Oh Wait, maybe Astrology really IS science

Let’s take a more logical look at this age-old criticism

sci·ence (from dictionary.com)
noun
1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.
2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.
4. systematized knowledge in general.
5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.

I was a bit surprised to learn that Astrology – something I usually don’t think of as a mainstream topic – merited not one, but two Mother Jones posts this month.  The reports by Chris Mooney and Kevin Drum focused on the scientific basis of Astrology or perceived lack thereof.  Given that I hold Mother Jones in very high regard as a journalistic vehicle that “questions” to find the truth, I was dismayed (although not really surprised given the topic) at the ignorance displayed in these two articles.

 

Before I go further, let’s back up to ask what these articles even mean by Astrology?  Horoscopes printed in Cosmopolitan?  Descriptions of sun-signs in one-dimensional pop-culture astrology books?  Are they talking about predicting the future by interpreting planetary influence in one’s life at a particular time? or the complex personality profile provided by analyzing a specific birthdate & time?  Are we talking about Chinese Astrology? Hellenistic Astrology? Vedic Astrology? I have found that most people who denigrate astrology actually know next to nothing at all about it.  It’s clear by the lack of interest in even defining what is meant by “Astrology” that the same holds true for the authors of both these articles.  For the sake of this post, I am largely referring to the Hellenistic Astrology of personality– but I do believe the arguments would work for both predictive and personality based Astrology.

 

So let’s really examine the idea of Astrology as science.   To help out, I’ve actually reprinted the definition of science above.  I would like to call attention to the second entry which describes science as, “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation” and I would argue that knowledge of Astrology could comfortably fall under this definition of science.  Unlike, say, particle theory, Astrology is something that ordinary people actually have the ability to observe and experiment with in the lab of everyday experience.  As Kevin Drum, in his slightly less derogatory post, indicated, “It works.”  People for centuries have been systematically observing and experimenting with Astrology.  If it was totally unhelpful and surpassed by our more modern understanding, it would have fallen out of use like the sundial.  On a more personal note, I have pointed a lot of skeptics towards astrology simply saying, “Try it out for yourself” and every single one has come back a convert.  So I offer that challenge to both Kevin Drum and Chris Mooney.  Try it out – go to a site like Alabe.com and get your comprehensive personal profile for free (or go look it up in a book) and then go to your local library or bookstore or whatever and pore through the books.  Observe and experiment with your own personalities and those around you for awhile and compare.  Take the scientific approach. 😉

 

Because our scientific community doesn’t understand how Astrology works, the conclusion is that it can’t work.  (Note the Carl Jung quote on the front page of this blog).  Thus far,  the experiments that I have seen related to Astrology have largely been designed to prove that people are gullible, not that Astrology itself is inaccurate.  If you are looking for an understanding of why Astrology works that sounds more ‘science-y’– how about this one?  The gravitational force of the Sun is so strong that it anchors our entire solar system, the moon’s gravitational force is strong enough to have a noticeable impact on our ocean tides. Further, Mars & Venus keep our planet floating along in its own orbit.    Do we really believe that we are somehow exempt from solar, moon, and planetary influence when it so clearly regulates the very behavior of our planet?  We may not “notice” these influences the way we notice the tides, but that doesn’t mean there are no effects.  We don’t understand what they are because we haven’t dedicated time to study and document them.  Maybe a civilization that wasn’t so distracted by television and the internet had time to do that?

 

To bring this subject back to the theme of the blog, I just want to note that knowledge about Astrology is in no way necessary to actively walk the Spiritual Path.  It can be helpful if the personality aspect of it is used as another mirror of the self to better understand and evaluate who we are as well as our interactions and relationships with others.  However, I have found that, when too much time is spent on it, Astrology is more of a distraction from the spiritual path than an aid to further development.  Additionally, I don’t really recommend using Astrology to predict the future.  There are so many factors to consider that this type of prediction is a lot like financial market prediction; it works in a vacuum, but we don’t live in a vacuum.  I think it would require an incredible amount of research and dedication to predict how a particular planetary influence is going to manifest in your life.  I’m not sure it’s healthy to be that obsessed with the future; it takes you out of living in the present.

