But let's remember that the point of pursuing most consciousness altering disciplines is to have insight into things that are beyond or not readily measured by the things we are ordinarily concerned with.
By this I mean people identify with their social identities and the exigencies of making a living and coping with the world. A taste for the infinite isn't part of their makeup.
What we seem to have here is a nice example of neo-gnostic intellectual snobbery. As a sociologist I would want to know exactly what it is that distinguishes the "mystic" from the rest of the great unwashed. Perhaps you are suggesting something from the tradition of St. Augustine and John Calvin? If so, why is it that those predestined to mystic enlightenment all just happen to come from the same socio-economic set of ageing hippies, Guardian readers and nut-quiche consumers?
The gnostics made an identical differentiation between the ways of the world (which was the creation of the devil) and those of the spirit early on in the history of the Christian church, but this was pretty quickly stamped out. Im not at all surprised that a monastic religion that views the self as a human construct should lead to the revival of this type of dualism.
Just a quick examination of how we use language will expose the falsity of this. Take the expression "I am conscious of the hum of the fan on my computer". The only difference between this experience and what Shear, Forman and others call the "pure consciousness event" is the absence of the hum of the fan in the latter case. It's the same consciousness, just without content. Why the big-deal mystic dualism?
the significant thing, it seems to me, is one of the overall functional and affective significance as measured in terms of the things we are ordinarily concerned with.
I would like to support Jonathan's claim that there is an unbroken continuum between those things that we value highly (both intuitively and culturally) and the full development of these qualities in the state of enlightenment. Again just look at how we use language. The phrase "she has a graceful demeanour" is derived from the Christian "state of grace". Even though the use of the term in common parlance is highly debased from its original form, the continuum is still plain to see.
The view which came to predominate over the gnostics within the early church was that there was, ultimately, only one form of energy that impelled all desire, be it the ascetic goals of St. Anthony in the desert, or the more worldly impulses that he renounced. According to St. Maximus the Confessor, God produces in creatures the love which makes them tend towards Himself, that He draws them to Him, 'desiring to be desired and loving to be loved'. However, as our attention is directed outward to creation, this yearning for union with the infinite becomes limited and attached to external objects through the agency of the senses and becomes a specific desire. Desire then gives rise to action, and the action creates an impression in the nervous system which then becomes the seed for further desire. Once on the treadmill of desire-action-impression-desire, one is in bondage to desire, and that divinizing impulse becomes cramped and frustrated -- no object is capable of fulfilling that thirst for the infinite.
The essential point is that there is only one energy -- all the mystic does is to redirect this within. The difficult task of religion is somehow to balance this with the need to live through the senses in the world. If Freud was right about anything it was to do with the alternative ways of expressing a single form of energy. His error was to assume that the energy was fundamentally sexual in nature.
This may be going off on a tangent but I've been wondering for awhile now about the discussion on this list about pure consc., etc., and Sutherland's insistence on keeping the G word out of it. It seems like there's a strategy of discourse in which the pure consc. experience is to be separated from its traditions, its more sensational cousins (samadhi, etc.) and the G word. Keith's remark awhile back that the PC experience is just akin to an active movie projector without celluloid is an example. Are you trying to demystify mysticism? Is this a technique to make mysticism more palatable to the "hard" sciences of consciousness? I'm just curious.
Nicely put Rick. The use of terms like the PCE is partly a tip of the hat in the direction of the prevailing zeitgeist. But there's more to it. The term PCE is quite innocent: "a state of awareness without content". Many people have reported such experiences across different traditions, but as soon as you try and put them into a theoretical context then the arguments start: Self, no-self, nirvana, God, momentary temporal lobe seizure etc.
Despite my earlier comments on Patristic theology, I would vote to keep the G word out of the debate. The trouble with the G-word is it is mostly associated with dogma canonical wisdom or born-again junk and it's more interesting to talk about experience. [In case anyone feels this is just my prejudice, I should say I'm a practicing Anglo-Catholic, I attend Gregorian Vespers and hesychia twice a week, nerdy hymns on Sundays etc.] But I would also vote to cut out other, more secularised, dogmas (as you may just have noticed in my earlier posts!)
