way. Importantly that change was recognized and honored by the tribe at large.

Since our society has almost wholesale given up such wisdom, the faintest thread of memory remains and we reinvent the thing we long for but in a very unconscious way (the man cave). The cave is a safe entryway in this world to the underworld, i.e. the descent of the soul into it’s pain. Our man caves exist to numb out the pain rather than to face into it. They will remain such until we acknowledge the underlying pain and learn to deal with it in healthy ways.

My experience though is that in order to get a hearing as a man with this kind of pain (and in my case as a white, heterosexual, middle class man) a man needs first to listen and to grow in relationship. If a men’s movement wanted to gain actual legitimacy and truth in life, I believe it would start first with acknowledging the pain of others, i.e. those hurt by the modern era. Children, women, people of color, the poor, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered. Start there. Let their experience break your heart. And then from having listened, speak to one’s own pain.

I’ve spent a great deal of the last 15 years of my life connecting and interacting with people with a different biological sex, as well as gender, cultural, sexual orientation identities different from my own. I would never claim I understand what it’s like from the inside of those worlds. I’m not after all a woman. I’m not after all gay, lesbian, or bisexual. I’m not after a person of East Asian or African or aboriginal ancestry. I have however tried to be as humble as I can and listen. I’ve genuinely try to imagine myself in the experience of these other people and the times when I honestly can’t, I simply acknowledge I can’t really understand what that’s like.

Of course I’m still heavily shaped by my experience and lenses and biases, but those experiences have taught me to try (as best as I can) to imagine the world from a different perspective. To try to honestly take into account the experiences I’ve heard from others, their stories, perspectives, and values, whenever I speak.

There is a lot of male pain and it isn’t being heard widely in society. Still rather than immediately jumping into it–however understandable that is–it’s going to require deeper listening. It’s going to require waiting to speak and in that speaking acknowledging the profound sufferings of others.

When held rightly, pain and suffering, grief and shame are what bring solidarity. We are very different in our different manifestations. We are the same in that we are all hurting, vulnerable, beautiful beings. Including yes men of privilege. Constant fights and divisions over whose suffered more don’t serve us here. Everyone suffers, not all necessarily equally in either intensity or magnitude. But hurt deeply everyone does. Especially in this crazed, insane world we inhabit.

That male pain is going unacknowledged society-wide and its causing enormous damage, internal and external.

Men’s pain does not need to be in competition with the pain of others (especially women’s pain). It should honestly be brought forward as one more valid voice within the litany, the lamentation of our collective sorrow. It’s real. Its not the only form of pain. Yet it’s still real and the fact that it isn’t spoken about or listened to is a cause of even more suffering.

But men’s pain is real. The ultimate shame is that men’s inner lives are not valued in our culture. As a society we don’t care about the inner lives of men–this is the message men receive as boys. They receive that message both from adult men and women. They will hear that message repeated throughout their lives and eventually they will pass it on to the next generation.

Men’s value is in terms of their external productivity (just as women’s values is typically judged by their external looks). Many (though by no means all) women in our society are granted permission, even encouraged to have inner lives–the terrible cost of which is the pervasive belief that therefore others should have a right to judge the inner world of those women (again whether the judger is a woman or man).

Men don’t have so much in the way of judgment of their inner lives. Rather their inner lives are simply of no consequence. And whether a man will admit this or not, he knows it. Deep down he knows who he is as a human being, as a person, doesn’t much count or matter. Not in terms of his emotions, his consciousness, his sentience.

That’s where his shame comes from.

It’s a secret so terrible and dark he dare never speak its name.

A man who is able to face this truth, to accept his being (warts, glories, and everything in between) becomes a source of grounding. He is one who holds a gentle and persuasive but not dominating form of power. His being is nurturing not because he’s embraced his “inner feminine” but because he’s embraced the inherently nurturing aspect of his male being. He’s not a “sensitive guy” but rather an empathetic man.

That’s one side of the void.

The other side is harder to speak of. It’s more elusive, harder to pinpoint, more challenging to name.

Christiane Pelmas calls this other energy re-wilding; for men she calls it stallion energy.

This energy is a raw male energy put to the good of life. It is male participation in Eros, the warm radiant pulse of creative existence itself.

This side is can be acknowledged (unlike men’s pain) though often only in a negative fashion. Namely it’s criticized as inherently evil*. Or in the rare cases when this energy is acknowledged in a positive sense it’s a very immature, unconscious form of this energy: namely machismo, patriarchal tough guy imagery.

