Archive for the 'gnosis' Category

unposted comment

September 20, 2013

I got around to trying to post a reply to a comment I made to T.M. Luhrmann’s “The Violence in Our Heads” on too late for it to be included, so I’ll put it here.

Maybe your guard is lower when you engage in those activities, so you hear more.

I would say there is more to hearing things internally than just hearing “voices” such as one hears from external sources.  Here are some examples, off the top of my head and not including more controversial categories like ghosts, spirit guides, angels, and past lives:

Sometimes there’s insight that just wells up from inside.  I think some people call that gnosis.

Sometimes there’s a comforting thought that does not seem to be one’s own.  When I was in pre-term labor, I got a clear message not to think this was something I was doing but that it was something happening to both the baby and me.  A conscious thought one way or the other on that topic had not entered my thinking at the time, I was too much in that numb crisis mode.  It wasn’t a voice, it wasn’t my own thought, it felt like it came from others as guidance.

And there are also artifacts of poor hearing or sight, in which the brain seems to create sounds or sights because of a dearth of real input.

So we could, if we discussing the topic of hearing things more thoroughly, probably come up with a taxonomy of things heard internally, including voices.

Half and half

March 29, 2013

The other day I was being asked about whether I flush easily, for example, when eating spicy food or drinking alcoholic beverages.  I don’t think I do, but then I remembered a story my mother loves to tell about the first time I had a sip or two of wine.

I was probably about nine and the wine was probably left over from a dinner party my parents had had and they were probably finishing it up with dinner the next day.  It was red wine (that I do remember).  Shortly after I had drunk a little, my parents exclaimed that one half of my face had turned bright red (along a vertical axis).  They even sent me to the mirror in the downstairs hall to see.  I remember not being sure what they were seeing when I looked.

When I chose this picture

July, 2011

for this blog and as an avatar for other uses online, I chose it because it was recent and because I liked the expression on my face.  My dad immediately commented about my being half in shadow, which I hadn’t really noticed.

In geometry we can draw a line from two points.  I’m not sure I can draw one from these two things, but I could throw in the mythological associations with my first name.  The moon we see is half in light, half in darkness.

What would I then draw from this?  That there are states of mind that I have achieved that allow me to see both the darkness and the light, and that I have to be careful about keeping the two in balance.



February 16, 2013

President Obama was reelected, a Pope has resigned, and a meteor broke up above the earth, shattering glass, injuring people, but not destroying us like the dinosaurs.

I want to say, “The worm has turned,” but apparently that means that the worm rises up against its previous tormenters.  What I really mean is that something fundamentally has shifted, but more like as if the piece of clothing in the suitcase that was not only getting wrinkled but was also preventing the suitcase from being closed has been refolded and repacked.

To me it has actually seemed to be about the unclogging of a drain or the passing of a kidney stone or the coughing up of a foreign object or a way to provide aerodynamic lift to a very heavy object — or the search for the piece that doesn’t belong to a puzzle and getting it back to its appropriate box, kind of like helping E.T. to return home.  Actually all of them combined.

If I had any sense I would try to write this within a poem or cloak it as a spiritual story or otherwise disguise its origins and dress it up as art to make it more socially accessible and acceptable.  Maybe I will later.

And it’s not that I think President Obama’s presidency is some sort of apex in history or that there won’t be a new pope or that we won’t have more meteors or even asteroid impacts, but my sense is that something important has healed, some energy that needed to be released has been released, that something has been put into a more helpful posture.  It’s only a step, and it doesn’t impact me personally any more than it impacts anyone else personally, but I do have a positive reaction to all of these events.


February 14, 2013

When I find hawk feathers on the ground, they remind me of souvenirs.  A souvenir, though, is not a looted artifact, it’s a voluntarily-granted remembrance, a gift.

I see what I think Christians call Revelation that way.  When we are in a state of mind to perceive a part of the universe or God that we don’t usually perceive, it is often (?), always (?) a transient experience, even if the consequences are long-lasting.  We don’t get to keep the hawk feather, we don’t even get to take a photo and keep that, we, I think, only get to remember that we had the experience.

Because, as the little child within me can tell you, if we all kept the hawk feathers, how would the bird be able to fly?  Actually, I think it’s not about disabling the divine, but about keeping the flow between the divine in us and the divine outside of us in perpetual motion.  That’s how I hear the song “A Living Prayer” (by Ron Block; Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas) — a constant connection with the divine.

