“Mr. Natural, what does it all mean?” Part 2 [79]

In Spirituality & Personal Growth by Dr. Keith Witt

Last week’s blog began with Mr. Natural (of Zap Comics fame) responding to Flakey Foont’s, “Mr. Natural! Mr. Natural! What does it all mean?” with his kosmic, “It don’t mean shit!” We then looked at enlightenment as a set of processes that involve doing your best each moment to feel unity with everything, while assuming lifelong progress on a journey that never ends–in other words, living involves processes that can become more mature, but are always in flux and shifting from state to state, level to level. What can we do to accelerate our maturation? Well, one way that’s been validated by lots of research is meditation–something Mr. Natural did all the time. It’s hard to see how cool meditation is when you’re just looking in from the outside. According to Jon Kabat Zinn, mindfulness meditation is being aware, on purpose, without judgment, in the present moment. If you do this for twenty minutes or so daily for a few years, you’re likely to mature one or two developmental levels on different developmental lines–meditation actually seems to accelerate emotional/social/spiritual growth. This is a big deal! Not much else has been shown to speed up personal evolution. We believe good therapy does, as well as joyful relating and various yogas, but so far the most robust research data supports meditation as a growth accelerator (see blogs #29 and #37). Going back to Mr. Natural–who is a comic figure, even though he has real powers–spiritual practitioners are easily mocked, since you really only understand a spiritual practice from inside the practice. For instance, long-term meditation can create a rich inner world of bliss and profound equanimity, but from the outside a meditator just looks like someone sitting up straight with their eyes closed. Contemptuous cultures (like much of secular, academic, and fundamentalist America in the 1950’s–and even some today) can contaminate spiritual practices, because they often dismissively attack what they don’t understand from the inside, causing practitioners–like most everybody who gets dissed–to get pissed off and defensive. When critics (like religious fundamentalists, rigidly skeptical scientists, or egocentric me-first power-Gods) threaten spiritual practitioners with contempt, criticism, or outright condemnation (all forms of emotional violence), spiritual practitioners can instinctively defend contemptuously—their own subtle form of emotional violence. Such defensive dismissiveness can lead to a “We are the chosen ones” worldview in communities based on wisdom traditions and contemplative practices, which pushes them to become more rigid and hostile, which pushes others to be more contemptuous, which…you get my point, it can be a self-accelerating spiral of violence. The “we are chosen” ethos is called “mythic membership” and defines a certain us/them worldview that arises in response to a combination of “Our way is the best way,” and what feels like repression or attack from the outside. Us/them worldviews often generate subtle violence of thought towards “them,” which can naturally happen with anyone, even peaceful meditators who still have genetically driven tendencies to be hostile to threats (development is include and transcend, so we never lose self-protective reflexes). My advice to all practitioners who become defensive is, “Let’s keep our eye on the evolutionary ball.” Evolution in the present moment is best served by love. Spiritual practitioners can become down on those whom they believe “don’t get it,” and I think this is usually a mistake. For instance, I don’t want to subtly dismiss people whose conscious agenda doesn’t seem to be furthering evolution, even though I personally believe the self-transcendent, evolutionary impulse drives all of us to some extent (as living beings we will always have impulses to relate and create–or as Freud put it, love and work). I also don’t want to dismiss anyone who organizes his or her life for profit, pleasure, advancement, security, distraction, or any other human reason. Each person manifests consciousness in their own unique way, which has its own beauty, truth, and goodness as well as shadow/craziness. Therapists are pretty good at helping people where they are rather than where the therapist thinks they should be. If I as a therapist happen to have a deep understanding of some central principles of existence, I figure my job is to use it to help others make wise, healthy choices in whatever worlds they live in. When a business person craves financial security, let’s help him make healthy choices. When a lonely woman yearns for more stable, secure intimacy, let’s help her make healthy choices. When a couple is eager for better sex and romance, let’s help them make healthy choices. When a seeker develops a hunger for profound unity with God, let’s guide her to decisions and practices that expand consciousness and compassion. Most psychotherapists share this mission of, “Encourage effort and progress starting with fully accepting where someone is right now.” We usually begin with honoring and admiring the healthy aspects of whatever is important to you. As long as nobody gets trashed, we’re on board to help you. On the other hand, most therapists also have an unspoken agenda of helping clients personally evolve and serve the world. Therapists often believe, but rarely admit, “My secret agenda is to help you and everyone you know be instruments of an evolutionary force rising from the Big Bang through you and me to create love, beauty, and complexity in the universe.” For me, therapy always is informed by what Andrew Cohen (author of Evolutionary Enlightenment) calls the “Evolutionary Impulse.” When I’m doing therapy, I feel creation’s energies flowing through me to support the evolutionary currents that drive my clients to grow and love better. I think this is part of an answer to, “What does it all mean?” Movement towards love, beauty, and complexity is so cool, and we move faster when we receive trustable help and guidance, and even faster when we have a contemplative, meditation practice. All this can provide guidance when you or someone else wants to accelerate development, or starts feeling contempt for others. Consciousness can guide and redirect drives and impulses–can turn them into art. Whenever I catch myself being dismissive, I say, “Keith, come on!” Sure, the unhealthy aspects of any worldview suck, but maybe I’m ignoring an opportunity to celebrate and support what’s important to this precious conscious being right now—to help Spirit manifest through them. Maybe this is what it all means, and that’s why Mr. Natural was so impatient and dismissive of Flakey Foont’s demand for a simple answer. Or maybe Mr. Natural’s “It don’t mean shit!” answer to Flakey’s “What does it all mean?” question is just a bit of nonsense that, like a Zen koan, has no answer, but exists as a catalyst to foster deeper insight and consciousness. What do you think?