Saturday 24 June 2023

Stanley Messenger on distinguishing healthly from unhealthly "psychic experiences"

Daily inner life for the majority of westerners is nowadays little more than a lonely restless chat-show. 

Apart from those who simply talk to themselves all day there are many whose inner lives are numbly silent till someone addresses them. Then there is a minority who pray, and a still smaller number who meditate. Of those a tiny number reach a level of mystical contemplation, or, on a different path, give themselves over to some degree of trance-mediumship. 

In recent years there has been an increase in a kind of inner life which differs from these in a significant way... In these situations a person’s focus of identity, the groundedness at the centre of their own consciousness, is not only not weakened or disturbed, it is on the contrary considerably strengthened and enhanced. 

By natural endowment, or more frequently by a degree of more or less conscious self-training, often through meditation or kindred practices, normal consciousness has been expanded and enhanced

The experience is that the person feels there is more inner space. Within this space all kinds of imaginative exercises can take place. 

Different people have different talents in this regard. Some are more easily able to visualise inner events. Some have more facility in hearing them. Others again have the facility for constructing a framework for other conscious presences to occupy. 

People’s experiences are almost infinitely varied in this regard. Some people remember their awareness of other entities in their inner world since early childhood, often lost as they grow older. Others construct inner worlds which are in the first place almost wholly imaginary, and only gradually become occupied with thoughts and pictures in later life which are recognisably derived from other realities. 

The great difference between genuine, healthy psychic experience and the pathological situations described above is that the healthy experiences are always in control. Even when quite unfamiliar expansions take place they always do so from within. 

It is the self-awareness which grows, and the self­-awareness which contains the expansion. One never has the sense of losing touch. 

Moreover, everything is experienced as being under the protection of love. This inner love is the crucial yardstick. In pathological conditions there is always an underlying uneasiness and fear.

Excerpted and edited from Dancing with Tears - by Stanley Messenger, 1999

Stanley Messenger (1917-2013) was a scholar of Rudolf Steiner, whose explanations I often find to be clearer and more memorable than those of his Master. 

He also gave special attention to this question of what might be termed 'occult', 'psychic' or 'clairvoyant' experiences; and how these have been changed by the evolutionary-development of Western Man's consciousness - and especially in the period approaching and following the millennium.  

Unsurprisingly, and like Steiner himself in this regard; Stanley M was not able fully to live up to his own peak level of understanding; and often 'lapsed' back into seeking and overvaluing exactly the kind of spiritual experiences that - elsewhere - he so lucidly had explained were dubious and prone to mislead.

Nonetheless, explanations like that above are very helpful in understanding the kind of thing we ought to be aiming for - the kind of thing I have (in different words) variously tried to formulate as primary-thinking/ heart-thinking/ direct-knowing - or Owen Barfield's concept of Final Participation.  

Whereas spiritual experiences of the past tended to be approached by striving for an opening of the mind, a passive acceptance of - and being overwhelmed-by - perceptual information (seeing visions and hearing words, having conversations)...

What Stanley M is describing could, by contrast, be regarded as conscious and actively experienced throughout, and not-perceptual - but instead directly known in our thinking. 

Instead of being overwhelmed by the experience - such as happens in trance mediumship, or automatic writing - the participant retains a sense of full control of a process of thinking that is quantitatively (even qualitatively) strengthened and increased in scope and surety - compared with normal thinking. 

And while past experiences were often sought for practical and functional purposes; the newer experiences will only happen "under the protection of love" - which I take to mean that love (not curiosity, not usefulness, not power - for instance) must be the motivation.  

The main problem with the new kind of psychic experiences is that of wishful-thinking. This temptation is, to some extent, avoidable by being aware of false motivations such as ego or advantage; and by refraining from learning material for the purposes of teaching, or to-order: e.g. in groups convened at a particular time and place for the purpose. 

This is one of the areas in which I think Stanley M went wrong - as you may see from reading more of the Dances with Tears booklet - he describes working for many years with a group - dedicated to making contact with spiritual beings; aiming to collecting detailed information from such beings on specified topics; and engaging in lecturing, workshop, and writing projects in order to disseminate the resulting material. 

