Thursday, November 4, 2010

#82. Moving Up the Ladder


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I was delighted, as I said in the previous post, to be able to express well there my understanding of religious ritual in the context of cosmic evolution. It was the first time I was able to share with readers what I felt was a satisfactory expression of my understanding.


If you didn't read that post, its main idea is that religious ritual only makes sense in the unitive (contemplative, mystical) perspective. It was thanks to Mary Coelho's comments on post #79 that this idea finally dawned on me.

I've been struggling for years to be able to say well how ritual and cosmic evolution are connected, and although I felt immensely satisfied to be able to express it adequately for the first time, I'm sure some readers didn't feel as delighted as I did. The unitive (contemplative, mystical) perspective is, alas, hardly a familiar one in contemporary Western culture.

So in this post I'm going to try to put that still-unfamiliar unitive perspective itself into a more understandable context: Western society's cultural evolution.

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If it sounds complicated, it is! As a whole, Western culture is still stuck at the bottom rung of the Great Ladder. We're still in a wasteland-- a "Flatland," as Ken Wilber calls it-- where only physical matter is considered real. For some of us, it's hard to imagine that anyone could actually hold to "Positivism," as it's called, but in fact that is still the common view.

In Deciphering the Cosmic Number, Arthur I. Miller says that when C. G. Jung and Wolfgang Pauli were collaborating in their efforts back in the first half of the 20th century to establish a link between matter and mind, Pauli couldn't even talk about it with his fellow scientists. Miller says that to the quantum physicists of that time, "the very notion of consciousness was considered nonsense."

Jung, too, was well aware of the difficulties involved. He called the link between mind and matter a "no-man's land" and-- in an excellent example of his courageous and adventurous nature-- he described it as "the most fascinating-- yet the darkest-- hunting ground of our times."

So the collaborative relationship of those "Two Mavericks," the depth psychologist and the quantum physicist, was a tremendous breakthrough for Western society-- a first step away from the bottom rung of the Great Ladder.

It's probably true for most readers of this blog that the notion held by Pauli's fellow physicists that "the notion of consciousness is nonsense" itself seems to be nonsense. But it's important not to dismiss their views too quickly.

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For an adequate understanding of the convergence of science and religion-- which is what my whole blog effort is about-- we need to appreciate the momentousness of the breakthrough brought about by the collaboration of Jung and Pauli.

To emphasize that point, I originally intended to call this post "Getting Unstuck." I also considered calling it "Beyond Jung and Pauli," to stress my understanding that cultural development didn't stop with just one step up from the bottom rung of the Great Ladder.

There's a big gap between moving away from that bottom rung and being conscious of the unitive perspective. The insight that we humans and all reality are non-dual with the Mystery behind the universe is as incomprehensible for many today as was the view in Pauli's time that the very notion of consciousness is nonsense.

So "Moving Up the Ladder" seems to be the best title for this post. I see it as an image of Western culture's evolutionary development. I'd like to think it's a good expression of the task we have at this point in our cultural history.

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A quote from Pauli about his growing recognition that science did not provide the last word on everything is valuable for helping us appreciate just how profoundly difficult it to move up the Ladder-- how difficult it was for the scientists of his day to get unstuck from that bottom rung.

Pauli said, "We now have natural science, but we no longer have a total scientific picture of the world.... Since the discovery of the quantum of action, physics has gradually been forced to relinquish its proud claim to be able to understand, in principle, the whole world."

Isn't it amazing that science ever thought it could understand the whole world! The fact that it thought it could is an indication of the tremendous success science and technology have had, not just in understanding the world, but also in improving people's health and making our lives better. 

What a contrast to dualistic religion's rejection of the world!

So the collaboration of Jung and Pauli "in search of a fusion of physics and psychology," as Miller describes it, was also a movement away from the arrogance of scientific rationality. And while we recognize that arrogance today, recognition is not enough.

We need some practical tools to help us move up the Great Ladder.

