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Spirituality as Personal Choice
In this article I contrast the traditional paths of spirituality, that of mysticism and meditation, with the newer path of intense idealism. What seems to have changed in modern times is that the emotional dynamics of spirituality have altered.
The need in the present is for an active form of spirituality, and not a passive one. Active forms allow for a wider range of choice in the manner of expressing one's own concept of spirituality, whereas passive forms tend to get taken over by restrictive organisations.
|Sub - Headings|
|Dynamics of Mysticism and Humility|
|Modes of Absorption|
5 -Dynamic Absorption
|Table 6 - Static Absorption|
Spiritual development is never a continuous ascent into the heights. I consider that the spiritual path is dialectical, because abreaction is dialectical. [¹]. During his evolutionary journey, the seeker oscillates like a pendulum, between the poles of acceptance and avoidance, in his attitudes and feelings towards the major issues of sexuality, asceticism, power and authority. At each new level of his evolution he faces new challenges, new triumphs, new disasters as he embraces these issues afresh.
Most seekers follow their favourite tradition of religious or mystical or psychic development. The disadvantage of traditions is that they prefer to be stable and resist change. This means that traditions slowly become out of touch with personal needs as people and societies change and evolve. However, traditions are still useful for people who dislike change.
So two spiritual paths are needed. One path centres on stability and the static world of Being (the unchanging aspect of reality), whilst the other one centres on flexibility and the dynamic world of Becoming (reality in its aspect of endless change). One path produces saints, and the other produces adventurers and noble warriors.
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Mysticism is not the final achievement. The saint desires union with god but the warrior desires freedom. The sacrificial path of mysticism is binary, or complementary, to the path of adventure of the noble warrior. The focus on union and the unchanging world of Being by mystics and meditators is a partial goal. The focus on freedom and the changing world of Becoming by the adventurer is also a partial goal. It seems to me that the final state of spiritual development is to be able to access free choice between union and freedom.
So, perhaps, in his long spiritual evolution, the seeker has to spend some lives as a mystic and some lives as a warrior. It is just as narrow-minded for a mystic to avoid politics as it is for a warrior to avoid meditation. A weak mystic cannot handle power harmoniously, and a strong warrior needs to respect weaker people. Power is a central feature of reality, and the seeker has power when he has a strong will, but what he needs to learn is how to use it wisely in his relations with other people.
When the mystic experiences divine love, has he achieved the ultimate reality ? No. Love is binary to hate. The mystic’s love of god hides his subconscious hatred, and fear, of other people ; he may even have a subconscious hatred of god (this hatred exists because of the pain experienced in the ‘dark night of the soul ’ and other spiritual sorrows [²] ). Binary states mean that the world of ordinary reality is a dualistic world, whereas ultimate reality is a monist (non-dual) world. The mystic has not passed from dualism to non-dualism. Instead he has graduated to one polarity of dualism, that of love. His hatred remains subconscious, and so is below his state of awareness.
On Earth, the mystic's love is conscious but his hatred is repressed and so is subconscious. In my view the same relation between love and hate exists in heaven. If a person dies on earth without having purified his subconscious mind then that subconscious mind is repressed completely whilst the person is in heaven. Now abreaction is the consequence of the ego’s battle with the subconscious mind. Without the presence of the subconscious mind so inhabitants of heaven cannot experience dialectical sorrow and hence they are not aware of their faults. Only when the person, at the end of his heavenly sojourn, has to be recycled back to earth does the subconscious mind become a part of him again at rebirth.
Heaven is a state of goodness but not a state of completeness. Heaven is a state of love but not a state of wisdom. These ideas on heaven explain why, in the phenomenon of ‘channelling’ (where heavenly spirits or astral guides give advice to a medium in trance) some of the advice is of poor quality, since often the guides do not appear to understand the action of the subconscious mind.
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‘loss of self ’, or the ‘loss of
What does this mean ? Is it the annihilation of a nasty, selfish ego’? No. It means only the absence of vanity in all its forms whilst the mystic is entranced with love or immersed in peace.
Vanity is a
ground or emotional basis of
[ The other ground of projection and introjection is anxiety, and this is mostly active during social inter-actions].
Vanity is the shield of the ego against the pain of having to live in the material world. Vanity is the shield against the pain of having consciousness trapped within a physical form.
When the intensity of vanity is reduced then normally the ego is de-stabilised and experiences great pain. This is the fundamental reason why much human evolution is associated with sorrow. The evolving person has to learn to control his vanity, and this is always a painful process.
How does the mystic switch-off his vanity (at least temporarily) ? By switching to its binary (or complementary emotion), which is self-pity, but in this situation the self-pity is a mode of guilt. Guilt is a compound emotion, consisting of two other emotions, these being self-pity and self-hate. 
