Today we will be discussing the hermit, which is a spiritual archetype often associated with an initiate: a person who enters a spiritual path seeking to initiate or begin a new life, a new spiritual development within themselves. As a hermit is often associated with solitude and loneliness, it is also interesting that today's talk is going to cover the importance of relationships, not just from a mundane perspective, but especially from a spiritual perspective of how relationships can help us on our spiritual journey.
The basic idea of relationships in psychology is that they can be extremely important and helpful for your mental health and your physical health as well. If you have really good relationships in your life, you are at a greater advantage of healing faster, living longer, and having better health outcomes with regards to mental illness or physical problems as well. In addition to that, if you have got a lot of toxic, negative, or stressful relationships in your life, then that can hinder your physical health. People who are extremely withdrawn and isolated also tend to live shorter lives, to have more health problems.
So how do we understand this seeming contradiction between becoming a spiritual hermit―a person who is advancing on a higher level of being and living seemingly in isolation―with the idea that relationships are really important parts of life, that we are living in a society where we need to interact healthily with other people?
Regarding Abusive Relationships
All of us have relationships at different levels. It is also important to say up front that sometimes relationships can be abusive. So what I am talking about today is living a healthy spiritual life and having healthy relationships that aid our spiritual development. I want to be very explicit, up front, that if anyone is in an abusive relationship, we are not condoning staying in an abusive relationship. If you are in a relationship where someone is threatening to harm you or to harm others, if someone is exhibiting controlling behaviors, or of course, if there is physical or sexual violence in a relationship, then it is very important to seek community resources or professional help to determine what is the best way for you to safely remove yourself from that type of relationship.
Sometimes people will stay in a relationship thinking they are doing the right thing because they love their partner and they want to sacrifice for their partner and serve their partner, even when they are being abused. But in an abusive relationship, not only are you harming yourself by staying in that relationship, but you are also allowing the other person to continue to commit a harmful action that is not good for their spiritual journey either.
So just to state up front and very explicitly that the relationships we are talking about today and overcoming difficulties or criticisms in relationships are not pertaining to abusive relationships, which we definitely believe that people should seek resources in their community, to get help and to get out of those types of relationships.
Why Study Our Relationships?
But abusive relationships aside, we all probably have at least a few relationships in our life that have some unpleasantness in them, where people can really push our buttons or criticize us, or people are not giving us what we think we want or deserve from them, like respect, or admiration. So many people who are seeking a spiritual path are sometimes seeking a chance to escape from relationships or family obligations and say, “Well, I am above that because I am on a spiritual path.” That can be a problem because we are in relationships for a reason.
Relationships are an opportunity to learn about ourselves. Many times we can not see ourselves clearly and other people see things in us that we do not want to see. So criticism can be the best way to start propelling our spiritual journey. Tests and ordeals with other people, conflicts with other people, if we know how to transform that, if we know how to study ourselves and our behaviors in meditation, to really understand what is going on in our dynamic with another person or a group of people, we can see something new about ourselves that can give us the choice of if we want to continue with that characteristic or behavior in ourselves or if we want to change it and adopt something healthier.
That is the whole journey of spiritual transformation right? ― finding what in us we would like to change, we would like to get rid of, some of what we consider to be harmful, or negative, or dragging us down―not in other people, not in the relationships as much as in ourselves. We never really have power over other people, so we have to maximize the power that we have over ourselves to be able to change our lives.
I have verified in my life that when I significantly change my own attitudes about people, my own tendencies and behaviors towards people, that it radically changes the relationship that I have with those people. Not every relationship is going to change in a huge substantial way, but at least in small ways, we can make a big difference in our relationship if we are trying to improve ourselves, rather than just getting frustrated and just blaming other people all the time.
Karma and Relationships
So where do relationships come from? Well, there are two sorts of relationships in life: inherited relationships, like the family that you are born into or that you are raised by, and then relationships that we choose or at least we seem to choose.
We feel a connection to a certain person and we think, “I am going to become friends with them,” or “I am going to date them.”
So these relationships, of choice or inheritance, really have their root in karma. In this esoteric tradition, we talk a lot about past lives and how the actions of past lives can be carried over, how that energy, the consequences of past actions, carries over when we incarnate into a new physical body.
So with our relationships and our family especially, there are very important karmic ties. The past actions, whatever wrongs we committed, or whatever good deeds we did, can determine the quality of what relationships we have in this life. Also, the character that we carry with us from life to life can determine which relationships we choose or whom we feel attracted to, what we are looking for.
If we had a really strong desire in a past life to be with a certain type of person, we can carry that with us and then seek out that type of person in this life. Sometimes this can be to our benefit, but a lot of times this is to our detriment. We are caught in a cycle of pain and are being drawn to the wrong types of people, whether as friends or romantic partners, and we do not know why we can not break out of that cycle.
It is really important to understand the origin of our relationships. Through meditation and some serious work on oneself, you can start to penetrate into the memories of your past lives. But even if we can not do that, we can study our present life to really understand something about what has drawn us into these relationships, whether by choice or inheritance. We can understand what we need to change in ourselves in this life to have better relationships in our future lifetimes.
Samael Aun Weor is the founder of this modern Gnostic movement, and he wrote in his book Beyond Death about three types of marriage bonds. I think this applies to all relationships, even beyond marriage. But of course, the person that you marry is a very significant bond, so that is kind of the archetype that we are looking at here.
Here is what he stated:
There are three types of marriage bonds: first, karmic; second, dharmic; and third cosmic. The first type consists of pain, misery, hunger, nakedness, disgrace. The second consists of success, happiness, love, economic progress, etc. And the third is only for the chosen souls, pure, holy: the third brings as it is natural, inexhaustible happiness. ―Samael Aun Weor, Beyond Death
So if we are thinking about karmic relationships, they bring us a lot of pain and they have important lessons because, probably, there were some traits that we brought with us from this lifetime or actions that we committed in past lifetimes that are causing the same cycle to repeat in this lifetime. By studying the nature of the relationship that brings you pain, the role that you are playing in perhaps perpetuating or causing more pain in that relationship, and then choosing to change―even if in this lifetime you can not salvage the relationship, even if something happens to end that relationship or it is necessary to end that relationship if it is abusive―it could mean that in a future lifetime your relationship with that particular person could be very different, because you acted from a place of compassion or wisdom rather than just unconsciousness, repeating the same frustrated desires and selfish intentions.
