Dear reader

Why do I write about pitfalls of spirituality?

My purpose with this blog is to crystallize and share my thoughts and experiences, in the hope that you and I may benefit from them. From 1993-2005 I practiced a so-called spiritual method (Sahaj Marg). Ultimately I realized that this method - and especially the organization around it (Shri Ram Chandra Mission or SRCM)- was contrary to some deep spiritual layer in myself. I came to some clear conclusions, and also to some still developing insights.

One still developing insight is that almost everybody is looking for some form of spirituality in their life. Therefore there are many spiritual methods and movements, often with similar pitfalls to the ones I experienced.

Many people follow a well-trodden path which is defined by the group in their immediate vicinity. Others are prompted by their heart and/or head to look for spirituality that makes sense on a personal level. Spirituality gives fulfillment -humanity as one, universal love growing, one with the buddha- as well as direction through life's tough questions.

I write about the pitfalls of spirituality because so many others seem to write mostly about the bliss of their own approach to spirituality. This bliss to me actually seems a pitfall.

Understanding the pitfalls I deem essential to gain more spiritual insight. For me this actually translates into a lighter and more loving heart. I do not believe that understanding is the key issue in spirituality. But I do believe that misunderstanding can block key issues (although to which degree probably varies with each person).

Please bear with my frequent use of I feel, seems to me, in my not so humble opinion and so on. It is to emphasize that I do not consider any of my opinions to be more than that. I cannot bring you universal truth. In my not so humble opinion [imnsho] universal truth is a major pitfall in spirituality.

Dear reader, I hope you find something worthwhile on these pages. Friendly reactions, which may be as critical as you like, are always welcome.

Tips how to read this blog

* Please start with the closing remarks (click on the link), they should provide a balanced perspective on this blog.

* There is a list of 20 pitfalls in the sidebar. Clicking on a pitfall will provide a number of posts in which that pitfall is discussed to some extent.

* If you have time, consider starting with the oldest post, and simply going through to each next post. This probably gives the most faithful ;-) reading...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fulfillment, mind & heart, and power

Much of what I wish to write about power as a spiritual pitfall comes from my experiences with a specific spiritual organization. But I have seen similar power mechanisms in other organizations, and similar fulfillment issues behind them.

So how to add something insightful to the vast literature on power? I'll try, but it won't be easy.

First question: why power can even become an issue in spiritual movements? It seems to me that in general we, the members of a group, empower people in the group to become group leaders. In my not so humble opinion we generally do not empower the people who I find the most spiritually suited for this group leading thing.

Too put it bluntly, mostly we want leaders who reduce our indecision and insecurity, who give us a sense of direction and purpose. Especially when it comes to spirituality. The previous post details some reasons for this that I see. I think most people are intelligent enough to be unsure about themselves, the purpose of their existence, the behaviour which they would like to adopt, etc.

So, once again not putting too fine a point on it: the mind is that which makes us homo sapiens (the thinking human). but the mind also makes us homo dubitans (the doubting, unsure human).

Does a dog wonder about its existence? Does it fret over whether to mate with other dog A or other dog B? Does it conceive of a before-life and afterlife? Does it fight with other dogs over whether the Great Shepherd in Dog Heaven is a german shepherd or an irish setter? I think my point is clear: dogs do not have enough mind for this, in my eyes. Mind you, I think dogs are very intelligent.

And dogs have a wonderful heart, at least in principle when not emotionally crippled by a bad owner. The dogs that I have had and known, were sensitive to my moods, would come to comfort me, would always greet me with joy, etc. etc.

All in all, with a good master, a dog's life seems simple and full of love. The dog might not be able to mate as freely as it would like, it might not always be free to roam as it would like, but all the rest is peaceful and assured, I think (I'm not a dog).

Whereas for us, with our roving and questioning and imaginative minds, life is seldom simple. We are also raised with many conflicting issues, desires, morals, etiquettes, group codes etc. And so, while many of us long for a heartful existence, where love & peace are predominant and the barking order is clear (the dog life...), this is not to be for us humans for two reasons.

