Thursday, September 17, 2020

Conversing With Our Creative Unconscious

Are we so caught up in our devices that we’re losing touch with ourselves?  We know how to ask Siri about the best restaurants in town but are we cut off from the creative part of our minds? It seems to me we have much to learn about connecting with our selves, about conversing with our own creative unconscious. Since we’re spending so much time alone I want to say something about that.

 

To begin with, we don’t know the extent of the subconscious reach of our minds. Add telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, and precognition to the picture, and we have a much expanded concept of mind to converse with.  We seem in fact to be part of a Greater Mind, in which our personal consciousness is nested. It suggests that our real identity must be greater than we suppose.

 

The faith traditions say we can talk with this greater mind, called by countless names, from God and guardian angels to cosmic consciousness. To converse with the creative unconscious, people have used every conceivable device: art, music, prayer, meditation, drumming, dance, drugs, sex, solitude, fasting, and so forth. 

 

But something has been happening.  Techno-corporate capitalism increasingly dominate our consciousness.  The dependence on technology is eroding the skills that make us human: to mention a few, empathy, sense of justice, love of beauty, respect for truth.  You can’t tune in to that Greater Reality if your attention is glued to the tentacles of corporate reality.

 

Famous examples come to mind that illustrate dramatic encounters with the creative unconscious.[i]  In each instance we find some presumably higher agency inserting itself into our mundane lives. Nothing is mechanical or predictable about the way these queer phenomena unwind. Socrates, one of the great discoverers of rationality itself, had a lifelong daemon, an eccentric but infallible inner guide who stopped and warned him against all manner of danger.  Or consider the teenage Joan of Arc who began to hear voices, at first reminding her of small personal duties, then guiding her to become the leader of the French army in the war against the English.

 

What I found from my research is that conversations with the creative unconscious show up in all kinds of experience, among the religious and mystical or among the scientific and the mathematical.  The phenomena consist of one-off individual encounters or may recur among groups with shared belief systems.  It can be born of petition or possession; in other words, you may initiate the encounter or it may descend upon you out of the blue, as when Benvenuto Cellini was about to kill himself while rotting away in prison and an invisible force threw him to the ground and later appeared in a dream to instruct and console him.

 

Combing through endless accounts, I’ve come to believe that dialogue with our transcendent ally is possible in any conceivable context, trivial or momentous. But there’s a problem.  We’re becoming clueless as to the how. As we get swallowed up in the digital universe, our creative unconscious gets harder to access.  There are no passwords or algorithms for conjuring up our muses and guardian angels.   

 

We’re trapped in hyper-rationalized psyches, out of touch with our inner resources.  We know how to drive cars, fly across the world in planes, soar instantaneously around the digital universe, but have forgotten, or never learned, or even conceived of, the possibility, of exploring  our vast mental life.  What can we do to stop devolving homo superficialis?

 

No easy answer there.   But I have few hints garnered from my own experience. The first I borrow from the Jungian, James Hillman, who said that personification helps us connect with the unconscious.  You have to name your deities and form a felt, trusting relationship with them.  Personify the transcendent in whatever way it works for you, a face, a gesture, a sign, a symbol—whatever serves to ignite your creative unconscious.

 

Personify, in other words, animate your vision.  Having done that, pay attention to your dreams.  Dreams are miracles, magical and inexplicable.  I would pay attention to the hypnagogic and hypnopompic twilight zones of dream life.  When I lapse into insomnia, and hover on the edge of sleep, I sometimes slip into a state where I’m awake but find myself also in a dream world.  This world is formed by arrays of faces of utterly real human beings, each with their own mood, tone and color.  I feel  like a ghost being noticed by the strangers I meet in hypnagogia. Now and then one of the faces gets real close, which jolts me back into my insomnia. The places and people I visit during my hypnagogic states seem real.   They seem to be in another, a parallel world. 

 

One last suggestion for tuning into the creative unconscious is a method of making visual art where chance and spontaneity permeate the process. The dialogue with our creative angels has to be fluid and spontaneous, and you can use anything, an art form or everyday practice, to make it come to life.  Everyday life is full opportunities for the creative unconscious to erupt into consciousness.  

 

All the arts are ways of lighting the spark of our creative life, ways of making contact with the deeper side of our nature. You don’t need a university degree to activate your creative unconscious; for starters, personify, connect with your dream life, and find a way to turn on your soul.



[i] See my Smile of the Universe, Ch. 7, ‘Dialogue with the Transcendent.’  Available on Amazon

Thursday, September 10, 2020

News From a Near-Death Researcher


I’ve been reading a very unusual book I want to share with readers.  It has an unusual title, Waiting to Die, which could be misleading.  This is not about somebody on death row.  Nor is it about somebody prostrate on a hospital bed.  The subtitle should explain: A Near-Death Researcher's (Mostly Humorous) Reflections on His Own Endgame.  The author is Kenneth Ring writing in his 83rd year. All the chapters in the book are variations on the theme of waiting to die. One might also read these  as reflections on how to live; for in one sense, we’re all “waiting to die,” whether we realize it or not.

 

What is unusual about these reflections is that they’re written by a man who spent forty years of his professional life researching the experiences of people who came  near death but recovered to tell the tale.  Ring was one of the pioneers of modern near-death research, which, together with others, has produced a body of knowledge that points toward the real possibility of an afterlife.

 

Ring’s chapters focus on personal themes, all done with a light touch, with humor and irony, but throughout keep circling  back to the big questions and mysteries.  Bit by bit, Ring reveals to the reader an overall confidence that his endgame may be moving toward a sanguine outcome. 