That doesn’t mean constant revelation or gnosis — to me those moments are more like ephemeral ornaments on a Christmas tree.  It’s the experience of life as a tree that can bend flexibly in the wind, even be consumed in a forest fire but always be reborn in new growth, that’s the main event for me.

Difficult forces

November 18, 2012

I thought I’d write a shout-out to “Difficult Forces.”  They feel misunderstood.  They need a PR firm or something, I guess, but for now maybe I can express a little that might rehabilitate their reputation.

They’re what allow me to think these thoughts and for people who read them in this post to process them.  They give us our self-consciousness, I think.  That “knowledge of good and evil” maybe is really that ability we have to perceive deeply — we recognize our place in the world both from within ourselves and as an observer of ourselves, we are aware of our awareness, and these are skills that allow us not only to think in terms of opposing categories but ultimately to transcend them.

I do think we access this ability through an interaction with Difficult Forces.  They are the kind of forces that if we want to interact with them without being overcome, we must pull aside the part of ourselves that harbors our fears and desires (what I call our ego).  Why that is I think has to do with how they themselves are structured — they don’t have a part that corresponds to our ego, I think, and so when we match up in an interaction, if our ego is present, it gets matched up with something against which it cannot maintain its integrity — and we experience that as complete despair, if not worse.  But if we can keep our egos safe (leave them at home, so to speak) and interact with the difficult forces, we gain some very positive things — kind of like having to engage in a quest that includes great difficulties, in order to gain that holy grail of self-perception and hence transcendental perception.

Stolen paintings

November 3, 2012

I forget whether I’ve mentioned this before, but someone I know recently picked up from her lawyers’ office some paintings returned by family members as the result of a lawsuit, I believe.  And it turns out they’re not even the right paintings, the specific paintings in dispute.

Having been to the Isabella Stewart Gardner this past week, stolen paintings were also on my mind — those blank frames are so sad, the museum is such a well-crafted and unified aesthetic whole that their absence has repercussions to the experience of what is still there.

But as I was doing yard work this afternoon, it occurred to me that in the spiritual version of this, it’s not that specific paintings — that is, visions or insights — are missing, even though some of the participants complain as if that were so.  It is that the ability to see has been lost.  If it was lost due to the consequences of damage inflicted by someone else, perhaps the participants view this as its having been stolen.  But the good news is that it’s not like stealing particular objects or particular crafted art or even like stealing someone’s glasses.  The ability to “see” again can always be restored, it’s not something finite and able to be permanently removed.

So stolen physical art is a material loss, disappointing and painful.  But the mystical analog of art, even if it misplaced or temporarily difficult to locate, can be regained and without needing the cooperation of any thieves.

Creative destruction, Shiva, and praxy

July 18, 2012

I’ve got the concept of creative destruction in the context of capitalism in my head from reading people like David Brooks, and the praxy part from reading people like Richard Rohr on the contrast between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  Shiva comes in as my go-to shorthand for referencing creative destruction in spiritual matters.

This is my post on gnosis misunderstood through attempts at external transmission, which I said I would put in its own post.

If we take Shiva as pointing to a concept of creative and transformative destruction, a concept we might understand through internal insight, through gnosis, we can wonder what might follow from perceiving the concept through only external and intellectual means.  If we actually internalize the concept, I think we become more open to incorporating it into our own journey.  Journeys include actual experiences and doing things — Father Rohr’s praxis, I believe.  I think the upshot may be our willingness to experience creative destruction in our own lives, to take The Fall.

If we have only heard about or understood the concept behind Shiva and perceived creative destruction through our cognitive apparatus, by which I mean our intellects (I have in mind here, by reading about the concept and thinking about it with our conscious minds alone), then we might only incorporate the idea of it into our lives.  In that case, we probably only talk about it rather than experience it.  That, I think, leads to theories and discussions such the role the role of creative destruction in capitalism.

So what? I guess is a question I should address.

