Monday 26 April 2021

Life as an active, positive spiritual quest - implications

I am considerably taken with the idea of self-consciously regarding my life as a spiritual quest - I mean, that this could be the first thing I think about when I wake, and again throughout the day. It could provide a significant impetus and organizing-principle both immediately, and over the long term.  

In a world where evil is ruling, triumphant, everywhere; it seems of great value to have an active, positive attitude to life based upon spiritual quest - rather than falling into a defensive siege posture with respect to the world (which seems like the usual for serious Christians - and opponents of the Left, generally - over the past couple of centuries). 

This siege-mentality seems to be both unhealthy and weak - because survival is the best it can hope for. There can be no victory, but only not-defeat. We can only lose or not-lose - but nothing better.

Under such conditions, spirituality too easily loses inner-drive and hardens into a mirror image of the prevalent and strongest type of evil - which is, in our case, by adopting the characteristic materialism and dogmatism of the modern bureaucracy. 

In sum; because in this physical worldly life there can be no positive triumphs, no joy, no real victories; therefore I find the need consciously to regard (this life) as a spiritual quest. To adopt an approach to spiritual life that goes beyond the business of daily, hourly, survival against the unending attacks of evil; and is instead inner-motivated and strategic. 

For me; a spiritual quest must include open-ended elements; in other words, the spiritual quest must also be able to become a spiritual adventure if that is where the quest leads. 

This is Not to seek adventure as a goal, which is both paradoxical and a foolish snare. 

The quest must be spiritual, and the adventure something that may, or may not, arise in pursuit of the quest. But the adventure should not be shirked but made-the-best-of if it eventuates. 

A central element of my spiritual quest is the desire to attain a way of thinking that assumes 'an animistic universe' - a reality consisting of living, conscious, purposive Beings. 

This way of experiencing the world is very difficult for me to attain, because I am fighting a life of socialization, character, training and - thus - ingrained habit of regarding the (non-human) reality as 'dead' and truly/ fully-described by the physical sciences.

Included in this quest is a wish to experience the reality of the spirits which throng this world. Past Men (and, to an extent, modern Man when children) would perceive and interact with spirits of the dead, angelic spirits, and the spirits of remote persons. Modern Man has lost this ability in the course of the development of modern consciousness.

I have concluded that it is both wrong and futile to attempt to recapture this ancient, spontaneous, largely unconscious and animistic way of perceiving reality. Thus I cannot (and should not) try simply to Be in the animistic world.

Instead I believe that we should seek to know the spiritual world in our thinking (i.e. in the active heart-thinking of our real-and-divine selves). And this process must and ought to be conscious and purposive - some-thing we deliberately do. 

Yet I find there is nothing more paradoxically difficult than trying to think in a 'higher' way! It often seems to happen that such striving leads downwards, rather than upwards. It often amounts to just thinking-about rather than actually thinking: for instance; telling myself - with inner language - that that I should be thinking in such a way - but not actually doing it!).

Thus my quest has reached a difficult obstacle. I am trying to find a way over it by means of deliberate imagination; as a bridge towards the direct (and wordless) intuition I hope-for. Thus, when I 'want to be' animistic; I may create my side of an inner dialogue by which I address the Being with questions or comments - and then (rather than waiting for a wordless impression upon my stream-of-thinking - which is idea but very difficult to do) I imagine a possible response from that Being while trying to hold my mind open to any real such response. 

Imagination opening a conduit for intuition, in effect. 

This imagined dialogue - which is expressed in mental language but operates below that level, by direct-knowing - is then intuitively tested for validity. Does the imagined-interaction seem like wishful-thinking nonsense, or maybe a product of fear and despair; or does it seem like reality and truth? 

Another example: I often/ usually find that I feel spontaneously impelled to read (or re-read) books by or about some particular author. 

Often I resist such urges, because I don't want to go back to someone (or some work) that I have read several or many times before, and feel I ought to be exploring something new... 

But usually I yield and focus on whatever I feel impelled to read - because I am not really motivated to do anything else. It is a question of yielding to this particular urge to read a particular author; or doing nothing. 

Nowadays, I have come to assume that this kind of impulse may be spiritual; may be a form of spiritual interaction with the dead. 

It may represent a kind of sub-quest - of some-thing that I am supposed/ intended to do (at the level of thinking, not action) for the dead author. 

At any rate, I often reach a point of first understanding what that author was really about at a spiritual level; and then I move eventually to some kind of completion, correction, cross-linkage or extension of this authorial intent.  

(It may even be a living author for which this happens - and then this business often feels the same retrospectively). 

Such an activity may take multiple reading over many years - during which I am not conscious of any such 'quest' element. It is simply that I am drawn to return again and again to the same author, the same work. And then, I feel that 'my work is done'; and I no longer feel the need to engage...

