Thursday, January 26, 2006


Mystical reality is to the waking state, as the waking state is to the dream state. More specifically, just as the waking state is considered by most of us to be, somehow, more real than the dream state, so, too, do the Sufi masters consider mystical realization to be more real than the events of the normal, waking state.

Similarly, life after death is to life in the physical/material world, as the post-natal world is to the pre-natal world. In other words, just as most of us would judge the condition of awareness of the post-natal state to be far more acute, intense and nuanced than our state of awareness in the womb, so, too, do the Sufi masters consider the condition of awareness in the next life to be more acute, intense and nuanced than is the case, for most of us, in our earthly life.

From the perspective of the practitioners of the Sufi path, we are living in a dream-like state. When we die, we will come to realize this. The experience of mystical reality affords us the opportunity to gain insight into the truth of the foregoing realization prior to our physical death.

Dream states, waking reality, pre-natal experience, post-natal experience, life after physical death and mystical states, all give expression to different facets of reality. They form a broad spectrum of possibilities.

Each of the aforementioned categories could be further sub-divided to reflect the richness of experiential potential inherent in this spectrum. Moreover, just as visible light constitutes but a small portion of the total spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, so, too, according to the Sufi masters, does normal waking reality represent but a very small fraction of the total spectrum of possibilities inherent in reality.

Until the great discoveries of X-rays, ultraviolet light, radio waves, infrared radiation, microwaves and so on, our understanding concerning the parameters of electromagnetic radiation were limited. Similarly, until the announcements of the great mystics, across the ages, with respect to the many different kinds of mystical states and conditions, the grasp of the average individual concerning the possibilities available to us was very restricted.

To be sure, even now, the understanding of most of us vis-a-vis mystical states is very superficial. In fact, many people are, probably, relatively skeptical about the existence or reality of the mystical realm.

Nonetheless, on the basis of their experiences, various mystics from a wide-variety of spiritual traditions have repeatedly tried to draw our attention to the substantive nature of these states and conditions. Of course, we could dismiss or explain away all of these reports as the proclamations of: crazy people; victims of some organic dysfunction; liars; con artists; attention seekers and so on.

Undoubtedly, some of the people reporting such mystical experiences may be subsumable in one or more of the foregoing categories of dismissal. Whether or not all of them can be so subsumed is an entirely different matter. This is especially the case given that the tendency to dismiss is not based on a direct, rigorous examination of the evidence or the people making the claims. In fact, for the vast majority of those who reject the reality of the mystical realm, the dismissal is categorical and out-of-hand.

From the perspective of the mystics, such people continue on in their waking state of dream. The latter people treat the mystics like individuals who are trying to wake the former people from a very intense and pleasant dream. The people who are dreaming tend to get irritated and annoyed with the disturbers of their dreams.

Sufi masters indicate that not only are we living in a waking dream, the dream is a nightmare. Notwithstanding the character of some aspects of our waking dream experiences, our waking dream is not the pleasant affair we have allowed ourselves to be deluded into believing is the case.

We are being manipulated in our waking dream, and our situation is extremely precarious. We are not who most people in the dream say we are. Our identity is quite different, and everything depends on our coming to know our true identity.

When the alarm of death goes off, we will be brought rudely to our senses and recognize the truth in what the practitioners of the mystical path have been saying. When that happens, however, it will be too late, and we shall realize we have overslept and missed the bus of opportunity.

Some people have the capacity to experience what is known as lucid dreaming. In this condition one is able to exercise a degree of conscious control over what goes on in the dream. Such people are able to act, within limits, on the character, contents and direction of the dream rather than be merely passive witnesses to it.

Sufi masters are those individuals who, by the grace of God, have acquired the mystical counterpart to lucid dreaming in relation to the dream of waking life. In a sense, they are able to wake up within the dream state of waking life and become active participants rather than passive witnesses.

To be awake within the dream of waking life, is to be aware of the nature of the dream which constitutes waking life. Such a person has knowledge and insight into the possibilities of that dream state. Such an individual can take advantage of this understanding in order to act within the waking dream in a way that generates benefits for the individual.

Some of these benefits are as follows. One can come to know one's true identity. One can realize one's essential capacity. One can come to know the purpose of the dream. One can fulfil the conditions of that purpose. One can come to know God in a direct fashion, unmediated by concepts, theories, language, or rational limitations.

When most people dream, their muscles become paralyzed. There are restrictions imposed on what they can and can't do.

