"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, December 31, 2010

Finding the Deepest Part of You: Butterworth, Tolle, Tillich and Synergy

The very first book of a "spiritual" nature that I didn't wholly reject out of hand (and I had read and rejected quite a view beforehand) was Eric Butterworth's Discover the Power Within You. (I believe this is the book that Maya Angelou gave Oprah which, in turn, kick-started Oprah's spiritual quest.) Shortly after that my therapist suggested I read Eckhart Tolle's Power of Now.

I was blown away. I took the book to my friend, the deeply spiritual man who had given me Butterworth's book in the first place. "Look," I said, "Here's a book that's exactly about what we're talking about. And," I added, "he doen't use the word 'God' because he says its already too freighted down with too many old meanings."

"What book is that then?" he asked in his Scottish brogue. When I showed him Tolle's Power of Now, he sort of leaned back in his chair and said, "Aye, I've been meditating on that book for eight years now." Together we would spend many days discussing these books (and many other "spiritual, but not necessarily religious" material I found) over the next few years until he passed on.

Shortly after my friend had passed away, I found a two-volume paperback set of sermons by Paul Tillich. They were sitting on a table marked "free" after a book sale. In reading one sermon of this Lutheran scholar - perhaps the most renowned Protestant scholar of the 20th century - I was so struck by the following passage that I had copies made and laminated to give to friends with a similar bent of mind to mine.  The passage talks about God from the viewpoint of one who has devoted a lifetime to plumbing the inner depths of his being in search of the Absolute:
"The wisdom of all ages and of all continents speaks about the road to of our depth. It has been described in innumerably different ways. But all those who have been concerned - mystics and priests, poets and philosophers, simple people and educated - with that road through confession, lonely self-scrutiny, internal or external catastrophes, prayer, contemplation, have witnessed to the same experience. They have found they are not what what they  believed themselves to be, even after a deeper level had appeared to them below the vanishing surface. That deeper level itself became surface, when a still deeper level was discovered, this happening again and again, as long as their lives, as long as they kept on the road to their depth. . . .
The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, what you take seriously without any reservations. Perhaps to do so you may have to forget everything traditional you have learned about God, perhaps even the word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or an unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth knows about God."
The kicker is that about three years after my friend's death, his dog-eared and worn copy of Butterworth's Discover the Power Within You, fell happily into my possession. It was only in re-reading his copy that I realized that this underlined, highlighted and notated passage from Paul Tillich and quoted by Butterworth was the exact passage I'd been handing out to friends - even the ommitted paragraph was the same.

I will not acknowledge that "God works small magics, his wonders to perform," But, I will say karma (or the law of cause and effect) works in an attention-grabbing manner to demonstrate the synergies ever present in the wholly interrelated, interwoven inter-being of our synchronystic cosmos.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Physics, Spirituality and 'the Structure of Consciousness'

Quantum Fluctuations by Kevin Moore
Arthur I. Miller's book, 137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession, traces the evolution of the relationship between Wolfgang Pauli, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and Carl Jung, arguably, the West's most influential psychoanalyst. What started as a patient-therapist relationship quickly morphed into a partnership of metaphysical exploration.

The volume immediately caught my eye in my local bookshop not-so-much because of its subject matter - interesting though it may be - but, rather, because of a memorable passage from Gary Zhukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters, a now-classic treatise on the convergence of modern physics, metaphysics and the world's oldest wisdom traditions.

The memorable passage which had stuck with me from my first reading of the Wu Li Masters was the following passage on the fundamental nature of quantum physics that features the parallel views  Pauli and Jung held on the true nature of 'reality':
"According to quantum mechanics there is no such thing as objectivity. We cannot eliminate ourselves from the picture. We are a part of nature, and when we study nature there is no way around the fact that nature is studying itself. Physics has become a branch of psychology, or perhaps the other way round.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, wrote:
The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves.
 Jung's friend, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, put it this way:
From an inner center the psyche seems to move outward, in the sense of an extraversion, into the physical world . . . 
"If these men are correct," Zhukav so memorably wrote, "then physics is the study of the structure of consciousness." [Emphasis added.]

Now why didn't high school physics start with that remarkable proposition rather than with the rote repetition of Galileo's experiments with falling bodies? That would have caught my attention!

