All who have followed a spiritual path have doubted their purpose, their work, themselves and even the Divine at one time or another. Even the holiest of people like Mother Theresa, the Apostles, and Christ himself expressed doubt during times of great duress. Doubt invokes one’s trust in the material faculty of the intellect in order to pull us out of the spiritual realm and back into the comfort of our ego and that which we find to be more pleasing and familiar. During times of great trial it is natural for us to experience what psychologists term “fight or flight” in order to return to a state of where psychological and physical pain does not exist. Doubt is a sister of fear, and fear as we all know, is failure. Conversely, “courage is the beginning of virtue”. Thus doubt is the attack that is used to turn the gaze of the spiritual man from the Will of the Divine to the will of the self.
We first see the serpent in the Garden of Eden use doubt to tempt Eve. He says “Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree in the Garden?” Eve responds,
"We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
What we are witnessing here is the first suggestion of disunity, division, and incongruence. For that is the only goal of a negative entity…to bring disharmony between one and the Spirit. Mental constructs which come from outside of the self are widely reconized in mystical and spiritual traditions throughout the world. At first one heartily believes that in fact they do originate with the self, but as one grows deeper in the knowledge of their inner landscape they begin to recognize which thoughts originate with them and which do not. As an example, can you think of a time when you suddenly had a thought and said “That’s not like me” or “Why would I think such a thing?” this is an experience of realizing that a thought did not come from your true nature.
One practice of the monks who reside on Mt. Athos is to delineate their thoughts in terms of what expresses love, virtue, godliness, trust, humility, sacrifice, unity, obedience, forgiveness, and chastity vs. what thoughts express non-unity, selfishness, pride, judgment, intolerance, and non-forgiveness. Thus when the latter thoughts come up they first stop and analyze where the thoughts are coming from, do they originate with their own lower natures or are they from outside the self completely? Then they contemplate them, and analyze them to find how these thoughts are attaching themselves to the ego, for as a negative thought is the bullet, the ego most assuredly is the gun, allowing the thought to deeply wound us. For how would doubt cause its trouble if our ego were not attached to certain beliefs, ideas, or opinions?
How then can we defend ourselves against it?
1. Practice Non-Attachment. This is a called santosa in Sanskrit and is widely practice in various eastern and western mystical traditions, as it helps one to not only quench the ego and to turn away from material desires but also to recognize the different aspects of one’s inner landscape. One can practice non-attachment in meditation by bringing the awareness back again and again to the breath or a certain part of the body should the mind wander and wish to attach itself to a thought..this is a subtle form of practice. Or one can practice non-attachment in life, by recognizing when one is in disagreement with something, then turning one’s attention to the ego to release it. I have found that saying “Thank you God, thank you for this trial” allows the vice grip of the thought to be overcome by humility and love.
2. Gratitude: it is often easier to focus on that which seems negative, in fact it is easier to focus on the negative than on the positive because until we reach higher degrees of spiritual development we are closer to our lower nature than our higher selves. We are closer to our egos and our evil persona, closer to the Nephesh and the things that make us want to focus on the self. Being grateful for what we have and what has been accomplished can fight off negative thought senders because gratitude is a brother of humility, the greatest defense against all attack. The strongest example of this is in Luke 4: 1-13 when Jesus was tempted in the desert (I would argue this was the greatest attempt at spiritual attack that was ever launched in the history of mankind). Each time Jesus was tempted, he overcame the Devil with humility…every time.
3. Look at the trend of things. If we look at our recent history it would be easy to think that we have not made much progress, but if one looks at the trend of progress over the years we can see that great changes have occurred. For example, I might look back on the last year and think that I haven’t changed much, and see that there is much to do…but if I look at the trend over the past ten years, I see that I am drastically different and much farther along on my path. The same thing holds true for spiritual groups and those in it. Although you may think that not much change has occurred look at all the things that have happened over the years, the people that were helped, the Temples that were built, the lessons learned, the growth that occurred…using this technique can quickly quell the temptation of doubt in your path.
4. Communication: More times than not, your personal opinion or relationship with another brother or sister will be the chosen by outside forces to cause you to doubt your path. How many times have we heard ourselves say “If this person were a spiritual person he/she would not behave this way?’ “If this were a real spiritual group this would not be happening.” A spiritual group is not meant to be a feel good club that you go to after a hard days work…it is meant to be a venue of transformation, a place where you learn about yourself, your weaknesses and your path. Everyone who involved is undergoing many tests, and trials as well as accomplishments and progress. A spiritual group is a veritable alchemical alembic in itself with all the processes that go along with it. Thus, it is imperative to communicate openly and honestly with your brothers or sisters for there may be many un-thought of explanations for the behavior which offended you. Can you think of a time when you wished you had been consulted on a problem before judged or wished you could have explained yourself better….things are not always as they seem and where there is darkness in understanding so is there also a fertile field of distrust. You can never over- communicate.
5. Forgiveness: There will be a time when everyone makes a mistake…maybe many mistakes, and these mistakes will open up the doorway for a great deal of doubt. We may even get angry, but at some point we must forgive. For a lack of forgiveness will allow for a an intense poison to set in to the mind, one that will let a flood of thought-senders in over and over and over again, torturing us until we run as fast as we can from our path. But forgiveness is a great virtue of Spirit. Forgiving as our Lord so forgives us brings us closer to Him, and is this not what we desire so deeply? To be closer to our Master? Mathers says, “Be not hasty to condemn another’s sin. How knowest thou that in his place thou would have resisted the temptation? And even were it so, why shouldst thou despise one who is weaker than thyself? Be thou well sure of this, that in slander and self-righteousness is sin. Pardon therefore the sinner, but encourage not the sin. The Master condemned not the adulterous woman, but neither did he encourage her to commit sin” (On the General Guidance and Purification of the Soul 3=8)
6. Writings of Saints, and other Spiritual Leaders- Taking the time to read the writings of Saints, Masters, and other people whom we look up to can give us examples of the proper way to handle a situation, for none of these people reached such high levels of spiritual status without undergoing great trials themselves. Writings which are particularly helpful during times when one is being mentally attacked are The Imitation of Christ, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, the essay “On the General Guidance and Purification of the Soul’, “The Litany of Humility”, The Bagavadgita, The Mountain of Silence, and The Dammapada
No path can ever be completed if one leaves it, and no path of purification is ever easy although its rewards are great. Quit the night and seek the Day!
Nosce Te Ipsum
p.s. check out a new blog written by my fellow brother and friend "Tales of Abiegnus" : Lessons in the Hermetic Arts in the style of tale and discourse!