The second would be what would be the outcome of those types of changes: dharmic relationships where we feel real inspiration from the other person, support and success and happiness with the other person.
Finally this type of cosmic relationship would be a relationship had by an initiate: a person who is really on another level, a person who has really tapped into that divine path and is really going beyond the mundane idea of a healthy good life and is really stepping into a spiritual life that is superior to that.
I would like you to take a moment to reflect on your most important relationship. Which of the three is it and what would you like it to become?
It is really important to take some time to apply teachings to our real life and not just think about them as an idea, but to see how any type of spiritual teaching gives us an opportunity to understand our own struggles, our own suffering, and gives us an opportunity to change.
The Relationships of an Initiate
The key to healthy spiritual relationships is the whole purpose in the work of an initiate. It is interesting that the hermit symbolizes solitude. That does not necessarily mean that if we become an initiate, we are going to run away to the mountains and escape all of our problems and never see our family and friends again. We may be an initiate living anonymously here in the world, fulfilling our obligations in society and helping people without anyone being aware.
The key to that is the renunciation of self-interest. It is not just to have healthy relationships which we can learn through basic psychology, but to really go above and beyond that and to be a spiritual servant to all the people around us, whether they are an enemy, a friend, a family member, or a stranger. It means to really see that one person has the power to make an extreme difference in the world and in other people's lives, if they are a person who has been able to develop some spiritual virtue, a strong character, and the willingness to sacrifice for others.
That is why we hear about a parable "The Great Pearl,” where a merchant went everywhere searching for a pearl of great value and then when he found it, he renounced everything and gave up his life for this pearl. It does not mean that we are going to give up our physical life and our relationships, but rather that we renounce our psychological attachment to relationships.
A lot of times when we are seeking a relationship or a friendship, we are thinking about “what I can get out of it,” “what is this person going to give to me?” and “what are the benefits I am going to get from this relationship?” That is the opposite of what an initiate would be thinking if they were to enter into a relationship. An initiate coming from a place of compassion does not need anything from the other person, but has their own inner strength coming from divinity.
When we have been really able to establish ourselves in our spiritual connection to divinity, then whatever misfortunes or fortunes might befall us in life, we know that all of that is temporary. Relationships will come and go. Even the strongest, longest-lasting relationship will end with death. We have to have a more permanent relationship, and the only permanent relationship is the soul's relationship to divinity. If we are establishing that, then we would have the courage to renounce the desires for worldly things: fame, money, lust, pride, vanity, all of the things that we might think are going to give us what we want from life.
When we renounce our desire for those things, then we stop hurting people, because when you think about the people who have hurt you the most or the times when you have hurt people the most, it is often because you have been driven by a desire. You wanted something from them or they wanted something from you. If we can get that self-interest out of the relationship, then there can be a true harmony of souls, even if the other person is not at that same level and they are still self-interested.
You can see it so much more clearly when you are not blinded by your own egotism and your own self-interest. You can really see what their intentions are, and you can have compassion for them, and you can approach the relationship with wisdom, and prudence, and understand a better way to have a healthy interaction with them.
But most of the time, people who enter spiritual paths struggle a lot with their relationships. Maybe they are going through a lot of changes. Their spiritual journey isn't understood by their current friends and family, and so a lot of people just give up. They say, “My family does not understand me,” “They do not support me in what I am trying to do now,” and they just try to end all of their relationships. Rather than changing psychologically and changing their attitudes towards the people who are not understanding what they are going through, they decide to just physically remove themselves from those people.
If that is an abusive relationship, that could be a really good idea, but in a lot of cases, people just can not stand the criticism, or that people are not respecting, or understanding what they are experiencing in their spiritual life. But we lose through that action the opportunity to grow and change with the people who are in our lives for a reason. They are in our lives because of some kind of previous action, relationship, or cause, and so instead of understanding: “Why are these people in my life? Why do I have this conflict with them? Why do I have these attitudes towards them?” ― people just run away, and that is really a disadvantage for spiritual life.
Question: How do you deal with people who do not have compassion, and by being a compassionate person and unconditionally wanting to help them, you feel you become drained and exhausted? When do you get to the point where you say, “I can not take that!” and I have to look out for myself?
Instructor: So what is important if we do not have that kind of spiritual strength yet, we all have spiritual aspirations. We want to get that connection to divinity. But maybe we think “I am not there yet, and these people are really draining me,” or we are around people who are toxic, and they are trying to drain you, because they are trying to manipulate you, and get something from you.
So as I mentioned earlier, if we do not have self-interest involved, then we have no problem stepping away from a person like that. Even if it is a family member, we might lessen the amount of time that we have to be around that person, but take advantage of the times when we do have to be around them, to learn something. If we need a break, if that person is sucking us dry, we can step back and take some time away from that person.
Really, it is aspirational that we get to the point that we get everything that we need from divinity. But on the path, there are going to be a lot of those types of ordeals, and questions like “How should I be interacting with this person?”
Well, we can never really sacrifice our own well-being for the sake of serving someone else's desires. The problem is people say, “I want this from you,” and we think the right thing to do is to give people what they want, and that is service for that person. But many times people want something that is not actually good for them. If people are wanting to just have somebody around that they can beat up on, or have somebody around that they can use to get everything that they want from them all the time, then it is not in our interest to be that for someone.
We have to recognize that the right thing to do is to step away from that person and to stop giving them our energy, because if we are giving all of our energy to a person who is abusing that gift, then we are not using that energy to develop ourselves. I will talk in a few slides about changing where we are directing our energy and how that helps us a lot in those types of situations. But if our relationships are not that bad, if our relationships are not draining us dry, and we do have a place where we can kind of have our sanctuary, our home, a space where we can separate from people for a while to be able to do our spiritual work, then we can also use the obligations of our ordinary life as a chance to develop our character.
