The Imaginal

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Souls Ascend and Descend

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Philosophy, Shamanism, Spirituality, The Imaginal, The Soul

“Although both [soul and spirit] are transpersonal, spirit takes you in one direction from the conscious mind or personality, and soul takes you in the other. The movement toward spirit is a journey of ascent, a journey of transcendence, while the movement toward your soul is a journey of descent, or what Thomas Berry calls “inscendence,” a journey that deepens.”

“Transcendence is commonly associated with the rising sun (and thus the compass direction of east), an ascension to the boundless emptiness of space, a journey into the upperworld, a union with the light — conversing with angels or the ascended masters. The soul path is often associated with the setting sun (and thus the direction of west), the descent to our earthy roots, into the wildness of the soil and the soul, a journey into the underworld, a voyage into darkness or shadow as in the apparent destination of the sun as it sinks below the western horizon.” —Bill Plotkin

“Marion [Woodman] defines spirit as ethereal, transcendent, heavenly, immaterial, perfect, ‘out there’, ‘above’ ordinary life, and … masculine. Marion and [Bill] Plotkin believe that we grow in two different directions: ascend towards spirit and descend towards soul. The spirit path takes us on a journey to the upper world–a boundless, timeless union with the transcendent or God–whereas the soul path takes us on a journey to the lower world–a meandering make-out session with the immanent and our individual selves.” –Sera Beak Red, Hot, and Holy p.94

I’ve spent a good deal of time on this site articulating the difference between spirit and soul work. I think experientially understanding both the points of contact as well as the points of difference between our souls and spirits is an absolutely essential part of becoming human. On this I’m in total agreement with Marion Woodman and Bill Plotkin.

Describing the difference between spirit and soul as that of ascent (spirit) and descent (soul) is however wrong in my view. In this piece I’ll show why I believe that distinction is misguided and what unhelpful consequences occur as a result of approaching spiritual and soul practice in this way. On the surface, this might seem like an overly technical semantics debate, I think it does have important implications. Mistakes about the precise nature of the soul and the spirit and how to access and incarnate them inevitably create imbalances in practice, misinterpretation of experience, and cut off others form of spiritual and soul-based realization.

First I’ll explore the mistake around ascent and descent, showing how both the soul and the spirit can be said to ascend or descend (or both). Second, I’ll critique the false binary between spiritual as “above”, “out there”, and masculine versus the soul which is then “below”, “in here”, and feminine. Lastly, I’ll conclude with some thoughts on how we can more wisely understand the difference between soul and spirit.

But before going there I do want to emphasize how much I appreciate the work these individuals (Bill Plotkin in particular) have done to differentiate spiritual practice from soul work. This distinction has been a major gift in my own life and lies at the heart of the work I do now. For that I am deeply grateful. I do however think we need to nuance the understanding of the precise nature of that differentiation between spirit and soul.

Spirit and Soul Both Ascend and Descend

The idea that spirit is about ascent and soul is about descent is the core mistake in my view. The masculine/feminine distinction is a corollary of this central belief.

Here’s a portion of that quotation again:

“The spirit path takes us on a journey to the upper world–a boundless, timeless union with the transcendent or God–whereas the soul path takes us on a journey to the lower world–a meandering make-out session with the immanent and our individual selves.”

This framework sets up a false dichotomy, one not supported in the great spiritual traditions themselves.

For example, in shamanism there is the classic description of the three worlds: upper, lower, and middle.

The upper world is what people typically call heaven but would be better termed paradise. The Elysian Fields of Greek mythology, the happy hunting grounds, the realms of angels, deceased ancestors and loved ones, the abode of Plato’s Archetypes, the Brahmaloka, and the realm of gods in Buddhism.

The lower world is the psychic reality of earth. It’s a realm where we burn contracts, retrieve pieces of our soul, and commune with the elements of fire, earth, air, and water.

The middle world is our world. To psychically journey in the middle world is actually the most complex and potentially dangerous of the three worlds (as it turns out).

Together these three worlds form a coherent unified order. The soul is what transits all three realms.

In shamanic practice one learns first to descend to the lower world. I imagine beginning with descent is the source of the confusion that soul is about descent only. But then one learns to journey to the upper worlds. Finally one learns to journey in the middle world.

All three of those worlds are accessed through the soul. It is true that the soul descends into the underworld, like Orpheus. It’s also true however that the soul ascends to paradise–think Dante meeting Beatrice in Paradise in The Divine Comedy or Prophet Elijah being taken up to paradise. Journeying in the middle world is neither descending nor ascending; middle world journeys are in a sense horizontal, neither up nor down but rather further within.

So the soul can descend, ascend, or move laterally.

Much of what people describe as belonging to the path of ascent belongs to the soul not the spirit. It’s the soul that unites to God. Our spirit nature does not unite to God (it is of the same essence as God, hence it does not need to unite to God). Countless however are the stories of souls flying to heaven and uniting with God.

Soul is energy, communion, proper boundaries, just and harmonious relationship, voice, vitality, and dreaming.

Spiritual realization on the other hand is not so much about flying up to heaven as it is about realizing heaven as the essence of everything as it is on earth. The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

Now it’s true that spiritual realization is often called Waking Up (there’s ascent of spirit). With a spiritual teacher like Saniel Bonder however it is called Waking Down (descent of spirit). In this video Adyashanti and Loch Kelly talk about how their spiritual realization started more in their heads and then descended to their hearts.

So in the realm of spirit, we also see a similar pattern of possible ascent as well as descent.

In the first chapter of The Gospel of John it states, 

“In the beginning was Wisdom and Wisdom was with God and Wisdom was God…and Wisdom became flesh and dwelt among us.”

That’s a descending model of spirit. Jesus, as the incarnation of God’s Wisdom, “comes down” from above. In fact all incarnational models of spirituality are descending by their very nature.

Or consider the words of the great Padmashambhava, father of Tibetan Buddhism on spiritual realization: 

Descending with The View, I climb the mountain of cause and effect.”

There’s spirt in both ascending and descending form in one integrated movement.

As the Heart Sutra says, “the formless is form.” The other world is this world. The transcendental reality is expressed precisely in, as, and through concrete materiality. (To use the fancy terms transcendence is experienced in and as immanence).

The Zen tradition is particularly alive to this aspect of spiritual realization–that it is not really about ascending or descending, it simply is attuned to What IS.

Frog jumps in pond, plop.
Rain on roof, marvellous beyond wonder.
Daisies float in the breeze, stupendous.

Spiritual realization is the realization that everything has but One Nature, One Condition, One Essence. Or in more Buddhist language, it is the realization that there is no separate existence, everything is empty (shunyata) of such qualities in an inseparable marvellous, seamless display.

No one needs go up or down or sideways to realize this truth. They simply need to see.

It is true that spiritual realization–as Adyashanti and Loch Kelly describe–tends to start in the head or mind. This probably is why spirit is often seen as (only) ascending. Just as with the soul it starts with descent to the lower world but that is not the final movement of soul.

It’s certainly true that spiritual realization or enlightenment can stay stuck in the head/mind. It can however continue to deepen and it does so by descending further down in the bodymind, to the throat, the heart, the belly, etc.

So to reiterate, souls can ascend, descend, as well as ‘move sideways’. So can spirits. Consequently, the metaphor of directionality doesn’t help us particularly discern the differences between soul and spirit.

Masculine Spirit versus Feminine Soul

If the metaphor of directionality doesn’t help us in distinguishing soul and spirit, I don’t think metaphors drawn from the realms of gender and sexuality are any better (a subject I’ve written on elsewhere).

It is correct to say that in many traditions the soul is described as feminine. But then again spirit can and is often described as feminine–e.g. Lady Wisdom. The word spirit in Latin is masculine in its gender casing (spiritus) but in Hebrew is feminine (ruach) and in Greek is neuter (pneuma).

This confusion results from the earlier mistake of seeing spirit as ascending and out there, rather than the essence of all that is and soul as descent, rather than the intrinsic particularity, relationality and subtlety of all existence.

Once spirit is seen as “out there” and “above” then it’s very easy to conflate that out there, aboveness with being masculine and “down here”, “within” being feminine. And typically in this kind of presentation there’s a not very subtle biasing towards the feminine over the masculine. Worse still, while feminine is not supposed to mean women and masculine is not supposed to be men, in practice those words tend to evoke precisely those understandings. Hence this presentation not-so-subtly is prejudiced towards women being seen as more important carriers of truth. As a consequence, the masculine very often becomes the holder of our shadows, the things we don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves.

In other words, I think we’re taking our metaphors way too seriously in this realm. Yes many traditions speak of earth as mother and sky as father but earlier Indo-European traditions actually reversed it with the heavens being feminine and earth being masculine. And ultimately of course neither is actually masculine nor feminine.

Offering this critique is not an attempt to reassert masculine spirituality (or worse some kind of patriarchal view of spirituality). For one I don’t really buy all that much into a concept of the masculine. Two, I think teasing out the differences between soul and spirit are hard enough on their own terms. It’s only made that much more difficult by adding in the the very confusing and complex interweaving that is the relationship between our concrete historical gender patterns, our biology, and our sexual orientations and how those relate to spiritual experiences, insights, and the spiritual realm itself. (For those interested in exploring that topic in greater detail, see this piece I wrote on the subject.)


What seems on the surface like a simple statement about soul being about descent (and feminine) and spirit being about ascent (and masculine) turns out to be a whole messed up jumble. Once again, I do think the distinction between soul and spirit is a very powerful one, one that is significantly missed in much spiritual teaching and literature. Again, I want to stress I’m in deep agreement with Marion Woodman and Bill Plotkin on that point.

I think a better way of proceeding comes from those authors themselves:

The sentence immediately before the quotation from Sera Beak with which I began this piece reads:

“Here’s another perspective I found helpful during this time, offered by Bill Plotkin, author of the masterpiece Soulcraft, which makes the distinction between spirit and soul: soul is our unique core, while spirit is that which we all have in common.” (ibid, p.94).

I think this view is much better.

I mentioned that we can define spiritual awakening as the realization that there is Only One Condition of all conditions, One Nature to all natures. Spiritual realization is to experientially grasp that all reality has but One Substrate. Or again in Buddhist language that there is a Zero Quality to all reality. There is no separation. The whole is Seamless.

Because of that we may say there is only One Spirit. Spiritual realization is the dying or dropping away of our normal self-centered frame of reference. What is left in the wake of the dropping away is the sense of The All, The One, What IS. This is the same for everyone.

In Plotkin’s words, spirit “is that which we all have in common” because there is only One (or Zero), not Two.

Soul then is unique expression. Each soul is a distinct expression. Like rays coming off of the Sun. There is but One Sun (Spirit) but it is expressed as many rays (Unique Souls).

It is not that all the rays need to be added up to make up the Sun. It is that the fullness of the Sun is intrinsic to each ray and each ray is simply that–it’s own utterly singular expression of The Whole. The ray is not separate from the Sun but nevertheless each ray is unique. That is the paradoxical wisdom of Soul.

What all of this points to is that soul work is very different from spiritual work. Each form of practice applies to a different aspect of our human incarnation and therefore both are intrinsically valuable and vitally necessary. When we stick to the precise understanding of spirit as recognition of Oneness (or Zeroness) and soul as expression of Distinctness then we have the capacity to stick to the actual experience and work itself. In my view, when we start adding in complicating ideas over the top like spirit is out there and masculine and ascending or soul is in here and feminine and descending then we inevitably create confusion.

