What are you doing about your childhood wounding?
You’re turning away from it while you carry it with you. You’re
looking outside, constantly encouraged to do so by the very culture in which you’re immersed. Something is wrong. You know that, and you’re haunted by it. And your culture tells you it can be fixed, yet somehow it never quite seems to get fixed, whatever you do or don’t do, so you keep on keeping on. But it’s still there, with you all the time. So you keep trying to fix it, because your culture says things like that can be fixed. And you can somehow never fix it, and it may even drive you to feats of endeavour and achievement – feats that somehow don’t solve the problem of your pain, despite the sense of achievement, despite the approval and adulation, even. You watch your achievements turn to dust in the face of that nagging pain. And your culture’s made you numb no matter how clever you are, and you’re hurting.
We’re lost. And so many of us positively love wallowing in it. Humanity is wrecked and there are armies of enthusiasts, many of whom really should know better, who are the overconfident footsoldiers of wreckedness. They’re all over the internet, knee-jerk shouting in the comments section, lying and abusing, distorting and bullshitting in the name of their Lord of Total Bollocks, utterly convinced of their rightness that is wrong. And that’s just the internet – but it’s the internet that lets so many people feel free to display what they’re carrying inside. What happened?
Well. Somehow we all became thoroughly immersed in a culture where the left-brain, analytical intellect is regarded as the best thing ever about human beings. We’re even proud of it. And that’s the wrongness, right there. And because of the basic falseness of this idea, we find ourselves amidst wrongness all around, a wrongness that militates strongly against our ever finding our way out of the maze. It’s so ingrained it can be quite hard to notice even if you’re on a spiritual path, looking to find a way out. We may well actually be doomed. So many shouting people, sure they’re right, telling us how right they are, telling us how we must listen to them and do as they say, when they don’t really know anything at all, about anything that matters to us as human beings. Deep down they know that, of course. Hence the shouting, to cover it up.
Let’s cut straight to the chase. When swamped by left-brain culture the crucial concept to always remember, and to practice remembering all the time, is what looms up unforgivingly, forbiddingly as the arrogant egoic intellect then turns its attention to mind itself – the hard problem of consciousness. It’s the greatest offence to that vainglorious, insecure yet arrogantly puffed up left brain analytical ego that we’ve somehow ended up with, and because of this it therefore needs to be explored. Forget all the ins and outs of various philosophical discourses, forget all the window dressing and side-issue arguing and just go straight to the issue that arises if you follow (apparently) outward-looking, objectifying analytical intellect right through to what it has to say about consciousness. After all, the intellect has brought us medicine and put men on the moon and given us smart phones and the internet and lots of very clever books, so consciousness should be a pushover, right? (Science has also given us DDT, nuclear and chemical weapons and mass environmental degradation but we’ll pass on those for now…)
Firstly you will discover that the analytical intellect can’t define consciousness. Despite a love of clear definitions, none exist in the analytical intellect for the ‘thing’, or process, or whatever it is, in which we live and move and have our being, by which we know that we exist. (See also: time.)
The next thing you will find is that nobody can give a convincing explanation for how an arrangement of matter (in this case neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain) can give rise to subjective experience. Despite the simplicity of the statement, the problem for science is immense, not that you’d know it to read some of the hyped-up bollocks that purports to definitely explain consciousness this time for sure. We can correlate with ever greater precision different brain activities to different subjective experiences, but this doesn’t even begin to touch the issue as to how a certain firing of neurons can create the experience of pain, say, or happiness, or anxiety. Outrageous though it may seem, we have to ask does that neuronal firing actually create these subjective experiences? After all, we do know, intellectually at least, that correlation does not equal causation.
The fact that the greatest problem facing science happens to also be connected with the most important aspect of our entire lives – subjective experience – should give pause. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence. But it’s instructive to watch in practice how scientifically-minded people in particular react to the whole issue. It’s as if we’ve got rid of all that superstitious nonsense about the Earth being flat, and knowing that it’s a sphere, have sailed right up to what looks suspiciously like a flat edge, with nothing at all beyond it. And we can’t peer over the edge, either.
And as science heads for that edge, it starts to become distorted. As we reach the speed of light, everything starts to become distorted. And in science, the contortions appear. Oh, the contortions that appear when confronted by the Mystery.
