“Wind” by Andrew Wyeth
For many people, the idea of being “near death,” is one they would rather not contemplate, but as anyone who has survived an accidental or unintentional brush with death can tell you, suddenly finding yourself at the edge of such a possibility tends to narrow your focus sharply on whatever action might be possible to prevent it. Our instinct for self-preservation–our natural tendency to step back from the edge of a precipice–is completely reasonable in view of our interest in staying alive. We value our lives most notably as a result of being accustomed to waking up and living it everyday, but philosophically speaking, we resist contemplating the idea of our own demise since we are so uncertain intellectually as to what might be awaiting us when the inevitable moment arrives.
Those who have a strong background in any of the numerous religious faiths generally take solace in their beliefs of an afterlife, and there are many different explanations and theories which address such issues for those who take a more secular approach to understanding the world, but no matter what background we come from we still most often want our temporal lives to continue without having to consider too often what might transpire once we reach the limit of our abilities to sustain life, whatever the reason. We all hope that we can “grow old gracefully,” and can suffer greatly when those we love perish for any reason. My own recent experience of the loss of my beloved brother was heart-wrenching in the extreme, even knowing well in advance that the moment was approaching. At the memorial, I spoke of his journey through his temporal life, as well as the continuation into the next life–eternal life.
Such reassurances are not of much comfort to those who profess disbelief in any sort of continuation of existence once the temporal portion of life ends. Dr. Eben Alexander was one such person. He had been an academic neurosurgeon for more than twenty years, and trained in some of the most elite medical institutions in the world, including Harvard Medical School. A dedicated scientist and surgeon, Dr. Alexander had operated on more than a thousand brains, and cared for many different patients in dire circumstances. His knowledge of the workings of the human brain extended well beyond the point of hoping for miracles for his patients. All that changed when the good doctor suddenly found himself near death from a life-threatening illness.
His recently published book, “Proof of Heaven,” is the story of his life and death struggle with a rare form of bacterial meningitis, which severely compromised his own brain, putting him in a deep coma for seven days, and how it changed everything he supposed he knew about life and death. The story of his life prior to the coma, and of his survival and recovery, would be startling and nearly miraculous all by itself. Against all odds, he not only survived the devastating effects of the normally fatal strain of meningitis, but made a full recovery which permitted him to eventually resume his life as a neurosurgeon. His case was apparently unprecedented in numerous ways in medical terms, but when Dr. Alexander awoke after seven days, the story he had to tell went way beyond the particulars of his medical condition and his former life.
Near Death Experiences have recently received much closer attention by the scientific community, but as Eben Alexander acknowledged himself, prior to experiencing one first-hand as he lay in a deep coma, he was always sympathetic to his patients who told him of such events, but he never really gave them much thought, and like many scientists, he felt there was some more logical or prosaic explanation that would eventually be revealed through scientific research.
The book reports in great detail the doctor’s elaborate and fantastic near death experience as it unfolded. While the author’s body and brain approached what was quickly becoming the point of no return, Dr. Alexander the neurosurgeon was touring eternity, and with no awareness of his identity as a person, he describes being given the opportunity to learn about an existence beyond experience. Whereas most N.D.E.’s occur with the individual being aware of who they are, and who report meeting individuals they recognize on “the other side,” due to his acute brain infection, Dr. Alexander’s neocortex was completely “offline,” and none of the most often cited scientific explanations for such experiences could be applied to his circumstances. Without access to the neocortex, not even dreams or hallucinations are possible. This time, there was no way to explain.
I can wholeheartedly recommend this book, even to those who may already have decided that such things are not possible. With the powerful authority of a highly respected neuroscientist, Dr. Alexander holds up his experience to a remarkably thorough scientific scrutiny, and nearly abandoned his own belief in the experience, until after an exhaustive examination of the facts that led him to a startling conclusion. Even the most skeptical reader will find it enormously compelling reading.
As I write, Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on the East Coast of the US, and is expected to make landfall plus or minus 50 miles from our home. We have spent most of the day in preparation for punishing winds, torrential rain, and possible flooding. The storm is approximately 900 miles wide and will affect everyone from Virginia to Massachusetts according to the latest reports. My workplace called to say that we will be shutting down our facility tonight and not to report until we get clearance from local authorities. We are told to expect to lose our electric power as the storm hits sometime in the morning, so I thought I would try to post something while the internet is still available.
The image above is a satellite image of the storm from space, and it shows that this storm clearly is enormous. We have our battery-powered lanterns ready, plus two that are recharging from the camping supplies. We stocked up on some additional bags of ice and have followed all the suggestions for securing all loose items outside and put everything up higher that might otherwise get wet if there is flooding. While all of these considerations are important and have occupied my time for most of the day, all along the way, and certainly now as we can only sit and wait, my thoughts have turned once again to recovery and hope.
