Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Losing Our Sense of the Transcendent


Nobody nowadays doubts the importance of education.  Without it, making a decent living may be impossible.  Apart from the acquisition of specialized skills, the chances for gainful employment are drastically curtailed. However, we also need skills for becoming complete human beings.  We’re not just instruments of the political and economic states


We may be full of specialized skills but deficient in human skills. The more technology dominates the culture, the idea of spiritual knowledge starts to look quaint.  What we seem to be losing is the ability to connect with a greater reality. Our sense of the transcendent is eroding.


People throughout history have tried to communicate with the greater reality—my minimalist way of referring to transcendent experience.  The greater reality has been named, understood and courted as somehow both beyond and within us.  It was not gray theory but part of daily life, and access was framed in terms of religious concepts, language and beliefs.


With the rise of modern materialist science , the idea of a greater reality was dropped on the trash-heap of history.  Talk with the spirits was chalked off as incredible.  The sense of presencd once available to all people, rich and poor, powerful and down-trodden, was decertified and invalidated.  The idea of a greater reality and greater human capacities was ousted from the palace of science and condemned as meaningless.


The good news is that psychology—not just physics—has also evolved.   Consciousness studies, paranormal phenomena and mystical experience all point to dimensions of experience beyond physical science.    


It seems a type of crime against humanity to try to destroy an entire dimension of human experience. It’s one thing to exploit and brutalize native peoples by means of material technology. But to rob humanity of its spiritual dreams, its icons of the greater reality, is to rob the human soul.


But the soul of the people will not be robbed.  Men and women have devise ways to explore the greater reality—by solitude, meditation, fasting, chanting, breathing exercises, psychedelics, vision-questing, group-dancing, sand-painting, and so on.  The human spirit is highly creative, impatient to move on and go deeper into the outer reaches of nature.  


But in today’s world, we’re distracted by the hypnotic glitter of the technosphere; our expansive consciousness is easily riveted, easily absorbed in a kind of shallow digital ecstasy. Entering into dialogue with higher dimensions of reality becomes a gray abstraction swallowed up in seas of information.


The neglected skill involves a special psychological maneuver.  Skills are enablers.  My skill on a bicycle enables me to do things I cannot do walking or running, or even driving my car.  The skill in question enables us to explore transcendent reality.


To get a handle on this curious capacity, it might help to see it in terms of mind-brain theory.  We have brains, and unless we are brainless, we know we have minds. What’s the relationship between these two entities?  There are two possibilities: production (brain produces mind) or transmission (brain transmits mind).  There’s a huge difference The productive view is materialism.  The transmissive view is consistent with an enormous array of human experiences that would be impossible if materialism were true.  I choose to keep the experiences and dump materialism.


So let’s assume that our brains reveal, detect, filter, and constrain our consciousness; they do not create it.  One of the main jobs of our brain is to enable us to survive in the natural world and in the world that we create called civilization.  We’re wrapped up in our bodies, our jobs or lack thereof, our homes (if we have homes), our money, our neighbors, government, climate, war, hunger, racism, psychopathy, poetry—in short, the world.


Our normal consciousness is occupied.  The external environment and its survival needs, passions, and challenges magnetize our minds.  Meanwhile, the greater reality is at all times open, poised for encounter; but our conscious life is usually caught up in the struggles of mundane existence.


But not entirely.  Normally we spend one third of our lives out of this world, carrying on in a quite different world of sleep and dreams. It does seem that in our nightly visits to the sleep-and-dream world that we find ourselves tottering on the edge of the greater reality.  In dream space our consciousness is totally withdrawn from physical reality.  But there are things we can do in dream space that we cannot do in physical space, such as peer into the future, levitate, create fantastic landscapes, and much more.


You might be born with a talent for entering into dream space. Or you might acquire a skill at becoming lucid in dreams or learning how to dialogue with our dreams.  If you talk to your dream self it may talk back. If you pose a question you may get an answer. We need to hone the skill for exploring soul space.  We need to lower the threshold of resistance and not be cowed by boundaries.


We are unskilled in the fine art of doing nothing, but doing nothing is part of the lost skill I keep harping on.  There are traditions of spiritual enlightenment that revolve around the virtues of the void, a strange paradox.  Joseph of Copertino, whose lightness of spirit rendered him immune to gravity, stated very forcefully that his chief aim in life was to  become nulla (nothing). To become nothing is to empty the mind of any and all points of possible distraction. That in effect makes consciousness available to the greater reality and its creative whims. The basic skill is about orienting oneself toward extraordinary breakthrough.










Miguel said...

Michael, I teach a course titled ‘Altered States of Consciousness and Parapsychological Events’, which had been conceived by Rex Stanford and which I ‘inherited’ when he retired. For the past year or so, I have been using Caredeña’s et al book ‘Varieties of Anomalous Experiences’ as the main textbook and this book contains a chapter on lucid dreaming. During exchanges with my students I have often lamented my prior lack of discipline in my attempts to acquire some degree of lucidity in my dreams. After reading your essay, I am determined to hone in that skill and have now dug up one of LaBerg’s books on lucid dreaming so that I can begin practicing . Heck, even keeping a mere dream diary, something I did in my younger years, would be helpful in ‘orienting’ myself in the right direction. I need to work on this area of my life, so thanks for this wonderful post.

Michael Grosso said...

One of the signs of progressive politics is the country changing its attitude toward marijuana, as well as a renewed interest in the more potent mind-altering substances like LSD and all the rest.Even more powerful could be a heightened activism of breath-, work, lucid dreaming, and hypnagogia. Even progressive relaxation can be a way of wiping out anxiety, if you follow the instructions of Edmund Jacobson.

Miguel said...

Actually, since I was younger I had become aware of one specific type of hypnagogic imagery: A 2-4 second symmetrical swirling of colorful dots that occurs in the center of my visual field (of course, my eyes are closed). Over the years, I have learned to produce the imagery sort of on demand and can do it 2-5 times at various intervals before falling asleep. I say 'sort of' because I tend to fall asleep right away when I turn in for the night. However, when I do wake in the middle of the night for whatever reason, I may have some difficulty falling back to sleep. On those occasions, and as I try to fall back to sleep, I seem to be able to produce the swirling dots and other 'visual' sensations, some of which I once described here in response to one of your previous posts. Not surprisingly, once I am able to produce those swirling dots, I am more easily able to fall back asleep.

And I misspelled Etzel's last name above. It's Cardeña. Every time I write his full name I have to consciously make a point of not writing 'Edsel', the name of that famous classic '59-'60 Ford.

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