Care versus Provocation for Personal Development and Spiritual Growth

Care versus Provocation for Personal Development and Spiritual Growth

Right now, with covid and global warming, my concern is that people will hunker down and seek to be soothed, instead of rising to the challenge of the provocations.

 

The Russian mystic George Gurdjieff was rumoured to have hosted orgies for his normally well-behaved middle-class followers. It is said that he created a seductive atmosphere and hypnotically inducted his party guests into their orgy. Then, when they were all fully engaged in their sensual activity, he would clap his hands and shout Wake up! Wake up! Do not be animals. Be fully conscious and awake!

True story or not, it hints at a long tradition of provocative activities intended to shift people into a new state of consciousness. Wake up, he was saying. Do not be robots. You have higher consciousness.

This startling tactic recognises the usefulness of discomfort on the spiritual journey to enlightenment.

Does the usefulness of provocation and discomfort have any relevance to covid and global warming?

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I once sat in a meditation class where the teacher hit my back with a stick to correct my posture.

I have also experienced workshops where the doors were locked and there was no organisation or structure. The group stormed, normed and were expected to enter new states of detachment and awareness. Sometimes the result was a good-humoured shift. Other times just irritability.

There are provocations that are more gentle, for example in the Zen and Sufi traditions where humour, riddles and paradox are used to shift consciousness. What is the sound of one hand clapping?  is one of the most well-known.

Shortly after a stroke which paralysed one side of his body, the American hippy guru, Ram Dass, wryly commented: I now truly understand the sound of one hand clapping. He fully appreciated the tradition of provocation and paradox.

In nursing and social work, there is an appreciation too of what is sometimes called post-traumatic awakening. In my own life I have had two long and painful illnesses. In both there were key moments when I realised I had a choice. Continue moaning, complaining and being victim — or shift into another state of consciousness.

The new state was more detached, but also kinder, more accepting and more appreciative of life in general. I understood that these painful experiences were an opportunity for growth and learning.

This is not to say that I applaud or want illness and pain for myself or anyone else. Equally I want to muzzle those cleverdicks who respond to others’ pain and suffering with a passive aggressive, know-all quip that someone’s suffering and misfortune are useful stimulants for personal development.

In this context I often quote the professor of nursing, Margaret Newman. Between birth and death, she taught, everyone experiences cycles of health and illness. A nurse’s obvious role and calling is to relieve suffering. But equally important, she suggested to them, is that they midwife consciousness. Patients could make more sense, find greater meaning in their illness, if they woke up to a higher consciousness. To be more conscious, more discerning and more connected, can provide the deepest relief and healing of suffering.

And here we have the raw poignancy and paradox. There is a polarity. On the one hand we can relieve suffering through care. On the other we can relieve it through awakening.

Relieve Suffering
Care <–  or  –> Awakening

So when the meditation teacher struck my back with his stick was he helping to birth my consciousness or just being abusive? Was Gurdjieff perverted or strategic? Is the sound of one hand clapping just a cleverdick’s quip?

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It is surely obvious that when someone is in a state of trauma, it is offensive and abusive to use provocation to awaken them. Trauma requires care and patience.

But when someone is not in trauma, but just habitually complaining or just habitually unconscious in their thinking and behaviour, then provocation is useful.

But who is to judge whether someone is in trauma or not?

Over the last few years, the concept of trauma and its effects have become very well-known, almost fashionable. It has added deep and useful insights to our understanding of psychological distress and development.  There is also a problem here when trauma is wrongly diagnosed and is equated with the suffering that arises when people’s desires have not been met.

Not getting what we want, being thwarted in our desires, is not trauma.

No family, for example, is one hundred per cent perfect.  Therefore, is it appropriate to claim trauma because there was not enough affectionate parenting or kind schoolteachers? There is a difference between active abuse and a lack of love.

This is a difficult grey area and requires sensitive reality checking.

In Christianity the greatest symbol of this challenging ambiguity is Jesus on the cross — a messenger of unconditional love in a state of torture. I have several friends who in sincere states of spiritual enquiry have contemplated Christ’s passion and crucifixion. When in their contemplation they have approached his tortured body on the cross, Jesus smiled and winked at them with loving good humour. 

We are in a very grey area here.

Sometimes comfort, care and soothing are one hundred per cent necessary.

Sometimes to care for someone who is complaining, is to collude with them.

Other times a provocative kick is appropriate.

Occasionally the spiritual path asks us to take risks and throw ourselves into chasms of fire.

