Navigating the Path Inward

In the stillness of the morning, as I attempt to venture inward, I am uncharacteristically ill-at-ease. A cloud of uncertainty hangs over my journey; an inexplicable degree of reluctance to disengage fully from my worldly concerns prevents me from easily letting go as usual. Normally, I can easily quiet my mind, gradually descend through the layers of consciousness, and with minimal effort, center myself. In doing so, I typically am able to arrive once again where I left off, able to resume the journey, and to recognize and evaluate both how far I’ve come, and how far I have yet to go.

Oddly enough, in spite of this unsettling struggle, the effort required to resume my journey and the difficulty I seem to be experiencing, have not dissuaded me from being optimistic about the outcome. At times like this, I often wish I could more readily summon some greater personal strength or draw upon some untapped reserve or force of will to supplement my inner energies. In the past, I simply had to persist long enough to get back on track, or to withdraw and regroup at a later time in order to feel more confident in reaching the next step, and to resume the path of exploration.

I’ve conducted a great many such explorations of my inner world over the years, and, most often, once begun, it has been nearly impossible to contain myself, only occasionally requiring an additional effort to sustain momentum. This current bout of uncertainty is less familiar, but no less daunting. Over time, I have released much from within me, but I still typically sense that more is to come. How it will eventually turn out is still a matter of some speculation, and yet, I feel as though I am at least still headed in the right direction. If the problem persists, I may need to engage some sort of personal muse to awaken the inner strength to push me forward, and to drive me to go deeper—to reveal more.

I am feeling a bit lost, yet, not totally so. I have a sense of the landscape, but at times, it seems my eyes are either closed or unable to see clearly; the only way to progress requires me to redouble my efforts to relinquish my concerns about what I may or may not currently be able to see or feel, and to descend through the layers of my inner life to arrive at the core of my being, where all is one. After a short break, I once again resume my efforts to withdraw within, after conjuring and then utilizing the following words to help me focus:

“I am slowly descending now through the layers of consciousness. I am letting go of the temporal world. I am releasing my temporal self and my conscious thoughts. That which is me, that which my mind engages—thoughts, feelings—all of it—I release them all.”

As the weight of all these considerations becomes less, I am finally able to dissolve the partitions of objective existence, and to slowly descend into my inner world. As I navigate the path inward, I must allow my spirit to incrementally consume me, so that it can seek out and attain a degree of solace and inner solitude, and thoroughly relinquish all that concerns me as a conscious being; it is in this “place” where the temporal world crosses over into the intangible world.

I don’t have a clear view of it. Even my most earnest attempts to describe this process cannot accurately express what is taking place. I believe what I seem to “see” is not visual in nature, and there is no recognizable sensation—it doesn’t feel like anything I usually feel when I am awake and conscious. It actually doesn’t feel like anything at all, and as I reflect upon these moments later, I know there is nothing at all that it is like. It is not sensory. It is intangible, and the impressions I am left with afterwards, seem to have “floated up” from this “place.”

The resulting impressions sometimes inform my subsequent attempts to achieve a meditative state. I cannot say definitively what the true nature and source of these impressions might be, but upon reflection, I seem to possess a kind of “knowing,”—and I use this word as a concession because no single word can truly express it—but I know that it is real, and if there exists something akin to a “spiritual feeling,” I think that may be as close as we can come to describing the effect afterwards, and it clearly affects me deep down.

I do not pretend to know, in any more accurate manner, how to express what transpires during these episodes, expect perhaps to add that it is objectively real to me in my remembrance of it. It is always in retrospect, when I rise back up to subjective consciousness—when I reflect upon it and contemplate how I feel as a temporal being afterwards—that it seems to me, these “experiences,” in the depths of my inner world, are manifesting in very subtle ways in my temporal life after I return to the surface once again.

I have periodically noted in my personal journals, after I transcribed the words and thoughts and feelings I could recall about these interactions, when reviewing them later on as a conscious person, I occasionally only had a vague sense of having written those accounts myself. When I read the words on the page, conjured in an attempt to describe those moments again from memory, I sometimes wrote that it almost didn’t seem like the words were mine. And yet, I know they issued forth from me as my hand held the pen, or as my fingers glided across the keyboard, or as my voice echoed in the stillness as I spoke them.

It is not possible to definitively express such profound concepts, nor is it feasible to explain what takes place during such ineffable moments in terms that you might use to describe an ordinary experience, because they aren’t strictly experiential in the same sense as swimming in an ice-cold lake, or floating in the salty summer ocean.

There is no unambiguous corresponding way to describe such events. We can only search for metaphors and point in certain directions which inevitably must fall short of exactitude, since these events unfold where there is no physical space. Even so, from my point-of-view, the direction I follow within is fairly consistent in its breadth and depth, and it always brings me reliably to a realm where words and thoughts and feelings and sensations are not necessary. When I find myself there, I am consistently inspired by the strength and intensity of my inner life; my connection to it is predictably temporary in duration—so truly fleeting in the broadest sense—but it is, upon reflection, always subjectively real, and I cannot now imagine enduring my temporal existence without periodically spending even the most fleeting of moments interacting with the world within.

