Jed McKenna is a fascinating creation. If you get his newsletters, you know Robert Scheinfeld recommends his book, Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing, when he recommends almost no one else. Yet if you read him or know someone who has, you know about what a strong reaction – often negative – he gives. I must confess that after being in Phase 2 for over a year and a half I don’t find much motivation to read self help or new age books. They seem silly, like trying to learn how to count when you already know algebra. Every now and then one offers a piece of the truth, but mostly they are forgettable teflon ideas that have no bearing on the truth that I directly experience. They slide right away but Jed McKenna sticks.
If you’ve read Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing, you may be inclined to agree with the title. Friends who’ve read it have either rejected it out right, like there was so much falsehood they had to vomit his theories and purge the poison, or they’ve been driven slowly mad, like they were afflicted with a mind virus that threatened to destroy everything the cared about, loved, or truly knew. In fact, I experienced firsthand the latter. The feeling was not unlike falling down the proverbial (Is Alice and Wonderland a book of proverbs? hmm) rabbit hole. Yes the stakes feel that high.
So what’s the big deal with Jed Mckenna? Potentially everything. And if you haven’t read his book, I’ll touch on a few concepts he outlines but this isn’t a review. In fact, if you haven’t read his book I strongly recommend it but not for the reasons you may think.
For the sake of argument, if we assume a dialectical (that is, opposing but ultimately cross-fertilizing) relationship between McKenna and Scheinfeld then they both have a say in the subject called non-dualism.
What is Non-Dualism?
The highest form of spirituality (that is the one that is closest to the truth) is called non-dualism. Put simply, it is the embracing of the oneness of the universe. Chances are that unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (or reading your Bible to the exclusion of everything else) you are familiar with this concept. We are all one. Yes, that means you and that bastard who cut you off. Yes it means you and the parent who didn’t love you. Yes that means you and Hitler and all the terrorists who make the world a living hell.
You can see already that it is near impossible to assume the perspective of one-ness in every day life. However, this is what Jed McKenna calls enlightenment. He defines it as “abiding non-dual awareness.” So enlightenment for him is sitting back from the drama of life constantly and appreciating the experience of it. This conforms perfectly to the Busting Loose model outline by Scheinfeld, who claims that Busting Loose is about living in true joy while experiencing that range from good to bad. I haven’t asked him, but I assume if you were to ask Scheinfeld he would agree that both mean the same thing. These models are – and watch out the words get tricky – dualistic interpretations of non-duality.
Ok let me explain that one a little bit. The problem with understanding through human thought and language the idea of non-dualism is that human thought and language are fundamentally dualistic. Go right ahead and try explain a non-dualistic world in descriptive words. You most likely can’t. It’s as hard as describing what nothing looks like without using the word nothing. The philosopher Alan Watts, in The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are puts it like trying to describe the surface of a mirror in terms of the objects reflected in the mirror. That one melts my brain a bit.
The point is that it is, for the sake of argument, impossible to impart knowledge directly about non-dualism through thought, language, visuals, or any other possible communicative media we have access to in our reality. Scheinfeld claims that the whole consciousnes-field-energizes-the-hologram-model is not the truth, but it’s as close as dualistic words can come to explaining it. And he furthermore emphasizes direct experience over knowledge in Phase 2. This is really the only way to live in True Joy, and Robert’s path to doing so is “the process.” Jed Mckenna’s path, on the other hand, is a total mental breakdown.
Are Scheinfeld and McKenna in Conflict?
Yes and no.
If you’re astute, then you probably noticed the inherent dualism in the last sentence. It’s ok, and furthermore it’s the entire point of this article. But first let’s talk about Jed McKenna. If I were to cartoonize the two spiritual figures, I would say Robert is the benevolent, endlessly patient teacher that says it will all be ok, and Jed is the anachronistic rebel who you worry may actually be right even as you wonder at what cost. Or for the more comic book inclined, Robert is Batman (but more mellow and less parent issues) and Jed is the Joker.
And this is the fundamental difference in McKenna’s viewpoint. He believes that you must pay a hefty price for spirituality and not doing so leaves you locked in the holographic prison (McKenna loves using extreme language to elicit your emotions.) Robert, first of all, doesn’t believe in paying a price. He believes in expressing appreciation and expanding. You, the persona of all consciousness most likely want to believe in the fairytale of the latter but secretly fear the all-or-nothing sobering “truth” of the former. This is perhaps why you want to give Robert a hug and burn Jed at the stake.
So are they in conflict? Obviously they have two completely different ways of communicating what can’t be communicated and two different processes for getting you to experience what can’t be communicated for yourself. And obviously in your dualistic understanding of the world, you would think it abundantly obvious that the two cannot coexist. They seem toxic to each other. No wonder Robert recommends Jed’s book and Jed says that anyone who doesn’t do what he does is living in a fucking dream world. No wonder Robert’s path to enlightenment is full of self-realization and magnificent expansion and Jed’s path is one of literally spiritually digesting one’s self. (He calls it spiritual autolysis)
I haven’t read his third book, Spiritual Warfare, but if this conflict isn’t it then I don’t know what is. But the warfare isn’t physical by any means. Robert and Jed aren’t grudge matching in a cage. But the warfare is inside you. If you read Busting Loose and then Spritual Enlightenment prepare yourself for the cold war of your psyche – but with more paranoia, second guessing, questioning what really is real, if you want to be enlightened, and just how much you would give up to achieve it.
And after going on that journey you may hate me for saying that this was the point all along.
It’s all Part of the Plan
Contrary to what you may think, both writers agree on a very important point which is the key to ending your spiritual cold war. Jed McKenna calls it “killing the Buddha.” Robert Scheinfeld simply makes a disclaimer (and I’m paraphrasing) that, “this was my experience, it may not be yours.” What they are both trying to say is that you – or more specifically your consciousness which your persona is linked to – are the only thing that is real. And as such your consciousness has the ultimate direct experience of the truth. Jed mean that at some point you will to come to terms with the fact that you are the teacher as well as the student and that you will eventually outgrow the wisdom of someone as wise as the Buddha if you stay on your spiritual path. Robert always claims that you should thank yourself as well as him, since you created him in the first place.
So you see, since you are the ultimate decider of what the true path is, you are the ultimate creator of this conflict in the first place. The catalyst for your spiritual downward spiral after McKenna, is predicated on your (false) belief that McKenna is outside and thus more authoritative about your experience than you. Just as the catalyst for doing the Phase 2 work was your belief that Robert Scheinfeld was more authoritative about your path to enlightenment than you. Is it any wonder that Robert is disappearing from your hologram as the teacher? Is it any wonder that there is controversy as to whether or not Jed Mckenna is real or a phony? At least you created Robert to say that following his model to the exclusion of your own direct experience is a crock of shit.
So your opportunity right now is to realize that giving up everything – your loved ones, your dreams, and your very identity – for the goal of enlightenment is every fear and insecurity you’ve ever had about this hologram wrapped into one giant devestating and magnificent piece of writing. That in fact, if you have determined the Process to be the way to enlightenment (which for the moment and the record, I have) then you have one amazing and brilliant piece of pulsating discomfort to process in the form of Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing And after you realize that this is just another step in the journey, not the shattering of Busting Loose and all you hold dear, your appreciation for the incendiaries of the world will skyrocket.
And this is why they aren’t in conflict. And this is why this is mandatory reading for you if you feel supported. Jed McKenna says he loves soap operas because he sees life as one. He must be tickled pink.