Monday, March 23, 2020

Silent Knowing II

In light of the paradox of intention we can see how certain passages of the bible make sense: for example, you lose your life to gain it. Without the input of the right hemisphere, the self-conscious mind is closed and a simulacrum, the pseudo-life that needs to be broken open. When we have seemingly ‘lost’ this artificial construct, the source of our real life can be accessed through the right hemisphere. I think the ancient and medieval worlds understood this paradox but didn’t have the psychological language. We have the psychological language, but have lost the insight about the paradox. In consequence, we have mis-translated and misinterpreted many ancient and medieval texts.
I want to make a slight digression here to suggest an analogy I have just begun to work on. The elements of a paradox, which is spatial, cannot be dismantled without destroying the meaning of a paradox. Paradoxes, far from being impasses, are descriptors, gateways, portals. When we come across them they momentarily silence the self-conscious mind because it can’t cope with something non-linear. It is possible to learn to use paradoxes as jumping off places into silence. But we can also think of paradoxes as being entangled in a way analogous to entangled particles. Even if entangled particles are situated at opposite ends of the universe, if you change the charge on one, the charge on the other will simultaneously change. On January 16, the BBC 4 broadcast an absolutely fascinating hour long programme called Einstein’s Quantum Riddle on how this theory of quantum entanglement was proved. One enterprising neuro-psychiatrist has already suggested that entanglement may eventually help us to explain the mind-brain mystery. I think when we are talking about silent knowing and silent relating we can see how important both the notions of entanglement and the paradox of intention are.
Now in light of all this, I want to say a word about the very vexed subject of experience. Originally the word is French and it meant, and still means, to experiment; in our sense it should include discernment, but often doesn’t. The word only began to take on the self-reflexive, left brain character that it has now at the end of the 14th century. All, absolutely ALL of what we call experience is self-conscious interpretation. Before we interpret and name its contents, the world is an abstraction. For example, the light coming into our eyes has to be interpreted by the brain before we can say we have seen an image. First of all, the brain has to figure out which pattern is being seen—a dog or a cat, and second it has to turn it right side up, as the pattern comes in to the retina upside down.
At the end of the Divine Comedy, as Prue Shaw recounts in her marvellous book, Dante ‘…has an intuition, though he cannot remember it, of the …union of the divine and human natures in Christ. Then his imagination fails as his intellect and will rotate, turned by the love that moves the heavens.’ (Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity, p. 254) Intuition lies somewhere on the border of the event horizon where the traces from the right hemisphere communicate themselves to self-consciousness. It is important to remember that these processes work at lightning speed beyond our ken, and that both hemispheres are needed for most actions, with one or the other predominating.
Even merely noticing that something has happened to us is already interpretation. From all of this it can be seen that the term ‘mystical experience’ is not a paradox but a contradiction. Wittgenstein notes that birth and death are not experiences at all because there is no self-consciousness. God may be in the experience, but the experience is not God, and we can never know for sure if the traces left in our imagination, communicated to our self-consciousness, which it then interprets, arise merely from our wishful thinking or are a gift of grace. We can only give thanks for what we are given and wait in hope and unknowing. As Meister Eckhart says, if it can be named, it is not God.(German Works p. 204) Or, as he says in another place, if you’re doing something special it is not God.
Thus, the popularity today of hunting for so-called ‘religious experiences’ is not only futile, it is a form of hubris; it will only lock the hunter more tightly in the circularity of his or her own self-consciousness. This does not mean, of course, that we should not seek contexts that will help us be continually open to what God will give us. Certainly there are pre-verbal self-conscious events on the event horizon that we try to interpret to ourselves through language which we call ‘religious experience’, but the really significant events are those where self-consciousness is elided partially or completely, and the right hemisphere, which draws on far more than we have any idea, has a chance to leave new traces and insights, which we then may interpret as ‘experience’. 
For example, Teresa of Avila often says something to the effect that she couldn’t possibly put into words what happened to her but then she comes up with an elaborate metaphor of seeing Christ magnificently dressed as the king of Spain. Or there is the famous mutual ecstasy of Augustine and Monica at Ostia (Conf. IX:10). Ecstasy means standing outside, that is, standing outside self-consciousness, in their case, a mutual total attention on God. The key here is that, first, Augustine tells us that ‘we were in the present’ as opposed to past and future, and second, the Latin in Augustine’s Confessions says that their souls were amplified and they had access to the wisdom of God. He also says that in their ascent they came to their minds and went beyond them. The amplification is a clue that they were no longer subject to the constraints of self-consciousness and were plunged into the ineffable, which then left traces. He says, Then with a sigh, leaving the first fruits of the Spirit bound to that ecstasy, we returned to the sounds of our own tongue.Again, the key is the first fruits (the traces) bound to ecstasy and returning to the sounds of speech.
Or, there is the 19th and 20tth century Dutch Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper, who wrote: ‘As long as we exercise extreme care, one of the benefits of silent prayer may be that we lose ourselves in spiritual contemplation of the Infinite Being.’ (Hans Boersma, Seeking God, p. 350)
Of course we will never know for sure what happens to anyone having such encounters, but it is very dangerous and genuinely misleading to apply words such as ‘experience’ to such occasions. This is one reason that the great spiritual guides of the past—and one or two in the present—say that if something like this happens to you, above all don’t talk about it. From what has been said above we can understand that anything we say will be reductive and scatter or freeze the energy, or grace bestowed by the event, and preclude insight that might come from it. Better, like Mary, to guard these things in our hearts and let them reveal their meaning, or lack of it, in their own good time. 
I think we should get rid of the word ‘mystic’ and its cognates, which have caused so much harm. Nevertheless, if I were asked to define it, I would say that mysticism is ‘living the ordinary through transfigured perception’. Note that I don’t say ‘transformed perception.’ Transform is a very misleading word in Christianity as it means changing one thing into another. What happens rather is that God takes us exactly as we are and transfigures us into glory. This is also the reason that the use of ‘true self’ and false self’ is so destructive, because it implies that some of the self, the part we don’t like, is left behind. It is precisely through our darkness that salvation arises. As Julian of Norwich notes, our sins become our glory—indeed, they are precisely the way to glory. Sin is behoovely. 

1 Comments:

Anonymous hanna said...

thank you.

6:44 am, March 28, 2020  

Post a Comment

<< Home