Thursday 9 May 2024

Great spiritual advice from William Arkle, but very difficult to follow...

So often the case, eh? Somebody writes something, and when you read it you have a sense that it could be An Answer: that if you could go-ahead and do this, then... well, things would be a lot better, for sure.

So then you try it. You try to do what the person suggested doing. And... Well, it doesn't happen; but instead you just lapse into the usual stuff. 

Example: The following striking passage is excerpted in Jon Flint's collection of William Arkle's later writings. It comes from a letter than Flint received from Arkle in 1997 (somewhat edited by me, for clarity):

Where do the succession of thoughts arise from within oneself - thought and feelings and attention? Most of the time these are conditioned as a response to what goes on outside.

But when we are alone (in the dark, or eyes closed) and there is nothing special on our mind, and we are free for a while to do as we like with out own conscious world... What do we do with our thinking then?

Do we seek other stimulus, go to sleep, or... Do we create the "now" that we most like to be with?

If we do the latter; it spreads into the future "nows", so that (in a Godlike way) we take charge of our "nows" and call to ourselves the very best ones. 

Our present attention is in fact, I believe, a Godlike command to the ethers; and our Great Friend [God] wants us to learn to use it well, beautifully, playfully - and for Him and all other delighting. And of our own fulfilling with value, purpose and joy. 

This is the only everlasting purpose after all...

William Arkle is making a very concrete suggestion here, about how we might best use our free-est moments. It is clear enough what he means in a negative way, of what we shouldn't do - that we ought not simply to seek further external stimulation of our thinking. And we ought not to seek the oblivion of not-thinking by sleeping, or doing some kinds of meditation, or maybe seeking some kind of intoxication.

The difficulty is Arkle's positive injunction to "create the "now" that we most like to be with". 

The suggestion is that our "everlasting purpose" is best served by using our thinking creatively, like God, to create in our conscious here-and-now thinking, the best "now" of which we can conceive. he goes on to say that, if this can be done, it will have a general effect via "the ethers" - which I take to refer to the world of thinking shared by many Beings, and that shapes the world. 

I can well believe this... If we can indeed do as Arkle suggests and "create the "now" that we most like to be with". 

For me, at least, that is one of those things that sounds simply and perfectly do-able, until I actually try to do it - when my thinking reverts to its usual mundane habits of responding to external stimuli, or grinding away at dull stuff; or soon begins to switch-off towards passive and dreamlike associations, or even actual sleep. 

The deep problem seems to be that I cannot get a specific purchase on my thinking, a basis for the desired way of thinking. The instructions are too vague and general; yet any specific instructions of what to think-about and how, become merely more of the usual mundane stuff. 

I find that what I am hoping-for is a positive transformation and elevation of thinking, but that I am not properly motivated to achieve this. 

Wanting it isn't enough, and may even be (seems to be) counter-productive. 

Indeed; I do not believe there is a general answer to this problem. I don't think there is, or can be, any plan for "how to do" what we most want to be done. 

Why? Probably because we are talking about creativity; which must be motivated by love - and that isn't something that can be ordered-up on demand. 

My best suggestion - which I can but seldom actually follow myself - is to locate love in our-selves, some basis of actual love; and start thinking from that love. Not by statically stopping with that love (not just contemplating it, not clinging to it); but instead thinking "dynamically", purposively, while "holding-onto" that love.

In practice, however, I just can't seem to do it; at least, not whenever I want to.  


Laeth said...

how would one distinguish true, or good, creativity versus false, or bad, creativity, the one that comes from love and the one that comes from something else? Is the 'evil genius' not a creative but something else? Or is his genius the only part that is not anti-love and so there's a chance for him?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Laeth - I regard genuine creativity as in accordance with God's creation; so it is good of-itself. However, it can be, and often is, *used* for evil purposes - hence the genuine evil genius, who misuses (misdirects) the products of his own creativity.

For instance, the primary creative impulse may be put into words or a model, in such a way that it is made suitable for gaining power over others, or pursuing selfish goals.

Naturally, misuse of creativity will almost always stifle it at source; but somebody's own past creativity can be misused.

There is also a lot of *fake* creativity, which (in a nutshell) uses memory and applied algorithms (including extrapolation, interpolation, partial selection and combination) to generate "novelty". Most of "fashion", much of journalism, all of "AI" and machine-stuff is done this way. Nothing truly new is created, and there is no reference to the purposes and harmonies of divine creation.

In sum: creativity is good of its nature; but like everything in this mortal world it is a mixture of good (god-aligned) and evil (not god-aligned, including anti-god); and can be (will be) tainted by in its usage and effects.

Thomas said...

I believe that fairy tales hold a clue to the sort of creativity you're speaking of. The first time I read George MacDonald's novel Phantasies I felt like I became a part of some experience beyond this world, and as I read I participated in this creation. I was pleased to later learn that Lewis had a similar experience.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Thomas - Yes, I agree that kind of thing is good.

But it isn't what Arkle means (or I mean) because it is in essence a response (albeit an active response) to something outside, external: ie the perceptual stimulus deriving from a book (or it might be a conversation, or music, or nature).

Laeth said...

but aren't our thoughts always peopled by our experiences, even those before life on earth, and thus always in a sense externally bound? and when we create, do we have any way to create from ourselves alone, or do we draw on those experiences, now remembered? I think the key is being conscious of the lens through which we see the outside, but there is always an outside where there are persons, and almost everything in the world is personal.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Laeth - I have a feeling you have gone beyond the truth (or usefulness) of your metaphysical "model", which is maybe dividing the world into external and internal, and then trying to overcome that division which you have assumed. Or something like that.