Spiritual work is very difficult and requires a lot of strength of character, and a lot of willpower. We might need a break from people to really heal and to restore our energy. A healing retreat can be a way to do that. But if we go away on retreat for ten years and then we re-enter society, and we still have all the same problems that we left with, it is because we have not really changed.
That is why I advocate for a reciprocal notion of healing yourself, taking the time to do your spiritual work, and maybe that is in isolation, or maybe that is with a spiritual group, but also to not run away from the world and the duties that we have to be a good citizen.
Responsibility in Our Relationships
Gurdjieff gave a teaching about this that I would like to share. Gurdjieff was a teacher of western esoterism. He talks about the common man as a sort of archetype that many people look down upon. Here is exactly what he said:
People who are definitely thinking about [spiritual] ways, particularly people of intellectual ways, very often look down on the obyvatel [common man], and in general, despise the virtues of the [common man]. But they only show by this their own personal unsuitability for any [spiritual] way whatsoever. Because no [spiritual] way can begin from a level lower than the common man. This is very often lost sight of in people who are unable to organize their own personal lives. Those who are too weak to struggle with, and conquer life, dream of the [spiritual] ways, or what they consider are [spiritual] ways because they think it will be easier for them than life. And because this so to speak justifies their weakness and their adaptability, a man who can be a good [common man] is much more helpful from the point of view of the [spiritual] way than a tramp who thinks himself much higher than a [common man]. I call ‘tramps’ all the so-called intelligentsia-artists, poets, any kind of bohemian in general who despises the [common man], and at the same time who would be unable to exist without him. The ability to orientate oneself in life is a very useful quality from the point of view of the [spiritual] work. A good [common man] should be able to support at least twenty persons by his own labor. What is a man worth who is unable to do this? ―Gurdjieff, quoted in P. D. Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous
I was mentioning about people who look at spirituality as a way out of life and a way out of their problems rather than seeing that life and the problems that it presents to us, whether through our job, or our relationships, or our family, is actually the way into the spiritual world. The spiritual world is not somewhere floating outside of our world and we are trying to escape there, but rather that we are using the challenges of our life to be able to develop ourselves and our spiritual strength.
We see this echoed in another passage from the founder of this tradition, Samael Aun Weor, when he talks about the requisite, the requisite to become a spiritual initiate: a person who really is trying to transcend just the common man, the good ordinary common person that can contribute a lot to society. Not only can he or she care for their family and make a difference in the world in a small way, but make the sacrifice to perform a higher service.
To become an initiate is the ultimate sacrifice that a human can make. We can look at a person like Jesus or Buddha, prophets and saints who really gave their lives to God but also in service of humanity. Any person who gives their life to God but then runs away and escapes from society and never deals with people again is not really achieving the goal. The goal of developing spiritually is so that we have something to give back to the world. That takes a lot of preparation and a lot of work.
Just like if you wanted to become the best at a certain job like a doctor, you would have to study extensively. You would have to train and practice your skillset for years to become the best at that. For some reason, people think that being an initiate is different from that, that it is just innately, “I am better than other people and I am a spiritual person,” when really, the work of an initiate requires a lot of training, a lot of practice, a lot of self-reflection and knowledge over the years. That all begins with our current life, with our challenges, with our relationships most importantly, and having a mirror to look at ourselves.
He mentions that we need to become a good head of household. So even if we are not currently in a relationship, or the head of a family, how are we being a good head of household towards other people?
It is also important not to get too fanatic. We get excited about our spiritual life. We get excited about the journey that we are on, and then if we get fanatic, we try to force other people to be in a place where they are not. That can be harmful to our relationships and it can be harmful to other people.
The most important rule of white magic is that you respect the free will of others. You are not here to seek power to control other people, to get everything that you want from other people, but you are in this spiritual work to improve yourself, to benefit yourself, and then thereby to be a benefit to others because your level of being is always improving and elevating.
In the beginning, it can be hard to just establish the foundation in our physical life. Like I said, the aspiration we have to become an initiate might seem unrealistic from where we are sitting today, but all of that begins by gradually day by day reflecting on our lives, reflecting on the choices we are making, the relationships we have, the attitudes we have, and transforming that, transforming ourselves. Samael Aun Weor wrote:
The crude reality of facts demonstrates to us that many are those who have not comprehended the transcendence of the Gnostic esoteric work, and that great majorities are not good heads of households.
So if we find ourselves feeling a lot of anger or animosity towards people, if we find that we constantly struggle with wounded pride, like people are not respecting us enough, that is where we need to start, by converting ourselves, by changing those vices into virtues, and finding out:
“What is good in this person that I can really love, to transform this relationship?”
“How can I have humility with this person and compassion for this person?”
Or if it is a situation where the person is draining us, and it is not a good relationship, then:
“How do I develop the strength to stop this person, to remove myself, or to stand up for myself in a healthy way that does not allow the person to continue harming themselves and me through their wrong actions?”
We think of the spiritual path as a sort of vertical line through life, that one can go up spiritually, and that one can go down spiritually. While we are progressing through our physical life, which is the horizontal line of life, we are aging. We are maturing physically. We are developing.
But are we maturing and developing spiritually? Today if I am at one level of being―let's say, hopefully, I am a decent person, I am a good common woman―then ten years from now, will I have developed in my spiritual life? ― when I am at a higher level of being, when I am experiencing happiness and genuine love for others, strength of character, virtues, and able to live that in my life? Or ten years from now, will I be at a lower level of being where I am immeshed in suffering, where I have all kinds of attachments and desires to people or worldly situations that are never going to be fulfilled, and just cause me more pain by wanting them all the more?
It is good to reflect on why we are starting off with a good foundation, and also where do we intend to go. If we are only seeking worldly things, we may accumulate a lot physically in our life, but when we die, all of that is gone. If we are seeking spiritual development, then whatever we accumulate we will carry with us into future lifetimes. This is the goal and it is also the work.
The Three Tools of the Hermit
We aspire to become the initiate, the archetype that is represented in Arcanum 9 in the tarot, the Hermit. The Hermit encloses the secrets by which we can gradually become like that. Nothing in nature occurs overnight, so we should expect that just like with any other skill, or any other level of development, that it takes time and it takes effort. Meditation especially is a very important science for those who seek to really know and to understand themselves, and to change.
