Odysseus is renowned for his intellectual brilliance, guile, and versatility, and is thus known by the epithet Odysseus the Cunning. He is most famous for his homecoming where he reasserts his place as rightful king of Ithaca. His journey took him ten eventful years after the decade-long Trojan War.
Odysseus's journey home involves many problems: he encounters the Cyclops, he almost loses some of his men in the Land of the Lotus Eaters, he deals with Scylla and Charybdis and loses men to both monsters. He meets his fate of being away from his family for twenty years; these are the true adventures told in the original story of his journey.
Odysseus´s fate is his negative karma, it is his shadow. Negative karma is created by thoughts, and thoughts are not only personal, but arises from an immense depth of collective and universal structures. This structure lies as a shadow under the individual´s personal history. In that way Odysseus´s journey is a Shadow Odyssey. In many ways it is an intellectual journey, a journey of thought training. Odysseus is an intellectual. Often he openly evaluates a situation, demonstrating the logic he employs in making his choices. Spiritual thought training is mirrored in that of the Hero´s Journey.
Such a Shadow Odyssey can be said to have two phases:
1. Art of Life
2. The spiritual dimension
These two phases are intertwined. Art of Life will by itself develop into the spiritual dimension.
1. Art of Life
In meditation-circles it's a widely-spread misunderstanding, that meditation is about being completely without thoughts. Because you can´t stop the thoughts. This is due to that the thoughts originate in a very deep structure of personal and collective images, eventually universal images. And all this is revolving around your painbody, which is one and the same as your instinctive survival strategy (the ego).
The instinctive survival strategy, the ego, is the whole of your thought-pattern. The whole of your negativity, or suffering - which your own resistance against life has condemned you to, consists very simply in that you are making the Now into a problem by comparing with earlier, and hoping, desiring or fearing something else.
This thought-pattern is one and the same as your mind. So, thought training is the same as mind training.
Your thought-pattern has normally created an enlarged and energy-charged reflection of itself in your body. And if your past is filled with pain, then it can show itself as a negative energy-field in the body. This is the emotional painbody. It contains all the pain you have accumulated in the past. It is the sum of the negative feelings which you have ”saved together” through life and which you carry. And it can nearly be seen as an invisible, independent creature. Therefore we also could, as H.C. Andersen does in his fairy tale, call it the Shadow.
And the painbody is, through the inner evaluating ego, which the painbody is constructed around, connected with the more dangerous dephts of the astral plane´s collective history, which also are a kind of dark, ancient inertia, which opposes any change of the ego. That is also the reason why you, through psychotherapy (or coaching), can´t heal Man from the ground. Psychotherapy and coaching are in my view corrupt life practices. They are claiming to be neutral (science-based) but are exclusively building on the psychotherapist´s and or/coach´s personal idiosyncratic beliefs.
In a broad perspective such beliefs are today rooted in what I call the mythology of authenticity. This mythology is the main mythology of popular culture.
The mythology of authenticity is characterized by two specific methods: psychotherapy and coaching. Psychotherapy and coaching are by no means methods, which only exist within a defined theory. The mythology is characterized by that people constantly are inventing new forms of therapeutic interventions, but the basic mythology is the same.
The two world-images can in other words be seen as two versions of the same superior psychologizing understanding of life, which I call the mythology of authenticity. This mythology is so to speak a compilation of the two world-images into one.
So, psychotherapy (with root in humanistic psychology) and coaching (with root in constructivism) can be seen as new, large, meaning-carrying world-images in a psychologized and therapized age. Even though they, in their sources of inspiration, at first specify two quite different views of Man and his possibilities and purposes in the world, they are common in explaining humans from a conception about, that humans have lost (or all the time are in risk of losing) himself and therefore constantly have to work with personal development in order to find himself (psychotherapy and the dream of a lost past) or to become himself (coaching and the hope of a richer future). You can say that the two world-images both are based on the claim, that a human being not is himself, before he becomes himself, and that both world-images see lifelong therapeutic self-improvement as a presumption for, that a human being can become and live authentic.
So the mythology of authenticity defines Man as a being, who continuously need to cultivate himself therapeutic. The mythology does so by making Man into a problem to himself. It is indoctrinating people to see the Now as a problem by comparing with earlier, and hoping, desiring or fearing something else. This is precisely what traditional spiritual practice seeks to avoid.
