I used to be afraid that deliberately entering into a spiritual practice would lead to the end of my individuality. But the opposite is the case.
Union and higher purpose — a sends of the ultimate universality of all true Law, of Love, and of Life — actually free us up to be ourselves. That is, I am, for example, happier to be a white man, an American, of such and such means and such and such abilities, than I ever was back when I insisted with much more pained stridency in the special uniqueness of my own soul.
A paradox. Not am I more happy to accept what is good about my particular situation (I am happy to note the accomplishments and great qualities of my ancestors and my native culture, for example); but I also am more happy to notice and admit to my failings.
I don’t just mean my spiritual failings (indeed these, I probably vastly under-rate… if I rated them as serious as they deserve, they might well be much lesser failings). But I am talking here instead about my limitations as a physical being — my particular mental deficiencies, my physical deficiencies, the diseases that run in my family, etc. I have much less of a feeling of “Why meeeee?” when I dwell on the problems that beset me (such as they are).
It might be overstating it to claim I don’t feel bothered at all by my various (small) pieces of bad luck. But I can say in all honesty that I am perfectly capable of feeling cheerful about my own problems in a way that I never was before. The only sense of cheer I could get before out of a bad situation was a kind of bitter ironic humor. This might have its place sometimes, but unless leavened with real joy, I find we’re left with a hard puck of … bitter irony. Sometimes, nowadays, I manage the joy without any bitterness or irony at all! (Please don’t ask me to demonstrate this on spot-request… I might still be brimming over with resentment on any given day!)
When I think about my good particularities and my bad particularities, I can see how I fit into the bigger picture (at least to a degree I can see it… if I can’t see all the specifics at least I get the feeling, I grasp the concept of fitting into a bigger picture).
It’s ok to be just little old me, because I know that’s just one sliver of what is going on in the universe, and I know that I’m a fully integrated part of that greater whole. I do not need to contain multitudes because I am a part of a much, much greater whole, and entire creation of meaning.
The opposite feeling, a feeling of alienation, leads one to reject specificity. Cultural specificity, the burden of family history, the peculiarity of one’s hometown: all this becomes unbearable restricting.
The alienated soul feels an intense desire to burst out of its bonds. Everything specific, most especially those things which come closest to home (one’s own family, history, religion) is like a tie that binds. The alienated soul still dimly senses that there is something very powerful within — a great soul yearning for fulfillment — and so interprets the given world as a horrible prison to be rejected and thrown off. The alienated soul will become a god-man, it declares. “I shall contain all possibilities”
It ends, of course, by containing none… ends in nothingness, and a total lack of personality.