As a result, Pelmas describes this energy as caged and one that lashes out in turn when caged.

If we hold the view that this more primal male energy is not to be trusted, not of life, not to be honored, then it’s clear that (many? all?) men need to be re-educated. They need to be shamed into seeing not simply how terrible certain actions are but also how their desires are inherently disordered. This is the only way you can discipline such men–to use Foucault’s term.

A more honest, a more conscious approach would be to say that he (and by extension men more broadly) have two tasks ahead of them.

  • To acknowledge their grief, their loss, their incompleteness.
  • To learn to work wisely and compassionately with this other aspect of their maleness (call it stallion energy perhaps).

Of the two paths mentioned above–the twin male voids–I’ve largely come to be at peace with the first. I’ve grieved my losses. I’m at ease with the incomplete elements of my makeup. This aspect of me creates trust and a sense of safety for others.

But the second, the so-called stallion energy, is a major struggle for me.

Raised Roman Catholic, a good altar boy with a sincere spiritual impulse, these genuine aspects of myself were at odds with my adolescent and later young adult male energy, particularly in its darker aspects. Darker here not meaning evil, darker simply meaning darker. Of the night. Blackness.

We shouldn’t reduce Eros to sexual energy but there’s no fullness of Eros without it either. This combination of innocence, boyishness, raw primal vitality, spiritualized insight, sexual energy, and even lust is a subtle, confusing, and complex interweaving. it’s generative energy which can either be used for creation or demolition. It’s a clarion call to cleaning up this energy and incorporating it in a healthy conscious way in our lives. Turning it off numbs men down. Turning it on without subtle intelligence is a recipe for potential violence.

I can’t claim to have great facility with what Pelmas calls the stallion energy, or at least significant parts of it anyway. It does show up in my relentless push to work on myself so that I can be as clear and clean as possible in my interactions. It shows up in strong desire to be of service. It shows up in my choice to enter into conflicted territory and often say controversial (but hopefully loving) things.

But there are definitely other aspects of the stallion energy that I’m not skilled in. I suppose energy is the best word for it. It’s not really an emotion. Or at least my own experience, if that’s any guide to go by, tells me that it’s possible to have capacity with a whole range of human emotion (as a man) and still struggle to access this stallion energy. It’s also not really an instinct (at least not totally).

But it is something. It’s an energy if we understand energy in its original root meaning (from the Greek): an activity, action, or operation. It’s something active, a working or work.

So we can see then that these two woundings include a more emotional component and a more energetic component. They intertwine and overlap in myriad ways but I do think (at least conceptually as well as in practice) they are distinguishable from each other. It’s important to distinguish them I believe because when they are all wrapped up in each other and one (or both) are in unconscious or unhealthy form then we are back to some potentially twisted, messed up stuff (yes, those are precise technical terms).

In the spiritual teaching world (where I spend most of my time and activity) this stallion energy would be called the masculine (aka The Divine Masculine). By the masculine is meant a transpersonal essence in interplay with the feminine (aka The Divine Feminine). In Part III I want to explore that particular framework around this energy–how I think the framework of the masculine isn’t the most helpful one to be able to relate to this stallion energy.

* And just for a moment to touch back into the controversy surrounding Part I yes there are some forms of feminism that do precisely this (i.e. equate the stallion energy with intrinsic violence). Not all forms of feminism, not even most in my experience. But some.

06 Nov 2014 no comments / READ MORE

Jian Ghomeshi: Male Pain and Male Voice Part I

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Healing Arts, The Soul

The news in Canada this week has been dominated by accusations of sexual abuse by Canadian Broadcasting Company radio personality Jian Ghomeshi (the story has gotten some attention in the US press). The controversy began when Ghomeshi made a public announcement on his Facebook page claiming he was the victim of a smear campaign and that the CBC unfairly fired him for his kink/BDSM sexual preferences. He also announced he would bring a $50 million suit against his former employers. In a shrewd PR move Ghomeshi preempted the CBC’s own announcement and for a brief moment controlled the social media narrative: a lone heroic individual oppressed by a cold conservative institution who couldn’t handle his unorthodox sexual practices. He further insinuated that the accusations were from only one jilted ex-lover and that the entire thing was essentially a conspiracy to bring him down.   

