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Eyes Wide Open – Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path by Mariana Caplan, PhD
There are two significant points in this book: 1) the importance of dealing with the psychological and spiritual aspects of our lives and 2) the need or not of a spiritual teacher.
We cannot ignore our psychological blockage. Just being “spiritual” isn’t enough if we still have old grudges, hurts, and other things that have been ignored for years. As a psychologist, Caplan may be a little biased on this topic, but he’s right. Being spiritual is being a healthy person. It involves using some form of therapy to clean up our past. Caplan argues that we “must be willing to suffer our own darkness if we truly seek to know the deeper spiritual possibilities within us” (20).
Many of the challenges we face are passed down from generation to generation. Caplan cites the approach of some Native Americans who consider the impact of their decisions on the next seven generations. Perhaps more of us should embrace this long-term thinking.
When we go through hard times, we may experience our own karmic payback and “that it is necessary, even inevitable, that we endure it” (101). Regardless of past lives and their significance, the fact remains that “what matters is whether we are able to face our present circumstances with a clear and discerning perspective and refrain from actions that contribute to the endless repetition of unfavorable and limiting aspects of our karmic conditioning” (102).
The good news is that “future suffering is prevented by intensive self-study and practice that allows us to become aware of and intercept our unconscious processes” (102). Our awareness of our mistakes and limitations and our desire and intention to change them creates a better future. The control of our lives is within our reach.
Another significant point in this book is that we may not need a spiritual teacher. Caplan is very specific on this topic. He has years of experience as a teacher of various spiritual paths. Although he continues to work with one, he cautions that it is difficult to find the right teacher who is both psychologically and spiritually healthy. Too many of the encounters he describes involve so-called gurus who take advantage of students emotionally, sexually, and/or financially. He mentions warning signs that can be sensed even if not fully understood. He encourages us to listen to our gut and avoid people who claim to have answers while making us feel insecure and uncomfortable.
There are other ways to grow spiritually than running to an ashram in India or finding a personal trainer. While we all need guidance, there are other ways to get help. Many people find that a guidebook appears at the right time in their lives. Others find a connection with an other-dimensional guide, and while there is caution in assuming or misinterpreting such a presence, there is a way to confirm it. Once again, trusting your gut is crucial.
Caplan also warns against the “new-age” groupie mentality of following the latest, greatest person and/or idea. Pursuing this external gratification does not allow one to fully develop one’s own talent or spiritual connection. There is no particular right way. It’s a misleading part for many who want answers that can come in many different ways. For some, the teacher is physically visible. For others, the teacher may come in an unexpected form.
Another caution is that we do not become victims of “spiritual materialism,” which is attachment to the spiritual path as if it were a possession or an achievement. Caplan refers to the feeling that now I have “it”, as if mental awareness is somehow a “thing”. The challenge is to keep the ego in check and understand that spirituality is a lifelong process, not a one-time achievement. “One of the main goals of the spiritual life – far from the eternal Disneyland of our fantasies – is simply to open up to all that is unconscious in us” (204).
The author also wants us to learn to laugh at ourselves. Spirituality is a serious subject, but learning has a light and humorous side. If there is no laughter, there may be no spirituality in the teacher, the book, or the latest experience.
Caplan’s personal experiences lend validity to his discussions. He has experienced psychological struggles, spiritual searching and various spiritual teachers. Although not an easy read, this book offers decisive challenges and compelling answers.
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