One common reaction is the cop-out – just say it’s not really a problem after all, and it’s merely a matter of semantics. It only seems like a problem. And the intellect straight away starts to contort. We are told that fact it’s all an illusion, though you then quickly get the question of what medium the illusion is occurring in. And you could reasonably ask just what it is about semantics that is so powerful, and in that particular way, that it can create a whole utterly convincing illusory subjective world out of wordplay, somehow.
Another wrong approach that somehow has gained currency is to say that consciousness may seem unitary, but it’s actually really the result of various processes. Well OK, but how does that explain anything? We have the various processes, we have the subjective experience of unitary consciousness – where’s the explanation of how those objective multiple processes create subjective unitary experience? This line of argument seems to say that because what seems unitary ‘really’ isn’t, then somehow there’s some kind of ‘dishonesty’ there, and because of that we can’t trust our subjective experience, and a load of fiddly objective stuff ‘honestly’ explains it, somehow. Which is a non-sequitur – and it still avoids the issue of how the unitary experience is there if everything is ‘really’ multiple. As ever with these pseudo-explanations, it moves some stuff over there, then asks you to look here, then moves something while you’re looking the other way, then declares the problem solved. The only thing we can actually trust is the fact that we have subjective experience. Objectivities come with all manner of problems to do with their truthfulness. Yet the ‘dishonesty’ argument turns this on its head and says we can only trust certain types of ‘scientific’ objectivities that are of course only ever apprehended through the subjective mind.
Yet another major way of failing to scientifically explain consciousness, a very popular one, is to get wrapped up in ever more involved conceptual explanations of brain activity as if that somehow magically brings an answer into view, while studiously ignoring the fact that the bit where objective matter gives rise to subjective experience – the important bit – has been passed over by sleight of hand again. The problem is still there, yet a lot of intellection and theorising has been built up around it – it’s as if the people propounding these ideas think that if you think your way through a lot of complex thought about the issue, and create intellectual castles in the air, then that will somehow make it go away. Or perhaps it’s because science has proceeded so well by studying the objective, so therefore if you look REALLY REALLY CLOSELY and with EXTRA-EXTRA-EXTRA MINUTE DETAIL at objective matter, that will somehow crack the problem, just by looking as hard as you can. The curious thing is why people do this, without noticing that nothing has actually been explained after all the hand waving. Looking very very hard at something is looking outwards and away from the subjective – why should that be a good idea to explain the subjective? Why would explanations, sometimes of baroque complexity, of how consciousness is created by neurons quickly skip over the bit where subjective experience is created by those neurons? Why is there that blind spot? Why, indeed.
Remember that science proceeds by studying the objective, so right from the start we have an issue that this time it’s trying to use the objective to explain the subjective, for the first time in history. But it’s science, right, so it must surely be able to work this one out, obviously? Well, one would’ve expected some kind of progress in this matter somewhere along the line if that was the case. In fact there has been no progress whatsoever, in any way, at all, anywhere. There is clearly a problem in principle – something science cannot or will not admit. There have been many, many promissory notes, various hyped up specious ‘explanations’ that leave out the important bit when you look a little closer, but no actual delivery. Not even a little bit – though of course, the very idea of explaining ‘a little bit’ of consciousness immediately brings up that whole issue that you can’t measure it anyway. Even though it seems to fade in and out, and we can somehow say we have more or less of it depending on how awake we are. It’s a curious thing, this consciousness. If a ‘thing’ it really is.
You can always take a step back and look at the situation anthropologically – all these very, very clever people saying that consciousness has been explained when it hasn’t, how they fool themselves into thinking they’ve done something they haven’t, and how they behave about it all, i.e. the way they do it, the tone of it all, the aesthetics, the psychology. Notice that if you have built up an image of yourself as very clever, rational and scientific, and you have invested a great deal emotionally in rationality, you are then going to react in a particular set of ways to this weird and profound problem that is so entirely resistant to scientific explanation that no progress has been made in objectively understanding it at all in the history of mankind. We have the ‘progress’ of ever more sophisticated descriptions of neural correlates, but no progress whatsoever in understanding the generation of subjective experience by matter. This is obviously going to piss off the scientistically minded, and generate a lot of aggressive compensating behaviours. Bring in the herd mentality that appears to be an inherent part of being human, and you end up with ‘tribes’, with all the factionalisation and warring that goes with that.
