SBB. Today, I would like to explore some of the general challenges that a person may encounter if they make a commitment to following a spiritual path and seek to live a spiritual life. I am not going to be specific and deal with the many different kinds of individual problems that the seeker can face. In other words, I am not going to look specifically at spiritual emergencies or go into detail over the many different kinds of trap which can beset the seeker, especially as he advances along his path. This is the subject of a further dialogue. Here, my focus will simply be on what it means to embrace spirituality in an essentially secular culture and what the spiritual journey means and what it might be asking of us.
And I want to begin by saying that anyone who makes such a commitment is a courageous person. I think it takes a lot of chutzpah to step out into the unknown and to want to discover truth and depths and then to try to live from that place in a world which is often disinterested in such things and ready to pour scorn on anyone who shows intensity. I also think that such an endeavour is very important and the only way to live, if we want, generally, to feel happier and experience a deeper meaning to our lives.
I say this because I believe a huge amount of the despair and sense of meaninglessness that so many people suffer, may be traced to an absence of spirituality in our lives. Indeed, as I will be exploring with you, despite the fact that we are all living at a time of a great spiritual renaissance, many of us Westerners are very much mired in an epidemic of soullessness. And this soullessness makes for shallowness and dysfunctionality and is connected to many of the problems we face in the world today. In other words, we often tend to waft along on the surfaces of life and don’t really know how to engage with it in an authentic way, which results in an inability to live wholesome and balanced lives where we treat others with kindness, love and respect. Thus we create a reality for ourselves marked by pain, violence, abuse and imbalance.
Q. Sounds very sad.
SBB. It is very sad. So what is needed? Basically, a change of heart is needed. And this can only come about through us men and women being willing to challenge ourselves by working at transforming ourselves in a positive way, so that we may begin to make a shift towards greater functionality and wholeness , so that instead of our being part of all the problems in our world, we can instead be a force for change and good. And I salute all of you here present this morning, for you are those people who wish to be that change
By choosing to be on a spiritual path, you must understand that you are choosing something very fine and wonderful for yourselves. Indeed, everything that I have experienced in my own personal life and in over thirty years of doing soul work with many hundreds of people, convinces me that showing a willingness to embrace spiritual values and seeking to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life, are inextricably linked. And while, as we will be seeing, the spiritual path is very challenging, I don’t think there is anything wrong with challenges. In fact, I think we all need them if we are to allow ourselves to be stretched into becoming more fully ourselves. Besides, challenge also makes for adventure. And adventure makes for increased alertness and aliveness. And this in turn can bring us a lot of joy, for in the process, we may discover our own intrinsically radiant nature.
In fact, the more we learn to live out of what I call the ‘truer us’, as opposed to out of the illusion of our mediocrity (which, sadly, so many of us today seem to live from), the more fulfilled we will feel from deep within ourselves. And this fulfilment will empower us in many ways. Most especially, it will assist us not to become down-hearted, especially on those occasions when we will need to face disappointment or the many different kinds of paradoxes which, on the spiritual path, abound in large numbers. To give an example, one of the main paradoxes confronting the seeker is the gradual realisation that that genuine spiritual self we are spending so much time and effort looking for, is in fact who we already are (but don’t yet know it). In other words, there is nowhere to go and absolutely nothing to discover! Or as the Master Papaji once put it, we need to ‘Give up the search!’
Q. What! How can we be a spiritual seeker – a seeker after truth – if we give up the search? I don’t understand….
SBB. Well you won’t. Not at the beginning of your journey. In fact, there are many things that only become clear much later on. Actually, the idea of ‘ giving up the search’ is not a truth for us for quite a long time, and we will need to have done a lot of seeking before we are in any way ready to understand the meaning of that statement. Just as in mountain climbing, we cannot see what lies ahead until we will have got to the top of the particular peak we are currently grappling with, so the same holds true in spiritual journeying. We gradually ‘grow into’ certain realisations, or knowledge gradually reveals itself to us, but only when we are ready to receive it, only when we will have dealt with and completed previous challenges.
Indeed, what the seeker comes to realise as he gradually advances on his quest, is that the so-called ‘rules’ of the journey begin changing radically. For example, at the start, it doesn’t matter much if he makes mistakes or ‘falls down’ on himself, as he doesn’t have much spiritual knowledge or power. Thus, he cannot do much harm. Further along the path, however, when he will have gained more spiritual understanding, the same thing is not true and the ‘spiritual game’ he is engaging in now, becomes more serious and becomes ‘played out’ in a much broader court and with a totally different set of rules. What in the past may merely have been a small deviation now may become a large and serious error! Indeed, we can say that the nature of the journey changes all the time as our nature gradually transforms and we begin opening ourselves up to deeper spiritual realities and discover ourselves becoming subject to different spiritual laws.
Q. The idea of life actually lived as a spiritual journey sounds very compelling.
SBB. Well we cannot be spiritual unless we try to live it, try to walk our talk. And, yes, it is very compelling for those who feel especially ‘called’ by spirit. In actuality, our deeper radiant Self or God or whatever we want to call it, ‘calls’ all of us all the time. The problem is that most of us are often deaf to such calls because they tend not to come through the frequencies of our normal, three-dimensional space time reality which the vast majority of us believe is the only reality and therefore is the predominant ‘frequency’ that we ‘hear’ or are ‘tuned into’.
Q. So you are suggesting many of us don’t hear the call?
SBB. Yes. Our attention is elsewhere. There is generally too much ‘stuff’ going on in our lives – too much static, noise, general obscuration, emotional drama.
Q. If this is the case, how can we ever hear the call?
SBB. By working at trying to purify our psyches more, letting go our static, seeking to tune into those frequencies where the ‘deeper messages’ about life are broadcast.
Q. It seems you are suggesting that we need to be on the path already to have a sense of it?
SBB. Simply by being a human being, we are all on a spiritual path anyway. The difference is that some of us recognise this consciously and some of us don’t. Those who recognise it, realise that they cannot tune into spiritual frequencies unless they learn to empty their psyches of the ‘junk emotions and thoughts’ that continually fill it. Unless this begins to happen, spirit will find it hard to get through to us.
Q So committing to our spirituality gives us access to a wider reality?
SBB. To more dimensions of life, yes. Life is many-dimensional anyway, and too many of us live in the pretence that it is not. The mere act of saying ‘I want to be, and to live as, a more spiritual person’, if it is said with sincerity, opens our awareness up a little more and thus makes us more responsive to what I will simply, at this stage, call ‘the higher spiritual worlds’. The deeper we go into ourselves, therefore, the more we become aware of subtler nuances that we were not conscious of before. So at one level, being on a path is all about our trying to experience our lives more deeply, trying to open the doors of our perception more widely. We are only able to see as much of the ‘world out there’ as we have learned to open to the world within ourselves. In other words, the narrower we are, the more limited our world seems, the more expanded we are, the more expansive our universe becomes.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SPIRITUALITY
Q. Why do you just talk about spirituality and not religion and not refer to today’s talk as the challenge of the religious path?
SBB. Because this is not about religion; this talk is about spirituality. And there is a difference between religion and spirituality? Many people on traditional religious paths, for example, are not necessarily spiritual seekers. And I believe our great challenge as seekers today is to awaken to our spiritual and not necessarily to our religious nature, and that it is spirituality that is important and needed in the world today as a counterbalance to all the pain, confusion, unrest and imbalance that is all around us. Of course, I am not suggesting that religion cannot also offer humanity many benefits. But this is not always the case, and as we well know, a great deal of what is currently most destructive in the world today, comes from religion, primarily in its fanatical and Fundamentalist forms. Indeed, we can say that, in many respects, the religious wars of several hundred years ago are still going on!
Q. Why are people on traditional religious paths not seekers?
SBB. I am not saying that all are not, as this is certainly not the case. But many are not seekers because they do not see it as being important to delve deeper into themselves. For many traditionalists, their faith is more external than internal. Of course, all traditions have very holy people in them. I am not talking about these holy men and women. I am talking of the vast masses who are orthodox and traditional and essentially conservative. Such people, as I said, don’t tend to want to discover who they really are; they don’t tend to put effort towards expanding their self awareness, trying to find their real self, which is central to the life of the genuine seeker. And I believe that what our world needs today is people who are willing to engage in this kind of work and who wish to become more conscious human beings.
The problem of our world today is the problem of our unconsciousness – of our collective lack of awareness at all levels; too many people are not only ‘asleep’ to what is really going on in their own lives , but they are also asleep to what is really going on out in the world. They refuse to see life other than through the narrow lens that is their only vehicle for perception and then they pronounce their limited truth about what is, to be the truth. This holds back our evolution. I believe that if we are to have a new and better world come into being , and it is essential that we do – God help us if we continue along the same lines that we have been going along for the past half century – then it will be because sufficient numbers of people will have worked on themselves to open up a deeper and more awake part of themselves.
Q. Learn to see the world in a new way?
SBB. Yes. And out of that seeing, create a new and better and more harmonious world. People say, for example, that there is not enough kindness or love or wisdom in the world. This is nonsense. There is. Only the problem is that these qualities are hidden. They are hidden inside us because not enough of us know how to release them. Or we can say that the way many of us live is not conducive to bringing them up to the surface. Well, these qualities need to manifest. Being wise and loving and courageous is so much more important than say, speculating about whether Jesus the man really lived or not, or whether the ‘true God’ is to be found in a particular religion!
In fact, many spiritual seekers today are not especially concerned with religion. And I am one of those. I am more interested in trying, in my little way, to wake up to truth, to be of service to my fellow human beings. I endeavour to ‘live ‘ out of the recognition that all of us share a common ground of human beingness , and that everyone is my brother and sister in spirit and that we are all important and sacred and blessed in God’s eyes no matter whether we are rich or poor , no matter what class, caste, colour, race, ideology or religion we happen to belong to. To evolve attitudes such as these are what I believe is important today as they affirm our essential human unity.
Q. It sounds like the spiritual seeker has a lot of responsibility?
SBB. Eventually yes. Not so much at the start. But when a person’s spiritual power grows and when their hearts begin opening, then they have a real responsibility. The problem with our society today is that it is set up to ensure that we take as little responsibility for ourselves as possible. We are habituated to always giving our power away to others. This leads to a culture of blame and passing the buck. It is the result, as I just said, of not enough consciousness or too much un –consciousness, which in turn breeds greed, selfishness and fear.
Q. So you are suggesting that a shift to a place of greater consciousness and greater compassion, which you say is required if our world is to ‘save itself’, happens more with spiritual people than religious people?
SBB. I am suggesting that it can happen in the life of anyone who works on themselves to release their deeper human nature which I believe contains many wonderful ingredients that tend to not be found in the person who does not engage in this kind of work. The seeker, whether he stands outside religion or inside it, must understand two things: firstly, that it is his humanity that is important, not what religion he happens to subscribe to, and secondly, that if his humanity is to emerge, it has to be worked for. It is not ‘a given’ that you and I will be naturally wise, loving and mindful. We have to discover how to cultivate these aspects of ourselves and also have the courage to confront what in us may stand in the way. There may be a lot of resistance. And this is a big challenge. Being genuinely spiritual takes work.
What I am interested in is spiritual values, and not all religious people hold spiritual values. For example, those who hate people of different religions or who wish to kill others who do not see the world in the same way that they do, may be religious, but to my mind they are not spiritual. Of course, many religious people are deeply spiritual and open-hearted and allow themselves to be guided by a deeper part of themselves . So anyhow, for the purposes of this talk, I am not interested in whether a seeker happens to be a Christian, a Jew or a Hindu, whether they are a Muslim or a Buddhist or nothing at all. I am not interested in whether they like to worship in a temple, a mosque or a church or out in nature or even on horseback (where one client once told me was where she felt closest to God!) What is important to me and what I see as being the seekers’ core challenge, is: how consistent one is able to be in one’s commitment to truth, how effective one is able to be in awakening to that divine, unitive being that lies within the core of each of us and through which we may connect to the very heart of life itself. . In fact, I will quote from something which His Holiness the Dalai Lama recently said.
‘ Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit – such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony – which brings happiness to both self and others…’
He went on to add – and this is the important bit;….
‘There is no reason why the individual should not develop these, even to a high degree, without recourse to any religious or metaphysical belief system. This is why I sometimes say that religion is something we can perhaps do without. What we cannot do without are these basic spiritual qualities.’
This echoes what another Tibetan Buddhist Lama , Thubten Yeshe, also said.
‘To completely understand one’s own psychology, oneself, one’s own physics, I call this Universal Education…In Buddhism we have an incredible arrangement, a universal education beginning at birth until death…I feel these things could be put in a universal language. Give up religion. Give up Buddhism. Go beyond the Buddhism. Put the essential aspect of the philosophy into scientific language. This I feel is my aim. We need a new education for a new world. Because all the education is no longer up to date for the present intelligent people.’
Q. This sums up your viewpoint?
Q. So you are anti-religious then?
SBB. I think I have made it clear; I am interested in spirituality. When people ask me what religion I am, I reply that I am drawn to the deep wisdom that is shared by all the great world religions. I tell them that I have been touched by different spiritual teachers who come from different traditions, that I am comfortable in the presence of people of different religions, that I feel comfortable in all sacred places, but that personally, I cannot say that I am part of any tradition.. Yes, as a boy, I was brought up a Christian and have obviously been influenced by Christianity, but I am also very moved by Buddhist thought and by the Sufi way and one of my major teachers was a Hindu. And yes, I pray to Jesus but I also call upon other enlightened teachers to help me. And increasingly I am finding more and more people who feel the same way, and who are more interested in allowing themselves to be touched by spirit than worrying about what form or what methodology is required to have this come about. For example, I have had far deeper connections with the divine in deserts and mountains than in churches, and when I take people on sacred retreats, those are the kinds of places I take them to. We all need different transformational catalysts, and many of us, like myself, need pure, wild and natural things around ourselves to remind us of our own natural, wild pure self, and nothing is more natural than nature. When I am out in wild nature, I am much more of a space for the divine to communicate with me….
Q. …..Then when you are sitting in a church?
EMERGENCE OF A NEW SPIRITUAL ORDER
I believe that all aspiring spiritual seekers today must understand something of the times that they are doing their seeking in, and one of the first things to realise is that, despite, or perhaps even because of, the many crises that abound in all arenas of life, a new spiritual ‘zeitgeist’ is in the air, a new spiritual order is wanting to emerge on the planet, and that it is essentially being ‘birthed’ through the seeker, that is, through those people today the world over, who experience a genuine impulse to evolve and be the best kind of person they could be.
