by Michael Maciel
by Michael Maciel
by Michael Maciel
The word “vow” seems antiquated, doesn’t it? It sounds so monastic, so religious, so restrictive. In my book, The Five Vows, I tried to develop the idea that vows, unlike the negative baggage they’re burdened with, are really more like states of consciousness. Instead of “taking” the vow of service, why not think of it as entering into the consciousness of service?
Entering into the consciousness of something presupposes a couple of things. One, the thing you’re entering into exists somehow independently of you and in some sense outside of you. This idea of an externality doesn’t sit well with most people, because we like to think that all things spiritual already reside within us and all we have to do is realize their presence and let them do their transformative work. But, while that might be technically true, it doesn’t really motivate us to move in that direction, whether inward or outward.
Two, it presupposes that the state of consciousness we’re aspiring to is larger than we are, that it is transcendent to our current state of being. This is very helpful because we all like something good and noble to shoot for, preferably something that is slightly out of our reach. It’s how we’re built—we naturally want to aim high. So, if we think we already have what we’re seeking, we don’t really try very hard. Plus, if we have any ambivalent feelings towards ourselves to begin with (and many people do), then why would we want something that’s part of us, flawed as we are?
No, there are very good reasons why we want to reach up and go for that which is truly greater—in every way—than we are. After all, if we were satisfied with ourselves just the way we are, why would we aspire to anything at all?
Entering into the consciousness of service has broader implications than you might think. Normally, we think of it as doing certain acts, such as volunteer work or giving money to the needy. But there are simpler, more integrative ways to live a life of service. Let’s look at one of them:
The consciousness of service is like a check valve in a pressurized water system. A check valve has a spring-loaded gate that only allows the water in a pipe to flow in one direction. Now, we all know that giving everything of ourselves all the time can’t be good for us, because we have needs, too, right? We have to take care of ourselves while we’re taking care of others, because if we don’t, we will burn out. Then no one is served.
But…WHILE we are giving to others, we want our energy to be a hundred percent giving with no thought of getting something in return. This is actually what Jesus meant when he said, “Don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.” The ancient religion of Hinduism was already three thousand years old when Jesus came on the scene, and you can bet that he knew their teachings, including the one that says that the right hand is the hand of giving and the left hand is the hand of receiving. There are mudras (ritual hand gestures) that were well-known in that part of the world in Jesus’ day and they found their way into his teachings, as in “Sit, thou, at my right hand.”
So, the consciousness of service is a pure state of consciousness WHEN you are in the act of serving other people. It is an unconflicted state. There are no misgivings, no doubts on your part. You’re all in, not trying to take something out. The way you can tell if you’re capable of such purity in the act of giving is to observe whether you resist having others give to you. An experiment once showed that when strangers on the sidewalk were randomly offered a five dollar bill, most refused to take it. Why? Who knows. Maybe they were afraid there were strings attached. How many ways are people trying to hand you something of value and you turn them down? It’s worth thinking about.
Here’s the broader sense of entering into the consciousness of service. We all know the feeling of having to get up and go to work at the crack of dawn. It’s not good, not usually. We feel enslaved to our job and we feel crushed by our culture. Conformity, not money, can feel like the root of all evil. We are oppressed by it. People have expectations, and unless we live up to them, at least a little, they will make our lives a living hell.
But that’s what cultures do, isn’t it? They always have, regardless of when or where. What we don’t realize is that while our culture is hammering us into plowshares, it is also supporting us in ways that we inevitably take for granted. Life may be hard, but it is nowhere near as hard as it has been historically for humanity as a whole. Historically speaking, we live better than royalty did just two hundred years ago. By a LONG shot. We live longer, eat better, have more entertainment, more options for education, better health care, AND we have NOVOCAINE! Let us never forget that! It used to be that people tried to get rid of their teeth as soon as possible because they were nothing but a curse. The sooner they were gone, the better.
So, one of the easiest ways we can enter into the consciousness of service is to simply show up. Be a good person. Be a reliable person. Pay your bills. Pay your taxes. Drive safely. Obey the laws. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Be responsible. Contribute to the civility of the society in which you live. Develop a skill and use it to be a productive, contributing member of your culture. It has so much to offer you.
