It’s a sad fact that many people who have an interest in wisdom practice keep this part of themselves secret, even from close family and friends.
I know why this is, because I used to do it myself.
My introduction to wisdom practice came at a young age when I stumbled across a book by Aleister Crowley. Unbelievably, I knew I had found what I was looking for.
However, what I was looking for wasn't Crowley, or Victorian occultism, or dressing up in robes and drawing weird symbols, or the impenetrable references, allusions, and esoteric ideas of his books. I didn’t set out that day looking for a syncretic mash-up of yoga, medieval magic and Christian mysticism packaged in an outrageous anti-Christian stance against moralisers and bigots.
I knew I had found what I was looking for, but I just couldn’t put it into words; nor could I explain why I was devouring everything Crowley ever wrote and diving head first into all of this stuff as a result.
So it was easier to keep the most profound part of my life a secret for almost a decade.
Because no one would understand.
It could have been worse
Thankfully, Crowley was dead, so there was no chance I was going to hurl myself at him as a naive and vulnerable disciple, as so many people did who found what they were looking for in the work of some of the most preposterous, superstitious and abusive gurus over the last few generations.
If only they could have put what they cared about into words!
Or, I could have found what I was looking for in a mainstream religion, like Buddhism, and settled for medieval eastern occultism, dressing up in robes and drawing weird symbols, and impenetrable references, allusions, and esoteric ideas in sutras, which I would never really need to challenge as they’re socially acceptable (and even fashionable). This might actually be the worse of the two.
Shame is the right emotion
It’s politically-correct to say the problem lies with society and not ourselves when it comes to feeling ashamed about who we are and what we do.
However, I’ve yet to see an instance where the shame I’ve described has been about wisdom practice itself; instead, it’s always about the beliefs - and therefore the culture - that we must indulge to participate in wisdom practice.
If it were possible to find what we were looking for and put it into words, we could cultivate an alternative where shame would be the last thing we would feel.
So here are 4 things we can do to stop feeling ashamed of our interest in awakening and wisdom.
1. Stop being ‘spiritual’
You can be forgiven for thinking that if you want to practice wisdom or wake up, you must adopt a strategy of ‘being spiritual’.
The problem with this strategy? If you’re ‘being spiritual’, you’re being creepy, because you’re obviously trying to be other than you are. This is a dishonest agenda, and people can instinctively tell you simultaneously think less and more of yourself than you should.
So drop the affectations. Recognise your ‘spirituality’ as an excuse for self-sabotage in everything you do, because that’s when beliefs show themselves to be what they really are.
The prevalence of people ‘being spiritual’ stems from the cliche of identifying as ‘spiritual, but not religious’. This cliche is good as it shows a growing awareness of the failures of organised institutional belief, and a recognition of the reality of profound spiritual experience.
Unfortunately, spiritual beliefs come with this spiritual experience, and so we must go one step further if we wish to avoid being both wrong and creepy: we must make sense of the experience so we can see it for what it really is. And this is wisdom.
So we can say:
Wisdom is to spirituality, as spirituality is to religion.
We should aim for a new cliche: ‘I practice wisdom, but I’m not spiritual’.
[I once told someone this and they replied, ‘Won’t people think you’re arrogant if you say you practice wisdom?’
Is it strange I think it would be arrogant to not say that? Anyway, ‘contemplation’ works just as well.]
2. Ask if there’s a way of knowing. Are your beliefs literally meaningless?
If we make the error of thinking experiencing something is the same thing as knowing it - as we do when ‘being spiritual’ - then we can recognise profound spiritual experiences exist but we end up trapped in best guesses about not just the experiences, but everything else too.
This basically means that if you say anything that isn’t a part of the practice itself, or a way of knowing that the person can actively take part in with you, then you are talking meaningless drivel.
You will notice that if we follow this advice, it is impossible to play the role of the ‘spiritual knower’, because you can’t dress yourself up in the latest fashionable beliefs.
It’s just one human being talking to another.
You will also notice that for the majority of the time, the crap we have to entertain to explore what we find most meaningful in life is nothing but the pantomime of the ‘spiritual knower’.
This is shameful, because it denies a shared growth in understanding together in favour of driving a wedge between people based on what they believe. And belief and identity take the place of wisdom on our altar.
The next time you come across an explanation for anything, ask yourself if the answer is the introduction to a way of knowing, or if a way of knowing could even exist for the claim in question.
If not, regurgitating the same nonsense demands embarrassment, no?
