Monday, July 23, 2012

Manchester Talk May 31, 2012

     Here at last is the first post from the Manchester talk, which some of those attending have requested be posted. It was written twenty years after the paper in the previous fifteen posts during which time I finally found, in 2010, the hard evidence, the neuro-psychological evidence, I knew had to be there but had never been able to retrieve in digestible form. Thanks to Iain McGilchrist, that evidence has been gathered into a form available to anyone in his book The Master and His Emmisary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. More recently, early this year I discovered the work of Margaret Barker, which confirmed some of the rest of the evidence for the theological corrections that must be made if Christianity is to survive.
     I have not yet readied this paper for publication so there are footnotes missing and other lacunae, but since I am about to disappear for a week, I beg your indulgence. 
     Once again the typographical style on blogger is acting up so apologies for erratic typeface and spacing. 

NB: The diagram is very small but if you click on it, it will enlarge.

Next Post will be on August 2.

May 31st is the Feast of the Visitation, and I hope that during the past 24 hours you have had good things visited upon you. But by liturgical reckoning it is already Friday, and while breakfast is still a long way off, I'd like to ask you to think—or rather to not think—some impossible things: first, please forget everything you thought you ever knew about theology, religion, and so-called spirituality, and above all, the word mysticism. Although I think this word has become entirely useless and should be dropped, I will attempt a definition later on. The reason for this request is that in the popular mind, and in many scholarly minds, contemplation and so-called mysticism have become linked with the word experience, in spite of the fact that experience is the opposite of contemplation. Contemplation entails relinquishing the interpretive process and all claims to experience; the word experience always, and without exception, entails interpretation, and language is always self-reflexive.
Next, I'd like to point out that everything I will say tonight can be confirmed by anyone who is willing to observe their own mind. Many of the key texts that issue from the ancient, late antique, and medieval worlds concern the findings of such observation and are remarkably consistent. As we shall see, this consistency arises not from what has come to be known as the so-called perennial philosophy, but its opposite: this consistency is the expression of the neuro-psychological foundations of the human person. 
The material I am presenting has developed over the course of six and a half decades. I can't tell you how many drafts of my forthcoming book I have tossed away because I could not find the appropriate presentation of the evidence I knew was out there somewhere. Then in mid-November of 2010, I discovered the work of Iain McGilchrist, with whom I'm sure you're familiar, which provided neuropsychological evidence; and more recently, in January of this year, Ann Loades pointed me to the work of Margaret Barker, whose work exposes antecedents in the First Temple.

First, let's look at the diagram. It's just a sketch and not meant to be comprehensive in any way. The process it symbolises is characterised by continual flow in many permutations; and while this flow may be more or less cut off by the preoccupations of the self-conscious mind, it should not be thought of in terms of stages or steps or stasis or linearity. It is holistic.
Neuro-psychologists tell us that our brains are divided into two unequal parts, with two very different ways of functioning, having two different, often opposing agendas. However, by contrast with the simplistic ideas about the divided brain of the 1970s, both hemispheres are always at work in every situation, one side or the other predominating, depending on the task at hand. It is thought that in general the optimal functioning of the brain will favour the right hemisphere.
         But we must always remember that brain is not the same as mind, though there is a close correspondence between them. Whatever you do with your mind affects the structure of your brain—one of the reasons vigilance figures so prominently in ascetic literature. And with the mention of asceticism, we also should understand that in itself, imposed as a template, asceticism is meaningless and sterile. Instead, it should be understood as an expression of the process I am describing; that is, it is what is necessary to sustain the openness, the praxis, to receive the gifts that are being given. Often a person will not be aware that what they are doing might be considered ascesis at all, any more than an athlete would regard his or her training regime as anything but a means to an end. The same applies to ethics, as we shall see.


Blogger Susan said...

Dear Maggie -
Two small comments on this first part of your Manchester Talk. This whole topic is one I've been chewing on for about as long as you have, and have found nearly impossible to articulate. Here's something I wrote in 2003 (complete with a chart that rather crudely parallels your diagram.)

I think we are looking at the same thing - you with far more intellectual tools, and more devotion than I.

Second point - you state "experience is the opposite of contemplation..." In some other languages (I'm thinking of Tibetan,) that which is designated by 'experience' in English is analyzed very subtly. I think there are at least aspects of it which are not the opposite of contemplation, as you describe it. If this were just a matter of word usage, it would be trivial - but I think it points to a slightly different understanding of the experience/contemplation process (can I say that?) that you refer to. This language has arisen from a very deep meditative tradition, not mere speculation. I mention it, not to contradict you at all, but to suggest some material that might be useful.

With gratitude,


6:14 pm, August 20, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Dear Susan,

Sorry for the delay in posting your comment, but gmail put it in the spam box!

I entirely agree with you; my remarks are aimed at the Western tradition and particularly the textual tradition.

The Tibetan tradition is indeed much more subtle and I wouldn't even begin to try to comment on it except to say precisely that—which I have done in other papers.

Bless you and thank yoiu


9:36 am, August 22, 2012  

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