Just out of interest, Peter Russell tries to ground debate on the G-word in an experiential context on his site
To add a little light rather than heat here, being among the "great unwashed" myself, I would suggest Keith is looking at the extremes of a continuum, those publicly identified as "mystics" and those who have no interest in or hostility toward the area. Reality is not so simple, as there is a large and quite important middle ground where most of us live.
At the risk of overgeneralizing, perhaps this bifurcation is something particularly British? I've noticed over the years in reading New Scientist, e.g., that discussions under the general heading of "religion" or "spiritual" are usually much narrower and often quite emotional writings about a particularly narrow version of Christianity which seems to have been quite offensive to many British intellectuals, not about the actual range of human experiences that could be put under the term "spiritual." If my sociology is off, please pass on to the substantive part of the rest of this post without getting stuck here.
For years I have advocated the importance of distinguishing the actual human experiences that have been the well-springs of religious feeling and thought versus the dogmatized, bureaucratized social structures that grow up around them, the primary "spiritual" as opposed to the socially "religious" dimension. Alas, most people run the terms spiritual and religious together in their minds, so years ago I and others created and promoted the more neutral (too new to have acquired much baggage) term "transpersonal" to refer to these experiences. This covers the whole spectrum of people who have such transpersonal experiences, not just the extremes. Perhaps it would help to clarify future discussions if I shared the definition of the term transpersonal that now appears in the catalog of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology:
Transpersonal psychology is a fundamental area of research, scholarship and application based on people's experiences of temporarily transcending our usual identification with our limited biological, historical, cultural and personal self and, at the deepest and most profound levels of experience possible, recognizing/being "something" of vast intelligence and compassion that encompasses/is the entire universe. From this perspective our ordinary, "normal" biological, historical, cultural and personal self is seen as an important, but quite partial (and often pathologically distorted) manifestation or expression of this much greater "something" that is our deeper origin and destination.
We are forced to use imprecise terms like "something" because ordinary language, as a partial manifestation of our ordinary self, which is itself a partial manifestation of our deeper transpersonal "self," is of only partial use in our research and practice in transpersonal psychology, and needs to be supplemented with other expressive and communicative modalities.
Transpersonal experiences generally have a profoundly transforming effect on the lives of those who experience them, both inspiring those experiencers with an understanding of great love, compassion and non-ordinary kinds of intelligence, and also making them more aware of the distorting and pathological limitations of their ordinary selves that must be worked with and transformed for full psychological and spiritual maturity.
Because people ordinarily identify primarily with the personal, which tends to separate us, rather than with the transpersonal, which experientially impresses us with our fundamental unity and oneness with each other and all life, intelligent knowledge of and/or contact with the transpersonal can thus be of great potential value in solving the problems of a world divided against itself.
Conventional scholarly disciplines and activities are thus subsets of the general transpersonal perspective, important and useful in themselves, but limited. Transpersonal psychology, as both an area of scholarly and scientific study and as an area of therapeutically applied discipline, is one of these subsets, focused on the psychological factors that either facilitate or inhibit contact with and understanding of the transpersonal and the effects of transpersonal experiences on the rest of life. Transpersonal psychology draws knowledge and practices from mainstream psychology, anthropology, history, sociology and other disciplines when helpful and needed, and tries to understand them from the more inclusive transpersonal perspective.
[This brief definition of the transpersonal area was composed by Charles T. Tart in consultation with the faculty of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, March 13, 1995]
Naturally people can misuse this definition and play all sorts of games around the area of the mystical, but there are some profound experiences that happen to people and greatly influence their lives. Our job as scientists and scholars interested in the area is to recognize and describe what actually happens to people before the theologians and dogmatists (whether of a "religious" or "materialist" bent) bury the actual experiences under concepts and emotional conditioning, and then relate what's been found to the rest of human knowledge. As a field, transpersonal psychology is still quite young (and sometimes foolish and arrogant, as the young often are), but a start has been made. So on this list can we also be careful to separate data from theory, what actually happens from what we would like to believe about it?