In the dream, of course, we usually feel like we have full use of our muscles. Yet, these are only our "dream muscles". In point of fact, most of us do not have access to use of our "real world" muscles during the course of the dream.

In the dream of waking life, we believe we have full use of our muscles. These, however, are only the muscles of the waking dream. Our spiritual muscles are paralyzed.

When one learns, if God wishes, how to wake up within the dream of waking life, one's spiritual muscles are no longer paralyzed. Consequently, one can use them to fulfil various kinds of tasks, as well as to journey to various realms within the spectrum of possibility of reality which are not possible to do as long as one is asleep in the dream of life.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Narcissistic Spirituality - Part Two

All of the foregoing qualities or properties of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder have been observed in the so-called shaykh to whom I have been alluding in the earlier comments. What makes his case somewhat intriguing -- if one puts aside, for a moment, the horror of the damage he is inflicting on people -- is the many techniques he has for re-framing and misdirecting attention away from such characteristics.

This man feels entitled, big time, to be served by others, and, in fact, fully expects this to be done but uses other 'veterans' of the group to train people with respect to proper 'adab' in this regard rather than give people the impression, through his own actions, that he does expect from others what he claims not to expect. He says he is here to serve, but, the reality of the matter is that everyone occupies their time serving him and providing different means for satisfying his constant thirst and hunger in relation to different forms of narcissistic supply.

He constantly needs to be at the center of attention, as well as the focus of praise, admiration, and awe so that he has a steady flow of narcissistic supply to keep him going. Although he frequently speaks in a vocabulary of kindness, compassion, love, and empathy, nonetheless, if one is sufficiently 'fortunate' (there are two edges to this sort of fortune), to get a peak behind the Wizard's curtain, one begins to see that the man is virtually devoid of any real love, empathy, compassion, or caring for others -- everything is always, ultimately, sooner or later, about him and that to which he feels entitled.

He is firmly convinced that he is extremely unique, special, and a rare species of being. He tells (and only recently have I come to learn of such 'tales') select people he is the Qutb, spiritual pole, of the times, or that he is the king of a little country near Iran who has been forced into exile, or that there is a white light coming from his forehead which, in the past, only has been manifested in a select few spiritual luminaries, or that he has performed a fast for six months, during which he had neither food nor water (there are such fasts that have been observed by some of God's servants and such people are 'fed' by God and even have been known to gain weight during such fasts), or that he has been elevated to an extremely rare spiritual station in an august company of saints and awliya of God, or that he has been granted the authority to make qutbs and special saints of certain people -- although, naturally, of a lesser sort than, and under the auspices of, his own exalted status as the supreme qutb of the age, or that he has taken an 'oath of poverty', yet, roams about with big wads of money in his wallet and stashed in various places.

Often times he never seems to tell the same story twice to different people. The story which is selected appears to be the one which is most likely to elicit the greatest amount of narcissistic supply from a given individual or which is most likely to induce obedience, compliance and submission in another person with respect to this so-called 'teacher's program of entitlement and special status. And, naturally, these stories are 'secrets' and confidences which need to be kept and are only being told to such and such a person because of the latter's elect status in the cosmic scheme of things.

He masks his arrogance and haughtiness in the disguise of an outward cloak of humility and gratitude concerning the many Divine favors which have been bestowed upon him -- favors which he talks about in terms that, superficially, appear to be directed at praising God but which, in truth, are merely opportunities for him to talk about himself. Yet, he also is quite disdainful of other 'shaykhs' or run-of-the-mill Muslims -- constantly telling people how he is not like 'those' Muslims, while simultaneously saying that he does not speak ill of others ... unless, of course, the establishment of truth requires that certain unpleasant realities be discussed ... sometimes in considerable detail.

He relates how his shaykh permitted him (with a knowing wink, nod and smile) to be the 'bad boy' of the mystical realms, and thereby, disclose many of the 'secrets' which, heretofore, had been kept hidden behind closely guarded doors. He speaks of the permissions which he has been given by the spiritual hierarchy that have not been vouchsafed to other, less fortunate individuals.

Superficially, he credits his teacher for being the conduit of Divine gifts which have been bestowed on him (the object of the present foray into Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and for all that this alleged shaykh has spiritually achieved. However, if one watches carefully -- and the movements are very deft and subtle -- beneath this sincere surface is an undertow of self-praise and self-adulation.

