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Competing ideologies

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Jul. 14th, 2013 | 03:03 pm
music: Amira Madunjanin

The other day I was having a conversation with my husband about the offer of one of his counseling professors to take him on as a client after their coursework together has ended. My husband used the term "dual relationship" and said that it would be unethical for him to be both a student and client at the same time. I recalled having heard my hypnotherapist use this term once because she was looking for spiritual community, but couldn't consider my satsang because of the ethical conflict involved.

I described to my husband how one of the Amma devotees we know took another as a therapy client. (In my mind I pictured the time when this was going on: at satsang she embraced him and said, "Hey there, big guy!" I felt a bit uncomfortable seeing that.) I then went on to describe how a yoga teacher from a local studio had taken one of his students (who is also an Amma devotee) as a client, and how that seemed a bit irregular to me. I also mentioned that a number of people in that studio had practiced RC (Re-evaluation Counseling), which is a peer-counseling method that some consider to be discredited and a cult.

This led me to think of my last therapist, and of his penchant for psychic healers and fad therapies (John Lee's emotional release work, etc.). I believe that, at one time, he also made mention of RC on one of his websites. I looked him up online yesterday and noticed that his main website is free of such references. (There could be ads elsewhere, such as on the alternative website where I first became aware of him, that still contain some of those references.)

I also looked up the hypnotherapist, and noted that she is evidently no longer sharing studio space with the Rosen worker I had been seeing for a while. After I had OD'd on hypnotherapy I wanted nothing to do with the hypnotherapist, and I struggled with discomfort when I found out that she was friends with the Rosen worker that I was seeing for a while, and that she was sharing studio space with her. (It seems that the local professional network of gay healers and therapists is pretty small.) Of all of the people I worked with, the hypnotherapist seemed to be invested in her approach as an all-embracing ideology. Given the nature of that work, that's probably not too surprising, given that the client (if not the therapist also) spends considerable amounts of time in altered states of consciousness.

In any event, now that it has become easier for me to objectify my experience in the Amma organzation as my time in "the cult" (over the objection of my husband, who continues to idealize Amma despite some of the apparent problems in her organization), it seems to me that one of the reasons why I may have had so many difficulties in therapy may be that, at the time, I was heavily inbued with the ideology of the Amma organization. When I would feel pressure from therapists or other healers (the Rosen worker, astrologers, etc.) to frame my experience in the terms most familiar to them, I would try to play along for a while, but there would usually come a point at which I began to feel pressured to take on the burden of their ideology. Then, in order to preserve the integrity of my own experience--and of my interpretation of it--I felt a need to distance myself from the pressure I was feeling from these people, so I would terminate my work with them.

Of course, I could have come to the same conclusions without being so imbued in ideological issues related to the Amma organization, but it may be that my maintenance of those issues accelerated the process of distancing myself from these people. It may also, in its own way, have protected me from falling more deeply under the influence of any competing ideologies.

By ideology, I mean among other things that, by virtue of being a devotee of Amma, one has privileged access to deeper levels of direct, experiential self-knowledge than most non-devotees do. Even though this supposed knowledge may at times be very painful to sustain, at other times it may feel blissful and liberating. It can be frustrating to be involved with people who are supposed to be helping one deal with the painful aspects of one's life, who seem to be so out of their depth when they try to frame the richness of one's inner experience in the terms that are most familiar to (and/or most comfortable for) them.

In retrospect, however, I think there was a certain bullshit factor to the Amma-org-related ideology, and this may be why I began to find myself repeatedly in painful situations despite my best efforts to be aware and clear-headed and honest with myself. I even think back to the first Amma retreat I went on, when I was still identifying as Sufi and was maintaining prayer 5 times a day in addition to trying to keep pace with the exhausting retreat schedule. I tried to work within the idea that Amma's teaching is universal and that it is possible to be involved with her while still maintaining one's own religion. Well, this may work for some people, but as I began to respond to my experiences around Amma with a rush of feelings that went on and on and on, I found it increasingly difficult to maintain Islam as my "day" religion, my experiences with Amma as somehow rounding out and amplifying my spiritual life, and being a full-time professor, a husband, etc. Others may have different experiences with the organization, but it seemed to me that it was necessary to adapt my spiritual practices in ways that would hopefully harmonize more with the particularities of the organization, rather than to try to maintain so many compartmentalized spaces in my life.

I think that these issues are coming to the fore now because Amma is between the New York and Boston programs, and I have decided not to attend any programs this summer. As I reflect on the experiences I have had, a sense of emotional and spiritual fulness seems to come up. The good news, I suppose, is that I don't need the programs and all that goes along with them in order to re-experience some of those feelings.

Further good news for me, however, is that, as I have acknowledged the distance I had gradually been taking from satsang, and then from my daily Amma-oriented spiritual practices, and then returned to Islamic practices, I began to experience a sense of clarity and solidity--not to mention mental functionality--that it was hard to achieve when I was immersed in the Amma-oriented practices, social contacts, and the ideological weight that goes along with those things.

In the reading and spiritual practices I have been doing recently, I find that it is not difficult for me to experience modulations in mental state, even when I am reading the work of different teachers. I have to say that I don't trust the legitimacy of those feelings as indicators of truth as much as I had previously, because I have discovered that I am perfectly capable of getting a buzz from books or videos by Adi Da, for example, who is known to have been one of the biggest scoundrels in the business. Sometimes I think of these inclinations of mine as not much more as susceptibility to ideological and/or psychological manipulation. That may be why I don't want to spend much time immersing myself in such feelings, especially when they are of a "frequency" (to use a hackneyed New Age term) from which it can be particular to return to a more normal, more fully functional state of consciousness. On the other hand, it's nice to know that I can get a lift every now and then, and that tends to chase a bit of the day-to-day boredom and blues away.


Peace,

KH

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