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Problems of the spiritual life

{written by : Ian Heath}

Article word count : 2028 -- Article Id : 1330
Article active date : 2008-12-26 -- Article views : 8292

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Traditionally the ascetic seeker lived apart from society, so that society rarely benefited from his presence. His spiritual progress depended on following linear karma. In modern times the path of existentialism has been constrained within society ; the seeker ...

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Spirituality in a Changing Society

Traditionally the ascetic seeker lived apart from society, so that society rarely benefited from his presence. His spiritual progress depended on following linear karma. In modern times the path of existentialism has been constrained within society ; the seeker has to be a part of society. So a new problem arose for the spiritual aspirant, he became subject to the full force of dialectical karma : the intensity of his passion brought out the full intensity of abreaction.

In my view, there are two forms of karma, which I call moral (or linear) karma, and dialectical (or psychological ) karma. I define the two forms, as outlined in the 1st article of this section : Dialectics and Karma.

a). Linear causality means that there is continuity between the cause and the effect. One cause can only produce one kind of effect. This form of causality emphasises moral effects, so I also call it ‘moral causality ’.

b). A dialectical causal pattern is different, since the thesis is opposite in kind (or nature) to the antithesis. Hence dialectical causality produces two kinds of effect. For example, an insight into a psychological problem causes the abreaction of guilt. In the sequence of the abreaction, the catharsis and the resentment that follows it are opposite kinds of effects. Because this form of causality emphasises psychological effects, so I also call it ‘psychological causality ’.

I use the term ‘dialectics’ in the Hegelian sense. It represents a movement of thought through three stages. First there is the opening idea, the thesis ; then thought switches to the opposite conception, the antithesis. Finally both stages are blended together in the third stage, the synthesis. In moral ideas, if the thesis is a concept of goodness then the antithesis is a concept of badness. If the thesis represents some badness, the antithesis is that of some goodness. The synthesis is the resolution of the conflict.

The intellectual difficulty of understanding what was happening to the modern seeker was due to the complication produced by the effects of morality in a changing society. Linear karma determines ideas of good and evil for society, yet good and evil determine the dialectical karma of the seeker. This tangle, which centres on abreaction, easily generates psychological confusion and distress in one’s mind.

What I am implying is that the attempt to practise a spiritual approach to life in society will automatically and always produce bad effects as well as good ones. This explains why the spiritual life gets harder as the person develops his character (more and more effort yields less and less reward). The greater the ability to generate good effects the more intense are the bad effects.

Abreaction provides the intense drama of the spiritual life. It is normal for the seeker to oscillate between the good and the bad in him. One moment the joys of narcissism and the good life, the next the harshness of guilt and resentment. The real problem is that as he becomes more and more advanced spiritually, the greater becomes these oscillations.

Life begins to feel as though it is an emotional roller-coaster.

To put this idea another way : the major difficulty is that as a person attunes more and more to his internal drive and source of creativity so this drive has a greater effect on him. Therefore not only are his spiritual aspirations intensified, but so too are his unpleasant subconscious motivations. The overall result of stimulating the mind is that not only are the good aspects of consciousness enhanced, but so too are the negative aspects.

The traditional way of avoiding bad effects is to retire into solitude in order to develop alone. In this manner the bad effects are not seen as the subconscious mind quietens down, but they come into the open when the individual re-enters society. This is why the spiritual stature of many Eastern ascetic teachers collapses when they come into contact with Western capitalism and materialism.

Viewed another way, some of the social ventures of the spiritual individual will be successful, and others will be failures. The only way to become independent of karma (even good karma) is to achieve equanimity towards the results of one’s activities. At no stage of a human life within society can bad karma be avoided. What is really needed is not just the concentration on doing good, but also the intensification of one’s idealism in order to continue to do good despite any bad effects.

These ideas imply that morality alone is inadequate for creating the good life. An harmonious society requires the development of an harmonious social identity (a person has two identities : his social identity and his identity as an individual). In my view, such a social identity can only be created by free individuals freely working together for the joys of co-operation and friendship. My view of the individual is an existential one ; for comparison my view of a preferred type of society is an anarchistic one.

Abreaction is Universal and Timeless

Abreaction is not a new phenomenon. I quote from Lucretius (94? - 55 BC): From the midst of the fountain of delights rises something bitter that chokes them all amongst the flowers. [1]

Abreaction is an unpleasant process. Is it possible to avoid it ? . Artists cannot escape it (for example, Hermann Hesse), nor can philosophers (for example, Friedrich Nietzsche). See article Abreaction 2, examples.

But can mystics and meditators avoid abreaction ? . Can a seeker escape the clutches of abreaction by avoiding psychological awareness and focusing just on psychic practices such as meditation, concentration, or the development of extra-sensory perception ? . It is a nice hope, but does experience validate it ? . I turn to Alice Bailey and Susan Gregg.

In her book ‘A Treatise on White Magic ’, Alice Bailey gives the ideas of a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, within the framework of theosophy. She writes about the ebb and flow of the mystical life. These changes are of greater intensity and frequency in the disciple than in the life of the average person. These alternations are described as the hill and valley experience of the mystic.

