Getting Real

What is Spirituality?

How are we to understand the soul?

What is the purpose of Spirituality?

What do we need to live Spiritually?

What does Spirituality Involve?

Why is it we fail?

What is going on in my life?

What kind of work should I be doing?

What I am supposed to be doing?

Will I ever be happy?

Will I ever meet someone?

Where are we all heading?

                  The DK Foundation

                                    Getting Real 1

                                   What is Spirituality?


Interestingly, the question ‘What is spirituality?’ has never been put to me, but I once put it to a student who replied that it could not be defined. In all probability, that was the point when the seed which became this book was sown.

Spirituality most certainly can be and should be defined. How else could you gauge whether what you are doing is likely to serve any useful purpose?  Discernment is essential on the spiritual path. The vast majority of people who have engaged with the idea of spiritual development are working alone, without any consistent or informed supervision.

Its effects or product i.e., the consciousness created by the process may elude verbal description, especially in the more advanced stages, but the process itself, the generator of that consciousness, can be described. It involves the transformation of energy and the opening of the major energy centres (or chakras) situated in the etheric body (the subtle body closest to the physical) along the spine.  There are seven such centres, three of which are open in all human beings: the centre at the base of the spine, the sacral, and the solar plexus centres. Conscious effort (i.e., spiritual activity) is required to open the remaining four: the heart, the throat, the ajna and the head centre. It is a process with a beginning, a middle, an end and a definite result (see Figure 1).

The process has its beginning at the point where the conscious mind starts grappling with the physical body in order to bring the body into line with what the conscience considers to be appropriate conduct. It begins, therefore, with the struggle for mastery over the physical body and its appetites. It proceeds, through emotional development and the learning of compassion, to the struggle of the conscious mind for mastery of the emotions and to establishing contact with the consciousness of the fourth plane, which we call the human soul. This is the midpoint. Control of the personality by the soul is the stage that follows; then the establishment of contact with the monadic level (for a human being, the consciousness of the third plane) and, finally, the merging of soul and monad and the turning of the personality into an agent of spirit.

By this stage, all seven major energy centres are open, the head centre has made contact with the centre at the base of the spine, and there is an individual functioning on five planes of consciousness: an Enlightened being. There are not very many of them in incarnation. There are certainly far, far fewer than the numbers claiming to be. In reality, many people making such claims are approaching the midpoint, when the mind is grappling to control the emotions. Delusion is a very real problem at this stage. So be aware - and wary - of self-styled teachers. The New Age has thrown up thousands. Most are at the same level of development as their pupils (i.e., approaching the midpoint). They have merely acquired more knowledge. This is a perfectly acceptable basis for a teaching arrangement provided the teachers are not claiming to be something they are not and the pupils are not expecting them to be more than they are.[[i]] All too often, however, there is misrepresentation and confusion on both sides.

It is not what we know that brings about transformation; it is the application of what we know in the circumstances of everyday life and in ways which are appropriate to the level of development attained. This turns knowledge into understanding and understanding changes consciousness.

Behind the concepts, ceremonies, practices and rituals of the established religious and spiritual traditions of countless ages, have been the aim of transformation: the opening of the energy centres along the spine. As the centres open, they give admission to higher planes of consciousness. The process may not be understood, in any detail, by the devotee of any such tradition and provided he is well and closely supervised he does not need to understand it.

People working alone, however, need to understand the route they are travelling; otherwise they run the very real risk of taking themselves into blind alleys, mistaking means for ends.

The founders of all the major spiritual traditions understood this process, for sure, and they knew what kind of concepts and practices would elicit the best response (i.e., most appropriate) from a given people at a given time. The fact that spirituality is concerned with raising the vibration in order to access the levels of consciousness we call Reality (the fourth plane of consciousness and above) does not mean there are not, quite legitimately, many different routes to this place in consciousness, involving different staging posts. The different routes accommodate changing times, cultural and racial features and personality type. Emotionally polarised people need a different route from the mentally polarised. Traditional sources of spiritual guidance cannot help us much with the differing requirements of personality type because our personalities have not always been as strong or as well defined as they are now in the modern Western world.  But we Westerners now overlook this factor at our peril: it is not helpful for people to try and walk in the wrong shoes (see Figure 2). But what is common to almost all routes is struggle, struggle with self or rather those parts of self which have a different agenda from the part that we would make the master. Achieving integration is central to the spiritual process.