What Will Come

We all know that the living of an individual life, at its core, often consists of a fair amount of uncertainty. There are no guaranteed outcomes. As much as we rely upon and announce the accomplishments of our science, as we explore the physical world, and proclaim with certainty, the results of our explorations, about what is and what has been, what will come is nearly always unknown.

Granted, there are particular natural world outcomes, which we can routinely predict with a degree of confidence, for example, the characteristics of seasonal changes in the areas of the world where they routinely occur. In the spring, in the northern hemisphere, as the earth tilts gradually more toward sun, the blossoms will unfold. By the time the summer arrives, all of nature will become full and green. Temperatures will rise and the sun will burn us, unless we take precautions against it. At the same time, the opposite conditions will persist in the southern hemisphere. There it will be more like our winter; the earth tilts away from the sun, and alters the temperatures in such a way, that will require those who inhabit that area to dress appropriately for significantly cooler conditions. For them, the celebration of Christmas is a summer festival, in much the same way as those of us on the opposite side of the globe celebrate our traditional summer events.

The inclination of the earth, tilting on its axis, in our hemisphere, creates the increasing heat and humidity typical of our summer months, while simultaneously lowering the temperatures on the opposite side of the world. Neither one of the hemispheres, regardless of the season, can lay claim to having the “right” conditions for summer or winter. Neither one can be described as “unnatural.” Our perceptions are simply two different views of the very same experience of life in different locations on our planet.

Yet, as we view a life lived in our accustomed and predictable seasonal conditions, all that we know, all that we experience in our lives, often reflects our expectations of these changes as an essential component, and when circumstances vary from what we typically expect, either through travel or unexpected variations in the weather, the altered states we encounter can be disorienting.

So it is with our lives as viewed over the span of years. We are born helpless and remain young for an extended period of time, and if we are fortunate, we live to see advanced age, gain a degree of perspective in the process, and only relinquish our lives after a lifetime of experience, when we can truly claim to have survived until we are “old.” As many of us who have endured through the passing of many years can attest, our view of life as a young person was likely, in many ways, far different once we arrived in this timeframe; perhaps, we might even wish to describe our viewpoint as the “opposite” of what we thought back then.

None of it—not the beginning, nor the end; not the heat, nor the cold; not the summer, nor the winter; alters the life within us. Regardless of where we live, what language we speak, what conditions exist around us—in every case—every living being is alive and existent in the physical universe, for as long as that life can be sustained; we each experience our individual lives subjectively and over time, accumulate the knowledge and experience that makes us who we become.

Whether there are many advantageous opportunities or only a few; whether we enjoy robust health or suffer through disease; whether we live with a degree of abundance, or suffer a life of scarcity or lack of resources; whether we enjoy the pleasures of a tropical paradise, or suffer the challenges of life in the arctic regions; all life, all peoples in every corner of our planet, while they live, experience the uncertainties of life. No matter what they look like, what they believe, or where they grew up, each one is a human being who deserves the opportunity to live as best they can, according to their talents and by their determined efforts to carve out a life as a person in the world.

No matter where you look, no matter to what region of the world you travel, you will find a robust variety of conditions—examples of great progress and great tragedy; evidence of tremendous accomplishments and devastating failures; examples of extraordinary love and compassion, along with the unfortunate reality of bitterness and hatred—all taking place in the same world, among the same people, only varying as the result of different choices. Some of us succeed gloriously in our efforts; some fail unerringly; some rise and fall, some will rise and stay risen; some will fall and stay fallen.

Every variety of experience and character you can imagine exists now or has existed somewhere in the world, at some period of time in the history of humanity. Throughout all of it, humans have made astonishing discoveries, and committed epic failures. Depending on how you view the world, you could easily dismiss the chances of achieving any significant degree of equilibrium in the future. We’ve already seen how the tides of fortune can change. A poor person can become wealthy; a wealthy person can lose everything; a bitter and resentful person can become compassionate and loving; severe misfortune and suffering can turn even the most resourceful person into a pessimist.

At the core of our humanity is the one unchanging and constant presence that cannot be irreversibly defeated or permanently swayed by the events of the temporal world. It is our individual human spirit or soul. Although we often experience it and view it as belonging only to us, it is more appropriate to view it as a manifestation of a much larger oneness of being—an individual experience of a universal and ubiquitous reality that unites every living entity, and which provides the foundation for the observable and the unobservable universe.

And no, this is not science. The premise is not empirically driven or provable by experiment, but it can be known by us and confirmed subjectively to exist as a component of our experience of human consciousness. All that is necessary is to simply allow ourselves the permission to probe the full realm of possibility—to look more deeply within ourselves—and to see past all the limitations and characteristic prejudices that often appear, when we view the world through the prism of materialism or the superficial criteria of our human frailties. When we view our lives as merely being surface dwellers on a random planet in an obscure corner of an unremarkable galaxy, it is no wonder at all that we experience the divisions and conflicts that we see occurring all the time. In order to overcome these limitations, it is essential that we expand our understanding of life to include the more profound aspects of our inner lives, and to seek in others, what is truly at their core—the very same spirit of which we are only one part.