Since his original reply however more women have come forward (some have been willing to make their claims public). At the time of this writing eight women. As more stories have emerged some are not related at all to questions around kink/BDSM further undermining Ghomeshi’s defense.

Ghomeshi’s show Q was exquisite in its best moments though of course that doesn’t change or diminish the harm he’s caused. It does perhaps explain why there was an initial outcry of disbelief and a rush to defend him in many quarters. (As more stories and accusations have emerged many of those voices are seeming to die down).

The story has ignited a series of related but distinct discussions around consent, sexuality, power, privilege, and abuse.

In terms of required reading there’s the following pieces:

This one (from a former prosecutor) explores the serious barriers that make it difficult for many women to come forward with reports of sexual violence. 

This one on the very real existence of rape culture (and the ways it’s revealed itself in this case). 

This one on the ways in which Ghomeshi was not following proper ethics as prescribed within the BDSM community. And therefore his initial response that he was a victim of prudery doesn’t cut it. (We’ll come back to this point in a bit as it’s a very important one).

It is true that a huge number of people immediately jumped to Ghomeshi’s defense rather than taking seriously the possibility that the reports could be well founded. A number of posts (including the ones linked above) have been doing a very good job of revealing all the unjust ways in which burdens are placed on individuals who are sexually violated. This is particularly the case when the man in question is a well known and well loved public figure and to expose oneself into the media circus and frenzy can bring with it death threats, cyber-bullying, and public attack.

Legit practitioners of BDSM are right to clearly differentiate their understanding of on-going consent and the ethical complexities of that path from Ghomeshi’s very simplistic and ignorant view that one is simply into BDSM/kink, tells say a date, the date responds with something like ‘yeah I’m into that’ in some general sense, and then he takes that to mean that all manner of actions (even the most controversial within the BDSM world itself) are given a green light.

All those points of view are true. There is however another angle of this story I would like to share, a potentially very controversial one: male wounding.

It’s a complex topic that I’ll explore more directly in the second part. Before delving into it however I want to make clear that any discussion about male wounding (as is about to happen) must take place within the context set by the earlier points. Namely recognition of the pervasive nature of sexual violence, most prominently (though not exclusively) against women and children. (*See Update I below, point #3 for more clarification on this point*.) The reality of rape culture–i..e. a cultural framework which minimizes the effects of sexual violence, believes (falsely) sexual violence to be rare or extreme, and blames victims (‘she was dressing too provocatively’) rather than focusing on the actions of perpetrators.

Those criteria distinguish my perspective from that of the men’s rights movement. The men’s rights movement does speak of male hurts and unacknowledged needs (which I agree need to be addressed) but it then blames feminism as at the source of these problems. It’s at that point that I part company with them. I don’t believe feminism is the problem here–rather it’s patriarchy.

Any male discourse that blames feminism inevitably leads to some nostalgic romantic return to pre-feminist patriarchal ideals of manhood–ideals that are problematic for everyone, including men (e.g. see the pick up artist subculture.)

To the degree that men in our society only identify themselves within the roles and identities ascribed to them by patriarchy then I can understand how criticisms of patriarchy have left some men feeling as if they personally are being criticized and that their maleness is itself a flaw.

If however we can separate men per se from men in and under patriarchy, then we open a door to another way of thinking, feeling, and being. In this understanding the pains underlying a Jian Ghomeshi and the pains underlying many men in our culture could be the source of potential transformation. These pains and hurts are subtle information. Our psyches as men are telling us something and we aren’t listening to ourselves. We also aren’t necessarily being listened to by wider circles, but until we listen first ourselves, how would we have anything coherent to say to which we should be heard?

The Ghomeshi case shows both the failure of patriarchy as well as the lack of a strong, post-patriarchal male discourse.

Rather than blaming feminism, I think a mature men’s movement would acknowledge the wisdom of feminism and then seek to offer it’s own complementary voice of male experience. This approach allows feminism to focus on the empowerment and flourishing of women (and children). Feminism doesn’t need to incorporate male experience. What’s needed is a male movement and male voice that takes feminism seriously, so seriously in fact it would be a core element of its makeup. This male movement I’m imagining would one that acknowledges its class orientation, its social location, its ethnic makeup, etc. In other words the men’s movement I’m describing is largely a middle-upper class, North American one, most likely with a strong though not exclusive heterosexual orientation.

