Posts Tagged ‘enlightenment’

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The mountain path, the lofty peak, the plucky pilgrim. It can be read as a symbolic representation of the journey to wholeness, to self discovery, to enlightenment, individuation, and any of a hundred other labels for the psychological archetype known also as the spiritual path. It’s also misleading. It suggests the way is well trodden, easily discernible, carved into the granite of the world by the passing of the millions of eager pilgrims who have gone before us. But there’s no single correct way to climb the mountain, indeed there is no single mountain to climb. Each mountain and each route is individual, personal and pathless.

And as with any pathless hill, we take our clues from the lay of the land. We skirt the danger zones, we back track if needs must, we contour, we seek shelter when the weather closes in. But each man’s mountain rises from the plain of his own being and to an altitude and of a character that provides a challenge set by the skills he alone possesses. Success or failure is determined by the will and an awareness of one’s own ability. If a man wills it, he will succeed, but then again only if he is able to recognise first the true meaning of “success”, that the summit fever of youth is as big a danger to progress as the abyss.

The summit is an illusion. I’ve often found this in the mountains, that the summit, while indicating the physical high point is not always deserving of its symbolic importance, that the character of a hill changes once we’re on it, and of the high ground the best, the most exhilarating, and the most sublime aspects are not always to be found at the top. Indeed, the top only begs the question: what next? What about that top over there? And over there? Thus the path to wholeness becomes a treadmill, a form of consumerism, when what the path should be is the way to peace.

It’s hard to find peace, so well have we covered it up with the pretence of human affairs. It’s hard even to define it. Early stages of drunkenness come close to simulating it, for at such times there seems a rightness about the world and even a crazy kind of love for it in all its shambolic glory. Other opiates of course can similarly simulate the opening of the gates, but for this feeling to endure we have to conquer the mountain of our own being. And the first step is the realisation that the summit isn’t everything, or even anything at all, that what the mountain provides us with is more the journey of our lives. And even if, after long circumambulation, we end up back down on the plains cursing our lot that we have never once reached the heights we sought, we do well to pause and think: the journey is never wasted.

We realise this perhaps only in retrospect, and after many an ignominious defeat, driven back by foul weather, and the apparent treachery of the way, that the battle is won only by its apparent loss, that we triumph by capitulation, that we succeed by the dissolution of all ambition ever to reach the top.

Peace is more a case of knowing, and we do not come to know the mountain by  the mere token of conquering its summit. Peace comes in the realisation that we are the mountain.

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Dodgy word: Enlightenment. In new agey circles, it’s touted as the ultimate goal of all those expensive retreats and meditation seminars, or those long years spent in monkish self-denial, sequestered with books and DVD’s on the million and one programs of self-improvement. It’ll take you a while, decades maybe, but eventually it’ll come – the realisation – the enlightenment if you like – that enlightenment itself cannot possibly come from an accumulation of “stuff” – be they methods, or secret knowledge, or special Yoga mats.

It’s like trying to put a fire out by throwing petrol on it.

You’re only going to make things worse.

This is not to say enlightenment is a foolish aspiration. Indeed it’s the one noble thing, consciously or unconsciously, we’re all moving towards – the one noble goal in the whole confused mish mash of human endeavour. But what is it? Well, I think I’m coming close to a definition of it now – which isn’t the same thing as becoming enlightened of course – but anyway: so far as I can work out, it’s a state of mind, a way of seeing the world through fresh eyes, eyes born anew out of a rare state of grace.

Some people are fortunate enough to be granted glimpses of it, but their grip is tenuous and the vision goes away, leaving them amazed, but they also bounce off it into a kind of wilderness where they’re left doubting the validity of their experience. They wonder if they weren’t deluding themselves, they wonder if they weren’t suffering from a self-induced psychotropic hallucination. I count myself among their number – temporarily amazed, then self-doubting, and all I can do now is study the words and the curious aphorisms of those who have gone before me in the hope I’ll be granted a clue, one reliable signpost on the outskirts of the forest, that will allow me to navigate my way safely and securely back in. But those aphorisms can be hard nuts to crack – like: “The way that can be named is not the true way,” according to Lao Tzu’s enigmatic opening of the Tao Te Ching, which makes me wonder if looking for a signpost isn’t a waste of time anyway – and I should just plunge right in.

For those gifted individuals who have permanently attained this state of mind, there is no sudden recoiling to an aftershock of doubt. They have all the time in the world to be absolutely certain what they see, their enlightened vision, is true. They don’t need to believe in it because it’s not about belief. It’s about experience, and knowing.

But knowing what? Well, putting it crudely, it’s knowing that our true selves are already perfect, that they don’t actually need improving in any way, and that our true self is immortal. Such an insight as this has a transformational effect on the psyche. It doesn’t change the world before our eyes, but it makes us infinitely more compassionate in our dealings with it. And instead of everything causing us pain or confusion, and seeing nothing out there but an existential waste, we see instead the wonder of the universe and the meaning of it in everything. And the meaning of it is the universe awakening to a knowledge of itself through us.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? A good way to live – and I’ve often wondered why, if such a state of mind is real, then why isn’t it better known? After tens of thousands of years of human evolution, why haven’t we all attained this delicious state of grace yet? It’s suspicious, perhaps? What’s even more suspicious is the enlightened ones us tell us theirs is not an exclusive club, that you don’t need a million dollars to join, that we can all achieve this state for free. So why aren’t we signing up in droves? Well, it might be free, but it’s not easy, and the difficulty lies in what we most identify ourselves with.

Have you ever heard the phrase: I don’t know who I am any more! Or how about: I need to know who I am, or I need to find out who I really am, or I need time to discover my true self – I’m sure the angsty characters in my novels have all uttered these corny lines at some point, but there’s nothing profound in them – indeed they are all meaningless. The path to enlightenment is littered with the bodies of those who were looking for themselves.

In his book “The New Earth” Ekhart Tolle tells us: If you can be absolutely comfortable with not knowing who you are, then what’s left is who you are – the being behind the human, a field of pure potentiality, rather than something that is already defined.

Does that make sense to you? The being behind the human?

Most of us spend our lives seeing an image of ourselves, unaware that it’s an image reflected back to us from the mirror of the world, and we’re unable to differentiate between that image and the person doing the looking. When we sit down to meditate and we’re barraged by all those inconvenient thoughts, and we tell ourselves: No, I don’t want to think about that right now – who is the silent watcher of those thoughts? Who says I don’t want to think about that? The silent watcher is what’s left when we can be absolutely comfortable in letting go of everything else.

The true self is a form of awareness, it’s a realisation of our self both in and of the world and crucially, a realisation of the psychological nature of reality. The only difference between stuff and thought is the frequency at which energy vibrates, because energy is all there is, the conscious energy of the cosmos. It’s this realisation that enables us at last to take the unimaginable vastness of the universe, to make sense of it, and pack it into William Blake’s grain of sand – no – into less than a grain of sand – into nothing.

So why can’t we do this? What’s stopping us? With all those self help books out there why hasn’t any one of them delivered the key? Is it because all this talk of conscious energy and the psychological nature of things is bunkum? Possibly, though I’m inclined to think we have to reckon with the possibility that it’s not. So again: what’s stopping us?

Well unfortunately the self help industry is no different to any other part of the material world. It’s become integral to the way we actually live and is therefore, paradoxically, of no use whatsoever to anyone really trying to help themselves out of their existential wilderness. All economies – even those that were once the most ideologically opposed to capitalism, are now rushing to embrace the ultimate opium of the peoples – not, as Marx said, religion – but just stuff, material stuff. And in this respect, even new-agey pseudo spiritual stuff is no different to the fatuousness of designer footwear.

You think it may be just the thing you need to fill that hole in your soul, this new material thing, but having made your purchase you realise it isn’t. So the next time you’re looking at those sexy new training shoes, or that seductive new-agey book, and considering handing over your plastic for it, ask yourself who gains here, and what part of my self wants it?

One of the most difficult things to grasp on this mythical road to enlightenment is that we are not our thoughts, or our memories. Sure, we can all think things through and come to conclusions based on a mixture of logic, experience and intuition – that’s how this piece of writing is coming together. But it would be wrong of me to conclude that it defines the part of me I call my unique self. Twelve months from now I’ll probably have forgotten what I’ve written here, while the self I think I am will still be with me.

I look at pictures of myself as a child, and I can no longer remember what I was thinking or feeling at the time the picture was taken. I recognise the likeness, but if thoughts or memories are anything to go by, the person in that photograph no longer exists. Yet here I am, self evidently still around, still gathering memories which will likewise fade over time.

And as we grow older, this habit of forgetting intensifies, the conversations we had thirty years ago, even the relationships we shared all fade to a ghostly transparency. But does their loss render the self we think we are any smaller? No. Do we wink out of existence when we can no longer remember our first kiss, or that first magical time we made love? No.

Could I lose all memory, all faculty for logic and reason, and yet retain the awareness of my self as an individual being?

The answer, say the enlightened ones, is yes. Indeed, we can go further: it seems we are happiest when we can let everything go. We become our truest self when can forget the false self we think we are. The road to enlightenment therefore is not a road at all, not journey, not a search. It’s a moment of awareness, and it’s a letting go. Then we wake up to the dream of the world, instead of being unconscious to it.  And we discover a more lucid way of being.

Letting go?

How can I let go, you ask? How can I afford to float off into a self-indulgent contemplative bubble? Sure, it would be great. Instead of taking it up the ass every day at work, I’d like to do what my instincts are telling me: tell the boss to shove it. But if I don’t get paid, I don’t eat, I lose my house, and that contemplative bubble isn’t going to keep me and the kids very warm when we’re sitting at the side of the road. Enlightenment’s fine for a monk sitting in a cave with no rent to pay. But in the real world?…

Okay, okay I get the message.

It’s no use saying the world is just a dream, that our purpose is to wake up to that fact. The world is as it is and letting go doesn’t mean dropping out of it. Enlightenment is useless if it can’t help the needy and the oppressed who are already entangled in the guts of the world-machine. And is the world that bad, if it’s technologically sophisticated enough to feed such a staggering number of people, and still allow them time to contemplate their place in the universe?

No. Enlightenment is about living consciously, of seeing everything there is to see in objects, in people and in the events of our daily lives. And if we can all live, consciously, then the world will become an infinitely better place.

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So, what are you reading at the moment? I don’t know about you but my reading comes in waves, or moods – usually when I’m unable to write. So then I surf the tides of literature instead and can devour a novel in a couple of days, like I’m tearing it apart for the answer to why it is I can’t write. I started out with an idea about reading the Romantics, really settling in to Wordsworth and Coleridge for a bit, but an odd tide fetched up on Patrick Harpur’s shores instead, and in the space of a few weeks I’ve read both his “Mercurius” and “The Philosopher’s Secret Fire”. These books have in turn had me re-reading Carl Jung, and generally blowing the dust off that mysterious trail through the Perennial Philosophy, a thing that’s denied with equal vigor by both religion and science but is probably closer to being a description of reality than either of those curmudgeonly old sages will admit.

If you don’t know Patrick Harpur, but you’re interested in how you can tie up mythology, the Romantics, alchemy, Jung’s psychology, anthropology and even a belief in the fairies, then he’s your man. I wouldn’t say his books are easy going, but I’ve found them utterly engrossing, insightful and enlightening. I’ve just ordered his “Complete guide to the Soul”, and I’m looking forward to devouring that one as well.

I’ve also been reading “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, and a bleaker story I can’t ever remember having read, except perhaps for Hardy’s “Jude the obscure”, though both for completely different reasons of course. Jude was a reaction to a hypocritical morality, a bubbling up of unspoken nastiness through to the surface of the Victorian psyche. The backlash nearly ruined Hardy’s career. It’s thirty years since I read it and its  unrelenting break-heart bleakness has stuck with me ever since. Masterful though it is, it’s one the few Hardy novels I could never bring myself to re-read – it would just finish me off. In a similar vein, I’m wondering if McCarthy’s The Road is a similar bubbling up of something powerfully indigestible. It’s not  a very long book – you’ll get through it in a couple of days. The prose is beautiful but all the more shocking for the horrors it describes – you do need a strong stomach for it. It’ s a post apocalyptic vision that is surely without equal, and the benchmark against which all others will be measured.  I can’t remember the ending of a book that made me weep before, but this one did – and though it seems a long way off the other stuff I’ve been reading, I’m sure it’s all connected, all a part of the same meltings in the crucible of my imagination.

But apart from all that, and yet also similarly related,…

It’s summer, and it’s the weekend, and I’ve been sitting here in the garden thinking I should write something, if only to get myself in the contemplative mood. But that’s not how it works, so I’ve wasted most of the day, even to the extent of nodding off for a couple of hours this afternoon. All of this is trivial and not exactly what you want to hear, but there’s nothing much to tell, and certainly my reading isn’t yielding much by way of answers – at least not directly. The answers come like shy cats, and you can’t make a fuss or even look at them directly or they will melt away. But I’ve a feeling an answer is coming, and it has to do with the imagination, with the Romantic  sense, and an acceptance of its validity, though not in a literal way, and it’s this non-literalness that I’m beginning to see, thanks to Patrick Harpur,  is the important thing, the thing that keeps us on the straight and narrow. This is both complex and yet, I suspect, also very simple,… but I need to think about it some more.

At the moment my literal reality consists of this summer house I built back in the spring, and in which I am now sitting. It also consists of  a patch of garden, and some trees beyond. The sky is grey. It’s about 20 degrees, getting on for 9:00 pm and I’ve got work in the morning. I’ve just lit a vanilla scented joss-stick, and my head’s a little thick from too much cheap wine. But in imagination, I’m a long way from here…

In my mind’s eye I can see a  lake in a bowl of mountains, and by the shore there stands a pavillion, terracotta coloured, its pillars reflected in the gently rippling waters of the lake. I’m in the Swiss Alps somewhere, though perhaps not literally. It’s just somewhere that reminds me a little of the Alps. Anyway, this pavillion,… it has a domed copper roof, whose centuries old verdigris is luminous in the early evening light and inside, unseen, in the pavillion,  a woman is waiting for me, seated on cushions. I’m making my way to her. It’s been a while in coming and though I’m not exactly reluctant to have finally made this connection, I can’t hide the fact that I’m anxious, that there’s a gravity here I’m not sure I grasp properly, and I have to allow my unconscious to guide my hand now or my ego’s going to ruin the moment. I’ve no idea what she’s going to say to me because I’ve not written that part yet. It may yet be that she’s fallen asleep waiting for me, and I’ll spend the night just watching over her.

To what extent is this imaginative scenario a valid reality? Should one take any of it seriously? Where did the pavilion come from? I’ve never been there, but I know its shape, the feel of its pillars against my palm, the sound of the lake lapping at its base. I  did a watercolour of it yesterday just to explore it a little more deeply and if I were to see a photograph of it tomorrow I’d say: “Oh, yea: I know that place.”

It could be a subliminal suggestion of course, a pastiche of images, of experiences long forgotten. The thesis of  mentalist Darren Brown, for the degree to which we are suggestible is very convincing,.. and yet,…

Her name is Gabrielle. I don’t know where she came from, nor her sinister, gnome like parents who forbid me from having anything to do with her, nor the wily old hotelier, the white suited septegenarian, Herr Gruber, who seems bent on smoothing my way with her, if only I will take this thing seriously, he says. Indeed, he says I must, for all our sakes – his, mine and Gabrielle’s.

To be clear, I’m talking about a story I’m writing here – a story that may eventually be completed and stuck up on some free to download e-book emporium, or it may yet languish unfinished on my computer for years, like a puzzle unsolved until either time or carelessness results in its deletion. To some extent, the plot, the conflict, even the language,… these are literary devices that deliver up at the end of everything a story that someone else can read. It is a format for recording imaginary events, events that have no literal reality, no literal meaning,  but what about the abstract imaginative energy that created them? Where did that come from? And can it not mean something? That pavillion of my imagination – is it not a place someone else can travel to in their imagination, if I describe it well enough?

These are the themes that Patrick Harpur deals with – the daemonic reality, he calls it, and it’s the reason I’ve found his books so interesting. They are archetypal, and mythical, these themes – as all good stories are, and if I’d only studied the classical myths as a lad, instead of engineering, I might have a better idea of what my work is about instead of shunting myself into so many dead ends all the time. All right, if I’d clung to the writing at the expense of everything else, I would have starved to death by now, and I’m quite happy to be uncovering these kindergarten stories in my late middle age, thank you. You see, there are no new stories any more. They were all written down at the beginning of time, etched deeply into the bedrock of our mythology. Each generation of writers merely comes along and reinvents the myths in contemporary disguise and claims the stories as his own.

I think I’ve always  accepted the imagination is a window on a different kind of  reality, wherein dwell these mythical aspects of ourselves., these daemons – some of them close and personal, some of them much, much older, more fundamental, primeval, elemantary.  If we know how to balance our literal and non-literal realities, then I think we stand a chance of living as we should: we “think along the lines of nature”, as Jung said.

The trouble is modern man seems to have such an uneasy relationship with it. He can no longer think along the lines of  nature because two hundred years of Enlightement thinking has addled his brain. But we need to be careful in waking up from this delusion and jumping too far in the other direction. We can go too far in our acceptance of every little thing that comes out of the unconscious, not realising that it is the antithesis of logic, and that to analyse it in literal terms may be to tie ourselves in knots and waste decades of our lives until we can wise up and tell true insight from delusion. On the other hand it’s equally dangerous to deny the imagination any kind of voice at all  because it may end up coming back at us in ways we don’t like.

I’m almost convinced now of the ability of the collective imagination to manifest itself in some kind of  physical way. The thrust of  Dean Radin’s work on Conscious Entanglement is compelling, suggesting that human consciousness is capable of manipulating matter or events, that indeed conciousness itself may be the primary ground of being. It’s only a small leap therefore to speculate on what might happen when the collective unconscious becomes focused in literal reality.

People see things.

Only last summer a trio of tall angelic beings were spotted by a policeman near Silbury Hill in Wiltshire – part of the crop circle goings on that enliven that part of the world every year, and if that’s not a manifestation of a mythical reality, I don’t know what is! No amount of investigation ever yields a definitive explanation to these things. They are like smoke, and remain a mystery, fastened upon by the credulous and the needy and denied with equal fervour by the establishment as preposterous – yet people go on witnessing all manner of Forteana, all the time.

While we should be mindful of the reality of the imaginative dimension, and intuitively alert for any personal meaning coming out of it, it doesn’t do to spend too much time humoring its every whim. To be sure, the fairies are a beguiling crowd but we live in a literal reality while they do not. We are flip sides of the same coin so to speak, neither of us able to manage in isolation from the other, but equally neither of us are equipped to make way for long in the other’s realm, nor to make sense of it in any great detail. The literal reality is our domain, but it is perhaps the non literal that gives it, and our lives, its colour and its meaning.

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