Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Meditation’

Mirroring the Light

Mirroring the Light

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.”

(Bahá’u’lláhThe Seven Valleys‘: pages 21-22 which ends with a hadith or tradition about a saying of Muhammad.)

Revisiting ‘The Marriage of Self and Soul‘ triggered me into thinking there would be some value in republishing this sequence from 2009. The first three posts appeared consecutively: the last two will come out next Tuesday and Wednesday.

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.

Even though I tried to equalise the style you probably got it right. The first statement comes from Peter Koestenbaum (The New Image of the Person: The Theory and Practice of Clinical Philosophy page 99) and the second from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Paris Talks: page 175).

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.

A Plan in The Mind's Mirror

A Plan in The Mind’s Mirror

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

A Feeling in The Mind's Mirror

A Feeling in The Mind’s Mirror

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!

Read Full Post »

At the end of the previous post we left this question hanging in the air: how do we remove the obstacles that block our way down this fruitful and creative path called consultation? Can we only consult if we are completely detached? If not, which seems likely, shouldn’t we bother because it’s all too difficult? Is this becoming one of those counsels of despair, which can seem so characteristic of the spiritual life?

Perhaps, though, as we will now begin to explore, detachment is more of a process than an end-state at least in this life and it’s therefore always possible to inch a bit closer. As the saying goes, ‘strive for perfection and be content with progress.’

Blocks

Peter Koestenbaum in his book ‘New Image of the Person: the Theory and Practice of Clinical Philosophy’ states that:[1]

[a]nxiety and physical pain are often our experience of the resistances against the act of reflection.

By reflection, amongst other things, he means unhooking ourselves from our ideas.

An example he gives from the clinical context illustrates what he means:

. . . to resist in psychotherapy means to deny the possibility of dissociating consciousness from its object at one particular point . . . To overcome the resistance means success in expanding the field of consciousness and therewith to accrue increased flexibility . . .

But overcoming this resistance is difficult. It hurts and frightens us. How are we to do it? In therapy it is the feeling of trust and safety we develop towards the therapist that helps us begin to let go of maladaptive world views, self-concepts and opinions. If not in therapy, what else might make us feel safe enough to let go?

Amongst the prerequisites listed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for those who take counsel together is ‘detachment from all save God.’[2] In the Tablets written after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas Bahá’u’lláh explains what it takes to be detached:[3]

The essence of detachment is for man to turn his face towards the courts of the Lord, to enter His Presence, behold His Countenance, and stand witness before Him.

It’s fairly clear that such an awareness will entail a great deal of work on practising the presence of God. If we can maintain such a sense of His Presence then it is extremely unlikely that we would be inclined pig-headedly to bludgeon our friends, family, colleagues and neighbours into submission with our opinions.  It feels like a lifetime’s work to get to this point though.

Those who find it hard to believe in a God of any kind might be tempted to conclude that this means that consultation is not for them, and those who do believe in God may believe the bar is set too high.

I am not at all sure that any of that is true.

Not only do I resonate to the words of McGilchrist when he writes:[4] ‘no argument for, or against, the existence of God can possibly succeed.… whatever we choose to call it, there is almost certainly more here then we have words for, or can expect ever to understand using reason alone.’

In addition, my own experience of trying to master the art of reflection, in this sense of dissociating consciousness from its contents and becoming increasingly grounded in deeper levels of our being than our Western culture usually teaches us how to access, convinces me that we can all learn to be less anxiously concerned to prove that we are right. Instead, we can feel secure enough in the emptiness of letting go of our self-image and the prejudices that go with it, to truly listen to the very different perspectives that surround us, share our own sense of reality with humility and thereby find a way for all of us to enhance our understanding, lifting it to a more creative level.

Breaking Free from the Blocks

Koestenbaum catches the reality of this when he writes:[5] ‘The history of philosophy, religion and ethics appears to show that the process of reflection can continue indefinitely . . . . there is no attachment . . . which cannot be withdrawn, no identification which cannot be dislodged.’ Reflection, he says:[6] ‘. . . releases consciousness from its objects and gives us the opportunity to experience our conscious inwardness in all its purity.’ This links back to an unexpected core idea he had already presented:[7] ‘The name Western Civilisation has given to . . . the extreme inward region of consciousness is God.’