As the seeker begins to journey more deeply into themselves, they are challenged to sense how this new ‘spirit of our times’ seems to want to manifest in their personal lives and what to do to best co-operate with it. This is so important. Today, the seeker needs to be forward, not backward, looking, and perhaps, if he or she is not part of any particular tradition, the advantages are that, one, they are freer to explore whatever it is that can best help them with their journeying at any time, and secondly, it is easier to avoid becoming stuck in potentially outmoded attitudes to spirituality which may be both irrelevant and detrimental to the free spirit.
Q. Yes. You spoke of the fact that transformation is not a ‘given and that there was a need for inner work if transformation is to come about.
SBB. Absolutely. And in this context, the seeker must understand that there are many different ways for him or her (I’ll in future refer to the seeker as ‘he’ for convenience’s sake) to work on themselves if they wish to open up their spiritual sensibilities. Inner work is always determined by what the seeker’s particular path is, where he is along it and what he happens to be encountering in his life at any particular time. I stress again: I don’t think ‘God cares’ what religion we belong to or how many holy scriptures we can quote from. I think God is much more interested in how human we are becoming, how much we are able to express human qualities in our daily lives and how much we are therefore able to contribute to the health and well being of our world. What is important is that the seeker be sincere and that he has his spiritual journeying be a central and integral part of his life.
Q. You are suggesting the seeker walk his talk.
SBB. Absolutely. Saying clever things about love, for instance, doesn’t necessarily imply we are especially loving. However, being loving to others, thinking in a loving way – that is what is important. And it does not happen overnight.
Q. Could you define spirituality a bit more precisely for me?
SBB. I think I will leave this task to the late U Thant who used to be the Secretary-General to the United Nations, as the following words are the best description I know.
‘Spirituality is a state of connectedness to life. It is an experience of being, belonging and caring. It is sensitivity and compassion, joy and hope. It is the harmony between the innermost life and the outer life, or the life of the world and the life universal. It is the supreme comprehension of life in time and space, a tuning of the inner person with the great mysteries and secrets that are all around us. It is the belief in the goodness of life and the possibility for each person to contribute goodness to it. It is the belief in life as part of the eternal stream of time and that each of us came from somewhere and is destined somewhere, but without such belief, there could be no prayer, no peace, no meditation and no happiness.’
Q. Beautiful words. And linking the personal with the universal. And no mention of religion!
THE CHALLENGES OF THE SEEKER IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Q. Do you think the same principles apply if one is a Seeker on the path today as opposed to say, fifty years ago?
SBB. The same spiritual principles apply. They are timeless. What changes, of course, is the environment or the culture that the seeker is operating in. I think we are all faced with more challenges today, than, say, half a century ago and life is more complicated. Also, we are facing more serious crises. Thus our spirituality needs to be incorporated with all the many changes that are taking place in our world, especially technological ones. In addition, there are far more people ‘hearing the call’ than there were, say half a century ago. And while the seeker is still viewed as a bit of an oddball in many circles, he is not seen as being ‘completely mad’, which tended to be the attitude in the past. I remember in the late 60’s, when I was embarking on my spiritual journey, talking about love and peace, studying yoga and meditation, being vegetarian and being interested in things like wind power and ‘alternative medicine’ ( today it is complimentary medicine!) and ‘raising our awareness’ – I remember a lot of people thinking I was completely mad! And that was painful.
Also, we are living in more of a ‘global age’ than we were half a century ago and so our spirituality is becoming globalised or planetised – and I use these words in the sense that today our planet is being included much more in our ‘spiritual thinking’ . In part, this is because all the many problems that were ‘beginning’ half a century ago, have now worsened, and people are saying to themselves ‘What is the point of trying to know God if the environment we are living in collapses around us or if we blow ourselves up. The two things need to be linked up.’ Certainly the idea of an eco-warrior never existed until quite recently.
One of the major differences then, is that today, spiritual seekers are much more involved with their world and with social issues than in the past. Fifty years ago, the seeker was much more on a personal journey of self-discovery. In the fifties, for example, there was no environmental movement. Global warming wasn’t an issue. Globalisation wasn’t an issue. In other words, many Seekers are realising that recognising themselves as being part of the larger whole is not merely a nice abstract ‘spiritual concept’; rather it is choosing to be who one really is . Therefore the aim of ascending into our universal human identity ( which for many seekers, is high up on their agenda) is not ‘adding something on’; it is actually realising our true nature. In other words, the idea of our ‘having a duty towards our fellow humans and our planet’ is not separate from honouring the gradual emergence of our ‘deeper human us’. Simply put, we – or you and I – are them and they are us . We are not separate from the person seated opposite us in the tube!
I am not saying that this realisation didn’t exist in the past, only that it is more explicit today. More Seekers are beginning to ‘get this’ in their bellies and hearts as opposed to it being an interesting idea located in their heads! Also, today, at the start of the twenty-first century, because our world situation is that much more precarious , the seeker is challenged with having more dimensions of life to try to integrate, more responsibilities to be mindful of. Many more advanced seekers today, for example, report experiencing themselves very specifically as being part of ‘the voice of Gaia’, our Mother Earth – part of her thinking and feeling, part of her consciousness. They recognise that as Gaia is evolving, that they, as aspects of her body-mind, are being propelled along with her. So yes, today the scope is bigger, the range of operation is greater. The seeker is ultimately involved in social, human-collective and global and, in some instances, cosmic, as well as personal issues. But I stress that this does not happen immediately as a person embarks on the path. The journey is composed of many different stages that the Seeker needs to go through and complete A whole lot of preparatory work is needed before a seeker is ready to ‘take on’ this ‘larger universal responsibility.’
Q. But there is still a lot on the Seeker’s plate who is just starting out on the path.
SBB. Absolutely. There is another issue too, that makes our challenges today all the greater, and that is the issue of time. We have all got to ‘hurry up with it’, for if our planet is to have any chance of surviving, a whole lot of shifts need to happen quickly, which in turn means that the seeker has to do a lot of speedy transforming. There is no time for dilly dallying. In the past, this did not apply, and the seeker could take his time. Now he cannot. Dr James Lovelock, the inventor of the |Gaia hypothesis, for example, has recently hypothesised that , due to our unwise ways, humanity has now gone beyond the point of no return – global warming cannot now be averted – and it is simply a question of our surviving the destruction. Personally, I am not as pessimistic, but it shows the new and urgent nature of our challenge. In the past, the spiritual seeker could think about adopting new, planet-friendly lifestyles. Today, he is absolutely compelled to do so. I stress again: our talk absolutely has to be walked.
I also think that there exists a connection between the crisis situation we are all in today, and this ‘speeding up’ of the whole evolutionary process. Bearing in mind what I said at the start, namely that only transformed men and women can create a better world, we can say that this makes for a powerful incentive today to wish to be in such a position. World pain is evoking a powerful transformational impulse in certain segments of humanity. At one level, the problems of our world are the problems created by the fact of our ‘evolutionary incompleteness’- the fact that so many of us have not advanced beyond the stage of being identified with our egoic ‘mind set and the whole lack of humanity which this engenders. People are realising this much more deeply than it was realised, say, fifty years ago.
THE EGO ISSUE
Q. Could you define exactly what you mean by the egoic vision?
SBB. I said egoic mind set. Ego has no vision. That is just the problem. Ego makes us feel separate, disconnected from others and thus insecure and primarily out for our own survival.
Q. Would you say that the ‘worldview’ of America under George Bush today personifies this mind set?
SBB. It is a good example of the distorted ego, yes. In fact , the whole Neocon perspective is totally egotistical, totally centred around what is perceived to be in America’s own self interest. The ‘new world order’ according to Bush has nothing to do with thinking about what might best serve the well being of our planet, the larger world community and what role the great nation of America might have to play in this arena. Quite the opposite. The Bush world view is totally un-spiritual. In fact, Bush is a good example of someone who is fervently religious but completely un-spiritual. In no way is he in touch with what we can call ‘the soul of America’ or the ‘higher vision’ for his country, and therefore able to see his great nation as having an important unifying role to play in the world. In fact, this absence of any understanding of what the ‘larger whole’ needs, excellently characterises the inherent ‘small-mindedness’ of ego, and so long as a person or a nation is solely possessed by their egoic identity and has no desire to recognise that anything might exist beyond it, then there is very little room for anything deeper or more spiritual to emerge.
Q. I see.
SBB. The whole Bush world view with all the violence and dissimulation which it engenders, is a prime example of what needs to crumble and die if we are to have a better world come into being .The Bulgarian Master Peter Deunov, talked about the need for a new ‘culture of Love’ to emerge, a culture where humanity would operate from a place of recognising the common human ground we all share despite our differences. Well, if this new culture is to emerge, it can only be brought into being by men and women who are themselves coming from love, that is, who will have worked on opening their hearts and realising their own essentially unitive nature.
Q. As opposed to coming from ego?
SBB. Exactly. And one of the biggest challenges for all Seekers today is the ego challenge .
Q. It seems as if the seeker’s task today is monumental. So much to do and so little time to do it in.
SBB. It may seem like that but in fact it is not like that. Each seeker is challenged to do what his soul bequeathment is. And this is what we need to discern. No one can do everything and if we feel we should, then it is probably our egos speaking., Part of my little contribution, for example, is through the spoken and written word. It is my challenge to give myself enough time and space to do this kind of work. Not to be an eco-warrior or a musician or an activist. I’ll leave that up to others. Actually, in my next dialogue, we will look at the many different spiritual paths that exist. This is helpful as each of us has a very different kind of spiritual path to tread, and it is important that we recognise what it is and therefore engage in the kind of activities that are right for us – and not, as I said, feel we need to do it all! Because we can’t!
There is another important factor to be considered here and this factor I’ll call ‘spiritual help’. There is a tremendous amount of this kind of help available to us at this time. Our predicament as a species is so dire that this is evoking a great deal of assistance from the higher spiritual worlds. In fact, we can say that these ‘higher worlds’ are drawing much closer to us at this time, and that this is considerably helping to speed up our spiritual unfolding.
Q. Spiritual help. Higher worlds drawing closer. I’m lost here. Please explain.
SBB. Remember I said that we all live in a multidimensional universe, and that the spiritual seeker, unlike ‘normal man’, is engaged in trying to open the doors to reach into these other worlds of being?
SBB. Well, he does this because he realises that his true, deeper nature is to be found in these other dimensions of existence. They are both inside and outside of us. OK. We can say that other, very highly evolved beings – beings of light – beings who don’t have bodies as we do, beings who may have been great Masters and Saints in prior earthly incarnations – ‘live’ or have their prime focus of existence, in these higher dimensions, and these beings are, we can say, the lieutenants of God. Because they have realised their own God consciousness and therefore are one with God, they can help carry out the will of God and try to communicate that intention to us. We can say that they are aware of the ‘cosmic plan’ – or the plan for the human race existing, if you like, in the mind and heart of God and are able to ‘step down’ that information and make it communicable to the seeker. These helping forces then, assist us by transmitting spiritual thoughts to us; they support the seeker with his inner work. And to the extent that we are ‘awake’ to their frequencies – and this is very important, if we are not on their wavelength, we won’t receive any ‘transmission’ – so they will inspire us with visions of what a new culture of love might look like and how best to bring it into expression.
Q. But you say we need to be ‘tuned’ into them.
SBB. Yes. To be clear or ‘static free’ enough inside ourselves, as I said, to hear. And the more we reach out in our awareness to ask for their support, the more we draw them close to us.
Q. So the person not interested in their awakening, or ‘normal man’, as you would put it, is presumably not touched by these beings of light?
SBB. On the whole, yes. Normal man, or egoically-centred man(man not consciously on a quest) has probably not developed a frequency in himself that allows him to ‘vibrate with’ these helping forces. Therefore, he is not aware of them. So whether we receive this special help or not, depends a great deal upon where our awareness happens to be focussed at any time. Are we ‘tuned’ into the spiritual worlds or are we only focussed on our own little me first/egoic reality? As an analogy, we can say that there are many channels on television but if our set is only programmed to pick up a few of them, then that is all we will pick up. Because we don’t pick up the other channels does not mean they don’t exist.
Q. Any more you can say about these beings of light?
SBB. They are given different names in the esoteric texts. Some call them the Spiritual Hierarchy, others the Masters of Wisdom. The late John Bennett referred to them as the ‘Hidden Directorate.’ I like to call them our unseen helpers and to stress again that because of world need, they have come much closer to us, therefore making it much easier for us – especially if, as I said, we consciously call upon their help, which we can do in our prayers and meditations – to make progress in our spiritual endeavours.
In addition, each of us have our own personal spirit guides and angelic presences that we can also call upon for assistance if we want. Often, we don’t receive their support because we do not ask for it. Just because we cannot see these presences doesn’t mean they do not exist.
Q. So we need to ask for help?
SBB. Yes. Ask and ye shall receive. If we don’t believe, then we can just throw up requesting thoughts. ‘ Spirit guides. I am not sure if you exist but if you do, please come close to me; please help me, please guide me and give me courage and insight…’
LIVING AT A TIME OF A SPIRITUAL RENAISSANCE
Q. Thank you, that is interesting. May I ask you this? The times we are living in have been described by certain people as a Spiritual Renaissance. Do you agree?
SBB. Very much so. That is why it is such a great privilege to be doing our spiritual seeking at this particular moment in our human history, as we are living at the dawning of something very profound and very cosmic. Whereas the first Renaissance which was born in Italy, and mainly centred itself in Europe, was about the emergence of our individuality from the dark ages of medievalism, this ‘second Renaissance’ which is happening all over the planet, is all about our awakening, as I mentioned earlier, beyond the ‘dark ages’ of our individuality to a new and deeper identification with ourselves as universal and ultimately as cosmic beings. And it is behind all the many ‘new impulses’ or innovations taking place in every single field of human endeavour. It is also one of the main reasons why there is so much chaos and confusion around, for in order to have innovation, many of our old, outmoded forms are needing to ‘die’! To quote Tennyson (from his poem on the death of King Arthur): ‘The old order changeth, yielding place to new.’ This is what we are all living through today.
Q. The collapse of the old order?
SBB. Yes, socially, politically, economically, and inside ourselves personally. And the Seeker today, alive at the cusp of this new ‘Copernican Revolution’, is the midwife of this innovation. In other words, it is you and I, as we reach up and out to spirit and try to intuit the new ideas as they ‘come down’ into incarnation –who are challenged to find the new forms to house the new spirit, to create the new bottles for the new wine. A big challenge. Is this clear?