First, to repeat: our own minds won't let us. When one looks at the stars, one cannot completely ignore the question `where does all this come from?' When a beloved dies from an accident, one cannot help but feel a deep grief, and the mind will most likely shout: `why did this happen? how could it have been prevented?' and on and on. Life is difficult, life is strange, and we are not intelligent enough to grasp what it is all about, but we are too intelligent to ignore the question `what is it all about?'

Second, because of our complex minds, we have formed complex societies. No simple herd model for us. So no simple role playing for us either. Our mind is constantly working to evaluate our roles in different groups, our standing in these groups, our ambitions, etc. etc.

So what does one say when one is offered a way to let the heart speak more? In my experience, most people understand very well what is meant by this. There is also a scientific basis which I would like to discuss in some next post. But the main point here is: to me it is attractive to give my heart a more prominent role in my life. In doing so, I personally feel my choices to be truer (I cannot define truth of course) and closer to where and who I want to be.

So in this sense my heart can give direction. My mind can also give direction. But this seems more complex. It seems to need more work, more attention. What if there was a way to live from the heart so to speak? And quiet the mind? No more doubts, no more hard work to think through and evaluate the possible consequences of actions, no more worries about myself, about others...

It seems an attractive proposition.

It is, I feel, largely this attraction which is behind the empowerment of `spiritual leaders'. I put my faith in this Spiritual Person, I let Him do the work of defining good and bad and moral behaviour etc. And then I try to live like that and commend myself for my spirituality in doing so. Win win. Maybe sometimes I feel guilty if I cannot live up to the high expectations that the Spiritual Leader is bound to put down. But that's all in the parcel. If the Spiritual Leader does not put down high expectations, why then my efforts are not special, and my life becomes ordinary and then I'm besieged by the same doubts as before. But if there is a real Spiritual Goal, then my life acquires a purpose. So I need the Leader to put down a Special Goal, in order to feel secure in my purpose, and I need the Leader to exert Moral Authority, in order not to have to think for myself what to do and how to behave.


And so we could come to a point where the question is asked:

Mind over heart, or heart over mind?


The duality of this question (by which I mean the assumption that the choice has to be either the one or the other) is of course ridiculous. But one would be surprised how many spiritual movements first pose this question, and then answer it by saying: heart over mind.

I will continue this thread in the next posts. But I would like to state here, beforehand, that in my not so humble opinion mankind is not helped by `heart over mind'. [OK, to be complete, I don't think `mind over heart' is completely helpful either].

We are not dogs. We will never be dogs. We will never be doglike. This is why the idea of a Spiritual Leader has to fail in real life. Even if well-intentioned, and perhaps many movements start out in this well-intended way, I don't know.

So, in my opinion please beware beware of any movement/leader saying `heart over mind'. It is a first step in what I see as a complex power pitfall. No matter if well-intended.


Anonymous said...

Hi Frank...

Some Questions and comments about this post.

Mind over heart, or heart over mind?

Where does this need for a decision about the supposedly competing functions of Heart (a pump) and Brain (nerve center) with it's functions of abstract analysis, and response to stumuli (MIND), come from in the first place?

The religious POWER struggle between these two organs, was not created by the ONE, but is a "man-made" struggle.

To digest food, do I (ME) ask the brain, heart, liver, kidney, deodenum, intestines or bowel? No I (or Me brain or MIND) just looks at the "biology" of all these organs and sees which one is built as the "nerve" center (the brain) and which one is the blood pump (heart), which is for processing air, food, water, etc... and use the proper one "sub-consciously".

This mystical or religious attaching of analysis and decision-making power to the heart, we can surmise, started with early "religious" leaders, shahmans, and/or mystics who, also being the "story tellers, the troubadours, (using fear and temptation, excitement, sadness, grief, etc...), in their search for ways to increase the energy around them, found some SOUND energy in the heart, a thump, that was also very soothing as it was rhythmic and lulled one to sleep if slowed down and excited us if "speeded up" as would happen in a chase, a a dance, a song, an emoting of a happy or a sad feeling (emotion).

Since there was "sound" at the heart, and there was sound in the outside world, it was natural, but "un-enlightened" and false, to surmise that the heart was our sound and rhythm contact to the outside or "SPIRIT" or magical world of SOUND and LIGHT.

