In this column, I want to briefly explore two major traps on the meditative path: (1) apathy and (2) mistaken identification.
The Dark Side of Non-Attachment
Apathy takes hold when the practice of non-attachment leads a practitioner to mistakenly think that nothing is of importance; that nothing is better or worse; that it’s all a dream, all a mirage.
This is detachment without embodiment.
An example would be a driver who thought he was the car he was driving. If he realized that he and the car were, in fact, separate, then that would be a great discovery (detachment).
However, after the discovery was made, he would need to continue driving the car (embodiment). Otherwise, the results might be disastrous—in his case a car crash, in the spiritual aspirant’s case apathy and sometimes depression.
Historically, most meditation practitioners (within their respective traditions) have been taught to counteract this tendency with hours upon hours of service. They have been instructed to perform benevolent physical activities to stay grounded. The two practices—of meditation on one hand and service on the other—appear to balance each other out and keep practitioners from succumbing to apathy.
(Note: I wrote about this at length in my novel The Meditating Psychiatrist Who Tried to Kill Himself.)
When the Practice Becomes the Goal
Mistaken identification is another potential pitfall on the meditative path.
Here, the practitioner may start to identify with the practices rather than the goal, thusly making the means equal to the end.
Using driving as a metaphor again, the driver could start to obsess over his driving skills, the appearance of his car, or the fuel he chooses for it, rather than focusing on where he is going.
When mistaken identification happens on the spiritual path, breathing techniques and physical exercises—which are important in their own right—and emotional visualizations and healing practices—which can serve as stepping-stones if used effectively—can replace the end goal of unveiling the essence. The practitioner attaches himself to the tools and forgets that he is working towards a particular outcome.
The historical cure for this has been to keep the ultimate goal in mind at all times.
Of course, there are other traps on the path, but I have found these two repeatedly in my interactions with beginner, advanced, and intermediate meditators over the years.
This column was curated from my 2017 book titled, Experifaith: At the Heart of Every Religion
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