I’ve been a spiritual seeker for almost as long as I can remember. As a child I longed to please God. I prayed for visions of the Virgin Mary. I aspired to sainthood. Now at 61 my understanding is substantially different, but I believe the fundamental nature of being drawn into union with an infinite Whole is the same.
For the past 18 months I have been immersing myself in The Three Principles, an articulation of perennial spiritual wisdom shared by a man named Sydney Banks. I’ve been drawn to the Principles because of their simplicity and clarity. I’ve been fortunate to study with and be mentored by some of Syd’s original students. My understanding of the Principles has has a profound impact on my day to day experience of wellbeing, and I am deeply grateful for all that I have learned.
This post is about a shadow side of spiritual development. It was prompted by conversations on Facebook among Three Principles practitioners regretting that people like Robin Williams were not exposed to the Three Principles in time to save their lives.
I was saddened this week by Robin Williams’s suicide. It moved me deeply, and it caused me to reflect deeply about spiritual principles, emotional healing, and how I’ve been holding the Three Principles.
There’s a way in which I have looked to the Three Principles and to other spiritual understandings in the past for a way out of the human condition. I’d love for spiritual understanding to inoculate me and you against depression and anxiety, but while this understanding has had a substantial and enduring impact on my overall sense of wellbeing and resilience, it has not put an end to suffering. What’s more, my suffering is keenest when I think I shouldn’t be experiencing it and when I interpret it as indicative of my lack of spiritual fitness. There’s truth and bullshit there, and when the ego is in charge, it’s all BS all the time.
Given what I’ve said so far it should come as no surprise that the conversation about getting the Three Principles into the mainstream in the wake of Williams’s suicide brings me smack up against my own projections. As I sat in tears on Monday afternoon I saw the utter inadequacy of my fantasy that the Three Principles should or could be proof against suffering. (I’m not saying that anyone else subscribes to that fantasy, by the way, I’m owning it for myself.)
A funny thing happened as I sat, feeling utterly defeated, flattened, in some respects betrayed (and again, I’m talking about my own projections folks; I’m not saying the 3Ps or anyone in/around them betrayed me); into that desolate place came compassion. When I stopped desperately trying to forestall suffering–my own or anyone else’s–and I began to just feel what I was feeling, the seeds of compassion began to bloom. Compassion for myself and all suffering beings.
Now compassion had been eluding me, and I can’t overstate how sweet it was to taste even a bit of it. I had been feeling brittle, distant, and impatient with myself and others who were shortsighted enough to suffer in spite of having the simple inside-out nature of experience explained to them.
When I take on mental illness as a category and mental health as an organized system, I project all sorts of craziness into the world. When I then imagine that the Three Principles are a remedy for that craziness, I create a tragicomic mess. I start tilting at windmills. My inner drama queen dons her best armor. And compassion? Not so much.
For me there is a lesson here about Wholeness and how I experience/identify myself as part (or not) of not only the spiritually sanitized Cosmos but also of the messy family of Man. How much of a voice for healing and wholeness can I be if I project craziness and separateness? I don’t see a particular place to stand, way to be, answer, strategy, or position here, just an ongoing question: What kind of world am I making up such that it needs me to fix it?
My evolving two cents. What’s yours?