 

Chapter one reflects on the body: “The body. Mine. It has already become my principal preoccupation and bete-noire.” This is followed by a litany of the ways his body is giving him a hard time, which in turn prompts him to muse on what the end of his bodily woes will be like.  So he recalls stories he heard from folks who nearly died and who described in breath-taking terms the exquisitely pain-free peace of their transition.  This, in turn, Ring admits, helps him imagine his own passage to the new state that he believes may await him.

 

In the next chapter our guide to this waiting process reminisces about his father from whom he was separated early in life, and then a brief report of a medium who revealed things new and unknown to him about his father.  Approaching death, he ponders the possibility of meeting up with his dad in the great beyond.

 

Chapter Three leads to asking, Is death a dead end?  Ring begins by listing a bunch of famous atheists and afterlife deniers but quickly points out that surveys indicate that most Americans believe in some form of afterlife, and, I would add, so did the bulk of pre-modern humanity along with most of the greatest names in history. 

 

Modern times and reductive materialism have diminished but by no means wiped out that traditional belief.  More to the point, as Ring reminds us, nowadays there are thousands of people having near-death experiences, people who have actually  stepped into the vestibule of death, even atheists who were transformed by their experiences.  At the end of the chapter, Ring pivots and says that we ought not to get bogged down worrying too much about what may happen.  We owe it to ourselves to enjoy life as long as we can. 

 

There is a chapter all about laughter and humor as weapons we can use to take the edge off the idea of death.  Levity, or taking all things with a lightness of spirit, is surely one way to keep death anxiety at bay.  I can recommend “Ken’s Rules for Aging (and Living)” for their wit and wisdom.  I’m fond of rule no. 8: “Be kind to animals and occasionally people.”  And don’t miss Ring’s song, modeled after Gene Autry that begins: “I’m out of my body at last/Seein’ my future and my past/Floating through the tunnel now/I look around and say “oh wow.” Ken’s rules for living and his NDE song are quite hilarious.

 

Ring devotes a chapter to contrasting himself with the novelist Philip Roth whose view of religion and the afterlife was totally negative, a fruit of Freudian reductionism.  Again, Ring holds to his empirical findings, his conversations with people that had powerful, transformative experiences. His research enables him to say the following extraordinary thing: “For them (near-death experiencers) and for me the real symbol of death in our own time should be ‘the Being of Light.’  Extraordinary indeed for this totally subverts our commonsense view of death.

 

For Roth death was indeed a dead end. For those who have actually glimpsed beyond the veil, it’s the dawn of a new mode of life. Death, not at all terrifying, “has the face of the Beloved.”  It should be underscored: the foregoing is not opinion or intuition but a view based on an impressive mass of evidence.   

 

Ring is excited by what is now called terminal lucidity. People who reject survival like to point out that the brain degenerates (as via Alzheimer’s, etc.) and with it, they say, our mental faculties. Ergo, no survival. But that’s a bad argument.  Terminal lucidity is when a person suffering from some brain disease and behaving like a vegetable suddenly completely recovers his or her mental faculties. 

 

Students of mine who were nurses provided me with some case histories illustrating  terminal lucidity in action that I published in my book, Experiencing the Next World Now. Terminal lucidity shows that the mind is not destroyed by brain disease.  Why the recovery just before dying?  Perhaps at death consciousness leaves the brain entirely and on the way out lights up the living brain before the final exit.

 

Waiting to die might be the time to reflect on great adventures of consciousness, so Ken Ring recalls reading Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan and his subsequent experiment with 300 micrograms of LSD, which led to an epiphany of love as the essence of being. Experiments with ketamine also were part of Ring’s shamanic explorations.   

 

Ring observes that individuals most terrified by death often make fun of people that believe in an afterlife. The affectation of superiority is ill-founded.  As it turns out, people who have near-death experiences completely lose their fear of death. Something to think about while waiting to die.

 

Focusing (if in light-hearted fashion) on his bodily “decrepitude” is a kind of back-alley meant to lead us toward a moment of spiritual perception.  Ring reports that  he’s been suffering from glaucoma for twenty years, which is now getting worse, and to prove it provides diagrams that picture precisely the areas of his visual apparatus being obliterated by this disease.

 

This documentation, however, is a prelude to some good news.  Ring tells us about research he conducted with blind people who have near death experiences. The results should stop us in our tracks.  He discovered that congenitally blind people see clearly and perfectly during their near death experience. 

 

Stand back, reader—and take a deep breath.  In my opinion, this finding of Dr. Ring’s is really quite amazing.  It certainly provides a large jolt to any flagging concept of mind.  A human being born blind, without any visual experience, has a near-death experience, finds herself out of her body, and for the first time in her life can see and see clearly.

 

For the near-death researcher with worsening glaucoma this is a cheering thought. He suggests that restored and perhaps heightened sensory capacities may be part of our postmortem future. Ring seems here to have scored a potent point for what the mind can do when freed from the body.  So even as the body ages and loses its functions, we are entitled to believe that our minds—our interior lives—are lying low, incubating, perhaps preparing for a happier future.   

 

Ring suggests that our afterlife bodies may be like the fluid bodies of our dream life.   Not exactly, of course, but he writes that “our dreams are perhaps the best intimation of the wonders that await us when we die.  And in that state, the one that we can anticipate when we die, all bodily malfunctions will be transcended.”

 

There is a great deal more to enjoy in these pages that reflect on the meaning of death, including a hymn of love and gratitude to the author’s 79-year-old girlfriend .  Ring, by the way, continues to be very much alive.  And suddenly he takes off his mask: “You can now understand that I am not just waiting to die. I’m waiting to see. Perfectly.”