Our ancestors also very early found that animals related to our created sound as we did to theirs and to the sound of the outside world, and that with sound and rhythm, we could communicate emotions, feelings, or general information with one another and with the animals, even changing their and our feelings, patterns, and general behaviour. The extension and extrapolation to effecting change in nature with sound and rhythm was also a natural evolution of "THINKING", the bailliwick of the BRAIN.

We, homo sapiens, most likely found very quickly that drumming and song, as it imitates the pumping "HEART", also gave us various emotions, from excitement to calm and serene and even some more "spiritual" feelings. Music, the "sound of the gods" (myth, fantasy), has historically been used by our religious structures to convey EMOTIONS to the followers and to play on or manipulate these emotions for the supposedly good of the tribe but we can also say that it is mostly for the good of the religious structure itself at the detriment of the tribe in many instances. How many tribes have become extinct by following a "false guru" or shahman become mad by ingesting various "poisons" called medicine? We don't know, but we are silly and don't deserve to survive if we don't use all our god-given "THINKING" or brain (grey matter) apparatus with it's "cold logic" and sharp intellect to decide on these issues, and not leave it to the warm "fuzzy feely" "gut feeling", instinct, or "feeling" and emotions attributed to the heart, gut, etc..

The early "religious leaders" were the story tellers, the drummers, the singers, etc...and as today, were not necessarily the more scientific or the "THINKERS" but were the more "artsy" and the "fantasy spinners and weavers" of the clan. They probably were those with the gift of gab to convince others to "obey" and rely or depend on them, hence gaining power and hence survival for themselves and their structure. We could say that they created their tribal culture and then they reflected it, claiming this self-created culture with it's series of myths and fantasies as their "authority". This is much the same as the "self-appointed" Guru, Master, Saviour, etc.. of our religions. Then they create a "succession" with themselves at the top of the PYRAMID.

To continue attaching, in this age of scientific enlightenment, feelings and emotions to the heart is un-scientific to say the least, and very religious, and not spiritual at best. If we FEEL with all our sensory apparatus, it is not with the heart that we analyse and respond to the sensory stimuli, but with the brain.

The brain, we now know, also hums as an "Electrical MOTOR" at 5-8 hz, and it also produces or induces a field (many fields we could say) but it is not an "audible sound" wave as in the case of the heart, but an electromagnetic field. That EM field can induce an "aura" (magnetic field, heat field, sound field, etc..) or participate in and contribute to the aura induced by all fields as fields are "inductive" and interchangeable. An electrical field can induce a "magnetic" field and vice versa. A sound field (drum, song, poetry, etc..) can induce an "emotional" field and a "mental" or a thought or mind field.

Music is an example of this. But it is the BRAIN that analyses and commands the response that we call either a feeling or an emotion as it puts "in motion" through the glandular system, chemicals that illicits a subjective (survival?) response (fight or flight, joy or sadness, etc..)

We can say metaphorically that we love and/or feel emotions in our hearts, or that we have a "gut feeling", or that "joe do-gooder" has a "good heart", but that is a metaphor to express and explain in simple and lay terms, the process of hormones secretion, on the orders of the "nerve center", the brain, that then stimulates a response, a motion, a spasm, in the heart, the throat, the stomach, the kidneys, the liver, the guts, etc... and makes it either tense or relaxed depending on the hormone secreted by the analytical BRAIN. And then, to make it all interesting, the brain, through the hypothalamus gland, gives us a "pleasure or a pain" feeling according to it's analysis of the input/output stimulus and the hormonelike neurotransmitters secreted (dopamine, seratonin, etc..)

PS... Seratonin is now believed to be responsible for the "spiritual" feeling.

I prefer to think in a less religious mode and think that we feel, (collect and transmit data) with all of our sensory apparatus, our whole material and abstract body (including our EM or auric field, our mental field, and more) and that the heart is not more of a analytical or sensory organ than the other "slave" organs. Most of us do not think with our heart, stomach, liver, kidney, etc... Although some women feel that men think with their penis, but that is fantasy also and not to be "mystified" and then believed with the religious HEART... lol ;-))

Those religious followers who are told and obey the instructions of GODMEN to not use the Brain and/or the MIND to THINK, rationalize, or use logic, usually transfer and accept that god-given power in others and ask them to THINK and use the Brain and the MIND for them, as they are told to focus on the HEART and leave the thinking to the GURU, the SYSTEM, the MISSION. Such followers are even instructed to attempt "to still" (stop) the ever-thinking brain or MIND. Beside being an impossible goal, and a fantasy, it's like asking a shark to stop swimming or a dog's tail to stop wagging. You ain't going to do it. Nor is the GURU who asks it of his followers. Control and not elimination of the function of the MIND is what we want, not BY-Passing it and giving our THINKING POWER to others. To control the MIND is difficult but some of us can do it satisfactorily enough so as to keep one functioning in society relatively happy, without the help of RELIGION...