The great theoretical physicist, Richard Freeman, reportedly said, "If you think you understand quantum physics, then you don't understand quantum physics. (The bongo-playing polymath also reportedly said, "If you think you understand quantum physics, you've got rocks in your head!")

The quantum world is apparently beyond (and antithetical to) our human comprehension because our language and mere existence in the 'ordinary world' of our conscious existence prohibits us from envisioning the indeterminate and radically interconnect nature of basic reality - a 'proven' reality where everything is composed of discrete 'quanta' of energy, yet where there is no such entity as a separate "thing."

Whether there is, in fact (and I believe there is), a limit beyond which our ordinary consciousness cannot penetrate the "suchness" of what "is" - to use a famous Buddhist description of fundamental reality - it is truly remarkable how the phenemona and explanations of quantum theory echo the conclusions of the world's most ancient wisdom traditions; conclusions which are themselves impossible to fully penetrate with "ordinary" consciousness. Hence, the search for "enlightenment" which has remained a fundamental concern and pursuit of humankind since we first walked out of the mists of time.

Zhukav's assertion that "physics has become the study of the structure of consciousness" is tantalizing because at once it seems to unite the three great streams of humankind's pursuit of knowledge: the sciences (which are all rooted in physics), the social sciences (that are all, in their fundamental aspects, sub-systems of psychology), and the humanities (which highest discipline is metaphysics).

Zhukav concludes his exposition of the 'New Physics' - which admittedly does not cover the most-cutting edge of quantum theory, such as "superstring theory" - by examining the profound implications of Bell's theorem and the work of quantum theorist David Bohm (who was a unique participant in the "dialogues" of Jiddhu Krishnamurti, one of the 20th-century's rare, enlightened masters).

In the closing pages of the Wu Li Masters, Zhukav, initially quoting Bohm, observes:
"Matter is a form of the implicate order as vortex is a form of the water - it is not reducible to smaller parts." Like "matter" and everything else, particles are forms of the implicate order. If this is difficult to grasp, it is because our minds demand to know, "What is the 'implicate order' the implicate order of?"
"A new instrument of thought such as is needed to understand Bohm's physics," Zhukav writes, "would radically alter the consciousness of the observer, reordering it towards the perception of the "unbroken wholeness" of which everything is a form."

The relationship of form with the formless, the reordering and submergence of ordinary human consciousness within universal consciousness, and the description of ultimate reality and our relationship to it, are the elements of all the world's great religious, spiritual and metaphysical traditions. As Zhukav notes, "all eastern religions (psychologies) are compatible in a very fundamental way with Bohm's physics and philosophy. All of them are based upon the experience of a pure, undifferentiated reality which is that which is."

In the end, as the juxtaposition of Jung and Pauli's views illustrate, just as in the beginning of human inquiry, not just physics but all explorations of  'what is' become "a study in the structure of consciousness."

Or, in the words of Rumi, the 11th-century Sufi poet and mystic (as translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi):
"If you have a body, where is the spirit?
 If you're spirit, where is the body?
 This is not our problem to worry about.
  Both are both. . . .
 Invisible, visible, the world
 does not work without both."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

'My Own Small Self'

Rabindranath Tagore was the first person from the Indian sub-continent to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was recognized for his opus work, the Gitanjali - a marvelous collection of spiritual poetry that at once evokes the imageries of Sufi poetry and the rich literary and Vedantist heritage of India.

I first heard Tagore's pithy yet profound poem Who is This? on Wayne Dyer's audio recording of A Spiritual Solution to Every Problem. Dr. Dyer dedicates a chapter to Tagore and Who is This? in his collection of essays on his spiritual sources and inspirations: Wisdom of the Ages.

 Who is This? paints a universal picture of a spiritual aspirant taking a brief respite on a midnight walk to reconnect to the Source, only to be confronted with the incessant voice of the human ego bent upon "lending his voice" to every word the aspirant utters.

