What we know about all good teachers is that they realise, because we understand through patterns or metaphors, the best form of teaching is to use powerful metaphor to represent and communicate insights into life. However, all to often people have a frustrating habit of taking these metaphors quite literally (despite often being warned not to by the more ethical of these teachers). Entire religious and self –development processes are often formed around a subset of the original intentions (often the aspects that are easier for people to understand). This always results in a simplistic approach. This is particularly the case as far as social groups are concerned.
There is not a group on the planet that will not contend on some level that they have the truth and others do not. If this was not the case then why practice their path and not another? People like what is familiar and they also need community. This can often lead to a more extreme idea emerging of being somehow the chosen people which we know throughout history has been a very damaging notion and of course is always utterly illusory. At some level or another anyone who does not adopt the chosen path may either go to hell or at the very least be worse off. This is a complete misdirection however of the intention of true teachers of consciousness to unite and help all people.
Instead of interpreting the language and metaphors of their teachers in the way they were intended, as part of a wide range of metaphors taught to encourage self-development, people superimpose their tribal needs onto the teachings and narrow them down. This is reinforced through the creation of specific ritual and rules and language, further accentuating the difference between those in the club and those outside.
This outcome has to be a lower level of spiritual development than was originally hoped for, as it is self evident that the universe is not a definable a set of overt rules or rituals and that its essence is unfathomable. That is not to say that we cannot come to a common understanding of how to approach the challenge of living a life as part of this universe in which we live. Indeed if we look closely at the religious, spiritual and psychological teachings throughout the ages from a less partisan perspective, we soon have to tacitly acknowledge that they have more in common than perhaps we would like to admit. Indeed, for example, the self-development ideas of shamanism, western and eastern spirituality and modern scientific psychology all indeed, arguably do have a lot in common.
Modern psychology, backed up by recent significant developments in neuroscience, brings a more up to date approach to these issues, devoid of many of the flowery and abstruse linguistic nominalizations of ancient religions and sects. It speaks to a modern audience of people seeking self-development more effectively and in this respect has things to teach the older traditions. (Whilst respecting what those traditions can teach it - the much in vogue notion of mindfulness comes to mind for example). Its methods of self development involve accessing and using metaphor, cognition, behaviour as well as deeper conscious states such as the REM state and the observing self, to effect self development. These mirror the same techniques, rebranded in a modern parlance, that many of the ancient spiritual schools and faiths teach. The benefit of the former however is that one does not have to wear certain clothes, adopt certain rituals so beloved by the older consciousness raising traditions which are often hampered by being an “ism”.
“Ah but”, one can here the members of such orders saying, “the modern methods are not as effective”. Well the jury, I would argue, is out on that one and certainly I think we would all be dubious of a one-size fits all approach to consciousness development that claims to be the supreme way. Certainly if there was such a truth, then the organization propagating it would have the constant internal threat of managing the achievement of so much secular power that it could collapse under its own weight of internal policing at any moment. Nature, in her wisdom, has designed an eclectic mix of paths precisely because she understands the sustainable power of poly cultures and not monocultures. The major change, I would argue, that will help the world more than anything is for all consciousness development traditions old and new to take and immediate decision to stop wasting energy on claiming the high ground and start actively supporting each other.
In the meantime whatever methods one chooses, I suspect one will find there are very similar methods and ideas in any half decent approach being taken by other groups. It would do us all well to see consensus rather than division because in the final analysis, we, and life are all one - aren’t we? Isn’t that the point?
Joanne Theaker HG Dip P, MHGI, FRSA