Tagged: Ralph Waldo Emerson

Transcendent Awareness

ImaginedWorld

“The transcendental law, Emerson believed, was the ‘moral law,’ through which man discovers the nature of God, a living spirit…The true nature of life was energetic and fluid; its transcendental unity resulted from the convergence of all forces upon the energetic truth, the heart of the moral law.” — excerpt from The American Tradition in Literature, Vol. 1, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1967

“Undoubtedly, we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his introduction to “Nature.”

With milder temperatures and the blossoming of the natural world underway, I am reminded of years past and the turmoil within me that has always accompanied the onset of Spring. Each time the Earth is in renewal, the passage of time seems more pronounced as the clearly defined changes of the season manifest all around us. All throughout Winter’s cold and extended hours of darkness, we long for the warmth and the sunshine to come. We huddle together against the cold in order to survive. When we first feel the warm Spring air blowing against our faces, and witness the plants and trees begin to sprout their leaves and blossoms, something within us also stirs. Our hearts and minds acknowledge this transformation not only by sensation, but also by intuition.

spring flowers

Somehow, I have been brought to this day and time to fulfill, what must be, some discernible purpose. My heightened sensitivity and enhanced intuitive senses since the events in Massachusetts blew the lid off my steaming pot of consciousness, and I found that I was no longer able to contain the inner struggle. It was a gradual process of unfolding, after the initial burst of energy that one Sunday afternoon, but the flow has been maintained these many years by determined effort to unravel it all. In my temporal world, it seems that life continues to plod along relentlessly. But within me, on rare occasions, particular individuals continue to evoke an awareness of powerful longings, and in several of those instances, it became clear that the consciousness within ME, was connected intimately with the consciousness of the other. It seems, in view of the existence of these intimate connections, that consciousness is a word that describes a transcendent awareness–a manifestation of a non-physical source. By this reckoning, the Universe itself must also be a physical manifestation of a non-physical source. Human consciousness must involve a transformational process through which our transcendent awareness is expressed.

dandelion

During one such experience of transcendent awareness, one connection in particular struck at the very core of my being. Although it seemed on the surface to be a formidable task to reconcile my temporal existence with this connection, I made every effort to maintain the connection, in order to convey the deeper meaning of my attention. In my previous post, I acknowledged the struggle between my heart and mind, trying to distinguish for myself the true nature of the connection, and wrote what follows.

Declaration of Affection

I will never forget the joy and unbridled energy of the first days of our acquaintance. Whenever I close my eyes, I can see you clearly in my mind as you looked on the day when I first saw your face–a shy and giggling gem glittering before my eyes. I remember thinking how beautiful you were; your gently flowing hair surrounding your radiant face and your exquisitely grayish-blue eyes–with a smile that seemed to fill the room with a glow that lingered long after my eyes could no longer see your face. The image of your face will never leave me now.

At first, there was only unencumbered joy when we shared conversation. Your heart and mind were totally open to me. Each new day brought my heart and mind within proximity to a miracle. Your spirit was so dynamic and wondrous, that whenever we spoke, my very life force seemed to tremble, as though I might, at any moment, leave my body and fly swiftly to you. The first time I looked deeply into those eyes, it only took a moment to realize that the world would never again be the same. After several starts and stops, far removed from the everyday routines, when you finally opened your heart to me, my own heart was flung wide open, and pumped wildly as I held you in my arms for the first time. I wanted that moment to last forever.

beginning

The chaotic chain of events that followed made me feel like I was hanging off the side of a moving roller coaster. I can scarcely remember anything from those days other than being with you; as if life began when we were together and was suspended when we were apart. Every encounter with you made me feel intensely awake and alive. After one particularly intense moment of sharing, I realized for the first time, how much you meant to me, and I knew at that moment, with absolute certainty, that I loved you. And yet, even as I contemplated the mysterious swirling hurricane that had become my life, the winds of change had begun to stir. All I knew, was that the feelings evoked by our connection were unlike any feeling I knew or had felt before under any circumstances. When it all fell apart, I was unavoidably altered and shaken to my very roots.

