Friday, October 07, 2011

Let's Get Real!

Let's talk about reality. First of all, humans routinely throw out this word, but do we know what it refers to?

And even if we do, is there any reason to believe we could actually "know" it? Isn't "reality" similar to "God" -- in effect a signifier with no signified (or which signifies everything, which amounts to the same (no)thing)? In other words, just because we have a word for God, it hardly means that we understand what or who God is.

We could say the same of the word "universe." As Stanley Jaki has written, it obviously isn't a result of any kind of empirical observation, for who has ever seen the universe? Indeed, the only person who could conceivably see it would be God, which raises an interesting point, for is it possible for there to be an intelligible unit in the absence of an intelligence that knows it?

I like to think that, while human beings have every right to assume and affirm the existence of a cosmos -- an ordered totality of interacting objects and principles -- we are also warranted to posit a kind of universal subject in conformity to this entity, i.e., God.

Since we can know that ultimate reality exists even while we cannot know it in its totality, this requires a different sort of symbolic reference, hence the system of pneumaticons, e.g., O. O stands for "ultimate reality." It is analogous to an algebraic variable.

Now, for man there are three main sources of revelation. There is the empirical world of sensation. There is the rational world of logical principles. And there is (capital R) Revelation, i.e., communications from O tailored to human sensibilities. (One could add emotional and aesthetic realities, but let's leave those to the side for now.)

Science may exclude the latter from its arsenal, but it hardly makes the other two less problematic. In fact, it clearly makes them more problematic, for what right do humans have to claim knowledge of truth if they are but an accidental and transient result of impersonal forces?

One cannot implicitly claim transcendence while explicitly undercutting its very ground and possibility. This is as absurd as the political philosophers of the Confederate south affirming the universal right to property without affirming the natural right not to be someone's property.

Rather, the right to own the fruit of one's labor flows from the right to own oneself. Just so, the "right to truth" flows from the ability to know it, otherwise it's a meaningless phrase.

This is no small matter, since the left always violently sunders these primordial realities in various ways. For example, thanks to relativism, multiculturalism, and political correctness, man has a right to truth, but no longer a natural right. Rather, only a positive right to certain truths determined by the political needs of the left.

Thus, if my six year old were unfortunate enough to attend a public school in California, he would have the "right" to learn all about homosexuality. But only what homosexual activists want him to learn, which is no right at all. Besides, no morally sane person would expose a child to such inappropriate material, which tells us a great deal about the broken moral compass of homosexual activists.

Back to the subject. I'm not sure where to begin a discussion of cosmic reality, because it seems that we can literally start anywhere and eventually arrive at the same place and know it for the first time. However, I don't have all day, so I think I'll begin with chapter 6 of Oldmeadow's Frithjof Schuon and the Perennial Philosophy, Metaphysics: Science of the Real, and take it from there.

Again, the affirmation of "reality" obviously implies the ability to know it, which in turn implies a great deal more. For it means that, in the words of Schuon, "In principle the Intellect knows everything because all possible knowledge is inscribed in its very substance."

In other words, the Intellect may know anything that is knowable, and there is no reality that is not knowable, since these are two sides of the same coin. Or better yet, truth and reality are synonymous terms. In the more obvious sense, the former is subjective, the latter objective.

But looked at another way, truth is the ultimate in objectivity, whereas reality is always taking on different appearances. This is no less true of science than metaphysics, since the progress of science may be measured in terms of its increasing explanatory power. A good theory encompasses and accounts for more reality, and more adequately reduces multiplicity to unity.

However, science begins at one end of the cosmos, metaphysics the other. That is to say, science deals with phenomena (from the periphery in, so to speak), metaphyiscs with principles (from the center out). And importantly, metaphysics cannot be derived from science; rather, the converse. Science must be one of the possibilities entailed in the universal metaphysic.

For example, as indicated above, if knowledge is possible, it is only because we live in a very specific type of cosmos in which real knowledge is possible. The latter is not explained by science, but rather, is a necessary condition of science.

I can't help weaving in whatever I've been thinking about lately, in this case, Jaffa's truly magisterial A New Birth of Freedom. This may seem far-flung, but it is anything but.

To cite just one example, we might say that our Constitution is analogous to science, in the sense that it is the crystalization of an immense amount of deep and sustained thought on political philosophy. But in order for the philosophy to be efficacious, it must be founded upon human nature and on "nature's God" -- which is just another way of saying "The Way. Things. Are." Get the latter wrong, and it hardly matters what sort of beautiful political system one comes up with, for it won't work.

The point is, this human reality is both prior to, and the reason for, politics. As the Founders say, the purpose of politics is to secure this prior reality, which mainly consists of life, liberty and the freedom to pursue our own proper end -- an end no one else can discover for, much less impose upon, us.

Furthermore, to the extent that a government denies this prior reality, it triggers the natural right of revolution, because said government is no longer legitimate -- legitimacy not being rooted in democracy or majority rule, but in the preservation and protection of our natural rights.

The Founders were specifically frightened about the tendency of the democratic mob to run roughshod over the very rights and moral order that confer legitimacy upon democracy. Consider another contemporary example. Marriage is a natural right that is obviously prior to the state. But "homosexual marriage" is not and could never be a natural right, only a positive right invented by the state. Therefore, whatever one chooses to call it, it shouldn't be called "marriage," unless we also start calling women Chaz.