 

Our author has given us what we might call a modern, post-religious spiritual autobiography.  The gradual, nuanced conversion is accomplished via evidence from ordinary human beings, the author’s own experimentation, and explicitly without reliance on any religious authorities.  The book might serve as a friendly companion as we plod on through the covid19 pandemic on a planet in fiery turmoil.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Freaked Out By Immortality

There are people who don’t want to believe in life after death.  They seem more afraid of it than death itself. I find that a bit strange. Everything that lives seems mightily determined to go on living.  We put a lot of time into sex, which is designed to replicate life. To live seems to be about creating new, more, and greater life—so why not life after death?    

 

I have poked around many records of human experience, and made some discoveries, even written a book about the subject (Experiencing the Next World Now (2004). Different types of evidence suggest that human personalities do survive bodily death.  Let me state it modestly: A case can be made for the survival of personal consciousness. When I say a case, I’m referring to quite a bit of material that cannot glibly be denied.

 

Now what puzzles me is that some people absolutely refuse, when challenged, to even look at the evidence, no less examine or discuss it.  The reaction sometimes appears to be seriously phobic.  An experience I had with two of my colleagues at university will clarify.  I acquired an extra copy of what I thought was one of the best books on evidence for life after death by the British psychologist, Alan Gauld, Mediumship and Survival (1982).

 

I thought of two colleagues who liked to banter with me on the subject but whom I knew were clearly resistant to the notion of postmortem consciousness. 

            “Hey GK! (the philosopher),” I said to one of them I met in the hallway. “I’ve got something for you.” I extended Gauld’s book toward my colleague. He glanced at it and visibly recoiled. 

            “This is a first rate study of mediumship and its implications for the survival hypothesis.  Gauld is a super-scholar and a no-nonsense thinker.”  I waved the book before the philosopher enticingly.

            GK paused, lowered his head and flicked his hand: “Words, they’re only words.”  He gave me a wan smile, and walked away.  That seemed a very odd response, given that the fellow made his living with “only words.”

            Well, I thought, I’ll knock on C.L.’s office door, and offer him my little gift.  A more cheerful fellow, a political scientist strangely detached from politics, more interested in literary pursuits.

            With a smile, he replied: “Oh, thanks, but I couldn’t accept this (I detected a tremor on the right side of his mouth.) You see, I won’t be able to read the book until next year.  Thanks, but hang on to it.  Try GK, your fellow philosopher.”

            I of course did not believe that C.L. was all tied up until next year. He just couldn’t stand the idea of reading anything that challenged his own worldview.  Maybe I picked the wrong time to challenge them to think about such a momentous issue.   Extinction or transformation?  Nothingness or a new world of consciousness?

 

            Still, I’m trying to figure out why some people just don’t want even to consider the possibility of the great after. It would be odd if our doctors and nurses just decided that everybody’s eventually going to die, so why fuss over patients. Why go through such lengths to keep so many botched and bungled bodies still breathing for a few more days, weeks, or months?

 

It would be very odd if doctors and nurses behaved like this because they value life, even the lives of those with suffering bodies.  Their passion is to help and to heal, to prolong and improve life. Suppose that somebody claimed they had a cure for cancer.  Suppose it worked in many cases.  All the reports are available.  Here are the documents, facts, numbers.  Now suppose the medical authorities said they were too busy to read the documents, at least not until the year was out, or that after all the documents were just made of words.  Needless to say, this would be crazy.  A cure for cancer?  The interest would have to be there.

 

But why would there not be a similar interest in the prospect of a cure for our very mortality.  We are dutiful and driven to care for the sick and those in pain, and it is generally sad, tragic, or sometimes horrifying to witness the death of other human beings.  Suppose, however, there were a cure—not specifically for any of the diseases, accidents, or injustices that take us out—but a ‘cure ‘ for death itself?  Data  proving that after death we retain our consciousness? 

 

Why aren’t the medical pros paying attention to the research, old and new, that supports the evidence that our lives are not over after our bodies are buried or cremated.  Or the poets, the philosophers, the theologians, the anthropologists, the historians?  Why are they mostly absent from this conversation whose time seems right, especially at a time when people everywhere are dying in droves from the pandemic.

 

What’s behind this denial?  It seems perverse to repress every intimation of immortality.  Why the need to contract the idea of the human spirit and cut it down to size?  Why at all costs resist the idea of the soul’s immortality? Why get so freaked out by the suggestion that somewhere in the depths of ourselves is a spark of divinity?  Could it be some people just refuse to change their worldview.  Or maybe it’s some old-fashioned fear of hell.  Beats me.  Any ideas, reader?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Are We Stuck or Can We Change?


From birth to death, we’re constantly changing. The universe keeps changing, starting with its mysterious eruption 13.7 billion years ago. Along the way the atoms were born and the galaxies spawned, and about four billion years ago planet Earth saw the huge change called life.  That led to another whopper in the universe called consciousness (or maybe it was there from the beginning), and here we are.     

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Empathy and the Consciousness Revolution



How curious that the most obvious thing in the world is the most profound mystery—the fact that we are conscious beings.  Science is clueless as to how the intangible multiverse of consciousness emerges from the wet meat machines we call our brains. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Genius and the Mentally Disabled



It’s a fascinating paradox: people with severe mental disabilities sometimes display extraordinary abilities that mount to genius level.  To give an example from Dr. Darold Treffert’s studies, Leslie is blind with an IQ below 50.  With no training in music, the first time in his teens he heard Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, “he played it back flawlessly and without hesitation.  He can do the same with any other piece of music, no matter how long or complex.”  Yet he’s unable to feed himself with fork or spoon and has virtually no capacity for the simplest conversation with another person.