Sure, it may act like a judgmental father, it might feel like it’s watching every move you make, it might even penalize you when you make a mistake, but by and large, it WILL help you survive. And if you go along with its program (the parts that work), it will help you survive quite well, better than you could ever manage on your own out in the wilderness struggling to stay warm while you fend off wild animals.
The consciousness of service can simply be letting go of resisting contributing to your society in ways that make it better. Because when YOU are better, society is better. But when you get pathological—when you start to lie, to cheat, and steal—you not only take yourself down, you take everyone else down with you. Instead, be a good person. Show up. The world depends on it.
by Michael Maciel
by Michael Maciel
For every spiritual process, there is a physical bodily function and structure. Our body truly is the microcosm of the macrocosm. It changes over time, that’s true, but over eons of time, vast stretches of time that might look insignificant in terms of the cosmos but on our scale seem like an eternity. It may not be “forever,” as the saying goes—it just feels like it.
We can take great comfort in the fact that the physical vehicle we have is somewhat stable, that the myths and spiritual practices we have inherited from the distant past are as applicable now as they were then. The story of the Hero’s Journey is eternal. The Crucifixion and Resurrection experiences are eternal. And not just eternal but universal. Everyone, regardless of sex, race, or religion, goes through them in exactly the same way, even though their individual experience, seen through the lens of their life history, makes each event seem unique.
When we focus our attention on the Divine, the same effects produced in the cells of our brain are exactly the same as those in everyone else’s brain. When we practice pranayama (spiritual breathing exercises) we are affected in exactly the same way the ancient Hindu masters were when they invented those techniques. And when we voluntarily submit ourselves to the suffering of the world and do so with joy and gratitude for the magnificent gift of life, we experience the same elevation of spirit that every other human being who ever lived experienced—in exactly the same way. The only thing about it that changes is our unique, individual perspective.
There is only one mountain but it can be viewed from an infinite number of vantage points.
by Michael Maciel
Second place is just the first loser. – NASCAR adage
Yeah, competition is tricky that way, isn’t it. Unless you stake everything, and I mean everything on winning, you’re likely to lose. Second place is not an option. That’s part of what makes racing such an intense event.
Having raced in my youth, I have often contemplated the fear and excitement of ski racing. It can be simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. It’s like an initiation or, more correctly speaking, a rite of passage. It tested my courage to the absolute limit. Recently, I watched a horrific fatal accident in an online video where a ski racer crashed into a safety net alongside a downhill course at what looked like 80 to 90 mph. The net tore his body in the most grotesque way and he bled to death where he lay. It affected me in ways that I didn’t know I was capable of being affected. It was one of those things you cannot unsee and I felt something change in me at a fundamental level.
Immediately after I watched the video of this horrible accident, I found myself in a peculiar state of mind. It was, you might say, the complete opposite of sympathy. It was a coping mechanism, and I imagined it might be similar to what soldiers in combat must feel at times, although I don’t know that for sure because I’ve never been in that situation. The feeling I had was not merely one of steeling myself against the horror of what had happened to this man. It was worse than that. I found myself despising him. He had not only failed, he had failed in a way that was totally unacceptable. And for that, I had to turn my back on his pain and his demise.
Of course, what I was really rejecting was my own fear. I was using his failure as an object of my contempt so that it would not undermine the fragile buoyancy of my carefully cultivated courage. It shocked me to feel this way, but in the moment, it felt like the most powerful thing I could do. To do otherwise would defeat me, both in the sense of everything I had accomplished in the past and everything I would attempt to do in the future. I couldn’t let my confidence be undermined by his misfortune. I had to reject him utterly.
There has been a lot of talk lately about zero-sum games and how destructive they can be. And in most social situations, that’s true. Finding solutions to human problems in ways that let everyone prosper are far better than thinking that if one party is to win, the other party has to lose. That has caused more trouble on this planet than any other concept. But, can you not think of a situation where absolute victory is the only option? Are claims made upon us by other people or other countries always legitimate? Must we always take their desires into consideration before we act? Sometimes, we have to say no, and we have to say it irrevocably. Whether we say it to ourselves when we want to do something selfish that we know will hurt others or we say it to someone who wants to harm us for no good reason other than they just simply want to, the act of our saying no has to be solid. We have to draw a line and the line has to hold. We have to hold it. Sometimes, there is no retreat. When our back is up against a wall, our will to survive must be unconflicted. Learning how to do this is what sports are all about. They test our mettle in ways that don’t require us to fight for our lives but rather give us ways to practice our resolve in the safety of a controlled environment.
