By Prabhath P.

The path to self-realization has many traps and pitfalls, often paved with exotic paranormal experiences. And only those who can keep their focus reach beyond Meditation is an adventure of the consciousness. And, like any other adventure, it can be a tricky journey. Countless spiritual aspirants have fallen into traps on the way. Some of them manage to come out while others fail.

The Paranormal Trap

The strange but fascinating emergence of Paranormal perceptions during the meditative process has proved to be one of the most seductive of all the traps. Hordes of New Agers following the Human Potential Movement have become prey to abnormal absorption in exciting phenomena such as ESP (clairvoyance, telepathy, clair-sentience), ecstatic altered states of consciousness, ethereal visions and mind over matter feats of psycho kinesis. Zen Buddhists refer to fantastic sensations of light, sound and other illusions that appear during Meditation as makyo, which must be ignored if one is to reach liberation. Makyos are illusions we project on our reality. Those who devote their time entirely to exploring such phenomena are like travelers who forget their destination because they are so engrossed in sightseeing. Some yogis become so obsessed with siddhis or supernormal powers that they place more importance on displaying these siddhis than aspiring for self-realization.

The flip side of this trap is to dismiss all such experiences and siddhis as absolutely useless. They are, in fact, expressions of hidden human potential. There is nothing wrong in adopting the middle road of studying these abilities provided they are seamlessly integrated into the ultimate aim of self-realization. What should be avoided is an exclusive obsession with such powers because during emergence, they are not fully grounded. As Sri Aurobindo pointed out, once anchored in the supreme consciousness, all these powers become naturally available. But anyone who holds on to siddhis before liberation will find them slipping away, resulting in despair and abandonment of the path.

Withdrawal from the World

A frequent trap in mystical schools has been the ascetic idea of withdrawing from active participation in the world. In truth, none of the great mystics have shunned creative engagement with the world. If we believe that the same ultimate reality runs through the whole universe, the error inherent in withdrawal becomes apparent.

On the other hand, it is sometimes necessary to step away from others and make a strategic retreat for a short time in order to concentrate on various aspects of total growth.

This is more important when one is going through the transitional state of the dark night of the soul, when the pace of turbulent inner experiences becomes too intense. Swinging from inner world to the outer reality may not be easy. Such a retreat, however, is required to return to the world of experiences with a more integrated perspective.

Long Dark Night of the Soul

It is believed that one of the most frightening periods that an aspirant may have to traverse, known as ‘the long dark night of the soul’, could last from a few years to even decades. Once you enter this phase, there is no turning back. Only a fortunate few can avoid passing through this period. Transpersonal psychologist Stanislaw Grof terms this phase a spiritual emergency. According to Grof, an ever-growing number of people are going through spiritual emergencies.

Meditation is not a seeking. It is an unveiling of the ever-present spirit underlying our consciousness that has been covered by layers of conditioning accumulated over several lifetimes. It is believed that as meditative practice breaks down these barriers and the gates to the subconscious and unconscious minds open, a wide variety of repressed emotions and recollections rise into conscious awareness. Elements of fear, traumatic past-life memories, existential despair, meaninglessness, a false sense of insanity, suicidal feelings and experiences of Death manifest.

Paradoxically, it is this dark sentinel of the shadow that guards the gate to enlightenment. One may find oneself in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with one’s own shadow self, which represents all the emotions, traumas and fears that have been suppressed. It is the shadow that Eckhart Tolle, the prophet of the Power of Now, refers to when he describes the pain-body. This is also the phase when various kinds of temptations and flippant thoughts test your focus.

Sri Aurobindo refers to this period as the attack of adverse forces whose favorite weapons are drama and sorrow. In his view, the physical illnesses that may plague a seeker are yogic illnesses, which happen as a result of the body’s attempts to reorganize at a higher level of integration. He warns that one should avoid the trap of seeing these horrific experiences as karmic retribution.

There is also a scientific explanation for the consciousness quakes that punctuate this period. Nobel Prize winning scientist Ilya Prigogine formulated the theory of dissipative structures and complex self-organizing dynamic systems. He showed that such systems, which form a feedback loop with the environment, keep evolving and at times make a leap to a higher level of self-organization. But before this happens there is a ‘bifurcation point’ when the system is in a twilight zone. This is the time when the old order is gone and the new order is yet to be born. The way out is either a disintegration of the system or its leap to a higher level.