The heading of chapter 6 has another observation by Schuon: "There can be no effective metaphysics without heaven's help." We'll get more into what this means later, but we could again say something analogous of science, since it is grounded in certain realities that can never be explained by science, but without which science is inconceivable, for example, free will. Both on the micro and macro level, science is a spontaneous order based upon a free exchange of ideas and information. It is not analogous to a "logic machine."

For Schuon, metaphysics has "two great dimensions, one 'ascending' and dealing with universal principles," and "the other 'descending' and dealing... with the divine life in creaturely situations...." One might say that one applies to O, the other to its incarnation in wee little mirrorcles of the Absolute, i.e., what I symbolize (¶).

The ascending metaphysic has to do with discernment between reality and appearances, noumenon and phenomenon, truth and illusion, while the descending metaphysic has to do with....

Put it this way: it is similar to the Ten Commandments, the first five of which are "vertical" and have to do with O <---> (¶) relations, the latter being horizontal and governing (¶)<--->(¶) relations. O has an I-ambassy in man's heart, just as we have one in O, which is also what makes neighborly love possible.

For what is this latter relation ultimately founded upon? Yes, upon the recognition of divinity in the other. The second five commandments do not "add up" to divinity, but are entailed in its prior reality. But it took human beings thousands of years of practicing the commandments to recognize the underlying reality, the movement from law to love and from obedience to faith, so to speak. Indeed, we are still learning.

To be continued....

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Seriousness is No Excuse for Frivolousness

I was going to careen into a new subject, but then thought better of it, since I don't have much time, so we'll continue into the first arcana of MOTT, the Magician. But before getting into its specific meaning, bear in mind that, even more than a word, these complex symbols are visual containers, or ♀, which are full of potential content or meaning, ♂.

UF implies this at the outset, noting that these archetypes have "the virtue of awakening the deeper layers of the soul." While one cannot think without symbols, one must not confuse the symbols with the thoughts they provoke and contain, nor reduce thought to its outer "clothing," so to speak.

Bob touched on this in OCUG, noting that one must develop a new relationship to language, so that one actually speaks it, rather than vice versa.

This is not quite accurate, for what we really want is to be "spoken" by the deeper dimensions of thought -- to somehow get beneath the surface of conventional speech, which is almost circular in its predictability, shaping both our unconscious expectations and perceptions, and thus limiting our "presence" to reality (and vice versa). Much of Bob's inane wordplay is actually a weirdploy to serve as an accomplice to the climb, as we shall explain.

In a way, we must act as if we are in a very different country, so that our expectations aren't saturated with preconceptions. We must overcome the lower mind's built-in tendency to adapt itself to the environment in order to forget about it.

I believe Bob has discussed this in the past -- that this is one of the reasons people enjoy vacations, not because they allow the person to come into contact with a new reality, but with reality, period. But why wait until one is on vacation to be open to the fullness of reality? We need to somehow lift ourselves out of the familiar attractor we habitually roll around in, which is very much like a deep groove in subjective phase space.

Certain aspects of religion are almost designed to have this "shock value" of unfamiliarity, thus pulling us out of ordinary and into sacred time and space. After all, if religion were no different than any other symbolic mode, we wouldn't need it. The "weirdness" of religion isn't only due to the singular nature of its object, but is a kind of "means" or "expedient" with which to get over and out of yourself.

When we hear about "speaking in tongues" and the like, I believe this is a way of describing a deeper principle. You can be sure that the scientific materialist only believes what he does because he is spoken by a particular kind of dry and desiccated language, and has become contained -- and therefore imprisoned -- by it.

This is why no real poet could ever be a materialist. The poet knows as well as anyone that ♂ always breaks free of ♀, and that this is a divine mercy. I suppose the only thing worse than being unable to contain reality would be somehow containing it. Game over!

UF goes on to say that these archetypal symbols have the capacity to awaken "new notions, ideas, sentiments, and aspirations, which means that they require an activity more profound than that of study and intellectual explanation."

Rather, one must dive deeply into them, which is to simultaneously plunge into the mystery of oneself, i.e., beyond the subjective horizons within which we confine ourselves. For "it is the deep and intimate layers of the soul which become active and bear fruit" in these contemplative exercises.

And this is indeed the whole point: to become deep, since God is the ultimate depth, or that by which depth is measured (if there were no God, there would be no depth, precisely; everything would be of equivalent value, which is to say, valueless).

Here again, UF highlights the ♂ ♀ (container-contained) dialectic of the arcana -- and this goes for any archetypal symbols, including the totality of the Bible -- in that they "conceal and reveal their sense at one and the same time according to the depth of meditation." To cite one of Bob's portmantools, they reveil (reveal and veil), the veil (♀) being necessary to clothe the (♂) so that it may be thought about in a generative and deepening spiral.

Again, this is a true cosmic complementarity, which is why one cannot simply strip away the veil to disclose the underlying reality. This is the approach of modern fooligans who, like all previous generations of surface dwellers, or psychic neuston, imagine they can be the first to seize reality in the raw, in an unmediated way. They are each generation's self-styled "reality based community."

But in the words of Don Colacho, "To be stupid is to believe that it is possible to take a photograph of the place about which the poet sang." But enough about our trolls.

