It’s not often that an event occurs that causes one to challenge one’s core philosophical assumptions. I find myself at such a point. The assumption I’ve long held, central to my world view, is that while organized religion is generally a bad thing, personal spiritual development is of the highest value. Indeed, I’ve often considered it to be the only thing in life that genuinely matters in the end. I now wonder if this is all bullshit. Perhaps this spiritual insight constitutes one of the most powerful and compelling delusions it is possible to achieve and its results are ultimately disastrous.
The event that catalyzed this thought occurred two days ago when I went to a music session at the home of my teacher and collaborator who I will refer to as Peter. I was in a highly agitated state due to a growing sense of frustration. Our aim for the evening, as it had often been over the preceding several months, was to record some basic tracks for the project I’ve been immersed in for the bulk of the past year. For at least two months Peter had led me to believe that he would have recording capability any day now, but it had always failed to materialize. I determined that I would take the bull by the horns on this occasion and bring what was necessary to accomplish my objectives. I brought a powerful PC with a new firewire card to work with my friend Reed’s mixer that he would be bringing. I got the PC set up and Reed called saying he’d be there in a half an hour. I asked Peter if we could focus on getting the necessary microphone connections in place as he was fully equipped on that score.
Peter asked me what I intended to accomplish and I told him, as I had many times, that I simply wanted his drums, my bass, and Reed’s guitar on a couple of tracks so we could work with them on our own schedule. Peter claimed this was an impossibility within the time available and at this point my frustrations bubbled over. I remarked that I was very frustrated with this limitation, didn’t understand why it had not been overcome to this point, and expressed general dissatisfaction with the pace of our progress in the project. My clear implication was that he bore some responsibility for this situation.
Peter became very upset, to say the least. He gestured with one hand at knee level and one over his head. “Your frustrations are down here, while mine are up here.” He’d recently suffered a painful breakup with his live-in girlfriend of many years, the heart-rending story of which he’d regaled us with at almost every session. I sympathized deeply because I’ve had more than my share of romantic horror stories over the course of my adult life. There was another reason. Two years ago I had revealed to Peter a deep personal crisis that was tearing me apart and he had provided crucial support. He’d been a shoulder to cry on and I had availed myself fully of his help. I wanted him to know how much I appreciated that and genuinely wanted to return the favor.
On this occasion however, his dismissive gesture hit me like a hammer blow. I found it to be powerfully demeaning of my perspective which, as a friend as well as a paying customer, should not be disparaged. He also told me I was lucky to not be thrown out of the house for being disrespectful of him in his home. I wasn’t going to take this lying down and, to make a long story a little short, the argument continued until I did indeed end up leaving without playing a note. Reed had arrived in the meantime and we went out for a couple beers and made plans for a new drummer.
Peter considers himself a Man of God. He is a brilliant musician and has hung around rock and jazz musicians all his life and yet has never, he claims, touched drugs or alcohol. He teaches in Waldorf schools and embraces a spiritual philosophy big on the values of knighthood and chivalry. He has three copies of Parsifal on his bookshelf. He also has a great sense of humor and has Spinal Tap and the bulk of Monty Python’s Flying Circus memorized. He practically worships Led Zepplin, though hates that they ruined the musical brilliance of the Lemon Song with those filthy lyrics (“squeeze me baby ’til the juice runs down my leg”). The man is a puzzle.
He is also a kind and gentle man who is a joy to be around the vast majority of the time and he’s got amazing talent on every musical instrument imaginable, spontaneously creative and overspilling with great ideas for novel hooks and progressions. He brought a great spirit and enthusiasm to my music. It’s a shame I had to cut the cord and no longer work with him. The problem is that I broke through the facade and now know that he values himself on a higher plane as a human being, and I can’t tolerate how that makes me feel. I’m just too emotionally vulnerable for that.
Could it be that the spiritual insight Peter has is also the source of a powerful delusion of self-importance? Perhaps I’m guilty of a sweeping generalization, but could this be the case with most if not all ‘spiritually enlightened’ individuals, these women and men of God? I’m not entirely speaking as an outsider. I once had a powerfully enlightening episode – with a significant boost from certain naturally occurring chemicals. I felt a oneness with eternity, a sense of perfection and pure love for the universe and all it contained. I felt like a God. The sense was that this feeling was too special, too perfect, too blissful to be anything but the ultimate truth and the reason for being. I was changed by it, though the change did not hold. My habitual carnal pleasures brought me down from the ethereal plane and I soon felt like an ordinary schmuck, no better or worse than any other stinking bag of flesh and bones on this planet.
Still, I was left with the lingering belief that I must someday return to that blessed place because it was the ultimate high, the self-evident goal of human existence. Now I am not so sure. Perhaps I should fully embrace the ordinary, the carnal, the grim stuff of real life. Perhaps all “enlightenment” is a sham, a trick of overloading the brain’s pleasure sensors. Perhaps each and every Man of God is a deluded fool, made dangerous to all of us ‘lesser’ mortals by the power of their delusion of superiority.
Something to think about.