Jean Le Capelain (St. Helier 1812-1848)
Fishing boats at anchor and weathering the storm
With the impending storm outside approaching as I write, I couldn’t help but think of how the past few weeks seemed very much like weathering a storm of a different sort. The emotional and spiritual upheaval of the past few weeks as I tended to my brother’s care, knowing full well that the height of that storm was very near, now gives me a sense of calm, even in the face of a serious “superstorm” on the way. By morning, the winds are expected to reach sustained speeds of 50 mph, with gusts as much as 70 mph. The eye of the hurricane, if it continues to follow the predicted path, will pass very nearly directly over us, with a plus or minus 50 mile leeway. Torrential rains, flooding, and widespread power outages will combine to make “weathering the storm,” more than just a catch phrase.
As is my habit, during times when the situation gets stormy, I generally turn to reading when the power goes out. I’ve been considering what I might read and was delighted to come across a passage from Emerson that seemed to fit the circumstances:
“The wise man in a storm prays God not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear. It is the storm within which endangers him, not the storm without.”
By comparison, even this “superstorm” that approaches as I type at my desk feels less daunting than the storm within me, as I contemplate the loss of my dear brother. With all the advantages of being close over the years, and right up to his last days, the implications of the storm within confirm Emerson’s insight.
As I consider what has been lost, even the trials of a hurricane seem far less urgent than the stirrings within me. The resolution lies somewhere in the maelstrom of consciousness, and shines through the darkness occasionally. It flashes before me in brief and startling snippets, as well as in more subtle moments which are no easier to comprehend. Out of nowhere, I am alerted to the possibility that the answer might be in my grasp. In those moments….hope lives on.
…..more to come…..
The cherries in the bowl above were picked just outside the kitchen window in the back of my apartment in Germany years ago, but for me they have come to symbolize a great deal more than just a pleasing subject for photography. It was during this period of my life that I truly began to open to the world within me, and as I look back now, I can appreciate more fully the true importance of this beginning. While serving as an intelligence specialist in the sleepy little town of Kaiserslautern, I began a series of writings, originally intended to document my experiences during the course of my service in Europe. As the writing progressed, an awareness of the profound changes and events that were shaping my personal life prompted me to examine more closely the “why” of what was happening to me. This concern led not only to a more in-depth analysis of my inner experience, but was also responsible for influencing my interactions with those closest to me.
Having spent most of my tenure with the military in a variety of barracks and military housing, as a senior analyst in my section, I finally became eligible for housing off-base. This arrangement turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences of my service, and I was determined to make the best possible use out of the time. On a quiet street in the suburbs, I was surrounded by the native citizens, and as a German linguist, I was able to communicate well with my landlord and my neighbors. When I would return home at the end of the day, along the short walk from the bus stop, I would often find myself engaged in conversations right out on the street, as many of my neighbors would be leaning out of their front windows and say hello. My presence there was a novelty at first, but when it became apparent that I could converse reasonably well in German, it eventually became an accepted part of life in my neighborhood.
About that same time, a burgeoning interest in 35mm photography had begun to bear fruit (pun intended). With much the same enthusiasm which was manifested in my writing, it was not altogether surprising that my photographs began to reflect the growth and development characterized in the writings. The view out the kitchen window was spectacular when the cherry tree was in full bloom, and I enjoyed many hours in my kitchen, in a variety of ways.
Normally, there’s nothing quite as isolating as the solitude which can result from living alone in a strange city, but in this case, it seemed only to provide just the right degree of solitude as I needed it, and offered plentiful opportunities for socializing and a sense of community as well. The cherries were a little tart, but absolutely stunning in their redness and ripeness as the photo reveals.
There were quiet mornings in the kitchen with my favorite music, and freshly ground German coffee that accompanied me in my moments of solitude, and I doubt seriously if I ever enjoyed morning coffee quite as much as I did while residing there. Writing became an essential aspect of my days, and on this particular morning, after settling down on a rare day off, I decided to attempt to write about what was weighing on my mind and living inside my heart:
“My awareness of a higher level of consciousness becoming available to me has brought me to sense an awakening to a world I can scarcely believe exists within me. My entire being seems to be undergoing a transformation. Although it is subtle in nature, it creeps up on me silently, occasionally stirring me gently into a state of heightened awareness, but still seeming to assimilate itself into my daily waking state. I have become more contemplative, reflecting more often on what is transpiring within me. Urgent matters which used to occupy my mind seem less significant, and every thought becomes a candidate for reevaluation. Though not obsessive, I balance each effort with concern for how it might assist me in achieving an even greater level of consciousness, and in doing so, I continually encounter a curious resistance, as these evaluations often conflict with some of my long-standing attitudes and beliefs.”
