Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Descent of Mount Carmel

Though I hope to return to a more detailed account of each stage, I am taking time out here to look at such development from a wider perspective.

I have written before on the great influence that the writings of St. John of the Cross once exercised on my spiritual development.

I also mentioned as to how I gradually began to see his approach in critical aspects as unbalanced with an undue emphasis - especially with respect to his formal writing - on the transcendent aspect of development.

Of course St. John lived at an earlier time in a very different environment from what I was encountering during my adult development in late 20th century Ireland. So in this sense it is perhaps not surprising that I gradually was to discover that his model of spirituality could not properly serve as a comprehensive blueprint for my life.

Indeed I would apply this likewise to all the great figures who most inspired me at various stages of development.

So in scientific terms, I once marvelled at the truly enormous contribution of Einstein (I still do!) and was especially influenced by his Special Theory at an early stage. I began to see that all his key findings in physical terms would have complementary interpretations with respect to psycho spiritual
experience of reality.

However this realisation was to quickly lead to the breakdown of any notion that the physical world can be ultimately understood as if independent of psychological interpretation. And as we know Einstein was to stubbornly cling on to his - what I strongly consider - mistaken belief in "objective determinism" till the end of his life.

Then at a later stage the work of Hegel seemed to provide for me the comprehensive holistic vision in what appeared in philosophical terms as the intellectual "theory of everything".

However I then began to realise more clearly the severe limitations of any intellectual presentation (even one so impressive as Hegel's).

This then led me on a strict contemplative path, with once again seemingly a new "saviour" through the writings of St. John of the Cross". However as I said I eventually began to experience the limitations of such a stark transcendent approach which in the end offered little practical advice on how one could successfully combine strong spiritual aspirations with the demands of living an active life in the increasingly materialistic secular environment of modern society.

I then developed a strong resonance with the psychology of Jung which for a while offered the best hope of that reconciliation I was seeking.

However once again I was to experience inevitable limitations. From one perspective, the contemplative life with its various stages had become an important reality for me (however difficult I found the task of balancing them with my everyday duties). And for all Jung's sane writing on the psycho spiritual dimensions of development, it lacks the detailed appreciation of contemplative stages (such as can be found in the various mystical traditions).

And again though Jung's views - certainly at an implicit level - were in tune with my own holistic mathematical leanings, this is never carried beyond the most general kind of insights (e.g. number as an archetype of order).

However from an early stage I had the desire to carry such holistic understanding into an intimate understanding of the various number types, fundamental operations and other key mathematical relationships.
In other words a key concern of my own perspective on the spiritual life has been to show how the very nature of Mathematics and all the related sciences dramatically changes in the light of the more refined intuitive understanding than unfolds with the "higher" contemplative stages and that these in turn become associated with a new paradoxical type of circular rationality (that can itself be encoded in a holistic mathematical fashion).

And as I have come to realise the unique nature of my own particular path to life, I can more easily accept that this is likewise true for everyone. So though we may inevitably resonate at times with the views of certain writers, or the principles of certain religions, we must be careful never to over-identify with any of these, but rather only sincerely use them insofar as they help in the true discovery of our special identities.

So I would certainly not expect or even want my own writing here to be taken as a definite philosophy or programme for personal life. Rather it is offered as the evolving perspective of one individual, that may in some respects be of value to others as they seek their own path through life.

I have long had a special interest in charting the various stages that can potentially unfold throughout development..

For anyone who is interested my most recent summary statements can be found at "The Stages of Development" under "Update on Classification of Stages" and "Brief Further Update".

As these were written several years ago, I decided recently to see in what way my thinking has evolved since that time.

As can be seen I outline 7 major bands (with 3 major levels in each band) on the full potential spectrum of development.

As Conventional Mathematics and the sciences in our culture are interpreted almost solely through the specialised linear rational understanding that unfolds at Band 2, this implies that the understanding of all further bands (Bands 3 - 7) are effectively completely ignored (certainly in formal terms).
And I feel that perhaps the value of my own contribution is that it provides a framework, whereby one can more clearly see how mathematical and scientific knowledge itself can be greatly extended through adopting radically new interpretations based on the structures of these more advanced Bands.

Though, in general I would maintain the same general classification of Bands, I would now be inclined to modify somewhat the interpretation.

Though I once again associate in scientific terms Band 2 with linear reason, I would now be of the opinion that where further development of other Bands is destined to take place, that limited specialisation would  take place at Band 2.

The problem with such specialisation is that - by definition - it tends to close off access to the unconscious, therefore restricting the possibility for radical growth in intuitive awareness (which is the hallmark of Bands 3 and 4).

So when substantial development takes place - as is common in Western culture - at Band 2, it tends to plateau (though not completely) at this level.

Therefore where radical contemplative awareness unfolds, one tends to experience considerable conflict with respect to the dualistic linear worldview, preventing an undue degree of specialisation to take place.

This was certainly true in my own case with my time at University (where normally such development would be consolidated) proving a miserable time with a great deal of unresolved conflict playing havoc with expected progress.