Friday, August 7, 2020

A Miracle Witnessed With My Own Eyes






On October 27, 1994, I drove to St. Irene Chrysovalantou Cathedral
in Astoria, New York City; I had come to witness a miracle with my
own eyes. A small crowd was gathering on the white steps of the
Greek Orthodox Church. By the time I turned the corner, parked, and
walked back, a line five-abreast and a block long had formed leading
up to the steps. The previous evening, thousands had assembled to
solemnly walk through the portals of the cathedral.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

How Loss Triggers Creativity


           

My last post was about deaf-blind Helen Keller’s discovery that language and her mind were the secret of a happy life.  By means of words she learned to connect with other minds, and by means of her own mind she learned to identify and cultivate her sense of self.

It’s not easy to have a firm sense of who or what we are.  Much if not most of what I am is largely unknown; my conscious life is a fragment of my subliminal mental life.  Knowledge of myself is therefore incomplete; I must accept as intimate companion the greater self I am but barely know. 

The interesting part of this paradox: We can never know in advance what hidden sides of ourselves might suddenly spring forth—given the right stimulus or circumstance.

From Keller’s story I cull illustrations of how loss can trigger creativity.  I’m dwelling on this for obvious reasons.  It’s toward the end of July, 2020, and the Covid19 pandemic is spiking all over, especially in the United States.  As a consequence, people everywhere are suffering loss: of jobs; of their homes; of access to libraries and places of worship; of parks and beaches; of contact with family and friends; and as we know, of their lives.  It’s an avalanche of crises calling for creative leaps into the new and unknown.  

Two points about Keller’s story.  One is how the loss of two senses triggered extraordinary creativity in the remaining three, especially the sense of touch.  “The silence and darkness which are said to shut me in,” she wrote, “open my door most hospitably to countless sensations that inform, admonish, and amuse.”  Her loss frees her from distractions and helps her concentrate more effectively. “If the eye is maimed so that it does not see the beautiful face of day, the touch becomes more poignant and discriminating.”

“Through the sense of touch I know the faces of friends, the illimitable variety of straight and curved lines, all surfaces, the exuberance of the soil, the delicate shapes of flowers, the noble forms of trees, and the range of mighty winds. . . . Often footsteps reveal in some measure the character and mood of the walker.  I feel in them firmness and indecision, hurry and deliberation, activity and laziness, fatigue, carelessness, timidity, anger, and sorrow.” She picks all this up from the vibrations she feels through her skin!  From there she moves on to describe the information she gathers about the world through the infinite variety of footsteps that register on her tactile sense. “Every atom of my body is a vibroscope,” writes Keller.

The various ‘sounds’ she discriminates that correspond to vibrations felt through her sense of touch is astonishing—a pencil rolling on the floor, the pop of a cork, a clock ticking, a flame sputtering, a book falling with a thud, and so on. Deaf in her soundless world, she writes with dazzling clarity about the grinding, scraping, pounding, all the harsh vibes of the city, while smelling the” fire-pots, the tar and cement. So I am acquainted with all the fiendish noises which can be made by man or machinery. . . . all these have been in my touch-experience, and contribute to my idea of Bedlam . . ..”   This calls to mind another admirer of Helen Keller, William James, who once noted about New York City its “permanent earthquake conditions.”

Here is what she said about holding Mark Twain’s hand: “Mark Twain’s hand is full of whimsies and the drollest humors, and while you hold it the drollery changes into sympathy and championship.” The latter is from a chapter on what it’s like to shake hands with people when you have evolved a super-sensitive capacity to feel through your hands.  With Helen, super-sensitivity evolved from the loss of her sight and hearing.  One never knows what powers may be released from the loss we endure.

I want to make a more general point about loss and creativity.  Without being glib or emotionally tone-deaf to all the misery, it’s worth reminding ourselves that having our lives shaken up may also lead to new ideas, new values, new perspectives on how to live. Sometimes, as history often shows, things fall apart so that new things can come together.  When the dinosaurs were wiped out sixty-five million years ago by an asteroid, it gave mammals the room they needed to evolve into the most intelligent, and most dangerous, animal on earth—homo sapiens.  What was really bad news for dinosaurs was a bonanza for the species that is now reeling from a deadly pandemic.

Perhaps the ‘dinosaur’ factor in human reality will go extinct from the asteroid that is the coronavirus sweeping through our lives. There are curious signs of creative logic lurking in disaster, as revealed in stories of brain injuries unleashing extraordinary mathematical and artistic powers and of near-death experiences transforming everyday people. 

It’s as if we live in a two-storied reality game, the lower everyday terrestrial world which dominates our easily hypnotized attention and the largely invisible transcendent world. It’s when the brain loses contact with everyday reality that the transcendent breaks into consciousness. The more the scaffolding and infrastructure of everyday life collapses, the greater the probability of higher consciousness crashing in on us. The trick is to survive and come out standing on top.  


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Helen Keller and the Miracle of Mind


Recently, I stumbled on a book by Helen Keller called The World I Live In.  I remember Helen Keller from a movie about her with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke called The Miracle Worker, based on a play by William Gibson and directed by Arthur Penn.  The movie, in my opinion, is a masterpiece—a parable about the most important profession—teaching.

Helen at nineteen months contracted a mysterious disease that left her blind and deaf for the rest of her life. I recall from the movie that moment when her teacher, Anne Sullivan (played by Bancroft), realizes that the seven year-old blind-deaf child (played by Duke) at last understood that the letters tapped on her hand were words that meant something. The first word Keller discovered was water.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Creative Coincidences




 Creative Coincidences

Creative coincidences are meaningful coincidences that can change you in interesting ways, open doors to new actions and perceptions.  I’m often astonished by the coincidences I experience from time to time.  One thing I’ve noticed repeatedly.  They’re related to whatever I’m working on, whatever is exciting me at the moment. So that can be handy. 