After a long day of duty, I would often return home and spend some time after dinner reading and writing in my living room. Living in the United States had always seemed easier by comparison to living overseas. There were no concerns about finding the right way to say what I was thinking, and my familiarity with life in America made me take so much for granted. In Germany, the circumstances were quite different. My knowledge of the language and the culture in which I was living in was very helpful, and it took me some time to really become comfortable sharing my familiarity, but I enjoyed a much more receptive attitude in my interactions whenever I did.
One of my favorite rooms in the apartment was the little greenhouse porch that led out to the back of the apartment where the cherry tree stood. A narrow hallway led to a brightly lit space filled with a variety of plants and flowers that constantly changed throughout the year. I would occasionally tend to the plants when the landlord was away, and enjoyed standing there surrounded by green leaves and colorful plants with the sun streaming through. It was as nearly perfect a place as I could have hoped for, and when I stop to think of all the places I’ve been, this little corner of Germany is near the top of the list.
Living in Germany was one of the most well documented phases of my life, and it was there that many of my documentary habits were formed. The time spent overseas was a bonanza for my writing, and I spent much of the available time I had recording my thoughts and feelings and emotions in a way that led to years of growth and expansion of my skills in expressing them. In the days to come, I hope to share some of those early efforts in my struggle to make sense out of what has been transpiring within me all these years. I hope you will all follow along with me as I explore the path once more.
….more to come….
“We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not love. Love is a mode of knowledge…” Aldous Huxley
The Secret Bench of Knowledge – A sculpture by Czech-born Canadian sculptor Lea Vivot – image from Vlastula’s photo-stream on Flickr
The image above caught my eye and my heart as I contemplated the subject of the title of this post. It is a sculpture of two young people who appear to be seated in front of the National Library of Canada building in Ottawa, who seem very much to have a love interest of some sort, and the young man is holding an apple, suggesting a reference to the original apple from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Huxley’s claim that we can only love what we know, resonated for me personally, as I recently began to contemplate just why it is that I feel the way I do about such connections of both knowing and loving. Aldous Huxley is considered by many to be the original author of a very particular idea, called “The Perennial Philosophy.
According to the article in Wikipedia, “The Perennial Philosophy” is essentially an anthology of short passages taken from traditional Eastern texts and the writings of Western mystics, organized by subject and topic, with short connecting commentaries. In my edition of the “Bhagavad-Gita,” which is “a 700–verse Hindu scripture that is part of the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata,” Aldous Huxley wrote the introduction, and outlined the four fundamental doctrines of perennial philosophy:
1. The phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness–the world of things and animals and men and even gods–is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be non-existent.
2. Human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the know-er with that which is known.
3. Man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.
4. Man’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground.
Regardless of whatever cultural or spiritual influences we are exposed to during our lifetime, even if the subject of a spiritual component to life never comes up at all in our education, at some point, there will be an experience of unbridled joy or terror, a traumatic event, a brush with death, a profound and lasting impression from any number of joyful or sorrowful experiences, and depending on our level of intuitive inclinations, we begin to suspect that there may be something more to life than just what our senses and brains reveal to us.
Our human mind and brain are inextricably linked by both biology and psychology. Our species was able to expand and develop our access to consciousness from a merely functional level to one which now allows us to project our thoughts far beyond the physical or primal mindset of ancient times. At some point, human beings (hominids) crossed over a threshold from primal instinct and the necessities of survival, to self awareness and introspection. The capacity for self awareness by itself was only enough to begin the process of developing a fuller access to a comprehensive experiential awareness.
In his book, “The Neanderthal’s Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers,” Juan Luis Arsuaga, a professor in the Paleontology Department of the Faculty of Geological Sciences at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, points out that our ancestors (modern humans) coexisted with Neanderthals for at least 10,000 years. While archeological evidence points to Neanderthals demonstrating rudimentary tool-making and burying their dead in caves, “so far, no one has presented any definitive proof of ritual or other symbolic behavior before the time of Cro-Magnon in the Upper Paleolithic.” The reasons for their apparent deficiencies in cognitive skills were at least “partly demographic,” as their group size was too small to develop a “full cultural identity,” and partly because of “their lack of fully developed syntactical language.”
Access to a fully developed consciousness, seems to require the ability to “transcend” the awareness of our physical environment, as well as to be able to make a firm connection between physical reality and the many abstractions which are represented in the tangible manifestations of those ideas and concepts. Modern Homo sapiens were simply the first to be able to exploit their cognitive and social capacities, and the evidence seems to point to a “dramatic genetic change in brain function,” that gave modern humans the edge.
As the ancient cave paintings in Lascaux, France and elsewhere show, even our earliest Cro-Magnon ancestors, while conscious enough to report their experiences in cave paintings, were not able to fully express their consciousness, and only beginning to be introspective. These early humans were concerned with the most compelling of their experiences, and felt the need to express them in a demonstrative way. Their ability to create images from their experiences and attribute meaning to those symbolic images, was a quantum leap that began the unfolding of our access to ever-increasing levels of consciousness.
