Wrestling with the Angel

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 15 of 17 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: I think I agree with what everyone said, and there’s also a thing about worrying about losing something. That I’ve had this and I know if I don’t do something I’m going to lose it. I think that the intellect might not understand what happened yet, might not fully understand it, and may never fully understand it.

CTT: I know your intellect probably wants to understand it. And it may understand it more and more over time. But what you really needed to get out of the experience, you’ve probably already gotten out of the experience. Your intellect may not understand what it was and what you got out of it, but I’m sure that you’ve been changed and educated by that experience in a way which is irreversible and which you can never lose.

Student: You know, the irreversible nature, too, I think can actually introduce an idea of trauma into the experience too, because we can’t be the way we were before.

Student: Yeah, it’s a pretty significant thing. For example, I have a lot of stuff left over from my childhood that would be cool if it could be resolved quicker, but it takes quite a lot of effort. It’s taken quite a lot of effort to change the way that’s affected me.

CTT: This is a significant experience, so it’s not like over time it’s going to fade and it won’t affect you anymore. It will continue to affect you, because it’s like a trauma. It’s not really a trauma, but it’s a significant life experience.

Student: You say your intellect might not figure it out, or whatever. It seems like the intellect’s job is to incorporate the wisdom into the world view, or something like that.

Student: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Student: And it will do that without conscious effort anyway. It will seek to do that without so much energy.

Student: Well, I don’t know if that’s true. I think a lot of people will have an experience, like, see a ghost or something, and then just be like, “Oh, no. It didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean anything.” You know?

Student: Yeah. I know what you mean.

Student: You know. I’m just talkin’ here, but…

Student: I think William is scared to know yet. But it is harsh when you have an experience like that, and then you’re told to just experience it then forget about it, move on, you know? Because it’s massive, right? And it’s going to….

I’ve experienced it that way. I had an experience and I spoke to a spiritual director about it. She told me that I was… she basically had a go at me, and was really angry and aggressive.

CTT: She was angry because you…?

Student: She said I shouldn’t talk about those things. Basically what she did is she started saying, “You can’t have experienced that. You’d be a saint.”

And I said, “I’m not a saint, and I did experience it.”

And she said, “Well, you don’t walk like a saint.”

And I was, like, “Well, I’m not a saint.” And this conversation progressed with her telling me all the ways that I didn’t behave like a saint, and me saying well, I’m not a saint. And finally I wondered when she was going to just have a conversation with me about my experience.


And now coming here, and seeing the way the people are here, and the way the professors are, and the whole training and spiritual guidance, I’m like, “Wow. She’s completely off the end of the scale from a well-trained spiritual adviser.”

CTT: Yes. See, if you’re in a particular spiritual system that’s got hundreds or thousands of years of tradition behind it, they may have pretty specific rules on how to handle particular kinds of experiences. Whereas here at ITP, we’re new. Thirty, thirty-five years old for the whole field. We’ve got a little bit of this, a little bit of that; a dash of this, a dash of that. And we’re trying to create something new.

Student: Yeah. You’re dangerous.

CTT: And we’re dangerous? Yeah, I think we’re dangerous!


CTT: Good.

Student: And I think that’s really awesome because, for me, when I’ve had experiences like that – when it’s still affecting me and I’m tryin’ to sort of latch onto what happened, I like to pull from different kinds of methods. I’ll run through a bunch of different creative methods, through writing, dancing, through art. Then I’ll just intellectualize everything, going through the theories, you know? And then talk to other people about it and see what they think.

So I think there is a benefit in working it through, working it through your system. So that once you’re actually tired of it, you can put it down and then put it away for now, until it comes up again.

Student: There’s also a benefit in not doing anything at all about it for a long time, or a little time. Just relax for a minute.

CTT: So you see we’re advocating a very big container to work with the experience in, and that’s an appropriate thing to do here. We don’t have some small traditional container that we’re going to force it into, no matter what. And that’s good.

I want to make a process comment. I think we’ve been very good about staying pretty grounded in the present tonight, and I haven’t been giving any reminders to sense, look and listen. But I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the discussion. So I want to thank all you people for staying present and real. That’s kind of nice.

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