The MIND is not a problem as religiouns would have us believe, CONTROL of the MIND is what we desire naturally, and attempt to do every day, and giving control to another person or to a structure has historically never served the purpose of the religious and impossible goal of STILLING THE MIND. It has instead created abusive and "un-thinking" structures where responsibility for the message or the societal implication of the implementation of this "mustically accessed" message, is never faced or addressed, as an autocratic structure is apt to do.

POWER over one's self is good...POWER over others will not help that "OTHER", the believer, learn to control his own MIND and it will create a MONSTER of the one anointed by us as the THINKING MASTER. One just has to read Chari's speeches and see that his LOGIC is not lofty (if it ever was) or elevate or illumined. Many secular philosophers are more spiritual, intellectual, inspired, and generally competent at THINKING, than the average religious GURU, priest, Master, etc... Someone trained and adept in "engineering" and the MATERIAL will necessarily sometimes struggle with the more abstract or intangible, until they LEARN...and hopefully before they TEACH. Some are more adept at this "thinking" task than others, but all can do it. It is a power that we all can learn to use, and we, as a society, will learn.

The same religious systems also instruct the followers to love the MASTER more than the MATE, the family and the friends also. Then, in tandem, there is the whole "sex" issue that also has to be "controlled", but not subdued and stopped, as most regressive religions attempt to instill in their priests, abhyasis and followers, to the later abuse of the followers, due the the undesirability of subduing, not controlling a "natural" process with man-made religious structures. Spirituality, claiming to be "natural", is suppose to encourage acceptance of the natural REALITY, not to change it and subdue it to suit our HEARTS and/or MINDS. To claim that this sort of RELIGION is healthy and "civilization building" is really pulling the wool over the people's eyes. There are many women's groups in India who are asking us not to give those "old farts club" ("GURU clubs" of which there are over 75,000 in India) a place in our modern society. Let the old men in our societies do good by taking care of the poor, the needy, the sick, the family, the wife, these women ask us, and not spend their time building the STRUCTURES of our STORY TELLERS, our fantasy and myth merchants, who mascarade their crafts and structures as being "SPIRITUALITY" but which are really just more materially concrete RELIGIOUS POWER structures for the yet POWER ADDICTED.

We evolved as a species because we gradually took the decision-making power away from our abusive and "warring" leaders and their religions, and placed this power in our more "secular people structures" such as our western "representative democracy" that will hopefully soon evolve to a more empowering "direct democracy" (voting on issues), and it was "in spite of" religions that we are still here, not because of them.

In recap, let us look at the "created" function of each organ and attach to it a role that is the one attached to it by the the ONE, the REALITY, the CREATOR, not by questionable religious mystics and "dung-eaters" and "cave dewellers" of the un-enlightened past. It is time to throw off the fantasies and fairy-tales and the other religious shackles of the past and to truly reach our "Childhood's End" (Arthur C Clark)

This is not dogma, just another thought to add in FREEDOM to the MIND FIELD.


franka waaldijk said...

hi don,

i agree with you on some of your remarks, but also i disagree on others. but i think it doesn't really matter much, as i hope to clarify.

when i say heart and mind, i use these organs mostly as a metaphor for non-rational/intuitive vs rational/analytical.

so there is no need to take these things as literally as that the heart as an organ competes with the brain in the area of deciding. it is not what i was trying to say, i will make that clear in my next posts.

on the other hand, i do believe that recent scientific studies have shown that the heart has an autonomous neural network, which is believed by some very respected scientists to hold its own memories and, more important, which does link back to the brain. this is now conjectured to be a possible basis in science for common folk wisdom as suffering from a broken heart (emotional state which has been shown to lead to real physical heart disease) and other emotions/decisions/... commonly associated with the heart.

