Jed McKenna - Spiritual Enlightenment vs. Spiritual ego

A review of "Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment" and "Spiritual Warfare" By Jed McKenna

There’s no doubt about, Jed McKenna (or whoever the actual author of these books is) can weave a great tale. This author can write.

There are many things about these books that resonate deeply, and yet, something feels off.  My sense is, that in his rather egoic and  vehement insistence that he is one of the rare few in the world who  has seen through all Maya and has reached the end of the road in terms of awakening to truth, author and main character,  Jed reveals the fact that he himself, is still to some degree, stuck. Although Jed himself says over and over not to hang your hat on anything he says, (It's all lies),  if his account of awakening is to be taken at all seriously, he's got some explaining to do regarding  the many contradictions inherent within these stories.

As with the initial book written by Jed McKenna, Spiritual Enlightenment, The Damndest Thing, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps these books are nothing more than  fictional cautionary tales from the vantage point of one who recognizes the folly of believing we are ever ‘done’ in terms of going deeper. If so, these books aptly demonstrate the tenacity of ego and  how as humans, it's far too easy to see  through one set of beliefs only to fall into a trap of re-attaching to the new beliefs that simply fill the void that the old ones left behind.

That said, as I have no means of establishing  for fact this  deeper or disguised point inherent within these books written by Jed McKenna, I’ll approach this review from the standpoint of assuming that Jed, as an author and character, is presenting this material at face value; as an accurate, auto-biographical guide written by one who himself is awake/spiritually enlightened, for the purpose of  helping point others towards awakening.

Spiritual Enlightenment?

If these books are at all to be taken seriously, one must for him/herself answer the question; Is Jed Mckenna talking out of his hat or is he actually awake. Is the author of these books spiritually enlightened,? Well, that will likely depend upon your definition of such. My own assessment tells me that he’s no more spiritually awakened or enlightened than any of the myriad of others who have clearly seen all thoughts, beliefs and ideas for what they are, which is inherently empty.    As I see it, Jed has seen through the nature of belief only to re-attach to some very specific ones, most importantly,  the Grand Daddy of them all  that says; It is possible to access absolute truth from the position of experiencing physical reality.

It can be seen that thoughts and ideas in and of themselves have no inherent truth.  But, the moment we become convicted about anything, we to some degree become attached, thus, we don a lens colored by that attachment and everything that appears to us is also colored by that lens. There is no escaping this, but in my experience, in seeing it for what it is, all tethers that would otherwise have the propensity to bind, lose their holding power. Ideas will continue to be engaged with, some resonating, others not so much, but none of them will be adhered to as 'Truth.'

Jed McKenna tells us that he lives with an abiding awareness that no idea he engages with is real, but he contradicts this assertion in his vehemence and harsh judgment towards those he considers to still be asleep. If none of this is real, how can one way of experiencing it be any better or worse than another? And even more importantly, if this entire experience is an illusion, the equivalent of  a dream, how can we separate ourselves from the unfolding of the content? If I’m dreaming a dream where I am an awakened being living amidst a world of mostly un-awakened beings, do I accept any responsibility for that experience? Jed seems to want to have it both ways; A unified experience, and a 'real'  division between self and 'other.'

Like many spiritual aspirants who get stuck in believing they’ve reached the final frontier of spiritual enlightenment, Jed Mckenna appears to have deep, unresolved issues with feelings and emotions. I’ve engaged on spiritual chat forums and with visitors to my website with many folks who are  similar to Jed McKenna in that they appear to have grasped onto the idea of dis-identificatin with the person, more out of a deep discomfort with emotion than an actual disengagement from ego due to clear seeing. After all, If feelings make us uncomfortable, what better way to make ourselves ‘feel better’ than to distance ourselves from our own feelings and the feelings of others through a disengagement with that which is deemed to be personal? In this case, we can circumvent our need to address the emotions and their source in favor of disengagement with personal identity. The end result? We get to massage our spiritual ego AND avoid facing those discomforting emotions all in one fell swoop.

While seeing through of identity is indeed an important hallmark of awakening, we can’t ‘jump the track’ so to speak, in the way it seems to me that Jed McKenna has. Disengaging from the created identity prior to facing and understanding  emotional content, is like trying to run before we’ve learned to walk.