The unfolding of events since then do not fit neatly into any sensible or clear explanation, nor do they seem to lead to any satisfactory resolution. The reality of the temporal world has slowly steered us away from the magical world we had once inhabited, and left us in a twilight world of uncertainty and solitude. How the fibers of our mutual memories will weave themselves into a future cloth is hidden from us now. But one thing is abundantly clear. In any Universe, there could be no greater world than the one that includes your bright spirit. I pray that both of our spirits will endure and remain connected to the wisdom that brought them together one beautiful day, not so long ago.

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To Everything…There is a Season

time enemy

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Time is my enemy now. Not only does it often seem to be in short supply when the work of writing begins for me, but over the years, it has been so heavy-laden with intrusions which divert me from the task, that many times, I have found myself near despair. Recently, I have only been able to manage short bursts of productive effort, and with all the chaos of late, I have been so frequently interrupted by a host of other considerations, it seems amazing to me that I’ve accomplished anything at all.

Modern technology has made great strides since the time I began this work, and I have been fortunate to have access to materials and resources that have helped me to make even the meager progress I have managed so far. With only a very limited budget over the years, and many competing priorities for the funds that were available, it has only recently become possible to acquire the tools needed to truly begin to construct a comprehensive summary of what has occupied me for more than thirty years now. At first, much of the work was recorded on hand-written loose-leaf papers, and whatever else I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, many of my original papers have been lost after moving and all the various changes which occurred in those years. However, I was able to preserve the core elements of the writings in the subsequent revisions and copies which I recorded in a series of paper-bound journals that I kept relentlessly during that time.

In recent years, as I was able to acquire a computer and access to the digital world, I was able to preserve and store the accumulating documents on compact discs, along with the many photos which were taken during the early days of my struggle to come to terms with the extraordinary events which led to my ongoing investigations. This blog represents my best efforts to gather the materials from my research and writing, and to make some kind of sense of it all.

Secret Double Magritte
Secret Double by Magritte

“If a man sits down to think, he is immediately asked if he has a headache.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson from a journal entry in 1833

In the autumn of 1973, I experienced what C.G. Jung described as “an eruption of unconscious contents,” which led me to create a document entitled, “The Beginning, The Foundation, The Entrance.” Although I did not recognize it as such at the time, I have gradually come to view the experience as a pivotal event in my life, and I have spent much of the time since it occurred attempting to decipher the meaning contained in the document. The bulk of the document’s contents remained poorly understood by me for many years afterwards, and only in recent years have I finally begun to comprehend it more fully, and to begin to place it in a broader perspective. Magritte’s image above seemed an appropriate illustration of what felt like an agonizing struggle to reveal the inner workings of the process, which I subsequently engaged in attempting to discover what it was that erupted from within me.

Reviewing the cryptic writing in this document has always been problematical for me, as doing so not only reminded me of how it came into existence, but also of how much I struggled to make some kind of sense out of what initially seemed like a “stream of unconsciousness.” Over the years, even though the opportunities to spend time on the writing have been far fewer than my own inclinations would have provided, I have devoted every available temporal and mental resource in the service of enhancing my understanding of both the experience itself, and of the content in the original document. My temporal life during this time, all too often, “pushed” active pursuit of my goals to “another day.” Forced to find ways of getting to the research, I resorted to recording my incremental progress and my relevant observations in those journals, which at least provided a consistent location where I could continue to work as time permitted.

collective unconscious

According to the famous Swiss psychiatrist and scholar, C.G. Jung:

In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature, there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually, but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. It is man’s task to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious.”

After several exposures to what Jung described as “unconscious contents,” in my early twenties, it became apparent to me that a greater comprehension of my own cognitive processes was necessary if I was ever going to come to terms with the inexplicable nature of these extraordinary personal experiences. The learning process has engaged my own consciousness in ways that have been both rewarding and challenging. In the coming months, it is my goal to organize and communicate this process, as a means of formalizing a theory which will summarize and bring together all of the many pathways which I have been traveling these many years.