The uncertainty of what we are able to conclude at this point is sufficient to leave the door open to the idea of an “inner evolution;” a dramatic change in the attainment of increasingly higher levels of access to consciousness over thousands of years, and to other more complex notions of what might constitute a spiritual capacity within us which supports and provides essential input to the unraveling mystery that is life.
© 2012 Etsy, Inc.
…..more to come…
Life is funny—sometimes—and at other times it can be—unbearable. There’s really no way to be sure just how it’s all going to turn out, but one thing is for sure—you’re probably not going to get far as a guy in a giant dollar sign suit. Success in life might even require a healthy dose of maddening chaos combined with the stark realization of just how much you’ve messed it all up to bring you around. You might even have to suffer through the loss of someone you knew—someone you didn’t treat very well in life—before you realize what truly matters. That’s how it was for Charley Schwartz, anyway.
Marc Schuster has written a compelling and comically tragic story about a man who has to face the hard truths about his life, his friends, and his future. He might not have even noticed his inexorable trajectory toward the creeping sinkhole of failure, if it hadn’t been for the suicide of someone who went to the same school as he did years before. Anyone who ever attended Catholic high school or any school named after a saint can relate to what Charley Schwartz was going through, and belongs to a kind of fraternity or sorority alumni that inevitably finds you and asks for money. But this story is just a little too close for comfort in my case.
I spent my high school days at Monsignor Bonner High School in Pennsylvania. Our motto was, “Purity, Integrity, and Loyalty,” and at the top of the symbol is a reference to the Latin phrase, “Noverim me, noverim te. –The two parts explain one another: one cannot know God without reference to oneself and one cannot know oneself without reference to God.” This relates back to the Augustinian Friars who taught at the school for fifty-six years, four of which included my high school years. Not only could I relate to Charley as someone struggling to find himself through his years after attending the “Academy,” but we also had to face the suicide of one of our own some years later.
Fortunately, in my case, I wasn’t the one with memories of treating people poorly. Unfortunately, I was the one on the receiving end of that arrangement. I was the creative sort; a bit geeky, loved writing and the Arts and Theater. I never seemed to fit in with any of the kinds of characters in the Grievers, but I knew them all, and Marc Schuster has done a damn fine job of evoking the memories and flashbacks that made me feel like I was there all over again. While reading this gem of a novel, I laughed a lot even though my experience was nowhere near as humorous as Charley Schwartz’s. I even went back into the archives and dug up this photo from the yearbook, which shows that I actually succeeded at something.
Our school had a literary magazine called, “The New Spectator,” and they let me write the little blurb in the yearbook that went along with the photo. As a senior, I finally made something happen. Go figure.
The last three chapters really grabbed me. They bring together all the craziness and wisecracks and sadness, and build up to a nail biting car chase scene worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster, and it concludes with such poignancy and satisfaction for the reader, that I actually kind of wish Marc hadn’t ended it right there. I found myself cheering for Charley, and wanting to know just how he would turn all that madness into a future.
A delight to read and filled with such a variety of characters and so many moments of just plain craziness, that you almost want to reach through the book and grab Charley by the shoulders and shake him. What is he doing hanging around with all these crazy people? When I got to the part where Charley gets up to speak at the memorial service, I actually had to stop for a minute. It is quite a moment, and worth a long, hard look for anyone who is grieving.
I had the opportunity to meet Marc and his lovely wife, Kerri, and I couldn’t shake the image of the two of them the whole time I was reading. Marc is a great deal more accomplished than Charley, and I’m sure Kerri is probably different than Charley’s wife, Karen in the story, but it seems to me that Karen was the only sane part of Charley’s life, and Kerri impressed me as the sane one too.
I recommend this book wholeheartedly, and hope for much continued success for Marc in his sometimes funny life.
Have you ever found yourself wondering why the world is the way it is, or why you sometimes feel completely at ease with your life and, at other times, completely confused about everything? Have you ever marveled at a spectacular sunset or felt exuberant for no particular reason and wondered why? These and other similar questions could very well have resulted with an unintended brush with philosophy.
Although the very mention of the word can be intimidating for some, (from the Greek philos-loving + sophos- wise – love of wisdom or knowledge) we all have had thoughts, ideas, and questions that are directly probed by philosophy. Should we be content and never wonder? Should we merely accept our lives and our world just as they are? Should we simply abandon the search for knowledge if it requires speculative thought?
The question of what matters in our lives is largely a matter of individual prerogative. For some of us, there are very few matters that are of consequence in life, and to others, the world and their lives are overflowing with concerns that require serious contemplation. But there is much more to our existence than simply being alive, and there are also limits as to how much we can resolve in a lifetime. Somewhere between disinterest and obsession lies philosophy.
