18.  Emotions and Spiritual Experience

Is the interrelationship of emotions with spiritual experiences a sticky matter?

The phenomenon of the misidentification of the emotional high as being the spiritual event itself is, in my opinion, one of the primary causes of people giving up on a spiritual path. Almost all spiritual realizations are accompanied by emotional content, usually a very pleasing emotional content that, as a side effect, reinforces the seeker’s behavior. I have never met anyone who can be continuously high emotionally. Of necessity, the emotional high that accompanied the spiritual realization disappears.

What happens when the emotional high disappears? If the seeker believes that the true and lasting experience is the knowledge gained and the expansion of consciousness which has occurred, then the disappearance of the emotions may be greeted with some reluctance but also with acceptance.

On the other hand, the person who believes that the emotion was the most important part of the experience may be frightened when it begins to ebb away, thinking that the expansion of consciousness was only temporary or illusory. Another person might be more sanguine about the disappearance of the emotion, but, in the absence of additional and repeated emotional experiences, may not feel sufficient support to continue.

The spiritual path is, in large part, about inner liberation. If our happiness has to depend on our gratifications, we are not free. It’s almost as if we’re caged laboratory rats whose actions are dictated by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. The pursuit of spiritual gratifications is particularly insidious, because, under the guise of seeking something apparently lofty and high-minded we become exceedingly eager, possessive and materialistic. The term which has been coined to describe this condition is "Spiritual Materialism."

By the way, spiritual materialism can be a difficulty not only for those who are new to the path, but also for many who have practiced spiritual life for many years.