To all of the many wonderful readers and visitors here, I extend my best wishes for much success to you all in the coming year……

Consciousness in the World: Memory and the Extended Mind

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“To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Nature.”

Every year, particularly for those living in regions which experience the full range of seasonal changes from Spring through Winter, Emerson reminds us to use an “attentive eye,” to see the beauty contained in every season. Each period of the year has its particular rewards: the renewal of all life in the Spring is an affirmation of life; the warmth and lush greenery of Summer is an experience of the fullness of life; the brilliant colors and easing of the summer heat provide both beauty and solace at its peak; and scenes of pristine snowfalls and brilliantly clear winter skies at night remind us that all life is finite in one sense, and limitless in another. Emerson also reminds us that beauty is not confined to the temporal world:

“Beauty is the form under which the intellect prefers to study the world. All privilege is that of beauty;for there are many beauties; as, of general nature, of the human face and form, of manners, of brain, or method, moral beauty, or beauty of the soul.” – from his essay, “Beauty,” (1860)

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It was in the Autumn of 1956 when I first began to establish moments of conscious experience in memory, and had the first recollections of acknowledging my existence as an individual person. I can recall only brief moments of awareness for the most part, but they are potent and remarkably clear to a degree I find surprising these many years later. The image above was an attempt to recreate one such moment, in which I found myself staring at length at a patch of autumn leaves on the lawn of my childhood home. While similar scenes are easily reproduced each year as the leaves begin to accumulate wherever there are trees in seasonal transition, as Emerson suggests, every moment is unique in its own way, and will never be repeated precisely.

At this tender age, even though I had acquired a fair talent for both language and the association of words with objects and people, I wasn’t able to fully comprehend the implications of my experiences, nor was I fully competent cognitively. My brain was clearly functional in every way that the age would permit, and my ability to learn and respond to typical social interactions was well established, but the level of awareness was still in the process of unfolding to fullness, in spite of all that I was capable of doing with my brain. We tend to think of memory as something that only accumulates in the immediate experience of our lives, but as an emerging adult and after years of deliberate and steady contemplation of the significance of my life experiences, so many of the notions of familiarity with the content of those experiences are remarkably varied in their character that it seems possible their origins could be the result of a much wider range of sources and levels of consciousness. The theory of a “collective unconscious” from C. G. Jung suggests a framework for a collection of forms or “archetypes,” elementary constructs that already exist within us, which are filled in by conscious experience, and which resonate in the psyche in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

Copy of BrainSparks

We know now that memory is not an isolated process that takes place in any localized region of the brain, but is rather a symphony of processes acting fluidly in harmonious cooperation to stimulate an astonishing array of neural pathways, which reassemble the components of our recollections. We also know that memory is not like a video recording of events reproduced in exacting detail, but rather more like reconstructing those elements as we perceived them when they occurred. In many cases, we remember more precisely how we felt at the time the memory was formed. The more significant the event or the greater importance our interpretation of the event holds, the more profound and detailed the memory may be. This fluid processing is directly linked to the structure of the brain, formed as the human embryo develops during a nearly miraculous process of cell migration governed by instructions from our inherited genome. As complex and intricately woven as these neural pathways end up, since memory is a combined form of energy and information, stored and recalled through electro-chemical impulses between neurons, the process necessarily depends on particular structural foundations in order to function properly and must, at least to some degree, reflect the nature of that structure.

extend mind

http://consc.net/papers/extended.html

With the publication of their essay, “The Extended Mind,” – – David Chalmers and Andy Clark began the conversation about just how far the process of mind may actually go. We tend to think of the mind as something inside our heads, or at least contained within or constructed by the brain, but as we investigate and contemplate these matters in the 21st century, we are beginning to see that our understanding generally may only be scratching the surface. There are clearly very specific and necessary neural substrates which support our ability to access consciousness, and if they become compromised by some sort of injury or illness, that access can be diminished accordingly. What is not so clear is the exact relationship between the source of consciousness and the temporal structures which support our access to it. Homo sapiens required hundreds of thousands of years to achieve a level of useful cognitive awareness before even the simplest demonstrations of possessing a mind could be made.