The kinds of extreme sports like NASCAR and ski racing are surrogates for these kinds of life-and-death decisions. They test our courage, and they have potentially deadly consequences for failure that are every bit as real as those encountered in violent confrontations. Some may argue against the usefulness of such contests or even the validity of testing oneself in ways that seem so irresponsible. But the attempt to become courageous is meaningless unless the risks involved are real. And the benefits that accrue to one’s character as a result of forthrightly facing those risks cannot be overstated. They elevate you to new heights of self-awareness and confidence. They change your life.
So I can see why NASCAR drivers find second place to be despicable—”the first loser.” It’s almost a necessary state of mind to have in order to win. It’s because, I think, that we need something to run away from while we are running towards our goals, something so frightening that we will avoid it at all costs. We need a hell to push us from behind as much as we need to be drawn forwards by our goals. Because if we don’t have that, any setback, especially a serious one like the gruesome death of a fellow competitor or even of one’s comrade-in-arms on the field of battle, will likely dissuade us too easily from the victory we seek. Failure has to be made so hateful that we will fiercely strive to avoid it.
This sentiment, if carried to its extreme, would be the death of compassion, that’s for sure. It would be the ugly cruelty of Sparta, not the beautiful strength of Athens. But in the intensity of the moment, especially when you’re “next up,” ruthlessness becomes your only salvation. You have to push away any shred of possibility of failure. And just pushing it away isn’t enough, because it might spring back repeatedly until it eventually destroys your courage and puts you down. Rather, you have to kill it outright and kill it so thoroughly that it will never raise its demonic head again. You kill it and you bury it in an unmarked grave.
Some people will find this objectionable. Even the idea of winning goes against their sense of fairness and cooperation. They distrust competition in all of its forms and think that it might even be the source of all evil. But life is neither fair nor cooperative. It is brutal and unforgiving. Nature itself seems hellbent on our destruction. Eventually, it defeats us all, usually in painful, messy ways. As French philosopher Jacques Derrida said when he was dying of cancer, “This is all going to end—and very badly.”
It’s because of this existential predicament we find ourselves in that we must value strength and resilience over safety and comfort. It’s not that we can’t have those things, but we must never sacrifice the careful cultivation of courage to the fantasy of an idyllic life where peace and love have somehow magically replaced all forms of suffering. That’s simply not going to happen. In a billion years, maybe, but not anytime soon.
And it’s not only war and extreme sports that provide us with the hard choices that can strengthen our character. It’s every moral choice that we have to make. It’s every moment that we are confronted with the choice of either doing the right thing or doing what’s expedient, to retreat into the tranquilized obviousness of what we already know or to venture courageously into the unknown and risk everything for the opportunity to know a greater truth. It’s in these small moments that we grow into the person we can be. It’s not to the cheers of an adoring crowd at the finish line that we make our greatest strides towards our yet-to-be-realized potential but in our most private decisions, the ones we make when no one is watching.
by Michael Maciel
Do you keep a spiritual journal? Many esoteric schools require their students to write down their spiritual experiences in a personal notebook. There is something about putting pen to paper that has the power to organize our thoughts in ways that merely thinking about them cannot. It’s a way to bring our experiences of God into focus, giving them a higher resolution, which makes them better lenses through which we can see which of our activities are spiritually beneficial and which of them are not. When we are better able to understand ourselves and how we live in the world, we start making better decisions, and our spiritual lives begin to radically improve.
We understand that in order to gain the full benefit of spiritual experience, we have to LIVE it. But in order to do that well, we must first learn to articulate it, at least to ourselves. Because thinking and writing are self-reflective — they help us discover exactly what it is that we know. Our spiritual experiences are difficult to describe, but in describing them, we give shape and form to what in most cases we can only feel. And by giving them shape and form, we are better able to integrate the deep subconscious stirrings they represent.
