Confusing Magical Thinking with Spiritual Practice

Q: When I was in the dentist chair, to get away from the discomfort, I tried to put myself up to the ceiling and detach. I imagined myself looking down at my body so I would feel less distressed. This didn’t work all that well.

Had you practiced and been successful at doing that before?

Q: No, not really.

If you’ve never left your body before, it’s not likely you would be able to leave your body in a moment of stress, when your body is feeling attacked. In such circumstances, it’s more likely that your body would try to cling to your consciousness so you don’t abandon it.

You would have had more success if you put your focus somewhere else still in your body but far away from your mouth, where there was no pain. Go into your big toe, for example. Feel your big toe. Feel that there’s no pain in the big toe and put your consciousness there. Then you’re not asking yourself to do something that you don’t have the skillset for.

Because we can understand the concept of “I’m going to detach from my body and go up to the ceiling” and we either know or believe that’s possible, it’s easy to get caught in magical thinking. Okay, I just need to think myself on the ceiling. That’s actually more of an attempt at psychological dissociation than astral projection. And sometimes that can work too. But they’re not the same thing.

The main point is that we need to learn how to walk before we run. Some spiritual teachings can pretty quickly teach people how to run. But one of the reasons why some students have a problem is they don’t know how to walk yet. It’s like your 10-month-old son who doesn’t want to crawl. He wants to go straight to walking. He has the strength to push on his toes, but he doesn’t have the muscles or balance to hold his torso in an upright position.

We’re like that. We want to bypass what we think of as the tedious practice and get straight to the good stuff. But shortcuts don’t work here. There is no getting around doing the practice of meditation and other important exercises.

We need to understand that just thinking about spirituality does not put us on the spiritual journey.

Just reading books or thinking about doing practices that we need to be doing can act as placebos that can make us feel better. They can let us believe that we’re doing something or making progress when we’re really just sucking our thumb. It’s a self-soothing behavior. Over time, that self-soothing behavior can grow into: “Okay, I think I understand this concept of walking enough. Now I’m going to pull myself up on the couch and walk along the couch. And then I’m going to learn to walk.” It can eventually move us to the actual walking—the actual doing, But that only happens once we realize the difference. When we realize that we haven’t been doing. We’ve been thinking. And thinking is not doing. Then we start to do the actual work.

Some spiritual people will say, “Yeah, well, I shouldn’t have to do. I should just have to be.” But you have to do “being” first before you can just be. You have to practice being which is a doing, before being becomes a habit and a way of being.

Because we have the intellectual capability and enough exposure to these ideas and concepts, this is where frustration comes in. We set ourselves up for failure because we haven’t established an organized progression. We’re either stuck in thinking about it, or the progression is willy-nilly. We read a little bit of this and that. We do a little practice. Not much happens.

If somebody wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument, they would sit down every day and spend a certain amount of time practicing. They wouldn’t expect that they could just sit down and play a guitar, never having practiced. We don’t seem to get this when it comes to spiritually. We seem to think that because we understand the concept, we should just be able to do it. It’s easy to get caught in magical thinking and confuse that for spiritual practice, if we’re not careful.



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