04 Sep 2017 no comments / READ MORE

In Defense of Doctrine

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Philosophy, Spirituality, The Imaginal

Nowadays it’s very common to hear someone say they want genuine spirituality not religion. In that mindset, genuine spirituality is said to consist of personal exploration and journey but definitely not doctrine. One is supposed to be open-minded and accepting not dogmatic (in this view). Being doctrinal or dogmatic is now in many places an outright shibboleth. It’s a word said with disgust and disdain.

Here I’d like to argue against this commonplace perspective and instead defend what I believe to be a right understanding of doctrine. I think doctrine is more important than ever before (if we understand rightly what true doctrine is and is not). In my view the anti-doctrinal attitude of our day is causing enormous suffering and I believe we need to retrieve a right understanding of doctrine to help remedy that ill.

I use the terms remedy and illness there purposefully because the word doctrine derives from the same root as the word doctor, e.g. as in a medical doctor or a doctorate in philosophy.

That is to say doctrine means “teaching”. Doctrine is a body of teachings.

Hence, saying that one is against doctrine literally means one is against teaching. The consequence of a cultural pattern of being against doctrine means there is no desire to be taught or to learn. This problem is rampant and serious in the contemporary spiritual scene.

Let me use another example to try to make my point–a very closely related one—the word judgment. What goes on in the spiritual-but-not-religious/New Age/individualistic spiritual path is a heavy valuation of tolerance, which is to say not “being judged.” Of course there’s a long history associated with judgment. There’s has been a great deal of negative judgmental behavior in traditional religious expression. The critique of judgment has it’s (partial) validity. However there’s not a clear enough distinction made between healthy and clarifying judgment versus unhealthy and degrading judgment, which results in judgment altogether being thrown out. Throwing out judgment (altogether) means people are throwing out their street smarts, their critical faculties of discernment, and their ability to make sound discriminating decisions around right and wrong. (The effects of disowned and poor judgment are everywhere in the contemporary spiritual scene).

The same underlying problem is a the root of the bias against doctrine (i.e. against teaching) nowadays. In the worst of cases this leads to a very strongly fenced-in, fortressed ego.

“Don’t judge me.” 
“This is my path, my truth, my personal reality, and it can’t be judged.”

As a consequence individuals end up more and more isolated, sealed-in in their hermitic enclosures, unwilling to let others or the world in.

It’s the same with doctrine (teaching). Just as there was negative judgmentalism, there’s (negative) doctrinal attitudes. There’s a long, negative history in Western culture of such reality. Negative doctrinalism would be things like:

–Tying doctrine to the civil state and punishing those who have a different body of teachings (doctrine), including torture or execution.
–Enforcing doctrine through arguments from authority, i.e. because Teacher So-and-So said X, X must be true.
–Teaching doctrine without having any grounding in the experience/spiritual insight which the doctrine teaches, aka spiritual ideology or dogmatism.
–Doctrines that divide the world into radically segregated good vs. evil, black vs. white
–Doctrines that scapegoat entires classes of people as inherently wicked and evil: e.g. gays, lesbians, trans, queer, atheists, etc.
–Declaring one’s own doctrine to be the one and only right one and all others to be false and dangerous.
–Doctrines that repress basic human realities: e.g. emotions, sexuality, bodily reality as such.

These types of dehumanizing processes are what most people think of now when the hear the “d” word: doctrine.

If that is all that doctrine means, then it’s certainly understandable as to why we would would want to reject that en toto. But as with judgment, to throw out doctrine is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

As noted, being against doctrine is etymologically, literally, being against teaching, which is to say being against learning. Being anti-doctrinal means one does not want to be a student. There’s a strong fortification for the ego.

Now in saying this I’m not saying doctrine (i.e. teaching) has to necessarily be handed down from the mountain on high. We can and should in my view be updating our teachings in light of our contemporary world, while retaining the everlasting wisdom of the ancients (knowing which is which is not always easy admittedly).

If however we are going to have any form of community, any form of truly working together in becoming fully human, then yes we need a body of teachings. That is, we need doctrine.

In defending the need for doctrine, I’m swimming directly against the tide of our times that says that we can’t have doctrine because doctrine is about exclusion and our age must be one of inclusion. Doctrine inherently draws boundaries and we should live without boundaries.

Having worked both in a liberal Christian church setting and now in the wider spiritual but not religious/New Age/contemporary spiritual scene, I’ve seen and heard this perspective repeatedly.

In this liberal telling, conservatives are labeled exclusionary and dogmatic.* Liberals on the other hand label themselves inclusive.

The problem though is that exclusive and inclusive go together. They are right and left hands. In Buddhist-ese, they dependently originate. They require each other. Inclusive only makes sense as the opposite of exclusive and exclusive only makes sense in relation to inclusive. Like breathing in only makes sense in comparison to breathing out (and versa vice).

Conservatives include themselves and exclude others. Liberals include other self-described open minded people like themselves and exclude more reactionary types (often with reason). But it doesn’t make sense as an absolute statement to say one group is inclusive and the other is exclusive. All groups are by nature inclusive and exclusive simultaneously. The question is how inclusive or not, how exclusive or not, in what manner are they inclusive or not, and so on.

Exclusion, in other words, is not automatically wrong or evil (though it certainly can be). There are times when it’s totally legitimate to draw moral boundaries. For example I hold it’s completely valid to say that a group is not going to allow homophobic vitriol to be spouted. That’s excluding. Healthy excluding in my book but excluding nonetheless.

A cell wall that lets everything in and has no boundaries would be totally inclusive. And it would die. Conversely, a cell wall that lets in no nutrients or water would be totally exclusive and would also die. The optimal state for a cell is semi-permeability. There is enough of a filter for the cell to maintain it’s own autonomy while at the same time allowing in what is of life to it and releasing what is not.

When it comes to spirituality, doctrine is a cell wall. It is ideally meant to be semi-permeable. It needs to be open to outside influences and it needs to have enough solidity unto itself that it creates its own coherent reality.

My own view is that all of the traditional religious paths are far too closed off at this point to be of help to us. There’s an enormous amount of wisdom in them to be sure, wisdom that should be conserved. But I think as a whole they are far too rigid for our contemporary reality. They’re not anywhere near permeable enough.

On the other hand, the individual make-it-up-as-you-go path has failed as well. It is far too permeable. It’s not structurally sound. It’s too porous–the evidence for that claim is I believe everywhere: spiritual celebrity culture; guruism; cultishness; lack of commitment, lack of ethical, emotional, and energetic boundaries.

(Sidenote: I’m also, for what it’s worth, opposed to the attempt to create a secular doctrine based on combining Theravadin Buddhist meditation techniques with neuroscience and materialist philosophy–at least I’m against doing that and calling it “scientific” and “non-religious”.)

A profound lack of understanding of doctrine, of how to engage wisely in relationship to teaching is at the root of this malaise.

The first thing to say is that doctrine (i.e. teaching) is there to help create boundaries for a group. There’s a danger in that of course in that the walls can be drawn far too rigidly and/or those on the inside can be treated in a terrible ways. The alternative is not to have boundary-less existence however but rather to create healthy boundaries, not simply jettison boundaries altogether (which leads to terrible consequences.)

No boundaries means no integrity.

So that’s number one.

Number two is a point made by philosopher Ken Wilber. Namely that there’s certainly such a thing as a wrong interpretation but there is never a final right interpretation.

This point is a subtle one and it has enormous implication in terms of creating a healthy 21st life-affirming, human-affirming spiritual doctrine.

Wilber uses the example of Hamlet. There are wrong interpretations as to the meaning(s) of the play. For example, Hamlet is not about three daughters and their intrigue in relationship to their aging, monarchical father (that’s King Lear of course).

Though consider all the themes that do run through Hamlet: suicide, love lost, and the outside role of young women in society (Ophelia); betrayal, political plotting, and problematic sexual dynamics within families, particularly among the aristocracy (Hamlet’s Father, Uncle and Mother); mortality and the meaning of life (“Oh poor Yorick…”), as well as numerous others. Some more obvious, some more perhaps less so but nevertheless powerful and evocative. Some intended (it would seem) by Shakespeare, others possibly not but nevertheless potentially truthful.

The point being is that great art as well as great spiritual teaching never exhaust their meaning. That is why there is never a final right interpretation. There are a multitude of right interpretations and conversely there are a multitude of poor interpretations.

Doctrine shifts into doctrinalism (negative doctrinal approach) when it forgets that there is no final right interpretation. Doctrinalism takes one interpretation and makes it the final right one, when such a thing is not valid. In forms overt or covert, doctrinalism has to invoke some kind of power abuse and violence in order to maintain the illusion of it’s interpretation being the final right one.

When however we hold in mind that there is never a final right interpretation, but that there are more truthful, more beautiful, more moving interpretations (as well as those that less so and others that are simply out-of-bounds), then the process becomes creative. We participate in the process of the development of the doctrine as much as the doctrine participates in the development of us.

Doctrine is interpretation of spiritual experience and realization.

That’s actually all it is. Saying that we need to move beyond doctrine is saying we need to no longer interpret our experience. But it’s only in interpreting our experience that we come to embed it concretely in our lives, in our relationships, in our existence. Interpretation means reflection, which means learning, which means there’s teaching (i.e. doctrine).

Simply having a bunch of experiences without reflecting on the meaning of them, without trying to figure out a generative frame of reference within which to hold our experience does nothing for anyone. And this non-interpretation interpretation is everywhere nowadays, where people want spirituality to make them “feel good” or that we’re supposed to get “out of our heads and into our bodies”, “stop thinking and start feeling”. All of these problematic views spring from the bias against (healthy) doctrine.

In the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm one begins with action, which leads to experience, and then one interprets/reflects upon one’s experience, draws conclusions from it, and then decides upon a new course of action based on that interpreted experience. In taking new action a new cycle of experience-reflection-interpretation and learning occurs.

The same process can (and should) apply to spiritual teaching. Philosopher Mark Edwards calls it the integral cycle of knowledge. We start with a context and description of our current situation, introduce some practices which help reveal new experiences, which are then reflected upon/interpreted, leading to new action.

That’s how it’s supposed to work but the postmodern bias against doctrine has throw a monkey wrench in the cycle. It stops reflection.

The contemporary post-religious (or whatever to call it) spiritual scene is rife with people addicted to having spiritual experiences, being hooked on techniques and practices (“the actions”) and essentially learning nothing from them. There’s no learning because there’s no doctrine. There’s no body of teaching, there’s no generative interpretative scheme within which to place one’s experiences and make sense of them.

So many popular contemporary spiritual teachers spend so much time pointing out they aren’t teaching dogma. I find them very dogmatic about their anti-dogmatism. To quote the aforementioned Shakespeare: “they doth protest too much methinks.”

It’s better, in my mind, to acknowledge what our various doctrines (teachings, interpretations are), where they come from, be open to their truths and potential blindspots. Make them as transparent as possible.

The choice is not between no doctrine and doctrines. It’s between good and bad doctrine, conscious and unconscious ones, healthy and unhealthy ones.

The more unconscious the doctrine (teaching) is, the more damage it can do.

Arguably in the Oprah-ified spiritualized discourse of the day the only sorta quasi-doctrine that is allowed, that is essentially sacrosanct, is that the highest value is personal happiness and fulfillment. “If it makes you happy…”

Here I think is the real rub. There’s no growth in that frame. If it’s about what makes you happy, then the ego is always in charge. Except the ego never actually makes people happy. What it does is make them further bound to the wheel of seeking happiness, which is itself a marker of fundamental unhappiness.

Doctrine–held and related to rightly–is actually deeply freeing, creative, and joy filled. Learning to relate well to doctrine, to a body of teachings, is absolutely necessary to maturing in any path.