Any state of mind is always underpinned by emotional factors. I use the term ‘emotional dynamics’ to mean the principal emotions that drive any particular state of mind.
I can factorise the emotional dynamics
Now I can factorise the emotional dynamics of the yearning for transcendence and divine love.
Mysticism = love + guilt (in mode of self-pity).
Pure love is restricted and coloured by guilt. This equation shows me the limitations of mysticism. The factor of guilt explains why the mystic is often a social misfit. The factor of guilt (in self-pity mode) means that the mystic has no drive, but only a yearning ; he has put his drive into neutral. He becomes lethargic ; nothing except his longing interests him. As a reaction against the self-pity, he becomes trapped by his emotional ecstasies.
The meditator has a different motivation, since he focuses on developing concentration. Now he follows the practice of humility. What is humility ? The emotional dynamics are similar to mystical yearning, except that the self-pity factor is different. It is not a mode of guilt, but just itself.
Humility = love + self-pity.
Yet the experience of the highest levels of trance still traps the meditator for the same reason – ecstasy hides the inherent self-pity.
In both mysticism and humility, the factors of self-pity are responsible for the cancellation of vanity influences.
For a mystic or a meditator to think that he is not acting from a sense of ego or ‘little self ’ usually represents self-deception. What is actually happening is that the person is not acting from a mood of vanity.
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The mystic has no drive, at least whilst in his state of trance or just in a state of peace. If this state of affairs remained permanent then it would imply that the most highly developed spiritual seekers would forever by unable, and unwilling, to help less developed people. Mysticism is usually ineffective in social issues, because evolution requires seekers to be strong so that they can handle spiritual power (if they are weak then the power will corrupt them). Hence self-pity modes have to be mastered. The mystic has to evolve an idealistic side to his character, or become an idealist with a passionate drive. A drive requires a base of vanity (since idealism is the sublimation of vanity). . So by switching self-pity modes to vanity the seeker develops a drive, which is his vehicle for influencing social transformation.
This combination of mystic and idealist rarely happens in the same incarnation. I assume that a mystical aspirant (whether his experience is high or low) in one incarnation is likely to become an idealist in a future one. In effect, a seeker needs to interchange the roles of mystic and idealist in order to learn how to handle power wisely.
Idealism can be directed into a number of channels and it varies in intensity (that is, the intensity with which life is experienced). My drive has pushed me towards different goals, and with differing intensities :
anarchism and communal living
in my 20s (
meditation, yoga and Buddhism in my 30s (medium intensity),
and then the ideal of truth in my 40s (very high intensity).
idealism that is derived from a previous
or other spiritual experience I call ‘utopian
Its emotional dynamics are:
Utopian idealism = love + vanity.
These dynamics are a binary one to humility, since self-pity is binary to vanity. The love is restricted and coloured by vanity. It is a common criticism of utopians that they are vain. This is the predicament of the idealist : vanity is required in order to channel the idealistic drive, but vanity also causes problems of egoism.
The desire for intensity in experience (my motif was All or Nothing) is just the facade for an intense yearning for love. The object of love varies according to the gaol of the idealist and this determines social practice. The love of humanity made Giuseppe Mazzini, one of the great social idealists of the nineteenth century, direct his idealism into politics. The love of life makes the idealist into a rebel against coercive social restraints. The love of freedom produced Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the eighteenth century and the Russian anarchists Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin in the nineteenth century (the concept of freedom changed in the interval, from social to political).
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I generalise these ideas
Under the drive of utopian idealism the individual has first to define himself (for example, as a teacher or as a social reformer or as a free thinker) and then use that definition as his way of formulating his goals. These goals enable him to express his drive. It is the love that generates the utopian thinking and it is the conceptual goals that channel the drive. Without concepts the drive cannot function. Without mind, evolution ceases.
When the drive is channelled by a concept I call it a conceptual drive (which is just a high-powered desire). Will power is a necessary attribute of evolving man, but by itself it achieves nothing that lasts. It is always the conceptual drive that has the greatest importance. If the mystic has no conceptual drive then he wastes a glorious opportunity to make a spiritual impact on society.
The person’s speed of
upon the intensity of his idealism.
Mystical aspirations can bring love into the dynamics of consciousness. Then when the person uses utopian idealism as a conceptual drive there are three responses to chose from, since there are three modes of vanity (these are the vanity mode of narcissism, the vanity mode of pride, and vanity just by itself ). Drives always function through vanity modes.
1). Love is channelled into the vanity mode of pride.
of politics is
politics is idealised, the person strives to be the honourable, wise
statesman. Pride is a compound emotion, consisting to two other
emotions, those of vanity and hatred of other people.
The emotional dynamics are love and pride (mode of vanity).