The fact that we do exist infers that something caused us to exist. We did not decide, “Today, I will exist!” Modern science has been able to determine, with a reasonable degree of certainty, an explanation of the evolution of life on this planet, and most scientists generally agree on the basic concepts of physics that explain the development of the universe itself. Anyone with basic intelligence and reasonably functional senses can acknowledge themselves (self-awareness), observe the world around them (sense perception), and with good cause conclude that they exist (cognition). Rene Descartes (1596-1650), the French scientist and philosopher, expressed this idea in the now famous quote, “Cogito ergo sum, — I think, therefore, I am.” The true nature of that existence, and any conclusions that can be drawn from our study of it, constitute some of the central issues of philosophy.
As a species, our continued existence can arguably be attributed to our ability to think and to be self-aware, combined with our other inherited natural endowments for survival. When threatened with death, our natural inclination is to at least try to survive. The philosophical question, “Why?” is a natural one for any thinking person, and typically one of the first that we ask as children. The search for the answer is fundamental to our nature as human beings. Recent advancements in the scientific realm have raised other important philosophical questions. The discovery that our universe had a beginning called “The Big Bang,” immediately suggests the question, “What caused it?” Thus far, we have been unable to uncover the cause empirically, and it may be that the answer lies beyond the reach of science. Once we venture outside of empirical methodology, we enter the realm of speculative thinking and philosophy.
There are many other less profound questions from everyday life that can lead to this same kind of thinking. Unfamiliarity with the subject or reluctance to attempt an examination of it because of not knowing where to begin prevents many people from enjoying the benefits of philosophizing. In order to prepare to investigate philosophy, it is a good idea to establish a few ground rules that will make it easier to avoid some of the common problems associated with its speculative nature. In his book, “A Preface to Philosophy,” author Mark Woodhouse provides some very helpful suggestions for anyone who is interested in philosophy but is unsure where to start. He offers four basic traits for a good foundation:
1. The courage to examine one’s cherished beliefs critically – This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for some people to overcome. We seldom challenge our beliefs on our own, but rather only when challenged by someone else. By initiating the examination on our own, we avoid becoming defensive or feeling criticized.
2. The willingness to advance or assume a tentative hypothesis and react to a philosophical claim no matter how foolish that reaction might seem – In order to appreciate and understand a philosophical argument, it is sometimes necessary to suppose that a particular claim were true. Then, ask yourself some questions and consider the consequences as if it were factual.
3. A desire to place the search for truth above the winning of a debate – The goal of any philosophic discussion should always be, above all, a search for the truth, not a competition among the participants to see who can demolish the arguments of the others.
4. The ability to separate one’s personality from the discussion content – Philosophic statements and discussion can sometimes cause emotional reactions due to the nature of the subjects that arise in conversation. If you can stick to the subject and judge statements on their merit alone, discussion will be more productive.
There are very few people who can produce grand theories in philosophy even after years of study. Even though you may have no previous background or formal training, your thoughts are no less valid or important. Philosophy is not some mysterious, ancient voodoo ritual. It is a common, everyday investigation of questions and issues that we all have thought about at one time or another. Although you may not have had an interest in the subject generally, you may be surprised to discover that some of the famous philosophers through history have spent years studying questions that you have also pondered. Many people do not even recognize philosophical thinking when they engage in it. It can begin with wondering if something is moral or ethical, and progress to something as complex as life after death or the nature of reality. Everyone inevitably ends up struggling with some philosophical issue, and if you can allow yourself to wonder, you can arrive at philosophy.
Rising early this morning, feeling a twinge of sadness for some reason, I decided to attempt to penetrate the haze in my mind and attend to something productive anyway. I shuffled off to the kitchen, barely able to see, and started the morning routine of filling the coffee pot. It struck me as I did so that I had done this so often now, it had become nearly automatic. Yet, it still requires my immediate attention and concentration, even though it is at a reasonably minimal level. Once the chamber had been filled with water, and the coffee in the filter had been placed in its holder, I pressed the button on the front and set the carafe on the hot plate below the dripping stream of coffee. Occasionally, the coffee would drip too slowly at first and be siphoned off its normal path causing havoc, but this morning it went well and I decided to consider it a good sign.
Next on the list of essential matters was the consumption of six hundred milligrams of ibuprofen, which I washed down with my breakfast drink, hoping to mitigate the aching in my body, although even as I consumed the analgesic I knew that the ache in my heart and soul was far more formidable, and far less likely to be susceptible to the effects of the ibuprofen, but there was no pill I could take for that.
Instead, I decided to continue the review of my journals from the past few years, in order to assist me in formalizing my current thoughts to include a degree of perspective that current wisdom seems to fall short on. As is sometimes the case, every so often I come across an entry that stimulates my heart and mind in a way that surprises me. One such passage spoke first to how I felt strongly that my reading was guiding me toward some revelation in my investigations, and a second which included my report of an intuition that dreams were more than synaptic firing in the brain, but rather:
“An interaction of the physical structure of the brain with a non-experiential reality only accessible through what we describe as the subconscious…physically manifested symptoms of a transcendent energy flow.”