Interconnected and Interdependent

“Both intuitive and interactive, the gnostic approach to faith is a sacred quest for greater knowledge, understanding, and wisdom—a deeper penetration of the Mystery. This path leads to a higher degree of the enlightenment experience or gnosis. The Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas reveals how the reader can use each verse in this scripture as a source of daily contemplation and spiritual growth, while exploring…other mystical and magical teachings.”

–from the description of the text on Amazon.com

In a previous posting, I spoke of a “World Outside of Our World,” and wrote about the difficulties we face, as temporal beings, when we attempt to describe, in any comprehensive manner, those aspects of our existence which do not lend themselves easily to such descriptions. Since by the very nature of our subjective experience of the world, we have a unique view that is only possible for us as individuals to know intimately, we must acknowledge a built-in impediment to empirical verification of what it might be like to experience the world for anyone other than us.

At the same time, based on our own reactions to the experience of temporal life, it seems reasonable to allow ourselves, at least to a small degree, some leeway in considering, from the real-world responses of other sentient beings, that there are commonalities and some shared levels of experience that might be described as universal among human participants with regard to “what it’s like” to be human. It is also possible that we share much more in common with our fellow travelers in this life than we realize or can confirm with any certainty, but as a purely philosophical question, I thought it might be more useful to frame the conversation in terms of what MIGHT be possible, since scientific certainty continues to elude us currently in the 21st century.

“To love, to gain knowledge, to uplift humanity…is the purpose and meaning of this life. This name and form have meaning to the extent that (universal) consciousness is embodied. That is why the soul enters into this life, so that the being of the becoming that is within you might incarnate and the world to come might manifest. If you accomplish something of this great work, then all that you do in this life will be filled with meaning.”

–excerpt from Gnostic Gospels, Verse 2

Great progress is being made in the areas of neuroscience, cognitive studies, and in modern psychiatric research, regarding the roles of specific brain regions in higher cognitive functioning, associative chemical and genetic components in pathology and functionality, and a host of other related research projects that are producing new insights and expanding our understanding generally.

What concerns me greatly, as someone whose major life events have often been characterized by a variety of extraordinary moments and inscrutable experiences, is that not enough attention is being given to experiences that fall outside of our ability to explain empirically, and in the service of giving more attention to those experiences, I’ve consulted a variety of sacred texts and spiritual resources over the years, including, as quoted here, the Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas.

While it’s completely reasonable to point out the importance of comprehending the science of the brain, reviewing the full spectrum of thought throughout the thousands of years of human history, as I have done for nearly thirty years now, suggests to me that the more speculative and intangible aspects of human experience may hold even greater significance in coming to terms with human consciousness than any number of studies of the physical brain.

Credit: [ The Art Archive / Kharbine-Tapabor ] ¥ Ref: AA529033

“If you think you are something, if you think you are a substantial and independent self-existence, a solid or fixed entity, it is greatly troubling to discover that your secret center is no-thing, that you are empty of any substantial or independent self-existence. Discovering this, however, you then realize that this is the very nature of everything in existence. You discover that everything is impermanent, that everything changes. Reality is empty of any substantial and independent self-existence.”

–excerpt from Verse 3, Gnostic Gospels

Attempting to describe a “world outside of our world,”—to even call it “a world,”—requires us to acknowledge our current inability to address it in terms that are appropriate as a contrast to the physical world itself. Since we cannot participate fully in or interact directly with any non-physical realm, at least while we participate in our daily waking experience of temporal life, it can appear to the more materialistic among us that such realms fall under the category of either imagination or hallucination.

Many accounts of encounters with mysterious or otherwise temporally inexplicable phenomena often take place under an extreme circumstance like a near-death-experience, during times of great stress, or as the result of trauma. They can also occur while we suspend, in some manner, our usual routines and seek, through the practice of meditation or by an act of deliberate intention, to elicit some temporary deferment of our familiar temporal sensory experience.

“You must seek in order to discover the Spirit and Truth and must continue seeking until you realize the Spirit indwelling you and know the Truth in your own experience. It is not enough that another person has discovered the Truth. Each individual must seek and strive to discover it…”

—excerpt from Gnostic Gospels, Verse 2

If we are reasonably “self-aware,” we can recognize moments where our everyday experience of the senses becomes mitigated enough to approach the threshold of our inner experience of our deeper self. With regular deliberate attention, we open ourselves to acquiring glimpses of this non-corporeal aspect—experiencing moments where the two cross over—and there is an entry point between the two where we encroach upon that threshold, where the spirit which inhabits the body can shine through. As the veneer of physicality recedes, we disassociate ourselves from our physical bodies briefly. It is very difficult to sustain at first, and even with practice, we only seem to be able to persist in such a state for brief periods.

Occasionally, encounters with such mysteries and unexplained phenomena occur spontaneously, or are precipitated by unexpected circumstances over which we have no volitional input. Conversely, just because we actively seek a greater understanding as a matter of course, placing ourselves deliberately on the path toward transcendence and the spirit, we are not necessarily guaranteed an instant or satisfying result in every instance.