2). Love is channelled into the vanity mode of narcissism.
The love of life, friendship
is generated. Narcissism is a compound emotion, consisting to
two other emotions, those of vanity and love.
The emotional dynamics are love and narcissism (mode of vanity).
3). Love is channelled into vanity.
The love of abstract
such as the love of freedom, the love of humanity, the love of truth,
the love of justice, the love of beauty, the love of art.
The emotional dynamics are love and vanity.
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The difference between utopian idealism and ordinary materialistic drives is that utopian idealism creates a higher vision of reality and so can produce a higher level of commitment. The love within utopian idealism generates the desire for intense experience and forces the seeker to live his ideas. However, the unfortunate side-effect of love is that intense experience produces intense abreaction, and hence intense levels of guilt, resentment and bitterness.
The ability to handle intense abreaction depends on the level of maturity of the person ; even so, a person can take only so much pain before abreaction extinguishes utopian hopes. Mazzini ended his life in bitterness. Nietzsche was driven insane (as I was, but I survived because I had a higher idealistic goal than Nietzsche had). The 1960s flower-power generation of my youth became dis-illusioned and right-wing after being swallowed up by resentment and bitterness.
When a person is shattered by abreaction, then whether utopian idealism has furthered his evolution or whether the sorrow and bitterness have retrograded his evolution is a question that I have no answer to. The constant bitterness withers away his intensity of vanity (and so makes it more manageable), but it also withers away his idealism.
The three choices above represent half of the full choices that are available to a seeker. These three choices illustrate what I call dynamic absorption, based on vanity. The remaining three choices illustrate static absorption, based on self-pity. To explain these choices I turn to the two factors of most importance to a person, which are sexuality and authority (or politics).
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What is absorption? At an early stage of development, absorption functions rather like identification. Identification can be viewed as a psychological union with an external source (such as parent, teacher, peer, etc) with jealousy as the binding ingredient. Later on, the narcissistic and introverted child begins to identify with himself, to become self-absorbed, to become absorbed into phantasy.
At a more mature stage, absorption indicates the union of two minds. In self-absorption the individual takes his own idealism or his own mystical aspirations as his object ; the two minds are those of his own ego plus his idealised image of himself. 
Consider meditation. When an inanimate object is used as the focus of concentration, the mind that the meditator unites with is the mind of the immanent (pantheistic) consciousness within the object. [ In pantheism, all matter is associated with its own form of consciousness]. For the practitioner of sufficient ability the knower and the known become one. The perceiver and the object of perception become one.
For many poets and artists, absorption can take the form of absorption into Nature: the person may feel a tremendous oneness with the sky and trees and flowers.
The primary roles of sexuality and politics can be expanded within a perspective of absorption.. Absorption indicates the temporary union of two or more minds together, so that experiences (or at least the emotional component of them) are directly shared, as in the interactions of religious-sect members or fan club members. In this way, sexual and political relations can evolve. But they evolve differently, since sexuality reflects static structure and politics reflects dynamic structure. . Hence absorption can be classified into static and dynamic forms.
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First I turn to the difference in importance of narcissism and jealousy to any person who is contemplating the meaning of sexuality. Since sexuality exists, it means that a person can never, by himself alone, be complete. He lacks the full range of sexual factors. Completion can be considered to be a state of androgyny, where all sexual emotions blend into the perfection of masculinity, femininity, trans-sexuality, and all other sexual modes. Narcissism and jealousy are two ways to attempt completion, using different means.
sexual relations generate excitement. This excitement may seem to be the goal of sexual activity. However, when the excitement is probed, then what is found is that it is a deceptive goal. Excitement does not go far enough. An initial analysis indicates that two adults have a sexually-harmonious relationship when each sees in the other that which is sexually repressed and denied in himself /herself. This is how a person achieves a kind of wholeness. The man can express his masculinity openly enough but not his femininity; by relating to a suitable woman he can thereby experience his own femininity indirectly. Similarly, in the relationship the woman can indirectly experience her own masculinity. This is the loop of projection and introjection functioning. 
A deeper analysis indicates that what is really desired is the union of two harmonious minds, the silent communion of mental absorption, the temporary blending of the minds of both partners.
In an harmonious relationship, sexual relations allow each person to experience all the range of emotions needed to achieve a temporary state of androgyny, with both persons projecting and introjecting emotions between each other. Each supplies what the other lacks. Joy is experienced in the sexual act. This joy is the joy of the androgynous state, a state of completion. The partner is loved since he /she is the means of achieving this state.
the path of narcissism,
the person uses phantasy or imagination as his route to completion. He seeks the complementary aspects to his own character. The image of a suitable person is used to project and introject the emotions that he normally does not generate, and so his absorption in his phantasies enable him to experience the pleasure of what can be called a ‘vicarious’ androgyny.