What does it mean to be Psychic?

Who’s new to ‘Woo Woo’?

I’m in something of a rut on my spiritual path – or well, I was until very recently – and decided to work through Sonia Choquette’s book “The Spiritual Pathway” to kickstart my spiritual work again. Her first chapter emphasizes reflection on what it means to be a psychic and normally I would start this kind of semantic exploration with a dictionary definition.  Unfortunately, i found that route to be mostly unhelpful this time.  Digging into my own mind, i was surprised to find that – where the dictionary definition was overly broad – my own definition of psychic was overly narrow and focused entirely on persons who could “see” the future or knew things about me that I didn’t tell them.  In fact, mentally, I clearly segregated my own non-physical experiences as “energetic” in nature and didn’t think of them as “psychic” at all, even though they would have easily fallen under the dictionary definition.  Adding to my confusion on the subject, my own belief that energy is at the root of everything and my views regarding how psychic  talent works at an abstract level make it seem like it would be a natural fit to think of myself as ‘psychic.’  Yet, despite my moderate experience with energetic events over the last 15-18 years, I still feel great resistance to thinking of myself as ‘a psychic’ or even just ‘psychic.’  Why?

I ruminated on this for awhile, surprised to find myself wide awake this morning still mulling over the problem.  As a very first distinction, I noted that ‘a psychic’ seemed to be a professional in the field of psychic work much like ‘a carpenter’ or ‘a lawyer’ etc.  So it makes sense that I wouldn’t think of myself falling into this category; I work in IT.  It’s curious that psychic is both an adjective and a noun in common use.  You can be ‘a psychic’ or you can be ‘psychic’ – but you can’t be ‘a carpenter’ or ‘carpenter.’  After letting this thought unfold, I found a more analogous example in sports.  If someone is ‘a basketball player’ as an adult this suggests – at least on some level – that they are playing basketball as a career.  However, a person can play basketball without being ‘a basketball player.’  This helped clarify my thinking on the subject and my mind went even further with it to show me why I don’t think of myself as ‘psychic.’  Imagine you are plopped down in the middle of a basketball court while a game is going on.  You don’t know the rules and are unfamiliar with the game even as a spectator.  Clearly you recognize something very active is going on around you; there’s a lot of running and shouting and throwing – and maybe occasionally a ball wings your way and you catch it out of self-defense.  Someone on the court motions for you to throw the ball to them and you do.  Now, are you really playing basketball in this scenario?  I would argue no.  For me, the idea of being ‘psychic’ even only in the adjectival form denotes some form of control or understanding of the situation that I simply don’t have.  I’m like the clueless person on the court who’s just trying to figure out how to stay out of people’s way.  Thus far, when I have had an energetic experience, I haven’t been able to tell what was happening at a detail level.  I had some guesses and inklings, but nothing definite and no real way to confirm.

So what have the psychics got that I haven’t got?

I believe that energy is everywhere around us and that such energy contains information.  I believe that people we (or at least I) traditionally think of as psychics are able to “interpret” or “translate” this energetic information better than most people. (This interpretation can take many forms; visions, hearing things, just ‘knowing’ things, etc.) I once read a book that talked about psychic talent in an illuminating way; painting the following scenario.  Imagine you are on the street and see a car barreling towards an intersection.  Now imagine someone is on the corner of a rooftop on a nearby building and shouts that there is going to be an accident.  From their vantage point, the person on the rooftop could see that there were two cars on perpendicular streets heading for the same intersection.  It’s  possible the accident wouldn’t have happened.  One of the drivers could have stopped.  However, the point is that the rooftop person could see the way the cars were moving, and had an understanding of how they would probably end up.  In the case of the psychic, we all have access to the same energetic information, but their gifts allow them to more easily translate it into a vision about someone’s life or a prediction of the future.