We see how far the neobarbarian atheists get by beating off reality, which is to say, nowhere. They merely grasp their own nether parts with their ønanistic wacktivity, which is why they are spiritually barren. Truly, they are filled with countless unBorns who will never see the light of deity because they were never fertilized.

Now, the magician is the master archetype for our journey into the rest of the symbols. Why is that? Because he is the symbol of what we must become if we are to have a fruitful journey through the rest of them. We must become this magician. And what does this magician represent?

Well, among other things, he embodies the principle of Slack, in that we must leave the field of profane time behind, and enter a different reality that has its own more expansive rhythm and sensibility. Here is how UF formulates it:

Learn at first concentration without effort; transform work into play; make every yoke that that you have accepted easy and every burden that you carry light!

The first of these prescriptions has to do with what we call the principle of Higher Non-doodling, which in turn is similar to the wu wei of Taoism. It also shares similarities what Sri Aurobindo calls the attainment of the "silent mind," which is well explained in chapter 4 of The Adventure of Consciousness.

In fact, we may discern a convergence of the Catholic and neo-Vedantic approaches, as Satprem writes that "the major task that opens the door to many realizations is to silence the mind.... Clearly, if we want to discover a new country within us, we must leave the old one behind -- everything depends on our determination to take this first step."

Part of this is in order to escape the old (♀) in order to get at the new (♂), so to speak. In other words, our surface ego, or local self (•) is so hemmed in and contained, that we need to somehow get beyond or behind it. This is because, as Sri Aurobindo writes, "In a certain sense, we are nothing but a complex mass of mental, nervous and physical habits held together [i.e., contained, ♀] by a few ruling ideas, desires and associations -- an amalgam of many small, self-repeating forces with a few major vibrations."

This outward and external (♀) becomes thicker and more dense, until we are "confined in a construction," which becomes a kind of pseudo-center. No more (♂). Your fortress against reality is complete. (In contrast, I notice that for my six-year old, everything is still more or less uncontained, or only partially contained, ♂; he hasn't yet learned to bleach out all the novelty.)

This is why -- in a manner of speaking -- we might say that the first half of life involves learning, while the second half involves unLearning. Or, to re-become as little children, who are so full of ♂. This requires not only a leap of, but into, faith (o), which Aurobindo describes as "an intuition not only waiting for experience to justify it, but leading toward experience." (In other words, faith is not just content, but a mode of spiritual cognition.)

Here again, UF agrees that we must achieve calm and silence "at the expense of the automatism of thought and imagination" (the bad kind -- more on which later). Only in so doing are we capable of truly "speaking" of these matters, instead of merely being on auto-pilot.

A Raccoon must never speak of spiritual matters in the manner of "writing the mechanical bull." I suppose that doing so has its place, but such familiar pneumababble is ultimately "by the dead and for the tenured," not for us.

One reason why silence is so critical is that it is only in silence that we become "one" (anxiety always fragments and dissipates). And as UF writes, we must first become one in ourselves if we are to become one with the spiritual world.

It's just common sense. Without unity, there can be no knowledge of any kind. For example, the only reason why we may possess scientific knowledge is because a primordial unity subtends the division of subject and object, knower and known.

However, that is the world of horizontal quantities, whereas the spiritual world is one of vertical qualities. Thus, the next step, according to UF, is to understand the Law of Analogy that governs the qualitative world of the vertical. This, of course, is why Jesus spoke in parables that are full of richly resonant symbolism with which we must "play" again as little children.

Well, playtime is over. To be continued...

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Channeling Friends in High Places

Still recovering from the cold. I'm good-to-go for horizontal activities... so to speak. It's just that I lack sufficient pneumasomatic energy to sustain a raid on the wild godhead, only a light stroll down previously-trod paths. That's a colorful and self-aggrandizing way of introducing another repost.

As mentioned last week, I think I'll revisit my series of posts on Meditations on the Tarot from a few years back. It took a couple of months to fully unwind, but even then, riffing on one card every day or two does a disservice to all -- you, me, and Unknown Friend -- since it should be more of an organic and interior-directed process that proceeds at its own supernatural pace.

Rather, one needs to "dwell" in the book in order to actualize its pneuma-catalytic power. You must get into it so that it might get into you. To paraphrase UF, the images are like "enzymes" that facilitate growth when sprinkled over the sincere and open soul. You know, like the yeast in the bread.

Therefore, instead of reposting one card per day, I should probably slow down and do one per week. That way I can simultaneously begin playing with the new series mentioned a few posts back, on the universal metaphysic beneath religious form. Or something like that.


We are about to spend some quality timelessness with Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism (heretofore MOTT). It is the most profound work of Christian spirituality I've ever encountered, and is so dense that you can't possibly read it just once and be done with it. Rather, it is one of those books that needs to be reread every year or so. The problem is, it would probably take a year to properly read, and much longer to actually internalize and assimilate.

I suppose I've read it cover to cover maybe four or five times. I know this because I have two copies, each with different colored highlighting. And yet, each time I read it, I get something new out of it. I know this because new passages are highlighted on subsequent grow-rounds.

Also, as I mentioned in a comment the other day, the first time I tried to tackle it, I got nowhere. It was just too difficult; turns out we were both too dense. And when I say "dense," I mean this in a kind of literal way, in that its light could not penetrate me. It was there, of course, but without a receptive agent to transmute it, it was just another brick in my wall of books.