The concepts and practices which serve one people may not translate to another time and culture. The reverence which seeks to transpose a tradition from its native setting and place it in another context is frequently misguided. Its ideas and rituals may have no transformative effect in another time and another culture; its focus may be inappropriate and its appeal may be simply sentimental.

This kind of confusion has been in evidence for several decades now, with Westerners dressing as Easterners dress and adopting their customs and practices, and even their country and causes, confident that this is making them more spiritual. There is a very strong possibility that this is playing straight into the hands of vanity, self-aggrandisement and delusion. This need not apply to the Western devotees of the established Eastern traditions who are well and closely supervised but to the Westerners who copy Eastern practices with little or no supervision. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery; it may be a very high compliment that the Westerner is paying to the less materialistic East; it may represent nailing our colours to the mast, or at worst, spiritual posturing, but it is still not transformative. What can possibly be transformative about dressing up? It is simply window-dressing.

We can be greatly attracted to a more simple culture but it will not make us more simple although it might obscure from us the extent of our own complexity. The East can only do so much for the West now. We have developed along our own lines; we have desire natures over-stimulated beyond the experience of even the wisest Asian. We must find our own way out of the problems we have created. But, in every problem there is opportunity, provided the idea of struggle is understood and spirituality is not reduced merely to a feel-good factor. Feeling good is such an inadequate criterion when spirituality, by its nature, turns a person inside out and forces him to acknowledge the negative as well as the positive within him. In the early stages of transformation, feeling good is a bonus; confusion is the norm.

Transformative activity alone will open the centres along the spine. It is only transformative activity which truly deserves the description ‘spiritual’. By transforming energy, we human beings, along with all other beings, earn our place in the solar system. Spirituality is not simply about personal redemption; it is the means of survival for the human race, something which we will better appreciate if we consider the process of spirituality and the transformation of energy involved, rather than simply focusing upon its experiences and effects. In the Age of Pisces there was no need to understand the process, and people did not: they were one with the experiences and in submission to them. The sense of mystery conferred a significance and became a characteristic of spirituality. If there are those expectations still it is because the imprint of Piscean mysticism is still upon spiritual literature and spiritual ideals. But that submissiveness will not help us now. We are in the Age of Aquarius and an appreciation and understanding of energy of energy will serve us better than respectful awe. We need to know how to anticipate and to use will in order to help our planet through a major period of transition. The planet, like ourselves has chakras which have to be opened by transformative activity. Our planet Earth has its own spiritual path to follow, and like our own, it is a path of struggle. If humanity can align itself with the efforts of the planet then we can help each other out.

Psychologically, we have become very complex in the West, and spiritually we are becoming ambitious and covetous. The consumer-’gotta have it’-mentality has been attaching itself to spirituality in a big way since the New Age. Self-interest is able to express itself in many appealing and deceptive disguises. A person can make himself very likeable, very admirable and be transforming nothing, just as he can read all the right books, espouse all the right values and still be transforming nothing if these things are not touching and challenging his habitual way of reacting and looking at himself and at  life. Spirituality is not about outer things and appearances; it is about what, truly, is going on within. The centres are not opened by sleight of hand.  There are many of us in incarnation now who need to think in terms of going beyond displays of kindness, otherworldliness and psychic sensitivity which reflect the Piscean ideal. A greater sensitivity to the needs and sensibilities of others represents a huge advance on selfishness but that itself has to be refined, eventually, by the addition of discrimination, a quality of the conscious mind. If our development is to continue, many of us now need far more than the agreeably bland gruel dished up by so many spiritually motivated organisations without a living teacher, which repeat platitudes about loving, healing and tolerance. We need challenge in order to help us get behind the outer display and discover our true relationship to these qualities.

