Saturday, May 25, 2013

More Development from Al Mozol

Rossian Spiral/Model of Apophatic Knowing (must be read along with the original diagram – July 23, 2012)

“...a spiral is a figure that retains its shape (i. e. , its proportions) as it grows in one dimension by addition at the open end. You see, there are no truly static spirals.” Gregory Bateson (italics original)

Nature has a way of conveying its wisdom that life comes with arcs and spirals  - the protruding bellies of pregnant women; the house and shape of the human brain; the bodies of dolphins or the bark and trunks of trees. Human ingenuity is only beginning to acknowledge the healing power of spirals and arcs applied for example to the circular structure of cyclotron and gantry used in proton therapy. Common wisdom tells us how people abhor being 'boxed-in,' how linear structures are rather more suffocating compared with those that tend to 'encompass' like old cathedrals or caves of solitude, silence and transfiguration. 

The basic assumption of the Rossian spiral/model of apophatic knowing is that human being and doing is ordained towards theosis or transfiguration and that there is an incarnational means, context and language that facilitate “knowledge” of the way to this telos of transfiguration. They are incarnational for two reasons: the means, context, and language are available to everyone; and second, because transfiguration can happen though more imperceptibly and incrementally within a person's lifetime. The means and context towards transfiguration and its expression in human language (could be deprived, vapid, narcissistic, self-destructive also) is beholding.

The original diagram [posted Monday, July 23, 2012] shows that 'human knowing' tends to traverse between two 'hemispheres' – the left and the right hemispheres. The two hemispheres could be both metaphorical in one sense, or literal in another in reference to the hemispheres of the human brain. In apophatic knowing, the line dividing the metaphorical and the literal is blurred. The contemplative mind is mediated by the physicality of the human brain. But it is also, in the tradition of Bateson and Bringhurst, “a reflection of large parts and many parts of the natural world outside the thinker”. In-between the two hemispheres is the area of liminality, the area that is most marketed as the 'contemplative experience'. The left hemisphere could mean the hemisphere of differences and distinctions whereas the right hemisphere could mean the hemisphere of the immeasurable density and spaciousness of the divine vision of the goodness of creation, of the human heart. The diagram however shows that the area of liminality is simply the area of waiting, or the intent to wait in silence, or the willingness to be handed over to silence, to be attentive to the silence that is more spacious than the linguistic expressions in the left hemisphere. The present impasse regarding contemplative practice is how liminality is marketed as the contemplative prayer when the deeper truth that the model advances is that contemplative prayer is way beyond human consciousness and more silent than one's intent to wait. Contemplative prayer is floating in the sea of silence where self-consciousness on how to float is suspended. After the float, there is no way talking, analysing, or interpreting what happen during the actual floating. One can only float in the absence of the conscious effort to float. To float is to let go of the initial intention and desire to float. The right hemisphere is the sea of silence, the context of beholding. But this sea of silence is not something external. It is inherent in creation, in every person. The practice of silence then becomes the means of beholding, of entering into the infinite context and space of silence. The gift of beholding is transfigured perception, growth in the 'mind of Christ,' the re-ordering or purification of human desires by the Spirit that Paul alluded to in Galatians 5:22-26.                 

The image of the spiral above is meant to aid in understanding the Rossian diagram. The green fine dashes represent the content of the left hemisphere. The open end of every dash represents the point of liminality, the doorway to surrender in silence. The space in-between every dash is the continuous space of silence in the practice of beholding. The context of the beholding is the white background of the whole spiral. But the spaces of silence in-between the language of the left hemisphere could become the means also towards outward growth or kenosis in prayer and compassion in fulfillment of the two greatest commandments. The spiral looks like it has a point of beginning. It doesn't have a beginning. The context is the Spirit's playground, the space “more than one can imagine or ask for.” Be-ginning here is original, infinite self-outpouring that pervades every nook and cranny of creation (Keller). Hence, the beginning of the spiral could be anywhere else in the beholding of creation that is the recipient of divine self-outpouring, the divine activity human consciousness, if humble enough, has no sense of its trajectory. The spiral has no Newtonian neatness but is rather projective of some quantum movement of digressions, seemingly Sisiphyian monotony of “sitting in one's cell” over and over, of going back always to where one has started, detours, ennui, confusions, woundedness, of human shortness in beholding – human predicaments that could cyclically give birth to the necessity of beholding because beholding brings hope for a transfigured world in the here-and-now.


Anonymous sgl said...

i left the following comment on a somewhat skeptical blog, and thought that it might be of interest to you and your readers also. (if you think not, just don't publish, please.)

my comment:
not believing in god isn't necessarily a reason not to pray.

i'm reminded of a quote i heard about someone saying to a protester "you don't really expect your protest to change how anyone else behaves do you?" and the protester responded, "i don't protest so that they will change, i protest so that i won't."

some quotes from an interesting blog about why the author prays:


What happens in prayer? Does God really listen and answer? I have no clue. But this much I've learned:

Prayer is an act of hallowing.