But by the time of my second attempt a year or two later, a transformation of some sort had taken place that allowed me to understand it -- or rather, loosened whatever it was that was obscuring the light.

Indeed, it was like entering a vast cathedral, only this time with the lights on. In other worlds, without the Light, an infinite space can appear as a black wall, which is essentially the predicament in which the atheist finds himself. He imagines he's telling us about an objective barrier, when he's really just describing the back of his I-lid. It's difficult to imagine a worldview more banal.

There is a reason that all spiritual traditions speak of "illumination." The visible light we see with our eyes is an analogue and symbol of the light we perceive with the intellect (and of which the intellect is composed).

In other words, the intelligibility of the world is and must be prior to its materiality. To be sure, the spiritual world is an intelligible world, but in order to perceive it, you will require the uncreated light of the awakened intellect, i.e., the nous.

Without activating the latter, you will again be staring at a blank wall (or you will simply have to take someone else's word for it). Jesus will just be a community organizer, if he existed at all. Miracles will merely be statistically rare events instead of vertical lessons. The Bible will be a collection of "flat" or even silly stories instead of simultaneously urgent and timeless memos of infinite depth from the Self to your self, O --> (¶).

A couple of important points before we begin. The book is not about Tarot reading, nor does it have anything to do with the occult or new age.

Rather, the author, who is Catholic -- indeed, the afterword is by none other than Balthasar, and I've seen him name-checked by Ratzinger -- merely uses the twenty two major arcana of the Tarot as a basis for what we call spontaneous verticalisthenics, or theodidactic soul-jazz. It's almost as if he free associates and uses the cards as fixed forms, or unsaturated archetypes, to explore his own incredibly fertile spiritual imagination.

But his ideas are for the most part completely orthodox and intelligible to others, unlike, say, occultists, who may or may not speak truth, but clothe it in idiosyncratic and obscure ways that can be extremely difficult to decode or reproduce.

While earlier in life the author (who was born in 1900 and died in 1973) was a follower of Rudolf Steiner, he broke with that group and converted to Catholicism at the age of 44. In fact, he was booted from Steiner's Anthroposophical Society for being too independent of Steiner (who died in 1925).

Anthroposophy is yet another instance of a spiritually gifted (but erratic) occultist whose fluid ideas are reified by his generally mediocre followers into an orthodoxy: the master ruins the disciples and vice versa.

Importantly, this is a dynamic that afflicts virtually all groups, as Bion recognized in some of his early papers. Indeed, it is precisely what had happened to Bion's own field of psychoanalysis, as Freud the explorer became Freud the inerrant prophet of a pseudo-religious infra-mystical order.

In relation to orthodoxy, Bion himself was analogous to the "messiah" (a term of art) or mystic who brings new life to the deadened forms, but only in order to return it to first principles.

Similarly, "tea partiers" are aptly named, since they are simply re-animating the timeless principles of the Founders, principles that have been systematically undermined by the left. Truth that isn't regularly rediscovered and lived is subject to entropy, just like everything else (to be perfectly accurate, it is obviously not truth that dissipates, only the person who falls away from it).

The author worked on MOTT in his 60's, and it was originally published posthumously in 1984 (in English in 1985). Although the identity of the author is known, he wished to remain anonymous, so we will respect his wishes and refer to him as Unknown Friend (UF), which is what he calls himself.

As a matter of fact, this is one of the charms of the book, as UF truly is our friend, and a precious one at that. Not only is he our friend, but he will be the invaluable friend and guide of any serious spiritual seeker from now until the end of time. And it is very much a "brotherly" relationship, despite his obvious spiritual eminence.

With regard to my post the other day about the person who was asking for spiritual guidance, UF is a fine example of how one may form a living relationship with a saint, sage, mystic or mentor, despite the person no longer being an active biological concern. The fact is, they are very much alive, but they will only come to life in the dynamic transitional space between you and them. But how is this different from any other deep friendship?

For example, I naturally love my family, but I also love the space it simultaneously creates and exists in. This can go unappreciated, but it is the background context of my whole life. It is the space in which I live and breathe. I suspect I'd feel rather hemmed in and oppressed without it.

By the way, I'm basically engaging in this verticalisthenic exercise for my own benefit, so I'm going to try and pretend you folks aren't here. This is because I need a break from us. Therefore, it's time for Bob's Unconscious to take the wheel of the cosmic bus, and Bob's Unconscious lives in its own Private Idaho, although, at the same time, this particular Idaho is a universal Wedaho.

In other words, we all share the same deep un- (or supra-) conscious, so paradoxically, the further away I get from you, the closer we are (and that includes you, Bob). Or in otherer words, the conscious ego is more atomistic and particle-like, whereas the vertical world is more wavy and nonlocal.

One thing we like about MOTT is its jazz sensibility, of which Bob has written in the past. To improvise means to stand up and play "over" the group. But to produce great jazz, one must simultaneously be a part of the group while transcending it. This complementarity is the key, and I think it embodies a general lesson, almost a koan. That is, Man is the group animal whose very groupishness is the matrix out of which his individuality emerges.

To be an individual is to live on the surface of the group, so to speak, but with roots deep within it. A narcissist fails to appreciate the importance of the group in making the individual possible, as if he could exist without it. And yet, the collective could never be the "end" of our existence, as leftists believe. Which is why the left is such a graveyard of true individuality, an anonymous (in the negative, pre-personal sense) herd of predictable barketypes.