We are therefore not so far away from the words of ‘Abdu’l-Baha when He states,[8] ‘It is an axiomatic fact that while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed.’

‘Abdu’l-Bahá continues:[9] ‘This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.’

It must say something important when such divergent traditions of thought converge on this one point. Why would we then deny that deep inside us is a source of wisdom it is well worth tapping?

So, by reflection He seems to mean something closely related to meditation.

We need to consider the possibility that consultation is also a process that can help us become more detached. If so, it’s goal is clearly more than simply the investigation of truth. It is a spiritual discipline in itself and leads to personal as well as group transformation. It perhaps could rightly be called a Bahá’í yoga.

Maybe now would be a good time to focus on how the two processes of meditation and consultation might work together. They may be mutually reinforcing: they may even effectively be the same thing!

Do Consultation and Meditation Reinforce Each Other?

The wine of renunciation must needs be quaffed, the lofty heights of detachment must needs be attained, and the meditation referred to in the words “One hour’s reflection is preferable to seventy years of pious worship must needs be observed, . . .’

(Bahá’u’lláh: The Kitáb-i-Íqán, page 238)

At first sight an equivalence between meditation and consultation, of the kind I am speculating about, seems unlikely. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains in Paris Talks:[10]

Bahá’u’lláh says there is a sign (from God) in every phenomenon: the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things it one time – he cannot both speak and meditate.

Consultation, at least in Western Europe and the United States, is not conspicuous for its silences. Have we drawn a blank?

As we have just seen, according to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed.’

Perhaps not a blank then. We are, in a sense, consulting, though with our higher Selves rather than with other people. Such inner speech seems to require an absence of outer speech, but it may nonetheless be a form of consultation. We are suspending our usual assumptions and opening ourselves up to other possibilities. He goes onto say:

The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food.

When we suspend our assumptions in this way, we receive intimations of a higher and more accurate kind. This sounds remarkably similar to the understanding achieved in consultation. It seems possible, at least in principle, to use meditation to improve our consultation skills and consultation perhaps to practise and refine our meditation. It also raises the question whether consultation, at least in the West, would benefit from more silence.

As we have already seen, consultation requires detachment, which is something that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seems to be referring to when He says that meditation ‘frees man from the animal nature’ and ‘puts man in touch with God.’

One possible way of conceptualising detachment, or at least a result of it, is freedom from our animal nature as described here.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote:[11]

Regarding the statement in The Hidden Words, that man must renounce his own self, the meaning is that he must renounce his inordinate desires, his selfish purposes and the promptings of his human self, and seek out the holy breathings of the spirit . . . . ..

Meditation, then, might help us achieve the detachment necessary for consultation. Consultation will almost certainly strengthen our ability to be detached because it requires learning how to exchange ideas without over-identifying with them, and thereby facilitate our meditation. They are clearly not unrelated disciplines sharing as they do this same outcome.

Paul Lample in Revelation and Social Reality[12] points in the same direction when he writes, ‘Reflection takes a collective form through consultation.’

We also have to be open to the views of other people when we consult and to the Bahá’í Scriptures when we meditate upon them or to the promptings of our higher self when we commune with it in meditation. So these two skills are really not all that different either: they both enhance our understanding of reality.

In the end, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that meditation will help us consult and consulting will help us meditate. It certainly seems to me that meditation and consultation, used in conjunction as the Bahá’í Faith recommends though not necessarily along with accepting a concept of God, as I explained earlier, would constitute a wrecking ball of sufficient power to bring even the most obdurate of our dividing walls crashing to the ground and pave the way for greater unity within and between us. Such a degree of unity is imperative if we are to become capable of solving the problems that currently confront us within families, towns and nations, as well as across the world as whole.

Consultation has links with justice, too complex to go into now, which add further strength to this position:[13]

To the extent that justice becomes a guiding concern of human interaction, a consultative climate is encouraged that permits options to be examined dispassionately and appropriate courses of action selected. In such a climate the perennial tendencies toward manipulation and partisanship are far less likely to deflect the decision-making process.