In this important essay, Clark and Chalmers make the case for categorizing some of our uses of modern technologies as not simply a means for producing gadgets for consumption, but as manifestations of our cognitive abilities–an actual “extension” of our human mind out into the world:

“Language appears to be a central means by which cognitive processes are extended into the world. Think of a group of people brainstorming around a table, or a philosopher who thinks best by writing, developing her ideas as she goes. It may be that language evolved, in part, to enable such extensions of our cognitive resources within actively coupled systems.”

“It is widely accepted that all sorts of processes beyond the borders of consciousness play a crucial role in cognitive processing: in the retrieval of memories, linguistic processes, and skill acquisition, for example. So the mere fact that external processes are external where consciousness is internal is no reason to deny that those processes are cognitive.”

Excerpts from “The Extended Mind” (with Dave Chalmers) ANALYSIS 58: 1: 1998 p.7-19

What I am proposing in my own work here, while advocating my own interpretations with enthusiasm, is not an especially radical departure from the mainstream views found elsewhere, but might be viewed by some as being a bit “outside-the-box,” in both its premise and development. My life experiences in my years on this planet encompass qualities and characteristics which suggest a range of possibilities which might explain the nature of the mind and consciousness in ways that mirror ideas like the extended mind. Many of the writings and ideas of history’s most notable philosophers and revolutionary thinkers and innovators have been met with great resistance initially, and only gained more widespread acceptance after much consideration and review by a more measured or deliberate approach.

Characterizing external processes and devices as extensions of the human mind, as controversial as this may seem to some, is an intriguing component of the search for a comprehensive understanding of the mind, and the arguments put forward by Clark and Chalmers are coherent and substantial in supporting their premise. It clearly requires a profoundly sophisticated cognitive structure to produce devices which qualify as extensions of those structures. The parallels between our own cognitive components and those which we have produced as cognitive creatures in the modern world are not so far fetched as some would suggest. There are arguably several potential fields of endeavor currently which may well produce what may appear as a genuine cognitive system, with some degree of similarity to our own. At the same time, we should not expect those devices to begin spontaneously producing other extensions of themselves, nor should we expect them to be on a par with the human mind by any comprehensive standard. My overriding sense is that no manufactured device could be expected to appreciate human experiences without actually having them. Not every human can fully appreciate the experience of another human in every case. As C. G. Jung wrote:

“The collective unconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual. In their present form, religion, science, philosophy, and ethics are variants of archetypal ideas. It is the function of consciousness to not only assimilate the external world through the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us.” – from Jung’s “Symbols of Transformation.”

Learning, Sensory Experience, and Consciousness

Max Planck Florida Institute Study Shows: Persistent Sensory Experience Is Good For The Aging Brain Jupiter, FL May 24, 2012

“Despite a long-held scientific belief that much of the wiring of the brain is fixed by the time of adolescence, a new study shows that changes in sensory experience can cause massive rewiring of the brain, even as one ages. In addition, the study found that this rewiring involves fibers that supply the primary input to the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for sensory perception, motor control and cognition. These findings promise to open new avenues of research on brain remodeling and aging.”

Published in the May 24, 2012 issue of Neuron, the study was conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Florida Institute (MPFI) and at Columbia University in New York.

