At times lately life seems clearer and simpler. A pure faith and blind hope have been a subjective verification for a long time spent in seeking of what can not be thought. It is somewhat of a step up from days of plunging into the darkness and not knowing why. Still I am aware that things change, that nothing stays the same. And what is it to be a spiritual person? There are times when the most spiritual of us are not so spiritual. I can see that there is nothing permanent that is the self, spiritual or otherwise. I have only in my later years realized this after striving for nearly all my life to shape, form and grasp onto an illusive and hopefully fixed identification of “Me” that I thought I was or that I could at least become.
Gratefully I have found my way, away from this and for the most part it has involved letting go of this desire for a fixed life and perception of “myself”. And as well I have come to see the delusional influence of conventional means and norms that my pursuit of this was a product of. Simultaneously s this has been revealed to me , the heart has emerged to play a more eminent role in my understanding of who and what I am and how I will live my life. It seemed to be buried under all layers of pseudo self that consumed it. From this rediscovery of the heart comes a way of faith that I could not have known before and that is not so easily expressed.
As I have come to confront the fear that has blocked the heart and kept me confined in old habits, reinforced by dualistic thinking that I thought to be right and truthful, I see that at it all existed to serve, protect and reinforce my rather nebulous and separate notion of what I thought I was. All relationships; what I thought that I knew; what I thought to be love was compromised by an underlying fear complicit in this way of perceiving. I was ultimately in fear of the loss of that creation that I had become somewhat familiar with and doubtful about how I might come to cope without it.
I am seeing through all of this however murky it might be at times. Doing so has involved a dropping away of choice as I, in the past, knew it to be. It has been replaced by a sense of being oriented more to an inner sense of what is authentic something that emanates more from the heart than from thought. And there is something of a guiding light that it is a part of , that illuminates the way as opposed to providing options to choose from. And there is the presence of a faith that what is authentic and loving does not involve grasping and does not emerge from fear or desire but from letting go and unfolding in this way. It is just there present underneath all that we have made ourselves into.
One way to perceive the evolution of religion is that it emerged at the same time that the dualistic brain was developing and at a time of increasing abstract thinking. Religion kept humans grounded and connected to something more fundamental and present in their being. I think that there is good reason to ask if it might have served than as it does in modern times, that is to keep individuals connected to something more fundamental in our origins in a way that words, concepts and abstractions are not able to do; something more authentic that can not be expressed so easily. Symbol and ritual became a way to do this and they still can serve in this way that points us back to a more experiential knowing which involves a more vast and direct awareness of how we fit into life on this planet and the universe, if not skewed and abstracted in their use and intent. Abstraction and rigid rational concepts have limitations in explaining that which is not of a linear, mechanical nature and more and more the world of science these days is realizing that the mechanical model and methods used for understanding the universe are limited in this way. But they are still being utilized despite the reality and risk that, with such an encompassing focus and conventional reliance on our mechanical conceptual perceptions, we might become them. In fact have we not become more mechanical in our ways at a cost of ignoring what is not so mechanical about being human or being a creature of this world and universe.
Knowledge, even the best scientific knowledge interprets experience through human cultural understanding. The origins of culture and language and social life involved the use of symbol, ritual and metaphor. Words themselves as concepts have these origins and are limited in their representation of phenomenon. They can serve to illuminate a way to envision an experience or to suggest a way that another might have a similar experience but they are not the experience. The direct experience is somewhat irreplaceable as a source of what we know especially in terms of what we are or where we have come from. In the early years of language there was fewer words and they were more directly linked to what they were referring to. Ironically in our modern age we seem to have come to a place where we look to and rely on greater abstraction as part of our experience. We could say that it has come to a point where it has largely replaced experience. We so often look to others, who and what we think to be more dependable, more external sources for much of our understanding about life and knowing.
Gary Gutting’s article “Does evolution Explain Religious Beliefs” in the New York Times http://nyti.ms/1n5tswg
In Gary Gutting article he interviews the philosopher Michael Ruse. Ruse begins by making similar claims as I have made in the first chapter yet he goes on to use reductionist and abstract ideas and theories that foster a fragmented, mechanical, perception of human development and evolution. Science itself has developed a language and culture that needs to be examined for its relevance in claiming to capture truth. Its revelations may be quite relative at best. There are many conceptual reductionist as well as holistic models of evolution and social and cultural evolution that explore evolutionary and human developments in more creative ways than Ruse suggests. All conceptual models are ways of seeing but is it possible that the unfolding of consciousness is a much more complex occurrence that goes beyond our ability to understand from rational conceptual thinking? Can the direct experience be known in this way?
Another way to perceive the development of religion is that it emerged at the same time that the dualistic brain was developing and at a time of increasing abstract thinking. Religion kept humans grounded and connected to something more fundamental and present in their being. I think that there is good reason to ask if it might have served than as it does at times in modern days to keep individuals connected to something more fundamental in our origins in a way that words, concepts and abstractions are not able to do; something more authentic that can not be expressed so easily. Symbol and ritual became a way to do this and they still can serve in this way that points us back to a more experiential knowing which involves a more vast and direct realisation of how we fit into life on this planet and the universe, if not skewed in their use and intent. Abstraction and rigid rational concepts have limitations in explaining that which is not of a linear, mechanical nature and more and more the world of science these days is realising that the mechanical model and methods used for understanding the universe is limited in this way. But they are still being utilised despite the reality and risk that, with such an encompassing focus and conventional reliance on our mechanical conceptual perceptions, we might become them. In fact have we not become more mechanical in our ways at a cost of ignoring what is not so mechanical about being human or being a creature of this world and universe.