Paul Lample, explains further:[14]

[C]onsultation is the tool that enables a collective investigation of reality in order to search for truth and achieve a consensus of understanding in order to determine the best practical course of action to follow.… [C]onsultation serves to assess needs, apply principles, and make judgements in a manner suited to a particular context. Consultation is therefore, the practical, dialogical means of continually adjusting relationships that govern power, and, thus, to strive for justice and unity.

I think that’s more than enough, hopefully, to convey what I’m getting at hear, though it probably won’t be the last time I come back to this topic. It keeps popping its head up.

References

[1]. The New Image of the Person – page 69.
[2]. Bahá’í Administration – page 21.
[3]. Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh – page 155.
[4]. The Matter with Things – page 1195.
[5]. The New Image of the Person – page 73.
[6]. Op. cit. – page 99.
[7]. Op. cit. – page 49.
[8]. Paris Talks – page 174.
[9]. Op. cit. – page 175.
[10]. Paris Talks – page 174.
[11]. Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – page 207.
[12]. Revelation and Social Reality – page 212.
[13]. The Prosperity of Humankind – from Section II.
[14]. Revelation and Social Reality – page 215.

Read Full Post »

Given my recent sequence redressing the balance of my Leaps of Faith sequence ended with a mystical theme, it seemed appropriate to republish some poems with a similar focus.

Read Full Post »

Given my recent sequence redressing the balance of my Leaps of Faith sequence ended with a mystical theme, it seemed appropriate to republish some poems with a similar focus.

Read Full Post »

As I explained in the first post, in Leaps of Faith, my original account of my decision to try and follow the Bahá’í path, there were at least three things I failed to do justice to:

  1. I gave an insufficiently balanced picture of the Catholic Faith – yes, it was fair to say that aspects of Catholicism played a part in feeding my scepticism which was rooted in my hospital experience (more of that in a moment), but members of that faith also later played a part in eroding that scepticism at a critical moment in my life’s trajectory: I’ll be focusing more on that in this post.
  2. my acknowledgement of the importance of Buddhism fell short of giving a full measure of my debt – that’s for the second post; and
  3. even my much stronger depiction of the role in my path towards belief of Peter Koestenbaum’s The New Image of the Person didn’t really do him justice especially now I have looked again at his anticipation of some key points in Iain McGilchrist’s model – more of that at last.

I explored my experience of Buddhism last time. Now it’s time to move onto Koestenbaum

In Leaps of Faith I wrote:

In the summer of 1982 a few months before my encounter with Robert Scrutton’s book, came my last prolonged exploration of an alternative to religion and spirituality. I read a brilliant book on existentialism by Peter Koestenbaum: The New Image of the Person: The Theory and Practice of Clinical Philosophy. It had been published in 1978.

The Nature of Reflection

My main, in fact only focus there is on his account of reflection.

Koestenbaum explains:[1]

The history of philosophy, religion and ethics appears to show that the process of reflection can continue indefinitely . . . . there is no attachment . . . which cannot be withdrawn, no identification which cannot be dislodged.’

By reflection he means something closely related to meditation: given my experience with Buddhist meditation this was clearly going to gain my attention.

Reflection, he says:[2]

. . . releases consciousness from its objects and gives us the opportunity to experience our conscious inwardness in all its purity.

What he says at another point is even more intriguing:[3]

The name Western Civilisation has given to . . . the extreme inward region of consciousness is God.

I didn’t see at the time exactly where that would lead me, nor did I include in my Leaps of Faith account how much more PK says on this kind of issue.

Digging Deeper

It was on 3 September 1982 that I borrowed what I refer to as ‘a number of fascinating books from the Swiss Cottage library.’ The ‘most rewarding and exciting’ one was on the theory and practice of ‘clinical philosophy’ by Peter Koestenbaum. I’ve no idea what the others were.

On page 18 he outlined what seemed to me a crucial idea and one towards which I had been ineffectually groping for years: ‘by eliminating or putting out of action the assumptions implicit in the experience of being an isolated ego, the experience of surrender to the world emerges, and with it arises the sense of oneness with the universe.’

This is a good illustration of by how much I sold him short. Here he is talking about a sense of oneness. I’ve noticed it enough to make a note of it. Three months later I become a member of the Bahá’í community whose central tenet is the oneness of humanity with our connectedness to the whole of creation also emphasised. Wasn’t that likely to have primed me in some way?