These two states of completion are transcended when a person seeks completion in the act of absorption in either his /her soul or god.
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The psychological structures within a person are either dynamic ones or static ones. Dynamic structures can channel drives, but static ones do not. Politics expresses dynamic structure, and therefore ‘dynamic’ absorption, whereas sexuality expresses static structure and ‘static’ absorption.
There are three modes of vanity that can channel drives, so there are three modes of dynamic absorption. In such forms, there is a dynamic meeting of minds, a dynamic form of absorptive communion. The emotional dynamics are love plus modes of vanity, as previously given.
Table 5. Dynamic Absorption
in politics :
emotional dynamics are love + vanity (as a mode of pride).
in camaraderie :
emotional dynamics are love + vanity (as a mode of narcissism).
idealism, art and creativity:
emotional dynamics are love + vanity.
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The kinds of ‘static’ absorption are based on static structure. Since they do not channel drives, so they are based on modes of self-pity instead of on vanity modes (because self-pity is the binary emotion to vanity). The emotional dynamics are modes of self-pity plus love. As there are three kinds of dynamic absorption, so there are three kinds of static absorption.
Table 6. Static Absorption
in soul or god :
emotional dynamics are love + self-pity (as a mode of guilt).
in sexuality :
emotional dynamics are love + self-pity (as a mode of jealousy).
in adoration :
emotional dynamics are love + self-pity.
Just as politics can be
idealised, so can
sexuality. When this happens, absorption in sexuality generates
romantic love (a higher ‘octave’ of sexual
In a religious temperament, absorption in the adoration of the saints gives rise to humility.
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Utopian idealism in static form may sometimes lead to confusion if the seeker becomes sexually aroused. A person may switch his intense desire for creative experience into intense desire for sex.
For example, in my youth I read
about a concert pianist who, after a brilliant performance,
always needed to have sex – for years I wondered how it was
possible to link creativity with sex.
For another example, the mystic may use sexual imagery in her description of her mystical states (for example, Teresa of Avila). Why is creative experience confused with sexual desire ? There are two likely answers.
the creative experience, when completed, may generate a catharsis. The abreaction of guilt ensues. As the catharsis fades, the subsequent stage of jealousy may stimulate sexual desire.
the confusion may be due to the person switching from idealised drives to ordinary desire, without being aware of the switch. For example, I often wrote the early drafts of my books after periods of deep self-absorption in comparative solitude. In addition, I was usually stimulated by romantic love. Then when I returned from this isolation back into society, I was often subject to intense sexual desire for a short while : as the intensity of absorptive love faded away, so romantic love switched to ordinary jealousy in self-pity mode.
Romantic love can generate confusion for the advanced seeker. When self-awareness is low, such love may sometimes be equated with mystical love. Or, as above, the fading away of it may lead to sexual arousal. Hence the attractions of sexuality have to be brought to completion and then left behind before mystical states can be wholesome. Otherwise, sooner or later, the mystic will fall from grace.
These utopian drives produce the two higher paths of spiritual evolution.
The person can follow the way
of love and
+ jealousy ; he follows wholesome religion and experiences the
peace of heaven. Now we have the saint.
Or the person can follow the way of love and pride + narcissism ; he experiences the love of life. We have the adventurer, the person who loves the unknown ; now we have chivalry and the noble warrior.
ideals facilitate either way
and help to turn the saint or warrior into the sage.
The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it. For the addresses of my websites, see the Links page.
[¹]. My analysis of the process of abreaction is given in the five articles on Abreaction. See home page. 
[²]. The significance of the dark night is described in the article Conflict within Idealism - the Three Stages. 
[³]. See the article Projection and Introjection. 
and analysis of emotions are given in the three articles on Emotion.
The binary nature of emotions is described in the first article on Emotion. 
. See the article Sublimation. 
. Self-absorption is illustrated in the article Aspects of Personal Identity. 
. An account of the primary roles of sexuality and politics is described in the article Nihilism. 
. The static and dynamic forms of absorption are explained in the article Nihilism. 
. The loop of projection and introjection is explained in the article Projection and Introjection. 
The articles in this section are :
Dialectics and Human Evolution - the way of spiritual teachers.
Orientations - the three goals of the spiritual life ; the soul.
Conflict within Idealism 1 - overview of three levels of confusion in the spiritual life.
Conflict within Idealism 2 - the three stages in detail.
Conflict within Idealism 3 - three forms of ethics and three ideals.
Utopian Idealism - spirituality as personal choice.
The Conversion Experience - abreactions of jealousy and narcissism.
The copyright is mine, and the articles are free to use. They can be reproduced anywhere, so long as the source is acknowledged.
© 2002 Ian Heath
All Rights Reserved
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