Sunday, 31 January 2016

Selfhood Is An Holistic Experience

          There was a time when it was thought that the orbit of the planet Mars around the Sun described a circle containing a series of epicycles. We now know that this is not the case, and that what was being described was how Mars appeared to behave. The true orbit, when viewed from a more external viewpoint than that of Earth, was far simpler. I would suggest that something similar may be happening when we view the question of Ego and its assumed existence, or non-existence. Interestingly, I find, the same can be said of the existence or otherwise of God. The devil is in the definition - or lack thereof! In this post I shall proceed with masterly disregard for the possible impossibility of defining the ego, and state what I think of as that entity, if entity it is. After all, one needs to start somewhere, and I choose not to wade through the history of the ego concept, and how the word has changed (been corrupted?) to mean different things at different times. I would also like to emphasise that much of what we say "is so" only appears to be thus. "It is as if" might be a better approach to matters psycho-spiritual (and to science in general) than "it is" thus and thus.
          I shall make analogous reference to water, or more exactly ice-water-steam, as a model for the existence of the "self", bearing in mind that all analogies appear to break down at some point. Finally, I shall base my thoughts on the only thing I can trust, and that is my own spiritual experience. Truth comes, not from words, but from experience. Unfortunately, the written word has the annoying habit of getting in the way sometimes. But if I am to communicate anything rather than exist, shut off from the rest of humankind, I must concur with the Bee Gees (and others) that "words are all I have."
          Let me now return to the ice-water-steam model to which I referred above. Molecules consisting of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, when viewed en masse, exist in three possible states; as ice, water, or as steam. (For simplicity I leave out the possible plasma state.) The difference between these states is one of heat content, not temperature. Thus ice and water can coexist at the same temperature, but different heat contents (effected by the latent heat of fusion), as can water and steam (effected by the latent heat of vapourisation.) But enough of physics theory.
          What I am suggesting here is that it may be possible to view the psycho-spiritual world as something that can undergo changes of state, with equivalent changes in energy levels.  Thus the ego or lower self (an idea suggested by Thomas Merton) would correspond to the solid ice, the higher self to the liquid water, and........well let us leave it there for the moment. Thus I would propose that the ego exists, but only as a change in state of the psycho-spiritual system. It does not exist as an autonomous little person, hiding somewhere in the brain/mind complex. Similarly, I doubt the existence of an "I" or "Self" as being independent of everything else, but as a raised (energy-wise) state of an overall Self.
          When I underwent that wonderful experience in Iceland, which I tried to describe in my previous post, I was struck by a number of observations, both then and since. First of all, the self when in its lowest state (the ice or egoistic phase), appears to be entirely oblivious of the existence of any higher state until its very existence is threatened by dysfunctionality (melting) and the need to change and adapt. Until that point is reached, the ego defines itself by attachment to thoughts and opinions; feelings/emotions and obsessions/addictions; physical senses and all the aspects of physical existence. Any contact with anything "higher" requires faith and ritual, hence religion for example. However, politics and other causes may be alternative substitutes. It is in this state that the dualities of life are experienced, such as you-me, right-wrong, good-bad and so on, with all the judgementalism those dualities imply.
          Secondly, I clearly perceived in my "Icelandic Experience" that when in the next and higher state (the water or Higher Self phase), the ego is seen only as part - a necessary part - of a whole, a more holistic or holy concept. For me as an intuitive introvert, that part is much smaller than the Higher Self. But I accept that for others this may not reflect their realities. One thing that has struck me quite forcibly is not that the dualities have dissolved into some kind of "One-ness", but that one half of the duality has simply disappeared, or almost so. In effect, when in a higher state of awareness, the machinations of the ego-state appear to be almost unimportant to the point of triviality. This conclusion may well be pointing to an inability to imagine a state above that of the Higher Self. And here we approach the possible use of the ice-water-steam model to infer something energetically higher than the Higher Self, but nevertheless part and parcel of the whole psycho-spiritual Being.
          Christianity might well refer to this state (the steam or Christ phase) as the experiential awareness of the Cosmic Christ, the Inner Christ, or its equivalent. I have referred in earlier posts to my experience of such matters and can, therefore, vouch for such experiences. Now here we are clearly on the borders of conceptual divinity, so much so that I believe it was St. Catherine of Sienna who proclaimed that everything that she was, was God. (Sorry I cannot find the quote.)
          This post does not supply explanations or definitions: it wasn't meant to do so. There is much that I could have said for which there is little time or space. There are many developments I could have pursued, but that might have entailed gilding the lily. What I have tried to do here is to offer a different approach, an alternative model of the Self that is more holistic, in the hope that some questions may more easily be answered, some understanding may be gained. But in the end it is experience that must be paramount, not words.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Iceland: A Very Personal Experience

