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A Matter of Integrity

From the Editors


"We are getting ready to print 65,000 copies of issue 19. Issue 20 needs to be started now. What the hell are we going to do!?" were the words I found scrawled in red graffiti across my office walls as I walked into work one day last March. The context for this unexpected, shocking, and passionate plea from one of my fellow editors was as crystal clear as it was devastating. Here we were, four editors and their spiritual teacher, soaring into the unknown on the wings of an extraordinary spiritual inquiry, producing together a magazine that was leading us and our rapidly growing readership into ever-new and ever more fascinating dimensions of the spiritual life. And yet here I was, along with two other editors, waist deep and sinking fast into what was proving to be the most profound spiritual crisis of my life. What was this crisis about? In a word—integrity.

Fast forward five months to the present and here I am writing an editorial for this tenth anniversary issue, which was recently completed by the hard work of one—that's right, one—of our four editors. Why just one? The answer has everything to do with why Andrew Cohen founded the magazine in the first place. Indeed, the one constant that has been present in the pages of What Is Enlightenment? since its inception is an undaunted and passionate conviction that it is possible not only to glimpse, taste, and realize a miraculous spiritual vision but also to walk through this confusing and convoluted world in a way that reflects that extraordinary perspective—that it is possible, in other words, to live this human life with real spiritual integrity. How? Well, that is the crucial question that has catapulted us into the multidimensional explorations of the spiritual life that make up this journey through our back pages that you hold in your hands. And it is a question that we take seriously, not just in the abstract but as a very real, very active twenty-four-hour meditation and contemplation in each of our own lives. Indeed, all of the themes that we pursue for the magazine are born directly out of our attempts to understand and live the spiritual vision. We are the oversized guinea pigs for our own humble experiments in truth; the first and primary subjects of every investigation we launch. And we know that if there is anything that gives us the authority to ask the difficult questions, make the controversial critiques and challenge our contributors in the ways that we do, it is only our ability to take a long hard look in the mirror of evolution's great expectations and not flinch. Indeed, our authority depends completely on the knowledge that we are living on the very edge of our own spiritual understanding, remaining true to the spiritual context of our lives—living, in other words, with real integrity. And we are not alone in that challenging endeavor. You see, the founder, inspiration, and guiding force behind every issue is an individual who is a great deal more than our editor-in-chief. Andrew Cohen is first and foremost our spiritual teacher, the person whose job it is to help us walk with as much grace as possible along the straight and narrow of our deepest spiritual aspirations. He, more than anyone, is firm in his resolution that if What Is Enlightenment? is to fulfill its mission to make as much sense as it can of the often complex and confusing pathways of the spiritual life, then his students/editors had better be able to make profound sense of their own spiritual lives. Indeed, he demands that those of us who are leading the investigation be willing to practice the same depth of open-minded inquiry and embrace the same wholehearted response to the call of the spirit that we would look for in those individuals we feature in the magazine. That is the double-edged sword whose sharp blade we found ourselves up against last fall when our teacher began to delicately point out that, for several of us, the straight and narrow had started to bend and flatten out. As we sat in front of him one fateful day last October, he made it undeniably clear that we had allowed the perennial foes of ego and self-importance to usurp the reins of our spiritual lives and that we were no longer genuinely striving to live up to the truth and freedom that we had recognized, that we wrote about, and that we claimed was more important than anything else. It was time, he said, to close the gap that had opened between what we deeply knew and how we lived, a gap that, for an editor of this magazine, was hypocritical and unacceptable. And so began a series of events that would not only throw us individually into crisis, but would also threaten to disrupt something much more important—the unique creative process that goes into producing the magazine you hold in your hands.