Another thing you notice when taking a more anthropological/social view is that some people like to say that science has done away with a lot of superstition and misguided, illusory thought, so it will sort out the consciousness problem in the same way. But this isn’t comparing like with like. If you’re able to show that eclipses are caused by the moon getting in front of the sun and not being eaten by a dragon, great, OK. But this is entirely a matter of the outside world, not subjective experience. All the results of scientific enterprise – technologies, medicines, the internet, etc – are in the objective world, and came from observing that world. (Though in fact the inspiration responsible for major scientific breakthroughs seems to come from right-brain intuitive subjective thinking, which is interesting but a detour at this point.)
Suppose you say that the consciousness issue is in fact ‘solvable’ in the same way as making the sun-eating dragon vanish. Suddenly you then are left with the idea that our entire inner life isn’t there, because it’s really objective. Then you need to explain how it can seem like it is there. And you’ve probably also missed the subjective, cultural, mythological importance of the dragon, which you’ve wiped away like a vainglorious cultural vandal who has no idea of what they’ve actually done. Are technologically advanced societies any happier than ‘primitive’ ones?
We have what appears to be an objective reality, and we have the phenomenological world of subjective qualia, which follows qualitatively different rules and which is where our significant life, who we are as we live, actually happens. Meaning occurs in qualia-land. Really you could say it represents qualia itself, in which case any consideration of meaning, any culture of meaning, should follow the ways of qualia, not the ways of objective scientific method.
Qualia are ‘artistic’ in the way they behave, in the way they are. But confusingly for the left-brain dominant, qualia can still involve the intellect. If you’re overly identified with analytical intellect, you will find qualia a bit ‘woo’, and therefore try to explain them away, or boss them around, and generally try to pin them down. A classic issue brought up by the left-brain dominant is that subjectivity is apparently unreliable (even though the one thing we can be 100% sure of is that we are aware!). This changeable aspect of qualia is unacceptable to the left-brain intellect so the whole lot is dismissed. Objectivity brings reliability, security, freedom from anxiety (supposedly). And also freedom from any inner meaning, but some people positively love that. For personal reasons perhaps?
The issue is that the practice of science is a method, not a philosophy. Yet it constantly seems to be acting outside its remit, invading matters of meaning (which are of qualia-land, not the outside world). And when we try to take on board objectivity-based thought in matters that are to do with subjectivity, we’re acting at odds with ourselves. In fact you could perhaps say that the very definition of acting at odds with ourselves is this identification with one subset of consciousness, the analytical ‘scientific’ intellect, letting it invade areas it can’t understand. This often plays out in self-contradictory ways of thinking along the lines that we’re “really” not significant even though it seems like we are, or the universe “really” has no meaning, it’s “just” us that imagines it does, and so on. The overriding quality of this kind of misplaced thought is of a rigorous, no-nonsense doing away with illusions, facing hard facts, ridding ourselves of superstition and illusion and so on – which is an aesthetic all of its own, of course. These allegedly ‘scientific’ discourses are replete with story-telling, with psychological flavour, with mythic thought. They’re never as neutral as they claim to be on the surface, and that’s another self-contradiction there, too.
To give an example, consider Bertrand Russell’s writing in The Free Man’s Worship, where he states that man is the product of “accidental collocations of atoms” and that “all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system”. Well alright then, but Buddhists have had some rather profound thoughts, and important things to teach, about impermanence for over 2,000 years. And it all seems rather different somehow when viewed from a Buddhist perspective. For some reason. Or take the classic quote by Francis Crick: “You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and associated molecules”. It seems so different from the divine determinism espoused by Spinoza, even though they are pretty much saying the same thing. Furthermore, read those quotes again and see the poetics of it all, the lyrical writing, the story telling aspect of it all, the lonely yet impersonal grandeur of the vast death of the solar system (which never having been alive can’t die in the same way as we can, surely?), the belittling use of the phrase ‘no more than’. It’s like the ‘retreating roar of faith on Dover Beach’ – hugely ironic in that it talks of the dying off of phenomenological aspects of the mind such as religious faith due to the supposedly objective truths of science, while being phenomenologically significant itself, both as a poem and as a cultural artefact. The rugged cold white hardness of the cliffs, the sense of encroaching darkness and cold despair – these are part of an ascetic, not an objective reality. Yet so many people, including those in the arts, fell for it as some kind of description of something objective. But it’s a poem, for fuck’s sake – a poem about science! Objective science, ha ha.
