It's a big challenge being a spiritual teacher in a secular culture. What could be more disconcerting than being a religious authority in a world where there is no consensus about whether God actually exists! In traditional cultures at least, there was some agreement as to who God was and where He lived and how He could be reached. But for those of us who live in a post-traditional worldspace, the Creator has long since disappeared from the sky above, and with Him has vanished any sense of that which is higher than, or transcendent to, our earthly existence.
The rational values of the culture that we live in may have freed us from the myths of the past, but unfortunately they have also undermined our capacity to have any faith in the unseen metaphysical domains of our innermost interiors. So any individuals who are bold enough or crazy enough to assume the position of being representatives of that which is transcendent, within this culture of secular relativism and scientific materialism, are putting themselves in a very difficult position indeed.
I remember soon after I became a committed seeker in my early 20s being asked by a casual acquaintance what I "did." After briefly describing to him my day job, I then proceeded to explain what I was really up to and what I was trying to attain. His puzzled look seemed to go on forever. Then there was the beautiful blonde I'd been flirting with at around that same time. All was going well until we went out to dinner one fateful evening and I inevitably shared my passion for enlightenment and higher consciousness and spoke of how fascinated and compelled I was by all the Eastern masters I was meeting and spending time with. That was the last time I ever saw her.
Awakened men and women are those who have recognized spiritual domains as being more real and true than anything else. But if our shared culture doesn't have the eyes to see what they see and know what they know, such men and women usually end up being perceived as irrational, self-deceived and deluded -- as representatives of the false. Indeed, authentic holders of timeless spiritual truths are often thought to be hucksters and con artists because they boldly dare to bear witness to the unseen.
In the ancient premodern world, that ultimate context was validated by shared myths and religious beliefs and was empowered by the supercharged energy of awakened consciousness in inspired prophets and seers. Today we no longer have myths to rely on to validate our spiritual illumination. I believe that together we need to create a post-traditional consensus about the great significance and place of Deep Interiority in the human experience that makes sense for our time in history. In order to achieve this, it has to be generated by those of us who have seen beyond the veil of appearances and have experienced those deeper metaphysical domains to such a profound degree that we're willing to bear witness in public. But to be taken seriously, we must do so in a way that points us not only beyond the myth and superstition of the ancients but also beyond the naïve idealism predominant in so much of New Age thinking. We must be ruthless in our rationality in order to authentically transmit the light of trans-rational Spirit in the 21st century. This is an enormous task, but our willingness to take it on will slowly but surely make a profound difference.
This post was originally published on Andrew Cohen's BigThink.com blog, The Evolution of Enlightenment.