Saturday 27 September 2014

The Spectrum of Love

          Before getting to the main body of this essay, let me refresh the memory by repeating the quote from Aldous Huxley's "Perennial Philosophy", in which he says,

".........But the nature of this one [divine] Reality is such that it cannot be directly and immediately apprehended except by those who have chosen to fulfil certain conditions, making themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit........."

          To come now to the third of those conditions, namely 'making themselves loving', (matters concerning 'pure in heart' and 'poor in spirit' having been dealt with in earlier posts) let me say straightaway that this script is not going to be a treatise on love, an intellectual exercise which, although essayed by many saints and mystics over the millennia, neither serves my purposes nor meets my needs today. I would suggest that if people are asked whether they know what love is, they would readily answer in the affirmative. However, a closer questioning about what love actually is might reveal that their views differ widely for the simple reason that those questioned would be unable to define what love is, even though they know when they love and when they are loved in return. Love and God, to mention only two examples, are beyond definition because neither emanate from the world 'out there' but from the universe 'in here'.
          I propose to approach the subject of 'making myself loving' from the viewpoint of my own experience, taking care to keep things simple, because I strongly suspect that our approach to love, as it is to God, is dependent on our personal experiences of love and lovelessness, rather than on handed down wisdom about love. Let me state as clearly as I am able, that I do not believe love comes from the emotions or the intellect, nor from the physical senses. Love has its origins beyond ego-consciousness, in the realm of the Higher Self (or Identity, a useful term that is used in a comment here), perhaps also known as God. I say again, love does not emanate from the ego, although that is where it is made conscious and is experienced.
          It is probably true to say that, for a major part of my life, I felt that I did not have the capacity to love other human beings, at least in a way that I would recognise as genuine love rather than my ego's need to control my emotional environment. (I specify human beings in this instance because I have never had that problem with the rest of the animal kingdom.) This lack of loving capacity may well have derived from a sense that I was unlovable, a condition born from perceived experiences of my childhood. But all that was to change as a result of a number of factors arising from my complete spiritual reorientation in my middling years. I began to realise that it was not a past, ego-oriented, shame-based unlovability that was the real problem I faced. It was an apparent inability to access something higher in me, and a lack of certain knowledge about how I could put into practice the more positive feelings that I was beginning to experience. This was in complete contradistinction to my earlier years when my efforts at maintaining control had produced reactions and responses on which my ego had been desperately dependent, but which had never been sustained. As a result I retreated into an internal 'ivory tower'. I cut myself off from my Higher Self, a state that was to have spiritually devastating consequences.
          More recently, and against this now more distant background, certain questions have arisen. How is it possible to love my neighbour as myself, which in earlier times might have seemed a pretty poor deal for my neighbour? How is it possible to generate a love for one's enemy? Even, and this matter seems to be more pressing, how can I love a God whose presence I accept, but about which I appear to know nothing? And, finally, why should I love my enemy anyway? It seems obvious to me now that the intellect and the emotions could never supply the answers to my questions, although they could give support to the practice of love. The answer seems to lie in the region of other positive aspects or traits of the personality such as courtesy, cheerfulness, sincerity, kindness, patience and tolerance (the latter two not being the most obvious characteristics of my personality!), and gratitude. The list goes on and on, but every item on that list feeds and sustains the spirit. Over time I began to see that love, or perhaps charity is the better word, is not a single entity, but an energy source that infuses a range of qualities that become inseparable in their cohesiveness, thus producing a spectrum of love. I also saw that had I continued to exercise my negative personality traits they would have continued to shrivel and starve the spirit, just as they had done in the past. They also were a range of qualities, but ones which had their origins in something which at rock bottom was a spectrum of fear and perhaps, in the limit, hatefulness. By refusing to detach from my negative impulses towards those I felt I could not love or show some semblance of respect, I was spiritually damaging myself. I believe that when Jesus said that we should love our enemies, it was not for some woolly-headed, wishy-washy reason, but because he was deeply concerned about the redemption and growth of a person's spirit.
          Clearly then, I can become less judgemental and more open-minded about my neighbour and my enemy. I can be respectful towards my neighbour and my enemy, even if I cannot like them, and although my efforts may be stretched to the limit and possibly beyond. But the question still remains as to whether I can love God, a metaphor for that indescribable otherness for which I aspire to have union, but one which lies beyond sense, emotion and thought. Perhaps the answer to that question lies in the kind of feedback I offer my divine Higher Self, for the ego acts like a portal through which energies pass inwards to the universe 'in here' as well as outwards to the world 'out there'. If I cannot experience divine love directly, then I can behave as if I do, and intent counts for a very great deal.
          In conclusion, it seems to me that I do not have to understand love or even know what love is in order to practise it. I do not have to be able to define love, or God - and the religious claim that God is Love - to be able to experience those indescribables in my life. I do need to live each day in the here and now, unshackled from past perceptions and illusions, or at least make the effort to do so. Alright, no-one said the task would be easy.
          From the recall of memories and the writing of this script, it occurs to me that it may be that my experiences of life will be at odds with those of others. If so, then I am thankful for that. I am also aware that I have flowed backwards and forwards in time, not always very precisely and clearly. But please indulge me a little. What I have now, although not yet complete because I am still part of a process of becoming, is beyond anything I could have ever imagined possible. Surely, somewhere amongst my searchings, I must have discovered some measure of truth.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Poverty of Spirit