A central part of the problem is that the mythology of authenticity only is dealing with the content of mind, the personal content. Religion and philosophy have been reduced to psychotherapy (or coaching). The wholeness (and the metaphysical and ontological realms) has been reduced to psychological realms. Humanity, in its relation to nature and universe, has been reduced to person and ego.
I hear protest, because the mythology is also working with the now. They also use mindfulness, which has become a buzzword in the mythology of authenticity. But when meditation, as in the mindfulness movement, are combined with the mythology of authenticity, mindfulness works as a hypnotic means of inducing the mythology into the mind. There will be created a conflict between the now (mindfulness) and the mythology of a lost past and a richer future.
The difference between mindfulness and traditional spiritual practice is that where authenticity in the mindfulness movement is the same as becoming another (authenticity is a dream, a mythology), then authenticity in spirituality is the same as being what you are (authenticity is reality); or said shortly: the difference between becoming and being.
In order to heal Man from the ground you need to go into a traditional spiritual practice. It is only within the religions and their spiritual traditions they have knowledge and names for the more dark sides of the astral plane´s collective history.
The West has very precisely called this factor the original sin. The East has called it negative karma. The concepts indicate, that the inertia projects beyond the personal history (growing up conditions, traumatic bindings, painful experiences etc.) and far down into the collective inherit-backgrounds of history (genes, environment, society-ideals, the archetypes and the primordial images of the dreams, fantasies, fairy-tales, myths, and finally: instincts inherited from the animals). It is a factor, which lies in the evolution itself, in the genes, in the collective subconcious, in the collective history.
When therefore psychotherapy and coaching require a change, then the instinctive survival-preparedness in us reacts and protests. Man has survived on willfulness and a consciousness-structure, which mental and psychic sign is Egocentredness. The bigger Ego, the bigger survival chance.
Seen from a spiritual perspective, this instinctive survival strategi (the ego) appears as a resistance, an invincible inertia: original sin, negative karma. You can´t, by psychotherapeutic strategies, free the consciousness for its attachment to this inertia. You can therefore not dissolve or dilute or convert the original sin through therapy.
Only the intervention of the Source (God, Christ, the enlightened consciousness) can basically help Man with a transcendence of the negative karma of the original sin. But in order to, that a human being should be able to receive this help from the Source (gift of grace), then this requires an eminently precise and profound preparation. And as part of this preparation serve the true spiritual practice within the religions.
In my book A Portrait of a Lifeartist I set up six steps in the spiritual practice: that is: some existential conditions, and some, common to all mankind, growing conditions, and growth levels, in the Life Artist´s voyage of discovery into himself, and thereby into life itself. The steps are:
1) The separation of the observer and the observed
2) Religion and supporting exercises
3) Passive listening presence
5) Creative emptiness
6) The wholeness of the observer and the observed
Step 1 has to do with the ordinary mind, the negative thought-pattern which has created the painbody, and the instinctive survival strategy, the ego.
Step 2 has to do with thought training. The two main reasons why religion and supporting exercises is a necessity is partly, that the ongoing self-confirmation of the ego and its negative automatic thoughts, is replaced by a spiritual remembrance, partly that the collective inertia is purified and prepared, so that the Ego is made transparent along with that original sin and negative karma are transformed and transfigured in the contact with the Source (God, Christ, the enlightened consciousness, the saints etc.) And these two processes mutually fertilize each other.
The supporting exercises are the beginning of the spiritual practice, where you begin to activate the higher functions of the mind. In my first book Meditation as an Art of Life I describe five supporting exercises. The most important is the re-discovery and development of your Hara center. Hara is fundamental to all wisdom traditions and natural healing professions. So where everything before were revolving around your ego, everything is now revolving around Hara. Hara is primarily known from Zen Buddhism and Taoism, but is also central in Hesychastic mysticism. The Hesychasts Omphalopsychites) is an order at Athos, who with the chin supported at the breast look at their navel (Omphalos), until they see the uncreated light.
