I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven-whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person-whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows- was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 2 Cor 12:2-6
We are sitting in a small bible study about 1980. All of us are involved in working with aboriginal people in some way, and the discussion has moved to what the tribal group we are working with, have to give up from their culture to be really Christian. I am not at ease with the tone of the conversation. Even then I am aware that we whites too, are trapped in our own culture. I let the conversation flow around me, withdrawing to my own thoughts. ''What do we whites have to give up of our culture? I ask myself.
''Andrew,'' says the voice, ''You have to give up your intellect." This is not a stray thought- this is a voice. No sound waves vibrating across the room but definitely a voice- and a definite answer to my question. The voice is a shock and the answer is shocking- give up my intellect? It seems ridiculous.
Later I am driving home through the desert. It is late night, the highway is unbending and the Toyota thunders on through its tunnel of light, as part of me remains driving and the rest of me is overwhelmed by some in-pouring from outside. I am left breathless and shaky, clutching the steering wheel for support, as my brain tries to catch up with what has happened- a blessing from God... something far beyond my mind... intellect overwhelmed. For three or four weeks I am somewhat manic. A visiting jackeroo says of me, "I knew someone like him in Darwin- he was on heroin!"
In years to come I write down my dreams, mostly staying well within the bounds of intellect, sifting, thinking, critiquing. Looking for more, I am trying to meditate. This master says to look at the images, rather than try and empty the mind.... and so the fish slams onto the bench in front of me where there is no bench. My head jolts back as though I am slapped in the face. Fear of a raw, unexpected reality surges through me. This is no dream...
I never have that experience again, and I am not sure I am sorry. I sense a place I should stay out of- or at least, not open myself to.
And so the constant struggle between intellect, and somehow just being, has continued. Forever we wish to find deeper meaning, to have satisfaction. And forever the western intellect is in the way, clamping down on any letting-go, crushing any freedom. Karen Armstrong says of the seers of the Axial age "First of all, they all insisted that you must give up and abandon your ego. The sages said the root cause of suffering lay in our desperate concern with self, which often needs to destroy others in order to preserve itself. And so they insisted that if we stepped outside the ego, then we would encounter what we call Brahman or God, Nirvana or the Tao." Site live 31/12/2006
But I am proud of my ego and self control. I keep a clear head as others panic around me. I am awake to the charlatans and the spiritually dangerous, who prowl our spiritually illiterate society. With intellect and reason, I have fought my way around and through the fundamentalism of religion. I have avoided the foolish physicalist and ''scientific" fundamentalisms of Dawkins and others. With self control I have avoided much of the excess of our society.
Yet l am happiest when I am engrossed in a task , when my-self is forgotten and focused somewhere else, and I am not thinking of me and staying in control. This little ekstasis, this little stepping outside of myself, is a sign, a hint of that which I long for, and yet some how fear.
Peter Russell writes of the pure consciousness which sits below the noisiness of our ego:
Indian teachings call this state samadhi, meaning "still mind." They identify it as a fundamentally different state of consciousness from the three major states we normally experience-waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. In waking consciousness we are aware of the world perceived by the senses. In dreaming we are aware of worlds conjured by the imagination. In deep sleep there is no awareness, neither of outer world nor inner world. In samadhi there is awareness, one is wide awake, but now there is no object of awareness. It is pure consciousness-consciousness before it takes on the various forms and qualities of a particular experience. From his book From Science to God... my eBook copy does not have standard page numbers.
Why would we want this?
When the mind is devoid of all content, you not only find absolute serenity and peace, you also discover the true nature of the self. Usually we derive our sense of self from the various things that mark us out as individuals-our bodies and their appearance, our history, our nationality, the roles we play, our work, our social and financial status, what we own, what others think of us, and so on. We also derive an identity from the thoughts and feelings we have, from our beliefs and values, from our creative and intellectual abilities, from our character and personality. These, and many other aspects of our lives, contribute to our sense of who we are. Such an identity is, however, forever at the mercy of events, forever vulnerable, and forever in need of protection and support. If anything on which our identity depends changes, or threatens to change, our very sense of self is threatened....... From his book From Science to God... my eBook copy does not have standard page numbers.
He writes from a Buddhist perspective, but is surely writing of very basic human experience. How tired we become of life, forever striving, maintaining an identity, struggling with fears, limitations, and age. We fight off the shallow temptations of consumerism, which still threaten to drown us by their very volume. Loss of employment, bereavement, or other tragedies tear at the fabric of our selves. Victory, freedom and salvation are but some of the words we Christians use to describe our escape from the same fragile self-ish-ness Russell describes.
Russell goes on to say,
In addition to deriving an identity from how we experience ourselves in the world, we also derive a sense of self from the very fact that we are experiencing. If there is experience, then there must, we assume, be an experiencer; there must be an "I" who is doing the experiencing. It certainly feels that way. Whatever is going on in my mind, there is this sense that I am the subject of it all.
But what exactly is this sense of "I-ness?" I use the word "I" hundreds of times a day without hesitation. I say that I am thinking or seeing something, that I have a feeling or desire, that I know or remember something. It is the most familiar, most intimate, most obvious aspect of myself. I know exactly what I mean by "I." Until, that is, I try to describe it or define it. Then I run into trouble. Looking for the self is rather like being in a dark room with a flashlight, and then shining it around trying to find the source of the light. All one would find are the various objects in the room that the light falls upon. It is the same when I try to look for the subject of all experience. All I find are the various ideas, images and feelings that the attention falls upon. But these are all objects of experience; they cannot therefore be the subject of the experience. From his book From Science to God... my eBook copy does not have standard page numbers.
He quotes St Theresa:
... if his castle is the soul, there can clearly be no question of our entering it. For we ourselves are the castle: and it would be absurd to tell someone to enter a room when he was in it already!
Although the self may never be known as an object of experience, it can be known in another, more intimate and immediate, way. When the mind is silent, when all the thoughts, feelings, perceptions and memories with which we habitually identify have fallen away, then what remains is the essence of self, the pure subject without an object. What we then find is not a sense of "I am this" or "I am that;" but just "I am". From his book From Science to God... my eBook copy does not have standard page numbers.
All my fears and cautions rear up from my well-schooled intellect. I am who I am, I want to cry-- with none of the veiled, existential sense of Yahweh's statement to Moses (Exodus 3:13)-- even though I have little idea of who I am! "Full on" 20th century rationalism surges to the fore. I am grounded, trapped indeed, in the ego. I cannot be other than me! I would be lost without me... if I let go-- that way lies insanity. Yet we forget our own longings, and the hymns we sing. Lost in wonder, love and grace, we sang. What did we mean? Was it just words, or is there not a deep sense in which we long to be over-whelmed, floating, held, no longer holding ourselves together... and to cast our egotistical crowns down before the Divine?
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Would you like to comment?
I have turned off the feedback module due to constant spamming. However, if you would like to comment, or discuss a post, you are welcome to email me using the link at the bottom of this page, and I may include your comments at the bottom of this article.