Why Enlightenment Might Be Bad For You. ~ G. S. Bobroff

Via elephant journal
on May 23, 2013
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Wisdom - Seeds of Light

“His wheel was stuck in a ditch of light, so to speak, and he felt an overpowering urge to steer in the direction of darkness.  If the earth needs night as well as day, wouldn’t it follow that the soul requires endarkenment to balance enlightenment?”

~ Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume


The most recent chapter in the history of human evolution can be seen as a bursting forth of the ‘lightward’ movement of consciousness out of the body and into the mind.

Our ancestors led us up into the light of greater moral clarity by overcoming superstitious thinking and the body’s dark instinctual forces. Moral action required the repression of instinct and we accomplished becoming the most rational, goal-oriented and productive human society that there ever has been. But, having tilted ourselves toward the light, toward the upward, spirit-focused part of ourselves, have we come to neglect another part of who we are?

In turning toward spirit, we rejected the material world in all its aspects including the embodied human one. When our Creation stories painted the body, matter and sexuality as sinful, a part of our nature was placed into the shadow. Today we continue to carry forward this split only we don’t know it—and doing so has made us dangerous.

Along the way on this trip, we have come to see ourselves as the light-bringers. Certain that our particular brand of philosophy will save the dirty Philistines from wallowing in their dark unknowing, we funded projects like the Crusades, the Inquisition and Residential Schools in all their various enlightening forms.

We still have cultures functioning today that produce people who fly planes into buildings because they know that ‘up there’ they will receive a hero’s welcome.

Modern light-bringing has so many forms: our political enlightenment will keep tyranny from bothering you again (“sorry ‘bout your house”); our economic enlightenment will save those lazy people over there; our scientific enlightenment can prove conclusively that all that spiritual hub-jub is pure gobbledygook (see the recent TED controversy); our religious enlightenment will lead you up to heaven (Bodhisattva won’t you take me by the hand!)—and in its latest form if you just do the magically right combo of mantras, sutras and asanas (and send Swami Googoo Gi $19.55) up, up, up you will going into the ultimate backstage party—Ascendance!

And when that day comes it will, of course, only be the ones on the unsinful diet of organic sunshine that get to go in. The So Cal yoga scene does a particularly attractive job of trotting this out. Pretty-focused, these spiritual fashionistas sell you the practice/diet/jewelry that ensures that you can feel superior to other people; here light and positive talk abound, so be sure to avoid becoming a social outcast in this culture by never saying anything negative. These folks might be shooting up light, but they are at least talking about trying to grow in consciousness!

What we don’t get in all this stuff is that it’s possible to embody our dark side in a guise of light; we don’t understand that reason has a shadow.

Today we act out the darkness of human evil in forms of rational action: where there’s a will there’s a way has us overcoming all the obstacles between us and destroying the world we live in; we skate on razor-sharp rational blades efficiently toward self-inflicted apocalypse with words like ‘economic necessity;’ we act out our hate for those happily embodied others that dare to own their sexuality in our world, and we do so certain and safe under the protection of our own higher righteousness.

 “The governing dream of the twentieth century appears as a kind of ultimate manifestation of a deep inner rage of Western society against its earthly condition.”

~ Thomas Berry

Righteousness has so many rational forms in our world, but how many of those forms are shadow cloaks in which we act out an unconscious psychological split between spirit and matter—ways in which we express our deep resentment of having to actually participate in an imperfect, disappointing, potentially dying world and exist in an aging, flawed and occasionally heart-wrenched physical body?

We identify all goodness with spirit, light and up and all evil with darkness, body and the down of the world’s reality. Living too much in up, too much in our heads, in spirit and in reason and not in our bodies, we resent those who do.

Holding the tension of this split makes us tend to see those around us who have worked though it as bad and maybe even dangerous—that’s why we hang the mystic lovers on crosses and burn them on pyres. “Knowing not what we do,” we think that Spirit’s splendorous light is up there and sexuality is down here, instead of listening to those wondrous teachers that give voice to a love that is firmly planted in the world.

We particularly dislike it when those teachers are our neighbors: the person right beside us who’s managed to learn to live in their heart just a little bit more than we have; those who have come to embody their sexuality with less shame than we carry; those who place the planet’s needs above their own; those we encounter with the moral courage to live fiercely in the world with their hearts open and present.

Jung said that if we worked at becoming conscious we might barely make it through the disasters ahead of us.

When we identify goodness with light, right and upward, we fail in that task.

What’s required of us is a willingness to drop our inner identification with light and get down close to the dark—our own and that around us. And then we must feel what comes of that (horror, rage, wonder, passion?), because there simply is no change without emotion—if you do not feel through to the healing then it’s all just an idea in your head.

