Tag Archives: AA

Chuck’s Place: Spirit In Tent

We must all prepare for our own vision quest... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
We must all prepare for our own vision quest…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

After four sweat lodges and several days on a vision quest, Jonas Elrod—the seeker who made the documentary Wake Up that Jan references in her blog earlier this week—reaches out to God, as throughout his quest his concept of God has constantly changed and now he is befuddled. He begs for clarity on the meaning of God, of religion, the correct path, etc., and is met with a vision of fingers pointing at a bigtop tent. He sees that the tent is empty, the posts fall down and the tent collapses. This vision is accompanied by the words: “All pointers point in the same direction.” He understands that what he seeks has nothing to do with religion or church, that there is no life, or only the illusion of life, inside the tent, inside the church. Inside the tent there is nothing.

Jung unmasked the same truth about modern religion: dogma and ritual are dressed in archetypal wrappings with no life inside them, no pathways to spirit. In his youth, Jung had a powerful dream where the heavens opened up and dropped excrement upon the church steeple. He was to spend the rest of his life carving a pathway to spirit for modern humanity.

Jung journeyed through the ancient religions, East and West, in search of valid pathways to the soul. He, like Joseph Campbell, discovered that religious symbolism and practice were relative to the time and place of their emergence. The gods and saviors of one era were merely local masks or pathways to spirit that fit the style and custom of those times. Evolution, however, requires that new pathways emerge, relevant to changing times. All religions that cling to the images of another time cannot support or transport the modern soul to its destiny and fulfillment.

Jung’s greatest discovery was that connection to spirit lies not in attachment to some mask of God, but in direct contact with spirit in numinous experience. Jung’s process of psychotherapy opens the door to direct encounter, direct experience, direct communication between consciousness and the greater self—Spirit—to arrive at healing and fulfillment. The challenge for all seekers and initiates, of all times, is to take the journey into the unknown—like Jonas Elrod did—to become heroes in search of their souls. Such a journey means encountering, confronting, and slaying all the energies that lie in the unknown, in the form of sensations, intense emotions, and powerful beliefs and images.

Do we need to be inside the tent? -Photo by Chuck Ketchel
Do we need to be inside the tent?
-Photo by Chuck Ketchel

In our time, the quest for wholeness with spirit has been largely projected outwardly onto materialism, romanticism, and consumption. As a consequence, spirit has lodged itself inside the empty circus tent of consumerism on a grand scale, in the empty search for romantic love, in the desire for more, and in the addiction to substance. Modern humanity is compelled to seek its wholeness in the tent of emptiness. Spirit is behind this, but as a trickster now, ravaging us with knocks of the spirit as we relentlessly grasp for our wholeness in that which shines with promise.

Spirit comes in the form of the trickster because it needs to meet us where our projections are caught. It’s the only way we can engage it, so it meets us where we are. If we are bent on romantic love that’s where spirit will meet us. It has to have us wake up to our fixation—that’s not a judgment. God comes in the form that God comes in, to wake us up. Hence, the emptiness of the tent, because that’s where we all are. It’s only through fully grasping and crushing in the emptiness, in collapsing that empty tent, that we will be forged for the next step of the journey—direct experience within.

Bill W., ultimately through a connection with Jung, had his direct experience in a vision that lifted his thirst for spirit without—from “spirits”—to spirit within, to inner union and wholeness. AA was founded on direct contact with spirit, with the mask of spirit unmasked. As spirit is freed of its empty substance container, it is brought home, inwardly to self. Thus, AA works as a valid religion when its adherents find their way to direct experience and union with spirit within. Short of that, AA leads only to control of dry spirits.

Jung warned against the seduction of adopting the garbs of exotic practices and ritual as a replacement for empty local religions. He frowned upon yoga and Buddhism replacing religion in the West. Though I think his warning is valid, he himself used yoga to withstand the energies of the collective unconscious as he went deeper into his own night sea journey. The message being: take what works, but go inward and do the work there rather than wearing it outwardly.

We're all just searching for the same thing... what really lies deeper within... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
We’re all just searching for the same thing… what really lies deeper within…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

The key to direct experience lies in the methodologies, not the wrappings of many ancient traditions. Witness the sweat lodge and the vision quest in Wake Up.

So do engage in the practices of yoga or the meditation techniques of Buddhism, the prayers of many traditions, and the many worlds of dreaming, or whatever works for you.

When Carlos Castaneda would discuss the Magical Passes of Tensegrity, he’d exclaim: “Suspend judgment! Just do it and see what happens!” In other words, avoid the trappings of faith, belief and deity. Just do the techniques, and see what happens: Communion, or not?

