Damn, if it doesn’t keep happening.
We set our sights and give chase to something we expect will satisfy our longing – for what exactly, we’re not sure, but this might be it. After it’s over, and even if we managed to grab on and gulp down the promising thing, we feel more unsatisfied and now freshly disappointed. Not quite disillusioned, unfortunately, which would suggest that the delusional expectation itself was misguided and we have finally come to see the truth.
No, not disillusioned, only disappointed. We just need a little time to process our resentment before we get back in the game.
A key chapter from the metaphysical Book of Wisdom – referring to the shared depository of spiritual wisdom across cultures and passed down through the generations (aka the Perennial Philosophy or Sophia Perennis) – would invite us to pause just a little longer at this crucial moment and not jump back in too quickly.
Ideally our chronic disappointment might be cultivated into actual disillusionment, where we break free from the fallacies and faulty thinking that have been driving us down the road to inevitable suffering.
Wisdom seeks to educate us on the difference between our physical appetites, emotional passions, and ego ambitions on one side, and our spiritual longing on the other. Qualifying this longing as “spiritual” is not to suggest that its object is heavenly, divine, or supernatural.
In fact – and this is a critically important point – spiritual longing doesn’t have an object, because it isn’t striving for or toward anything in particular. Instead what it seeks is wholeness, harmony, wellbeing, and fulfillment – what Jesus called “abundant life.” It’s about the depth and quality of experience, not merely the pursuit of something, which is what our delusional state has us mistakenly believe.
A helpful analogy is the way a beam of white light disperses through a prism into a spectrum of colors or chromatic frequencies. The beam of white light is our spiritual longing, and the distinct bands of color are what I will call the Five Aspirations. Importantly, the white light is not something other than the color bands, but is “essence” to their “expression” of the same elementary phenomenon.
For us, the Five Aspirations are how spiritual longing is expressed and played out in the realm of our everyday human experience.
Before we explore the Five Aspirations directly, it will be helpful to place them inside a frame of human development theory. My diagram identifies the major stages, using terms I’ve been refining over many years and in this blog. I won’t take time here explaining the terms, but merely assume that my reader is familiar enough with them. A watermark image in the background, of the stages in the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, is a useful gestalt to hold in mind as we go.
Basically, human psychospiritual development begins in the “caterpillar” stage of our animal nature, in the sentient life of our body. From there it differentiates into the “chrysalis” or “cocoon” stage of egoic consciousness, centered in personal integrity and gathering a capacity for self-transcendence. But while many developmental theories regard this stage as the highest plateau to be achieved, a psychospiritual approach identifies a further stage – the fully formed and liberated “butterfly” – at a level of consciousness named spiritual community (or communal spirit).
The ultimate aim of our psychospiritual development, then, is to be included in and contribute to the higher wholeness of transpersonal fellowship, together-as-one (com+unitas).
With that framework in place, we can now look more closely at the Five Aspirations and get a better appreciation for how they fit into the larger picture. We will begin at the middle of my diagram, exactly where each of us comes to awareness of ourselves as a centered ego, indicated by an orange circle.
For so long, our developing consciousness was asleep; or better yet, it was under hypnosis (entranced, spellbound) as society was busy downloading and installing all the codes and instructions that would define our identity: who we are, where we belong, what to believe, and how we should behave as a member of this family, this tribe, this culture.
At this very location, of what Dante calls “the middle of the journey of our life,” spiritual longing awakens in us the aspiration for creative freedom, to break out of the confining “cocoon” of our social identity, to start choosing the life we want and creating the world in which we want to live. The painful part of this aspiration may be a feeling that our current identity and the conventional world are too small for our spirit, that unless something opens up to let us breathe and expand, we might succumb to depression and despair.
This is typically when our tribe (e.g., our family, party, or religion) will try to pull us back inside, tightening the seams and patching up the tears in our chrysalis – in what is known as a “fundamentalist regression” to the way things were.
As we allow ourselves to go with this creative freedom, persisting through the social pressures and our own neurotic cravings for security and control, spiritual longing will open further to the aspiration for higher purpose.
Not to be reduced to mere goals, objectives, projects, missions, or even “god’s plan for my life,” purpose here is about the quality of intention – of living on purpose and with purpose. Higher purpose is the investment of mindfulness and “deep intentionality” in all that we do, even when we are doing nothing at all. It is this deep intentionality that literally makes our life meaningful.
Living with higher purpose inspires us to create, celebrate, and commemorate deeper meaning in life – our third aspiration. In this way, the aspiration for deeper meaning is how our aspiration for higher purpose works itself out creatively: in making choices, planting values, building relationships, and devoting ourselves to what really matters. We thereby create a “house of meaning” that represents and reflects what is most precious, sacred, and enduring in life.
This concept of “constructivism” marks a significant departure from the conventional idea of meaning as a property of reality and something we must go out to find – as in Victor Frankl’s popular “search for meaning.”
Deeper meaning in life, particularly the realization that meaning itself is something we construct and project onto reality, calls us even deeper into a dimension of experience where there are no words but only a silent mystery of pure presence. This is where the aspiration for inner peace leads us – in the words of the sacred poet, “beside still waters” (Psalm 23:2). It is a place within ourselves that lies far beneath the conventional world and our chattering ego, far below the reach of language and its constructions of meaning.
Here, only metaphors like “Ground” and “Source” and “Being” can bring us close to the edge, before releasing ourselves fully to the present mystery.
Each move across the spectrum of aspirations has both broadened and deepened our understanding of spiritual longing. A final step, which psychospiritually translates into quite a leap, takes us from “deep within” to “far beyond” ourselves. The aspiration for genuine love necessarily calls us out of our solitude and into communion, out of an inner mystery and into the shared meaning of relationships. But even as we step out of quiet contemplation and into the field of interactions, the deep serenity of inner peace goes with us.
It is the secret to the difference between those who get tangled up in unhealthy attachment and codependency, and those who can love others from a position of centered stability, grounded compassion, and what Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.”
As spiritual longing finds expression in the aspiration for genuine love, our journey of psychospiritual development at last reaches fulfillment. In springing free from our cocoon of ego identity, we are now invited to join the transpersonal fellowship of spiritual community, where Everything is connected, All is One, and We’re all in this together.