“Such is the nature of reality, this magical display of consciousness. The inside and the outside are not separate but are intimately connected. The reality of your experience is the magical display of your own consciousness. A change in consciousness brings about a corresponding change in the reality you encounter. A change in the reality you encounter is an expression of a change in consciousness.”

“The individual, the collective, and the universal consciousness are completely interconnected and interdependent. You alone are not the creator of the reality you experience. Every living being is a unique individual expression of (consciousness)…and a co-creator (with Life) of the reality you experience.”

–edited excerpts from the Gnostic Gospels, Verse 3

This interconnection and interdependence is, in my view, an essential component of our existence as both temporal and spiritual creatures. We are a multifarious conglomeration of systems and circumstances, and in view of this complexity, it seems reasonable to suggest that the whole of our complex human nature cannot be described simply in terms of our physical systems. It may be that we are still too young as a cognitive species, and haven’t had sufficient time to evolve into beings who can broadly perceive this connection—this door opening—this threshold to the world outside of our world.

It might also be true that the spirit which inhabits our bodies, which animates us, which is the vehicle for our awareness of these experiences in this life, also provides access to the world outside of ours, and since it is so difficult to articulate a comprehensive understanding of it, we view it as mysterious and can easily dismiss any potential stimulus from a non-physical source. Experiences which point to the possible existence of a spiritual or non-physical aspect to our nature are also often disregarded because we can provide no rational or empirical cause in temporal terms.

What frequently flies in the face of all such rational objections are the subjective affirmations which occur inside those of us who, without any wish to do so, endure encounters with extraordinary events. Many times, we often seem only to be able to infer possible explanations. How could such an encounter with a purely subjective embrace of a non-material world be explained other than by inference, by an informed awareness, or by some intuitive rationale? Our entire human history is replete with examples of individuals and groups making earnest attempts to do so, and eventually the subject became the purview of scholarly attentions, many of which persist to this day as potential sources of exploration for all varieties of seekers.

The quotes from the Gnostic Gospels are only one example of many which have appeared throughout human history, and there are many others which have appeared here on my blog over the last eight years or so, and even though I would not endorse any one particular viewpoint, so far, as a definitive source providing a holistic explanation for our subjective experience of human consciousness, when viewed in total, and considering the many overlapping points within each source, it seems to me that we must acknowledge, at least in the broadest sense, that all of them point to the value of exploring and being open to what may be possible.

“Everything is interconnected and interdependent; it is the nature of things ever-becoming. You must learn to accept and embrace the whole of life and the whole of yourself if you would discover the Spirit and Truth. The Light and the Darkness must be joined and you must realize the Sacred Unity.”

“When people speak about the gnostic gospels, they are almost always referring to a collection of ancient writings (in Coptic) that were discovered near the upper Nile village of Nag Hammadi, in Egypt, in 1945. These manuscripts, which scholars have dated to the fourth century, were most likely hidden in an effort to preserve them from destruction following a decree of St. Athanasius banning the use of heretical writings. An English translation of these documents has been published and can be easily referenced online.”

—quote from http://www.nwcatholic.org/spirituality

Auguries of Autumn

As is often the case with the approach of the autumn season, I can strongly sense that change is coming, and it’s not just in the dazzling panoply of autumn leaves. My spirit—my soul—the very essence of my existence—is rising. I feel its approach; I sense its immanent arrival; and I welcome it. I understand well now, from considering and investigating a variety of experiences over a number of decades, that there will likely be aspects of what is to come, which may not be easily explained in simple terms. Not all of it will be comforting, or logical, or immediately seem sensible, but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that those who read my thoughts and feelings and descriptions of sensations and experiences—any who do—begin to look within themselves, to consider whether or not the events of their own lives might contain even the smallest intimations of a similar character, and to explore those connections, in spite of how inconsequential they may seem on the surface.

As I approach the proverbial edges of my life—along the increasingly precarious ledge of my existence—I look out across the landscape of years, and I can see an expansive collection of naturally occurring, but personally significant vistas stretching out toward the horizon, while also acknowledging an unflinching awareness of the miniscule components of this very moment now. I cannot say what will come of all this. I cannot predict how life will unfold, but I do know that my senses, my cognitive capacities, my perceptions of reality—the reality that I know every day—is infused with the spirit.

While I cannot necessarily dispel all the doubts of those who prefer materialistic or empirical proofs, subjectively, within my inner world, there is a certainty that does not cease. There is a progression of consciousness—a fulfillment of the promise represented in the experiences that have occurred throughout my life. The potentialities I have uncovered in the course of my investigations are starting to ring true, as they coalesce into possibilities, and as the implications for a greater understanding of the nature of our humanity become clearer.

In my heart and mind, and in my very soul, I sense the coming of change. As we look around at the world in which we currently exist, many of us might wish to characterize the events transpiring all around us as “the beginning of the end.” I see it differently. To me, it seems much more like the beginning of a transition—a gradual abandonment of the old ways, trending toward the embrace of new ways to come.