Hara is in other words called Omphalos in Hesychastic mysticism. In symbolism the omphalos was an object of Hellenic religious symbolism and world centrality. So, in symbolism Hara is a symbol of world centrality believed to allow direct communication with the gods. Another symbol is the Philosopher´s Stone, which is a legendary alchemical substance capable of turning base metals such as mercury into gold. That´s a good analogy since the work with Hara slowly and securely will transform your whole energy system.
I have often compared the balance of the human energy system with a pyramid. An unbalanced energy-system could be like that of a reverse pyramid, and a balanced energy-system is that of a normal pyramid. To be able to handle the increased energy you receive in meditation, you must have a ground connection like that of pyramid.
In order to discover and break the identification with the samsarical producer of the mind, the subject must discover the hidden source in the awareness or in the innermost of consciousness (God, Christ, the enlightened consciousness, the saints etc.). It happens by neutralizing the Ego´s, or the thinking´s, functions. And the basic supporting tool is Harameditation.
The magnet of attraction, which the ego is controlled by – (the ego´s identity with the material world: instincts, sexuality, emotions, desires, collective ideals, ownership, personal power) – will in a true spiritual practice lose its attraction. Investments in the material world´s ups and downs, its demands, temptations and dramas, become undramatized, uninteresting, even meaningless, when seen in relation to the consciousness´ opening direction in towards its spiritual essence: the now, the wholeness, life itself, and finally: the eternal otherness, from where the good, the true and the beautiful are streaming as grace and forgiveness.
The source of awareness, the naked consciousness, is hidden because it has melted together with the negative thought-pattern. It has become a kind of veils, or layers, which are maintained by what you could call the ego-religion and the ego-exercises. The ego-religion and the ego-exercises are the ego´s incessant confirmation or denial of the ego: “it is no use with me!”; or: “wonderful me!”. Both, either the denial or confirmation (which is what positive psychology is focusing on) of the ego, maintain the ego-process, the ego-identity and the ego-centralization. The ego´s religion and exercises are the ego´s needs and longings and will: I want to, I think, I believe, I feel, I wish, I hope, I think, I believe, I feel, I wish, or, in its most common core: I, I, I….
Religion has to do with the pious attitude and way of thinking, which stands for the observance of religious virtues, duties and rituals. In this way you can bring a unity and direction into the mind, an order and tranquillity in the thinking, a consistency between thought and conduct of life, an awareness of your relationship with persons, things and ideas, which no therapy is able to. In a spiritual practice it serves as a frame of reference.
Spiritual practice has always emphasized the simple life. If you simplify your life in a conscious, self-chosen and planned way, you will also simplify your thoughts. You will free them from a lot of burden based on complex lifestyle speculations (which in most cases also characterize people with a very low income). Complex lifestyle speculations are much more deeply rooted than we think: it is connected with anxiety, fear, mortgages, money, guilt, debt, government, boredom, supermarkets, bills, melancholy, pain, depression, work, waste, and especially: existential guilt over not having found your true calling in life: the inauthentic lifestyle of a constant becoming something else than what you are. In my Links to Idlers you can find a large number of websites which can give inspiration to how to simplify your life, everything from the more extreme moneyless lifestyles, to useful unemployed lifestyles and simple low cost life styles.
Therefore: find your passion, your true calling in life, no matter how devalued it might be in the eyes of others. That being invisible to the mythology of authenticity – that being unregarded, ignored, devalued, is namely in such a culture of self-assertion a curse. But to understand and be free from self-assertion, and to do something, which you really love to do – regardless what it is, how small or how little remarkable it is – awakens a spirit of greatness, which never is seeking others´ approval or reward, and which do a thing for its own sake, and therefore possesses strength and ability not to lie under for mediocre influences.
Here is that being invisible to the culture directly a blessing – that being unregarded, ignored, and devalued, can be an impetus to take another route: the quiet way, the gentle, steady, behind-the-scenes path. This is the invisible way of the life artist, the slow path of alchemy. Soul work takes time. This means that you intentionally have to make time, especially in our increasingly hyperactive, extroverted secular culture.
I have called this phase Art of Life.