The three tools of the Hermit can give us a clue into what we are working toward, and also how to work toward it.
The first is the lamp of Trismegistus, which Eliphas Levi explains, “is reason illuminated by science.”
The second is the mantle, or the cloak of Apollonius, which is “full and complete self-possession.”
The third is the staff of the patriarchs. It is the “help of the secret and everlasting forces of nature.”
The Lamp of Wisdom
When we are working on this path, we need first to begin with the lamp of Trismegistus. That reason is related to our intellectual brain or ideas or understanding.
Do we have wisdom, or do we feel constantly confused and in ignorance?
The real illumination of our mind comes from divinity. So working with prayer, working with spiritual practice, working with meditation, is what is going to allow us to gain that lamp, that lantern, through which we are guided.
Most importantly of all, we are guided by our conscience, and if we ignore our conscience over years and years and years, that voice can become very silent. We need to work to reactivate that voice of the conscience, and spiritual practices and prayer are a great method to do that.
Really dedicating some time every day to divinity, towards your relationship with divinity through that practice and prayer, is really essential to reawaken our conscience. Then when we have our conscience awake, we allow that to be the light that guides us through life―to know what is right, to know when we need to end a relationship, or when we need to go and heal a relationship.
All of that comes from our conscience, and all of that can vary by situation. That is why no one can give you a one-size-fits-all. You know your relationship best of all. You know yourself, and you are the one that can meditate and have divinity guide you on what you should do in that relationship.
The Mantle of Prudence
The second tool that the Hermit has is the mantle or cloak. Eliphas Levi states that the mantle of Apollonius is “full and complete self-possession, which isolates the sage from blind tendencies.”
When we are controlled by our desires, we are blind, spiritually speaking, because those desires can guide us into all kinds of problems and difficult situations. We do not know how to get out of it because we are just driven by desire, and that is what keeps it spinning, keeps the cycle going, turns the wheel of suffering as we learn about in Buddhism.
To have full and complete self-possession is to not only not be controlled by other people, but most importantly, to not be controlled by our own desires. Perhaps someone comes along and they tempt me with a proposition. For example, they are going to give me a promotion at my job where I will have a lot more power, and a lot more money, but in order to get that promotion, they want me to manipulate or hurt someone else, maybe their enemy. Well, if I am driven by the desire for power and control, then I am going to give in to that demand. I am going to maybe get what I want materially, but lose something of extreme value to me spiritually.
If I am in full and complete self-possession, then no matter what temptation that person might offer to me, I follow the lamp of my conscience and I do what is right. That is a truly powerful person. That is a person who is not manipulated by their worldly desires and attachments. That person can not be controlled by anyone. They might be killed, dying for what they believe is right, but they have true power in that they are self-possessed.
That is really important in relationships because when we talk about that renunciation and the self-sacrifice that is necessary to have a really healthy spiritual relationship with someone, that is only possible if we also have this full and complete self-possession. As long as we want something from the other person, then we are at risk of being manipulated or falling into the trap of our own desire.
The Staff of the Patriarchs
The final one is the staff of the patriarch. In this teaching, we talk about the forces of nature, and how nature is constantly creating. We see cycles of birth, growth, maturity, decay, and death. Nature is always creating and destroying. In the same way, we have a force of creation within us, which is talked about in a lot of different lectures. But to summarize, our force of creation, to create life, is in our sexual energy. If we work with practices to redirect our sexual energy, inward, up the spinal column, and into the brain, this can illuminate us. This can re-establish our connection to divinity. That is the staff. The staff is the symbol, esoterically, of the spinal column. The magic wand of the magician is the spinal column.
When we have that help of those secret (because all of this knowledge has been occult for a long time), everlasting forces of nature, we develop true willpower. We develop a willpower that can stand against the world, even when the world is fighting very hard to force us to do what is wrong. If we think about where we direct our energy, a lot of energy is expended chasing desires. There is a certain amount of energy we have to expend every day for our physical life, to fulfill our duties and our obligations, to work at our job, or to go to school, or take care of our family, or our partner. That requires energy, but when there is no attachment there, when there is not a ton of egotistical desire that is craving, we are losing a lot less energy than would be normally expended.
For many people nowadays, our mind is always running, running, running, and our emotions are always being stimulated by one thing or another. That causes a lot of burnout and drain, where we have nothing left to give to our spiritual work. We sit to meditate and we are just exhausted. It is really important to look at the things that we really desire and to lay them on the altar before divinity, and give up our desire for those worldly things as the payment for the one pearl of great value, which is our soul.
If we really want to claim our spiritual development to the highest pitch, we can not have competing interests. We can not have a bunch of other things that we want along with it. Now that is the reality that we are at. We want a bunch of other things. We need to work on that over time. We need to look at what we want, and ask ourselves if it is really going to produce benefit.
If I have a lot of anger towards a certain person and “I really want revenge,” “I really want to hurt them,” and I continue to act on that for ten years, what is going to happen? What is going to be the outcome of acting on that desire? Well, a lot of pain for me, and for them, really nothing of spiritual benefit. In fact, a lot of spiritual detriment in this case.
But if I have a longing to become a better person, to do better in my job―because I have a job that is serving other people in one way or another, and I continue to invest in that longing, that natural longing of the soul over ten years―who will I become, and what will be the outcome?
So every day we can meditate on what we see in our day, what kind of emotions come up, what are we seeing in our relationships, and to reflect and ask ourselves from the point of view of our own conscience: is this really helping us on our spiritual journey, or is this harming us?
The Four Conditions to Attain the Holy Kingdom
In addition to these three tools, Eliphas Levi taught four conditions to attain the sanctum regnum, which is the holy kingdom, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven that exists within our physical life. That even within our physical life as we are moving along that horizontal line of existence, we can be also ascending into heavenly states of consciousness, increasing our wisdom, increasing our spiritual wakefulness, and our ability to see the truth of things, even spiritual powers.
