Tuesday 28 March 2023

Mystical-Peak experiences of two kinds - Original- or Final-Participation in Colin Wilson's Super Consciousness (2009)

Colin Wilson, and his wife Joy, in 2009

I am re-reading Colin Wilson's last substantive book - Super Consciousness: the quest for the peak experience (2009) - which serves as a summation of this area of his interest that began with The Outsider (1956). Wilson cites and describes a 'variety of religious experiences' - or Peak Experiences, in Abraham Maslow's terminology - in which there was an alteration of consciousness and a feeling of well-being, elevation, understanding. 

Looking at Wilson's accounts of these experiences through the perspective on the evolutionary-development of consciousness that I have derived from Owen Barfield; I see the reports can be understood as beginning with our normal, everyday, mundane, socially-functional "Consciousness Soul" state of feeling cut-off from reality, alienated and trapped in superficiality. 

Consciousness Soul is the implicit baseline from-which Peak Experiences/ religious-mystical experience emerge. 

From this baseline, and despite that Wilson did not recognize this distinction; these mystical/peak experiences of positive 'Super Consciousness' can be understood as falling into Barfield's two categories of Original Participation and Final Participation.  

Most of the mystical experiences described can be regarded as a kind of functional impairment, and these seem like a reversion to the Original Participation of early childhood and tribal-Man, by a selective suppression of those (more recently developed) parts of the body (especially brain) needed for the manifestation of self-awareness in the Consciousness Soul stage. 

In other words, this kind of mystical experience deletes consciousness of 'the self' as a separate entity from 'reality'. 

Examples include those reported experiences of William James and Ouspensky which were triggered by nitrous oxide (laughing gas); and the same applies to other consciousness-altering drugs. 

Others were associated with dream-like passivity; stasis of the body, fainting, or sleep - and mentally there are descriptions of  becoming blissful in emotion yet unaware of any thinking (stopping the exhausting and futile treadmill of thoughts, worries, plans...); the apprehension of Time is suspended or deleted. 

The kitchen and garden were filled with golden light. I became conscious that at the centre of the Universe, and in my garden, was a great pulsing dynamo that ceaselessly poured-out love, This love poured over and through me, and I was part of it, and it wholly encompassed me. (Cited pages 54-5)

In this Original Participation mystical state; problems are not solved so much as dis-solved; it is not a matter of 'knowing everything' so much as recognizing that knowledge does not matter. 

Other, less common, reports of higher consciousness states sound more like Final Participation. In this state, the description is of thinking not stopping, but conversely having vastly greater power and comprehensiveness, such that the experience is one of 'knowing everything' - of direct-knowing without need for perception or for reasoning.

My train of thought accelerated and vastly improved in quality... New and convincing ideas came into my mind in a steady torrent, flaws in my existing ideas were illuminated, and as I made mental corrections to the the diminishing gaps in the logical sequence were filled by neat, brand-new linking concepts which made a beautiful logical pattern. (Cited page 56)

I interpret this difference as being due to the Original Participation being what Rudolf Steiner called an 'atavistic' state, that is a reversion to an earlier developmental-state (childhood, 'tribal' Man) which is being-induced by a lowering of consciousness,; resulting in a temporarily 'delirious' impairment of brain function (by drugs, drowsiness, hypnosis, illness etc). 

While Final Participation is an enhancement of consciousness, the next 'evolutionary step' towards a more-divine, and more free and independent, mode of thinking; in which thinking is clarified and strengthened; and increases in scope and validity. 

This relates to the 'flow state' Wilson describes earlier from the work of Csikczentmihalyi; which is associated with increased, indeed the highest, levels of functionality.

For instance; when people such as creative artists, artistic performers, athletes, and craftsmen sometimes attain their supreme performance. Sometimes called being 'in the zone' - they find themselves unerringly doing things they could not usually achieve, and with total confidence. 

Thus Original Participation reduces functionality, and constitutes 'time out'; whereas Final Participation is associated with the highest, most creative and adept, levels of functionality. 

Yet these two Super Conscious states - Final and Original: the one thinking, the other a cessation of thought; the one knowing without constraint, the other an indifference to knowledge; the one a flow, the other a suspension of time and movement; the one cognitive, the other contemplative... these states are not usually distinguished, are indeed generally conflated.  

I do, however, regard Original Participation as potentially-valuable - but mainly as a glimpse of alternatives, a 'holiday', a recharging process, a therapeutic rest. 

While Final Participation is - I hope - the ultimate state of God-like, Christ-like, divine consciousness in which - eventually - Christians will spend most of our post-mortal resurrected lives. 

As for the Consciousness Soul in which we Modern Men spend most of our mortal lives, trapped and cut-off form living and reality - I regard it as merely a transitional phase between Original and Final Participations - much as adolescence should be a swift transition between childhood and maturity; therefore I expect that 'mundane' consciousness will very seldom be experienced in Heaven - although it may be normal, or at least common, in Hell. 


William Wildblood said...

"In this Original Participation mystical state; problems are not solved so much as dis-solved' That's a superb way of putting it.
I see these states as akin to Adam in Paradise compared to Christ. It's a journey from ignorant innocence through self-conscious experience and on to innocence again but this time with full "knowingness"

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Most of the literature on mysticism regards teh experience as a unitary and universal phenomenon - with only superficial differences. It's strange but we humans seem to need categories in order to observe differences.

agraves said...

Let's say there is a cocktail party going on and there happens to be one person who experiences original participation at one end of the room and another person who experiences final participation at another part of the room. Each is engaged with friends discussing their experiences. At some point they see each other and directly know that there is no real difference between them, just a way of talking about their experiences, and wouldn't dream of entering into a debate about the importance of their experience over the other.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ag - What would happen is that the OP experiencer would feel there was no real difference except that he-himself had gone somewhat deeper to a realm where there was no thought or self; and Man was assimilated into the universal divine...

While the FP experiencer would realize that there *was* a difference and that he had gone in the *opposite* 'direction' to the OP experiencer; to a realm of thought where self-awareness was stronger, and where he could (for a short while) meet the person of God as His grown-up child: a friend!