Imagine someone comes to you and shares a great burden. They share loss, failure, despair, fear, brokenness, or sickness. Their own or that of someone they love. What do you say upon listening? Thanks for sharing? Good luck with all that? I'm so sorry?


God, as best I could tell, never really answered prayer. So I didn't see any point in talking into the air. And the best literature I could find on the subject, from the contemplative tradition, left me cold and frustrated.

So I stopped praying. And years passed.


I love those words. I love how they pull me out of myself. How they cause me to think about all these people--happy and sad, sleeping and working--around the world. "Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night."


When I pray I stand in that hopelessness. I place myself in the position of those who can do nothing put pray. Prayer is their only option, only recourse. It is the only move available to them. Life forces people to their knees. So I go to my knees to be with them, to pray with them. In this sense, Jesus was God's prayer.

In short, the act of prayer, for me at least, is a participation in the vast lament of humankind. Prayer is a visceral, collective weeping toward the heavens.


Prayer is, simply, pledging allegiance. Consequently, prayer is political and a form of resistance and protest.

Prayer specifies your God, your kingdom, your hope, your ethic.

When you pray you choose sides.


[no pithy excerpts, so you'll have to follow the link to read the whole thing]


11:10 pm, May 25, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

This image is like an Aboriginal painting.

re arcs and curves. I have a copy of the book, The Power of Limits: Proportional Harmonies in Nature, Art and Architecture by Gyorgy Doczi which I use in making art.

" Contemplative prayer is floating in the sea of silence where self-consciousness on how to float is suspended. After the float, there is no way talking, analysing, or interpreting what happen during the actual floating."

There is (seemingly) little sequentiality between meditation and "beholding" or "kensho" or "breakthrough" or whatever tag one might care to put on this non experience.

Seems unlikely anyway.

I do think there is an "echo" of sorts however. It manifests in the self conscious as the thought feeling "What was that?" with no way to find an answer at all.

Without at least this much where does the question and where do diagrams like this come from?

2:10 am, May 26, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

The erratic quality of the spiral progression is interesting.

It reminds me of the track one's footprints leave in walking towards anything. We do not walk in a linearly straight manner in doing this; we walk in slight zigs and zags, to the left and to the right of a straight line as we progress.

2:34 am, May 26, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...


This is really interesting!

The white implies "whereof" comes the sense of "vastness" which seems so present and so unholdable.

The area of liminality as/is the edge of green, waiting or the willingness to surrender: again the potential in this is seen. It takes up no space whatsoever. Where is over the edge of nothing? Movement, if implied, is the coming "into" Grace?

I wonder why the spiral? To me a spiral does imply movement. It seems in some manner to be self conscious. Is the spiral also a map about hope?

3:30 am, May 26, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,
I agree that Nature can convey its wisdom with arcs and circles.Our bodies to have an instinctual knowledge of this which seems evident when we look at sacred dances from various cultures and see circular movements incorporated into the dance. I reside in eastern Canada and the Snake Dance of the Mi'Kmaq First Nations People in this area is one such example of this spiraling movement.
Interestingly, the Square Dance has it origins in the 17th century England during the Age of Reason!
John O'Donohue in Anam Cara describes the mystery of the circle movingly, " The Celtic mind was never drawn to the single line; it avoided ways of seeing and being which seek satisfaction in certainty...The circle never gives itself completely to the eye or to the mind, but offers a trusting hospitality that which is complex and mysterious; it embraces depth and height together.

6:10 pm, May 26, 2013  
Anonymous Tessa said...

Al - the circle/spiral movement and image feels like a good companion for the diagram - thankyou. Firstly because it interrupts the linear thought process which seems to be a default position of so much thinking - one which I fall into time and again! It reminds me of the spiral flowerbed we created in our back garden some years ago. I had wanted to echo natural form in our woodland home - it took a wise visitor to point out we had created the simplest form of prayer labyrinth. It is walked regularly by ourselves and visitors. Secondly you embed the left-right dynamic in its context the 'playground of the Spirit' - wonderful! Again thinking of your spiral and our spiral prayer walk - the green dashes become my foot-steps, the end of every dash the place of decision, to go on or stop, the need to be ungrasping and willing, the spaces in between where I am suspended, unknowing, off balance, seeking the next piece of firm ground - all happening in the context of sky, earth, plants, creatures, air, water, sounds and silence. Having reached the centre, turned and returned, there is no end, only a beginning ....
Grace and peace, Tessa

9:20 am, May 31, 2013  

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