A Technical Reappraisal of ‘Attention and ‘Awareness’ in a Christian Context
At the end of Jesus the Heretic, my first book dealing with the origins and development of Christianity, I drew attention to Jacob Needleman, an American philosopher who had helped clarify for me the heavily obscured spiritual premise of Christianity. (1) Identifying and defining perceptual processes not generally associated with the Christian message, Needleman spoke of an energy within the self that required the development of ‘attention’; or, as he so carefully rendered it, the force of attention. Carrying his readers far beyond Christianity’s virtue-bound theories of the spiritual life, Needleman offered a radically different interpretation of Christianity’s basic premise, a premise with which I was already familiar.
While serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Germany during the fifties and sixties, I had happened upon a similarly oriented scheme of thinking published by Kenneth Walker, the eminent Harley Street surgeon, and had been immediately intrigued. (2)
Like Needleman, Walker homed in on the attention and awareness factor, suggested that human beings were not properly conscious even when apparently fully conscious, and with a wealth of examples pinpointed what appeared to be an important psychological blind spot in the way we function. Pointing out that our normal waking consciousness was but one type of consciousness, and that entirely different forms of consciousness were also available, Walker, with a little help from the psychologist William James, helped trigger off in me a powerful and disconcerting realisation: I too was not properly conscious most of the time. Confronted by the same basic conclusion in Needleman’s work, I did a double-take, for through a study of Gnosticism I had come to the conclusion that there was more to Christianity than most Christians realised. Reading this philosopher’s text with great care (I had learned early on that it is one thing to agree with someone, but quite another to agree with them for same set of reasons), I discovered that we were in fact on the same track, our mutual premise having stemmed from the experiential work associated with a relatively unknown Greek-Armenian thinker by the name of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff. Knowledge of Gurdjieff had arrived for Needleman via the writings of a certain Father Sylvan, for me via a book by Kenneth Walker I had found lying on a bedside table in a tiny room in a seconded German barracks in 1959. Gurdjieff was our mutual key, Christianity the lock into which this key fitted.
The Ever-changing Self
Other thinkers had however come very close to describing something similar to Gurdjieff. As Walker mentioned in his book, Dr Hughling Jackson – the founder of the British School of Neurology – and the much maligned philosopher Freiderich Nietzsche had both sensed that something was intrinsically wrong with our notion of the self. Noting anomalies, Jackson had argued that consciousness was neither a fixed quantity or quality, but something that underwent change moment by moment. Nietzsche followed suit and offered the observation that consciousness was not of fixed magnitude, but intermittent in nature. Getting down to specifics, Nietzsche observed that it was “Because men believe . . . they already possess consciousness, [that] they give themselves very little trouble to acquire it.” We were not quite as conscious as we thought we were. This was Gurdjieff’s point; we were oblivious to the fact that our conscious life was conducted mainly at an unconscious level. So taken up with mental and physical activity were we that there was seldom any attention left over for consciousness of the self by the self which claimed to be conscious. Embedded in thinking and doing, the thinker and doer disappeared into a submerged conscious state. And that even when speaking or thinking about the thinker and doer. Why? How? Because the act of consciously looping the self back into the self was a bit like trying to see the back of ones head without a strategically placed mirror; it placed a creative strain on the sensory system. Meeting psychological resistance whenever we scanned this particular sector of consciousness, we chose the easier route and sank back into thinking and doing. So great was the quota of energy required to initiate the apparently simple act of being self-conscious, that our conscious surfacings were no more than momentary flashes. Infinitesimal in duration, such flashes could not in all honesty be described as a continuous self.
Hughlings Jackson’s observation that self-consciousness is not of fixed duration is now a view held by most professionals. There is, we are told, no actual self at the centre of conscious awareness. Consciousness goes through continuous fluctuations, and as such cannot sustain a permanent ‘I’ structure, only a fleeting or intermittent one. Continuity of self is therefore an illusion, a chimera, a concept without substance in psychological reality. There is an ‘I-structure’, but it is composed of a procession of I-moments cleverly synthesised into what appears to be a singularity. Identity we certainly have, but it is no more than a backgrounding haze conjured out of functional processes. Everything is in a state of flux, a state of coming and going, a state of existing and not existing. Or, as the philosopher David Hume postulated, mind or self is only believed to be a unity because of the “felt smoothness of the transition which imagination effects between point and point”: it is no more than a bundle of experiences supposed to be continuous.
Picking up on this dilemma in a more positive and helpful manner, the psychologist Erich Neumann observed that the logical statement of identity – ‘I am I’ – is in fact a tremendous achievement because it is an act “whereby an ego is posited and the personality identified with that ego – however fallacious that identification may later prove to be”. (3) Out of this process comes a ‘self-orienting’ consciousness, and it is our capacity for self-orientation that makes all the difference. Here then is much the same observation as that made by Nietzsche, Jackson and Hume, but in Neumann’s terms the disconcerting discovery that our idea of being a ‘self’ may be an illusion is turned from a negative into a positive. The illusion of having a self, of being an individual entity, of having a personality constellated around an ‘I-structure’, becomes an achievement of which we need not be ashamed. For without such a focus we would be disoriented to such an extent that observations of this kind would be quite beyond us. Devoid of a self-orienting consciousness our ego would be defenceless against the influx of the world; that is, we would be deeply embedded in what is technically termed ‘participation mystique’, an identification of self with world from which escape is all but impossible. But escape we do, and did, and our present capacity for escape into self-orienting consciousness signals an evolutionary breakthrough of gigantic psychological significance.
Present and Absent
Our unrecognised dilemma of being mostly unconsciously active and involved while consciously engaged in thinking or doing is not altogether unlike being embedded in participation mystique. In fact it is probably the tail end of that particular state, a state which continues to haunt us in spite of our highly developed sense of individuality. Yes, we have successfully broken out of psychic jail, as it were, but we are continually returning to a state of mind perilously close to that ancient condition. Unconsciously embedded in conscious activity, we use our primeval capacity for identification as a tool of consciousness, cease to exist to ourselves during such use, and on surfacing tend to deny that continuity of consciousness was ever disrupted. And all because we can step out of this curious condition; that is, disengage ourselves from our submerged state and again become conscious of our existence. But we are in fact moving from one submerged act of identification to another, and in doing so erode our capacity to think, do or relate in a fully human manner. For to be fully human means to be awake and aware, not asleep and submerged, it means to be present, not absent, and in this sense it means that we know exactly what it is that’s going on in relation to perception and its blind spot. It simply isn’t enough to have the light of consciousness on, we must also be conscious of the fact that it is on, and at regular intervals attempt to sustain this demanding quality of awareness.
