Saturday, July 31, 2010

Solar Flares and Loony Tunes

This is just a ramble for Music Saturday. Feel free to comment on it or ignore it altogether and consider it an open thread on the subject of music and art.

Of the five senses -- sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell -- only the first two are associated with art and with aesthetic beauty. There are no olfactory artists who produce timeless smells, nor are there artists of touch.

Some might say that a gifted chef is an artist, but food is too closely connected to biological survival to qualify as art. Food may delight or entice, but it provides a kind of vital pleasure that is quite distinct from the pleasures of art. As Stephen Dedalus says in P of the A as a YM, eating provokes kinetic desire as opposed to aesthetic arrest. And there are some beautiful smells -- certain incenses, for example -- but they simply "are what they are," and don't point to or reveal anything else.

Why is this the case? First of all, how can two such diverse modes -- sight and hearing -- equally create the thing called "art?" Or, perhaps more to the point, what is art that it can express itself in two such diverse modes? Why are a painting and a symphony both called art? And why are the other senses excluded?

One of the classic definitions of art is that it combines, wholeness (integritas), harmony (consonantia), and radiance (claritas, which is similar to Plato's "splendor of truth").

Thus, painting and music can obviously embody wholeness and harmony, but it is difficult to imagine how the other senses could do so. For example, touch is inherently fragmentary; one cannot "touch the whole," nor can the fingers perceive radiance. And no one imagines that truth can be tasted or smelled (except in a subtle, analogical manner).

Let's go back to Joyce, who is speaking through Stephen: "An aesthetic image is presented to us either in space or in time. What is audible is presented in time, what is visible is presented in space."

The "mysterious instant" of aesthetic reception occurs when "the supreme quality of beauty... is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony." There is in "the silent stasis of aesthetic pleasure, a spiritual state very like to that cardiac condition which... [is] called the enchantment of the heart."

Schuon, who wrote extensively on the spiritual dimension of art, notes that of the five senses, the eye lends itself to a "particularly adequate correspondence with the Intellect," since it is more detached and objective, the least bound up with vital sensibility.

I'm not so sure about this, since for men especially, sight is the vehicle of the female form. 'Nuff said.

But in any event, he says that sight corresponds to the intellect in its "static and simultaneous" mode, while hearing reflects it "in its dynamic and successive mode."

He adds that the latter may be thought of as "lunar" in relation to the solar centrality of sight. This makes sense, since they say that females are more sound-oriented from the get-go. They are also more interpersonally connected, and yakking is the vehicle of this connection.

We all know that light and illumination are the universal symbols of divine knowledge and its acquisition, just as darkness connotes ignorance, stupidity, and tenure.

But here again, sound is not far behind. For example, in Vedanta they posit the primordial vibration of existence as AUM, while in Christianity it all begins with the Word. And this Word must be heard.

Perhaps vision conveys the image of eternity, while sound is the moving image of eternity. As Schuon says, aesthetics is "the science of forms," and music presents us with temporal form, or architecture in motion. But the form must convey what is non-formal, i.e., the supra-formal light -- and truth -- from another world. It is limitlessness expressed by a limit, or divine radiance expressed through wholeness and harmony.

Interestingly, Schuon writes that "ignorant and profane aesthetics places the beautiful -- or what its sentimental idealism takes to be beautiful -- above the true..." This leads to idolatry of beauty, and of "art for art's sake." But beauty should be for truth's sake. If it is not subordinate to something higher, it will be appropriated by something lower.

Without this element of truth, beauty has no intrinsic value. It is reduced to "subjective enjoyment -- a luxury, if one prefers" (Schuon). Contrary to postmodernism, which is the nadir of subjectivism, beauty "is objective, hence discernible by intelligence and not by taste."

This is no trivial matter, for if man's environment is filled with corrupt and deviated images, "he runs the risk of 'being' what he 'sees,' of assimilating the errors suggested by the erroneous forms among which he lives." In this sense, everything becomes pornographic, which simply means that it is drained of any and all spiritual content.

Sri Aurobindo says something similar in a letter to a disciple, that through sound or image, "in a moment mysteriously, unexpectedly, there is a Presence, a Power, a Face that looks into yours, an inner sight..."

However, "so long as one is satisfied with looking through windows, the gain is only initial; one day one will have to take up the pilgrim's staff and start out to journey there where the Reality is forever manifest and present."