Jed McKenna openly admits that other people make him uncomfortable and that he prefers solitude. He in fact, makes no moves to conceal the contempt he feels for most people. At best, he tolerates others and at worst, he experiences hatred of them. All the while, Jed McKenna elevates himself in his own mind, because he is so very different than everyone else and he spends many pages of his books describing just how this difference is “better.” Being awake can only be ‘better’ than being ‘asleep’ if we hold certain values regarding the way life ‘should’ be lived, but Jed makes the point several times over in these books that he no longer holds such values.

The following quote comes from Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment” and describes Jed’s hatred of Californians;

“I’m trying to avoid saying that I hate California. I keep trying to think of something I like about California so I don’t have to face this petty truth, but I can’t do it. I hate California. Maybe California is really a lot of different places and there are probably parts I’d like, but I think that’s just the denial talking. I should just say it and live with it: I hate California. I’m not sure why I hate California, but if pressed, I’d say it has something to do with Californians.”

Not only does this demonstrate extreme resistance on the part of Jed McKenna to an aspect of his reality, but also his own inability to accurately decipher what precisely it is about California that is so terribly off-putting to him, indicates a lack of self awareness. This is not exactly something one would expect from one who has supposedly ‘cleaned out the attic.’

Jed McKenna - Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment

In Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment, Jed McKenna spends a great deal of time highlighting his analysis of the classic, Moby Dick. I found this part of the book incredibly  tedious. The detail he went into wasn’t necessary to make his point and I can only imagine that the reason he spent so much time on it was to revel in his superior assessment of it.

Jed Mckenna seems particularly enthralled by the fact that in his estimation, he is the only person in all of history to have ever read Moby Dick to accurately decipher the true meaning behind it. This type of self congratulating and self aggrandizing appears throughout both of the Jed Mckenna books.

I can only imagine that to focus with such intensity upon the myriad of ways one is not only different from the others appearing in his reality, but how he is also superior to them, is to create an experience of deep and palpable separation between self and others. It bears mentioning that Jed McKenna professes to no longer experience ‘separation’ in his reality, but instead, abiding non-dual awareness. I find it interesting that someone experiencing abiding non-dual awareness would spend so much time focusing upon differences between self and dream content.

Needs and attachments are behind all experience of separation. It seems that Jed McKenna has a need for others to ‘be’ a certain way or he cannot abide in peace and it seems that Jed has attached many ‘shoulds’ to the living of life.

How is it that one experiencing abiding non-dual awareness would feel the need to resist and actively seek to avoid certain elements that appear within that reality. My own realization of oneness has resulted in greater acceptance of all that appears, not less. While light preferences continue to exist, a perspective of unity consciousness is simply not compatible with strong resistance to specific things (or people) that are appearing. As we move into unity consciousness or abiding non-dual awareness, judgments cease to arise. When it is seen that all that unfolds is perfect, the NEED to have reality align with our personal preferences, falls away. We accept and even embrace it all.

While Jed McKenna may have indeed seen through many false beliefs that are common to humankind, he also appears to be completely devoid of heart. He draws a stark line of demarcation between ‘truth’ and ‘love.’ In my own experience, as we see through beliefs, there is an expansion of heart not a contraction of it. Truth and Love become inseparable. As the clarity increases, the compassion and acceptance of everything appearing to us, also increases. And that love and compassion includes and extends to the other living beings who appear within our reality. The ‘other’ becomes a reflection of self.

I won’t get too deep into the issue regarding the role that love plays in the expansion of  consciousness, as it really deserves its own article. I’ll simply say that those like Jed McKenna, who believe that love has no part in awakening, have barely scraped the surface in terms of clarity.

In the Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment excerpt below, Jed McKenna describes his need for a personal assistant while traveling to serve as a buffer between himself and those ‘others’ he prefers to not have to engage with;

“The additional cost of a travel assistant is a small price to pay to avoid dealing with hotel clerks and rental care clerks and airline clerks and all the rest….She runs interference for me, providing a protective layer between me and a world in which I no longer function very well.”

On the very same page, in reference to his encounter with a character named “Henry,” Jed McKenna comments: “Once again, I am struck by the fortress-like impenetrability of the walls ego erects around itself.”

