The Mystery of the Ordinary

magritte face of genius 2

“Our experience of the world involves us in a mystery which can be intelligible to us only as a mystery. The more we experience things in depth, the more we participate in a mystery intelligible to us only as such, and the more we understand our world to be an unknown world. Our true home is wilderness, even the world of everyday.”

“Unfortunately, (a) true sense of the mystery of things which may, in fact, deepen in the course of scientific investigation…finds no articulate place in the articulated results of scientific investigation…Philosophical interpretation of the experience of the activity of scientific investigation is seldom offered. Thus the wonder, respect, and love for things investigated, which may be at the heart of scientific experience, virtually escape reflective interpretation and testimony.”

– Henry Bugbee from “Inward Morning.”

The title of this post was inspired by the announcement of an exhibition of the works of Rene Magritte, the quintessential surrealist artist at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. While contemplating the subject of this posting, it occurred to me that what I may have been struggling with all this time is the mystery of the ordinary. We take so much for granted as temporal beings in a material world, supposing that since we have come to unravel so much of the mystery of our existence through science and technology, that it is simply a matter of time before we unravel it all. It seems unlikely to me that we could continue to thrive or even exist without coming to terms with the mysterious, and the quote from Henry Bugbee puts it in perspective for us.

far away looks magritte

The events of my personal life recently have given me some pause in this regard. I must confess to a certain degree of reluctance to submit myself to the trials inherent in the process of assimilating the many different aspects of spiritual discovery, and of coming to terms with my own experience of consciousness. My heightened sense of awareness of other people’s emotions and their spiritual selves has been unsettling at times, creating a degree of conflict as a direct result of my sensitivity. Occasionally, contact with the stream of life from their inner worlds has evoked emotional responses and triggered instinctive behaviors that might no have occurred ordinarily. Particularly high degrees of openness in a few cases have resulted in a commensurate degree of confusion. and I have not always been adequately prepared for the unrestrained response in my own inner world.

Even when there is an intellectual awareness of the possibilities which may arise in such situations, depending on which end of the spectrum one finds oneself, it can either enhance the experience or send it wildly out of control. There is also a potential for an unavoidable encounter with individuals who we perceive as particularly spiritually vital, but who are, for whatever reason, inadequately prepared for such an encounter themselves.

rene-magritte-Decalcomania

Opening ourselves to another individual, exposing our inner world and having another’s put before us, can be a considerable risk in some ways. Without careful consideration regarding the possible effects of unrestrained responses, or of insufficient control of one’s emotions, it is unpredictable what may happen. Sometimes, it requires a true leap of faith.

Recently, I was formally introduced to an engineering consultant from the upper levels of management, and ended up in a lengthy discussion, surprisingly not only about philosophy and religion which are of particular interest to me, but also about personal beliefs and the news regarding the state of our culture in the United States and abroad. This bright and engaging fellow is from Pakistan, a Muslim by birth, and a curious mixture of enlightened intellect and pessimistic practicality. His double major of Mechanical Engineering and Religion at the university level struck me as uncommon, although not entirely unrelated. On the surface one doesn’t seem to have much in common with the other, but as is often the case, perceived divisions between subject areas can be dispelled with a persistent effort to find commonalities. At the heart of all knowledge, there is some kind of ultimate reality which reflects the unifying force within life itself. E. O. Wilson wrote a book called, “Consilience: the Unity of Knowledge,” in which he makes a compelling case for finding our modern day version of “Ariadne’s Thread,” the one which assisted Theseus to “…retrace his steps through and out of the labyrinth.” The enthusiasm of our philosophical discussion easily diverted our attention away from the task at hand. Several reminders were needed from others about what we were supposed to be doing, because we repeatedly got caught up in our conversation and didn’t realize how much time had passed between reminders.