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Long time readers will not be surprised at the tools I'm suggesting. I've shared my thoughts about them, and made good use of them, in many previous posts. I'm referring, of course, to the four-fold (quaternary, mandalic) understanding of the human mind.

Despite the importance of these perspectives, our culture unfortunately doesn't yet have a commonly accepted way of talking about the fact that our mind works in four distinct ways.

I've used Jungian language, Native American images and Medieval terms, for example, as well as Karl Rahner's descriptions of existential experience, Ken Wilber's IT, WE and I categories, and Michael Dowd's cute animal names such as Lizard Legacy and Higher Porpoise.

I think the classical elements (earth, air, fire, water) also make good tags for talking about how our minds work. So do the four directions (north, east, south, west), the four seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall), and even the four times of day (midnight, dawn, noon, dusk). But by far the simplest terms to work with are matter, mind, soul, spirit.

And yet even the last two of those four terms (soul and spirit) have ambiguous connotations. (Is our soul something different from our spirit?) Maybe the best names to use for talking about moving up the Ladder are those Jung himself provides.

While Sensing, Thinking, Feeling and Intuition aren't any clearer than matter, mind, soul and spirit, at least they don't have the confusing semi-religious connotations that spirit and soul have.

But there's a similar confusion still current in Western culture about the words Intuition and Feeling. Just like spirit and soul, they, too, are often used interchangeably. We may no longer be stuck at the bottom rung of the Great Ladder, but it's obvious that we're still pretty fuzzy about what's involved when we move up the Ladder beyond matter and mind.

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I think the most basic way the talk about moving up the Ladder is to describe the functions of our minds with a combination of the classical and the Jungian terms, and to connect them, as a poet would, with the corresponding compass directions, seasons and times of day. Something like this:

Matter (Sensing) is that aspect of reality we are aware of by means of our senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing and seeing, and is associated with the solidity of earth, the cold of winter, the darkness of night-- all images a poet would connect with north.

Mind (Thinking) is our awareness of cause and effect, that fact that reality is sequential or developmental, not static, and is associated with the clarity of fresh air, the new life of spring, the dawn of morning-- all images a poet would connect with east.

Soul (Feeling) is our consciousness of our relationships and of the inter-connectedness of all aspects of reality, and is associated with the energy of fire, the warmth of summer, the heat of noonday-- all images a poet would connect with south.

Spirit (Intuition) is something like sense perception, but it's an awareness not of details (as Sensing is) so much as consciousness of the Big Picture, and is associated with the flow of water, the fullness of autumn, the shadows of evening at dusk-- all images a poet would connect with west.

While most of us don't have trouble with the thought that we "sense materially" or "think mentally," saying that we "feel soul-ishly" or "intuit spirit-ually" is a problem. And few scholars or scientists are yet willing to admit that "thinking like a poet" could be helpful.

Both our everyday language and our academic discourse show how difficult it is to move up the Great Ladder! Once again we can appreciate the tremendous accomplishment Jung and Pauli made with their initial breakthrough.

We can also see why neurological science (brain and nervous system studies) has blossomed in our day. Sensations enter our mind and knowing emerges. What happens in between? Just how does matter become mind? (This is the kind of question Charlie Laughlin and the Biogenetic Structuralists worked on. I mention it here again only to make sense of my interest in their efforts.)

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But there's also another aspect of that initial step in moving up the ladder that's important to remember: the movement from matter to mind-- from Sensing to Thinking-- is a movement from the static to an explicitly dynamic worldview. Images such as springtime and morning sunrise help us to see that the conscious thinking process always functions in terms of sequential development-- of cause-and-effect, of emerging newness.

So it's the mind's Thinking ability that allows us to understand the evolution of the universe, and it's also that same developmentally-orientated form of awareness that allows us to recognize that the emergence of awareness itself is a central aspect of the cosmic process.

This seems to be where Western culture is, just now, in its movement up the Ladder. More people than ever are comfortable with the fact of evolution today, but we're not yet comfortable with the idea that each of us is a part of it.

