Thirty years ago I was engaged in dialogue with the leading transpersonal researchers of that time, Ken Wilber and Dan Brown among others. The debate was whether there were developmental phases that an individual passes through before they could “transcend” the ‘ego’.
For decades Freud and the self and object relations theorists, like Winnocott, Guntrip, Kohut, Klein et al, had postulated that the infant and child passed through phases or developmental “crises” on the way to developing a cohesive sense of self.
The transpersonal psychologists opined that those who have successfully developed a “healthy” sense of self, can later evolve to a point of self-transcendence, oneness, etc., as manifest in persons like Ramana Maharshi. Later, Wilber latched onto Adi Da, who talked about different stages of transcendence.
All the transpersonal theorists were of the opinion that the developmental sequence, the crises and resolutions were sequential, and you could not “skip” a step. That is, you had to have developed a strong ego, or secure sense of self (they are different in concept), before you could transcend the ego and successfully and permanently become enlightened.
I disagreed, believing, based on my own experience, that there was no ego, no I-entity, so how could it evolve? What I felt evolved, was not the ego, but various sub processes that were supposed to comprise the ego, such as the ability to learn a language or mathematics, the abilities to cope with stress, as well as the development of various ego defenses, which were actually processes that directed attention, awareness of the developing person’s consciousness. That is, consciousness itself was evolving and creating the individual, not the other way around.
I held at that time that much of spirituality in terms of beliefs and practices, were actually defenses against uncontrolled emotions and fears, conscious ways of avoiding the human condition. In this way, I agreed with that portion of the transpersonalists’ viewpoints. That is, spirituality, self-investigations, meditation, japa, prayer, belief in God, etc., all really could be defenses against feeling unwanted, frightening, disabling emotions and fears, and such practices, without a secure self would never result in awakening.
I do believe that identification with either the “witness” or with the various states of emptiness and Voids are so easily turned into defenses against being human.
Among our Sangha there are at least five people who, because of their dysfunction upbringing, did not find sufficient love in their lives, and thus turned to God for their source of love. Some often talked to God as a person, or Jesus, and began to feel the love of this inner entity they regarded as more real and permanent than any parent or any human could ever be, and often this attitude and belief persists until the end of one’s life. The entity takes on an inner existence and one loves oneself through this inner, divine object, that is “permanent” and transcendent, and thus absolutely safe and secure, that is, until the inevitable Dark Night of the soul where one loses one’s faith in that inner, permanent object.
It is so much more difficult to love a real, living being, because nothing is guaranteed with such a love, or such a dependency and neediness. God is so much more reliable, and Jesus too, because so many people share our belief in both, or Buddha, or someone who lives on after death. That is, God and Jesus, Buddha, etc., are accepted, institutionalized existences that gain credibility through their wide acceptance.
People and animals die. People can betray you by either dying physically, or their love for you will die and someone else, more beautiful, smarter, richer, “better” will come along and take that love of you away and be given to another.
Some people want absolute security before they will love deeply, but there is no such security anywhere.
When my cat, Satchitananda (Satchi), died of kidney disease after a 6 month battle in 1997, I became lost in an endless depression that lasted 4 years of so. Robert died that same year which exacerbated my depression, and only an experimental medication for depression brought me out of it in just a few weeks in 2001. After 6 weeks I was free of depression, but also over the subsequent years I discovered I was “free” of ANY strong affect. The antidepressant acted as a mood “modulator,” that prevented depression, but also prevented joy or even strong love. It was only after getting off that medication that it was possible to come alive, for I was also lost in the Void and witness, in peace, rest, but with no excitement.
So, what I have learned is that nothing in the human condition is secure, safe, permanent. Those who I love the most, whether animal or human, can leave at any time, through death or change of mind.
And, to really “benefit” from the gift of having a human body, heart and consciousness, we must not fear to love another totally, completely, 100% even though they may leave tomorrow. To fail to love because that love is risky, means our love will always be truncated. We must be willing to love and lose rather than to not love, or only love in secure situations, otherwise there is so much held back, and though we may feel open, we have only opened 80% or so, and then we close down so quickly at the slightest sign of even potential abandonment.
My life until maybe 1980 was one love affair after another, but only a rare one stayed. There would be great love, but then the lover would go away. Part of it was who I chose to love. It was so easy for me to fall into love with a woman or an animal, but I found such mutual openness very rare in humans, but common with animals. I also heard from my therapist of seven years, a great genius of the mind and emotions, Eric Reitz, that when there is such wide emotional openness, the relationships usually explode and dissipate in an excess of emotional intensity. The more usual relationship is where one lover loves the other more completely and intensely, and the successful relationships are where the roles of most loved change every so often and a balance is achieved.
I have been really lucky in the last few years to have found people who are capable of going deeper into love and openness without so much running, and I invite all of you to try to do the same within our Sangha and among yourselves with the loved ones in your life.
Because, unless you are fully capable of tolerating intolerable emotional pain, intolerably intense love, intolerably intense feelings of risk and insecurity, intolerable fears of loss, intolerable distrust, intolerable jealousy, intolerable sadness, and intolerable fear of death, stoically, from a security within oneself, you will never, ever be free.
To this end, meditation helps to “grow” one’s inner sense of emptiness that acts as a huge container for the fearful dragons of death and dissolution, of intense feelings, and as a conduit to allow them to increasing pass through your existence, easily, without sticking and hurting so much.
I will speak to this truth increasingly from this day forwards.