Submerged conscious identification with objects of attention drags energy out of us (we get tired); acts of awareness in which attention is not allowed to usurp the entire perceptual field releases energy and connects us to the world in a new way. Suddenly, in the sense of a switch being thrown, we are capable of making real decisions, and the reason for this is that we have stopped reacting to our environment in an automatic fashion. We have the will to will because we are present to ourselves. We have, in Monica Furlong’s terms, fully occupied the space in which we exist and we damn well know it. The only problem is, we keep on forgetting to remember what it is we know ourselves to know, and in forgetting, endlessly inaugurate the condition of conscious sleep. In such moments our humanity is up for grabs, we have traded in the human for the robotic.
This is to suggest that if no real attempt is made to sustain the condition in which awareness of ‘self’ and ‘other’ is nurtured, then we are living only half a life. To be ‘present’ is to be available to ourselves and others; to be consciously submerged is to be ‘absent’ and out of the reach of self and others. Conversations during which both parties speak and act in a consciously submerged manner are conversations between beings who have momentarily ceased to exist to themselves. Self-presencing is a vital factor in authentic communication, but it is only one of two factors in relation to full consciousness. Full consciousness, or to be more accurate the route to full consciousness, is experienced when we tease self-awareness and object-attention apart and allow them to occupy separate spaces. For if object-attention rules by itself, then awareness of self slips into the background and disappears; whereas if self-awareness rules by itself, attention, like a key, is pulled out of the awareness lock and the mind goes into neutral gear: thought-empty ‘wistfulness’ is often the sign that this has happened. But if awareness and attention are allowed to operate con-jointly, and at regular intervals, then an entirely new state of consciousness begins to emerge.
Awareness and Attention
Awareness should not be confused with attention. Awareness is not attention, and attention is not awareness. Attention, like a key in a lock, is what takes place inside awareness, so making awareness the general backgrounding field of conscious life. Awareness does not require conscious attention to exist, but conscious attention cannot in any sense exist without the general field of awareness; the light of consciousness has to be on for anything to be consciously known. These are the natural polarities of consciousness, and they are, to bring another metaphor into play, the sun and the moon of our biological system.
The sun (awareness) sheds light on the earth, whereas the moon (attention) can only reflect that light. Attention is quite literally ‘reflection’; it is ‘thinking about’; it is a narrowing down to some task; it is ignoring the light yet using the light. When I ‘reflect’ on something, I am generally unaware that I am aware, but I need not be so, I can and do occasionally become aware of the fact that I am aware. I am then no longer simply ‘attending’, I am attending through the experience of my awareness. Or I am in neutral gear, not attending, merely observing. Generally, however, I attend to tasks without cognisance of who is doing the attending – on the level of personal awareness I cease to exist. When understood in its complexity, this seemingly ordinary fact becomes the key which turns in the lock, not to lock the lock, but to unlock the lock. A metaphorical door is about to open, and on the other side of this door stands a different kind of self, a self dramatically different from the one we’re used to. For this to happen, however, attention and awareness have to function as parallel systems. Such a moment affords a strange and disturbing lucidity, for within this curious double matrix there exists a creative tension capable of opening a second door, and that door is the door to transcendence.
Questions and Answers
Not all questions can be clearly formulated; some are composed of the deepest and most obscure elements of our difficult to define natures. Some questions are carried not in our minds, but in our hearts – even in our bowels. And we know they are there, for we can feel their presence, a presence which nudges us towards making the attempt to find out what it is we know ourselves not to know, or can’t admit. Such questions are described by the psychologist William James as ‘needs’, and that perfectly captures their obscure and difficult to define content. For content they have, and that in spite of our inability to consciously determine what exactly it is that is going on in our inner world.
Of such a nature was the question that first prompted me to delve into the topics I write about, and similar questions have encouraged me to go more deeply into the fact that human beings seem to possess a dimension to their natures that exceeds the requirements of evolution. Or is it merely a need? According to William James, man has gradually become a visionary animal who has to fulfil one more condition of existence than the other animals: he must from time to time believe that he knows why he exists.
This could be the answer in itself. We may just have exceeded our evolutionary natures and fallen into the mischief of believing that we have a purpose, that there must necessarily be an answer to the question Why do I exist? Or is it that we each carry another signature, another nature, another dimension capable of opening out into the realisation that we really are quite other than we suspect ourselves to be? That is the suspicion, but is it a suspicion worth harbouring?
I believe it is. To experiment with the lock and key metaphor is to quickly realise that there is another dimension to the human, a new and powerful dimension to perception available to us all, a dimension seldom activated due to our preoccupation with ‘thinking’. We simply find it hard to stop thinking. In fact we find it all but impossible. We are manic thinkers. Every second of every awake hour is filled with thought, cluttered with thought. And when we have nothing in particular to think about we invent scenarios to interact with. Compulsively caught up in an inner world of dialogue, we argue, criticise or rationalise our way through an hour or a day. Mumbling imaginary conversations to ourselves we move around like robots on automatic pilot, our silent, face-contorting conversations sometimes spilling out into the real world to embarrass us, and others. Or we are the ‘other’ who just happens to catch sight of this on-going dialogue with nobody, or an imaginary somebody, and try to ignore the fact that witnessing it is oddly disturbing. For in a curious sense it is a form of sleep we are engaged in, a waking sleep within which we pretend to be fully awake, and witnessing it in another is an uncomfortable reminder that we too are mostly in the same fix.
The next bit of this puzzle can be summed up in one word – identification. We identify with ideas, objects and people to such an extent that we become wrapped around by them; that is, we disappear into them like a key into a lock. We can discover all sorts of wonderful things about our world through this ability, but each excursion into identification has a price, and that price is amputation from the larger dimension of our own natures – the dimension of the truly human. Properly awake and aware we are sensitive to the feelings of others, sensitive to their needs and not just our own. Caught continuously in our little inner kingdom of compulsive thought and action and belief we can be desperately insensitive and even abrasive in our reactions. Here then is the moral dilemma we face, and it has nothing whatever to do with obeying religious codes, it has to do with the calibre of our awareness. Properly awake and aware we are more able to respond to others; cut off from our sentience through identification and distraction we are less able to respond. Our ingrained habit is not to immediately surface from identification, but to slip from one act of identification to another, then another, then another without noticing that the real world, the real ‘other’ has made some kind of demand on us. We have, in other words, fallen into a deep and busy sleep within which we dream constantly of being awake. But our being is not awake; it’s capacity for full sentience has been usurped by the process of inner and outer ‘identification’.