i will have to look this up again, i'm not up-to-date with latest developments.

but before we start a scientific dispute over these things, i would like to repeat that for what i consider to be the most important pitfalls, the precise functioning of the heart as an organ is irrelevant.

on the other hand, i'm really an advocate of good science. by which i mean unbiased, well-conducted research in the nature of phenomena. what you say about the brain having an electromagnetic field (and producing brainwaves, classified as you know from alpha to delta)...that is another interesting development in brain science, which goes a long way into offering explanations for phenomena around meditation and such.

so you will find, with some patience, that i intend to give science a nicely balanced (i hope) role.

but, philosophically more fundamental perhaps, science is also an invention of the human brain. it is therefore by its nature limited in what it can grasp and what it can reveal. and there have never been unchanging, absolute scientific truths, as far as i am aware.

many things which are called science today, were mystifying, witchcraft-like in earlier ages. i'm not sure for instance what people thought of magnetism when they first saw it in action.

so that means, to play advocate of the devil ;-) , that things which seem mystical, unfounded today, could obtain a basis in science in the future.

this is why i am always surprised that there is not more scientific research (that i know of at least) in these areas. it would be nice to have myths busted, but it might also reveal that some myths are (maybe only partly) true, meriting further scientific study.

by analytical scientists, not by religiously biased people looking to confirm what they claim.

as an example, i believe it has been researched that zenlike, buddhist etc. meditation is accompanied by a rise in (electromagnetic) alpha waves in the brain. [i'm planning to look this up, but you are a step ahead so i respond from none-too-precise memory].

please have some patience, there is no way that i will renounce science. but i might caution against seeing rationality (mind, in the metaphor))as the only worthy principle to guide my behaviour. if this would even be at all possible!

hope to have cleared some things up, feel free to comment further if not.

Anonymous said...

Hi Frank...

Thanks for your clairification.

Christian, who has a blog, and is an ex-abhyasi of 18 years, and is a Phd and research psychologist and linguist is looking into the "god machine" that uses binaural beats to induce the brain into manufacturing alpha waves. And there is, as you mention, research into some self-empowering meditation techniques (not the meditation on a GURU type) that also help the brain produce alpha waves...

I am sure you already know of some of the research in Hungary (eastern Europe) around super memory and improved academics using rhythm in learning (memorizing), specifically memorizing at 60 beats per second. This is also the theory that the producers of the "Baby Einstein" CD's used to sell the "making a genius of your un-born child" sales gimmick by having the pregnant mother listen to "classical music". We all know from listening to classical music that not all "classical music" does what is claimed here. Many modern classical compositions or "tunes" are downright ugly and "dissonant" and "a-rhythmic". What they call "new music" is really a-tonal as well as a-rhytmmic. The original research was on Bach's fugues, many of which are in the same 60 beats per second tempo.

I personally used that theory and technique on my son as he was failing in his second grade. Within 6 months of using "rhythm" at 60 beats per second to memorize, he was a "B" student and remained at a "B" all his student years, until his graduation.

Commercial opportunism quickly morphed that acceptable and working theory into the false "all classical music will make your child a genius". We expect and accept that kind of opportunism from the commercial market place where the caveat is "buyer beware". In our science, which we subsidize, we hope that the objective Mind and its logic and/or reason will be the tools used to de-mystify these subjective and "natural" phenomena that we call "spirituality" or the "mystical experience". That is the "mystical experience" that we all are hard-wired for. Religions and other cultish "sects" want to change that to: the "GOD experience", but that is not accurate or even true. In the Buddhism tradition: the ONE, what some call by the Gothic term "GOD", is defined as: NOT THIS, and NOT THAT.
I adhere to that aphorism also.

It is so typical of the RELIGIONS of Man to call any un-explained experience as "the work of GOD". Universal Films's (Hollywood's Religion... ;-)) ) logo is our planet Earth as seen from the moon and this is the backdrop for "UNIVERSAL"!! How egotistical of them. We even have a beauty pageant called: the Miss Universe Pageant. One has to shake one's head in amazement at our societal "small minds". Thanks the ONE that it's only our boetians and our "salesmen" who are that opportunistic and not all of us... lol ;-))

Thanks for the clarification... Glad to hear that we are still in agreement... "generally".