          I suppose I first became aware of this liminal experience, some years ago whilst walking on a beach in the northern island of New Zealand. Whilst photographs of the region show clear demarcations between beach, sand dunes, ocean and distant hills, my abiding memory is very different. It is one in which there is no clear distinction between the various parts of the scene; there was no clear form. It was as if the world were in a process of manifestation, a world neither one thing nor the other. It was a world in process.
          As we approached the coast of Iceland in our most recent journeyings, I was struck by the liminal surreality of what I was experiencing. Below me was what appeared to be a snowy ice cap, delineated by a sharp, black line - the shore. I felt I was moving into a new, unknown realm. As our stay extended, day by day, I realised that this was not a new, unknown realm, but one which I have been experiencing ever more clearly as the years and months and, most certainly, the recent weeks have passed. I will try to explain.
          At this time of the year, Iceland is a land of low light levels, a country sitting barely south of the Arctic Circle. It sits in a borderland. To the south is all that which sees change occurring twice daily, whilst to the north is that which which changes twice annually. One area sees the midday sun, the other the midnight sun. Somewhere between the two sits Iceland. In the cold depths of the Atlantic Ocean there lies a split between two great tectonic plates. From the heated interior of the Earth boils lava into the cold, wild and heavy ocean. And in the borderlands between the two there is life....Life! On top of the great ridge sits a mountain that seems forever to be splitting apart......Iceland.
          From the cold depths of space flows the solar wind originating from truly titanic outbursts from the sun. At some point in its journey, that solar wind interacts with the Earth's protective shield. Stupendous outpourings of energy. And it is close. Beautiful, yes! And also dangerous. That night, standing under the Northern Lights, at the bottom of a vast tunnel reaching up into the heavens, is one I will never forget. It was (thank you Natalie) a night of amazement. So small, so powerless, was I, yet.......
          I could go on and on offering examples of my awareness of living in these borderlands, of walking on the liminal edge. But there is something more important yet. As humans, we are adept at, or highly predisposed towards, projecting our inner worlds onto the outer, material world. And the distinction between the two worlds is not as clearly defined as one might expect or, I suspect, as clearly defined as one would like. The great 'out there' can only be experienced through our brain/mind complex. In that sense, everything is 'in here.' It almost seems that if there were any kind of guidance operating at all, I was in Iceland to understand a great truth, a truth that required my inner eyes to be wide open.
          There is another land with indistinct borders, the land of the mind. It is our way to chop the mind up into bits so that we can better understand it. Yet, in reality - and because it is all part of a process of becoming (or so I think) - the borders we construct are artificial. Consciousness is different from unconsciousness, but the inbetween place is blurry and indistinct; it is without form as if the unconscious is trying to become manifest. My consciousness exists in the lowering light which shows a little more awarefully the darkness of my unconsciousness. It is said that there lives - and life abounds at all levels - a place where all our repressed and suppressed memories live on, memories and traumas that have great power. Yet hardly too distinct from that is another place of great power, and one in which exists, what I would like to call, impresenced awareness.
          Between the world of consciousness and that of unconsciousness, there runs a path, a narrow and strait path. It runs between the mountain heights and the great Abyss. It is a path which I am obliged to travel whether I choose or not. This is living. It is a path that separates false security from the frightful powers of the depths of reality. For although the Way may be filled with excitement, joy, happiness and the peace of letting go, it is also a place of great fear. Consciousness does not make the choice as to when we are subjected to the one or the other.
          That path or Way travels through the veils of indistinction that hang between the lower or ego-self on the one hand, and the higher or true self on the other. The ego-self seeks knowledge and safety, the higher self seeks "knowing" and the risk of awareness of reality. It is a path, I realise now, I have walked for years without understanding, without feeling, without knowing. This is what I needed to see. I have found what I needed to find, what was there all the time.
          The inner journey continues. Why it must be like this I don't know. Yet this is how it has to be. I sense a surging upwards in my being which is my Being. I no longer work to my own agenda, but to the agenda of that which seems to live its life through me. How truly amazing life is.
          In the darkened dawn of Keflavik, with the snow ploughs out clearing the ground, an aeroplane took off and flew us south. There is always, or so it seems, a need to return; and I was returning to my physical home, as also I must now return to the silence of my inner "home." What I have taken with me from Iceland I have tried to share. In the end the real experience, my experience of reality, is ineffable. Yet we are all in this together, knowingly or not. Of that I am certain.