Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
One of the things we often discuss in our Temple is the fact that spiritual experience can have little or nothing to do with “the Light” in any conventionally understood sense. Rather, it’s wrenching and disturbing, at least initially; it’s aimed at pulling us out of our conventional viewpoints, and disrupting our complacency about how we fit into the world.
The classic occult screwball, who proclaims himself the reincarnation of Aleister Crowley, or insists he or she has attained X or Y status (usually Master of the Temple, after having triumphantly crossed the Abyss that separates the ideal from the actual) is well known. Fortunately from our Temple’s perspective, the ego-inflation that results from some major experience usually prevents people applying to join us, and we only encounter them when they’re arguing somewhere in the angrier zones of the internet.
But there are many other spiritual crises for an aspirant to the mysteries, not just the famous ones like the Abyss, or Knowledge and Conversation. I always stress that active membership in a properly constituted school, with leadership that isn’t batshit crazy, is important for helping people climb back down the wall when the inner windows have opened. And sometimes, a little jadedness among teachers can be more useful than over-enthusiastic validation of what’s happened to you.
I missed this article
when it came out in Esquire last year. But when one of our members shared it with me, I thought it was very well researched, quoting academic authorities who grasp that a vision or a spiritual insight isn’t a sign of an incipient psychosis. Given the number of online schools out there, or groups that offer weekend intensives for individuals with poor preparation for a breakthrough, there is today a genuine need for a cadre of psychotherapists who can help traumatised people make sense of what happened to them during meditation or in other practices.
Anyway, I shared the piece with a few friends and other Temple members. And by evening, my Inbox had a half-dozen responses from people for whom it struck a nerve. Even seasoned practitioners had wondered if they’d gone too far into a spiritual wilderness. The emails were uniformly lengthy, and most of them were confessional. “Might I be going nuts? Please tell me,” was a consistent theme.
A mystery school, it has to be said, is not a therapy clinic, even if it is therapeutic. It requires of its members the use of certain rituals and methods that, in time, will trigger inner openings of varying intensity. I’ve never known anyone to flip out if they were working the system as laid down, but I have known in myself and encountered in others that moment when the question arises: have I gone psychotic? At such times, the presence of a group, a community, is vitally important. Not just the main teacher(s), but other members can share memories of their own eruptions, and how it took time to integrate what had happened into their day-to-day routines. Almost all of us need to go out into the uncomprehending world and earn a living, and being aware of a supernal light or a vast expanse of apparently conscious darkness seriously interferes with workplace efficiency. One time, a key vision came to me at my desk, and I was devastated that I couldn’t stay in it; but I had to turn back to the computer screen and meet a deadline. “That” which organises such things chose its timing, so that I had to operate on two tracks: as a salaried editor, and as a would-be Adept who’d just seen something extraordinary.
Such an event in itself is almost certain to fit into certain known categories of mystical or magical experience. But since spiritual openings often clash directly with the self-concept we use in the everyday world, our reaction to them can be traumatic. I’ve quoted before a line from Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Living With a Wild God, who wrote:
” ‘Ecstasy’ would be the word for this, but only if you are willing to acknowledge that ecstasy does not occupy the same spectrum as happiness or euphoria, that it participates in the anguish of loss and can resemble an outbreak of violence.”
A related Ken Wilber quote has it that: “[After you Awaken], you feel all the pain and suffering in the world, but it bothers you less. I don’t know anyone who has resolved this paradox and maybe we shouldn’t.”
“Remember all ye that existence is pure joy,” says the Book of the Law (II, v. 9); “that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.” But ‘existence” isn’t necessarily a concept that sits in the same basket as ‘everyday living.’ Spiritual openings connect us, in erratic stages, with a world or worlds that have little concern with the office, the tweet on our phone, or our morning cappuccino. There is no straight road from where we are to where we want to be, because the road passes through the tangle that is us. Along that road there can be all the nasty goblins and ill-intentioned people we find in a Grimm’s fairy tale.
So, do read that article, which should reinforce, not deflect, your intention to grow spiritually. But also remember there will be times when you’ll feel like you’ve flipped out … because you’re meant to.
When that happens, if you’re not in a solid, stable group, do go and find help from someone who can sympathetically aid you in bringing what’s happened into your everyday life; and be aware that your everyday life will now be permanently changed. If you can only interpret the experience as telling you that you’re an elect being, you might have stumbled into serious ego-inflation. And if you keep having flashbacks, then remember that the experience could be valuable, but you do need guidance in managing what it means to you.
Love is the law, love under will,