There are those who question a human being’s capacity to transcend their past conditioning. What you see is what you get – for a lifetime! In a previous life I would have railed against this philosophy. I was into “evolutionary spirituality”. Limits? Transcend them. Old, unhelpful patterns? Just tap into the creativity of the universe and you are a new creation! I haven’t completely jettisoned the evolutionary paradigm, but I have tempered it.
I’ve had to take a sobering look at my own life journey in order to allow reality to inform my thinking on the matter. After a great many ceremonies with ayahuasca, and some deep psychedelic psychotherapy work, I truly tasted what ancients called being “twice born”. I was this close to shuffling off the old cloak of egoic (survivalist) personality and donning a new identity. And then, after a time, the old patterns, the old fears, the old insecurities, seep back leaving me with moments of wondering what the hell all the work was about.
I recently heard an interview with Jamie Wheal, author of Stealing Fire, a book about how Silicon Valley, the militias around the world, CIA, etc. are helping their recruits maximize their potential through various technologies leading to “flow states”. What was interesting about the interview was not the content of the book, but how since writing it, he’d seen firsthand how these technologies were being coopted by domination cultures to enhance performance. He didn’t like what he saw, including the what’s happening with the psychedelic renaissance. People are going to the jungles of Peru, taking ayahuasca, stealing Prometheus’ fire and returning home and setting themselves up as guides for others. To his thinking, and I agree, this is narcissism run amok, a hijacking of very powerful medicine to solidify the ego, not transcend it.
He used the analogy of antibiotics. It’s important to complete the entire treatment protocol because if you haven’t eliminated the bug completely, it roars back with a vengeance. The same is true of the ego (survivor personality). In psychedelic experiences, one can experience the dissolution of ego. You finally feel free of the need for status, affirmation, power and your heart opens wide to the world. The problem is that if it hasn’t been completely eliminated, it comes roaring back, just like that nasty little bug. It appropriates the authentic spiritual experience in service of the ego deficit. It’s called spiritual by-passing, and without rigorous checking in, and checking out within a community that will call your bullshit, it’s inevitable.
Great wisdom from Jamie Wheale, and then I heard that the book itself is setting he and his partner’s business up to sell these flow state technologies to the public. Hmmm… Best hope is that since writing the book, he has seen that he is indeed playing with fire himself.
All of which is to say that the ancient spiritual lineages, all of them (in their deepest expression) knew that it took a life time to truly be twice born. First they built an ethical and moral foundation in the student. (I don’t see this happening in the psychedelic realm, but I do see many examples of many leaders and students acting as if they are personally exempt from this foundational step). Next is developing a practice of prayer (humbling oneself before the Great Mystery, by whatever name you use), then meditation (learning to witness the machinations of the ego, and discovering what a tricky little buggar he is), then being supervised by somebody who has been burned once or twice by their own ego (and there can bullshit on yours). The goal is to become nobody, stripped of all your survival strategies, having grieved an ocean of tears, faced the void, and then discover that nobody is actually somebody, but not the somebody you thought you were. And then, the moment you feel pleased with this new somebody, you have to start all over again. As far as I can tell it never ends. At least not for me.
(Note: there’s a difference between being grateful for how life has shaped you in the fire of ordeal, and being pleased with yourself. And, even if your ego starts to get attached to the new you, the moment you notice it, the proper response is to feel compassion for yourself, not judgment).
In truth, the “trick” is to let go of any ideals of what it looks like to arrive, any iterations of what “self-realization” looks like, any and all ambition to be something or somebody. And then, we just learn to accept reality as it arises, now and now and now. Sometimes it’s sorrow, sometimes it’s joy, sometimes it’s flatness of affect, sometimes it’s brilliant inspiration, sometimes it’s periods of absolute doldrums. Sometimes is heart-opening, sometimes it’s heart-closing. Let it be, and move on. Through it all, there is a growing capacity for intensity, a realization of the absolute value of life, come what may.
Maybe it’s not a matter of arriving at a “twice-born” life, but being born again and again and again, and allowing all things to be new. Ah, but that’s an ideal to let go of as well, isn’t it? Onward…