Psychics are human, as we all are, and their interpretive skills aren’t perfect.  Many years ago I went to a psychic who told me my mother would do something in real estate.  I responded that I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen.  She re-asserted it and again I said, “I really don’t think so.”  After a long pause she finally said, “I see a woman in front of a computer screen and there’s a house price on the left and a description on the right.”  Instantly I straightened, “Oh!” I said “That’s me – I work for a real estate office part-time while I’m in school and that’s an exact description of the software we use.”  Relieved, she exhaled a sigh and confessed, “I saw that image, but only saw the person from the back and figured you were too young so I assumed it was your mother.”  The information about my job was hanging around in my energy and her psychic ability picked it up and translated it perfectly into an accurate snapshot of my life – but her further extrapolation of what was going on in that picture, her very human thought process, led her astray in interpretation.

So, what DOES it mean to be Psychic?

To return to the question that set us off in the first place; in a way I suppose we are all psychic, at least based the dictionary definition of the term.  There is energy around us everywhere and we all pick up on the information floating about in that energy from time to time – whether we like to admit it to ourselves or not.  Our skills vary in this regard – mine happen to be on the lower end and I know will be too shy to call myself ‘psychic’ for some time to come.  However, if you are comfortable with the term, you should embrace your inner psychic with relish.  Being psychic is just one more way we can engage with and share in the amazing mystery that is the Universe.

Full Frontal Alchemy

Is Alchemy a Spiritual Path tradition in disguise?

For most of my life my exposure to alchemy has been limited to a sparse number of sentences in Chemistry textbooks and the animated series Full Metal Alchemist.  Actually, that’s not entirely true – Alchemy did come up in my college class on Daoism, but that focused largely on the practice of imbibing mercury in the quest for immortality.  This seemed so remote from my vague understanding of Western Alchemy  (not to mention laughable from a health perspective) that I promptly dismissed this as not ‘real’ alchemy.  Imagine my surprise, then, as I’m reading the autobiography of Carl Jung to stumble upon a chapter where he talks about being closeted with Alchemical texts for “more than a decade”[1] until “the alchemical mode of expression gradually yielded up its meaning”[2]  Professor Jung went on;

“I had very soon seen that analytical psychology coincided in a most curious way with alchemy.  The experiences of  the alchemists were, in a sense, my experiences, and their world was my world.  This was, of course, a momentous discovery; I had stumbled upon the historical counterpart of my psychology of the unconscious.”[3]

For me, there have been many parallels between Jung’s psychology of the unconscious and my experience of the “Spiritual Path.”  How intriguing to think there may be some further connections to be found in alchemy also.  I found myself mulling over the old disconnect between Alchemy in the West – which seemed to be a search for the recipe to create Gold from…well…non-Gold – and Alchemy in the East which seemed to be a quest for immortality.  Were these two seemingly opposing goals just different perspectives on the same end result?  Could the study of Alchemy be a type of Spiritual Path?  To the Library!

The nature of gold

I checked out the three volumes of Jung’s I could find on Alchemy and promptly started devouring them.  Drawn to Jung’s commentary on an Eastern Alchemical text, the “Secret of the Golden Flower,”  I was hoping, based on the title, it would corroborate my own musings about the connection between Eastern and Western alchemy.  If you’ve had any exposure to the type of energy that some people call the “Human energy field” (For some reason, I really despise this name for it, I don’t know why – so I simply refer to it as ‘energy’) or with chakra work you may be familiar with the idea that there are different “colors” to energy.  I have only actually seen energy twice and both times it was quite a strange experience so I can’t validate the ‘color’ aspect of it with first hand experience.  However, “Gold” colored energy is sometimes considered indicative of a “connection to God” (think of the color of halos) or as healing energy from the Universe.  When we take the very worldly concepts of immortality (on a physical plane) and Gold (as a physical metal) and abstract a level to the layer of energy and spirit, we can see the beginnings of a bridge between what Eastern and Western Alchemy were aiming at.

