The purpose of this post is to present some personal observations on the title’s themes and encourage you to consider how they might be relevant to you and what you have witnessed among others. It is not intended to provide specific answers or solutions. Also, the associated image has allusions beyond the scope of this post, and I encourage you to explore them!

Rather than beginning with my own reflections on this matter, I want to start with some metaphors for your own considerations. As you follow along, it might seem like a backwards approach, but I’m trying to offer an opportunity for our minds to work a little differently than usual.

Imagine a house, the hub of a person’s life in this world. It’s a mess. The yard is overgrown and filled with junk, some of it serving as breeding grounds for dangerous and disease-carrying pests. Inside, the rooms are littered, cluttered, dirty, and smell of dust, mold, mildew, and rotting garbage. There are obvious structural problems, and much disrepair of the furnishings. There are also thriving populations of other dangerous and disease-carrying pests. Even so, the curtains are pulled back, the windows are open, the space is flooded with light, and there are lots of beautiful plants and wondrous awe-inspiring pieces of original art. The kitchen is stocked with foods that are diverse, fresh, and healthy.

Now imagine a second house, the hub of another person’s life in this world. Both the inside and outside of this house are pristine. The place is exceptionally well-maintained, tidy, and clean, and inside everything seems to be arranged such that there is a wonderful symmetry of rooms and furnishings. Yet, as you become more familiar with it, you notice that the curtains are closed, and windows sealed shut. The only light comes from electric lamps. Also, there are no plants, there is no creative artwork, only the plastic plants and mass-produced decorations you would find in a budget hotel. In the kitchen is nothing but popular junk food. 

You can play with how these descriptions represent extremes of the themes presented in the following three paragraphs. You might find one of these houses speaking more to you of emphasizing mystical awakening over psychosocial wellness, and vice versa for the other. I suspect that the matching will work out differently for different people. I won’t comment further on these metaphors.

In spiritual lore, it is not unusual to learn of individuals having mystical awakenings (realizing some degree of union with the Absolute, the Ultimate Reality, the Ground of Being, or God), and then from that point on it seems like they no longer have any of the ordinary human struggles with emotions, mental habits, and relationships. In fact, I suspect stories like this have provided some of the motivation many of us have felt to engage with practices aimed at mystical awakening. What I want to suggest is that mystical awakening does not necessarily eliminate these struggles. In my experience, it can change the way we view them and deal with them, and it can help with working through them, but it can also intensify them and even give rise to new ones. If this were not the case, we would never hear of spiritual masters or gurus creating counterproductive suffering for themselves and those close to them.

On the flip side of the coin, it also seems that many people have the idea that strategies for psychosocial wellness, like psychotherapy and self-help methodologies, can lead people into rare degrees of spiritual awareness and being. The potential for such developments does exist, especially with approaches that include spiritual and contemplative practices. It has even become somewhat cliché to speak of therapists as secular priests or shamans. But in my experience the reality is usually that clients/patients/self-helpers mostly work at refining ordinary strategies for emotional, mental, and relationship wellness, even if there is some acknowledgement of a spiritual element. Rarely do such interventions lead into, let alone rely on, non-ordinary states of consciousness where one may transcend the self in knowing communion with the One and the All.

Having made these observations, I still think there is an overlap. Mystical awakening can help ameliorate some of the mental, emotional, and relationship problems common in our personal and social existence. And the most mystically awake and realized people I have ever met have also been quite open about their continuing challenges with psychosocial wellbeing. Similarly, I have witnessed extraordinary awareness of wholeness and harmony of being among people who have done exceptional work with standard practices of self-examination and rational integration of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. And yet these very same individuals can acknowledge a disturbing sense of mystery about what lies beyond the reach of ordinary perceptions and thoughts. They can display an uneasiness about missing something, which may manifest in a defensive denial that there is anything else to know or any other way to know.

In closing, I want to share that I regard all our problems with psychosocial wellness as being rooted in the illusion of separation, the notion that there are many things rather than one thing that appears to be many. For me, that means psychosocial wellness cannot attain its greatest possible manifestations without mystical awakening. But, by the same token, remaining fragmented, conflicted, confused, and otherwise at odds with ourselves and others (i.e. being dominated by our vices and superfluities), interferes with having the clarity of mind and openness of heart required for the greater depths of mystical realization. That leaves me with a question: What do I most need to do right now to get my house in order?

2 Responses

  1. Nice essay. I like to think of a person, whether mystically oriented or completely rooted in the mundane, as a wagon wheel. Each spoke of the wheel is a characteristic of a person; intelligence, emotional competence, spiritual, etc. If all the spokes are the same length, regardless of the length, that wheel rolls smoothly. If however one spoke is significantly longer than the others, the wheel does not roll easily. So, a person who is extremely intelligent, but underdeveloped emotionally may well experience issues. We see this in the stereotype of the absent minded professor. If you are spiritually advanced, when compared to your emotional or cognitive components, you may have trouble integrating your spiritual realizations into your everyday life in a stable way. Here the mythological stereotype of the ‘forrest mad hermit’. The point of all this is I think we need to work hard on evolving in a balanced and mindful way. Challenges in our day to day life may well be the best diagnosis of what we need to work on, and those of us focused spiritually we MUST remember to address our less mystical needs.

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