Sensitivity & Compassion: Risks and Blessings

When we open up to Source, we inevitably become more sensitive.

This is one of the great risks of spiritual development that is rarely discussed. Why a risk? Because when we open to Spirit, we also open to all the vibrations and subtle energies that are out there, good and bad.

 It is probable that everyone reading this blog has at some point in their lives experienced a sense of energetic overwhelm from all the terrible news and suffering on our planet. You have also probably experienced over-sensitivity to other people’s negative vibrations, perhaps to the point of needing to avoid certain situations.

This is normal on the spiritual path. It comes from being more open and connected. No wonder that historically so many spiritual folk retreated into abbeys, monasteries and convents. No wonder that shamans, pagans and tribal medicine people have spent so much time alone in nature.

Because we all open up and necessarily become sensitive, I often think that at the very beginning of everyone’s spiritual journey, we should be taught two foundation practices.

The first is the skill of being able to distinguish between good and bad energies. It does not matter how beautiful an angel or spirit looks. What matters is its vibration. Supposing it is something evil that comes in cunning disguise. We need to be able to discern. Early on in my own training as a youngster, I was taught something very simple. Will the new energy say the Lord’s Prayer with you?  Decades on, I still use that technique as a guideline when I meet something new and am not certain what it is.

The second practice I believe everyone should learn at the very beginning of their spiritual journey, is how to open and close. Open to the energies you want. Close to the energies you want nowhere near you.

Once I was training a group of Christian clergy, showing them how they might open more fully to God and Christ in their worship. During the discussion afterwards several of them shared that they were concerned about opening fully to Spirit during a public service. I asked why that was so. They replied that they would then feel overwhelmed by the vibrations of the people in their congregation, especially greeting them at the church door after worship. Too many people! Too many vibrations!

I showed them how to open like flowers opening their petals to the sun and to then close their petals as night-time came.

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Managing your energy field and boundaries is also crucial for containing your own bad moods and negative thoughts. We do not want to create karma and harm other people with our bad vibes.

I remember once working with a very intense spiritual seeker who was tormented by the idea that she was casting evil spells on other people because of her negative thinking. We discussed this very carefully and lovingly. During the conversation, she had a crucial insight. She realised that her ethical concern about radiating bad energy, in fact, created a boundary. Her soulful sense of responsibility kept her bad energy strictly in her own bubble. She was not radiating negativity.

This insight was a real blessing for her. It relieved her of the worry that she was polluting her psychic environment. It also made her realise that she had a depressive mental pattern of shaming herself. Understanding this was enough of a shift that she was able to liberate herself from the self-harming thought pattern. More than that, she could see that her concern about psychically polluting the atmosphere was in fact a sign that she was aligned with her soul and seeking to live a meaningful life of compassion and service.

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Often people on the spiritual path think that their spiritual development will make their lives easier, but the further along the path we are, the more open we are, the more we are able to recognise and feel suffering. It is part of being sensitive and connected.

The greatest spiritual teachers are profound souls, aware of suffering, always developing more love, more connection, more compassion.

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This blog also appeared in May 2024 issue of Cygnus Magazine

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Booklist for Experiential Metaphysics

Your help is gratefully needed.

I am putting together a reading list for a coming course ‘Experiential Metaphysics.’ It is the reading list for what we were calling a modern Mystery School.

Below you will see a provisional list. I hope to bring it down to twelve titles that students must read. The books need to cover the essentials: cocepts and practices.

Please put your suggestions and edits in the comments box at the bottom of the page.

Many thanks 🙏

 

A Course in Miracles: Book 2 Work Book and Manual for teachers

Alice Bailey: Glamour – A World Problem

Barbara A. Brennan: Hands of Light: A Guide to Healing through the Human Energy

W. Y. Evans-Wentz: Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines: Books of Wisdom of the Great Path

Dion Fortune: The Mystical Qabalah

George Frazer: The Golden Bough

Michael Harner: The Way of the Shaman

Marvin Harris: Cannibals and Kings

William James: Varieties of Religious Experience

John & Caitlin Matthews: Walkers Between the Worlds — The Western Mysteries from Shaman to Magus

Jane Roberts: Seth Speaks – The Eternal Validity of the Soul

Edouard Schuré: The Great Initiates – A Study of the Secret History of Religions

Stephen Skinner: The Complete Magician’s Tables

Starhawk: The Spiral Dance – A Rebirth of the Religion of the Ancient Goddess

Malidoma Patrice Somé: Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman

Rudolph Steiner: Knowledge of the Higher Worlds

Tenzin Wangyyal Rinpoche: Wonders of the Natural Mind – The essence of Dzogchen in the Native Bon Tradition of Tibet

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Trans Alistair Shearer)

72 Virgins and Ecstatic Spiritual States

Martyrs who die fighting for Islam are promised seventy-two virgins in paradise.

