I’ve returned from a very pleasant visit to Scotland, guests of my good friends Jim and Maureen MacGregor. We had good times together, at the Edinburgh Festival and elsewhere, but mainly for me it turned out to be a retreat. No net and no connection to the outside world. Just reading, relaxing, watching the swirling swallows, and contemplating, in the midst of nature and silence. In my own lovely house, by the way, artfully created from used out-buildings, what the MacGregor’s playfully call ‘the shack’ in their backyard.
I didn’t think I needed a break, and I had no goals in mind in taking a break. The MacGregor’s invited me, it sounded like a fun holiday with good people, so I went. But it turns out I did need a break, and a reboot of my mind space. It is as if Jim had diagnosed by situation, as a fellow writer, and had prescribed 10 days of quiet isolation as my ‘cure’. Perhaps that is what happened, actually, as Jim was for many years a family-practice doctor, as tuned into the human side of his work as the medical side. And his invitation focused on the need for a break, rather than on ‘fun things to do’.
So I do find myself in a new space. I began to notice it after I returned, and found myself interacting with everyone in a different way, and everyone responding in a different way. It’s like some kind of obstacle had been removed, some kind of communication blocker. In one sense it involves letting go of the need to control, while in another sense it it involves being more intelligent about seeing that my own needs are taken care of.
There were some very important books that played a role, or not, in this process. The first is, Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West, by Morris Berman, 1989. He develops the theme that the Western spiritual experience can be characterized as a series of ‘ascent episodes’, each followed by deterioration into administrative forms, or by suppression, and a further consolidation of existing administrative forms. An ascent episode involves an upsurge of what he calls ‘somatic energy’, that upsets the current status-quo. Early Christianity, and the Cathars, would be examples of ascent episodes.
Later in the book he brings up the idea of ‘parallel spirituality’, like Zen or Sufism, where there are no ascent episodes, but always a focus on the experience of the here and now. No sacred texts, only notes, often cryptic, from fellow travelers; no other world, apart from the one that is always at hand if the mind is attuned, as in the kingdom of heaven is within.
I was next led to a book lent by Jim, The Mist Filled Path, by Frank Mac Eowen, 2002. This turned out to be a double-click into the topic of ‘parallel spirituality’. Partly Frank talks about various spiritual paths, you might say from an anthropological perspective, and partly he talks about his own personal experiences and practices. The two threads weave together very well.
The central theme, the mist-filled path itself, is about Celtic spirituality. The mist is on the boundary between air and water, and where mist lies, the boundary that separates us from the ‘other world’ is very thin, enabling spirits to cross over. That kind of thing. A here-and-now presence of the ‘other world’, accessible under certain conditions, and interpreted, as it must be, through the somatic and cultural lens of whoever’s having the experience.
According to Frank, there is no creation story in Celtic mythology. The creative energy of the universe is operating now as it has always operated, and every moment is equally a miracle.
There was of course much more to these books. I’m sharing the parts that I was able to appreciate, and that did something for me at some level. And then, just when I thought I was safe back in Wexford, I was led to a third experience, continuing the thread of the books, this time by my good friend Catherine, in the form of a series of youtube videos featuring Peter Russell, The Primacy of Consciousness:
This is one of those amazing presentations, where that which cannot be described in words or pictures is nonetheless alluded to in a very effective way by the use of words and pictures. He is very clear in what he says, and very worth watching.
He’s talking about the meaning of Consciousness, and meaning of ‘the real world’, and the relationship between the two. As we see so often these days, Peter draws on Eastern spiritual traditions as well as on quantum physics. Quantum physics opened up a tear in the fabric of Western science, violating our models of space and time, destroying the notion of a mechanical universe, and revealing consciousness ‘all the way down’. It is physicist Arthur Eddington who said, The universe is of the nature of a thought or sensation in a universal Mind… To put the conclusion crudely —the stuff of the world is mind-stuff.
Peter offers a Hindu quote, saying this in another way: Atman is Brahman. Atman refers to individual consciousness, the experiences of you and me, while Brahman is the infinite transcendent consciousness of the universe. Our ‘experiencing’ is not on a lower plane than the infinite, say the Hindus; all experience is part of the universal Consciousness experiencing itself. Our ‘experiencing’ is part of the cosmic ‘experiencing’; we are not separate from the infinite but facets of it. Your experiencing and mine, however it might unfold, is as sacred as anything else in the universe, now or ever. Misty path stuff.
If we think again about Berman, and ascent episodes, it seems to me that this rift in the mechanical universe, which seems to be opening some kind of spiritual floodgates from the East, could be bringing to the West the kind of ‘somatic energy’ that is characteristic of ascent episodes. However, because of the nature of the rift, and because of the nature of what is being imported from the East, we would not be looking at an ascent episode, hopefully, but at a leveling episode, a movement toward parallel spirituality, á la the mist-filled path. Is this what brought me to Celtic Ireland?
We are seeing science coming full circle. The Scientific Revolution, c. 1543, was in a very real sense based on the exploration of an hypothesis: the universe operates mechanically, with no conscious interference from anything we can’t observe. Of course there was never any way to prove such an hypothesis (after all, God might just be taking a nap, leaving the universe temporarily on auto-pilot). And it’s amazing how far they got in their investigations, without violating the assumption of a ‘wound up clock’. But finally science itself has found that the clock ain’t where it’s at. The universe is aware.
The mechanical view was a major rift in the Medieval view, and in a mainstream sense it destroyed belief in any kind of spiritual reality. All such ideas became mythology, aka superstition. Our world changed in many ways because of this. This new rift, in the mechanical view, is every bit as momentous, in its change potential. However, at the moment, potential it remains. Seeds can be spread, and they may or may not germinate. Cathars can emerge, and they can be exterminated. Spiritual awakening can be readily co-opted into cultism, as has happened so often.
the future remains unknown,
be a co-creator of the world we all want,
2012: Crossroads for Humanity:
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