Watch, Pray, and Don't Mention My Book to the Rank and Foul
Given its unorthodox nature, it still amazes me that any publisher took on the project at all, but it was actually published by the very first one I sent it to. And even they--bless their hearts--expressed some misgivings about publishing a book that started in mid-sentence with a little psychotic fairy tale, used different fonts at the beginning and end, and had no proper endings for the individual chapters. I guess I've never told the story of how the book came to be. If you will indulge me for a moment, I think I'll relate that tale here, before getting into the substance of today's post. I wouldn't do so unless I thought it was more generally instructive about the way things work. You know, synchronicity, and all that.
Again, I wrote the book without ever giving a thought as to whether it would ever be published and who might do the publishing. I then read a book that had been put out by my eventual publisher, Paragon House. It was actually published by a small subdivision, an imprint called Omega Books. I noticed that the editor of Omega Books was a man named John White. Where did I know that name? Ah yes! I went to my bookshelf and pulled down an old book of his that I had read many years ago, an anthology entitled The Highest State of Consciousness (since then republished as What is Enlightenment?), which I probably purchased in the early 1980's, but was originally published in 1972. Anyway, I opened the book and noticed that White had dedicated the book to A.L.P. and H.C.E.
I suppose that most people wouldn't know who A.L.P. and H.C.E. were, but I surely did. They are Anna Livia Plurabelle and Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker of Finnegans Wake, the former representing the universal archetype of femininity, the latter representing the universal masculine. Like me, this man White was a fan of James Joyce's incomprehensible masterpiece Finnegans Wake! And of higher states of consciousness! Plus the book has a chapter about Sri Aurobindo. Surely he will appreciate my book, in particular, the Joycean prologue and epilogue that are modeled after Finnegans Wake. To put it another way, if he doesn't get it, that will be a pretty good indication that no on else will either.
So I stuck the manuscript in an envelope and promptly forgot about it. Six months later I get a profusely apologetic phone call from the man himself, deferentially treating me like the reincarnation of James Joyce. Of course I'll publish the book! If Paragon doesn't want it, I'll find a way to do it myself! He explained that I had sent the manuscript to the main office in Minnesota, but that he operates out of New Hampshire. Somehow it had been hung up in Minnesota all that time. He had just received the package, and I guess it's safe to say that to this day he remains my most enthusiastic supporter. He specifically mentioned that he was determined to publish the book even if no one else besides he and I got the metaphysical humor. (It turns out that White was Ken Wilber's first literary agent, and managed to get Wilber's first book, The Spectrum of Consciouness, published after something like twenty five rejections. That book, of course, went on the be a massive success, and made Wilber the 800 pound gorilla of the far-flung--including some things you'd like to fling far--world of consciousness studies.)
I don't know. The whole sequence of events still strikes me as pretty odd. Now I just noticed another weird synchronictiy. I'm thumbing through The Highest State of Consciousness, and I see at the end of the introduction White writes, "Man appears to be constructed in the manner of Yeats' intersecting gyres or as a miniature model of the doughnut-shaped Van Allen radiation belt surrounding our planet. A local vortex in a sea of energy.... The aura of mystics and the stylized halo of saints is then explainable" as a visible manifestation of spiritual purity, of "their lack of interfering vibrations from confused thought processes." Remember my inexplicable post last Sunday, "Is the Cosmos a Fractal Torus?" Until today, I had no idea that Yeats and White also thought so. And I thought I was eccentric. I'm not even original.
Anyway, one of the reasons why I can't imagine my book becoming hugely popular is that it's not the sort of thing that can ever spread like wildfire from hand to hand and mouth to mouth. That is, even if one person gets a lot out of the book, it is quite likely that they will not know a single individual in their life to whom they could unreservedly recommend it. I personally wouldn't think of recommending the book to most of the rank-and-file (not to mention the rank and foul) earthlings I know, whether friends, relatives, neighbors, or coworkers. If it comes up at all, I actually dissuade most people from reading it, because it's just not meant for everyone.
I joke about it, but the blog actually does get many more hits when I post about politics. However, the people who are drawn only to the politics would eventually be alienated anyway by the esotericism. One of the reasons why I enjoy the feedback is that it is a relief to know that there are others of Our Kind out there. After all, we are an odd breed. Clearly we are strangers wandering the debased secular world of infrahuman entertainment and pseudointellectual philosophical materialism. And although sympathetic with them, we are not fully comfortable in the world of the other half, either--the conventionally religious (this is not intended as a slight, just a matter of affinity). But we are frankly creeped out by the untraditionalists, the born-again pagans of the "new age" world, which largely consists of a marketing scam for magical thinking and self-aggrandizement.
So where do we fit in? We are Mr. and Missfits, condemned to wander the lonely desert of cyberspace with only the occasional virtual oasis dotting the infinite mindscape. I don't know about you, but I am relieved to know that there is even one other person similar to me. Then, at the very least, it's a folie a deux. Or should that be deus?
