Cultivating a Skeptical Mind


Cultivating a Skeptical Mind

Craig Mallett


Despite diving quite deeply into an esoteric tradition of spiritual cultivation, I was and still am a very skeptical person by nature. If someone talks to me toting stories about enlightenment and energetic prowess, I’m even now usually inclined towards doubt, or at the very least to see it as just a story someone has told me rather than coming to a position of it being true or not. It used to be that this doubt was born of a firm belief in the esoteric being all bogus and make believe. I was of a reasonably agnostic or even athiestic mindset not too many years ago. I gave up my athiesm not because someone presented me such a compelling argument that I changed my position, but rather because I had certain experiences that rattled those conclusions apart. I am still skeptical, but for very different reasons now than I was back then.

When I talk to some (most) people about these arts, I see a very common trend: people believe the conclusions that their mind came to about an experience they had, or that someone else just told them. The study of Shen Gong, the understanding of the mind, is a crucial ingredient in untangling this mess. We must be confronted with the fact that the mind can and does make a whole bunch of stuff up all the time, and constantly comes to bogus conclusions about things. These conclusions hold no reality in themselves (and yes, I’m aware of the irony of coming to this conclusion – enter the cosmic sense of humour!). They can be interesting to entertain to certain ends or for specific tasks, but otherwise they will come and go like the wind, so why do we lend these mental constructs so much weight?

The key point is not to change the polarity of the conclusion, but rather to let go of the certainty of the conclusion, and come to a point of skepticism about all the conclusions we make. From this point of view, the people who are militaristically athiestic are basically the same as the people who are absolutely certain they are correct about energy or spirits or whatever. They have basically landed on some conclusion about how it is, and then a bunch of mentation has extended this conclusion in all kinds of strange ways.

Let’s take a look at these two polarized view points in an example that I have a reasonable amount of experience with: traditional energetic treatments. You may or may not know that I treat people regularly using a traditional mode of healing that involves little or no contact with the patient, and a manipulation of what you may call ‘energy’. If you’re of the spiritual inclination, you may be inclined to go “oh it’s like reiki!”, but it’s absolutely not like reiki except at the most vague conceptual level – more on that in the next article. Or you may already be going “it’s bullshit and doesn’t work”, which is probably a fair enough conclusion at this point. Either way, there is a person with some kind of complaint, and I lay a hand on them or stand near them or sit in my room and connect with them at a distance. I follow the steps I was taught for how to do this in my tradition, I do my thing and then the treatment is done.

During the treatment, my reality is that I feel certain things – sometimes tingling, buzzing, pressure, heat, coolness. It can feel like my hand is pushing through it or grasping it. There’s plenty of possibilities. My mind is often also presenting a stack of concepts and images to me, sometimes really fantastical (usually if I’ve been reading a good fantasy book or watching GoT), and sometimes just plain impressions of “it being stuck” or something like this. After the treatment when we sometimes have a little chat, I can have an impression that I have to say certain things, or not. For me, there is no more reality to this situation than the fact that I perceived these things. My mind often draws conclusions, “oh that was a blockage in this part that was obviously because they were traumatized by their uncle when they were younger”, but these conclusions are not the reality of what happened. They are just thoughts I perceive, content of my mind, created by my mind with my personal filters.

I have had very spiritually inclined people tell me that my treatments induced some experience of their past lives being healed and me taking them into alternate dimensions and repairing deep wounds. It’s a cool interpretation, but from my perspective it’s not reality, but rather a mental conclusion about whatever changed filtered through that person’s particular history. Often in these moments, my experience was that I was just standing there feeling some nice tingles.

I have also had very closed, ultra skeptical athiestic people who start the session telling me they absolutely don’t believe in this kind of thing. Once the treatment starts they have full on physical twitches and spasms, obvious changes in breathing and physical tension patterns, all from me standing beside them and making a few subjective connections and not at all touching them or doing any physical actions. Some even come out of the treatment saying they didn’t feel anything, and walk away with a completely changed gate and haven’t noticed that they are not in pain anymore. 

The skepticism I am talking about is not at all directed towards whether each person perceived “correctly” or not, but rather towards their mental conclusion about the things they perceived. If a person tells me they saw an egyptian baby having wounds healed and it felt like they were the baby, then it might well be what they perceived. The skepticism is towards the part that follows: “therefore you obviously healed my past life trauma”. What if your mind just presented that image to you to try and make sense of something that was a bit beyond its understanding and it had nothing to do with past lives?

Or in the inverse, the disbeliever may well have felt nothing for whatever reason, which is fine, but their conclusion that “because I didn’t perceive anything, nothing useful happened” is what I find bogus. Maybe, or maybe not. I honestly don’t care what ‘actually’ happened, I’m more interested to see if the person has an improvement or at least some change in the condition they came to me for help with, and for this we have to just wait and see how they go in the next few days or weeks.

When I first started learning this mode of treating, I almost fried my rational mind trying to ‘work it out’. I pushed myself to a kind of rational burn out, and at one point gave up about whether what was happening was true or just in my imagination. Interestingly, the moment I stopped trying to conclude one way or the other, everything worked way more potently. People started reporting back changes that shouldn’t have been rationally possible. My patients are constantly asking me what I did, and the honest answer is “I did a thing and some stuff might have changed or not, who knows really”. The more I’m honest with myself about not really knowing, the better it works. There is a practical need to have some ‘working conclusions’ at any point in time, but these can and often do evolve depending on the context.

All the best practitioners of the esoteric arts that I know are clearly aware of this, they have a confidence born of experience of their art, but also a kind of sincerity that’s usually presented in the guise of ‘let’s just see how it goes’ rather than giving fantastical explanations for stuff. They tend to focus much more on making sure the process is good rather than the haming up an explanation of the results of the process. The more we dive into the esoteric arts, the more we need really concrete results, a kind of proof that what we think changed actually changed. We must disregard our mind’s bogus conclusions about what changed and look directly.

The strength of a serious magical practice is that the results of work on the subtle world are concrete! If the effects are invisible then it is NOT magic but only fantasy.
~Master Serge Augier

Sometimes the fantastical explanation can help soothe an anxious mind, but for the most part if I see esoteric practitioners pushing these explanations then it’s a big red flag for me. I recall a really great online seminar my teacher was running on meditation, and someone chimed in with a question about their experience, which had something to do with some kind of magical experience meeting a deity who told them something important or other. My teacher, in his awesome bluntness, responded and said “yeah you had a nap, it’s not the point of the exercise” and proceeded to double down on what the process we were learning was actually about.

This kind of skepticism is crucial to develop if you are heading into the esoteric realms, or even just to navigate the modern world of fake news. The deeper you go, the more brutally honest it must be. Land as often as you can on the “I don’t actually know” conclusion and you’ll be better off.



[Feature photo by Mark Arron Smith via pexels ]


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