We live in a surface-obsessed society, though, and when it comes to science many people let themselves be dazzled by the surface. It’s so much nicer there compared to the messy and often dark stuff within. Every now and again you hear these stories about how magicians have summoned up an entity that they find themselves unable to control, a disobedient entity which has a life of its own and causes all manner of havoc. But in fact you have done this anyway, in your life, without realising. From childhood upwards you have accidentally put a ton of mental, and even physical, energy into creating all manner of complexes in your psyche that now have a life of their own. You’re dimly aware of that, and you don’t know what to do about it – it’s unnerving. But wait! Here comes science, with shiny certitude and awe-inspiring photos of the cosmos, and all manner of handy technologies. Better still, it does away with inner meaning. So you need never worry about those inner complexes ever again. As long as you keep looking outwards. And refuse to notice how those complexes are actually running, and maybe ruining, your life.
In fact psychology is inseparable from so-called ‘objective’ thought – any supposedly ‘objective’ thought always shows the outlines, the aesthetic, the flavour of the psychologies from which that thought has sprung. You don’t get to choose any supposedly objective answer to anything – it will always come with a subjective, inner quality. It will always be there, whatever references are made to the outside world. Subjectivity is primal, not objectivity. We can never truly stand outside subjectivity. We can only pretend we can through using scientific method. But all scientific results happen in awareness, which is inherently subjective.
So why do we have this culture of crap built around the denial of key aspects of what it is to be human, to be alive, to be conscious?
Science does seem very pleased with itself regarding ridding the world of supposed superstitions. It seems to have no understanding of the fact that myth is always there in consciousness. Always. It’s a fundamental aspect of the way human consciousness works, and there is no escape from this. Scientism relies on various straw man arguments, deliberately zeroing in on only the worst examples of misguided thought while leaving out all the ways various subjectivities profoundly help and heal, because they’re a profound aspect of who we are. Culture – in fact all aspects of human thought – should be regarded as the flora and fauna of the subjective world. We can see how in line with scientific ‘progress’ and the associated despoliation of the natural world, there has also been an industrial-grade destruction of various cultures, various civilisations, throughout the world in the name of ridding the world of supposed superstitions. ISIS and their destruction of Palmyra represent the shadow side of our supposed progress – in their world, the treasures of high art represent a kind of ‘superstition’. With a moment’s thought you can probably quite easily supply many of your own examples. Mao’s cultural revolution, perhaps. Or Cambodia. Or the reformation in England. And so on. Can you see a certain similarity in these various atrocities, a destructive and hateful psychology playing itself out in different contexts throughout history? Can you also see the widespread sidetracking that occurs into pro and anti religious arguments that’s always going on when these matters are discussed? Have you noticed how atheists so often need to be reminded of Stalin, Mao and Cambodia when they hold forth about how religion is directly responsible for atrocity? It’s like they don’t want to face up to the fact that ridding the world of religion won’t actually change anything in terms of human cruelty. But we have mass slaughters in the name of religion, and we have mass slaughters in the name of other ideologies that aren’t religious – so the significance is the slaughter, not the labelling associated with it. Let’s look at what drives mass mobilisations of human beings to slaughter other human beings. That might make some atheists uncomfortable – as evidenced by the moronic ‘it wasn’t done explicitly for Atheism’ argument, but it really, really urgently needs to be done.
Always when we look back with the benefit of hindsight we can see the huge wrongness of this wanton destruction and the ways of thinking that bring it about, yet at the time we never seem to notice – even to want to notice – we’re doing it all again. This time round we have ‘rationality’ and its footsoldiers wrecking, or trying to wreck, all manner of precious subjectivities in the name of some kind of ‘progress’, a ‘progress’ that has been intimately allied with mass destruction of the ecosystem and mass fragmentation of society. As within, so without. As without, so within. But because we’re fixated on getting things right intellectually, fixated always on supposed objective truth, we fail to see that in terms of process, we’re making the same mistakes over and over again, through the centuries. This is the nightmare of history from which we need to awake. It’s not the intellectual concepts or words on paper that we need to jiggle about until we get them somehow just right – it’s our approach to life, it’s our way of being. And getting this approach right is not a matter for the egoic intellect, it’s a matter for the heart.