          What does it mean to be poor in spirit, and what are its advantages? Certainly there are advantages deriving from that state, in terms of potential for spiritual growth and healing which does not need to be tied into religion unless it be so desired. Those questions have lain at the back of my mind for a long time, questions that have been constant companions nudging me towards some denouement that at times I would have preferred to have avoided. But this path I follow is all or nothing, and nothing is now almost unimaginable. And it will be recalled from an earlier essay, "Purity of Heart," that to be poor in spirit is one of the conditions given in the perennial philosophy for the direct apprehension of the one Reality.
          So let me return to the question of what it means to be poor in spirit. For me it represents an ego-state which, when compared with what has been called the Higher Self, is shown to be threadbare of truthful substance. It means to be spiritually beggarly, bankrupt, psycho-spiritually sick, poorly if you will. It is an existence within, not a living of, what I see as my life. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and I agree. But it requires more than examination to turn the potential offered by poverty of spirit into something of real value. As it has been said, the attainment offered to the poor in spirit is the kingdom of God, a metaphor, perhaps, for the experience of that which is most fundamental to the healthy life of the spirit. What Jesus does not say in the 'beatitudes' is that the attainment of the metaphorical kingdom is not handed out on a plate. Work is required to turn that potential into something real.
          It seems to me that spiritual poverty occurs when the ego, my everyday consciousness, is cut off from my Higher Self. If, as some would claim, the Higher Self and God are one and the same, or at the very least intimately connected, then the loss of contact can deprive one of direct contact with God, the direct apprehension of the one Reality. Prolonged loss will inevitably lead to a form of insanity, a loss of right-mindedness. I find it of interest that the first thing St. John of the Cross talks about in his great spiritual treatise, "Ascent of Mount Carmel," is not a re-ordering of one's morality, and one's personality traits (that comes later) but a coming to terms with inordinate longings or cravings, obsessions and addictions, impulses not rightly ordered to a person's spiritual good. Coming to terms with anything requires both acknowledgement and acceptance.
          I count myself as fortunate in that the only drug to which I was addicted was nicotine. As a result, my "Dark Nights" were dealt with in reverse order from that given by St. John. In the end, what was important was not what order I chose, not what Saints Matthew and Mark said in the New Testament, not what Jesus might or might not have said or meant in that same testament, or elsewhere in the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, but what practical effort I chose to exert on this individual, in today's world, in the here and now. Of course, this presumes a prior knowledge of what those spiritual luminaries said and meant, an understanding which was denied me, until I had lived through the experience of spiritual recovery.
          As I have already said, compared with the life of the Higher Self, the life of the ego will always be one lived in poverty. There appears not to be absolute poverty here, but a growing awareness of comparative psycho-spiritual bankruptcy. Thus no matter how full and satisfying the life of my ego may seem to be, that of my Higher Self is so much more so. And that higher life can be brought down into consciousness, at least in part, through the practice of 'prayer and meditation', as it says in the Twelve Step programmes for spiritual recovery. Some might claim that poverty of spirit may not be a precondition for beginning the spiritual life. It was the case for me, as it has been for millions of people. I needed to be convinced of that poverty, otherwise why bother to change tack?
          Finally, it has been suggested by various commentators on the Bible that the poverty being referred to in the beatitudes was material poverty. Now I was raised in a family in which material poverty was a way of life. I can, therefore, say with absolute confidence that material poverty is not a state that has anything of value to recommend it. Material poverty does not turn the heart and soul towards matters spiritual, but towards ways and means of material survival. Before you can speak philosophy to a person you need first to fill the stomach. Only then is there time to deal with other matters.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Anyone Fancy a Curry?