The four conditions that Eliphas Levi teaches us help us to attain the knowledge and power of the magi. They are:
To know, to dare, to will, to keep silence; such are the four words of the magus inscribed upon the four symbolical forms of the sphinx. ―Eliphas Levi, Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual
“To know is an intelligence illuminated by study.” Not just study of books and scriptures which can be helpful, but especially study of ourselves, because that is how we can really transform. As much as we might believe or feel inspired by something that we read in a book, we will never really verify it unless it is something we ourselves have lived.
That is why the best way to study spiritually is to study each night by meditating on our day.
What did we see in ourselves?
What did we see in other people?
What suffering did we experience or what suffering did we witness?
What good deeds did we witness or do, and what were the effects of that?
That is where everything begins, and that is what re-awakens the heart and the conscience, and allows us to really change as a person in a positive direction. It is to not try to become a better person because we want more from the world, but to be less self-absorbed and therefore establish a greater character of the soul. It is to allow the soul to grow and thrive, instead of an egotistical sense of self.
The second, “To dare, which is an intrepidity which nothing can check.” So this does not mean to just argue with everyone and to be stubborn and never do what everybody else wants you to do. Sometimes that can actually be a big problem. What might be the right thing to do is to sacrifice what our pride wants, and to find a compromise, or to find a way to be agreeable with other people.
This type of daring that he is talking about is to dare to do what is right―to not be stopped by any kind of threat, temptation, or desire that we have from the world, but rather to have the courage to do what is right, to have the courage to sacrifice even some of our most longed-for dreams if we really come to understand that they are not going to produce real benefit for ourselves or for others.
We need a lot of willpower for that. “A will that can not be broken” is unified will. That is why we see again and again the symbol that the hermit renounced everything and only dedicates themselves to spiritual development. Because as long as we have our will going in fifteen different directions, then we are never going to really be able to advance consistently in the direction of spiritual development. We might take two steps in that direction and then one step on a side path, and then we will never really get to where we are trying to go. That will is really related to the power of the staff in the spinal column.
Finally “to keep silence” doesn't just mean to not talk about the things that we are experiencing, although sometimes it is very prudent to not talk about the things you are experiencing if other people are not going to understand, and it is not really going to benefit them. If we are just talking about what we are going through because we are excited about it and we want everyone to know what we are experiencing, then that can be a very harmful choice. Many initiates kept extreme silence and privacy in their lives even if they had worldly obligations that they were fulfilling, because they understood that talking about spiritual things with people who are not in the same place, or not interested, can create a lot of conflict, problems, and even persecution.
But importantly, this means “to keep silence” as an act of emotional and intellectual self-possession, to be able to be prudent and not be corrupted by things in the world, to not be intoxicated by our own desires or what other people might offer to us, but rather to always keep our heart and our mind focused on being a benefit to other people.
This is a constant process of renouncing―renouncing what we want every day for the benefit of someone else. That does not mean that we will never experience happiness, or that we will never have positive relationships where other people are admiring or loving us, but that we renounce the attachment to it so that if the person that loves us today, tomorrow says, “I hate you and I never want to see you again,” we allow that. We understand. We have the psychological hermitage, in which we can separate from the world and understand that everything in life is temporary. What is wonderful today could be bitter tomorrow. That is ok as long as we are learning from both of them and changing spiritually.
So to conclude I would like to take a look at these two archetypes here from the tarot. We have the Hermit, Arcanum 9, which we have been looking at, and we can see that he is a wise old man, wise with age. And on the left, we have a picture of the Fool, a young man.
Well, some of the key differences to reflect on here are first the lamp. The Fool has no lamp, and in fact, he is right on the edge of the cliff, because he is not illuminated by divinity, or by his own conscience. He could very easily fall to his death.
The Fool also carries a staff, but that staff has the baggage of the world: all of his attachments, all of his desires. Rather than supporting himself on the staff, the staff is weighing him down. He is carrying those desires with him and is setting off on a journey, but without a real understanding of where he is going.
Finally the clothing; we do not know what the Hermit is hiding underneath his cloak. He is prudent. He is keeping the mystery of his Being and his development hidden from the world, and doing that work in secret, whereas the Fool is showing off and wearing beautiful clothing, trying to make an impression with everybody with how great he is.
I say this as a warning, not just to reflect ― “Which one are we more like?” ― but also to understand there are people in the world who are on spiritual paths, but are the path of the Fool, spiritual paths that seek power and have a lot of worldly attachments and investment, people who will show off to try to gain followers.
If we are seeking that from our spiritual work, that we can become this beautiful figure with a lot of power to manipulate and control other people, and get what we want or gain worldly things, then that is considered black magic. That is considered using all the gifts and resources at our disposal, but doing something that is going to harm people, and in turn, will harm us.
Whereas, the Hermit is the path of white magic, the path that is not seeking to gain any glory or fame for himself, but is sacrificing everything, is renouncing everything psychologically in order to lean on the staff of divinity, to use all of the illumination and resources that we are given by divinity to walk the bitter, lonely path of spiritual development.
This path can produce the real lasting happiness of the soul. But if we ask ourselves: “Why is the Hermit in solitude?” ― it is because the spiritual work can be painful.
There are parts of us that do not want to give up the things which we cling to in our lives. Even if we recognize that when we die, we are going to lose all that anyway, something in us does not want to give it up, does not want to let it go. When the Hermit cuts away those attachments to the world, that can be a very painful process. The spiritual path can be very lonely, because even if you have relationships, you are always aware that your self-interest and your attachment to that person is of harm to them. You are always separating from that person to protect them, and also to protect yourself and your spiritual development. That can be a path of loneliness and solitude. But it is the path on which we can enter into a higher level of being. So that is where we all begin.
Questions and Answers
Question: Do you believe that the Hermit can have a healthy relationship and love?
Instructor: Yes, absolutely! I am glad you asked about that. So, we probably will have relationships in our life that are healthy, especially as we are changing. As we are becoming better people, we attract people towards us who might be resonating at that level. As we change our behaviors and start in healthier behaviors, we are going to be around other people who have those healthier behaviors, and that is good. That can really be of benefit to us in our life. But the question is, are we attached to that?