magritte empty mask

The ease with which our conversations progressed and the similarity in our areas of interest were powerful incentives to continue with them, and to discover such a common interest base with an individual raised and educated in such a radically different worldview almost defied belief. We were both struck by the notion, and delightfully surprised to find a degree of personal compatibility which resulted in becoming such fast friends. Lately, it seems that I have been approached by many of the people who come across my path, who have required my attention or counsel. It has resulted in an odd mixture of anxiety and anticipation, and in the coming together of certain aspects of my inner voice and spirit with the external world. At times, it feels synchronistic like signposts of crossroads, and I am alternately encouraged and uplifted, as well as a bit fearful and anxious, from the feelings inspired by progress spiritually, as well as what feels like a widening gap between the world being revealed to me in the process and the world in which I must engage the process. Within the world of the ordinary experiences, it seems that I am being drawn inexorably deeper and further away from the everyday world, and moving toward the uncertainty of new experience.

Magritte’s surreal artworks are intriguing and thought-provoking. I remain in awe of the flow of the stream of life, and must trust in the wisdom that guides us on our journey of the spirit.

Consciousness in the World: Ancient Ideas Still Resonate Today

“The reflective understanding of reality has seemed to me helped by the incursion into the present moment of remembered situations from which one gains his bearings and his stance as a human being. Thus the re-collective understanding of one’s actual experience is intimately connected with the reflective understanding of reality…Above all else, then, I trust in the remembrance of what I have loved and respected; remembrance in which love and respect are clarified. And I trust in such remembrance to guide my reflections in the path of essential truth.”

— Henry Bugbee from “The Inward Morning,” July 1953

Egypt farmer2

Image from the burial chamber of Sennedjem, Egypt; Scene: Plowing farmer.

Part of my fascination with the study of human consciousness clearly stems from my intense interest in ancient human history, which was originally piqued by its introduction in my earliest educational experiences. As far back as I can remember, images of ancient peoples and civilizations always seemed to engage my mind whenever I encountered them. In particular, images from the first books of children’s stories of mythological creatures and ancient hunters, and early text books which contained stories and illustrations of ancient cultures in distant lands, all excited my imagination and prompted me to imagine myself participating in the lives of such cultures. The intensity of this interest has stayed with me my whole life, and in the unfolding of my education through the years, I accumulated dozens of books about a variety of ancient civilizations. Our complex modern-day existence and our deepest sense of our humanity has been built upon ancient beginnings, and even as our modern lives become entangled in advancing technological innovations of every sort, there are indications of our ancient beginnings which resonate in our modern consciousness.

Farming scenes in the Tomb_of_Nakht

Agricultural scene from the tomb of Nakht, 18th Dynasty Thebes

One of the most important adaptations which resulted from a shift in the sophistication of human consciousness was the one which saw the transition of the many nomadic groups of early human hunter gatherers to the development of agriculture and small communities of individuals engaged in farming the ancient lands. According to most estimates, (Wikipedia) deliberate and organized “sowing and harvesting of plants,” appeared somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 years ago, and arose independently in the various continents of the world, but was quickly adopted among many adjacent civilizations as the advantages of food production which would support “increased population densities,” necessary to support expansion of the various cultures of antiquity. In Egypt, as farming developed in the fertile Nile Valley, images like the one above began to appear in many of the illustrations of life in those times. Eventually, this shift to agriculture contributed significantly to the expansion of communities into cities, cities into regions, and larger and larger aggregations of humans into empires and great civilizations.

modern farmers2

Recently, I visited the location of a brand new farm in the early stages of being established locally by my son and several others, and as I photographed them on the modern bulldozer which was clearing the land in preparation for planting, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far we’ve come in some ways from those ancient “farmers,” and how much we owe to those intrepid innovators of antiquity for so much of our modern mindset. The ancient farmers had no such advantages as bulldozers or modern day tractors:

modern tractor2

The path of illumination and discovery, not to mention technological innovation over the centuries, could only have occurred with a commensurate expansion of human consciousness. We infer from the available evidence in the fossil record that while our ancient hominid predecessors may have possessed a remarkably similar brain architecture for hundreds of thousands of years, it seems apparent that they were not initially as fully and cognitively self-aware in a way that would allow them to utilize that awareness for much of that time. From an evolutionary perspective, any ability or pattern of behavior which enhanced the survivability of our species would favor those who employed them, and at some point, higher levels of cognitive functioning began to impart what scientists like to describe as “secondary” or “coincidental” advantages and capacities. Creative use of our development of cognitive skills for survival, also presented us with a capacity for art, music, and mythology. Awareness of our inner mental imagery, and the development of language to express that imagery as an enhanced survival strategy, also just happened to provide us with a way to construct elaborate creative solutions like farming, and led to contemplation about the mysterious workings of the world around us.

According to Carl Jung, in his writings on Gnosticism:

“The ancient mind rejected the material world and felt that everything originated outside of himself. The modern mind rejects the gods and is smugly satisfied with the false material nature of both himself and the world. The mind of today must acknowledge the origins of self in the unconscious and the duality of humanity as being both material and non-material.”

Deep within us lies a tremendous storehouse of knowledge–not knowledge in the sense of information, statistics, or formulas–but rather, knowledge of centuries old memories, ancient thoughts, and the progressive synthesis of understanding inherited from the dawn of humanity. The synthesis of old and new, much like the changes that occur in us genetically through periodic advantageous mutations, produces variations of our inner life that did not exist previously. While those changes may be incrementally small and subtle, after a time they result in profound differences in the depth and breadth of our inner lives. The signposts of these changes range from subtle cultural changes as are evident in the ebb and flow of conventional wisdom, to the unfolding of dramatic alterations that come to define a shift in the direction of our species. One need only contemplate the progression of humanity from ancient times to today to realize that it required not only imagination, intuition, and innovation, but also a fundamental alteration in the depth and breadth of our inner worlds to support those possibilities…

Life: Mysterious or Mystical?

The Beginning

Life, for me, began rather precariously and very nearly ended as soon as it began. As I entered the world, all of the normal techniques for encouraging a baby to breathe were not succeeding. I was, in the terminology of the day, a “blue baby.” According to my parents, in a last desperate attempt to stimulate breathing, the doctor struck me on the back of the head, which (thankfully) was sufficient to urge the first cry to fill my lungs with the necessary oxygen. From that day forward, many of my finest moments, as well as movements in new directions, have come about as a result of similarly abrupt events.

As each of us begins life, we aren’t exactly a blank slate. We are programmed to an extent by our human DNA, constructed of genetic material contributed by our parents, commingled in the dance of conception, created in a confluence of chromosomes, and we inherit a variety of characteristics as a member of our species. For some, this represents a formidable source of predisposal to all sorts of inclinations, and constitutes an overwhelming tendency toward an irrevocable human nature. However, neuronal development in the human brain from before birth to adolescence involves an amazingly complex process, which ultimately results in the writing of our essential mental record. Assuming generally good health and a sufficient degree of nurturing by our circumstances after birth (and providing that we are not deliberately manipulated), in general terms, we are essentially an unwritten record.

Nature has equipped us to survive and thrive by perpetuating a marvelous and rare evolutionary flexibility. We are, under most circumstances, purely and simply, a bundle of potentiality, unencumbered at birth by deliberate or malicious influences. Much depends on what happens after we are born. In spite of an array of inherited obstacles over the millennia, humans have displayed an exceptional capacity for innovation and may follow any number of paths.

There are both daunting limitations and extraordinary possibilities inherent in the evolutionary process, and in spite of powerful genetic predisposition, humans have demonstrated time and again the ability to overcome these limitations and take advantage of the possibilities that result from our adaptive nature. No one may violate the laws of physics, of course, but determined effort and persistence have led humanity through some of the most daunting challenges that nature can conjure.

