Monday, August 8, 2005

"Spirituality is for Those Who Have Been to Hell"

"Religion is for those who are afraid of going to hell...spirituality is for those who have been there." This is one of those expressions that can't be traced to an original author or speaker, but is heard and seen on T-shirts, in books, and all over the world wide web (just google it and you'll get about 1,800 results). I've quoted it myself, most recently in my book about the transformative symbols in the Harry Potter stories (you can find it in the download from my Tao of Hogwarts page).

I have long understood that expression to be pointing us toward the difference between fundamentalism and just plain living. As we have seen in many of the discussions here (most recently in the case of Assemblyman Dov Hikind), fundamentalism has a certain rigidity and arrogance about it—an exclusive air of having the market cornered on truth, which often appears as intolerance. Life, on the other hand, has a palpable resilience, flexibility, and buoyancy to it; its truth is fluid and organic.

I was reminded of this by a note I received from a lady who asked me if using the I Ching to help in solving the problems of personal life might be construed as "scientological." It's a fair question which deserves a fair and thorough answer. I'll do my best.

Scientology, of course, has appeared in the public eye in the context of recent comments made by an unfortunately deranged Hollywood actor named Tom Cruise. He appears to have the same kind of stone preconceptions about medicine that Dov Hikind has about social equality. In both cases, there is a ranting note of inflexibility combined with a violent impulse to mute debate by demonizing those who differ with the fixed position. The case of Mr. Cruise is hardly as dangerous as the more insidious position of Hikind's: I have spoken and written myself about the over-medication of our society, and our willingness to deliver ourselves into a slavish dependence on pharmaceuticals. However, most of my clients come to me under medication; occasionally one has asked me whether it makes sense to stop taking the drug (usually an anti-depressant) now that she has chosen to follow a psycho-spiritual way of healing. I tell them all that there is no need to stop taking medicine; but that there may be a need to examine one's inner attitudes and beliefs about pharmacy.

What I mean by that points directly back to the distinction referred to earlier between fundamentalism and living: a pill conceived as a machine, or as a cog inserted into a malfunctioning machine, is a symbol of fundamentalism. But a pill taken into a living, conscious presence, as a single, transient aspect of a multi-dimensional healing path, becomes what the I Ching refers to as a "Helper."

The consciousness—both of the pill and the person taking it—makes all the difference. Now a lot of people would consider me barking mad for imagining that a pill could have consciousness. But that's the crucial point to this whole scenario—that's the part that gets a fellow like Tom Cruise stuck in a ranting ideology of "all medicine is of Satan." What if he paused for just a moment to consider the mere possibility that God resides in the submicroscopic elements of, for example, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (the "Prozac" family of drugs)? To just admit that potential, that a universal quantum Presence resides in a pill, is to begin transforming our ideas about both illness and recovery (for more on this topic, see Peter Kramer's new book, Against Depression).

In other words, Mr. Cruise, if you haven't been to Hell, don't dictate to me how I should avoid it. And even if you have (perhaps that's where you are right now, to judge by the way you've been acting), don't tell me that your way clear of it is the only way out.

Thus, we come back to the path of plain living. My answer to my correspondent would be that the I Ching is not a one-size-fits-all solution to life's problems, or that anyone who hasn't encountered it is somehow fit for damnation or even limited. I teach people that the I Ching is not a holy relic or a set of commandments from a distant and external God—it's just a reference manual for your soul; and one of many at that. I usually add that we can only benefit from the I Ching (or any such psycho-spiritual aid) when we start by detaching ourselves from it as a vessel of sacred wisdom. Once we've shredded that attachment, we can start to get help from innumerable sources in our lives.

This is the way I like to think about God: it isn't a Big Boss in the Sky or a Deliverer From Evil and Inscriber of Stone Commandments. God is an equal, a simultaneously personal and universal Energy that flows through everything—people, animals, plants, and yes, pills—and which works within the field of consciousness. It answers to our deeply-felt needs—whether through an old Chinese book, an astrological chart, a poem, a sutra, or even a prescription—by a principle of quantum gravity that Neils Bohr called "complementarity." Those of us without a deeper understanding of quantum physics simply refer to this principle as Love.

So my answer to that woman's question, "is the I Ching a cult?" would be, "it has been before, and perhaps could be again, whenever it is handled with the iron fists of ego." But wherever it is questioned sincerely from a troubled heart, without demand, expectation, or attachment, it is exactly what it was always meant to be—a helping presence of equivalence in the field of consciousness.


Note about the site: Yes, I know, there's advertising on here now. The problem is that, while I'm getting over a thousand page views a month, nobody's touching the Donation links I have all over the place. Either my content is so crappy that it's not worth a buck or two, or the honor system just isn't working very honorably in these times. Or more likely, that economic recovery we've been hearing so much about in the mass media only applies to the wealthy and the media moguls that spread that kind of horseshit. So I'm resorting to ads for online book shops. I promise to keep them as inconspicuous as is reasonable (they're ads, after all, and are meant to be seen); and I also promise you'll never see any stomp-the-cockroach-and-get-an-ipod junk around here. Nevertheless, I—like many people among us today—have certain financial issues that must be dealt with one way or another. Advertising may help to feed the kitty a little; and I'd also be grateful if you could think about buying my book.

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