During the early 17th century, pamphlets proclaiming the existence of a mysterious Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross caused a sensation in Europe. Yet, few, if any, were actually accepted into the Brotherhood (if it existed as such), despite a number of public petitions.
It is difficult for us to imagine why this was such a big deal. Today, we are flooded with choices — choices of movies, bars, restaurants, and shops, etc. Likewise, spiritual “traditions,” groups, Orders, sects, and so on, have sprung up in abundance. And if there’s nothing that really suits us, we can just pick from a few traditions, mix them together, and make our own tradition.
It may not come as a surprise that more choices might, in fact, make us less satisfied. No matter what — or whom — we choose, there always seems to be something better out there that we should have held out for. If you live in a city like New York, you’ll be familiar with the complaint that, while friends back home in a smaller city or town are getting married, finding a serious partner in NYC is next to impossible. There are just too many options for most people to want to “settle.”
Likewise with spirituality. It’s common for people to endlessly skip from one tradition to the next, or to practice several during any particular period — a Buddhist ritual one night, a Voodoo one the next, some Kabbalah, some Chaos magic, and so on. In many cases, we find individuals desperately joining every organization, Rite, Order, etc., that they can find.
There is, as you might know, the custom of swapping recognitions and degrees within the world of the occult so that it’s possible to end up at the top of various occult Rites that you’ve never practiced. It’s like stamp collecting. The individual wants to get one or two that most others don’t have. That way he can always claim to have some secret that makes him right in any conversation about the spiritual.
What are romantic relationships and spiritual practices and traditions actually for?
I mentioned bars and restaurants earlier. These intend to provide an atmosphere, and, in a sense, to change your consciousness temporarily, from one of the daily stresses to one of relaxation, happiness, and a certain freedom with your cash.
Relationships and spiritual practices and traditions are about cultivating a new, permanent consciousness over the long term. They are, in a sense, trying to plant the seed of a new consciousness and asking you to tend to it. But how many seeds can we actually cultivate?
The endless chasing of sexual partners means getting to know people (and to know one’s self) only in a very superficial way. Likewise, when I meet people that are in six or seven different spiritual traditions, it seems to me that they speak in cliches, that they merely reference symbols rather than embodying their meaning, and that they say nothing profound or original. They haven’t thought deeply enough because they don’t allow themselves room to think. Indeed, their symbols all seem to reference and equate with all other symbols: A = B = C, etc. It’s a loop, endlessly circling the base of the mountain, but never rising up its sides, endlessly circling the truth, the “Aha” moment, but never finding it.
In reality, we can only cultivate a few seeds in our life, at least at one time. We might cultivate our physical body through diet and training. We might have a spiritual practice. We might have a creative practice. (Indeed, we can, and should, cultivate the mind, body, and spirit.) But the truth is, if we are going to do any of these well, we can’t practice six or seven physical disciplines, each with its own diet. And we can’t have half a dozen spiritual practices or practice half a dozen arts.
The “tree of life” is a motif in many different cultural traditions. No tradition that I’m aware of talks about “trees” (plural) of life. Our tree should have different branches: spiritual, emotional, physical, and so on. But time is limited. If we plant fifty seeds in a plot of land big enough for three or four, we will end up with tiny trees that produce little or no fruit.
Life ultimately isn’t about multiple choices or countless forgettable experiences. It isn’t about sampling everything we can. It is about going deep — deep into life; deep into a tradition (art, spirituality, etc.) to discover the essence and to express it anew and discovering the depth within us that we’re often afraid to approach.