A Pre-Rigged Cast Of Mind  


 John O'Donohue, the Irish philosopher and poet, once said that we are pre-rigged to miss the magic moments of revelation that come our way. He suggests that there is a tendency to prearrange ourselves so that we end up missing some wonder that may be there right before our eyes! We may somehow be geared up to mimimize, downplay or devitalize the power of fresh experience, of fresh learning, having self-programmed ourselves to keep it at bay.

 O'Donohue spoke of the fear of new and illuminating experience as the habit of rendering ourselves incapable, in particular, of what he calls, "innocent or wild experience," preferring instead, as it seems, what is already familiar and therefore unthreatening and tame.

 Instead of sheltering and protecting ourselves in this way, O'Donohue prays: "May the Angel of Wildness disturb the places where your life is domesticated and safe!" 

 But we instead may have preprogrammed ourselves habitually to deaden the impact of new thoughts or ideas. Thus for a certain kind of restricting mind-set, new ideas are dead on arrival. They are given little chance, or no chance, of making an impact.

 There is a kind of instinctive clamp down or suppression sometimes of the power even of a great poem or piece of music, especially if it seems, in spite of how inspired we may feel in reponse to it, that it might possibly conflict with the ideology or theology we're carrying around. Some pre-rigged mentalities are sure to say, for instance, whenever a conversation begins to veer away from what has been pre-ordained as socially acceptable: 'I don't want any of that! I want only what was good for Paul and Silas. That 'old-time religion' is quite good enough for me!' 

 The preference for 'that old time religion' is used as a buttress against the spirit of free inquiry when it ought rather to be the case that such an inherited tradition is creatively understood and interpreted so that it sets the searching and inquiring spirit free! The discovery of the truth is, after all, supposed to set us free, not to freeze us into becoming substitutes for air-conditioning wherever we go!

 I think of Thomas Aquinas, for example, whose orthodoxy did not inhibit his study and research. Rather, it motivated him to a study of the greatest of thinkers in every tradition he knew. The result was a synthesis of thought around a spirit - freeing orthodox center - an achievement that some have said has no equal. 

 Many a potentially edifying conversation, however, has been quelled when some  ignorant, censoring voice has come thundering forth to clip the wings of souls whose passion for new experience and understanding has travelled too high. As a result, the spirit of inquiry, and all levels of questioning and curiosity are effectively suppressed. What has been achieved then, perhaps around the dinner table, is what I would call a 'peace which is no peace,' since it is a false peace. It is the peace of a stagnant pond and not, I would add, the dynamic peace of a sea at rest, which is a real peace. 

 It is then, when the fire of inquiry has been put out that the conversation can descend again, quite comfortably as it seems for some, to exclusively mundane concerns, but not, sadly, to life-giving, ones.

 Now there is relief for some simply because there is now no longer any risk of conflict! Now only pleasant thoughts, or nice thoughts, are being exchanged. What has won the day is what is called appropriate dinner conversation, which is, in my estimate, nothing more now than pigs slurping at a trough

 It's happening all the time - a conflict between two mentalities, one that is 'open,' another that is 'closed.' In one moment a mind and heart opens somewhere and then click, there's a shut-down! Human beings open up and close down all the time. We say, for instance, about someone we know who had once appeared as a vital human being with an open heart that "as of late, I don't recognize him. Something in him has shut-down." And we might go on to reflect: "There's something very sad here about the shut-down, even tragic." We might say as well in our attempt to account for the behaviour. "Well, he's taken on a new role." And then ask the question: "Does the new role require such a shut-down?"  

 Joseph Campbell retells the tale of the Buddha, who while teaching, gently raised up a lotus plant. Now, what we know about the lotus is that it is rooted in deep mud and its stem grows up through murky water. But the blossom rises above the muck and opens towards the sun, full of beauty and fragrance. "In Buddhism, the lotus represents the true nature of being, that is said to arise through samsara into the beauty and clarity of enlightenment." (Barbara O'Brien) 

 But the Buddha didn't explain any of this at that time. He merely held the lotus up, allowing for the symbol to have its effect upon any who might be ripe for illumination. It is said that Kashyapa, one of his students, became rapt with attention. That is, his mental stance was simply to perceive the lotus and not to come up with conceptions about it!