Q. It is.
NEW AGE’ SPIRITUALITY
Q. I am imagining that when you talk of this new, non-religious spirituality, you are referring to what is commonly known as New Age spirituality?
SBB. No, I am not referring to new age spirituality. Just because we happen to be living at a time when a new age is being born and an old one is dying, does not make all non-religious spirituality ‘New Age.’ Let me quote you what David Tacey in ‘The Spirituality Revolution’ says about The New Age.
‘What is called the ‘New Age’, he suggests, ‘ Is a kind of parody of the new world about to be born. The New Age, as this term is currently used, is frequently an exploitation of the new public interest in the spirit, rather than a creative response to it. Because the spirituality revolution is rising from below, and not from above, it is vulnerable to commercial manipulation and unscrupulous interest…’ He goes on to say that ‘We have to be alert at every turn to possible abuse, violation and distortion of the spiritual principle…There has been a tendency to lump everything spiritual into the category ‘New Age’ ……’
I wouldn’t be quite as harsh. I’d say that the New Age represents a kind of ‘primary-school’ spirituality, which some seekers, en route to greater depth, need temporarily to pass through. The new age is exciting or glamorous spirituality; it’s often about what I’ll even call an egotisation of the sacred. This spirituality tends to be exotic; it tends to include a fascination with phenomena, with the latest glamorous, bearded guru , or the latest gadget or process to make you feel good.
Q. This is bad?.
SBB. No. It is not bad. It just is. It’s a stage some of us pass through. And it is not without benefit. Look at it this way: some would-be seekers who are still very ego-identified, would not be drawn towards spirituality at all unless it was presented with a glossy cover and sugar-coated. And it may be that through tasting a superficial spirituality, one may later be drawn to something more substantial, which, initially, one had not been ready for .
Q. That’s an interesting perspective.
SBB. It is just an opinion. I am suggesting that the new age is a particular stage that some seekers ( not all) may need to pass through, whereby, not yet ready to move beyond ego identification, they have access to a ‘domain of being’ that can be used to make them feel better, bolster up their ego image. The commercialisation that Tacey speaks of, is simply one aspect of its dark side. The New Age is not only commercial.
Q. But we elect for it, you say, because we are not yet ready for something deeper?
SBB. Exactly. We cannot run, spiritually, before we can walk. The spiritual worlds need to be entered into gradually and if we are not yet very deep, then depth spirituality will not be for us. Here, however, the challenge is for us not to become hooked into the new age’s commercialisation or the belief that spirituality should be exotic, and so remain fixated into it, when in fact one needs to move on beyond it. The truth is that real spirituality is not glamorous at all, in fact the deeper we go, the more ‘ordinary’ it may feel, but so long as we need the pizzazz, we won’t be drawn to it.
That said, one of the great benefits of New Age spirituality is that it focuses a lot on the positive; it can help remind us that our true state is an abundant one, and if this has to begin to be experienced at an egoic level, then so be it. There is a possibility later of the idea of abundance shifting to a subtler level. But can you see how this might be liberating for those Seekers – and there are a whole lot of them – who find themselves mired in self criticism and thinking about themselves in a negative way?
Q. I can. A lot of people think about themselves very negatively..
CHOOSING THE POSITIVE
SBB. Exactly. New age spirituality, therefore, can help some people not take themselves so heavily, which certainly is a characteristic of many traditional religions, and which can often produce, in my opinion, pretty grim and humourless kinds of people, as if being ‘close to God’ means you ‘should’ be heavy, unhealthy and suffer and sacrifice yourself all the time! If these characteristics featured strongly in the religiosity of our past, I don’t think they should of our future. It is not what the new zeitgeist is all about. What did Teilhard de Chardin once say? He said: ‘Joy is a sign of the presence of God.’ I believe that. If we can learn to feel joy as a basic ingredient in our lives, it is much easier to face pain and not run away from it; it becomes much easier to confront the dark side of life.
Q. And you feel the new age can help prepare us for this?
SBB. Potentially, yes. Indeed, a lot of new age spirituality focuses on our consciously choosing states of greater joy and well being. This is not ‘being indulgent’ and hedonistic. On the contrary. Most people fall into indulgence simply as a respite for not enjoying life! The so-called ‘playboy’ is generally a repressed person who actually may not enjoy himself as much as is believed! Also, there is a myth that we don’t evolve through joy. I don’t subscribe to this. The only reason that many of us don’t grow when we feel good is that it can , if we allow it, make us ‘go to sleep’ again! In other words, we can get lazy , whereas often when we’re in pain, we may have little alternative but to sharpen up.
I therefore think one of the seekers’ great challenges today is to remember to choose joy and happiness and at the same time, remember to stay wakeful and sharp. And for this we need to be doing plenty of work on ourselves, observing ourselves, staying in touch with what is going on with ourselves at all times, doing our best not to repress anything that we happen to be experiencing. We don’t feel joy by repressing our sadness. Joy often comes through our fully experiencing the counter emotions , thus allowing them to pass through us and beyond us.
As I said earlier on, this is precisely what tends not to happen with many traditional religions, where people don’t really ‘work on themselves’ and where, instead of owning and facing their shadow or dark sides, they often ‘strive to be good’ by trying to ‘kill off’ evil, that is, they repress their dark side via will power. And this, of course, never works. The disowned evil, instead of being transformed – metabolised – is instead projected outside of ourselves onto others.
SBB. Precisely. If this is the case, we need to be on the alert as it can potentially carry us back to our past as opposed to forward to our future, as many of us today still carry strong memories of our Judeo-Christian repressed past, where crucifixion was seen as superior to resurrection, where suffering was regarded as a prime virtue to be cultivated, and where guilt was strong and martyrdom often regarded as evidence of ‘high spiritual attainment’! We especially see this being acted out in many of the Fundamentalist traditions today, where certain extremists place prefer to court death as opposed to celebrating life .
Q. I presume then, that the New Spirituality does not include Fundamentalism?
SBB. You presume right. All Fundamentalisms, no matter what religious denomination, look back to the past. They are all about repression. The ‘devil’ is always outside them, never within, so there is never any taking responsibility for one’s own shadow. Let me quote you again what Tacey has said.
‘The regressive appeal of the religious fundamentalists has to be taken seriously at this time. After September 11th…all of us should be concerned about the rising tide of fundamentalism, especially within the three monotheisms: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. In the contemporary world, where so much is open and uncertain, where traditions have been shaken or overturned….there is a strong desire for absolute certainty, religious security and nostalgic traditionalism….Fundamentalisms offer us a parodic version of our need to turn back to the past, only here the turn back is a full-blown regression, a deliberate and systematic retreat from the demands and revolutions of the modern period. This is not going back in order to move forward, but going back to escape the tensions and complexities of a difficult present…….Fundamentalism also supplies a distorted version of the past: its past is largely invented, a projection of regressive social values and anti-modern perspectives into an imagined former era. In the same way that the new Age seeks to ape our spiritual future, so fundamentalism seeks to mimic our past.’
Q. I see.
SBB. Fundamentalism is all about what can happen when a spiritual impulse gets hijacked by a fearful and somewhat wounded ego.
Q. So what advice do you give to the seeker about the New Age and Fundamentalism?
SBB. About the new age, I would say that if ingredients of it attract you, go for it. But keep your eyes open; be mindful of its dark and manipulative side and do not stay seduced by its glamours and so overstay your time in this domain.. When you feel your emotional life is stronger and you feel better, it may then be time to move on. Regarding Fundamentalism, stay away. More than anything else today, this distorted and fanatical impulse threatens to destroy and dehumanise anything and everything that is beautiful, loving and sacred in our world.
DEFINING THE NEW SPIRITUALITY
Q. OK. You have said what you don’t like about the old spirituality. How would you define the new spirituality?
SBB. My vision is of a spirituality needed for the very complex times we are living in, and I see this as being a spirituality that celebrates our whole being, a spirituality where we are challenged to take all of who we are – all parts and aspects of ourselves – to God, and not leave some parts of us on the shelf as not being ‘god-like’ enough. In other words, a spirituality of fullness and wholeness, a spirituality where eros and agape can dance in harmony together, where male and female and Appollo and Dionysius can begin to integrate, a spirituality challenging us to be the fullest human being we can be and where we can allow ourselves to move beyond the many dualities of good and bad, high, and low, right or wrong!
I see this new spirituality as being a life-befriending one .It has a reverence for everything on this planet. It challenges the seeker to be a friend – a true and loyal friend – to all of life : animal, vegetable and mineral as well as human. This spirituality is one that is tolerant of all human differences and respects our shared human unity. It accepts homosexuality. It celebrates women. It respects human rights. It honours children. It is a spirituality of love and compassion, a spirituality of kindness, integrity, intelligence and awe. Nothing in life is to be denied and the aim is to discover the soul or the mystery and beauty in all that is, be it in ourselves, other people, our work, nature, whatever.
And unless our vocation is to be that of a nun or a monk, in which case it is natural for us to be cloistered away, we don’t run from the part of life that I have referred to as the ‘normal or real world’. Instead, the seeker operates from within it. He faces civilisation and its discontents. He sees it as being there to challenge him. He seeks to be ‘In it but not of it’, as Gurdjieff would say. He does not, as in the past, avoid materiality, rather he recognises that it is important to have this side of his life work and that he needs to discover its spiritual face. And if the seeker encounters the forces of untruth or darkness, he looks them directly in the eye; trying to find the light in the darkness, the truth in the untruth.
This new spirituality, as I have been stressing, needs to be one of embodiment; it needs to be talked and walked, smelt and felt, breathed, laughed and celebrated. It needs to exist in our bones and in our cells and in our sex life and in our work life and be celebrated in all our relationships with life. It must reach into us as a parent or a son or a daughter or a spouse and must be trans-national. We may be a citizen of Italy or Russia and we respect our country of origin and we seek to embody something of the soul of our nation. But we do not take refuge in that identity for we realise that we also have a wider identity that also needs respecting, namely, that of being a citizen of our planet and ultimately of our cosmos. That , very briefly, is the new spirituality I espouse .
Q. I presume that when you talk of embodiment , you mean that we also include our bodies, that they also ‘accompany’ us on our transformational journey.
SBB. Very much so, in contrast to many traditional religions which have often tended to exclude or even vilify them. For example, saints of the past were only ‘allowed’ to be holy from the neck up and only had haloes drawn around their heads. Today, the seeker has to realise that not only must he not exclude his body from his spiritual endeavours but that an integral part of his becoming whole is that he is also works to purify and strengthen it. Unless it becomes purged of toxins, unless it becomes strong and supple with its cellular intelligence being consciously activated, the seeker will have difficulty processing the high-frequency vibrations of this new spiritual dispensation. And to the extent that we consciously allow spiritual light to flow through our bodies, they will be resistant to many of the new viruses that are prevalent in the world today. This is why it is so important that the seeker really takes care of his physicals health, eats properly, exercises properly, takes time out to fast, and, if he feels so moved, engages in activities like yoga and tai chi, all of which strengthen his body’s subtle intelligence.
The seeker is also of course, challenged to work with his emotions and his intellect to ensure that his deeper essence, as it emerges, is reflected through them. The Indian sage Sri Aurobindo talked about the need for man to evolve a ‘higher mind’ which he referred to as the Supramental awareness. This higher mind gradually comes into being as the seeker opens up to deeper spiritual understandings and is able, via meditation, to quieten what in the East is often referred to as the ‘monkey mind’, or that part of our mentality that is always restless and jumping from one thought to another.
Q. An activity that presumably stops us going deeper.
SBB. Yes. Peacefulness of being is a prime requisite if we are to embrace our spiritual depths. Another thing that the serious seeker has to realise, if he is to commit to living a more authentic spiritual life, is that certain features of his old lifestyle which may militate against this, may need to be let go of. This may not be necessary at the beginning of the seeker’s journey, but it will be later on as his process deepens. In all likelihood, as more dimensions of life begin opening up for him, the seeker may find himself becoming increasingly estranged from many of his old habit-patterns as well as from certain old friends whose values and attitudes may no longer be aligned with the new direction that he is now finding himself headed.
Q. So, despite what you said about the new spirituality not being about sacrifice, it seems that the opposite is the case . Surely there is not a lot of joy in giving up one’s old friends and old pursuits!
SBB. Actually, the opposite is the case. There is a saying in India:’ When the fruit is ripe it falls off the tree,’ meaning as a person transforms , they find that they no longer want to participate in many of the activities which in the past used to delight them. These begin to drop away quite naturally, like a snake shedding its skin. And the same holds true of certain old friends, as the seeker finds that he now requires a deeper kind of nourishing which perhaps they cannot give them. And so a distance grows. Yes, there may be comfort in our past simply because of its familiarity, but the truth is that as we evolve, a lot of the things which we used to desire, lose their allure. In my own case, for example, in the past the superficial life used to delight me . It gave me pleasure to try to hang out with the ‘in crowd’ and engage in small talk with glamorous people . I loved all that jazz! It was where I was focussed and the level I used to live at. As I began embracing a more spiritual path, this began to drop away quite quickly. It became a huge relief to no longer desire all this superficial paraphernalia. Instead, I found myself moved to live a simpler life – eat simpler and feel moved to engage with people who were genuine and aware, and where our dialogue could be more substantial. It was much more fun and energising for me.
Q. So no sacrifice?
SBB. No. None at all. In fact, the opposite is true. It would be a sacrifice to return to my old, high-consuming life! I think that today I enjoy myself more than I used to because now very small things can give me a great deal of pleasure. Living in a simpler way or having a less complicated life, is actually a blessing. It does not mean I dress in sackcloth and ashes, only live on wheat grass juice and never party or enjoy going out for a good meal! In fact the opposite is true. Only I enjoy more with less. As my creative life deepens, ( and embracing depth spirituality always does this for us) I find that less and less am I in need of being entertained. And it is such a freedom not trying to keep up with the Jones’. Today, because I am able to live by embracing a few more dimensions of life, I am able to have more quality and require less quantity and this frees me from all that ‘status anxiety’ that is so prevalent in our existing culture.