And I mean any path of any significant depth.

If you work with plant medicine there’s an entire set of doctrines (teachings) about the nature of the plants, the meaning of communing with them, the ethics of doing so, the changes wrought in a person, the path of transformation, on and on. Those are doctrines. That is, they are teachings about how to rightly understand what is taking place when working with plants—this doctrine/teaching is hard-earned wisdom gained through centuries of practice, careful observation, and interpretation.

Now plant medicine is popular and a bunch of Westerners come to it wanting to skip all the “rules” and the “religious” part and just get to the experience. Too many bring an unconscious cultural lens to the plants, namely that the plants are drugs for taking an awesome trip. The doctrines (the teachings) of the plant medicine keepers is that they are not drug trips for their sake of getting high and to treat them as such is a potentially very bad idea. Having worked with people who went on bad trips and experienced horrible pain as a result it’s pretty clear to me that those warnings ought to be seriously heeded.

Or consider Eastern religions, often held up as some kind of non-doctrinal spirituality as opposed to Western religion. If you think the Eastern religious traditions are somehow less doctrinal than Western religions, go hangout at a Tibetan Buddhist teaching. There’s more doctrine (i.e. dharma) that you can trample down with a yak.

For what it’s worth, the entire New Thought “manifest your reality” tradition is a set of doctrines. It’s a set of teachings. Teachings that include practices, descriptions of experiences arising from those practices, and means of interpreting the experiences–i.e. how to tell if you’re doing it well or not.

Even spiritual but not religious is its own set of teachings. It’s a doctrine. It’s, in my mind, a particularly unhelpful, unconscious form of teaching. It’s a kind of anti-teaching teaching, anti-doctrine doctrine but it’s a doctrine nonetheless.

How often do I hear yoga teachers complain about students just wanting to learn physical postures so they look better and never actually be interested in the doctrine (the entire body of teachings) which the asanas are meant to support and within which they make deeper sense?

I can’t stress this enough, a body of teachings is a doctrine. It’s absolutely necessary to learning as well as to the creation of community and the development of an ethics congruent with spiritual practice.

Now in defending and promoting doctrine, I’m definitely not advocating a return of the Spanish Inquisition, social ostracism, witch hunts, jihads against the infidels, or aggressive, dehumanizing, and unethical proselytization.

I personally favor what I call a “lean” doctrine. I do believe we need some coherent set of principles to guide our interpretation, to at least have something to work with and from, but that this foundation must be very lean. No filler. No excess fat. A key point in the lean approach is Wilber’s:

There is never a final right interpretation but there are wrong interpretations.

(If you want to learn more about what this lean approach might constitute of, I recommend browsing through other pieces I’ve published here on the site. They’re all written with the lean doctrinal approach in mind.)

The traditional religions are (I believe) far too weighed down with all manner of accretions, like barnacles on a boat. Except, contrary to the fundamentalist view, there’s no way to get back to the pristine boat by simply removing all the historical accretions. The boat itself is no longer a seaworthy vessel.

What we can do is take some of the valuable treasure on board the boat and put it in a new vessel and bring it with us and see what value it may have for us going forward. And what value we may have for it.

I’ve been accused simultaneously of being too conservative, too beholden to the traditions, while at the same time also being accused of being far too arrogant and disrespectful to the traditions. The approach I offer strikes me as the best attempt to honour the past while not being bound to it either. Since I’m being attacked from both sides hopefully I’m onto something here.

But that approach is admittedly an interpretation. It’s a hunch. It’s not the final only right interpretation. I simply hope A) it’s not a wrong interpretation and B) it offers something new going forward.

Regardless of whether you subscribe to something like the lean view I advocate for or not, I hope the notion of re-embracing, re-owning the value, the truth, and the beauty of doctrine (teaching) speaks to you.

* For the record, the root meaning of dogma is “opinion” or “what one thinks to be true”. By definition then everyone is dogmatic insofar as they hold opinions and stick to what they think is right. That’s good in principle, sticking to your beliefs. The question is how to be dogmatic in a healthy sense as opposed to a negative sense? Not whether one is or isn’t dogmatic.

24 Jan 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

Climate Change and The Retrieval of The World Soul

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

A client recently asked me how I would take the learnings from my private practice with individuals in soul work and apply to climate change.

What does soul work have to say about climate change? 

It’s a crucial question and in order to do justice to it a bit of background is necessary. 

A while back I wrote a piece on the interplay of soul work with racism. It was an initial foray into the exploration of what I think soul work means in relationship to collective human identity and expression. 

One definition of a soul is that it is the coordinating subtle field of a being. The soul is what brings coherence to a being. The soul co-ordinates all the information of a being–their pasts, presents, and potential futures–into one fluid, coherency. The soul is what makes us fit (more or less) together as a being. The soul is the deepest essence, the unique expression of a being. The soul is what makes someone that particular being that they alone are and not another. The soul is what makes us us.

The word soul however can also be used in a more collective sense. For example, the soul of a nation, the soul of a people, the soul of a place.

One of the most important aspects of our souls is that they can be hurt. Souls are powerful yes, but also tender and vulnerable. Just like individual souls, collective souls, can experience wounding, negative conditioning (i.e. karma), fragmentation, and illness. In that earlier piece I considered white American racism towards black Americans through the lens of a collective soul illness, a stain on the collective white American soul. Just as there are traditions (e.g. shamanism) that deal for individuals with healing and transforming soul illness, so there are such ways to heal and transform collective souls of their illnesses.

The healing and transformation of a soul (whether individual or collective) goes hand in hand. In my understanding, soul work can be summarized as clearing on the one hand and healing (or transmutation) on the other. In clearing there are certain energies that must simply depart or be recycled. In classic language that’s called an extraction or an exorcism (from the Greek “to cast out”).

On the other hand we have healing or transmutation, also called shadow work. Once energies that need to be cleared are cleared, then what remains is what is to be worked with. In soul work we go into the (remaining) darkness only to find a light hidden in the darkness. We then learn how to release the light. Once the light is released, the darkness dissolves. Transmutation comes from the traditions of alchemy (and tantra)–where it is said that the poison becomes the antidote. The antidote to snake venom is often created from the very same venom itself. The venom in its transmuted or liberated form becomes the antidote. 

Knowing the difference between which energies are to be cleared and which are to be transmuted is central to the entire process.

I’ve written many pieces exploring that transmutation model through the medium of emotions–hate, fear, shame, terror–how all of them have their own enlightened expression. Rather than putting certain emotions into positive or negative emotions, we simply have emotions. The question is whether the emotion is in its conscious and healthy or unconscious and unhealthy state (or some in between state). What is positive or negative is our relationship to our emotions and how we act from our emotions, not the emotions themselves. 

In alchemy lead, the basest metal, was transmuted into gold, i.e. the most purified metal. We take the base or unconscious forms of emotions and transmute them into their purified expression. The lead becomes gold, the poison becomes antidote, the darkness becomes light. That is soul work.

(Keep this view in mind as I’m going to apply it to climate change in a moment).

This soul work view is opposed to views that seek to “destroy evil”, i.e. the war mindset that dominates our world. Wars against poverty, terror, crime, drugs, cancer, you name it. These wars only ever worsen the problems. Has the drug war done anything except create a gargantuanly greater degree of violence, suffering, and pain? 

In soul work the (re)solution always lies hidden within the problem itself. The war view only seeks to destroy the problem/enemy. All the war mindset does is create further brokenness and fragmentation. This occurs automatically because the solution lies within the problem itself, not in the eradication of the problem.

The problem (really the symptom or exterior expression) however has to be handled with exquisite, and extreme care. It is a live wire and needs to be worked with in a very sensitive, refined manner. But when it is done properly, the light will be released from the darkness, the lead will turn to gold, and the poison will transmute into its own antidote.

With that background we can approach this topic of collective urgency, arguably the most important issue facing humanity as a whole: climate change.

Does the framework of collective souls and soul work-transmutation reveal a deeper meaning to climate change? And if so, what?

So first how does the idea of collective soul patterning shed light on the subject? Consider two major collective souls—the soul of humanity and the soul of the Earth (aka The World Soul or Anima Mundi).

The World Soul, the Soul of the Earth, is the collective organizing subtle field of all life on and as Earth. The World Soul is the energy, the essence of Earth Life. The waters, the winds, the tides, the tectonic plates, the grasses, insects, mammals, birds, all animal life, the trees, the skies, the mountains, the plains, the coastlines, the deserts, the forests, the jungles. The psychic reality of all of that is the World Soul. 

The World Soul is not simply then a concept but a lived, conscious reality. The World Soul has been experienced by seers and visionaries through a multitude of human cultures and time periods, e.g. through the artful use of plant medicines, as well as in more classic meditation or visionary shamanic journeys.

On the other hand we have a collective soul to humanity. This soul of our humanity carries the deep memory of all of our human stories and journeys, all our pasts glories and tragedies, all our present experiences, and all possible future paths (at least in potential). 

My belief is that climate change is a symptom, a global symptomatic, material, physical response, to the psychic fracture between The World Soul and the collective Human Soul. 

As humans, our collective soul has disowned The World Soul.* Earth is disowned in our human soul expression. Since soul is the organizing subtle pattern of all reality, this disowning of the World Soul infects each and every sector of human expression.

For example, in economics the impact of technology and commerce on Earth is put in a category called “externalities”. To “externalize” the Earth is an act of psychic dismemberment. It is a kind of psychic lobotomy or amputation. 

To externalize the Earth is to put the World Soul in the shadow. It is to disown and “otherize” an aspect of one’s own being.

In soul work there’s an understanding that once an energy is sent into the shadow it will always reveal itself in a distorted, twisted, “sideways” manner. The reason the energy comes out in a distorted, sideways form is in order to be heard. It is trying to being seen, understood, appreciated, and welcomed back home. In practice however we often become so focused on the negative symptomatic expression of the shadowed energy that we miss the deeper message. 

Climate change is the symptomatic expression of humans putting The World Soul into the shadow. The World Soul is sent into the shadow, it is disowned, it is “externalized” and then it comes out in a distorted, twisted form. Namely climate change. 

The symptoms of climate change become the focus of attention, controversy, and struggle. Meanwhile the deeper message is all but muted: the World Soul has to be re-owned by humans.

The solution always lies hidden within the problem. The light is always hidden within the darkness. 

To “solve” the climate crisis will require many people working on many fronts simultaneously. But one necessary form of such endeavors must be psychic transmutation work. At the core, climate change is the outward expression of inward shadow in the collective human soul.

Please recall however that the poison transmuted becomes the antidote.

Climate change is the goading psychic act attempting to initiate us as humans into actual maturity. Either we will meet that initiation or, in true initiatory experience, if we fail, we will die. We will not just die, we humans will largely be annihilated. Perhaps AI will have become sentient by then and they will spontaneously learn to adapt and continue the evolutionary trajectory. Perhaps life will collapse back to the explosion and profusion of insects, viruses, bacteria, and the like and begin a new process from there. Perhaps like mammals at the time of dinosaur comet, some other life form not even in our radar/awareness right now will come to propagate a future. 

If however we were to meet the initiation, truly transmute the energies and re-own The World Soul, then a very different world than the one we currently live would be concretely realized.

Naomi Klein has written persuasively that climate change changes everything. She is particularly focused in that book on how if we deal with climate change correctly then it becomes the opportunity/medium through which to rebalance the structural injustices of poverty and power in our collective human expression. The upshot of correctly addressing climate change is we end creating a truly just economics.

