Monday, July 11, 2011

Event Horizon and Deep Mind/Theology

This post is a response to some questions from someone who wishes not to have their comment published but was asking what I meant by the 'event horizon' and 'engagement with the deep mind. Also if I have a sense that at some point Christianity turned away from Christ and if I seek that breaking point in my scholarship (yes, that's one of the minor goals). What is the relationship between the deep mind and Christ, and what does this have to do with going to church on Sunday morning. Quite a menu, but thank you for asking! I'd much rather respond to people's questions than write into a vacuum.

[But please, when you don't want your comment published, PUT THE REQUEST DO NOT PUBLISH IN BIG LETTERS!!! Otherwise I might inadvertently overlook it.]

As a friend of mine recently said, it's amazing it takes so many words to explain something that is to utterly simple! So, apologies for the length of what follows. It will be expanded in subsequent posts.

It's a bit frustrating because there is a diagram I have created that for copyright reasons I can't (yet) post on the blog.

Imagine a flask laid on its side with the opening pointing to the right. Imagine that it has a connecting space, a wide tube, if you like; then imagine on the right side of the diagram an infinitely open, multi-dimensional space. Imagine that the energy centre is on the R. and that there is free flow between the two sides. This is the ideal; most of us are stuck on the L. and that's where the culture wants us, because if we're stuck on the L., it can exploit us.

This diagram represents a very simple version of how ancient and medieval writers understood the mind to work, much of which finds consonance with modern neuro-psychology. Writers such as Evagrius, Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Denys, Richard of St Victor and the Cloud-author understood that theology develops in part from how the mind works.

The left-hand side, the flask-shape, is the self-conscious mind. The connecting tube is liminality, and the right-hand side is the deep mind, which we can't access directly, but which we can influence by intention, paradox and resonance. The 'event-horizon' is at the point where liminality elides into the deep mind; beyond this point the self-conscious mind cannot go. Writers exploit this faculty all the time. I will think: 'next week I will write about pumpkins in my garden' and then forget about it. When next week comes around the essay is already done. All I have to do is sit down and let it flow through my fingers. Or think about another example: the word on the tip of the tongue, which you have to forget (and forget you are trying to remember) in order to create a mental 'space' into which the word can be given back to you (it is gratuitous) from the deep mind. The deep mind is also activated by word-knots, that is, a word that carries many meanings, puns, allusive language, apophatic images, rituals, etc.. Self-consciousness, by contrast, likes banality and repetition.

L. side (self-consciousness) has virtual perception; R side has direct perception. L side of brain can hold 40 items in play at any moment; R side, 11 million. L side tends to circularity and has one form of attention (which in meditation it uses to subvert itself). R side perceives directly. It is multi-dimensional and has at least six kinds of attention; it is where the connections are made, where metaphor and wordplay are processed (See Iain McGilchrist, The Master and the Emissary: The Divided Brain and the History of the World (New Haven, 2009). The R side, then, is anything but irrational, but scholars often call cognition that is non-linear 'irrational', and use the word 'rational' when 'linear' is meant; the R. side is not irrational, it is rational in a far more sophisticated global and multidimensional way.

Liminality is as far as self-consciousness can go. Here are the threshold and effects of unseen communication with, and input from, the R. side, but liminality is not the R side. Liminality is where the effects of the work of R side first appear. The person must wait in liminality in attentive receptivity for gratuity, for what irrupts from the R side. This is contemplation properly speaking. There is an analogy with what physicists call an event-horizon. In this case the horizon is caused by the impossibility of direct access to the deep mind but, paradoxically, waiting in the event-horizon provides the necessary conditions for indirect access to and irruption from the deep mind (the deep mind can be influenced by intention, as every writer knows). See Rothschild Canticles f 104r at Contemplation is not to be confused with abstraction, which is a function of the self-conscious mind (à Kempis), nor with trance (Rolle). In auto-hypnosis, self-consciousness is still in control (see the works of Milton Erickson on medical hypnosis). Experience goes no further than liminality because experience is always interpretation—it is a function of the virtual mind. It is nonsense to speak of an experience of excessus mentis. If there is excessus, there is no mentis.