 But, what so often happens in teaching situations is that some perhaps left-brained humanoid will too quickly jump in there to analyse and explain. He is prematurely talking and analysing instead of beholding and contemplating. In Campbell's words, "he has not yet even begun to try to see or imagine what it was that Kashyapa saw." (Joseph Campbell, Flight of the Wild Gander, p. 149)

 Campbell states that it is a habit for some of us to protect ourselves from pure experience by what he calls our references or "engrams of those cosmic systems to which we have been educated and to which our mind immediately refer the data of our senses."

 As Campbell puts it: "Following these references, we let the concept swallow up the percept, and so reverse the process of a revelation, thus defending ourselves from experience," as for example, when someone said, upon hearing that the writings of Meister Eckhart are worth studying: "Well, he's kind of out there, isn't he?," a statement indicating that she thought there was nothing to learn from someone outside of the box she lived in. 

 In contrast, my wish is to break out of any kind of pre-rigged mental mode in order to experience a felt shift from what I thought I knew and understood. I always have the sense that learning has but barely begun! My longing is to practice an openness of heart and being such that I do not miss the wonder or magic of something fresh and vital. 

 Jesus spoke about enlivened human beings from whom streams of living water gush forth. Surely these are human beings whose presence and power is related to a deep openness at the heart of their being. If there's no flow and no gush it seems to me that it is because there is some kind of repression of energy going on at the core of one's being.

 It is explained in Yoga that energy lying dormant at the base of the spine needs to be stirred and awakened. There is a center there, what is called a chakra, located midway between the anus and the genitals. Persons stuck there live their lives at a level of low intensity. Their world view, accordingly, says Joseph Campbell, is an "uninspired materialism, governed by "hard facts." 

 Human beings living on this level are highly reactive, not creative. A kind of creepy mentality is in charge. There is, at this level, no "impulse to expand" but to guard and defend. Here there is a lethargic avidity of "hanging on to existence."  (Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Image, p. 341)

 It is said in Yoga that this is a grim grip that must be broken "so that the spirit may be quit of its dull zeal simply to be. The grim grip of "here I am and here I'll stay" has to be defeated.

 To be stuck in the lowest chakra is literally to exist as some kind of 'tight ass', the possibility of a vivid personality locked up and bound by tight muscles - the vivifying energy trapped. I have learned that it is unwise ever to get into an argument with a 'tight ass.'   

 I have learned that the way to uncramp people like this is to put them into Yoga poses that will free their pent up energy. When then they are no longer gripping but in some measure, 'open,' an ascent to higher spheres becomes possible. Now, and only now, is conversation possible.  

 Now, what I am describing here is but one of the three lowest energy centers of our bodies. Nevertheless, what all three have in common is an aversion to the fostering of inward, mystical realizations. In point of fact, it cannot properly be said that there is any religion at all at these levels of non-being. Religion begins when the fourth chakra, at the level of the heart, opens up. 

 When the heart opens, it is possible to experience that which makes living life worthwhile. Campbell calls it "the sense of existence" and says about it: "A sense of existence evoked may be shallow or profound, more or less intense, according to our capacity or readiness; but even a brief shock, say, for example, when discovering the moon over city roofs or hearing a sharp bird cry at night) can yield an experience of the poetical order, the order of art, or what the Buddhists call the order of no-mind."

 "When this occurs," he goes on to say, "our own reality-beyond-meaning is awakened and we experience an affect that is neither thought nor feeling but an interior impact." 

 This possibility of a profound sense of existence emerges to the degree that we let go of pre-rigged casts of mind and pre-conceived notions to be open to new wonders and discoveries. This is to perceive in a radically open way, to see with the open, highly curious and innocent eyes of a child, a clear seeing that arises from an inner spiritual rebirth. As Jesus put it: "Unless a man is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God."