The split between spirit and matter inside of us is only resolved in one place folks—in our hearts—in the discomfort and suffering of real pain and the ecstatic joy of real love.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

~ Rumi


G S Bobroff G. S. Bobroff, M.A. has a Master’s degree in in Jungian-oriented Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute of Santa Barbara, CA and is the author of Crop Circles, Jung & the Re-Emergence of the Archetypal Feminine (available on North Atlantic Books in August 2014).  His other articles on elephant journal include: “On Synchronicity & Romantic Fate” click here.  His website is GSBobroff.com.


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15 Responses to “Why Enlightenment Might Be Bad For You. ~ G. S. Bobroff”

  1. Padma Kadag says:

    Personally, I'm not quite sure where this notion that we humans are in the midst of a "spiritual evolution" comes from. This fantasy seems to have gained leaps and bounds with the internet and the rise in "spiritual businesses"(which includes books, workshops, etc). Evolution can be only observed after the fact and not in process. Even then evolution is what exactly? Is it always generating towards a more pure state or can it also de-generate? Are we confusing karma with an ego-centric concept called "spiritual evolution"? If we are thinking we are in the midst of an evolution ever going towards a more pure state of existence then is this not ego's trick? Patrul Rinpoche in Words of My Perfect Teacher ( Kunzang Lamai Shalung) Explains the trap of Godly realms quite clearly.

  2. Jules says:

    Great article…I get it and think you are right on target. Light and dark have to exist harmoniously inside of us, and be accepted. How old is the ying yang symbol?

  3. Marilyn J. Meyer Owen says:

    Padma may be right, and we certainly need to keep the ego relativized. But I think…I hope…we ARE evolving toward something, even if it is two steps forward and one back, dancing between chaos and perfection. I like Ken Wilber's idea that we are evolving toward greater complexity, transcending and including all that came before. Speaking psychologically (which is my field) we do need to feel the feelings in order to evolve beyond our neuroses. Carl Jung pointed out that we often suffer the wrong thing, and that keeps us going round and round, stuck in old wounds and patterns. What we must do is actually, truly, FEEL the original overwhelming emotion (usually experiences from childhood), then experience the fact that it does not kill us because we are now strong enough to tolerate and transform it. Our societal preference for addictions of all sorts indicates the lengths we will go to avoid feeling what must be felt.

  4. Thank you for the thoughtful commentary everyone (I'll respond to each individually momentarily). If you enjoyed this article, you might also like my other elephant journal article "Synchronicity & Romantic Fate" : http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/02/love-magic

  5. yes yes thank you Marilyn.

  6. and fyi I highly recommend Marilyn for anyone in the greater LA area looking for a great therapist.

  7. Bryan says:

    You started confusing me at "Our ancestors led us up into the light of greater moral clarity by overcoming superstitious thinking and the body’s dark instinctual forces." When did this occur? What "superstitious thinking? Can you clarify? I get the whole simple light/dark dichotomy…but what are you trying to say exactly? Personally there's more superstitious thinking and base ignorance than ever, and it seems to be getting worse – not better… Now we have all sorts of individuals taunting their own philosophy, theory, or idea without any real "Enlightenment". They catch parts of the truth and we spin schools and institutions around them leading us further into our own isolated egoistic confusion. I enjoy the India paradigm of the Kali Yuga, explains a lot.. Jung was a prime example of someone who didn't quite get the gist of the eastern teachings, but did what he wanted with them…Then again he didn't even think westerners could get them..more ego defense there… more invention more confusion.

  8. Here's a quote from Jung (via Dreamwork with Toko-pa) that is appropriate there: "I cannot love anyone if I hate myself. That is the reason why we feel so extremely uncomfortable in the presence of people who are noted for their special virtuousness, for they radiate an atmosphere of the torture they inflict on themselves. That is not a virtue but a vice."

  9. Marilyn Owen says:

    Excellent quote, Gary. I never thought of it that way, but completely agree. The best leader I’ve experienced was a man who forgave himself for his shortcomings, and thus created a space for us to do so as well. This created an atmosphere of safety and acceptance which inspired us deeply.

  10. Nice Marilyn — very glad to hear that. The danger is a false adhesion to a one-sided (light-sided) view of who we "should" be. Allowing consciously and making room for our own imperfection would seem to be the healthy, whole-making alternative.

  11. tim rutledge says:

    A good-natured but incisive critique. Also, a reason I prefer "awakening" to "enlightenment" – though no term is ultimately immune to becoming an object of attachment.
    Jung offers such a compelling corrective in presenting the spiritual journey as one toward wholeness rather than perfection. Spot on Mr. Bobroff!

  12. Loris Simon says:

    Really enjoyed your article Gary! I'm actually in the midst of directing a documentary about the suppression of the feminine principle in Western society. There is a section on the body where we are commenting on this Cartesian concept of separating the mind from the body, attributing the mind with the spirit, the light, etc. Wish I could show you more but we are still in post production process: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1045782073/en
    Look forward to reading more! 🙂

  13. Love your documentary! Check it out people!