In doing so, we should not abandon our senses. We should not abandon our advances in science and technology; we should simply recognize that certain thresholds continue to present themselves, which are currently perplexing because we cannot seem to traverse them or to reach beyond them. Eventually, we may, at some point in the future, be able to unravel some of these mysteries through the application of empirical processes, and the continued pursuit of science is an essential and noble undertaking. But even with tens of thousands of years of existence as functionally cognitive and sentient human beings, one thing remains true. There are still significant barriers to our understanding, and in all of my explorations, I haven’t seen anything to dissuade me from subjectively affirming a positive and enriching growth in understanding that can only be attributable to forces and energies that could very well be, beyond empirical confirmation.

Throughout my life, I have had numerous interactions with the natural world, during which I would be, in certain clear ways, isolated and insulated from my “civilized” and predictable experience of modern life, which would then be supplanted by an experience of unbridled natural involvement that brought about an altered state of consciousness. Within the seemingly limitless boundaries of what Emerson described as “the plantations of God,” ambling through primeval forests, resting upon the precarious edges of mountain cliffs, experiencing the often astonishingly captivating symphonies of nature, at times, I am gripped by the influence of…

…an ocean of trees,

…raging rivers,

…and tranquil lakes.

During such episodes, one cannot help but sense the energetic vibrations coursing through the varieties of living organisms that surround the visitor upon reflection, suggesting both a visceral and an insubstantial connection to every living entity. Carl Jung once expressed the experience of nature and being a physical creature in a physical universe that somehow includes an experience of unity of all life and all existence:

In his later life, Jung wrote reflectively about how he arrived at many of his insights while exploring the human psyche, and concluded that:

“…no experimental methodology ever has or ever will succeed in capturing the essence of the human soul, or even so much as tracing out an approximately faithful picture of its complex manifestations.”

The role of subjective experience in defining human consciousness cannot be minimized, but while the mysterious link between the two may be vital to our awareness of its existence, it seems to me that such experience can more accurately be described as the foundation of or as a catalyst for connecting to the universe of consciousness.

I am starting to see more sympathetic responses to my reports of these investigations, striking chords of familiarity with those who encounter them—individuals from all across the world—many of whom have stopped to visit and share their own ideas. It is difficult to predict what the outcome of all these efforts might be, but the importance of following this path remains clear. I must continue to pursue my research, to write about and share my heartfelt and considered feelings regarding my own subjective experiences, and to attempt to interpret and reveal whatever layers of meaning might be inferred as a result.

Autumn of My Years

For many of the early days of the New Year this year, I knew that change was coming. Gradually, as the days passed relentlessly along, I could sense it ever more strongly. Whenever I withdrew within myself, I could feel it approaching.

These days, when I am alone within myself, communing with my spirit, my inner world, there is a palpable lightness of spirit that had been absent for so long, I had almost forgotten what it felt like. When the opportunity presents itself to look closely into the eyes of another fellow traveler in this life, it becomes possible again to rediscover the reflection of the light of my own spirit in the other, since we are all of one spirit ultimately. We sometimes fail to see this light when our path is so overly preoccupied with temporal matters, and it requires us to find a way to step back in order to re-establish the link.

I was listening recently to the words of someone I consider to be a spiritual mentor, who said, “We think we are seeking the path, when, in fact, we are already on the path; whatever we are experiencing or enduring at this moment is the path.”

The path is me.

I didn’t always realize this. Especially after experiencing very stressful periods of time, I often thought that I was looking for a place to begin my journey toward the next part of my life; trying to find it and stay with it, to walk it enthusiastically, to exist within it. In much of my searching, there were times when I didn’t truly realize how much the act of searching was the path, and now as I approach what is sometimes described as “the autumn of my years,” the metaphor seems appropriate.
Within the time frame of the autumn season in this part of the world, everything seems so brilliant, so colorful, so clearly and extraordinarily spiritual, and when we pay close attention and keep our hearts and minds and eyes open, we don’t just sense the beauty, the vibrant colors, and all the sensual pleasures of the incoming season, we also appreciate the relief from the steamy heat of summer, which takes more of a toll on me physically as each year passes.

The gradual transition from the greenness of summer always seemed to linger endlessly as autumn approached in the distant years of my youth, and now I find myself hoping once again that my life’s path into the upcoming season will endure even longer than it did during the days of those tender childhood memories. I do not wish for a brief autumn, or a late autumn, or even an artificially extended autumn. I want a nice, slow, and gradual embrace of the natural gifts it holds.

The education in life we can receive when we study the transition between seasons, inevitable lifts my spirits during this time, and I always want it last and last and last. The only way for me to make full use of it, I’m afraid, is to dive headlong into it, casting aside what scares me about what may follow, and as glorious and beautiful and colorful and sensual as this “autumn within” may be, it suggests by its very existence, the coming of winter, after which the cycle repeats once again.

At different points throughout all the seasons of my life, I have had to endure and survive a variety of different kinds of suffering, causing me to withdraw from the temporal, while also creating an opening to the spiritual. I know there will likely be more suffering to come; the fact that I have survived this long is nothing short of a miracle. I have come close to death a number of times in my travels, and I have felt at times as though I had clearly landed at the very lowest point of my humanity.