Based on my experience, let me jot down some ideas that may lead to having creative coincidences.  I think it’s possible to shape our lives in such a way that we’re more likely to have more meaningful encounters.

First off, you probably need to have some powerful aims and passions before it becomes possible to enter the zone of creative coincidences.

Equally important, you have to be willing to try new things, yield to hunches and impulses, and sometimes even do the opposite of what you prefer.  You have to break the mold of the typical patterns of your life. 

Don’t worry about  success or what other people think about your style of processing experience. Do your best and let the chips fall. That is one of the great principles of the Indian Bhagavad-Gita,

Do something normally repulsive or boring but with absolute concentration.  This is part of the process of waking up to the obvious.  It’s never just what you experience but how you experience that makes the creative connection.  You have to trick yourself into seeing in new ways.  For example, I like to look at a painting I’m working on in different ways.  So I turn it to its side or upside down or vary the lighting.

Lighten your mind and your body; avoid mental and physical obesity. Mobility and elasticity of consciousness are allies we need to cultivate.

Resonate with what fascinates and inspires you.  Focus activates the psyche.

Spontaneity is a key predictor of paranormal performance and creative coincidence.

Capacity for playfulness is crucial, as is the knack for levity and creative dissociation.

Finally, love something or die.  Love is what takes us beyond ourselves, prompts us to get into the dance of the universe, and opens the gate to creative coincidence.





Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Curing a Disease of Consciousness


Four hundred years of unflagging racism in America is a disease of consciousness.  It cannot be legislated out of existence, it cannot be scolded, condemned, preached to, or punished out of existence. None of that will cure the disease of racist arrogance and hatred that caused the holocaust of Native Americans and enslaved Black people to lay the foundation of the American empire.

How to cure a disease of consciousness?  How to rise from paranoia to metanoia?
Images, not abstract arguments, shock the nervous system, jolt the conscience and awaken consciousness.   Case in point: The incredible image of four cops, three watching with approval, the fourth squeezing the life out a black man who’s saying he can’t breathe.

A new perception, a new awareness is needed, not just new laws, new economic opportunities, and less policing.  They’re all essential, but what we really need is a change of heart and consciousness, a more sensitive lens of human awareness.  A new worldview.

Our everyday consciousness is so narrowly riveted, so contracted by our needs and fears, we can’t see the humanity of others, and all our technical proficiency is not the same as human sensitivity.

The poet-philosopher Friedrich Schiller wrote a book called The Aesthetic Education of Humanity that speaks to us today.  His thesis was that aesthetic education is especially needed to humanize people, especially politicians.  Cultivating the more refined mental faculties would help prevent the lower instincts from overriding our better angels.

Schiller was right to call attention to the arts and their modes of magic.  The hope was that the arts would evolve our capacity to feel and enter into the different worlds of different people.  Our technical, money-worshipping culture operates on the opposite principle, which is to manipulate human reality with one absolute ideal: profit—and more profit.

The only thing I can imagine saving us from the catastrophic results of living out the premises of the reigning techno-capitalist ethos is a revolution of perception. It has to make a difference in how we experience the world.  A difference in the quality of our awareness.

A revolution of perception would be non-violent.  As such it would be the opposite of Donald Trump ‘s fascistic inclinations to “dominate” all his foes, which are legion.  In the interest of fairness,  let’s measure Trump’s worldview against criteria that all sane, decent human beings are bound to honor and respect: truth, justice, and beauty.

It’s not easy trying to imagine the inside of Donald Trump’s mental world—his worldview, and therefore his perception of reality.  Using the criteria cited above—truth, justice, beauty—it’s frightening trying to imagine the architecture of Trump’s inner world.  We know that all living things have some kind of inner life, there is something it is like to be a bat or Donald Trump.

Now, when we try to imagine the inside of Donald Trump’s mind, the result can be disconcerting.  There is no place inside that bizarre region of mental space touched by, or glimmering with, any of the common icons of human value.

As for truth, that pillar of common humanity, it’s totally absent.  The entire planet knows that Donald Trump is a pathological liar. Experts from all fields (journalists to psychiatrists) have documented his daily atrocities against truth in withering detail.

As far as justice, I personally doubt if Donald Trump’s sense of justice is any keener than an average orangutan’s.  How likely is it that a man who lies so brazenly and spontaneously can be trusted as a person with a lively and disciplined sense of right and wrong?  A raft of psychiatrists concur that Trump is a malevolent narcissist.  I doubt if the records will ever show that Trump performed any act as president motivated strictly by his sense of justice. 

Finally, to connect the concept of beauty with Donald Trump’s inner life is beyond me.  On the contrary, Trump embodies the archetype of the ugly American in a wonderfully stunning fashion.  We can thank the man for providing us with an image of everything we need to abolish in American life.

    




Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Science of Spirituality?



We humans early on discovered there was something higher and more powerful we could appeal to for help, guidance, or consolation.  Cultures have varied in the way they learned to connect with the higher power, how they named it, and how they tried to communicate with it.The belief in some kind of spiritual force has been a staple of the human race until in 17th century Europe some clever men invented a thing called science.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Are You a Prisoner of Your Beliefs?



The pandemic standstill is giving us surplus time to think. We need leisure time to plumb the caverns of our minds. Idling about recently, I recalled a talk I once had with a friend who was an accomplished academic.  I was describing to her how fond I am of a certain type of filbert paint brush. She broke in with a sigh, and said: “I’ve always wanted to paint.”  “What’s stopping you?” I asked.

