My life now seems magical to me. It didn’t always seem that way.
I started as a solitary, lonely individual, struggling along, afraid of others, afraid to open my heart, afraid to trust myself. I lived (as I would now say) only Downstairs, without day-to-day connection with my higher self or with other levels of being. I did try to believe in God. Many times I believed quite strongly, and learned that I could safely rely on invisible support. At my best, I said, “Dear God, show me the way,” and trusted. At my best, I loved. But it was all so intermittent! So hit or miss!
I was a member of the last generation to grow up in what I call the Medieval Catholic Church. By nature, I was a mystic. The Latin Mass, the sense of the all-pervading infinite world behind this one, the firm belief in an unchanging order of things, including a black-and-white code of behavior, appealed to me at my deepest levels. When, as a teenager, I found myself unable to remain a believing Catholic, I didn’t realize that Catholicism was only one specific religion expressing humanity’s supernatural connections. I thought it was all or nothing, and I had seen — I thought — that it was nothing.
Atheism didn’t suit me. I couldn’t see worshipping The Big Nothing, and couldn’t see how anyone could say absolutely that There Is No God. I could imagine saying either “I have experienced God” or “I haven’t experienced God.” But how could anyone say “I have experienced No-God”? It didn’t make sense. Atheism seemed a bigger act of faith than believing.
So, what was left?
I had an affinity for Buddhism, but it isn’t my path this time. George Bernard Shaw’s brand of spiritual evolution appealed to me, until I came to see it as the expedient of a religious man who was looking for an intellectually respectable way out of the contemporary belief only in material reality. Carl Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul came as a godsend, if that’s not too bad a play on words. Here was a mind-scientist who could investigate deeper realities–even those involving church doctrine–without giving up his right to inquire and make independent judgments.
Colin Wilson’s works bred in me a sense of untapped human potential. Those of Laurens van der Post reinforced my belief in the underlying spiritual, rather than physical, nature of life. So did those of Yeats, and Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, and Schumacher. So too, Richard Bach.
All of this, though, was only reading, and reading is a most solitary enterprise. I have done way too much reading in this lifetime. It tended to take me ever farther away from the world I was supposed to be living in. Not that a life of much reading is not as worthwhile as any other. But too much reading may lead you to think you understand what in fact you merely recognize. Without active life as a corrective, you misinterpret what you have read. This is the value of a teacher.
I well remember a day in my early twenties, standing on a city street reading that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I asked, and I wanted desperately to believe it, and didn’t know whether in fact I could. But he showed up, in person, within months.
He did not appear with a sign around his neck saying “Teacher!” He was not a perfect being without problems and neuroses. But the point is, I asked and he was there.
Besides human teachers, I was blessed with other sources of inspiration and assistance. The divinatory arts, for instance: The I Ching, astrology, tarot. Various forms of inner guidance. In time came dream analysis, a very powerful tool indeed. And attempts at self-discipline were always available: prayer, fasting and meditation. All of this is as readily available to you as to me.
I sought “psychic powers,” if only as a proof that there is much more to life than the material world that the senses report. I sought them, and obtained them, and found that they are not things divorced from ordinary life, but things that one culture has refused to admit into its own arbitrarily limited view of ordinary life. To regard them either with New Agers’ awe or with religious fundamentalists’ fear leads equally to superstition. In fact, if any single thing discredits accounts of extraordinary experience — metaphysical, religious, or spiritual — it is this tendency to treat such experience as somehow disconnected from ordinary life. It isn’t. Life is filled with all sorts of things, regardless how hard we try to make it consistent, logical, or “safe.”
[Adapted from my book Muddy Tracks]