Excessus mentis, the suspension of self-consciousness, ordinarily happens many times every day. It is essential to the learning process. That it has occurred can be discerned only very rarely by its effects. The suspension of self-consciousness is entirely gratuitous; there is no way to force it. Excessus mentis is not the goal, however, and one-pointed meditation is only a first and minor step in a larger programme. The goal is to move one's centre from self-consciousness (L.) to the deep mind (R.) so that the latter can inform all of life through exchange with self-consciousness. As this process matures, excessus mentis fades in terms both of incidence and significance. It becomes the hidden source on which the self-conscious mind continually draws.

To translate this into Christian terminology: the L. side is our fallen mind; it was distracted from its continual beholding with God in the garden of Eden by the first conversation with the wise snake. If Adam and Eve hadn't been distracted they would have been automatons, and God wants his people to be free. He wants them to choose to behold. (This account is in Irenaeus, 2nd century). That is all God has ever asked of people. God is in the seat of the soul on the R. side of the diagram. It is here the Spirit is at work. So to receive what God has to give, we have to let go the chatter and ideas (even of God) in our self-consciousness (which is only a virtual picture of reality anyway) in order to re-connect with the R. side, where there is direct perception, continual beholding, and the Spirit gives new life. Once the mind is re-connected with itself and the continuum restored, the Spirit can increasingly inform all of our self-conscious life. It's never a question of either/or but rather putting self-consciousness at the service of the deep mind instead of the other way around.

This is what Phil. 2:5-11 is referring to: we need our self-consciousness, but it has a tendency to think it is God. All of its ideas, particularly the construct of 'self' has to be repeatedly relinquished into the silence to be trans-figured. Literally. It is the way we 'figure things out' or our perspective that is changed. It is incarnation, transfiguration and resurrection rolled into one. This movement to subject the self-conscious mind to the workings of the spirit in the deep mind is the en-Christing process—Jesus was a person; Christ is a process. We might think of Jesus as the un-distracted who taught us this en-Christing process, which is re-connecting with God's life in us and ours in him through beholding; continually choosing to turn away from the noise with which we distract ourselves to—metaphorically speaking—reach into the 'dazzling darkness', to wait on what it has to give. Gradually this process takes over so that we are no longer the initiators of the movement, but are animated by the Spirit.

* * * * *

So to answer your other two questions, yes, the church did turn away from this knowledge; in fact, it actively suppressed it until, by the time of Luther, within the institution, it was lost. Obviously there were people who kept it alive: women who had clandestine translations of Marguerete Porete made; Quakers, poets, hymn-writers, Bonhoeffer and Simone Weil—anyone, in fact, who had the patience to sit and watch their own mind.

And lastly, what does it have to do with going to church on Sunday morning? Alas, not much because without this knowledge those who create the liturgy and language no longer know how to help us be 'onyd'. The disappearance of the word 'behold' from modern translations of the bible is just one egregious example. Anyway, to help people be onyd with God is no longer their agenda, sadly; self-perpetuation is. And they certainly don't want us to be spiritually mature because we might wake up and find out the emperor has no clothes on.

And if the question arises but what about one's neighbour? What about charity? Good works? The answer is that a community is only as healthy as the solitudes that make it up, and any charity that does not arise from the overflow of love that comes from contemplation tends to be patronising and exploitive. 'Your life and your death is with your neighbour,' said Anthony of the desert. But we must learn the gracious spaciousness of God's love within ourselves first so that we can then welcome our neighbour into that gracious spaciousness.


Anonymous Henry Burke said...

I like this "diagram" very much and I love the word "event-horizon." I have several times asked mystical writers if they write about what they experienced or about their interpretation of it or about its subsequent effects. Mostly puzzled looks in response. The diagram gives a good way of looking at it. It also makes clear an idea of what contemplation is. Can't wait to read further elaboration regarding those forebears.

9:25 pm, July 11, 2011  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Thank you.

Much to ponder and to explore here.

There must be a point where all outer forms of religion expression fall away, or fail, or perhaps come together in what is so much more.

Perhaps what you write of here is the "where" of it.

5:46 pm, July 12, 2011  

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