Writing in our spiritual notebook can also be a form of prayer. Perhaps you have done the exercise of writing to someone close to you who has died. It gives us the opportunity to say things that were left unsaid. By telling the truth, we tap into our deeper emotions in a way that allows them to express in healthy ways. Writing a letter to God can be just as healing. The only prerequisite is honesty. If you’re mad at God, tell Him. And I think it’s appropriate to use the masculine pronoun in this case, because it’s almost always the Father that has hurt us, right?
In writing down our thoughts and feelings, it’s important to not hold back. Our spiritual notebooks have to be for our eyes ONLY. This gives us the freedom to explore areas that are no one else’s business but our own. It’s not that we are trying to hide or keep secrets, it’s that our inner thoughts are PRIVATE. Privacy and secrecy are two different things. There is a practical reason as well. If we expose that which is still in its early stages of development to the harsh light of public opinion, it will die before it has had a chance to be born.
The ability to maintain and respect our own privacy is a benchmark on the spiritual path. One must become sovereign in their person, both inwardly and outwardly, before real spiritual development can begin. This goes way beyond words and ideas – establishing boundaries is an energetic process, not a conceptual one. However, we must first have the concept before we can move the energy, and sound concepts bring sound results. This is why writing them down is so important in our spiritual lives, because writing is a form of truth-telling, and there’s nothing like telling the truth to find out where we really stand. It’s not what we want to believe but what we actually believe that counts. And we cannot discover our innermost beliefs unless we articulate them in a way that makes them physical. So, write them down!
by Michael Maciel
Authority is a masculine trait, whether it manifests in a man or a woman. And obedience is a feminine trait, whether it manifests in a woman or a man. It is the TRAIT, not the body, that defines us. Some of the most humbly obedient people who ever lived were men, and some of the smartest, most courageous leaders among us have been women.
But obedience shouts loudest in a woman during childbirth. And she is strongest when she lets go to the process but endangers herself when she rebels against it. Her mind naturally accepts subordination to the law of her body, because when the baby starts to come, it cannot be stopped. It’s as though her body has been invaded and occupied by another, and she has nothing to do but surrender to it. But when it is born, the foreigner captures her heart and becomes her entire focus. She then lives as two, not as one. The world fills up with child — HER child. And she would die, if necessary, to protect it.
A man, on the other hand, cannot duplicate himself except by impregnating a woman. His mind, therefore, is not prone to submit to his body but to hunt for someone who will. And in order to be the first to find her, he must learn to plan and to strengthen his will so that he can execute his plan. He learns to present himself so that he will be more desirable to her than all the other males who are also seeking her. He learns to strategize. He learns to fight off contenders. And like any good hunter, he perfects his aim. He learns to narrow his focus and to stay on target. He doesn’t know this consciously, but his body does. His body needs to procreate as much as it needs to breathe—only the tempo differs. And he is willing to die to achieve his goal.
The limbic system didn’t atrophy when the prefrontal cortex started to bloom. We carry these primitive instincts within us. They are the platform upon which our body and mind are built. Just as we keep everything we learned in elementary school, middle school, and high school, so do we keep all of the evolutionary stages we have gone through over the past several million years. And in the same way that what we learned in those early years of our schooling was “how to learn,” that foundation is more sophisticated than the facts we learned as we went along.
The lower brain is in many ways far more intelligent than our conscious mind. The cerebellum even has more neurons than the cortex. After all, it runs our body. It regulates the heart. It takes care of our liver. It knows everything about us and how to keep us alive. Just imagine if we had to do all those things consciously!
The body knows far more than we do, and it has a built-in, primary agenda, just like every other life form on this planet. And that primary agenda is PROCREATION. That is what forms the basis of our instinctual self, the one that resides in the lower brain, the one that runs our body. The entire biosphere vibrates with this primary agenda. It’s even more powerful than our fear of danger. How many people are willing to risk their lives for sex?
The background of the procreative intelligence is inescapable. Why? Because if it weren’t the most powerful instinct, the one that absolutely cannot be ignored, no life would have evolved. It would have simply gotten distracted by something more interesting and died off without progeny. Procreation is nature’s life insurance policy. It’s what got us here, and it’s what will keep us here.