Or, one must follow the light to the sun and sound to the moon, for "in a certain sense, the sun makes known space and the moon, time" (Schuon).


Any other Pharoah Sanders fans out there? Probably not. He's definitely among my top 10, desert island artists. Like Van Morrison but few others, he always plays from the Source. Audible and visible sOlar flares:

Friday, July 30, 2010

World. War. Three.

I'm reading a book that may have some relevance to our discussion of spiritual warfare against bad citizens of various cosmic dimensions, Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality.

In fact, spiritual warfare might be the unifying theme of the Philokalia, as it was originally written for monastics in pursuit of deification, which always involves purification, illumination and union. And purification is none other than declaring war on lower vertical influences and ridding oneself of mind parasites.

This particular edition is a greatly condensed and dumbed-down version that attempts to make the Philokalia more relevant to non-monastics and accessible to moderns.

For example, Fr. Anthony says at the outset that "the call to spiritual living" is addressed to everyone, but that each "must live the spiritual life in the context of their calling."

And not everyone is called to be a monk, or a priest, or a theologian. It's very similar to what the Bhagavad Gita says about being true to one's dharma. Some are called to be warriors, some merchants, and others householders. As they say, "following another man's dharma is a great danger."

One thing the left doesn't understand about military life is that it is a spiritual calling, like the priesthood. What could be more spiritual than killing evildoers and breaking their stuff?

The distaste for military combat is simply a mirror of the prior wimpified rejection of spiritual combat. The left surely engages in battle -- that's all they do -- but for them, the battle is wholly externalized, with no understanding of human nature and how it will spoil any victory for them. Thus we end up being physically governed by the spiritually ungoverned.

Real warriors understand the spiritual nature of combat -- you might say that they have heroically transposed the unseen combat of the spiritual world back down to the material plane. Thanks to them, we are free to pursue a life of unseen spirituality, instead of the visible kind.

Mind parasites are like seeds, but so too is our divine spark. Both require cultivation in order to grow and flourish. The Philokalia is absolutely opposed to the idea that one is suddenly "born again," and that's it. Rather, that's only the beginning.

Furthermore, as mentioned yesterday, vertical rebirth is not only an invitation to spiritual warfare, but a declaration of it. Conquering more territory results in sanctification, deification, salvation, and theosis, but the battle is never over. "It is a process of unending spiritual growth.... God's grace plus our own cooperation [what we call (↓↑)] lead to salvation."

Fr. Anthony: "Spirituality needs to be rediscovered today because if we are not filled with the Holy Spirit, there are many unholy, evil spirits out there waiting to rush in and fill the vacuum. It is not only nature but also the soul that abhors a vacuum. You will either be filled with the Holy Spirit and be free, or you will be filled with evil spirits and be a slave to them."

But importantly, Christianity doesn't really distinguish between worldly and spiritual domains, in that everything should be divinized: for God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

St. Theophan, the great 19th century Russian Orthodox mystic theologian and staretz, wrote that "the arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place, is our own heart and our own inner man. The time of the battle is our whole life."

I think that is a key idea, for there is simply no way to avoid this battle of a lifetime. Or, to be perfectly accurate, you can opt out of the battle on pain of squandering the purpose of your life and caving to the enemy.

You cannot be a conscientious objector in the war for your own soul, only an unconscious objector. You can lay down your weapons, but the Adversary will never put away his. You can be no one's enemy, but that doesn't mean you won't have enemies.

I think the purpose of spiritual combat is to transpose the constant battle of life to a higher key, so to speak. Just as, say, the sex drive is contained and transmuted through marriage, inner conflict is given new meaning by placing it on a higher spiritual plane, on which we polish and perfect our character against the rocks of adversity.

You don't really discover who you are or "what you're made of" until you're up against it. Therefore, to deprive man of adversity is to deprive him of the opportunity to grow and evolve, which is apparently the reason why we are here.

As Petey has explained it to me, angels pretty much know everything, but within a limited domain, and that's it. They cannot evolve, because there is nothing to clash with. Their lives are entirely non-friction, so to speak.

As Theophan wrote, "It was Saint Paul who repeatedly said that the Christian life is an athletic contest, and that we must always train for this contest. He also first likened the Christian life to a battle, and the Christian to a soldier; he described the discipline appropriate to such a warrior; his armour, his offensive and defensive weapons, and the internal and external enemies against whom he has to fight. The Bible is full of this doctrine and its related disciplines.... Most of these combats occur during purification, when man is divided against himself, the old man against the new."