He manipulates and exploits people in order to arrange ways to maximize his potential for realizing his constant search for high quality narcissistic supply. He confers favors, or encourages others to grant services, so that people who are the recipients of such 'kindnesses' will feel indebted to him and, consequently, be a ready source of narcissistic supply for him and not because such people might actually be in need or in difficulty.

He claims to never compel anyone to do anything, but he has a myriad of gambits which induce people to do what he wants -- even as such people believe their decisions are their own and arrived at freely. He prides himself on never interfering in people's lives but is constantly engaged in precisely that.

When his agenda is threatened or frustrated in some fashion, he goes into angry tirades, and, then, explains that he doesn't enjoy such outbursts but, sometimes, they are necessary for people's spiritual progress and growth. He is not upset with such individuals and he forgives them for their mistakes, but, occasionally, people need a good kick in the rear end to get them headed in the 'right' direction.

He favors those who serve as his mirror -- people who will reflect back to him his own, high opinion of himself. He is envious of anyone who steals his thunder or who might be a rival to the affections of others, and, consequently, begins to scheme for ways to undermine and compromise such threats to the security of his narcissistic supply.

He isolates, ostracizes, and distances himself (and those in his inner circle) from anyone who is not compliant with his wishes. Although he maintains that people are free, without any prejudice on his part, to make their own choices, nevertheless, those who take him at his word soon find themselves on the outside looking in, even as he denies that such is the case or that the individual is just imagining these sorts of scenarios or harboring unfounded resentments toward others.

He uses the technique of triangulation to near perfection. Others are prompted by him to pressure, influence, induce, cajole, persuade, or make suggestions to certain third-party 'targets' in order to render the latter more compliant and obedient, and, yet, tracing such pressure back to the original source -- namely, the so-called shaykh -- becomes very difficult because the mediating perpetrators have been told -- for reasons of a special, mystical nature -- to remain silent about the reality of why what is going on is going on.

Consequently, the so-called shaykh can maneuver, manipulate, exploit, influence, and control people, while remaining in the shadows, seemingly innocent of any unseemly 'spiritual' machinations or intrigues. On the public stage he can assume the role of a shaykh complete with a bevy of counterfeit qualities to display in order to demonstrate his 'authenticity', but behind the scenes, the pathology of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder is busily engaged.

According to the clinical literature, there are four broad categories of narcissism. On the one hand, an individual is said to be either 'Somatic' or 'Cerebral', and, on the other hand, such a person is described as being of either a 'Classic' or 'Inverted' type.

I will leave discussion of the latter two possibilities for another time since it will involve going into a considerable amount of detail about various psycho- dynamic theories of development -- from: Freud and Jung, to: Horney, Sullivan, Kohut, and others. Therefore, I will concentrate, for the time being, on exploring, a little, the nature of Cerebral and Somatic types of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

A Somatic Narcissist is someone who derives her or his narcissistic supply in relation to claimed beauty, impressive physique, and/or sexual attractiveness, potency, or prowess. A Cerebral Narcissist seeks her or his narcissistic supply through the acclaim of others concerning alleged intellectual achievement, talent, and genius.

I propose that a third category should be added to the foregoing -- that is, Spiritual Narcissist. This is an individual who acquires the sought for narcissistic supply of adulation, praise, infamy, or the like, from others, in conjunction with claims concerning spiritual insight, knowledge, status, station, wisdom, and accomplishment.

A fundamental difference between, on the one hand, Cerebral and Somatic Narcissism, and, on the other hand, a Spiritual Narcissist is that the latter is a lot more difficult to detect under even the best of circumstances. For instance, if someone suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder of either a Cerebral or Somatic variety, but, is not particularly bright or attractive or sexually potent, then, the difference between claim and reality is readily divulged.

However, in the case of a Spiritual Narcissist, even if one is dealing with a fraud, differentiating between the speciousness of a claim and the reality of things may not be all that easy to accomplish simply because of the inherent complexity, ineffability, and unprovable nature of many of these claims. They may or may not be true, but, more often than not, all one has to go on is the word of the individual, and if, for whatever reason, one extends the benefit of a doubt to such a person and presumes that truth is being spoken, then, that extended degree of freedom can be used to leverage a great many other beliefs, values, priorities, commitments, assumptions, sacrifices, and actions within a teacher-student context -- and, quite frequently, all a skilled Spiritual Narcissist needs is just enough room to place her or his foot in the doorway to a person's heart, and, before, long, that seeker will 'belong' - and I don't use this term lightly or advisedly - to the fraudulent spiritual guide.