But now we have the cortical cap, the higher brain with all of its marvelous functions, including self-awareness. It grew out of the lower brain like cauliflower grows out of its stem. With it, we have learned to reflect on our actions, to ask why this and why that. We can abstract commonalities from an array of seemingly separate objects and events, and with those abstractions, we can surmise nature’s underlying principles, rhythms, and seasons. Hence the modern age.
But the lower brain is still there. It is much older and wiser than we are. It knows how to keep the species running. And even though we think we can outrun it, everywhere we think we get to, we find it already there waiting for us. Smiling. No matter how hard we try, we simply cannot build a civilization that is hermetically sealed from nature. There is always a snake in the Garden.
Humans are binary beings. We have two sexes. It is that way for a reason, and that reason is procreation. If it wasn’t a good mechanism, it would never have evolved as far as it has. And just as childbirth forms the brain and sensibilities of women, so does the procreative urge form the brain and sensibilities of men. We think differently, we feel differently, and we have different reasons for being. This doesn’t mean that one of us is smarter than the other or that one of us is more valuable, existentially speaking. How could that be? That would be like saying that inhaling is more valuable than exhaling, or that the day is more valuable than the night.
What it does mean is that we have fundamentally different ways of looking at the world. And as long as we ignore that fact, we will never be able to communicate with each other. Nor will we be able to fully appreciate the unique gifts we each have. We might be able to venture into the other’s territory from time to time and explore what it’s like to live there, but our body will eventually call us back. We will always be tethered to it, as long as we are alive. The best we can hope for is a symbiosis, a melding of consciousness, to live so completely in tune with the other that we function as one, each one giving the other what the other lacks. And as we do, we find that instead of becoming a unisex, androgynous creature, we become more comfortable in the gender of our sex, because we each have the other’s back. It is then that trust becomes the highest moral virtue.
Now I know that monogamous, heterosexual relationships aren’t necessarily the gold standard in our culture anymore. But while they aren’t considered the ONLY way, they are still the foundation of a viable society. Most people agree that a two-parent family, one man and one woman, are necessary to fulfill the needs of little boys and little girls. This doesn’t mean that gay families can’t be happy and healthy or that communal, extended families aren’t better than the so-called “nuclear” families. It just means that without the biologically determined baseline of the family formed by the need for procreation, no social system can long survive. It is the core pattern for human life—all life, really. It is the “Holy Family.”
So the important thing to remember is that men and women think differently, because the unconscious, biological underpinnings of our psyches have different orientations based on the respective roles that each plays in the reproductive process. That process is hardwired into the oldest parts of the human brain. It is our “operating system, 1.0.” This doesn’t mean that it controls everything that we think or are capable of experiencing. But no matter how high we fly, we will always be pulled back to earth, at least as long as we inhabit this mortal flesh. Our most noble agendas and exalted philosophies will always speak to us in its language, the language of gender and procreation.
by Michael Maciel
According to Joseph Campbell, proper symbols activate subconscious powers that directly affect our consciousness. We might not be able to articulate what they mean, but we can definitely feel the energies they unleash.
There are two types of symbols (there might be more, but let’s start with these two):
1) pictorial symbols, such as Christ on the Cross or the Blessed Mother with the baby Jesus
2) diagrammatic symbols, such as the circle, triangle, and square
(There is a subclass of diagrammatic symbols used in astrology, but this is more of a shorthand notation that combines basic elements to describe the relationships of powers.)
Pictorial symbols tell stories. Christ on the Cross is the iconic description of Buddha’s proclamation that “all life is suffering.” In the Judeo-Christian interpretation, it is the culmination of the story of Abraham and Isaac, where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son. This story has deep psychological and evolutionary significance. It describes the very nature of sacrifice itself, how it emerged as a result of self-awareness and the knowledge that each of us will someday die, a realization that separates us from the rest of the Animal Kingdom. We are the only animals who can bargain with the future by denying ourselves immediate gains in order to secure long-term benefits. In this way, we sort of invented the future, something no other species seems to have done. (Peterson)
The Mother and Child symbol is profoundly archetypal. More than simply extolling the sanctity of motherhood, this icon posits an orientation towards human life that has led to everything we have come to know of as civilization. Whereas animals are limited to a world of pre-existing conditions, we humans have the ability to see the world as infinite possibility, and we continually live into it. We are not content to merely exist – we must transcend! Everywhere we look, we see what might be, not simply what is. Out of the chaos of the womb of nature, we have called forth our highest ideals – cities, ships, beauty, and adventure. Each new generation enters the world with hope and the expectation of a better life. This is not a philosophy but an orientation – our True North. We subvert it to our very great peril.
