Thursday, August 30, 2012

American Edition of 'Writing the Icon of the Heart'

I am happy to announce that Writing the Icon of the Heart: In Silence Beholding will be published in the USA in 2013. More specific information when I have it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

VII Manchester Talk May 31, 2012

Transfigured perception has the clarity and fertility of an imagination purged of many of the distortions of self-consciousness. Transfigured perception eventuates in true effacement of self which, it should be noted, is something that is effected in the subject as opposed to violence that the subject does to him or her self.
The most a person can do to engage the work of silence is to turn attention away from distraction to wait in attentive receptivity for the gift of elision of self-consciousness to be given, to receive the clear discernment of disinterested action or non-action. Humility and humiliation are antonyms. This is not stoicism, so-called quietism, or the ennui of fatalism, but a highly subversive point of view. It is an attitude that eventuates in the two epistemologies working together in a seamless flow, with the deep mind predominating.
But knowledge of the work of silence and the human capacity for it are in danger of extinction. Since the death of Nicholas of Cusa in 1464 the mind's work with silence, the alembic in which the interpretive process called experience is refined and purified, has been for the most part forgotten. Indeed, from the end of the Council of Constance in 1418, the church actively suppressed the mind's work with silence with increasing violence. This was not a new policy but rather the heightened expression of a death-dealing tendency always present in institutions and those who support them. It gained significant momentum in the ninth century through the work of Paschasius Radbertus. Paschasius' materialising of eucharistic  theology shifted liturgical and ascetical focus from deep mind back to the self-conscious mind. One cannot help but surmise that Eriugena translated Pseudo-Denys as a direct riposte to Paschasius.
Paschasius' influence unhappily converged with certain historical trends that arose in the following two hundred years. His magical thinking became dogma, effecting a permanent, destructive, and so far irreversible shift in the entire psychology of the West. Rachel Fulton of the University of Chicago has written an exhaustive account in her book, From Judgement to Passion. A more accessible and well researched account is found in Brock and Parker's Saving Paradise. These authors have shown how the appalling atonement theology that came to dominance in the West and still perdures emerged as a direct consequence of Paschasius' magical thinking. Margaret Barker has shown that this atonement theology is in fact opposite to that of the First Temple rite of atonement, which sought to effect a transfiguration of the mind and a healing of the breach between human beings and nature. This was the theology and practice Jesus and his followers sought to revive.  But Christianity today for all practical purposes is opposite to what Jesus taught and to the church's liturgical and therefore theological focus for the first nine centuries. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

VI Manchester Talk May 31, 2012

For Eckhart, Richard of St Victor, Benedict, the Desert solitaries and other like-minded individuals, seeking God means 'living the ordinary through transfigured perception', that is, participation in the daily round of the most mundane human tasks, the vast majority of which in one way or another have to do with taking care of and creating contentment for the body, and therefore for the mind, soul and spirit, which are inextricably interdependent. The seriousness with which this definition insists on incarnation precludes so-called platonising, angelism, the illusion of a life lived in a so-called altered state of consciousness, or in the sexual catatonia of Bernini's bizarre statue of St Teresa in ecstasy.            
Scholars who do not hold the model of two epistemologies in mind often puzzle over thoroughly incarnational writers such as Eckhart and Bonaventure who seem at the last moment to leave incarnation behind. When Eckhart remarks that what is creature or creaturely must be left behind, however, he is not rejecting the material creation but rather indicating a simple shift in attention, a turning away from the self-conscious mind. Similarly in Bonaventure: the Itinerarium builds to the end of Book VI, where there is a sudden  string of paradoxes, which most critics either ignore or try through tortured linearity to explain away. Book VII then speaks in praise of silence. Again, the thoroughly grounded Bonaventure is not denying incarnation, he is simply signalling a change of focus and the eliding of self-consciousness.
We need to look again at all of the texts that underlie Western culture through the lens of the two epistemologies, from the most ancient onwards. In this light many texts that have seemed obscure, such as the bible; confusing—such as those of Empedocles and Heraclitus; creation-devaluing—such as those of Plato and the so-called neo-Platonists, or the gnostics—will reveal them to be radically different from the received interpretation. The language of achievement, grasping, and control is entirely inappropriate when talking about these texts, and are indicative that the author who uses them probably has no understanding of the fundamental process at work.

Monday, August 20, 2012

An Absolutely Wonderful Book

Gentle Readers: 

Run, do not walk, to your nearest bookstore and order Contemplative Prayer: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century (9781610875995) by James P. Danaher. 