I believe such a male discourse is important because there are gaps in our collective work. For every case like a Jian Ghomeshi we miss an opportunity to speak about this important missing element. (For the record I’m not saying this missing element is more important than responses pointing to rape culture and the like–only that this discourse would be complementary and is needed as well).

The men’s rights movement blames feminism for not hearing the voice of men but why should feminism be oriented to men? Why shouldn’t men find their own voice and add it to the wider ecology of voices and perspectives?

Feminism (in all its varieties and flavors) is only one set of a larger ecology of liberative post-patriarchal ways of being and thinking. Other planets in that galaxy would include queer perspectives, transgendered thought and experience, bisexual reflection, asexual interpretation, intersex and so on. As well as various forms of postcolonialism, ecological insight, aboriginal perspectives, and economic critique. We could even include here voices within the kink/BDSM and related sexual worlds.

That’s not to say male voices are entirely absent from those discourses–men’s voices are prominent in a number of them (e.g. most obviously the experience of gay men but also postcolonial, aboriginal, ecological, kink, transgendered, etc.). But there is a missing aspect here: a form of mostly (though not entirely) heterosexual, North American, middle-upper class men in this world speaking from the position and experience of being a man.

I point to Ghomeshi because he fits all of those characteristics. In saying that though I’m going to say again explicitly, nothing I write here  or part II should be taken as a defense for indefensible actions. In Part II I’ll explore what those pains are and how men can begin to deal with this pain but I think it’s important to really get a grasp of the context for best approaching this topic. Without a strong grasp of the context it’s very easy for an investigation into men’s pain to slide subtly or not subtly back into a place of blaming women. I’ve been at pains in this discussion to make clear I don’t think that way nor do I think that view best serves men (or women).

Update I:

I’ve already received a good deal of feedback. A number of critiques have been raised. Blogging is nothing if not a form for real time correcting and editing.

#1 I didn’t nuance my understanding of feminism. 

This one is true. I can only focus on some many things in one piece but yes a more developed in-depth look would parse out some different schools of feminism, different feminist thinkers. Feminism is by no means a monolithic reality. There are certainly some individual writers and writings (and even arguably some camps within feminism) that could legitimately (I think) be labeled anti-male. I don’t think however that anti-maleness is intrinsic to feminism in the way that anti-feminism is intrinsic to the men’s rights movement. I would say anti-patriarchy is intrinsic to feminism (of all varieties) and it’s important, as well as complex, to sift out at times what is a critique of patriarchy and what is a critique of men wholesale.

#2 I need to be more explicit about advocating for concrete acts of political solidarity.

The critique here is that I’m overly focused on this men’s movement creating solidarity along lines of hearing each others stories, pain, and the path of healing (and then sharing men’s pain) and that I need to put more emphasis (if not priority) on concrete political systemic acts first. This criticism also has a point.

#3 I didn’t clarify enough what I meant by the pervasiveness of sexual violence against women. 

So let me do that here now. I was admittedly using my terms fairly loosely above but I had in mind any and all of the following kinds of acts under that umbrella: from rape, to domestic violence, to stalking, to ‘handsy’/unwanted groping, to harassment, to intimidation/catcalling in public, to public shaming or cyber-bulling, to sexual emotional or verbal abuse. If we are only looking specifically at rape it’s easy to get into a very complex debate about how exactly prevalent rape of women really is (how often it’s reported, not reported, false accusations and all the rest) but thinking of the topic more broadly as I had in mind here I think establishes well the pervasive nature of the reality.

#4 Using the Jian Ghomeshi case as an entry point prejudices this discussion by placing all (or the majority of) men into a category of potential rapists. 

I had no intention of doing any such thing in this piece. In part, I’ve responded to this charge in #3 just above. If we’re only discussing rape than yes most men are not rapists and are not would-be rapists. If we are talking about the entire spectrum of such abuse (all the ones listed above) then the percentages are sadly higher. Obviously not all the behaviors listed above are of an equally horrid nature. Some are clearly worse than others but all are wrong.

Even acknowledging that however in what I’m attempting to do here, I want to focus on the nature of the pain I see in many men. I was not pointing to some kind of linkage between Ghomeshi’s indefensible actions and the majority of men. Only that this story and the reactions to it show an element that’s missing: namely male pain. (Which even if apparent in Ghomeshi’s case or anyone else’s does not legitimize or soften illegitimate abusive behavior).

03 Nov 2014 1 comment / READ MORE