She’s right. Emphasis on the word “if”….“If we deal with the climate change issue correctly…”

Still she’s correct. In shadow work the problem transmuted releases light and wisdom that we cannot imagine beforehand. Climate change is as I said an initiation. If we passes through the initiation, if we squeeze through the eye of this needle, then what will be revealed on the far side would be more glorious than we could have ever imagined.

(Re)solving climate change opens up a world far more beautiful than one any of us can currently imagine. But the only way out is through. Conversely not dealing properly with climate change will continue bringing forth a world we can partially, nightmarishly imagine at this point (but only minimally feel I would argue).

I would take Klein’s thesis one step further. Climate change is the opportunity to solve the underlying economic injustice of the world, yes absolutely. Climate change is also the opportunity to overcome the psychic alienation between The World Soul and our collective Human Soul. 

That alienation is wreaking incalculable damage, a damage so great the only term for it is the loss of soul.

Shamans speak of soul loss. Souls lose pieces of themselves due to trauma, illness, or negative choice. These pieces are not obliterated or destroyed. They fragment. They go into exile. They are strewn along the road somewhere, hidden. Missing-in-action. 

Shamans then help with soul retrievals, finding the lost pieces of a soul and restoring them. 

The World Soul is in exile in relationship to humans. Or our human soul is in exile from The World Soul. The World Soul itself is in a state of soul loss. Climate change is the symptomatic expression of such global soul loss. 

What is needed then is a collective soul retrieval of the World Soul. That is the interior psychic work whose exterior representation is creating a world of economic and ecological justice and sustainability. The inner and the outer are mirror images of each other, both are two sides of one integrated process.

* It could be argued that it is not the collective human soul but the collective Western human soul refracted through globalization that is the cause of the alienation to the World Soul.

30 Nov 2015 2 comments / READ MORE

Getting Purgatory Over Early

“She who comes to be saved, comes to be saved through a fire.” –Origen

“St. Ambrose of Milan speaks of a kind of ‘baptism of fire’ which is located at the entrance to Heaven, and through which all must pass, at the end of the world.  (wiki on purgatory)

“You’re getting purgatory over early.” –My Mom

November 2nd (yesterday) is, in the Roman Catholic Calendar, the Feast of All Souls. This feast is a Catholicizing Christianizing one, predicated on the earlier aboriginal traditions of ancestor veneration, both in European (“pagan’) religions as well as in The Americas, e.g. Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in Mexico.

November 1st in the Roman Catholic Calendar is All Saints Day, a day to remember those whose souls entered into paradise directly upon death. All Saints is the root of the word Halloween–which is Eve of All Hallows (hallowed = saintly).

All Souls, on the other hand, (Nov 2nd) remembers those who died with, as it were, “work still to do.” That is to say, the remembrance of those who experienced grace but the more comprehensive purifying effects of grace had not yet taken place.

During the Middle Ages, the practice of remembering one’s ancestors became connected to the rising doctrine of purgatory. All Souls Day became in particular a day to pray for the release of souls from purgation.

In the later middle ages, a series of abusive and manipulative practices around purgatory became big business. It was these practices–for example the selling of indulgences–that became the rallying cry for the Protestant Reformation.

Consequently, the doctrine of purgatory later came to be denounced in total with the Reformation. While I agree with the criticism of the abusive practices surrounding purgatory, I think the loss of purgatory has been a major loss for Western consciousness.

What I mean is that though the term purgation evokes a lot of resistance in people, I think it’s a wonderful term and a beauteous grace–one we need to recapture. It’s important to keep in mind that the doctrine of purgatory is for those who have already been saved and the healing and purifying effects of salvation still have to do their work.

In The Divine Comedy, when Dante arises from Hell and sees Mt. Purgatory he immediately weeps, for he knows he is already (as it were) in paradise. He is already assured a place in paradise. The long climb up on Mt. Purgatory towards Paradise (Heaven) is a path of graceful unburdening so that he might rise up. (I’m going to come back to this point in a bit).

I was raised very traditionally Roman Catholic. Praying for those in purgatory was a common part of my upbringing.

When things would be rough or unnecessarily harsh, my mom would say (as quoted above) that I was “getting purgatory over early.” What she meant of course was that one could go through purgatory while alive here on earth. Basically one could work off one’s purgation here on earth so as to have less of it on the other side of the veil of death.

Now as weird (or potentially masochistic) as that worldview might appear, I actually think there’s something to it, though not in the way I believe my mom tended to (mis)understand it. It isn’t about just random suffering happening to you, causing you to pay off some kind of penalty and either you go through it now or later. That makes God a sadist.

The truth of purgation is that to be saved one must pass through a baptism of fire as Origen and St. Ambrose said. That fire of grace is purging, purifying. It is alchemy–turning the lead of our being into gold. (This view accords with shamanic traditions the world over btw). And that fire can be experienced on this side of the grave (otherwise it will be experienced on the other side).

“He who comes to be saved, comes to be saved through a fire.”

Saved here means experiencing the entrance into paradise, i.e. the soul (the lowercase ‘s’ is important here) ascends to the realms of paradise.

In traditional shamanic cosmology there are classically three worlds: the lower world, the middle world (our world), and the upper world. The upper world is what most people would call heaven (though more technically should be called paradise). The middle world is our world. In Roman Catholic theology, the lower world is divided into two sections: hell and purgatory. I see hell and purgatory more along a continuum than a strict division as in Roman Catholic thought.*

The point is this: the imagery purgatory consists of fire.

When the fire is embraced it turns out not to be the source of suffering but rather the source of healing and purifying grace.

The deepest hell, as Dante so brilliantly understood, is coldness. Hell is pure isolation, incoherence, dissociation, alienation, and traumatic freeze. Hell is not hot. Hell is ice cold. Having worked with hellish energies and realities in people, I can tell you that Dante’s depiction of the bottom of hell as total frozen is not a metaphor but a literal description.

Purgatory is fire. Paradise is the ecstasy that occurs when one acclimates to the temperature of God’s fire. The fire no longer burns but becomes pure bliss.

So if November 1st (All Saints) is the day to remember all those in paradise. If November 2nd is to remember those in purgatory. Then I would propose that November 3rd is a great day to pray for our own purgation here on earth. November 1st is All Saints, November 2nd is All Souls, November 3rd could be Day of Our Own Purgation.

When people work with plant medicines, they purge, literally, bodily. In energy work, deadened energies are burned off us. In trauma work, when places of freeze re-awake, they release the flight or fight mechanism (“the fire”) held underneath the frozen exterior.

It’s like going outside on a cold day and your fingers become numb. You come back indoors and your fingers start to thaw out. As they do, your fingers ache, even hurt because feeling is coming back to them. The ache however is a wonderful sign because you know that once your fingers warm back up to room temperature, the pain will go away. You know the numbness is wearing off.

It’s the same with purgatory–whether you face it in this life or on the other side.

Our souls are deeply numb. Only heat is going to wake them back up and bring back feeling. In the intermediate period between the numbness beginning to wear off and the fingers being fully back to normal temperature, that is the period of purgation.

The fire brings back feeling. Our world is predicated on dissociation, on numbing out, on frozen traumatic conditioning. Our souls are ill. Pieces of our souls lie forsaken and strewn about.

What is needed then is a cleansing fire. A fire of Love, to reignite our frozen souls. With that fire comes pain but not suffering.

And this is a key point. Anyone who has ever gone through a truly purgative and cleansing process knows that that what occurred is they felt into and through the pain and as they did the suffering (amazingly) decreased.

Suffering is largely what happens when we do not stay directly with pain–or rather with the series of sensations we typically unhelpfully label as pain. So with the fire comes the purging, no doubt. But it is not a pain built around moral punishment. Here in the popular traditions of medieval Christianity really are problematic. The pain is not to pay off some penalty. Purgatory is not jail time with God the Vengeful Judge.

The process is not built out of a negative sense of Judgment but rather proper Judgment, which is to say Merciful, Loving Justice.

I can’t stress this point enough. In my experience working with people what prevents them from facing purgation is the sense that they are being punished. In other words, they resist the process because they believe the process communicates a message of negative shame. 

“You’re a bad person.”
“This is karmic retribution for your sins.”
“You deserve this [as punishment].”

These false beliefs need to be burned.

“They who comes to be saved, come to be saved through a fire.”

Being purged has nothing to do with being judged as a failure or fundamentally bad. It is precisely the opposite.

Purgation is a process that reminds us that in our essence we are fundamentally good. In our essential nature we are whole, redeemed, beloved.

We have however strayed from our essential nature. As such we have picked up the residue, the accretions of living in ways out of alignment to our essential nature.

Purgation is a message from God saying we are Loved and offering us a way to be released of the violence, trauma, dissociation that burdens and haunts our souls.

An ancient image in the Christian tradition is that the soul is a mirror. The mirror has unfortunately becomes obstructed by layers of mud that have clung to the surface of the mirror. The mirror is still a mirror but in practice is is not functioning as one–i.e. the essential light of a person (their soul) is still present but no able to be experienced. 

Purgation is to remove the mud that has caked onto the soul. It is one of the best feelings in the world just after having been purged. To feel the release of some weight one has been carrying for years, decades, lifetime, or maybe even lifetimes. That is a direct experience of Grace.

Once the mud is gone, the mirror naturally reflects the light of God. That is what is meant by Paradise.

In my practice, I’m blessed to be able to witness the purgation of souls in real-time. In my own path, I have experienced numerous times the grace of having my soul purged by God.
The reason St. Ambrose said there was a baptism of fire one must go through before entering the gates of paradise is precisely that. We want to be as cleansed as possible, as much as grace will allow in our case, to reflect the Light of Loving Truth.

The way is to trust that purification is happening with a space of Grace (a fundamental space of Resource and Safety). When we learn to co-operate and work intelligently with purgation, we can make it go relatively more smoothly.

But go through purgation we will.

The word salvation comes from a root meaning “healing”–like the world salve. Purgation is the pain that occurs as the Great Doctor lances boils, excises growths, and extracts the poisons held in our souls.

That is why purgation is grace. It’s not a moralistic process. It’s not a criminal process. It’s medicine for the soul. Shamans, recall, are called doctors of the soul.

On All Saints Day (Nov 1) we pray for the saints and ask them to pray for us. On All Souls (Nov 2) we pray for the souls of our ancestors and ask them to pray for us. On what I’m calling Purgation Day (Nov 3) I recommend we pray for the graceful purgation of our souls. We pray for our souls and ask our souls to pray for us.

I can testify to how truth of Origen’s words that all who be healed (saved) must do so through a fire. I can testify to the truth of St. Ambrose’s words that all would enter into paradise (bliss) must first go through the graceful baptism of fire. And I can testify to the truth of my mom’s words that it is possible to go through purgatory while here alive in this reality.

* Personally I tend to the view, strong in the Eastern Christian tradition (e.g. Origen) of the apocatastasis, i.e. that there will be a universal salvation. Or at least the option of it. Contrary to Roman Catholic theology, I don’t believe in eternal punishment in hell. I do believe in the possibility of everlasting damnation–though I’m unsure if that actually applies to any soul. What I mean is that I believe all souls are given infinite chances to be redeemed. Whether they will accept that offer I cannot say.

02 Nov 2015 1 comment / READ MORE

Will The Real Shakti Please Stand Up (And Dance)?

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

I’ve written a great deal on this site (and elsewhere) on my disagreement with the notion of the divine masculine and feminine. I’m not going to rehash that whole argument here–if you’re interested see herehere, and here for example (I did say I wrote A LOT about it).

