‘Truth is One, Paths are Many.’ ~ Mahatma Ghandi
Paths of Awakening
There are many paths for the awakening of consciousness. Some are ancient, some are modern. Some are fast, some are slow, some are integral. The Integral Path is quite different, combining the most accessible and powerful practices in a judiciously creative and culturally-responsive way. Practising and teaching the integral path requires considerable depth of knowledge and conscious awareness of the universality of spiritual practices.
The Fast Path: Direct but Precarious
The Fast Path comprises direct methods. Direct yogic methods include Kundalini Yoga, some elements of Hindu Tantra, Buddhist Tantra and Shaktism, as well as Self-inquiry Meditation (Atma-Vichara) as part of Jnana Yoga or as a standalone practice. Direct methods also include shamanistic, psychedelic and entheogenic practices, including plant medicine ceremonies with Ayahuasca and Psilocybin and other indigenous practices including ceremonies with psychoactive plants such as Iboga. There are also more modern practices such as holotropic breathwork and rebirthing. While these methods are highly effective practices for the awakening of consciousness, they can also be highly problematic and precarious.
The first problem with direct methods is the “neo-approach”, such as Neo-Vedanta and Neo-Hinduism. There is nothing inherently wrong with this per se, but the “neo-approach” does call into question the authenticity and depth of the teachings, and more importantly, of the teachers. These kinds of approaches to the teaching and practice of the above methods tend towards shallowness, over-intellectualisation and/or infantilism. This is because the “neo-approach” often promotes fast results with minimal discipline, which in turn can also lead to the reductionism and commodification of the practices. As such, there is often little attention given to the classical roots of the teachings, hence the potential lack of authenticity and depth. Sometimes these teachers and facilitators do not work with critical/analytical frameworks as a means of helping students make sense of and integrate their experiences. This means they are subject to remaining theorised and abstract rather than embodied (a form of living inquiry that is carried through into one’s daily life).
The second problem is altogether more serious. All paths of consciousness create temporary disequilibrium as do all educational paths, because they involve the suspension of what one thinks they know in order to enter unknown terrain with intention and openness to experiencing something new. But direct methods create far more disequilibrium than other paths. And sadly, sometimes this disequilibrium is not temporary. Direct methods are not advisable for those suffering from mental ill health or those with a history of mental ill health. Those suffering or having previously suffered mental ill health must seek the guidance of trained professionals. There is also risk for those who are going through certain life struggles, as well as risk for those who do not have foundational practices or stable emotional lives that help to later ground them. Direct methods offer the practitioner intense, elevated spiritual experiences with so much information communicated all at once. So much so that the practitioner may not be capable of processing and integrating the experience (proverbially, ‘coming back down to earth’). Highly experienced and sensitive teachers and facilitators can help, particularly in the form of active listening/sharing. It is also helpful for students to engage in active listening/sharing with their peers. Integration practices, such as reflective writing, creative writing and drawing/painting, are also helpful practices for helping practitioners make sense of their direct first-person experiences.
The main advice here is to be very cautious of teachers of direct methods. I have had a few wonderful teachers of direct methods, but also many who have dealt with students and the practices irresponsibly by not taking making the implications of the journey on the fast path coherent (and embodied) for their students. This is likely because they lack coherence themselves. The teachers of “neo-approaches” are more susceptible to egoism regarding their capacities to help their students with their awakening because they make bold promises by standing on the shoulders of practices that inherently promise the fast options for evolution of consciousness. These teachers may lack the depth of knowledge, qualities and skills to support their students with the kind of disequilibrium that inevitably surfaces during or some time after one engages with direct methods. Additionally, asking inner questions about personal motivations for practising can help practitioners to understand whether they are ready for direct methods or whether they lack grounding and conscious self-awareness. For example, some questions might include: Are you practising because you wish to experience a kind of euphoria? Are you practising because you wish to avoid dealing with pressing worldly issues, buried trauma or emotional unrest in your life? Are you practising particular direct methods because you lack self-discipline or patience? Are you practising because you wish to appear more elevated and spiritual than others around you? Your own answers to these questions may help you better understand your spiritual journey on the awakening of your consciousness.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FAST PATH
Tantra (Hindu and Buddhist)
Jnana Yoga and Atma-Vichara
Holotropic Breathwork, Rebirthing and Bastrika
Plant Medicine (see Ayahuasca, Psilocybin and others)
The Slow Path: Gradual but Cautious
The Slow Path is mostly classical, comprising gentle methods that offer steady results over a longer period of time. Gentle methods include Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga, Yin Yoga, Dhyana Yoga as part of Raja Yoga or as a standalone practice, Mindfulness, Vipassana or Insight Meditation of Theravada Buddhism and Zen Buddhist Meditations. Other flow state practices that are creative and expressive, if practised formally, may also be gentle methods of the Slow Path. I generally encourage teachers to support students on the slow path because, firstly, students come from a range of backgrounds and have lived a range of experiences, and secondly, haste tend to lack conscious awareness of experiences and processes.
The main advice here is to be very patient and accepting. The Slow Path requires a great deal of constance and consistent daily practice. It can often lead the teacher and practitioner to become obsessed with perfection. In the worst cases, the teacher and practitioner may become obsessed with mere technicism rather than the larger meaning of these practices. They might focus on increasing their capacities/skills in a structured and incremental manner. The Slow Path may also induce an obsession with being ‘the best’ and most formally trained. Additionally, asking inner questions about personal motivations for practising can help practitioners understand whether they are lacking in self-confidence or in need of exposure to more elevated energetic states. For example, some questions might include: Are you practising because you do not wish to let go/undo of parts of your life that will generate inevitable shifts/changes? Are you practising because you wish to focus on more tangible or instrumental goals, such as stress reduction or increased productivity? Are you practising because you wish to appear more self-disciplined and perfectionist than others around you? Again, your own answers to these questions may help you better understand your spiritual journey on the awakening of your consciousness.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SLOW PATH
Vipassana or Insight Meditation
Zen Buddhist Meditation
Taoist practices such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong
The Integral Path: Judiciously Creative, Open and Culturally Responsiveness
The Integral Path is not as simple as the merging of the Fast Path and the Slow Path, although that is part of an integral approach. The Integral Path requires the teacher and practitioner to be capable of discerning between the practices that are coherent and meaningful to combine, and those that are not. Integral Yoga and other integral practices are open. The Integral Path requires the teacher and practitioner to have a deep knowledge and awareness of the classical wisdom traditions alongside a working knowledge and awareness of how they correspond to and unite with more modern and divergent practices, such as those from transpersonal psychology. It recognises the necessity for having a deep knowledge of the classical teachings, but it is not at all purist. It is therefore so open that it is by nature also culturally-responsive. As such, the Integral Path allows for teachers and practitioners to begin to reconcile the bifurcation between the philosophical and practical dimensions of the spiritual life.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE INTEGRAL PATH
Integral Yoga of the Swami Satchidananda Tradition
Integral Yoga Institute
Integral Yoga of the Sri Aurobindo Tradition
Integral Yoga of the Dharma Ananda Tradition