Scholars argue over whether this was actually ever promised in sacred texts. They debate too whether there was a correct interpretation of the concept. One scholar, Christoph Luxenberg*, suggests that a more accurate articulation would be something like ‘white raisins of crystal clarity’ rather than delightful virgins.

Of course, the whole idea is a metaphor for the pleasure that awaits the faithful in the after-life.

My own musings on this, deconstructing the patriarchal sexism, have pondered whether the promise of middle-aged, male virgins would be quite so alluring.

Fight the good fight and your reward will be a posse of clumsy, embarrassed and apologetic blokes nervously awaiting your advances.

Like geeks the world over, they might suggest that all your problems could be fixed if you would just switch off the machine, wait a few seconds and then switch it on again. A bit like death and reincarnation.

All of this is a preamble to a spiritual rant against certainty and religious indoctrination. Religious leaders, all leaders, should have higher ethical standards. They should know better than to manipulate insecure people with false promises. Seventy-two virgins!

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There are essential tools that everyone should have in their tool bag of spiritual skills and practices. One of these is to be wisely sceptical of snake-oil salesmen, false prophets and spiritual teachers who offer certainty. To put it another way, people on the path of spiritual development need to be comfortable with unknowing.

The path of love, compassion and expanded consciousness, is full of mystery and unknowing.

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I was in an enjoyable dialogue recently with a group of Jungian therapists. For me, that is a good mix: Explore archetypes and unseen connections, and care for people.

One very nice guy pondered that the path of spiritual growth seemed to him to be a complete waste of time. You end up, he mused, in this eternal, ecstatic, white light state. That was it. A brick wall. Nothing more. Boring. A waste of time.

I loved the provocation.

No, I responded, it is not like that at all. In my experience, and echoing many other mystics, what happens is this:

On our spiritual journey, we do indeed enter an ecstatic state. But it does not end there.

Using spiritual practices, we repeat being in that ecstatic state.

We develop those practices (usually in meditation) so consistently that the ecstatic state becomes a plateau, a normal experience. It is no longer a peak experience. We have expanded and that altered state of consciousness is now our norm.

Then, from that plateau, we continue to develop and grow. Our consciousness, our awareness of all that is, expands. And so we then, on a higher turn of the spiral, reach a new peak, a new plateau of experience

But that process of consciousness expansion and spiritual growth is always at an edge of mystery.  It is a mystery because we are not capable of comprehending what comes next.

That is the essence of consciousness expansion. To repeat, we are not able to comprehend the next state – because it is beyond our current level of consciousness.

We don’t know what we will meet when our consciousness expands. We can only guess at, intuit or imagine, what the next state of consciousness will be like.

It is an unfolding mystery.

So . . . Far from ‘enlightenment’, ‘samadhi’ or ‘nirvana’ being a boring waste of time, a brick wall, the end,  there is further exploration of the new — into something even more divine, extra-ordinary and metaphysical. It is an unfolding mystery.

It is essential then that we have that tool in our spiritual tool-bag, that we can be comfortable with unknowing.

It also calls for courage and purpose, wisdom, increased love, compassion and benevolence — as we melt and rebirth in the ocean of cosmic fire.

What could be more exciting?

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Ah, asks the martyr, what about the seventy-two virgins?

The middle-aged geeks? I respond affectionately. I don’t think so.

The real reward is far more extraordinary, incomprehensible and enjoyable.

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* ‘Die Syro-Aramaische Lesart des Koran’ quoted in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/jan/12/books.guardianreview5

 

What is a Contemporary Mystery School?

So here you are.

Your heart has opened. You have an instinctive sense of compassion.

At the same time, your psychic abilities have woken up and you find yourself sensitive to energies and atmospheres, perhaps with some mystic intuitions and impressions.

Where do you go now?

In the Greco-Roman culture two thousand years ago, you would have sought entrance to one of the Mystery Schools. There, through ritual, sacred drama and direct teaching, you would have been introduced to the Mysteries.

Across the world, other traditions were providing similar mystic and esoteric trainings, but using different ceremonies and symbols. Look to the Druids, or Taoists, or Hopis, for examples.

In this blog I want to suggest some features of a contemporary Mystery School.

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First though we need to recognise some profound transformations that have happened in our social and cultural circumstances. These developments must, in my opinion, be influential. Let me briefly list them. They are fairly obvious, but often we do not appreciate their implications for spiritual study.

