Saturday, 6 July 2013

Exploring Nostalgia

There came a time when I first felt a wanting to return home, or a sense of being called home, but in this life not in some possible hereafter. That wanting has never gone away. The situation is reminiscent of that of the Prodigal Son, a parable which tells of a similar sense of nostalgia. It would appear to be related to a wanting to re-experience a state of true Being, a return to my spiritual home. Naturally, the question arises as to whether I have ever truly experienced a state of true Being to which I could return. The sense of nostalgia would imply that I have, but I can no longer remember it. Then who and what am I?  Perhaps the 'who' relates to the personality, the Virtual self*, my everyday consciousness, whilst the 'what' refers to the True Self**.

My Drawing of an Egyptian Queen

"Man, know thyself.......and thou shalt know the Gods," it allegedly says in the inner temple at Luxor. Who or what must know what?  I can know my Virtual self by means of my intellect, emotions and sensations, and have travelled far down that road already, discovering many of the lesser gods that have ruled my life. However, that cannot be enough. There would clearly seem to be a call to know something much more, namely my True and Higher Self. However, that would appear to be a process I am unable to enter into, at least of my own volition. Yet, surely, if meditation and contemplation are the recommended means by which my contact with God can be improved, then just as surely there must be some process by which I can know my Higher Self, as a first step towards that ultimate end. Of course it may be that God and my Higher Self are one and the same state of true Being. Now meditation and contemplation do not of themselves improve my conscious contact with God, but they appear to trigger the process (like a spiritual catalyst) of opening a channel to, or drawing down a response from, a higher state of Being; to clear away, or find a way round, the distractions of the material life.  Or put another way, their practice indicates a willingness to be open to a process of consciousness expansion.

If the desire for some form of higher contact exists from beyond my everyday consciousness, and the means are available to concentrate the mind in the appropriate manner, then there must also be hope that contact can be established, that a way home can be found. "Seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you," was the encouraging exhortation offered by the first century, Jewish spiritual master, Jesus. Since I can know my Virtual self and, as I have said, I have done a great deal of work to that end, is it possible that I can use that knowledge to infer any conclusions about my True Self? Is there any truth in the  Hermetic assertion that "as above so below", that some distorted projection of my Higher Self appears as my Lower self? Can a study of one's personality profile lead to any conclusions about what has been called the divine aspects of one's nature? Or must it be that the path to knowledge of my Virtual self must be rejected in the cause of detachment from that state, hidden perhaps by a cloud of unknowing, so that one's gaze is focused on a higher level?

It has been said, and quite rightly in my experience, that I cannot do this alone. I cannot force contact to be made with a higher level of Being. That process of meditation and contemplation will only lead to the ultimate discovery of answers if God/(True Self?) chooses to respond. Yet it has also been said that the question, "Who am I?" cannot be answered until I at the very least begin to obey the injunction, "Know thyself!" It would thus appear that both the roots of the problem and its solution may indeed begin with the consciousness of the Virtual self and the inferences that can be made from it, but end with a requirement to hold that self and the Higher Self in some kind of balance. For that process to be effective, some level of spiritual detachment becomes necessary.

The next question is, who or what is it, what state exists, that creates the balance? What is the tacitly assumed observer in this process, that presence that feels a nostalgia for its spiritual home?

* Virtual self:  a synonym for the Ego.
** True Self:  a synonym for the Real or Higher Self.


  1. This keen post appears as I contemplate "home" (a non-hereafter home) in the context of two people who believe they have found home in this life in another person, and so they are getting hitched. Nostalgia? There's lots of that built into the ceremony, traditions, and festivities.

    But there's no going back to find home. Nostalgia is like standing on a railroad track, looking behind yourself, but all you see is a point in the far distance. And a simple onward progression? That only leads to atomization.

    Then Gebser whispers into my ear, "Only someone who has overcome himself is truly able to overcome. Either time is fulfilled in us--and that would mean the end and death for our present earth and (its) mankind--or we succeed in fulfilling time: and this means integrality and the present, the realization and the reality of origin and presence."

    And then Gebser takes questions similar to yours and puts the example of a Picasso drawing (1926) in front of the reader. He explains that here was an artist who incorporated time into the representation: "When we look at this drawing, we take in at one glance the whole man, perceiving not just one possible aspect, but simultaneously the front, the side, and the back."

