Over the past few years of deeper spiritual study, I’ve found myself in a position to read texts and consider ideas and knowledge from various spiritual philosophies including Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoga, Sufism, Wicca, Christian mysticism and others.
Although I feel I’ve been a respectful “skeptic” through my journey thus far, when I came across Mariana Caplan’s book Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path, I felt that my discrimination skills could likely benefit from some honing.
What I expected was a clear-cut outline of tips and guidelines on exactly what to seek, what to avoid, where to exercise vigilance, and who to trust. I anticipated specific spiritual practices to try or be cautious of, teachers to trust, and media to study or scrap.
What I found was not the standard “eat this, not that” but instead a deeper look at my own un-mindful limits and inattentive undertakings that could be impeding peaceful and devoted spiritual progress.
Rather than the “5 steps to discernment NOW” that I anticipated, I found that often I was being educated on various styles and nuances of modern spirituality that Caplan deemed an important part of understanding spiritual discernment. For example, she dedicates an entire chapter to outlining the oft misunderstood tantra, describing its understanding as important to developing discernment because it “teaches us how to relate to all experience as fertile ground for uncompromised spiritual transformation” (p. 160).
Each issue that Caplan outlines as possibly problematic among the external spiritual development tools such as teachers, gurus, spiritual awareness programs, rituals, studies, pilgrimages, and the “latest and greatest” enlightenment courses is laid out with an insight into possible disorder, and then aptly drawn back to the reader’s own inner confusion and how that can be used either intelligently via discernment or unconsciously in exacerbation.
Caplan’s educational background features degrees in cultural anthropology, counseling psychology, and contemporary spirituality, giving her a wide and open range of viewpoints on the subjects she addresses. Her approaches are heavily influenced in psychology, and she intertwines modern-day mind study into each discernment layer she discusses. I appreciate this broader and open-minded approach to discernment by using both psychology and spirituality to understand, compare, and dig deeper into themselves and each other. Both can be important tools of exploring the mind in order to break through its oft negative strongholds and barriers.
Caplan also boasts years of spiritual field experience and research in villages in India, Central America, and Europe, and has studied with numerous gurus and teachers, whom she quotes and cites in overload throughout her book. I appreciate the credibility and sourcing, but the name-dropping and quoting was in overkill mode in this book. I found myself concentrating less on the topics of discernment, and more on how to pronounce all the names and remember who quipped this and quoted that.
Overall, I give this book a positive rating, but I will admit it was not an easy read.
In addition to the often confusing names and passages, there seemed to be a lot of repetitive phrasing. The overall message that I understood from the book was that in order to discern strongly, one must know and study what they want to discern. There isn’t an easy “5 steps to discernment” or a quick answer to the deep questions. It is a process that continues as one develops their practice and study…a constant balancing
of examination, understanding, and questioning.
In summary, I took a lot from this book regarding discernment on the spiritual front and was opened to new ways to see myself and what is offered to me in my life and spiritual path. Even as I read further into Eyes Wide Open, I found myself using discernment that I was learning against the book itself. And hey, I learned a lot of new words and names and resources in the process, too. Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path is not an easy read, but may be an important one.
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