  1. Global Village
    The first shift is that we now live in a global village of shared knowledge. It is no longer possible for any school or teacher to claim any special access to wisdom and spiritual connection, when there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other schools and teachers, some of them very good. A thousand years ago we could travel thirty miles on a good day to find a teacher. Today we can travel anywhere digitally in the blink of an eye or click of a keyboard.
  2. No More Secrets
    Second, the core secrets of the Mystery Schools are now open knowledge. Historically these secrets were only divulged privately, usually after an initiation. Today they are commonplace in movies, television shows and books. Here is my brief digest of these once esoteric secrets:
  • Within and behind the material world perceived by our five senses, is a more subtle world of energies, patterns and archetypes. They influence and determine the material world. We can develop senses to perceive them more fully.
  • Using imagination, thought and other strategies it is possible to cooperate with and influence this subtle world and its manifestations.
  • We are not just material human beings with one life, but we are souls on a long journey of learning and development; and we are supported by souls who are further along this path. More love. More compassion. More connection. More consciousness.
  1. Hierarchy to Democracy
    Finally we have also to acknowledge a profound change that is happening in social and cultural structures. There is a general shift from top-down, often bullying, hierarchical leadership, towards democratic communities of networked and equal individuals. Seniorities by virtue of age, birth, gender, ordination or lineage, are being replaced by egalitarian mutual respect and natural wisdom. You will recognise that this particular shift is currently creating friction, as old hierarchies have trouble accepting this new reality.

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Given these substantial shifts – not to mention astrological and cosmic dynamics – how then might we imagine a contemporary Mystery School? What might its features be?

Here are a few ideas.

Entrance

The applicant to a Mystery School needs to self-assess as meeting these criteria:

  • My heart has opened and I prioritise compassion.
  • I have a sense of connection with a benevolent cosmic mystery (known by many names.)
  • I have a sense of subtle energies, patterns and archetypes.
  • I am humble in the face of this wondrous cosmos.
  • I am responsible for myself.

Curriculum

Now to the curriculum. Here is a brief list of what I suggest would be the essential components of a contemporary Mystery School.

  • Spiritual Experience
    Using person-centred teaching methods each student is enabled into a deepening daily practice of spiritual connection.
  • Reflective Psychology
    Students learn the psychological dynamics of spiritual development and how to manage them. Bliss to shadow – and back again.
  • Esoteric Meditation
    Students learn how to be quiet scanners and receptors, wisely guiding and assessing subtle sensations and impressions.
  • Soul’s Journey
    Before birth, through life and after death, students explore the nature and purpose of this journey.
  • Psychism
    Students understand their own psychic interpretive mechanism, and how best to manage and develop it.
  • A Map of Subtle Dimensions and Beings
    Students explore and develop maps of subtle dimensions and beings.
  • Compassionate Magic and Energy Work
    Students learn how to cooperate with and influence subtle energies to the benefit of all.

Lifelong Learning

The course, I imagine, would need to last between one and three years. After that, everyone would be supported in an ongoing community of peer support and lifelong learning.

 

Teachers

The teachers would need to be people who themselves practise and have experience of the topics. Most importantly they would be emotionally intelligent and could teach-facilitate in a way that respects each student’s individuality and learning style. The guru-acolyte model would be replaced with mutual respect and collegiality in the context of experiential learning.

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So those are my thoughts.

In fact, I have been pondering a modern mystery school for decades and waiting for such a school to appear.

Years ago l would have applied to be a student.

Today I might have the chutzpah to apply to be on the faculty.  I once thought that the Findhorn Foundation might be a Mystery School. Perhaps it still could be.

Over the years I have also noticed a few esoteric schools, but they have all been glued to a particular teacher or teaching, and have not practised, in my opinion, a holistic and contemporary method of student-centred learning.

Good education, including spiritual and esoteric education, builds on personal experience and not, in my opinion, on sacred texts. Authoritative and sacred texts, though, can be crucially helpful in unpacking and expanding personal experience, but this requires teachers who are wise facilitators and not proselytising a particular tradition.

One thing we need to hold in our hearts about mystery schools is their purpose.  They enable independent and self-managing adults, who are supported on the Path of Liberation, to the service of all.

All of that said, maybe it is sufficient for life itself to be the Mystery School.

On the other hand, a helping hand from loving companions is always useful.

More love. More compassion. More connection. More consciousness.

Curiosity Is Wise and Intelligent

I like curious people. I do not mean people who are funny-peculiar curious (though I usually like them too.) I mean people who are enquiring and inquisitive.

This curiosity is, for me, a sign of intelligence and wisdom. Atheistic scientists can be endlessly curious. So too can spiritual seekers. Equally, both the atheists and the spiritual can imprison themselves in a fixed belief – and avoid further exploration.

There are so many mysteries.

No one can articulate how and why the cosmos came into being.

Explain what transcends time and space.

What is beyond infinity?

In neuroscience there is the forbidden territory often simply called the “C word.” C stands for consciousness. The best professors of neuroscience and psychology cannot explain how consciousness exists.

Curiosity is built into life.

We can see it in a toddler trying out anything. I once saw a toddler placing CDs into a bread toaster . . .