Only in looking back can I make a story of what it is I have done, spiritually. 

During (and in deed after) this prolonged engagement, I may have some kind of relationship with the dead author; and this may extend to dreaming about meeting him - often in some kind of indirect manner. 

Dreaming I see as more of a consequence of long-term brooding than a positive contribution; but after a dream of this kind, I may develop a sense of 'really' having known the person - and I now think that feeling may literally be true: I may truly have come to know his living spirit as a result of prolonged sympathetic attention. 

In the above I am just giving some personal examples - but there are as many quests as individuals, as many methods as there are personal dispositions. 


Sean G. said...

What a great message, thank you Bruce. Too often we feel those urges or waves of inspiration and expend great energy resisting, in order to do instead what we imagine we ought to be doing. I've recently found great power and inspiration from riding the waves as they come, because they offer me strength I can't muster on my own, and deep down I trust them more than my own deliberative thinking.

Francis Berger said...

Great post.

Your observation concerning the pitfalls of adopting a siege mentality is strong one. Being under siege is a purely defensive position. You wall yourself in, become immobile, concentrate all of your efforts and energy on repelling attacks - your focus really does narrow down to not losing, which is not quite the same as attempting to find ways to 'win', so to speak.

I get the sense the other side aims to lock those on the side of Good into a state of perceived spiritual siege. Under such conditions, it would appear the best course of action is to NOT remain spiritually trapped in the bastion, but to spiritually venture forth.

For me, a spiritual adventure implies spiritual 'movement' (a venturing out of sorts). How else can we expect to meet God half way?

Alex said...

I would recommend against trying to commune with the spiritual world, outside of prayer. How do you know that what you're experiencing is from the good side?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alex - There is no *safe* path to being a Christian. Those who try to seek safety will find a large majority of mainstream churches eager and willing to lead them safely to Hell.

Alex said...

@Bruce - I think we can both agree that prayer is a safe way to contact the spiritual realm, and that things like Ouija boards, magic rituals and seances are very bad indeed.

The question is: is there any safe middle-ground? I would say to err on the side of caution here. It could also be that I am misinterpreting the semantics of what you write, ie what you actually mean when you write about "a wish to experience the reality of the spirits which throng this world". I just think trying to contact spirits in general is a recipe for getting misled, but I might be reading your text in a hamhanded way.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alex - No I don't agree that prayer is safe - because like everything else it depends on motivation.

Most prayer is merely useless, but a good deal is harmful - such as many of the intercessionary prayers I have heard in churches, praying for sociopolitical goals that sound like they have come from that morning's Guardian (NYT) headlines.

I don't agree that magic rituals are very bad indeed; because some practitioners - such as Gareth Knight, whose work I know pretty well - are fine, decent, well-motivated Christians.

the idea of safe and unsafe methods is fundamentally mistaken. It is the motivations that matter.

Of course we can and must judge the motivations of others, which may differ from those being claimed (and people often deceive themselves, too).

In general, I have argued that the main aspect of methods is that (at this time and place - I mean the West) we are supposed to be striving for Original Participation and therefore Not to be attempting any kind of systematic return to the unconscious passivity of childhood or early Man. This is why hallucinogenic drugs are wrongly motivated.

Yet, if I am being rigorous; I think the same about Westerners who are attempting to recreate the Medieval Catholic world as an ideal (and I was one of these for a few years). That era of consciousness is past and unattainable.

But in trying to achieve it; Men are shirking personal responsibility for discernment - and will be punished by being mis-led by the corrupt leadership which dominate the churches; and starved of spiritual sustenance by the dead hand of demonic bureaucracy which grips these churches.

I am certainly prepared to allow that this is a transitional era in which there still is an important role for traditional churches in the lives of some Men - but only when these Men are prepared to stand against the corruptions of their church leadership and the fact that their church institutional structures are locked-into the evil world System.

No Longer Reading said...

Great post.

"I find the need consciously to regard (this life) as a spiritual quest. To adopt an approach to spiritual life that goes beyond the business of daily, hourly, survival against the unending attacks of evil; and is instead inner-motivated and strategic. "

The inner-motivated quest will vary depending on the individuals, but your example of reading and thinking shows that it may take the form of something that most overlook, yet is nonetheless important.

Bruce Charlton said...

I regard this inner motivated quest as a necessity for me; and I perceive a truly horrifying lack in most people - including most Christians. It is a terrible blight how a kind of phobia is keeping Christians from the 'Romantic' side of life that is vital to our soul.

Albeit such states of loving-creating are temporary and may be infrequent in this mortal life - they are the best that this life has to offer, and much can (and should) be learned from them that will be of great value in the life to come.

Heaven will surely be (as depicted in the Fourth Gospel) more intensely and pervasively Romantic than we can imagine - except in such moments.