Nonduality: The Varieties of Expression Home

Jerry Katz
photography & writings

Search over 5000 pages on Nonduality:

Click here to go to the next issue

Highlights Home Page | Receive the Nondual Highlights each day

#2896 - Thursday, August 9, 2007 - Editor: Jerry Katz 

The Nondual Highlights  

One: Essential Writings on Nonduality. Amazon site: 
Check availability at your local Borders Store:    

  A chapter from Roadsigns On the Spiritual Path, by Philip Goldberg. I like this book very much. It's especially an excellent book for people negotiating paradox and who may find themselves like one side or another of a coin: one moment heads, next moment tails. Roadsigns gets you in touch with the coin and the flipping of the coin. Also, at the end of each chapter is a section called Travel Tips which is a summary and advice section.  

The link is    






There is no light without shadow and no psychic

wholeness without imperfection. To round itself out,

life calls not for perfection but for completeness.

—Carl Jung

Ateacher from the East, amused by Westerners’ obsession

with psychotherapy, shrugged, “If you want to

change your personality, do it now. When you’re enlightened

you won’t care.”

I chose not to care way ahead of schedule. I thought I

could do an end run around my dark side and dash painlessly

to the light. Why bother analyzing the small personal

self when I was trying to awaken to the big

transpersonal Self? Who cares about ego strength when

the point is to make the ego disappear? I stopped sorting

out the trash in my psyche; instead, I would simply empty

it with spiritual practices. My hang-ups, weaknesses, and

internal conflicts, my selfish ambitions, and petty desires—

all these would be made irrelevant, like wispy clouds that

float past the sun without diminishing its light.

Unfortunately, the contents of my shadow did not disappear;

they kept washing up on the shores of my life, like

cans tossed into the ocean. Spiritual practices did smooth

out some rough edges, ameliorating pesky attitudes and

behaviors that had been causing me problems—but not always,

not all of them, and not forever. My more intransigent

patterns withstood the flames of practice like iron

bars in a campfire. It took a long time, but eventually I

came to the conclusion that the “cushion model”—by

which one can presumably accomplish all growth and

healing through meditative disciplines—might work for a

few fortunate souls, but in most cases our “stuff” is annoyingly


What are you going to do with your personality,

bury it?

You can’t bury it, it’s like nuclear waste.

—Ram Dass

I am not the only one to have engaged in “spiritual

bypassing,” which psychologist John Welwood defines as

“the use of spiritual ideas and practices to shore up a

shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and

developmental tasks in the name of enlightenment.” I

have known countless seekers whose earnest devotion to

spiritual development was admirable and whose inner experiences

bordered on the spectacular, but whose lives

were in disarray. They had neglected aspects of themselves

they considered irrelevant to the higher purpose to which

God had called them. Some struggled with financial woes

and frustrated careers because they had held ordinary ambition

in contempt. Some were profoundly conflicted

about sex and intimacy. In the name of spiritual freedom,

some resisted commitments of any kind. Some were emotional

adolescents, as out of touch with their feelings as

any alcoholic, because they used spirituality as a tranquilizer.

Some were perpetually unhealthy. Like supplyside

economists, they assumed that the rising tide of

spiritual unfoldment would lift all their boats. It didn’t

work out that way.

Once you know the peace that surpasses understanding;

once you taste divine bliss or sense the presence

of God; once you glimpse the pure Self that sits in eternal

splendor as a witness to the hubbub of thoughts and feelings;

once you say “yes” to the call of your soul, then your

spiritual destiny is likely to become your highest priority.

The question “What will best serve my spiritual needs?”

takes root as the ordering principle of your life. But while

lifting your gaze to follow the spiritual banner, you can

easily fail to see the potholes. In the name of inner peace,

you might avoid anything that makes you aware of urges

and traits that you consider unworthy. In the name of

transcendence, you might turn away from the challenge of

psychological growth. Ironically, when spirituality becomes

disconnected from other areas of life, spiritual

progress itself can start to drag, for one misaligned wheel

can make it hard to stay on course.

The hope that spiritual discipline will make all your

problems go away is sometimes supported by evidence.