For a person who craves his own way, to be required to demonstrate awareness of others stands to be transformative in the extreme; but for another who has a compulsive desire to please others or a laziness which makes him avoid thinking things through and taking an initiative, then considering others could be little more than a strategy for getting what he wants for himself through a show of other-regardingness. This is one of the great benefits of an authentic teacher who can see the pupil, see where he is in terms of development and not be taken in by the image or persona.

It is pain, and the desire to end unnecessary suffering which usually seals true commitment to a spiritual path, even though there are no spiritual palliatives to pain. We are sensate beings, we hurt because we are made that way but what we can stop is unnecessary suffering. All unnecessary suffering is, at root, the result of separatism. The personality, which has its own agenda and a centre of gravity in itself, will function in a self-seeking, self-interested way. This is the source of untold suffering in our own lives and in the lives of those who are affected by us. It can be no other way in our Universe where separatism is aberration, and isolation and death are synonyms to those who understand its workings. The Universe, which manifests the consciousness of the Absolute Being, was set up that way. Suffering alerts the personality to the aberration and to the need to place the centre of gravity not in the personality but in the consciousness of the third and fourth planes which, for us human beings, is that of soul. This is where the New Age has made its contribution in the post-war period, increasing awareness of interconnectedness and of the existence of a reality behind that of the five senses, which is the reality of the soul.  

But New Age culture has performed a disservice where it has encouraged a fastidious shrinking away from things of a practical workaday and material nature, in favour of ‘spiritual activities’. We will look again at this matter of ‘spiritual correctness’ in Chapter Five. It is their transformative value, not their form or their labels which give activities the right to call themselves spiritual. The basis of this precious attitude is likely to be pretentiousness, laziness or a fear of failure, delusion about the extent of our freedom from the need to learn from the physical plane, or confusion about the material and materialism which is identification with material things. To a degree, this shrinking from involvement with the world of everyday is another legacy of the dualism of Piscean spirituality which gave the world monasticism.  Different times, different ways: we cannot afford now for spirituality to be about setting ourselves apart from the everyday and the material. We need to be prepared to use both intelligently. Our planet requires that of us. The Sufis have a saying: “Stand in this world and bow in the next.” When we can do that we have achieved the correct balance.

The bottom line about spirituality is that it is an ongoing struggle, staged in the circumstances of everyday life, for self-mastery, and there is only so far that we can go without confronting the things within ourselves that we need to change. People working alone need to be very, very aware of themselves, remorselessly honest with themselves and aware that spirituality is about transformation, about changing, not dressing up and consolidating at a level which is comfortable.

Evasion is a greater enemy of development than even materialism which, at least, provides the substance of experience. Evasion is about avoidance, stepping around, putting things off precisely because they are uncomfortable. Evasion wastes time and avoids those conflicts in time and space which change consciousness. The habit of existential angst is well-developed in humanity and to retreat into agonising about life and its meaning can also be a form of evasion. It is a habit of which, frequently, we are secretly quite proud, and it justifies inertia. It is not an understanding of the purpose of life but common sense, surely, tells us that we would be better off with certain aspects of ourselves and our personal lives under control. Existential angst is nothing but the difficulties and deficiencies we experience in our self-centred lives projected onto a bigger screen. How many of us have tried to place the cause of our unhappiness with God and Life when quite simply, it is the product of our own unwise choices or identification with certain values. It is right that we try to organise our lives and societies in a way that is just and tolerant because it the best that we know how to do but God is not a Western liberal and the Universe does not exist for humanity. There should be a comfort in this truth but we will never be able to draw upon it if we think only in terms of ourselves and our concept of the purpose of spiritually takes in only personal salvation.[[ii]]. Death and destruction may cause us pain and they may even be offensive to us but they preserve the quality of the one Life. If we want to, and are not reacting in the moment to something which has distressed us, we can understand that because we see in nature that this is so.