Diagrammatic symbols do not tell stories. Instead, they evoke the movement of psychic energies – the powers of mind – the same forces that SPEAK stories into being. They represent the forces of nature as they manifest within the human psyche, not just the Laws of Thermodynamics but the Laws of Creation as well. They are the mechanics of volition, the very proof of sentient life.
The foundational diagrammatic symbols are three in number: the circle, the triangle, and the square. Not only are they the basic building blocks of all other symbols, they describe the nature of reality itself, from the microcosm to the macrocosm. They are visual depictions of universal laws. Let’s briefly touch on each one:
1) the circle: The easiest way to connect with a symbol is on the gut level. The circle reveals itself in the way it makes us feel. Simply standing in the middle of one can make us feel centered, focused, and empowered. Standing under one, such as a rotunda, feels like it draws us upwards into the infinite. The sky itself, bounded by a circular horizon, IS the cosmos, the dome of heaven. When we expand our circle, we feel exaltation. When we condense it, we discover the spiritual nature of Fire. And everywhere we live in the midst of invisible circles – sound waves, heat waves, electromagnetic waves. Circles are the generators of Life.
2) the triangle: It’s easy to feel the energy of a circle when we stand in one or see one above us. But there are few tangible representations of the triangle in the world of nature, except at the microscopic level. The best way to visualize triangularity is to stand with two other people. As sentient beings, we are the agents of creation. We live into the possibility that surrounds us, both physically and psychically. When we stand in a triangle with two other people, we are simultaneously all three stages of the creative act – we are cause, we are medium, and we are effect. We are both creator and created. We are the Holy Family (in its geometric interpretation) – Father, Mother, Child. As such, the triangle symbolizes relationship in its universal creative activity. It is the abstract, invisible pattern through which we live our lives.
3) the square: The circle and the triangle seem wild in their never-ending movements – revolutions, evolutions, and relational flows. But the square feels like what happens when these energies come in for a landing. The mind, having drawn all the lines and connected all of the dots, fixes itself on the outcome and anchors itself to it. The square is the energy of tethering, of stability, and consolidation, without which nothing can advance, either in the world of solidity or the world of ideas. We need a starting point and a destination, a launching pad and a landing field. Nothing can begin unless it has first ended – Alpha and Omega and the Cross of Christ. Stability constitutes the foundation of our lives. We must rally our energies to a fixed platform before we can establish a firm foothold from which we can further expand our base of operations. Our growth is both iterative and cyclical – the upward trajectory of our lives is punctuated by periods of rest and consolidation. Inner and outer structures are constructed layer by layer, piece by piece. And firm foundations provide strong dwellings. This principle is true for individuals, cultures, and civilizations. Violating it will inevitably lead to disaster.
Much more can be said about both kinds of symbols, the pictorial and the diagrammatic. This article is merely a synopsis and an incomplete one at that. You can find more in my book, World Priest, Bringing Heaven to Earth, available through Amazon. Thanks for reading!
by Michael Maciel
We live in an age of relativism. Once it was discovered that any experience can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, all beliefs in “universal truths” were dismissed as irrelevant. Context became the sole determinator of meaning. What’s more, any attempt to assert a universal truth became merely a way to dominate others. Truth systems began to be seen as tools of the oppressor. Religion became the “opiate of the masses” designed to make them more controllable. The old value systems were thrown out and people were left to formulate their own. Welcome to the 20th Century.
One of the most misinterpreted quotes in history is Nietzsche’s “God is dead.” This wasn’t a victory cry; it was a warning. He predicted almost fifty years in advance that relativistic thinking would dominate Western philosophy, and he was right. He also predicted that the result of such thinking would result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. In this, he was also right, because Marxist Ideology (and its offspring, Postmodernism) would decimate the world with two global wars, the Maoist Revolution, and Stalin’s genocidal purge of Soviet Russia. Millions of people—hundreds of millions—died!