         I am finding it a little difficult settling down to writing a script on the kind of subjects which particularly interest me, namely matters of the spirit. In part that difficulty arises from a gentle seething inside me, a mild excitement if you like, which in turn arises from a new awareness of an experiential truth written about in my previous post on purity of heart. So instead of trying to produce when I need to reflect, I have decided to try my hand, yet again, at a watercolour painting.
         Now this an exercise which has always been fraught with difficulties for me, a project which produces partly finished (or even barely begun) paintings which I quickly fall-out-of-love with, as a result of not getting things right, the way I want them. Thus it is that my efforts almost invariably end their days in my waste bin. But 'hope springs eternal' and so once again I take my brushes in one hand, and something resembling courage (or is it obstinacy?) in the other, and attempt to do battle. This time, however, I was determined to have some fun.          
         It just so happened that whilst on one of our short holidays, we happened to espy an attractive Indian restaurant. Now this is nowhere as usual in France as it is in the United Kingdom, a unity which may, perhaps, not last for very much longer. Ever ready to support restaurants which specialise in foreign cuisines we entered and were offered a table for two.  I surreptitiously took a few photographs of the interior décor for future reference. The following are the results of the inspiration accorded me by a lovely evening sharing a curry with my lovely wife.

         First I show a simple line drawing developed from certain features that I found of interest. This line drawing is a composite of three bits and pieces, produced so that if one part was ruined, the rest would avoid a terminal visit to the waste bin.

         Second comes a tonal drawing, developed from the line drawing. Now if my past efforts are anything to go by, this is the point of highest enjoyment. Wisdom would indicate that I should stop at this point, but in for a penny, in for a pound, as the saying goes. Yes, I put paint to paper ..... sort of.

         So, third comes the completed effort. It was unclear to me just how I was going to treat certain features of this picture, but if (as did by happy accident) the piece took on some aspects of fantasy, then I would not be displeased. The important things about this picture are that I enjoyed the very experience to the end; I did actually complete it; and although I will now file it away out of sight, I felt I did learn from the experience.

         And now I can turn to other matters.

[Note:  I do not know how a reader will be viewing this picture, but the original colours are quite deep and strong - quite the opposite of pastel.]

Friday 12 September 2014

Purity of Heart

".........But the nature of this one [divine] Reality is such that it cannot be directly and immediately apprehended except by those who have chosen to fulfil certain conditions, making themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit........."

          This quote from the introduction to, "The Perennial Philosophy" by Aldous Huxley, briefly describes the skeleton of the necessary groundwork that needs to be covered if one is to tread the spiritual path. He goes on to say that we do not know why this should be so. It is just one of those facts we have to accept, whether we like them or not, and however implausible and unlikely they may seem.
          Recently, I said that if I were to be cast away on a desert island, the book that I quoted above would be one of my choices. At the time of making that choice it was not entirely clear to me why I should choose that particular book. Only later did it become apparent that I needed to re-read this anthology in some depth, and compare it with my own experiences. Why? The answer to that question would require that I lay out so many more questions, concerns and doubts before my readers that I must forgo such a task for fear of becoming bogged down in unnecessary detail. I will simply say, therefore, that it is not my intent merely to quote, second-hand, the spiritual experiences of others, but to compare them with my own in order to cast some light on my chosen way, to avoid certain pitfalls that may lie ahead, and finally quell any doubts I might have about the chosen route I follow. For time will always seem to be of the essence, and I will always have too little to waste.
          Here I will deal with just one of the conditions mentioned by Huxley, that I must become pure in heart. The others I will deal with in due time. At first glance I would have to say that I really have no idea what it means to be pure of heart. Any hypothesis that I might advance about its possible meaning would seem to be contradicted by another, and in any case be as far from practicality as it is possible to get. And I am talking about me here, this admittedly flawed individual, for whom the whole idea of purity of heart would seem to be nothing short of a pipe dream.

"Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God."  (Matthew 5:8)

The evangelist simply doesn't let up. At first sight it would appear that I fell at the first hurdle, and have continued to fall, no matter how many times I have attempted to clear that impossibly difficult obstacle. Is it even possible that purity of heart is something that I could ever experience?
          But wait a moment! There is a tacit assumption here that there is a task that I must complete, and a reward that I will gain on the successful completion of that task. Yet Jesus, that first century master of religious philosophy, never said that. It is my ego that says it, along with the implied notion that I will fail. For reasons which lie beyond the scope of this essay, I can say that, regardless of any inability to define God, that divinity I will one day see, maybe in the guise of Truth. It will be noted, further, that I have avoided giving any definition to the word 'see'. Whatever is meant by 'see', it is clear to me that if the final clause of that beatitude is correct then purity of heart will follow, at night follows day. It may be that the desired purity of heart is already present. I simply will not, or do not recognise it. The reason for that is in all probability because 'seeing' is neither a physical sensation, nor the product of the thinking or feeling (i.e. emotion) functions. It lies far beyond the ego's ability to understand, and that is something my ego cannot tolerate. If I accept that impurity of heart and its implied failure is my lot, then I turn my face away from the spiritual path I wish to follow, and accept the rule of that false god, my ego.
          Purity of heart, then, is not a goal that I must strive to achieve but a gift, or a grace, that comes with the earnest commitment to the spiritual path. I am certain that the gift of purity is one of those things that "will be added unto you." If I might echo Huxley, I do not know why this should be so. I only know this to be an experiential fact of my spiritual life.
          When I first made a genuine commitment to my current path, I did not know any of this. All I did know was that I was in desperate straits, sick to the bottom of my soul. But I made a beginning, a fresh start which initially entailed dealing with certain preliminaries necessary, not only to be restored to spiritual health, but also to discover that there was indeed a path to the recovery of my sanity that was available. The earliest steps along my chosen path, although it wasn't clear at that time that I had made any such choice, was to follow that dictum pronounced by the ancients and their mystery religions, namely to "Know Thyself!" Although some people have felt the need to repeat that experience, I am thankful that by carrying out that procedure to the utter limits of my being, once only was sufficient for me. What I gained from that inner search was knowledge and understanding of myself, the wisdom (or more often perhaps) and futility of my choices and the hurts I had caused people. It was tough, but it was what I needed. Purity of heart came later as a result of the continued commitment to the way of life that I now follow.
          It was whilst I was preparing this script that I remembered that some years ago, whilst undertaking a series of meditations on the question of what hurts I had caused people, and whether I had made sufficient amends for those hurts, the following imagery came to me. (This type of meditation is one that I have talked about here.)

".........Before me stood a high pyramid with many steps, like a series of platforms of ever-decreasing size. At the top, on a level with the faces of the forty two Lords of Karma, stood a lectern holding the closed Book of Life, and a high-backed chair. I passed before those mighty Lords, one at a time, as each asked me a question. To each I made answer. On the completion of their inaudible, gentle but penetrating interrogation, I stood at the lectern and asked a question of my own. Had sufficient amends been made? In answer, the cover of my Book of Life sprang open and the pages flipped over rapidly one by one as if driven by a strong wind. There were snatches of gold writing, but nothing that I could focus on, or even begin to understand. It seemed to have been written in a script unknown to me. In seconds the Book had closed once more. I sat and I waited.
  After a while, blood began to seep from between the pages of the Book, running out onto the white-covered, altar-like table that the lectern had become. Then, what appeared to be a hazy cloud of golden stardust showered twinkling down onto the blood and absorbed it, leaving the table pristine clean once more.
  The pyramid of steps had disappeared, to be replaced by an invisible path along which I hurried away, leaving the Lords of Karma in darkness. All that could be seen was a single, old figure with a light shining down upon him. I knelt before him and asked for forgiveness for all the hurt I had caused, not for my peace of mind but for the sakes of those who had been hurt. He blessed me, and I left that place........"
[Excerpt from my personal diaries]

          Now of course this cleansing experience is very personal, and the imagery may be particular to me. Others will, no doubt, experience matters in a different way. But in the end the conclusion is clear. Purity of heart is not a precondition for the start of the spiritual life, but a gift which, nevertheless, is essential to the continuation of that life. Without that gift, it does not seem to be possible to apprehend, directly and immediately the nature of the one divine Reality.

Sunday 7 September 2014

A Day in the Life Of

         It was Sunday morning and I didn't have any plans for the day, except a want to sink into my books and relax. It was suggested that we might go into the local town and visit the donkeys. So off we went. Now I have to say that I love donkeys, and particularly their streak of obstinacy and self-will. It is so little compared with the scorn and bad treatment dealt out to these lovely creatures by humans. However, it wasn't the donkeys themselves that were to prove the major attraction of the morning but the couple with their terrier and three, black cocker spaniels. We chatted at some length, obviously, and by the time we left them my emotions were bordering on the uncontrolled. They were healthy spaniels, everything our Mol should have been. I realised at that moment of recognition that I loved Mol even more because of her problems. She never bore any grudges, I'm sure.
         Later, at home, I delved into "A Course in Miracles" downloaded from the internet. There is much wisdom in that course, but I found myself at a loss to relate some of the teachings to my own experience. Maybe it's simply a matter of difference; maybe it's that I am losing my intuitive edge with the passing years. If so, then there is something that I may well learn to regret. It was when I broke off my studies, with not a little frustration, that a question came to mind:-

