The mystic’s personality undergoes many changes during the course of practice. In an era when many are practicing meditation outside of the confines of a monastery, it is important to understand, accept and deal with these changes which are sometimes quite dramatic and confusing in our modern, conventional reality.
During the course of my own practice I have noticed some key changes in myself which are rather dramatic and I will detail them here plainly for other practitioners to compare notes. These changes are relating to the outer world and dealing with people and situations in my day-to-day life rather than pertaining to the inner mystery.
- The mystic ceases to believe in anything. She sees both sides of any argument, does not become attached to views and does not identify with any institutions. Realizing that outer manifestations are like “shadows” or “echoes,” she realizes that they are only one possibility which springs from the unmanifest and will return there. When others recognize this characteristic they may feel that the mystic is “not there,” even though the mystic’s presence and awareness is much more intense than it was before. This may present social difficulty until the mystic is truly stabilized beyond concepts enough to be comfortable using concepts freely and without any trace of attachment in normal social and transactional settings.
- The mystic receives much more information. When the body and mind are tuned through meditation, the mystic opens up to much more information than was previously available to him. The personality can seem like a deer caught in headlights because the mystic has so much information coming through the body/mind and must learn to sift through, evaluate and appropriately use this information as fits the circumstance. This can make the mystic’s personality seem like more of an ‘automaton’ as the mystic reacts consciously rather than emotionally/egotistically to situations.
- Painful purification can feel like the entire human personality has been completely rejected as unfit for truth. The mystic can feel scared, paranoid, guilty, unworthy, suicidal. Everything that the mystic has done before has been a giant, deluded, crazy mistake perpetrated by a deluded idiot. Psychological splits (although temporary) can occur as the mystic feels “it wasn’t really me,” or “I just didn’t know, I had no idea,” or, “I never had a choice!.” Indeed, the mystic did not have a choice just as a mouse cannot help but be a mouse, the immature person cannot help but be immature. Forgiveness, time and practice heals and integrates the split.
- The mystic apparently loses attachment to outcomes and can seem to lack interest, desire and ambition. I say apparently because, of course, the serious practitioner has these qualities in spades and has undertaken the ultimate task. However, abandoning the old model of desire has led to a place where the mystic has the ability but not the desire to constantly manifest through the personality. Stabilization, time and the necessities of life will mold the outcome and this is why Zen emphasizes, among other things, severe discipline, groundedness and hard work.
- Great existential fear of emptiness and yet the infinite continuation of existence. This will get your ass moving if nothing else will. The mystic fights for his own existence in a sea of space dust and finds out what fighting is and what fighting means. Emerging from this, the mystic defines fearlessness.
A few points. This cycle repeats over ever-deepening oscillations. It can be compared to and is most likely the same as conventional rites of passage although it seems to be much more acute. The fearlessness can manifest as arrogance and the ego will re-emerge until the great deathless death at which time it merely manifests as unconditional, disinterested and appropriate fearlessness. Practicing non-attachment is the absolute north star for a mystic because becoming attached to any state, stage, experience or insight can delay and derail practice. Put in presidential terms, make no mistake – it takes a very strong person to fully commit to going inward in the midst of the world. This is not for sissies. There will be times when you feel you are going crazy but real progress cannot be mistaken for anything else and continuing practice is the only option. As Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”