(Q) A friend of mine recently went off the deep end, spiritually speaking. It began with a casual exploration of different kinds of spirituality. Now she is obsessed with finding answers that are impossible to prove or disprove. Since this has not been my experience, can you better explain it?
(A) This is such a big question that I almost hate to address it in this column. It is a large and important subject and deserves more attention. I take almost every opportunity these days to say that we are in a unique time and place in the development of human experience. Our collective history has brought us to this crossroads, but we will have to find a different way out of it, especially if we do not want to bear the burden of a stagnant, repetitive life.
We are all being stretched and challenged in different ways, following the inner prompts of a soul whose reason for being on earth is discovery, understanding, compassion, and growth. The challenge to grow reveals itself in patterns and sequences that were established long ago, usually in lifetimes before this one. Growth often begins with questions like, Who am I? and Why am I? These questions rest within the layers of our being until we become restless enough to go in search of answers. Some people are satisfied with the answers that our parents and family of origin provide, others turn to education, religion or philosophy.
When our explorations take us deeper, it can get more complicated. There are an unlimited number of paths to explore. It would be an oversimplification to say that all paths lead to the same conclusion. They don’t. But they do converge on many points, tracing our human origins and the beliefs that emerged from ancient cultures and civilizations. Our modern culture, especially here in the west, no longer encourages rites of passage, initiations, walkabouts, or deep dives. College age young people sometimes take a gap year before continuing their education, but these are not encouraged often enough. By midlife, unanswered questions return. If they have been delayed or ignored for too long, they sometimes demand attention, even in the midst of life’s busy responsibilities.
My own search began at age eleven, and while there have been breaks along the way, the discovery process is ongoing. I can say with certainty that at various stages along the way my friends and family thought I had gone off the deep end, too. We are not always as well prepared to encounter new information as we think we are. This can show up when we least expect it, and the side-effects can be social, emotional, and even physical. We learn as we go. We find teachers and guides along the way, but we are often on our own, too. We need solitary time to find our inner truth. That is where the compass always points. Is it possible that you have encountered your friend during such a moment? Dismantling old identities, stories, and beliefs is a hard but necessary step before carefully rebuilding what is most genuine. Timewise, it takes as long as it takes. For some of us, it is our life’s work.
Are you curious about what motivates some people to devote so much time and energy in the pursuit of spiritual wisdom, or are you truly concerned for the wellbeing and safety of your friend? Do you feel that she is being harmed in some way? As a friend, these are the questions I would ask. As I said earlier, these are complex times. It takes very little to set oneself up as a teacher and quickly gain someone’s trust. If this is truly your concern, it bears further exploration. Many years ago, a hunger for spiritual knowledge led me to a few “charlatans of favor” as a noble teacher once called them – charismatic, mysterious, sensuous people – actors with well-rehearsed dialogue designed to make them sound wise and appealing.
The question we ask most often is, where (and in what) is the greatest meaning to be found? We are all on a journey of self-discovery and along the way we encounter each other. This is one of the ways in which all paths converge. When our paths cross, we have an opportunity to see life through different eyes. Soul and Source look out at the world through our eyes, seeing the world as we see it. The answers to most of our questions are revealed when we also look inward.