Here's a bullet in: being a spiritual wussifist will not do. Rather, you must choose sides, declare war on yourself, and terminate your mind parasites with extreme prejudice. You can "study war no more," but you'll just end up some body's slave. True enough, God "loves us the way we are; but He loves us too much to leave us the way we are" (Cairns).

There is the world. There is a war. But there is a Third to assist us in the latter.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to Tell Your Friends From the Demons

Tuesday's post generated some questions of how one distinguishes between angelic and demonic presences, on the one hand, and mind parasites on the other. In object relations theory, the latter are known as good and bad objects. As I've mentioned before, the word "object" is misleading, as it is a holdover from Freud's original theory, in which the young child regards other people as objects for the purposes of discharging instincts.

The classical psychoanalysis of Freud was a one-person psychology, whereas the modern psychoanalysis which grew out of that is a two-person psychology -- or, more to the point, intersubjective. Looked at this way, instincts are not just animal discharges, but links between two people. An obvious example is sexuality. For a normal human being, sex is not just an animal instinct that can be separated from a relationship. Rather, it is a link between two persons -- which is why only for humans can this link be loving, or sadistic, or perverse, or narcissistic, whatever.

This is only possible because we are intimately linked to the other from the moment we come into the world, just as we are linked to the atmosphere and physical environment. Just as we exchange food and oxygen, we exchange psychic "substances," so to speak, with others. And just as the physical nourishment we take in is used to build our bodies, the psychic nourishment we take in is used to build our minds.

But it is not just good things that are taken in. Rather, a frustrating, neglectful, or abusive primary relationship is also internalized, and becomes a "bad object." But because of the logic of the unconscious mind, the person can identify with either pole of the bad object relationship, and project the other side into someone else, to whom he remains linked. Which is why one person can become an emotional sadist in search of masochistic victims, while the other becomes an emotional masochist in search of sadists.

Now, these good and bad objects result from our horizontal openness to others. Religion results from the fact that we are also open systems vertically. In a letter to a disciple, Schuon talks about the moment in life when a man makes the decision "to realize a permanent relationship with his creator" and "to become what he should have been" all along, whether we call this state "salvation" or "union."

But after the initial enthusiasm subsides, in many cases "the aspirant is unaware that he will have to go through difficulties he carries within himself which are aroused and unfolded by the contact with a heavenly element." Very similar to what Sri Aurobindo taught, the "lower psychic possibilities -- quite evidently incompatible with perfection -- must be exhausted and dissolved." This is known as the "initiatic ordeal," the "descent into hell," the "temptation of the hero," or "spiritual combat." In Vedanta, it is called the fire of "tapasaya," which refers to the burning that accompanies the dissolution of these patterns and knots.

And as I mentioned yesterday about discerning the plane from which the difficulty is arising, Schuon says that the psychic elements that are unfit for consummation can be "hereditary or personal." Or, they can result from our own will, or, conversely, pressure from the environment. In any event, they generally take the form of "a discouragement, of a doubt, of a revolt," and the important thing is to not further empower them by "embarking on the downward slope of either despair or subversion." One must detach and fight back, not build an errport for these parasitic thoughts to land and establish a beachhead in your head.

In an essay on Trials and Happiness, Schuon points out that "a trial is not necessarily a chastisement, it can also be a grace, and the one does not preclude the other. At all events, a trial in itself not only tests what we are, but also purifies us of what we are not." Just think of all the things you thought you wanted at the time, but which would have been disastrous if you had gotten them. As they say, more misery is caused by answered prayers than unanswered ones.

Who we are is up ahead, not behind. It reminds me of mountain biking. In order to avoid a crash, you should generally not look down at what you're trying to avoid, but up ahead ten or twenty feet. By focussing on where you want to go, you'll keep your balance and automatically avoid the obstacles.

Similarly, as Schuon says, "we have to avoid becoming hypnotized by the surrounding world, for this reinforces our feeling of being exposed to a thousand dangers." It is as if we are on "a narrow path between two abysses; when looking to either side one risks losing one's balance." Instead, one must "look straight ahead and let the world be the world," or "look towards God, in relation to Whom all the chasms of the world are nothing." This is the meaning of Jesus' statement that "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).

Schuon also talks about the distinction between the "trial by water" and "trial by fire," the former essentially involving the siren song of temptation, hypnosis, and seduction, the latter the dragons of the unconscious mind and the dreaded General Law.