Perhaps plants reach up to the sun out of curiosity as much as seeking light for photosynthesis.

One perspective on spirituality is that it is never-ending curiosity. But our instinct to be curious is not only relevant to how we explore the world outside us. It is also crucial for our inner world, how we think and feel about ourselves, how we identify who we are.

This is one of the beautiful elements of psychotherapy and meditation. In those two practices we can enquire into the very essence of who we are, our emotions and thoughts, our instincts and intuitions, our relationships and habits.

Who is the I who is writing this? And why?

Why do I believe in Oneness? Perhaps it is a multiverse.

Why do I say that the universe is benevolent? Maybe it isn’t. Even then, I opt for Love.

Some cynics make passive-aggressive comments about people who are exploring spirituality. They suggest we are looking for something because we are needy, trying to fill a gaping hole of existential angst.

That criticism, perhaps accurate sometimes, completely misses that spirituality is about exploring and about expanding consciousness, curious about love, energy and connection.

Spiritual curiosity is the opposite of needy. It is sophisticated and often requires courage to ignore cultural conventions and to address our own inner shadows and negativity.

I love meditation. Inside the safety and privacy of that quiet space, I can enquire into everything. My limitations can be melted by expanded consciousness.

I am not sure what prompted this blog. Maybe it is because I have recently been meeting people on both sides of the vaccination debates and culture wars, who drop so quickly into the body language of defence and aggression (pursed lips, narrowed eyes, tense shoulders) and seem to have forgotten their intelligent and wise curiosity. It takes a while to bridge their defences and enjoy a conversation.

I love dialectics, which is the art of discussing the truth of opinions. In good conversation there can be a classic dialectic. My opinion meets your opinion, and together they create a third opinion. This resulting opinion then goes on to meet another opinion, which creates yet another opinion . . . Expansion and curiosity . . .

But like a snake swallowing its own tail, or a spiral, spiritual enquiry always seems to come home to a familiar place. Whatever my opinion, whatever your opinion, our curiosity requires benevolence and compassion.

Self-Healing, Internal Martial Arts and Mystic Love

Self-Healing, Internal Martial Arts and Mystic Love

There is an important connection between the internal martial arts practice of ‘bone marrow breathing’ and the mystic concept that ‘God loves you.’

They are not philosophical or intellectual ideas. They are both felt experiences that positively support us. 

Moreover, both experiences have strategies for deepening them.

The internal martial artist may seem very different from the mystic, but they are working with similar principles.

I was thinking about this, lying in bed, recuperating from a tough couple of weeks. I had been knocked out by a kidney infection and then, partially recovered, found myself caring for other members of the family facing health crises. I was exhausted to the point of irritability.

But I teach and practise self-care. So, I turned up the volume on my bag of self-healing strategies. 

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How do we turn up the volume?

For stronger and deeper healing, we have to become softer. Our attitude and mood need to resemble the lightest touch of the most delicate feather.

In yoga and internal martial arts (Qi Gung) there is a saying:  the softer, the deeper. For the healing energy to sink more fully into your body, it needs to be soft, gentle and subtle, not vibrant and intense.

This is explicitly taught in the Taoist approach to health, Taoism being the source of Qi Gung and bone marrow breathing. In the Taoist model, the universe is a flowing, moving, ocean of change. It is essentially benevolent and to benefit from this goodness, we need to place ourselves in harmony with it and become part of its flow. One crucial element in this harmonisation is for us to soften, become lighter, more flexible.

Just as the Tao is benevolently harmonious, so too the mystic’s experience of deity is benevolent.

For the mystics who want a deeper spiritual connection and experience, there is also similar practical advice. They are asked to empty and yield softly to benevolence and love.

In mystic poetry this is often described as a form of swooning — but your lover is the Divine. Dissolve me like sugar in warm tea, wrote Rumi the Sufi mystic.

In practice, this mystic emptying and yielding is, I suggest, the same felt experience as softening to go deeper.  

I notice too that there are parallels in the practices of many spiritual traditions. The metta practice of Buddhism, for example, points in the same direction. May I be at ease in my own body . . . May I develop compassion . . .

Different cultures have different ways of expressing the same concept, practice and experience.

 

A Quantum Leap

To even better experience the softness, the love, the flow and healing, there is also a quantum leap we can make.

This is a sincere personal surrender and commitment to the love, benevolence and compassion of the universe.

You, and you alone, know whether you have made this shift.

Having committed to this love, we are not perfect. It is always work in progress. We still have the usual human faults, but essentially we are at peace with the universe.

This means that our self-care and self-healing can go ever softer and deeper. Good for us. Good for those around us.

 

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Be as comfortable as you can.

Patiently contemplate that the cosmos is benevolent.

Notice any good feelings.

Soften your attitude and mood.

Allow the goodness to sink into you. Yield. Breathe it in.

Practise this again and again.