Ignoring the rhetorical heat, I would suggest that a hunger for or an ability to have transpersonal experiences (see C. Tart [above]) are like many other human attributes i.e., they follow a measurable statistical distribution that has a long tail signifying the presence of extraordinary individuals who exemplify the characteristic of interest.
Let's first separate the having of mystical experience from seeking it. My assumption is that these experiences are empirically rare. Let me make an assertion that perhaps a list member could shoot down or confirm: the frequency of mystical experiences in modern populations is less than the frequency of bipolar depression or the paraphilias. Whether I'm a snob or not has nothing to do with the validity of this claim.
Let's examine the seeking of transpersonal experience. What I meant in the quote above is that I think only a small percentage of moderns feel a calling to follow spiritual (read: consciousness altering) disciplines. My hunch is that higher states of consciousness are achievable in *normal* brains but most people do not pursue the ability because they are distracted, caught up, identified, etc. with their inherited/constructed socially oriented identities. I certainly do not believe that special people are elected by a supernatural agency to pursue and achieve these states. I also doubt if the biological potential for these states somehow motivates individuals to pursue them; i.e. a desire for higher consc. is not a goal-seeking drive like hunger or sex. And, to address what I think J. Shear was originally getting at, I'm skeptical that an atman or ground of being in which our personal identities are embedded somehow informs, nudges, or directs the workings of our discursive *self*.
As a sociologist I would want to know exactly what it is that distinguishes the "mystic" from the rest of the great unwashed.
If the discussion on this list is any indication, not only sociologists want to know what distinguishes these individuals from the rest of us, but psychologists, neurologists, physicists and even economists like me are interested.
KS's response had much that was food for thought but I'm out of time. Discussion of dualism will have to wait. Thanks for the word *hesychia*.
"We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I shall be glad of another death."
Let's first separate the having of mystical experience from seeking it. My assumption is that these experiences are empirically rare.
Robert Forman (private message):
In David Hay's book, *Religious Experience Today*, we have the following data. According to Morgan Research, the Australian associate of Gallup, 44% have had religious experiences. In 1985, according to Gallup, 43% of USA have, and in Britain some 33% have. Numbers change slightly in other research, though most remain above 33% or so. Princeton Religious Research center finds 35% in 1978, and Hay and Morisy in '78 find 36% of respondents.
Aha (the dualists say), I'm not talking about the common-or-garden religious experiences of the hoipolloi, I'm talking Mystical Transpersonal Experiences -- The Real Thing.
What I would like to know is where do you draw the line? It would seem to me to be quite arbitrary. Let me give you an example. I would imagine that 25-30 years practice counts me as a "seasoned" meditator. A couple of years ago I started attending Vespers at a little Russian Orthodox church. Just shutting my eyes and drinking in the chant, I would soon achieve an experience just as profound as any meditation state. Yet Orthodox refuse to use words like meditation or contemplation and are even distrustful of the word "spirituality". They are quite content to talk about prayer.
Or, again, where would you draw the line between the selfless devotion of a mother for her child and that of St. John of the Cross? They both seem to me to be illustrations of the same divinizing impulse.
Let's examine the seeking of transpersonal experience. What I meant in the quote above is that I think only a small percentage of moderns feel a calling to follow spiritual (read: consciousness altering) disciplines.
This equation of spirituality with the seeking of experiences of any kind is a dreadful corruption of the sort of life that we are exhorted to live. I have a hunch its much more to do with old fashioned concepts like duty, devotion and service than the transpersonal narcissism that has come to characterize the new age.
Thanks for the word hesychia
Greek for stillness or 'sweet repose'.