The terribly insidious and seductive facet of Spiritual Narcissism is the ease with which all of the negative qualities or characteristics of a narcissist (e.g., self-serving entitlement, grandiosity, arrogance, boastfulness, envy, lack of empathy, demand or expectation of compliance, anger, and manipulative tendencies) can be re-framed in a much more appealing way. After all, 'if' one is a true mystic who has insight into the unseen, 'if' one is an 'awlilya' or friend of God, 'if' one has bee authorized by the mystical elect to assist people to the highest spiritual truths, and, thereby, realize the 'holy longing', then, all of the foregoing negative properties can be spun as necessary components in the Divine passion play which is designed to help people die to themselves by subduing their carnal soul. Moreover, any resistance to such a program can be re-framed as manifestations of the rebellious nafs, or the whisperings of Satan, or the influence of dunya , or the seditious overtures of the unbelievers within and without one.

Since submission is the goal, submitting to the alleged shaykh becomes but a preliminary step in the journey toward complete submission to Divinity. God has jalali attributes, and, sometimes, these are given expression in the shaykh. God works in mysterious ways to induce us to deepen our faith, and shaykhs do the same. Sometimes the shaykh is painted as the agent for Divine trickery, or our being maneuvered, in order to exploit our all-too-human vulnerabilities for our own spiritual benefit and well-being.

Sometimes God, on the surface, appears to be without empathy and compassion for the human condition, but such appearances are illusory, and, in truth, God loves us deeply, so, it becomes 'understandable' when the alleged shaykh appears indifferent to our sufferings and sacrifices. And, surely, 'if' God has showered blessings on an individual, what is wrong with - of course, in a humble, indirect manner - proclaiming such bestowals, in order to engender love in the heart of the mureed for the one who will guide them to Divinity, and why shouldn't we serve one who has been entitled by Divinity to expect such compliance?

What might easily be seen in a Cerebral or Somatic Narcissist for what it is -- namely, vanity, arrogance, and so on - becomes (to borrow a form of expression from Winston Churchill that has been, somewhat altered in the present rendering): an enigma wrapped in a riddle within a paradox of ambiguity in relation to Spiritual Narcissism. Are we being scammed or are we being told the truth? Will we lose if we reject such claims, or will be freed from spiritual treachery? Will we find our essential selves through such a person, or will we become alienated from our essential identity and Self?

The promise is great. But, verifiable answers are difficult to come by.

If we feel we are not making spiritual progress in conjunction with a given teacher, well, the problem lies with our lack of commitment to, and sincerity with, the mystical way. On the other hand, if a teacher informs us that we are making great spiritual advances even though this is not evident in the form of altered states of consciousness or in other tangible ways, how are we to prove or disprove what is being said.

No matter what happens to an individual on the spiritual path, a clever Spiritual Narcissist can re-frame the situation in a way that keeps people enthralled with continuing to serve as an on-going source of narcissistic supply for such a fraudulent spiritual guide. 'Pleasant' events are re-framed as the beneficence of Divinity that is being channeled through the 'shaykh'. Difficult or unpleasant events can be re-framed as Divine trials, tests, and tribulations which are a necessary part of the Path and have nothing to do with the possibility that the shaykh is a Spiritual Narcissist and the problems one is encountering are a Divine prod to point one's holy longing in another direction.

When Narcissistic Supply (in the form of adulation, praise, and so on) is available in quantity, if not quality (or perceived to be by the one who is under the influence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder), this might be comparable to a manic-like state. When, on the other hand, the quality or quantity of such Narcissistic Supply is perceived to be drying up (or actually is drying up), this might be the depressed side of the condition. During the manic phase, a Narcissistic Personality disordered individual may be easy-going, affable, happy, generous, expansive, joyful, and ecstatic. During the depressed phase, such an individual may be pensive, silent, reflective, anxious, unhappy, cranky, angry, hyper-critical, down, withdrawn, given to rage, and so on.

Since the Sufi path is actually characterized by interspersed episodes of jazb (Divine attraction) and qabd (Divine contraction), confusing mania for jazb and depression for qabd might be quite easy to do among the followers of a person under the influence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. After all, who among that individual's mureeds would have sufficient spiritual wherewithal to know otherwise? This is especially so if the fraudulent individual suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder re-frames the situation in a manner that is consistent with the nature of mystical theory.