Nietzsche’s prediction prompted the poet, Yeats, to proclaim:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
And to Yeats’ question, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” the answer is clear: postmodern, relativistic, “truthless” thinking.
The Postmodernist’s rationale seems to suggest that there are an infinite number of word combinations, therefore none of them can be privileged over any others. But not all combinations have meaning, and of those that do have meaning, not all of them are meaning-ful.
So, when I hear otherwise spiritually intelligent people try to equate various spiritual philosophies in the name of “fairness” or egalitarianism, I have to say something, because I know that they have come under the sway of relativistic, postmodern thinking. And what I have to say is this:
In the science of spiritual development, there are certain rules and methods that have been proven—over vast periods of time—to work. These rules and methods are used in every spiritual discipline, regardless of religion or locale:
These DO NOT vary and they are always taught in the order listed here. They are so fundamental that they can easily apply to almost any other discipline as well, such as archery or music.
During the process of learning these skills, certain experiences will inevitably occur. These, too, are universal and come in a definite order. They are referred to as “initiations.” But they’re not the type of initiations commonly used in fraternities or Masonic Lodges. They are not “rites of passage.”
The initiations I’m talking about are transition points from one stage of consciousness to another.
They are as solid and predictable as the bodily changes we go through—losing our baby teeth, going through puberty, reaching the age of majority, becoming an adult, etc. Just as every human being goes through these stages of development, so does every person on the spiritual path go through a definite series of initiations, known to many as “The Hero’s Journey.”
These transition events can only occur when a person is ready, but the skills listed above hasten the process of development (along with learning to overcome challenges, studying sacred symbols and texts, and developing a sensitivity to the sacred and to the arts).
As an example of what these transitions look like, the first is when a person suddenly feels that the world he is accustomed to living in is somehow false, that there is something “behind” it, that what is perceived by the five senses is but the veneer of a deeper reality. This is the experience that sets people on the spiritual path.
Anyone who has had enough interest to read my description of these things thus far has almost certainly experienced this first initiation. However, it’s not too difficult to find people in your life who have not. Many people are strict materialists and regard this kind of discussion as meaningless.
Other transition events follow. The next is traditionally called “The First Threshold” where the seeker begins to venture into the world beyond the senses. This world “calls” to him. There, he or she will experience phenomena that will attest to the reality of this strange new world. In mystic circles, these phenomena are called the “illumination” and “Self-realization.” They are the direct encounter with the light of life and the underlying oneness of all Creation.
But before the aspirant crosses this threshold, there is a point of resistance—a dweller—which is the mundane part of his consciousness that tries to persuade him not to go any further. In mythology, this dweller is depicted in many forms, but always as a demon of some sort, or a dragon, which must be overcome. It’s a universal archetype. In reality, the dweller is not a being but our own mind that resists losing itself to something greater than itself.
After this comes the Second Threshold. The aspirant has seen the true nature of her being but has not yet integrated it into her personality. Therefore, she feels like two people—a rather schizophrenic condition. There is “me” and then there is the “real me.” Since she still has the worldly patterns of thought within her, she will then enter into a period of purification, a trial by fire whereby the new consciousness will emerge out of the old (the Phoenix motif). But in the meantime, she will suffer greatly. Many who enter this stage will experience a terrible depression called the “dark night of the soul.” It is the great darkness before the dawn that always comes at this point in the process of spiritual awakening.
This process is as old as humanity itself. It has left its footprints in the symbolism and mythologies of the most ancient civilizations. From the Sarcophagus in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid to the caves of the Greek Mystery Schools, the theme of death and rebirth repeats itself, echoing the Mystery of the Sun and its diurnal cycle of death and renewal and its rebirth out of the three days of darkness at the Winter Solstice. Everywhere the cycle is repeated, from a seed dying seed so that new life can emerge from the chaos of the soil to the mysteries of gestation and birth. All undergo the same archetype, beginning with the call to venture into the unknown, having to endure trials and ultimate death, culminating in the victory of resurrection into the light. It has always been and will always be the same path—the Path of Initiation, the Hero’s Journey.
by Michael Maciel
It’s a challenge these days not to get sucked up into the negativity that dominates the current political news stream, especially for those of us trying to live a spiritual life and to keep our consciousness out of the fray. Nothing drags us down faster than a steady diet of anger and despair.