So eventually, the resolution of such conflict gradually gave way to an increasingly nondual (intuitive) world view, which is the hallmark of contemplative type development.

Now my outline of the contemplative stages relates to Bands 3 and 4 on the Spectrum.

So Band 3 is designed to relate to the various stages enabling this radical growth in holistic awareness to emerge.

The three main levels of this band then relate to the key polarity sets involved (at each level).

Thus at the first level, intuitive awareness unfolds through a significant breakdown of dualistic understanding, due to the rigid separation of external and internal poles.

Then at the second level it now unfolds  through the further dissolution of rigid duality associated with whole/and part polarities.

Finally, at the third level, the most refined level of nondual awareness unfolds, through dissolution of rigid separation as between the fundamental polarities of (material) form and (spiritual) emptiness.

Then having overcome the major barriers blocking access to pure intuition, Band 4 was then designed - in a similar manner as earlier at Band 2 - to achieve the specialised development of this newly acquired contemplative awareness.

However, once again I would suggest a modification.

St. John of the Cross famously describing the spiritual journey to mystical union as "The Ascent of Mount Carmel".
However - certainly from my own experience - I have come to see this description as somewhat inaccurate. What St. John really concentrates on, especially in his formal treatises, is the transcendent aspect of spiritual development in its starkest form.

So the continual problem in development from this perspective arises from attachments - both positive and negative - to phenomena of form. And as he clearly demonstrates, such attachment equally applies to phenomena serving a valid spiritual purpose!

Thus the transcendent aspect emphasises the supreme importance of detachment so that created phenomena ultimately become so transparent to experience, that they can then in a purified manner fully radiate the spiritual light.

However there is an equally important immanent aspect to spiritual development, which operates in a complementary manner.

So whereas in extremes the transcendent aspect can lead to an unduly negative approach to the world, essentially seeing its attractions as but potential traps to ensnare the spiritual disciple, the immanent aspect again in extremes can be unduly positive, ultimately identifying spirit solely with natural creation.

The key issue therefore as I have come to see it is how in practice to successfully balance both the transcendent and immanent directions of spirituality so that they mutually enhance each other.

As I have written in several places before the great problem with St. John's approach, if sincerely adopted to the fullest extent, is that it is likely to ultimately lead to a considerable amount of unrecognised repression of basic instinctive desires.
Indeed the pathological depression that can often accompany an extended "dark night of the soul" episode is in substantial part likely to be due to such unwitting repression!

I have also argued that for one to make substantial progress in contemplative type development, while living in a society increasingly devoted to secular concerns, that substantial emphasis would indeed initially need be placed on the transcendent aspect so as to escape the gravitational pull of such worldly concerns.

However rather than this "transcendent ascent" leading eventually directly to union, a considerable and lengthy immanent adjustment realistically may be required later in the journey before successful balance can be attained.

Therefore, I would now consider that my specialised Band (Band 4) is unlikely to apply - except in a limited manner - for those attempting to integrate contemplative development with the demands of civil society.

So I would see Band 5 (as I have outlined it) serving as the "Descent of Mount Carmel").

So just as when successfully climbing a mountain, one must prepare equally well for the descent (as well as the ascent) I would now see it as equally true of the spiritual journey.

Indeed in general, especially in formal presentations, far too much attention is given to the demands of the ascent with the mistaken impression left that this is what is required to attain spiritual union. However though I do accept that contemplative development in the past has been identified narrowly with the monastic life in the attainment of an "otherworldly" union, I would consider this - though indeed suited to some personalities - as somewhat unbalanced.

So the ultimate goal in climbing the spiritual mountain of contemplation should be to return safely to the ground below, and then bring the spiritual vision attained while traversing the slopes to bear on all ones worldly activities.
Sadly however I would see that most of those who sincerely embark on the contemplative journey never really successfully get back to base. Though in most cases not fully lost, they spend a lot of time still meandering somewhere on the slopes seeking a way back to base camp.
And in many cases a large part of the problem that arises is due to the faulty maps with which they have been entrusted at the start of their journey.

Indeed I would now consider the very preoccupation with spiritual union as in itself unhealthy.
By its very nature life is a continual quest where we are never fully in union - or fully out of union - with our desires.

In fact I believe that the true goal of the spiritual life should be one of attaining an enhanced degree of normality, so as to be able to take one's place in the world in as fruitful a manner as possible.

So in terms of my own particular "map" of the journey, specialisation at Band 4, does not take place as one discrete overall stage, but rather arises through the continual balancing of the major levels of Band 5 with Band 3.

So one retraces in a sense during Band 5 the same steps as in Band 3. However whereas in Band 3 one was continually moving away from the world of dualistic form to that of nondual awareness (i.e. in a transcendent direction) in Band 5, one is now in a reverse manner moving slowly back from nondual awareness to engagement again with the world of form (in an immanent direction).

So Bands 6 and 7  are now where - what I term radial activity - can properly take place. In other words one can perhaps at last fruitfully combine the contemplative vision, so painfully acquired over many years with creative involvement in everyday affairs as a fully mature "normal" person.