I go on to suggest that while dreaming, an individual may be “transitioning” to “non-experiential states,” and the energy within the transitional field may be required to flow through “the buffer of the subconscious,” since our daily waking consciousness cannot assimilate it directly. Jung spoke often of assimilating unconscious contents:
“In the process of individuation, the heroic task is to assimilate unconscious contents as opposed to being overwhelmed by them. The potential result is the release of energy that has been tied up with unconscious complexes.”–excerpt from JUNG LEXICON: A Primer of Terms & Concepts by Daryl Sharp
It’s clear to me now, as I read through these entries that I have been exploring these ideas as a means to arrive at some understanding and greater appreciation of my own experiential reality, which has always felt more like a manifestation of a much more complex symbiosis.
A recent exchange with several prominent thinkers in the world at large brought at least an acknowledgement of my existence, but the larger issue of a meaningful exchange between people of widely different viewpoints remains a difficult proposition. Scientists in particular have to consider what might happen to their reputation and status amongst their peers if they suddenly appeared sympathetic to individuals pondering explanations rooted in any sort of “mystical” or “metaphysical” realm. While many such thinkers who actually ARE willing to consider ideas of this sort, who are sincere and disciplined in their areas of study, and who propose ideas rooted in scholarly pursuits, any suggestion that consciousness might have essential components or aspects beyond the reach of science, or which even suggest a source or possible causal link to anything beyond the temporal boundaries of mind and brain, are generally met with either stoic silence or superficially polite acknowledgement.
There is one exceptional scientist in our 21st century who has repeatedly taken bold steps to counter this persistent resistance. His name is Rupert Sheldrake, and I have had the good fortune to encounter several of his most important contributions to the broadening of our scientific worldview over the years, but my recent encounter with his latest book, “The Science Delusion,” has given me even greater respect for his incomparable talent for arguing in favor of loosening the constrictions of modern day scientific dogma. In this brief excerpt from an article he wrote describing his book on the Cygnus Books website, he captures the essential theme of his book:
“In The Science Delusion, I argue that science is being held back by centuries-old assumptions that have hardened into dogmas. The biggest delusion of all is that science already knows the answers. The details still need working out, but the fundamental questions are settled, in principle.
Contemporary science is based on the philosophy of materialism, which claims that all reality is material or physical. There is no reality but material reality. Consciousness is a by-product of the physical activity of the brain. Matter is unconscious. Evolution is purposeless. God exists only as an idea in human minds, and hence in human heads.
These beliefs are powerful not because most scientists think about them critically, but because they don’t. The facts of science are real enough, and so are the techniques that scientists use, and so are the technologies based on them. But the belief system that governs conventional scientific thinking is an act of faith, grounded in a nineteenth century ideology.” – © 2011 Rupert Sheldrake
Many of the empirically-minded thinkers will emphasize the limited usefulness of ideas that are not testable by experiment, validated by proofs, or verified through examination of brain activity using the latest scanning technologies of neuroscience. What has always struck me about this approach is how little consideration is given to actually “thinking” about what all the experiments, proofs, and examinations which do take place are ultimately revealing. The implications of nearly every scientific undertaking infer that there are layers to our existence in the temporal world. (Existence is stratified!)
(Image credit: CERN / Lucas Taylor, via simulation.)
There are a great many phenomena contributing to our experience of the world, and many of them are not observable except through extremely sophisticated methodology which often only infers the results of the experiments which produce them. We must descend through nearly invisible layers of matter to determine the molecular structure of the elements. Our most cutting-edge technologies in physics have revealed the theoretical existence of particles or wave structures so far below the perceptual limits of our senses, that it defies the limits of credulity for most observers to suggest that we could do more than infer their existence.
Since the beginning of my process of documenting my journey of discovery and enrichment of my inner world, my journals have gradually included many more empirical sources, and I have been giving serious consideration to the viewpoints of those who do not necessarily share my enthusiasm for inclusion of elements that are currently outside of empirical scrutiny. Many of the entries are directly related to my ongoing research to come to terms with the ineffable nature of human consciousness, but occasionally portions of my personal life and side trips through interesting books and articles appear, illuminating the complex process of assimilation of the many layers that contribute to our understanding of all things.
Many thanks to http://patricemj.wordpress.com/ for including me on her list of fifteen bloggers here at WordPress.com for being…well…versatile. Dictionary.com describes the word “versatile” like this:
[vur-suh-tl or, especially Brit., -tahyl] – adjective
1. Capable of or adapted for turning easily from one to another of various tasks, fields of endeavor, etc.: e.g. – a versatile writer
Based on that description, it sounds like being versatile is a good idea, and anyone who has read Patrice’s blog knows that she is an enormously talented and versatile writer. No mystery there. Her narratives are not only superbly written, heartfelt, and passionate, but they also reveal the character of her personal humanity, which is loving and generous and compassionate. Anyone who is NOT affected by her writing is simply not paying attention.