“This study overturns decades-old beliefs that most of the brain is hard-wired before a critical period that ends when one is a young adult,” said MPFI neuroscientist Marcel Oberlaender, PhD, first author on the paper. “By changing the nature of sensory experience, we were able to demonstrate that the brain can rewire, even at an advanced age. This may suggest that if one stops learning and experiencing new things as one ages, a substantial amount of connections within the brain may be lost.”

http://www.maxplanckflorida.org/press.html?newsid=129

Consciousness is not only about interpreting the world around us and organizing all the data and stimulus we receive through our senses. Experience, while vitally dependent on cognition and our central nervous system, is not simply and only a phenomenon of the intellect and the body. Our biological organs and systems support our existence and are each dependent on the other. When all systems are nominally balanced there is harmony. Our brain and nervous system provide a platform for our intellectual powers and organize the relentless stream of data received from our environment.

“In the woods, a man casts off his years, and at whatsoever period of life is always a child…In these plantations of God…a perennial festival is dressed, and the visitor sees not how he could tire of it in a thousand years.” –Emerson in “Nature.”

This excerpt from Emerson struck me upon first reading as precisely my own sentiment regarding the “experience” of being in the forest while camping. Simply visiting the woods on a particular day would be uplifting in its own way, and one could get a sense of what Emerson was describing, but staying in the woods for days at a time, experiencing everything from daybreak to nightfall, participating at every moment in the daily rituals of our lives outdoors, one begins to actually “dwell” in the plantation, and a richer understanding of Emerson’s words begin to unfold.

My own interests in camping for days at a time cover everything from a temporary escape from the trials of everyday life to the pleasure provided by the natural settings, to the solace and quiet of remote areas which are absent the noise and traffic of modern living. I often spend time in contemplation of the sunrise, (a particularly sought after experience) where the stillness of early morning is so soothing as to be a sedative of the most pleasant sort, and the gradual brightening of the sky awakens and stirs the forest creatures to their daily routines almost imperceptibly increasing as the sun ascends.

Behind the tent is a sunlit path leading through a brilliant array of greenery which is immensely inviting. A nearly cloudless blue sky, dotted with an occasional floating cloud brings the day to life in a most satisfying way. Having arranged in advance for a visit which happened to coincide with a period of moderate temperatures and congenial weather, increases the pleasure ten-fold, as experience has taught me, that the adjustments for inclement weather, while necessary and appealing in their own way, alter the experience by occupying my attention and time, which I would prefer to spend reading, or writing, or just walking along a trail, or paddling in a canoe.

But beyond even these temporal concerns, with all conditions being optimal, my focus almost always ends up turning within, and from dawn to dusk, my heart and mind embrace the awareness of the natural beauty and inherent pleasure of communing directly with the natural world, unmitigated by the trappings of civilization to which we have grown accustomed, and in a way that is far easier and agreeable than it is during the course of everyday life in the modern world.

By far though, is the appeal of preparing and tending to the campfire each night, which may include gathering and chopping of the wood for consumption in that evening period, as well as the many adjustments to the supply as the night progresses. After many years of practice, I have managed to accomplish these tasks with minimal effort and attention needed to sustain the flames, which provides the maximum enjoyment of the experience, as well as ample opportunity for contemplation. I often find myself reluctant to relinquish this portion of the experience as it provides much of the solace from the concerns which normally occupy my travels. In a way, the fire evokes a fundamental connection to the ineffable which escapes me many times otherwise, and immediately upon recognition of my arrival at the doorsteps of my inner world, I feel a sense of fulfillment and reconnection to the vastness of the world of contemplation, made possible by an unrestricted pathway to the invisible. Watching the fire dance and swirl, smoke rising swiftly, illuminating the surrounding area with fluctuating shadows from the flames, the aroma of burnt timbers mingles with my thoughts as I drift into reverie.

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Increased stimulation of our sensory experience now appears to be essential to our continued growth and to the expansion of our evolving consciousness as a species. We cannot stop learning and experiencing new things and must continue to challenge ourselves by seeking out different environments and opportunities to expand our awareness. As the foundation for our awareness of possessing consciousness, neurological functioning may facilitate its unfolding, allowing it to become manifest in the physical universe of human endeavor, and provide a common platform for meaningful interaction amongst our fellow cognitive creatures, but it cannot constitute the whole of it.