Each of us, individually, needs to make a breakthrough as great as that of Jung and Pauli in recognizing that our personal growth and development is nothing less than our creative participation in the 
evolution of the entire universe.

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We're also coming to see in our day what the soul level of the Great Ladder is all about-- that Jung's Feeling function, Ken Wilber's realm of WE, and Michael Dowd's Furry Li'l Mammal are expressions of the fact that we are personally related to everything else.

It's finally beginning to dawn on Western people that all things are, indeed, "our relatives," as Native Americans pray. Our concern for human rights, equality and social justice is an expression of it. So are our environmental concerns and growing ecological awareness.

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But beyond that relatedness level there's still yet another rung of the Great Ladder. And it's there that we need the mind's Intuition function so that we can see the biggest big picture. It's only at this spirit level of consciousness that the unitive (contemplative, mystical) perspective is clear.

The best name I know for this biggest big picture is "cosmo-the-andric unity"-- i.e., the unity of cosmos, theos and andros. Sometimes it's expressed as the "the-anthropo-cosmic unity." Both versions are awkward but helpful attempts to name that total unity-- which we can only perceive via the mind's Intuitive function-- of divinity (theos), humanity (anthropos) and the physical-material universe (cosmos) all together.

The term comes from Raimundo Panikkar, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. Panikkar said that he thought of himself as a Buddhist when in China, a Hindu when in India, and a Christian when in Rome. It was his way of describing the unitive perspective-- the contemplative, mystical, spiritual awareness-- that's at the basis of all humanity's religious traditions. He died only recently; you might like to read his obituary.

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While the unitive worldview is probably familiar to readers of this blog, particularly in its Asian expressions, for many persons in Western culture it remains totally unfamiliar.

The reason? The overwhelming predominance of the opposite perspective-- religious dualism-- that has pervaded the Western Judeo-Christian worldview for many centuries.

Our very word "non-duality" comes from the spiritual traditions of the East. Literally, it means "not-two." It's an ancient way of expressing the intuitive insight that we and the world from which we have emerged are manifestations of the Tao, incarnations of the Ultimate, epiphanies of the divine, children of the Great Mother. That, as Jesus says, we and the Father are one.

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So where does ritual come in? In terms of the way our minds work, ritual obviously belongs with both Intuition and the unitive perspective. 

Intuition is what allows us to see the Big Picture of cosmo-the-andric unity; sacred ritual is what allows us to enter into it.

Modern Western culture has been slow to catch on to the nature and value of ritual because we are still not clear about the nature and value of the Intuitive function.

We're still working our way up the Great Ladder. And whether we call the main steps Sensing, Feeling, Thinking and Intuition or matter, mind, soul and spirit, it's a slow process. Just as "consciousness" sounded like nonsense to Pauli's scientific contemporaries, "contemplative vision" or "mystical experience" still sound like nonsense to our modern contemporaries.

It is indeed a slow process. But it's important to keep in mind that the process is still going on. And in terms of the West's cultural development, you and I are just as much a part of it as were Jung and Pauli. We're still struggling to understand what's meant by "spirit"-- by non-duality, ritual, intuition-- the whole vision of cosmo-the-andric unity.

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An article in the current (November, 2010) issue of Smithsonian magazine offers us some encouragement. It's about the neutrino, the sub-atomic particle Pauli predicted in 1930 but which wasn't discovered until a quarter century later, in 1956. The article, called "Looking for Ghosts," begins:

We are awash in neutrinos.... They come from all directions: from the Big Bang, from exploding stars, from the sun. They come straight through the earth at nearly the speed of light, all the time, day and night, in enormous numbers. About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through our bodies every second. Physicists call them "ghost particles."

"Ghost," of course, is just the ancient English name for "spirit."

Arthur I. Miller says that in 1930 it was "audacious" for Pauli to suggest a new particle, that "No one before had ever dared to do so." Now we know that 100 trillion of those "spirit-particles" are passing through our body every second.

We, too, can be audacious in moving up the Ladder!

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1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.