Then, when I am asked, admittedly many years later, to write an account of my journey towards the Bahá’í Faith I have managed to forget such an important insight. Well, I guess my recently republished sequence on memory gives a fairly clear account of why that might have happened.

Admittedly some of the gains from his writing relate more to my past experience of Buddhism than my future encounter with the Bahá’í revelation. In early September I am recording that he writes: ‘the process of facilitating self-disclosure… is the act of permitting the discovery within oneself of what one truly is.’ Psychotherapy, he argues, limits the degree to which adult choice can free us from the constraints laid down in childhood: clinical philosophy frees us from any such limits.

I go into more detail concerning my response to that:

I cannot really express how crucially important that idea is to me. It is an important message I derived from Buddhism. I need to believe what I have just copied from his book if I am going to survive sanely. I could not bear to live on unable completely to free myself from the swaddles of my infancy and early childhood. They are grim and chaffing fetters, not dramatically but inexorably laid down, which murder by slow internal bleeding, a soul ruptured in the struggle to stay free. Only the philosophical point of view allows for the soul to heal. Whether my soul is healing because I believe that, or I believe that because my soul is healing, I do not know.

My faith in the benefits of meditation remained firm:

I believe that meditation helped me to see myself more clearly and eventually change by unhooking my identification with my defensive-competitive and romance-hungry self. I ceased to be who I thought I was and became free to be someone else if I wished. . . . There is indeed no specific and unchanging ‘I’ — only a series of choices. The freedom and delight is beyond expression. I am nothing and therefore everything!

This adds strength to the sense, about which I joked at the end of the previous post, that what I seemed to be engaged in, from my perspective, was some kind of personality transplant.

The Value of Reflection

Next I begin to engage with a deeper explanation of exactly what Koestenbaum means when he talks about the value of reflection.

He explains that the process of reduction has several levels or stages:[4]

[The first is where] there is no experienced distance between consciousness and object… we call this condition of consciousness the animal consciousness.

The first stage of stepping back, presumably the beginnings of reflection, brings you to the second level,[5] ‘eidetic or abstract consciousness’, in short the ability to think.

Next we reach “individual consciousness… the basic posture we take in daily life and its full exploration is the first goal of therapy . . . At this level consciousness thinks of itself as an individual and isolated self.’

Previous material on this blog, such as the insights I drew from Tom Oliver’s The Self Delusion, as well as all the insights from spiritual traditions including the Bahá’í Faith, combine powerfully to prick the bubble of this destructive fantasy. Unfortunately, I remain unconvinced that most mainstream therapies work along the lines that he is beginning to suggest. There are exceptions in therapies such as Psychosynthesis, also discussed on this blog, but they are still not part of the mainstream, as far as I know, in any influential sense.

Given my biases now, it will be no surprise to learn that I resonate strongly and positively to his next levels: first[6] the ‘deepened level of consciousness’ which he calls ‘the intersubjective or intimate consciousness.’ He explains more fully what he means:

Two people do not feel like two individuals in one bipolar field, where each individual consciousness is an object to the other; they feel like a combined subjective core to which a world of objects is given in common.

He uses the analogy of two space modules docking:

When they finally lock into each other, a common door is opened, their space is stretched and expanded, and a larger and communal inner space is created.

I know from my own experience of therapy, particularly as therapist, there was a strong feeling of two interconnected inscapes interacting.

Iain McGilchrist has much to say on a similar point which he terms ‘betweenness.’ There is only space for a brief example here from an account of a woman with right hemisphere damage:[7]

Here are a host of interrelated points, which describe the plight of modern humanity as exemplified in the writings of modernism. Not only is there immobility, but things are fragmented, ‘presenting themselves’ in a disconnected way, each on its own: no betweenness. What’s more, there is more specifically no flow ‘between’ things: between her [the patient] and the world, where things ‘evoke’ no emotional response, where she can no longer ‘abandon’ herself to the world, a world she cannot join, and where she must remain ‘outside’.

More on that later when I delve more deeply into The Matter with Things.

