(This was first posted on the old blog on Friday, August 7th, 2009, at 8:32 AM. It has been lightly edited in the reposting to more clearly credit my 12 step friend for the methodology described here.)
Yee haw pardners! Put on your spurs, ’cause ol’ Hardcore here is about to go a-cowboyin’ on ye’!
Well not exactly. The wild ride I’m about to talk about is the quintessential bit of wildness no spiritual cowboy would ever attempt. It’s the perfect practice for adrenaline junkies. I call it ‘spiritual bungee jumping”. Other people call it “taking inventory”, or “confession”, or “self examination”. Once you get over the fear and throw yourself over the edge, you’ll want to spiritual bungee jump again and again.
No really. Sum up the courage, make the leap into hard core self examination, poke into the dark and dirty corners of your mind and strip yourself bare of your deep dark secrets. and you’ll have discovered one of the most liberating experiences short of liberation. Toss in a bit of mental discipline, and woo! you might just find yourself on the edge of that, too.
Spiritual bungee jumping is not therapy. A lot of therapy wastes its time figuring out why the subject feels as they do. Spiritual bungee jumping doesn’t look for reasons (which are tantamount to excuses), nor is its purpose to make one feel better. The object is to ferret out the ego, and when appropriate, identify incidents in one’s past that need to be cleaned up. Like everything else about hard core spirituality, it’s not about easing the pain of the ego. It’s about tearing it down.
It is almost impossible to do an adequate job, the first time at least, without at minimum taking detailed notes. Anything less will be quickly shoved into it’s own dark corner of the mind, and no progress will have come of it. After one has done it and lived, built up a habit, and become a true self-examination adrenaline junkie, it’s possible much of the time to do it on the fly in one’s head.
How can one identify raging ego? Write down everything that you dig up that makes you feel bad, and look very closely at anything that makes you feel good. If the positive feelings are anything less than the most exalted of feelings (for example, anything less than unconditional love), write those down too. Take a hard look at each instance, describe the role played by your ego, and if applicable note anyone you’ve hurt as a consequence.
“Okay, Hardcore”, I imagine some brave (or gullible) reader saying, “I’m a wreck, I haven’t been able to eat for a week, I’ve got this notebook I can’t even bring myself to look at full of things I never intended to say to myself, let alone to anyone else. What now?”
The best possible next step is to find someone trustworthy to unburden your secrets with. The obvious candidate is usually a best friend who is able to listen to you without being judgmental, but who won’t hesitate to call you out if instead of honest self-examination you produce a pile of steaming poop on a platter. If you have a friend in a twelve step program, you have a perfect candidate. Twelve step programs are masters of “taking inventory”. Your friend has almost certainly done “moral inventories”, and may well have heard the inventories of others. The first time I took the leap, I shared the aftermath with a friend in a twelve step program who had heard many an inventory. Not only did I relieve myself of the burden of a lifetime’s worth of secrets, It was from her that I learned the nuts and bolts of self examination.
If you don’t have a friend you can trust with this, it is possible to “borrow” a clergy person. Clergy people are obligated to keep your secrets. Christians, of the Catholic, Orthodox, or Mainline Protestant sort, are a good choice, because Christianity places a high value on confession , though any clergy you feel you can trust is fine. Contact the clergy member, explain that you aren’t a member of a church, but you’ve felt a spiritual need to take a look at your past, and you want to talk about it. It’s good form to make a donation for their time.
If among your deep dark secrets are things like “I’m attracted to my same-sex coworker”, absolutely positively make sure you’ve chosen a clergy person who does not feel theologically obligated to panic at the mere mention of homosexual feelings (and if that is among your deep dark secrets, you’re among the majority of the human race who’ve experienced such feelings).
Yes, you can do all this over the internet, if you have a trustworthy internet friend or you feel you can trust a clergy person you’ve met online. Just be sure that the person in question is who you believe them to be. I advocate revealing your secrets, but not in the form of a Facebook page dedicated to a blow-by-blow mockery of your self-examination.
I personally would not choose a therapist, because in my experience therapy tends to work at cross-purposes to spirituality. That said, therapists are not fungible. If you feel most comfortable speaking to a therapist you know, talk on.
If all else fails — you have no friends you can trust or who are willing to sit down with you, never in a million years would you trust any of the local clergy, the mere possibility of a Facebook page dedicated to your failings causes you to weigh the merits of various suicide methods, and you are sure any shrink that got past the first page with you would lock you up – you can go it alone. In whatever manner has meaning to you, confess to That Which Already Knows And Doesn’t Care. Ask for help overcoming these failings. Then destroy your notes.
With the exception of the time I borrowed and learned from a 12 step person, I’ve gone it alone.
I call this process “spiritual bungee jumping” because the first time it is pure terror, non-stop adrenaline all the way to the bottom. Next time around it’s still frightening, but it’s also exciting . Do it enough — really, I’m not lying to you — and it becomes pure adrenaline rush followed by freedom from something that otherwise would have gnawed at you indefinitely. It becomes fun.
So now that you’ve made yourself intimately acquainted with all the crap in your head and seen just how your crap has hurt the people around you (Hardcore admittedly has strange ideas about fun), what can you do about it? That’s the topic of my next post.