The person who is “Patrice the Writer,” is courageous and bold and articulate and astonishingly refreshing in her unique approach–one that I aspire to emulate. “Patrice the Person,” is someone that I admire greatly and I am especially glad to share the planet with her. Patrice has been generous in her characterization of my blog as being worthy of the attention of others, and I am grateful for her support and encouragement, but I actually think she simply enjoys tormenting me, as her brothers did to her growing up. Thankfully her approach to the task does not include spit, but even without the inclusion of spit in her method, I too have developed a deep and abiding fondness for her.
There are a few conditions for this award:
1. In a post on your, blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award.
2. In the same post, Add the Versatile Blogger Award.
3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
5. In the same post, include this set of rules.
6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.
7 random things about me
1. Although you probably wouldn’t even notice me in a crowd, in small groups I seem to be taller than just about everyone. (6 ‘ 3”)
2. I lived in Germany for two years in the late 1970’s.
3. I was the biggest baby my mom had out of eight children. (middle child)
4. Camping in the forests and mountains is my favorite vacation choice.
5. When I was in high school, I fell thirty feet off of a painter’s scaffold to the wooden floor in the gymnasium while hanging decorations for a dance.
6. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I hosted a poetry discussion group on ThirdAge.com
7. When I was in college I met and conversed with Truman Capote.
These blogs all have something to offer beyond the average…Enjoy!
http://islandsontheroad.wordpress.com/ – Life and love on the road in America
http://justmarj.wordpress.com/ – In her own words, “a wanna-be writer with an offbeat personality and social skills bordering on esoteric.”
http://gideonjagged671.wordpress.com/ – Gideon Jagged is a novelist, essayist and all-round smart guy.
http://mindscienceandcreativity.wordpress.com/ – A new voice on the scene with fresh insights
http://modernartists.blogspot.com/ – A pop culture wiz with a keen sense of style
http://mooselicker.wordpress.com/ – His goal is simple, to get you to think. Whether you agree or disagree is irrelevant
http://jonelfernando.com/ – living a full life isn’t about having possessions, it’s about gaining and maintaining human connections.
http://jaggedwriter.wordpress.com/ – Striving every day to make her dreams come true, and never forgetting the dreams that got her there in the first place.
http://futuristicallyyours.com/ – a group of 26 of the brightest futures, ranging in ages from 18-29, write REVERSE self-letters, as in their future-self (their age advanced 20-30 years) writes them, their present-self reads them.
http://yellowvoices.wordpress.com/ – a woman with a passion for art currently working at the bottom of the food chain in the fashion industry.
http://fasterthanlight.me/ – Gaming, media, technology, and philosophy.
http://derekbang.wordpress.com/ – Amazing photography and a deeply spiritual philosophy
http://spl225.wordpress.com/ – Great blog about books and Libraries and everything literary
http://boggletondrive.com/ – a totally unique graphic comic blog
http://workmadeforhire.wordpress.com/ – everything you could possibly want to know about negotiating
A recent article in the New York Times, (“Decoding the Brain’s Cacophony” by Benedict Carey-Published: October 31, 2011) reports on research by Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which suggests that the functioning of our left brain hemisphere is responsible our familiar view of ourselves–an interpreter–and that what we view as our “coherent self,” is a construct of mental processes that are, in large part, unconscious:
“We are not who we think we are. We narrate our lives, shading every last detail, and even changing the script retrospectively, depending on the event, most of the time subconsciously.”
In his most recent book, “Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain,” (Ecco/HarperCollins) Dr. Gazzaniga addresses his ideas at length, and presents a strong case for resisting the urge to equate all of our behaviors and explain our humanity by “studying neural circuits:”
“Can brain science tell exactly where automatic processes end and self-directed “responsible” ones end? Not now and not likely ever, Dr. Gazzaniga argues in his book. Social constructs like good judgment and free will are even further removed, and trying to define them in terms of biological processes is, in the end, a fool’s game.”
Dr. Gazzaniga says our inclinations to be generous or loving, ruthless or responsible, are not properties of brain function, but rather a “strongly emergent” property — a property that, though derived from biological mechanisms, is fundamentally distinct and obeys different laws, as do ice and water.”
Writer Benedict Carey reports Dr. Gazzaniga’s contention that with all the benefits of research in neuroscience, the tendency to draw conclusions, particularly in a courtroom setting, may be premature:
“Brain-scanning technology is not ready for prime time in the legal system; it provides less information than people presume. Brain images are snapshots, for one thing; they capture a brain state at only one moment in time and say nothing about its function before or after. For another, the images vary widely among people with healthy brains — that is, a “high” level of activity in one person may be normal in another.”