This leads neatly into Koestenbuam’s next point from 40 years earlier.[8] The fourth stage he labels ‘social or communal consciousness… It is the experience of unity with a large number of conscious centres over a long period of time.’

The poem I wrote, triggered by Mellen-Thomas Benedict’s account of his NDE in Ken Ring’s Lessons from the Light,[9] has echoes of this same insight:

The light changes into a mandala of souls
all our souls, our true selves, are fused,
we are one being,
we are the same being,
distinct aspects of the same Being.
I enter this mandala of human souls
white hot with all the love we’ve ever wanted,
a love that can heal everything, everyone

Where he possibly moves beyond McGilchrist (but I might be wrong about this as I am only about halfway through the 1333 pages of the main text of The Matter with Things) is at the fifth stage and beyond. The fifth stage is ‘cosmic consciousness’[10] where ‘the social consciousness becomes now the object of our consciousness… With this reduction we have reached the experience of universality.’ The sixth and last level[11] is ‘the eternal now… when even space and time become the objects of the intentional stream of consciousness. The subjective core, which has succeeded in making an object of cosmic consciousness, experiences itself outside of space and time.’

It’s pretty clear though how the left hemisphere language of these explanations of right hemisphere spiritual experience would have helped hugely in preparing my mind for my encounter with the deeply mystical and profoundly spiritual insights in the Bahá’í Writings to which I would shortly be exposed. Proof if any more was needed that I owed Koestenbaum far more than I described in Leaps of Faith.

It also perhaps explains why I came to feel that I was not only a Buddhist but also an Existential traveller on the Bahá’í path.

His next point again resonates with The Matter with Things. ‘Consciousness is objectless’ and Western languages do not really have words for this. McGilchrist is again relevant here with his sense of the limitations of language. For example, he explains the value of art in this respect:[12] ‘the beauty and power of art and of myth is that they enable us, just for a while, to contact aspects of reality that we recognize well, but cannot capture in words.’  He adds, ‘we would be lost without words, but sometimes it is wisdom to be lost for words.’

My sequence of posts, triggered by reading Irreducible Mind, deals in detail with my struggle to accept the idea of mind-brain independence and the spiritual origins of mind, so I won’t dwell on it here.

Mysticism

I will close my discussion of Koestenbaum with some summarising thoughts from his chapter on Mysticism. He goes on to explain[14] what he terms ‘the phenomenological description of pure consciousness.’ By this he means that:[15]

The consciousness within me is first of all experienced as universal… Second… as infinite… the absence of limits… third (as) coeval (coincident) with space and time… fourthly as indestructible (and) … finally, this consciousness can be experienced and recognised as the ground of being… as one answer to the question: what and where is home?

I have already said too much to have the space here to unpack in detail why that short passage seems so crucial to priming my mind to accept the huge leaps of faith required of me if I, a recent atheist/agnostic of something like 20 years duration, was to accept the Bahá’í revelation. All I will do here is flag up the word ‘indestructible,’ which challenged my concept of the finality of death, and the phrase ‘ground of being,’ which was a stepping stone towards a digestible idea of God.

Equally interesting, but less dramatic, was the way this led, in his exploration, to something almost identical with practice of disidentification in Psychosynthesis. He wrote:[16]

I am not this thought; I am not this feeling; I am not this physical object; I’m not this body of flesh and bones, nor am I this self-concept. I am not these feelings, these attitudes and these responses associated with my personality. Nor am I these character defences or body armour with which most of us so closely identify ourselves. I am in instead and in truth pure and universal consciousness.

Koestenbaum published his book in 1978. As I only have my notes I can’t check whether he acknowledges any debt to Psychosynthesis as his source for this idea. Either way it doesn’t really matter as the double validation, both in this book and Assagioli’s, first published in 1965, helped me on my way.

There is more I could say but this is probably enough for now to make my point and redress the failure of my original account to do justice to Koestenbaum’s crucially important role in my spiritual journey.

My conscience is somewhat eased by my having corrected the record in this way.

References

[1]. The New Image of the Person – page 73. Unless otherwise indicated all quotes are from this book.
[2]. Page 99.
[3]. Page 49.
[4]. Page 77.
[5]. Page 79.
[6]. Page 80.
[7]. The Matter with Things – page 336.
[8]. Page 80 again.
[9]. Lessons from the Light – pages 286-91.
[10]. Page 81.
[11]. Page 82.
[12]. The Matter with Things – page 631.
[13]. Page 86.
[14]. Page 145.
[15]. Pages 146-47.
[16]. Page 165.

