THE TRAPS OF SPIRITUALITY
The following interview was conducted by David Rotter for Sein.de:
DR: There is a lot of talking about light work these days. In your understanding, it seems to be much more about shadow work, or rather: the places we need to shine light on the most are our own shadows. After a period of "positive thinking and manifestation" cults, this understanding seems to have become more and more widespread again. Could you share your views about the ambivalent relationship of spirituality and shadow work, and why you think it is so critical right now?
ABDI: I will tell you a story. I started my work when I was very young. I started working as an acupuncturist when I was 23 or 24. This was when the AIDS epidemic was starting in New York. This was before the invention of all the medications that help people; so many people with AIDS were dying. I walk into the room and there was this man, only a year or two older than me, he is dying, weighs nothing, is going blind. And he is looking in the reflective surface of the towel dispenser doing positive thinking: “My T-cells are growing now. My skin is getting better.” I think he died six weeks later. That was the first time I realized how dangerous this positive thinking stuff is; and that was when this positive thinking movement had just started, and I think this is global because all this materialistic positive thinking bullshit came out of America.
All this positive thinking is about negating life as it is and maintaining control over it. But you don’t have control over life. There is this illusion in our culture that if you have proper spiritual training you will not suffer. But when you realize that many of the great Zen and Advaita Masters like Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta, and so forth, died of cancer - that would mean they were not spiritually awake - which they were. You don’t reach the light by imagining figures of light. You reach there by going underground and grappling with what we consider the shadow. At least for me there is no other way. I have worked for 25 years now, I have treated thousands of people, and I have yet to meet someone who can bypass these things.
DR: So for you the spiritual journey is just this? To unravel the shadows? And it is not about getting something, but getting rid of the shadows?
ABDI: Oh yes! You just said it so beautifully, man. The spiritual journey is about losing. It is about losing everything. And it is only for the brave. It is about getting naked in the most frightening way you can get naked. Everything we seem to gain in the spiritual journey is from the ego. There is absolutely no gain. If people say, “I had that experience” - yes, your “I” had that experience. The real spiritual experience kills the “I”. But you can’t kill the “I”, because you are the “I”. So there is this confusion. It is again the ego, constantly accumulating. The real smell of Love is when you have been killed enough to be trusted with others. The “I” that wants to save the environment, is the same “I” that destroys it. The “I” that wants to be a healer, is the same that causes all the pain through selfishness. It is the sense of “I” that we have to lose. If you think you are your shirt, you are in trouble. But that’s what people do: they just get a nicer shirt. Instead of nylon, it is now cotton. But it is still a shirt.
All this positive thinking stuff is about using the willpower to push away any pain, whereas spirituality is about letting the willpower go. But we are all control freaks and we are all anxious. So, this is creating a kind of spiritual sub-personality inside the ego.
DR: Would you say it is even more dangerous because the ego gets more and more subtle with these so-called “spiritual experiences”?
ABDI: Again, very beautiful what you are saying. There are two things. First, you and me were drug addicts. So, when we were addicts, we knew we had a problem. And when people looked at us, they also knew we had a problem. And me and you have had Kundalini experiences, unity experiences. There is an “I” that has these experiences, and you are absolutely correct, that it is so much more dangerous. Because the heroin addict knows he has a problem, but when we have a unity experience, the “I” hides underneath and feels superior.
Secondly, the “I” will do everything to repeat the experience. Right now, there is definitely an evolutionary process going on. I am not a New Age-y guy; I am just speaking from what I see from treating thousands of people. I treat 40 people a week, and there is something going on in the last couple of years where people who have no spiritual background are actually having very profound Kundalini experiences. It is very fascinating to watch them, without a spiritual language to put it into, because they are actually trying to recreate that and they are feeling superior. You are absolutely correct, it is much more dangerous, unless one understands that these experiences really mean nothing. You can have a Kundalini experience and still be twisted. And you will even be more twisted because as you say: now you feel special. With one foot you are in the oneness-experience, with the other one you are in ego.
More than that: even if you have the full experience of awakening, the psychological and the spiritual are two different things. There is a misconception that once one is “enlightened”, the ego is clear. Bullshit! You can have one foot in enlightenment and the other one in what we in the US call PMS: Power, Money, Sex. And that is what you see with many teachers: the money-thing, the power-thing, and the sex-thing.