The basic issue I have with the masculine-feminine is that it uses terms (masculine and feminine) which are derived from human biology and gender to try to describe something that is, in theory anyway, not biologically or gender dependent.

To poke fun for a moment, this would be like if I were to attempt to describe a teaching, a polarity between burger (vegetarian) and bun (gluten-free). So burger and bun. One (burger) represents meatiness, solidity, and substance, while the other (bun) represents the energy of holding, containing, embracing. But as I say that it’s absolutely imperative you not think of an actual hamburger. Don’t think of actual food!!! It’s not food based because everyone has within them burger and bun.

Of course this analogy is purposefully a bit ludicrous. But in another way, not really. Notice that the energetic metaphors of meatiness, substance as well as containing and holding are derived from the concrete experience of eating a burger. The same goes for masculine and feminine as spiritual metaphors that are supposedly non-biological and non-gendered. When you get down to what each polarity is supposed to represent, you see they are metaphors drawn from concrete gender norming. The Masculine is said to be agentic, driven, and er penetrating. While the feminine is receptive, compassionate, and nurturing.

I’m not opposed to the idea (or even the practice) whereby there is a polarity between for example direction and reception. The problem I have is with labeling the one masculine and the other feminine, then trying to convince me that those have nothing to do with assumptions about gender (which they can’t but have since the words are themselves gender terms). Using language of Masculine and Feminine inevitably brings gender and biology debates to the fore (which is great actually) but then shuts that conversation down by saying it has nothing to do with gender and biology. Which again is like saying the polarity of burger and bun is not about food. Well yes, obviously it is, since that is what the words mean.

There’s lots of other problems that flow from that one, but for now that’s enough. As a consequence of that criticism I’ve been labeled (this is no exaggeration) all of the following: anti-woman, anti-male, secretly privileging androgyny, even anti-heterosexual. Which is equal parts hilarious and depressing given that I’m very (happily) a biological male, with a very dude gender identity whose 100% heterosexual. I’m not anti-myself. My point is simply that I don’t want metaphors drawn from my experience to be the one and only (and automatically assumed to be true and final and ultimately right) way of being for all others. Relatedly, I don’t experience energies like agency and reception have anything to do with gender, so why bring in gender terms to confuse the matter?

So given that I’ve written that much on the topic and have made clear repeatedly my disagreement with the language of Masculine and Feminine, I actually want to break custom here and actually use that very language. At least I want to explore one classic image in this tradition: The Shiva-Shakti symbol. In this symbolism, Shiva stands for Consciousness, The Masculine, Formless and Shakti is said to represent Manifestation, The Feminine, and Form. Shiva is Dark, Shakti is Light. Shiva is Unmoved, Shakti is Movement, Shiva is Heaven, Shakti is Earth, and so on.

Why do I want to write this way after all the time criticizing it? The answer is that even though I have a beef (no pun intended) with teaching Masculine and Feminine, if one is going to do it at least they should get it right on its own terms. Much as disagree with the framework, at least it should be honored and properly understood for its enduring truths.

I say that because what I’m noticing is a huge degree of misunderstanding of Shakti in particular. I would even go so far to say a deep denigration of her, under the guise of various attempts to be her devoted follower. There’s a lot of discussion, exchange, and controversy around Shakti-The Goddess nowadays. There probably always has been in some place or other but right now it’s taking a particularly, how shall I say, interesting form. It shows up in a lot of the Goddess Revival type work which I can appreciate on many levels for what it is attempting to accomplish but nevertheless I think there’s some significant flaws in what I’m seeing. I want to explore this territory because there’s deep value here but only (in my mind) if it’s held in an updated form.

In what follows then I’m going to use the traditional He-She language of Shiva-Shakti. I’ve made clear that I personally don’t buy into that framework in a metaphysical or literal sense but to honor that teaching I will use the language for this post.

But before we dive into why I think many of the invocations of Shakti are missing the mark, we need just a little bit of conceptual background. This conceptual background will help to make sense of why I think there are so many mistaken notions of Shakti floating around.

In the traditions of Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism and Vedanta Hinduism there is the teaching of the three great realms: gross, subtle, and causal. Other traditions have other names for this same basic tripartite structure. For example Christianity has purification, illumination, and union. Gross, subtle, and causal I think works well (just so long as we remember this same overall teaching exists in other traditions).

The Gross is the world of waking consciousness. Gross as in most dense (not icky). Subtle is the world of dreams, illuminations, visions, ancestors, realms of the afterlife, The World Soul, and so on. Causal is the Groundless Ground of All Being. It is the Cause or Source, The Origin of All.

The Vajrayana-Vedanta traditions also speak of a fourth realization called Nonduality. This term (or the realization that the term points to) is available in other traditions. For example, in Christianity it’s called indistinct union. But again the term nondual perhaps has a more user-friendly quality about it or at least is more commonly used, so I’ll work with it.

Labeling nonduality a fourth in a series–gross, subtle, causal, and nondual–is in one way totally correct and in another way totally inaccurate. When one first awakens to nonduality it feels as if the space of nondual awakening is separate from the three realms of gross, subtle, and causal. It feels like a fourth thing. But as one steeps like tea in this space, they come to realize that there are only the three spaces of gross, subtle, and causal. The Nondual isn’t a separate state/reality apart from the gross, subtle, and causal. Rather nonduality is the Essence, the Deep Intensity of all gross, subtle, and causal.

The traditions describe this as first awakening to a kind of Sphere that encompasses and pervades everything and everyone (Shiva). And then one realizes that within this Sphere is Radiant Light blasting in all directions infinitely (Shakti).

In this deeper (more maturer) nonduality, there is nothing other than gross, subtle, and casual. One is awake (Shiva) and dancing (Shakti) through all the three realms. And at that point one has now come to experience true Shakti. There is only the shaking of Shakti on all levels which we call creation.

Before the realization of Consciousness (symbolized by Shiva), then one lives at the mercy of Shakti. Shakti plays her game on you. And she is fickle to put it (quite) mildly. Being bound to Shakti’s shake without realization is cruel and terrifying on so many levels. Being bound to Shakti is being unconsciously bound to the inevitable turnings of the wheel of life. One day you might be up, the next day you’re being crushed under the wheel. 

As the saying goes, the only constant is change. Affixing our minds, our sense of self to any form in life is a painful choice because that form–no matter how beautiful, alluring, or pleasurable–will inevitably decay and die. And to the degree you (or I) am identified with that form in death, you die with it. Some part of you dies with it.

Everything that has a beginning in time will eventually have an end. Our physical bodies last perhaps 80 or so years. Our legacy may live on perhaps somewhat longer but will die as well. Affixing our identities to those inherently mortal forms is to invite great suffering. 

If one follows this path they are at the mercy of Shakti’s play. She will play them and inevitably it will end badly. It’s only a matter of time.

Keep that in mind because it’s trendy nowadays to invoke the Goddess and talk about embracing our bodies and whatever else, but the searing, horrendous truth, is that we are being played. All of us, all of the time. Lauding one’s practice as an embodied spirituality is usually a lot of smoke and mirrors. To be truly and utterly free (as much as is possible for any of us as humans) is a true undoing. We are undone by Freedom, by God.

And nobody wants to be undone in God. Nobody wants to be undone by Lord Shiva. Everybody wants to be the Goddess. They want to be told that they can just do whatever it is they are already doing and then say it’s enlightened. They want assurance that whatever compulsion, whatever dissociation, whatever addictive distraction they are already up to is proof of their own liberation (rather than their actual enslavement). And if someone has money they will pay lots of it to anyone who confirms their belief that they are already awakened. It also helps if she (almost always a she) shows a lot of skin because The Goddess after all is fleshy and sexuality is (automatically) sacred.

Don’t you realize how all these evil awful old patriarchal religions suppressed sex and wealth and so now so long as we simply embrace those, voila, we’re enlightened?

Didn’t you get the memo? Being rich is spiritual.

Didn’t you read the status update? Your sex is your power.

Apparently that goes doubly for you ladies–at least that’s what many of the (self-appointed?) mouthpieces of the Goddess keep seem to be shouting in my ear.

Except for this…One can never really be Shakti unless one is Shiva. Here’s the uncomfortable, obliterating truth. Here’s the turd floating in this particular spiritual punchbowl.

There’s a reason Shiva hides in graveyards. He’s dead. He’s undone.

He’s unraveled, like a sweater. He ceases to get to be somebody, anybody, anything. A zombie in a graveyard. That’s like death three times over. The brutal irony there.

Weirdly, paradoxically, perhaps even perversely, only such a multiply dead one can be a true devotee of life.

In other words, anyone who wants to be a devotee of Life, of Shakti, must be undone like Shiva.

And being undone in the beautiful Lord (Shiva) is no Sunday picnic in the park let me tell you. Nor is it necessarily some epic story of victorious triumph. It can be quite boring. It might not win you thousands of social media followers. It might, it might not. But who cares either way?

The realization of Shiva alone however is no great help either. That represents the classic path of spiritual disconnection from life. If the problem of so much Shakti-spirituality nowadays is its negatively regressive and self-centered tendencies*, then the disease of Shiva is spiritually bypassing.

Shiva-ites bypass. Shakti-ites regress.

Both are of course flawed but its only nowadays that regression is being lauded as spiritual enlightenment. Bypassing has become the new taboo of our day so regression must be our mana.

Not so fast.

Only as Shiva can you feel that there is only Shakti. Only then can you realize that there are only the gross, subtle, and causal worlds. Causal becomes Deep Presence. Subtle becomes Radiance, Luminosity. Gross becomes the Creative Pulsation of each moment.

That is the path of true bliss, the most dangerous spiritual reality there is.

A person who is undone in God and realizes there is only Shakti, that person transmits. That person transmits the siddha, the sensible touch of Divinity. At that moment we could say everything is Shiva-Shakti or that there is only Shatki, or even still, that there is no longer Shiva or Shakti at all. They themselves are gone, as separate nameable realities.

That is what it is to be a devotee. To live with and as nothing other than Gross-Subtle-Causal. Nothing other than Shakti’s shake. Not bound to it. Radically Free AS it.

Only from such a place can one truly learn their part in the overall dance. No longer about finding your purpose or actualizing your potentials or living your fullest life or whatever. But simply recognizing the true compulsion of your soul. You are one dart in the Divine Quiver. You need to find your mark. That is the wisdom of your soul.

Your soul needs to flow out of this spiritual ground I’ve been exploring here. When there is only Shakti, when there is only gross-subtle-causal, then you find you are a distinct flavor, a distinct articulation of that whole. It is not that the part is in the whole. It is that the whole is in the part, entirely, as a singular part.

It’s not that you, as a drop, fall into to the ocean and are dispersed into the whole. It is that the ocean flows through your drop. Only to the degree that your drop, your essence is undone, is transparent, is utterly unwound, only to that degree can the ocean flow through.

This Ocean is no blue one however. This Ocean is Liquid Love. This Ocean is Iridescent Impulse.

Remember that saffron is both the most brilliant color of shine (Shakti) as well as the color of renunciation (Shiva). The two go hand in hand. Most only want to sell you or one or the ‘tother. Such persons, however well-meaning and sincere (or neither) are not ultimately trustworthy. Eventually they will be forced to let you down or worse directly betray you. Or you them. Or all of the above.

Here’s the crux of the problem.

Lauding Shakti without being undone inevitably creates new brutal dualities. Dualities that will indicate certain forms of life are “Radiant” and others that, by definition, are not. A most obvious version of illusion-based Shakti-derived duality are the constant declarations of “OMG, You’re a Radiant Goddess” to women spiritual practitioners who happen to adhere to conventional standards of physical hotness. This tendency is only magnified by the women who use their hotness to get declared a goddess. Others get called it without actually wanting it. But either way they are separated out from the whole and made into the only proper incarnation of the Goddess.