Ironically, a narcissist will often come across to others as appearing to be someone -- who on the surface, at least -- is extremely earnest and sincere. Sometimes the intensity of this earnestness and sincerity may lead some individuals to wonder if the person is somehow disconnected from reality (or, at least, as it seems to be to the 'rest' of us), or, whether that person is simply unable to appraise the state of existence properly.

However, in the case of a Spiritual Narcissist, this very question or doubt can be turned back on itself. Instead of the Narcissist being out of touch with reality, or being unable to properly judge the actual nature of events, the person harboring such questions and doubts becomes the source of the problem -- that is, this latter individual is out of touch with the 'true' Reality and does not have the requisite spiritual insight to be able to properly assess the nature of Being.

At worst , the Spiritual Narcissist can maintain that she or he is only out of contact with physical/material reality and, furthermore, this may not necessarily be such a bad thing. The reconstruction of priorities concerning the levels of 'reality' serves the agenda of the Narcissistic Personality disordered individual and confronts the skeptic with a set of issues for which there is no readily identifiable answer with which everyone will agree, and through which consensual validation can be achieved.

Once again, the complex, ineffable, hidden nature of the mystical path lends credence, plausible deniability and unresolvable ambiguity to the arsenal of tools through which a spiritual fraud can leverage people's understanding, beliefs, judgments and values. Potential weaknesses can be turned into formidable defenses in relation to a Spiritual Narcissist.

These aforementioned qualities of earnestness and apparent sincerity were, and are, two hallmark features of the individual whom, for ten years, I considered my shaykh. His sincerity and earnestness had an extremely attractive, charismatic quality to them.

As mentioned previously, the actor, Spencer Tracy, once said, when a person can fake sincerity, then, one really has it made as an actor. The spiritual fraud to whom I am alluding had learned how to fake sincerity and earnestness to a degree that has to be witnessed in order to be (grudgingly) admired.

His ability -- the spiritual fraud, not Spencer Tracy -- to induce other people to provide him with a on-going Narcissistic Supply of adulation, praise, awe, compliance, obedience, entitlement, specialness, and so on, was very much rooted in his capacity to appear immensely sincere and earnest to others. Such sincerity and earnestness were used by him to re-frame certain issues, and misdirect his audience away from many other issues, as well as to get people to not only lower their natural defenses of doubt, skepticism, and mistrust, but to practically hand over the keys to the repository of all one's essential trust -- namely, the heart -- within a very short period of time.

Some people may find the foregoing analysis of a spiritually abusive individual somewhat comforting because it is couched in terms of a modern, psychological framework. Casting the situation in such a light may appear to offer some sort of intelligible explanation for why one person might spiritually abuse another individual.

From the perspective of a modified treatment of the DSM-IV rendering of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, we now can see that some people may suffer from such a malady, and have a somewhat better idea not only of some of the dynamics involved in this disorder, but how the very properties of the disorder lend themselves naturally to becoming a chameleon within certain spiritual contexts. However, what remains unanswered is the why.

Why does someone develop this Disorder? What is its etiology? Can it be avoided? Can it be cured?

I believe there are some 'lesser' forms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder which arise through the interplay of a conjunction of various components -- some genetic, some social, some personal, some family dynamics, and one might explore the aforementioned issues of Classic and Inverted types of Narcissism to gain some insight into such issues. Nevertheless, I also believe there is a 'greater' modality of Narcissistic Personality Disorder which is possible, and this form of the pathology is deliberately chosen by an individual.

In spiritual terms -- at least in a largely Western sense -- the paradigm for such a deliberated choice is Iblis or Satan. Because Iblis had an exceedingly high opinion of his place in the scheme of the Universe, because he believed he was entitled, because he was arrogant and haughty, because he believed in his own sense of specialness and uniqueness, because he believed that the purpose of the universe was to serve as a source for his Narcissistic Supply of adulation, praise knowledge, and so on, because he was envious of human kind, because he went into a angry tirade when his Narcissistic Supply was threatened, because he was so convincing in his sincerity and earnestness concerning his love of God that he fooled himself, Iblis/Satan committed an essential error and fell from Grace.

This fall appears to be infinite and unforgivable in nature. And, given that according to the Qur'an there is one and only one sin which is, in the eyes of Divinity, totally unforgivable - and that is shirk, or associating partners with God, or relegating to oneself some form of God-hood - then, presumably, in choosing to rebel against God by choosing the path of Narcissism rather than Servitude, Iblis committed the most egregious form of shirk.

Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that spiritual frauds like the person to whom I have been alluding throughout this posting bear a striking resemblance to Iblis in several respects. First, they have committed the basic error of all Narcissists - whether of the lesser or greater variety - which is this: they choose to consider themselves as superior, unique, special, rare, entitled, worthy of adulation and praise, with a special dispensation to ignore, flaunt, or bend the principles upon which the universe works, and a concomitant right to exploit and manipulate others for their own ends (the ends of the latter, not the former).

Secondly, like Iblis, they do not repent for their wrong-doing, but, instead, seek permission from God to lead others astray or to corrupt the holy longing which resides in the souls of all human beings. If a person who spiritually abuses others would sincerely repent, then, God willing, one could, in time, forgive such an individual for the incredibly destructive nature of their actions which they have imposed on people for self-serving and vainglorious purposes, even if one might never again trust such a person to be the keeper of an outhouse, let alone a guide for the aspirations of holy longing.

Thirdly, like Iblis, they use techniques of artfully-false sincerity and earnestness to seduce people and, if possible, corrupt them. Like Iblis, they disguise themselves in friendly, affable, kindly, sincere, empathetic, knowledgeable, compassionate, generous, charismatic, entertaining, enchanting packages which whisper to one amidst the shadows, ambiguities and interstitial zones of existence.

Fourthly, like Iblis, they don't really seem to care when adulation turns to infamy, as people begin to learn the true nature of their activities. As long as they can be the center of attention and the focus of people's preoccupation, then, for them, hatred is as good as adulation as far as the dynamics of Narcissistic Supply are concerned because the only principle which matters to them is that they are the object of people's attention, and if they can get someone to hate them for the rest of their lives, they will be content since something of their purpose has been achieved -- which is to lead people astray from the straight path where one must learn to overcome, move beyond and transform such emotions in spiritually constructive ways.

Finally, like Iblis, spiritual frauds, such as the one to whom I have been alluding throughout the preceding material, actually believe in God. They are not atheists or agnostics. They may, as Iblis did, and does, even love God in their own way.

The horror of Iblis and such individuals is that they have deliberately chosen to place their agenda above Divine Purpose or, alternatively, to conflate their purposes with Divine Purpose. In fact, they wish to undermine the possibility of such a Purpose ever being realized and seek to take down with them as many people as will permit such spiritual charlatans to take permanent control of their lives. The even greater horror is that there are many such predatory dajjals on the loose in the world these days ... among so-called Sufi shaykhs, among dogmatic and intolerant theologians, and among groups of terrorists - may God protect us and save us all from such truly evil intentions.

Sometimes, by the Grace of Allah, the choices we make in this regard are successful. On other occasions, we are not so fortunate.

I have had two spiritual guides in my life, one was authentic, and one was not. If I were a baseball player, going 1 for 2 is a good batting average. On the other hand, if I were a goalie in ice-hockey, a .500 save percentage would relegate me, at best, to sitting on the sidelines in pick-up games.

Life is not a game. However, if it were, I'm not sure whether going 1 for 2 in the authentic guide department is OK or not ... I guess it beats going 0 for 2.

Only Allah knows why we do what we do, when we do it, and whatever choices are made, God's purpose is served. May God guide us to the choices which, in the long run, will be best for our Deen -- whether these choices have, in the short run, pleasant or unpleasant consequences. May Allah encourage us to seek the truth in all matters. Ameen! Ameen! Ameen!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Narcissistic Spirituality - Part One

There have been many different facets of the issue of spiritual abuse which have been explored in preceding essays. Most of this material has limited itself to the context of the Sufi tradition.

One dimension of this topic which has been touched upon somewhat, although not in great detail, revolves around the nature of the perpetrator of spiritual abuse. What makes such a person tick? What are the motivations underlying his or her behavior? What is the nature of the pathology?

There are a number of proposals which might be offered in response to such questions. Some spiritual frauds are merely run-of-the-mill con artists who, through one means or another, have come to the realization that operating spiritual scams constitutes a fruitful realm with almost unlimited horizons of potential for an enterprising individual.

Other charlatans may see the realm of spirituality as a fertile medium through which to identify individuals who are vulnerable to being sexually exploited. Or, perhaps, a person’s struggle with his or her nafs or carnal soul went awry, and a desire for fame and/or power began to take control of things, and spiritual seekers merely became a means to satisfy such a person’s corrupted ends.