The result was mostly made-up wishful-thinking, in line with the group's pre-existing beliefs and prejudices; and in conformity with too much, too-credulously-accepted, mainstream New Age output of that era (1980s and 90s). 

The genuine, valid spiritual teaching was mostly swamped by the sheer volume of personality-level, socially-shaped, stuff. 

Indeed, in a lecture, Stanley M acknowledged that he had been told that only about 5% of the material he got was genuinely from the supposed communicating entity (viz. the Archangel Michael) - the other 95% from himself. 

While Stanley felt that even 5% of spiritual truth was valuable; my feeling is that the amount of conceptual distortion with so much personal invention is so great that it is, in practice, impossible to filter-out the truly factual 5%. 

At any rate, what he and his group got by such means seems (as with the similar case of Steiner) to be mostly wrong - in many, very misleading, ways. 

My strong feeling is that it would be much preferable to have only the 5% that is valid; and be content with a small volume of relatively simple 'information' -- than to build all sorts of castles in the air (on subjects like UFOs and Crop Circles, and an impending mass spiritual awakening) from great swathes of wishful-thinking; exacerbated (not corrected) by consensus-group-dynamics.

Nonetheless, with these caveats; I am confident that Stanley Messenger had much wisdom to impart concerning the principles of what is most needed here-and-now. 

And if he did not personally live-up-to the highest levels of his aspirations, and was tripped-up by his own need for spiritual excitement and a desire for feeling incremental spiritual progress; then so are we, all of us, unable to stay at our own best levels at all times. 

As always, the material needs to be explored in a discriminating fashion, and with properly 'loving' motivation; if the good and valid it genuinely includes, is to be sifted from the wishful-thinking, misleading, and irrelevant material. 


agraves said...

Bruce, over the last few months I have begun to notice times during the day when I sense that my "self", the active being doing and thinking, becomes aware that there is an "additional" aspect of consciousness to the being I see as myself. It seems like a layer of awareness that is along with me and is clearly not personality, or thinking mind. It is not meditational, just an addition to my awareness. When this happens, more frequently recently, I have the distinct impression that this is my soul that I have come to recognize not as an idea or concept but as a distinct reality of myself. I feel I am correct and this has opened up a whole new sense of "spiritual life". This is not a belief in the soul but recognizing how utterly real it is. I feel this is the result of much effort on my part but also there is the element of help from the so-called Spirit side of life, Grace if you will.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ag - Sounds like a step in the right direction!

Inquisitor Benedictus said...

I've met a few mystics/seers in this sense, and a common trait is how down-to-earth they are, and how they describe their experiences in rather prosaic terms. In other words, they aren't the dreamy poet-mystic types. They are more like journalists than philosophers, and not sensationalist tabloid journalists but the classical diary-keepers.

It makes sense that God would allow these sorts of visions to the pragmatic sorts of people, and keep them away from the intellectuals and artists. A good example in the Roman Catholic tradition is St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, two great Spanish mystics who knew each other personally, each writing among the greatest classics of Catholic mysticism. Teresa was a very pragmatic woman and what we would call today a kind of "community organiser", founding many convents of nuns across Spain. Her mysticism is full of specific images/revelations; she had all sorts of psychic experiences of this sort, with angels and demons and saints, etc. One of her greatest experiences was with a Cherub piercing her heart with a sword, immortalised in a statue by Bernini . . . John, on the other hand, was both a great poet and philosopher, and his mysticism is totally imageless; and he in fact warns against such image/revelation-seeking as a kind of spiritual temptation.

Both had a great admiration and respect for each other. John kept a portrait of Teresa with him on his travels. There's a story that they were once discussing the mystery of the Holy Trinity together, and were both so uplifted in ecstasy that they literally levitated above the floor (levitation is one of the recurring themes in Catholic hagiography [St. Joseph Cupertino is a superlative example], alongside other supernatural phenomenona such as post-death bodily incorruption – recently an African American nun's body was discovered to be incorrupt, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, founder of the "Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles" – who do great recordings of sacred music.)