DR: You have a history with drugs, and so do I. And I realized later on my path that there was a point when I just substituted drugs with spirituality. Spirituality was my new drug, it was the same dynamic, it just had a better look. I was still running away from my feelings and issues… can spirituality be a drug and even be counterproductive to real progress?
ABDI: You are kinder than me. I would say spirituality is always a drug, and it is always counterproductive. It’s another addiction! We live in a culture of addicts. I don’t meet anybody who is not an addict. So, instead of you and me doing drugs, if we were bankers and doing money - that’s an addiction. In addition to that, we are sex addicts. If we are collecting cars - it is always an addiction. Spirituality is an addiction.
I just was in Hamburg talking in this spiritual center and they advertised a number of workshops. Now, I am not against workshops. You will be here 50+ years, so enjoy yourself as a free being. It is not about the action, it is the intention. I can go to 10 workshops and it can be an interesting experience - but if I think they can wake me up, that is a different thing. The bottom line is that we confuse phenomena with the absolute. If you are after the absolute and your true nature, that is one story. If you are after colored-phenomena, it is another one. The confusion is when you think the phenomena are the absolute. Everybody runs after these spiritual workshops, thinking the experiences there are the absolute. It is not. But as you are here, do it as a free being. Today photography, tomorrow meditation.
The other thing is that we want to be in constant bliss. It is impossible. It is the same thing with drugs, first you need one bag a day, then you need five, you are constantly chasing it. But with drugs, you know you have a problem. With spirituality, we live in the illusion we are getting closer.
DR: One of the key false assumptions seems to be that enlightenment will automatically erase all our shadows. In your book, you describe it more as two different layers that have to be dealt with separately?
ABDI: You have to! It is my feeling that there really is a mass awakening happening right now. In my experience, we are moving collectively from the third chakra to the heart center; that is what I see. I have no theories, I have no idea why. But evolution goes on. Part of what I do is to help deliver babies with acupuncture. And the kids that came out 25 years ago were very different; they were almost another species than the kids of today. Now the eyes are immediately focused, there is more neck control - so we evolve as a species, which is natural.
There is something happening. And because something is happening, it is even more crucial we do the psychological work.
If you see what is happening in Japan right now, that is pure arrogance. We are building a nuclear reactor on a fault line even if we know every so and so years there will be an earthquake. And we can say “them”, but it is us! Where in our own lives are we building a nuclear reactor on our own fault line? And when they explode we are shocked? “I am shocked, I fucked all my students.” “I am shocked, I took all their money.” “I am shocked, I followed this guru…”
The greatest gift we can give to the world in this moment is to do our psychological work. But psychological work is not sexy. The sad thing to see is that many of the people who do psychological work lack a spiritual perspective and many of the spiritual people are just so frightened of the psychological work.
DR: You just mentioned Japan as a mirror, is it your perception that life is just an outside mirror in which we can see our own stuff?
ABDI: Absolutely. Everything that bothers you in other people is something that is stuck in you. You don’t have to like everybody, but you have to Love anybody. It can be you don’t like certain things about someone, but it does not bother you and you still Love them. If it affects you, that’s your own stuff. In spirituality, it is often flipped: we try to like everybody. Liking is the ego’s job. Loving is your spirit’s job. I hear people talk like that always “they, they, they” - that’s you! Everything that bothers you in someone else, that is where you have work to do.
DR: That is why in your book you say that relationships are the greatest teachers. And life can actually be your teacher if you live it as that.
ABDI: Life is the only teacher. And with relationships, I do not only mean romantic relationships. We two can get along very well for a couple of hours. But if we become roommates we will be in each other’s face, and you suddenly see all these things in me. And romantic relationships are the next level. That is why they are so fantastic in the first couple of months. All our defense mechanisms are down. Sex is amazing, we feel really vulnerable. But if the ego that is hiding feels a threat, the walls go up. And then the work starts. So for me, romantic relationships are not about romance. It is the hardest thing you can do. To be a monk is easy. And I think only one out of a million people should really become a monk. And I do not mean romantic relationship in the way we are doing them now. Now it is about sex. Most people are going together for sex, and then they go to sleep. But to really stay engaged in a relationship is the hardest thing you can do.
DR: But also a great chance if both are committed to use the relationship as a means of growth?