Sometimes life is all sunlight, sometimes nothing but darkness. Sometimes life is joyful, at other times it feels sterile. Sometimes everything seems clear to him, at other times the clouds descend and he is sure of nothing. The mystic wonders how long these distressful oscillations will last (pages 62-63). The Tibetan teacher is clearly describing the process of abreaction. [2]

Susan Gregg, in her book ‘Dance of Power, a Shamanic Journey ’, describes a shamanic method of training. The procedures that are used work directly on the chakras and rapidly bring into consciousness many of the confused states of mind remaining from childhood. Also the disciple experiences high spiritual states of consciousness. In particular she delights in states of divine love, in peace, and in ceremonies of initiation.

But when divine love fades, when peace ends, and on the morrow of initiation rituals, what does she experience ? . Her day goes flat, she cries in sorrow, she does her work like a robot – everything falls apart for some time. Once again, this is the abreactional sequence. Hence even states of divine love precipitate abreaction once they end (abreaction is initiated by the excitement that such states of mind can generate). [3]

What is deducible from these thoughts ? . Ignorance of psychology does not prevent abreaction from occurring. All individuals working creatively on any form of spiritual development, whether artistic or intellectual or psychic, whatever methods they use, will experience abreaction. However, a knowledge of psycho-dynamic psychology will enable the seeker to survive his distress without falling into right-wing reaction or abandoning hope.


The problems that an adult faces are usually due to him, though the situations that he finds himself in may be due to fate. However, because many problems originate in childhood through confusion in the child’s understanding of its relationships with the parents, he is not necessarily to blame for his troubles. This crucial nuance is missed by the traditional theory of karma. The wrong interpretations of relationships formed in childhood are usually the major difficulties in life as such.

Within the Britain of the 1990s the adolescents seemed to be more irresponsible (taken as a whole) than those of past generations. They were no longer repressing their internal conflicts ; it seemed to be the fashion to express their conflicts in social situations (more than the previous generation did). Who is to blame ? . Them, or their parents ? . If the child is not, how can the adult be ? . At what point in the transition from child to adult can one say that blame begins ?

Parents were children once, and suffered from their parents. It is common enough to see many parents, when they become irritated, start to ill-treat the children, either by verbal abuse or physical punishment that over-reacts. If a person has no psychological understanding of his subconscious motivation, how can he be blamed ? . Blaming indicates the need for scapegoats. In my view, no one can be blamed for his own ignorance and lack of self-awareness.

The concept of blame has to be radically re-thought. Previously a bad effect was considered to derive from a bad cause and nothing else. The person was to blame for his bad karma. But now I see that even good causes produce bad consequences. So what happens to the concept of blame ? .Is a person to be blamed for being good ? . Is a person to be blamed for doing good ? . The concept of blame has to be relegated to the heritage museum.

The individual still has to face the consequences of his actions and thoughts, such as the manner in which he relates to people, but he is not to blame for them. The judiciary system is still needed for people who have little sense of self-control and socially act-out their internal violence ; but the system should be based on rehabilitation and not on punishment. Moral judgement needs to be replaced by psychological judgement.

Violence in Society

Society seems to be moving in the direction of using less and less the strategy of repression as a way of dealing with internal conflict, without seeking a more responsible way of handling such conflict. This means that, overall, society is becoming more aggressive with each new generation.

The more aggressive that the adolescents are, the less likely is it that they will be the calm, responsible, caring parents that the infants need. Hence these infants will grow up to be just as aggressive, or even more so, than their parents are. This trend will only be halted by taking the stress off the mother, at least for the first few critical years of the child. By reducing the stress on the mother, then hopefully the child will introject less resentment.

The best procedure for doing this is to permeate society with the ideas of psychology, even into secondary education, so that the teenager with puberty rising can seek the knowledge that he needs in order to cope with his problems. In today’s society, its problems cannot be solved or handled adequately just by the use of will power. Knowledge is needed.

At present, the kind of knowledge most admired and taught is that of science and technology. But such knowledge is almost useless for the guidance and direction of society and its evolution. Such knowledge will never prevent social discord. Only knowledge derived from psychology can create the conditions of social harmony. Psychology is now more important than science and technology. If the knowledge of psychology is not accessible, then sooner or later society will tear itself apart.

The core themes of these ideas are the axioms that morality alone is inadequate for modern times and that psychology has to supersede morality and science in order to create the conditions for social harmony.

My analysis shows that the perennial wisdom has to be updated
as human intellectual consciousness grows.


[1]. Quotation is taken from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Oxford University Press. 2nd edition, 1990. [1]

[2]. Bailey, Alice. A Treatise on White Magic. Lucis Press Ltd, London. [2]

[3]. Gregg, Susan. Dance of Power, a Shamanic Journey. Llewellyn Publications, USA, 1994. [3]

Author Bio :
Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath, owner of a map of psychological spirituality suitable for modern times.

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