Once upon a time, a time when I was pretty intensely involved in Zen practice, I had what might be called a spiritual breakthrough ... a day/moment when there was a sharp and completely compelling revision in understanding.
The understanding landed on me like a piano dropped from of a third-story window. The environment in which it occurred was entirely ordinary, but the piano that hit me had all the qualities of something extraordinary.
The overt expressions of this breakthrough were palpable: After having been outside, I went home, sat on the couch and was wracked by alternating bouts of uncontrollable laughter and uncontrollable tears. I thought I might be going insane and at the same time thought my state was somehow, inexplicably, entirely sane. It was nutty for sure. It was undeniable for sure.
In the midst of all this, I couldn't find any handholds. It was as if the assumption of gravity had been abruptly withdrawn.
I called my mother.
"The ego is scared," she said evenly. "Take back some dirt. Watch TV or something."
Later, when I told the Japanese man whom I thought of as a Zen teacher, he said abruptly, "Forget about it!"
Both, of course, were correct, but as I look back, I honor my mother's response more fully. It was plain-Jane and on the human target. It took into account and offered no judgment of the fact that no one can unspill spilled milk or unthink a purple cow. Yes, "forget about it" was a true thing to say, but it lacked the courage of the ordinary; it asserted some macho, in-control status; it was elevating and elevated. "Watch TV" hardly rises to the heights of what most may consider spiritual heights ... but rising to spiritual heights -- and more pointedly, being in control of those heights -- is mostly overrated and more likely downright wrong.
And interesting thing about the breakthroughs that anyone might long for in spiritual endeavor is pretty obvious: In order to break through anything, you must first find something to break through. Pedlars of spiritual practice may suggest that there is nothing to break through and no one to break through it, but let's get honest here: Most of the people I know live lives filled with spilled milk and purple cows and breakthroughs and if that's the case, then that's the case.
Perhaps it's easiest just to assume that any breakthrough is, ipso facto, an indicator of error ... something to reflect on in the same way you might reflect on the impact of stepping in dog shit: Let's not do that again, s'il vous plaît. If, in an intense effort to get from here to here, you actually got here ... well, that would be screwy since you already are here.
Still, spilled milk and purple cows and breakthroughs deserve their time and space. If building a delusion in order to subdue another delusion is what it takes, well, go right ahead.
But if things get too scary or delightful, don't forget the healing powers of the television set.