„There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.“
„One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.“
Carl Gustav Jung
“Es ist viel besser, voller Hoffnung zu reisen, als anzukommen.”
M. C. Escher
“Wir hatten die alte Vorstellung, dass es ‘draußen’ das Universum gibt und ‘hier’ den Menschen, den Beobachter […] Aber heute wird uns klar, dass das Universum ein Universum des wechselseitigen Teilnehmens ist, und so müssen wir das herkömmliche Wort ‘Beobachter’ aus den Büchern schlicht und einfach streichen und es mit dem neuen Wort ‘Teilnehmer’ ersetzen.”
I don’t feel a sense of belonging to any spiritual tradition or teaching, even though various contexts inspire me and provide me with better understanding. The text below doesn’t claim to be valid for everyone at all, despite the use of the pronoun “we”. It’s an approximation to my own subjective experience (which is hard to accomplish within the frame of words) combined with the mentioned inspiration and patterns described in various literature.
In my understanding, spirituality isn’t a separable part of our lives. It is life itself which first of all expresses itself in the “usual” – as well as in our relationship to life. Spirit is everything that surrounds us and spirituality is the paradox of becoming what we already are and have always been. Life can be tough and harsh. To me, spirituality isn't about escaping existence but on the contrary, about perceiving, acknowledging and accepting human existence in all its colors and shades. In that sense, spirituality rather is about landing than flying – growing into oneself instead of growing beyond oneself. Human beings have got surprising resilience to cope with the adversities of life. We’ve got plenty of unrealized potential. However, our lives are still a vulnerable endeavor for body and soul. Our lives are gonna end, we can become physically ill and hurt in our souls, our resources are limited, we can’t possibly realize all our potential. We’re subject to limitations and natural laws. Our bodies need to be nourished as much as our souls – we need closeness and connection, even though it can be challenging to open up to it as we’re most vulnerable in intimacy.
Those obvious realities tend to be ignored in a narcissistic society that idealizes self-sufficiency. We want to, grow, grow but where to? We want to become happier but what does that actually mean? How can we be happy if we want to become happier? We want to have more, especially we want to get more from life even though we know that life won’t obey us – that we’re capable of co-creating our destinies but incapable of controlling them. Hence we’re in fear. Or – if we sensed what we felt, we would be in fear. However, we put a lot of effort into trying to get around a real confrontation with that fear, in short with life. We rely on concepts, images and beliefs. They are the crutches we walk on, promising security – they become the very ground on which we build, whether they’re good for us and our environment or not. We want to feel invincible, have power over our lives, rise above things, especially we want to be “free”. If we want to exert power over life, we are forceful on ourselves as well as others, though. We insist on our views of reality, we’re trapped, separated from wholeness and disconnected. We suffer.
Spiritual traditions have approached the question of how to free ourselves from suffering from various angles. Suffering has been a condition of human existence ever before and will always be. If we refuse that condition we can’t possibly be free. To accept our existence on a deeper level means to accept suffering – in that we’re going to have the chance to become free or at least more free IN suffering. That is going to fundamentally transform our relationship to ourselves, to others, to life, to the world and in the end to suffering as well.
