Choosing the Right Spiritual Path

The Scene of Bewilderment

One is soon bewildered after one awakens to the realization that there must be more than this. The realization comes, comes surely and painfully, and cannot be taken back. Despite the realization striking home with the force of conviction, one does not know what one means when one says and believes, ‘There must be more than this’: what is the ‘this’ to which I’m referring? More than what? Where is this more? And why ‘must’ there be?

This much is for sure: one is making a cut between how one lives and how it would be better for one to live, and one is pronouncing the former to be pale in the radiant light of the latter. To say ‘there must be more than this’ is to mean, at least, that ‘There must be more to human life than the life I am currently leading. And whatever this surplus is, it promises to make human life better somehow: to overcome this restlessness, this disquiet, this strife, this vacuity and to make it fuller, truer, realer, more splendid. In the light of that which is namelessly, enigmatically higher, I could be transformed into that, or a part of what, I seek.’

Existential Choice as Devotion

Now comes the existential choice concerning which spiritual path to take, for that is what it is: an, perhaps the, existential choice. This sort of choice is not a choice without matter or consequence but is, as Pierre Hadot says, a ‘choice of life.’ To say this is to say that it is not the sort of choice that one can easily renege upon or back out of in an instant; it is devotion, a fundamental and ongoing act of commitment, a something to which one is related, tied, wedded. It is rather like choosing a spouse. Granted, one can seek separation or get a divorce later on but not without considerable consequences, lifelong implications, uneasy disentanglements, the painful waves of severance. Furthermore, this existential choice, unlike the garden variety decisions one makes on any given day, is that in the light of which one lives, values, appreciates, affirms, confirms, or denies, rejects, disconfirms certain facets of everyday life. Without this orientation toward others, the world, events, oneself, one is scarcely the same person, barely known to oneself. Thus, the existential choice of life is far more serious than a matter of life and death since in it lies the very possibility of, the delicate key to my life’s going well. It is a gossamer thread I wish not to break.

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A review of Chapter One of Sam Harris, Waking Up: Preliminary questions

I recently read Chapter One of Sam Harris’s forthcoming book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion and found myself thinking, ‘This may not end up being an excellent book, but for all that it is an important and prescient one.’ (You can read Chapter One here on his website.)

Harris’s principal question, which goes unstated though is everywhere assumed, is as follows: how is it possible to experience a form of non-ordinary consciousness that is (a) ‘north’ of ordinary consciousness, (b) consistent with our best scientific understanding, and yet is (c) ‘south’ of religious doctrine and dogma? This seems to me one of the most pressing and vexing questions of our time. This is why I called the book important and prescient.

Based solely on what I’ve read so far, I believe there are three sub-questions that I’m not sure he can suitably answer:

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