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From Chapter 7 of Sacred Science

Spiritual transformation

Spiritual transformation of human beings has two complementary forms, which I introduced at the end of the last chapter The first form is about how persons realize in their exterior daily lives their immanent spiritual life and its potential. I believe this means developing the fulness of relational living, of expressive personal autonomy-in-connectedness, in terms of:

  • Emotional and interpersonal competence: empowering self, the other and the relationship.
  • The exercise of self-determination and co-operation in every situation of decision-making.
  • The external expression of imaginative, creative skills .
  • Commitment to social and planetary transformation.
  • The grounding of life-style management in a co-creating relation with immanent spiritual life.

The second form is about how people open to a progressive interior transfiguration by a transcendent spiritual consciousness interdependent with immanent spiritual life. I believe this is secondary to, supportive of, and consummated in, the first form. I have, in a range of earlier books, contributions to books and articles, written about some aspects of the first form in the fields of education, group facilitation, counselling, research, management, medicine, professionalism and so on. In this chapter, I write about the second form: methods of inner transformation by opening to transcendent-immanent, spiritual consciousness-life.

Method, route and knack

How can this inner transformation of consciousness-life be brought about? Recent evidence in my hand, from personal inquiry and group work, suggests that access by any one individual to one or more of the states on the dipolar map on Chapter 6 is available by several routes, all of which in their different ways release the restrictive cramp in everyday consciousness, so that it opens to its higher, wider and deeper context. The methods given below are not mutually exclusive. Some inherently overlap; others can be brought to interpenetrate and combine in various ways. And they are certainly not exhaustive. I have not made correlations between methods and states. This is best left to discovery. It is important, I suggest, to grasp that there are many other methods than dissociative meditation of the eastern tradition or classic high prayer of the western tradition.

One account of the following map is that it is a route map. It presents possible ways into the states on the previous map. However, the metaphor of a route suggests a journey, a going from one place to another, and this is perhaps rather misleading, since it can set up a mental set of searching, striving, trying to get to a place where one is not. But suppose you are already tacitly in all of these states, then it is not a route you need, but a simple knack or know-how to allow the tacit to become explicit. So here is a description of some useful tacit-to-explicit knacks.

Tacit-to-explicit knacks

Recollection. You wake yourself up from your slumber in cramped states of being and remind yourself of your inherent inclusion in a wider context. Your mind reMinds itself. It recollects its continuity with cosmic mind. This self-remembering of a transcendent spiritual consciousness in you is the core of inner spiritual discrimination, of judgements of spiritual value and validity.

Regeneration. The polar correlate of reMinding is reLiving. You uncover the dynamic of immanent spiritual life through full creative openness to the process of breathing, through spontaneous autogenic movement or posture and sound, through fresh sensorial engagement within your world, in short through intentionally unstudied celebration of your embodiment. The processes mentioned are all co-creative. They are voluntary-involuntary. They involve your intentionality in congress with given life-process. This regeneration of immanent spiritual life is the ground of a felt sense of the fitting, the contextually relevant and apt.

Recollection and regeneration spontaneously combine in the process of opening to the inherently participative nature of immediate present experience of being-in-a-world, which I have described in several places in previous chapters, and which I include below as ‘present centering’.

Attention. You retrain attention, so that instead of being fluctuating and chaotic, at the beck and call of inner and outer events, it becomes constant. And by virtue of this constancy it becomes a doorway to wider realities. The constancy is to do with two things: what is being attended to and how it is being attended to. And each of these in turn have two forms. You can attend to the contents of the mind as a whole, or you can attend to some particular chosen content of the mind. In either case, your attention can be a witness only, disengaged, not doing anything with or to the content: or it can participate creatively in a self-generating, developmental process emerging in and with the content. So we have:

  • Constant witnessing, with wide-aperture attention, unmoved and unmediated, of all contents.
  • Constant witnessing, with focused attention, unmoved and unmediated, of a particular chosen content.
  • Constant creative participation, with wide-aperture attention, both unmoved and unmediated in itself, and also moved by and mediating a developmental process within the mind as a whole.
  • Constant creative participation, with focused attention, both unmoved and unmediated in itself, and also moved by and mediating a developmental process within some chosen content.

