Saturday 19 October 2019

What do You think about thinking?

Clearly, there is something wrong withthe thinking of modern Man: I think we can agree about that - but what should be done about it?

Many mystical/ spiritual people are set against thinking, as such - they regard thinking as the basis of illusion (maya) and alienation, and therefore they try to stop thinking.  

Stop thinking and just be is the kind of advice.

The most usual method recoemmended is practicing some method of meditation.

But (unfortunately) for modern people the most easy and direct method of stopping thinking is intoxication; which is probably why the Eastern spiritualities of the Beatnicks and Hippies swiftly became drugs-orientated.

So; if stopping thinking is the ideal, then methods such as intoxication, deep sleep (or anaesthesia) are the most reliable methods; and death (i.e. suicide) is the most permanent. Suicide (or attempts at suicide) is not all that unusual among those who seek not to think - and suicide is made much more likely by most types of psychoactive drug usage.

The great breakthrough of Rudolf Steiner, in his first four books culminating in The Philosophy of Freedom, was that our proper goal should be almost the opposite: he argues that we need to trust our thinking much more fully than we do at present - and to strengthen and expand thinking.

One point is that if we mistrust our own thinking, we deal a deadly blow to ourselves - consciousness becomes alienated from our selves (our true and divine selves), as well as from the world. If we cannot trust thinking, we cannot trust anything - since everything we know comes through thinking.

The task is therefore ultimately to ensure that our thinking is trust-worthy - and in the meanwhile to learn to distinguish trust-worthy thinking from the kind of thinking that is not trustworthy (which is - for most people, most of the time - our ordinary everyday thinking, which we know from experience has something wrong with it).

I have termed this trust-worthy thinking Primary Thinking - and regard it as our consciousness of the real self; our awareness of God-within-us; an experience of the divine way of Being, in which a god knows explicitly, and is therefore able to be free.

(Since un-conscious knowing is not free.)

This idea of Steiner's was - I think - something new under the sun!

Instead of regarding the thinking Ego as The Problem which ought to be deleted; we regard thinking as The Answer.

We should try (as it were) to go through the Ego and out the other side. By which I mean that we ought to regard Primary Thinking as potentially a higher form of consciousness than either divine Ego-less hence unconscious Being on the one hand; or the mainstream modern state of alienated, solipsistic, relativistic and despairing consciousness.

The intent is that by strengthened and expanded thinking we should become aware of the divine that was previous unconscious to us; and therefore become able to join with the divine work of creation - rather than being unconsciously immersed-in and swept-along-by the divine. 

And one consequence is that our persepctive becomes pro-life. Fantasies of disovering the truth by not being fully human - by deletion of thinking through meditation, intoxication, or death - are replaced with an imagied future in which our thinking is as powerful as our instincts and emotions; and expanded to includes all that is deepest and best: the spiritual as well as the material.


Robert Brockman said...

What you have described is the Chan (Zen) project.

The purpose of Chan meditation is not oblivion, but pure awareness, most especially awareness of the *source of thoughts*. The purpose of meditation in Chan is to quiet the mind so that this source can be located. Once this is done it is possible to use this True Mind to generate thoughts in a controlled way so as to have a uniformly positive effect. Chan Masters are quite adamant that thoughts are extremely powerful — they make the claim that all phenomena in the Universe (including spiritual realms such as Heaven and Hell) are manifestations of thought.

The problem with Ego is that it applies a excessively localized filter on thoughts, such that the importance of the effects that thoughts have on others is diminished. Such thoughts are by definition delusional. As result, people under the influence of Ego tend to generate thoughts which harm others, and the resulting mayhem diminishes everyone’s creative potential. The important realization here is that *you are not ego* — ego is a fake abstraction which restricts our thoughts and behavior.

— Robert Brockman

Robert Brockman said...

One more thing: in the Chan tradition, meditation is technically defined as taking action with proper awareness and focus. Thus walking meditation is walking with 100% attention on walking rather than other things. In principle, one can engage in driving meditation, planning meditation, paperwork meditation, enjoying the sunset meditation, etc. The key is action based on controlled thoughts generated by the True Mind without delusion / distortion from filters based on ego, etc.