I first came across the idea of the General Law in Mouraviaeff's Gnosis. I don't know if there is actually a General Law in the cosmos, but there might as well be. He begins with Origen's comparison of the cosmos to a living organism, the soul of which is God, the "soul of souls." He then asks what the purpose of human existence could be. On the one hand, it could be "an element of the universal organism," serving its aims; or "an isolated individual" pursuing his own aims.

If we compare the human being to a cell in the body, the cell is subject to two categories: "The first keeps the cell in its place. In esoteric science we call it the General Law. The second leaves a certain liberty of action for the cell, and is called the Law of Exception." I'll skip some of the details, but as it pertains to humans, the General Law allows man a certain margin of free movement. Although objectively limited, the limits appear subjectively vast to horizontal man, who "can give free rein to his fantasies and ambitions" within their bounds -- what you might call the "bourgeois happiness" of the tenured:

"As long as man accepts the principle of the final annihilation of his personality without a fight, he can carry on in life without attracting the increasing pressure of the General Law upon himself."

Ah ha! This would explain why the sub-Raccoon population seems so blandly content. They have no idea that their lives are subject to the General Law. They don't rock the cosmic boat, and therefore do not attract the attention of the authorities.

But dash it all, wouldn't you know "the case is totally different if he struggles to surpass the limits which [the General Law] imposes.... It acts simultaneously on several planes: physical, mental and moral. Its action on the moral plane is conceived by man, since time immemorial, in the form of a personification: the Devil."

Now, in the Orthodox Christian tradition -- which I suppose we'll be getting into later -- there is much practical consideration and advice on how to deal with the provocations of the General Law, i.e., how to wage hand-to-hand combat without hands. In any event, it is a commonly encountered pattern that "once positive results are obtained," the seeker will "unmistakably run up against the opposition of the law and the game of the Crafty One."

Pleased to meet me, hope I guess my name!

Again, you can debate about the ontological basis of all this, but as far as the phenomenology goes, it is identical in form to the resistance that is universally encountered in psychotherapy. As soon as you make a move toward health, a legion of internal propagandists and saboteurs will be aroused from their slumber to block the way. Likewise, by "placing himself under the aegis of the Law of Exception, man goes against the General Law, which he is even called upon to overthrow, if only on an individual scale." The seeker must remember -- "under penalty of surprise attacks" -- that "salvation depends on victory over the Devil," which "is the personalized aspect of the General Law."

In other words, to live outside the law, you must be honest (Dylan). Whatever you do, don't engage in autokidding, or pulling the wool over your own I's. You must show proof, including three forms of disidentification, that you are a worthy candidate to defy the authority of the General Law, because as soon as you defy it, you'll get it from all sides.

The Law of Exception is a narrow way, more difficult than it is for a Camel to pass through the lips of the surgeon general, but it's where the razoredgeon is.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Adrift in Time with No Vertical Compass

This is the best kind of repost: an old one that not only provoked few comments, but that even I don't remember writing.

In his book From the Divine to the Human, Schuon has a chapter entitled To Refuse or Accept Revelation. In it, he points out that the reason people freely accept revelation is obviously not on empirical or (merely) rational grounds, but because man is a form of Truth, and therefore disposed to comprehend the divine message in spite of the objections of his own ego. In a way, the fact that we may comprehend revelation so deeply, proves the deiform nature of man and the divine object of which he is a distant reflection.

Schuon points out that in all orthodox religions there are two domains, one which "must be," and one which "may or may not be," and therefore doesn't necessarily have to exist. The former is that of dogma, the latter interpretation and elaboration. For example, just yesterday I was reading in Steinsaltz's In the Beginning about the distinction between the written Torah and the oral Torah.

In kabbalistic terms, the written Torah corresponds to wisdom, the oral Torah to understanding. The former is a numinous flash, a "nucleus" of all knowing, but only in potential. "Only afterwards does Understanding clothe this insight with the length and breadth of reason and make it comprehensible and communicable."

Steinsaltz writes that "the process is not unlike conception and giving birth: the original fertilized cell contains all, but it has to be lodged in the womb and developed." Similarly, Schuon thinks of revelation as a vertical ingression into time, while tradition is its horizontal extension or prolongation within the womb of time. There is (↓) and there is (→), and they shouldn't be conflated. Both are necessary, but in different ways.