We experience a deeper connection to the direct experience of life when we come to understand how to differentiate it from abstract, symbolic and conceptual thinking. I think that it is highly possible that religion served to ground man in the direct experience of life and that it can continue to serve in this way today if we can see clearly the divisive influences of culture, science, language and even religion. They are divisive in that they have the ability to take us away from ourselves.Religion evolved as a cultural way of being aware. Even religion has developed in a way that has forgotten its origins. We don´t require religion to develop the necessary awareness that I am writing about.
When writing about what arises in contemplation its easy to get caught up in an habitual way of thinking and doing that is driven by the will and a need to defend and mould my arguments and present them in a way that is meaningful and artistic. There is a lot of information out there in the world about most everything and it has all thoroughly been researched critiqued and revised. But this is not what is at the source of contemplation. This habitual and conventional way can only express it in a way that is something abstract and mechanical and without heart.
This is also what has occurred in the development of the identity that I have come to know and become attached to. In my early life and development I experienced a transformation from something rather innocent and authentic. Ideas and concepts that were not from a direct experience; that were someone else´s experience became the vehicle of change. No wonder that I have been confused and driven to an endless search for something for most of my life. I have only in later years realized that a more authentic part of myself had succumbed to a more superficial veneer created out of attending to these external influences. It is not in searching externally that I have rediscovered something more authentic that I am. Attending to the external only enables a continuing of the spinning that I have been doing for most of my life. A grounding in something more truthful and authentic came out of a turn towards silence. There I have been able to let go of the way of habit that confines me and here I am able to discover a more contemplative way that is increasingly becoming a more familiar and intimate place for me to be. Here I can let my words reflect from the emptiness that is the experience.
I am not referring to emptiness that is absent of relevance but rather an emptiness of a different kind of relevance; not the superficial influence of past conditioning that has limited what I have come to know myself to be. In fact it is a shift and emptying of the mind, as I have known it to be, that occurs. This involves opening in awareness and the allowing of a more absolute, intuitive flow of energy that is part of a more vast consciousness that is unfolding, to be the influence in how I live and how I express myself. Finding the words to express this experience in a more direct way is a part of the creative exercise.
This bit of writing by Thomas Merton from the first chapter of his book “The Inner Experience” is a piece that I can relate to in an intense way. Merton writes very clearly about many aspects of awakening. He talks about God and Christ from his Catholic perspective but he is one of the few writers and this is one of the few books that I have read where it is very clearly stated that the experience of God is beyond the conventional religious concept. The possibility to experience this deeply spiritual transformation in consciousness is possible for all through faith ( awareness of the limits of the the ego) inspired effort. Ultimately it is an act of grace that we are able to experience a deeper awakening.
” Man in our day, menaced on all sides with ruin, is at the same time beset with illusory promises of happiness. Both threat and promise come from the same political source. Both hell and heaven have become, so (they say), immediate possibilities here on earth.. It is true that the emotional hell and the heaven with each one of us carries about within him tend to become more and more public and common property. And as time goes on it seems evident that what we have to share seems to be not so much one another’s heaven as one another’s hell.
For the desire that we cherish, in the secrecy of our soul, as our “heaven”sometimes turns when offered as a solution to common problems, into everybody’s hell. this is one of the curious features of twentieth century civilization and of its discontents.
Into the midst of this moral and emotional chaos, popular psychologists and religious teachers, men of pathetic optimism and good will, have rushed forward hopefully to announce their message of comfort. Seldom concerned with the afterlife,whether good or evil,as it befits men of our time, they want to set things right for us here and now. They want us at all costs to be inspired and uplifted. They fret over our distressing tendencies to see the dark side of modern life, because they are able to imagine that it has a light side somewhere. Have we not after all made the most remarkable progress? Is the standard of living not rising every day, and is not our lot becoming better and better, so that soon we will have to work less and less in order to enjoy more and more? With a dash of psychological self-help and a decent minimum of religious conformity, we can adjust ourselves to the emptiness of lives that are so blissfully devoid of struggle, sacrifice or effort. These willing counsellors want to revive our confidence in all the gestures of bourgeois good feeling which will magically turn pain into pleasure and sorrow into joy because God is in His Heaven and all is right with the world.”
In opening my heart to what is I cant help but be aware of the immense suffering created in the world that is a consequence of human consciousness. I can’t seem to escape from this realisation and how it is that we might share with others the heaviness and pain that is felt in the heart that awareness brings, because intimacy, sharing and being open to others is such an essential human response if we are to hope for any possibility of resolution.
Words are limited in their ability to communicate this. Efforts that I make to attain some quality of authentic connection and sharing of my heart concern often seem to end up with me feeling quite alone. There is much pressure these days to discount what we feel in our hearts and to look for comfort that is promised to us almost everywhere we turn however much of a grasping at illusion this might be. This is so much so that most of us have lost that vital connection within ourselves, that is the source of more authentic realisation, and to intimately pay attention again seems contrary to the habits we have developed that has been the reaction. This is a desire to escape the pain that this awareness of reality brings.
There are gifted writers who in their ability to express their experience I am drawn to. It is not as much out of a habit of requiring something to read but that they are able to open my heart that I read at all. And I am more in the habit of wanting to live with an open heart despite so much around me that is a stimulus to close it.
Thomas Merton is one of those writers that I am writing about. The Inner Experience is said to be his last book. He left instructions that he did not want it to be published but made available to contemplative’s and scholars but somehow it was published.