There are two significant points to this book: 1) the importance of dealing with the psychological as well as spiritual aspects of our lives and 2) the need, or not, of having a spiritual teacher.
We cannot ignore our psychological hang-ups. Just “being spiritual” isn’t enough if we still harbor old resentments, hurts, and other issues that have been ignored for many years. As a psychologist, Caplan may be a little biased on this topic, yet she is correct. Being spiritual is about being a healthy human. That includes using some form of therapy to clear our past. Caplan claims that we “must be willing to suffer our own darkness if we truly aspire to know the deeper spiritual potentialities that exist within us” (20).
Many of the challenges we face are passed down from generation to generation. Caplan mentions the approach of some Native Americans who consider the impact of their decision on the next seven generations. Perhaps more of us should embrace that long term thinking.
When going through hard times, we may be experiencing our own karmic payback and “that it is necessary, even unavoidable, that we endure it” (101). Despite past lives and their significance, however, the fact is that “What is important is whether we are able to meet our present circumstance with a clear and discerning perspective and refrain from taking actions that further the endless repetition of unfavorable and limiting aspects of our karmic conditioning” (102).
The good news is that “future suffering is prevented through intensive self-study and practice that allows us to become aware of our unconscious processes and to intercept them” (102). Our awareness of our faults and limitations, and our desire and intent to change them, creates a better future. The control of our lives is within our reach.
The second significant point in this book is that we may not need a spiritual teacher. Caplan is very specific on this topic. She has had years of experience with teachers from different spiritual paths. While she continues to work with one, she warns of the difficulty in finding the right teacher who is both psychologically and spiritually healthy. Too many of the encounters she describes involve so-called gurus who take advantage of students emotionally, sexually, and/or financially. She mentions warning signs that can be sensed, even if not fully understood. She encourages us to listen to our instinct and steer clear of individuals claiming to have answers while making us feel uncertain and uncomfortable.
There are ways to grow spiritually other than running to an ashram in India or finding a personal coach. While we all need guidance, there are other forms of receiving assistance. Many people find a guiding book appearing at the right time in their lives. Others discover a connection to a guide on another dimension, and while there is caution against assuming or misinterpreting such a presence, there is a way to validate that. Again, trusting one’s instinct is crucial.
Caplan also warns against a “new-age” groupie mentality of following the latest, greatest person and/or idea. Chasing after this external gratification doesn’t allow one to fully develop one’s own talent or spiritual connection. There is no specific right way. That is the misleading part for many who desire answers, which may come in a variety of ways. For some, a teacher does physically appear. For others, that teacher may come in an unexpected form.
Another caution is that we don’t become victims of “spiritual materialism,” which is an attachment to the spiritual path as if it is a possession or achievement. Caplan refers to the feeling that now I have “it,” as if spiritual awareness is somehow a “thing.” The challenge is to keep the ego in check and realize that spirituality is a lifelong process, not a one-time accomplishment. “One of the primary aims of the spiritual life – far from our fantasies of an eternal Disneyland – is to simply open to all that is unconscious within us” (204).
The author also wants us to learn to laugh at ourselves. Spirituality is a serious subject, yet there is a light and humorous side to learning. If there is no laughter, there may be no spirituality in the teacher, book or latest experience.
Caplan’s personal experiences bring validity to her discussions. She has lived through the psychological struggles, the spiritual quest and the multiple spiritual teachers. Although not an easy read, this book does provide crucial challenges with affirming answers.