It astounds me that Jed Mckenna apparently cannot see that through his own perceptions, sweeping opinions,  and resultant blanketing  experience of the people he encounters, he himself has effectively “erected a wall” around himself. While having the financial means to hire someone to serve as a buffer between him and all those ‘annoying others’ he might be forced to deal with otherwise, may appear like freedom to Jed, I can’t help but think there is a much greater freedom in realizing that the very reality I encounter, the others people within it included, are a reflection of my own consciousness. If I experience ‘annoying, irritating people’ I am solely responsible through the thoughts and ideas I am attaching to,  for the fact that ‘annoyance’ or ‘irritation’ are arising in my experience. If I find certain aspects of my reality intolerable, then clearly I am demonstrating some very forceful attachments. In Jed’s case, it would seem that there’s a whole host of beliefs still in operation. The operating belief in this case is; He cannot reside in peace and interact with others who are not enlightened. His peace is conditional. He needs others to behave in very specific ways to feel good, and he will go to great lengths to make sure he does not have to interact with others. It would be so much easier to ferret out the beliefs he is holding to that give rise to his experience of others.

That said, regarding the idea of taking responsibility for dream content, I did find one instance where Jed McKenna appears to consider the possibility of a connection between his own consciousness and the others who are appearing in his dream;

“By the end of this book, Lisa will have completed the transition to Adulthood and be continuing her development within it, while Bob will still be mired in all his books and knowledge and spiritual egohood. If that is, they exist at all, and aren’t just shadowy apparitions inhabiting my own dreamscape environment, as to which I have no opinion.”

It’s difficult to understand how a guy so intent upon delving deeper to assess the ‘truth,’ would be devoid of opinion on such matters. Surely if Jed’s dreamscape were filled with horrible, annoying, shallow people due to the nature of his own consciousness, he should  be a little bit interested in exploring this?

Although in Spiritual Warfare, Jed dedicates a chapter to the subject of law of attraction and the idea of flow and synchronicity and he clearly professes to understand the responsibility each of us holds for the content of our own personal ‘dream,’ he somehow has not made the full connection between the masses of annoying, delusional ‘others’ appearing within his dream, nor the scathing perceptions and judgments he holds about them and Himself. Jed seems to waffle between  polarities of  believing that there is an objective/ultimate reality that we can access if we dig deep enough and a belief that reality unfolds as a reflection of Self.

In direct contradiction to Jed’s obvious judgments concerning the people appearing in his dream, he states, “I have no framework within which anything is better than anything else, so what I do doesn’t particularly matter….I don’t need to distract myself from anything of convince myself of anything.”

What Jed doesn’t realize is that so long as judgments continue to arise, we are operating within a context or ‘framework.’ Without framework, there is no personal perception, thus no judgment. The fact that Jed truly believes he is free from all framework and all context and yet continues to engage with strong judgments indicative of attachments regarding his dream content, demonstrates a certain disconnect between what he says he sees and what ‘is.’ Jed seems very able to see the blinders worn by others, but comes up pitifully short when it comes to seeing his own. This is something I’ve seen time and time again in those who believe themselves to be fully awakened. There is a seeing that no belief is true, but then they turn around to grasp more tightly than ever, to an absolute conviction of their own ability to see completely unfettered.

When we can fully accept that the nature of this physical experience is that we can never know with certainty whether or not we are seeing and knowing absolute reality, we are truly free. From this vantage point, we can simply flow with the preferences that arise, knowing that they do so from the unique framework of person-hood that each of us dons in this experience called physical life.

As per my experience, I suspect that Jed would find that if he could surrender to the fact that he seems to be surrounded by delusional, shallow ‘other’ people, his need to judge them would cease, thus a certain level of clarity would ensue that would help him to see that all judgment is indicative of a particular ‘dirty’ lens we are wearing. When we clean the lens, not only do the perceptions behind the judgment usually change, but the content of the dream itself often transforms. It’s important to note that while we can clean extraneous ‘film’ from our lens of perception, so long as we continue to perceive physical reality, a lens will continue to exist. The challenge is not to eradicate the lens, but to keep it as ‘clean’ as possible and to remain perpetually aware of the existence of it and ultimately to accept the existence of a lens, fully.