This is why, while revelation must be preserved, it must also be interpreted and elaborated. Otherwise, it would be analogous to removing the fertilized cell from its nurturing environment and expecting it to be self-sufficient. As Steinsaltz writes, "Written Torah needs endless amplification, study, and clarification. There are infinite layers of meaning, depthless beauty," and new modes of experiential comprehension to be revealed, which is to say, O → (n).

While one receives the written revelation passively, so to speak, the oral revelation "proceeds to act on it, engaging in critical thinking" and "deep experiencing." And unlike the written Torah, which is fixed and not given to change, the oral Torah "can be altered and improved and is constantly being enlarged, added to, re-created, and enhanced by ever higher levels of experience."

Again, (↓) is unchanged, but it is continuously being refracted through (→). Indeed, this is one of the central tasks of theology, to show how (↓) is still relevant (to say the least) despite the inevitable changes brought about in (→). If one's theology doesn't keep up with (→), then soon enough, people will conclude that (↓) is outdated and of no possible relevance to them, at which point they will transfer their allegiance to (→). Game over. The secular clock jockeys and Marxist time zombies have won.

This is precisely what I meant when I made reference to the transitional, generative space that exists between revelation and our contemplation of it. In this regard, one can see that Torah study has the identical pneuma-cognitive structure of science, the latter of which you might also say has a "written revelation" and an "oral revelation."

The "written revelation" of science is simply the Cosmos, the World, physical reality, or whatever you want to call it. It is the Object which was here before we arrived, and to which we are Subject. Science -- the "oral tradition" -- takes place in the space between this fixed Object and our own evolving Subject, which mysteriously conforms to the Object on so many levels, as if the one were a deep reflection of the other. Which of course it is. The world was made to be known, or it couldn't be.

Now, the written revelation may be thought of as "day," the oral as "night." The wisdom of revelation manifests itself in the light of day, but may only be understood in the darkness of unknowing. In short, there is "daytime" knowledge and there is "nighttime" knowledge, and one must understand the distinction.

As Steinsaltz says, "the day is the time for receiving the light, and the night is the time for creating. There is a time to perceive, to look out and absorb things, and there is a time to develop what has been absorbed and even to fashion new things out of this knowledge." Steinsaltz compares it to a photograph, in which the film of the camera absorbs a bit of the light. But then you must enter your dark room in order to "develop" it.

It is no different with the pneumagraph of our indvidual lives. For genuine knowledge can only be gestated in the nighttime womb of the soul. Irrespective of how much daytime knowledge (k) one possesses, without the night vision to complement it, one will not "see." This latter condition is what we call slackular degeneration.

For the Raccoon is a gnocturnal creature, don't you know. For us, the daytime light is so intense, that it can be a bit overwhelming. We actually "see" the light better in the dark. Conversely, many anal-type materialists reject religion because they are either night-blind or afraid of the dark. But our spiritual essence is exactly analogous to the flash of (↓) or the fertilized cell. Our life is the elaboration of this (↓) in (→). God help the man who has become detached from the ombilical cord of (↓) and is adrift in the mayaplicity of (→). I don't pretend that I can.

The day and night also correspond to "outer" and "inner," part and whole, letter and spirit, geometry and music. Paradoxically, wholeness can only be seen by night, when all of the apparent, well-defined parts blend together and interpenetrate. By day, we see only fragments, but by night we are able to intuit the whole and dream the metaphysical dream by which the day may be creatively illuminated by the higher darkness.

Here is the essential difference. The spiritually attuned person, the poet, the true artist, all live and breath by night and communicate their vision by the light of an intense beam of darkness. Conversely, the atheist, the materialist, the radical secularist -- all live by day and are blinded by the true light of darkness. And being that they cannot think by night, they dream by day -- which is to say, sleepwake -- through their lives.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It Takes Two to Lingo: Word Became Flesh So that Flesh Might Become Word

I wouldn't say I'm burned out. However, I'm not really fired up about anything in particular, and where there's no fire, there's no smoke to blow up anyone's behind. So I dipped down into the arkive and pulled out a three-year old post for the basis of a new one. However, I never just repost something without using it as an occasion to rethink it for the first time and to extensively revise. Or vise, I guess.

Well then, it all comes down to consciousness, doesn't it? What is it? What's it doing here? If consciousness is just a fluke, a total cosmic accident, what makes us think that it can truly know anything, much less the truth about itself?