    Who am I? I wonder if I must ask that question in the context of time. In an aperspectival way.
    Thank you for sparking these thoughts in me, Tom!

  2. Dear Rouchswalwe, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I am intrigued by Gebser's ideas about redundant consciousnesses, and what appears to be an emergent evolution of new consciousness. There are hints perhaps of Gurdjieff and also reference to the idea (no idea where this thought sprang from) that there has been a marked and significant change in consciousness at least from the time of the Ancient Greeks.

    Interestingly, and since my posts rely heavily on my own psycho-spiritual experience, your comment may have given me the answer for which I have been searching to a meditational experience from some years back that I have never understood. Thank you again.

    This kind of psycho-spiritual-philosophical exploration is great fun, isn't it?

  3. I was struck by something I read this morning. It said to think of something that happened in your childhood, then think of how you reacted to it. But none of the atoms in your body then exist now so you weren't really there!

    It went on:

    "- We shed our skin cells every 35 days
    - Most of the adult skeleton is replaced every 10 years
    - The average age of a fat cell is 10 years
    - Our neocortical neurons, the cell type that mediates much of our cognition, are produced prenatally and retained for our entire lifespan."

    Ah, the "neocortical neurons" explain our memory of the event. Perhaps that is the nostalgia we all experience.

    I have been absent from the area where I was born and raised for 25 years now. It's not that far and I frequently feel a nostalgia to return but I always fight it down. I think because it has so changed I want to keep it in my memory as it was when I was a boy.

    BTW, I really like your drawing, Tom.

  4. i, too, admire your drawing, very much!

    i had no idea how to respond to your post...even though it had me thinking and thinking. i find Bruce's comment very interesting and enlightening, also.

  5. Oh yes, Tom. This psycho-spiritual-philosophical exploration really is great fun. Bruce's comment is fascinating. And now your notice of Gebser's reference to the idea that there has been a marked and significant change in consciousness (according to him from the time of the origin, which is ever-present) over time reminds me of another point he made: "It would be well for us to be mindful of one actuality: although the wound in the head of Zeus (after Athena springs forth) healed, it was once a wound. Every novel thought will tear open wounds. When recalling mythical man and his achievements, we must not forget the infinite pain and agony, even though, as the infinite may suggest, they may be only irrational grief or anguish in the soul. Everyone who is intent upon surviving--not only the earth but also life--with worth and dignity, and living rather than passively accepting life, must sooner or later pass through the agonies of emergent consciousness."

    I'm so happy my comment helped you solve a riddle.

  6. Bruce; I have thought, for as long as I have been interested in such things, that the brain cells are irreplaceable. But something rings a muted bell that there is a possibility this may not be so. To confirm that I would need to trawl through learned papers, and that is not on at the moment.

    To come to your other point about nostalgia, what is operating if the nostalgia is not for some place or experience in the material life, but in some higher psycho-spiritual state? Your point may well still be valid, but I wonder whether or not it must necessarily be so.

    Glad you like the picture, and thank you for comment.

  7. Zephyr; This post was in its way an explorative foray into the realms of nostalgia. Your response is therefore as valid as any other, and I thank you for responding. Glad you also liked the drawing.

  8. I can only think of D's favorite quote on this subject.

    "Nostalgia is deception wrapped in sentiment. Nostalgia is a ghostly lover dressed in a lovely, old-fashioned gown, who beckons you to dance with her, to make love to her… and then she turns into a hideous mummified ghoul who rips your throat out with her teeth and blood gushes and the screaming, my God, the screaming… That is nostalgia."--Dave Campbell

  9. Zhoen; Who is this bitter man, Dave Campbell? I can only access a footballer on the web.

  10. Tom, once again I wish a live conversation were possible right now, without the interruption of having to write things down. But never mind, I'm grateful for the opportunity to read you and to reply. The kind of nostalgia you're talking about is very familiar to me and there's nothing sentimentally soppy about it - it is, as you say, a longing for 'home' but not a specific place - more a state of being which some part of our psyche knows about and longs to 'return' to. Interesting that you mention Egypt because (as you may have read on my website) my affinity with ancient Egypt goes way back and reincarnation in some form - perhaps not as generally described or believed - seems to me a possibility.
    But speaking of the present, my feeling is that dividing the Self into Higher and lower, true and false, obscures the question: who and what am I? In moments of deep awareness, there are no such divisions. Krishnamurti talks of such awareness, in fact all of his words boil down to that one word. Perhaps it's not vastly different from "..unless you become as little children.." ?