People who insist on never taking the fall inflate on the spiritual plane like a balloon and like an obese person on the physical plane.   They may buy larger clothing but the internal build up within them impedes aspects of their lives.  They also need accommodation from others and in real sense push this onto others.  It’s not that there’s anything “morally” wrong with any of this, it’s just that it shifts around needs and burdens.  (People with other eating disorders, including anorexics, I think do the same.  I have lived with both — obese people and anorexic people.  I also often think the depiction of the Buddha as fat is significant — he may be reflecting back to us our own spiritual condition.)  At the extreme, a person who only uses words and never experiences becomes both an empty shell and toxic dump.  The fall allows a person at a certain stage in their development to engage in osmosis, if I can call it that: an exchange of what’s inside them with what’s outside of them — they become a permeable membrane.  This development allows a person to continue to develop spiritually, is my understanding.

David Brooks once said on the PBS NewsHour that while he didn’t relish the idea of having his wisdom tooth pulled, he knew it was necessary and willingly had it done.  That sort of attitude I think is also necessary in respect to experiencing the fall.

To put it another way, I think we need at some stage in our journeys to dance with Shiva, and willingly.

Gnosis, love, and serenity

July 18, 2012

It isn’t clear to me how these three things are related to each other.  I suspect that when we truly learn to get our ego out of the way, we have all three.  Perhaps things like pride impede gnosis,  bitterness love, and anxiety serenity, I don’t know.  I kind of think that when we have all three we are “enlightened.”

Maybe it’s like a tennis or golf player looking to pick up wins in certain different tournaments, or race horse owners looking to have a Triple Crown winner — I think it’s difficult to have all three, especially if possession of one or two of them without the others leads to further damage that increases the pride, bitterness, or anxiety.  In other words, suppose, for example, someone gains gnosis but loses a beloved and they become more bitter that their insight did not protect them from loss.  Opening their heart and locating their capacity for love I think would become more remote under those circumstances.

I have also wondered what happens when a person experiences someone else’s gnosis, love, or serenity through an empathetic experience with a person who has developed it internally and therefore possesses it more stably.  If the second person does not have the basis in themselves for the attribute then I suspect the possession of it through this borrowing of someone else’s will be fleeting.  What worries me is what happens if the fleeting experience is enough to allow the borrower to make use of the attribute in a way a person who actually developed it on their own would never do — like writing down gnostic insights and publishing them in a book.  To my mind, gnosis is an internal practice and teaching a spiritual practice should involve a spiritual teacher of some sort.  A book can allow a reader to try to apprehend a multidimensional idea through their intellect and come up with a damaging misunderstanding.  In addition, if gnosis is not thoroughly achieved, that next person may try to pass along to a subsequent person an understanding that is even more distorted from what would be understood through an internal development of the attribute.

I have an example of this in mind, “creative destruction.”  I’m going to put it in a separate post.

My point here is merely that perhaps we can, to the detriment of ourselves and others, create difficulties to spiritual development through the interplay of personal private development with social interrelationships with others.



April 23, 2012

I am no longer sure whether it is in fact the case that there are fourteen words for “snow” in an Eskimo language, but the concept still remains even if the original story wasn’t accurate: if we want to talk about nuance, we need a vocabulary to reflect that.

I was thinking about that after reading Michael Gerson’s column in The Washington Post today about his mentor Charles Colson and Colson’s faith.  The lines that caught my attention were, “This inversion of social priorities [referencing Colson’s work with and attitude towards prison inmates] — putting the last first — is the best evidence of a faith that is more than crutch, opiate or self-help program. It is the hallmark of authentic religion — and it is the vast, humane contribution of Chuck Colson. ”

This got me thinking about what different people mean when they talk about faith.  A deeply received faith I have no doubt manifests as it did in Charles Colson.  But I’m wondering how to think about people who say they have faith, or seem to have faith, but aren’t able to find the sweet spot in a convict, for example — the people who may have a less complete relationship with faith.

This is what brings me to my vocabulary issue.  I am not sure myself exactly how to talk about this, but I’m pretty sure there’s an issue here.  I’ve met people who have faith but seem to limit its arena to their families.  I’ve met people who have some amount of serenity in their lives but very little thinking about big questions about Life or their lives.  I’ve met people who have versions of the perceptions people with faith may have, like being an empty vessel for God’s will, but have them in a less healthy form — a negative feeling of being “nothing,” for example.  I experience myself as having some amount of understanding of big questions and an ability to find the sweet spot in most people, but not a whole lot of serenity.  Some religious figures (Moses, Jesus, for examples) in the past who clearly had great spiritual gifts also had more anger, for example, than I would have thought an “enlightened” human being would have.