Schuon wrote that "One of the keys to the understanding of our true nature and of our ultimate destiny is the fact that the things of this world never measure up to the real range of our intelligence. Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or it is nothing. Among all the intelligences of this world the human spirit alone is capable of objectivity, and this implies – or proves – that what confers on our intelligence the power to accomplish to the full what it can accomplish, and what makes it wholly what it is, is the Absolute alone."

Along these lines, he quotes Dante: “I perceive that our intellect is never satisfied, if the True does not enlighten it, outside which no truth is possible." In other words, we can only know truth because we are grounded in Truth.

Consciousness is constituted of awareness; intelligence; will; and sentiment. Am I forgetting anything? As mentioned yesterday in the brief discussion of Schopenhauer, human beings have an automatic bias toward concretizing the explicate aspect of their own consciousness, which we call the ego. But the ego is only the local constellation of a much more encompassing, nonlocal "implicate" consciousness, which includes the lower and higher vertical. The totality of human consciousness is unconscious-conscious-supraconscious.

Analogously, the ego is like a discrete cloud appearing against a clear blue sky. We focus on the cloud, but do not see that it is simply the end result of a global weather pattern -- a small "ripple" against a vast and unbroken substrate of nonlinear meteorological processes.

Or better yet, compare it to an ocean current. Imagine reifying the current, and thinking that it is somehow separate from the ocean that produced it. This goes not just for the ego-island atop our own little pond of consciousness, but the presence of human beings within the cosmic ocean that tossed them up like a tangle of seaweed upon the shore.

But exactly where do we draw the line with regard to consciousness? Presumably there is an absolute barrier between the consciousness of one person and another. Therefore, we invented language in order to link minds to other minds. But that is not exactly how language works. Rather, language is very much like consciousness itself, in that it has an implicate/explicate order -- in other words, its particular meanings rest upon a much deeper kind of holographic field that unifies us within language as such. We are all "members of language," which is what makes deep and resonant communication possible. It is "in" us, even while we are in it.

I see this vividly in my two year old son, who is in the midst of "language acquisition." He has always been extremely talkative, even though his speech had no discernible content. While it had pitch, modulation, emphasis, dramatic pauses, musicality, and even humor, he seemed to be using a private language. Some days it sounded like Chinese, other days German, but it was nevertheless possible to have lengthy, animated conversations with him merely by mimicking his speech patterns.

In my opinion, what the boy was doing was laying down the implicate order of language, in which he first links up directly with other minds. Only afterwards are actual words superimposed upon this deep connectedness. So on the one hand, language "divides" the world into units of meaning, but it rests upon a sea of primordial, holistic interconnectedness. Language doesn't "invent" the interconnectedness so much as take advantage of it and ride piggyback on top of it.

The oneness is our prior condition, which is why it is possible to say "I love you" in a way that actually bridges the separation between two people. Recall our recent discussions of the ultimate reality of communion; better yet, think of how this is predicated on a logoistic cosmos in which the word has become flesh, so that to communicate is to reverse this process, and transform flesh into word: word became flesh so that flesh might become word.

This is what makes humans so different from computers, which also "talk" to one another, but not in this intensely holographic manner that unifies the communicants on an implicate level. In fact, there are many people and trolls with various cognitive, emotional, or spiritual disorders who use language more like a computer than a human being. We might call them "autistic," "schizoid," or just a little "off," but what they lack is a feel for the music that exists beneath the words.

Furthermore, this is one of the primary barriers to accessing the world of meaning present in religion. The obligatory atheist or doctrinaire materialist is, for whatever reason, unable to "read out" what is being conveyed through religious language and imagery. Instead, they reduce it to its explicate form, which immediately forecloses the implicate and renders it nonsense. It's so easy, even a caveman can do it.

As we discussed a couple of days ago, it is not so much that there are two realms -- conscious/unconscious, implicate/explicate, or phenomenal/noumenal -- but different ways of looking at the same thing. For example, while the purpose of psychotherapy is to "make the unconscious conscious," it is not as if one can ever know the unconscious directly. Rather, one merely begins to look at oneself -- ones actions, beliefs, and feelings -- from a different "angle," so to speak, which in turn reveals a world of hidden meaning. But it's the same world. There are no bright lines in the mind. There is a degree of unconsciousness in every act.

Likewise, to enter the realm mapped by religion is not, strictly speaking, to enter another world, but to regard the same world from a different perspective. There is only one world. However, it can feel like another world, simply because the focus has shifted from the explicate to the implicate side of things; to put it another way, everything about religion bears upon the complementarities that create the possibility of the empirical ego to begin with: whole vs. part, eternity vs. time, One vs. many, Absolute vs. relative, wave vs. particle, consciousness vs. matter, etc. The ego always exists "in between" these various complementarities. To default to one side or the other is to deplete one's life.

