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The spiritual path is like any other road—it's going to have its share of potholes. Perhaps the best way to avoid them is through discernment, the quality of open-eyed awareness and honest perception that helps us turn challenges into opportunity, lessons into growth. In Eyes Wide Open, Mariana Caplan invites readers to join her on a quest for truth along the often bumpy journey of the spiritual life. Building on the foundation she laid with her previous works Halfway Up the Mountain (Hohm, 1999) and Do You Need ...
The spiritual path is like any other road—it's going to have its share of potholes. Perhaps the best way to avoid them is through discernment, the quality of open-eyed awareness and honest perception that helps us turn challenges into opportunity, lessons into growth. In Eyes Wide Open, Mariana Caplan invites readers to join her on a quest for truth along the often bumpy journey of the spiritual life. Building on the foundation she laid with her previous works Halfway Up the Mountain (Hohm, 1999) and Do You Need a Guru? (Thorsons, 2002), Caplan challenges us to take full responsibility for our lives, as we investigate:
We evolve spiritually by cultivating discernment that is powerful enough to pierce through confusion on every level of our experience, explains Mariana Caplan. To help us along the way, this fellow traveler now offers Eyes Wide Open.
Mariana Caplan, PhD, has spent over two decades researching and practicing many of the world's great mystical traditions. She is a professor of yogic and transpersonal psychologies and has authored seven books in the fields of psychology and spirituality.
Posted December 12, 2009
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The central idea of "Eyes Wide Open" is that spiritual growth and progress can occur in many different ways, including the occasional roadblock, detour, and rough spots along the journey. Psychologist and anthropologist Mariana Caplan shares insights culled from her spiritual experiences and expertise as to how spiritual seekers can become more discriminating about the paths they choose, and better measure the progress they make on the way.
Caplan dances along the edge of enticing us to admit that "everyone is on a spiritual path" whether we acknowledge it or not, and then enthusiastically encouraging us to consider what kind of guidance works best for each of us. I am delighted to see Caplan suggest that we can progress just fine without a physical teacher to work with, and I appreciate her observation that it is better to avoid spiritual teachers who are not spiritually and/or psychologically balanced, healthy and whole. In her identification of "ten spiritually transmitted diseases," Caplan helps all of us better appreciate the highest levels of quality on our spiritual path, rather than succumbing to things such as: quick-fix spirituality, faux spirituality, mass production of spiritual teachers, identifying with spiritual experiences, spiritualized ego, spiritual pride and the "chosen people" complex.
I especially love the gentle way Caplan encourages readers to trust their own intuition when selecting paths and teachers to work with. Caplan also excels at identifying some of the crises which often lead us to realize a need for greater spirituality in our lives, such as health crises, divorce, death, or addiction. Because so many people are initiated into spiritual experiences at times of unexpected crisis, it's important to be prepared at such times to make good choices concerning what kind of spiritual path will be adopted. Caplan understands that people are at their most vulnerable at the very moment when it matters most what sort of spiritual guidance they will be working with, and provides guidance to help readers find the strength, courage, and spiritual support in ways that also help them transform and grow.
Learning to be increasingly mindful and aware in the present moment, Caplan suggests we can ask ourselves questions that help us better find our way such as, "Does this person / situation / experience give me energy, or take it away?" Caplan asks readers to become attentive to our individual preferences, so we can then choose a practice suited to who we are -- such as acceptance of all that occurs, or working with breathing to clear blockages, or transforming fear and anger into love and peace.
While "Eyes Wide Open" is not itself a spiritual guidebook per se, it is a powerful tool for those seeking assistance in finding how to discover their best possible spiritual path. "Eyes Wide Open" is marvelous for intermediate to advanced spiritual seekers who are open to considering psychological views of spirituality. Some of the most advanced experienced spiritual seekers who are already well aware of such things as the many levels of samadhi might appreciate this author's masterful joining of psychology with spirituality in ways that help people better communicate some otherwise ineffable insights. Thought-provoking and highly recommended!
Posted December 10, 2009
There are two significant points to this book: 1) the importance of dealing with the psychological as well as spiritual aspects of our lives and 2) the need, or not, of having a spiritual teacher.
We cannot ignore our psychological hang-ups. Just "being spiritual" isn't enough if we still harbor old resentments, hurts, and other issues that have been ignored for many years. As a psychologist, Caplan may be a little biased on this topic, yet she is correct. Being spiritual is about being a healthy human. That includes using some form of therapy to clear our past. Caplan claims that we "must be willing to suffer our own darkness if we truly aspire to know the deeper spiritual potentialities that exist within us" (20).
The good news is that "future suffering is prevented through intensive self-study and practice that allows us to become aware of our unconscious processes and to intercept them" (102). Our awareness of our faults and limitations, and our desire and intent to change them, creates a better future. The control of our lives is within our reach.
The second significant point in this book is that we may not need a spiritual teacher. Caplan is very specific on this topic. She has had years of experience with teachers from different spiritual paths. While she continues to work with one, she warns of the difficulty in finding the right teacher who is both psychologically and spiritually healthy.
Too many of the encounters she describes involve so-called gurus who take advantage of students emotionally, sexually, and/or financially. She mentions warning signs that can be sensed, even if not fully understood. She encourages us to listen to our instinct and steer clear of individuals claiming to have answers while making us feel uncertain and uncomfortable.
There are ways to grow spiritually other than running to an ashram in India or finding a personal coach. While we all need guidance, there are other forms of receiving assistance. Many people find a guiding book appearing at the right time in their lives. Others discover a connection to a guide on another dimension, and while there is caution against assuming or misinterpreting such a presence, there is a way to validate that. Again, trusting one's instinct is crucial.
Caplan also warns against a "new-age" groupie mentality of following the latest, greatest person and/or idea. Chasing after this external gratification doesn't allow one to fully develop one's own talent or spiritual connection. There is no specific right way. That is the misleading part for many who desire answers, which may come in a variety of ways. For some, a teacher does physically appear. For others, that teacher may come in an unexpected form.
Caplan's personal experiences bring validity to her discussions. She has lived through the psychological struggles, the spiritual quest and the multiple spiritual teachers. Although not an easy read, this book does provide crucial challenges with affirming answers.