I suppose it's somewhat analogous to the body/mind relationship. One cannot have a mind without a body, but to reduce the mind to the body is to do away with the person and our very reason for existence. Or again, one could say that this reflects the exoteric/esoteric, or inner/outer, complementarity of religion.

Anyway, we're just going to riff on UF's riffing, and see where it takes us, beginning with the Foreward.

Here we are tipped off at the outset to the jazz sensibility of our Unknown Friend, who writes of his alignment with a venerable tradition that unites "a spirit of free research with one of respect for tradition." In so doing, his purpose is to "incarnate" his own words within this tradition, or to make his words flesh, so to speak.

Again, it is this organicity that one must appreciate, as our Unknown Friend comes to life before us. He will not just evoke a link between us and him, or between you and the great community of spirits who have preceded us on this earth. Rather, he is tossing down a vertical lifeline that orients us to the cosmic center:

For the links in the chain of the tradition are not thoughts and efforts alone; they are above all living beings who were thinking these thoughts and willing these efforts. The essence of the tradition is not a doctrine, but rather a community of spirits from age to age.

So jump into the living waters of this great river, and prepare to meet thy Ocean.

I guess this would be the book's most famous reader. That's the two-volume German edition at the bottom of the pile, right below the poems of Suzanne Somers.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Physician, Get Over Thyself, and Learn Something from The Life of Brian

Lord have mercy. I pray I have given a good account.

As you know, yesterday's was a repost. Readers responded with an enthusiastic "tails up," so I decided to check out the comments on the original post from five years ago, not just to gauge the reaction, but to mine them for new material.

Some readers chimed in with their own advice, but one comment stands out. After a lengthy, detailed, and helpful deuscourse on the difficulties of the path, longtime reader Brian says,

Lord have mercy. I pray I have given a good account.

This summarizes my ambivalent reaction to any positive feelings generated by yesterday's post -- not "thank the Lord," but rather, "Lord have mercy on me, a winner!," because now I own it. It very much reminds me of an aphorism of Don Colacho:

No one should dare, without trembling, to influence anyone's destiny.

Or how about, Wisdom comes down to not showing God how things should be done.

And from the complementary perspective, another aphorism: Nothing is more unforgivable than voluntarily imprisoning ourselves in another's convictions, when we should be trying to break through even the bars in the dungeon of our own intelligence.

So if things don't work out, it's your own fault for believing me. Reader waives all liability. Unprofessional seeker on a closed course. Offer void if revelation is altered or not used in a manner consistent with divine instructions.

In response to my warning to off-road aspirants and freelance seekers who attempt to go it alone, reader Squishy objected that:

"I think you do a disservice to those who shun tradition and seek out their own paths. There are mystical truths to be had everywhere, and it seems there are modes of knowing them as numerous as there are discernible bits of human culture to concentrate upon and unify with."

Which brings to mind a comment by Schuon, that "there are no metaphysical or cosmological reasons why, in exceptional cases, direct intellection should not arise in men who have no link at all with revealed wisdom, but an exception, if it proves the rule, assuredly could not constitute the rule"; and "an accident does not take the place of a principle."

True, the spirit blows where it will, but not only where it will. Rather, there are cosmic weather patterns, areas of heat and light, land and water, fire and ice.

In response to Squishy, Brian suggested that "the historico-spiritual record flatly contradicts your thesis. I do not think there are one in a million people remotely capable of being a free-spirit and actually achieving theoria of an elevated kind without the support of a singular tradition. St. Anthony the Great had to escape Alexandria and spent 30 years alone in the desert before he finally 'got it' on his own -- 30 years of private struggle! And this in a time when hardship was the norm. And let's not forget Buddha spending all those years looking for his middle-way. What age did he finally achieve his satori? Do not think you can re-invent the wheel so easily.

"No, those who claim that just anyone can go off on their own and enter spiritual warfare without the support and guidance of an active and knowledgeable community, a tradition with experience in fighting those battles, is almost certain to only find delusion rather than theosis. Too many earnest monks (Christian, Buddhist, and others) have discovered that to their dismay.

"So Squishy, the very idea is an invitation to failure from the start, since it begins with the assumption of individual autonomy, and a severe lack of humility -- these are the very things that have to be fought before theoria can occur. It is like a boy-child thinking he can step into the ring with Rocky Balboa and prevail rather than being reduced to a bloody pulp -- not pretty.

"If you, or anyone, is truly serious about this stuff, do what all those who have actually 'been there done that' advise -- commit to a tradition which has a heavy emphasis on and support for ascetic disipline (I recommend Orthodox Christianity), find a spiritual mentor, and really really listen to what he says, and really really DO what he tells you. Enlightenment, theoria, and theosis begin with obedience and humility -- all traditions agree on that."

This is no different than when one is sick, or, as Cousin Dupree reminds me, when one is in trouble with the law. He is not the first self-styled lawyer with a fool for a client. And physician, get over thyself!

PSGInfinity commented that he would be delighted to see Squishy succeed, "but I'm not optimistic. [A] spiritual journey starts out as an apprenticeship, wherein you learn the ropes from more experienced (inner)spacefarers. Most human endeavors requiring an apprenticeship do so precisely because the apprenticeship process shortens an error-filled learning curve. So good luck, and beware the pitfalls of addiction..."

