“Those who play at being angels, end up as animals.”
— Blaise Pascal, The Ascent to Truth
I ran into this quote recently while reading Mariana Caplan’s book Halfway Up The Mountain. It rather succinctly spoke to the hazards of not living a human life most of the time.
The context of the quote was the various hazards of mystical experiences. Such experiences are largely in the category of subtle perception. Lovely, but not really “spiritual” at all. Plus, all too often, the motivation for chasing them is personal gratification or escaping our human experience rather than gaining skills to live it more enjoyably.
It’s also worth noting that a healthy ego is an Advantage on the spiritual path. It gives us a stable ground for the shift to grow into. If we have a poor sense of self, we’re much more easily caught by these hazards.
– getting caught up in the astral or fancy experiences to such a degree we lose touch with who we are and create an addiction, possibly even a “spiritual emergency” or crisis.
– Spiritual materialism, where we attach ourselves to the path as an accomplishment or possession. This also relates to the spiritualized ego that uses memories of experiences to inflate itself. Or getting identified with experiences as an accomplishment, even though we had nothing to do with creating them.
– getting stuck in the cul-de-sac of experiences. Chasing experiences for their own sake. Or having an experience, thinking this is it and endlessly seeking ways to get it back. Not admitting when an experience has faded. Drug tourism is another manifestation of this.
– the ego co-opting the experience to consider itself “spiritually advanced” or even “enlightened” (hence the books title) Ego claims all experience as its own, so we have to be alert to that. Mind gives us the ability to put it into words but ego tries to make it “mine”. Specialness, overestimation, pride, superiority, vanity, aloofness, being different – there are many masks to ego inflation. Mariana mentions several seeds – eagerness to share, identifying with the experience as “mine”, influxes of energy, and insecurity. The antidote is of course deflation.
– The Inner Guru is something real, but it comes from the resolute intellect and clear awareness, usually around Unity stage. It is the Self Itself. It is not from the ego, mind, or astral. It is not some being telling you what to do. But just the idea of it is the perfect ground for the ego to make itself special. Follow the heart, life is a teacher, it’s all an illusion – all great ideas for the ego to run with. Confirmation Bias will make sure we self-verify this new “reality”.
You may see why an understanding of the process and potential pitfalls is helpful. It won’t stop us from falling into some of these traps but it will aid us in getting back out quickly rather than becoming mired in our own delusions. The ego has many years of ensuring its survival. It is very skilled, its stories complex and multi-layered.
I recall when I realized my ego was using memories of experiences to pretend to be the Self, then it would create conflict and drama with itself to distract me from seeing through it. Ego inherently knew that if a I saw through the ruse, its number would be up, its power and control lost.
This is seen as deeply dangerous to the ego. It can view our very survival to be at stake. The key is you cannot overcome the ego yourself. Because the ego cannot overcome itself. Have you ever seen a wrestler pin himself? Ego is happy to create a great battle if you entertain that though.
Happily, none of that is necessary. You don’t wake up. You wake up From yourself. Awareness becomes clear enough to recognize itself, here in this person. Then everything is seen through and awakening occurs. It is not something we do. Rather it is allowed.
Ego will attempt to restore control after, but with awareness established it is just winding down the remaining “shrapnel” from the shattered ego identification.
It’s also important to understand that we stay human and thus can get stuck or caught at any level. Teaching is one of the most challenging as it is bound to bring up any thread of remaining contraction.
I would add not to be disappointed if you’re not having fancy experiences. You have one less thing to get past. But you still won’t be immune to ego control. That is one joy of being human. 🙂