The poem richly illuminates the universal problem we all face, knowingly or not, in trying to reconnect to the Godhead (no matter how that Godhead is denoted in a particular sect, denomination or religion) always over the objections of the human ego - the eternal 'mind-chatter' that separates us from everyone and everything in the widest cosmos. Let us now channel Tagore's midnight wanderer:
Who is This?
I came out alone on my way to my tryst.
But who is this that follows me in the silent dark?
I move aside to avoid his presence but I escape him not.
He makes the dust rise from the earth with his swagger;
he adds his loud voice to every word I utter.
He is my own small self, my lord, he knows no shame:
but I am ashamed to come to your door in his presence.

* * * * * * * 

Picture the hot dusty Indian or Middle Eastern night, when our spiritual sojourner sets out in the dark to gain a greater conscious connection with the source of his being. The restless and relentless voice of the ego excludes the aspirant from the rich silence of his goal: the doorstep of his Lord.  Who is This? thus speaks to the insomnia of the sufferer who is all too separated from peace, and from blessed sleep by the constant demand of the ego's unceasing and disturbing voice.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Spiritual But Not . . . 'Outwardly' . . . Relgious

In a Psych 101 text - long ago, when I knew nothing of life, nor of its depth - I learned that the two 'Fathers of American Psychology' were the humanist, William James, and the early behaviorist, John Watson. As in most instances, I did not know when this tidbit of seeming trivia would rise again, nor what its later significance would mean to me.

John Watson left academia to apply the principles of behaviorism to the world of advertising. On Madison Avenue, his application of scientific methodologies to marketing ushered in the era of focus groups, consumer surveys, metrics and polling that we all are now so familiar with. He taught corporate America how to create the 'desires' that fuel our consumer society. Watson was figuratively the original dreamweaver who spun and wove the "American Dream."

William James, on the other hand, stayed on as a professor at Harvard. In one of his  seminal books, the Varieties of Religious Experience, he outlined the various higher religious states of consciousness that have been documented throughout the ages. Although he exhibited little exposure to Eastern religions, his work served as a bridge uniting both the earlier American Transcendentalist tradition to the late 19th-early 20th century's New Thought Movement, and the new Thought Movement to the mid-20th century spread of Eastern wisdom traditions and the blossoming of interest in higher consciousness which flowered in the 1960's.

If James were to describe his personal beliefs and experience in one-sentence, he could probably do no better than the ever-more popular and pervasive description: "spiritual, but not religious." In the Varieties (which are, in essence, the notes James used in delivering the prestigious Gifford Lectures at St. Andrew's College), he made it clear that the subject matter of his interest was the 'inner religious' experience of the individual, rather than the 'outer religious' worlds of doctrines, creeds, temples, churches, steeples, priests and incense.
"Churches, he wrote,"when once established, live at second-hand upon tradition; but the founders of every church owed their power originally to the fact of their direct personal communion with the divine. . . .
"Religion, therefore . . . shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude. So far as they apprehend to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine."
When I had once glimpsed or "apprehended" this "divine" a course was set. Most of humankind, I believe, have consciously experienced one or two such glimpses in their lives; although, even then, they may not appreciate the nature of what it is they  experienced. I was very fortunate. My first such experience in adulthood was sudden, powerful and enlightening; albeit, however brief. Thereafter, I spent many hours and days - which have since turned into years - trying to understand what this 'mystery of consciousness' (or 'mystery of the divine,' if you prefer) is, and how it interrelates with the physical world, the psyche and the metaphysical 'divine.'

Several times, I have again experienced this state in its full power and intensity; and, once, this lasted for several days. It is these times which spark my resolve to attain to this consciousness once again; and perhaps, some time, maintain my being there. 'To die before dying,' as the yogis and reishis would say; or "to die to self," in the manner of St. Francis is an aspiration I was unaware of and/or did not understand in the flower of my youth and manhood. Only on passing middle age did I learn that there is a far more important timeless quest that underlies what can be both a carnival of delight and a dirge of despair.

I did not realize, of course, that this is the selfsame quest that has always ultimately underpinned all of humankind's knowledge and accomplishments, and that humankind has always sought a greater knowledge and experience of this ultimate 'divine' since we first walked forth upright through the mists of time. As Einstein, a professed atheist (in the most strictly limited sense of this word) reportedly observed: "I want to know the thoughts of God. The rest are all just details."