For all of the editorial staff, working on What Is Enlightenment? can only be described as a labor of love. Much more than colleagues, the editors and Andrew are closer than close, spending hours and hours every day immersed in an all-consuming investigation that never fails to delight, confuse, astound, and inspire as we seek to bring light to the seemingly infinite subtleties of what it means to live a holy life in this day and age. And for students of a teacher of enlightenment, the often sacred quality of this inquiry is made even more remarkable by the opportunity to share in the freedom, creativity, and innocent passion for truth that is a hallmark of the enlightened condition. Each issue is a thrilling step into the unknown, and we could tell endless stories of the amazing twists and turns of the creative process that we go through to arrive at the result we offer our readers. And although truth may or may not be stranger than fiction, it's definitely more unpredictable—a fact to which many of the interviews we chose for this compilation attest. For example, who could have predicted that while attending an Indian yoga conference a few years ago, we would run across the almost unknown Ajja, a profoundly enlightened sage who exemplifies the goal of the Indian nondual teachings perhaps better than anyone alive today? Who could have predicted that Jack LaLanne, fitness guru extraordinaire, would appear in a magazine about spiritual enlightenment? Certainly not the stunned and uncomprehending editors when Andrew first suggested the idea. Who could have predicted that the article on Indian neo-Advaita teacher Ramesh Balsekar would cause so much confusion and controversy, not merely over the content of the interview but over whether or not our interviewer actually became enlightened as a result? And the list of surprises and intriguing stories from years past could go on and on. For the editors, living in this ever-changing movable feast of spirit and creativity, it has often seemed like things could not get much better.

It was within this context that the events last October transpired. Everything was not okay, Andrew said unequivocally, and things could and would get a lot better. One way or the other, he made clear, we were going to have to live up to the unique and privileged position in which we found ourselves. Now if this were a classic spiritual tale like so many I read when I began this path, I would proceed to tell you how, in the crucial hour of reckoning last fall, we responded to our teacher's strong but unequivocal criticism with humility, courage, and conviction. I would say that we saw through our delusions, abandoned our defenses, accepted the stark but true facts, and immediately began to embrace the greater freedom and responsibility we were being called to. But the events of the last year tell a much more sober story. The truth is that when confronted with the demand to bridge the gap between our own spiritual lives and the spiritual ideals we passionately defend in this magazine, we balked. To make the sacrifice required to be that authentic suddenly seemed like an overwhelming task. A struggle ensued between our teacher's insistence on absolute integrity and our unwillingness to shed our attachment to ego and self-satisfaction and follow him into the unknown. As month after month went by, with little change in our fundamental position, the struggle became a crisis and eventually the crisis became a stalemate. Our relationships with our teacher and many of our spiritual friends were pushed nearly to the breaking point. Unable to convince us that it was time to change and unwilling to accept our unrepentant compromise, Andrew went so far as to demand that we leave the property where our retreat center, homes, and offices all are located, throwing us out with little more than the shirts on our backs. The very future of the magazine itself was threatened. With hardly anything left to lose and the most important relationship of our lives on the line, the ego's defiant stance was finally crushed, and we were brought to our knees, literally and figuratively. Our spiritual teacher's incessant and unwavering call for transformation at long last reached open and willing hearts. Immediately, we began an intensive silent retreat, for an indefinite period, designed to help us come to terms with everything that had happened. In those long days of meditation and contemplation, fueled by a now desperate intention to fully meet the demand he had placed before us, we faced deeply into our relationship to life and liberation, reckoned with the choices that had led us astray, and found a depth of surrender that we had never before known. As I write these words, it has only been a couple of weeks since we emerged from silence, spiritually alive and well, with a re-ignited passion for freedom and a profound determination to be examples of the integrity and responsibility that are part and parcel of our job description.

Looking back on a very difficult year in the offices of WIE, we can only offer our complete appreciation for the constant care and support we received from Andrew and many others during what might best be described as our collective "dark night of the soul." Thankfully, in life as in art, sometimes endings are everything and the happy ending to this story is above all else a tribute to Andrew's determination to protect at all costs the essence of what makes What Is Enlightenment? something much more than good spiritual journalism. He knows that the more we are each living on the edge of our own spiritual potential, personally and professionally, the more profound will be the depth, power, and authenticity of the inquiry that runs through these pages. To him it's a matter of integrity, and it's a lesson that, almost one year later, we are finally beginning to learn.

So as we release this tenth anniversary special issue of What Is Enlightenment? and as we reflect on this experiment in radical spiritual inquiry that has graciously overtaken our lives, our celebratory feelings are tinged with a good dose of humility. The delicacy of the spiritual life and the price that must be paid to live it for real can never be taken for granted. Nor can the obligation each of us has to give everything to making this magazine the very best it can be. At the same time, we are tremendously excited about the next decade, about what tomorrow holds in store for this ever-expanding exploration. There is so much that we want to investigate and understand about the meaning of enlightenment and spiritual life at the beginning of the third millennium. We can hardly wait to get started. Now, more than ever, it feels like there are literally no limits to where we can go.

–Carter Phipps


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This article is from
Our Anniversary Issue