Two thought training techniques can be used in order to find your true calling in life:
1) The Philosophical Diary
1) The Philosophical Diary
The stoics, for example Marcus Aurelius, kept philosophical diary, or lifebook, in order to explore, change and restructure negative thought-patterns. But so-called ”meditative writing” also exists in other wisdom traditions as a priceless help to the meditative development; that is: to learn to know who you are. Krishnamurti, for example, also recommended it. Montaigne´s Essays are also a kind of lifebook. Montaigne said about his Essays that: “They are attempts to paint myself.”
I have two versions of the philosophical diary. The first is described in the supporting exercises to my first book Meditation as an Art of Life - a basic reader. Here I combine the supporting exercise Harameditation with meditative writing and a Socratic enquiry technique used in cognitive therapy.
When you sit and practice the sitting Harameditation (you can of course also do it in other situations) and your negative thoughts/feelings can´t become silent, then take a piece of paper out (or a side in your philosophical diary), and write the thoughts down. Just let them bloom as they will, but write them down at the same time as they arise in your mind. Don't evaluate what you write. Write all thoughts down, regardless how trivial, incoherent or foolish they occur to you. Continue until they fall to rest.
The intention is now, that you try to find all the various inappropriate basic assumptions, rules of living, thought-distortions, negative automatic thoughts, values, ideals and conceptions, which are hidden in the writings. Or differently said, that you explore the problem, which causes, that your negative thoughts/feelings can´t become silent, and change and restructure it (in the exercise is mentioned a few thought distortions, but in my book A Dictionary of Thought Distortions you can find many more. Furthermore: My Matrix Dictionary is in many ways an exploration of thought distortions put in system by an enormous amount of incompetent spiritual leaders).
The other version is described in my book A Portrait of a Lifeartist. This version is more existential experimenting than logical analyzing, it is more observing than thinking, more listening than arguing. This version is just an extended description of how to write your thoughts down as they bloom without evaluating them.
The surprising thing about these writing exercises, is that you in this way actual can finish unfinished situations. It's after all precisely the thoughts which all the time (without luck) try to finish situations. The existential guilt about an unfinished situation exists after all precisely only in your thoughts. When you then practice meditative writing, yes, then you can help the thoughts in finishing the situation. To finish situations has in this way not necessarily anything to do with, that you have to confront the specific situations, and for example the implicated persons (it could very well be dead persons).
Tonglen, or the supporting exercise The Heartmeditation, originates from Tibetan Buddhism, but the same elements can be retrieved in different forms in all great wisdom traditions. In Tibetan Tonglen means ”give and receive.” It´s about using your personal suffering to increase your compassion – which means: where you mentally receive and give. Tonglen can change one´s whole attitude toward pain. Instead of fending it off and hiding from it, one can open one’s heart and allow oneself to feel that pain, feel it as something that will soften and purify you and make you far more loving and kind. Tonglen is the ethical side of spiritual practice.
The exercise is about, that you receive other peoples´ suffering in your heart. Here you let it dissolve in the light of compassion, whereon you give the compassion on to these others. This can be done as a formal meditation practice, lets say, for about half an hour a day. Normally this is done by using your breathing as a medium. You inhale suffering, and exhale compassion. Meanwhile, as I make aware of in my updates to the supporting exercises, this can easily develop into a mechanical act without the important accompanying heart-feelings. Instead I today advice people to use Tonglen as thought training; that is: use texts about Tonglen for meditative reading. You can begin with mine, but a good text for meditative reading on Tonglen is Chögyam Trungpa´s book Training the Mind – and Cultivating Loving-Kindness.
The three fundamental aspects of meditation are relaxfullness, awareness, and heartfullness. These are trained in my five supporting exercises, including the above-mentioned exercises.
The refinement of the consciousness and attention which is trained in the supporting exercise Relaxationmeditation, slides imperceptible over in neutral observation. You discover the uniformity concerning tension in so different phenomena as muscle-tension, will, thoughts and form-formations in more collective patterns. The Relaxationmeditation creates a neutrality in your attitude to all the different expressions of tension. This neutrality is refined in the Harameditation.
The Harameditation´s neutrality in relation to the different expressions of tension, will more and more lead into a melting, a letting go, a devotion. And the absorption, which takes place in such a relaxfull melting and letting go, leads by itself in towards your heart. This is refined through the Heartmeditation.