But the heart is viewed as irrational, imprecise, changeable – all aspects that throughout history have been considered to be feminine. We know how the women have been treated throughout history, right? But now we have the disgusting spectacle that those who regard themselves as socialist, and therefore for woman’s rights, have bought into the same aggressively anti-spiritual mindset that trashes the feminine at every available opportunity in the name of an illusory ‘progress’ that is actually out to keep the feminine out of any influence whatsoever, forever. You can see lefties go into tailspins, while tying themselves into intellectual knots, when confronted with the fact that mind body spirit stuff, or homeopathy, or spirituality generally, is all substantially more popular with women than men. This also happens, in a particularly severe way, when leftist ‘rationalists’ consider what is happening in indigenous cultures – they’re full of magic, myth and mystery. Obviously this is all regarded as superstition – but at the same time you can’t imperialistically impose Western values on those cultures either, so you can’t judge them as superstitious. It’s fine to aggressively trash western spiritualities, but you can’t do that with indigenous ones. It’s a massive dilemma. And there’s a clue right here as to what’s going on. Yet again, we must point out – look at what’s going on psychologically, not purely in terms of analytical intellect. Socialism – the political system that has at least some humane recognition of our shared nature – has wrongly bought into a supposed ‘rationality’ that seeks to wipe out the numinous, the mysterious, the intuitive, the ambiguous, the hard-to-define-but-you-know-what-it-is-anyway. The fact that many women avidly go along with this makes it somehow even worse. The ‘rationality’ comes first, and works out through various political and intellectual belief systems, whatever their labelling.
Are you reading this and getting worked up about irrationality, or supposed tides of civilisation-destroying superstition? In that case you will have bought into a standard ‘rationalist’ straw man. In fact it’s perfectly possible, desirable even, to value subjectivities and keep the good bits from objective thought – it’s just that objectivity is secondary, not primary. Remember that our whole lives happen in subjectivity – they don’t happen objectively, they happen from a point of view. As the female gives birth to both the female and the male, subjectivity gives birth to subjectivity and objectivity. Subjectivity is primal.
What would it mean to nurture a culture that gives primary importance to the subjective, to the world of qualia? Let’s start by going straight to the heart of subjectivity. Consider what happens if the mind is just left alone for once and allowed to be free of overly worked left-brain, analytical thinking. What happens is not nothing. Once left to be at peace, which can take some time to reach due to the constant indoctrination into analytical thinking created by human civilisation, eventually some rather remarkable things start happening. Experiences of superb bliss, profound insight into the nature of mind itself, and infinite unconditional love are common. While this is happening the heart will become suffused with impossibly beautiful feelings of compassion, and pleasure can course through the whole body. Why should this happen when the mind is left alone? Why is it not just blank? Why does it all so easily become suffused with erotic energy?
Evolutionary psychologists will have a hard time explaining why such impossibly beautiful pleasure and joy should occur when the mind is brought to stability and peace. Apart from anything else, the meditator is vulnerable to attack as they sit there meditating so it’s hard to see how evolution would choose genes that let this happen. Yet these immense experiences do nonetheless happen, frequently and regularly. There are whole cultures based around them, cultures of profundity and sophisticated discourse, that give these states of consciousness their due profound value and significance. Apart from anything else, we can see here that a key aspect of consciousness is in fact compassion.
A culture based on the way qualia work will be inherently symbolic, suggestive, perhaps involve ritual or ceremony of some kind, would be intuitive and empathic, would be based on togetherness, would be based on the tone or ‘flavour’ of people, would include a fully-appreciated ambiguity, would be infused with the numinous, the mythical. It would also include left-brain thought as an adjunct to all this, in its proper place.
Many problems in the world stem from what happens when the mind is not left alone. The crucial problem, the problem of all problems, is the takeover of the right brain by the left brain. Now, there’s a common objection to the whole left & right brain concept, usually stated by left brain dominant people, that in the actual brain things aren’t so neatly demarcated. Well yes, that’s fine, but the point here is that there are these two ways of thinking, and the physical location of where they occur in the brain is of secondary importance (unless you’re training to be a brain surgeon of course). It is typically left brain dominant thinking to not notice this.
Anyway, regarding ‘left brain’ thinking. When an image of a supposed autonomous, unchanging self is hypnotically created in the ‘left brain’, and we are trained to identify with that image, we are now set up for all manner of problems. Because it isn’t real, reality will constantly be a threat. It only exists in the first place as a resistance to reality, so a kind of unstable self-reinforcing loop appears. It isn’t that we don’t have a self, either, it’s just that what we think of as our self isn’t really there. And again, this doesn’t mean that nothing is there.
