Saturday, 5 January 2019

Spiritual experiences - If not, then what?

A few days ago I stated my view that the 'standard methods' of attaining spiritual experiences have  the disadvantage of failing to be associated with spiritual development; such that people who have frequent and intense spiritual experiences are often entirely lacking in spiritual wisdom.

Specifically, I said that magic and ritual systems of divination on the one hand; and training in meditation methods or induing of altered consciousness on the other hand; were both ineffective when it comes to developing the Romantic Christian life which I believe ought to be our priority, in The West.

Yet the Romantic Christian life is one that aims to restore the spiritual to life, so that we may reconnect with creation, and ultimately participate in creation; because Western people are dying of alienation - and mainstream Christianity does not even begin to address this core malaise - mainly because it emerged in an already alienated world, and grew to incorporate the alienated consciousness.

This is why the spiritual 'techniques' above operate separately from the kind of development in consciousness that is needed; the needed development is in the future and unprecedented; while the methods of the past only draw us back towards an obsolete consciousness that we cannot return to, nor would it be good for us if we could return.

This seems to set-up an impasse, in which on the one hand we must-have spiritual experiences - and I mean must; because I think that this is an absolute essential in The West if we are to avoid continuing down our path to mass chosen damnation... yet on the other hand we must-not seek such spiritual experiences using any of the standard, historical methods of doing so.

So, if not, then what? If not these methods, yet we must become more spiritual - then what should we do?

My answer is related to the idea of final participation as being our goal in consciousness (to use Owen Barfield's term); this is the consciousness that we will attain as resurrected beings dwelling in Heaven - but we need to attain this same quality of consciousness, as much as possible (as frequently and intensely as possible), during mortal life; in order to respond to the special challenges of this era.

To be in final participation is to participate in God's ongoing work of creation; it happens when we are thinking from our real self - because our real self is divine. Our real self - being divine - is free, and therefore our personal thinking adds to God's creation, is woven-into it; and this is indeed the main 'work' of our Heavenly lives.

When we attain to Final Participation in our mortal lives, we are having a spiritual experience. We are a part of the ongoing work of creation, which we experience in the mode of thinking. Our thinking is also divine thinking. Yet when this happens it is not in an 'altered state of consciousness' such as a trance or a dream; nor is it the narrowed and channelled consciousness of a ritual - it is simply ordinary thinking, rooted in the real self and raised to the fullness of clarity and simplicity.

Such thinking is, if we let it, self-validating - intuitively valid. We know that we know.

And I think many people have experienced this kind of thinking; although they seldom have a name for it; and very often deny its special significance. In my own life, the times when I have been thinking in this way make up a special sequence of memories I have termed the Golden Thread; the times and events that feel as if they were the only truly significant things (with all the great mass of routine and shallow pleasures falling away, barely remembered).

(These might include phenomena such as peak experiences, flow states, self-remembering, holiday consciousness, epiphanies and the like - as discussed often in the works of Colin Wilson.)

Yet these Golden Thread moments include many seemingly 'trivial' things, often unplanned and surprising; and apparently 'not real' things like reading something, or imagining something. And in the past I was more puzzled by them than inspired by them.

And this is the danger - that we have spiritual experiences but fail to notice and learn from them, for the simple reason that we discount them, disvalue them - regard them as trivial instead of The most Important Things in our lives.

In sum, spiritual experiences - properly understood - happen as a by-product of a proper way of living and understanding. And, as many people have noticed; the more they are noticed and learned-from; the more often they will happen.

So - the proper action to take is a kind of self-awareness, not simply to drift through life half-asleep; but be aware of what is happening, as it happens; and to recognise value the best of life as it deserves on the basis of intuitive experience rather than theory.


Seijio Arakawa said...

To me, active Primary Thinking seems to be brought on by the subtle assumption that the involuntary nature of a spiritual experience is what proves its genuineness.

So, if I sit in my chair and imagine traveling to a cottage on a planet on the other end of the galaxy to speak to an imaginary friend, that is not considered by most people a 'spiritual' experience because -- however vivid the experience might become -- it is happening in 'my' imagination and I am voluntarily in control of it, remaining aware of the fact that I am, in fact, sitting in the chair. However, my friend then communicates some insight or advice I would never have thought of on my own if I'd been sitting in the chair and attempting the 'standard' reasoning one employs when writing an essay. Even if there is no such planet on the other end of the galaxy, I have gone somewhere and some communication has taken place -- I know I have gone somewhere because I brought something back, and I can guess at what kind of place I've been by the quality of what I brought back from it. When the communication is particularly clear, there is also an at-the-time convincing sense of communication.

This kind of imaginative participation happens naturally in childhood but must be freely-chosen afterwards.

(Then there is the question of accuracy -- if I assume everything is factually true as I imagined it, I would end up designing a Rudolf Steiner sort of cosmology.)

On the other hand, if I sit in my chair and go into an unconscious trance and channel some spirits, that might be an involuntary sort of spiritual experience, but it seems to have little value since I would usually be passively regurgitating whatever mental toxic waste has accumulated in the lower air from people's sins/regrets/strong-emotions.

There is quite a bit remaining here for me to think-through.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Seijio - You'd also agree that there is an imagination that is shallow and we don't believe it ourselves; but another imagination that is self-validating; when we know that we have touched-on reality, even though partially, temporarily; and when we fail to make exactly what has happened explicit; and fail to communicate it... So I would agree, with that clarification, that the situation you describe may indeed lead to true insight.

(This distinction of imaginations was put forward by Coleridge, then with different nomenclature by Tolkien.)