ABDI: To me, it is the ultimate. Really. It is the cleanest. If you have someone you’re on the same page with, and you both want to do it, it is the ultimate way. And I totally agree with what you say: life is the ultimate teacher. Because things are constantly happening and you constantly have to deal with it and process it. Not in the New Age-y smiley-way, but through really opening your heart and seeing where you are actually at.
DR: And do you perceive it as a soul plan that draws those persons and circumstances in your life, so that you can actually see them?
ABDI: We both had a certain experience, otherwise you would not be asking such a question. So, we both had a direct experience of what you call soul. And I do feel that the bigger events are predestined by the soul. But there is also a psychological aspect that has nothing to do with the soul. When we have specific wounds, the subconscious will constantly recreate them in our life so we can heal them.
DR: So we don’t even need an esoteric explanation?
ABDI: Well, I do believe also the esoteric explanation is true. I used to do a lot of past life regressions with my clients for psychological reasons, and it was very interesting. You take people to these past lives, and I really don’t give a shit if they are actual past lives or not. Fact is that people were having these amazing experiences of healing. And one time by mistake, we were stuck in between two lives, and that was really fascinating. So then I started doing that over and over. What I found was that in between two lives we would have these things where you arrange to meet other people at certain times to shift each other. But the rest we fill in, in between.
DR: There seems to be quite a few gurus who have a lot of spiritual experience, but also a lot of unresolved shadows that then play out in their teachings and behavior, which has given spirituality a bad name somehow. Could you speak on this phenomenon?
ABDI: Lets break this down into a couple of things. The crazy thing is how very intelligent people will go with their gurus and leave all intelligence at the door. It does not matter how smart they are because this is the parental projection. We have such a desperate need for a mommy or daddy. That is the first thing.
And the second thing is that no one follows spirituality unless there is some pain. And just as we used drugs as an escape, we now use spirituality as an escape and that makes it very complicated because we do it to not deal with the shadow. At least I meet very few people who do those things hand in hand. As soon as you have some spiritual experiences, you feel special and feel like: “What do I need psychological work for? That is for idiots who don’t do spirituality.” We don’t address these things. I feel it is changing now.
But I have seen so many people watch their teacher do things that are just wrong, and blame themselves - that is the parental projection. And in my experience, whenever I stepped out in a spiritual community, and said, "This is wrong, this teacher is fucking all the women; he made that woman pregnant” and so on, everybody turned on me. It is like burning of the witches: the whole community comes together and does that. It is still happening right now, not just in 1800s America. So, because of persecution, we keep quiet; because we project mommy/daddy, we keep quiet; but also we actually want somebody to be the boss.
These people can teach spiritual things. Like I am a good motorcycle mechanic - bring me your bike, I will fix it. But why would you want relationship advice from me? And that is where many people get confused. I have a very good friend, who is very involved in Zen. And he tells me: “My Zen Master gave me such great relationship advice.” And I look at him and say: “This 80-year-old guy, who never had a relationship apart from fucking the 20-year-old women in your sangha, gave you a relationship advice? You are asking a MONK for a relationship advice? He’s never had a relationship!” And this is how crazy it is. Especially from the point of view of the monk. His job is to teach zazen and help you solve the koans. Why the fuck is he giving relationship advice? This happens when you believe your own hype.
DR: And would you say the time of gurus is over?
ABDI: Yes. We need a new model. We are brothers and sisters on the path. And a teacher should not be different than a carpenter. It is about basic human respect. We are all the same. And it is interesting to observe spiritual talks. All real teachers I had taught sitting in circles. But as soon as the guru thing is going on, two things happen: to fit more people into the room they arrange the chairs so you are facing the teacher, so it is “us” and “them”, and the second thing is that they put the speaker higher. It’s time for us to realize how fucked up that is. Everybody has a specialty. I have some experience in a certain area, and maybe it is useful for you, maybe not. If you need food, I can’t help you. If you need advice for investing money, I can’t help you. And also my or your experience is not for everyone. Me and you were drug addicts and have a certain experience, maybe a nice middle class guy can’t relate to that. We have to find the right person and resonance.
And ultimately, you have to be out of your mind to do spiritual work. Because the ego comes to spiritual work thinking it can fortify itself. But the spiritual work is the guillotine of the ego. It is painful. If there is no pain on your spiritual path - forget it, you are on an ego trip. It is not pleasant.