This process is sometimes blown to smithereens by pain and suffering. Mental anguish, either in ourselves or in another, can momentarily rescue us from ourselves. Or, to be more exact, reintroduce us to ourselves through the setting up of a biological loop. Suddenly, unexpectedly, we are fully present because deep emotion has short-circuited us out of awake-dream. Our hearts thump. We can almost feel the blood running through our veins. Our perceptions are acute. We are in every sense present to ourselves, and as such are vulnerable to self-consciousness and even ungainliness. It is self-consciousness that makes us feel vulnerable and deficient and blushingly real. And so we flee from self-consciousness, believing it to be a lesser state of being than the one we are used to. But it is not a lesser state; it is a state of being we have become unaccustomed to experiencing. The world of indentification and distraction is our world, that is our real world.
But there is another kind of suffering, and it has nothing to do with unhappiness, it has to do with guilt. For inexplicable reasons many of us feel guilty about something, and in the attempt to assuage our guilt we play around with elaborate theological or social constructions. And all the time the answer is staring us in the face: we are not properly conscious of our own existence as human beings. We are unconsciously aware of this defect, and our sense of guilt is probably allied to this unconsciously registered fact. We are not awake, we sense that we are not awake, but we cannot rouse ourselves sufficiently to find the trigger mechanism to wake up. The alarm goes off from time to time, and we struggle to the surface, but so great is our attraction to the dream of activity and thought that we immediately sink back into interactive oblivion. The question as to what it all might mean is there in our gut, but it is a question generally thrust aside. Visionary animals we may be, but it seems to most of us that our capacity for vision and ecstasy and transcendence is all a sham, we simply aren’t up to the task of realising our utopian dreams in everyday life.
Unaccustomed to fully experiencing our own subjective reality, we put up with second best believing that what we’ve already got is all there is. Reality is composed of objects ‘out there’ somewhere in three-dimensional space and time; we ourselves are objects cut off from other human objects by the gap which exists between us. I look across this gap at you; you look across this gap at me. I hand you things across this gap, and you do likewise. Whatever our feelings one for the other, the gap cannot be bridged – it’s there for keeps. Identifying with the gap only strengthens the gap. Identifying with matter does exactly the same thing. We are alone. Whether we turn outward or inward, there is no escape, the gap remains.
But what if this is not true? What if this gap can be cancelled out? What if we have within us the capacity to bridge this gap and do what all the philosophers tell us cannot be done? For that, on the whole, is exactly what they tell us, and strictly speaking they are correct in their claim. Subjects do not generally unite with objects except in situations of pathology or drug abuse. Mystics may speak of such a thing happening, but mystics are notoriously woolly in their descriptions. Philosophy, not theology, is the tool we must resort to, and philosophy states clearly that Immanuel Kant’s subject-object dichotomy is here to stay. The conscious self is an island in the midst of a great sea of unconsciousness, and attempts to set sail on that unpredictable sea are fraught with danger.
This brings us full circle, for theology too is of the opinion that this sea is ultra dangerous, and offers by way of compensation fixed patterns of belief to offset the foolhardy desire for exploration and discovery. Venture out onto this sea without these guidelines, and you stand the chance of being seduced into believing that spirituality is open-ended, not closed-ended, that human beings are more than mere pawns in a gigantic game of three-dimensional chess, and that it is possible to step out of our circumscribed human condition and into a realm of spiritual freedom. Such a notion is anathema to the religious mind, and philosophers are not all that far behind with a view of self and world which discourages attempts to break out of what they think of as the empirical mould. Experience, so it seems, gives little or no indication of there being an escape route from our own frailties.
We are each caught in a form of conscious sleep, a form of sleep within which we function as if fully awake. This condition is caused by our apparent need to identify with ideas and objects in the world so as to control them. Distracted from relating properly to one another due to our very capacity to consciously focus in on things, we give way to feelings of guilt for reasons which we find difficult to explain. Suffering quietly, we become resigned to our unasked questions and the fact that we are fundamentally alienated one from the other. This is our mutual condition, our mutual experience, our mutual problem. The crumbs of relationship, love, compassion or hope we sometimes witness or experience suffice only to convince us that such things are not the general rule. We are alone. We are all wrapped up in ourselves. The more we learn the less we seem to know, the more we know the less we are inclined to believe that anything is ultimately important. Our lives are going down the existential drain and no one gives a damn. Science offers its magnificent bleakness, religion its magnificent naivety, philosophy its magnificent emptiness, but when all is said and done we are none the wiser. And yet we struggle on, for deep within us something indescribably distant, yet near, something beyond comprehension yet as intimate as a kiss, suggests that we are much more than we seem. Or is it simply that we sense an unused capacity, a potential for transcendence housed in an unexpected quarter? I believe that that is what is going on. I believe we each have the ability to step out of this world and into another at will. The only problem is, we don’t know how to manufacture sufficient energy to make our move.
The Heart and the Head
In the first and second century Christians of many different persuasions gathered together to worship God and venerate Jesus Christ. They often carried quite different views of both into their assemblies, but their general acceptance of Christ’s worth and God’s presence was, at that stage, sufficient to unite them in fellowship. Later, these same assemblies were torn asunder by theological dispute, the ecclesiastical hierarchy forcing its factional interpretation of New Testament events on everyone. With the flick of a pen Christians became either good or bad, accepted or rejected depending on their Christology. You either toed the doctrinal line, or allowed yourself to be marked out as a potential heretic.
Jacob Needleman records that great divisions appeared in Christian thought, the words of Jesus eventually being “gathered into a system of moral idealism and belief” which, as it turned out, appealed to the citizens of the crumbling Roman Empire. The above quote is in fact taken from the writings of a certain Father Sylvan, an acquaintance of Needleman’s, a man singularly well-informed to speak about the Church’s early history. Quoting from a diary written by Father Sylvan – a diary sent to Needleman posthumously – Needleman methodically pieces together the thinking of this unusual priest, and a picture of an altogether different kind of Christianity begins to emerge – a Christianity which “made innovative use of the scientific language of the period, the language of Greek science and philosophy.” This Christianity is also described as “employing mythic symbols in forms carefully altered to convey truth without supporting the formation of belief or opinion.”
In my book Jesus the Heretic, I developed the theme of the penultimate chapter with the assistance of this same priest’s writings, and in conjunction with Needleman’s critical analysis attempted to piece together what I believed to be the lost truth at the heart of Christianity. This lost truth is of course anything but lost, it is merely mislaid. But mislaid in such a fashion as to make its rediscovery incredibly difficult for the believer. For how do you rediscover the essence of your faith when you have taken its great symbolic truths, literalised them, and in doing so changed them into a pale reflection of themselves? There is a semblance of what was once there, a tantalising approximation of what your faith once had to offer, but the living heart has been torn out of it – it has turned into a system of crowd control. Father Sylvan’s evocation of this problem is characteristically direct: “. . .not until you reach the heart should you permit yourself to speak the ancient language, until then, even Christ must be chased out of your mind. You have made him into a monster through your emotions and conditioning.”
If my reading of Father Sylvan’s diary extracts are at all accurate, the lost heart of Christianity is not something to be believed, but something to be experienced. According to this wily old priest, real Christianity is not propositional, it is an experience which anyone can have, and in fact from time to time do have, without realising that something dynamic and life-transforming has taken place. Human awareness, he tells us, is a contracting and expanding field, a systolic/diastolic movement, and this he links to the doctrine of Christ having two natures, a human nature, and a divine nature. The concept of Jesus Christ having two natures was the outcome of the Council of Nicaea’s deliberations in the fourth century, and a source of controversy in the seventh, where the idea of his having a wholly divine nature was mooted. Rejecting the latter and accepting the former, Father Sylvan seems to suggest that human awareness and the Christ nature are related in that they reflect, not the same motion of contraction and expansion, but in Jesus’ case a subtle balancing of the two. Jesus was the ‘Christ’ by way of his on-going capacity to balance the inner with the outer, and we too can share in the Christ nature if we can find the means to do the same.
The Apostle Paul’s injunction that we be transformed by the renewing of our minds takes on a whole new meaning in light of the above; it suggests that Paul understood what Father Sylvan understood, and that his Christology may not have been as literal an edifice as most Christians believe. In fact Paul’s whole Christological language could be pointing to a new form of attention and awareness, an ultra-difficult to describe state of consciousness capable of breaking the bond we have with unconscious, automatic behaviour. If read in this light, his theologically obtuse statements involving the ‘Christ nature’ take on real substance. In this sense he isn’t talking about Jesus; he’s talking about the fashion in which Jesus related to God. Jesus’ mind wasn’t centred on God, he is saying, it was centred in God. Jesus’ statement “I and the Father are one” is not then a declaration of divinity; it is a declaration of unity. Jesus wasn’t saying “I am God”; he was saying, as the Sufi masters say, I am a close friend of God’s.
Elaborating on the new language required to get this kind of thinking across, Father Sylvan tells us that we have to set the old language of Christianity aside; it is, he says, unsuited to our subjectivity. Language dictates the nature of the experiences open to us; it is a conduit which controls our capacity to respond. So biblical terms like ‘incorruptibility’ and ‘corruption’ are out; and so, too, big rolling phrases like ‘immortality of the soul’. And why speak of the ‘flesh’, or even of ‘God’, when these words are all used up and empty; or too full of strained associations to be of any use. Why not speak of ‘resistance to awakening’, ‘self-deception’, ‘imagination’ and ‘dispersal of the energy of attention’? And while you’re at it, why not get rid of ‘mercy’, ‘forgiveness of sins’ and ‘guilt’ and start using a language that everyone can understand?
This is quite a challenge; it’s the kind of thinking that turns clergymen’s’ hair grey. Why? Because it seems to undermine everything the Church stands for. But does it? If there is a better conceptual language available to us, then why not use it? The answer to this question is easily imagined: updating the Bible into modern English is one thing; updating the whole conceptual base of Christianity is quite another. Words like ‘atonement’, ‘redemption’ and ‘salvation’ would have to go as well, and where would we be then? The answer to this question is that the whole language base of Christianity has to go; it simply does not convey Jesus’ original message. Turning that message on its head, the Church made it mandatory that access to God could only be had by way of obedience to the clergy, and through believing what the clergy taught. Purity of heart and love of neighbour had to be there too, but it was a purity and a neighbourliness made subservient to a grocery list of propositions about Jesus. If you did not believe these propositions then it did not matter how pure your heart was, or how neighbourly you were, you were a heretic, and heretics were headed for hell and damnation.
This is why Father Sylvan says that we have to chase even Christ out of our minds. We have changed Christ into a monster through our emotions and our conditioning. We have reinvented Christ in our own image. In this sense Christianity is lost to itself and has to be found again, and the way we can help it do this is by going back to the spot where it got lost, and that spot is not back in the first century, but inside ourselves. Or, as Father Sylvan puts it, “You will not find Christ by going to ‘Christ’, but only through seeing, clearly and with precision, how you crucify him. Only then will you appear.” This is a statement of psychological fact: the crucified Christ is our own presence locked in matter; it is ‘us/me/you’ rendered unconscious and insensible through constant identification with things inner and outer.
The Inner and the Outer
Our basic problem is that we have confused what is ‘inner’ with what goes on in the mind; inner has come to mean ‘thinking’. Even ‘outer’ is not properly understood, for it refers not only to the objective world, but also to our emotional responses in relation to that world. Our reactions of ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ are part of the outer world in the sense that they usurp attention and hold it in a state of slavery. We may be deeply involved in what appears to be an inner process, but what we are generally engaged in is wholly the interiorisation of outer experience. Dominated internally by the outer, we lose all sense of who and what we are and find it ultra difficult to switch off or even curtail our flow of mentation. Our thinking is generally about the world out there, people out there, hopes and desires and rehearsals allied to situations out there. The outer displaces the inner without us realising what has happened.
Here then is part of the problem facing us, the problem of identifying what it really means to have an inner life. For if the inner is mostly the outer in disguise, then even prayer and meditation and contemplation might fall into that category. The fragmented Church would then be no different from the fragmented world; it too would be no more than a broken-down mechanism of human ingenuity in a state of perceptual and conceptual collapse.
The problem that arises for Christians in this context is complex, for although caught in exactly the same perceptual/conceptual double-bind, they do manage to evoke what is interiorly authentic, and if contemplative or charismatic by inclination, have the habit of focusing their attention on their idea of the inner to such an extent that the inner really does begin to loom large – that is, the outer is displaced by what looks and feels like the inner. Viewing their bodies as ‘outer’ because of tradition, the tendency of these groups is to reject the body and so step away from the processes that could help complete their interior journey. It is a catch-22 situation. Locked inside an ‘idea’ of the inside which, on the one hand, allows them to build the rudiments of an authentic inner life, but which at the same time stops them from developing that inner life to the extent that it ought to be developed, they fail to notice the impasse they are in. Drawing the energy of attention away from the world and the body, the advocates of prayer and charismatic renewal systematically disconnect themselves from the world and become affectively charged. But it a charging fraught with danger, for out of it can come a ferocious certainty, the ‘belief’ that God is on their side and their side alone. Backed often by a literal interpretation of Scripture and an equally convinced peer group, such individuals are a danger to themselves and to everyone around them. They are, as Father Sylvan says, “explosive devices ready to be set off at random.”
So how can we circumvent such a problem? How can we put our life together so that it does not fall into this kind of mental trap? The old priest’s answer is direct and devastating: Realise that what you have to search for first is not God, or Jesus, but yourself – it is you that is lost, not God. And not in the sense of being lost to sin or evil, or as a lost sheep that has to be herded back into some fold or other, but lost to yourself as a living being. In this sense unity of soul equals unity of self-presence; soul is something that happens to us (is generated?) when we are truly present, when ‘self’ and ‘other’ are enticed, through a curious balancing, to occupy what appears to be the same space. And it is an accumulative happening, this soul business; some people have more soul than others, it seems. Souls have, in other words, a capacity for growth in relation to ‘presence of being’ – without presence of being soul is without nutrition; it withers away like a leaf on a bough. And all because we have the tendency to disappear into our ‘inner world’ and remain submerged. Deeply involved with what appears to be our inner life we remain oblivious to the fact that we are disconnected from ourselves. In this sense, “to be, or not to be”, is not some clever phrase put into Hamlet’s mouth by his creator; it is a question of supreme importance carried by all of us as we go about our lives. When, and for how long do we consciously exist to ourselves in any given second, minute or hour? That is the question we have to ask.
At the end of his eye-opener of a book, Jacob Needleman has this to say:
“The inner and outer world have been misunderstood, and this misunderstanding has had disastrous consequences both for Christianity and modern culture. The outer world is not the world of things ‘out there’ in space. The inner world is not the world of thoughts and emotions ‘inside’ the psyche. On the contrary, it is the world of ‘thoughts and emotions’ that is the outer world. Yet these same ‘thoughts and emotions’ have been given a name that was meant to designate what is highest and most inner in man: the soul.”
We’ve been hoodwinked. With regard to our spiritual education we have been led away from our depths and furnished with a surface-bound vision carrying the long-term capacity to do us more harm than good. Approaching God via this vision, we end up in the arms of a Jewish Messiah reconstituted as God, and blissfully while away the years inside a propositional dream. We dream that Jesus is literally God’s presence on earth. We dream that we will live for all eternity in his august presence if we can accept the Church’s interpretation of the New Testament story. And we dream that the whole universe has been created with this in mind – it is God’s will that we accept this story from the first century as the only viable explanation for our being on this planet.
This is a sad, sad misreading of a great spiritual truth; it is a proposition that has backfired on the Church and caused endless, useless suffering for many millions of human beings. For it is not the New Testament story that matters. It is not whether Jesus had a virgin birth, a precocious childhood, could walk on water or still a storm with upraised hand that matters. Or whether he raised a man from the dead or could read people’s minds. It is, as Jesus never tired of saying, the ‘Kingdom of God’ that matters. Why? Because the Kingdom of God signals the presence of God on earth. The presence of God is the point, the whole point and nothing but the point of the Jesus story. Hell, by definition, is whatever it is for very reason that the presence of God is missing; heaven is the exact opposite. Hell on earth, in turn, is due to the fact that our fundamental presence as human beings is generally missing. We are the potential carriers of God’s presence, not in the sense of some external force erupting within us (that would equal possession and diminished responsibility), but in the sense that our presence, when consciously established and sustained, turns out to be the presence of God.
Our crucifixion of Christ is therefore a metaphor for our not being properly awake and aware, properly conscious, properly available in our full humanness; it has nothing whatever to do with a vicarious sacrifice. We are, as St Paul says, crucified in Christ Jesus, not through identification with Jesus, but with the world at large. The outside has become the inside. And so Jesus’ statement “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” is not some oblique reference to the idea that God has been unwittingly crucified in the person of the Son; it is a simply, straightforward observation that his tormentors were in a state of submerged consciousness. It wasn’t knowledge they lacked, it was ‘being’ they lacked.
The Will to Be/The Will to Do
Father Sylvan sums up our mutual dilemma succinctly when he says “the experiencer is absent and needs to be born and grow within us.” Like the Prodigal Son, we ‘waste our substance’ in a far land; that is, we continually identify with the world, lose all cognisance of self and fail to accrue the energy necessary for the building of a rudimentary soul. In this sense, soul is not some amorphous ‘thing’ dished out at birth, it is re-birth, it is a quality born from the energy of sustained attention. Absence of this quality, as argued at strategic points throughout Jesus the Heretic and other books, has to do with not being present to ourselves as experiencers; we have to learn, through trial and error, that we are more often absent than present during external and internal engagements and try to rectify the situation. But waking up to this fact takes time; to wake up in this sense means a generic waking up of the self to its own existence second by second. The experiencer realises, suddenly, that he/she has stopped being an experiencer and gone into conscious exile. A task is completed, a conversation brought to a successful conclusion, but the doer has not been present. The person we believe ourselves to be has not really been involved, just reflexive mind.
The entity we believe ourselves to be sometimes vanishes for days. On automatic pilot, we carry on with our lives never suspecting that everything is being accomplished from a perspective within which we, the supposed experiencer, is missing. And yet we are there, sort of, in the background, hazy and unfocussed, a mere shadow which every now and then interrupts the flow of engagement. But self-consciousness is a problem; it interrupts the smooth operation of the psyche and threatens the experiencer with task-failure. Become too self-conscious and the simplest task can become unmanageable. The reason for this is that the experiencer’s attention is momentarily split between two objects of attention, self and other. As it is impossible to have two objects of attention in one frame of psychological reference in any given moment of time, the system breaks down and the experiencer is thrown into a state of conscious disarray. And so the supposition is that we can only attend to one thing at a time; indeed, must only attend to one thing at a time and allow self to evaporate. The accomplishment of tasks is all that matters; consciousness is so constructed that this evaporation of the self cannot and should not be avoided.
Self as a Creative State
This is to say that our whole notion of having a self is based on our not being a self – a curious juxtaposition in anyone’s terms. Yes, we are a self; no, we should not cultivate sense of self because it gets in the way of our being a doer. Being a ‘doer’ is all that matters; doing equals being. But this is not true, ‘doing’ does not equal ‘being’; ‘being’, when cognised, is a special state of consciousness within which we are rewarded with our deepest, most creative and most telling experiences of what it means to be human. Doing is just doing. It can be a highly skilled state of doing, a state of real creativity, but in the end it is just doing – it has no self-orienting core. But as noted earlier, there is a loop back into the self, and this is the factor that changes mere doing into real creating. But it’s hit or miss; we are seldom available to ourselves in any real ‘sense’, and so we talk of the ‘uncertainty’ of the creative state. What we don’t realise, and seldom consider, is that ‘self’ is itself a creative state; in fact it is the greatest act of creativity of which we are capable. Something quite extraordinary happens in consciousness to allow cognisance of self to arise, and it is this primary experience of the self as a self that needs to be cultivated in conjunction with our internal and external environment to produce the next stage of awareness. It is a matter of ‘being’ while we ‘do’, not just a matter of ‘being’ or ‘doing’. There is, in other words, no either/or in this state of consciousness; it is all or nothing.
Such an act shatters the dream of existing as surely as one can shatter a wine glass on a marble floor. It is to wake up to the fact that we are predominantly asleep, predominantly submerged, predominantly not available to ourselves as conscious beings. Consciously aware we certainly are, but our attention has been usurped within the awareness field and made mono-directional; that is, it is forever pointing inward, or outward, and is only occasionally balanced between the two. Not in the sense of holding the inner and the outer in equal parity, but in the sense of consciously allowing the inner and the outer to approach one another. They cannot occupy the same space, but they can enter a ‘state of nearness’, and it is the sustaining of this state of nearness which affords us the first intimations of change. But it’s a tricky business, and it’s tiring. Why? Because we are running against our conditioned natures. Our consciousness is conditioned to function in a mostly unconscious manner, and it takes real effort to break this pattern and emerge into real consciousness for even a few seconds.
Here then is our psychological dilemma; we are mono-directional. We are either all wrapped up in ourselves, or estranged from ourselves. It’s either/or, and it’s an either/or that flickers from the ‘inside’ to the ‘outside’ depending on circumstances. And as our ‘inside’ is composed mostly of thoughts about outside-type-things, we are estranged from our inner life at the same time as we think we are engaged in it. A dilemma indeed; and one that can only be broken out of through a two-stage waking up process: waking up conceptually to what is going on; and actualising the remedy so that we can experience what to be consciously awake and aware really means. But it is not an easy thing to do, for real ‘doing’ requires real consciousness, and we’re stuck predominantly in an awake dream.
Truth, Freedom and Mystery
As noted in my book Jesus the Heretic, the New Testament’s rendering of Jesus’ interaction with the man caught working on the Sabbath (Luke 6: 1-5) is interestingly augmented in the sixth-century Codex Cantabrigiencis. Enlarging on Jesus’ statement that the Sabbath is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath, this Codex has Jesus make a quite remarkable statement. Offering the man an overview of his situation, this Jesus says: “Oh man, if thou knowest what thou doest, thou art blessed, but if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the law.” Now it is perfectly obvious that the words “if thou knowest what thou doest” do not refer to the man recognising that he is breaking the law, but to the possibility of awareness on another level, the level of conscious doing. Which suggests that Jesus either knew something about this man that his disciples did not, or he knew something about consciousness that he was trying to pass on. You can only make real decisions when you yourself are real, he seems to be saying, and in speaking thus he reveals himself to be in possession of Christianity’s great central truth – the truth that ‘truth’ shall make us free. Not a propositional truth, not a grocery list of ‘beliefs’ about, but knowing fully what it is we do in any given moment of time. That is Christianity’s fundamental truth, the moral ‘rock’ on which it is founded.
Emerging into real consciousness for a second or two necessitates that we learn how to move from one world into another, from one dimension of seeing into another, from our mono-directional interactions with self and world to that of balancing ourselves on an awareness knife’s edge.
Professor Charles Tart captures our dilemma succinctly when he says “We are dreaming. We are entranced. We are automatised. We are caught in illusions while thinking we are perceiving reality.” (5) Tart is Professor of Psychology at the University of California, and has written a modern interpretation of G I Gurdjieff’s ideas – the same Gurdjieff as lauded by Father Sylvan and Jacob Needleman. Aptly titled Waking Up, Tart’s writings explore the problems we face in trying to emerge from the dream of our existence, and with enviable technical know-how he blocks out the cardinal points of Gurdjieff’s system of psychology. And the main point is what many of Gurjieff’s interpreters term ‘Self-Remembering’, the art of holding sense of self in place while dealing with the world, others, a task or a thought. Mono-directional attention is out; dual attention is in. A two-way traffic of attention has to be set up, and there is a basic technique that can be used to make this happen.
Experientially, dual attention is consciously allowing an external object of attention to occupy the mind, then, after a short interval, allowing sense of self to displace that object and become the mind’s central focus. Backwards and forwards we go first to the outer, then to the inner, our habit of being mono-directional used to highlight the fact that we are fundamentally mono-directional. This has to sink in. We have to become aware of how we jump from object to object, or change our focus from inner to outer without realising what we are up to. We need to experience how we shift unconsciously from one object of attention to another by making the same moves consciously; that is, by remembering to remember to check up on ourselves at intervals. If we make a conscious effort to do this our ‘blacking out’ into unconscious behaviour while fully conscious will spring into view.
We are not automatically present to ourselves in our transactions with the world; we disappear with just about every breath and can remain in a more-or-less submerged state for hours and even days. So it is a matter of practice, a matter of teaching ourselves to remember not to forget to remember ourselves as we go about our daily business. Self as a sensation, as a feeling, as an amalgamation of everything that we are has to be consciously formed, turned on, sensed, and then allowed to die away in favour of some other object of attention. And then put back in place again. And then allowed to disappear again until it begins to dawn on us that ‘self’ is not a conscious fixture, but an amorphous conglomerate of sensations only vaguely identified through an intentional act. Inside to outside, outside to inside, the speed of interchange becoming a little faster, and then a little faster still until the space between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ begins to collapse in upon itself. There is of course no possibility of ‘self’ and ‘other’ coalescing, but there is the possibility of our detecting the general ‘awareness field’ within which Erich Neumann’s ‘self-orienting principle’ operates, and this, eventually, will allow us to do the psychologically impossible, move into neutral gear and hold ‘self’ and ‘other’ in the one frame of perceptual reference.
