Saturday, October 15, 2011

Exploring Silence X

While the silence tradition was kept alive by a dwindling number of advocates—dissenters (e.g., Quakers, Shakers), humanists, metaphysical poets, hymn writers and, in the twentieth century, by figures such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Simone Weil—for mainline Christianity it was lost. Silence became alien, even something to be feared. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) remarked, 'Silence is the virtue of fools.' [1] In the next generation, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) in the Pensées would say of the skies, 'The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.' [2]

The consequences of the loss of the work of silence and especially the silence of the natural world were devastating; we live with them still. Robert Bringhurst notes: 'The cultural prosperity of North America before the colonization arose from the fact that human cultures were sustained within the larger culture, which is nature as a whole. But to those who ran the [residential Native American/First Nations] schools, the integration of humans with their natural environment was not just undesirable, it was evil; it was satanic. The schools, therefore, taught the subjugation of nature as a duty ... the unsustainability of a human-centered system posed no problems for those who ran the residential schools. If they were faithful to their creed, they expected the age of human mastery to give way in its turn to the kingdom of God.' [3] This notion of the kingdom of God is, of course, entirely opposite to what is meant by this phrase in the bible, as the gospels themselves and countless witnesses from the early days of Christianity have testified.

To briefly sum up:

The everyday self-conscious mind has a small capacity. It tends to get caught in feedback loops of its own making. It is full of preconceptions, fixed ideas and images. It is where the imaginary construct we think of as 'self' resides. It is full of noise and subject to emotional storms; it cultivates self-dramatization. Its thoughts are blown around like leaves in a storm. Yet it thinks it thinks it sees clearly; it thinks it is autonomous; it thinks it is in touch with reality. In fact, everything it experiences is distorted and what it thinks is direct perception is interpretation at several removes. All of its experience is interpretation (Cloud, ch. 8; 18/17-23.)

This superficial conceptual mind is not 'bad', merely a mess. It is what is left after beholding is broken—its flow of exchange with the deep mind. Self-consciousness plays a positive role. It is where the human person becomes aware of imagination. Self-consciousness sorts and classifies images and relationships through linear reason; it receives, orders and interprets images and relationships, and all the beauties and wonders of the sensory and material world. But it is paradoxical: it is trying to create a virtual organized world out of chaotic thoughts.

Because of its inherent instability, self-consciousness cannot see the sensory and material world or relationships clearly. It only can create artifacts out of what it receives the deep mind's direct perceptions of reality; it cannot see that reality. To make its contribution useful instead of destructive, its perspective has quite literally to be continually yielded back to and trans-figured in the silence of the deep mind; that is to say, it must continually submit its data to the silence so that its habitual patterns, the way it 'figures things out', can be closer to the deep mind's direct perception of reality, while at the same time helping the deep mind to expand its range. It is only when the self-conscious mind has yielded its constructs to the deep mind that the truth of the person is then given the possibility of unfolding. But as long as the energy and knowledge the self-conscious mind employs is primarily drawn from itself, it tends to selfishness and grandiosity, grabbing everything it can to shore up the house of cards, the illusion it has created which it calls 'life'. [4]

[1] De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum (1623) cited in Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
[2]Pascal's Pensés, New York, Dutton, Pensée 206. (Project Gutenberg EBook).
[3] Robert Bringhurst, The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology (Counterpoint, 2008).
[4] Cf., Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, (Yale, 2009).


Anonymous AM said...

Buddhism, minus its Western commodification, are keener in their practice and wisdom about this deep mind, and the illusions of a self-conscious one. Japan's Shinto and its rich rituals mostly done in silence is way more silencing. The West and Christianity remains thirsty of this deep well. Seems like Jesus' words for the Samaritan woman at the well (are women more attuned to this deep mind?) was also meant for self-conscious Western Christianity - forget your physical thirst and the search for self-gratification, your mode of worship. The means and the end is to draw from the "deep well," and to worship in "spirit and truth". And the Samaritan woman forgot that she was thirsty.

12:39 am, October 16, 2011  

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