The following is an excerpt from Grounded Spirituality, written by Jeff Brown.
*Editor’s Note: Here at Elephant, we’re notorious bookworms—we love them, and want you to love them, too. But, recently, we found out books are evil—one of the worst things for the environment. Before you buy your next book, read this and this. Keep reading, but read responsibly.
It all comes down to this: do you want mastery, or do you want reality?
The following dialogue is an excerpt from a fictitious stream of conversation between myself, “JB,” and a questioner named Michael, “M,” in my new book, Grounded Spirituality.
JB reflects myself at this stage of my development. “M” is based on a tapestry of various ungrounded spiritual seekers I have encountered, and is also a direct reflection of who I was at prior stages of my journey.
I had considered writing a more objective Q and A, one where the questioner and responder are depersonalized voices with little story revealed. But that form of dry, inhuman interaction felt incongruent with this book’s embodied spiritual message.
If I want my message to be felt on a deeply human level, it feels important to communicate it personally, in the heart of story.
I have taken the liberty of engaging “M” in a deepening dialogue, one that invites us to cover a broad range of material over a series of regular sessions. I have also chosen to enhance the dialogues with various settings and closing narratives that reflect my perspective on his process. It is my hope that the story comes alive in a way that reflects the message itself.
M: It’s not spiritual, because it’s not masterful. I was trained in the art of mastery. I don’t want to be a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” You find your particular spiritual practice, and you go deeper into it, perfecting it until you touch a pure consciousness. It is mastery that opens the gate.
When we don’t maintain a one-pointed focus, we disperse our precious energies in many disparate directions. It’s sloppy.
JB: I’m not opposed to mastery, if what we are mastering is fundamental to our time on earth. But I am opposed to mastery that is a persistent and determined effort to bypass reality. That’s not mastery. That’s little more than “masterybation.”
Basically, you are using spirituality to satisfy yourself, in some odd and isolated way. It’s like a porn addiction. It’s no substitute for the real thing. In fact, it’s the furthest thing from real intimacy, as you exist in an isolated sphere.
Again, we come back to intention. Are you mastering a practice, or a path, because you have a deep calling to it—that is, it’s one of your personally encoded portals to divinity, like the calling to heal the sick, or to become a parent…or are you mastering it as an escape hatch?
It all comes down to this: do you want mastery, or do you want reality?
M: There is a third option, dude. Mastering something because it provides a clear highway into a more expanded consciousness, something difficult to achieve in this bullsh*t world. It gives me direct access, and it also gives me faith and hope there is something more.
I have a question for you, bro. Do you believe in past lives?
You see, I believe I have been through this incarnation numerous times. I have already lived out the emotional bodies. I have probably even spent a whole past life sitting in a shrink’s office processing my feelings. No wonder I’m so averse to them. Been there, done that. I truly believe my “calling”—as you mentioned—in this lifetime is about the bigger picture. It’s not about the human hamster wheel. I don’t know about you, but this is my last lifetime. I’m sure of it.
JB: Spoken like a true transcendence bypasser.
A transcendence bypasser’s proclivity to not integrate their feelings is so pervasive that they have actually formed a whole past lives story to justify their resistance. The truth is I can’t tell you if there are past lives, or not. I prefer not to theorize or speculate. That’s a head-trip. I go by what I know in my bones.
And, what I can tell you for certain: enrealment is the way off the human hamster wheel. It is our destiny as human beings. The one-threaded consciousness called “enlightenment” that you are referring to as the ultimate goal—is not actually the ultimate. It doesn’t even begin to fulfill our purpose as to why we are here.
What if…the whole point is to actually fulfill your unique blueprint of a whole human being in this lifetime—incorporating the all of you—and that’s what frees you from any need to come back again?
M: So you are saying that the way out of samsara (the cycle of death and rebirth), as the Buddhists believe, is to go up the mountain and then come back again.
JB: Exactly. The Mountain is easy. It’s what you do next that matters. If you just stay up there, without coming back and weaving this clarified consciousness with other elements of your reality, then you, again, end up highly developed in one regard, while underdeveloped in another regard. You end up on a one-way street home.
But human beings are meant to be a multi-laned highway, with myriad exits and entry points. And, of course, this has been the intention of many in the spiritual community for centuries, particularly men. They have conveniently characterized “spirituality” as little more than the perfecting of a single-threaded consciousness. Individuals become effective at one state or practice—skilled witnessers, expert meditators, head-tripping masterminds, Olympic champions of story reframe and premature forgiveness—and they deem that limited state “spiritual.”
Yet, it isn’t truly spiritual or truly whole—because they have failed to develop many other aspects. They have developed one thread, at the expense of the others. But it’s not the wholly weave. They are confusing “step one” with “step everything.”
It is my belief that mastery, in most cases, is little more than patriarchy’s self-avoidant mask. I suspect it began with men who didn’t want to deal with their feelings, but couldn’t admit it so they had to portray their avoidance mechanisms as enlightenment. To them, being a “Jack of all trades, master of none,” is a grave failure. To me, it can be a more awakening state, closer to an inclusive spiritual consciousness because more threads are active and alive: Jack of all trades, master of the “One.”
What would happen to men if they accepted that there is no final place to arrive at, but, instead, an endless not knowing to deepen into and explore?
They might just find a deeper and more persistent sense of satisfaction with this blessed life. Not rarefied, but realified—available to and within all. We are not striving to become perfect. We are striving to become real, to show up for our life in every respect, flaws and all. Be real now.
Right when I finished speaking, Michael jumped up, eager to leave. Every time I mentioned the perils of patriarchal spirituality, he looked for a way out. This perspective seemed to be the nexus of all the aspects that he was sidestepping through his spiritual practices.
But, this time, he sat back down and closed his eyes to calm himself. He remained still for a long time, and I held the space in silence. After years on the skyways of self-avoidance, he was doing his very best to re-engage with his shadow and to tolerate a more inclusive perspective.
He had been confusing a “step one” awakening with a “step everything” awakening for decades. I had to allow him the space to integrate these new insights, or I would lose him altogether.