In my own experience, when we drop the belief that tells us we are so very different from the others who appear before us, the nature of the ‘others’ transforms. My own realization that any and all judgments regarding other people I encountered was simply my own ‘stuff,’ resulted in a profound shift in my actual reality. I began encountering more and more people who seemed to be waking up to new levels of clarity, to see through the story-line behind the persona they’d created. I observed in wonder as I saw how a different vibration begets us different versions of the people we encounter.

Like the masses of deluded ‘others’ appearing to him, the character, Jed Mckenna, is stuck, neck deep, in Maya, all the while believing he is awake and outside of the dream. While Jed has indeed seen through and moved beyond some of his beliefs, he’s re-attached more tenaciously than ever to others. In his insistence that he’s accessed absolute truth, he indicates his ‘absolute certainty’ that he is seeing clearly. Absolute certainty leaves no room for the possibility of ‘going further.’

In my estimation, if Jed were to “go further” as is his advice to readers, he’d encounter an activation of his heart and a decrease in judgment towards others people and other content of his dream. Bliss, joy and abiding peace are the emotions/feeling experience that accompany abiding acceptance. These emotions/experiences arise in the absence of resistance. Acceptance does not mean that we no longer have preferences, but instead that we do not suffer or experience emotional discord in the absence of the manifestation of them. If Jed were free from all attachment, he would not experience emotional discord in the presence of others, regardless of their state of being.

In abiding acceptance, we no longer experience the emotions that are responsible for suffering, for we can see the perfection in all that is appearing and we understand the role we play in the unfolding content of our own dream.

From this vantage point of seeing, it might be tempting to say, “I’m done, the onion has been peeled down to a pristine skinless nugget,” however, if we go just a little further we’ll see that so long as we continue to experience physical reality as a human being, the onion and the peels upon it, are infinite. There is no end point to any of this. Deepening continues.

To be human and to experience physical reality is to don some sort of a lens. Without a lens, there is no perception. As such, I hesitate to use words like ‘enlightened’ and ‘awakened.’ Surely we can expand our consciousness to become more lucid, but I don’t see a finite point where we can declare, “I’m fully awake now. I’m done. I’m outside of the dream. I’m enlightened.”

In fact, more and more I’m coming to see that these terms usually only arise in comparing our state of being to that of others. Either it’s the other guy who is seeing more clearly or ‘better’ than we are or it is “I” who is seeing more clearly or “better” than most others appearing before me. Such comparisons incite and indicate judgment/lack of acceptance and serve to separate us from others rather create an experience of unity.

When the perpetual existence of personal perception itself can be seen and accepted fully, peace truly does prevail. This circumvents the need to try to do away with the very mechanism that is responsible for this temporary physical experience we’re currently having and simply places us in the position of appreciating it for what it is and milking it for every ounce of enjoyment possible.

My overall assessment of Jed McKenna is that while being very good at pointing the finger at other people who are stuck in Maya, he fails to see that he himself is also in some ways stuck. And while I would agree that Jed’s experience is devoid of any deep suffering or debilitating emotional pain, it also appears to be devoid of actual joy. He tells us that he is not at all bothered by this, but in my estimation, if he chose to do so, he could improve the content and the experience of his own dream by going deeper and by exploring some of his issues surrounding emotion.

It seems to me that once we understand the idea of physical life being a dream and no thought being ultimately true, the only thing left is moving towards making the dream more enjoyable. The only reason anyone ever seeks ‘truth’ in the first place is not for anything other than the fact that the idea of not knowing makes them feel bad and the idea of knowing makes them feel good. Like flowers gravitate towards the sun, we as physical beings gravitate towards that which causes us to feel good. In this sense, there is no escaping our nature.

In spite of what I perceive as being Jed’s own myopia and stagnation, demonstrated by his prolific contradictions throughout these books, they both contain some great nuggets, particularly for those in the initial stages of delving within, but even a few for those further along the path.

In Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment, Jed Mckenna presents Julie, a student of his who is using his suggested practice of spiritual autolysis. I found Julie’s described process to be way over the top in terms of drama and angst, however, her journaling does serve as an example of the general process involved in self inquiry/spiritual autolysis. Throughout his books, Jed has a tendency to over dramatize and exaggerate.