  11. It's interesting to consider that the very deep and somehow expansive longing that arises for me in the centre of my body is something also experienced by others. I used to wonder if it was an especially intense psycho-physical impulse to return to the protection and love that surrounded me in infancy, but as I grew older I came to understand it was a longing to connect spiritually. Whether there is a higher self is, and probably always will be, open to conjecture. Nevertheless, whether we call that essence the Ground of Being or God, the very fact we experience this longing for connection seems to me to be proof that there's a purpose to our existence.

    Thank you for another thought provoking post, Tom.

  12. I agree totally with your point that nostalgia has nothing sentimentally soppy about it. I would go further than that and say that this kind of work cannot be sustained unless one is tough and practical about it.

    There are always problems when trying to describe the indescribable. Models of the psycho-spiritual world are just that, models not the actuality. They attempt to do the impossible by describing how things appear to be, by starting from the point of view that 'it is as if....' It is therefore, a natural if not wholly or even very appropriate way to proceed. But our thinking process has certain limiting parameters.

    Thank you for reminding me of the 'unless you become as little children' quote. I strongly suspect that that is the way forward, experiencing spirituality rather than modelling it.....perhaps!

  13. Susan, there is very little that I feel I can add to your 'very much to the point' comment. Anything I might add would simply be gilding the lily of experiential truth. My thanks to you.

    Lord, but I do love talking with the people who comment here.

  14. I feel nourished when reading your posts and all the comments and love your drawing, Tom.
    Do I dare say that my lack of words to describe the describable does not hinder the fact that I sometimes know indescribable thoughts and feelings of others when in their presence.
    I pulled out 'Knowledge of the Higher Worlds' but opted not to read it a third time.

  15. Dear Tom, with sniff sniff nose I want to tell you that I wrote the above comment before I read your comment on my post.

  16. If you feel nourished, then my posts have fulfilled whatever task was laid upon them. The ability to find the right words, and the 'knowing' of indescribable thoughts and feelings of others, are not dependent on one another. Whatever it may be that the former requires, the latter only needs acceptance of a gift from a 'Higher World'.

  17. Darn, I wrote a comment and somehow lost it when I bumped the mouse.

    I'm late here but have to say how you do provoke interesting thoughts and conversation. Nostalgia as a spiritual yearning is a new aspect for me.

    And your drawing is lovely, Tom.

  18. Marja-Leena, thank you. And you have been missed.

  19. Funny how these work... just saw this article in NYT What is Nostalgia Good for?

    Not as deep thinking as yours though, Tom.

  20. Thank you Marja-Leena. I would never have imagined that a scientific study of nostalgia would ever have carried out. A good, uplifting article which I have bookmarked for further re-reading.

  21. Tom, I understand the longing, since I have been there, and continue to experience that feeling from time to time. As Natalie wrote, though, the separation/division you feel and describe is not real, although it's absolutely true to what we usually experience. We are all "there" already, "home" already, and at One with The Ground of Being/Cosmic Consciousness/God/whatever we choose to call it. All the mystical teachings concur on this point. Meditation is the tool, and our senses are the key, because we can't grasp this intellectually, and yet some intellectual understanding seems important too. (I'm not saying I've gotten there, but meditation and a long,long search have given me some insights and experiences of awareness and non-division that I trust.) A good question to ask yourself is "Who is the Watcher?" What is awareness?

  22. Beth, thank you for that supportive comment. The most difficult aspect of this work is to accept I am "there" already. So much of the spiritual recovery I have gone through has come about after painful awakenings that sometimes it feels as if that is the only way forward. It's ego-speak; must do better. Yet there are times when I just "know", even if I do not intellectually accept.

    Thank you again, Beth.

  23. I imagine that the True Self has the greater wisdom. The I can do nothing in the matter, except get out of the way, be still.

    All spiritual practice as far as I can see has this aim.

    When we are strong-willed, trying to run the show and decide things, we have to exhaust ourselves or in some way crash, so that we can let go. Life will do it. Nothing we need to do. Our desire has been expressed and heard. Now just wait for it to be answered by the Universe.

  24. Unfortunately, because painfully, I must agree with your every word.