Another long-time reader, Alan, suggested that "The first step is to realize you are really asleep and not alive. The second is to work on remaining awake -- knowing that you are. Everything flows from those two steps."

In other words, wake up and stay that way. You know, watch and pray. Alan reminds us of Jesus' words, that "The thief comes but to steal, and kill, and destroy. I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly."

Brian was unusually frisky that day. He writes that "There is a paradox in spiritual learning. The further you advance on the path, the more you realize how far you are from the goal. This has been the most humbling realization for me, the knowledge that I can never graduate and get my sheepskin from the 'U. of the Most Holy.'"

Amen to that. If this weren't the case, then I should have pretty much finished arguing my case a million words ago, but instead, I've apparently just cleared my throat.

Brian continues: "You can never stop and enjoy the view, because the moment you do, you fall into pride, and the fall is all that much greater the more you have actually progressed -- one mistake can be literally (and eternally) fatal. So I say to you, you know not of what you speak. Spirituality is a life and death game, the teacher is not books and universities but rather life and death themselves. It's a hard lesson, especially for those who are most intellectually talented."

I would respectfully modify that somewhat, because I believe there is a complementarity involved, of simultaneously "enjoying" but never being satisfied. We eat for today, but that doesn't mean we don't have to work for tomorrow's harvest. There is both "movement" toward the center, while abiding in it.

Brian warns of reducing God to a manageable concept, or of trying to contain Spirit within the boundaries of reason, O within (k):

"The Logos that can be named is not the true Logos. Squishy, with all due respect, your wish-fullfillment fantasy is to make the spiritual intellectual, because then the endeavor seems manageable, achievable, something you can do on your own in the privacy of your own home. I know this because I've been where you are (as have many many others), and even now there is always a strong temptation to reduction, just as scientists constantly battle their temptation to reduce everything to physics. That is your block (and perhaps your permanent cross to bear), the temptation to reductionism, and your pride in thinking you can do that without consequence.

"Listen, the history of spirituality [demonstrates] that transmission of teachings is easy, like any human discipline. However, realization of Truth and then living that Truth is a wholly different matter. The followers of Christ and Buddha, for example, were invariably blockheads, no matter how many ways they received the teaching. The Apostles, for example, didn't get it until Pentecost, until after Christ had shown the way by His life. You are called to follow and abandon blockheadedness -- we all are.

Not sure why Brain is a reader, since he already gets Bob: "There is an absolute and divine Truth. It is a necessary precondition for all logic, morality, and intelligibility -- it is Logos. An aspect of this truth is that we are all blockheads who keep thinking we can 'forge a path anew' and expect to arrive at the same place -- this is the hubris of the philosophers. There is no bootstrap solution -- we are fallen creatures in desperate need of outside assistance. The good news is that we have received that assistance. Descartes was all wrong when he started with himself cogitating. God is precogital."

I say -- and Brian would no doubt agree -- pre- and post-, Alpha and Omega, ground and destiny, source and goal.

Brian concludes by invoking the need to "Begin with humility -- pray for it -- empty yourself of pride, for this is the spiritual method at its core. Only then will there be space for the spirit to begin working within you. This is the first step, and the second, and the third, until the day you die, and beyond...

"Lord have mercy. I pray I have given a good account."


A genuine vocation leads the writer to to write only for himself: first out of pride, then out of humility. --Don Colacho's Aphorisms

Related: Why is it So Hard to Become a Better Person?

Monday, October 03, 2011

Okay, Bob, Send Me My Copy of the 20 Secrets of Eternal Life for Five Easy Payments!

While I recover from this cold, here are a couple of posts from five years back, combined and condensed into an extra-strength version. They go to that perennial cry, "Okay, Bob, I'm sold! Now, ship me my copy of the 20 Raccoon Secrets to Eternal Life While You Wait, with the famous triple-my-old-karma-back-guarantee, for only five easy payments of $99.95! Nonlocal operators floating by ready to assist you!"

We are often asked to provide specific advice on how one might begin to develop a spiritual practice. Most recently, a typical reader asked for “any ideas on how I can overcome my fear of myself as well as my pride in myself, and sincerely invite God into my life.”

I was under the impression that I had devoted a number of posts to this specific topic, but when I went back and looked, I realized that my advice, such as it is, tends to be scattered throughout the One Cosmos bloggereliquary. I say, better to keep the knowledge hidden that way -- only available to the sincere and determined extreme seeker, safe from grubby hands qualified only to furiously deepak their own shriveled chopra.

Indeed, sacred things should only be spoken of in a manner that protects and guards against the distortions and simplifications of the spiritually unqualified, while at the same time posing a challenge to the sincerity and intensity of the true seeker’s aspiration.

This is not mystagogy or equivocation. It is actually similar to, say, psychotherapy. A seasoned therapist might get the gist of the patient’s underlying problem within a session or two. However, it would serve no purpose whatsoever to prematurely blurt this out to the patient, for truth that is given is truth that cannot be discovered, and that makes all the difference.

Not for nothing did Jesus speak in paradoxables. When asked about this by his inner brotherhood of Cosmic Raccoons, he responded, “For you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.... Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

Therefore, Jesus is identifying and highlighting a perennial problem with spiritual knowledge: many who hear hear it do not hear it, and many more who understand it do not comprehend it. The assimilation of Truth is an organic process, in which the seed must be planted in fertile soil, so as to actually transform the person.