Curiously, there can be similarities between certain strands of reductive left brain thinking and spirituality. For example, the scientific view is that the universe is deterministic and therefore free will is an illusion. This should tie in nicely with ideas that the ego has no real power, and that the world is interdependently arising. But for some reason it doesn’t. The answer to this lies in remembering what happens when the mind is left at peace. According to the left brain worldview, it should be nothing. But in fact wonderful things happen when the mind becomes still. And if those things are cultivated one can become awakened, losing the illusory split between self and other. But in the reductive materialist worldview, ideas such as the illusory nature of free will function like an intellectual yoga which then runs itself into the ground by saying that only what can be apprehended by intellect exists, instead of leading like a proper yoga would to the understanding that intellection is but a subset of consciousness. That disconnection from spiritual truth, that losing itself in intellectual self-referentiality, is what ultimately leads to the hard problem, and the fake ways of dealing with it such as denying it exists.
A common complaint about spirituality, created by egoic intellect, is that two people can be describing ostensibly the same spiritual reality, yet there is no way of knowing that they’re talking about the same thing. The intellect demands unambiguous definitions and becomes contemptuously angry when these are not forthcoming. Everything MUST be pinned down and exact (which of course is quite impossible). So often we see anti-spiritual people displaying hatred for the ambiguity and inexactitude of spirituality. We have seen so very much scorn in online forums over this very issue, and that scorn is clearly indicative of what’s out there in the world at large. But life takes place in that fuzziness, not the intellect. Failure to notice this means your attention is in the wrong place, and has probably accidentally trained itself thus, or been trained thus by society, so it’s likely to resist being moved to where it should be. The psyche certainly acts as if it has sub-personalities in it, the egoic intellect being a particularly jumpy and intense one (or collection of ones).
Why is this? Anything creating such vehement contempt and rage must be regarded as a threat somewhere deep down. If you try pushing reactive egoic intellect for substantive reasons for the anger, you will just get new demonstrations of the problem, all vented with much bluster but little substance. Perhaps it’s because the spiritual view represents death. The death of certainty, the death of security, and indeed the very death of the ego. The ego may get very boastful about how OK it is with “this life is all there is and it’s all totally meaningless”, probably because it makes it supposedly look powerful and confident, but if it was that secure in that view, perhaps it wouldn’t feel the need to vent rage and spleen quite so often about anything to do with spirituality.
Analytical intellect appears to have no real concept of sublation, whereby truths can be right for people at a certain level, which can then be discarded in favour of higher truths, and so on right the way to full awakening. This is one reason why those steeped in left-brain thought attack spirituality so forcefully – they don’t understand that truths can be provisionally right but then abandoned as consciousness moves nearer waking up. Waking up is the removal of falsehood, i.e. approximations, which being approximate are not actually reality.
We’ve all had the experience of something, or somebody, ticking all the boxes but still not being right for us. Those boxes are approximations created by analytical intellect. The ‘rightness’, or otherwise, is the reality. Checklists ultimately don’t work. It is not possible to think away all problems. Trying to do so is usually as a result of finding some aspect of reality unacceptable or intolerable, but reality does these things anyway.
Spirituality is not pindownable by the mind. It will always be found safe, away from the clutches of the intellect, in that greatest, most powerful intangible, Love.
But for materialists the very concept of awakening is demoted to just another state of consciousness caused by a particular type of brainwave or chemical reaction in the neurons. There’s no understanding that ultimately reality is not understandable solely by the egoic intellect, which itself consists entirely only of those approximations that need to be left behind. It’s the identification with a set of approximations (usually based on semantics) that actually stops us from realising who, or what, we are, even while we’re in the middle of truth.
As it is, saying that because spiritual realities (supposedly) contradict each other, then spirituality doesn’t exist is like saying that because people have different reactions to the same piece of music, then music doesn’t exist. Yet nobody complains that because QM is radically different to relativity which is in turn radically different to Newtonian mechanics, then science is all wrong and can be ignored. Why is this?
We appear to live in a generally anti-spiritual world and the reasons for this should be investigated. Once you get large groups of people faddishly going along with an idea an all agreeing amongst each other about how right it is, it’s a good bet that it’s wrong. This is what we’re seeing at the moment with naïve scientism in society at large.
