Conspirituality and Metaphysical Perplexity
Alongside Tim Read, Jules Evans edited and contributed to the wonderful Breaking Open: Finding a Way Through Spiritual Emergency. It's a worthy read for anyone who has had a (or a series of) spiritual encounters whether spontaneous, or through meditative practices and/or psychedelic experimentation. Personally, I am very much of the camp that respects plant medicine as a legitimate vehicle for insight, but hold the opinion that if one is not connected to a tradition which uses, say, peyote or ayahuasca in ceremony then leave it be and explore first the tradition(s) of one's own ancestors. Basically, respect other traditions by not being a tourist in another culture's esoteric rites unless, proviso attached, expressly invited to do so. For Westerners like me that means the Greco-Judeo-Christian, traditions not typically known for use of psychoactive sacraments (see The Immortality Key by Brian Muraresku for an interesting alternate view, however). I do not by any measure mean to denigrate any world traditions, vast feasts are to be had by exploring any and all literature from any people, time or place one might come across; an understanding of the Gospel of John, for example, can be greatly enriched by reading the Bhagavad Gita; the fragments of Heraclitus can be married beautifully with Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching.
But it isn't the ebbs or flows of discussion on psychonautic travelling I wish to focus on here. Appreciating Jules Evans' work, I subscribe to his Philosophy For Life newsletter, and attach a word document below of his most recent piece. Therein he puts forward his take on the comingling of spirituality and conspiracy theories found in abundance online since the first global pandemic lockdowns of 2020: 'conspirituality' as it is monikered. Some few of us avoided these rabbit holes by closing down social media accounts when the 'noise' then exploding became too much for sanity to bear, it was/continues to be liberating and I don't regret being one of them. So, although familiar with movements (in a bowel-ly sense) like Qanon, the memes, fantasies and paranoid imaginings have largely passed me by. Mostly, but not completely.
In undertaking a diploma of counselling in 2021 vaccines were upper in the minds of many of my fellow students. Like the rest of the world, we were getting used to using Zoom as residential components of the course were curtailed by travel restrictions. What surprised me was just how many, most of whom could be described as spiritual, were anti-vaccine. A clear 80% by my loose reckoning. This included the course facilitator. There was one particularly tense day when we workshopped a group discussion on mandating covid vaccines, more than one person desiring to close conversation down with declarations of feeling 'unsafe,' as if that somehow shields one from facing reality (however it is subjectively conceived). I don't write this to be cruel, I was and am intrigued by those who are genuine spiritual seekers but who also unreflectingly swim in the whorls of what Jung called the spirit of our times. These are dangerous waters, the personal conscious and unconscious facets of our lives colliding, even being submerged by the collective in a time of trouble, of change and disquiet, forced into isolation within a society extrovert and over-sharing by popular demand. (Paul Levy's books on Wetiko can provide some insight here, as does the fiction of a Colin Wilson or Daniel Quinn). Evans has provided us with a properly adroit read in his latest wondering out loud, it is articulate and considered. Check it out if time allows.
That said, and here's the but, he is too limited in scope. He mentions 'schizotypy,' 'which is a psychological concept to describe people who are prone to unusual or even psychosis-like experiences and beliefs (such as in telepathy, ghosts, energy healing, and so on),' and 'apophenia' which 'is a psychological trait in which you are prone to seeing hidden patterns and connections in random phenomena, synchronicity, signs and wonders.' He describes certain spiritual seekers as being prone to over-reliance on intuition and of having a tendency toward narcissism, both traits shared by conspiracy theorists. It is hard to imagine a William Blake or James Joyce objecting, but it rather misses the point in the chthonic, Dante-esque descent both spirituality and, in its own way, conspiracy theories paradoxically offer: perplexity.
'The right attitude [is] ... to see the One in the Many and the Many in the One, or rather to see the Many as One and the One as Many. The realization of this kind of coincidentia oppositorum is called by Ibn 'Arabi 'perplexity' (hayrah). As such, this is a metaphysical perplexity because here man is impeded by the very nature of what he sees in the world from definitely deciding as to whether Being is One or Many.'
-- Izutsu, Toshihiko, Sufism and Taoism, University of California Press (1984).
The struggle, as they say, is real, this tension sets in place an Empedoclean state of strife within the seeker, a first stage in the soul's journey toward wholeness, the heiros gamos of our individuation process. The mention of Dante is no accident, we see it in Rodin's work Le Penseur, The Thinker. Here at the gates of Hell we are all of us Arjuna awaiting battle. To know the field we must first know that we do not know, our idols must be seen with the eye of unification (tawhid in Ibn 'Arabi's writing) in light of the paroxysm of paradox the left-brain (see Iain McGilchrist's The Matter With Things) viewpoint of our rational mind has no access to; for the rose to bloom its roots must be held within earthy darkness.
Being is both One and Many, we are not separate from creation nor creation from us; the One becomes Many yet is always and only One. It's a big thought, microscopic and macroscopic simultaneously: a cosmos encompassing Weltanschauung (worldview). And this is where Jules Evans does not tread in his musings (related in his latest post, at least). Spirituality and conspiracy theories do, as he writes, share commonalities, indeed, how could they not? There is most certainly a great conspirituality and it is precisely this contemporary conflagration which can act as a catalyst for depth exploration; the not knowing and the desire for Truth, misguided and uninitiated as we see in conspiracy theories, is a symptom of individual and cultural malaise, a dis-ease, and an abstraction from the alchemical opus that contains within it but one first step toward hayrah.