As a young writer in my 20s, one of my mentors, bestselling author and sociologist Joseph Chilton Pearce, said to me, "When I really want to learn about something, I write a book on it. Then the real research begins as I begin to hear people's stories, and huge amounts of information begins to comes straight to my doorstep. Then I can write an even better book the next time!"
This is my experience. After writing seven books on the gritty areas of spiritual life and hearing readers' responses, and then opening my therapy practice focused on spiritual practitioners, I have found myself privy and privilege to a vast body of information and emerging collective themes. Week by week I listen to heartbreaking stories of confusion, loss and disillusionment on the spiritual path. Sometimes the stories are of disillusionment with teachers, but just as often the individual is disenchanted, or disappointed, by their own projections onto the spiritual path.
Deeper themes begin to emerge that I am sure I will be exploring and writing about for years to come. For example, how many of us really believed that if we threw ourselves fully into spiritual practice, that somehow our psychological challenges would dissipate into the light of awareness. Or that if we followed our bliss and passion, that our finances and practical circumstances would come together. Or that we could meditate our way into attracting our dream partner. Many people gave decades of their lives to intelligent spiritual practice and yet remain emotionally underdeveloped. They are frustrated because they surrendered their personal dreams in service of an idea of the impersonal and yet crave contact with a part of themselves and life that is uniquely personal.
Well-known and respected teachers continue to wrestle with the reality that the awakening that they experience, and perhaps even transmit to others, does not translate into integration in their or their students' lives. Even fairly consistent abidance in non-dual realization does not necessarily bring about more intimacy in their own lives, transform the difficult moments in their own relationships, make visible to themselves their blind spots or keep depression and anxiety at bay.
At the same time, "the path of disillusionment" that I wrote about long ago seems to reveal itself as a deepening of wisdom, compassion and capacity to feel for and with others. Self-esteem issues dissipate with age and practice, and collective insights and evolutionary trends are emerging.
While I have been writing about these subjects my whole adult life, what continues to impact me at deeper levels is how common these themes are. With this recognition, a new vision of oneness emerges. The great teachings of "there is no other" becomes true in the most pragmatic and humble sense of the word, as well as in its transcendent possibility. The others who we imagine have transcended suffering, who preach the dharma of oneness, who we project psychospiritual integration onto, are, in some very deep sense, just like us. They possess knowledge and wisdom in some areas and developmental challenges in others. They wrestle with the anxieties of health, aging and the desire to find congruency between their soul's deep desire and the expression of that through their love, relationships, and work.
The more I have contact with the great spiritual teachers and sincere and diligent practitioners in the world, and listen to and witness the challenges they face on a daily basis as well as in their passage through the developmental seasons of life, a different quality of oneness emerges. This oneness is softer, less glamorous and includes a deeper recognition of our shared suffering, as well as increased sense of responsibility to do our part to express our particular gifts and radiance in the world. If there really is no other, no one else will take responsibility for our transformation, no one else will translate the great dharmas in a way that takes into account our Western psyche and trauma, and no one else will do our part in healing the world. We are in it together, so let's take care to help each other and support each other in our shared oneness.
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