A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and severance from all save God, that the true sun may shine within it and the eternal morning dawn. Then wilt thou clearly see the meaning of “Neither doth My earth nor My heaven contain Me, but the heart of My faithful servant containeth Me.”
Is the soul a smoke and mirrors job?
There is, in some scientistic quarters where materialism is dogmatic rather than enquiring, a prevailing distrust of any statements of a mystical nature. This scepticism routinely crosses over into suspicions of insanity even when the source of the mystical statement would, on closer investigation, be found to demonstrate a strong, balanced and exemplary character without any other sign of delusion. In fact, in the real world as against in the fantasies of reductionists, mystics are almost invariably very practical people, something that gives their mystical pronouncements added credibility in my view.
Ever since the so-called Enlightenment, our culture has been increasingly losing the ability to discriminate between madness (seen as meaningless because hallucinatory and delusional, though for reasons I argue elsewhere not necessarily meaningless even so) and mysticism, which is not hallucinatory or delusional in any acceptable sense of those words. I would earnestly request anyone harbouring such a sceptical tendency as I describe, to suspend their habit of disbelief for a few moments for reasons that will become clear as this exploration advances.
Before you read beyond them I would like you ponder on which of the following passages was written by a philosopher and which by a religious person.
Meditation, the first man says:
. . . releases consciousness from its objects and gives us the opportunity to experience our conscious inwardness in all its purity.
The second man states of meditation that it:
. . . frees man from [his] animal nature [and] discerns the reality of things.
I think you will agree though that they are more complementary than in conflict.
What each goes on to say is even more intriguing. Koestenbaum ends by saying:
The name Western Civilisation has given to . . . the extreme inward region of consciousness is God.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words are:
[Meditation] puts man in touch with God.
The terms meditation, reflection and contemplation are used almost synonymously in many passages. In discussing what he terms reflection within the existentialist tradition, Koestenbaum speaks of it as ‘separating consciousness from its contents.’ It can be also termed disidentification when it involves separating our consciousness from our ideas of ourselves and leads into the deepest levels of our being.
So, it is not just mystics that find our ability to reflect remarkable. Existentialism, which is not known for a fairytale take on experience, gives it tremendous weight as does the Bahá’í approach. This is not a trivial issue. Both schools of thought, and many therapeutic approaches, see reflection in this strong sense as a key pathway to personal transformation, self-transcendence and the enhancement of society.
The Importance of Experience
We will postpone for a moment whether this entails an acceptance of other things such as the reality of the soul. What it does mean is that this capacity we have is subject to the test of experience by all of us. And when we try it out we may find it leads us in unexpected directions that call into question some of our most cherished assumptions. It will inevitably do so because it separates us at least for a moment from those assumptions, cuts across our identification with them, and enables us to look at them afresh. This is why we need to be prepared to suspend our disbelief long enough to put these ideas to an empirical test.
Our culture embraces its own narrow idea of empiricism. By this it generally means only controlled experimentation and excludes
personal exploration through experience. There are many things in this world that we can only discover by doing not by reading, talking or thinking about them. Nor can we understand them by a method of scientific exploration that turns people into objects rather than subjects. In ‘objective’ mode, we become like a colour-blind neuropsychologist who knows everything about the way the brain processes colour but can never know what colour is like when we see it (I have adapted this comparison from David J. Chalmers: page 103).
Experiencing our ‘self’, in the fullest and deepest sense of that chameleon word, in order to discover who we really are, is one of those things.
So, I have a challenge for us all. I am suggesting that between now and the next post we all try the following experiment. We need to find a quiet space to do the following exercise at least once a day: it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. It is based on ideas from Psychosynthesis, psychology, Existentialism and the Bahá’í tradition. It is worth persisting with even if it feels somewhat artificial at first. Not to even try is pre-empting the possibility of an experience that could expand our minds. It works best if we approach it with open-minded curiosity as a personal experiment, not as a holy grail or a superstitious ritual.
Separating the Mirror from its Reflections
Sit comfortably and at first simply read the following suggestions several times. When you feel ready, close your eyes, breath slowly and gently, and in your mind repeat the suggestions to yourself at least three times. Put your own ideas into the round brackets if you wish.
I have thoughts but I am not my thoughts. My thoughts change from moment to moment. Just now I was thinking of (money): right now I am thinking of (these words): soon my mind will be preoccupied with (my next meal). So I cannot be my thoughts. I am my capacity to think, the well spring of all my thoughts.
I have feelings, but I am not my feelings. My feelings change from moment to moment. One minute I’m feeling (angry), perhaps; the next moment I’m feeling (sad). So, I cannot be my feelings. I am my capacity to feel from which all other feelings grow.
I have plans, but I am not my plans. My plans change from moment to moment. One minute I plan to be (rich), perhaps; the next moment I plan to be a (poet). So, I cannot be my plans. I am my capacity to will from which all my plans grow.
I am a mirror of pure capacities. I am a mirror created to reflect the highest possible reality. I will do all in my power to cleanse this mirror and turn it towards the highest imaginable realities.
(This exercise is an adaptation of the Disidentification Exercise originally described in `Psychosynthesis’ by Roberto Assagioli: see earlier link.)
Next time we will take a long look at the implications of this. We will look at what the distinction between a mirror and what it reflects suggests about us. In the meantime, happy mirroring!