Some individuals may have started out on the Path with appropriate intentions, but, somewhere along the journey, took a detour into the darker, shadowy side of human potential, and not only became lost, but decided to entangle other people, as well. Historically, there are a number of movements and groups which began when someone who had been associated, in some fashion, with the Sufi tradition, had certain experiences, and, then, as a result of their own interpretation of such events, invented a philosophy, theology, or mystical path which, in turn, was offered and introduced to other people.

Some spiritually abusive people may be socio-pathic. History, circumstances, and personal inclination come together in unhappy alliance and manifest themselves in the form of a wolf who preys on and/or devours her or his flock over a period of time.

I have known, to varying degrees, different people who probably fit into one, or another, of the foregoing, categories. However, when I began to reflect on my own personal situation vis-a-vis the spiritual fraud with whom I became entangled, none of the aforementioned possibilities seemed to really resonate with my experiences, or the experiences of others who were spiritually abused by this individual.

Why did he do what he did? What was really going on?

After giving considerable thought and attention to this matter over the last 8-9 months, there are some tentative conclusions which have begun to surface which feel right – at least to me. Therefore, I thought I would share these reflections with others and let the chips fall where they may.

From one perspective, evil might be construed as anything that deviates, on one level or another, from the truth, and, therefore, in this sense, we all contribute to the introduction of evil into the world through the way in which we resist, rebel against, distort, hide, ignore, obstruct, and seek to undermine truth by means of our behaviors – both individual and collective. This sort of evil arises due to human weakness, short-sightedness, ignorance, error, selfishness, and the like.

There is another form of evil, however, which is more malevolent and pernicious. It exists for the sole purpose of leading people astray from the truth and commits acts intentionally with that goal in mind.

This kind of evil is very cunning, clever, perceptive, and duplicitous. It is always looking for ways to bring misery into the lives of people – not primarily for whatever sexual gratification, money, fame, or power which may be the collateral gain from such ventures – but in order to use the generation of misery as a means to leverage people away from seeking the truth.

There is, within most human beings, a longing for the truth. Some refer to this himma or aspiration as a holy longing – a deep, abiding, intense longing to come in contact with essential, ultimate Reality in an intimate, knowing way.

Human beings have come up with many ways to try to assuage this holy longing. Philosophy, psychology, theology, mythology, science, religion, and mysticism have all arisen in conjunction with this holy longing. Different people have pursued diverse roads in the hope of finding the legendary ‘holy grail’, ‘philosopher’s stone’, ‘alchemical elixir’, ‘golden fleece’ occult secrets, the ‘theory of everything’, a universal set of equations, and altered states of consciousness which would open the doors of perception into the sanctum sanctorum, the holy of holies, of Being.

There exists a force, or set of forces, however, which is (are) actively dedicated to corrupting the aforementioned holy longing. This is the malignant form of evil alluded to earlier.

Some people, such as Scott Peck, refer to this reality through phrases such as “people of the lie”. Others use the term Satan or Iblis. Some individuals talk in terms of a force of dissolution and chaos which flows through existence, tugging at the fabric of being, seeking to unravel life so that acting upon the holy longing becomes difficult, problematic, bogged down, compromised, co-opted, or re-framed in unethical and unjust directions.

The term or name which is used to give expression to this dimension of existence is relatively unimportant, and different perspectives will be inclined to use that term or name which is most compatible with the world-view which is inherent in that perspective. What is important are the themes underlying, swirling about, and being given expression through those forces and phenomena which seek to obstruct or rebel against the seeking of truth.

Many people who have been touched by such evil, abandon the holy longing altogether, and when this occurs, this mode of evil has achieved its purpose. Among other things, the impact of this kind of evil on their lives renders such people incapable of ever trusting anyone sufficiently to seek the kind of help and co-operation which seems vital to achieving progress with respect to struggling toward realizing one’s holy longing.

The man who, for ten years, I referred to as my shaykh or spiritual guide was, and is, a manifestation of the more malignant manner of evil which has been outlined above. He enjoys – indeed, revels – in leading people astray from the truth, and he often accomplishes this in very clever, elaborate, and ‘artful’ ways (this is called: ‘giving the Devil his due’).

There is something about his manner which just makes you want to trust, believe, and accept what he says. The lies are so effortlessly delivered, in such a soft, gentle, re-assuring, peaceful, ‘sincere’, low-key manner.

