|Reflections of a Spiritual Warrior|
[ January/February 2000 ]
by Bruce Bibee
In the August 1999 issue of Discover magazine, there was a provocative article on Dr. Andrew Weil, the "Alternative Medicine Man." In that article, Marcia Angell writes that alternative medicine is "not scientific or practical, but religious. Like most religions, alternative medicine has prophets..." like Weil, Deepak Chopra, and so on. What Angell apparently doesn't realize is that science itself can be classified as a religion.
Religion is "a system of thought, feeling and action shared by a group that gives an object of devotion; a code of ethics governing personal and social conduct; and a frame of reference relating individuals to their group and the universe..." (The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia). Science qualifies as a religion under this definition as its object of devotion is the scientific method; the code of ethics is the peer review process; and the frame of reference that helps each member of the group relate to the group and the universe is the array of theories about reality.
Of concern to us here is the scientific method, which, simply put, is the process of establishing a hypothesis about something, testing that hypothesis, and then inviting others to do the same in the hopes that they will find the same conclusions. The belief is that by pursuing this methodology, science can eventually establish empirical reality. The scientific bias is that true reality can be verified by the scientific method. Any supposed reality that cannot be tested by the scientific method is, by definition, not real. There is, therefore, One True Way to truth -- the scientific method. Methods of corroboration that are not scientifically based (e.g., an enlightened person verifying another's enlightenment through koan testing) is, according to a scientific zealot, pure hocus-pocus.
On the other hand, however, the scientific method does tell us something valuable about reality: all realities are rational. In other words, koan testing is a rational way of verifying enlightenment claims. Ken Wilber, a transpersonal theoretician, uses the term "trans-rational" to assert that even, or especially, in the spiritual realm rational thought is required. When rational thought is abandoned, a spiritual bypass is the usual result.
Rational thought within the spiritual realm sort of goes like this: First, I make a leap of faith (i.e., there is a God who does care about all of us). This may not seem all that rational on the face of it, but according to the rules of logic, any argument begins with a "premise." The premise, or assumption, provides those representing the opposing sides of the argument with a starting point. Most of the scientific community's difficulty with spirituality comes from the fact that they are unwilling to accept spiritual assumptions.
To continue with rational spirituality, though, I wonder what might be the process by which God's supposed "caring" could be channeled down to me here on Earth. Through hypothesis testing, I eventually arrive at an answer. Then I invite others to discover, through their experiments to test the same hypothesis, if they can confirm my observations. For example, one of the basic tenets in 12-Step programs is that one must "do the footwork and turn over the outcome." This is a hypothesis about how to get God to operate in one's life. The recovering addict/alcoholic must do everything possible to solve his/her current problem, then turn over the final solution or outcome to his/her Higher Power.
Magical thinking, on the other hand, has more to do with form (getting the incantation right), than content (hypothesis testing). A spiritual bypass is a product of magical thinking. Consider, for example, the workshop-junkie. He or she attends faithfully every workshop there is on spiritual topics and maintains a spiritual high for literally months at a time. Bouncing from one city to the next, breathing in the heady atmosphere of airy-fairy truths, swooning before the latest guru, then returning to his/her hotel room to relish the memories and gush the reflected radiance through the phone to those at home who didn't get to be here -- this addict is so up in the clouds that planet Earth is a distant, unpleasant memory. Try to bring one of them back to Earth and what you get is a barrage of rationalizations and guilt-trips about how you are trying to spoil his/her God-inspired life. "Just have faith," you are told, "it will all work out in the end." Well, yeah, it all works out in the end: we die and go to Summerland. What about right now?
Things don't just work out unless we do our share of the work. God, in the experience of the workshop-junkie, is merely another codependent Rescuer. In fact, one of the stages in the recovery process is to unravel one's codependent relationship with God (e.g., the Abuser-Victim-Rescuer dynamic that functionally defines codependency).
Recovery is difficult work: the personal work is all about disentangling oneself from one's survival system. God's part in this equation has more to do with putting people, events and problems in one's way so that the entanglements become obvious to the recovering person. In codependent recovery, difficult people, events and problems are historically dealt with by trying to control outcomes. Each time controlling is attempted, the "outcome," we eventually discover, is worse; when the outcome is "turned over," we learn that a better outcome is the final result. It is primarily through this process that we learn that there actually is a God and we learn how that God works.
The basic fact of human life is that we are in the midst of an enormous struggle that is symbolized in the taiji (the yin-yang symbol). This symbol reminds us that, in our universe, everything is known by its contrast with something else. At the sub-atomic level, a photon can be a wave or a particle depending on what the observer is looking for. In synopsis form, that is our struggle: do we see good or evil, light or dark, up or down, right or wrong, somebody doing it to us or somebody acting out their own pain, and so on. After we give up trying to control outcomes, we can stop choosing sides in this conflict and admire the complexity of the struggle itself -- for it is because of this struggle that the myriad of created forms are manufactured, the explosion of the creative diversity is triggered, and through these creative projects, the Goddess is known as the birth-mother of it all.
A spiritual bypass, like all addictions, is an attempt to free oneself from this struggle. A spiritual bypass, then, can occur at each of the levels defined above: 1) at the controlling outcomes level; or 2) at the choosing sides level. When one has developed the practiced ability to neither control outcomes nor choose sides, one is operating from warrior mind-set.
Spencer (The Craft of the Warrior, 1993) explained that the reason "warrior" is the most accurate term to define Spiritual Warriorship is because warriorship has to do with struggle. "There are many struggles to be engaged in -- struggles against self-importance, against blinding habits, against the state of sleep most of us take for waking -- and the battle ground [is] our own psyche." In the spiritual bypass, what is really bypassed is oneself, and since the vehicle (battleground) we have to achieve Enlightenment is the ego-self, the spiritual bypass is doomed to abject failure.
Bruce Bibee is a Master of Kung-Fu San Soo. He also holds a Master of Transpersonal Psychology and works as an abuse recovery counselor.