She looked up at me, almost surprised, and said: “That never occurred to me.  My Ph.D. is in political science.  That’s what I’m good at.”  I laughed, and said, “How do you know you won’t be good at painting?”  My question seemed to confuse her.  Her parents drilled it into her that to be a success in life you have to be good at one thing.  She absorbed the belief that she could excel in one thing alone.  I suggested to her that her belief was unnecessarily confining.  Her imagination of what was possible was controlling the way she lived and perceived the world. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Dream and Reality



We spend our lives in two different worlds, cycling back and forth between waking and dreaming.  Which is the true, the beautiful, the higher world?  Strangely, there are some who prefer the reality of dream life to the reality of waking life.  

Anyway you look at it, dreaming  is a paranormal event, a nightly miracle of creativity.  Oops! Here I am in dream space flirting with a nymph by a waterfall.   How did I get here ?

How you get from physical space to dream space is a total mystery.  

I believe that the dreaming part of us keeps on dreaming even after we wake, just as our memories live on in the subconscious.

Question: What is your dream self doing right now?

Our greater mental life takes place below the threshold of awareness. We’re afloat in a sea but trapped in a little iron submarine.  How to cut loose and explore the sea of the psyche?

Painting for me is one way to explore the dream space we normally get to through  sleep.  How is that possible?  By letting the painting paint itself.  Place the brush in the hand of your subliminal mind. Something wants to reveal itself. It needs you to be its voice. Obey the impulse, never check yourself once you begin, and don’t be afraid to fail.

Spontaneity is key. No resistance; no boundaries.

From the prehistoric cave-painters to Kandinsky and Marc Chagall, art has been about contact with magic, dream, the symbols and secrets of the Great Mind.  

If the intersection of art and the paranormal interest you, try my art website paintingthepsyche.com.  Fed up with the horrors of normality, lose yourself in my book on miracles:



Tuesday, June 16, 2020

How a Virus Can Turn You into an Artist


Well friends, it looks like Covid-19 doesn’t want us to go back to “normal.” The virus is flaring up in about twenty U.S. states, and is surging in India and Brazil.  All signs point to the continued need to minimize contact with others.  2020 seems the year that wants us to practice being alone.  The invisible foe is forcing us to become more detached from the world. And there’s something else.

I think the pandemic is forcing us to realize we’re all artists.  I mean that in a very specific way.  We’re artists in the way we perceive the world, each in our peculiar style, so to speak.  Some have a talent for painting a livable picture; others have a knack for creating disasters.

One thing we need to remember: we cannot get out of our consciousness.  Whatever you do and wherever you go, the only home you have is your mind.  You can get out of your body, but never out of your mind or consciousness.  We’re stuck with ourselves on a long journey..

It’s a funny thing, consciousness.  It’s your private gateway to worlds of bliss, beauty and wonder.  It’s also your private dungeon, torture chamber, and theater of nightmares.  So many possibilities!  And much vertigo!

But that’s the point: the artist in us is the decider.  Or should be. We can make the choices and consciously shape our picture of reality.  Artists do the same, shape sound into music, visual impressions into landscapes and portraits, words into dialogue and poetry. We are the shapers of our own lives, our inner selves and outer deeds.  The alternative is to leave our souls to others to tinker with and possibly destroy.  

We’re all artists in the way we compose, balance, and express our experience, our feelings, the bliss, the boredom, the pain.  Every act, thought, feeling is ours to reject or embrace, mold or maul.  It’s all there for us to weave into the artwork of our unfolding lives.

Normally, we don’t think of our lives as a piece of art we’re working on day and night—that’s because most of it is going on subconsciously.  But here’s the danger.  If we fail to form our own world-picture, our own art of living, others will stamp theirs on us until we forget who we are.  

You become an artist when you’re forced to be alone in a confined space.  You take command of your mind or it takes command of you.  That’s a minute by minute wrestling match. The mind is a restless bastard.  When you have fewer options you’re forced to be more creative, more decisive with what you have at hand. In the end, life is an art of improvisation.   Genius, said the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, is what happens when your back is up against the wall.  The pandemic is our wall.

For the intersection between painting and psychic phenomena, see https://paintingthepsyche.com


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Dangerous Miracles



“We who are about to die demand a miracle,” wrote the poet W. H. Auden during the dawning crisis of World War II.  We could say the same for us in June of 2020.  But what kind of a miracle should we demand?  It’s an interesting question. Suppose we had the power to perform one miracle, with the intent of improving the lot of the human race?  It’s not a question easily answered.  You can never predict the result of performing a miracle.

Here’s the first miracle I would perform, as an immediate boon to all humans as well as to all living creatures of nature.  I would change the most prominent feature of Donald J. Trump into its opposite: that is, from  cowardice and mendacity to the courage to speak truth to power.  I admit it’s hard to imagine how my miracle would play out.  Trump’s conversion to savior and hero might cause mass disorientation and suicide among his base followers.

Monday, June 8, 2020

A Book About Miracles


Smile of the Universe is a book for people who enjoy witnessing the impossible triumph over established reality.  It documents experiences that explode our idea of what is humanly possible. Things we call miracles do happen, events that fill us with wonder and admiration. Miracles are important for a special reason. Neither science nor religion can explain the phenomena described in this book.

Two major ideas guide my story. All the miraculous phenomena point to the existence of some kind of greater mind.  The phenomena cannot be explained by current materialist science.  Our mental life is much deeper and wider than we normally suppose.  This book is opposed to  conventional views of the mind--there’s infinitely more to our minds (and to us) than certain entrenched intellectual fashions might admit.

