Sunday, 2 February 2014

"Know Thyself!" - Part 2 of 2

In the second part of this essay, I will travel back to that time when my spiritual fortunes seemed to be at their lowest ebb. That was the time when I was forced to face up to my abject and humiliating failure to control another person's drinking. There would be little to be gained from trying to describe the sense of psycho-spiritual devastation that I experienced, except for one thing. A very real sense of oncoming spiritual annihilation obliged me engage with some serious soul-searching, if I was to have any chance of survival. For about two-and-a-half weeks, and for almost every minute of the day, I had (under strict supervision) to search out and write down (the latter being a very important part of the process) every example that I could recall of my powerlessness over that person's alcoholism. Up until that point I had always believed that if I tried hard enough and for long enough, I would succeed, that the solution to the problem was in my hands. How wrong could I have been? Not only did I discover just how lacking in power I really was, but also what a devastating effect that wasted output of energy was having on my outer life. At that time I barely acknowledged that I had an inner life.

But so what? What has that to do with me now? Simply this, that the seeking out of that over which I, that is to say my conscious self, am unable effectively to exert power continues to this day. Only the focus of my attention has changed, and the means by which I seek to effect satisfactory outcomes. At the end of the two-and-a-half week investigatory period referred to above, I was exhausted. Yet that was, perhaps, the necessary condition for my discovery of, my coming to believe in, a power and energy that was greater than my egoistic self-will to deal with my battle against my ego (or more correctly, ahamkara). But that battle was not to be consciously joined for a while yet. I had to walk before I could run;  I had to see the way before I could journey. I still needed to discover what lay at the very heart of powerlessness. It was to take some time and a great deal of work on the process of "Knowing Myself" before I discovered what I was seeking. 

I will at this point, for the sake of brevity, skip that work and move on to the discovery of what really lay at the heart of the task to which I had agreed (at least between me and God) to apply myself. That kernel of truth was to be summed up in, "delusion and denial." Delusion hides the truth, whilst denial is a means of continuing the state of delusion. The task of ridding myself of these twin problems has always been at the heart of my commitment to seeking truth. Whatever may be said about the ego and its inappropriate attachments, whatever may be debated about its meaning, can be said to be deflections, generated by the ego itself, from the central and all-important task of dealing with delusion and denial. It has been said that that task lay at the centre of the spiritual Master Jesus' teaching, not to mention the teachings of the Buddha and others. In Qabalistic terms, this is the experience of Tiphareth, the achievement of the Great Work.

I said in the first part of this essay that Jesus (according to the Thomas Text) said that if we do not know and understand ourselves, then we are in poverty, and we are the poverty.  Now it seems to me that if the Text has been correctly translated - and I have to take that as a given - then either Jesus is just plain wrong, or there is another interpretation to be discovered. This is all part of that Great Work to discover the heart of spiritual truth, to rid my spiritual system of delusion. The first obstacle to be overcome is the assumption that Jesus is correct simply because his name is what it is. Now I find myself on steadier ground, that I can acknowledge he may be wrong, but also that he may be correct, that we can in some way be the poverty.

I pointed out in the previous part of this essay that it may be a question of identification. Yet somehow that appears to leave certain questions unanswered. These questions are, at the least, tied up with the matter of character traits, thoughts and emotions, and the judgements we pass on their rightness or wrongness (or holiness or sinfulness, if religious language is preferred). It seems to me that if the Text is correct, by that I mean truthful, then it points to the possibility of more than one reality. In which case, what I see as reality is not absolute, but relative. One reality, the one which is relative to the ego, says that I am my body, my thoughts and my feelings. Yet I have found in my life that there is a higher reality, that of the Higher Self, which says that I am not my body, or my thoughts or my emotions. The level of reality is dependent upon spiritual development.

Father Richard Rohr, (Centre for Action and Contemplation, New Mexico), summarises this trend of perceived reality with spiritual growth in his most recent on-line meditations. Briefly, regrettably very briefly, he lists spiritual development under the following headings:

Part 1: Stage One:  My body and my self image are who I am.
         Stage Two: My external behaviour is who I am.
         Stage Three: My thoughts and feelings are who I am.

He goes on to say, "Without great love (and I mean great love) and great suffering, where there is a major defeat, major humiliation, major shock to the ego self, very few people move to Stage Four.

         Stage Four: My deeper intuitions and felt knowledge in my body are who I am.

It yet remains for me to complete my journey, but something wonderful beckons.


  1. Your conclusion is consistent with buddhist thought, which posits that there is a relative truth—i.e. that experienced by the ego while we dwell in the standard world of samsara (the suffering world), and an absolute truth that transcends that.

    At the far mystical end of that philosophy there is said to be the realization that both the relative truth and the absolute truth are the same thing—that Nirvahna and samsara are essentially the same luminous emptiness. Now THAT's a mind bender.

  2. I have always believed that whether or not a spiritual conclusion is logical, rational or even perhaps reasonable, it should always be consistent with the rest of the body of experience. Not knowing much about Buddhist thought, I am pleased that my conclusion is substantiated. The ground under my feet is that little bit firmer.

    As for your second point, I must give that some thought. I can well imagine that that is a mind bender.

  3. Your calm inquiry into existence fascinates me. I'm reminded here of Billy Budd, the fictional character central to a sea-going Passion Play. It was his hope simply to be useful. I suspect the theological concept of Judgement is similarly rooted in whether one is useful to the universe or not --a cold equation, certainly, but one that impels us to be stubbornly good sometimes.

  4. Geo; An interesting comment. I had always thought Billy Budd to be innocent to the point of being naive, and that is worth pondering on. And there is certainly something in your final thought, that one is impelled to be stubbornly good sometimes.

    One thought, I doubt that I would shout, "God bless Captain Vere!" :)

  5. Agog for the next. Keep on please. Meanwhile I'm trying to compose something in partial reply and partially inspired by your series. Painfully slow and not sure if it's possible. But the process is what matters and not a tangible end-product, as you obviously know.

    I'm especially interested in where you reach with this line of questioning "Am I my body? Am I not my body?"

    ——It's something to be pursued with an open mind, for who can know himself but himself? For example, I like what Father Rohr says, but only because he gives expression to what I have experienced, and not been able to say as briefly. "That art thou" says the Upanishad, but I have to taste "that" and "thou" and begin to observe them coalesce.

  6. I've mentioned Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj to you previously. What you've said here reminded me of a quote I re-read recently in his 1970 book I Am That. I hope you don't mind me sharing it now:

    'To know itself the self must be faced with its opposite the not-self. Desire leads to experience. Experience leads to discrimination, detachment, self-knowledge liberation. And what is liberation after all? To know that you are beyond birth and death. By forgetting who you are and imagining yourself a mortal creature, you created so much trouble for yourself that you have to wake up, like from a bad dream.'

    Although I'd been interested in spiritual matters from an early age it wasn't until I went through a long period of emotional trauma that made a serious exploration essential for me. That kind of turmoil isn't something I'd wish for anyone, but in my case there were several times when I experienced the most extraordinary overlay of the numinous on everyday reality, and even though these events took just seconds, their timelessness calmed my misery.

    I'm sure something wonderful beckons all of us, Tom.

  7. Vincent; I will move on, soon, to the next stage, but for the moment I need time for recollection. It's a little like wading through treacle. Thereafter, I will try to deal with the matter of the mantra.

    I agree with you when you say that I like what Fr. Rohr says, but only because he gives expression to what I have experienced. For me there is no 'but only' and all that that might imply. I long ago discovered that, for example, a passage in a book really only had meaning if I had previously experienced what that passage was discussing. For this reason, if for no other, it is necessary to live an experience before insights can be gained. Insights and enlightenment come from some form of active involvement. Afterwards? Well we can always decide to discontinue that path, or continue to follow it, as our inner promptings lead us.

  8. Susan; To begin with, I always enjoy it when you share your thoughts and experiences with me.

    There is certainly a strong element of 'not wishing this traumatic experience on anyone' in my thinking. Yet I feel that out of that whole experience of living with someone else's disease of alcoholism, I have been greatly blessed, and yes, privileged, to pass through my own Dark Night into new ways of seeing.

    It is a sad, perhaps, part of being a human being that we need to pass through trauma before we are prepared to address our selves and wake up to a new reality. Carrying a dysfunctional ego is such a heavy burden to bear, but until we are ground down by that entity we cannot apparently be awakened to
    something real, alive and divine.

  9. Just stopping by for a very quick Thank You! to you Tom, and to your amazing commentators here.

    I am agog and feel so blessed to have been drawn here.

  10. Halle; Nice to say "Hullo".

  11. Tom, the 'something wonderful beckoning' is what I'm most looking forward to hearing about although your past journey, how you got to where you are, is certainly interesting and worth documenting.

  12. Natalie; I do not know what the 'something wonderful' is as yet, but there are hints in the experience that I described in, "Into the Eternal". I hope you stay around long enough, so that when it comes we can share some thoughts on the experience.

  13. Tom, while searching for information on Rumi, the Persian poet, I ran across an excerpt from one of his poems that cried out your name and your search. I hope you will not be offended if I copy it here.

    "Why should I seek? I am the same as
    He. His essence speaks through me.
    I have been looking for myself!"

  14. Bruce; How could I possibly be offended? That is lovely, and humbling. My thanks.