Read Full Post »

As I explained last time, in Leaps of Faith, my original account of my decision to try and follow the Bahá’í path, there were at least three things I failed to do justice to:

  1. I gave an insufficiently balanced picture of the Catholic Faith – yes, it was fair to say that aspects of Catholicism played a part in feeding my scepticism which was rooted in my hospital experience (more of that in a moment), but members of that faith also later played a part in eroding that scepticism at a critical moment in my life’s trajectory: I’ll be focusing more on that in this post.
  2. my acknowledgement of the importance of Buddhism fell short of giving a full measure of my debt – that’s for the second; and
  3. even my much stronger depiction of the role in my path towards belief of Peter Koestenbaum’s A New Image of the Person didn’t really do him justice especially now I have looked again at his anticipation of some key points in Iain McGilchrist’s model – more of that in the last post.

I explored Catholicism last time. Now it’s time to move onto Buddhism

Buddhism:

In Leaps of Faith I wrote:

Buddhism seemed a conveniently atheistical religion with a sophisticated psychology. Choosing to investigate that at the same time as I studied psychology was a no-brainer for me. And the meditation I practised as a result was a useful stabilising influence. . . . Buddhism, which still seems to me a religion of great beauty, depth and power, though I never threw in my lot with it, disappointed for a different reason. I was impressed painfully by its combination of deep spirituality and practical inefficacy in the modern world.

In fact, its psychology had seemed deeper and richer by far than the reductionist impersonation I was having to study in Guilford at the time. The fruits of effortful experience, such as dedicated meditation, has for me generally trumped numerically rooted theory.

Looking at the same period in my journal, in May 1982 I’m lamenting that ‘[a]t seventeen I stopped up the wellsprings of my deepest feelings when I turned my back on all religions. I am now parching with a spiritual thirst – my main priority is to find out what I need to slake it.’

I’m already clearly benefiting from a consistent pattern of meditation over the previous twelve months:

. . . Both my meditation sessions today… have been very fruitful. I feel as if my body is being redeemed, renewed after so long abuse.… Buddhism and meditation in this last year mainly have done so much to free my mind from its old debilitating patterns.

I explicitly credit my encounters with the Catholic women who helped with my research, as described in the previous post: ‘My research has, perhaps not surprisingly, moved me along the spiritual path.’ I was investigating the ‘psychological correlates of social support and life stress . . . in mothers with three of more young children.’ My enriching encounters with the Catholic mothers in question was an unintended but very welcome side effect that never showed up in the statistical evidence I had to use in my report.

I also acknowledge that my attempts to climb back onto a spiritual track date further back in time but were not conspicuously successful:

. . . I forged a morality under the surface of my mind which corresponded point for point with Buddhist morality and that from the moment I tried yoga in my teens my adoption of Buddhism has been ripening. I have sadly diverged from my inner beliefs many, many times and often widely, and wildly. But I have now the feeling of arriving home, where I belong, to somewhere long familiar not new.

Things seemed genuinely different to me then:

I have been astonished at the power of meditation to help me bring about such fundamental changes in my thinking and orientation as have occurred recently, and all without any dramatic experiences within the periods of meditation.

That was about to change. On 12 May I wrote:

… my most important event of the week. Unfortunately there are no words with which I could conceivably describe it. I meditated from 6 until 6:50 pm. Inspired by comments in Hubbard’s book on Quakers: ‘one becomes instead aware, one is conscious of being a participant in the whole of existence, not limited to the body, or the moment,’ I determined to meditate to the ultimate of my present capacity. I finally achieved an experience unlike any other.

I felt my being being forced open by a ‘something’ which dissolved my boundaries, physical and mental. There was for a brief while neither inside not outside. My self as I knew it shrank to a few fragments clinging to the edges of this something which ‘I’ had become or which had become me or which I always am deep down.

I was frightened. I dared did not quite let the experience be. Slowly the ‘something’ ebbed away and I felt slightly cold and more determined than ever ultimately to sink my ego in the infinite and be at One with life.