As to the second leading idea--each of us can, if we wish, learn to dialogue with this greater mind. Traditional religions have been doing it their way since time immemorial.  But for many in the present age of disbelief, new approaches to the old mysteries are needed.  Meanwhile the primal and greater mind remains open to explore in whatever way we can.

William Blake once said that he “lived by miracle.” Can we live in such a way that puts us in touch with the miraculous powers slumbering within us? Is there a line of connection between our own minds and the greater mind believed to be the source of the extraordinary phenomena? The answer is yes. Moreover, we can describe the psychological variables that are friendly and conducive to these creative powers.

Smile of the Universe reviews for the reader a spectrum of miracle phenomena.  Along the way, the data point to the reality of a greater mind interacting with our minds.  Examples from Socrates to Joan of Arc show how relationships with that mysterious entity have been formed.

The potential for that relationship has been undermined by the culture of materialism.  Nevertheless, the stories in this book leave materialism tongue-tied.  And it leaves the rest of us open to the possibility of glimpsing the smile of the universe.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Solitude and Creativity




Since we’re all supposed to keep our distance from each other, I want to recommend a book by Anthony Storr: The title hit me: Solitude: A Return to the Self.  Wow!   You need to be alone to gain a real sense of who you are?  Interesting idea.

The fact is that we often have a wobbly sense of who we are.  Human identity is fragile and necessarily elastic.  It’s so easy to lose the thread of yourself with others when they ignore, criticize, belittle, project, exaggerate, or misunderstand you.  Sometimes you have to pull back and look upon the world—and yourself—with a cold eye.

Storr argues we can never fully rely on others for self-affirmation even when they affirm us. We have to forge our own identity.

He examines situations where the solitude is forced on us. Thanks to the pandemic, we know what that feels like.  Storr writes about being alone in prison. There are many examples in history of incarcerated men and women who gained spiritual illumination or were inspired to write great letters, pamphlets, and books while alone in prison.  The main point: in solitude we’re more likely to discover who we really are at the deepest levels of our being.  I guess it depends on what experiences you have.  Anybody?

Monday, May 11, 2020

After Death: A Primer for the Pandemic



About 80 thousand Americans have lost their lives to the coronavirus. The pain is magnified by not being able to be present at the death of loved ones.  And there are problems with funerals, religious gatherings, and grieving, all made doubly difficult by the need for social distancing. 

Now if the divine spirit that most people believe in is omnipresent, it doesn’t matter how alone you are.  You don’t have to be inside a church to get inside yourself.  The connection to the higher power is through our minds, or maybe we should say our souls.  Wherever we are we can make the connection, and in that sense nobody with a mind is ever alone.

But now to a question rarely if ever discussed in public venues. What happens to the persons taken from us by death?  Why is this question always avoided? One reason is that it’s hard to answer the question. The current scientific attitude is at odds with traditional life after death beliefs.  To put it bluntly, if science is reduced to materialism, it must rule out the idea of life after death.  But in fact science is not wed to materialism, and some scientists have studied experiences that do point to conscious survival after death.  In fact, there is a massive literature on this subject.[i]

All I wish here is to summarize the gist of the case for the belief in afterlife consciousness.  Two things are involved: conceptual and factual.  So what is the issue?  Our bodies die, and that’s the end of our physical reality.  What we’re asking is if the mental and conscious life of the person survives, our thoughts, feelings, memories, and so on.  We’re entitled to ask this because our mental and conscious life cannot be reduced to our brain life.  Death of the brain does not imply that one’s mind is wiped out.  Some in fact even hold that the death of the brain is what releases the full potentials of consciousness. Because our minds are not reducible to our brains it is possible to survive brain death.

This leads to the second part of making the case.  The first is meant to show it is logically possible to imagine how our minds abide although our bodies pass away.  But logical possibility isn’t enough.  We need to see if there are actual case histories, stories that persuade us that in fact particular known people died and yet survived in some conscious form. This is the empirical basis of the answer. Now the perhaps surprising answer is, yes—really, there are facts that do seem to prove the power of consciousness to survive bodily death.      

It turns out there are several ways it seems to occur.  For example, most of us are familiar with the near-death experience.  Cardiac arrest is supposed to physically cut off consciousness; but instead some people have amazing experiences that convince them of a life beyond this one. They end up being deeply transformed human beings.  They float away from their bodies and observe things in the distant environment. They encounter deceased relatives and behold an ineffable being of light. The evidence for this unexplained phenomenon is massive.

Evidence for reincarnation is yet another type of afterlife research.  In near-death cases, we glimpse where we may be going; in reincarnation studies, we see where we have been in  previous lives.  Apparitions of the dead provide another type of evidence. Suppose a dead person appears in a dream and imparts information that no other living person is acquainted with; there are cases on record that demonstrate this sort of thing. 

Another large source of evidence for life after death is mediumship. Talented mediums transmit communications from deceased persons; appropriate information, tone and character of the person come convincingly through. To appreciate the value of this evidence, you have to look at the details and arguments.  I’m just stating what’s available for the curious person to investigate.  There are answers to the question of life after death that come from science.  We’re not forced to rely on pure faith.

It certainly helps if you’ve had a direct experience of any of this.   I have on three occasions been visited by ghostly agents; one was a belated family visit; two were nasty assaults from unpleasant spirits related to people I was trying to help. My experience has been that if you ask around, surprising numbers of folks have stories to tell—but you have to ask and gain their confidence.

We have various kinds of evidence of persons surviving death. What about criticisms of the evidence? According to one line of criticism, survival evidence, even the best cases, can be explained by appealing to the paranormal and histrionic powers of the subconscious mind. In the case of the dreamer who finds his father’s hidden last will, it is the dreamer that paranormally locates the missing will and creates the hallucination of his father.  The psychological need to believe in an afterlife produces the whole experience, which deludes the believer into accepting the phantasm of his father as real.  Clever arguments like this can be devised, but are they compelling?