"If I were stranded on a desert island, what books would I want with me?" The first was, "The Perennial Philosophy" (by Aldous Huxley), because there is so much there that is of direct spiritual experience of people committed to the spiritual life. The second was, "The Reality of Being" (by Jeanne de Salzmann), a description of the Fourth Way of Gurdjieff. And finally I would take all my personal notes from my studies of the Mystical Qabalah.

Of course it would be nice to supplement them with the writings of, for example, Prof. Jacob Needleman, and others. Much as I enjoy reading theology, books on that subject would be far down the list, as would other forms of intellectual philosophy.
         Whilst thinking about all this, I felt a great wish to play some music; not any music but a particular piece. Thankfully, I have a recording of this piece. It's not a great recording, and my hearing aids do not allow perfect reception, but it sufficed. For those interested, it was Telemann's "Viola Concerto in G." The opening movement is a delightfully slow and melancholic experience. I recall that it is always the slow movements of concerti and symphonies that attract me, as well as other pieces of the same ilk. I remember the first time I heard the Telemann. It was played by a young woman from music college who had played in two of the youth orchestras with whom I had worked many years ago. Now I am not basically an unhappy person; very far from it. But I do find that the sense of melancholy has an attraction in that it seems to open me up to a depth of feeling that I might otherwise shun. And she played with such feeling.
          So where am I going with this. 'day in the life of' post? I feel that I continually run the risk of intellectualisation, rather than reliance on my feelings, when I write. I am not an anti-intellectual by any means, but I do recognise the risks of that approach to life. I am not so much an analytical thinker as a geometrical thinker, that is to say I do not think my way logically to what may be an unreasonable or unacceptable endpoint, but intuitively to a desired endpoint by whichever path appears to me. But I want more: I want a balancing factor. Somewhere, mixed up in all this, is a question of where I am supposed to be going. And all around is the growing awareness that 'I do not know'. What it is that I do not know, I don't know!
         In its way it has been a full day of inner activity. There have been musings and questionings. Maybe life is about the questions we ask, and whether we are asking the right ones. If I could only know the question, I would be halfway to the answer. Is that an outcome of an intellectual pursuit, or will it be experiential? I don't know.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

'Iffy' About Revelation

         Inwardly, it has been a difficult time of late. As I mentioned, as a response to the comments to my previous post, "A Step Closer to Reality", my ego was not slow in berating me for my actions, or lack of them. The result has been that I have felt entirely cut off from that Presence of Realness which is my constant companion. It has felt like a sickness that I could not shake off, and had to endure until it felt moved to release me. Now, I feel once more in touch with the Real and can at last settle down to writing again.
         When I described that 'near miss' in my previous post, I knew that my description of my inner experience was quite inadequate. Yet how else could I describe a happening that was beyond words? I must emphasise that I am not dealing here with the physical event, the appalling lack of attention, but to the inner experience from which I must learn all that I am able.
         I came across some interesting reading today that might just be the answer for which I am looking. Here are some quotes which seem to reflect the psycho-spiritual experience I tried to describe:

".........Revelation induces complete but temporary suspension of doubt and fear. It reflects the original form of communication between God and his creations.........[Revelation does not] emanate from consciousness but [is] experienced there.........Revelation unites you directly with God. [It] is intensely personal and cannot be meaningfully translated. That is why any attempt to describe it in words is impossible. Revelation induces only experience........."

         I have always been rather 'iffy' about revelation even though I have been unable to come up with a better way of understanding past experiences in my spiritual life. This has never unduly bothered me, but then I have never been moved to describe such an experience to outsiders before. The words I have quoted above clearly come from a religious source and therefore require some further, careful examination on my part. As it may have been guessed, I am not a christian, although I could, perhaps, as Prof. Diarmaid MacCulloch once said, be considered a friend of christianity.....alright a willing acquaintance.
         Thus it is I present some evidence of my restoration to spiritual reality, and the sincere hope that any further 'revelations' that may be forthcoming will arrive without the risk to life and limb that accompanied the recent experience. Beyond that, I can only say that it has been insightful to see a life-incident through faculties other than the intellect, and that insight is both unnerving and pregnant with possibilities.