Because at any moment that could change, or that could be lost. Are we going to lose everything we have developed in our self as a result of losing that relationship? If we are really taking the benefit of the relationship and making sure that we are not developing a strong attachment, then we can take all of that with us throughout our life. But our own development, and our own character, can not be dependent on whether other people are treating us well or not.
Question: So for me to understand, basically the Hermit can enjoy love and relationships and marriage, but they see it as an experience that is an extension of their spiritual journey rather than an attachment of their desires?
Instructor: Yes. So a hermit can have relationships, but the question is: why are we in the relationship? Is it driven by, “I want to learn something for my own benefit,” or is it driven by, “I genuinely feel love for this person and want to care for them and be with them long term”?
Question: So it is servitude?
Instructor: Yeah. Real compassion though. That can be really tricky, because we find ourselves in a lot of situations where we think we are doing what is compassionate for people, but maybe we are being deceived by our own desire, or what we are doing is not actually for their benefit. But yes, a hermit can have relationships if that is what life brings us. If life is bringing us certain people, then we should try to figure out “Why is this person in my life? How can I be of service to them in a real way?” But never expect that that person is going to be there permanently.
Question: That picture of the hermit showing solitude, obviously, like to become brave from the rock in the way, and the light following his foot, keeps sustaining him. Would you say that is him at a high pitch?
Instructor: I would say that it is a symbol. So the fact that he is isolated, grey, and kind of turning off all of the desires―like the world can be very bright, can be very intoxicating, very tempting―but he is turning away from that. He is going into the night, and like you said, only carrying the lamp that guides him. The spiritual night is a pretty common story or allegory that we hear about where we have to go and look at the dark parts of our life, in order to get there.
I do not think that the Hermit is the end goal. I think that Christ is the end goal, right? ― a person who can really channel divinity and be a light in the world. But the Hermit is the starting point at the beginning of the path.
Question: You mentioned Gurdjieff and the harmonious development of man's relationship with developing the bodies, and how he professed to be interacting with the lower realms of society as a tool. He would say, to use that virtue to develop that permanent, divine “I.” But P. D. Ouspensky had all these lavish situations. So how would you relate that to developing sincerely amongst the lower realm, and wouldn't you need to surround yourself as Gurdjieff did with the highest intelligentsia or the highest pitch of people?
Instructor: Yeah, it is a really good question, because Gurdjieff is very controversial. I also think he was at a level past maybe the Hermit that we are trying to work through. So in order to get to the level where we can make those kinds of decisions, like what he made, we have a little bit more development to do. But I will say, like you mentioned, he hung out with people who were considered the lower echelon of society, and also did attract some prominent intellectual figures to him. That is because we do not have to discriminate on people based on their worldly situation, but really to see the heart of the person. If somebody is brought into our lives, and they can benefit from what we have to give, then it does not matter if they are poor or rich, or famous or infamous, but like you said, really focusing on what is the purpose of that relationship for my development, and for their development.
Question: You mentioned to attempt to conserve energy so that when at the end of the day we have sufficient energy to conduct our work. My question is, I am in construction. I went through a stage of sitting to meditate, and struggling within fifteen to twenty minutes. This occurred for many months. What can I do to get through this obstacle?
Instructor: Yeah. So if you are feeling physical discomfort when you are sitting to meditate, lie down. Lie down in a posture on your back that will help you to stay awake, because meditation is really essential. We should be trying to do it every day in one way or another. But if we are feeling a lot of physical pain, that can be a big obstacle.
So as well, if you are working a very difficult physical job and you are feeling drained by that, maybe do some meditation in the morning instead of waiting until the evening. Physical labor certainly can drain a lot of energy, but also pay attention to your emotional and intellectual energy, and how you are spending that in the time that you are not at work. Find ways to balance, to rest physically, but also to continue to develop your heart and your intellect through some kind of esoteric practices or studies.
Comment: This is not really a question, but this has been incredibly validating. I had no idea what this was even about, even with the discussion on meditation and spirituality. I am literally separating from my husband and moving to a city that I do not know as a way of healing and exploration, and it feels really transformative in a way that I have never really felt before, and feels like this is part of the journey of my life that I need to do. I do meditate on a regular basis, I have done Vipassana meditation retreats, and I want to make sure I am not speaking from a place of ego, but it is about piecing all of this together. Everything you are saying just makes a lot of sense in terms of being able to conserve your energy and pull yourself from relationships. I have just recently connected to my family in a way because I was separate from them, but now I am able to connect with them in a way that has boundaries, and still confronting a lot of fear and confusion in terms of what to do. But in terms of the divinity, all of this journey has made me not necessarily atheist ― it is atheist, that is kind of what I have been claiming, but not so much atheism as much as just wiping the slate clean in terms of what I believe to get to that place of understanding.
Instructor: So instead of carrying any beliefs with you, you are trying to know for yourself what is the truth. That can be a good starting point.
Comment: So we will just see… I am literally doing this in about two weeks!
Instructor: Yeah! Well, good luck, and meditate on what you have learned. Meditate on your relationships. Even if they are behind you, there is a chance to learn.
Comment: But it is about creating new relationships with people, but not doing it in a way of like separating yourself and doing this in a way that's self possessed, but not isolating.
Instructor: Yeah. You are finding ways to intentionally and consciously create new connections with family or other relationships that are healthy. We have to do that in small doses because if we try to make a massive change right away, everybody is going to resist that. But be intentional about your relationship and to reflect on “why did I end this relationship before?” ― or maybe you did not have a choice, and “How do I want this relationship to go? What actions do I need to be taking that are going to make it a healthy relationship?” If we were contributing in a way to make it toxic, then we have an opportunity to change. Thanks for sharing!
Question: How come the Fool is Arcanum 21?
Instructor: In the Gnostic tarot deck that we use [The Eternal Tarot from Glorian Publishing], which is different from the one that I was showing here in the PowerPoint, the Fool is Arcanum 21, also known as Transmutation. The reason that it is right before Arcanum 22, the completion of the work, is because all of us experience an extreme ordeal right before we reach the end. This is an opportunity to fall back into all of the temptations that we have overcome along the way, or to triumph and to reach the end of the work, to finish the self-perfection. 21 is also synthesized to 3, and we see in initiation, the Arcanum of the Hermit, the 9, which is 3 x 3. So you should also study about the three brains, and conquering those three brains, if you want to understand the Fool.