So what is Alchemy really, then?  A spiritual path with an esoteric goal or a hands-on practice bound to test tubes and bunsen burners?  It is obvious, and Jung himself admits, that the heart of Alchemy is executed in the laboratory.  I think what made this tradition so compelling for many was that – for the pure hearted / minded practitioner (and by this I mean someone who studied the practice for itself and not for the sole aim of manufacturing gold or becoming immortal) it merged the inner and outer aspects beautifully.

I only really saw this connection when I consulted a more modern perspective, Robert Allen Bartlett’s Real Alchemy (if you are interested in reading this book I recommended breezing past the part about humans receiving knowledge of alchemy from aliens or the gods – the book does get better after that).  Bartlett himself says that Alchemy is, “..a spiritual path leading one to enlightenment”[4] although he seems to attribute the transformation mostly to the action of various alchemical products (such as tinctures or magisteries) on the body / spirit / mind.  I certainly cannot in any way vouch for that aspect as my skill in laboratory work is accurately reflected in my “D” in high school Chemistry.  However, after reading these diverse sources of information on Alchemy (in addition to those already mentioned I also picked up the Corpus Hermetica and gave it a whirl), I could see how – regardless of the effects of the chemicals – a dedicated Alchemical study could prompt spiritual metamorphosis.

Alchemy’s connection to the Spiritual Path

It is clear from considering the practical aspects of this obscure tradition that the practice is rooted in developing a fundamental understanding of the interactions among the elements that make up our world.  “Man is a microcosm inseparable from his macrocosmic environment”[5] This manifests in the alchemical interest in the ‘influence’ of the planets (as one example) on various alchemical procedures.  According to Alchemical theory, performing certain procedures under specific, relevant, planetary or astrological influences promotes maximum efficacy (think of the Old Farmer’s Almanac and Planting season for a more removed example of this).  This is Science by Rite; the laboratory equipment we associate with the realm of science becomes almost ceremonial.   it is easy to see how an intimate understanding of these various influences would not only bring about knowledge of the interconnectedness of all things, but also through hands on experimentation a deep understanding and internalizing of this concept.

Also, like Spiritual development – Alchemical procedures take time.  Our modern experience has been one where we don’t understand or have patience for lengthy drawn-out processes, but walking the Spiritual Path is not a ‘quick trip.’  Even the most basic, beginning, Alchemical practices can take months of involved work to complete.  These days people barely have the patience to wait a few hours for bread to rise.  With spiritual development it can also take months and sometimes years to overcome a particular challenge or test.  That’s not to say there aren’t sudden breakthroughs; flashes of inspiration or incredible moments where things come together – but I’ve found the spiritual path to be a series of cycles with bright flashes of connection followed by long sloughs of grueling testing.   This mirrors the practice of Alchemy; one successful Alchemical experiment / procedure only leads the practioner to try something more challenging next.

One last note, Unlike planting / growing where the plants do most of the transformative work on their own, the practice of Alchemy requires the practitioner to be a very active participant in the process.  To put this another way, the end result of an Alchemical process could not be achieved without the active machinations of the Alchemist.  Man in concert with nature produces results nature could never have achieved alone.  An alchemical procedure is far from ‘set it and forget it.’  Careful attention must be paid during each stage of the process in order to produce the best result.  With this active participation must come investment of the self.  The recipes require evaporating, boiling, distilling, exposing to flame and any number of other processes – in multiple iterations to get a single end product.    Successes and Failures must be felt intimately, tying one ever closer to the work.  Through Alchemy, man experiences himself as ‘creator’ (or woman / herself, if you prefer) and I imagine this, also, leads to greater understanding of the nature of our existence on this planet and in this universe.