Which is a serious problem because then women who don’t meet those cultural beauty standards don’t get called Radiant Goddesses very much, if at all. When in spiritual fact they may well be far more truly radiant than some hot chic with a yoga butt.

A distinct but related problem with this ill-conceived Shakti spirituality is that it teaches (straight) men to not identify with Shakti and forever be searching for The Feminine, the alluring Other, principally in a woman, who exists no longer as her own being but as an Embodiment of a Principle. And once you put her on the pedestal and angelize her, it’s very easy to knock her off that pedestal and demonize her.

That’s terrible no doubt. But it gets worse. Or at least it gets subtler.

To realize, to confess that there is nothing other than Shakti means we see and experience Shakti in the midst of everything. And I mean everything. And that is a truly terrifying proposition. The false-Shakti religion around today will always be choosing only certain kinds of experiences as Radiant. Experiences that are empowering, full of light, desire, health, and beauty. But what about pain, loss, grief? Is Shakti absent from those? If so, she’s not worth worshipping. If she is indeed present in and through and as all those (as I believe She is) then how can we justify continuing to only glorify one set of her expressions? That’s idolatrous.

To truly follow Shakti is to worship her wherever you see her. But if you only see her in places that feel good for you, it’s not that she is absent from the others, it’s that you don’t want to look there. You don’t care then (ultimately) about Shakti for her own sake. You care more about how Shakti can you make you feel better. You don’t serve Shakti then, she serves you.

Ask not what Shakti can do you for you. Ask what you can do for Shakti.

To worship and transmit Shakti is to experience radiant glory in all circumstances. This is not to say that everything goes and that ethics are thrown out the window. It’s more about the redeemed, glorified essence of each moment. Shakti’s presence (which again is Shiva) may not be recognized and honored in many places–and the consequences of that denial are suffering–but She is always present. She is always shinning. But she might shine through one moment of a luminous darkness, another of ethereal light, or yet another of boring, neutral grey. All of them are her.

That’s why if you follow Shakti she turns you into Shiva.** Shakti wants you to stop choosing which forms of her manifestation you like and which ones you dislike. She wants you to be full of joy and radiant in all of them. That’s her purification. For how could one be so Joyous except at the cost of burning up? What would be left spiritually except a kind of Empty Death–Like character in the Graveyard (Shiva)?

Only a Soul can truly be born from such ashes.

You have to be Shiva to be Shakti but you have to be Shakti to be Shiva.

The Shakti-ite school in our day offers only side of Shakti (the light side) and never therefore brings one back to Shiva. At that point it is entirely a not so subtle campaign of politicking and jockeying for spiritual position. Once the game is set up in this horrible way, then the fight is on to look the most like Light Shakti. Because remember without Shiva all forms are inevitably heading to their death. A Shakti-Goddess religion, sans Shiva, is a created form that is very much time bound and therefore very much conditioned and very much mortal. Its adherents will therefore be compelled to keep up the charade, to keep feeding the beast and working to keep away the death (Shiva) just outside the door.

(And for the record invoking Kali or Dark Goddess imagery nowadays seems on the surface to be something different but really is just part of the same game. Because Kali is always seeming to be on the side of more ferocity, more rawness, more epic-ness. She’s just as culturally packaged now as Shakti.)

The cultural packaging—almost entirely for woman of course–is that being Shakti’s devotee will make you feel good. Many women feel badly about themselves because in large measure that is how they’re controlled. This reality is a deeply unmerciful and unjust one. But rather than confess that truth, rather than seek to heal it, rather than begin ask what is wrong that so many feel this way, too much effort is spent trying to alleviate the symptoms.

Shakti will not make you feel good. Shakti will make you FEEL period.

Feeling good is not the same as Joy. Sometimes Joy is ecstatically happy and pleasurable yes. Other times it’s worse than the worst pain imaginable. Still other times it’s as mind numbingly pedantic as it can get.

And I don’t mean epic pain, pain that is part of some great hero(ine)’s journey of profound meaning and purpose and fulfillment. If that happens great. But I’m talking pain and loss even where there is no great meaning. No epic narrative. No marketable story to tell. Times where things just fall apart, never to come back, and perhaps never to make sense. The small daily deaths. Tell me those are as much Shakti as the enormous epic times. Then I will believe.

Until then we need to inquire in each and every moment, “Where is Shakti in this experience and how can I worship her?”

* There is a place for regression in service of transcendence as well as healthy self-orientation. But these are typically not what is going on under the label of Shakti work.

** That’s what the imagery of Kali is all about. How the Radiant Light Shakti also eats up separation. She can therefore be depicted in both Her Glorious Compassionate expression but also her Terrible Numinous expression.

23 Aug 2015 3 comments / READ MORE

The Case For Social Exorcism: On Charleston

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

–The Letter to the Ephesians Chapter 6, verse 12

A month ago in response to the protests in Baltimore, I wrote a piece called Political Shamanism and the Subtle Energetics of Racism.

In that piece I argued that racism is not only a phenomenon of the manifest concrete world (though it is most definitely that as well), but is also a reality of the subtle world: i.e. the world of our energy, our dreams, even our souls. Racism is, in part, a soul illness. It is a debilitating virus of the soul that eats away its host from the inside. It also harms the souls (and often the bodies) of those whom it chooses to hate. I cited the ancient wisdom teaching that souls are not only individual but also collective–there are souls (animas) of places, of institutions, of peoples. They too, just like individual souls, can become sick.

In that piece I was focused on the collective soul of white America and its soul illness of racism. This week there was the racially motivated terrorist attack against the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina. Following this story, and much of the analysis and coverage of it, further convinces me of the importance of that initial argument.

I want to take it a step further here. It’s going to take it to a more troubling place. But I believe through that land lies a path to a more promise-filled way of life. (For the record I almost wrote “dark” place there instead of troubling until I caught myself as to how atrocious it would be to use that word in this context, so the infiltration runs deeply).

I don’t want this view to be seen as supplanting all of the other important perspectives on this topic. Just that I think the perspective I’m offering here is one I typically see missing.

So before we get there we need one more important piece of theological wisdom: souls worship god(s).

The soul is the energetic matrix, the deepest essence of a being. When souls become drawn to their source, they enter into devotion. Souls devote themselves, which means they worship God or rather gods. This point is an important one with significant ramifications, though we don’t typically talk in this manner so the implications aren’t very obvious to us in our secular world (yet the effects are very much real nonetheless).

It’s of course impossible to talk about gods in the United States with talking about The Bible. It is often incorrectly stated that the Bible teaches monotheism–i.e. the belief that there is but one God. The Bible however is very polytheistic insofar as it teaches there are many, many, many, many, many gods. Even the name of God in the Bible is a plural world (Elohim). The Bible’s argument instead is that one god of all those gods is worth worshipping, namely the God of Israel.*

The Bible then would more accurately be termed a text of monolatry rather than monotheism. The Greek word latreia means worship, adoration, and obedience–that’s where the “latry” comes from. So monolatry means worship (latreia) of one god as opposed to worship of one or many of the other gods around, whereas idolatry is worship of an idol, i.e. a false god.

The crucial piece to remember is that The Bible does not say false gods are unreal (in some ontological sense). The critique is far more subtle than that. It’s that the wrong god (who is nevertheless real) is being worshipped. gods that don’t actually exist don’t cause problems. gods that do exist but are harmful, when worshipped, now these gods are indeed profoundly destructive.

Here’s my supposition then:

The soul of white America worships one (or more) of such very real but very harmful false gods.

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

In the Hebraic-Jewish understanding worship of a god meant total service to that god. There was a specifically cultic dimension of worship to be sure, what we would think of today as religion proper–different gods had different temples, different locales, different customs, and different priesthoods. But worship in the Jewish understanding is an integral process. Religion in this view is an entire way of life, not something one does for an hour on the weekend. Obedience or worship would specifically cover one’s cultic duties but also one’s ethics, relationships, sense of personhood and group identification (“we are the people who worship this god”), and so on. These would all be, in totality, one’s religion.

Given that totality, here’s the catch:

Different gods bring with them different energies and different worldviews.

The argument of the Bible, particularly the Book of Exodus, is that if you worship the wrong god you will have the wrong social order. And conversely if there is an unjust and unmerciful social order it must be because there is bad theology.

The equation would go:

wrong god = unjust social order

Pharaoh worshipped the wrong god and therefore enslaved the Hebrews. The right god (or at least a better god) freed the slaves.

Again it’s not that the gods worshipped are unreal. It’s not Scooby Doo. We meddling kids don’t pull off the masks of these supposed gods and jenkies we really find out all along it’s been the old caretaker of the children’s park.

These gods, these subtle energies-archetypes, these deities are real. And some of them are opposed to life. Some of them are evil. (Many are benevolent, but that’s not our focus for the moment.)

Secularism, as a philosophy that dominates our world, denies the truth of the subtle realm. It doesn’t stop the subtle realm however from being real or having effects. Secularism simply makes the subtle unconscious (which is very dangerous). The truth is obedience and worship is occurring whether or not one identifies as secular, religious, atheistic, agnostic, whatever. The labels actually are quite secondary. The primary thing is who or what is being worshipped and being given one’s obedience.

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

I’ve always found that last sentence so strange–spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Shouldn’t heaven be free of evil? Well no. Not if we understand heavenly places to mean the subtle realms (as I do). Then there are forces of evil in the subtle (i.e. heavenly) realms, one of those forces being racism.

Now we are in a position to tie these various strands together. I argued (in my earlier piece) that white America has a kind of soul, a soul that is infected with the subtle illness of racism. In this piece I’ve argued further that souls worship gods and that worship means total obedience unto the god and that god’s energy.

Moreover, some gods are anti-life. Some gods are spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. To worship those gods is to serve those powers. Worship here meaning full spectrum worship. To give our money, our energy, our time, our allegiance, our bodies, our hearts, even our very souls to a false, anti-life god.

Further, the social order reflects the god (or gods) worshipped. The social order, according to the Bible, is the reflection of the gods worshipped. The social order then is the test of the dominant worship. In other words:

The institutions and structures of a society reflect the god or gods being worshipped.

Therefore, if as I’m suggesting, the soul of white America is worshipping a false god (or gods) then its institutions are corrupted at their very energetic level. The rise of prisons in the US would be the most obviously example–soul crushing places which are temples or churches built to a god who lives off the torture of others. But it goes well beyond prisons alone. They are only the most obvious example of what liberation theologians called social sin.

All of which means the soul of white America (broadly speaking) not only suffers the illness of racism, it’s also worshipping a false god. It’s worshipping an anti-life subtle energy/archetype or deity (or possibly deities). It worships an idol. The soul of white America (or more precisely, significant portions of it) has given its worship, its obedience, its devotion to a god of death and domination. The soul of white America has wedded itself in a perverted form of love to a loveless spiritual force of evil in the subtle heavenly places.

The Bible is very clear about what to do with demons, false gods, and idols: exorcise them.

Hence it’s time for a social exorcism.

The social conservative narrative forming that attempts to co-opt this massacre as an attack on religious liberty points precisely in this direction though not in the way those advocating that position imagine. Their attempt to hijack the narrative of the event is an evasive maneuver, attempting to hide the ugly truth lying at the heart of this all. There is a spiritual esoteric aspect to this story, but it’s not about white evangelical American Christians not being able to pray in public schools and therefore being similarly oppressed such that they are able to identify with those of murdered African Americans in the black church tradition.