Shortly after the spiritual experience that propelled me on this most perpetual of quests, I began to learn that I, too, like so many I had labeled superstitious cranks, was innately religious, as well as spiritual.  Although this was in a very limited and narrow sense.

In a book one of my spiritual mentors affectionately called his "Book of Soul Realization" (How to Know God: Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms, with commentary by Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabavananda) I learned that "yoga," the word denoting religion in India, has the same Sanskrit root as the English word "yoke" - as in a 'yoke of oxen,' or the device that attaches a horse to the plough. Yoga, therefore, means 'to yoke,' bind, or unite; and the practice of any one of the 'branches' of yoga is a methodology to reunite the consciousness of the individual with the universal consciousness that is the godhead or the 'divine.'

A month or two later, my newfound 'teacher' (for want of a better word) took me to a lunchtime meditation at the parish hall of the local Catholic church. There, an acquaintance led a meditation that started with a reading and appreciation by Eckhart Tolle, a modern sage and best-selling author. The acquaintance (who, unbeknownst to me then, was both a PhD and a 'retired' nun) later explained the origin of the much-misunderstood word "religion" to me.

"Religion," she explained, "is from the Latin re ligare." The meaning of ligare, she told me, quite coincidentally, is to tie, bind or unite; as a 'ligament' ties a muscle to a bone, or a 'ligature' (or stitch) is used to sew up or bind a wound. Thus re ligare is to retie or unite, the limited consciousness of the egoic self with the limitless consciousness of the whole, with consciousness itself, or (if one is truly open-minded, perhaps) the consciousness of God.

Years later, when studying A Course in Miracles, and in light of the the further spiritual awakenings I had undergone and the deeper state of my limited consciousness, I was able to put together some of the lessons that  I had learned (and been shown). It was then that I began to understand the true import of a New Testament passage I had always instinctively dismissed, since first hearing it as a boy, in one of the few instances that I was coerced into attending Sunday school.

In Matthew 11:30 (which I had to look up using Google), Jesus reportedly said, "My yoke is easy, my burden light." In thinking of this, I had always pictured Jesus having to drag a heavy cross he balanced on his shoulder - like Atlas shouldering the world - and dismissing the heaviness and pain he was experiencing. But then later, having experienced (however briefly) that ineffable state of higher consciousness, which can best be described as a certain 'lightness of being' achieved through meditation, I understood a deeper meaning in this seemingly improbable passage.

Jesus was saying his 'yoga' or 'religion' - i.e., how he united his consciousness with the All, with Consciousness itself, with the Godhead - was 'simple' if, perhaps, at first difficult to achieve. The 'burden' of his yogic or religious efforts, meanwhile, (the message he was bearing for those who hadn't experienced or had not understood the import of his or her religious glimpses) was 'light' itself - i.e., the "lightness" of the extraordinary higher consciousness, or God-consciousness which exists within us all, as thoroughly masked as it may be by the 'mind-chatter' of the egoic, self-consciousness we gradually assume as growing children, and which becomes (for the vastest majority of us) who we are as adults.

The Varieties of Religious Experiences (and one of its source books, Richard M. Bucke's Cosmic Consciousness) describes the experiences of those fortunate few who have experienced, understood and described in detail this higher consciousness which exists within each of us. Or perhaps, more aptly put, they described that higher-consciousness or God-consciousness "within which we live and move, and have our being."

While I can attest that fundamentally I am spiritual, it is a misstatement to say that I am "spiritual but not religious." For 'yogic' or religious, meditation is the methodology through which we can go beneath the 'mind-chatter' of the ego to forge a connection in consciousness with the 'spirit'  that is the 'essence' (or being) of who and what we are, and of that within which we exist.

'Spirit' and 'light' are, of course, mere descriptions of the higher 'desireless states' that the humanist William James sought to explore and understand, as opposed to the instinctive, near-animalistic appetite of 'desires' which Watson sought create and whet through modern Madison Avenue-style advertising. Of necessity, as a wanderer on the path to a greater understanding of what and who we are, I must be at least 'inwardly religious' to appreciate the spirituality of this life and the consciousness which is a fundamental unitive principle of this universe.

Spiritual, but not 'outwardly' religious? Yes, by choice. Spiritual, yet 'inwardly' religious? Yes, of necessity.