Conclusion

So where does this leave us with Alchemy?  Well, I think we find a pattern here that is not totally unfamiliar to us from something as mainstream as religion.  At the core of the practice you find some staunch believers who understand the concepts and execute the procedures with faith and understanding.  On the outskirts of this core, the knowledge and understanding starts to diffuse so that at the very outer levels you find people who are just looking for the end goal and not really interested in the diligence and study required to get there.  The core Alchemists probably did experience Alchemy as a path of spiritual development.  I don’t have the time or inclination to pursue it, but I believe the resources are out there that anyone genuinely interested in this aspect of Alchemy could experience the same.  You’re not going to create gold or become immortal (at least not in the physical plane), but I’m sure the study, execution, investment of self, and waiting associated with pursuing this practice results in a transformative spiritual experience worthy of any other tradition.  I still advise against drinking liquid Mercury, though.

Booklist

(the following books inspired the above post and would be good resources for anyone seeking to explore this topic further)

  • Psychology & Alchemy by C.J. Jung
  • Alchemical Studies by C.J. Jung
  • Real Alchemy by Robert Allen Bartlett
  • The Secret of the Golden Flower by Wang Chongyang and translated by Richard Wilhelm
  • Corpus Hermeticum attributed to Hermes (sorry, that’s what it says <shrug>) translated by G. Mead

[1] Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung, Kindle edition, loc 3622
[2] Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung, Kindle edition, loc 3622
[3] Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung, Kindle Edition, loc 3630
[4] Bartlett, Robert Allen, Real Alchemy, A Primer of Practical Alchemy Kindle edition loc 611
[5] Barlett, Robert Allen. Real Alchemy, A Primer of Practical Alchemy Kindle edition loc 440

Book Review: The World’s Religions

BookThe World’s Religions by Huston Smith, Harper SanFrancisco c:1958

Rating: *****
Good For: Everyone
Reading Level: Moderate

This was the book that started it all for me.  Back in 1997 when it first caught my eye in a Canterbury bookstore, it was called The Religions of Man.  Although I think Professor Smith was trying to strike an anthropological tone with that title, I can understand why it may have been out of touch with modern sensibilities and in need of an update.  The World’s Religions is a book to be savored and, honestly, is the first book I give to people who are interested in the Spiritual Path.  The book is structured nicely to allow jumping around and I have come back to various chapters in this book at various points in my path.  It’s not that I think reading this book leads to enlightenment – but more that it offers an introduction to the various religious traditions that’s very approachable and can spur the reader on to explore a tradition that’s new and different to them. (Often such a thing can be helpful for pointing us in a particular direction on the Spiritual Path.  We are often more ready to seek wisdom outside of our natal religion and there’s nothing wrong with that tendency.  Much value can be found in the source documents of all the various traditions.)  Furthermore, Prof. Smith focuses on the root value of each tradition and often these root values are qualities we are seeking for ourselves and thus it becomes much easier to find resonance with a tradition that, on the outside, looks alien and unapproachable.

On the cautionary side, the way many of these religions are practiced is vastly different from the way they are presented in this book so I wouldn’t advise reading a particular chapter and then rushing out to join-up.  Also, the intellectual student of Religion will find much to be dissatisfied with here.  The book is light on history and other types of information that are usually the focus of a college course in a particular religion.  This presents no problem for me, however, whose primary interest is not academic in nature.  For those who are interested in walking the Spiritual Path or those already walking it who haven’t yet stumbled across this book I strongly recommend it.  Read whichever chapter you’re drawn to first and see where it leads. 🙂

Rating Key:

***** – Should be at the top of your reading list
**** – Should be somewhere on your reading list
*** – Good for a very particular audience or it’s a toss-up whether this is worth reading or not
** – I have too much time on my hands
* – If you see a one-start post, consider it my idea of a public service to warn you away

Reading Level:

Easy – Anyone at a 12th grade reading level should have no problem with this
Moderate – May require a bit more determination to work through
Difficult – May require background knowledge in a particular field or need to be read in conjunction with other texts in order to optimally parse meaning
Extremely Difficult – This one I’ll reserve for something like Sankara, where it may take you twenty minutes just to get through a sentence or two.