There are different gods at war and different social orders representing those opposing gods. This obvious distinction gets confused in media because both groups theoretically worship the same Christian god, but in practice they do not.

The social order of white America is one with a terrible history: genocide of indigenous peoples, slavery and segregation, class-based violence, sexual degradation, global rapaciousness, and destruction of the biosphere.

Of course there were and are plenty of well-natured and well-meaning white Americans, as well as white Americans who actively opposed such realities. That’s not the point. We’re talking the collective soul. We’re talking its devotion, its obedience to a spiritual force of evil in the heavenly places.

Because, as the Biblical argument goes, we need to look at the social order. The social order is the expression of the god worshipped. The social order (and not anything else) is what tells us who really is the god or gods of our time. What the Letter to the Ephesians calls “the cosmic powers of the present darkness.”

Those words still apply today. After the massacre at Sandyhook Elementary, Catholic writer Gary Wills wrote an article calling gun culture in American “Our Moloch”.

Moloch was a god to whom devotees offered human child sacrifices, their own children in fact. Wills’ point, one of complete truth, is that America worships the gun god Moloch and therefore must sacrifice its children to him, since he is after all, a subtle energy-demonic god-evil spiritual force who requires the blood of children to survive. That was or more accurately is (since Moloch is clearly real) the cultic obligation due Moloch.

As long as Moloch is worshipped he will have his blood. He will demand payment in the form of innocent lives and he will get it. Until white America stops worshipping Moloch, legitimate gun regulations (much less the disarmament of the country) will never happen.

The Bible understands something very crucial when it comes to gods–namely they need us as much as we need them. The relationship is a two way street. We become devoted to a god but that god also becomes devoted to us. Our worship of the gods changes us, but our worship of the gods changes the gods themselves.**

Said more simply:

You become what you meditate on.

And if we meditate on death, that is what we become. Robert Oppenheimer knew this terrible truth; which is why when he saw the atomic bomb explode, a bomb he helped to create, he quoted the Bhagavad Gita:

“I have become death, destroyer of worlds.”

You become what you meditate on. We all do.

Which is why the only question really worth asking someone is: who do you worship? For that is what you will become.

The soul of white America worships Moloch; hence it has become his servant, his devotee, even his incarnation. Moloch is a parasitic god requiring the blood of children to survive. Moloch is an anti-life force, a kind of zombie, a dead reality still somehow in a quasi-state of non-dead yet non-living life requiring the consumption of truly living beings in order to continue to exist in this non-dead yet non-living state.

However, it gets worse, I believe Moloch is only one of the false idols worshipped by the soul of white America.

Another such god (or perhaps another facet of Moloch?) is the god of the white American South, the god of the Confederacy, that is the god of white domination. This is the god Dylann Ruff worshipped. In fact, he wore badges to show his loyalty (his latreia) to white colonialist Rhodesia.

The reason why no major US conservative political figure wants to acknowledge the racism underlying the terrorist attack in Charleston is because to do so would leave the entire edifice of their theological and social reality crumbling. To acknowledge the obvious reality that the attack was motivated by race would be to implicate their souls. It goes way deeper than revealing the flaws in their political ideology. It would be to confess a very stain at the core of their psyches.

After the end of the US Civil War, the Union Army occupied the lands of the former rebel confederate territory. There began perhaps the most radical social and political experiment in US history: Reconstruction. It was an attempt to dismantle the entire edifice of white supremacy upon which the South was built. It was an attempt to not simply end slavery but deconstruct the entire ideology on which it was built.

For many complex reasons that plan was abandoned and a bargain was struck with the devil–and given we’re talking subtle energetics, I mean quite possibly and quite literally the devil. That deal was to leave the South free of the occupation. From there the KKK filled the security void and reinstalled white power. The tragic irony being that the (Northern) US Army had to occupy the South once more a hundred years later in order to end segregation.

From the late 19th century on, an entire industry arose to attempt to “heal the wound of America” but that healing was only to take place between the white southerner and his white northerner “brother.” Formers slaves and their descendants were definitely not welcomed into that healing circle. Movies, novels, historical narratives, Civil War re-enactments all treat the antebellum South and the Confederacy as a beautiful but tragically doomed land. The ubiquitous Confederate flag throughout the South (and rural parts of the North, Midwest and Western US) is the most visible sign.
The nostalgia of Dixie and the land of cotton stirs much of the white soul (even those not from the South). The most virulent edges of it were dulled in the 1960s but many parts of it were left to remain. It was those that allowed Nixon, Reagan, and the entire conservative counterrevolution of the last 40+ years to flourish.

When Reconstruction was ended, The Confederacy, large parts of it anyway, was fused back into the soul of white America. It was a soul retrieval of the worst possible kind rather than the exorcism that was (and still is) so sorely needed. The Confederacy is a poltergeist, an entity attachment on the soul of white America one that needs to be exorcised.

How many US military bases are named after Confederate Generals? Generals who took up arms against the government, the same government who now has bases named for those rebellious leaders? A deal with the devil to bring back the South. And it worked in its perverse way: e.g. the dominance of the South in the current US military is well documented. Remember how I said the institutions themselves become means of the dissemination of the false god’s energy into the manifest world? It’s right there in the names.

Which is to say all of it is built upon worship of a false god. Whether it was the white American soul that first revived some dead or dying god and corrupted it to serve its purposes or whether that god was corrupt to begin with is hard to say. At this point, the relationship is a co-dependent one.

That evil force in the heavenly spheres, that white god of domination, had a devotee in Dylann Ruff. He shouted core theological beliefs of that god just prior to his act of terror: “you’re stealing our [white] women and taking over OUR country.”

And it is that god and all his minions that must be exorcised; all his demons, demigods, all his lieutenants, powers and principalities. The white soul of America has to confess its worship of this false god, repent, and detach itself. It needs to cut the cord to that parasitic god until that god disintegrates. The parasite cannot live without its host. If we stop feeding it, if we stop meditating on these gods of death, they will die out. But that will not be pretty. False gods are addicts; their parasitic tentacles reach deeply into the core of the white American soul. They will not go gently into that good night.

Since the soul we are speaking of here is collective and has impact on individual souls, it will require individuals of a high caliber to do the subtle energy exorcism work collectively. Prior to an exorcism, shamans, exorcists, and priests have to prepare themselves for what is to come. In all honesty, I think just about the only real remaining value to individual spiritual practice nowadays is to act as a kind of preparation for the collective exorcism rites we will need to perform together.

While my background is Christian and therefore I speak from the Biblical view of liberation and the Biblical cosmology, the closest parallel to what I’m arguing here that I’m aware of from the Buddhist tradition comes from my friend Darrin Drda whose re-imagined Buddhist cosmology and teaching in relation to the US as an imperial reality.

The key point, regardless of which language or system we want to reference, is that the evil subtle energetics be taken as real. Not so real as to be overwhelming or to create paranoia. Here The Biblical account offers hope that these false gods are not and need not be victorious. They can be exorcised. They can be energetically metabolized.

C.S. Lewis wisely said there were two mistakes when it came to evil: to underestimate it and to overestimate it.

To invoke the process of social exorcism is to take this issue very seriously and yet to create a stronger feeling of empowerment. Neither under nor overestimating its power.

Liberal religious types and secular individuals have ceded this territory because of the discomfort of talking about things like exorcisms. People might think you crazy for even contemplating such a thing. It leaves the truth of social exorcism to be perverted and corrupted to the ends of those who claim to use it to rid the world of their hated “other”, e.g. gays and lesbians. It’s also left the field wide open for the devotion to the false god(s), whether that devotion is conscious or not (the vast majority of which is definitely not).

I believe it’s time to change that.

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

* Christians, as distinct from Jews, argue that the God of Israel was incarnate in the human being Jesus of Nazareth. While Muslims believe that same god, the god Al-Lah, perfected those earlier revelations with the final revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. Specific and important differences aside, all in all same god.

** Though this is not my focus here, for the theology-spirituality nerds out there, I’m making an argument for a post-metaphysical argument form of social exorcism.

21 Jun 2015 1 comment / READ MORE

Energetic Care for Your Home

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

This site is dedicated to soul work. It’s even the name on the door of my office (see pic to the left). When I speak of the soul I mean the singular, unrepeatable energetic expression that is each being. Each person, each reality is a distinct combination of different energies, impulses, emotions, drives. This combination of forces creates a kind of signature–a kind of coding or deep patterning. This pattern is unique in each being.

In the ancient world this view was called animism–from the Latin anima, soul. There was a soul, an energetic pattern in all things. Or maybe it’s better to say that all things are within (or really are) their energetic pattern. The Greek philosopher Aristotle described the soul as a kind of bubble around the self. It was not the soul of a person was inside them, rather they the human were inside their soul.

The ancients understood correctly then that humans alone did not just have souls but that all living realities have (or rather are) souls. This soul-ness, this animism includes land, as well as homes built upon land. And it’s land as ensouled, land as an energetic reality that I want to explore here. In particular I want to explore what it means for our homes, our apartments (as dwellings) to be ensouled. What I mean is that our homes are energetic realities and as such we can relate to them as such.

As I said, land (and anything built upon land, like a home) is ensouled. Land is an energetic reality in addition to its obvious physical reality. As an energetic reality,
the land itself remembers. The land–and the homes, apartments, and offices which are built upon the land–remember. They retain the energy, the history of that place. They hold the memories, the energies, the emotions, and the experiences that have occurred in that space and on that land.

So when we move into a home or apartment or building we encounter that history.

To take two very extreme cases. If you have ever travelled to a place of terrifying horror and trauma the energy is very apparent as you enter. I’ve been to a few such places in my life, and immediately felt a creepy, chilling feeling wash over me. I felt a deadness, a coldness inside.

Conversely, I’ve been graced to be in sacred spaces and lands all around the world that carry an intensely positive energy about them. The kind of energy that people walk into and immediately gasp in awe. Their eyes widen and for a second their breath has been taken away by the overwhelming beauty and sacredness of the space

As an example of the latter trend, I used to work as a night custodian at a church. Often I would work when there were evening concerts–jazz, orchestral, choral, etc. The energy in the church was quite buzzy as people would be arriving. Then the energy would take on the flavor of whatever musical or dramatic performance was occurring–more quiet and introspective for classical music, more rocking for gospel choirs, and so on. Then there would be another round of noise and high energy as people were chatting after the performance and getting ready to leave. Musicians were packing up their instruments, sound techs stashing away their gear. I would be disassembling choir risers, picking up garbage, and moving the church furniture back into place. There was even a movable altar!

Then eventually everybody would leave and I would be left alone in the church. And suddenly I would notice this deep calm come over me. A quiet power, the energy of the church returned, as if by magic.

I came to think of that energy as the soul of the church–as the combined influence of all the prayers said, songs sung, and tears shed in the place. All the weddings, the burials, the welcoming of infants, the tragedies, the joys of human beings over a century—all of them were contained in that one place. The energy was particularly palpable.

Those are the two extremes of energy in land or buildings.

Our homes, apartments, and offices usually fall somewhere in between those energetic extremes.

Apartments, condos, and townhouses in particular hold the energy of everyone whose lived and who is living in them currently. Loving families, warm friendships, intimacy shared, as well as bad breakups, major bouts of depression, or in the worst cases sites of trauma, abuse, or violence these are all held in the space.

We want to create our homes as places of love, affection, and energetic repose. The home is meant to a place of blessing, solace, and sanctuary. Negative energetic memory interferes with our desire to abide in such an energy, to maintain such a “feel” to our home. The greater the degree of negative energetic the greater the degree of interference.