It is a myth that spiritual insight is hard to attain. Potentially, it is accessible for anyone, also without having meditated for years. Probably it is still rarely attained because it is massively uncomfortable and needs honesty as well as sincerity. We don’t like to sacrifice our assumed security. Not a state of eternal bliss is awaiting us in which we can rest but a journey into the unknown which we can’t step back from. We have to admit that we know far less than we would previously have believed to know. We sense emptiness within form. We go through an emotional no- man’s-land and lose our former motivation and orientation. Our words, concepts and convictions about ourselves and the world become empty. We disidentify. And simultaneously, inner parts rise that won’t give up fighting against disidentification – new identifications form. However, they're not gonna be as rigid as our past identifications – they are bound to fade as anything in our lives might fade. It becomes easier to see through our identifications, we believe in them less. We might have a hard time imagining how fresh vital impulses can arise from that threatening emptiness. But at the time we access our deeper selves and develop a sense of Self apart from identifications, we start sensing that emptiness is form. We relearn to make use of concepts but in a different way than before – less dogmatic, more unrestricted and independent, lighter and less serious. We are less eager to “be right”. We start opening up our hearts towards the love in all there is, are more connected. Knowing about the final relativity of our opinions doesn’t prevent us from having them – it will be an inner necessity out of compassion to take on positions in the world. Consciousness is neither dual nor non-dual, we can’t point at it with our thoughts but nevertheless it can be experienced – it’s the silent ground within all things and apart from all things. However, vitality on this earth only exists in polarity. In Hinduism, Shiva is the god of polarity, destruction and dance. He reminds us of the dance of life that needs to be danced, of aggression as a positive power, and of the fact that there is no creation without destruction. Vitality is power and power doesn’t exist without tension – the more free we feel in our dances, the more power we have at our disposal. Ambivalence and conflict has to be lived and the more we consciously and openly let that be, the less friction we’re going to experience, the less we’re in conflict with the conflict. Quantum physics demonstrate that atoms are waves as well as particles – they are energy as much as they are substance. What appears as opposites on one level of reality proofs to be one and the same thing on another level. There is no separation between “us” and “our environment”. There is no observer but only participants, reality is subjective. The observer that believes to be separate influences the quantum physical experiment in the direction of their assumption – an illusion of reality is likely to be nourished.
The above described process of realizing emptiness in form and form in emptiness might stretch over a long period of time, years, maybe lifelong. However, the supposedly greatest challenge is to embody our realizations so that they inform our actions – a journey without any end to it.
Spiritual opening or insight can occur spontaneously or through spiritual practice. If we deal with it wisely, it is going to facilitate realignment towards the essential, towards the Self. However, spiritual insight doesn’t resolve our psychological problems and doesn’t heal our trauma. The spiritual and the psychological / emotional lines of development are distinct lines even though they interact. Spiritual insight can accelerate psychological growth and trauma on the other hand can promote spiritual opening. The more we are traumatized – or the more we sensitively react to hurtful influence – the more “holes” we’ve potentially got in our “psychological framework”. The “light of insight” shines through those holes, we can access unconscious realms more easily. Trauma might help us to gain inner complexity but at the same time makes it harder to deal with that complexity. Spiritual opening will cause unprocessed trauma to come up on the surface. If the trauma is massive and we’re unprepared to deal with that massiveness, it will overwhelm us. It might not be possible to stay anchored in the present and turn to our wounds. Dissociation – an emergency protection mechanism – will lead to a separation from ourselves and our environment instead of us feeling more connected. In extreme cases it might lead into psychosis. Processing is going to need a lot of time and patience – the more intense our wounds are, the more effort it might take. Above all, dissociation needs to be interrupted, we have to learn to get grounded in a new way.
In spiritual contexts, trauma coming up on the surface and mechanisms of dissociation tend to be ignored as there might be little knowledge about it, sometimes with fatal results. Some spiritual practices even enhance dissociative tendencies or teach dissociative perception – for example meditation practices that aim at developing equanimity in the sense that emotions are seen as something lower that you should want to get rid of. Additionally, dissociation and disidentification tend to be mixed up, but they fundamentally differ in their characters: In dissociation we escape into a parallel world, we lose contact, grounding and relation to reality. In disidentification we are more in contact as we’re less limited by our thought structures – we are more open, softer, more flexible, closer to life. We step out of our stories about life and ourselves and become more open to actually experiencing it. It might take quite a while until the changes through disidentification are reflected and experienced that way, though, as mind and body need time to adjust.
If we embark on that kind of spiritual journey, learning how to discern between disidentification and dissociation will be helpful. Likewise, learning how to discern between the spiritual and the psychological lines of development will be crucial. Thus we will become capable of distinguishing trauma that needs our attention from the kind of emotional turbulence that is a direct byproduct of spiritual insight. This might be difficult without support – especially because of the chaotic and challenging nature of the process. A person equal to us with enough sensitivity and respect for the vulnerability of our situation will be supportive – a person who gives space without intervening but still offers their perceptions in order to locate the approximate standpoints on the spiritual and psychological inner maps together. Hence we will be able to learn how to accept our vulnerability and fallibility as only in their faces we become human, reveal our true beauty and develop profound compassion for ourselves and others.