Q. Your value system has shifted.
SBB. Yes. And the shift is a total-being shift. It’s not just an intellectual one. Intellectual shifts are seldom ever embodied. That is why so few people make the transition to a simpler, less consumer-ish way of living simply as a result of knowing it would be a good idea and is necessary for our human survival. It does not happen because our being is still attached to, or addicted to, our old ways of living. If we try to give something up that we still hanker for, then that is a sacrifice. If I still yearned to be in with the in crowd, but didn’t allow myself to because I thought it ‘bad’ or ‘unspiritual’, then I’d simply be in denial.
Q. Can you tell me please how this ‘fuller life’ you speak of, ties in with what you said earlier about facing our dark side?
SBB. Yes. We humans are rather like an iceberg, where only a tiny part is visible above water, and the vaster part lies submerged – in shadow. If we wish to be whole, we need to be able to reclaim more of who we are , that is, work at learning to be conscious of and to integrate, all sorts of aspects of ourselves that we are still unconscious of. In a subsequent talk, I explore in great detail how we can effectively engage in this shadow work .
Q. From everything you say, however, it is clear to me that being a seeker is not always a comfortable occupation. I can now better understand the wisdom of that remark ‘Ignorance is Bliss.’
SBB. I would question whether ignorance really is bliss or merely a state of numbness where pain is not present. But you are absolutely correct about the discomfort. Trying to ‘go for truth’, trying to live an awake life, trying to break out of old comfort zones that the seeker realises can be entrapping to his free spirit – this does not always make for comfortable living. But who said life should always be comfortable or that it’s comfortable being comfortable all the time! I think one can die of excess comfort as no effort is ever required! Comfort and consciousness are not especially close bed-fellows! As such, the seeker must sometimes be prepared for discomfort. And sometimes for sorrow as well. For example, there is the condition known as ‘the Dark Night of the Soul’ which I will be discussing at length in other talks, where the seeker goes into a very deep and dark part of his shadow and may feel incredibly bereft and abandoned by God .But the flip side of all this is the huge joy and aliveness that comes out of trying to live an aware and awake life. Often this joy can be felt right in the middle of discomfort. The joy is in feeling awake!
Q. As you mentioned earlier, it can be painful when the seeker feels seen as a bit of an oddball.
SBB. Or, conversely, not seen at all. This tends to be more irksome at the start of the journey, when the seeker does not yet have that much confidence in his spirituality and may not yet have a secure sense of self.
Q. So why is he seen as an oddball?
SBB. Because what I’ll simply call the conventional or ‘normal’ viewpoint tends to be a narrow one. This mindset cannot see the point of ‘spirituality’. And what it cannot understand, is deemed either not to exist or to be weird and silly. In addition, the normal person may, deep-down, feel unsure about his life, may secretly feel it is a bit empty and so may envy the seeker for seeming to possess something that he feels he hasn’t, and in his envy, may wish to put him down …….
But the challenges are bigger than that. In fact the kind of challenges facing a seeker trying to evolve in a ‘normal’ world – trying to be ‘In it but not of it’ – can be summed up by these remarks by an old friend of mine who has quite recently began embracing the spiritual path. Like many seekers, she needs to support herself financially by working in the conventional world, and currently she is going through a lot of stress and angst not because of anything pathological but as a result of her expanding very quickly.(In later talks, I will be expanding upon the particular problems that speedy growth can engender.) Basically, she needs space: space to rest, space away from her busy outer life so she can consolidate herself inwardly. She needs time off.
But she cannot get this. ’Imagine’, she said to me the other day, ‘If I went up to my boss and said ‘Look, I am doing a lot of inner growth work, I’m going through a spiritual emergency so please give me time off just to be!’ He would sack me on the spot.’ So the whole process of the seeker’s being able to integrate their inner and their outer worlds can be difficult especially if their outer existence needs to be earned out of a work culture that is pretty ‘bottom line.’
Q. Which is one reason why we need your ‘culture of Love’.
THE EGO ISSUE
Q. Could you say a little more about the ego, which you touched on earlier and gave the example of American foreign policy as an illustration of the distorted ego in action. You suggested that the ego issue is probably the biggest spiritual challenge the seeker faces.
SBB. I think it probably is.
Q. So let me ask you this. One of the main purposes of being on a path, many spiritual teachers tell us, is to transcend ego, to become egoless, to get rid of ego. Ego is the great enemy. I imagine you concur with this opinion?
SBB. I am afraid I do not. Do you remember my saying that the new spirituality is about respecting all aspects of ourselves? What this means is that we don’t turn parts of ourselves into our enemy. If we do, then those parts of ourselves will see us as the enemy in return and will retaliate. And living a life where we are always fighting with our ego in the name of ‘being spiritual’, is not really a very effective way to be. Just because someone or something or some part of ourselves is in opposition to us, does not necessarily make them the enemy. Look at party politics or sport. The whole point of having a strong opposition is that it can evoke the best out of one. Labour need a strong Tory party to oppose them, and in sport, often having an excellent opponent can help raise one’s game. In my own life, for example, it was essentially the pain that my own ego or my own ‘opposition’ brought me, that actually took me to want to be on a path and find ‘something else – a better way to live – in the first place. Maybe if I had not been in emotional pain around my ego issues, I might never have been drawn to want to go deeper.
SBB. So at this level, my ego can be said to be my friend ‘inviting’ me to move beyond it. So OK. I say that we all need some ego. Ego allows us also to do a lot of things that we do unconsciously, such as drive a car, for example. It connects us, at one level, to the doing of practical things in the normal three-dimensional space-time world. And the name of the ‘spiritual game’ is not to deny or exclude this world, but gradually to become less and less dominated by it, so that we can learn to be in it but live out of a deep and sacred place inside us where we feel increasingly connected to our source and where the egoic part of us becomes our servant not our master..
Q. You mean Be in it but not be of it?
SBB. |Exactly. However, the ego doesn’t just come into a subservient state just like that. It takes time and a lot of work, and, interestingly, we cannot begin to let go ego dominance until we have first developed a strong ego. This is why, for many seekers, the ‘new age’ phase of using spirituality to shore up ego and help us feel better about ourselves, can often be an important one. In other words, we cannot surrender something we have never properly evolved, and ego development is a very integral part of our human development. People who have never gone through a proper ego development stage and who have weak or wounded egos – they are the dysfunctional ones; they are our sociopaths and psychopaths, our real weirdoes. Loners who murder people generally have insufficient ego development.
Q. So it is not just a question of becoming egoless?
SBB. No. The ego needs to dissolve at the right time and if that happens prematurely, before it is properly developed, it can be detrimental. The seeker cannot miss out stages in their human development. They cannot try to attain the ‘higher states’ until they will first have established a secure basic structure. Or rather, we do so at our peril! So basically, we need first of all to have a relatively well-functioning ego, before we can think not of getting rid of it – for that is a strategy that never works with ego, ego is far too canny for that – but rather of distancing ourselves from it and giving it less and less energy. The less ego is ‘fed’ in all the ways we all like to feed it, the more it gradually diminishes in size .
Q. So we starve it.
SBB. Precisely. And letting go certain attributes of our old lifestyles is one of the main ways that we do this. This is why I stress that a lifestyle shift is so important if we wish to take our spiritual development seriously. The less our ego self is fed, the more we can begin identifying ourselves with the emergence of a ‘higher-order’, non-egoic self, that is focussed on all the things which I have been describing the new spirituality to be about. The point is that our egos were never intended to drive the ship of our being along, or certainly not as it begins to evolve and deepen. Egos, you see, are not connected to our source ; they have no wholistic sense and consequently they lack the breadth or wisdom to know what is appropriate. Just as the janitor of a corporation has an important job seeing that the building is looked after but is not intended to sit in the chairman’s seat and dictate the policy of the company ( he lacks the overall capacity to do so) so the ego has the job of seeing that certain areas of our unconscious life are adequately performed….
Q. But its role is not to determine how we live our lives.
Q. But our egos don’t like to diminish in power inside us, do they?
SBB. No. They will do anything not to lose their hold over us. They will tell us spiritual work is nonsense; they will do their utmost to keep us caught up in our emotional dramas and focussed on the superficial. And if that doesn’t work, then they will try to worm their way into our spirituality. We know this is happening when we begin to think we are more spiritual than anyone else and we alone, have a great mission to accomplish in saving the world!
Q. So inflation is symptomatic of ego?
SBB. Yes. And so is deflation. So basically, we all need to be very watchful as far as our egos are concerned, as very often, when we think we have beaten them and our guard goes down, hey presto, ego will suddenly re-assert itself again. It is rather like that ‘baddie’ character in the film ‘The Terminator’. Each time the ‘goodie’ acted by Schwarzenegger manages to pulverise him, his atoms always seems capable of re-assembling themselves again!
Q. It takes a lot of killing then?
SBB. No it cannot be killed. It gradually fades, as I said, as we put more and more focus on the sacred, on the living of a harmonious, peaceful, loving and honourable life. I personally find that the more I try to live from my heart and be’ heart centred’, the less space I give my ego. I don’t think: ‘I am not feeding my ego’. Rather I think ‘I am enjoying trying to live with more awareness and joy!’ That is how we let ego go.
What is very important is that we always bear in mind that who we are is not our egos and that all the many images we have of ourselves as being this kind of person or that – a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’, a socialite or a wit or whatever – are simply egoic self-perceptions. If we have not evolved to that place and we still believe that who we are, are the images we have of ourselves, and these self images happen to get crushed (for one reason or another), because we think that this is who we are, we also will feel crushed. We won’t feel crushed if we will have become less ego identified. Is that clear?
SBB. Ram Dass put it like this. ‘Before we can become a nobody’( that is, someone with an ego identity subsumed into a larger self identity) ‘We need first to become a somebody ,’ that is, we need to have built up a healthy self image. And a lot of new age work and psychotherapy and self improvement work is, as I said, focussed in this arena. Simply put, often the seeker’s ego is weak or wounded, and unless the necessary ‘repair work’ is done and the seeker feels ‘better about themselves’, they are not going to be healthy enough to begin trying to shift into realms of being beyond the ego. A lot of my work with people on the path is focussed on ego repair work.
Q. So ego really is that canny?
SBB. Yes. It can wear any amount of disguises. It can pretend not to espouse separation and as I said, can even feign holiness! However, it will always be pseudo holiness, for the ego only understands separation. It has no unitive understanding, can never see the radiant beauty inherent within all things. That is why, to the extent that we are predominantly ego identified, we will always experience a degree of alienation and separation, which in turn will make us feel fearful, envious and insecure – experiencing life to be a struggle – thus leading us to all those kinds of destructive behaviours we tend to engage in to try to overcome those feelings. And, at one level, this is why our world doesn’t work. So long as humanity operates from an egoic perspective, we will remain fixated in our old lifestyles and values and attitudes which are currently threatening our very survival. This is why it is so imperative that, as a species, we learn to evolve new, trans-egoic ways of being.
Q. So how do we know when we are ‘ready’ to begin reducing our egoity? How do we know when our egos are strong or healthy enough – if indeed, egos can be healthy – to begin the diminishing process?
SBB. We will know as we gradually begin observing that many of our old egoic games begin to give us less and less satisfaction. In other words, we will know that we are ready for something deeper when we become aware of how much we play power games and manipulative games and one-upmanship games with others and how ghastly they are! We will know we are ready for something new when suddenly it doesn’t matter what others think of us, and when we feel moved to engage in a project not merely to ‘look good’ or be considered clever, but because we know that it is important and can contribute to the quality of life.
Q. How have you dealt with ego in your own life?
SBB. I am still dealing with it, every day and it has been – and it still is – a big, big challenge. I try to be vigilant. I also find that the more I choose to bring my awareness into being who I really am, and so try to live my life from the perspective of being made in the image of God (which all of us are) that is, honour the divine me and remember that this is who I am and that I am not all the images that I and others might have of me – I find that the more I consciously focus on these things, so my need for egoic food diminishes. But the ego habit is a well entrenched one and it needs constant vigilance as well as constant non-judgement when we fall back, at times, into ego( as we all will!) We just need to observe it and so be better acquainted with how and where in us it might suddenly pop up again, and when it does, try to stand back and ‘catch’ ourselves in time!
I find I am especially tested most when I am around egotistical people, for a) we pick up their vibrations, and b) the egoically identified person doesn’t really acknowledge any other way of being, that is, they have no other lens but an egoic one, with which to relate to us.. Returning to Gurdjieff remark again about our being challenged to ‘Be in the world but not of it’, another interpretation is that we are challenged to live in a world predominantly run by egoic values, yet to try not to allow ourselves to come from or to subscribe to, those values. Two important catalysts that have helped me were, one, doing heart work – heart work to the ego is rather like the cross to the vampire!( I explain heart work in depth in a subsequent dialogue), and two, being in the presence of a genuine Spiritual Master, someone who will have fully awakened to their divine Selfhood and in whose cosmic awesomeness, ego is totally subsumed.
THE ROLE OF THE SPIRITUAL MASTER
Q. Let me take this opportunity then, to move on and ask you about the role of the Spiritual Master. Some Masters have said that one cannot make real progress without them and that all seekers require an enlightened guru to assist them. I presume you agree?
SBB. This is a vast topic and as I will also be spending a whole day talking about spiritual Masters , I will only comment briefly here and mainly in relation to the topic of ego.
Yes, the spiritual Master, if he or she is genuine and the right one for us – this is important, not all of us are necessary in sync with someone simply because they may be enlightened – can help us a lot with our spiritual journey as they can ‘take on’ our karma and do some of the purifying that we need to do, for us. The genuine Master can also ‘lend’ us his spiritual power, can temporarily connect us to a higher source of love and knowledge, in so doing, can help awaken our spiritual potential more quickly. While in their presence, we can be more who we really are; and this can help dissolve our ego-boundaried self, and allow us the direct experience of a self that is more fully expanded. In part, this is because the Master’s soul force can very powerfully help to dismember that part of ourselves that ego, above all, loves attaching itself to, namely our monkey mind. If we are mentally identified, this can sometimes be quite a traumatic experience , but the end result is to engender a state of being which Buddhists call ‘no mind’ where we are ‘emptied’ of all the dross and trivia that generally our minds tend to be so full of.
Q. Are you suggesting that the emptier our minds are of this dross, the less hooks we have for ego to attach itself to?
SBB. Basically yes, so long as you understand that I am not talking of empty in terms of being melancholy and vacuous but in terms of our being divested of what often makes us feel like that, namely, being full of emotional and mental ‘clutter’.