Again, it is analogous in some ways to psychotherapy. Very early in my training I learned various ways to deflect the inevitable question, “Can’t you just tell me what’s wrong? Just give it to me straight, and I’ll work out the rest myself.”

A particular patient comes to mind who had great difficulty getting beyond the idea that there was some unremembered event from his past, and that if he could only recall what it was, he would be magically transformed. Also, being a narcissistic character, he was convinced that he (being a special person) could bypass the usual drawn out process, and that I could simply disclose the Secret to him and send him on his way (he also unconsciously projected his narcissism into me, so that I was a special person in a special relationship with his specialness).

Long story short, his greed for truth was a symptom of his very problem. Whatever I gave was greedily swallowed so quickly (without even chewing!), that he had no time to metabolize it. Like a child, it was always "more!" And no one demands more of God than the atheist.

Now, in response to the above-noted reader’s question, I had a few thoughts off the top of my head: “For starters you need to either fall in love (easier with a human form) or be intellectually convicted, depending upon your personality style (bhakti vs. jnani). Only in that way does Spirit become the context, not merely the content, of your life.”

Also, “Remember, the greater the struggle, the greater the realization. Everyone is a unique ‘problem of God,’ and the great project of your life is how the Divine is going to get himself out of this terrestrial jam he's gotten himself into, just like any other nightmare.”

I pointed out the unhelpful truism that “the seeking is the beginning of the finding,” and noted the importance of being exposed to the direct testimony of others whom one respects -- in other words, a community of saints or at least wannabeatifieds. You know, people of good transpersonal breeding.

Speaking of which, many readers chimed in with their own helpful suggestions. Will recommended not becoming preoccupied with “the concept of ‘God.’ God exists and you don't have to ‘conceive’ Him any more than you have to ‘conceive’ the sunrise to know that it's there. The question is, how do you come to *perceive* God or at least His edges?”

This is exactly what I emphasize in the book, that while you may or may not be able to prove the existence of God to your satisfaction, what you can definitely prove is the existence of a part of yourself that may know or love God. It would be odd if there were no corresponding object for this instinct, but you needn’t be troubled by that at the start. It’s like appreciating a painting and wondering if beauty really exists. Who cares? Just enjoy the beauty. Religion provides a beautiful way to live and to think about existence.

Will added the importance of being patient and diligent, and of developing the imagination. This is a critical point. As I have mentioned on a number of past occasions, there are two forms of imagination, one passive, hypnotic, somnolent, downward pulling, and ultimately destructive, another that is active, creative, and aligned with your highest aspiration. One drags you into the abyss, the other draws you toward the Center and Origin. Religious language (including rituals) is carefully honed imaginative language, a symbol system “designed” to facilitate intellection, or “thinking of -- and being in -- higher things.

Reader BP made an interesting point, noting that in his “relationship with the living God I do not necessarily experience as much ‘pleasure’ as I did before, but don't seem to need it. For me, pleasures were always sought and indulged in as a form of temporary relief from my general dissatisfaction with myself. Now, though not necessarily satisfied with myself, I really ENJOY myself. Or better yet, I would say that I enjoy God's involvement in myself, sometimes to the point of laughing my ass off.

"As important, I also get to experience God's enjoyment and appreciation of me. Hard to explain until it starts happening, and it's usually pretty subtle, but when it does start happening it is pretty darn cool. Furthermore, as my enjoyments have increased in relation with God, I've started worrying less and less about when/how/where I will get my next fix of ‘pleasure.’”

BP touches on the centrality of the guffah HA! experience, which I have also found to be true. If one were to look at my outward life, one might find it rather mundane and predictable. But this is not at all what it feels like on the inside, in Raccoon Central, where the laughty revelations never stop.

I am reminded of a novel I read some 20 years ago. I don't remember anything about it except that it conceptualized reality as a system of concentric circles around a center. But unlike normal geometry, the more one converges upon the center, the “larger” and more spacious the world of each successive ring. Then, at the center, which should be the “smallest” area, one arrives at the most expansive and unrestricted space. The Absolute center is, of course “infinity” and "eternity."

Frithjof Schuon wrote a short piece about spiritual practice entitled “Fundamental Keys.” In it, he emphasizes the importance of meditation, concentration, and prayer: “These three words epitomize the spiritual life, while at the same time indicating its principal modes.

"Meditation, from our standpoint, is an activity of the intelligence in view of understanding universal truths; concentration, for its part, is an activity of the will in view of assimilating these truths or realities existentially, as it were; and prayer in its turn is an activity of the soul directed towards God."

First of all, why should there be three modes of spiritual life? Because man is a being made of intellect (which relates to truth), will (which relates to virtue), and heart (which relates to love). Meditation addresses itself to the intellect (not the profane intellect of the worldly intellectual, but to the uncreated intelligence), while concentration (as we will be using the term) applies to the will, and prayer to the heart (not the physical heart, of course, but the integral being, or “mind in the heart”).

Each of the three modes is polarized into a duality. In the case of meditation, the duality is discernment <---> union (the former being objective, the latter subjective; in the first instance, we must differentiate between the Real and unreal, and then assimilate the Real). Another way of saying it is that meditation is the way we transform religious know-how into spiritual be-who.