How can we steer ourselves through these raw ambiguities? The only way forward is an ongoing reflective practice in which we apply compassionate awareness and a moral compass. We learn our lessons, become more conscious, and perhaps wiser and more loving.

 

But this enquiry is not complete unless we also address the elephant in the room. This is the human shadow.

 

 

 

Here is a reality check and some unpleasant observations about human behaviour and psychology:

We can be obstinate, self-sabotaging, cunning, nasty and cruel. We are capable of ignorance, sociopathy and a complete lack of moral compass. We can be ingenious and self-sabotaging in how we deny and cloak our shadow behaviours, harmful addictions and compulsive polluting habits. We can invent so many stories and excuses to justify our meanness and closed hearts.

Look at any awful behaviour . . . There but for the grace of God go we . . .

It is therefore normal that our spiritual paths to more love, consciousness and connection can be fraught.

Our shadows do not go away just because we ignore them. We have to acknowledge, wrestle with, heal and integrate our shadow aspects. This is a normal part of personal development.

So although we may not appreciate or like it, it is crucial to identify and own our shadows.

As Carl Jung put it: One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

This then is another blessing brought by provocations and crazy gurus. They can wake us up and they can illuminate our shadows.

 

The injustice and suffering experienced by our fellow beings should be enough to provoke our awakening.

But when the pain of others does not trigger our hearts and birth compassionate mindfulness, then provocations and crazy gurus are surely to be welcomed, even invited, into the privacy of our growth.

Of course, external provocateurs can be threatening, even traumatising. I do not want meditation masters hitting me or hungry ghosts jumping out of the shadows.

But I do know that risk and stretching beyond our usual comfort zones can be crucial in awakening.

Right now, with covid and global warming, my concern is that people will hunker down and seek to be soothed, instead of rising to the challenge of the provocations.

In times of crisis, we especially are called to model spiritual leadership and be the change that we want to see.

So if I have any advice for the coming year it would be:

Think, do and be different from your usual patterns.

Stretch beyond your comfort.

More spiritual generosity and good humour.

Stop complaining. Stop being surprised by the state of the world. Be surprised by yourself.

Throw yourself into the chasm of fiery enlightenment and awakening.

Relieve suffering. Midwife consciousness.

More love. More compassion.

Distant Healing – The Heart-Opening Technique

Many meditators, healers and people of goodwill are attracted to the idea of distant healing — that in meditation, contemplation and prayer we can help relieve suffering and pain at a distance.

But how exactly do we do this? I will share with you one golden rule, briefly list the most well-known techniques and then describe the strategy that I prefer.

First, the golden rule.

This is simple: Distant healing must always be done in a relaxed, calm and loving way. Otherwise, you may be sending agitated vibrations and energies. In particular, you need to monitor that you do not have any neediness that there be a healing.

If we are needy for healing, then we radiate neediness. Not useful.

So stay calm. The keynote is compassionate equanimity.

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The most well-known distant healing strategies are:

  • Kind thoughts
  • Sending healing energy (keep to the golden rule above and check you are not interfering)
  • Praying for help and intercessions from whichever tradition, gods, spirits, angels, saints, gurus, etc, who are in your culture.

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Then there is the heart-opening strategy that I prefer to use.

I like it because it is relevant to both suffering and the causes of suffering. It is also realistic about the fact that some illnesses and distress are chronic and long term, and that death is an inevitability.

This strategy is simple. It is a sense, a visualisation, a calm expectation that the hearts open of those who are suffering.

In the same way, the hearts open of those who create suffering.

In a calm state of compassionate contemplation, bring any person or situation of suffering into your loving awareness.

May your heart be open. May your heart be open. May your heart be open.

When someone’s heart opens, they move into a different mood. They connect with the benevolent flow of the universe. Their emotions and minds become more accepting and kinder. Healing at all levels becomes more accessible. Space is created for waves of grace.

There are other ways of practising this that may better suit you.

If for example you have a Christian background, then you may prefer some wording like this, which has the same effect: May the Christ within you awaken. Or May the Christ consciousness in you be fully awake.

From a Buddhist background, you might feel more at home with: May the Buddha within you awaken. Or May the Buddha consciousness in you be fully awake.

Of course, you are free to adapt the wording in whatever way works best for you.

Within the Buddhist tradition there is also the foundation prayer of Om Mani Padme Hum often translated as the Jewel in the Lotus. In many respects, this is a heart awakening mantra. Each of us is a lotus, a beautiful flower with stems beneath the water and roots deep into the earth. And within us is a jewel. Perceive it. Let it be fully present.