You Are Here

 

“A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep.  In dreams you will lose your heartaches – whatever you wish for you keep.  Hold tight to your dream and someday a rainbow will come shining through.  No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true” – Walt Disney’s Cinderella

This opening song in the Disney movie Cinderella illustrates two things.  One, inspiration can be found anywhere, even an animated, corporate cartoon and two, that even a child can be expected to understand the connection between the heart and achieving fulfillment.

However basic this idea seems on the surface, most children and many adults do not actively seek to achieve the wishes their hearts make.  Instead, they mentally file them away in a box labeled “impractical” and pull them out in melancholy moments to accentuate what their life is missing rather than spur them to take an active role in their own spiritual development.

You have an advantage over many if you have recognized that there must be something more to life, something beyond the day to day experience of “surviving” or “getting by” whatever your economic situation may be.

Joseph Campbell speaks most succinctly to this feeling by terming this stage of life’s journey as “The Call.”  The stirring in the heart, the feeling of restlessness and dissatisfaction with your life (however busy it may actually be) is actually a call from your heart to engage, to develop, to experience life in a deeper and more meaningful way.

The simplicity of this idea is deceptive.  Responding to “The Call” is not merely recognizing it and taking action by reading relevant books, engaging in activities such as yoga or Tai-Chi, or attending a meditation or self-help seminar.

Progressing beyond this preliminary stage and starting your own internal journey is actually the first few steps on a very long path.

At a high level, this stage is characterized by an opening of a dialogue between the conscious mind and the subconscious, between the self and the higher self, between one’s being and the universe.  It is all of these at the same time and the effort can only come from within.

The first step is hearing and recognizing this call to action, the second step is signaling a willingness to begin the journey, and the third step, the hardest step, is listening to, understanding, and acting on the response from the universe.  Only when one has taken all three steps has the spiritual journey really begun.

The Call

Even the first step, the initial ‘call’ from one’s inner being is, unfortunately, all too easy to ignore.  After all, our western, capitalist culture does not encourage finding fulfillment without entering into the market behavior of vending and consuming.

In response to our quest for deeper meaning, society and tradition push us into mainstream religions that often offer the comfort and celebration of community at the expense of individual spiritual development.

The looming church of whatever religion can sometimes make us feel that there is no room for a growth and exploration of individual belief; one must accept the mandated beliefs (or profess to) and keep deeply hidden any personal reservations or differences of opinion.

This is nothing new or unique to our particular place and time.  For centuries wars have been fought and people murdered as ‘heretics’ for the very act of believing something different from church doctrine; it still happens today in some places.

It is perhaps this violent history, however remote from our present experience, which has led many of us to feel extremely uncomfortable with discussions of our personal faith and, in the same vein, our personal spiritual development in public and sometimes even among close friends and family.  Discomfort such as this can only increase one’s feeling of ‘separation.’

Although seeking to develop further spiritually on an individual level will not necessarily resolve these conflicts and can actually increase one’s feeling of ‘apartness,’ there is some good news.

Walking your own spiritual path does not actually require you to commit to any particular religious belief or swear allegiance to any particular system; it can dovetail quite reasonably with whatever social religious practice you currently follow.

The challenge spiritual development presents instead is to thoroughly examine one’s own life and engagement with both the concrete and metaphysical world.  There should be no surprise if this causes the individual to both challenge old belief systems and develop new ones, but this will happen in its own time and through one’s own efforts rather than according to any prescribed dogma.

Additionally, seeking to develop and understand the self better can help the individual navigate his or her own life with more intent.  Although the feeling of “separation” from others may increase, often the feeling of communion with the self and the divine will intensify to such a degree that the absence of that feeling of “belongingness” from the community is no longer a cause of concern.

Seemingly in opposition with the conclusion just drawn, relationships with loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers are likely to improve as one proceeds on this inner and outer journey.

As you understand yourself better, you will gain new insight into your own behavior and attitudes towards others as well as understanding their interaction with you.  This will allow you to express, recognize, and respond to love and other emotions in your interpersonal relationships on a new and deeper level.