Furthermore, if your spirit lands somewhere in the circus tent just accept it. You must pursue it until you unmask its emptiness—the direct experience of emptiness. This is what Jonas Elrod finally achieved during his own spiritual quest, the emptiness that led to his own direct experience.

From the emptiness of the circus tent, you may be ready to encounter spirit directly, in direct experience at home, in the depths of the self.

From in tent,

Chuck’s Place: Resentment

A pragmatic guide…

Resentment is an emotionally debilitating condition that, when unresolved, can have a variety of negative results on the person experiencing it…” –Wikipedia

It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while.” –The Big Book/Alcoholics Anonymous p.66

Resentment is an intense stored anger that is re-experienced every time the person or circumstance that is causally linked to the offending event is triggered or remembered. Resentment binds our essential energy as it tyrannizes the central nervous system with a frustrated unrelenting cry of anguish. Resentment victimizes the felt victim in an avalanche of self pity. This fixation on self and self pity, for the Shamans of Ancient Mexico, was the number one reason human beings do not realize their full spiritual or, as they would say, energetic potential.

Like the Hindus, who hold that the Atman (The Eternal One—The Source—God) lies deeply embedded in the center of the physical body inside the hard-crusted shell of the ego, those shamans realize that the obsession with ego self as the only self, as the almighty self, must be broken open to truly discover and release our spirit potential. Those shamans purposefully put themselves under the thumb of horrific tyrants to learn to break open their attachment to ego self, manifested in self pity and its resentments, or perish defending it. For them, a ruthless obliteration of obsession with the ego self, with feelings of entitlement or resentment, was the only hope of releasing spirit energy and reaching total freedom, or enlightenment.

What lies at the center?

The Big Book, “the bible” of AA, asks its practitioners, in step 4 of this modern shamanic healing art, to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves in a process that parallels the shamanic practice of recapitulation:

We took stock honestly… Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.

Resentment is the “number one” offender… From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically. In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry. We asked ourselves why we were angry. In most cases it was found that our self-esteem, our pocketbooks, our ambitions, our personal relationships (including sex) were hurt or threatened. So we were sore. We were burned up.” –The Big Book pp. 64-65

The founders of AA realized that alcohol was the ultimate petty tyrant for alcoholics that freely fed the delusion of ego self as the all-important almighty one, displacing the true spirit self. Under the brutal tutelage of this petty tyrant, alcoholics are led to a systematic destruction of the ego self, as the meaningful accomplishments and relationships of a lifetime are burned up as the almighty ego self maintains its hegemony. The alcoholic must break its attachment to ego self and self pity to be released from its superior lethal delusions evoked by spirit alcohol. In recovery, the ego self is broken open and humbled to surrender to the leadership of true spirit self, the higher power, and is thus saved from its delusional demise. The pathway to ego surrender is the dismantling of its attachments to self importance.

What do we find in the dismantling?

The Big Book pragmatically instructs in the dismantling of self pity: “We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the future. We were prepared to look at it from an entirely different angle. We began to see that the world and its people really dominated us. In that state, the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill. How could we escape? We saw that these resentments must be mastered, but how?

This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves: “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him?” –The Big Book pp. 66-67

This technique takes us to the teachings of the Buddha of Compassion that all human beings are struggling beings—like ourselves. Rather than be offended, release the self and “offender” alike with compassionate energy. This doesn’t mean we have to be friends, for truly we can only really be connected to those traveling at similar speeds as ourselves, but we needn’t disdain the journeys of others that have disrupted or intersected with our own. This is the shaman’s appreciation of tyrants: No, they are not our friends, but they teach us to shed our complacency with self pity so that we may resume, full force, our egoless spirit journeys through infinity.

The Big Book goes on to instruct: “Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.” -p. 67

The fire is within…

In this example, taking responsibility of our faults is fully owned, releasing the self from the burden of projected self truths. Once fully acknowledged, resentment is burned up and fully released in humble self-acceptance. Released resentment is the fuel that launches spiritual evolution, the stuff of recovery in AA and the stuff of infinite journeys in the shaman’s world.

Let us approach the stored energies of resentments to set us free, in a thorough 4th step in AA or in a thorough recapitulation, completing our shamanic journey in this world or in the shamanic world—or both!


NOTE: I find AA and The Big Book—its lineage stemming back to the nagual psychiatrist Carl Jung—to be a most valuable, pragmatic guide to healing and spiritual evolution, in the same class as Magical Passes, the pragmatic guide to healing and spiritual evolution from the Shamans of Ancient Mexico.

