What happens when we sense being stalled in our lives, trapped, stuck at a place we’re not happy to be? In spite of the funk, we may sense something new, something higher beckoning us—but to go forward, we need a push, a jolt.
At such times, what can we do? How do we get that push or jolt? Folks from the get-go have tried to figure it out. If we’re willing to try, there are many ways. There are many doors to transcendence; many patterns of behavior known to facilitate breakthroughs to higher consciousness.
Some of these doors are easily available. They’re right in front of us. Take ordinary breathing. There are all kinds breath-control methods for changing your mind. Pranayama in Hatha Yoga is about increasingly subtle breath control. The Hysachasm school of Desert Monks used breath control to induce God- consciousness. Nowadays we have Stan Grof’s methods of hyper-ventilation for inducing states comparable to psychedelic exaltation.
Eating is a totally available door to transcendence, for we can always choose to fast, and fasting is a time-honored method of cultivating higher grades of consciousness. It is also a great ally in health maintenance. Aldous Huxley once suggested that people in the Middle Ages had more visionary experience because they were forced to fast on account of poverty and food shortage. Obesity is spreading around the planet today; a symptom of the economic disease called capitalism. If the obese chose fasting as their doorway to self-transformation, people would be indebted. The non-obese could do their part by eliminating meat from their diet. The meat industry is a leading cause of proliferating greenhouse gases. (Nice irony if it turns out that cow fart helps bring down world civilization.)
Diet is a doorway to self-transformation. I use the word in its older sense, not just for a weight-losing program. For the ancient Greeks, diet was about your general life style. Fasting from meat is a great idea, but a really healthy diet would require that we fast from the entire consumerist-capitalist ethos; in that case, diet, radically understood, would be a political act and a spiritual act—a living out of your worldview.
Certain liminal zones serve as doorways to higher realms of consciousness. The hypnagogic state is a door, that elusive state on the threshold of sleep. Most of the time we hardly notice it. But it can be prolonged and open the mental eye to visionary experience. I’ve learned to prolong my trips into hypnagogia. I’m amazed at the crowds of totally real and unique human faces I encounter, sometimes nearly nose to nose, which can be unnerving.
Later in the night of sleep we enter into dream space, real while it lasts, but amazingly different from waking space. Our nightly dream space is a portal to things beyond. The dream itself is a miraculous presence: out of our minds are born worlds and forms of life in infinite variety. The dream is perhaps the most common vehicle for a psychic experience. Dreams often give glimpses of things to come; the source of wisdom and self-knowledge; signs of extraphysical contact between souls; flashes of divine presence; the source of artistic and scientific discoveries. There’s much to learn about how to use dream life as a door to greater self-awareness and power.
Portals of transcendence are all around us. Right in the midst of everyday reality there is a portal we call coincidence. Things come together in strangely meaningful ways. Coincidences can change our lives, and some are seen as divine intervention. Some turn out to reveal a paranormal message trying push through to consciousness. So coincidence can be a door to meaning and sometimes to what seems like a miracle. Jung has written about synchronicity and today Bernie Beitman is tracking the mysteries of coincidence, which you can follow with his book, Connecting With Coincidence.
Not all transcendent doorways are easy to approach. Sometimes they open without warning and one is transformed in spite of oneself. Exaiphnes is Plato’s word for sudden illumination. I have spoken with individuals who were transformed out of the blue, and spent their lives trying to understand what happened to them.
The use of psychedelic substances is a perennial doorway to transcendent consciousness, dating back to the Rig Veda and Eleusinian Mystery Rites, but also a subject of contemporary research. For this, Michael Pollan’s recent tour of psychedelia called How to Change Your Mind will turn up the dial on your active imagination.
Other doors to greater consciousness are more dangerous. One of the oldest used to break free is ascetic practice. I mentioned fasting already. The ascetic tries to master the body so it becomes a perfect receptacle to the divine influx. If you study the life of a master mystic and super levitator like Joseph of Copertino, you find a kind of ascetic practice that appears to modern taste as barbaric and masochistic. It involved the complete transformation of his mind and body, but the man himself was gentle and brought comfort to others, as evident in his biography, Wings of Ecstasy.
One more example of a highly active doorway to transcendence. Thanks to modern medical technology, it is possible to resuscitate a person who is clinically dead. Many report having extraordinary experiences during that time; a revelation of another world. This typically jolts one into changing one’s life. So we have to add to our list this last door of transcendence—strangest of all, being near death.
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