Question: Is this the three brains that Gurdjieff talked about, or the subconscious, unconscious, and infraconsciousness?
Instructor: The three brains that Gurdjieff talked about: the intellectual center related with the physical brain, the emotional center or emotional brain in the heart, and then the motor-instinctive-sexual center related with the body as well.
Question: In initiating our hermit journey, what would be some tools in order to have an understanding to make connections, to get the information to continue the journey? What are some recommendations?
Instructor: Well, the most important tools are going to be our spiritual practice. In this tradition, we use these three forces for the transformation of consciousness.
The first is death and that comes through meditation. Death is the practice through which we look at what is causing our suffering, and that is meditating everyday on what you are seeing in yourself and your life.
The second is birth, which relates to pranayama for single people, transmuting your sexual energy and conserving that force in a way that allows you to awaken spiritually and to change.
The third force is sacrifice, which means in our physical life, we see a way that we can do something good, something of really profound service for others. While we know in our conscience that this is right (but it is very difficult and it is something that we think, “Oh yeah, but I could also just not bother doing that”), we still take the action to do that.
If we are working with those three together: meditation, transmutation, and sacrifice, we can advance very quickly and learn a lot. But of course, scriptures have a lot of veiled symbols that teach this path, and in our tradition, we have several books like the one you have there [Tarot and Kabbalah], which start to unveil the secrets of the path. So if you are studying that closely, it should open and unlock many other scriptures from a variety of different world religions and traditions. You will see them referenced there. But you will also understand the symbols and world religions in a different way. So that is the study of the initiate: to really understand the ancient science of spiritual transformation.
Question: I have a friend who I have known for almost fifteen years. We entered Gnosis about the same time, but over the last year or so she has slowly left the path, secured a job, bought a home, and found love. It seems everything fell together for her when she left. Do certain karmic laws apply to people devoted to the path that are different to those who are not? Also, I do not know how to reconcile our relationship now that our purpose in life is so different as I do not want to hurt her. Thank you!
Instructor: Yes, there are two laws when it comes to karma. There is a superior law of karma for initiates and that law is more severe. So if you are entering into the spiritual work, you can be subjected to very difficult ordeals because they are going to advance you. You can suffer the consequences of harmful actions from past lives very early on in your life if that is what is required to help you to develop spiritually.
For people who are not interested in spiritual development, they will still have to suffer the same kind of karma for their actions, but it might come in a different way. They might get a period of bliss or material happiness only to find suffering later on.
So the law of karma, which is action and consequence, cause and effect, applies to everyone, but for initiates it is going to be more challenging early on because you need those ordeals to be able to really develop the strength of character for the spiritual work. It is a tremendous sacrifice to do the spiritual work, and so we have to go through that early on.
In terms of the second part of the question, about how do we relate to someone when now our interests in life are very different, we have to take our self-interest out of it and find a way to still be a good caring friend to that person. But yeah, we might not be spending as much time with them. It might be naturally that people grow apart, and we can accept that. But the times we are with that person, we should, as much as we might want to talk about what we are into, and where we are at, we might need to sacrifice that to find a way to be a benefit to the other person.
Question: Let us say that you are experiencing some karma and it is physical pain. Should you seek ways to alleviate that pain or should you just endure it?
Instructor: That is a good question. I would say, do not suffer needlessly, but at the same time be careful, because if the method to get rid of physical pain, for example, is using some kind of very addictive drug, then that could really have a significant impact on your life, and ten years from now, your life could be in a very bad place. So it is important to seek some kind of alleviation of physical pain.
Question: If you alleviate the pain, is it just going to extend the karma?
Instructor: Yeah. Ok, so if I have a headache and I take a Tylenol, does that mean, “Oh no! I still owe karma?” Well, now you owe karma for taking the Tylenol, right? So yeah, every action is going to have an effect. So I guess you have to trust your own instinct on that, but to just suffer needlessly, like some priests used to self-flagellate themselves and hurt themselves, that is not going to be helpful for spiritual development.
Sometimes karma, experiencing physical pain, can be a way to pay karma and could be a benefit. Sometimes pain teaches us more than pleasure. But do not allow yourself to just kind of like beat yourself up with it, I guess is what I am getting at. If there is a simple way to get out of that, and then you use the benefit of not being in pain to do more good deeds, then that might be expedient. I guess it depends on the situation.
Question: How does your vocation and calling in life relate to the Hermit?
Instructor: Well, our vocation could be circumstantial, that it is just a matter of where we happened to end up as a result of our previous actions. But the vocation as well could be related with our own idiosyncrasy of our spirit.
Divinity has its own character and has ways that it can serve on a profound level. You can look at the music of Beethoven, the art of Michelangelo. You could say that their spirit was very well developed and very awake, and was bringing through their vocation a lot of benefit to humanity. So in our vocation if it is circumstantial, it is not really what we are passionate about, or what is resonating with us on a spiritual level, then our vocation is a great way to serve, and to begin changing as a person.
If we are changing through our job, and we are becoming of more benefit to people in whatever way that we are serving them (because every job can serve people), then that is going to radically transform us, and when we change internally, the external life will change. As we learn about ourselves through becoming better people in our vocation, then we might get a better sense of how we could be of more service and find that spiritual vocation that we are seeking.
Question: What are some helpful advice to completely transmute a bad relationship into a good one when both persons really do not like each other? What is the best thing to do?
Instructor: [Laughter from audience] Yeah! I guess the question there is, first, what do you want from the relationship that you are going to really be attached to transforming that relationship? Sometimes you have to let a relationship go if it is not of benefit. But if it is a relationship where two people do not really like each other, but there is some kind of real love there that connected them as friends, or family, or whatever, then I would say to study that part of yourself that is real love for that person. By reflecting on that and strengthening that, rather than strengthening your resentment and blaming the other person, that is going to really change your behavior.