Q. And you are suggesting that the guru’s presence can seem, as it were, to ‘suck’ this stuff out of us?
SBB. That is one way of looking at it, yes. But there are also a whole host of challenges which the seeker faces if he is apprenticed to a Master. For example, initially the student needs to decide if He is genuine and if he is the ‘right one’ for him (some masters are genuine but not appropriate for us). And sometimes he can make a mistake and the process can be painful. Then, if he has chosen the right Master, he needs to be able to surrender and, quite literally, give over his being to him and this involves a high degree of trust, which again can be difficult in our so-called ‘self-sufficient’ culture. Also, the whole speeding up of the transformational process which can be possible in the presence of a master, can be highly traumatic. Irina Tweedie, in her book Chasm of Fire, describes in detail the ‘burning process’ she went through at the hands of her Sufi guru. So yes, the whole process of ego dissolution can certainly be accelerated if you are with someone who is both compatible and self-realised, and I very much recommend that if a student feels drawn to a particular spiritual teacher – and they feel ready for the experience – that they take up the challenge and follow their intuition. But do not feel that the process will be pain free or that Masters are necessary for all students on the path or that they will do all the work for us. That is all I will say about them here.
The student can also learn a lot from reading spiritual literature, especially the great classics, for, if written by awakened people, an energetic charge or a certain spiritual transmission can be carried through the written (or spoken) word. I, for example, have received a lot as a result of reading the great spiritual classic ‘I am That’ by Sri Nisargadata Maharaj. There are also many teaching courses, written down in books, with lists of exercises for the student to do, that can greatly help him. The Course of Miracles is a particularly useful programme which has done much to help people move beyond ego-identification.
The last thing I will say about the ego is that Spirit or God or the Great Loving Intelligence could not care a damn about our egoic issues, which is one reason why the seeker can sometimes feel as if they are being abandoned by God. By this I mean that God doesn’t appear to be concerned with whether we feel good or are comfortable; God is interested only in our soul development and it may sometimes be that to this end, God will sometimes ‘blast Himself’ into our nicely ordered ‘personality lives’, absolutely pulverising them and decimating the best – designed life plans to smithereens. Ram Dass documents this process beautifully in his book ‘Still Here’ where he discusses how his sudden and unexpected stroke – which eventually led to his attaining a higher level of awareness and stillness – initially shattered all his well-laid-out intentions. He explains how he first had to go through a period of feeling this was unfair of God (Why me/ Poor me) until eventually he came to see that it was all part of the plan for the deeper unfurling of his soul life, and actually necessary to bring him closer to ‘His Beloved’(God). He called this process ‘fierce grace’. So if fierce grace strikes the seeker in some way, initially plunging him into a very dark space and creating total havoc for him, it may not be because the seeker is being abandoned by God; it may be because he is greatly beloved by him.
Q. Greatly beloved!
SBB. Yes. As we all are greatly beloved by God, as we all exist within God’s heart. What is needed is that we wake up to realise this. Many of us can be so defended, so rigid, so trapped in our own egoic ‘comfort zones’, that only the action of fierce grace taking the form of some radical shock or other, is powerful enough to shatter our defences and in so doing, help bring us closer to ourselves. And sometimes our souls are in deep need of this. (In small ways, in my own life, I have had experiences of this fierce grace in action , and it has always been exceedingly challenging for me.)
Q. Our personalities don’t like this; they like to be comfortable!
SBB. Absolutely. I said earlier that comfort is associated with unconsciousness. The seeker at times, needs to be willing to give up his addiction to being comfortable. Transformation happens most effectively on the edge, and the most successful seekers are those who are not afraid, at times, to live on the edge and, if needs be, dive head first into the unknown.
Q. What exactly do you mean by ‘ live on the edge?’
SBB. I mean take risks sometimes; do something you have never done before; sometimes be prepared to inconvenience your personal life in order to complete some spiritual task. Let yourself move out of your old, familiar tracks. Occasionally travel right to the other end of the world if you feel some important part of knowledge that cannot be accessed anywhere else, lies there. That kind of thing. Give up needing to feel so ‘safe’ all twenty-four hours of the day!
SPIRITUAL CHALLENGERS FOR BEGINNERS
Q. You have been talking a lot about challenges for more advanced seekers. I’m a beginner seeker. What kinds of challenges does the person face who is just starting out on the spiritual journey?
SBB. Well, finding out if you are on the right path for you (a lot of us choose inappropriate ones for ourselves to begin with); finding out what being on a path actually means ( we can’t know until we are on it) and what it seems to ask of you. The seeker’s challenges are always different, depending upon what kind of path one is on, what one’s karma is, how evolved one is and what particular challenges one happens to be facing in one’s life at any particular time. But as a generalisation we can say that often, at the start of our journey, we don’t quite know why we are on it. We may have romantic illusions about spirituality; we may not understand just how ‘unfree’ or constricted we may be, and this is because we have never known anything else. Often, it is only when higher-order dimensional spaces begin opening up for us that we start to realise what a clenched and conditioned state we have been living in for most of our lives. So there are plenty of challenges. Many of the challenges I’ve spoken of thus far also apply to the beginner.
Q. What were your main challenges when you first embraced your path?
SBB. I didn’t embrace it. That came later. At first, I trod it rather gingerly. But initially I think I came face to face with my many restrictions and limitations. Not unlike Scrooge being taken on his guided journey back into his meanness, a great deal of my initial ‘voyaging’ involved me having to confront my wounded and insecure ego self; I got to see how puffed up, artificial, insecure, greedy and self-centred I was, how little I really knew myself or understood life, or really cared for anyone or anything outside myself. Just as the outgoing tide allows us to see the rubbish lying dumped on the beach (all is invisible when the tide is in) so it was as if my psyche was purposefully drawing back on itself to inform me how emotionally ‘junk-ridden I was’.
Q. I suppose this was painful to see?
SBB. Yes it was. In my case, I had lived with so many illusions and delusions about myself for so long. Far from making me feel good, which I had initially thought was the purpose of being on a path, it in fact served to illuminate my dark side or my Shadow. It seemed that the spiritual light that I seemed to be drawing towards me, was in fact revealing to me things about myself that I was wholly in the dark about. And our Shadow, as you know, is that part of ourselves which we don’t know about; it is the ‘other side’, as it were, of our nature, the bit of us we are least identified with. So my first challenges were shadow challenges. I came to see why Jung believed that understanding our dark side was one of the most important ingredients of transformational work. ‘We don’t become enlightened by sitting in the light’ (i.e., ignoring our Shadow) he told us, ‘but by going into the dark.’ He might have added ‘Because it is in our dark side where so much of our light or our spiritual potential lies hidden!
Q. So initially, a lot of your journeying took you into your underworld?
SBB. Interesting you use that word. But the answer is yes. I saw I had lived mainly on the surface of life, in my normal, ‘above-ground’ world, and had never asked myself deeper questions about what my life meant, why I was here, what my purpose was, if my life had a deeper symbolic aspect to it. I realised I had little connection to the worlds of my unconscious and that that was why I was so ignorant about the various agendas that propelled me to do the things I did. And these ‘other parts’ of myself that I was beginning now to come into contact with – they were not necessarily bad ; they were just parts of myself I had been in the dark about and which, if I was to be more fully human, and have more mastery in my life – be less ‘at the effect’ of my outer environment all the time – I realised I needed to learn more about.
Q. So being on a spiritual journey is really all about coming to know more about ourselves.
SBB. At one level, absolutely. Egoic man has very little idea who he really is. The point is that, as part of the whole, each of us also is the whole. In Plato’s words: ‘Man , know thyself and thou shalt know the whole universe.’ People who are enlightened – that is, who truly know themselves – don’t just talk about being a part of God but of actually being one with God. From their perspective, there is only oneness.
So what is especially challenging – and here I’m shifting the issue to a more advanced level again – is that this gradual ‘outing’ of our dark side does not just take place at a personal level; it also occurs at a universal level, and eventually, as I mentioned, at a cosmic level. As the seeker begins ‘outing’ the deeper dimensions of himself, he begins seeing the world from a new perspective – more the way it really is. In other words, as the deeper more sacred us is gradually revealed, we are able to perceive the deeper, more sacred part of life; we are able to see life from a perspective that no longer reduces it, (ego is behind all reductionism) but rather , begins revealing its truth. And from this place, we realise that everything about life has a great purpose.
And there is a beautiful and a painful aspect of this insight. The beauty is that we see the inherent luminescence in all of God’s creation, the pain is that we see what we human beings, in our ignorance, have done with this beauty, how we have mangled it all up. I remember a particular time in my journeying when all seven of the seven ‘deadly sins’ were paraded to me by my psyche; I came to see that not only was I prey to all of them, but that they also loomed large in the world and were behind why our world was in the state it is in.
Q. I imagine one of the big challenges of being on a path includes our being able to integrate these kinds of insights as they gradually are revealed to us, into our daily lives?
SBB. Yes, and we must remember too, that as seekers, we are continually shifting the focus of where, inside ourselves, we are ‘centred’ at any time. In other words, as we grow beyond being so ego-centred, and a new, ‘higher-order’ centre of being begins developing inside our hearts, all aspects of our life now need integrating from this new level. What used to be ‘true’ for us in the past, may no longer be so and we must remember this.
Q. This is because we are beginning to view ourselves and our world from a new perspective?
SBB. Exactly. And here I’ll remind you again, that the name of the transformational game should never be about repressing or, for that matter, trying to transcend (rise above) our so-called ‘less acceptable parts’; rather it should be about our working with them so that these parts evolve along with the rest of us. This is what brings wholeness. In other words, the aim should never be to leave our past behind by cutting ourselves off from it – indeed, if we try to do so without it being transformed, it will always haunt us. Rather, in the context of the spirit of ‘befriending-ness’ I mentioned earlier, the seeker may need to return to his past, time and time again perhaps, so that he is then able to ‘bring it up’ with him into his present, in order that he may move in an increasingly unencumbered way, into his future .
Q. Which creates the ‘wholistic spirituality’ you mentioned earlier.
SBB. Yes. So instead of in the past, the seeker cutting off from his lust or his sloth or his vanity, in order to try to be ‘good’, as it were ( these traits being seen as ‘bad’) resulting in him projecting these qualities out onto others, he instead works with them transformationally.
BEYOND THE ROMANTIC MYTH
Q. OK. Let us shift tack again. Before I heard you speak, I confess that I had rather romantic ideas of the spiritual path. I had images of the spiritual hero setting off on a wonderfully exciting journey with his sword in hand, encountering all kinds of dragons, triumphing over them and finding the Holy Grail in the end. Now, I am not so sure.
SBB. Good. That is a fairy tale perception of the spiritual journey. In actuality, there is no guarantee about anything on the path. Just because we are on a spiritual path, is no indication we will necessarily find ourselves or conquer our dragons, which in the West, stand for our egos. Also, it depends what kind of hero one wants to be. If it is the egoic hero, about whom Ernst Becker in his book, Escape from Evil, wrote that ‘Most of the evil that happens in the world, comes from man wanting to be a hero!, one might not get too far spiritually. If on the other hand, we wish to be a genuine ‘spiritual hero’- someone who doesn’t think they are a hero, someone who simply seeks to be conscious of what has been unconscious in their life, and who tries to live with integrity and balance – one might get a little further!
I think that just like you, a lot of us start out with a somewhat romanticised idea of what the spiritual path entails. Certainly New Age spirituality encourages this. Possibly there is nothing wrong with a bit of rose coloured vision when we embark on something new. However, I hope that you may have gleaned by what I have said thus far, that being on a path in a genuine way, is not especially romantic or easy. And, as we have also just seen, God never seems to be too interested in the well being of our egoic lives! Yes, the Holy Grail or the Pearl beyond Price or Enlightenment or whatever we wish to call’ it’, beckons us continually, but I stress once more: if the seeker wants to make progress, he must never let himself go back to sleep; he must always be listening and working on himself. There are no free gifts or short cuts. And if grace is to be bestowed upon us, we will need to work hard for it. So we must never delude ourselves that the going won’t at times be tough, that we won’t have to struggle at times, that we won’t go through periods of feeling confused, alone, despairing, lost and at times feeling abandoned by that very source that we are working so hard to come closer to.
The experience of having oneself be ‘stripped apart’ (which is what happened, as we saw, with Ram Dass) can be especially painful. But often this has to happen if we are to divest ourselves of what we are not. We are all so full of our ‘stuff ‘ – the stuff of our fears, delusions, limitations, negative beliefs, etc, and all this needs to be let go of or burned away, if we really are to get to our core essence. And this process can be tough as our egos ( as we have seen) do not want to give up that easily. Thus the seeker has to learn to be as adapt at the process of dying, that is, of allowing his old self to crumble away, as he is at the process of living. Indeed, if one reads the autobiographies of significant spiritual people, we will see that no matter how noble of soul they were, they all went through periods of hardship and resistance, periods of feeling lost and confused, and often feeling horrendously misunderstood!
Q. Can you say more about the experience of not feeling understood and why this is so often the experience of the seeker?
SBB. The seeker must understand that there is a big gap there between himself and normal, ego-centred man. Not that the seeker is better or superior; it is rather that he is trying to live according to a different agenda. He is about transformation, whereas normal man is predominantly about maintaining the status quo.. Thus the seeker – simply by his very nature, simply by being the way he is – is something of a threat to the traditional culture and to those who are more concerned with the surfaces of life than with exploring its depths. Also, it is easier for someone who is more evolved to understand someone who is less evolved, than the other way around. This is simply because while the former will have had experience of the latter’s state , the same is not true vice versa. This is made clear in that lovely little Sufi saying ‘When the pick-pocket meets the saint, all he sees are his pockets!’
And one of the main weapons that gets used against someone or something we don’t understand or which may subtly threaten us, is ridicule or belittlement. This is not painful if the seeker has already developed a powerful sense of spiritual selfhood or enjoys a good support system around him and is well able to defend himself. But it can be a serious problem if he is just starting out and feels a little insecure and feels there is no one near him to lend support.
Q. I see.
SBB. I heard this story about the Tibetan Buddhist Master, Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche being asked to give a lecture about the meaning of the spiritual path. Everyone was in the auditorium eagerly awaiting his arrival. As he came to the podium, his first words were: ‘OK. You can all leave now; it’s fine. You can have your money back’.
‘What do you mean, sir, we can have our money back?’ a voice shouted from the audience, ‘I have come a long way to hear you speak.’
