In a footnote in Up from Eden, Ken Wilber observes that one element of his reservations about Hegel – who he otherwise considers a “towering genius” combining “transcendent insight with mental genius” – is that Hegel had no yoga, no “reproducible technique of transcendence” (638, 641).
To me, that is an interesting criticism. It suggests that no matter how capable we are of using our intellectual powers to parse spiritual, theological and philosophical texts and draw useful connections between them, some essential quality remains absent if we cannot bring those insights and connections into what Tara Singh called “application.”
In other words, what is the benefit of talking about a spiritual path if we cannot also walk it?
Often – both on this site and in related dialogues – I tend to come down on the side of walking the walk rather than talking the talk. I don’t want to become eloquent on the subject of salvation; I want to be saved.
Wilber makes an interesting (and to my mind, related) observation about this issue. He points out that we often talk about spiritual ideas and material before we are able to practice or otherwise integrate it into our lives. He calls this a sort of “learner’s permit.” That is, by talking about it – even in limited ways – we learn that lightening bolts aren’t going to come flying from the sky, that this particular material is not transgressive or dysfunctional. We are given permission to engage.
In fact, the initial intuition of Spirit often, even usually, drives the individual to attempt to grasp, in mental forms, that which is actually transmental . . . He is laboring to reach the transmental through compulsive mental activity – an activity itself driven by his transmental intuition (The Collected Works of Ken Wilber, Volume Two, 651).
In a way, a lot of this website can be understood in that light – an attempt, through mental activity, to give form to a spiritual process.
Indeed, when I look at my own spiritual experience – especially since I became a student of A Course in Miracles – it is clear that intellectual effort and (dim to be sure) understanding often precedes a more abstract, less formal awareness of spirit, or God.
The clearest example of this might be the workbook lessons of A Course in Miracles which, even as they are themselves somewhat abstract and poetic in form, offer a concrete daily means by which to realize atonement for oneself. They consistently invite us to apply course principles to the facts of our lives – circumstantial challenges, difficult relationships, confusing desires, etc. In this way, they serve as the “yoga” that Wilber believes Hegel lacked.
But I’d like to offer a more specific example.
When I first began to study and practice the course, I was drawn to this idea of the world being a dream, or an illusion. Saying this to people made me feel radical and intense and special. I drove my wife nuts for about six months with it.
Of course, as anyone who gives more than a glancing look at the text or spends any time with the workbook lessons knows, that sort of casual (reckless, even) approach to the course quickly becomes fruitless. If the world wasn’t real, why was Chrisoula upset and – more to the point – why was I unhappy to be a source of stress to her?
When we can’t lie to ourselves any longer, the truth is able to emerge. And so I began to try to understand what the course meant when it talked about the world this way. It was unequivocal: the world is not real (W-p1.132.8:2). Yet that was neither my intellectual understanding nor my practical experience. In truth, I was baffled by the assertion and even scared of it.
I couldn’t feel it, so I did the next best thing: I studied it mentally. I read Ken Wapnick. I read Gary Renard. I discovered Tara Singh and read him hungrily. Singh pointed me to Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti to Bohm, Bohm to Wilber, Wilber to Whyte and so on. I read both widely and deeply, and began to write about my evolving understanding as well.
I learned that the idea that the world was not real was not unique to the course – that it existed, in different forms, in any number of religions, philosophies and sciences. Somehow, I was liberated by that. The sense that there was both cross-cultural and cross-disciplinarian support for the idea meant that A Course in Miracles wasn’t out to lunch. Rather, it was merely one particular expression of a perennial idea.
Thus, I was able to breathe again. I was able to give some acceptable mental form to an otherwise frightening and inaccessible idea. As a result, I was able at last to begin to experience it – dimly at first, then with increasing intensity and clarity – as a spiritual truth.
And the truth was simpler than I’d thought but far deeper and more vibrant.
Thus, I have begun to appreciate the wisdom in Wilber’s insight. We need both the intellect and the yoga (the technique of transcendence). We need the text and the workbook. We need to give space and attention to ideas so that we might integrate them at levels other than only mental or intellectual.
It is okay, in other words, to use our intellects with respect to A Course in Miracles, or any other spiritual path or tradition.
Of course, what works for me, or makes sense to me, may not for you. I don’t want to suggest otherwise. I often say that A Course in Miracles, like all true scriptures, meets us where we are and goes with us as far as we are able, and that is a deeply and intimately personal experience. We can light the way for one another, and from time to time we can even carry each other, but we cannot be substitutes for each other’s learning.
Tara Singh pointed out that words “are to be brought to realization” but that most of us are content to remain in the status quo, only nudging the perimeter of our spiritual comfort zones.
The next step is:
“not to learn but to be.”
We have to bring the learning to its appointed end.
You are the Christ.
(The Voice that Precedes Thought, 244-45).
It is imperative that we not fall into the trap of believing that our learning is an end in itself. If it does not help us to separate what is false from what is true – and thus to know the truth of “Nothing real can be threatened/Nothing unreal exists” (T-in.2:2-3) – then it is useless. But in the same way a spoon can help us dent a bowl of ice cream, or a saw allow us to clear another stretch of field, the intellect can help us to realize “its appointed end,” our remembrance of ourselves as Christ.