The first two of these comprise the twin pillars of traditional eastern meditation: mindfulness and concentration (Goleman, 1988; Washburn, 1995). They are characterized by sustained hands-off attention, unmoved and unmediated. Such attention has a monopolar focus, concerned with the nature of awareness as such. The second two are evident in some ancient approaches, also in distinctively contemporary approaches, such as several items which follow in this list. They are characterized by sustained attention, which is dipolar, both hands-off and hands-on, transcendent and immanent. As open to transcendent awareness, it is unmoved and unmediated in itself. As engaged with immanent life, it is moved by and mediating embedded entelechy, that is, indwelling developmental potential. Such dipolar attention interrelates sustained awareness and dynamic process. The next main section below, after this list of methods, explores further these distinctions.

It is also interesting to note that each of these four methods can be exercised in an extravertive or an introvertive mode. The former means that the eyes are open and that the content of attention includes the sensory field. The latter means that the eyes are closed and that attention is paid to the interior landscape. Extravertive creative participation, with focused attention, overlaps with Goethe’s practice of what he called concrete vision or exact sensorial imagination. By this he meant a deep intuitive and intensive participation in the imaginal form and development of what he was perceiving. Thus he would imaginatively reconstruct, while busy indwelling the process of perceiving a plant, its whole way of unfolding its form. At the same time he would grasp the dynamic, archetypal principles informing this unfolding (Bortoft, 1986).

Contemplation. A deep intuitive-reflective considering of, and dwelling on, the attributes and nature of a state which gently transforms into being in it, or doing it.

Imagination. This is one of the simplest routes. You imagine you are in a selected state, on the basis of a clear description of it and a felt sense of it. You do not try to enter it; you do not seek to go from where you are now to where you think the state may be. There is no seeking or striving or effort to make a trip. You simply image and feel being in it, and go with the imaging and feeling as they unfold. If you like, you just pretend to be in it, in an inner theatre of the mind. This seems to disarm the habitual defensive pretense that you are not in it, so then you realize that you are. If external action is involved, then the same principle applies: the action unfolds from you imagining you are in its concomitant state of being. This leads over into the next item.

Expression. Using improvised and spontaneous speech, sound, gesture, posture and movement you express your felt sense of a selected area described in the state map. You become a state by expressing being in it. This is at the same time an on-the-hoof experiential inquiry into it, so you may change your dynamic expression of the state in order more fully to honour your exploration of it. It can be done as solo lived inquiry. It also works well done in pairs, each person taking an expressive turn with the supportive sustained attention of the other: I have called this method co-creating: it is discussed further in Chapter 18.

Image-streaming. Evoking with eyes closed, and verbalizing, a spontaneous stream of imagery, following this with intuitive interpretation, can uncramp ordinary awareness and open it up to its wider spiritual context (Wenger, 1991). This is the same as active imagination, out-loud conscious dreaming, which Jung recommended to westerners rather than meditation (Jung, 1936). The spontaneous stream can be entirely unstructured; or it can be released under a chosen category, state or theme. A variation is externally guided imagery, when a helper takes the receptive subject on an inner journey, as in psychosynthesis (Assagioli, 1965).

Aspiration. High prayer in the western mystical tradition, such as St. Teresa’s prayer of recollection. It involves an intentional dynamic inclination of the will towards transcendent consciousness, an attitude of opening, surrender, attentive awaiting on and receptivity to higher spiritual power. Washburn thinks that while such prayer is different to eastern meditation in having this attitudinal relation to the divine, it otherwise has the same basic feature of unmoving and unmediated attention (Washburn,1995: 155-57). My own experience of this one is that the attention involved, while deeply constant, is engaged and participating in the aspirational process.

Present centering. Being in the fullness of the heart, in the presence of Being, here and now in a unitive relation with other beings in the immediate experiential spatiotemporal field. The heart-centred spontaneous integration of reMinding and reLiving, or recollection and regeneration, the first two on this list.

Inward opening. This is practising descent to indwelling, immanent life, an opening inwards and downwards to the spiritual womb of the psyche, feeling into its guiding pregnancy, listening to and shaping its embedded and embodied motions and declarations.

Entrainment. When you are with group of persons feeling each other’s presence, entering into mutual resonance or entrainment, in which you all share brain-waves, breathing and other rhythms and vibrate in harmony, then a range of spiritual and subtle transformations may occur for you within the entrained state.

Charismatic disinhibition. During group entrainment, and if people have given themselves and each other permission beforehand, then one outcome, at a moment when all feel there is a subtle shift in the process, can be a simultaneous interactive improvisation of spontaneous movement and sound, gesture and posture, which celebrate, reveal and bear witness to a range of spiritual and subtle transformations. This practice manifests the dynamic of divine creation.

