Occasionally you are given the heads up about something that confirms almost all your wildest suppositions about the world. This happened to me recently. Some time ago a good friend, who knows my weakness for this kind of thing, posted me a link to an article by David Brooks which I finally got round to reading last week. It said:
[A] growing, dispersed body of research reminds us of a few key insights. First, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place. Second, emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to things and are the basis of reason. Finally, we are not individuals who form relationships. We are social animals, deeply interpenetrated with one another, who emerge out of relationships.
Every single one of those insights resonates powerfully with me.
I have already explored the way in which the comparison of the human heart to a garden, which you find in the Bahá’í Writings, is an image which conveys very effectively the idea that invisible processes in the ‘soil’ of our being produce remarkable results that can take long periods of time to emerge into the light of consciousness, rather in the manner of flowers and fruit. McGilchrist is a writer who pulls together a wide range of data to explain very clearly how functioning in a fully human way depends upon our recognising and fully integrating the emotional and intuitive aspect of our being with the logical and verbal one, rather than pretending it does not exist or is fundamentally undesirable. And this blog is littered with posts referring to the fundamental centrality of empathy and compassion in the complex pattern of human life.
What he goes on to say takes me further along this road. While the labels he uses may seem slightly abstract, even strange or dubious, what he goes on to describe integrates in one place those core human qualities upon which the future of our civilisation probably depends.
. . . . this research illuminates a range of deeper talents, which span reason and emotion and make a hash of both categories:
Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.
Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.
Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.
Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.
Limerence: This isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God. Some people seem to experience this drive more powerfully than others.
The spiritual path I follow has at its heart the idea that all human beings share a core of being that is essentially the same regardless of differences of colour, gender, class, race or politics. When we encounter differences with this perspective in mind the idea of Attunement becomes not only faintly possible but completely natural. There is a quotation from the Bahá’í Writings that not only reinforces this but shows how it might link to the other talents that he refers to:
O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.
(Arabic Hidden Words: 68)
Equipoise would seem to depend upon detachment which is in its turn linked to the capacity to reflect, which is a good word to use to describe the process behind Equipoise. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá unpacks some aspects of this relationship in Paris Talks, for example when He says (pages 175-176):
Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves. To illustrate this, think of man as endowed with two kinds of sight; when the power of insight is being used the outward power of vision does not see.
This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.
Meditation, contemplation and reflection are closely related terms and depend upon high levels of detachment for their most effective operation. Detachment seems also to be necessary if we are to tune into the feeling states of others in a way that is conducive to high levels of empathy. It is not too difficult then to see how an ability to be in synchrony with others, which he describes as sympathy, is linked to the interaction of all these skills or qualities. This is partly at least what ‘being as one soul’ surely means.
The explanation in Paris Talks also suggests that both Metis and Limerence are rooted in this same combination of detachment, oneness and meditative reflection. ‘[T]he ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations’ at the very least overlaps, perhaps even maps completely onto, discerning ‘the reality of things’ just as being ‘in touch with God’ must be close in nature to those ‘moments of transcendence’ at the centre of what Limerence is according to Brooks.
McGilchrist’s comprehensive overview suggests that this is not ‘pie in the sky by and by’ but rooted in our evolved physical nature which has the capacity to bring these meta-realities down to earth. The holistic intuitive right-brain sees patterns in complex experiences that the analytical left brain is blind to. Silencing the chatter of the left brain, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá recommends in His discussion of meditation and Jill Bolte Taylor experienced as a consequence of her stroke, allows these fruits of a deeper processing to float into consciousness.
Whether you see them as coming ultimately from a spiritual realm, as I do, or from a wiser part of our physical being, is immaterial (no pun intended!). What counts is that both secular and spiritual insights, experience and systematic evidence suggest more and more of us have to learn how to tune into our deepest levels in this way if we are not, as a society, to sink more deeply into chaos and a social entropy that will destroy all that we have created that is positive in our civilisation.
It is extremely encouraging to see how so many people of good will across the spectrum of beliefs are of one mind on this at least. This is why there is hope. The word ‘gleams’ in the title of this post is a rather feeble acronym to act as a mnemonic for the Great ‘Limerence Equipoise Attunement Metis Sympathy’ combination of ideas.