In looking for a way to cope with this seemingly crazy and getting crazier by the minute world, we tend to withdraw from it and take refuge in a carefully cultivated garden of positive thinking, a place where we can envision nothing but good, a place where we don’t have to judge people, even when they are hellbent on destroying the planet. We are still in the world, but we don’t want to add more negativity, so we carefully avoid taking a stand against anyone or anything. Instead, we concentrate on what we are for, not what we are against.
This is a logical and laudable approach. It’s logical because you can’t purify dirty water by pouring more dirty water into it, and it’s laudable because it takes tenacity and dedication to maintain a healthy frame of mind when everyone else is coming unhinged before our very eyes.
There is, however, a missing piece to this puzzle.
Our job as spiritual servants is akin to what doctors do. We treat people for various ailments and we work for the general good by promoting public health. I remember the story of Dr. John Snow, the physician who in mid-19th Century London set out to discover the cause of cholera. He started by mapping the locations of the homes of those stricken and then looked to see if there were any commonalities. He quickly saw that most of the homes were clustered around the Broad Street water pump. There was no indoor plumbing in those days, so everyone got their water from public wells such as the one on Broad Street, and this particular well was contaminated with human waste.
All doctors have patients, but Snow’s patient was the entire city of London. His discovery led to a more scientific approach to public health, and it began with identifying the source of the problem, which made it clear what had to be done. Subsequently, the wells of London were overhauled and water treatment came into being. Cholera is now a thing of the past, at least in the industrialized world.
As spiritual people, we are loathe to look for faults in others. We have been told not to judge, to keep ourselves blameless, so that the rest of the world will benefit by our energy and our example. Good plan. But if we regard ourselves as spiritual physicians, which is what I’m asking you to consider now, then we have to take a more scientific approach. We have to be able to diagnose a disease before we can treat it properly.
Diagnosis is different from finding blame. And it’s quite possible that this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Because how often do we avoid taking responsibility for the problems in our world by blaming them on others? It’s a common ploy, is it not? It’s much more likely that Jesus was simply saying that we have to look at how we ourselves are contributing to the problem and not just look for others to blame.
In Dr. Snow’s situation, he too was part of the problem, if only by virtue of his ignorance of how cholera was spread. But once he found out, he was able to instigate wholesale changes in the civic infrastructure of a major metropolitan area. He judged the source of the problem, and he judged rightly. He mapped out what was actually happening and then drew his deductions from the data.
How might we do the same? Well, first of all, we must not be reluctant to identify problems. The diseases we deal with are spiritual diseases, things like fear, greed, lust, selfishness, and apathy. We look for telltale signs, such as weakness, lack of energy, fuzzy thinking, and hardness of heart, all of which are symptoms of a troubled soul. And whether we’re dealing with an individual, a family, or an entire nation, our method is the same: diagnosis, treatment, recovery. Just like a physician.
It’s true that all people are God Beings. But it’s also true that many of them have given up. They have become weary of life and distrustful of the world. It has made them cynical and all-too-willing to bring the whole thing to a halt. Maybe it’s because they endured some unimaginable trauma, or maybe they have just become resentful whenever they see others doing better than they are. Who knows. But such people cannot be allowed to destroy everything the rest of us have worked so hard to establish, such as the freedom to speak the truth as we see it, the right to live wherever we want as long as it’s within our means, and the right to worship how we see fit. These are important achievements that we do not want to abandon. We have to bring everything we know to the table and use the tools God gave us for the good of all.
Identifying a problem doesn’t have to give life to it. As long as you remain detached, you can make an accurate diagnosis. Then, you can develop a reasonable course of action. Remember, when Jesus prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, he said, “I pray not that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil.” He wants us here. He wants us to engage. He wants us to BE physicians. Diagnosis is a vital part of our work, though it’s usually called “discernment.” We have to be able to make an accurate assessment of the problems of the world before we can treat them effectively. Our spiritual efforts work the same as any other form of energy: specify where you want the energy to go, focus the energy, apply the energy. It’s the same good ‘ole fashioned occultism that grandma used to use. Let’s not be shy about it.