So there is good evidence for survival. But it’s possible that however compelling it seems, it might just be a persistent illusion.  But why?  To mitigate death anxiety perhaps.  I think much more is involved, but more research is needed. We need a new mythology of transition to the next world.  The old religious guides were mostly projections of schadenfreude and naïve fantasy.  A new guidebook to the great ‘after’ based on matters of fact is possible.  The pandemic is a reminder of this important but neglected kind of research.   



[i] My book Experiencing the Next World Now will introduce the reader to the extensive literature on this big question everybody is obliged to confront.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Putting the Pandemic in Perspective


Life is not just what happens to us.  It is what it is, people say, when fate dumps on us.  But life is also how we see it, what we bring to each experience. So even when we’re hit with something blatantly bad, we’re still free in the way we understand what it means.  Nothing has to be seen as a total disaster.  (Even death, but that’s another topic.) With many thousands of fatalities and many millions economically wrecked from the pandemic, we are challenged.  But a great Stoic philosopher once said, it’s not what happens to us that ultimately matters but how we interpret what happens. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Social Distancing and the Unexpected



Strange things happen to our minds when we’re forced to be alone.  The great Boston seaman, Joshua Slocum, in his book, Sailing Alone Around the World, describes how during a storm at sea, he was ill and fallen in his boat when a strange figure appeared, spoke to him, and took command of his 36 foot, wooden sloop, Spray. 

“To my amazement I saw a tall man at the helm.  His rigid hand, grasping the spokes of the wheel, held them as in a vise.” He appeared to be a foreign sailor with black whiskers and a red cap, and spoke to Slocum, assuring him he came as a friend. “I am one of Columbus’s crew . . . I am the pilot of the Pinta, come to aid you . . .,” he said, and urged Slocum to rest (who was in great pain), promised to remain at the helm for the duration of the storm, and warned Slocum about some plums he had stored that went bad. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Retreat to Inner Space in the Pandemic



In order to stop the coronavirus from killing us, we have to remain physically apart and confined to a single space.  It’s like being put in solitary confinement. But the pandemic is also a challenge and an opportunity. If we’re stuck in physical space, we can retreat into inner space where there’s plenty of room.  It’s an opportunity to be inventive, to use imagination, and to explore our own minds. For example:

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Why Read During the Pandemic?




To avoid going stir-crazy or feeling lonely or trapped, people are trying to occupy their minds by reading books.  Yes, people are reading more; all kinds of services popping up about books to read.  I wonder, with all the information, ads, pitches, distractions deluging us, whether reading is a skill we may be losing. Surfing the internet isn’t a recipe for learning the art of deep reading.  But maybe the enforced solitude will get us back into reading.

Reading anything deeply and thoughtfully takes time.  You need a space free from distractions. But glued to our smart phones, we’re constantly being distracted. Distraction and seduction is the aim.  We have created a technological vampire that feeds on our souls—i.e., our attention, our consciousness.  But there is some good news--there is life after online existence.

A book in your hands is a way into a world, a world that invites imagination,  challenges mind and can touch the heart.  But the book needs you to bring it to life;  reading is not a passive experience.  You have to imagine and co-create the experience.  Reading is a way to exercise the imagination.

And reading is a retreat from the normality of everyday mental life.  It can take us on journeys out of our familiar selves. Reading can be an altered state of consciousness—a ‘drug’ that is free, totally available, mind-expanding, and non-addictive.  (But if it is, so much the better.)

For the benefits of reading, full attention is essential. Reading demands a certain amount of mind-control, and it’s a form of meditation.  As far as loneliness, I can’t imagine feeling lonely if I have the company of some good books.  Think of all the extraordinary people and stories we can meet through the medium of the book. Loneliness just means we have to wake up our imaginations. Now that we’re stuck inside, stopped in our damn tracks, we might have time to listen to ideas and stories and who knows what, stuff we never dreamed of, all waiting to be told in a book we might read.

“Sitting still, he travels very far,” writes the author of the Katha Upanishad.  And truly we can travel very far on the wings of words.  I remember the first time I read Homer’s Odyssey in translation, and later when I learned to read it in Greek.  The dactylic hexameter was like rowing a boat through the waves and I was clairvoyantly with Odysseus and his men during their adventures.  Reading is a way of visiting other worlds and inhabiting other personalities. No matter how alone or confined you feel, a book can be a door your mind can step through, a road to new discoveries about yourself and the world outside yourself.

There’s an expression “mind-reader” that refers to a person who can ‘read’ your mind, that is, by telepathy. The expression is perfect for describing what a book is.  When you read a book, your are indeed ‘reading’ the author’s mind.   To know the mind of Shakespeare is to read the words that came from his pen and his poetic mind.

It’s quite amazing.  How by reading we make intimate contact with the minds of all manner of men and women right across history. For example, you can read the words preserved from the trial of Joan of Arc, how she replied to the terrorists about to burn her at the stake. There is all of history and all of arts and sciences to read about; reading is a way of getting out of ourselves into larger worlds and wider mental perspectives.

The novel coronavirus has thrown us into a kind of enforced contemplative life. 
My suggestion—make the best of it—it’s the only way to stop the virus.  In the meantime, go contemplative.  Wallow in the bliss of non-doing.  Make it your duty to be magnificently idle.  For a while let ecstasy instead of productivity be your aim. Stare out the window open-mouthed and wait for a miracle to appear dancing in the sky. And if none of that helps with the angst, read a book.

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