I have been deprived of basic needs. I have gone hungry at length. I have been lonely and alone many times. I have felt the sting of bitterness and the weight of relentless obligation. During those times, it often seemed as though nothing would go right, nothing will solve it or reverse it, and then just waiting—just waiting long enough—remaining open to what is possible, to forgiveness, and to letting go, made all the difference. If you can do enough of that, you can get through to another day, and that other day quite often ends up being beyond anything you could have imagined.

I have spent a great deal of time in this blog describing my search for my place, for my entryway to the path of the spirit. I feel strongly that I am headed in the right direction, but remain uncertain about just which direction that might be. I have worked on improving my intuitive senses, hoping to piece together a glimpse of what might lie ahead on my path, and connect whenever I can to others who are searching in their own way for the path ahead. As I embrace the possibilities that appear in life, I enthusiastically engage other like spirits in a way that I hope will bring some insight and clarity to my own search, but also, by extending myself, my spirit, to others, I am hopeful that it may lead to some mutually beneficial outcome.

In the film, “The Tree of Life,” Jessica Chastain’s character describes the way of grace as one that “…doesn’t try to please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. It accepts insults and injuries,” in opposition to the way of nature which “…only wants to please itself…to have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world around it is shining and love is smiling through all things.”

She concludes her description by saying that these ways “…taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end,” and she vows to be true to the way of grace “…whatever comes.” I believe that the way of the spirit is the way of grace; it is the way I must go to carry forward, and to remain open to whatever comes.

I am not completely a creature of this world. I am in this world, but not entirely a product of this world. I arrived in this world some sixty-five years ago, having spent most of it searching, struggling, and trying to understand. I have written hundreds of thousands of words, attempting to articulate what it has been like on the journey of a lifetime. I have done all that I can to build a foundation of the spirit in my life, and I have had some marvelous periods of construction and made important progress in spite of a number of long gaps in understanding, and I strive continually not only to reach the spirit, to embrace the human spirit within me, but also to see it in others.

At times, I have been criticized for spending so much time on such an elusive understanding, and there have been those who haven’t viewed my efforts as being particularly useful, as well as some who have questioned my judgement. Some of my choices may have been more destructive than constructive at times, but when I have been down—all the way down—scraping the bottom—I’ve had to fight my way back; claw and stretch and reach—paddling furiously in the waters of uncertainty and mystery.

At the end of it all, I seemed to understand better; occasionally having a small, incremental moment of progress, and it helps me to continue. I did not ever suppose that I could, at critical moments, have the courage to make the choice to initiate change in my life, but somehow I have.

A Leap of Faith

What is the value of positing a theory of consciousness which is beyond our current capacity to demonstrate empirically?

Even supposing that the full explanation behind the extraordinarily vivid and deeply personal subjective experience we enjoy as living creatures, includes aspects or energies that cannot be verified objectively by any known scientific process, does not preclude the existence of such components, simply because we cannot currently determine their precise nature and origin.

There have been other speculative theories and unconventional ideas proposed in the past which were met with derision and thought to be completely wrong, which eventually gained traction and became widely accepted, such as the arrangement of planets in our solar system, the shape of the earth, and the origins of disease.

For a time, these ideas had no means available to be demonstrated empirically, and were thought to be ridiculous by the conventional wisdom of the times in which they appeared. If we have learned anything over the centuries of recorded human history, we have, at the very least, discovered that the limits of our understanding today are very likely to be replaced by an expanded view at some point in the future.

In my view, the only way to accomplish this is to entertain and explore ideas which may, at some point, require us to make a “leap of faith,” in order to begin the process of uncovering what is now hidden or simply misunderstood using the current paradigm.

Some of the current theories being explored in particle physics suggest that the nature of the physical world as we understand it in this epoch may be radically different than what has been proposed in the past, and while much of what is being suggested often pushes the limits of our understanding, there is a growing movement within the scientific community to pursue these ideas, in spite of resistance from other well-established schools of thought. If we are willing to speculate about the existence of a multiverse, of tiny vibrating strings at the heart of the subatomic world, and multiple dimensions beyond our human perceptive abilities, surely the idea that consciousness is a manifestation of a fundamental force pervading the universe could be explored and given a sustained effort to unravel that possibility.

Recently, as I have reviewed many of my own life experiences, many of which I have described here in this blog, I realized that my long and winding path has given me a degree of confidence to assert, now almost thirty years later, that human consciousness, the essential subjective experience of being alive–self-awareness–whatever term you wish to apply–has at its core, a deeply spiritual component. By expressing it in these terms, I do NOT infer a religious component, but rather, a “non-physical” component. While most of the world’s religions have referred to this “non-physical component” as “the soul” or “the divine”, giving it a “religious connotation,” I believe that it is spiritual in nature, meaning “non-physical,” but also with a deep and meaningful implication, alluding to an intelligence beyond human intelligence, (not alien or extraterrestrial) but simply existing outside of the physical universe.