Each individual must internally weigh these and other concerns against perceived benefits, but the fundamental fact is that there is really no great risk in taking that first step; hearing the call and making some effort to heed it.

At this point on the journey, your worldview is not likely to have changed so dramatically that any “damage” done cannot be undone.  Like the first flicker of eyelids in the morning; one might wake up, hop out of bed, and start the day or merely glance groggily at the clock and return to slumber.

Weeks or even days after reading an inspirational book or finding oneself moved by a conference or seminar or maybe even a particular worship service, we find ourselves slipping back into our old routines, our old concerns, focusing on the external and neglecting the internal.

In such a case, our eyes have only flickered.  In turn, this is why a more direct signal to the self and the universe is required to truly engage in the kind of meaningful dialogue that will start you on your journey.

If deep down you know this is only a spark to be quickly extinguished, the subconscious mind, too, will remain in slumber; hidden deep below the surface of your awareness.  Similarly, the higher self and the universe will be even more remote and difficult to access.

The Signal

When and if you decide you are ready to take more deliberate and intentional action, you are ready for the second step on the path.  This is a direct signal of intent to the subconscious mind, higher self, and universe that one is ready to begin their journey.

One should not expect that merely spending twenty minutes or even a week in daily meditation will result in a response. The timing from the first recognition and heeding of the call to the response from the universe will vary from person to person.

Ironically, like the seemingly “unfair” story of the prodigal son, a complete beginner may receive a response more clearly and quickly than a person who has dabbled in yoga, meditation, and exploratory reading for some time.  This may be because the more experienced spiritual student has signaled fickle interest often enough that it will take a sustained, deliberate effort to communicate commitment.

Another possibility is that the more awake and experienced student may have come to accept certain feelings and signals as second nature due to their own spiritual activities, and thus may be taking no particular notice of them now.

I recently experienced this in a meditation class.  Even though I have been walking my own spiritual path for the last fifteen years, when my meditation teacher recently asked me if I could feel my own energy body, I found myself shaking my head in a confused manner and answering, “I’m not sure.”

However, when she led our class through a meditation to feel our energy body and described the sort of techniques we should use to “feel” it, I recall thinking of course, I feel this all the time, I just didn’t think of it in those terms.  Students who have dabbled in spiritual development before need to be especially attentive to subtle signals they may be receiving.

However discouraging this “waiting” period may feel to your conscious mind, it is not without its own value.  The opportunity, here, is to begin to “clean out” one’s conscious (and sometimes borderline subconscious) mind and observe oneself from the outside looking in.

It is worth keeping in mind that the ultimate goal of this opening salvo is to communicate not only your desire to be more whole, but your commitment to pursue this endeavor with serious and determined intent.

As far as “sending” the signal itself, truthfully, the only way I have found this to really work is through meditation.  To be fair, meditation can take many forms; drumming, yoga, tai-chi, silent reflection, prayer, journaling, mindful living, etc.   However, the most striking results I have seen include at least some form of focused silent meditation either alone or in combination with other forms listed above.  The very act of sitting and clearing out the mind offers an opportunity to both observe the mind and communicate directly with it.

The signal must be clear, intentional, and serious.  By “clear” I mean uncluttered with fears or hidden motivations such as conforming to other’s perceptions or a desire to “confirm” one’s own skepticism.

Because of the inherent connotations, I cringe a little at using the word “serious” to describe communication with the subconscious mind, self, and universe.  Often this communication can be characterized by a jubilant feeling of “connection” and peace, an experience of exploring and engaging with your existence on a new and exciting level.

I would not deny this whimsical part of the spiritual journey by labeling communication “serious.”  Rather, I refer to the definition of serious that dictionary.com lists as, “being in earnest, sincere, not trifling” as well as “requiring thought, concentration, or application.”  Even when approaching meditation with joy and wonder, your communication should represent the aspects of seriousness listed above.

The clarity and intent of your signal can be made more concrete by journaling about what thoughts, images, and questions come out of dreams, meditation sessions, and simple mindful reflections.  Making the added commitment of putting pen to paper to record impressions and allow yourself to digest them can be a direct signal to your subconscious mind, higher self, and the universe that you are “listening.”