Over the next three weeks there was a rapid increase in the intensity of these experiences, the result of a more determined focus on my part, it seemed:

I will accept this as my path because it feels right and I must choose now not to dabble. There is too little time. Nirvana is samsara seen aright, and I know that deep down I thirst for satori, an end to a world devoid of its true meaning and rendered sterile by deception and projection.

My mind is slowly driving itself into a corner. I am not blinding myself to my egotism any more. . .  For now I must . . . simply practice meditation and endeavour to follow Buddhist principles.

In a telling image, given my love of Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, I declared that ‘I began to see my ego and its wants as my albatross, the dead memorial to my stifled opportunities for generous living.’

By the 30 May 1982 I was recording ‘[a] superb meditation session before I left. Beyond words to describe. . . . I manage by following my breath to achieve the state of mind I have only achieved once before fully. Beautiful. And I do not think I attempted to cling to it this time nor recoiled from its similarity to some childhood experiences with a high fever.’

In the light of subsequent and rapidly approaching events, I somewhat overstate the case on 31 May:

. . . After more than a year’s intense reading, thought and meditation it looks like I have chosen Zen till death us do part. . . . I am almost convinced I shall be treading the path of Zen from now on.

The letter of that statement may not be quite true, but maybe the spirit is. Maybe I have always been walking the Bahá’í path in a Buddhist fashion. The word of caution – ‘almost’ – carries some weight as well.

I am aware of the difficult nature of the essential journey which, in June, I define as ‘the cultivation of the Buddhist way of non-attachment,’ and compare to a ‘mirror in which I see myself as I am rather than as I would like to be.’ I know there are traps along the path I am choosing to tread: ‘I have not yet the wisdom to strive for anything, even enlightenment, without triggering a desire for glory. It seems that the best way for me to remain detached and mindful is for me not to strive for anything — not even Sartori.’ That’s a basic Buddhist insight in any case.

I have a sense of ‘[l]ife . .  pushing me towards something – I can feel it. It is trying to teach me something – what I do not know.’ The closest I can get is to say:

It is as though life sets everyone a koan commensurate with their capabilities and their karma. Its solution lies in the exhaustion of reason and in the realisation of life’s essential meaning. Once that transcendent truth has been realised, we will know what to do. Failure to resolve and transcend our perplexities in that way creates ever-deepening perplexity.

By August what is unarguably clear is this:

In the plastic plethora in which we live it is so easy to lose track of this core of being – not any more, please God, not any more – I have had enough. I am sick to my bones of seeking among brightly coloured stones for what lies neglected in my own heart – may I have the strength to turn my back upon all such distractions and focus all my powers of discernment upon being. Not having, not doing, but BEING.

It’s interesting to note that I beseech God in this way even when I am convinced I am a Buddhist of some kind. Even so, the extent of my conscious allegiance and my very real debt to Buddhism at this point are beyond contention. I am declaring:

Now is the time to lay down strong positive habits of meditation, simplicity, generosity and love. Freedom will be found for me in renunciation of almost everything except love and wisdom in the deepest sense. Buddhism has been crucial, as has meditation, to the furthering of this process and I must continue.

By the end of August, in words that in a way partially anticipate the words of Bahá’u’lláh that I will commit to memory at some point in the future, I define my spiritual ambitions:

I have a burning desire to wipe the slate of my life and mind completely clean — and begin again differently — to polish my mind until it shines smooth and clear, revealing the true grain of its essential nature to the world and reflecting the world in the clarity of its shine. Clutter obstructs.

The words of Bahá’u’lláh are to be found in a mystical text – The Seven Valleys (para: 43 – 2018 edition): ‘ 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.’

The words I wrote on 31 August 1982 capture the essence of this whole process in a way that my description in Leaps of Faith fails to do:

Buddhism was the spring from which meditation channeled the water which eventually nurtured my oppressed soul into more vigorous activity.

Simply to say, as I did in that account, ‘the meditation I practised as a result was a useful stabilising influence’ was way off the mark. What I seem to be describing reads more like a personality transplant at some points!

Which brings us to the point at which Koestenbaum kicks in. More on that next time.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »