I said it in my previous article – the mind is not the enemy of spirituality. It seems that James Allen agrees with me! Allen was a truly advanced spiritual writer. He knew the trappings of wealth and status, and warned his readers against them repeatedly. He knew that the way to God is the way of love and virtue, and the book from which this quote comes, Above Life’s Turmoil, prescribes virtue as the remedy for suffering and the only means to peace and enlightenment. No-one would ever accuse Allen of being stuck in an intellectual understanding of spirituality – yet even he acknowledges the necessity of developing the intellectual faculty as a prerequisite to spiritual progress. It’s not enough to follow the whims of the heart and assume that every positive emotion equals a spiritual inspiration. It’s a great way to waste time in mysterious spiritual dead-ends, or feed our ego by convincing ourselves that we’re receiving important spiritual insights – but it will not assist the evolution of our souls. From chapter 6 of Above Life’s Turmoil:
“A man’s spiritual progress will be painfully slow and uncertain until there opens with him the eye of discrimination, for without this testing, proving, searching quality, he will but grope in the dark, will be unable to distinguish the real from the unreal, the shadow from the substance, and will so confuse the false with the true as to mistake the inward promptings of his animal nature for those of the spirit of Truth.
A blind man left in a strange place may go grope his way in darkness, but not without much confusion and many painful falls and bruisings. Without discrimination a man is mentally blind, and his life is a painful groping in darkness, a confusion in which vice and virtue are indistinguishable one from the other, where facts are confounded with truths; opinions with principles, and where ideas, events, men, and things appear to be out of all relation to each other.
A man’s mind and life should be free from confusion. He should be prepared to meet every mental, material and spiritual difficulty, and should not be inextricably caught (as many are) in the meshes of doubt, indecision and uncertainity when troubles and so-called misfortunes come along. He should be fortified against every emergency that can come against him; but such mental preparedness and strength cannot be attained in any degree without discrimination, and discrimination can only be developed by bringing into play and constantly exercising the analytical faculty.
Mind, like muscle, is developed by use, and the assiduous exercise of the mind in any given direction will develop, in that direction, mental capacity and power. The merely critical faculty is developed and strengthened by continuously comparing and analysing the ideas and opinions of others. But discrimination is something more and greater than criticism; it is a spiritual quality from which the cruelty and egotism which so frequently accompany criticism are eliminated, and by virtue of which a man sees things as they are, and not as he would like them to be.
Discrimination, being a spiritual quality, can only be developed by spiritual methods, namely, by questioning, examining, and analysing one’s own ideas, opinions, and conduct. The critical, fault finding faculty must be withdrawn from its merciless application to the opinions and conduct of others, and must be applied, with undiminished severity, to oneself. A man must be prepared to question his every opinion, his every thought, and his every line of conduct, and rigorously and logically test them; only in this way can the discrimination which destroys confusion will be developed.
Before a man can enter upon such mental exercise, he must make himself of a teachable spirit. This does not mean that he must allow himself to be led by others; it means that he must be prepared to yield up any cherished thoughts to which he clings, if it will not bear the penetrating light of reason, if it shrivels up before the pure flames of searching aspirations. The man who says, ‘I am right!’ and who refuses to question his position in order to discover whether he is right, will continue to follow the line of his passions and prejudices, and will not acquire discrimination. The man who humbly asks, ‘Am I right?’ and then proceeds to test and prove his position by earnest thought and the love of Truth, will always be able to discover the true and to distinguish it from the false, and he will acquire the priceless possession of discrimination.
The man who is afraid to think searchingly upon his opinions, and to reason critically upon his position, will have to develop moral courage before he can acquire discrimination. A man must be true to himself, fearless with himself, before he can perceive the Pure Principles of Truth, before he can receive the all-revealing Light of Truth.
The more Truth is inquired of, the brighter it shines; it cannot suffer under examination and analysis. The more error is questioned, the darker it grows; it cannot survive the entrance of pure and searching thought. To ‘prove all things’ is to find the good and throw the evil. He who reasons and meditates learns to discriminate; he who discriminates discovers the eternally True.
Confusion, suffering and spiritual darkness follow the thoughtless. Harmony, blessedness and the Light of Truth attend upon the thoughtful. Passion and prejudice are blind, and cannot discriminate: they are still crucifying the Christ and releasing Barabbas.”
Allen’s advice to be merciless with ourselves may be a bitter pill to a society that is still recovering from the sometimes traumatic results of shame and fear based religious obedience. But please note that it is possible to be merciless and yet still compassionate with ourselves. We should make no excuse that would allow us to continue in our failings of morals and conduct, but we should love ourselves despite these failings. In other words, we want to develop self-awareness, but not shame. We are aware of our failings and seek to remedy them, but we do not allow the knowledge of our failings to tempt us into feeling that we are in any way bad or less than enough.