Over the years, I’ve observed that when I read a book about a particular religion or a New Age healing method, the first thing the authors want to explain to me is their cosmology. Each author seems to believe wholeheartedly that if I don’t understand the cosmology behind the religion, I won’t be able to benefit from the religion’s teachings. Hence I’m typically presented with a myth that reveals to poor unenlightened me the “truth” about the origins of the universe, the origins of God, and the origins of evil. I’m given names. Dates. Places. Lists of historical events. Lists of family descendants. Sometimes I’m given prophecies about future events. All this is revealed to me so I’ll better understand why I must follow all the steps required by the religion or the spiritual movement in my quest to connect more deeply with God.

These are all “top down” approaches to spirituality. The “top down” approach to religion, faith, and spirituality can also be described as the “fiction writer’s guide to the universe.” Any speculative fiction writer worth his or her salt can construct an elaborate Creation Myth. One of the best known speculative fiction writers of this ilk is J.R.R. Tolkien, whose lovingly crafted books about Middle Earth could easily be mistaken for religious revelation. The sheer scale of Tolkien’s cosmology is breathtaking, its impact, transformative. Yet it’s pure fiction.

So even though I’m a mystic, and even though I cut my writing teeth as a fiction writer (unpublished), I think it’s wrong for me to use a “top down” approach. It’s wrong for me to present you with a huge Creation Myth and expect you to believe it simply because I say so. That’s what religious leaders such as Christianity’s Apostle Paul once did. These religious leaders expect you to have blind faith.

Like many people today, I think blind faith is exactly what it sounds like — blind. Intentionally and wilfully blind. No different than putting on a blindfold and walking into a busy street in the arrogant belief that God will protect you from injury because of your faith. That’s not faith. That’s narcissistic pride.

I recommend a “bottom up” strategy of spiritual healing. This was the approach taken by the physician-scholar we know as Jesus of Nazareth. (Don’t worry, I’m not going biblical on you. There’s hardly anything in the Bible about Jesus’ actual teachings.)

A “bottom up” strategy has many advantages. The first and most obvious advantage is that the “bottom up” strategy is equally available to all people regardless of gender, class, religion, socio-economic status, age, or physical health status. You don’t need special training or special credentials to access this strategy. Most of all, you don’t need pots full of money. (You’ll need some money, but that’s because everyone in the 21st century needs money to buy food, shelter, medicine, and other basic life necessities.) This is what I mean when I say you need to keep it simple.

A second advantage is that you don’t have to “check your brain at the door.” You don’t have to choose blind faith over reason. You don’t have to choose religion over science. On the contrary, you’ll need all the resources available to you inside your own brain and mind. You’ll be working your brain harder than you ever thought you could. This is what I mean when I say you need to keep it sane.

A third advantage is that you’re allowed to have a sense of humour and you’re allowed to make mistakes. (Maybe you take those two things for granted, but trust me when I say that fundamentalist religious leaders — teachers of the “top down” approach — have no tolerance for either humour or mistakes.)

A fourth advantage is that I don’t have to explain to you in gory detail each and every advantage of this strategy. You’ll figure it out for yourself as you go along. You’ll gradually figure it out at such a deep, unshakeable, core level that the insights you achieve will be totally yours and nobody will be able to take them away from you. Ever.

Today’s thought is this: Spiritual leaders who insist on the “top down” approach are telling you that they believe in the “ladder of spiritual ascent.” They’re telling you they believe there’s a soul ladder where “bad” souls are at the bottom and “good” souls are at the top. They’re telling you this even if they don’t use the word “soul.” Listen carefully to the words these leaders use. Do they speak often in black-and-white symbols? Do they demand that you believe in black-and-white pairs of polar opposites such as good-versus-evil, male-versus-female, enlightened-versus-unenlightened, corrupt-body-versus-purified-mind? (You can probably think of many other examples.) Use your own experiences and your own common sense to challenge these claims.

Make a list of five pairs of polar opposites that you think might be impeding you personally on your own Spiral Path. Don’t make a list of 50 or 100 pairs, because that’s too much information for you to work with. You can start with a list that has more than 5 pairs on it, but take some time to reflect on your longer list, and whittle it down to 5 pairs (or as close to 5 pairs as you can get). This will be plenty for you to work on.

This is an example of keeping it simple. There’s no point sweating over a huge long list because your biological brain simply CANNOT deal with that much complexity and that much pain at one time. Don’t even try. Just pick 5 pairs (or thereabouts), and post them where you can see them every day. This will help your biological brain remember what your goals are.

Looking back on the beginning of my own spiritual journey, I would have picked these five pairs to work on:

  1. Good souls versus evil souls (because I believed then what many spiritual writers were saying).
  2. Worthy souls versus unworthy souls (because I’d fallen into the trap of believing I wasn’t worthy of God’s love and forgiveness, though I believed other people were worthy).
  3. Humbleness versus humility (though I doubt I could have formulated a distinct definition for these two at the time).
  4. Selflessness versus selfishness (at the time, I thought these two were polar opposites, and as a result, I allowed myself to become a co-dependent doormat in more than one relationship).
  5. Perfectionism versus forgiveness (this pair kept me occupied for several years).

See why you should only pick 5 pairs? Just being honest with yourself about 5 pairs is enough to make anyone barf.

Even one pair is pretty intimidating in the beginning. But you have to start somewhere on the Spiral Path of learning who you are as a soul, and this is as good a place as any.

As we shall see, this examination of your own polar opposites has a biological purpose, a definable, quantifiable biological purpose that will help you heal your biological brain. That’s what “bottom up” teaching is all about — it’s about starting with the tools you currently have (i.e. your biology) and maximizing the DNA you were born with so you can be the best person you’re capable of being. It’s about starting with the foundation God has given you (that’s the “bottom”) and strengthening that foundation through your own spiritual initiatives and your own hard work. Building outward rather than upward. Building outward changes and connections in your family, community, and workplace rather than building castles in the sky. Building outward with roads and schools and hospitals until you can touch the hand of your neighbour.

Maybe you think this sounds too simple, too sane, not very mysterious, and even kind of boring. All I can say to that is . . . the Spiral Path is anything but predictable.

(Chortle, chortle).

Relationships lie at the core of all spiritual practices. Being with the people you love is deeply healing.

Relationships lie at the core of all spiritual practices. Being with the people you love is deeply healing.