The good news however is that energy can be cleared in homes very simply and powerfully. The history and the memory of a place can be honored and yet be released, freeing up the possibility of a new feeling and energy.

As with the example of the church, we can conceive of each dwelling (and the land it is rooted in) to have a specific energetic signature–the soul of that place if you will. The soul of a place is the confluence of all the energies, emotions, and experiences of the place.

Conceiving it of this way allows us to interact, to commune with the soul of our homes. It’s not as crazy or wu-wu as it sounds. It’s very simple and meaningful.

Here’s a simple practice to make this concrete.

Sit in your home (or apartment). Gently begin looking around the room you’re in. If you want you can even walk around the house to the different rooms. But settle into a room you felt at ease in.

Start by noticing all the aspects of the home that comfort you. The walls, the floor, the roof all speak to a sense of stability, of being protected. Warm glowing lights are a symbol of nurturance. The air in the room a sign of openness. The windows a metaphor for vision and perspective. Any photos, art, or colors that communicate the beauty and grace suffusing life.

When you feel settled in this way, soften your gaze in an unfocused but open manner. You will then feel to the soul of your home. It’s a kind of attuning to its presence. It might sound weird to say it that way but it’s real and it happens. All the really matters is your intention, your desire to connect.

And then give thanks. Thank your home for providing you a place to live, a warm place to sleep, a place where you can lay down your burdens at the end of the day.

Then wish love and light to your home. Imagine or visualize or feel your home bathed in a soft, warm radiance. In so doing you are praying or blessing your home (or whatever term you would feel best describes this process).

Close by releasing all images, thoughts, or feelings and simply sit in silence for a few moments in the stillness and beauty and perfection of the present moment.

This practice is one I encourage for everyone. Anyone can connect, bless, and thank in this beautiful way.

There’s another way to help clear negative energy in a home. This second way however requires specialized capacity and training. This process involves an intuitive to work directly with the soul (the signature energy) pattern of the home and land itself. The intuitive can read the energetic signature or profile of the home and request clearing on any negative energetic patterns, returning the overall soul of the home to its pristine, original energetic state.*

Through these two processes, we develop a sense of energetic care for our homes, our apartments, our offices. In so doing we participate in the larger project of blessing and healing our lives, our relations, our world.

* If you’re interested in having clearing work done for your home please see my offering of property clearings. You can request such a clearing, as well as empowerments for your home, directly from the link.

21 Mar 2015 no comments / READ MORE

The Law of Attraction for Socialists: Part II

(For Part I, see here).

I’ve worked with a number of clients with a sincere struggle around the question of manifestation and money. They want to be successful but also struggle with the questions of mass poverty in the world. They look to manifestation teachings which essentially argue in one form or another that systemic injustice is a consequence of poverty consciousness, either that of the poor themselves or of the rich (usually the former admittedly). And this answer doesn’t really satisfy them. Yet somehow they sense some intelligence or wisdom inherent in the manifestation teachings, not necessarily related to this specific point but to other aspects of the overall teaching. Hence the confusion.

So my first reply is that we need to separate out the process (or practice) of manifestation teachings from the wider context and framework within which these practices are taught. I described some of the flaws of that framework, most especially the blindness to its own contextual nature in Part I.

I believe many, if not most, of the processes and practices at the heart of manifestation teachings could be retained if they were put within a different political, social, economic, cultural, and ecological framework.

Just so my own cards are on the table, I’ll say I’m personally of the view that capitalism and the classic liberal-democratic social order which undergird it, are in significant breakdown globally. That’s far from an entirely positive thing in my view–quite the opposite in fact. I’m not gleeful at this prospect but nevertheless I agree with analyses that point to inherent contradictions at the heart of capitalism and even liberal-democracy itself. I think those inherent contradictions and flaws are revealing themselves on a global scale.

For the purposes of this article, the reason I mention that is because manifestation teachings are entirely sourced in a capitalist economics/liberal-democratic value systems. Since I think that system is increasingly at war with the flourishing of life itself, then manifestation teachings (as they are currently contextualized) are part of the problem for me.*

In other words, manifestation teachings–in their current form–have no solution to the problems humanity faces. What they can do, in a very small percentage of people, is help individuals acquire greater material prosperity. But that’s not a strategy for solving poverty given that the primary way one can become rich (under our current economic realities) is by the immiseration of others.

What I want to explore here then is the possibility that elements of manifestation teachings however could be a part of the solution (or at least part of a solution, as I believe there are many possible solutions). What I half-jokingly/half-seriously am calling The Law of Attraction for Socialists.

In other words, seeing if we can separate out the valid insights and practices of manifestation teachings and place them within a more liberation-minded frame of reference.

To use some philosophical jargon for a second, I think most manifestation teachings make the error of confusing is for ought. Just because capitalism is the way of the world does not mean that’s how it should be. (Just ask The Pope).


If we retain a capitalist currency framework, then we need to install a whole series of realities to create for a more equitable and just distribution of goods (material goods, social goods, etc.).

Things like:

  • A Guaranteed Basic Income
  • A much higher rate of taxation on wealth (particularly as gained through financial investments) concomitant with major public investments in social goods like education, health care, and the like.
  • Creating a legal framework that acknowledges the public ownership of the commons (e.g. the air, the water, etc.) and charging rents on private interests that use the public commons property.
  • A separation of the media and the political process from the corrupting influence of major financial investments.
  • A series of strictly enforced legal measures meant to protect the environment and promote (even force) technologies that are beneficial to all forms of life and degrade the power of technologies and energy sources opposed to the flourishing of life.
  • A recognition of the historical wrongs done to many groupings of people and the ways in which those historical wrongs have been inscribed into the current reality, along with steps taken to adjudicate that present reality (sourced in historical wrong).

I can’t say I’m super optimistic that is happening anytime soon to put it very mildly.

The other option would be a more revolutionary one, like the one envisioned by Eileen Workman in her book Sacred Economics. Workman describes a society not based on money (i.e. debt). Instead she lays out a clear vision of a society built around credits (interestingly derived in its root meaning from the word belief, credo).** That it an economic system that would be predicated upon and cultivate trust as an actual currency. In contrast to neoliberal capitalism which bases itself on the mistaken belief that individuals working in mind of their own supposed self-interest ends up (magically) encouraging the good of the whole. This view creates mutual distrust throughout society (i.e. the prisoner’s dilemma of game theory). Workman envisions more worker-controlled forms of commerce, reversing the power of finance over labor (her name after all is Workman).

Let’s for the moment imagine (as best we can) one or both of those two options being a reality. Very hard to imagine but let’s try. Neither would be anything approaching a completely perfect society of course. They would simply be ones far more aligned to the truth of existence. They would be substantially better than what currently is the case.

Imagine then a society and culture formed this way. The key element to hold in mind here is that your artistry or profession is not tied to your ability to actually eat, have a roof over your head, or clothes on your back. Your gifting, your offering of goodness in the world is not inherently tied to the anxiety and panic of survival. (This energy underlies the experience of many artists and entrepreneurs, not to mention many others).

At this point commerce, exchange, artistry, production could actually be truly free. We might say that would be an actually free market, i.e. free of the endemic injustice of the current reality.

Then manifestation teachings could actually be put to use within a just social reality. The reason manifestation teachings currently talk so much about monetary or financial freedom is because our current reality is very oppressive. I mean what’s the opposite of freedom if not slavery?

Manifestation teachings do have a great deal of wisdom within them. It’s too bad that this wisdom is either too closely aligned with the problematic nature of capitalism or rejected altogether (because of it’s naivety around historical, economic, and political power relationships).

But for the moment let’s acknowledge the wisdoms present in these teachings. Here’s some simple but powerful examples (shared with me by a friend of mine).

People often think of manifestation teachings as picturing some future state that person desires, e.g. more money, a better relationship, more meaningful work, etc., and then meditating on how to get that. It’s also possible however to wake up each day and ask Life, The Universe, God (however you call it) to send you a revelation for that day. Ask for something from life to teach you, something to reveal, in ways large or small, a glimpse of the spiritual world become real in this world. What the ancients called a wonder (the original meaning of a miracle).

Wake up each day and ask for two wonders that day. Then keep your eyes and ears peeled.

Or consider this one (adapted from Robert Moss). Upon waking ask Life to send you a question that day. As you are going through your day–reading, talking and interacting with people, scrolling through your FB profile, listening to the news, whatever–when you encounter a question posed to you (as a reader, conversation partner, citizen, or consumer) consider it being asked by Life itself.

Spend that day wrestling with that question.

These kinds of practices play with the dream-like nature of reality. You begin to become a conscious participant in the psychic nature of life itself. Animals, dreams, babies, social media, images on tv & movies, the land, the waters, ideas, people you interact with, all become part of a subtle array of energies and forces, dramatically and creatively at work.

And this same magic can be directed specifically to one’s gifting or vocation. The 101 version of manifestation teachings typically has the individual impose upon life the vision he or she wants and then use these techniques to attract the energy necessary to complete it. For example in mega-popular book The Secret the Universe is depicted as a genie in a lamp who simply says, “Your wish is my command.” In other words, The Universe is enslaved to our human desires in such a view. The manifestation practices are a technique for controlling the magic of Life to serve our own individual ends which of course almost always become an (un)conscious replication of cultural dreams.

But if we come to a more mature relationship to manifestation we should hold a different view. Rather than a genie in a lamp manifesting my wishes, why not imagine the Universe’s magical play as something more like a spirit guide? Like Virgil or Beatrice leading Dante through realms of hell and paradise, we could play with the magical manifesting forces of life. Those forces would be tutoring and guiding us and yet we would still free to make our own decisions in the process. The autonomy and dignity of the Manifesting Energies would be appreciated and honored (just as Virgil and Beatrice are not slaves to Dante’s wishes to journey in the Divine Comedy). They would direct us as much as we would direct them. There would be mutuality, communion.

Which brings us back to the issue of a social order. If we lived in a just economic and social order, then we could approach these manifestation teachings from a healed place. We wouldn’t be using them as a way to get out of our woundedness or to escape from the inevitable pains and sorrow of living under capitalism.

This manifesting way would be true both in its more general sense of wonderment as well as the more specific sense of harnessing the magical forces to (co)create something as a gift in life.

All of the magic of learning to play with the psychic nature of Life would still be there. Those practices and that way of being however wouldn’t be so tightly funnelled through a world built around debt, constant insecurity (for many) and constant debilitating stress (for many more). It would fundamentally about play and true service.

Until then (as I do in my own work) all of us doing this kind of work either need to ignore the real complexities and ethical ambiguities of charging or we each find our own particular ethic. That usually means some combination of various responses to the economic reality (e.g. here are mine).

If we lived in a truly just and wise reality then we wouldn’t have to do such half-measures.

Nothing stops us now from incorporating these kinds of manifestation practices either in the more general or the more specific sense. But having considered these perspectives, I don’t think it would be possible to go back to some utterly naive or pre-critical view around them either.

* Given the philosophical limitations laid out in Part I, the best manifestation teachings can do is amelioration. They can lead people to have greater resources so they can give more to charity, aid foundations and the like. That’s difficult however insofar as the belief of the teachings of themselves is that everyone should follow and manifest their true heart’s desire. They are best then treating wounded people on a battlefield and sending them back into the battle rather than seeking to end the war altogether.

** In Biblical terms, debt is an expression of sin. For the record, The Bible’s vision of a perfect world is not one where everyone has the perfect life they all individually desire but one in which there is no debt or hunger. Abundance in the true meaning of the term.

25 Feb 2015 1 comment / 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