3. Actively take part in research
Spirituality isn’t alone in placing beliefs - and the identity that follows - before actually knowing something is true; scientism, materialism and pseudo-rationalism suffer from their own versions of the role of the knower, and arguably more poisonous ones at that.
Anyone denying the reality of wisdom, based on nothing but best guesses and fashionable interpretations, has more to be ashamed of than anyone who might don a robe and chant strange words.
What is weird is that so many spiritual types are also pseudo-rationalists, jumping on anything vaguely ‘scientific’ if it serves their spiritual conceit.
To avoid the shame of indulging anti-rationalism - whether as a ‘spiritual’ type or as an ignorant materialist, or both - requires that we get involved in other ways of knowing beyond contemplation that come under the umbrella of scientific research.
I say ‘get involved’ as opposed to simply reading about research findings, because reading the conclusion of a study is not the discovery of scientific evidence for anything - and often studies suffer from ‘great leaps’ in interpretation from the data to the conclusion (cf. mostly everything in neuroscience) - nor an understanding of science as a way of knowing. Even worse is to read science journalism and take the conclusions of an article over the conclusions of a study - because very rarely are they the same thing - and then pass off this fantasy as a ‘scientifically-backed’ badge of knowledge you’re only to happy to let everyone see you wearing.
As a minimum, we should understand how to design an experiment (and the problems that are encountered with study design), and that many such experiments need to be done and vigorously critiqued by peers - meaning we have many studies, often with contradictory results, some of which may be unrepeatable, and upon which we are very unlikely to have a consensus of agreement - to then inform meta-studies, before we can even begin to say anything ‘backed by research’ about the subject in question.
If you can read research material in this way, you quickly come to see how very little we know in any field, and you will future-proof yourself against looking like a fool when the ‘latest scientific understanding’ you would otherwise jump on turns out to be a fad created by a misleading article based on a single inconsequential study with poor methodology where the interpretation of the researchers was never supported by the data anyway. (And I’ve not even mentioned a possible corporate or political agenda.)
Better yet, you can actively take part in an open wisdom research program, such as Structure + Purpose.
4. Get professional
It’s not strange to have a teacher. Society demands we have teachers as children usually until we are young adults, when we (even if informally) shift to finding teachers or mentors in our work lives. It hardly needs arguing we would benefit from having teachers of various stripes our entire lives.
In many areas of life it would even be considered unethical to not have a teacher, and we would argue that the more important the subject, the more likely we are to feel this way. Medicine, construction, and science come to mind. (Politics and state-craft came up, but their inclusion would be too much of a joke at the time of writing.)
But the most important area of our lives - where we seek to understand ourselves, each other and reality - is the one where it is at best considered eccentric to have teacher, at worst morally reprehensible.
To admit to having a spiritual teacher or guru is not permitted in polite company.
Nor should it be.
Spiritual teachers are the epitome of embarrassment.
Why is this? What separates the ‘spiritual’ teacher from a teacher of engineering or psychotherapy?
For a start, no other teacher in any area of life would wear clothing specifically at odds with the culture to alert everyone to the fact they are not the same as everyone else. Ridiculous robes, massive hats (literally to signal stature), ‘spiritual’ jewellery, pseudo-Asian pant suits, etc.
No other teacher would dare assert themselves as an authority on any serious topic to that many people with zero qualifications or a means of demonstrable justification.
No other teacher would take the credit for everything a student achieves and deny it’s possible for the student to reach the same level of understanding anyway.
No other teacher would be allowed near gullible, mentally ill or vulnerable people without any training, supervision or best practice in place.
No other teacher would be allowed to simply make shit up with no peer group to challenge those beliefs or a mechanism for exposure to criticism.
Frankly, spiritual teachers shame their followers because they are both amateurish and dangerous, and they should be ashamed of themselves too.
‘Spirituality’ is the last - and most - important area of human life that religious organisations and spiritual teachers cling to for relevance (the scientist took away the priest’s explanatory role, the school teacher took away his educational role, the doctor took away his healing role, the politician took away his governing role, the psychotherapist took away his counselling role), and spirituality is yet to make the transition to the modern institution of a regulated, accountable, research-based profession.
The Fountainhead Wisdom Service is the beginning of that transition, and the vocation of the wisdom counsellor will be the end of the priest’s spiritual role, and with it the amateurish and dangerous spiritual teacher.
It will take some time and a willingness to be misunderstood, but eventually training to be a wisdom counsellor with a teacher will be sufficiently normalised and a moral given as to be culturally invisible, as it is with any other profession.
And when you tell your friends and family you want to train with a wisdom counsellor, or even become one yourself, you can feel nothing but pride.