Saturday, December 10, 2005

Eternal Life in Three Easy Steps!

Virtually all spiritual practices, from whatever tradition, may be broken down into the three-part process of purification, illumination, and union. The first part, purification, is referred to in Christianity as "metanoia," or repentance. Repentance has taken on some unfortunate connotations, but the literal meaning of metanoia is to "change one's mind," specifically, to turn away from the surface world of illusion to the world of the Real. It means to turn toward another world that now is, about a micron or two away from the surface world. This other world "shimmers through" the familiar world, but we must purify ourselves in order to reliably see it. When the Bible talks about the "light shining in the darkness," this is the light it's talking about--it is similar to the noetic light that shines through a great poem or painting, and which cannot be detected by our Darwinian eyes.

Before purification or metanoia take place, we live in a kind of horizontal freedom that is in reality a form of imprisonment. We are actually locked inside our own mind. To be perfectly accurate, a psychologically healthy person is not an entirely closed system, but is an open system with other minds. But still, the mind as such forms a closed system unless it is open to vertical energies that transcend its limitations. Purification is necessary because our purely mental conceptions interfere with the ability to see what transcends them. This is why it is said that the wisdom of God is folly to the Greeks--to the rational mind.

Richard Smoley, author of Inner Christianity, describes it thus: "In ordinary life, attention is directed outward, toward the world of sensations, thoughts and feelings. With a certain shift in attention, the mind is directed within, toward the center of being, beyond all thoughts and representations, where God meets the individual self. Such 'repentence' may indeed involve a change in one's way of life, but from an esoteric point of view, such changes are likely to develop organically out of an increase in consciousness. As you see and understand more of the inner worlds, love, kindness, and compassion become more spontaneous and natural." So technically, we can "repent" on the way to illumination, or repentance and the positive character changes that follow can flow naturally from a deepening of consciousness.

Contrary to what scientific materialists believe, with purification, one actually begins to see the world as it is. In other words, the world disclosed by science is fine as far as it goes, but we must never forget that it is an abstraction from the fullness of reality--it is not the thing itself, but an abstract representation of it. The Real Thing is so impossibly rich and multifaceted that it could never be "contained" by the linear categories of science.

There are many ways to practice purification--meditation, contemplation, prayer, ritual, certain types of reading (lectio divina), etc. If successful, you should be able to experience a bit of "levitation," as you are lifted from this plane and offered a glimpse of the adjacent World. You may not be able to fully inhabit that world, but you can certainly know of its existence, as it becomes increasingly clear, luminous and transparent. This is called "illumination," "awakening," or being "born again from above." It signifies the breakthrough of vertical energies, an awakening to higher truth, love and beauty. This may be confusing, because it doesn't mean to posit two entirely different worlds. Rather, it is to see another world within this world (actually, "around" this world; this world is contained within it).

In this regard it is somewhat similar to modern conceptions of the unconscious in psychoanalysis. In Freud's older model, the unconscious was literally thought of as a sort of separate realm, with a horizontal line between the ego--the conscious part of ourselves--and the unconscious "below." But now we understand that there is more or less of the unconscious in every conscious thought, emotion or act. It is more of a "holographic" model, in which various dimensions of the psyche are copresent and interpenetrating.

The same is true with respect to the logic of Divine presence. In one respect it is "above," in the sense that it is ontologically and developmentally higher. Nevertheless, it is an immanent, "embodied above" that interpenetrates the "below." That is why, as I said above, it is just a micron away--just a tiny shift in perception brings it out, like a small movement of a kaleidoscope brings a new pattern into view.

Illumination can be a lifelong process, since the realm of spirit is literally inexhaustible. We use language and other symbols to translate it into a local representation, but this is simply going to the river with a bucket. Don't confuse your little bucket with the boundless River of Light.

The promise of the final stage is union, known in Eastern Orthodox Christianity as "theosis," in Vedanta as "moksha" or "samadhi," or in Kabbalistic Judaism as "Yecidah" ("single one"). It's what happens when you die. Of course, if you arrange to die before you die, then you can experience it while you live. Or so we have heard from the Wise. But in any event, there's nothing to worry about. One way or another, you'll get there, either heart first or feet first.

In One Cosmos Under God, I tried to capture some of what we're talking about here in a more poetic and metaphysically humorous form, at the very end of the book. Here is some of it, rendered in verse instead of prose*:

If your powers of deception were cleansed
Then nothing would appear as it isn't.
No body crosses the phoenix line
Lest it be repossessed and amortized.
Some by fire, some by flood,
But all buy the farm & bury the form.
Eloha, that's a good bye
For the Love that removes the sin and other scars
(speaking allegheirically).