The fruits of a process cannot be experienced at the beginning or the process would be serving no purpose. We would be less than human if we did not wish to arrive without having made the effort of travelling. And, yet, do the contemporary commercial, breezy, self-help manuals with their emphasis upon facility and feeling good, encourage us to forget that, if it is get us there, this  journey has to take us in and through the labyrinths of our own psyches, which we encounter, externalised in our everyday lives. If so, then this is another disservice that contemporary New Age literature is doing the cause of spirituality. We are all of us prisoners of our own minds and yet there is nothing in our minds except what we have put there over lifetimes. Whatever route we take, eventually we have to come to understand that we have taken ourselves prisoner and only we can set ourselves free. We have some choice in the matter of whether to do this slowly or rapidly.

With a living teacher, freedom can come from a complete dissolution of the constructs within the mind. This means the deconstruction of the personality which is the vessel of the mind. Generally speaking, the teacher-pupil relationship is not the way of the West. Westerners tend to work alone, supported perhaps by a group but, more often than not, without a living teacher. Those working alone, have to be prepared to adopt strategies which will earn them their freedom gradually. This is the path of evolution. A person working alone cannot expect to work in the same way or at the same pace as a person with a living teacher, and here we may be talking about a difference of lifetimes, not simply years. Slow, painful self-mastery in the circumstances of every day living is the only realistic spiritual goal for people working alone. Yet it is a goal no less valid and valuable than the goal of Enlightenment. But is a different goal because it works with and through the personality, and it requires a different approach.

Many Westerners, with a book for a teacher, have tried to go beyond their own minds and the result is invariably confusion, delusion and denial. Many others have tried to work within Eastern spiritual traditions to gain Enlightenment whilst hanging on to all the perceived advantages of the individualised Western personality. The result is likely to be a very undesirable condition which at the close of the nineteen century, the Fourth Way teacher, Gurdjieff, was calling ‘double crystallisation’ and which, today, we can call spiritual schizophrenia. And achieving an altered reality through the use of chemicals is not spirituality.  It is an unacceptable, if unrecognised, attempt to freeload: humanity has to earn its place in the system and we do this by the transformation of energy. It may have a place in certain spiritual traditions where it may serve a variety of purposes but altering consciousness through drug-taking transforms nothing.

We have been given a lot of knowledge and a lot of opportunities in the past fifty years, but we will have to get real about ourselves and the task in hand if we want them to work for us. We need to be prepared to understand this process called spirituality and what it takes. Only then can people working alone hope to assess whether there particular brand of spirituality or choice of activity is likely to have any kind of effect or whether it is simply window-dressing.

We can stick the label spirituality on whatever we like, nothing will stop us if our own faculty of discrimination does not, and many people are doing just that. Performing Trantic sex which at least moves energy, albeit in the wrong direction; taking Ecstacy which moves nothing; reading literature which encourages fantasies about Ascending; physically attending Church every Sunday whilst being somewhere else mentally; sitting in healing circles and feeling special and superior -all these activities currently bear the label spirituality but that will never make them transformative.

There is no spirituality where there is not transformation and there is rarely transformation without struggle and a willingness to look at an engage with the reality of our lives, sordid and

boring though we may consider them to be. To leave our mess behind whether is be physical, emotional or mental and go into a different space marked ‘sacred’ will not clear up that mess or enable us to benefit from its transformation. That will only happen if we return from that space refreshed and motivated to get working on it.


Figure 1:

The planes of consciousness


1. Logoic             God the Father
2 . Monadic          God the Son
3.  Atmic             
God the Holy Spirit   Crown Chakra
4. Buddhic                                             Ajna
5.  Mental                                             
6.  Astral                                              
Solar plexus
7.  Physical                                           

Figure 2:

Spiritual routes:

1.Mentally polarised people:  esotericism/ occult traditions / white magic

Chakras: throat-ajna-crown

2. Emotionally polarised people: devotional traditions

Chakras: solar plexus-heart-ajna


(1) A ‘living teacher’, by contrast,  is of a level of development greater than that of the pupil and is thereby able to supplement the pupil’s efforts and consciousness with his own. This way a pupil can be taken beyond the limitations of his own reality.

(2) In manifestation, there are three kingdoms for which humanity has a responsibility: animal, plant and mineral.

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