‘I was just giving you the chance to leave’, replied the Rimpoche, ‘For once you are committed to the path, there is no turning back, so don’t venture on it unless you are really committed!’ ‘Being on a path is analogous to licking honey off a razor’s edge’.
And I think that is a brilliant analogy. There are traps and threats and challenges at every stage of the journey.
So please do not get too stuck in superficial, romantic ideas about the spiritual journey and believe it is only about love and light and abundance and heavenly music and soft voices and sitting on mountain tops in the sun in a state of perpetual bliss All this may be part of the truth, yes, but not the whole truth. Also the seeker needs to learn how to protect himself against negative forces which may at times come his way. There are many prayers and rituals which he can learn which can be very helpful. In this context, I recommend William Bloom’s book on Spiritual protection.
EARNING OUR INNER LIVING
Q. The journey is really all about our learning to earn our inner living, isn’t it?
SBB. That is an interesting way to put it. Yes, I suppose so, at one level. The seeker earns his inner living so he can do his outer living more effectively, as our outer lives are always the result of what is going on – how integrated we are, how evolved we are – internally. Therefore, unless the seeker is willing to engage consciously with his internal-ness, with the process of healing himself, opening up to new dimensions of himself, developing himself, quietening himself , learning to surrender to a higher power (this comes a bit later on in our journey) and serving others (most important) all of which activities, serve to draw the higher spiritual worlds or what I called the sacred helping forces closer to us, he may not advance very far along the way. As a Master once put it: ‘If we take only one step towards God, God can only take half a one towards us (and may not reach us). If we take two steps, God will take three steps (and still may not reach us) If we take four steps, God will take six towards us, and certainly will reach us.’
Q. So do some seekers not go very far because they don’t take enough steps?
SBB. Yes. That is so. Not enough earnestness. Not enough initiative. Playing at being spiritual. Being too New Agey for too long. All that. All of our being needs to be engaged in the quest and one reason why some seekers don’t get very far is that they only engage with part of themselves, say only with their intellect. I once had someone come to me and ask if reading spiritual books alone would make him spiritual. I said it would help, but was not enough.
Q. Reading a book about love may not necessarily make us more loving.
SBB. Exactly my point. Spiritual knowledge, to be effective, needs to penetrate deep into the fibres of our being – not just remain in our intellect. Also, we don’t advance just by attending the odd ‘ spiritual workshop’ if we happen to be feeling a little down. Yes, our appetite for a deeper life might be whetted, but unless it goes deeper, nothing solid takes root.. The seeker needs to realise that, especially in the initial stages, a lot of grafting work needs to be done and he cannot hope to establish a genuine relationship with God or truth or soul, if this is ignored. It doesn’t matter whether he prefers to relate to a God within or one outside of himself, it is the whole connecting process that is so important.
Q. And which needs working on.
Q. What are other reasons why we don’t make progress?
SBB. Another reason – and this is a major one – is that we do not work sufficiently with our emotional life ; we don’t take enough care to see that this part of ourselves also becomes ‘ensouled’. There can be a tendency among some people on some spiritual paths to believe that emotional work is not relevant to the sacred quest and that the purpose of evolving spiritually is to become increasingly ‘dis-identified’ from this ‘less spiritual’ dimension of themselves. However, if we are wounded and immature in this arena, how can we dis-identify from something that we have not yet properly brought into being! Others believe that if they have emotional problems , that it is ‘God’s responsibility’ to heal them and all they need to do is pray!. This presupposes that ‘God the helper’ is outside and not also inside them! Neither of these strategies are effective and both look back to our past and not forward to our future.
A large part of being on a spiritual journey is the process of preparing ourselves for resurrection, that is, getting ourselves ready to ascend to a much higher or more all-encompassing state of being. Here, working with our emotions is a very integral part of this process. As this is often difficult to do on our own, it is best to work with a psychotherapist, preferably with someone with a spiritual understanding , someone who recognises that the deeper purpose of psychotherapy is actually to help a person ‘evolve’ their soul life. I would even go so far as to suggest that if the seeker thinks he can advance far along the path without, at certain periods in his life, having recourse to psychotherapy, that he may well be deluding himself. In my experience, it is positively dangerous to reach for higher spiritual states if the lower echelons of our being are not well integrated.
As I stressed earlier, if we try to transcend certain part of ourselves without first working at their integration, we simply find that we cut ourselves off from an integral part of ourselves, , turn it into an enemy and ensure that at some future date, it will return when least expected and try to chop our heads off! In other words, what the seeker must understand is that since all parts of him are interconnected , a discombobulated emotional energy field brought about by unresolved emotional traumas, may ensure that a higher or subtler state of calmer awareness which he is endeavouring to ‘cultivate’ in himself, is never properly allowed to blossom. To give a very simple example, if one is still angry with one’s own father and this anger is never worked through, it will linger on in one subconsciously and may well be projected onto God the Father, with the result that we believe that God the Father is also distant or angry with us or lets us down, or seems to ‘do to us’ whatever it was that our own flesh and blood father did. The seeker needs to realise that how God appears to behave towards him, is very much according to his beliefs and conceptions about God. As these change, so the nature of God changes!
Q. I see.
SBB. Anyhow, these are some of the reasons why, for some seekers, the going is often slow. Either they are not doing enough inner work – I know people who only ‘get holy’ for the odd weekend or only if things are going badly in their lives, (they continue along their old ways for the rest of the time) – or, conversely, they may be doing the wrong kind of inner work. (Meditation, for example, is wonderful for stilling the mind, but it won’t directly help us resolve our problems with our fathers!) Also, we must remember that if we wish to deepen our inner life, consistency is needed. Far better that we meditate or we pray a little every day, than go for months without doing any practices at all and then spend three days binging on them.
The other reason why we may seem not to get very far or to go very slowly, is that our particular journey happens to be a slow one. It takes us a long time to integrate things and let go of attachments and embrace innovation. I am a slow mover, for example, and a long time ago I’ve stopped comparing my ‘growth-rate’ with that of others. It is not through lack of trying that I move slowly. It’s more that tortoise-hood, as opposed to hare-hood, seems to be part of my character!
Q. So we need to accept ourselves the way we are.
SBB. Yes. Never compare.
Q. OK. So how do we know if we are doing enough inner work or the right kind of inner work?
SBB. A very good question and I will be answering it in detail in a subsequent talk, just on inner work. All I will say here is that often we don’t know, and that this whole area can be very problematic for many seekers, especially for those just starting out, simply because the whole idea of ‘inner work’ is not something which one is taught to do or educated into believing has value. We are more accustomed to dealing with our outer realities. What also makes inner work more difficult is that it is not particularly measurable. Hence progress is seldom easy to ascertain and often, unless we have a teacher or a guru or someone to monitor us, there is nobody to be accountable to except ourselves. We can contrast this with outer work where we generally receive training, where we tend to be monitored and where what we do is quantifiable. Also , the results of our outer-work endeavours will probably show up quite quickly, whereas with inner work, it may sometimes take a very long time – months or even years – before the fruits of our labour begin to show up.
Q. And, as you mentioned earlier, there will be resistance.
SBB. Absolutely And at particular times, this resistance can be very strong. Our egos never want us to make real inner progress.
Q. What I am seeing is how much self-discipline and self-awareness the serious, committed seeker requires.
SBB. Absolutely. And these qualities, even as they develop through the work, also need to be chosen. The more we elect to bring them forth, the more deeply entrenched within us they become. The seeker also needs to develop his will power, initially the kind of will that will permit him to keep going when things get tough and later on, the kind of will that more easily allows him to surrender to a higher will.
Q. Divine will?
SBB. Yes, that flows through all of creation but with us, in order for us fully to receive it, requires that we consciously open to it.
THE PATH AS INITIATION
A useful framework for the seeker to work with, is one where he can view his life as consisting of a series of ongoing initiations, in which he is subjected to a series of ‘spiritual tests’, which, to the extent that he ‘passes’, he is able to move to the ‘next level’, where he will also be tested accordingly. Sometimes we undergo long initiations, lasting several years; on other occasions, they are much shorter. And these tests take place in all areas of our life and all our life. They will come up in our work and in our relationships, how well we deal say, with money or our family, how much kindness or heart we bring to challenging situations. Wherever we go in the world – we are always being tested.
Q. Who is testing us?
SBB. Life is testing us. God is testing us. Our own soul or our deep Self – that divine part of us connected to God – is testing us. I think we come into the world with particular pre-ordained initiations that the soul part of us has especially chosen for us to see how well we will respond and so ‘burn up’ our karma.
Q. In the past, the spiritual neophyte would go into caves or pyramids to be subjected to spiritual tests. He would have trials by fire and water far away from the so-called ‘real world’, wouldn’t he?
SBB. Yes. And what is different today is that these tests no longer happen away from the ‘real world’; they take place in it and everything about the daily challenges of our lives constitutes the fabric of these tests. They are all about how courageous we are when times are tough, how well we deal with loss or betrayal, etc. Today, we don’t need to go into caves and pyramids to grow our spiritual muscles. It is much more that the caves and pyramids are coming out to us.
Q. Is life an initiation only for the spiritual seeker?
SBB. No. It is this way for all of us. As I just said, all of us, even if we don’t recognise it – are on our soul’s journey. The seeker, however, is conscious of it and so he can see the kind of cards that life ‘deals’ up for him at any time – whether they are lucky ones or not – from this perspective. And it can be a very liberating one, as it allows us to recognise implicit ‘meanings’ in things even when they are painful and unpleasant. For example, there was a time in my life when, in the space of a month, I experienced a woman I loved leaving me, a near-fatal illness and a huge financial loss. I cannot pretend I dealt with this situation especially bravely, but it gave me huge strength in recognising that what was happening to me was not in vain ; it had meaning and was to assist my spiritual development and bring me closer to God.
Q. Did it?
SBB. I think it did, yes. From this context, the seeker’s life is lived symbolically; everything he encounters – from the beautiful, loving essential experiences, to those of loss, illness and pain – all become grist in the mill for his transformational endeavours. So, for example, all the many different kinds of ‘opposing forces’ that we encounter, be they inside ourselves or out in the world – the struggle, say, with our greed, our addictions, the long-drawn-out illness, the difficult spouse, the problems in business, the financial difficulties, issues around trust and surrender, etc – actually exist not to take us away from ourselves but potentially to help us grow stronger and hopefully much more ourselves, much more human. And if the challenges happen to be very big, it may be that the seeker is forced to dig especially deep and ‘raise his game’, and in the process, may be able to discover whole new sources of strength, love and courage inside himself.
Q. By raise his game I presume you mean live more spiritually, move up a level in the way we live life.
SBB. I mean exactly that, yes.
Q. What if the challenges we face are too big for us?
SBB. I don’t believe life ever gives us more than we can handle. The seeker always has free will; he can give in or he can face what has to be faced and endeavour to make a virtue out of necessity. Ram Dass had that choice when he got his stroke, for example. He chose not to be a victim and to deepen his humanity instead.
Q. I see why you said that the seeker needed courage.
NOT TO RUN BEFORE WE CAN WALK
SBB We all need courage. Anyhow, just as at school we have exams to test us to see how much we know and if we are ready to move into a higher class, so the same thing can be said to take place in our spiritual lives. And, just as at school, it can be counter-productive if we either stay too long in the same old class or, conversely, if we move into a higher class without being sufficiently prepared, again the same holds true spiritually. So if, for example, we manage temporarily to enter a spiritual domain we are not yet prepared for (and this can happen in various ways, primarily through engaging in certain spiritual processes that are too advanced for the stage we are at , or taking too high a dose of a hallucinogenic drug that we have little understanding of) the result being that we open up our ‘doors of perception’ wider than we are prepared for, the consequences may at best be painful and at worst, catastrophic. Many Buddhist mandalas depict images of the wrathful deities guarding the entry into the very holy centre, and show how the dark side can, quite literally, tear us apart if we try entering truly sacred spaces without sufficient preparation and purification.
Q. Why is this so?
SBB. Because, as we have seen, light brings up the dark and brilliant light brings up very black darkness! So if we try accessing too high a frequency of spiritual light without first having developed a sufficiently strong core enabling us to process whatever deep shadow material may, as a consequence, emerge from our unconscious, we may be overwhelmed by it. I have had experiences of this earlier in my life , that is, surfacing collective shadow material that was far too terrifying for me to handle at the stage I was then at, and I was lucky to have recovered! Here, the seeker must remember that, as I stressed earlier, as part of the whole, he also is the whole. And this means that the whole of both what is both best and what is worst about humanity exists inside him. In other words, all the gods and all the demons, or the capacity to be a saint and a saddhu or a tyrant and a murderer, exists within each of us. So if we (generally unsuspectingly) delve too quickly and too deeply into the light, we may well stumble into collective shadow material that we are simply not psychically prepared to deal with. An analogy is to think of a small electrical apparatus being plugged directly into the mains with no transformer to step down the ampage. The small apparatus cannot take the charge and may explode and that is exactly what may happen to the seeker.
Q. He actually explodes?
SBB. No of course not literally.
Q. But what in effect you are saying is ‘As a seeker, take care. Be a bit cautious .’
SBB. Yes. Spiritually we should not try to run before we can walk. When our spiritual muscles are strong, then we can do all sorts of things, and it becomes possible for us to ‘take on’ very painful realms of human experience and be able to exercise a powerful transformational influence on them. In fact, this kind of work is a very integral part of the seeker’s service. It is what Jesus meant when he spoke of taking on the sins of the world. But we cannot, and we should never attempt to, ‘gobble up’ world evil before we are ready – before we will have built up a stronger heart and mind centre and dealt a little more effectively with our own shadow side.
Q. Otherwise it might gobble us up!
SBB. Precisely. At any rate, it is to avoid issues such as these that I always counsel seekers to honour their own organic emergence and never to try artificially and, most importantly, on their own, to speed up their evolution. If one does engage in some technique to quicken things up, then be sure you have someone reputable or a spiritual teacher who can effectively monitor the effects. If we fly too high too quickly, the effects can be dire. Look at what happened to Icarus! His hubris made him go too close to the sun and he came crashing down to Earth.
This is why, as seekers, we are always being challenged to examine our motives. Why am I doing this? What is behind that? And if our motives may be a little suspect at the start of our journey, as they probably will be ( perhaps we’d like to feel better, be more spiritual than other people etc) then that is not the end. (I mean, how can ego not come into the equation if that is the main part of ourselves that we are ‘living out of’ at the time.) However, if there is not less ego and greater sincerity as we begin to advance a little more, then we may really need to ask ourselves some serious questions. This is why genuine humility is such an important quality for the seeker to develop. It is the great antidote to this narcissistic and over-inflated, hyper times we are all living in.