Sitting meditation where the focus is on having no thoughts is the starting point because it is the easiest — thinking about Nothing correctly (which is itself very hard) is generally considered easier than thinking about Something correctly. As one masters thinking about Nothing, thinking about Something without acting in a confused manner becomes easier.

— Robert Brockman

Bruce Charlton said...

@RB - Having learned from Steiner, Barfield and Arkle - I now see the problem with Ego as 'merely' (but strongly) the problem of arrseted spiritual adolescence. It is a necessary phase, but should be a phase. We actually Need to become completely detached from both our perceptions and our-selves If we are to develop the divine thinking thta Barfield termed Final Participation. But (for various reasons) most people get stuck in this alienated ego state. Arkle explained it as a point of stasis, from-which we can nly move by pure free choice. But if we do not make this choice, then we stay in that point which is the worst-of-all-worlds - demotivation, despair and hedonism.

The Eastern philosophies are tackling a different problem, from an earlier phase - and they are demonstrably a failure in the modern West. Eastern religion was discovered nearly 200 years ago - for example was known and advocated by both Emerson and Thoreau; more recently by Jung, then the 'Beats', then the Hippies, then Joseph Campbell, New Age...

You see the people who do it, have done it, have practised it... and - by the litmus tests of modernity (attitudes to the sexual revolution, leftism, climate change... easy tests!) and in my experience they fail - and I mean that they All fail.

Anti-ego religions and spiritualities fail when confronted with modernity - which should not be surprising because they were developed for entirely different situations and purposes.

For us in the West we need to have a thinking that is full of intuition - and this can only come by personal acts of choice, committment, energy.

The outcome is - of course - not a secure, solid, stable state of higher consciousness - because that is not what mortal life is about. We are here to experience and learn. A successful life is one in which we have learned what we most need - including the primary importance of love. And as adult Westerners, we learn this by better thinking, by a conscious, larger, intuitive and truthful (because divine) ego.

We can't (and are not supposed to) be like this all the time; but need to acknowledge the significance and importance of these experiences. Our destiny is to become gods (children of God) not to revert to animals - although, if that is what we Really want for ourselves, God will enable it after our deaths. But to preach the animal as destiny for all Men in mortal life is a sin (i.e. anti-God/ -Good/ -creation) - in our situation, here and now.

ted said...

Bruce, it would seem we have to go from -1 (ego identification) to 0 (God realization) before we can go to +1 (Primary thinking). And meditation or other contemplative practices are the best way to get to 0. Or am I missing something as to how you see it?

Bruce Charlton said...

@ted - I'm not sure what you mean.

There aren't really pluses or minuses - we know God as spiritually-children, we detachh from God as spiritual adolescents... these just happen. To move on in purposive.

Meditation is a form not content - it depends on what it is aiming at. For example Zen meditation is different from Eastern Orthodox meditation, because they aim at something different, because they are based on a different understanbding of the nature of reality (and the possibilities open to us). Roughly speaking, EO aims at communion with God, in which God is the personal creator.

But the kind of meditation aiming at positive thinking would be different again.

ted said...

True that different meditations draw different conclusions. The context matters; however, it is possible to get beyond the conditional to the unconditional. How we interpret that will again come to context. Ironically, there have been some Christian mystics who went so deep in their insight, they were awe struck that God was non existent in the way they expected.

James Higham said...

The day I stop thinking, the Alzheimers begins.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ted - I think we should avoid trying to use other people's mystical insights as 'objective' data from which to construct a system.

The real message of mysticism is that each needs to know for himself.

@James - I think you mean it the other way around!?...

Faculty X said...

Thinking should be the background, not the foreground.

In Yoga the cessation of mental activity is necessary to achieve Yoga.

One-pointedness of mind is the meditation method in Yoga.

Prolonged attention on one object of attention will stop conventional thinking yet be a kind of activity of consciousness.

From focus on one-ness with an object of focus thoughts will arise. These thoughts are like blossoms to observe as they may wither or flower. The longer the focus the more pure the thoughts...

Bruce Charlton said...