Now, another way of looking at this is that we must discern between the created and uncreated aspects of our own consciousness, or between the Intellect (the nous, not the lower mind) vs. the ego. As Schuon writes:

"The Intellect, in a certain sense, is ‘divine’ for the mind [i.e., ego] and ‘created’ or ‘manifested’ for God: it is nonetheless necessary to distinguish between a ‘created Intellect’ and an ‘uncreated Intellect,’ the latter being the divine Light and the former the reflection of this Light at the center of Existence; ‘essentially,’ they are One, but ‘existentially,’ they are distinct, so that we could say, in Hindu style, that the Intellect is ‘neither divine nor non-divine,’ an elliptical expression which doubtless is repugnant to the Latin and Western mentality, but which transmits an essential shade of meaning. However that may be, when we speak of the Heart-Intellect, we mean the universal faculty which has the human heart for its symbolical seat, but which, while being ‘crystallised’ according to different planes of reflection, is none the less ‘divine’ in its single essence."

Now the heart is an interesting organ, for it has always been the symbol of man's implicate consciousness -- that which joins as opposed to the brain, which separates, distinguishes and analyzes. Do you remember your first broken heart? Exactly what was broken? I don't know about you, but for me it was the entire unity of being. Suddenly I was a cosmic orphan, disconnected from the very source of Life and Love.

But subsequent therapy revealed that this broken heart was superimposed upon an earlier brokenness, or primordial disconnection, and that it was simply the "occasion" to realize it. In fact, the "falling in love" itself was an attempt to recapture the broken unity, which was one of the reasons why it was charged with an intensity well beyond what was healthy or appropriate.

It reminds me of something one of my psychoanalytic mentors once said about relationships. Unhealthy people always want to go from twoness to oneness. But a healthy relationship involves going from solitary oneness to shared twoness. If you try to use the other person to complete yourself, you are headed for trouble of one kind or another. The idea is to complement a self that is already reasonably whole, and then to create a higher wholeness -- or communion -- of two.

But there is horizontal wholeness and vertical wholeness, and no human being can achieve the latter in the absence of some kind of active spiritual life. In this respect, we do want to go from being two to being -- or realizing -- One. But here again, it is the illumination of Oneness, not merely the elimination of twoness.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Spiritual Environment and Soul Evolution

Evolution presupposes temporal continuity, which must exist if anything is to exist. In other words, if not for time, then everything would have to happen at once. (The word "evolve" is etymologically related to "unroll," as in an ancient scroll.)

And "temporal continuity" is just another way of saying "memory." For example, a person with alzheimer's loses his memory, and therefore his temporal continuity. It's always now, disconnected from all the other nows. Therefore, it's not even really now anymore, because now is only now in relation to a then. It's really closer to never.

One of my beefs with metaphysical Darwinism is that, like an alzheimer's patient, it isolates its own conclusions from the greater context of cosmic evolution. For as Harris writes, "The modern conception of nature is of a continuous evolutionary process, linking the purely physical with the biological, the biological with the psychological, and the psychological with the social, moral, artistic, and religious experiences of man."

Given this temporal continuity, it is wholly arbitrary to define things in terms of the past instead of the present or future, since everything is in the process of becoming. In other words, in studying any phenomenon, it is important to know what it is in its mature form. If you only study a caterpillar in an isolated slice of time, you won't know anything about its connection to butterflies.

Likewise, if you study the Big Bang in isolation from the human knower, you're missing the whole point, again, because you're arbitrarily excluding the temporal continuity that even allows a subject to know about and comprehend the Big Bang -- which is without a doubt the most astonishing thing about the Big Bang! I still can't get over it.

A couple of posts back we spoke of the importance of boundary conditions in human development. Only with the creation of a "semipermeable membrane" can the human subject properly evolve. But this is equally true of temporal boundaries. Again, if we weren't bound in time, we could not be, for we would be beyond being. But time for human beings is not merely duration. Rather, the point is to metabolize time, so as to create a deeper form of continuity in one's life, or a personal history, an identity.