It is one of the best books on this subject I've read for a long, long time, not only because there is such resonance with my own research (!!!) but also because of its clarity, lucidity and light. It's like watching the sun play on a prism The author does use the word 'mystic', but in such a way that it is very clear that he does not mean 'experience'. 

Now I'm going to look for some of his other books as well.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

V Manchester Talk May 31, 2012

This event-horizon is often signalled by paradox. In fact, paradox is the main axis on which the mind turns in the work of silence. Its most recent formulation is the paradox of intention. It should be noted here that paradoxes are only paradoxes to the self-conscious mind; they are not paradoxes from the point of view of the deep inclusive mind. A example of the paradox of intention is the word-on-the-tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon in which one must forget in order to remember—to forget not only the absent word, but also the effort to remember. Underlying this paradox of intention is the fact that the self-conscious mind describes things to itself by apophasis, by what the object is not. To resubmit what it has discovered to the deep mind for clarification and contextualisation, it must then efface even this negation. This double negation at the neuro-psychological level is reflected in the double negation of classic apophaticism. The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon is an example of paradox as descriptor. Paradoxes also serve the mind as catalysts, transponders, passkeys, portals, and more, which is why they need to be accepted as given.
Crossing the event horizon causes a fleeting suspension of self-consciousness. This suspension of self-consciousness happens many times a day in the normal course of ordinary life; it is a necessary part of the learning process. These occurrences are usually so fleeting that they normally pass unremarked by the person or by any observer who might be present.[1]
This suspension of self-consciousness is what many pre-fifteenth century authors mean by excessus mentis, as distinct from rapture, insanity, and other nuances that have attached to this word from ancient times. Isaac of Nineveh says bluntly, 'The mind is snatched.' In meditation, for example, one uses the single form of attention that the self-conscious mind possesses in order to subvert it: that is to say, one uses a word to leave words behind so that one may listen for the Word; self-consciousness chases the repeated word down the rabbit hole to the event horizon where both the word and self-consciousness seem to disappear—and yes, I think Lewis Carroll may have understood this phenomenon. To realise that the effacement of self-consciousness is essential to the work of silence—and the everyday nature of this phenomenon—is behind Eckhart's statement that if you doing anything special from a religious point of view, you are not seeking God. 

[1] Marvin Shaw, The Paradox of Intention: Reaching the Goal by Giving Up the Attempt to Reach It (Oxford, 2008).

Sunday, August 12, 2012

IV Manchester Talk 31 May, 2012

      There are profound moral and ethical differences between the self-conscious mind and the deep mind, which there is time to mention only in passing. The self-conscious mind likes to think it is the only game in town and will do everything it can to reinforce its feedback loops and enlarge its hegemony; it is willing to deceive, even to do violence to hang on to its illusions; it pretends to be non-judgemental. By contrast, in the person who has re-centered in deep mind through the work of silence, morals and ethics and, we might add, asceticism, arise organically and of necessity to sustain the flow through which deep mind may inform everyday life, exercising, in the process, its transfiguring critique.
            The physical senses are operative in both ways of knowing, though they are far more subtle in deep mind as anyone knows who has had the hairs on the back of his neck prickle when a grizzly bear is nearby, even though there is no sight, smell, sound, movement, or other evidence to confirm its presence. Understanding how the mind works is fundamental to human survival in wilderness and emerges from it organically in the person whose life is ecologically coinherent. The degrading of the global ecology reflects the degrading of our humanity, our refusal of direct perception, and the absence of both self-forgetful engagement and disinterested self-observation. The dis-equilibrium of human beings in their relation to the ecology reflects the dis-equilibrium of the modern mind.
These two ways of knowing are linked by what I have called liminality, where self-consciousness is gradually effaced until the person arrives at what might be likened to the event horizon of a black hole. Beyond this horizon, self-consciousness, and what the Cartesian method counts as analytical and conceptual thinking, are no longer operative. This suspension of self-consciousness is a focused attention that relinquishes all of what we call experience, for all experience, without exception is interpretation. The word relinquishing indicates an alert passivity of attention turned away from the distractions of self-consciousness. The suspension of self-consciousness is a gift; it cannot be forced or accomplished by technique.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

III Manchester Talk May 31, 2012

       [NB I am delayed going home and so am using an unfamiliar PC; will add footnotes and correct typography when I get back to Oxford!]

