Belief in a mind greater than our own, an external mind that can relate to us in a helpful way, is a recurrent belief in human history. To honor this archetypal psychic entity, let’s just call it Big Mind.
Now, depending on time, place, and culture, people imagine Big Mind in different ways: as spirits and deities of magic, of shamanism, of polytheistic religions; as constructions of monotheism like God, Brahman, Wakan Tanka; as all kinds of angels or demons; as carefully defined philosophical agents or beings like the Hegelian Geist or Bergsonian elan vital; as entheogenic formations of consciousness; as hallucinations of various kinds that qualify as psychotic; and so on. In light of this historical proliferation of forms, I think we’re justified in forming the hypothesis of Big Mind: vague and general, I mean no more than something I could also call extended, subliminal, or transcendent Mind.
Now, the interesting question is not: Do you believe in God? Are you an atheist? Frankly, I don’t give a damn. The question that interests me is different. I want to know what kinds of experience people have that prompt them to believe in a Big Mind – whatever they happen to call it.
When we put it that way the discussion shifts from the shallow, politically oriented interests of “new” atheists and militant believers. Instead, I recommend we turn to the rich phenomenology of Big Mind. Here we have something to work with and build on, the marvelous varieties of human experience. Some brushes with what I call Big Mind may be found in my book, Soulmaking.
For example, I had a visitation from Big Mind some years ago on a very cold Christmas Eve. I was living in a place called Edgewater, in New Jersey. My apartment faced the Hudson River and Manhattan. That December 24th was the coldest night of the year, around zero degrees – a point relevant to my story. In a nutshell, I had a falling out with my fiery-tempered, red-haired girlfriend. The heating system was barely working and gusts of icy wind kept slapping the front window.
We were freezing (nestled in our coats and sweaters) but kept stubbornly apart, depriving ourselves of the warmth of each other’s bodies – not to mention the warmth of our feelings. Cold in every sense of the word, we angry lovers retreated into ourselves and slept in separate rooms.
In the morning, as soon as we woke up we noticed something strange. An overwhelming presence of a sweet perfume filled the apartment. My tropical dracaena plant had burst into white flowers during the frigid night. The cheerless apartment suddenly smelled like spring. We walked around looking for something, an explanation – how could that plant have flowered in such bitter cold?
The incongruous tropical fragrance allowed us to let go of our anger. Without transition we melted back into our warm affection for each other, and we couldn’t resist feeling buoyant with Christmas cheer! We piled on more coats and sweaters and headed out for the nearest diner that was open. Breakfast and some steam heat seemed like a wonderful idea.
After the holiday, I went on a tour to experts at the Bronx Botanical Gardens and all the flower shops in my neighborhood and got the same response -- impossible, unheard of! “A miracle,” said the woman at the Botanical Gardens. Tropical plants don’t blossom and fill a room with fragrance in temperatures of zero degrees Fahrenheit.
So who am I to dispute my own experience or the remarks of the experts? I therefore count it as a visitation from Big Mind. A Mind that can make a tropical plant blossom on the coldest night of the year is not only big-minded but big-hearted. It looked to Frances and me as if we had been given a gift from the Spirit of Christmas. The gift warmed our hearts. The message was breathtaking and it spoke to us in a language beyond words. So did God cause my tropical plant to flower? That again would be the wrong question, and to fix on explanation would ruin the magic of the experience.