The fundamentals of the spiritual search

The fundamentals of the spiritual search

The goal of enlightenment: get to the true Self, the source of meaning, freedom, peace, and perfection

The basic point of the spiritual search is extremely simple: it is to get in permanent touch with the true Self. This true Self is not the true Self in the sense of what you really enjoy apart from societal and family pressure, though getting in touch with that true Self is in fact part of the search.

On metaphorization and the validity of every experience

In the nondual scheme of things, our true Self is pure being, awareness, and bliss. What we seem to be -- our individual selves -- are a sort of image, a kind of dream. How can the suffering in the dream be given validity, be made meaningful, be not simply an illusion? Well, one way is through what I call metaphorization.

Desire is a game of 20 questions


The game of 20 questions, where you get that many yes-or-no questions to guess .the particular thing another person is thinking, used to be a great way (ok, a decent way) to pass the time on car trips in the era before smart phones.

The series of questions, if cleverly asked, acted as an efficient path by which the answerer could tell you if you were getting hotter or getting colder, closer to or farther away from the answer. But every answer opened the space for more questions. If you figured out that it was an animal, then you could then ask whether it was a mammal. Otherwise you knew the entire idea of animal was simply getting "colder" and you'd move on to something else.

Desire is the same way. We don't know our real desires in full. We discover them progressively over time. Our imagination and our actions are questions. "Do I want this kind of thing?" we seem to be asking someone invisible. Then our emotions and our experiences are the reply. If we notice and express what it is like to have those emotions and experiences, we can grasp whether we are getting warmer or colder. If we are warm, we refine our hypothesis, staying within the same category. If colder, we try something else. On and on goes the game of learning what it is we want.

For in this game, there are not just 20 questions but an unlimited number... and multiple seemingly paradoxical answers may be given. The other player sometimes seems to cheat. Which is in fact, we may find, the most important answer of all...

Should desire be indulged or denied?


Most people think of spirituality as being against desire. If pursued, desire would lead only to more desire. Trying to quench desire by satisfying it would be like trying put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it.

But if these older traditions are examined more closely, they are not as against desire as they seem. 

The Bhagavad Gita counsels against lust, greed, and anger, not against sex, possessions, and aggression. It warns against eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little. Similarly, the Buddha recommends following the middle way. Aristotle and Confucius, to take two widely differing examples, recommended similar ideas.

Throughout eastern culture, it is not simple denial of desire that is counseled, but balance. Harsh repression of desire is just as bad as simple indulgence. In either case, you deviate from what helps ensure a quiet mind.

How to find that balance? Here is where my advice differs from most. I believe that our desires have in them a natural balance. We usually don't know this balance because we don't take the time to express our feelings. Expressing exactly what our feelings are like in words or in other symbols helps us see what they are really pointing at. Often, the needs they really express are not the ones that they seem to target on the surface. If we target the wrong needs, then of course we fail to soothe our feelings, and get more and more frustrated.

To understand what needs our feelings really target, we have to experiment: envision possible new scenarios or test certain actions, then express how we feel again.

To delve into our feelings, express them, test them against possible actions, and attempt to find a way that they can all co-exist harmoniously is the true path to the moderate expression of desire, and to the acquisition of mental and emotional balance.