There is a simple technique in psychology from the REBT approach, which is the ABC's. So when you want to reflect on yourself and your relationship to this person, you can look at it through ABC.
A is the activating event, which is whatever that person did, or whatever happened in the environment that produced a reaction in you, that activated your emotions.
B is your belief. What belief did you have about what that person did? So if that person maybe took the last soda in the fridge, is it your belief they did that on purpose because they did not want you to have that soda? Or is your belief, “Oh, they were just thirsty and it just happened to be the last one.” That can make a really big difference. How do we interpret the other persons actions? We should always recognize that our belief is just that―it is only a belief. It is not the truth of the situation. It is just our belief our interpretation.
The C is the consequence. What did we do? What actions, feelings, or behaviors did we have as a result of what we believed about the situation? If we are able to change our belief about the other person or their intentions, how would that change the consequence? How would that change our reaction? That is a really simple technique that you can use to reflect on things.
Question: I have always been on an experiential journey, and I thought that I worked a lot on getting rid of attachments, desires, and things like that, that were conscious within me, as far as just things that might be conceived as negative by others, like actually trying to work on getting rid of those desires. But what I found out in my ten years of marriage in that I am currently separated―we still live with each other, and we still love each other, but we are working on our issues―what I found out is that my desires came from a subconscious place which were actually from my childhood. I lost my mother when I was younger, and I had a very tough childhood, so basically my desires were not a negative thing. It wasn't coming from that place. It was coming from more of a place that wasn't healed from within me. Is that also sometimes what those desires can be?
Instructor: Yeah, so that is a really good point. So we are talking about two different levels here. So there is the mundane basic human needs that we need, and especially when we are children, and we are very vulnerable. There are a lot of the conflicts in our relationships when we are adults that come from unresolved trauma from our childhood.
So what I am talking about in the lecture about the Hermit is kind of a level above that, when we have already established basic mental health. But yes, so if we have conflict, deep rooted traumas, or needs that were not met when we were children, then that unresolved and unconscious pain within our selves can lead to painful cycles in our adult relationships. That is why reflecting on oneself you are going to see that. You are going to understand things about yourself that you did not see before.
So the ignorance of the Fool, the young man, kind of rushing into things, that is youth, right? Maturity is when we have understood something about ourselves and what was driving us. Maybe it is a natural need like we were neglected and we need love. Somebody comes along that can offer that to us. When we understand that and we are no longer attached to it, because we have seen that from a mature place, then we are able to have a healthy relationship. When we are just unconscious, we do not have that illumination, where blind tendencies all over the place are coming out. That is when we can have a lot of problems in our relationships even when there is love there, even when there is something really good there.
Comment: That is exactly what happened. I basically took my emotional needs. I did not even know I was doing this and this is my awakening. I am going into the next level of my awakening with this. I was the Fool in that marriage, blissfully in love, but I was putting emotional burdens on him to be a fulfiller of love. He also kind of triggered some fears of abandonment, because he really loved to go out a lot with his guy friends. So when I was alone, I took that as rejection or fear of abandonment, and then basically I just did not know that was within me. Now I am healing it and I am working on that, and now I feel like I am in this transition basically. It just takes that awakening to realize that and then you can move forward, but I never thought of desire as being also coming from a very innocent place too. Like you just needed desire to be loved, or to nurture some old wound or something.
Instructor: Yeah, it is a common experience.
Comment: Yeah. He fulfilled the need for a long time, but then he was like, “OK, this is too much. I need to focus on myself.”
Instructor: That is what is really important too, because in our spiritual immaturity, that is where we are at. We are still seeing things from the world and from other people, our basic needs. We are like infants. We do not have anything. To get to the point where we are totally reliant on God, divinity, is a process. It is not going to happen overnight, but sometimes that means that when we bring something to light―if you do not mind me to use your example―so you have recognized in that relationship, “Oh, what I was actually doing was I felt this unfulfilled need, that I need that love and attention all the time,” and it became a burden. So when you become aware of that, it is not easy to let go of that need. It is still there, but maybe you are sitting at home and you are praying and you are renouncing that desire to get what you want, to give your partner the chance to get what he needs―maybe that is some time out with friends or whatever―that is where we start to move our center out from the world and into divinity. We are redirecting that energy that wants to claim something from the outer world and we are sacrificing it. It is painful, and that is the solitude. That is the loneliness. So it is a really powerful example and very common, unfortunately.
Question: How do you detach yourself from your own desires?
Instructor: Well, I was just talking about that. First you have to see it. First you have to see what you really desire. A lot of us on a conscious level just think, “Oh, well, I am doing the right thing. I am doing what is good. I have totally altruistic motivations for what I am doing,” and we have to be really sincere with ourselves and dig a little deeper, and really dig into what actually is driving this behavior. Sometimes it is painful to recognize that it might be something selfish. Something that is normal in a child, like the longing for affection, but when we become adults and we have to stand on our own, we have to renounce the ways of the child. That can be painful. So it is a process.
Question: Should we make time daily to exercise the body? Does this take away from our energy or the spiritual path of meditation?
Instructor: If you are the person working in construction, then you are probably getting enough exercise. But yeah, if you are in a job where you are not getting a lot of physical exercise, then yes, it is important to take care of our physical body, absolutely. Health is holistic. It happens physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. So taking care of your physical body can be important, but do not over do it. Do not overexert yourself to the point where you are exhausted, and recognize if what is driving you to take care of yourself is really because you want to be healthy, or if it is vanity, because sometimes we have other intentions when we are working out.
Comment: I actually have something that might be semi-relevant from school. Some forms of exercise such as Tai Chi and Qigong, those exercise the body, movement, flexibility, and those things, but are benefiting the body by building energy, depending on which organs you are doing the benefits for. This can actually help to support meditation, spiritually practicing with that type of energy. So they might want to look into something along those lines.
Instructor: That is a good idea. So if you really want to take care of your physical body, Tai Chi, Qigong, the Gnostic runes, the Gnostic rites for rejuvenation, which we have on the website as well, those can be really good ways to do that and awaken yourself spiritually at the same time.
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