Conversation with a Silent Friend

A passing train howls in the distance. A cool breeze brushes up against my face, and the full moon reflects the sun’s light toward the half-darkened earth. As I scan the evening sky, I deeply inhale the brisk autumn air and turn my gaze fondly upon my silent friend, the backyard tree, which slowly sways, patiently awaiting the fullness of the season.

Ever since I arrived at this little corner of the world, I have loved to stand near this immense, living, arboreal being, a genetically and evolutionary distant cousin with whom I feel great kinship. There are those who might say that kinship with a tree is a one-sided arrangement, but they would not find it so if they simply took the time to get acquainted.

Humanity has recently begun to search the distant cosmos for signs of other intelligent life, and yet we have not truly and completely absorbed the varieties of abundant life all around us. William Blake suggested we might be able to see the world in a grain of sand if we looked at it the right way. Over the years, after spending many happy hours in silent appreciation, I have grown to love the backyard tree, and while there hasn’t been any overt communication, our nonverbal exchanges–silent conversations as I like to call them–have been eminently satisfying for me. Since it continues to come back to life in the spring every year, I assume that we are on good terms. The only time I really worry is when it comes time to chop something off it.

Even though I know that it is ultimately for the overall health of the tree to occasionally trim its branches, I am always reluctant to shorten the beautiful outstretched limbs, still full and green, or blazing with autumn colors, or even bare in the heart of winter, since then the branches look more like outstretched hands, waving blissfully in the winter sky. Many landscaping experts recommend periodic trimming, but there’s just some kind of curious mental block that makes me feel terrible about lopping off a limb or removing anything that is still colorful and alive. I’m even reluctant to cut the grass that surrounds the tree. Yes, it looks much neater when kept trimmed, but is how it looks more important than its own natural growth? A lot depends on how you view the living organisms of the world.

Is a tree, even my familiar backyard tree, like a person? Well, not exactly. Our similarities as organisms, particularly in outward appearance and function, appear on the surface to be few in number, but there are certain essential qualities which, if examined closely, reveal some wonderful resemblances. Science has provided us with much greater knowledge regarding life on earth, and we now know that the proteins involved with cell chemistry and the molecules of DNA which carry hereditary information are virtually identical in every plant and animal. The late Carl Sagan, in his popular TV series, “Cosmos,” put it this way:

“We human beings don’t look very much like a tree. We certainly view the world differently than a tree does. But down deep, at the molecular heart of life, we are essentially identical to trees.”

Beyond these fundamental similarities on the molecular level, our own development from the microscopic union of cells to our formidably intricate structure as a human being, corresponds to the development of a tree from seedling to full-grown tree. We take in nutrients from the food we eat and process them to become bones and flesh, while a tree takes in nutrients from the soil and turns them into limbs and leaves. We distribute oxygen and blood throughout our bodies by a circulatory system, taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide by breathing. Trees, in a contrasting but complementary process, take in carbon dioxide and through photosynthesis expel oxygen, circulating food and moisture throughout the web of limbs to the tiniest leaf. Given the ideal environment and nurtured by mutually advantageous circumstances, both trees and humans will inevitably flourish.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famous naturalist and author, wrote that “All natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable.” When we contemplate Emerson’s words, we begin to see our explicit connection to everything that lives and the importance of preserving our earthly environment.

For me, the development of my awareness of kinship with every living entity explains well why I so love walking in the woods or across fields and meadows, or even sitting contentedly on the back porch on a cool autumn evening, contemplating and communicating with the backyard tree.


____________________ I think that I shall never see
____________________ A poem lovely as a tree.

____________________ A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
____________________ Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

____________________ A tree that looks at God all day,
____________________ And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

____________________ A tree that may in summer wear
____________________ A nest of robins in her hair;

____________________ Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
____________________ Who intimately lives with rain.

____________________ Poems are made by fools like me,
____________________ But only God can make a tree.”

____________________ – Joyce Kilmer, 1886-1918, Trees