Ritual. A more formal and structured use of group interaction, using speech, sound, music, symbols, gesture, posture and movement, to interrelate different parts of the map for a variety of transformative purposes, personal, cultural and planetary. It may incorporate both invocation and evocation.

Holotropic therapy. The combination of hyperventilation, focused bodywork and music, used in a workshop setting (Grof,1988). More generally, intentional breathing of which there many different ancient and modern kinds.

Energizing. In a group setting, people take it in turn in a small support group, to sustain continuous dancing or singing for several hours, in order to break down physical and psychical armouring and open to transformational processes (Moss,1986). More generally, bodywork, static or receptive or active, of which there many different ancient and modern kinds.

Sensory deprivation. The classic method is to float for some hours in saline water just above body temperature in a tank which eliminates all visual and auditory stimuli (Lilly, 1972).

Psychedelic drugs. Including LSD-25, psilocybin from the Mexican sacred mushroom, mescaline sulphate from the peyote cactus, dipropyltryptamine, 5-methoxy-DMT, harmaline, the amphetamines (MDMA, DOM, 2-CB0), ketamine hydrochlorid. The mapping of spiritual and subtle states done by Grof from the reports of subjects using these drugs under his medical supervision, and from his own experience of using them, is more comprehensive than, and free of the doctrinal bias in, the maps of traditional mystical schools (Grof, 1975, 1988).

This list does not claim to be exhaustive, but as it stands it provides a substantial agenda for individual lived inquiry and co-operative inquiry.

Consciousness, life and trained attention

Suppose, as I do, that spirit is dipolar, consciousness-life, that the two poles of consciousness and life are always co-involved and interdependent, and, furthermore, that humans in their own spirit, their own consciousness-life, can weight the interdependence toward either pole. So if life dominates consciousness we get sensationalism; and if consciousness dominates life, we get asceticism. If you engage too much with the life-rich contents of consciousness you are swept along in a restless activism. If your consciousness ascetically disengages too much from its contents, you ignore, and so suppress, their spiritual potential for fuller flowering.

Most mystical traditions, western and eastern, have been monopolar in their practices, as I pointed out earlier. They seek a transcendent consciousness and they do this by dissociation from life, that is, by a tendency to asceticism and very reduced relation to embodiment. This is evident into modern times, from St. John of the Cross in the sixteenth century to Ramana Maharshi in the twentieth.

It is also evident in some of the main methods used. Take two classic forms of eastern meditation which have also received much attention in the west: mindfulness and concentration, mentioned under ‘attention’ in the map of knacks. Mindfulness is wide-aperture attention paid constantly to the mind and its contents as a whole, concentration is focused attention paid constantly to one chosen item. Both involve being disengaged, that is, not interfering with, working on, manipulating, the content, which is only to be witnessed in a sustained way. This I call dissociative meditation: the core of it is non-attachment. It is a method designed to flee the Many and find the One.

Now spiritual life resides in the contents, and under appropriate conditions will commence spontaneously to evolve the contents toward greater opening and greater integration, like a flower unfolding in itself and at the same time in symbiotic relation with its ecological setting. The contents’ embedded entelechy, formative potential, will start to actualize itself.

Dissociative meditation both fully attends to, and disengages from any management of, the contents of the mind and their immanent life-process. But it clearly has an impact on the life-process of the contents and sets its energy in motion. To put it crudely, it sucks the energy of the life-process up into the disengaged awareness to empower it and stabilize it. It interrupts the internal development of the contents and displaces energy from their immanent unfoldment to a transcendent enhancement of sustained attention.

The complementary interior activity is to engage empathically with the life-process of the contents of consciousness, to infuse them with the light of the mind and so empower their developmental potential. This redirects the expansive tendency of consciousness and converts it into the immanent unfoldment of its contents. This disciplined and passionate engagement with the mental Many honours their divine status. It includes the interior, creative imagination of the musician, artist, scientist, social reformer and others. It leads over, of course, into the first, and externally expressive, form of spiritual transformation, which I outlined at the start of this chapter.

Somewhere between the poles there is a potent zone of radical and dynamic interdependence. You disengage from driven, compulsive attention and open consciousness to its cosmic context with constancy. At the same time you attend empathically to, and engage creatively with, the spiritual potential of the contents of consciousness, so that you and they unfold in a unitive dipolar field of spiritual development, in which life and consciousness enhance each other. In this dipolar zone, you both reMind yourself about your continuity with transcendent spiritual consciousness, and reLive yourself in a co-creative relation with immanent spiritual life. There is an interested integration of non-attachment with appropriate passion for manifest being.