*(If anyone can decipher all of the puns and literary allusions packed into this little snippet, I hereby grant you one indulgence for any past or future foible, peccadillo, or indiscretion.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bush Lied, Logic Died

It's amazing to me that the "Bush Lied" meme has gained as much traction as it has. Roughly fifty percent of the population believe it, and it is fair to say that the belief is both unsupportable and ineradicable. In fact, if there were actually a little evidence for the belief that Bush lied about WMD, the assertion would be less believable, because the evidence would then have to be weighed against all of the other considerable evidence that the WMD existed. Thus, by actually having no evidence, the Bush-lied conspiracy theorists can imagine a secret "smoking gun" of such massive proportions that anyone who saw it would know in an instant that Saddam absolutely had no WMD. And the imagination is much more powerful than reality--especially the paranoid imagination.

The conspiracy theorists have it exactly backwards. The burden of proof should be on those who are making the accusation that Bush lied. As it stands, the accusers are getting a free ride, since they are making an ex post facto argument to the effect that, since WMD have not been found, ergo Bush was lying about them. This is such a perverse substitute for thought. In reality, of course, one must consider only the evidence that President Bush had before him at the time he made the decision to invade. Therefore, it is necessary for those who argue that Bush is lying to present us with the evidence that proves that Bush knew the WMD did not exist.

In fact, no one has identified, nor will anyone ever identify, the supposed evidence that President Bush had to have had in his possession that trumped all of the other intelligence and convinced him that there were no WMD in Iraq. For that is what the conspiracy theorists are asking us to believe. If Bush is lying, his lie is necessarily based on some evidence that only Bush and no one else has seen--not the CIA, not the UN, not any of the other intelligence agencies in the world. And it had to be extremely powerful, compelling evidence to overturn all of the counter-evidence. So where is it?

One of the problems is that politics in general, and the Democratic party in particular, is dominated by lawyers, especially trial lawyers. (Ambulance-chasing trial lawyers such as John Edwards are the largest donors to the Democratc party.) And lawyers are trained to think legalistically, not morally. More ominously, they can just as well use an argument to attack truth as a means to arrive at it. This is not necessarily their fault. It is what they do. But we should be able to see through this kind of false logic.

I have a great deal of familiarity with how unscrupulous lawyers think and behave, because I do a fair amount of forensic work in psychology. Apparently, what I would call inexcusably unethical behavior, they would call "being an effective lawyer." This would include muddying an issue rather than illuminating it, twisting logic rather than applying it, and attacking truth rather than honoring it. (Obligatory disclaimer--the field is also full of unethical psychologists, just as there are many fine and decent lawyers.)

Few cases in the field of forensic psychology are absolute "slam dunks." Rather, one takes a detailed history, reviews medical records, administers psychological tests, and conducts a mental status examination, so that there will be a wealth of different kinds of evidence and information to arrive at an opinion. Once you have been convinced that a certain opinion is true, you don't present the opinion as being fifty-one percent true, or seventy-five percent true, but as simply true. In other words, you present the argument as strongly as you can. You give countervailing arguments their due, but with logic, evidence, rhetoric and presentation, you make the strongest case you can

Clearly, this is what the Bush administration did with regard to their belief that Saddam possessed WMD. Undoubtedly there were countervailing arguments, but nothing that outweighed the mountain of evidence pointing to their existence. Therefore, just as in my job as a forensic psychologist, they made their argument as strongly as possible, based on the weight of the evidence. Bear in mind that at no point was the threshold of evidence one hundred percent, or even seventy five percent. Rather, in a life-or death situation such as this, the threshold may not even have had to be fifty percent. For example, what if someone told you that there was a twenty-five percent chance you had a brain tumor? Would you go to the doctor? Or would you wait until you were one hundred percent convinced? What if there was a twenty-five percent chance Saddam would possess nukes within five years?

But just as in my job, it is very easy for a clever lawyer with no interest in the truth to attack some small portion of the argument, so as to convey the impression that the entire argument has been toppled. You will note that this was the strategy of O.J. Simpson's diabolical legal team. By attacking this or that small aspect of the evidence, it was easy enough to sway an invincibly stupid and credulous jury that was predisposed to believe in Simpson's innocence anyway. Simpson's attorneys gave the jury "permission" to believe what they wanted to believe.

The MSM and their political action wing, the Democratic party, are using this identical strategy in putting forth the "Bush lied" meme to a dim and/or credulous population in the throes of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Everyone thinks that Johnnie Cochrane was motivated by some great love of black people and their cause. In reality, he had such utter contempt for them, that he knew that his courtroom trickery would snow them. Likewise, Democratic elites have such contempt for the intelligence of the average Democrat, that they know all they have to do is throw out a couple of bogus arguments, and they can lead them by the nose, much as they have cynically done with minorities over the past forty years.