Moreover, the lies always are delivered in a context steeped in a forked-tongue spirituality which is constructed in such a fashion that the truth is used to camouflage the lies. Consequently, truth becomes like a Trojan horse which hides the army of lies hiding within.

Because he is so knowledgeable about the theory of tasawwuf or Sufi mystical science, and because he is so charismatic, entertaining and articulate, in several languages, with respect to the manner through which he weaves his lies into the truth, one rarely feels the poison enter one’s system. He is a master of misdirection.

The wonder of it is that he can keep all of his lies straight. Yet, even when he slips, he is a marvel to behold and very inventive in the way he uses additional untruths to spin the original lie into the territory of plausible deniability and ambiguity.

I have scoured DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual For Psychological Disorders), looking for possible matches between its many categories of disturbance and the behavior of my ‘once-upon-a-time’ shaykh. Although I am convinced that he serves the dark purposes of the sort of intentional evil which seeks to corrupt the holy longing inherent in human beings, nonetheless, I was interested in seeing whether their might be some less traditional, more modern way of thinking about such behavior –– something which might appeal to the sensibilities of current research.

The only category in DSM-IV which resonated, to some degree, with my experiences, along with those of several other individuals with whom I have conversed in conjunction with this man, was that of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Consequently, in the remainder of this essay I would like to explore a variety of possibilities in this regard and, hopefully, make a few useful contributions along the way.

Perhaps the best way to begin this foray into psychological issues is to state that, in general, there has not been an extensive amount of study in relation to the nature and etiology of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Opinions are fractured along a number of different fault lines –– some theorists favor an approach rooted in the impact which problematic genetic programming has upon personality and development; other researchers opt for perspectives that are immersed in issues of anomic societies, faulty parenting, dysfunctional families of one kind or another, maladaptive coping strategies, and so on.

There is no consensus among the experts. Moreover, there is precious little data to substantiate one model of Narcissistic Personality Disorder over another.

However, the existence of such a theoretical lack of settledness merely represents conceptual opportunity in another guise. And, into this breach I boldly go where no one may have gone before ... and, perhaps, with good reason – let us see.

There are a number of characteristics which need to show up in behavior in order to be able to arrive at a possible diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in any given case. For example, individuals suffering from this malady tend to be deeply convinced that they are special, unique, rare people who only can be understood and appreciated by others (whether professionals, institutions, or ‘gifted’ people) who also are high-status and special in a similar or related way.

Such individuals have a constant, excessive need for either positive attention, praise, deference, and admiration from other people, or, alternatively, a need to be infamous, feared, or a source of notoriety of some kind. In either case – whether that which is forthcoming from others is in the form of adulation or some kind of fear or condemnation, these emotions constitute what is known as ‘narcissistic supply’, and the Narcissistic Personality disordered individual is constantly seeking to receive such a flow of emotion from others.

This sort of an individual has a very palpable sense of entitlement. In other words, this sort of person strongly feels they should be given priority, special treatment, or favored status in almost all things, and fully expects, if not demands, that everyone else should be inordinately sensitive to their need for obedience and compliance in relation to this sense of entitlement.

Although on the surface there may be remnants of a facade of compassion and empathy for others, in truth, this facade is purely for show – as one ploy, among many, to invite people to satisfy his need for a constant flow of narcissistic supply. In truth, a Narcissistic Personality disordered individual lacks any real empathy or feeling for others and is constantly exploiting them in order to derive further fixes of narcissistic supply, of one kind or another.

A person with this disorder often is arrogant and boastful concerning herself or himself, while being equally disdainful of others. Furthermore, such people tend to fly into extreme rages and angry tirades if their search for narcissistic supply either goes unfulfilled or is challenged, resisted, frustrated or ignored in some fashion.

On the one hand, a Narcissistic Personality disordered individual may believe, in a deep fashion, that the manner in which others feel about that person merely reflects the way in which such an individual feels about herself or himself. Ironically, however, the same individual may be intensely envious of others who may be receiving the sort of attention and adulation which that individual feels ought to be directed to her or him.

Not every person who suffers from this disorder may do so to the same degree. In some people, the foregoing symptoms may be sporadic, transient, relatively mild, or only arise in certain circumstances to which the person is currently reacting and, then, disappear when the nature of events changes. In other individuals, the full array of symptoms may be present in an intense, permanent fashion, and such individuals are extremely resistant to palliative treatment.