We are only now, in this epoch of humanity, beginning to probe scientifically the nature of human consciousness, including an expansive study of our cognitive functions and brain physiology, developing a comprehensive neuroscience, and figuring out how it all works. There are huge gaps in our ability to explain how all of the neurological functions and synaptic activity, combined with a delicate electro-chemical balance within the brain and nervous system create the results we observe and experience in the richly diverse subjective experience of being alive. In spite of enormous strides in the science of the brain in the past few decades, none of the science so far has been able to explain our profoundly personal and finely textured understanding of what it means to exist as a sentient and keenly self-aware being.

It is my theory, based on almost thirty years of study in all the related fields, that what we sometimes refer to as the “human spirit,” or whatever term you prefer to use, is the manifestation of what may potentially be a non-physical source responsible for the creation of the physical universe, and by inference then, the existence of all life as we know it. It also seems entirely plausible to me that there may exist within us, capacities or aspects as yet unknown or undetermined by our science, which either tap into this “non-physical” source through human consciousness, or which may one day assist us in revealing and explaining the “what it’s like” experience of existing in the physical world.

With the possible exception of philosophers and poets, the inclusion of these concepts in a comprehensive understanding of consciousness continues to be problematical. The suggestion that non-physical energies or forces or components could have a vital role in explaining our subjective experience of the world, especially in consideration of the profoundly important developments in neuroscience, genetics, and cognitive studies, often seems less appealing since empirically establishing such connections is currently beyond our established cognitive capacities. Whether or not we may eventually discover empirical proofs, or perhaps expand those capacities in a way that could allow empirical confirmation of some sort, is still an open question. It is my contention, however, that the only way for such discoveries or capacities to be realized, is to vigorously engage the possibility.

Since beginning the process of documenting my journey of discovery and enrichment of my inner world, my personal and research journals have gradually become more concerned with the inclusion of many empirical sources, and serious consideration of my personal perspective from the standpoint of those who do not necessarily share my enthusiasm for inclusion of elements that are currently outside of empirical scrutiny. Several of these sources have had a profound effect on my evaluations and conclusions, and have served to temper my enthusiasm somewhat, but in a way that has enhanced my progress.

Everything I have studied and read and felt since my own profoundly disturbing and consciousness-altering mystical experience in 1973 at the age of twenty, which I have come to view as an encounter with what Jung describes as “unconscious contents,” has pointed in the direction of a blending of the empirical with the mystical. At the heart of the dilemma in bringing these two disparate ends together is not so much the inexplicable resistance to unconventional ideas that Jung referred to in his autobiography, as it is the essential quality of maintaining a degree of certainty from both sides that is only truly possible to experience subjectively.

The physiological processes in the brain which make it possible for us to confirm at least subjectively that we possess a keen and potent “awareness” and which allow us to interact in a meaningful way with other sentient beings are indeed fascinating, and modern humans have clearly evolved both culturally and cognitively in a way that the hominids of 160,000 years ago could not have even imagined. The overload of connections which currently plague many of us are undoubtedly in need of attention, and I find myself in complete agreement with those who suggest a regimen of contemplation, periodic disconnection from all the maddening chaos of modern life, in order to create an environment within which we can make a beginning toward recognizing that we truly have an obligation to direct the results of our conscious awareness in a considerate and thoughtful manner.

Our current social structure in the Western World has evolved significantly in the last hundred years or so, and we are beginning to understand and appreciate the value of our unique personal relationships as part of a broader and completely natural social adaptation, which has been part or parcel of our continued evolution as a species since upright humans first walked the earth.

There have been a significant number of individuals in my life with whom I have felt a clearly powerful and profoundly affective connection, and even though our individual temporal lives often eventually went in a completely different direction, continuing to pursue each opportunity to develop new unique relationships has remained a priority for me, not just on a personal level, but also as an affirmation of a much more expansive, natural, and spiritual aspect to human nature.

Artificial Intelligence and Human Life

Fifty-two prominent researchers on intelligence, agreed to a broad definition of the term, “Intelligence:”

“Intelligence is a very general capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test‑taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do. Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well”

–Gottfredson, L. S. Mainstream science on intelligence: excerpt from an editorial with 52 signatories, history, and bibliography. Intelligence 24, 13–23 (1997).

Intelligence of the artificial variety, if it is ever to be considered on a par with the human variety, should then include each of these abilities, as well as the capabilities for comprehension, “catching on,” etc. A recent film about this very subject has captured some very important aspects of concern, supposing that there is some sort of breakthrough eventually that creates what might be described as a “conscious machine.”

“Ex Machina,” the 2015 Universal Studio film, directed by Alex Garland, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac, tells the story of a reclusive billionaire genius who owns the largest search engine company in the world, who has built a research facility in a remote mountain setting for the purpose of building an artificially intelligent robot, with the expressed goal of passing the well-known “Turing Test,” for determining if the “machine” is self-aware. As the film opens, Caleb, an employee of the high-tech firm, has won a lottery drawing within the company to visit the CEO, Nathan, at his research station and, as a result, has the opportunity to test the A.I. to see if it is truly “self-aware.” If Nathan has succeeded, he claims that it would be “the most important event in the history of man.” Domhnall Gleeson’s character corrects him by describing it as “the most important event in the history of gods.”

