Thursday, February 5, 2015

At Home in Nature

We now move on to deal with the affective characteristics associated with this contemplative level (i.e. Band 3, Level 2). In geometrical terms I refer to this level as the Point Level, in contrast to Level 1 (which I refer to as the Circular Level).

So at Level 1, the paradoxical interplay of both external and internal polarities operates in an increasingly intense fashion.

These in turn are the "real" polarities that initially relate to the conscious world of form.

Thus conscious understanding becomes increasingly circular during this time with the dualistic paradox thereby involved enabling the steady erosion of attachment to conscious symbols.

In conventional terms the real axis, with respect to a circle drawn in the complex plane, is represented by horizontal lines (drawn in opposite directions from the centre point of the circle).

Then at Level 2, the further paradoxical interplay of polarities, that are whole and part with respect to each other, likewise begins to operate in an intense fashion.

These now represent the "imaginary" polarities that relate directly to the holistic unconscious nature of form (that indirectly is projected into experience in a conscious manner).

These in turn - with respect to the circle - are represented by vertical lines (again drawn in opposite directions through the centre point of the circle).

Now when Level 2 has significantly unfolded, the significant erosion of attachment to both direct and indirect conscious phenomena will have taken place. So just as the real and imaginary axes converge at the centre point of the circle, likewise in psychological terms, understanding similarly converges towards a central point representing the will (as the basis of volitional capacity).

This can likewise be envisaged as the point where both conscious and unconscious intersect (as the means of harmonising both aspects).

Then the arrival at this point, sets the stage for the later unfolding of Level 3 (representing the phenomenal activity associated with the continual attempt to purify volitional intent in the true integrated reconciliation of both conscious and unconscious). Though we are running slightly ahead of ourselves here, I then refer to Level 3 as the Null Level (which likewise has a precise geometrical explanation) where awareness of phenomenal activity - even of a temporary fleeting nature - becomes significantly eroded.

However we return here to the affective nature of experience at Level 2.

I have referred before the beautiful poetic descriptions of St. John of the Cross in describing this aspect. Again I mention this, because his own depictions deeply resonated with my experience at the time. Indeed for a period of about 6 months, I turned to my own attempts at poetic description (that initially were strongly influenced by St. John).

So once again in Stanza 14 of the Canticle, St John writes:

"My Beloved is the mountains
And lonely wooded valleys,
Strange islands,
And resounding rivers
The whistling of love-stirring breezes,"

So general nature symbols are used that carry a profound archetypal spiritual meaning, which is based on deep development of the holistic unconscious (greatly facilitated through the arduous "dark night" that preceded this stage).

Indeed one could accurately describe this as the immanent aspect, where God (as divine spirit) is directly identified with the world of created phenomena.

However, I hasten to add that St. John uses very holistic symbols. So I would see it as a typical characteristic of this stage, where immanence is returned to experience to a degree. However it is largely subject to an overall transcendent focus, where one is still seeking a purer level of detachment from phenomena.

So this phase of experience can best be viewed as a form of temporary spiritual consolation, designed to refresh one's flagging emotional energy, before making the final assault - as it were - on the spiritual summit.

An example of my own - more prosaic - poetry that I can recall written at this time on Dollymount strand ends with the lines:

"Nature, my gentle friend
 surrounds me on all sides

It is only now that I fully realise
That our lives are in each other,
We have loved each other deeply
Through all these years
Without knowing;
Now together we are returning
To that eternal source,
Which is our home"

In fact this feeling of a deep holistic connection with nature is a key feature I believe of Celtic spirituality. So here, one can feel most truly at home through an intimate connection with the - seemingly - eternal natural landscapes that long both precede and survive our brief time on Earth.

This entails that the all nature has both personal and impersonal aspects in dynamic interaction with each other. So from this perspective the reduced notion of impersonal object forms, that defines Conventional Science, is seen to be without foundation.

In fact, such science identifies reality in analytic terms, with merely the conscious aspect of understanding. However corresponding holistic appreciation relates directly to the unconscious aspect. So properly combining the holistic aspect of reality (where everything is seen as essentially inter-related ) and its corresponding analytic aspect (where phenomena enjoy a localised separate identity) will require explicitly incorporating both the conscious and unconscious aspects of understanding.

This holistic aspect of nature has been wonderfully captured in the writings of my compatriot John O'Donohue e.g. his best selling "Anam Cara" (which is the Irish translation for "Soul Friend"). So nature can indeed serve as an enduring "Soul Friend".

However though I love the optimistic nature of O'Donohue's writing, I have often experienced a more bitter-sweet relationship with nature.

In fact a poem that exercised a strong effect on me in childhood called "The Wayfarer" written by Padraig Pearse - yes, one of the key revolutionaries in the Irish Rebellion of 1916 (and written on the eve of his execution) - commences with the lines,

"the beauty of the world has made me sad
 This beauty that will pass".

And I must admit to frequently experiencing the same feeling. Indeed without this, I do not think it would be possible to fully long for an eternal truth (not directly tied to transient phenomena).

There is a thinly veiled romantic - even erotic - quality to St. John's verse in the Spiritual Espousal.

This would suggest perhaps an important female friendship informing such feelings, where he was thereby enabled to see God reflected with a feminine face throughout nature.

Far from authentic contemplation preventing the possibility of such relationships, at certain times, they can comprise a truly integral part of the journey.

However a certain tension is inevitable in these relationships. One is seeking a purer notion of beauty. This can indeed become associated with an intimate friendship where romantic feelings, initially of an archetypal nature, are involved. However - certainly from my own experience - this tension can eventually constitute a problem, as one simultaneously feels the pull upwards towards a purer spiritual meaning, with the corresponding pull downwards towards the more physical fulfilment of the relationship.

Generally, when one has sufficiently worked through the conflicting feelings involved, the romantic attachment itself tends to fade. In principle this could enable an enduring platonic friendship to develop, but in practice such a relationship may often not survive to this stage.

What is certain however is that when one  exercises the "higher self" for a considerable period of time through the continual holistic outpouring of the spiritual unconscious, it creates a growing compensatory pressure on the "lower self" with its still repressed physical instinctive desires.

So ultimately the attention turns largely away in development from the archetypes of the "higher self" to the increasingly intimate physical instinctive projections of the "lower self".

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