So to return to my theme of initiation, the seeker will tend to find himself being challenged in those areas of his life that are especially relevant to what, at a soul level, he is trying to achieve for himself. At the beginning of the journey, his trials may be simple ones. Later on, when he is more advanced, they will be more challenging. So, for example, if our destiny is to be a spiritual activist out in the world, spirit may help us develop the appropriate ‘courage muscle’s by placing us at times in especially perilous situations. Conversely, if what we are being challenged to develop is the quality of patience, then we may be tested by having the pace of our life be very slow. If you remember, in the story of Job who had everything taken away from him quite suddenly – his health, his job, his social standing, his money, his friends, his family i.e., everything that was precious to him, God was testing him to see if he would curse God.
Q. Which he didn’t.
SBB. Yes. He passed the test! It was interesting, by the way, to have read in the news, at the time of that terrible Tsunami wave, that a great many people who lost everything that was precious to them , never lost their faith in God. In fact, with many of them, it grew stronger. Which is interesting.
Q. In the Bible it was said that Job was loved by God.
SBB. Yes. And this holds true for all of us. All of us are loved by God; all of us ‘live’ in God’s heart. Even those of us who have to endure great suffering at times. God did not give Job, and does not give us, a hard time because he dislikes us; God does this because he is testing us . In the case of Job, one might say that he was a highly evolved person and that his true essence was being obscured by all the ‘stuff’ around him, all the complications and grandiosities in his life. Initiation, you see, very often takes the form of something to which we are strongly identified with or attached to, being ‘removed at one level, in order to make space for something deeper to come into our lives at a whole other level. Unless we are emptied of what we are ‘full of’ – be it our selfishness, our cockiness, self-importance, vanity, pride, etc – we will be unable to come closer to God .
Q. I would imagine that many of our initiations evolve around the process of our learning to open our hearts?
SBB. Very much so, especially if the seeker is strongly on a devotional path? There is a well-known passage in ‘The Prophet by Kahil Gibran, which says it all:
‘When love beckons you’, Gibran tells us,’ Follow him, though his ways may be hard and steep. And when he speaks to you, believe in him, though his voice may shatter your dreams as the North Wind lays waste the garden. For even as love crowns you, so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth, so he is for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, so shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.’
THE CHALLENGES OF STARTING OUT ON THE PATH
Q. Surely one of the biggest initial challenges of being on a spiritual path is knowing where to begin, knowing where to go to receive instruction. Let us say that I suddenly felt a yearning to know myself better, wanted to be closer to God and I didn’t feel drawn to a particular religion, where would I go, what would I do?
SBB. You have raised an important issue. I think that just as spirit draws us towards it, or we experience some kind of ‘inner calling’, so there tend also to be certain associative triggers accompanying that calling and often synchronistic events may take place. For example, we may just ‘happen’ to bump into a friend who happens to be going to a lecture and we go along with them and it changes our life , or we ‘happen’ to be given a book that has a very significant effect on us. For example, when I first felt ‘called’, I had a friend who did yoga, and so my initial entry point into the ‘higher worlds’ was via this particular yogic tradition. I didn’t stay with yoga ( it wasn’t really my way to be a yogi!) but the importance was that it gave me a ‘spiritual entrée’. Doing certain basic practices had got my ‘spiritual muscles’ limbered up a little and that helped ‘open me’ up to the field of spirituality in general. There was now a little more ‘space’ to see what truly drew me. And this is important for the just-starting-out seeker. We need to find what is right for us, what works for us. Once the door has been opened, one is freer to pick and choose. Some seekers seem to find their way very quickly; others may need to sample many different spiritual wares and stumble around for some time, before they discover what works for them. And then , just because something works, is no guarantee that it will continue to do so…..
Q. What do you mean by this last remark?
SBB. I mean that we all need different teachings and different processes as we move up the evolutionary ladder. For example, many of the processes which I engaged in during my ‘new age’ phase to build up my self esteem, are simply not relevant to me now, where my spiritual work is much more focussed on my learning to let go of those things I built up. John Bennett, in his spiritual autobiography Witness, talked about his involvement with a spiritual teacher who instructed him in a process called the Latihan. This proved very catalytic to Bennett’s transformational process for some time – and there is a tendency when we find something that works well for us, to want to hold on to it and go on using it. This is what Bennett did. Eventually however, he discovered that not only did this process cease being effective, but it actually became counter-productive. And this can so often happen with spiritual techniques. It is not that there is anything ‘wrong’ with the technique. It is just that one has obtained from it what was needed and will have shifted to a new level where it ceases to be relevant.
When, many years ago, my teacher Papaji arrived at the Sri Ramana Maharshi ashram to study, he spoke of how he was attached to doing a particular meditational practice that he had done for many years. Sri Ramana Maharshi suggested that he could now stop it, that now something else was needed. He made his point by asking him if he still needed to keep the taxi that took him from the airport to his ashram, explaining that while it had been relevant for the purposes of getting him there, it was now superfluous. This is a significant point, and the seeker not only needs to be on the look out for what feels right for him but also remember to not be attached to any particular method, no matter how effective it is. He must also bear in mind that just because something might work very well for others and that a particular teaching or a particular teacher has a great ‘opening effect’ on them, does not necessarily mean it will have the same effect on him!
THE IMPORTANCE OF FESTIVALS AND FINDING THE CORRECT-LEVEL TEACHER
Today, if we are just starting out on our quest, it can be helpful to visit some of the many Spiritual Festivals which are now springing up all over the place. Some see these in a rather derogatory light, as ‘mere spiritual supermarkets’. I think this is unfair. Yes, there is a certain element of commercialism and new age-ery there, but it is also helpful to know just what is out there in the field of spirituality and this we can find out in these festivals. Indeed, if one uses a bit of discernment, it is not that difficult to sniff out the more authentic wares and weed out the wackier offerings. When I was first starting out on my quest, I went to many such gatherings and heard important lectures by many extremely interesting people and encountered many fascinating growth-programmes and as a result, made many significant connections and had my eyes and ears opened in many new and important ways.
What is important to understand is not only that there are many different kinds of spiritual paths and spiritual teachings, but also many different levels and ways of walking these different paths and of receiving these teachings. Each path represents a particular way to ‘find’ God. Thus the seeker is challenged not only to discover a teaching or a way that is appropriate for him, but also to engage with it at a level that is also appropriate. Obviously, it is of no use to get stuck into something that is too rudimentary, any more than it is helpful to try to embrace a path that, even if it feels right, is at a level that he is not yet ready for. One of the main symptoms of the latter is when we feel we don’t really feel connected to the teacher or the teaching, feel bored by it, feel it doesn’t seem to hold a lot of meaning for us.
I remember I once spent a whole month studying with a renowned Tibetan Buddhist teacher, said to be one of the wisest around. I liked him. I liked my fellow students, but it felt I got very little from it. Later I learned from another teacher that not only were those particular Buddhist teachings not my path, but even if they had been, the particular form that was being taught by this man was so ‘advanced’, that I would probably not have been ready to receive them even if they had been my path.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING AWAKE
So we return to your original question: how do we know where to go for what is right for us? The answer is that, to begin with, we don’t, and therefore may need to do a lot of initial questing around and perhaps go up a few blind alleys. We may begin, for example, by reading about spirituality. If the material we choose are the great spiritual classics, it can be a great help, for, as I said earlier, they can serve to connect us to the particular vibrations of the Masters who originally wrote them and this can be very transformational. In fact, I recommend one begins one’s quest by reading as many books as possible and if a particular teacher or teaching or approach interests you, then try it out. But practice caution. Remember that there are a lot of bogus teachers and cults around who might take advantage of your vulnerability. So I would suggest that initially, if you are not quite sure – about a teacher or a teaching – that you merely dip your toes in and find out a little bit more about them before deciding whether or not you want to go deeper . Also, beware if the teacher tries to hurry you along or asks you for money! He might not be what he seems!
But it is not only the bogus teachers that the starting-out seeker needs to be cautious about. He also needs to be cautious about the genuine article! Earlier I spoke of the importance of apprenticing ourselves to a genuine spiritual teacher and of the potentially important role they can play in our evolutionary unfurling. It may be, however, that this is not always a wise option when we are just starting out on our quest, unless, of course, we are already pretty awake! As I was someone who, spiritually, was pretty asleep when I started out on my journey, I will share from my own experiences the kind of drawbacks that can happen with a great Master.
MY EARLY EXPERIENCES WITH MASTERS
I began’ properly’ on my quest after I had left university aged twenty-three. I had finished my stint of yoga ( which had not addressed my psychological well being) and I was still pretty emotionally immature and narcissistically wounded. (The narcissist compensates for not feeling good about themselves by being inflated.) Consequently, I believed I was so special that only the crème de la crème of spiritual teachers would be good enough for the great and saintly me! And while the sage I ‘chose’ certainly belonged to a path that was right for me ( I got that bit right, and much later in my life, I felt moved to seek advice from Masters from a similar lineage), level wise, he was light years beyond me. The place that he ‘came from’, or the cosmic perspective that constituted his ‘normal reality’, was one that at this stage in my development, I had not the remotest understanding of. As a result, this wise and noble soul not only did me very little good; in fact he set me back quite a lot
Q. How so?
SBB. Let me tell you. What I needed at the time were not the lofty and impersonal sermons on cosmic and unconditional love that this wise man gave me (which I couldn’t really understand and which made me feel even more inadequate). What I needed at that stage was personal, practical help to deal with my own emotional turmoil around romantic love and generally ‘getting my life together’! In a word, I was not ready for a ‘great Master’. My ego still needed healing and building up. Thus, it did me very little good being told, as I frequently was, that all my problems stemmed from me not being egoless enough! Basically, I needed someone with a greater psychological orientation, someone not so distant, someone who was closer to my level and who could therefore support me with the many personal muddles I was going through. I was not yet ready to be’ properly spiritual’; I was still at a stage of having to prepare myself for that. The fault was not with this Master. He was doing his ‘advanced teaching’ in his own impersonal way.. The mistake was mine ; the kindergarten student who needs to know what two and three make, should not seek out the great Professor of Mathematics for the answer!
Q. I see.
SBB. Later on, living in California, I then made a contrary mistake; namely, having found someone at the level I needed help, and who, as a psychotherapist, assisted me to address a lot of my problems in ways that were important to me – he was wonderful with my narcissistic wounding – I then ‘overstayed’ my time with him. Instead of moving into deeper soul realms of exploration, which, due to his help, I was now readier to embrace, I was instead kept fiddling about at the same old egoic levels, continually re-arranging my personality.
SBB. Because he couldn’t come with me. He didn’t himself have experience at the levels I now needed to be exploring. In other words, while the enlightened guru had engaged with me at levels I was not ready for, this psychotherapist was holding me back at levels that I was now ready to transcend. I am not saying that now all my personality/ego stuff was resolved. Of course not. But I was ready to work with my old issues in a much deeper way. The psychotherapist couldn’t help me with this, however, because he hadn’t himself moved to those levels.
And I cite these examples to show just how much the seeker is challenged to take responsibility not only for how he works but also with whom he chooses to work with at any time.
Q. So what happened?
SBB. I broke away from the psychotherapist, spent a few years questing on my own and then found a wonderful person to work with, who was able superbly to bridge the worlds of psychology and spirituality. I worked with this man on and off for many, many years, and he not only mentored me, but through him I learned to bridge these two realities in my own work with people. In saying this, I don’t mean to imply in any way that I reached the lofty impersonal heights of this great master. But what I could do was better understand people’s spiritual issues from a psychological viewpoint and also see the spiritual perspective shining through their psychological issues. What I do now perhaps, is help prepare people to be readier for an enlightened Master to take them through the really deep stages. In other words, I deliver people to the foot of the mountain in a ‘better prepared’ state so the truly awakened ‘mountain guides’ can then take them up to the top. As I will be discussing the nature of my work and the relationship between psychotherapy and spirituality in future dialogues, I won’t elaborate any further on this here.
I simply want to stress the point that if the seeker wishes for assistance, it is preferable that he find someone who is just that bit further along the path than himself, but not so far ahead as to put them out of sight. And happily today there are emerging a new brand of soul facilitators – or we can call them soul guides or spiritual educators – and I would describe myself as one – who, as trained healers and psychotherapists, are able to bridge the different worlds of the sacred and the mundane, the impersonal and the personal and so assist the aspiring seeker do the same thing.
Q. So what happens if we start out on the path and don’t find anyone at all to help us?
SBB. This is often the case with seekers, and it is not the end of the world. I cannot stress enough just how much spiritual help and guidance we can receive on our own, simply by consciously tuning into ourselves, asking for support from our ‘unseen helpers,’ spending time in nature, meditating and seeking to be quiet, and, as I said, reading books written by evolved human beings which carry powerful spiritual emanations. It may be with certain individuals, that if they receive too much outside help to start out with, that they grow reliant on it and so turn away from working at deepening their relationship with themselves , which actually is the most important sacred relationship of all.
Q. Being quiet is very important, then, for the seeker?
SBB. Very, if, that is, we want to make that deeper connection. And I define quiet as being a state of calm in which our inner dialogue is no longer churning over. When we are quiet, we are much more open to receiving subtler messages from the cosmos as well as guidance from our own angelic and spirit guides. The act of meditation, which is the best way to still our minds, is not of itself ‘spiritual’, but it leads to the development of a state of mind and heart that is spiritual.
It is important that the seeker understands that the knowledge of how to be who he really is, is actually pre-programmed inside him. Thus, he doesn’t have to ‘go anywhere’ to get it. Just as an acorn has an inner ‘instruction manual’ inside it , ‘telling it’ what to do in order to move through all the stages of growing into an oak tree, so we also have the equivalent inside us, which , if we learn to listen to ourselves, will instruct us what to do or be in order to grow into our true enlightened self.
Q. Which you said earlier we already are.
SBB. But don’t yet know it. Yes.
Q. Are you suggesting that this instruction manual is only useful if we are in the right space to listen to it?
SBB. Yes. Because otherwise it cannot get through to us and we cannot connect to it. And remember this too : this part of us is also connected to the whole of life. It regulates what is appropriate for us in the light of what is appropriate for the larger whole of life. And it will tell us all we need to know in order for us to be who we truly are, namely one with God. However, it may take time to develop this connection – to receive the truly deep messages from within ourselves. So we need to be working towards this – have our consciousness focussed on this – all the time. Obtaining spiritual knowledge is not the same as studying for a degree in History or Computer Sciences. That is all about getting our information from outside. Here, the seeker is learning to connect with the knowledge that is already within him.