Carl G. Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, wrote extensively about our unconscious nature, concentrating his formidable intellect in the pursuit of understanding the psyche by exploring the worlds of dreams, art, mythology, world religion and philosophy. In what may be his most important work, “Symbols of Transformation,” (from his Collective Works, Volume 5) Jung described his idea of a “collective unconscious:”
“The psyche is not of today; its ancestry goes back many millions of years. Individual consciousness is only the flower and the fruit of a season, sprung from the perennial rhizome ( perpetual root) beneath the earth; and it would find itself in better accord with the truth if it took the existence of the rhizome into its calculations. For the root matter is the mother of all things.”
Jung’s theory points to a much larger view of how our conscious awareness may rely on numerous layers of unconscious processes, whose influence and effects come through a synthesis of our cognitive functions, including sense perceptions, the process of recognition, evaluation, intuition, feelings, instincts, and even dreams, which Jung says warrant inclusion on the list:
“…because they are the most important and most obvious results of unconscious psychic processes obtruding themselves upon consciousness. The dream as such is undoubtedly a content of consciousness, otherwise it could not be an object of immediate experience. For it is the function of consciousness not only to recognize and assimilate the external world through the gateway of the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us.” – (from “The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, Collected Works, Vol. 8″)
Expanding our views of what might be contributing to our humanity through consciousness, beyond what we discover through cognitive neuroscience, as amazing and important as this work can be, requires an exploration below the surface.
Simply taking a slow, deep breath out in the woods in the Adirondack region of New York State is so near to a transcendent experience by itself that whenever I arrive there I feel confident in my ability to achieve an even more intense transcendent state with some effort and focus. When I was a young boy our family often visited the area in the late summer, and the appeal of the Adirondacks was very nearly mystical in my mind even then, although I clearly lacked a context within which I could describe it to myself in those terms. The sense of a divine nature to the natural setting, which I understood at the time as “being close to God,” now resonates in the same way, but with a much clearer adult context more than forty years later.
The ineffable nature of the subjective experience of consciousness, that richly-textured awareness of being, is so vividly present at such moments, that even as I experience my own personal consciousness in this extraordinary setting, I can barely contain myself to attempt to express it in words. As most people experience it, consciousness is mostly taken for granted, and contemplating its complexities and subtleties is hardly a concern, if ever. And yet, for me, the subject beckons me to explore it with such power, that whenever I am presented with the opportunity, my inclination is to spend every available moment in contemplation of its intricate nature and far-reaching implications.
Preparing to meet with the darkness at the campsite, as the light of day slowly recedes into the gentle evening air, I sit recording my thoughts on my laptop, almost imperceptibly sliding into a comfortable degree of both melancholy and relief, deep in the burrow of the pine forest, under the canopy of what Emerson described as the “plantations of God.” Already fully prepared to begin, I set the flames of the evening campfire in motion, parked my chair agreeably close to the fire, and settled in to release whatever might escape from within me.
For me, experiencing the campfire is almost the whole point of camping in the first place. I keep thinking of my ancient ancestors from the earliest days of human awareness, filled as I am in my time, with a sense of wonder and oneness with the natural world. While gazing intently into the fire, I seem to gaze beyond the present moment, across the eons of time to share the moment with them. Surely, some of the first truly important moments of conscious awareness in humans included such moments by the fire, even if the intention was to stay warm or to gain a sense of safety from night predators.
The waves of heat seen rippling through the white-hot embers at the core of the fire, and the fluid motion of the flames lapping along the edges of the arrangement of logs, evoked for me a heightened sense of the flow of the unseen which I felt all around me, and of which we generally only become aware through moments of transcendent awareness. Surrendering to the moment, I began to view the fire as a good metaphor for temporal life. The energy that is released as the wood burns is the energy of life, and as the wood is consumed by the fire, so too does life consume the body, though as it burns, it releases the most brilliant light.
For many of us, moments of transcendence are only possible to experience fleetingly. Flashes of insight, simultaneous thoughts occurring between two or more individuals, sudden awareness of impending danger, (most often followed by an instinctual decision to meet it head on or to avoid collision with it) empathy with a complete stranger, visions, hunches, and even hopes, all hint at our connection to something much greater than ourselves that also feels essential to our nature as living, sentient beings. The more we open ourselves to these moments–deliberately placing ourselves in the path of transcendence–the closer we come to perceiving our connection to the wider world of the spirit that animates us.
During one of my most recent journeys into the deep forest, I inadvertently left one of my books out at the campsite during the day and when I returned that evening, I realized that it must have rained in my absence and suddenly my concern for the transcendent was briefly interrupted by a fairly mundane temporal concern–drying out my reading material! It’s always good to be reminded, even in the deep forest, that we are also made of flesh and blood, and exist in the physical universe!