As I see it, the main thing is to have assumptions by which genuine creativity is a natural, inevitable, manifestation (expression, aspect) of Being - in some way, at some level. It is ourselves as we ultimately are, when in addition we are harmonized with ongoing divine creation (which, in mortal life, is temporarily and or partially).

It is the harmony with divine creation that makes our personal originality into real creativity. "Private creativity" is something else, because it goes nowhere, does not have purpose or potential for creative progression.

As to what we draw upon in creating - it's probably asking the wrong question.

But all consciousness is "diffuse" (and more so earlier in history) and lacks hard boundaries, is not bounded within a Being; so that too has an effect on things.

Laeth said...

@ Bruce,

perhaps I have, I don't know. But I do know I exist and I know others exist, and I don't want to 'overcome' that division.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Laeth - "I don't want to 'overcome' that division." Absolutely not!

I'm not saying that I have this worked out. But I distinguish between the division between Beings, which is real and primary; and my assumption that consciousness is not thus divided.

Maybe this sharing of consciousness is to do with divine creation? (Barfield talks of individual consciousness of having progressively "condensed" from a much more gradient-like diffuse consciousness.)

It seems rather likely that shared consciousness is due to God, because I don't suppose there was awareness of other Beings in the pre-creation situation of primordial chaos.

Laeth said...

what I believe is that such relation of person to person (not just human ones, but all types) is the function of bodies, and as the most perfect and complex body of all, the flesh, which God gave us. so in that sense I believe we agree: conscience used to be more diffuse, undivided between persons, but that's because we've been growing in our awareness. the resurrection is thus offered to us as an advancement and continuation of these relations, and hence the need for a body, instead of being floating spirits in the ether or the nothingness or the 'ocean of awareness'. The 'sharing', and not innately shared, aspect indeed only functions if there are two, independent people, and if it's chosen. So we come to share, in fact even (begin to) create worlds within worlds with the ones we love.

Brett Stevens said...

Arkle is speaking along New Thought lines. The point is not to think in terms of wishing, but to visualize structure in detail. This draws it closer to your position in the wider Platonic information space. Good reading for this is Wallace D Wattles and P Manly Hall.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Brett - Arkle is what he is! - similarities but also significant differences from New Thought and Platonism. For instance, his understanding of God is extremely personal. One of his biggest ideas is that God yearns for "friends". Another is that we can - to an important extent - understand God by putting ourselves in God's position as creator.

I should add that I have several large and significant disagreements with Arkle as well as regarding him as a vital influence on me - places in which I think he was mistaken and/or incoherent.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Laeth - I'm not confident that I understand you.

But I would say that before there can be sharing, we must have something to share.

Thomas said...

@Bruce Interesting. However, might it also be possible that when we experience something, such as a work of art or a fairy tale, that is reaching something divine within it, then the unique experience we have of it is an act of our primary creation even though there there is an external stimulus.

If I understand Barfield correctly, this would be like how we observe a rainbow our participation in it creates the beauty of the rainbow. Or with Steiner, it's a percept, and then a concept that comes from within and the thinking/creating is where the creativity is from.

But I think what you/Arkle are getting at is doing this without the percept so to speak. And... Creating something heavenly, Godly, without a percept needed, so to speak. Rather, purely from concept. And within the self, the real self, the concept becomes God-aligned and relational, thus we we can create our unique 'notion' of this loving relationship and share it with God through a sort of friendship.

Am I getting this right?

Dr. Sentient said...

"Probably because we are talking about creativity; which must be motivated by love - and that isn't something that can be ordered-up on demand."

Thank you for the sense. It's amazing how much people deny this simple reality. One of the worst tropes out there is "love is a choice."

Bruce Charlton said...

@DS - "One of the worst tropes out there is "love is a choice.""

I think that is mostly because (this being a deeply secular society) they say love, but mean sex. Or else they mean that love entails sex.

Without God and divine creation as ultimate referents, then "love" is reduced to only a temporary and subjective emotion; as is sex, and much else.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Thomas - I don't think you are "getting" me or Arkle here, because you are trying to fit it into something else - something that shares similarities, yet which is not the same.

In a negative sense - it seems clear to me that real creativity cannot be reducible to some derivation of external stimuli - indeed that is just kicking the can.

We can't always be saying "not from here, from somewhere else". Ultimately, everything comes from somewhere originally!

By my baseline assumptions, originality is not a problem because each Being is unique in its ultimate nature. I regard "God's problem" as almost the opposite - God is aiming (in a stepwise, progressive fashion) at bringing multiple unique individualities (that already exist) into a (voluntary, chosen) harmony of purposes.

God's "method" of working towards harmony of different Beings is by love; and by choosing to make love the baseline of all relationships choosing love as ideal; then (after Jesus Christ) additionally choosing to be remade (resurrected) into a Being that lives only by and for love.

Laeth said...


I agree. and that's alright. most of the time I'm confident I don't understand myself.

Thomas said...

@Bruce Hmm I see, I'm pretty curious about this perspective your describing and I want understand; it seems difficult to grasp.

So, using Steiner's epistemology as a model I view it as having solved the subject object problem as present by Kant. I believe your term for primary thinking is the same as Steiner's understanding of thinking which bridges percept and concept.

I was thinking you were suggesting that true creativity is the creation of concept independent of percept, but, I think you're suggesting that Being, or maybe soul, is more the ultimate underlying reality, and all the other ideas of concept, thinking, participation, imagination etc are still somewhat externslized structures. Furthermore, love between beings is the real baseline, and when this love flourishes we experience genuine creativity.

Am I getting it now? :)

But then... Would this still manifest itself as something like Steiner's concept or Coleridges primary imagination?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Thomas - Yes, that's more like it.

I have written fairly detailed critiques of Philosophy of Freedom, and of Coleridge's polarity on this blog - if you do the relevant word searches.

Thomas said...

@Bruce you have a very interesting perspective!