       Today's culture has lost the sense of what unknowing signifies. It is often assumed to be anti-intellectual, a mental stopping place. In fact, it is a stopping place only for the linearity of self-conscious thinking. Unknowing requires the analytic and critical faculty of self-consciousness be used to its fullest extent. When it arrives at its limit, ideally it relinquishes its contents to be both deepened and expanded by the holographic rationality of the deep mind, an effect that might be compared to a paradox of optics.

       It is only when the self-conscious mind gets out of its own way that it can optimally receive the insights of the deep mind. The deep mind effects the process of trans-figuration: a shift in the way we figure things out, which the deep mind gladly re-submits to the self-conscious mind. We might note in passing that the words transform and transcend are distorting and misleading when applied to this ongoing process of 'love's sweet exchange and barter'* between the two epistemologies which I call the work of silence. Transform implies that one thing is changed into another; in the process under discussion, frogs do not become princes or princesses; it is rather that through our wounds we become trans-figured. Transcend implies that something is left behind, whereas the work of silence is deeply incarnational and grounded in the body. This process of transfiguration is mirrored by and entailed in the terms apophasis and kataphasis.

       The meaning of the word unknowing is further confused because modern writers tend to use the word rational when they mean linear, implying that what is not linear is not rational. In fact the deep mind is far more rational than the self-conscious mind, in part because it has six or seven different kinds of attention, whereas the self-conscious mind has only one. These two ways of knowing are as different as a tabloid newspaper to a living holograph. The self-conscious mind can only interpret through simulacra; the deep mind perceives directly: its perceptions are polyvalent, inclusive, relational, molecular, alive. This tendency to use rational when linear is meant leads both readers and writers to literalise words such as ascent and descent which are used metaphorically in many texts for more optimal or less optimal. There is no geometry in the work of silence.

*'When Diana lighteth / late her crystal lamp...' Helen Waddell's translation of 'Dum Diana vitrea' from Carmina Burana in Medieval Latin Lyrics.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Next Post Around August 10, 2012

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

II Manchester Talk May 31, 2012

The study of how we know (epistemology) has been a fashionable area of scholarship for centuries, but the fact that it has attracted so much attention is a sign not of progress, but rather an indicator of regressive decline. It is evidence of a desperate striving to discover what has caused the elision of our humanity, a deficit that has enlarged to the point that contemporary scholars no longer have the tools essential to interpret many ancient, late antique, medieval and some modern texts that are key to their research. The post-Cartesian mindset that allows for only one, merely linear epistemology is an existential anachronism, especially when applied to texts that are based on two epistemologies—one of them global or holographic—that are interdependent. The grip of the Cartesian vis [c]e is so strong that many of those who write, who depend and draw on the holographic part of the mind that is out of their sight and out of their control—though not out of their influence—cannot seem to make the connection that they are drawing on a greater, if differently rational, thinking mind. The concern for the Other needs to begin with one's one mind!
Even those thinkers who for centuries have sensed that there is something wrong with the Cartesian project seem unable to grant that the holographic part of the mind that is not directly accessible is in fact thinking and rational, in fact, far more rational than the self-conscious mind. This reluctance persists due in part to the lingering influence of Dr Freud and his nemesis, positivism; and even in the face of Gödel's theorems that prove that formal systems are both incomplete and self-subverting.  Iain McGilchrist likens the present confusion to a flock of penguins crowding at the edge of an ice cliff, waiting to see who will be the first to jump into the sea.
The left side of the diagram indicates the small capacity, linear, hierarchical, two-dimensional, self-conscious mind that interprets, categorizes and speaks. David Brooks in The Social Animal suggests that it can hold in play perhaps 40 items at any one time and it deludes itself that it has everything under control. This is the self-conscious mind, as in, 'Don't be so self-conscious; be yourself.' Its world is artificial; everything it thinks is reified and bent to its own purposes. It re-presents; its re-presentations are dead. It gives the illusion of objectivity.
By contrast, the right side of the diagram indicates what I shall call the deep mind, which is holographic, and has an almost unfathomable capacity. It is objective in fact. It can hold up to 11 million items in play at any one time. This part of the mind sees directly; the world manifests to this part of the mind. It processes the more polyvalent aspects of language, such as metaphor, and is the source of insight, but, crucially, it does not speak. This part of the mind isn't directly accessible but it can be influenced through intention, such as setting your interior alarm clock in order to wake up at a certain time in the morning. But it does far more: it is the place where connections are made, where our most complex thinking is done. Its perceptions are alive. We can open to this hidden treasure by what is often called unknowing, a kenotic relinquishing of the self-conscious mind's ideas, concepts, expectations and speech, along with the two-dimensional analytic faculty that generates them.