@FX - My point is that not-thinking/ Yoga (etc) doesn't work. for us here-and-now It's been tried in The West for many generations now. Its result is merely recreational or therapeutic.

I agree with Steiner and Barfield that our path is forward to a qualitatively greater kind of thinking, not by suppression of thinking.

Faculty X said...

What do you mean by 'doesn't work'?

If you mean it doesn't work like a conservative social movement it's un-realistic to think an ancient system of personal mystical awareness development be also a promoter of views on climate change and the sexual revolution.

Yoga like Christianity is only going to be known in depth by a tiny segment of people who delve into the original works. Even fewer can practice in any real way.

You say Yoga has been tried for many generations but my experience is Yoga studios have grown massively in only the last 25 years. I see Yoga at just one step past starting now and it will likely expand.

If thinking should be strengthened how will that change people who believe in, e.g. climate change doom? They will believe only more strongly because their thoughts told them so.

Why or how would primary thinking affect such values?

Bruce Charlton said...

@FX - You will have to make your own evaluation. Yoga has been around in the West since Victorian time - it was probably much more seriously pursued in the early 20th century than since. 40 plus years ago I borrowed library books on the subject that were old; and it was on mainstream TV. 30 plus years ago I knew a Czech who had been doing it for about 40 years and had written books on it - I got to know a few people who took it seriously.

The results, at a societal personal level, I found very unimpressive. Yoga in the West seems fully compatible with - and perhaps actively encouraging of, all the worst modern lunacies.

But you will need to decide for yourself.

Schleume said...

Let’s imagine you want to go from A to C and you need to go through B. The path is full of obstacles so you need an experienced guide. You started your journey and after a really hard tour you arrived at B. B is actually quite a nice place so you decide to stay there. Your guide encourages you to continue the path to C but he is not your Mom and respects your choice to stay at B.
You know that there is C somewhere down the path and it was your choice to stay at B. Maybe you where afraid to continue. Maybe your ego didn’t allow you to continue to C because getting to B was already such a hard thing to accomplish. Maybe you got married at B and founded a family.
Whatever reasons: you stayed.
Then, since you know B so well you start to bring others to that place. It’s a great place after all. You become a guide for others. Maybe you tell the others that there is actually a C. But you cannot lead them there since you never went by yourself. So your disciples will only go till B. Some decide to find another guide to lead them to C. Many will stay at B though. In the modern world it’s very hard to get to B anyways and it’s a good place.
So now many people only go to B. C is forgotten or maybe a myth for the disciples of your disciples.
Some started to make money bringing people to B. They don’t even mention C if they know about it’s existence at all.

This is what happened in the west. Not only in the west, but since the west was mentioned...

Bruce Charlton said...

@S - The thing is, there are no guides - no reliable source of guides with a track record. The traditions have been broken or never existed. All institutions are corrupt. As things are - we need to be do what needs to be done ourselves, alone, unaided - or they won't be done.

Schleume said...

I’m pretty sure, there are guides. It’s just hard to find them. First, we must be willing to actually go for it. Those guides I’m talking about do respect your choice. They don’t pretend to be your Mom. They don’t drag you.
Guides who advertise they will be your guide are not the guides I’m talking about.

We need to do what has to be done by ourselves. That’s so true. Those guides can just show you the directions. If I decide “wait, what’s over there, that looks interesting.” The guide will say: “Ok, Go have a look.” He won’t say: “Stay on track man, this is just a distraction.”
The guide won’t be waiting. He won’t be looking for you.
So not only we need to DO everything by ourselves we also have to be clear all by our own. This cannot be bought. Those guides don’t care about money.
Those guides don’t care about their track record. They don’t care about being recognized as those guides.

So learning about how not to think is level one. It’s hard. Very hard. That’s B. Once you are there you can go for C. This is having a focus. All the clutter is gone and everything is clear. In many arts people stop at B. For whatever reason.

Pawel Müller

Bruce Charlton said...

@S - Each of us has to decide for himself whether he believes there are such people as you describe ('initiates'). I don't - I've seen no evidence of them. Others, presumably, believe initiates exist and are necessary; and will devote their lives to finding one.