Again, this is congruent with the Hindu greeting of Namaste. I greet the soul within you. I greet your soul. I greet the Christ within you. The Buddha within you. The Goddess within you. All of these facilitate heart-opening.

Some people may prefer to work with the chakra system. You can sense-visualise-imagine the love petals of someone’s heart chakra opening with compassion and wisdom.

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I use this heart-opening approach when, in meditation, I send healing to the dictators and politicians who are oppressing their peoples. I sense their hearts opening. May your heart be open. I greet your soul.

Similarly, I use this strategy when contemplating those who are suffering with pain and fear. May your hearts be open. I greet your soul. Om mani padme hum.

Softly, gently, empathically, connect with suffering and sense heart-opening.

As always, you as an individual practitioner can explore and feel your way into the approach that is authentic for you.

Remember too to practise basic health and safety. Your fuel, inspiration and safety come from your connection with Spirit, by whatever name you call it. At the end of any healing, bring your focus fully home to your own body and close your energy field like a flower at night closing its petals.

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I honour and respect activists who work on the front lines to relieve suffering and create safe space for all life to grow and fulfil.

I also honour and support the meditators, contemplatives and prayer-workers who work with distant healing.

Three Crucial Skills for Exploring the Shamanic, Metaphysical and Mystic Worlds

Preparing to teach a coming course on metaphysics, I began to contemplate how best to introduce it. I like to unpack knowledge in a way that encourages personal experience. This means I take a person-centred approach, exploring what is the best for each individual. Yet at the same time there are always fundamentals.

So I want to suggest three fundamental skills that are crucial if you want to explore the subtle dimensions of consciousness and cosmos. They are:

•  Ability to enter an altered state of consciousness, often called a trance state

•  Staying observant, alert and intelligent whilst in the altered state

•  Sustaining a good mood that is compassionate, open-minded and open-hearted

 

Altered States and Trance

The crucial importance of a trance state is that it alters the electrochemistry of your brain, your sensibilities and consciousness. Fields of energy that are normally too subtle for the five physical senses to access, become perceivable.

Some people have involuntary experiences of these states when, for example, they faint or dissociate. They may experience a blur and thinning of the veils.

Many practitioners deliberately take themselves into altered states of consciousness using, for example, plant medicines, ceremony, hypnosis, devotional prayer, mantra and repetitive movement.  Others go into these altered states using more contemplative methods such as philosophical study, music, mathematics or meditation.

There is a simple fact here. It is not possible to explore metaphysics and the subtle worlds unless we go into an altered state of consciousness.

Alert and Intelligent

Whichever gateway into the altered state is used, the practitioner can only progress and expand further if they are able to stay observant, alert and intelligent. Watch an experienced shaman facilitating a group in a vision quest. The participants will be fully absorbed by the visions and phenomena. The shaman however is watchful and conscious, centred and grounded, able to lead and guide the experience. This is the difference between a beginner and an adept. The beginner is absorbed in the personal experience. The adept is alert and guiding, respectful of the mystery.

There are many dimensions and pathways in the subtle realms. Without alert and discerning intelligence, people may easily get stuck or lost in delusion.

Good Mood and Love

A good mood is also fundamental.

If the practitioner is over-serious, over-focused and earnest, this constricts the brain, clogs up the electrochemistry and sabotages the expansion of consciousness and altered state. It limits the practitioner to mental fields of energy boundaried by intellectual logic, which are interesting, but there is so much more beyond.

Yes, there are negative energies and what is called evil, but practitioners who are familiar with altered states continuously experience that there is a benevolent essence to the cosmos. You may call it love. To connect with fields and beings of higher energy, it is absolutely necessary to be in harmony with this benevolence and love. And the simple strategy for putting yourself in harmony with this goodness is for you yourself to be in a good mood. Without a good mood, human consciousness is simply blocked off from expansion.

 

Health and Safety

So there we have three fundamentals for exploring metaphysical dimensions.

•  Altered states of consciousness

•  Alert and intelligent

•  Good mood

Of course, be careful with the method you use for entering your trance states.

There is a middle way here. On the one side you need to be daring and courageous. On the other side you need to wear a health and safety helmet and not put yourself at risk.

It is a path of discernment and wisdom.

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Enjoy your psyche and the wonders of exploration.

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If you are interested in exploring this area more fully, my course in February may interest you. Click here