Another analogy is that of friendship, or sexual relationships. The really important relationships. These particular interplays between people depend on so very many variables that there is simply no way of predicting who will get on, and in what way, and to what depth. But relationships happen, in all their infinite variety. And, of course, people exist.
As for the craving for definitions, all words in the dictionary ultimately refer to each other and some acknowledgment of this circularity of language needs to be allowed to temper intellectual discourse. It’s a way of returning intellect to its proper context. Words in themselves are just sounds and letters, and only gain meaning through use, and use involves the interplay of human minds and bodies, in an anthropological cultural context.
Furthermore, we need to consider something else curious about the nature of words. To give an example, if you take the word ‘squiggle’ it seems curiously descriptive of its own meaning. Lazily, people tend to say such words are onomatopoeic, but of course in this case a line drawn on a piece of paper makes no sound. The correct term for such words is ideophonic. If you go looking for ideophonic words, you will start to find them everywhere – lazy, perky, spiky, melt, tedious, round, dull…
Ultimately, all words are ideophonic – it’s just the particularly strong examples that we label as such. Here’s a link to research showing that people with synaesthesia are particularly good at guessing what words mean in languages they don’t know, but in fact we all have some ability to do this:
Even people without synaesthesia still have some ability to guess the right meaning of antonymic pairs of words. Where is this aesthetic sense of poetry coming in, though, in this whole affair? What actually is a sense of aesthetics anyway? How is this all even possible in the first place? Naturally, the article refers to ‘hard wiring in the brain’, but to put that in context, remember that we have no idea how any ‘wiring’ in the brain can in principle create subjective consciousness.
We return now to music. People can take profoundly different things from the same music, and can find it affects them quite differently themselves depending on the mood they’re in. Sometimes when you’re sad, sad music can help and uplifting music can be unbearable to listen to, other times the same sad music can bring you even further down, and uplifting music is healing. The same piece of music can have wildly different significances depending on who’s listening, their history, their psychological makeup, and the context they’re listening to it in. But it’s still there, and there are still shared realities associated with it – it’s not totally nebulous, and in fact can be technically analysed at length should you so wish. All this resonates with spirituality. We live in a surface-obsessed society, but we have interiority. It’s the interiority that is behind the music of human relationship. Yet we’re trained to keep our attention on the surface. Glamour is a big problem – projection of false allure, hiding darkness within. Dating sites rely on checklists, which don’t work (see above), yet they are now big business despite a dismally low success rate of 5% for long-term relationships – but that’s the point: it’s all about what we can work out with our intellect, instead of our heart.
You can look at the musical score and see the notes – and realise that that score is not the music. Spiritual writings are not spiritual reality. But even this realisation may not be enough – if it stays stuck in the intellect it won’t bring much insight. The abstract, timeless idea will always be qualitatively, even ontologically different from the living process that it’s related to somehow. In sieving out the life to create that abstraction, something essential is lost. Abstractions are dimensionless, but life courses through dimensions. We’ve all had the experience of knowing something just intellectually, then later really knowing it. That real understanding is surprisingly difficult to pin down intellectually, but that’s a problem with intellect, not the knowing.
You will not understand music by analysing individual notes, and you will not understand spiritual truth by analysing only its intellectual aspects.
Music involves the intellect, just as spirituality involves it. It enlivens it, breathes into it and makes it live, makes it dance. But it is always the intellect that is subsidiary to spirit, always the technicalities of music that are there to express musical truth. You cannot recreate the dance by analysing ever more intensely – even if your analysis was perfect, which is impossible anyway, there would be no hint of dance there. Intellect is a subset of Consciousness. The score is not the music. Now imagine that the scientific method brings us the, or rather a kind of musical score and consider the implications. Feel them.
The implications, of course, include what is going on societally. People used to really need religion, on one level, and now it’s gone they turn to the ultimate story of the surface, namely science – a far more certain story, not requiring faith (or so it seems, as long as you don’t look too closely…).
But perhaps people were effectively got into a state where they needed religion. In places where that’s gone they are in a state where they turn to science instead, with its thrillingly godless story and excellent technological success record, though obviously people don’t like to look too hard at the effects of the industrial revolution on society and the environment, or the invention (and use) of Zyklon B, or bad pharma, etc. The “state” that people have been trained into is disconnection from spiritual reality, and it goes with its own psychologies. The main tone of those psychologies is fear, and we then have all the other unpleasantries that come from that – anger, defensiveness, contempt, cruelty, violence, hatred.