You have the weight of the world on your shoulders, so

you pray or meditate or otherwise connect to the Divine,

and voila! your burden grows lighter. This often occurs

dramatically in the early stages of the journey, when your

most pressing concerns begin to dissipate. You assume

that the trend will continue.


This wishful thinking is reinforced within many spiritual

communities because the members want it to be true,

and the teachers, looking down from their lofty perches,

say that it is. What lurks in the shadows is either ignored

or hurled overboard like flotsam, the better to sail more

smoothly toward God.

One teacher, for example, would frequently say things

like this: “In the presence of pure bliss, all of your complaints

will vanish. Life is a game, not to be taken too seriously.”

His ardent followers were thrilled to hear this.

They did precisely what the master prescribed, and lo and

behold, their complaints did vanish. Not because their

problems went away, but because it was unseemly to complain

when your teacher said you’d have nothing to complain

about. When one of them admitted that she was

chronically depressed and was seeing a therapist, she received

this email from another devotee: “You have two

choices: You can analyze the depression, find out what

caused it, and get ‘treated’—then end up more depressed.

Or you can eliminate the depression with yogic practice,

and not get depressed in the future.”

Except that the person he was addressing had been engaged

in a repertoire of yogic practices for nine years and,

to cover her bases, prayed in church every Sunday. When

the beast of depression roared, she would meditate more,

pray more, or go on another retreat. When turmoil

erupted, she rationalized it as a sign of growth. Eventually,

she realized that spiritual practices were not going to

turn the blues into bliss. Thanks to psychotherapy and

herbal medicine, the depression eventually lifted. In the

bargain, her meditative practices had a newfound clarity

and silence—a bonus she had not anticipated.


The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

—John Milton


Life does tend to get better when you’re on a spiritual

path. But progress doesn’t always take the shape of a

soaring profit line, upward and to the right. Typically, the

graph shows choppy ups and downs. When least expected,

some buried part of your personality rises up with

a roar. This might not matter to monks and nuns. It might

be irrelevant in a simple culture with strong communal

bonds. But the rest of us have to deal with tendencies we

consider ugly or frightening. This is not always pleasant,

and it can be hard work. But there are three excellent reasons

why shying away from the shadow is not a good


1. What you resist persists. By now it sounds like a

New Age cliché, but it’s nonetheless true: You can run

from the unwanted parts of your psyche, but you can’t

hide. The more you suppress the beasts, the more likely

you will be unprepared when they bite you. Left unexamined,

they can’t be controlled or tamed.

2. You imprison the good stuff, too. It’s not just

harmful, undesirable traits that we hide in the shadows

but also some of our gifts: our passions, drives, and

unique talents; our exuberance, our creativity, our capacity

for ecstasy, and other earthy qualities that complete

the human package. We keep some of our treasures

buried because their power is awesome, and we fear

they’ll take control—or because we were taught that our

passions will lead us to hell. That they can, when handled

wisely, take us to God is the best-kept secret of the


3. It can obstruct spiritual development. It’s not easy

to locate inner peace when your mind roils with anxiety.

It’s not easy to open up to divine love when you hate

yourself. It’s not easy to taste the rapture of holiness if

you’re depressed or emotionally blocked. It’s not easy to

make consistent spiritual progress when frustration, sadness,

and worry are your constant companions. And it’s

not easy to achieve wholeness when you’re suppressing

vital parts of yourself.

We all want to move toward the light. Unfortunately,

we think that means keeping our backs turned to the

darkness. We are better served, spiritually, if we look into

our shadows with unabashed honesty and usher what we

find into the light. Once it is visible we can see it for what

it is—not shameful or fearsome, but a part of ourselves we

can learn from, dance with, and harness for spiritual

growth and human expression.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them

at the door laughing, and invite them in.


In the early days of psychology, its major proponents

were as hostile toward spirituality as Marxists were.

When meditative practices burst on the scene a generation

ago, some psychologists denounced them as forms of escape,

infantile regression, or even “self-induced catatonia.”

For their part, some spiritual leaders derided

psychotherapy as a waste of time, or even as harmful.

They assumed that the locomotive of Spirit would pull all

other aspects of the self behind it at uniform speed. It

seems, however, that every aspect of the self—mind, body,

emotional intelligence, social skills, etc.—moves on its

own developmental track. But they are also intimately

connected, so it is essential to make sure no part of the self

lags too far behind, or the whole train will slow down.