DR: And what about healers? Because even if it is called self-realization, we seem to expect other people to do it for us - that is part of what the guru thing is. And the same seems to be happening with healing, that people get addicted, especially to energy healing, and it is ultimately dis-empowering.
ABDI: Let's break this down into a couple of things. First off, there is curing and there is healing. Most of what is happening is curing. The purpose of healing is to help people to remember who they are. You can be healed and still get sick and die. A healer is a person who helps others to remember their wholeness, but can only take people to where the healer is actually standing. You hold the energy for people, you hold a certain awareness for people, but you are not the healer. You create a safe space by being really in the moment. All healing is self-healing.
DR: Which is contrary to our current belief where it is always a doctor or a pill that is healing us…
ABDI: Exactly. But all healing is self-healing. The job of the healer is to be absolutely in the moment. I start my work two hours before the patient comes, with chanting, praying, and I am not even a religious person, but it is about the mind. What I’m doing is, I am forcing myself to be absolutely in the moment. To leave Abdi and his stories outside, so I can become a channel to help them to see themselves in a safe space without judgment. And in the end, it is important to release them so they don’t become dependent. This is very important. I constantly give the healing back to them. I can not have any need in that room.
To me, disease is a big opportunity because then we start to ask questions. I have people jump up and down when they have cancer: “When only this cancer is gone, I will change my life.” And if it is cured they go back again. Or people start to pray “Dear God, if you take away this cancer, I will change my life.” It is sad to see how young we are in our thinking. It is not God punishing us. It is all us, and we have to take responsibility. And also we have to realize that sometimes we are helpless and at the mercy of natural happenings - may it be karma or not. But we have to face that.
DR: In your book, you mentioned that the realization of helplessness was a big breakthrough for you.
ABDI: If you can constantly go into your helplessness, you are okay. If you really can dive into that helplessness, as opposed to the solid ego, that will make this life a certain way.
DR: I guess you do not mean “helpless” in the negative sense of the word. So is it the same as vulnerability?
ABDI: Yes, it is similar. But vulnerability is somehow sexy in spiritual circles, which is why I use helplessness, because helplessness is brutal.
And here is something very interesting about my book. It is published in Germany, but not in America, where I had to self-publish it, even though I have a lot of friends in publishing. No one wanted to touch that book. It is not in the trend. The publishers told me: “Can’t you put 4 steps or 12 steps as a path to…” but my book is not about that. And it is also not negative. To me, only when we deal with our shadows can we really live. Most people don’t really live. And we always have this idea, that if only we have a million bucks, or if the cancer is gone, or we find a partner, we’ll be happy. And the hard thing happens when you do get these things and that illusion is gone, you are even more unhappy. This is helplessness. I do not want to sugarcoat these things. And it is hard work if you really want to be a free being. And for me, it is about being free. I love life, I am not a monk - I did that trip, but now I think our job is to really live our lives.
DR: There is a lot of talking about an ascension of humanity. Although you do not seem to be very New Age-y and 2012-ish, you write in several places in your book that you are stunned how fast people are changing these days, and you also stated in this interview that you do see in your work that something is going on. What do you see?
ABDI: Well, first of all, people love stuff like 2012, because they are so unhappy with their life and are sort of waiting for a catalyst to change. And want it to happen on its own without them having to do any work. But I can see, and I am only talking from my direct experience, that people are becoming more conscious. I see that in the kids that are born, and in adults. Even though we have the smartest people in the world doing all this propaganda to keep people away from themselves, it is still happening.
And I would recommend to everybody in these times: Take five minutes a day and sit with that stranger you call your self. Five minutes. Maybe I am crazy talking about all these things, don’t take my word. Do it like a scientist. Five minutes. Why can’t many people do it? Because we are so anxious.
DR: So what exactly do you see happening?
ABDI: I see many people suddenly realizing reality is bigger and that they are more than they thought they were. I see a lot of psychic and intuitive insights happening. I have a lot of people seeing auras - people who have no psychedelic drug experience and no spiritual experience, not even meditation or yoga. Something is happening. Is it because of stress, environment? Or evolution. I don’t care, for me it is interesting that it is happening. And my job is two things, if such people come to me: one is to make sure that they don’t think they are special, and the other is how can they go deeper into it and make it useful in their lives.