As Wittgenstein said, science could answer all the scientific questions but that would still leave the real ones unanswered. The man who survives cancer thanks to radiotherapy must still face up to the fact that he abused his daughter. The person who is now mobile again following a stroke thanks to medical technology must now – what? What next? They’re still going to die one day, just like everybody else. All those people in an ecstasy of communication on social media and smart phones and email and dropbox and the cloud, with their RSS feeds and podcasts and Snapchat and Facetime and Reddit and Instagram, they don’t know what, if anything, any of it is for, or why they’re doing it, or if there’s a why in the first place.
It’s good to always remember Wittgenstein’s dictum ‘don’t look for the meaning, look for the use’. Take a step back and realise the way words are being used is of prime importance. “Realising” here means something non-verbal. Taking an anthropological stance shows what’s really happening when language is being used. Discourses become displays and interplays amongst psychologies, of energies of the psyche.
So. The psyche. Nobody really wants to look within. It’s not nice in there. Another reason, perhaps, why science is so popular – it deals entirely with looking out at the world and observing its surface. Of course this is why it has such major problems with interiority, in particular subjective experience. But spiritual people too can use spirituality to bypass their inner pain.
People go online and post persona stuff – virtue signalling, moral grandstanding, whatever you want to call it, it’s everywhere online, in a particularly acute form because people can (mis)represent themselves as they please. There’s no tone of voice in an online comment. That means there’s no flavour of the real life person, no vibe, though a limited aspect of it can build up over time, over many online posts. The internet is a playground for people who want the world to know how great they are. It’s also brittle as anything, so there is much vitriolic condemnation and general overreactivity and flaming. Flaming is the right word, as it’s so hellish. But hell is what you get when the ego gets disconnected from the heart of your being.
In the end, we must set the controls for the heart of ‘neutrality’, here in inverted commas because it’s anything but neutral, the terminology referring to the fact that What Is has no satisfactory verbal or conceptual referent. Intellectual concepts can only ever be provisional, and reality is absolute. Go there first. You really need healing from the wounds of this world. What have you been doing about that, while you do all your stuff? Have you been doing anything? Have you been using spirituality or politics or anger in general to bypass life? Life is really about being fully present, immensely difficult though that may be. Your attentivity has been zapped from childhood upwards, and it’s getting worse all the time, year after year. But if you treat yourself to reclaiming your mindfulness, the difficulty in doing so will gradually ease off, and if you manage to fully accept, through that acceptance you will gain something truly profound – or perhaps unmask something that was there all along but hidden. The sheer vastness, the infinite intimacy, the pristine purity of our true consciousness is unaffected by whatever happens, and gives it all profound meaning. That consciousness includes the body, so you must resist the urge to use spirituality as an escape from life. In your body are all the wounds that need healing, so we must turn compassionately towards the body and stay there. Don’t be too hard on the whole spiritual healing thing, and don’t buy into the easy, knee-jerk condemnation of it that’s swilling about like a poison.
Life happens in qualia-land, and if you want to live properly, you must live in a qualia kind of way. Apart from anything else, it’s where the meaning happens. This may involve ritual, or myth, or art, or magic – it will not involve anything purely intellectual, though the intellect could and should be involved. But to live properly, you must turn your attention away from its overidentification with analytical, egoic intellect, and cultivate mindfulness, which is cultivation of the heart. Mindfulness can be mindfulness of the world outside or the world within, but in order to be mindful you must let all thought come and go, and keep letting go. And you must be mindful of and through your body, otherwise you’re stuck back in your head yet again.
It’s like dancing – the intellect can watch from the sidelines and criticise and analyse without ever joining in, or it can join in. But if it joins in, it has to go along with the dance, with the music. Successful intellectual thinking thus means to be able to dance, or to join the ensemble with style, getting fully into the spirit and not getting hung up on analysis of the score.
You are not an orphan. You are meant to be here. But your realisation of this has been deliberately obscured. It looks all sewn up – science, philosophy, the arts, all propagating a false outward-looking worldview where the objective is supposedly primary. It’s time to start waking up
The infinite IF
The Department of This, That and the Other