Wholly separate from the science of life–biology, evolution, and cosmology–lies the underlying source of life–some sort of primal causality. Somewhere over the hundreds of thousands of years since the first inklings of conscious awareness stirred within us as a species, we eventually reached a level of cognitive ability that permitted us to wonder about the nature of phenomenal existence. As we evolved, we sought to understand what it is that animates the living of a phenomenal life. With the advent of civilization and symbolic writing, we began to record our ideas and images, eventually creating everything from ancient rituals to virtual reality, from astrology to astrophysics, from pharaohs to philosophy.

Is life simply just mysterious, or are there transcendent aspects of perception, or ineffable components to consciousness, or certain undiscovered capacities within us, that leave open the possibility of an essential and fundamental mystical element? One need only review their most profound experiences, their most intuitive responses to the unexpected events in their lives, and become acquainted with the whole range of inscrutable human experience through history, to begin to suspect that there may be more to life than meets the eye. Whether this equates to something that defies explanation, or to a mystery that simply hasn’t been unraveled as yet, the full exploration of our very human nature sometimes requires us to reach beyond what is definitive, and ponder the possible in whatever direction our hearts and minds and spirits lead us. To do anything else is to limit our search and our selves.

The Universal Flow

There is a stream of consciousness flowing within each of us that never ceases, nor diminishes throughout our years as self-aware sentient creatures. In our everyday awareness, we can be consciously connected to this stream to the degree that we seek it out, and as we attend to the matter of nourishing the path which connects us to it. There are many different ways we can detect the stream, and they are limited only by our willingness to be open to them. For some of us, it is simply a matter of persistent effort. For others of us, it may be a struggle to first sift through an avalanche of chaos, before settling into a place where we can discern the flow routinely.

In my early life, it was a constant struggle emotionally and psychologically, to feel the pull toward the flow so strongly, but to be so severely limited in gaining insights; forced to adhere to a strict religious regimen with regard to spiritual matters, every effort to veer away from the established course was thoroughly and effectively suppressed. Once I began my life as an independent person, safely beyond the grasp of my upbringing, the powerful rush of the internal flow burst forth from within me like a volcano. Unprepared for the intensity of its streaming energies, I submitted to it only haltingly at first, stumbling as I attempted to remain with one foot in the past, and the other in the stream.

Intense fear of the unknown nature of my experiences at that time were contrasted by the tremendous excitement I felt at the revelations they contained. While I understood little of what it meant to be connected to this mysterious flow, I sensed immediately that there was a profound nature within it, and was enthralled by my sudden awareness of an expanded potential within me. These many years later, I am finally coming to not only acknowledge my lifelong connection to a universal flow of consciousness, but can now proceed deliberately and willingly towards it.

Even in spite of this advantage I don’t, at every moment, know exactly where I am going or how it is that I feel what is within me now. The moorings seem to have broken loose and I feel often as though I am drifting without direction in an uncertain world. I cannot reconcile my longings with any rationale, nor can I say with certainty that I will find my way. The light in the afternoon sky grows dimmer as I seek shelter. In the distance, the rumblings of a storm can be heard. It may pass or it may strike with full force, I cannot say which. Even so, there are aspects to the uncertainty which can be quite appealing too. Within the discomfort of “not-knowing,” is also the promise of change, however disadvantageous in the immediate sense, and the long term consequences are never completely known.

Breaking loose from the restrictions and suppression of my early life, I stumbled at first, and made errors so glaring now in retrospect, even I have to shake my head at myself. These past few years have been stable enough to gain a bearing of sorts, and having attained some stability, I can at least be said to be considering these ideas from a vantage point. The tumultuous years of my youth, not entirely ill-spent, have not produced the precise figure of my youthful visions. The disparate pieces of my life have not combined as yet to form a complete character that I can identify unambiguously as myself. In retrospect, the course I followed satisfied the obligations I had incurred, and in so doing, performed a necessary function that prevented me from falling off the cliff of self-destruction. It may well have been a necessary adaptation for my survival.

Carl Jung once wrote:

“We do not know how far the process of coming to consciousness can extend or where it will lead. It is a new element in the story of creation and there are no parallels we can look to (nor can we) know what potentialities are inherent in it. If we assume that there is anything at all beyond our sense perception, then we can speak of psychic elements whose existence is only indirectly accessible to us.”