We are immediately thrown into the astonishing world of the newly “born” A.I., Ava, and by virtue of the design of a special high-tech suit, Alicia Vikander’s character appears to be constructed of wires and metal bones, illuminated by a variety of internal lights, and covered strategically by patches of flesh-like “skin,” allowing for the display of facial movements, and to give “Ava,” a basic human appearance. The internal workings are visible enough to suggest how the robot functions, while still providing the basic contours of the human form. It is an accomplished display of special effects which are both astonishingly realistic and profoundly disturbing at the same time. The contrast is designed to be unsettling to the moviegoer—to draw us in and to shock us into believing that it could be accomplished.

If you haven’t seen the film, it is a powerfully compelling story, and I recommend it wholeheartedly as a morality tale, which begs the question of how we would have to treat such entities should they actually qualify as being self-aware, as well as a serious warning about what might happen if we don’t get it right. The character of the robot’s creator, Nathan, clearly isn’t sufficiently cautious regarding the implications of bringing a self-aware robot “online,” and he seems callous and narcissistic as an eccentric billionaire genius.

Story elements aside, many of which were designed to create drama and provide tension, the underlying implications of the circumstances surrounding such an endeavor gave me pause to consider why any future human being capable of such a feat would even want to dabble in such an undertaking in the first place. Regardless of the level of extraordinary intelligence required, bringing such an entity into existence would also require just the right balance of human decency, compassion, and empathy, coupled with profound and penetrating neuroscientific acumen. While the technological and scientific principles supporting such an invention would be of great interest to artificial intelligence advocates generally, and those who would stand to benefit financially and otherwise would have an understandable motive to see it through, the actual created entity itself would present humanity with the most challenging and perplexing dilemma it could ever face—how to know if it would turn out to be a powerfully beneficial scientific breakthrough, or the eventual instrument of our own obsolescence!

At this point in human evolution, the possibility of constructing anything even close to the self-aware robot we meet in the film seems, on the face of it, to be a very unlikely development for a number of reasons. Throughout the film, we are presented with brief glimpses of the architecture and underlying technologies which provide the foundation for how such an entity might be constructed and assembled to achieve the desired result of the project, and none of those elements exist currently in any form even resembling in the slightest degree that which would be necessary for accomplishing this enormously complex task. Using even the most sophisticated and powerful computers known to humanity, we can barely reach a level of AI that even just approximates the sophistication of the most basic nervous system of the most minimally sentient creature.

Several projects being undertaken to “mimic” the human brain, using our most promising approaches for “deep learning,” and the giant “supercomputers” like IBM’s Watson, are simply nowhere near being able to reproduce anything resembling even a fraction of the innate capabilities that our own three pound squishy mental organ can manage, with its trillions of connections inside our exquisitely shaped and evolutionarily designed skulls. This inheritance of the long evolutionary path of modern primates provided Homo sapiens with a distinctly and uniquely capable cognitive system, which exists (so far as we know) only within human beings, and consists of the most complex arrangement of neural networks of any known species. It is presumptuous indeed to suppose that any artificial system might one day exist, which could recreate precisely, that which now exists within us, possessing the same character and quality of a living, breathing, sentient modern human.

Even the tiniest quantum “neurons,” represented by the atomic scale of the components proposed by the advent of quantum computers, require supporting technologies that would seriously prohibit squeezing them into a space as small as the human skull. The character of Ava, portrayed unflinchingly in the film by Alicia Vikander, has so many affectations of modern humans, and is intriguing beyond any expectation of her creator or her Turing tester, that we easily get caught up in suspending our knowledge that no such creature currently exists. The interplay between Caleb and Ava reaches a fever pitch eventually, and we are compelled to hang on to the edge of our seats as the drama unfolds.

It is well worth the investment of the resources available to produce sophisticated and intelligent machines, and I’m not suggesting that we abandon artificial intelligence research and development. Many of the films which attempt to portray what might take place in a world where such inventions exist, often only offer a superficial portrayal of the opposing characters, glossing over the significant differences between artificial machines and sentient living humans. In the film, “Ex Machina,” the contrast is absolutely startling, as both human and machine present a potent display of the limits of both the technology and our human understanding of what makes us truly self-aware.

What it usually boils down to is whether or not the film makers believe consciousness is a product of brain physiology—whether it “emerges” out of the firing of neurons and the electrochemical processes defined by neuroscience, or instead exists as a phenomenon of indeterminate origin which is made available to us by virtue of possessing “the right stuff,” –a sufficiently complex cognitive organ.

Any attempt to reduce the complexity and holistic phenomenal experience of consciousness to simply putting together enough neurons in the right arrangement and coordinating systems and functions in just the right manner, seriously underestimates not only the phenomenon itself, but fails to take into account the awesome and sometimes mysterious character of our humanity. Human nature and nurture won’t ever be truly obsolete, as long as we continue to appreciate the supreme value of human life, and acknowledge with gratitude, our awareness of our subjective experience of existing as complex sentient beings. We are imperfect creatures who often don’t understand or appreciate fully how miraculous it is to be a participant in the experience of life on Earth, and we cannot expect any artificial “life” to be anything other than a reflection of the moral character and scientific competence of its creator.