Way, way back in the early days of my time on the internet (ca. 1994-95), I had the good luck to stumble into a dream interpretation community. It was a simple affair. Every cycle (I can’t recall how long that was, maybe a month or so?), everyone in the group would send in a dream they wanted to work on. The organizer would choose one or two (at random or by design, I can’t recall), and then the whole group would go at the dreams.
The person whose dream was being interpreted would sort of be on the hot seat, responding to what people were saying and sharing what was coming up for them. There was a simple protocol. If some part of the dream spoke to you, you would say so and how, with a simple qualifier, “If this were my dream…” You didn’t address other people’s interpretations and you didn’t argue with the dreamer.
From there it was basically good old-fashioned civility. Go slow, give the person time to respond to what others are saying, don’t dogpile.
It was very elegant. When your dream wasn’t being discussed, you were thinking about how to interpret your own dreams. At the same time, you were developing your own dreaming vocabulary through the as-if-it-were-my-dream approach. When your dream was being discussed, that dynamic was flipped a bit and you found yourself exploring the ways in which something very personal could nonetheless speak to others and discovering that it could illuminate your own understanding.
At no point was anyone ever expected to agree with someone about what they saw or felt. That freedom is precisely what gave the whole process weight because it helped liberate the work of understanding from the personal desire to be right. It was meant as an aid to an otherwise personal undertaking, no more or less.
That basic structure remains one of my ideals and my appreciation for the misa of espiritismo owes something to the way in which it parallels that. The problem with the model is that it can succumb to charisma. In less spiritually freighted environments, a particularly appealing person can distort the work toward their own agenda, but in its more spiritual expressions charisma in its traditional meaning comes to the fore.
Charisms, as the gifts of the spirit, represent a profound threat to egalitarian communities like this. Those people who can maifest dramatic spirits, engage in prognostication, or heal people, can come to dominate the work and push out the personal spiritual work which requires positioning yourself at the margin of visible and invisible and negotiating your specific place there. That work unfolds over the course of a lifetime and its endpoint comes only with the disappearance of the visible into the invisible, in death.
The dramatic moments of the work are part of that, but they aren’t its raison d’etre. They have to be dealt with in that light, as valuable but not central. Once they become central, the people who come together no longer come together to do their work, they come to replace their work with something else. Worse, they tend to see themselves as having no real place in the work because their work doesn’t look like the dramatic show going on.
What a person ought to find in the work is something akin to what went on in that dreamworking. They should find in their own being gifts that they can manifest, learn to see how diverse those gifts can be, and discover how they intertwine with those of others to yield greater blessings. They should find their own being mingling with that of the world, because that is one of the boundaries of visible and invisible.
The irony, then, is that a spirit work that focuses too much on working spirits ceases to be spiritual work. Spirit work should take us closer to the world of spirit, to the world that does not operate according to our visible world demands. It should undermine our ego demands and open us to a wider engagement. A constant focus on making spirits make our life easier? Well, that goes in pretty much the opposite direction.
Moving toward that as a spiritual ideal also means moving toward an open conception of spiritual engagement, where the question becomes one of finding the place and people with whom this or that dimension of your spiritual being becomes clear and firm. That tends to develop best when one’s spiritual life unfolds under a common ‘aesthetic’ capable of being developed in disparate directions.
It becomes a question of identifying and cultivating a spiritual taste, a sensibility, capable of confronting the disparate spiritual challenges that compose your life. Ideally, that taste is embodied in a disparate community of individuals who have each developed that sensibility according to the demands of their being, such that you have before you a range of exemplars who express the diversity of spiritual potentials.
It doesn’t hurt that at the level of style and taste we are already approaching the horizon of the invisible, departing from the specifics that a style aids us in organizing and moving toward a more fundamental sense of what defines that organization. In the same way that style is plastic, capable of being informed by other styles, so too is a spiritual sensibility capable of undergoing alteration.
And as with learning to understand a dream, it develops alongside the concrete details to which it is applied, the details of a life that naturally overflows and mingles without shame with those of other lives.
It may also be one of the reasons why art has been so instrumental in the development of occultism, because with art the emphasis on affect subverts the drive to work spirit toward practical ends.