If you don’t feel comfortable with your writing, journaling does not specifically have to take the form of the written word.  Drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, song, music, or making collages by clipping relevant words, thoughts, and pictures from magazines or newspapers are perfectly acceptable ways to bring your meditative reflections into the corporeal world.  One of the fastest and easiest ways to journal is by using a personal voice recorder to tape your meditation sessions, dreams, and reflections.

Regardless of what medium you choose, always remember that the primary goal of this exercise is not to produce great art, but to signal to the universe that you are ready to engage; your goal is to actively pursue your life’s destiny.

The Response

If one has signaled clearly a genuine and sustained interest, the subconscious mind will open to the observer.  An opportunity will present itself, a door will appear, a signal will be sent in response; the universe will communicate, “I hear.”

At first, this is likely to be quite startling, and despite the inherent joy in such a moment, one is likely to be internally conflicted.  The student may question; is this a response?  Or have I been wishing so much for a response that I’ll convince myself anything out of the ordinary is a response?

Chances are that your first instinct is correct, but it is good to remember that communication from these meta-entities, rather than a singular shot in the dark, is often a series of encounters or experiences that taken independently seem like coincidence and only have meaning when considered together; a theme that either instantly rings so true you cannot doubt it or, if ignored, repeats itself and becomes more obvious and clear the more you meditate.

A response can come in many forms.  For one it may be a particularly relevant and meaningful dream or succession of them.  For another it may be the experience of overhearing a co-worker talking about a book they read that affected them deeply and then coming across that same book or author oneself in a seemingly random and independent way only to begin reading it and find just the answer or message one was seeking.

Some may find they feel a new spark of interest in an activity that blends spirit with physical movement like drumming, yoga, or Tai-Chi only to suddenly stumble upon an open workshop or see a flyer in a strange place advertising the very thing they were interested in.

Recently I received a call to action from the universe via the combination of a dream, a television show theme, and a church sermon all within the space of a week.

In the case where an individual is not yet very attuned to him or herself, a situation not altogether uncommon in complete beginners to meditation and spiritual development, he or she may actually not recognize a response or may completely misinterpret one.

In other cases, we may deliberately ignore a response or pretend we don’t hear it because we don’t like the message.  If many weeks go by without any seeming “response” or with a perceived response that seems confusing or in contrast with core ethical beliefs, it can be beneficial to seek direct counsel.

Ask an understanding and compassionate family member, friend, classmate, or teacher’s advice regarding your confusion and trouble.  If that does not help you bring clarity to the situation, there may be cause to seek more definite guidance from a psychic or through one’s own direct dialoguing process.

Most often, the struggle in the third step is not so much with hearing the response, but with understanding, accepting, and acting on it.  We may not feel ‘ready’ to take on the personal challenge our subconscious or higher self presents to us.

Challenges from one’s higher self and the universe will almost always be very personal and reach to the very heart and core of our being.  Perhaps the images presented to us while meditating are frightening because they remind us of our imperfections and weaknesses or they expose deep seated fears that are negatively impacting the way we live our lives.

Additionally, perhaps we feel we are being asked to do things we are not ready to do; open our hearts to people we are not ready to forgive, confess a transgression to someone who may not forgive us, or face parts of ourselves we are afraid of.

From a practical perspective, it is most important to have patience with yourself during this period.  It is not unlikely that progressing beyond this beginning stage may take from six months to a year depending on one’s level of dedication, quality of reflection, and timing of action in response to communication from the subconscious mind.

When faced with such deep internal fears, we do best to remember that all heroes throughout time have had to face great challenges.  In stories, as in life, these are often internal fears and conflicts made manifest in the external world either through our own projections or as messengers from the universe.

Rather than be discouraged, know that the practice of spiritual development is rewarding mostly because it is so challenging.  We are presented with opportunities to better understand ourselves, others, and the world we live in; to grow.