Clearly, enlightenment is not synonymous with faith.  But that’s just my point.  Discussions in the public square, at least that I come across, don’t make many, if any, distinctions between different aspects of a spiritual life, and my impression is that we can have some aspects without having others (yet).  I suspect faith gets a dubious reputation, when it does, from people whose faith is a work in progress, who haven’t experienced (yet) the deepest penetration of those mysterious forces into their hearts, whose faith comes across to others as a “crutch, opiate or self-help program.”  I guess I am trying to understand what those people have and don’t have.

My fallback concept is that we stand in a shower of a force or energy stream, and depending on our interior preparation, we experience that stream in different ways.  The Charles Colsons with broken pride and heart receive it more deeply perhaps, without so much self-protection interfering.  People who have been able to maintain their attachments and not experienced what they may have feared most, for example, may still have ego issues blocking or getting tangled up in the stream.

My main point isn’t my theory of faith, it’s my wish that we discuss faith with a more developed vocabulary and more nuanced conceptualizations.  I think it’s probably more complicated than, “Either you have it or you don’t.”  I think we obscure the continuum that’s probably there.  Surely the deep, thoroughgoing faith of a Charles Colson is a beautiful thing, and I for one appreciate that kind of bedrock faith, but I’m concerned that we need to not separate such outliers from the rest of us, lest that make it less likely that most of us make progress in our own lives.

Equipment and technique

April 4, 2012

Gita says that my mind is constantly in motion, and implies that this is difficult for some other people to deal with.  I think of it as being something like a car battery in an engine that wouldn’t turn over and has been jump-started, and you keep the engine running because you’re not sure whether the battery can or will hold the charge.

If a person “hooks up” with higher ways of understanding the world, that hook-up is like a one-shot connection, I think, and I think we try to maintain that connection by keeping our mental engine running.  I think that hook-up may be the same thing people mean when they talk about spiritual union with God, I’m not sure.  But I am pretty sure that we don’t engage in that hook-up through our willing it, that it comes through a combination of willingness to serve, to do what serves, and to accept and learn from a whole lot of experiences in life other people might try to escape or control.  I don’t think it’s compatible with a lot of what most people want to have in their lives.

That hook-up is, I think, what develops the equipment we have in a nascent form; I think it’s kind of like a leaf unfurling, a flower opening, a balloon inflating, a Mars land-rover deploying after landing.  So, I think we lack the equipment in a useful state if we lack the hook-up, and that many people do lack it.  (I think some people have experienced the jump-start for its instant but have not been able to maintain the connection it allows, perhaps because they had not first readied themselves.)

My sense is that a person has to develop mental equipment and then technique, in order to engage in some kinds of understanding.  That’s what I was getting at in my comment to Ross Douthat’s blog post.  I think plenty of smart, well-educated people learn technique, but I think that without the “hook-up,” the technique applied produces a flattened view of a multidimensional scene.  And most people don’t want to do what it takes to experience the hook-up, in part because that sort of a life is antithetical to many of the things they wish to do with the ability to understand profoundly — the ambition undermines the very things they need for the experience and maintaining its aftermath.

I used to think that people who have developed the gift of understanding through such a hook-up could themselves connect with other people, people who don’t have it but have something else, like a means of communicating the understanding to a wider audience.  Kind of like components to old-fashioned stereo equipment, I think, with its amplifiers and subwoofers and such (I may have the technology misunderstood, but my point is different units networked together to produce the sound for the audience).  I even think the stereo analogy may not be unrelated in content, because I sometimes think I have developed the equivalent of depth perception in part through my connection with another “viewer,” whoever that may be, as if we were two eyes seeing together, and hence in three dimensions instead of two.

So, I used to think, I think, that one of these people/eyes got the vision, the other provided the translation and publication, in some kind of partnership.  And maybe it’s so.  I don’t know.  I used to have a sense of how it might work, but in trying to move closer to it, I feel less sure of it.  Maybe that’s just an artifact of getting up close to the object, no longer seeing its totality, like seeing less of the earth as the airplane gets closer to landing.

But I’m not sure.  Part of me thinks my collaboration model was wrong, and that in the past it produced unhelpful and damaging results that needed to be walked back.  And so I wait to get some clarity, trying to remain open and loving to everyone involved, and intending no harm.