Chuck’s Place: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Compelled to seek the numinous…

We are beings compelled to experience our wholeness. It’s intriguing to me how the shaman’s world, the Christian world, and the world in general covet substance—spirits—as the vehicle to parting the veils to divine wholeness. Substances are trickster spirits who would just as soon consume our life energy as let us pass through those veils. The history of AA captures the modern dance with spirits, the struggle with the ravages of spirit, and the eventual solution to lifting those elusive veils, revealing a possible path to wholeness.

Like an orphaned son seeking connection with his long lost biological father, Bill W. wrote to Carl Jung in 1961 to acknowledge him for his seminal role in the conception of AA. The crux of Jung’s input had been his suggestion in the 1930s to his alcoholic patient, Rowland H., that he seek a spiritual cure for his alcoholism.

Rowland H. took Jung’s advice to heart and went out and had a religious experience in an evangelical movement that was sweeping Europe at the time, which released him from the compulsion to drink. Rowland H’s experience was transmitted to Bill W., who at a very low point in his own active alcoholism, cried out to God in desperation and surrender.

“Suddenly, my room blazed with an indescribably white light,” he wrote in Pass It On. “I was seized with an ecstasy beyond description. Every joy I had known was pale by comparison. The light, the ecstasy—I was conscious of nothing else for a time.”

“Then, seen in the mind’s eye, there was a mountain,” he goes on. “I stood upon its summit, where a great wind blew. A wind, not of air, but of spirit. In great, clean strength, it blew right through me. Then came the blazing thought ‘You are a free man.’ I know not at all how long I remained in this state, but finally the light and the ecstasy subsided. I again saw the wall of my room. As I became more quiet, a great peace stole over me, and this was accompanied by a sensation difficult to describe. I became acutely conscious of a Presence which seemed like a veritable sea of living spirit. I lay on the shores of a new world. ‘This’ I thought, ‘must be the great reality. The God of the preachers.’ “

Bill W. never took another drink, and AA was born.

Consumed by the ravages…

Jung replied to Bill W’s letter in 1961, shortly before he died. Speaking of Rowland H., in the letter transcribed into Pass It On, Jung states: “His craving for alcohol was the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”

“How could one formulate such an insight in a language that is not misunderstood in our days?” Jung continued.

Jung knew that the medieval language around God had lost its value to serve the spiritual needs of modern humanity. Jung himself had experienced a profound vision in 1887 at the age of twelve.

“I saw before me the cathedral, the blue sky,” he writes in Memories, Dreams, Reflections. “God sits on His golden throne, high above the world—and from under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it, and breaks the walls of the cathedral asunder.”

Jung had come from a long line of Protestant preachers, but found himself utterly bored when his father was teaching him the catechism in preparation for his Confirmation.

In Volume 9, Part 1 of his Collected Works, Jung writes: “The catechism bored me unspeakably. One day I was turning over the pages of my little book, in the hope of finding something interesting, when my eye fell on the paragraphs about the Trinity. This interested me at once, and I waited impatiently for the lessons to get to that section. But when the longed-for lesson arrived, my father said: “We’ll skip this bit; I can’t make head or tail of it myself.” With that my last hope was laid in the grave. I admired my father’s honesty, but this did not alter the fact that from then on all talk of religion bored me to death.”

“Our intellect,” he continued, “has achieved the most tremendous things, but in the meantime our spiritual dwelling has fallen into disrepair.”

By the time Jung treated Rowland H., he had already taken his own numinous, spiritual journey into a living encounter with the collective unconscious, which he’d documented in his journals, recently published as the Red Book. Through his own experiences, Jung discovered that true healing could only be achieved through a deep, living encounter—a numinous experience—within the depths of the self, the God within/without.

A new means of experience…

Jung ended his letter to Bill W. by pointing out that, “Alcohol in Latin is spiritus, and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.”

Alcohol is a spirit, what the shamans would call an entity. Entities are spirits that serve as gateways to the spirit world. The Christian Mass offers wine as the gateway to an ecstatic union with God in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Don Juan used hallucinogenic drugs called Allies to enable Carlos Castaneda to discover his deepest potential beyond the safeguards of the rational mind. However, as Jung clearly understood, such spirit entities that offer access to the deeper self, to union with God in this manner, always exact a price—spiritum—literally, the ravages of the spirit. And that is at the heart of addiction, getting caught in the ravages of the spirit.

It’s obvious that Jung proposed seeking a new means of intoxication of the spirit over imbibing of intoxicating spirits, suggesting that only a true union with God—spirit—could defeat addiction. Carlos Castaneda similarly warned about using drugs, having had personal experiences of the price exacted by the Allies—spiritum, as Jung points out. Castaneda suggested recapitulation and dreaming as the gateways to infinity. Jung developed active imagination and individuation as similar pathways to wholeness. AA developed the Twelve Steps as the Tao of wholeness. Different paths, same dictum, spiritus contra spiritum.

In spirit,