The proliferation over recorded time of the various intellectual and spiritual movements is representative of the entire spectrum of inner human life. As a direct result of these movements, complex social and environmental changes have occurred. Unless all such activity ceases, it seems likely that our species will continue to progress along these lines, transforming our present level of understanding and consciousness to levels never before imagined.

Currents of the Spirit

The yogis call this one unified essence Shiva. The force of creation within this absolute is the Divine Feminine http://www.expressionsofspirit.com/shiva-shakti.htm

I am beginning to weave together some of the many lines of thinking that have been creating forward movement in my life. Comprehension along the way requires deliberate effort, and while we may understand how a particular device operates, or how a mathematical formula represents a physical law, comprehension of a creative process or a complex idea like consciousness, while attempting to unravel how its many facets come together in a conscious, creative result, and how the many elements of that human experience of consciousness come together, requires an even more deliberate and persistent effort.

We may feel at some point that we have apprehended some fundamental grasp of these elements, but not have any clear idea of how to express them. Comprehension does not, in every case, lend itself to an articulation of what has been comprehended. It is an essential element of the creative process to work out these details, and then to share with the world-at-large in a way that can lead others to comprehend as well.

The intuitions of forward movement in my life are of some concern for me presently. There is a fair amount of mental and emotional confusion accompanying my life of late, and it feels entirely possible that movement, in the form of “currents of the spirit,” underneath the surface of my phenomenal existence, is influencing awareness.

Maura Holden : Painting from the Hypersea of Spirit Maura Holden, born in Pennsylvania in 1967, is emerging as one of the most powerful and interesting visionary or sacred artists of the present time. Combining both excellent draftsmanship with a lucid sense of colour, Maura depicts the secret vistas of the collective psyche. http://lila.info/interviews/maura_holden.html

The words flow out of me at times, and yet, often fall short of the actual feelings. The urgency of the feelings can be overwhelming, often containing great power within me. There are no set parameters within which I can predictably operate, nor can I easily determine always the breadth of my responses to the intuitive nature of the feelings. As is often the case, these feelings seem right in my heart and mind, but do not in every case make sense to me in the context of my daily life. The disparity between what is taking place within me, and the events of the world around me, is often puzzling.

While there is much that is yet to unravel for me, I am now beginning to sense more vividly the undercurrents of the spirit at work within me. It has not been, at every moment, an especially pleasant experience, but I am oddly reassured by this realization. The sense of a spirit within me is strong, and when there is movement within me, I quite often am fully aware that it is active at that moment. It has provided many illuminating and enriching experiences, but I have also had to endure some fairly intense emotional pain as a result of this awareness. My heightened sense of empathy toward others has brought me to make contact with and to be drawn toward certain individuals, who appear to me to be in need of some sort of compensatory movement in their lives, and interacting with them has resulted in both the achievement of balance and the rewards of success, as well as anxiety resulting from my inability to achieve momentum, or from interventions that had an adverse effect. Having a capacity for empathy does not come with a guarantee that I will always know what to do with such a profound connection to others.

Empathy IV by Helenka http://www.redbubble.com/people/helenka

I have struggled long and hard to engage certain other spirits with whom I feel this profound connection. My initial instincts have consistently led me to these individuals over the years, and in nearly every case, there is a clear response to my empathetic efforts, but occasionally no clear resolution of the circumstances. I generally have no trouble discerning how I feel, but sometimes become frustrated by my inability to engage these others. Several times, I have begun badly, or been misunderstood, or expressed myself poorly, and the results have been unsettling to say the least. Even in cases where I have had good effects on the lives of others, the progress I have made has come at a heavy price.

There is still much more for me to learn, but I feel strongly that I am on the path. Interactions with others have always been at the heart of my best and worst moments, but I feel fortunate to have gained in perspective over the years, and hope that I can begin again to move forward on the path of reconciliation.