DR: When you look at your own journey and at those of your patients, how do you perceive it? In my view, there is a difference between enlightenment and awakening. Awakening is a sudden happening, an insight, whereas enlightenment is a stage where you have dealt with all of your shadows. And do you perceive the journey there as going in stages or as a sudden thing?
ABDI: Beautiful question. There are those people who have these sudden awakenings - like Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta. But even for those heavy cats, it was still a process. I do not think it can happen suddenly. How I feel it in my heart, there can be sudden awakening if a lot of things in the bodymind are already cleared in past lives. But for most of us, it is not like that. So there are definitely many, many steps. And they don’t happen by themselves, but by us doing shadow work. I personally had awakenings at 13, 18, 20, and 23. And for me, it was very disappointing because I thought I was enlightened. And the shit was up to my chin, I would not see it, it came up to my mouth, and I could taste it, but I still said there is no shit. But when it reached my eyes, and I could not see anything else, I had to admit: there is still shit around. And my journey is very common to most of my patients. They have this experience of oneness but then these vasanas; the bodymind tendencies grip you by the balls and pull you back down.
So, no, I do not think it is a one-shot deal. And it is very disappointing for many people because they feel special. And the test is: do you feel unique or do you feel special? If you feel special, forget about the experience. If you feel unique, that uniqueness will still have to die down. Special, forget about it. Unique invites another state.
DR: So you see different stages, or gateways, or plateaus?
ABDI: Absolutely. And they are different for different people. There are two dangerous things. One is to think you have something, because then there is the “I” to have it. The other thing is to go after something, because that will push it away. There is nothing to get. All you are gaining is what you have been all the time. And I would like to add that many people confuse the special power that everybody has - some people get psychic, some people become healers - that stuff is all phenomenal. You can train it, but none of it matters in the absolute. But many people get stuck there and are feeling special. Or people right away think they have to teach something.
DR: It seems you have to become a teacher these days once you are awakened, it is mandatory.
ABDI: Yes. But the top people don’t give a shit, it is only the wannabe that has to - but they are still helping people, so I have nothing against them.
DR: I feel I would like to say that the way you and many people speak about the absolute can also be dangerous, as it can easily be misused to dissolve all your issues and use it as the absolute cop out.
ABDI: Yes, beautiful. I absolutely agree. I love Advaita, I hate Advaita. I love Advaita for the way these masters lived it, especially the masters for how they lived it. But the followers - and that is very specific to Advaita - started to use the idea of phenomenal as equal to “nothing matters”. Bullshit, everything has consequences. I fell into that one myself. In my 20s, I was into Advaita. But everything matters. This is an experience and it is sacred. The human experience is sacred. I fell into the same trap.
It is interesting that Advaita attracts people who tend to be already too much in their head and should be doing something different, something more bhakti, heart-centered, and not Advaita or Zen - but they do Advaita because they unconsciously try to take the left-handed way of destroying the ego.
Do something that makes you uncomfortable. If you are too much in your head - choose a heart path. Always put yourself in situations that are not comfortable. We always hang around people that make us feel comfortable. If we are punk rockers, we only meet punk rockers. If you are a punk rocker - go see some classical music, put on a suit, and go into a situation you are not comfortable with. And the suit-person that only sees opera - go to a punk concert. There is no better way to test where your ego is at than to put yourself into a position you are uncomfortable with. We always hang around with people we are comfortable with; spiritual people only hang out with spiritual people. But it takes a free being to go into an uncomfortable position and still be yourself.
DR: So about knowing. I came to a place in my path where reading books is not interesting anymore, I guess you are in a similar place, but you write a book…
ABDI: Well, my first words in the book are: “All words are lies”; that is my disclaimer. Like the first words in the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, “Those who speak do not know, those who know do not speak”.
DR: So, you obviously do not know…
ABDI: I don’t know shit. But I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know. I wrote this book out of frustration really, for 25 years I am a healer, and I wrote this after 23 years, after saying the same things over and over and over. I have nothing to sell, I have a day job. The book is a labor of love. And I would say there is nothing in there that no one knows, but maybe it is presented in a different way. This book is not for everyone. It is not pleasant. I am not even writing it to help other beings. But I see my enlightenment as being interwoven with other people’s enlightenment. And I know, I know certain things. If you want to learn how to ride motorcycles: I can teach you, I have done it for 36 years. If you want to learn some things about your mind: I have examined it.