Before we proceed any further, I should probably emphasize that I am not a spiritual do-it-yoursopher. I tried the “willful” approach for a number of years, but didn’t really get anywhere with it. This is what the Buddhists call jiriki, or “self power,” as opposed to tiriki, or “other power.” For me, the former ended up being a barren circle jiriki.

In our language it is a matter of grace vs. effort. Being that I didn't have any faith in a higher being, I couldn’t very well rely upon the assistance of that higher being, now could I? Also, being then of a rationalistic (in the limited sense of the word) strain, I was initially drawn to "atheistic" and neurotechnological approaches such as Zen or Taoism. Left to my own efforts, I was simply unable to lift myself by my own buddhastraps and get nowhere fast enough.

It was only starting in 1995, when I made the decision to turn myself in to the authorities and consciously surrender to some nonlocal assistance, that I started gaining any traction in hyperspace. You know, harvesting. Born again from above. Leaving my alter egos on the ego altar. Repossessed and amortized. Cashing in my chimp. Nilling mysoph to a blank. Getting the keys to my luxury corps. Blissting off from the errport in the higher planes. Departing in order to bewholed. All that stuff.

So bear in mind that all my advice must be understood in the context of a real relationship with an unlimited partner. For me -- and I imagine for most westerners -- a human partner is best, since our consciousness is infused with the principle that the logos may go so low that it glows in human form.

Although one form may transcend and surpass the others -- I don’t want to get into that argument right now, since I want to remain ecumaniacal -- I know for a fact that genuine saints are capable of transmitting a real grace and a real spiritual power and presence. Of this I have no doubt, because, for one thing, we are talking about a cosmic principle, not a one-time violation of a cosmic principle.

Also, bear in mind that it is almost always necessary to find this nonlocal assistance in an established orthodox tradition. This is why manmade, improvised new-age approaches wrenched from their sacred context do not work. Real traditions are protected by forces that guard against egoic vulgarians who wish to take heaven by storm.

Outwardly this is called “dogma,” but there is an interior protection as well that ensures that the fruit of the usurper or false prophet will always be unsound. Once you get your bearings in the domain of spirit, it is easy to pick up most any new age book and play Spot the Heresy!, usually on the first page. It gets boring real quick.

According to Schuon, in meditation, “The contact between man and God becomes contact between the intelligence and Truth, or relative truths contemplated in view of the Absolute.”

In other words, meditation acts upon the intelligence (in the deeper sense, as defined above) in order to awaken certain timeless “memories” (vertical memories, as it were) and to engage the higher imagination (as discussed above). This is how truth is metabolized and assimilated into the being -- it is an organic process which exactly mirrors everyday horizontal learning.

That is, the process is identical, just applied to a different plane. In both cases, there is a knowing subject, a plane of phenomena, and a transformational space in between. In each case we are dealing with what Aquinas called adequation between subject and object. It is just that in spiritual knowing, we are working with knowledge that transcends the senses (although not always, and not forever, since the higher intellect is capable of seeing the material world as a “theophany” of God, a principle that we routinely rely upon in order to appreciate the noetic light that shines through a great work of art, or simply perceiving the naturally supernatural beauty of the Old Master Painter himself).

I agree with Schuon that, “Contrary to what is too often stated, meditation cannot of itself provoke illumination; rather, its object is negative in the sense that it has to remove inner obstacles that stand in the way, not of a new, but of a preexistent and ‘innate’ knowledge of which it has to become aware.

"Thus meditation may be compared not so much to a light kindled in a dark room, as to an opening made in the wall of that room to allow the light to enter -- a light which preexists outside and is in no way produced by the action of piercing the wall.... The role of meditation is thus to open the soul, firstly to the grace which separates it from the world, secondly to that which brings it nearer to God and thirdly to that which, so to speak, reintegrates it into God.”

While truth is truth, it must be realized in order to begin transforming the person. It is not like scientific knowledge which, once known, stays that way. Rather, the realm of spirituality involves truths that must be known and reknown repeatedly, in a spiraling process. There is no end to it on this side of manifestation.

The following is a transcript from a book called "Conversations on Yoga," but is easily translighted to a Christian context:

Q. Is not an increasing effort of meditation needed and is it not true that the more hours you meditate the greater progress you make?

The Mother: The number of hours spent in meditation is no proof of spiritual progress. It is a proof of your progress when you no longer have to make an effort to meditate. Then you rather have to make an effort to stop meditating: it becomes difficult... to stop thinking of the Divine, difficult to come down to the ordinary consciousness. Then you are sure of progress... when concentration in the Divine is the necessity of your life, when you cannot do without it, when it continues naturally from morning to night whatever you may be engaged in doing...

Q: But is not sitting down to meditation an indispensable discipline, and does it not give a more intense and concentrated union with the Divine?

The Mother: That may be. But a discipline in itself is not what we are seeking. What we are seeking is to be concentrated on the Divine in all that we do, at all times...

There are some who, when they are sitting in meditation, get into a state which they think is very fine and delightful. They sit self-complacent in it and forget the world.... This is not a sign of spiritual progress.... There are some who act and seem to feel as if meditation were a debt they have to pay to the Divine; they are like men who go to church once a week and think they have paid what they owe God....

To enter the spiritual life means to take a plunge into the Divine, as you would jump into the sea. And that is not the end, but the beginning....

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