Sometimes the voice of our inner instruction manual will speak to us through our dreams, sometimes through our journal writing, sometimes through our observing cloud formations, sometimes through listening to music or studying a great work of art. Sometimes, important information comes to us through the mouths of our friends, an important book or lecture, and a lot of the time when we are not thinking of anything special . As the seeker practices being more and more open to life in all its diversity, the more he is able to receive from all the many different sources that spirit may use to converse with him. Here, he also needs to understand that it is not just he who is trying to connect with spirit, but spirit is also trying to link in with him. Spirit also needs us. It is a two-way flow.
Q. I imagine it is important that the seeker be able to evaluate his progress – be able to sense where, spiritually he is – at any time?
SBB. It is hard either to evaluate our progress or know where, spiritually, we are at any time, because inner progress can never be measured pragmatically. The language of the soul generally seems to resist precise measuring! ‘Doing well spiritually’ is not necessarily about how good we feel. Indeed, there may be occasions that the seeker is making most progress when he feels at his most despairing! In other words, it is never the circumstances of our lives that determine our progress, so much as how we relate to the circumstances of our lives. If, for example, we find ourselves able to deal with tragedy and loss with equanimity and still keep our hearts open in love to the world, or if we don’t become all puffed up with pride and think ourselves superior because we have been successful in something or seem to be making a good headway in our meditation, or if we observe ourselves feeling much more full of love and compassion for long periods of time, and towards all sorts of different people, these could be small signs of progress!
So rather than try to analyse or evaluate ourselves (one of the favourite pastimes of the restless mind) it is more important that the seeker simply chooses to stay in touch with himself, that is, chooses to observe his processes, chooses to observe what is going on inside himself at any time – as in: ‘I observe myself feeling sad’ or ‘I observe myself feeling numb’ – and that he does this without judgement. Indeed, the more we learn to stay present to what is happening for us moment to moment, which requires that we learn to view ourselves much more objectively – that is, practice being in ‘observer mode’ – the more we can know what is appropriate or not appropriate for us at any time, and the more we progress. It is all about remembering to do this – remembering to stay awake, quietly, to ourselves in a non- judgemental way.
Q. Quite a challenge, all this remembering!
SBB. Yes. But an important one as consciously doing this connects us to our instruction manual. Also, if we can really develop the habit of quiet, wakeful self-observation, it can help us gradually distance ourselves from being identified with the contents of our consciousness, with what is going on in our feelings and thoughts, to instead becoming identified with who we really are as the observer of our feelings and thoughts. I stress again: who each of us really is, is not who we think we are; we are not all the images and beliefs we may have about ourselves and life ( viz. I may manifest as a white-skinned, elderly father who is left of centre who likes tribal art and can be a bit lazy and greedy at times and who likes playing tennis, but this is not who I really am.) Do you see? Who I really am, who you and all of us really are, is the Self that exists behind all the stuff that goes on in our life, and at root, the whole name of the spiritual game is to learn to live more and more out of this Self. That is one of the main difference between ourselves and the great sages. They can and they do, live all the time out of a self that they experience to be one with the Self of all life,
Q. Which, as you say, becomes increasingly possible for us to connect to, but only as our identification of ourselves as being what our egos tell us we are, begins to fade?
SBB. Precisely. So practice, as I said, giving your ego self as little food as possible; practice identifying yourself with your true self from a space of remembering that the divine spark is always within you and know that the more you focus on this realisation, the more you ignite this spark , and the more it will turn into a bright divine flame inside you. Some Masters tell us that if we were just to do this – engage all the time with the question of who we really are – who really is this ‘us’ lying behind our societally-conditioned self – that we would become enlightened! In my own process, then, I try to live out of this question as much as I am able. Far from it disconnecting me from the ordinary space-time reality world, it actually links me much closer into it, only from the perspective of knowing that I am not it and its values do not need to inform how I live my life.
Q. Tell me: what if we start out on our path and say, embrace a particular way and then find it is not right for us.
SBB. This happens all the time. If something is not right – and here we need to distinguish between whether it is really not right, or if it is right and we are avoiding something, say, running away from depth or discipline – if something is really not right, then we simply discontinue it. I told you of my month studying with the great Tibetan lama whom so many of my friends recommended so very highly. The whole experience made no impression on me. As I said, there was nothing wrong with him, or with me. His way was simply not my way. His teachings, profound though they were, did not resonate with my requirements. I simply made no more contact with this particular Buddhist lineage.
Q. And I presume you moved on?
SBB. Absolutely. And I learned better what was not my way.
Q. I still don’t know what my way is.
SBB. Be patient. If you remain quiet and sincere and stay open, things will be revealed to you in their own time. Your way doesn’t necessarily have to be something specific. Simply staying awake and observing; simply choosing to remain in your heart. That could be your way. There is a myth that when we find our true path, it will be dramatic. The opposite is more often the truth. When we find our calling , things become quieter; life’s dramas begin falling away!
Q. But you say that at different times, we require different catalysts?
SBB. Let’s change the metaphor . Let us say that depending upon where the seeker is on his journey at any time, he will require different kinds of ‘spiritual food’. Sometimes that food is music and love. (‘If music be the food of love, play on.’) Sometimes what is needed is knowledge. Sometimes we need a particular kind of healing . On other occasions we need strong direction. If you really pay attention to your inner process, it will be far more likely that you will be in exactly that place to get what you most need at the time.
I cannot emphasise enough that we continually cultivate this space of inner awareness and inner listening. It will not only tell us what we need but also what to do or where to go at any time. Sometimes we will feel drawn to engage in what I call ‘light work’ – bringing in the light or expanding our awareness ; on other occasions we will feel moved to work on our dark side. Sometimes we may need to work at healing ourselves generally, on other occasions, healing ourselves specifically. Sometimes we will need psychotherapy. At other times we will need to stop psychotherapy. Sometimes we may need to go on a pilgrimage, sometimes to meditate more, sometimes to give up doing all the things we have been doing and do absolutely nothing! Just chill out! Just self-reflect. That is also very important.
Q. Would you say then, that the purpose of being on the spiritual path is essentially to improve ourselves?
SBB. It depends on what you mean by improve. If you mean it in the sense of evolving, of becoming more fully human, then the answer is yes. But if you mean it in the sense of improving our social or our selling skills or developing a more ‘interesting personality’ or being able to do better yoga postures – things like that – the answer is no. That said, there is nothing wrong with self-improvement and sometimes it needs to happen prior to spiritual awakening if there is some facet of our character which is deficient in some way, and conspires to impair our general evolution. But ordinarily there is no guarantee that developing greater social ease ,say, or personal charm, will necessarily make us more spiritual. More charming yes, but not more spiritual. In other words, being able to stand on our head for long hours or being able to read into the future, is evidence of something special – a particular gift maybe – but it must not be mistaken for being spiritual. In my life I have been privileged to have met some wise and deeply spiritual people who have not had especially good social skills or scintillating personalities or who rated especially high on the charm-ometre!
Q. All those things are not important then?
SBB. I am not saying that. I am just saying they may not be especially relevant to our spiritual development unless our vocation involves our needing to do a lot of communication with others.
Q. So why do we feel so moved to be on a path? Why am I moved? Why were you moved x amount of years ago?
SBB. At an abstract, top/down level, we can say it is the impulse of God the one wanting to know himself more fully through all his parts. God, the one, wants all the many parts of responding to an inner calling at that level. I discuss this theme in my talk on ‘the God game’.
From a bottom/up perspective, you and I are moved to be on himself, of which you and I are included, to wake up and celebrate his unity. So we are the path simply because we want to wake up to being who we really are; we want to connect to our divine nature, to realise more of our deeper humanity; we feel horny to be the one that we really are. It feels painful being separate from the Beloved, pretending all the time to not be who we are. So we want to be liberated from this state of not being who we are. We want to discover the truth about ourselves as it is hidden under all the layers of untruth. We want to be free – not only from the many snares which our belief in our separation imprison us in, but also to be our true God self and as such be an agent for the liberation of life around us.
Q. So spiritual work then, is essentially the work of freeing ourselves and freeing others?
SBB. At one level, yes, as the freer we become, the less ‘baggage’ we carry, the clearer we are, the more light we carry and the more the quality of that light serves as a subtle illuminating presence in the environment around us. We all come into this world wounded and encumbered in one way or other – that is, with the essentially ‘divine us’ hidden under various layers of conditioning, and thus the name of the spiritual game is: are we going to remain in that ‘hidden’ state, or are we going to wake up and know that in essence we always have been one with God, and so live the kind of life that is able to celebrate that knowing. That is the big question. To be (who we truly are) or not to be !.
But in order to find ourselves, we first need to know that we are in prison ( the prison of our own ego state) and secondly, we need to understand the nature of this prison very well and be deeply motivated to wish to be free of it. If that desire is not strong enough, we will not make the requisite efforts.
A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL JOURNEY
Q. I am imagining from what you are saying, that the spiritual journey from darkness into light, is very much a linear one, that it is a gradual shift from a less evolved and more limited self to a more evolved and more expanded one.
SBB. It is a gradual shift, yes, from a more dis-unified us to an increasingly more unified us, but the journey is not linear in that not all of us exists and therefore operates at, the same level. It is therefore more accurate to talk of an up and down or a forwards and backwards and sideways journey. Some parts of us may already be more mature or developed than other parts; that is, some parts of us are already in a ‘higher class’ and need little work ( these can help elevate our less developed aspects) while other facets of us may be still very immature and need a lot of transforming. Our spiritual work will be dictated largely by the level we tend to be operating at any particular time. For example, you may encounter people with highly developed minds yet whose emotional development may have halted at the age of eight! Generally, such people, despite probably having a couple of Ph.D.’s to their name, may need to do a lot of very rudimentary ‘preparatory work’ with their emotions before they are in any way ready to think of ‘being spiritual’.
The best approach is to try to be open to what our inner knowing tells us to be aware of in ourselves or what we feel moved to explore, at any particular time. As such, we may well, even in the course of a day, move up and down the spectrum of our levels . It may be that we will spend one week focussing on our meditation (rarefied work) and the next doing psychotherapy on our relationship with our partner. (I see psychotherapy as a very integral part of spiritual work.). To give you an example of what I mean, the first time I went to Papaji’s ashram in India, it was all soul work. Psychology slipped away. No working anything out, no analysing. Weeks went past where I just tried to ‘sit’ in his powerful, quiet and illumined energy field, simply trying to be, simply endeavouring to do that thing that has always been hardest for me ( my ego loves drama!) namely, stay still!
But this activated something else, focussed my attention ‘down’ to less deep parts of my psyche. The effects of my Master’s energy field on me had been profound, and among other things, had awakened certain ‘monsters’ hitherto lurking in areas of my psyche that had hardly ever been examined . On my return to England, I found myself in such emotional turbulence that I had very little choice but to go back into Psychoanalysis (which I hadn’t done for ten years)twice a week for the next year!
Q. You needed to work on yourself at a whole other level.
SBB. Yes. A very good demonstration of the fact that, as Lao Tsu put it in the Tao te Ching, ‘Going on is going back.’ It is important to stress, however, that this going back into my emotional turbulence was not negative; rather it was brought about as a result of my connecting with very intense spiritual light. If the seeker really wishes to break through into the ‘higher reaches of his human nature,’ he will need to journey (back) much more deeply into his unconscious than will ‘normal man’. Here, he must realise that his spiritual power doesn’t merely exist ‘up there’; it also exists in his dark side, in the transformation of his personal and human-collective ‘monsters’ as they are gradually, via therapy, brought up into the light of day, so that they may be seen and worked with.
It is important to point out that the layers of the psyche that a great Master may activate in us, and those addressed in Psychoanalysis couldn’t be more different. Yet it is of little use to talk of higher or lower, or more or less, ‘spiritual’, as all levels are connected in us and all need addressing, and as we have seen, unresolved ‘rogue elements’ in us, if left untransmuted, may sabotage our best efforts. The problem with a lot of seekers, is that they can polarise on one side or the other. I have worked with people who like to stay marooned up in the light and who tell me that shadow work isn’t spiritual, and I have also had clients who seem to get overly identified with their dark sides and vainly believe that continual analysis of what is ‘wrong’ with them, will bring about right. It doesn’t, and I think both these approaches are unproductive. I believe we can only become whole if we engage in whole spectrum work and for this, we must be prepared to go wherever our intuitive knowing wishes to take us in the remembrance that, as in the yin/yang symbol, both the dark and the light are contained within each other.
I would now like to conclude by reminding ourselves once more to envision our spiritual journey as a joyful and celebratory one, and that just because it can be difficult and challenging and painful at times is never a reason for us not to see it in this light. In fact, the more our deeper self begins showing its head, the more we are reminded that our core nature is joy. Certainly for me, the whole process of confronting challenges and seeking to be increasingly more awake to my deeper human nature, is a pleasurable one. As I gradually awaken, I open to the realisation of being a tiny, weenie part of a great life purpose flowing through me yet which is so much more all encompassing than me And that I find very inspirational.
Also, if being on a path implies action and challenge, it also calls for plenty of rest and relaxation. As I emphasise in my talk ‘Living life as a Celebration’, we must ensure we make space for enjoying ourselves and doing things because they give us pleasure. To remind people of this is why, three times a year, I conduct spiritual retreats in sunny places. I think I will leave the last word with the great Bulgarian Master, Peter Deunov:
‘We find ourselves at the end of one culture and at the dawn of another which is rising, developing and already imposing itself. Humanity on Earth is going through a dark period, which the Hindus call Kali Yuga, but we are already perceiving the dawn of a new and glorious day.
From now on a radical transformation is progressively occurring in human consciousness, in man’s thoughts, feelings and actions as well as in the organisation of human society. In this way the whole of humanity is rapidly rising to a higher level in order to enter a new life. This is called the new birth and all earthly beings will be subjected to the great purification of the divine fire in order to become worthy of the new epoch.
The only thing to do now is to know how to put oneself in harmony with this wave of new life, which is descending on Earth. Every conscious and sensible man and woman must raise the vibration of their thought and refine their feelings by a constant union with God’.
Let us go for it……………………….