Spiritual teachings can be wonderfully contradictory, and I would suggest this can actually be good for us in creating greater flexibility of awareness. We should all have a minimum daily dose of contradictory ideas. Here are two recent email conversations that explore the oportunities in contradictions further:
Q:Having read widely on spiritual matters I have come to a conflicting impasse. We are told by the metaphysicians of the world that through the “Spiritual Law of Attraction” our thoughts have a powerful energy (vibration) and that we attract what we Notice and Expect. We are told time and time again Expect Positive things and that is what you will attract.
That said, Spiritual Masters on the other hand will often state that at Soul Level there is no such thing as good nor bad as defined by our “limited” minds. The latter suggest there is only “Experience” and all experience is welcomed. Of course good and a bad is considered just opposite polarities of the one experience.
Empirical evidence seems to agree with the spiritual masters as notwithstanding our grand intentions in positive thought we seem to suffer outcomes that are often contrary to our thoughts. One just needs to review the massive fall out of many Positive Individuals who had their entire financial wealth wiped out by the 2008 financial crisis. It would appear in the latter that no amount of positive thinking would have changed the situation for these individuals and in fact they may have been “too positive” in their thoughts, never expecting such a loss!
Furthermore case studies by Learned people such as Dr Michael Newton in their writings such as “Journey of the Souls” and “Destiny Of The souls” reveal that at soul level we make Life Selection Choices and Body Selection choices for human incarnations that quite often will involve suffering and hardship necessary for soul experience and development.
It appears to me that there exists a conflict between soul level and mind level. Is there a missing element to the above and if so what is it that I am missing? Or…Is there a reconciliation between the two schools of spiritual teaching?
A: This is a very good question. I would suggest that the two perspectives are complimentary instead of contradictory. They are both pointing to a part of the truth.
However, I will add that just because both perspectives have some truth, that does not necessarily mean that they are equally true. The perspective that our soul or essence is enriched by every experience, and so may even choose difficult experiences is the bigger truth. In fact it is such a big truth, that the smaller truth that the Meta-physicians share about how our thoughts affect reality operates within the bigger truth of the perfection of all experiences. In a sense they are different levels of truth, and yet the bigger truth is so big that it contains the smaller truth.
To me the ideal is not to hold one perspective or another, but to instead have the flexibility to move in and out of all perspectives. For example, since you are here experiencing a human life, you might as well do everything on a practical level to make your life "better". If you find it helpful to set goals, take action, and even focus the energy of your thoughts, then why not try it and see what happens? And then when it turns out that your soul and the Divine have a very different idea of what would be "better" for you in this lifetime, it all becomes an opportunity to surrender and feel gratitude for things just as they are.
The art is in knowing when to hold each perspective, but that can only be learned by trying both and seeing what happens. Someone once suggested that success is the natural result of massive amounts of failure. So no matter what happens when you hold a particular perspective, you can use the resulting experience to learn to be more curious and ultimately discriminating as to what perspective is the most functional in each new moment.
There is much more to read about this kind of exploration elsewhere on this blog. You might start with these posts:
And there is a much more thorough exploration of different levels of truth in this excellent piece by Timothy Conway:
I hope this helps.
And here is the second conversation:
Q: Today I started revisiting some audio downloads of your satsangs again and one question arose. In the initial 'Intro' portion of one of your talks, you mentioned that our true nature as the space of awareness is not a thing which can be affected by anything, and you used the example that even an atom bomb going off in a room would not in any way affect the space in the room. Yet just a couple of minutes earlier in the same presentation, you said that awareness becomes powerfully imprinted by things which it becomes aware of, and you used the example of a baby duck becoming imprinted with the first thing it sees at the time of its birth, whether it is the mother duck or a laboratory scientist. Are these two statements reconciled in the same way that Nisargadatta Maharaj spoke about a distinction between consciousness (which perhaps in your presentation might be that which becomes imprinted) and awareness (that which he termed 'prior to consciousness')?
A: Thanks for your great question. I love it when someone points out the contradictions in my own words! Life and Being are rich and mysterious and so to capture all of it in words requires that you contradict yourself a lot.
Specifically, I often speak about different levels of truth. In this case, the biggest truth is that the source of awareness (what Nisargadatta is calling awareness in your reference above) is not ever affected or harmed by anything. But awareness (what Nisargadatta is calling consciousness) is an outward expression of that ultimate source, and it is affected by everything it encounters. That is why we call it awareness, which is simply the ability to have an experience, perception or knowledge of something that is happening. In order to have perception, experience or knowledge, we have to be affected by what is happening. If it has no effect on us, then there can be no awareness.
The important thing is to realize that the source of awareness can not be harmed and so any effect that things have on our awareness is always temporary and not that important ultimately. When this is realized, it can free us to enjoy everything that affects our awareness (meaning everything that happens to us) and yet not worry about the temporary impact any of it has. This is a very big freedom indeed.
Even the imprinting I speak of is temporary. All imprinting, karma, vasanas, samskaras and conditioning get dissolved eventually, so they are all ultimately temporary. You can hold all of it lightly even as you inquire sincerely to understand it all more deeply.
I wrote more about this in a free article on my website, but please forgive me as I use words like consciousness and awareness interchangeably and so my writing can sometimes get confusing. However, please also note that "awareness" or "consciousness" and the ultimate empty source of awareness are actually not really separate or two completely different things. Instead they are two aspects of the same thing, and so while one is completely unaffected, the other can still be affected by everything. Here is the article: