Saturday, March 14, 2009

the mind-body split

Hence it is that some mystic writers do call this perfect union
the union of the nothing with the nothing,
that is, the union of the soul which is nowhere corporally,
that hath no images or affections to creatures in her;
yea that hath lost the free disposal of her own faculties,
acting by a portion of the spirit above all the faculties,
and according to the actual touches of the Divine Spirit,
and apprehending God with an exclusion of all conceptions and apprehensions.
(Augustine Baker, Holy Wisdom)

sat, 14 march 09

Before I left Perth I raided Meath’s library, which I told him was very much like my own only better. I am kind of fascinated with this idea of healing the body-soul split toward a more holistic spirituality. (And incidentally Christian anthropology as I understand it and Christian mysticism at its most sublime have a lot to offer to this argument.) I often quote Sam Keen’s warning against those who speak of “having a body,” that this might be another dualism sneaking in, what may be considered an “enlightened dualism.” In one of Ken Wilber’s early books he says it right out:
Biologically there is not the least foundation for this dissociation or radical split between the mind and the body, the psyche and the soma, the ego and the flesh, but psychologically it is epidemic. Indeed, the mind-body split and attendant dualism is a fundamental perspective of Western civilization…. Even St. Francis referred to his body as ‘poor brother ass,’ and most of us do indeed feel as if we just sort of ride around on our bodies like we would on a donkey or an ass.
Then he goes on to say that this strange boundary line between the mind and the body is not at all present at birth. But as individuals grow in years, and we begin to draw up and fortify all kinds of boundaries between “self” and “not-self,” we also start to look at the body with mixed emotions. And by the time we have matured we have generally “kissed poor brother ass good-bye,” and the body becomes foreign territory, almost (but never quite) as foreign as the external world itself. (And, unfortunately, as Sam reminds us, “how we are in our bodies is how we will be in the world.”) The boundary line is drawn between the mind and the body, and the person identifies squarely with the mind, and we come to live in our heads as if we were a miniature person in our skull, giving directions and commands to the body, which may or may not obey. (No Boundary, pp. 6-7)

However, in this early version of the Spectrum of Consciousness, he suggests that as we mature psychologically and spiritually the boundary between self and not-self keeps moving and begins to dissolve:
at first we identify as our persona and “not-self” is our shadow, all that lies hidden and denied;
then our “self” is our ego and “not-self” seems to be the body;
at another stage of growth we learn to recognize that the total organism including the body––KW calls it the “centaur”––is our self, but our environment is still “other”;
after this level transpersonal bands start to develop and the boundary starts to break down, leading us to both greater interiority and deeper communion, until we reach a stage of “unity consciousness” when we realize our one-ness (may I say communion?) with all things.

Does an individual self remain to be in relationship with all these things? This, of course, is where the traditions disagree.

It is a shame that I have spent so little time with Aldous Huxley’s “Perennial Philosophy,” but I did at Meath’s only to find out that he agrees:
…the relations subsisting between the world and God, and between God and the Godhead seem to be analogous, in some measure at least, to those that hold between the body (with its environment) and the psyche, and between the psyche and the spirit…
Mind affects its body and four ways
• subconsciously, through that unbelievably subtle physiological intelligence “entelechy”
• consciously through deliberate acts of the will;
• subconsciously again by the reaction upon the physical organism of emotional states having nothing to do with the organs or processes reacted upon;
• consciously or unconsciously in certain supernormal manifestations

And aside from the body, matter itself can be influenced by the mind (psyche) in two ways, by means of the body and by means of a supernormal process. The clearest example he gave is of “nervous indigestion”: emotions are directed toward events or persons in the outer environment but in some way or other can adversely affect the physiology. Huxley says this applies to tuberculosis, ulcers, heart disease and even dental problems, but how many other ways have we learned? And of course, in terms of the supernormal he mentions faith healing, levitation, and extrasensory perception. And so (I love this):
…if a human mind can directly influence matter not merely within, but even outside the body, then a divine mind, immanent in the universe or transcendent to it, may be presumed to be capable of imposing forms upon a pre-existing chaos of formless matter, or even, perhaps, of thinking substance as well as forms into existence. (Perennial Philosophy, pp. 26-28)
And I hadn’t really paid attention or even thought about the 16th century Benedictine mystic and master Augustine Baker since my novitiate under Peter-Damian, but he caught my attention again when I learned how much John Main was influenced by him. While at St. Anselm's, Fr John suggested to a troubled young man that he read Baker’s book Holy Wisdom. The young guy's response to it was so enthusiastic that Fr John himself was reread it. And inspired by that Fr John and the young man began meditating together in the manner he had learned from Swami Satyananda years before in Malaysia. Augustine Baker’s frequent reminder of the emphatic insistence of St. Benedict lays upon Cassian’s Conferences sent him to them seriously for the first time, and in chapter 10 of Cassian, he found the roots of meditation in the Christian tradition. What Cassian had learned from the desert fathers and what St. Benedict learned from Cassian was what John Main had learned from a Hindu monk three years before becoming a Benedictine monk.

So I perused Holy Wisdom for the first time, thanks to a very old edition in Meath’s library:
…there is a mystic contemplation which is, indeed, truly and properly such, by which a soul without discoursings and curious speculations, without any perceptible use of the internal senses or sensible images, by a pure, simple, and reposeful operation of the mind, in the obscurity of faith, simply regards God as infinite and incomprehensible verity, and with the whole bent of the will rests in Him as (her) infinite, universal, and incomprehensible good. This is true contemplation indeed, and as rest if the ed of motion, so is this the end of all other both internal and external exercises; for therefore, by long discourses and much practice of affection, the soul inquires and tends to a worthy object that she may quietly contemplate it, and (if it deserves affection) repose with contentment in it. (Chap. I.6, p. 504)
And this, which is a favorite section of Meath:
By reason of this habitation and absolute dominion of the Holy Spirit in the souls of the perfect (those who have wholly neglected, forgotten, and lost themselves, to the end that God alone may live in them, whom they contemplate in the absolute obscurity of faith), hence it is that some mystic writers do call this perfect union the union of the nothing with the nothing, that is, the union of the soul which is nowhere corporally, that hath no images or affections to creatures in her; yea that hath lost the free disposal of her own faculties, acting by a portion of the spirit above all the faculties, and according to the actual touches of the Divine Spirit, and apprehending God with an exclusion of all conceptions and apprehensions; thus it is that the soul, being nowhere corporally or sensibly, is everywhere spiritually and immediately united to God, this infinite nothing. (Chapter VI.8, p. 545)
While I am egg-heading, I decided that I needed to be a little more clear and concise in my presentation to the young people about what I man by the Universal Call to Contemplation and what I am up to tamping the world with my new Calton guitar case. So I came up with three points which served me pretty well in my presentation the other day at a prestigious Jesuit high school here in Adelaide.

“This is what I want to leave you with:”

1. That God or the Divine is not just outside of us, but also dwells within us, and that every human being is capable of having an experience of this indwelling divine, the indwelling presence of God. It is a way of interiority, which at first glance goes against our grain because we live outside of ourselves. As St Augustine said famously in his Confessions, “You were within me, but I was on the outside and it was there that I looked for you. Upon entering into myself I saw what was beyond my soul, beyond my spirit––your immutable light.” And the path to having an experience of that immutable light within us is the way of meditation, the way of interior prayer.
2. We mean by this also really every human being, not just Christians. This is an assumption that this experience of unity with God is first of all the inspiration for all authentic spiritual traditions, and it is that experience that gets expressed and embodied in various languages, cultures, rituals, and dogmas and doctrines, which begin to look different one from the other as they form. But the experience of unity with God, the indwelling presence of the divine, is also the height of the spiritual experience after the arduous journey of living the spiritual life. We know this because what we find when we read the great mystics of the spiritual traditions is that the language used to express the experience on the other side of ritual, culture, language and doctrine has great similarity. So we find here a meeting point, a place of dialogue with other religions, finding out first of all in what way each of these traditions is a legitimate expression of that original experience, and sharing one with the other what we have in common about the path to realizing that union with God.
3. Both this path of interiority and this dialogue, this conversation between religions are essential building blocks and stepping-stones for world peace. First of all because we cannot build peace in the world unless and until we are at peace in ourselves; and secondly it is at this level of conversation that actually find some agreement with other traditions, being able to respect their legitimate experience, their different expression of it, and their path of return. This enables us to share with each other insights about this experience and the ways that we have found that can help us to achieve union with God. As a great theologian wrote: “No peace among nations without peace among religions; no peace among religions without dialogue between the religions.”