To wake up through the exercise of self-presencing is to be astonished; it is to see what is actually going on in our lives, and in the world. Awake, we notice that others are predominantly asleep. Awake, we witness their trance-like condition as they pass by on a busy street. Awake, we realise that within the next few seconds we too will be caught in the formative stream of our thoughts and left mumbling vacantly. But if in possession of the basic knowledge that this is how we live our lives, then capable of waking up at any second, capable of shrugging off the sleep of automatic, mechanical behaviour and turning back into an available, sensitive human being. But not so easy, this waking up; every reason in the world to stay submerged. Much easier to go along with the flow, react out of a preoccupied conscious sleep and put up with the constant risk of emotional debacle. Misunderstandings. Accusations. Confrontations. Manipulations. The hallmark of a world asleep, a world where the very idea of human frailty, human fallibility, human untrustworthiness has become an excuse for not expecting too much from ourselves. We’re only human, we say, and with these words betray our low expectation of others, and ourselves.
Christianity’s plan is in disarray
Christianity presumes itself to be in possession of a great spiritual truth that can help us overcome our all too human nature. And in an odd kind of way it does possess such a secret, but it has unfortunately scrambled that secret beyond recognition. Governed (as we all are) by ‘formatory mind’ and ‘mono-directional thinking’, Christianity spins its web of conscious dreams and continues to fall short of its own high ideals. Why? Because it is unconscious Christianity – it is a Christianity fast asleep inside its little hot-house of belief. Why aren’t we being taken seriously? Why are we the butt of so many jokes, so many attacks, so many investigations? Why can’t we agree among ourselves? All of which suggests that the plan Christianity has in its possession is being read upside down and back to front, that like the plan for a very intricate machine that has been torn up and scattered to the four winds, Christianity’s plan is in equal disarray and in need of accurate reassembly.
Perfect goodness. Perfect compassion. Perfect love. Three impossible possibilities taunting us in our trance-like condition – the trance within which we collectively assume that we are fully conscious, fully responsible and fully alive. Love your neighbour as yourself. Turn the other cheek. Forgive your enemy seventy-times seven. An avalanche of moral demands which we mostly ignore. The whole business of morals such a hit-or-miss nightmare that we give up on the perfection stakes and grasp for something a little more realistic – a basic tolerance of other people’s stupidity, and our own. And all the while the nagging voice of our social and religious conditioning signalling that we aren’t even making it at this most basic of levels.
Death and Resurrection/Having will
Waking up is an act of will, an act of real will because self has been actualised. We are not properly awake, but we are sufficiently awake to know that we are not properly awake. Which means that some of our decisions are real decisions, some of our statements real statements, some of our affective experiences the result of evaluative feeling and not just raw emotion. Slowly, painfully, we are beginning to surface from the dream of submerged doing, thinking and feeling, and each surfacing teaches us a little bit more about the self we did not know ourselves to be. But our tendency is to drain our energy in mental and physical activity, replenish it through sleep and eating and endlessly repeat the process. Asleep in the sense of having little self-presence such a process seems to be all that we need, awake and aware it is seen for what it is – a kind of death. And so, in the old Gnostic sense of the word, what we need is a resurrection of the self to the self, a resurrection through the senses so that we can unhook ourselves from conscious distraction and learn, slowly, the difference between having, and not having, a will.
Locked in Physis
A self sensitised to its own existence rises from the dead at regular intervals; it is alive to the fact that in each instant its tendency is to go with the distractive flow. Seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking or moving through presence of self is an enlivening experience. Seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking or moving through absence of self deadens our capacity to respond. Blacking out into reactive thinking and behaviour, we spend our days predominantly unconscious of the fact that we are asleep while apparently awake. A glimmer of self-presence followed by hours, days and even weeks of blackout. Nobody at home. The look of concentration – blackout. The look of involvement – blackout. The look of despair, pleasure, hope or ambition – blackout. Or, as the old radical Christian Gnostics so accurately described it, locked in physis.
This brings us to Meister Eckhart’s idea of the awakened self. “The Holy Scriptures shout,” he says, “that man should be free from self, for being free from self, you are self-controlled, and as you are self-controlled you are self-possessed, and as you are self-possessed you possess God and all creation.” This is not Eckhart stuffily confirming that moral behaviour leads to self-control and thence to possession of God, but to the fact that real morality is dependent on ‘possession of self’; that is, on our being freed from the limited, reactive self whose life is a life of constant distracted. To lose the limited self is to ‘wake up’; it is to transcend the self that sleeps and acquire real will.
The Celtic theologian Pelagius Britto argued that the human will was free and a God-given right; in taking that stance he was anathema to people like Augustine. Born innocent, and therefore free of sin in Pelagian terms, we later matured into beings capable of discriminating between virtue and vice. Augustine did not agree. Our fleshly appetites, he believed, were so oppressive, so overwhelming, that their tyranny could not be shaken off. Only Christ’s redemptive power could rescue us from ourselves – we were basically helpless. In alignment with this dour notion the Church’s catchphrase since the end of the fourth century has been that we are all helpless. We cannot affect real change in our lives without God’s grace. Accept the Pelagian argument and you not only contradict St Augustine, you make a nonsense of God’s plan of salvation and the Church’s whole existence. The Pelagian fiasco rested on the notion that human beings were capable of consciously choosing right over wrong, and that flies in the face of everything known about the human condition. Choose the Pelagian path and you return Christianity to the sterilities of an external code of civic and secular morals, a joyless compound of Judaism and Stoicism where law again rules supreme.
This is to totally misunderstand what Pelagius and many another has been trying to say down the centuries; it is to entirely miss the point of what to ‘consciously choose’ means in real terms. As a summation, the Church’s rejection of the Pelagian proposal probably sounds pretty fair given the brain-washing we’ve been subjected to over the last fifteen hundred years; but it is in fact founded on a series of historical, mystical and logical misconceptions. For as we have seen time and time again, the Church’s historical premise is highly suspect, its mystical premise equally suspect, and its claim to be theologically precise the exhibition of a logic based mostly on historical and mystical distortions of reality. Yes, its heart is in the right place, and its sincerity is on the whole unquestionable; but its right to claim divine authority for its pronouncements cannot any longer be taken seriously. We human beings are without doubt pretty defective when it comes to governing our wayward appetites, but it must be obvious to even the most staunch believer in Christianity that its presence on earth has not afforded the kind of change expected by the Church in its infancy. And blaming the ‘Devil’ or pushing the transformation of the human species into some distant future must be seen for what it is – an excuse. Something is missing in the Church’s evaluation of spiritual reality, and that something is the difference between our being awake or asleep while engaged in conscious activity – it is as devastatingly simple as that.
Reflexive intelligence is a temporary mechanism according to Bernadette Roberts; it is a powerful associative tool, but it has become a compulsive condition of mind over which we have little or no control. On the level of automated behaviour it is a strength; on the level of real sentience it is a weakness of telling proportions. Adjust this mechanism by even a little and the results are immediately noticeable. Why? Because human responses become more grounded, more authentic and more spontaneous. Even a modicum of self-presence is enough to reorient us in relation to self, other and world. It is the beginning of a revolution in consciousness which, if developed and sustained, shatters the mindless conformities of our existence and teases a new being into existence. This is the ‘New Man’ of Pauline theology; it is the mind redeemed and saved and sanctified through ‘conscious resurrection’, and in direct proportion to the effort exercised, it unleashes a corresponding echo from deep within which intensifies the desire for transformation.
The Suffering Servant
The whole notion of the ‘Suffering Servant’ takes on new meaning in this context; it heralds a new conception of religious truth. For centuries suffering has been held up as a legitimate path to God, but this has generally had to do with physical or mental suffering, with illness due to disease or accident. But little attention has been paid to the notion of Jesus’ suffering in the sense of a ‘man’ who consciously took on terrible suffering. Fundamentalists and Evangelicals have a good grasp of this point, but they have literalised its meaning to such an extent that the intrinsic meaning of Christ’s suffering on the cross has been all but lost. The cross has been turned into a magical act, an act of such singular importance that we have to rely on his sacrifice, his suffering, his conscious awareness instead of our own. The whole emphasis of the spiritual life has been changed from personal responsibility to that of abandonment to a belief system, a system within which the figure of Jesus is used as a shield against God’s wrath. That is the Christian message, and it harbours centuries of misconception brought to a cutting edge of theological perfection.
I say this because the idea of taking on ‘conscious suffering’ was developed within the Church in such a literal fashion that its deeper meaning has been lost to us. Interpreting conscious suffering as a suffering of the flesh and the mind in relation, say, to torture, martyrdom or self-sacrifice on behalf of another, the underlying elements of conscious awareness and conscious attention leading to the resurrection of a truly conscious self have been lost. Correct behaviour in relation to a moral code has replaced the transformative dynamo of an awake and aware self. This has left Christians with only half of their existential puzzle solved – the other half of that puzzle is, that like everyone else, they are fundamentally missing as people while engaged in their so morally upright tasks. Beholden to the Jesus of their imaginations to act well, they nevertheless lack that overt transformation of the mind talked of by the Apostle Paul. Not in the Eckhartian sense of being without a self are they selfless and therefore self-possessed and in possession of God, but in the sense of being mesmerised by their ideas about Jesus. Morality in the service of a strong belief system does give some Christians the ability and capacity to act generously towards their fellow human beings, but in the very next breath they can individually and collectively exhibit an intolerable intolerance towards anyone not of their particular religious persuasion. The larger picture is the test, for it is in the larger picture of Christian thinking and behaviour that we detect what is actually going on, and what is going on is love and compassion and healing overshadowed by a propositional ideology no different in kind from any other ideology. Convinced of its right to criticise and judge everything and everyone from out of its little fourth-century oriented world, Christianity exercises a form of authority and potential control never envisaged by Jesus, and only possible because Christianity’s ecclesiastical founders lost touch with their faith’s primary teachings.
To suffer is to wake up; it is to understand and appreciate that we are predominantly asleep in relation to self and world. To suffer is to consciously take hold of our condition, shake off our drowsiness and take stock of our surroundings. It is to catch sight of ourselves emerging from the sleep we did not know ourselves to have entered, and realise that our relationships are fraught with danger unless we wake up to ourselves. That’s what makes the difference. If only intermittently awake we have a greater chance of resolving difficulties, handling irrational behaviour and avoiding conflicts in general. And it doesn’t matter whether we believe ‘self’ to exist or not; what matters is that we take the ‘self-orienting principle’ of our existence seriously and allow it to form as a sensation over against the events of our lives. The cup of tea drunk plus sense of self. The old woman helped across the road plus sense of self. Prayer plus sense of self. The argument with wife or husband plus sense of self. God’s existence or non-existence considered plus sense of self. This is what makes the difference. Sense of self (self-presence) releases us from our drugged state of mind. Suddenly, almost miraculously, we have the chance to witness ourselves heading for the unnecessary argument and change course, detect our tendency towards utilitarian attitudes and be more sensitive, objectively note our dominant forms of behaviour and make adjustments appropriate to circumstances. But only if we remember to wake up, if we can bear the suffering of living with an inner perception which dutifully makes us aware of the kind of people we really are.
Along with Islam and Judaism, the Christian religion holds the key capable of unlocking this our most revolutionary spiritual capacity, but it and the other two great theistic faiths have failed to properly identify what they have always had in their grasp, the secret of the living present. Turning into orthodoxies, into institutions whose only dream is to make their adherents believe, and then believe some more, they have squandered their spiritual heritage and turned religious truth into a parody of itself. The rediscovery of what this lost religious truth is will herald their rebirth in this the new millennium, but if they and we do not wake up to the simple fact that we are dead to ourselves most of the time, if they and we continue to fight and squabble and waste our precious energies and gifts on mindless conflict, then our survival as a species is doubtful. We may end up destroying ourselves, and the many millions of years it has taken to raise us from the dust to our present condition will all have been for nothing. All that suffering for nothing. All that learning for nothing. All that searching and questing, for nothing.
To experience the living present is to short-circuit one’s way out of awake-dream. The living present is a realm where lies stop, anger dissipates and selfishness is seen for what it is. It is a realm where we see and sense the other as they really are, and in seeing them, love them. In such a moment we discover that love and compassion have nothing whatever to do with emotional identification, but with insight. We see the other so clearly embedded in the same limited state of mind as we are generally in that all judgement evaporates. In the absence of judgement, love forms, for in the absence of judgement discernment flourishes and we find ourselves penetrating beneath the surface of things. A whole new vista of human interaction opens before us, not because we are good, kind or loving in the traditional sense, but because we are properly available in and to ourselves. In such moments we step out of our personal history and become non-historical, for in such a moment we shrug off the stupor of social and historical conditioning and turn into real people. No longer mono-directional in either an inner or an outer sense, we take our first tottering steps towards being truly human.
(1) Needleman, Jacob, Lost Christianity, Element Books, 1990.
(2) Walker, Kenneth, The Teachings of Gurdjieff
(3) Neumann, Erich, The Origins and Histiory of Consciousness, Routledge & Kegen Paul, Bollingen Series XLII, New York, 1973
(4) James, William, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Collins, Fount Paperback, London, 1981
(5) Tart, Charles, Waking
(Publishing details mislaid for the moment)