It is only “natural” – and perhaps unavoidable – for us to encounter stubborn resistances to the transpersonal energies, factors, and perspectives that are nevertheless crucial to spiritual maturation. The strength of these resistances will be determined by the degree to which our consciousness is identified with the personal ego, or “mind-body complex.” Certainly those of us who have genuinely begun to acknowledge the scripted or “fictive” character of our own and others’ personal identities are in a somewhat better position to absorb the shocks that accompany deep transpersonal insights. Those of us who have long been engaged in the chilling, thrilling discipline of unmasking ourselves to ourselves are certainly better prepared to withstand lengthy exposures to these transpersonal “X-rays” that would almost surely produce a mental breakdown or collapse in innocent “psychological virgins.” These resistances are there for a reason, then. They are the indicators – the telling symptoms – of our fitness for receiving fateful truths that have no regard for persons or for our personal hopes, feelings, preferences, principles, etc.
It is no accident, therefore, that myths and accounts of spiritual transformation typically employ the symbols of death and resurrection – the most conspicuous example of which in our Western tradition being the crucifixion story. Given the unpreparedness of most human beings – now as ever – to undergo the “ordeal by fire” entailed in a genuine spiritual transformation or initiation, we can see the folly – or worse, the abomination – of prescribing or recommending such practices and genuine spiritual pursuits on a grand scale! Isn’t there already quite enough madness and mayhem in the world? The present madness and disintegration stem, in part, from the erosion of traditional moral values and restraints. But we cannot leap from nihilism and flaccid moral relativism onto an authentically transformative psycho-spiritual path without disastrous consequences. Before the “personal self” can be properly relativized and overshadowed by the transpersonal or “higher” self, it must first be brought under control – not through mere repression and aesthetic austerities, but by the enlightened will of transcendent understanding. The higher will alone authoritatively subdues the lower will. The “light” of the higher intellect and the love of the awakened heart are certainly crucial aspects of this comprehensive spiritual transformation, but they are not alone sufficient, it would seem. The transformed will is what is decisive in the end. It slays – and gives life.
So, how – it will be asked – does the newly fledged initiate regard those in his midst who are, or purport to be, on the path of initiation? To begin with, he will view them as he views his former “self” – the way he was prior to the deposing (psychologically speaking) of the old “personalistic” standpoint. That standpoint still lives a much-reduced, vassal-like existence in the psyche, but its former sovereignty has been decisively supplanted, along with the assumptions, priorities, and binding limitations upon which it was founded. The initiate knows, not merely from books by Plato and Jung, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta, but from direct inner experience, that the shift from the former center of gravity to the new one involves an even greater challenge and reorientation than a move from a medieval European village to present-day New York City or London. Such tectonic plate shifts occur only where it is possible – or perhaps fated – for them to occur, and all merely intellectual sampling and exploration of spiritual materials cannot change that fact. Such pursuits are just as likely to result in mere confusion, consternation, frustration, and even despair. The last thing genuine spiritual work consists in is escapism or moral-intellectual hedonism. More will be lost or sacrificed (from the “personal” standpoint) then could ever have been expected in the exchange of shocking-liberating light for familiar-ensnaring darkness.
The obvious reason the psychic confrontation with transpersonal energies or archetypal factors tends to be so terribly disturbing to the ego lies in the “inhuman” character of these overwhelming data of experience – regardless of whether they approach from the outside (as stunning synchronicities) or from the inside (as numinous/diabolical presences). When the human-sized ego fails to differentiate itself (and it’s tidy, compact little platform and horizons) from these super-human factors, the trouble begins. (This was perhaps Nietzsche’s undoing). When the ego makes the common mistake of identifying with these outsized factors and energies, there will almost invariably be an inflation (with accompanying delusions of grandeur or depravity, depending on the archetype identified with and the attitude of the ego). Egos are easily lifted up or crushed by archetypes, just like unseasoned, wannabe surfers who foolishly swim out to waves that are way too big for them to mount (with appropriate respect and modesty). The human-all-too-human realm of experience is a bit like Lilliput when set beside the archetypal realm, which is full of benign, malign, and neutral Gullivers who can be relied upon to piss on, piss off, and piss out our little “hearth fires” if we’re not careful – even, or especially, when we’re in “mass formation.”