Like trees leaning toward the sun, our nature propels

us toward greater happiness, peace, love, and wholeness.

When we miss the mark, we try to correct our course by

diminishing certain traits and cultivating others. Even

when we try to stop trying—to relinquish all striving for

improvement and accept ourselves as we are—we are still

trying to grow, only in a different way. And one way we

can easily go wrong is to deny, in the name of spirituality,

parts of ourselves that need attention. In declaring ourselves

to be Spirit, therefore, we have to be wary of refuting

our humanness.



1. Explore the terrain. Through introspection and, if needed,

the help of a therapist or spiritual advisor, shine the light of

awareness on your unconscious. Examine honestly what’s been

stuffed away and place it in one of these categories:

Toxic waste. This material is holding you back or is causing

harm to you or others. It has to be processed with the aim of

eliminating it, bringing it under control, or reshaping it.

Comic relief. Some aspects of the shadow are fixed traits that

help shape your uniqueness. They may get in the way at times,

but they are relatively harmless. Work toward accepting these

traits and, perhaps, observing them with a sense of humor, as if

they were characters in a sitcom.

Buried treasure. These untamed aspects of the psyche hold

the potential for adventure, passion, joy, and creative expression.

Take a walk on the wild side. Explore parts of yourself

that have scared you. Expose yourself to experiences that make

you feel powerful feelings. But be careful not to go so far that

you lose control of the reins. The boundaries that separate enjoyment

from over-indulgence and use from abuse differ for

each individual. Push the limits of your comfort zone, but make

sure you can find your way back.

2. Don’t aim for perfection. Perfection exists only in the realm

of the eternal Self; if you try too hard to perfect the everchanging

individual self, you’ll nag yourself to the grave. Can

you accept that you are as ridiculous as you are sublime? Can

you appreciate the perfection of your imperfection?

3. Don’t lose focus. While exploring the darkness, don’t lose

sight of the light. You are not just a collection of “stuff.” You

are, in your essence, a spark of the Divine. So, as you work on

your all-too-human flaws, try to use every problem and every

issue as a spiritual practice.

4. Is it a breakdown or a breakthrough? History is filled with

spiritual heavyweights who psychologists would probably clas-

sify as pathological. We are blessed with the writings of St. Teresa,

for instance, because the medieval church made her record her experiences

to determine whether she was intoxicated by divine ecstasy

or possessed by demons. With examples like that, it is no

wonder that some seekers have called their psychological tumult

a spiritual breakthrough—only to regret not seeking professional

help. Others, however, have dashed to therapists when what they

were going through was more of an emergence than an emergency.

Some have been incorrectly diagnosed as mentally ill. Get

a second opinion, and maybe a third and a fourth.

5. Choose the right shrink. To find a spiritually fluent therapist,

ask friends and colleagues for referrals. See if your spiritual

community includes licensed mental health professionals. Other

places to look include yoga studios, New Age bookstores, and

professional organizations such as the Association for Transpersonal


6. Medication in moderation. Can antidepressants be a spiritual

boon, or are they a detriment to true awakening? Are they tools

for correcting biochemical imbalances, akin to mineral supplements

and herbal tonics, or temporary relief with unwanted side

effects? These are controversial issues, and you will find convincing

proponents of each position. Clearly, it is safer to meditate

than to medicate. But, for people with chronic depression,

medicine that is properly prescribed and monitored often relieves

debilitating symptoms and paves the way for working

more effectively on the emotional and spiritual levels.

7. Don’t trivialize spiritual practices. It’s all well and good to

use yoga to reduce stress, or to pray for success or chant for

healing. But when you use spiritual practices only for therapeutic

reasons, you fail to harness their full transformational

power. They are intended for Self-realization, not just self-improvement.

8. Contemplate this statement from the 20th-century Jewish

philosopher Martin Buber: “The face of the holy is not turned

away from but toward the profane. It does not want to hover

over the profane but to take it up into itself.”

Roadsigns On the Spiritual Path, by Philip Goldberg.

The link is  

Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

top of page