Reader Will--who is a scary example of someone who thinks just like me--highlighted what is actually at the foundation of the ancient Christian approach to spiritual growth (although they surely wouldn't have flattered themselves by calling it "growth"), that is, watchfulness. Watchfulness is the key to everything--I believe it is the very last instruction Jesus gives to his disciples before he is yanked up by the Roman machine. In the garden at Gethsemane, he clearly and unambiguously urges them--not parable style--to watch and pray. This statement may be interpreted as the last exoteric statement made by the living Jesus, while It is accomplished may be regarded as his last esoteric statement. They are unified in his very last recorded words in the Book of John, You follow me.
Will points out that interior watchfulness "is the key regarding the primary fight against evil. The New Testament, particularly Matthew, is replete with references to 'staying awake', which certainly in one context could be taken as a rejoinder to remain self-vigilant." Exactly. In this regard, esoteric Christian practices are extremely similar to Yoga and Buddhism, in that they aspire to achieve inner silence, stillness, and openness through the systematic practice of watchfulness. This actually represents true prayer according to Bishop Kallistos Ware:
"To achieve silence: this is of all things the hardest and the most decisive in art of prayer. Silence is not merely a negative--a pause between words, a temporary cessation of speech--but, properly understood, it is highly positive: an attitude of attentive alertness, of vigilance, and above all of listening. The man who has attained hesychia, inward stillness or silence, is par excellence the one who listens. He listens to the voice of prayer in his own heart, and he understands that this voice is not his but that of another speaking within him." Or, as I cryptically expressed it at the end of my book, "he who hesychasts is lost," meaning that you--your ego--must become lost in the silence of God.
Will adds that we must also "imagine" ourselves "into spiritual increase." This use of imagination is a term of art, not to be confused with the lower, dreamlike imagination. This lower form of imagination is somnolent, passive, and present in beasts. It is the opposite of "watch and pray." Much spiritual warfare specifically involves the struggle against this hypnotic state in which most human beings will spend their entire lives. The noetic use of imagination is oriented in a direction diametrically opposed to this, and involves actively gathering and assimilating forces and influences emanating from a higher world, not the lower one.
Will further points out that "we can expect a firestorm of resistance, which is what happens when we pick up the cross, or in Eastern terms, 'activate our karma'." Mind parasites that were "hitherto happy to remain in the unconscious where [they] could make us dance to [their] tune, rise to the surface and give us holy hell in one form or another. Ego wants full control again and it will do what it can to dismay, terrify, depress, cajole, flatter, even sympathize with us in an effort to seize the reins again. And at a certain point in the process, I think, we have to begin dealing with evil as universal archetype, not merely as a personalized set of failings. Any would-be pilgrim who harbors a romanticism re this quickening process is going to be 100% disabused of the notion."
Yes. This reminds me of a remark once made by my best teacher in graduate school, the esteemed Dr. Panajian. Someone asked if he recommended psychoanalysis for something or other. Dr. Panajian responded that he would not. "I only offer psychoanalysis. I would never recommend it."
Likewise, I would never recommend spiritual practice (or my book, for that matter). If they are meant for you, you will know it.
We end with another comment left by reader Rorschach regarding a painful relationship with an atheist friend of long-standing. As I have mentioned before, it is wrong to think of atheism as a non-spiritual belief system. In point of fact, obligatory atheism is definitely a spiritual state. It is nothing more and nothing less than a frank confession of ignorance of the higher planes of being. It serves no purpose whatsoever to get into an argument or debate with such an individual. They do not know because they cannot know. Just take their word for it and move on.
Rorschach points out that "He is not insane or evil; purely rational and honorable as a human being." No doubt true, but there is a particular form of madness that involves losing everything but one's reason (I forget who said that originally). Rorschach says that the essential dilemma is "fear falling in his esteem if I admit to honest belief in God." Here I can only refer you back to what was said above regarding watching, praying, and achieving inner silence. It is relatively easy to do this privately, much more difficult to maintain this zone of silence--the impregnable Interior Monastery--while in the world. This is what you must be able to do in the presence of your friend--to have a spiritual force field that simply repels his energies that will perpetually try to provoke your own mind parasites. He is an occasion for you to learn inner silence under in vivo conditions, while real bullets are flying.
Actually, we conclude with reader Sal, who made the excellent point that "sanctification is a lifelong affair--with the purgative, illuminative and unitive stages recurring cyclically." This is such a good point that I will probably have to leave it until tomorrow to expand upon, but this is exactly right. All spiritual practices may be ultimately reduced to the trinity of purification, illumination, and union. However, it is a mistake to think of it as a linear process. Rather, like that other trinity, it is a fractally recurring, upwardly spiraling pattern with each part inside the other parts. If you want to know the truth, if you could somehow represent it visually, it would look something like Yeats' intersecting gyres or as a miniature model of the doughnut-shaped Van Allen radiation belt surrounding our planet, something I didn't know until about half an hour ago. I'll explain more tomorrow. If anyone is still out there.