Finally the Now opens ifself and the three fundamental aspects (relaxfullness, awareness and heartfullness) are melting together in an open, all-embracing silence. This silence is what you in reel sense can call Meditation as an Art of Life, because it's in this silence you in wonder ask the philosophical questions in a meditative-existential way, open both inwards and outwards, listening and observing, without words, without evaluations.
In this movement in towards the source you begin to ask philosophical questions in a meditative-existential way: Who am I? Where do the thoughts come from? What is consciousness and where does it come from? Is there a meaning of life? How does man preserve peace of mind and balance in all the relationships of life? How do we learn to appreciate the true goods and flout all transient and vain goals? Is the destiny of Man part of a larger plan? In this way the grab, which the material world has in your mind, is automatically reduced.
2. The Spiritual Dimension
In a culture ruled by the mythology of authenticity Art of Life offers central tools for increasing our capacity for mature personal processing. It promotes proper self-care, help people come to terms with the painbody, original sin and negative karma; to explore, change and restructure thought distortions, as well as finding their true calling in life and develop a creative expression. It is a prerequisite for a secure and sober process of spiritual training that these areas have been thoroughly developed and are consistently tended and balanced. Hereafter the spiritual dimension opens by itself.
In all simplicity spirituality is about being present in the now. This is almost a cliché today, where everybody is talking about being in the now, paradoxically enough also the mythology of authenticity, which dreams about a lost past and a richer future. But precisely the paradox in this also show how easily we are letting ourselves be deceived by the past and the future. I have explained this paradox with my concept of Lucifer Morningstar. The mythology of authenticity has in that way developed into a globally seen exceptional narcissism.
An ordinary state of consciousness – an ego – either is or is not in the present moment. Most often the ego is not fully present. Most frequently the mind is caught up in the past or lost in the future. The busy to-and-for in consciousness is unceasing, and as a rule the mind is either filled with past memories or looking ahead with worries and plans, with hope and longing. When the mind finally becomes more focused on the here and now, it is usually busy thinking and commenting on whatever is happening at that moment.
Nonetheless, it is possible for the ego to be fully present in the here and now. This means that the attention is focused in Hara, as well as the sensations of the body and the stream of emotions and feelings. The sense-portals to the outer world are open and receptive, and the ego is ready to express, communicate, listen, or act. This could be a fair description of a state of ordinary ego consciousness that is present at this moment, in this situation. It is a fairly sharp and intense state of being.
A person with a lot of life experience and personal processing from Art of Life will bring an even wider range of him- or herself to the here-and-now and will be even more fully present. This person will have a deeper, more integrated, and expanded presence – the sense of connectedness with the world and people around him will be richer, the centeredness clearer. This kind of presence is more whole, more restful, and yet attentively transparent. It is a fairly satisfying and pervasive state of wakefulness and coherence. This is what happens in step 3, 4, and 5: Passive listening presence, discrimination, and creative emptiness.
Mythologically this is what happens when Odysseus uses the bow at the end of his journey.
Primarily, the bow symbolizes the physical superiority of the king — an important point in a world in which the mighty prevail. But the bow also symbolizes the maturity and perhaps the character of the king. In the Odyssey the suitors can't come close to stringing it (Book 21), illustrating the fact that none of them is capable of leading Ithaca. Prince Telemachus, trying the bow just for sport, comes close. The reader is told that Telemachus probably could string the bow on his fourth attempt, but his father signals him to desist. We take from this passage that Telemachus is almost ready to be king but patiently and properly acquiesces to his father's judgment. Only Odysseus can string the bow on his first attempt, and he does so with ease, showing that he is the proper mate for Penelope and the only man ready to be king of Ithaca.
Finally, there is the open now of transdual consciousness. This is step 6, the wholeness of the observer and the observed. This state of presence is qualitative different, since it is based on the entirely different perspective of unity consciousness. This is an almost ecstatic state of completion, a luminous, blissful wakefulness in which consciousness is also fully relaxed, not holding on to the bliss, not desiring the ecstasy, just an open transparency. It is a wondrous and heavenly state. The transdual presence is like the open sky, and this open sky is present here on earth at this moment.
Meister Eckhart describes this heavenly state in this way:
The now in which God created the first human, and the now in which the last human perishes, and this now in which I speak: they are equal in god and they are nothing other than one single now.