For example, the typical therapy patient comes in with various temporal discontinuities. These are like "holes" in the psyche, except that they are gaps in time rather than space. As Freud said, the neurotic person suffers from "reminiscences," except that the reminiscences have lives and agendas all their own, disconnected from one's central identity. In short, they are mind parasites, or rogue elements within the psyche. And they are rogue elements because they have split off from the central government, which should ideally have a monopoly on memory.

Let's make this very personal in order to render it more vivid. I remember my first heartbreak at the age of 18. It triggered such a deep level of depression that only years later, in therapy, was I able to piece together what had actually happened.

To make a long story short, that heartbreak was just the occasion to feel a whole host of emotions that had been placed in escrow since early childhood. They were there, stored away in a kind of atemporal quasi-eternity, just waiting for the appropriate experience (or relationship, to be precise) through which to express themselves, or to deploy themselves in time. But because of the temporal discontinuity, I could not connect A (the source) and C (the person) at the time. I thought it all had to do with that scheming and faithless C, which it couldn't have, since it was an effect that so far exceeded its cause. Especially in hindsight, the cause seems hardly worth bothering over. Her?

But Darwinists routinely do the same thing. For example, the human subject so far exceeds the material shuffling of genetic material, that only a fool or a mental patient would deny the deeper temporal continuity. And on the deepest level, it should be a bananaty to peel out that in our cosmos, matter has the astonishing potential to sponsor life and human consciousness. As such, matter cannot possibly be only what the physicist says it is, just as life cannot possibly be what the Darwinist says it is, for both varieties of tenure, in their own way, deny temporal continuity. Again, they take an arbitrary time slice and impose a manmade boundary where there is none.

So if we're going to take time seriously, we would have to agree with Harris that "the product of an evolutionary process is, and must be, potential at its beginnings, and if what is inchoate at first becomes progressively unfolded as the process continues, the nature of the final outcome will be the key to the understanding of both the process itself and its origin."

Thus, the Darwinist wants to have it both ways: there is a continuous evolutionary series that culminates in man, and yet, this culmination may be reduced to a wholly random and mechanical iteration of genetic shuffling. Again, to do this not only abolishes man and all he values, but it ironically abolishes evolution, because it says that what has evolved has no intrinsic meaning that isn't reducible to the real meaning, which is simply genes in meaningless competition for survival. Frankly, this is psychotic, only intellectually psychotic instead of emotionally psychotic. (Again, the psychotic mind dismembers temporal continuity and as a result lives in a hell of nameless dread.)

It is also ironic that the Darwinist stresses the importance of adaptation to one's environment. For me -- and I am quite sure this is true of all Raccoons -- if I were forced to adapt my soul to the impoverished intellectual and spiritual environment of philosophical Darwinism, it would be exceedingly painful, very much like living in a totalitarian state in which I had to subordinate my essential identity to the group's ideology.

In fact, I am only able to articulate and evolve the most vital parts of myself through the pneuma-cognitive environment of the perennial religion. If I could not do this, it would be like a living death. It would be like a musician who was forbidden to ever pick up an instrument. How on earth am I to become myself in the absence of the appropriate spiritual environment to nurture and sustain my spiritual evolution?

Man is not just anything-- which is one of the main reasons why socialism never works. Rather, "the sufficient reason of the human state... is to be a bridge between earth and Heaven, hence to 'realize God' to some degree or other" (Schuon). And the sufficient reason of revelation is to provide a clueprint of that bridge and to facilitate that realization.

Now, I don't doubt that Queeg and other spiritual retards such as Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris, feel perfectly "at home" in the Darwinist environment they create for themselves, just as there are millions of people whose meager souls are satisfied by video games, or whose appetites are fulfilled by McDonalds. But that is a statement about them, not reality. I could no more feed my soul with metaphysical Darwinism than I could stuff my body with Big Macs, or listen to rap music all day, or watch MSNBC. Rather, I have a soul with very particular needs, and to be deprived of the means to fulfill those needs would be spiritual death -- which is to say, human death.

Again, given the temporal continuity of the cosmos, there is surely horizontal cause and effect. No one would dispute that. But at the same time, an effect cannot exceed its cause, most especially when we are talking about an "infinite" effect. And make no mistake: the human subject partakes of the infinite and the absolute, even if some human subjects prefer to exile themselves to the relative and the finite. They are obviously free to do so, but they are only free to do so because freedom is real -- which is again to say that it partakes of the absolute.

But such is the unevolved life of the spiritually unborn. They just can't crack the cosmic egg, and want to cram the rest of us into their poultry little vision of reality.