All of the characters (other than Jed McKenna) featured in these books seem to be uncommonly vapid and shallow and lacking in any amount of self awareness whatsoever. While these extreme examples can serve as powerful teachers, Jed uses them to paint the majority of ‘others,’ en masse, with the same brush. And perhaps the truth is that Jed McKenna’s reality actually is filled with these extreme cases of shallow, sleeping puppets.

Despite what I believe to be some very obvious problems with these books, they are peppered with some wonderful quotes of clarity that I’ve included below. These resonated with me deeply, but once again, appear to contradict Jed’s described experience of his reality. To benefit from these books, I’d advise readers to take what resonates and leave the rest.

From Spiritual Warfare and Spiritually Correct Enlightenment by Jed Mckenna:

“It taught me that where I thought things ended might be where they were just beginning; that there was a world beyond the world I saw, a me beyond the me I knew. And, likely as not, more beyond those.”

“I am” is the only thing anyone has ever known or will ever know. Everything else, all religion and philosophy and science, can never be more than dream interpretation. There is not other fact than I am.”

“The thing they don’t know is that prayer isn’t about changing the rules, but coming into alignment with them. It’s not about wishing things were otherwise, but merging with the way things are. It’s not about the once-in-a-lifetime miracle, but the every-breath miraculous. Living with eyes closed, we lack not just vision, but perspective. We don’t understand our relationship to our environment or anything in our environment.”

“It’s about shaping the dream state and moving within it in this seamless confluence of self and not-self. It’s the erasing of the line between dreamer and dream. You’re not just manifesting a car or new shoes, you’re manifesting yourself, and all the rest follows naturally and effortlessly from that. You can see why prayer is a pretty skimpy little concept next to that.”

The following quote exemplifies the strongest aspect of these books; Jed’s attempt to demystify the concept of spiritual awakening and get spiritual aspirants using themselves as a resource rather than acquiescing to the beliefs of the supposed ‘great’ minds before them.

“Forget tradition. Start fresh, you’ll have a much better time of it. Start your own tradition….or else you’ll end up where everyone always ends up…..Tradition is just a word for stuff you accept as true without verifying it for yourself. Tradition is the deeply rutted path that gets formed after many years of being followed by the herd. Buddha said this….Shankara said that….Who gives a fat rat’s ass what they said or what anyone said? You don’t know they said it, you don’t know what they meant by it, you don’t know if it’s been passed down accurately, you don’t even know they existed, so what do you know? You don’t know anything, and even if you did, you still wouldn’t. It’s self verify or fail, simple as that. The uncritical acceptance typical of the herd mentality is the soil in which all false beliefs take root.”

“As you sever attachments and stop squandering your emotional energy, your perspective broadens and you come to see larger and larger patterns at work, patterns within patterns, your own swirling pattern swirling in among them, in no way separate or apart, in no way greater or lesser.”

My favorite chapter of all three books was “Memento Mori” in Spiritual Warfare, where Jed McKenna addresses the profound practice of facing one’s own death.

“This isn’t about death in the abstract, it’s about death in the most personal, intimate sense; your death. Death is the meaning of the dream; the dreamstate shadow of no-self. Death is the boogey-man. You can’t kill him or hide from him or get away from him, you can only turn toward him or away from him. If you turn toward him, befriend him, fully embrace him, not superficially, but as your own essential truth, then death is the demon you can ride into every battle…”

As works of fiction, all of the books by Jed Mckenna stand solid. They’re well written, interesting stories that regardless of being true or not, entertain.

I’d recommend the writings of Jed McKenna more for those just beginning to explore the idea of spiritual awakening and those new to the idea of self inquiry. To those who have gone further than Jed, it will be quite clear where he’s gotten stuck. However with that being said, a clear example of what it looks like to be stuck while believing oneself to be fully enlightened just might be one of the most powerful teaching tools available when it comes to all of this.

In summation, If Jed McKenna, or whoever the actual author of this book is, has written these stories with the intention of demonstrating how easy it is even for those quite far along the path to get sucked back into believing in the ultimate truth of our perceptions, then he’s done a brilliant job. If he’s written these stories from the vantage point of believing he or his character Jed McKenna is enlightened, however, then in my estimation, he’s fallen more than a tad short.

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