And Master Tilopa:
Do not pursue the past
Do not invite the future
Do not think about the present
And do not meditate with the intellect.
Avoid all logical thought
And completely relax the mind.
Especially Eastern texts like Tilopa´s are the cause of New Agers confusing this with Western irrationalism, subjectivism and anti-intellectualism, forgetting that these themselves are intellectual views. You don´t get enlightened by accepting a theory. You can´t stop the thought. This confusion is tragic, since what Tilopa is talking about is complete objectivity and absolutism. The preparation for such a state is precisely the use of philosophy, rationality and logic: thought training and art of life.
The more advanced forms of consciousness training are traditionally thought only to take place in a face-to-face exchange with an enlightened master. It is indisputable possible to use books as sources of inspiration, and in particular to review one´s insights and refresh one´s practice. This is something I advise people to do, but unfortunately it is not possible to obtain the subtle practical adjustments and individual corrections required to avoid getting stuck or losing one´s way in the unimaginable abundance of states and pathways of consciousness. Traditionally, this kind of teaching can only take place in an existential, individually responsible, and deeply engaged mutual process with a competent teacher.
But precisely the mythology of authenticity, and it´s whole spiritual role-playing game with its self-designed gurus and masters without experience, has in my view put an end to this tradition. I have especially been dissapointed over discovering that spiritual environments, which precisely claim to build on the necessity of a teacher who can adjust and correct unbalanced states and pathways of the individual´s consciousness, have been characterized by a large number of people who have got their spiritual path distorted by these same teachers. Examples are Swami Muktananda and Sogyal Rinpoche.
In the former time´s spiritual pedagogics the teacher took the central place in so-called energy-mandalas, whereby the hierarchical structure was able to be unfold (Christ and Buddha in the centre). In the newer time´s spiritual pedagogics a true spiritual development aims, in my view, towards holding free the center of the circles, whereby an ideal equal spirituality can begin to unfold.
This development is especially represented by Krishnamurti, who in this way seeks to make the Source common. In such a mandala-structure that, which before symbolical was gathered in the centre, is now unfolded and made common in the periphery. The aim is completely to avoid the guru-centric. Anybody, who has worked with Krishnamurti´s teaching, can recognize this. And in the connection with philosophy this is also interesting since Krishnamurti´s teaching in that way follows the central virtue of philosophy: Think for Yourself! Indeed, his teaching is characterized by the use of philosophy, instead of religious preaching or psychotherapy. Krishnamurti time after time emphasized that you must be completely alone in your spiritual development. You must be a spiritual anarchist. The help you need will so to speak come from above when you are completely alone. This help is also called progressive karma.
To summarize: seen from a spiritual perspective, our instinctive survival strategi (the ego) appears as a resistance, an invincible inertia: original sin, negative karma. You can´t, by therapeutic strategies, free the consciousness for its attachment to this inertia. You can therefore not dissolve or dilute or convert the original sin through therapy. Only the intervention of the Source (God, Christ, the enlightened consciousness) can basically help Man with a transcendence of the negative karma of the original sin. But in order to, that a human being should be able to receive this help from the Source (gift of grace), then this requires an eminently precise and profound preparation. And as two phases of this preparation serve: firstly: Art of Life, and secondly: the spiritual dimension where you must be completely alone. It´s a Shadow Odyssey.
Humanistic Psychology, Self-help, and the Danger of Reducing Religion to Psychology (the theory behind psychotherapy as used in the mythology of authenticity)
Constructivism: the Postmodern Intellectualism behind New Age and the Self-help Industry (the theory behind coaching as used in the mythology of authenticity)
Related blog posts:
Meditation as an Art of Life – a basic reader (contains the supporting exercises)
Links to Idlers
Links to Idlers
The Scientology game – and the Matrix Player´s Handbook (this Ebook explains how spirituality in New Age is seen as a kind of role-playing game, where you buy yourself spiritual titles and levels without actually doing the preliminary spiritual work).
Related in the Matrix dictionary:
Supporting Exercises (updates and commentaries to the supporting exercises in my book Meditation as an Art of Life – a Basic Reader, and to the article The Three Aspects of Meditation in my book Dream Yoga)