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Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path
by Marianna Caplan, PhD
Boulder, CA: Sounds True, 2009
289 pages
Reviewed by Abbie Smith

Not to be confused with Stanley Kubrick’s provocative thriller Eyes Wide Shut, Marianna Caplan’s latest release, Eyes Wide Open, lends a spiritual thriller bound to provoke attention. In an age when it’s “rather hip to be spiritual” (8) and when “spiritually transmitted diseases” (32) flourish, it’s tough to come by dignified presentations of age-old practices. Caplan, however, has done just this.

Grounded in decades of research and experience, she lends an array of insight and information, in lay-person-friendly language. Eyes Wide Open is an entertaining, well-written book premised along the lines of “taking full responsibility for the whole of our lives, including our intrinsic radiance and our greatest spiritual potential—as well as our confusion and underdeveloped knowledge” (xxvii). Refreshing in its honesty, Caplan paints not only the glamorous, noteworthy sides of spirituality but also those that are not so glamorous or noteworthy, like scandals and consumeristic tendencies.

High respect is offered to all spiritual cultures and identities, though Caplan clearly leans toward an Eastern, NewAge understanding. Her take on the spiritual journey seems less about God, or a Divine, than about one’s personal ownership of his or her story. “To see ourselves clearly,” she says, “with eyes wide open, we must learn to face ourselves objectively and unsentimentally, denying nothing and being willing to meet each new layer of the psyche as it progressively reveals itself” (184).

Particular to a spiritual director’s interest might be Caplan’s interactions with projection, transference, and the detriment of spiritual teachers’ un-dealt-with material. “When we have any type of teaching function, however, the obscured pockets in our psychological awareness become deeply intertwined with our sharing of the teachings and can result in confusion—even great harm—to those whose lives we influence” (125). Furthermore, her chapter “The Tantric Principle” can’t help but shed light on the various streams of sex and sexuality into which any spiritual director-directee relationship is bound to dip. Versus the “all sex” chapter I was expecting, however, the chapter unfolds far more expansively into patterns of life at large. For, “as extraordinary as it is,” Caplan proposes, “the sexual aspect is only a fraction of what tantric wisdom can teach us” (162).

Caplan concludes with a provocative statement and question: “The Divine has sent you a love letter, written in the form of your life. Will you receive it? How will you respond?” (265). To me, this felt like a beginning. Clearly, the previous 264 pages were a necessary, too often overlooked, influx of spiritual theory, but now we are ready to begin exploring life with our eyes wide open.

Abbie Smith is an author, speaker, and spiritual director based in Savannah, Georgia, USA.

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